John stood next to Rodney in the gateroom, blinking away the light's after-effects to show Colonel Ellis and Mr. Woolsey standing there. “Colonel, Mr. Woolsey,” he said, nodding to the both of them. “Welcome to Atlantis.”
“Colonel, good to be back,” Ellis said, stepping forward and holding out a hand.
John shook his hand before turning to Woolsey, who shook his hand absently, looking around the room they were standing in. “This is amazing,” he said softly, looking up at the ceiling in awe, his eyes wide behind his glasses.
They had chosen an excellent day to come. The sun was bright, streaming through the windows and making everything sparkle. “It really is,” he said, smiling. “Do I need to introduce Dr. McKay?”
Woolsey’s eyes snapped towards them, and he shook his head. “No, we’ve met before.”
“Always a good time,” Rodney said, obviously lying through his teeth as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Dr. Weir is in the conference room with Major Lorne.”
Ever since Weir had slapped him, Rodney had gone out of his way to avoid any situation that involved her. The two of them hadn’t talked in the three weeks since it had happened, and John wasn’t inclined to push either of them about it. Word had gotten out quickly, the line had been drawn, and no one stood with Elizabeth.
Woolsey nodded his head. “Very well. If the two of you would join Colonel Ellis and I, we can get the proceedings started.”
John nodded and led them to the conference room, stepping inside with a nod towards Elizabeth, who was studiously ignoring everyone until Woolsey stepped in. She stood up, holding out a hand towards him.
“Mr. Woolsey, welcome,” she said, a forced smile on her face.
“Dr. Weir, thank you,” he said, shaking her hand. “Atlantis is beautiful.”
“Yes, it is,” Elizabeth said, moving to sit down and clasp her hands in front of her tightly.
Over the past three weeks, Elizabeth seemed to shrink in on herself, her cheekbones gaunter and the bags under her eyes even deeper. She looked exhausted, and John had long since stopped thinking there was a damn thing he could do for her. She had left him to die, she had hit Rodney, and he could never forgive her for either of those.
“Dr. Weir,” Woolsey started as he sat down and opened his briefcase, pulling out a sheaf of papers and placing them in front of him.
“Get to the point, Richard,” Elizabeth said with a tight smile. “I can’t assume it’s good news. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.”
Woolsey sighed and folded his hands in front of him. “The IOA has decided that you will be removed as Atlantis’s commander, effective immediately.”
The room was silent, and John could feel the tension and the relief in equal parts. He didn’t need to look at Lorne and Rodney to know what was on their faces, and instead, he kept watching Elizabeth, at the look of defeat and resignation on her face. For a second, she seemed to fold into herself before her shoulders straightened. She turned to look at Rodney with a look in her eye that worried John.
“Are you happy?” Elizabeth demanded, her hands tightening until her knuckles were white. “You got what you wanted.”
John tensed, wondering if he would have to intercept another slap, but Rodney just slumped into his seat, shaking his head. Rodney watched Elizabeth for a long moment, weariness making him look a lot older than he was. John hated that look on Rodney.
“Elizabeth,” Rodney said, rubbing both hands over his face. “All I wanted was for you to stop treating me like a child, to understand that science fails and stop heaping everything that went wrong onto my shoulders. That’s it.”
“And instead, you got me fired,” she spat, her face red with anger.
“You got yourself fired,” Rodney snapped. “By failing every single person in this city time and time again.”
Elizabeth took another step forward, and John tensed again, and this time he wasn’t the only one. He noticed Lorne and Ellis both tense up as well. “I never failed!”
“Yes, you did,” Rodney said, looking around the room as if asking for someone else to take up this burden.
“Elizabeth,” John snapped, getting her attention. She looked at him with anger and betrayal, and he returned her look evenly. “If it had been Major Lorne, or Captain Teldy, or any person other than Rodney or me being fed on by the Wraith, would you have done what you did? Handed the whole thing over to Major Lorne and washed your hands of it?”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to deny it but shut it at the last moment, breaking eye contact. “It was a military situation.”
