Pairing: McKay/Carter-ish <--trobadora instructed me to add a note that it's gen enough for OTPers. *g*
Spoilers: '48 Hours,' tangentially through 'Phantoms'
Length: ~2600 words
Summary: Sam thinks up a more fitting punishment for McKay after '48 Hours.'
A/N: For trobadora. And with thanks to siriaeve for beta work and her scary-awesome knowledge of SG-1 canon.
One morning, Samantha Carter wakes up with a heightened sense of irony.
Unfortunately for Rodney McKay, this happens to be the morning he pisses her off.
There is panic in McKay's eyes, wiping away the smugness. "I'm a civilian," he says, "I don't have to do what you say."
Sam smiles, enjoying herself for the first time since Teal'c got stuck in the gate. "Well, as long as you're on the Air Force payroll..."
McKay looks like he's going to say something else, make another protest or at least complain about the unfairness of it all, but instead he clams up and leaves, like a man being escorted to his own death.
Whatever. Sam has more important things to worry about.
She doesn't think about him much, in the weeks he's away, but she knows the exact day he's due to come back, and she convinces Jack to adjust their mission schedule ("just..." two fingers held apart "...a little") so that she can be there when he returns.
The first thing she notices is that he's cut off his hair. They don't make civilians do this (as Daniel had gleefully made her aware), so it must have been a choice. Without the ridiculous floppy bangs he looks a lot less boyish, less like an arrogant child who needs to be taught a lesson.
He still smirks at her though. "Major Carter," he says, "how lovely to see you again. In person, I mean. You're even more inspirational than the little picture I hung next to my bunk."
Sam grits her teeth. "Nice to see you, too, McKay. I was a little worried you'd have shot yourself in the face by now."
"No, just the foot." There's a hint of tightness behind his eyes. He taps his (perfectly fine) foot impatiently. "Now, why don't you show me to my lab. I do get a lab, right?"
"Yes," says Sam, brightly. She's been looking forward to this. "Not that you'll get to spend much time in it, since you'll be going out in the field."
He hugs his laptop case to his body, protectively. "Yes. Well. We'll see about that."
It's actually only a coincidence that she's in the control room the first time his team goes out. Hammond has put him with a couple Marines, Colonel Jenkins and Sergeant Shelmerdine, and an Air Force officer, Major Lorne. Sam had something she wanted to ask Walter, but she pauses when she sees who's in the gateroom. McKay looks odd and uncomfortable in the BDUs, and even from up here she can see that his eyes are as wide as saucers. "Oh, God," he whispers, "I'm gonna die."
A cough. "Ah, Doctor McKay," says the Major, "your radio's on."
Sam swallows a laugh. And to think the poor guy seemed relieved to have been taken off mine-watching duty.
It's only later, as she's pushing her tray through the line in the mess, that Sam realizes that McKay could be right. He could die. Members of SGC die all the time, and civilian scientists who have had only the minimum of required training are particularly vulnerable. Of course, she knew this; it's a necessary risk to keep the program running, to stop the Goa'uld from invading, to protect Earth. Sam has weighed her own death against all these things, and she knows, in her heart, in her gut—and yes, intellectually—that the exchange is worth it. She goes out there every day, just like everyone else who works for SGC, ready to die to save the world.
It's no different, then, that she sent him out there; if it wasn't McKay it would be somebody else. It doesn't make her responsible.
McKay doesn't die on his first offworld mission, though his teammates come back through the gate looking like they would like to kill him. He doesn't die on his second or his third mission, either, and on his fourth he brings back a truly fascinating piece of alien technology with inscriptions that have Jonas nipping at his heels like an overenthusiastic puppy and scientific implications that send her own heart racing. McKay is smug about it, of course, and does everything he can to ensure that he hogs lab time with the device—and all associated credit—to himself. Sam can't help smirking when she finally gets some decent time with it, especially because McKay has to be almost forcibly torn away by his teammates to get geared up for their mission. She gives him a jaunty wave as Colonel Jenkins guides him out the door; McKay doesn't bring out her most mature side, but hey, everyone needs a hobby.
