SGA Fic: Leadership (Sheppard/McKay)
All thoughtful feedback always welcome.
Leadership (2300 words)
Summary: This is the lieutenant colonel's responsibility.
Spoiler-free and PG (what is my problem?)
They'd been arguing over security procedures for the science labs when Beckett's call came in - "Colonel Sheppard, please report to the infirmary" -- so it seemed natural to just continue the argument as they went. Besides, Rodney hadn't won, and John knew that meant he wasn't going to shut up for a while yet.
"We're scientists, we're not a security threat!"
Rodney's outraged pride was always fun to watch. And besides, he was wrong. "You're a security threat because you're scientists. Remember the nanovirus? And that time with the ooze?"
"Well, yes, but imagine how much worse both of those situations would have been had they been handled by a group of military dimwits with no idea about scientific method, let alone any training in basic containment protocols."
"They can learn the containment protocols," John said. "They should learn the containment protocols, actually. There are way too many dangerous things running around loose in Atlantis. You'd think the Ancients would've had safety labels."
"Yes, well, maybe they were advanced enough not to just pick something up because it was shiny and glowing."
"You mean like a personal security shield?" John smirked as they turned the corner into the infirmary. Beckett was there, waiting. He looked miserable, and John's mood switched to grim alertness at the sight of him.
"You'll want to see this, Colonel." He led John, with Rodney still at his heels, back behind a white curtain, where a young man was laid out on a stretcher.
The kid was in bad shape: it took John a minute to recognize him as Corporal Hastings. He'd taken a furious beating. There was blood dried in his hair and beneath his nose, and his lower lip was split. One of the nurses was cleaning him up, her lips pursed tight with concentration, and another was securing a splint around his swollen right foot. His chest was already wrapped in white bandages. He turned to face them as they came in; when he spotted Sheppard, his eyes opened as wide as they could, and he managed a ragged "Sir!"
"As you were, Corporal." John stepped close enough to the bed to put a light hand on Hastings's shoulder. "They making you comfortable?"
"All right then. Get some rest."
"Sir, yes, sir." John hated the gratitude in the boy's expression. He patted Hastings's shoulder again, and left him to rest.
"It can't be the Genii, can it? We would have known if someone had gated in," Rodney said as soon as they'd cleared the corner towards Beckett's office. "The Wraith? We should do a full city scan for Wraith lifesigns, and, and --"
"Rodney? Shut up." Rodney gaped, and looked about to protest, so John kept talking. "Who brought him in?"
"He didn't make morning formation. Sergeant Jones sent someone to check on him, and, well."
"They found him like that, in his quarters, alone," John said flatly, and, God, he felt sick when Beckett's eyes widened in surprise. He thought he knew his men better than this.
"Aye, wrapped in a blanket. Colonel, are you --"
John slammed his radio so hard it hurt his hand. "Major Lorne, report to Dr. Beckett's office."
Rodney and Beckett looked baffled, and suddenly John hated them for it. The science team had never had a goddamn clue about how the military contingent actually thought, or worked, or maintained itself. As long as there were strong men and women with big guns between them and imminent death, that was the important part. They didn't worry about how those men and women were getting by, or treating each other. They thought they were above such concerns. John couldn't be.
"What's going on?" Rodney demanded.
John looked down at his boots, trying to find the words. He didn't know who he was betraying more when he finally spoke. "It's called a blanket party."
"You mean you knew about this?"
The anger in Rodney's voice made John's own fury flare red behind his eyes, and he fought to keep his voice level. "No, Rodney, I didn't know about this. I wouldn't have let it happen if I did. But I've seen it before. Some COs will look the other way."
Rodney frowned. "But if the Marines did this to him, then he'll know who did it. And you can court-martial them or throw them in the brig or whatever it's called."
"He had a damn blanket thrown over his head! They didn't have to look at him, and he couldn't tell who they were." John shook his head. "He wouldn't tell me if he did."
"Do we need to secure his room?" Beckett asked.
"They made their point," John said heavily. "He'll be fine."
Lorne came in, all capable pragmatism, and John couldn't remember the last time he'd been so happy to see another officer. "Sir?"
"Major. We've got a serious hazing situation. Corporal Hastings was attacked in his quarters."
"Jesus. Is he OK, sir?"
"He'll be fine."
"Do you want me to talk to Jones?"
"I think we're well past that."
"OK." Lorne sounded skeptical, but reliably game. "What did you have in mind, sir?"
"Well, they always say they do these things for morale. Troop unity. So maybe what we need is more unity. I think a 10K run at 0500 hours will be a real bonding experience. For all military personnel."
"Everyone." The knot in his chest hadn't loosened any, so he added, "Every day, for a week. Unless the attackers decide to turn themselves in."
"Sir, the Marines are one thing, but there are Air Force personnel who won't -- "
"Then it's high time that they were. Or hadn't they noticed we're in another galaxy fighting life-sucking space bugs?"
"Yes, sir." Lorne's expression made it clear that John was going to hear about this again. He didn't want to think about that right now.
"And, Major? Hastings's made some friends among the Athosians. Maybe there's someone there who'd like to come visit while he recuperates. Talk to Teyla, send a jumper if one's free."
Beckett's eyes widened, remembering. "Aye, at the harvest party. Hastings was chatting with Halling's nephew most of the night. He... oh, Jesus."