“It was, and one that needed your experience as a diplomat with Koyla,” he replied. “And you chose not to give it. I was being fed on by a Wraith and you did nothing.”
He couldn't keep the recrimination from his voice, the anger he still felt weeks later, and John swore he could feel the Wraith draining his life again, but he knew that was impossible. The Wraith was in pieces around the city, and John still didn’t know how he felt about that. He fought the urge to rub a hand over his chest and looked at Elizabeth, waiting for the answer.
She collapsed back into her seat, staring at the table. Finally, she looked up at Woolsey, who was watching the whole thing with shrewd eyes. “When do I leave?”
Woolsey adjusted his glasses and looked down at his notebook. “You have three days to pack your things and say goodbye before you return with the Apollo,” he said.
“I’ll be the interim head until the IOA decides on a replacement,” Woolsey replied, looking Elizabeth directly in the eye. “Overall, you did a good job here, Dr. Weir.”
Elizabeth snorted. “That’s not what he’s saying,” she said with a venomous look at Rodney.
Rodney sighed. “You kept us together the first year when we were alone and dealing with everything. You kept us alive and had our backs,” he said. “You did a good job until you didn’t. And there are over two hundred people on this base who rely on the command staff to do their jobs, and you’re not doing yours.”
“Is that your medical opinion, Doctor?” she spat out.
“No,” Rodney sighed, sounding exhausted. “But it’s what I see when I look at you. Go home, Elizabeth.”
“This is home,” she snapped.
“Not for you, it’s not. It hasn’t been for a while.”
Rodney was almost gentle when he spoke, and John could see him curling a hand into his fist as if stopping himself from reaching out and taking her hand or something. The amount of compassion Rodney hid behind snarky comments and loud words was sometimes staggering, and John was proud of him.
Elizabeth watched him for a second before she stood up and stalked out of the room, not saying another word to any of them.
“Is she going to be fine?” Ellis asked, eyeing the door as it closed.
“I had Teldy check her rooms for weapons,” John said softly. “And any medications.”
Rodney let out a long breath and pressed his hands into his face. “Mr. Woolsey, if you have a breakdown while here, can you focus it on someone else?”
John knocked his knee against Rodney’s and kept silent, looking over at Woolsey, who was consulting the papers he had pulled out.
“—How did you keep your job?” Rodney interrupted, raising his head and straightening up.
“The IOA got replaced because they sucked. Why are you still around?” Rodney asked, eyeing the other man warily.
Woolsey smiled. “I work for the IOA, but I am not a member of the IOA. Officially, I’m one of the many lawyers the US employs for the SGC. I prefer to think of myself as an impartial observer.”
“I was part of the NID, yes,” Woolsey replied. “Until I realized what Former Vice President Kinsey was up to and then helped President Hayes remove him from office.”
That seemed to shut Rodney up, and he sat back and crossed his arms over his chest, looking at Woolsey. Woolsey just smiled at him and looked back down at his notes. “Now, as I was saying. Dr. McKay, you started pushing back against Dr. Weir, and I’d like to know why. ”
Rodney blinked and frowned. “What? Should I not have? Was I out of line?”
“No, you were well within your rights. However, I would like to know what changed.”
John looked at Rodney, who was frowning at Woolsey. The tension that had left with Elizabeth was back. He didn’t blame Rodney. The wording was eerily similar to what Elizabeth had demanded from Rodney while he was in the infirmary.
“Two things,” Rodney said, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest. “First, sometimes it was easier to back down to keep the peace. And second, I wanted an apology,” Rodney said softly, looking down at his hands.
“For what?” Woolsey asked, putting his pen down and folding his hands in front of him.
“After Doranda, she kept acting like I had personally failed her, as if I had gone there with the intention for it to explode. She yelled at the time and fine. Emotions are a thing. I understand that, but she kept pushing and kept acting like I failed, which was unacceptable. I’m not a child. I don’t need to be managed like one. I apologized for my actions, and that should have been enough. But every time something bad happened, it suddenly was my fault. And that’s not ok.”