She's almost made a big breakthrough when the klaxons sound: unscheduled offworld activation, followed by a med team alert. The hairs on the back of Sam's neck stand on end; it could be anything, but she knows.
By the time she gets there, McKay's already been loaded onto a gurney, as has Jenkins, who's clutching at a bloody stump of a leg and trying to hold in a scream. Sergeant Shelmerdine is standing beside him, looking shell-shocked, his forehead bleeding. Major Lorne is almost untouched: bending over McKay, holding his hand. McKay appears just barely conscious. "Hang in there!" Lorne says, not letting go. He pushes past Sam, stunned and useless and in the way. "Hang in there, Rod!"
"Rod?" says Sam, incredulous, but thankfully nobody hears her over the sound of the sirens.
They all live, miraculously—or rather, thanks to Doctor Fraiser—although Jenkins is going to be taking a hefty retirement bonus and going home in a wheelchair. This sort of thing happens around here. It never fails to make Sam's stomach turn, but you have to learn to live with it. The stakes are too high.
After a bout of indecision, she goes to see McKay in the infirmary. He's recovering pretty well; most of his injuries were internal, although he'll have shrapnel scars now that'll never go away. She's read the mission report, written by Major Lorne in the cold, flat tone that years of report-writing brings. Colonel Jenkins accidentally activated a hidden explosives device inside the entrance to the temple. Doctor McKay was taking readings on the structure's power output and noticed a spike; he grabbed the Colonel's arm and pushed me out the door. Doctor McKay's body shielded me from the worst of the blast; Sergeant Shelmerdine was on our six and thus far enough away from the epicenter to sustain only minor injuries. He and I carried Colonel Jenkins and Doctor McKay back to the gate.
Sam understands instinct, how in the heat of the moment it can override intellect, even ego; she still can't picture McKay throwing himself into harm's way for anyone. She wonders what that says about her.
McKay is awake, eating blue Jell-O with gusto. "Major Carter," he says, in a tone she can't quite interpret. "I guess you found a good way to steal time with my discovery after all."
It's like a slap. McKay goes on blithely eating his Jell-O, though, so Sam can't even be sure if he meant it to sting that way. I just wanted to give you my honest analysis, Major. Said with such arrogant innocence. It seems like ages ago.
Sam shakes off the memory and folds her hands behind her back. "I've spoken to General Hammond," she says. "Area 51 would be happy to take you back."
"Happy?" McKay starts. "They'd be so grateful they'd go down on their...wait." He stops chewing and swallows hard. His wide eyes meet Sam's. "Are you, are you—are you taking me off the team? Do they not..." He's gone pale. She can hear the words even though he doesn't say them. Do they not want me anymore? Then he's babbling: "I tried to get Jenkins out of the way, I only had a second's warning, I should have gone in first and cleared the area but the Colonel said..."
"McKay. McKay!" She hardly realizes she's yelling until one of the other patients grumbles and Janet gives her a stern look. Sam lowers her voice. "Rodney," she says, "I thought you'd want..."
"Hey, buddy." Major Lorne's speaking at a far more infirmary-appropriate volume, but with the way McKay's face lights up, Sam can't help turning her head toward whatever the source of illumination must be. Lorne comes in and takes the seat next to McKay's bed; Sam realizes she's still standing a fair distance from the foot of it, looking awkward.
"Major," Lorne nods to her, in deference to her seniority and position on the base. She nods back, but Lorne's attention has already switched to McKay. "How you doing, Rod?"
McKay grins, an expression with more than a hint of desperate relief in it. "I'm bored out of my mind," he says. "No one will bring me any work and the TV reception down here sucks."
Lorne gives McKay's arm a friendly—if unusually gentle—punch. "Can't wait to get back out there, huh?"
McKay smiles at Lorne but not at Sam. "You know, I really can't."