John had seen it too: he would have had to be blind to miss it. He'd felt a warm little ache beneath his ribs at the sight of the two of them; it was a long time since he was young and in love for the first time, long enough that he was starting to feel it in his bones, but he remembered what it was like. He'd envied them their simple ease with one another, even as he'd made a mental note to have a word with Hastings about discretion. Then he'd gone and had a few more drinks and another argument with McKay, and he'd let it get away from him. He should have known better: it was his job to know better.
Rodney went pale and silent in the seat next to him, and John didn't let himself catch his eye. "You'll keep me posted if Hastings gets worse?" Beckett nodded. "OK, then. I've got some paperwork to catch up on." John levered himself out of his chair to go.
"See you in the morning, sir."
"I won't be joining you."
Lorne looked surprised at that, and John knew why. He had always made a point of not asking anything of his troops that he didn't ask of himself as well. But the men and women of Atlantis had always made him proud before.
"Make it a good fast run, Major," he said, and left.
* * * * *
Even after the meeting in Beckett's office, Rodney still had to go to work - the city wasn't going to fix itself, and there were interesting energy readings from the long-range sensor scans, and the immunologists working on the Wraith gene project were just idiots who needed to be quarantined, clearly, and no one else was going to take care of it if Rodney didn't. But he noticed and he minded when no one came by to distract him all afternoon. He ate his dinner alone, bolting down some food and glowering at anyone who so much as looked at the seat across from him in the mess. And after dinner, instead of going back to the lab, he went and found John.
John was precisely where Rodney had thought he would be: in his quarters, sitting on the edge of his bed, his head and back bowed. He looked tired, and beaten. Rodney couldn't remember seeing him beaten. He didn't look up when Rodney came in, but he'd left the door unlocked, so Rodney just went and sat next to him. "How's Hastings?"
"OK. I'm going to go sit with him for a while."
"Isn't Halling's nephew there?"
John shook his head. "We didn't send for him."
"What? Why --"
"Teyla thought it was a bad idea, and she was right. It's not safe, it's bad for relations with her people -- and anyway, this shouldn't be the way they remember each other."
"Hastings is dying? I thought you said he was fine."
"He's going home. We can't take care of him here." John took a deep breath and stood. He walked across the room, to one of the darker corners, and he stood there, staring at the wall. "He can come back if he wants to, I'll make sure of that. But I don't think he'll want to, after this."
"Really? Is that what happened the other times you've seen this? Standard operating procedure?" He'd kept playing the scene in Carson's office over and over in his head as he worked all day, and what kept making him feel sick and and lightheaded was how calmly John had taken the news. Like it was normal to him.
John turned at that, stalking across the room, using every bit of the physical advantage he had on Rodney for intimidation. Rodney stood to meet it, willing himself not to show fear.
"You think I wanted this?" John snarled. "You think this is how I want to lead my men?"
"Oh, because your men are the reason I came by to see you!"
"I am responsible for the lives and safety of every single goddamn man and woman on this base, in case you had forgotten, and that, Rodney, that, is my first priority." John shook his head, suddenly weary again, and Rodney's throat closed painfully at the sight of it. "The SGC gives these guys every screener in the known universe, and stuff like this still happens."
Rodney reached for John then, just a hesitant hand on his shoulder. John barely acknowledged it, not even when Rodney gripped his upper arm and squeezed as comfortingly as he could.
"It doesn't matter how we run the city," he said. "The people we bring with us are still from home."
"We can bring better people." Not my home, Rodney wanted to say, not mine. Rodney's home had always been in patterns and equations, surrounded by people who cared what you could do with your brain, not your body. A lab with a clean whiteboard and a decent coffeepot and room to expand his mind, that was what Rodney would have said he needed. The past few years had added some requirements to that list: central heating, for one, and enough food to last till the Daedalus's next run. And John by his side, making jokes, keeping him safe. John creeping out of his bed before first light with a last morning-breath kiss and a murmured reminder of the day's scheduled op. These Neanderthals with guns were foreigners to him: how could they feel like home to John?
John actually smiled a little at that, and reached to pull Rodney's hand off his arm. "When you perfect the species, McKay, you'll let me know."
"It would hardly take perfecting the species to stop a bunch of thugs from enforcing an outdated moral code through violence. Though I'll admit I don't understand how a 10 kilometer run through the city at dawn is supposed to do that either." He knew he was saying too much, but it was the first time he could remember that John had called him by his last name when they were alone together and he was afraid.
He thought John would be angry, but instead he just looked sad again, and determined. "No, you don't understand. But you don't have to."
"I want to. I want --"
John put a hand up to stop him as Rodney moved closer. "We should stop. Until things settle down."
"Until the perfection of the species," Rodney said bitterly.
"Maybe," John said.
Rodney had to turn away at that, unwilling to let his face give away any more than he already had. "Fine," he said. "I'll see you at the senior staff meeting on Wednesday."
"It's fine. I'll see you then."
Walking out the door was like when he'd had Cadman inside him, his body doing what it had to while he watched it from very far away. The door shut behind him and it hurt like a stunner blast, but he kept walking. There was more work to be done in the labs, and a data burst for Earth to prepare in the morning.
You should have known, he told himself, you should have known it was over the minute you saw Hastings in that hospital bed.
John had always made a point of not taking anything for himself that he couldn't give to his men as well.