“And if she files wrongful termination charges with the IOA?” Woolsey asked, looking at him intently. John glanced at Lorne, who was frowning slightly and at Ellis, who watched the exchange with a blank look.
“It won’t go anywhere, and you know it,” Rodney replied. “She’s been getting worse and worse. In the past few months, she’s become more and more erratic. Sure, she hit me, but it was the final nail in her coffin. I have over a hundred scientists working under me, and I’ve gotten into arguments with all of them. Not a single one of them has hit me, and I’ve never hit them. It’s not acceptable. ”
“Why are you cross-examining Rodney?” John asked suddenly, butting into before Woolsey could speak. Everyone turned to look at him, and he sat up a little bit straighter, looking at Woolsey.
“Dr. Weir still has some powerful friends who could make a lot of very nasty waves in the SGC, so it is best to prepare,” Woolsey replied.
“And you think they're going to target me?” Rodney demanded.
“I think that we need to prepare for any possibility, Dr. McKay.”
“Oh joy,” John muttered, rubbing his forehead and letting out a long sigh. “You said you have a background as a lawyer?”
“I do. I’ve had experience with most US Military branches when I worked in DC,” Woolsey explained before looking at John. “I even had the opportunity to work with your Grandfather when I was younger.”
“John’s Grandfather?” Rodney asked with a frown, looking between John and Woolsey.
“My Grandad was the Air Force JAG when I was a kid,” John said absently, watching Woolsey.
Ellis sat up a little bit straighter. “You’re one of those Sheppard’s?”
John hid a smile. “Yep. Elizabeth would be an idiot to file charges. She hit Rodney, and that’s not gonna fly. But if she did, how long until something comes of it?”
Woolsey adjusted his glasses. “Dr. Weir will be returned to the SGC, where General’s O’Neill and Landry, as well as Dr. Lam and a few mental health professionals, will interview her and see what is happening.”
“Do you think she’s lost it?” Ellis asked, looking between them.
“I think the Dr. Weir I knew when she was in charge of the SGC would not allow her irritation with one person to interfere with her job performance, no matter who it was,” Woolsey replied.
The silence in the room felt oppressive, and John did his best to stop from fidgeting.
“Do we need to do this right now?” Rodney asked. “She won’t be back on Earth for three weeks, at which time it’ll take six weeks minimum to process her out.”
Woolsey shook his head. “You’re right. We don’t know what’s going to happen and so worrying about it right now is useless. However, I would keep abreast of the situation in case it does arise.”
“Do you think it will?”
“Potentially, but I can’t say for certain. Dr. Weir's actions were well documented, so nothing might happen. But, they don’t pay me to think of the happy outcome,” Woolsey explained, standing up and shuffling his papers together. “I am going to take the day to settle into my quarters once they are assigned. Tomorrow I would like to meet with Dr. McKay and Colonel Sheppard so we may discuss what happens next.”
“Sounds good,” John replied, leaning back in his chair. “Should Major Lorne come as well or just me?”
“Just yourself, for now, Colonel Sheppard. I want to get a clear picture of how things work here and how I can best help you so that Atlantis may thrive.”
John nodded, pushing aside his misgivings. He knew he shouldn’t compare Woolsey and Elizabeth. They weren’t the same, and John had to go into working with Woolsey with an open mind. He was no better than Elizabeth if he didn’t.
“Sounds great,” he said with a smile. “Chuck and Amelia are the people you want to talk to for rooming. Amelia is on gate duty, so Chuck would be your best bet. I can get him to get you a welcome package.”
“Room, radio, and recommended reading,” Rodney explained.
“Recommended reading?” Woolsey asked slowly, looking between the two of them.
“It’s a tablet, sir,” John replied. “Maps, parts to avoid on the city, who to call in case of certain emergencies.”
“If it glows, get Colonel Sheppard. If it ticks, get Dr. McKay and if it does both, run the other way and tell both of them,” Lorne explained, speaking up for the first time. “It’s a Travelers Brochure for Atlantis.”
“Ah, well. That is good to know,” Woolsey said, nodding his head and suddenly looking more worried. “That would be wonderful, thank you.”
“Did you see the message the General sent about the IOA and Woolsey?” Lorne asked without preamble, stepping into John’s office and pausing when he noticed Rodney. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were here, Dr. McKay.”
“Come in. I haven’t had a chance to look yet. Rodney knows what you’ve told me so far, so you might as well tell both of us,” John said, grabbing his tablet and pulling up the file to read as Lorne gave them the highlights.
Lorne nodded. "It’s what you’d expect. The IOA unanimously voted to remove Dr. Weir. As Mr. Woolsey said, he is the interim head until they appoint someone else. The General wants Atlantis to remain a safe place from the Trust. He doesn’t like Woolsey, but according to him, Woolsey has always played his cards honestly, and he’s better than most lawyers.”
“Well, that’s good to know,” Rodney muttered, rubbing his forehead. “We got an honest lawyer.”
Lorne nodded before looking at John. “So what was he like?”
“Major General Sheppard.”
“Is he a big deal?” Rodney asked, looking between the two of them.
“Major General Sheppard was one of the top pilots during World War II, and when he joined the JAG Corps, he was like a dog with a bone,” Lorne explained. “There’s still stories told about him, a lot of them.”
“Yep,” John said, crossing his arms over his chest, feeling uncomfortable. He had hated that part of basic and had been glad when people hadn’t made the connection between them.
“Is he why you didn’t get discharged?” Rodney asked, looking up.
John shrugged. “No, most people don’t realize he was my Granddad.”
Lorne frowned, and John sighed, knowing what Lorne was thinking. “Lorne, if my Granddad hadn’t been dead when they tried to court-martial me, then he would have come out of retirement just to prosecute me himself. He hates people who defy orders. According to him, there’s a chain of command that we need to follow. Otherwise, the ranks will descend into mayhem and murder.”
“Are you adopted?” Rodney joked, raising his eyebrows at John. “You’re not so good at following the rules.”
“He would say that was my mother’s bad influence. She didn’t come from a ‘good family,” John replied, complete with air quotes. “Too much spunk.”
“Right,” Lorne said, still frowning.
“Anything else from the General?” he asked, wanting to get the topic away from his family. “Aside from keeping Atlantis spic and span for when he decides what to do with it?”
He knew he still sounded a little bit bitter and a lot frustrated but to Lorne’s credit, he just shook his head. “No, sir, that’s it for the moment.”
“Good,” John said, looking down at his tablet and writing a couple of notes. John waited for anyone to comment, and when no one did, he looked back at Lorne. “Don’t you have a mission soon?”
Lorne grimaced. “Do I have to? It’s the plant planet again.”
Rodney shook his head. “It’s Parrish’s last opportunity to go. It gets kicked down the line after today because he’s got other things to do. Be nice.”
“Have fun,” John said without sympathy.
Lorne shot him a glare, and John waved at him, not feeling an ounce of sympathy for him. He was glad that Rodney wasn’t a biologist and that most of the planets they went back to were for weapons. Or power. John kept hoping to find a shipyard.
Lorne glared once more at both of them before he left without another word. John waited until the door shut before looking at Rodney, who relaxed back in his seat.
He watched Rodney silently, taking in the breadth of his shoulders and the way his shirt made his eyes even bluer. John had never been an overly emotional person. Even as a kid, he preferred to keep things close to his chest and knew he didn’t always have the right reactions. So it scared him to feel as much as he felt for Rodney. Sometimes it felt like his heart was overflowing, ready to burst.
He told Atlantis to lock the door, and the feeling of privacy dropped around them. He knew he needed to tell Rodney about that trick now that they were dating. He was worried about DADT, especially since he knew people wanted him gone. He didn’t need to give them a reason to kick him out.
He stood and walked around to the front of the desk, wanting to be closer. When it was just the two of them, John didn’t want to pretend to keep the distance between them. He perched on the desk in front of Rodney, their knees touching. “What’s on your mind?” he asked once Rodney had glanced up at him.
“I’m just wondering what’s going to happen next,” Rodney said after a moment, rubbing the side of his neck. “How long is Woolsey going to stay? Is Weir going to try and stab me in my sleep tonight?”
“We’re stationing people outside her door, just in case,” John admitted, hating that they had to do it but knowing it was the right choice.
“Good,” Rodney said softly, chewing on his bottom lip, deep in thought. Rodney still looked tired, but there was a sudden lack of tension in his shoulders, and John was glad.
“You think she’ll ever forgive us,” John asked softly.
The reply was instant, and John agreed. He rubbed a hand over his face before crossing his arms over his chest, looking up at the ceiling as he tried to come to terms with what had happened. “Yeah, me either.”
John glanced out the window, feeling like he was mourning the loss of someone he had considered a friend sitting deep in his chest. He had a feeling that it would have hurt less if she had died.
“I don’t want to be in control of Atlantis.”
John frowned. “Why do you think you would?”
Rodney sighed. “I’m not against Woolsey, and so far, it seems like he wants to work with us, but I’ll be damned if I let some other bureaucrat come in and kill people through ineptitude. If he doesn’t work out, I’m going to see if I can get Civilian command. I’ll hand CSO over to Radek and help the city that way.”
John’s frown deepened, and he crossed his arms over his chest. “You would hate it.”
“Yes,” Rodney said, crossing his arms over his chest. “But, if it’s something we need to do, I’ll do it.”
“I could give the command to Lorne, and we could co-command,” John offered, frowning when Rodney shook his head. “Why not?”
“So, back when this whole thing was still in the planning stages before Jackson found the gate address, there were a lot of long meetings. O’Neill wanted a provision that would allow Sumner, or whoever was in charge of the military, to take control of the city if there was a threat,” Rodney explained. “But, the IOA didn’t want American military in command, which is why we ended up with the shit show of the Charter and the command potentially switching between Military, the Expedition Leader and the Sciences depending on the situation.”
“That explains my position and Elizabeth. How did the sciences get roped in?” John asked.
Rodney snorted. “That’s unintentionally my fault.”
“Sumner and Elizabeth were American, but the IOA and Atlantis are international. Because I’m Canadian, they wanted to make sure a non-American had some say,” Rodney explained with a shrug.
“And what if you had gotten killed?” John asked, voice feeling a lot tighter than he had expected even at the thought.
“Have you seen my chain of command? Technically, Radek has dual Czech-Canadian citizenship, then it’s Miko, who is Japanese. After her is Simpson, who was born in England but has dual citizenship with the US,” Rodney explained. “Parrish is next, and he’s the first American citizen. So four of us would need to die before an American was in charge. And if the four of us died, then we have other problems.”
John rubbed a hand over his jaw. “How much hassle would it be to have a new Charter.”
“Right,” John said with a groan. “So, more problems to worry about? With Woolsey, I mean.”
Rodney shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. But who the fuck knows? I think I'm paranoid, and it's hard to think about trusting him after Weir.”
Silence fell. John wanted to reach out and tug Rodney closer. Drag him into a room and hide from the world and their responsibilities for one single day. John leaned forward, bracing his hands on the arms of Rodney’s chair, and brought his face in close, wanting to kiss him.
“I’m going to set up space, just for you and me,” Rodney said, gripping John’s forearms and squeezing gently, leaving his hands there.
“What do you mean?”
“Unfortunately, we can’t spend all of our time together, and I don’t want anyone else to accidentally see our conversations on the intranet, so this will be a little virtual space for us,” Rodney explained.
“What about Teyla and Ronon?” John asked softly, feeling something warm bloom in his chest.
“I’ll set up two spaces,” Rodney replied, smiling at him. “I know it’s stupid, but I kind of like the idea of carving a little part out just for us.”
John didn’t bother to stop the soft smile, and he crossed the last inch between them to press his forehead against Rodney’s. “I’m fine with that.”
They didn’t have many places on Atlantis where it could just be the two of them. Even now, in the office, John was hyper-aware of his command, and he knew he should pull away. They had their rooms, and that was it. Everywhere else, they were Dr. McKay and Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard. They didn’t get to be John and Rodney often, and one more place, even online, was better than nothing.
“Good,” he said, kissing Rodney quickly before pulling back, crossing his arms over his chest.
Rodney followed him for a second before slumping back with a half-assed glare. John just smirked.
Rodney sighed. “What was she like?”
“Your Mom. You said she had spunk?”
John tilted his head to the side, a little surprised at the question, but he didn’t want to back away from it. He wanted to share things with Rodney, to be open about his past even if he hated talking about it. Especially his Mom. His ex-wife would be so proud of him. “She wanted to be an actress but never made it, so she worked as a mechanic with her Dad. She met my Dad when he was on leave at a bar, and they fell in love, got married, had me and Dave.”
“An actress?” Rodney asked, frowning. “Well, that explains why you’re so fucking attractive.”
John smirked. “You think I’m good looking?”
John had been expecting Rodney to roll his eyes and tease him, but the honest, open answer shocked him, and he felt his cheeks heat a little bit. He glanced to the side, unsure of what to say. People had called him attractive all his life, and he knew he was, but Rodney’s honest answer made it feel more real.
“You’re a lot like her, aren’t you?”
John nodded. “I like to think so. Fast cars, Johnny Cash, old country music, and Ferris Wheels. All of those are things we both loved. She taught me how to punch and how to fix a car. Drove my Dad and his family wild because she always fixed things around the house before anyone else would. The door wasn’t working right? She would get a level, a hammer, and a ladder and fix it. Lights not working? She would fix it. She liked working with her hands. She hated football, though, so that was all my Dad.”
“Let me guess. Your Dad thought she would settle down as she got older?”
“I guess? I don’t know. She never did, not as long as she was alive,” he replied with a smile. “He did love her, which is why he couldn’t ever find another wife he liked enough to stay with.”
Rodney nodded. “What happened?”
“Cancer. She smoked like a chimney since she was like fifteen,” John replied. “Caught up to her, and it was quick, so that was good. Beginning of the summer, she was there, and by the end of it, she was gone.”
Rodney frowned and tilted his head back. “I’m sorry,” he said softly, looking a little uncomfortable, and John didn’t blame him. Most people never knew what to say.
“Your parents are dead? Right?”
“Yeah, car accident when I was twenty-four,” Rodney said, rubbing a hand over his face before he continued. “My Dad was a philosophy professor, and my Mum was a herbalist, and all they did was fight.”
John was surprised, of all the professions he had expected Rodney's parents to be, those two were not even on the list. “A herbalist?”
“Yeah,” Rodney said softly, looking down. “I don’t think they were in any way prepared for me and Jeannie. Especially me. I could never understand why they believed in what they did because it never made sense to me. They couldn't answer most of my questions because they had faith in things that you couldn’t prove.”
“And I bet you kept asking questions, over and over again, trying to get an answer that made sense?” John asked dryly.
Rodney nodded his head. “Yeah, I never know when to quit when I sink my teeth into something.”
The last was said, looking at John intently, and he felt something warm bloom inside of him, and he smiled, knocking his knee against Rodney’s. “Good, I don’t either.”
Rodney smiled widely at him, happiness obvious in his eyes, and John felt his smile widen. He knocked his knee against Rodney’s again.
Rodney stood, squeezing John’s shoulder as he headed to the window and leaned his forehead against the glass, looking out. After a second, John joined him, looking down at how high they were, and for a second, he felt like he was in freefall, and for the first time in a few months, he felt like his parachute would open.
“They’ll drag me out of this city over my dead body,” Rodney muttered, turning and looking at John with a determined look in his eyes. “This is my city.”
John watched him for a moment and saw the same fire in his eyes that he felt sometimes. “Ours,” he replied, leaning over to kiss Rodney hard and fast. “It’s our city, and we’re not leaving.”