McKay keeps at it like he has something to prove. Something to prove to her—it's her lab he jogs by, humming the theme from Rocky. When she come by his lab, which her supervisory position requires her to way too often, he always has white boards filled with equations and amazing breakthroughs with various alien devices to show off. He goes out on missions looking hale and determined, and comes back looking flushed and triumphant—and even more determined to race back to the lab, the gym, the shooting range, the mess, that room on level 25 where Major Lorne hosts a weekly poker game.
"Don't you ever sleep?" Sam heard one of the other scientists ask him once. "No," he said, "sleep is for the weak"—smiling of course, so it was a joke, and McKay and the scientist laughed together, whereas before Sam knew it would have been McKay, laughing at his pathetic peons.
But Sam is not laughing. She takes her supervisory position very seriously, and she's come by McKay's lab at times when he didn't know she was going to be there. She's seen him asleep at his workbench, his short hair tufting against his folded arms, shadowing his face just like it used to. Not like that at all.
"I've created a monster," Sam says one day, looking across the mess to where McKay is slouched in his chair, chuckling at something with a group of Marines, not even freaking out that one of them is munching on lemon chicken less than three feet away from him. Beside her, Jack lowers his mug; he looks at her, looks at McKay, then looks at her again with an eyebrow raised, which is not very helpful.
Finally, he says, "So should we call you Major-Doctor Frankenstein now?" which is really not helpful.
Sam sighs and stabs at her food. She can feel Jack watching her with furrowed brow; he shifts in his chair, straightening his spine, which means he's going to attempt to be serious. "Look," he says, "we need all the good people we can get. If McKay needed a kick in the pants to get with the program, well...I'm glad you had good aim and heavy boots."
Her dinner still feels heavy in her stomach, but Sam nods, which Jack thankfully takes as a cue to change the subject and start talking about the most recent episode of The Simpsons. Yet it keeps bothering her, an unwanted and potentially dangerous distraction. Good people, Jack had said, We need good people, like Sam had done something amazing, converted McKay from the Dark Side of the Force. Even Sam knows that if there has been a conversion, it was from the Mildly Annoying Side at best. Ah, protests the old McKay in her head. You mean the Honest Side.
If Sam is honest with herself, she doesn't feel like she's done something great or amazing. She feels like a parent who dropped her young child into the heaving ocean, then took a bow when the kid shocked everyone by being able to swim.
She feels like she's killed someone.
McKay is much nicer now. He doesn't snap at people, but nods his head and listens (biting his lip, Sam thinks) before, politely, offering his input and corrections. He doesn't leave the mountain much, but when he does it's to visit his sister. He talks about her, and his niece and nephew ("Another one's on the way!" he recently announced, earning a congratulatory back pat from Major Lorne), all the time; they're obviously very close.
Sam wonders if McKay's sister knows, like Sam does, that sometimes McKay stops off in Ohio on the way back from Toronto and spends a day helping Colonel Jenkins (Ret.) hobble around his rose garden.
Sam wonders if anyone knows, if anyone notices, that McKay doesn't smile the way he used to. Yes, he no longer fixes everyone with a cocky-arrogant-asshole smirk, but neither does his face light up in the joy of discovery; the wide blue discs of his eyes don't reflect awe and wonder when the wormhole whooshes into being, equally blue, before them. No, McKay's smile is friendly and polite and very, very distant—even forced, like he's using a surplus of muscles to make it happen, like his smile takes all the effort of a frown.
She wonders if anyone knows, if McKay even consciously knows, that he's stopped flirting with her. That this thing that she is finally willing to recognize was there between them, is gone.
When it comes time to pick personnel for the Atlantis mission, McKay is the perfect candidate. He's undeniably brilliant, driven, a good team player with offworld experience and with field scores that improve every time he's tested. Sam has seen him on the firing range, aiming and shooting like someone born to it, patiently taking advice on how to further improve his stance, then offering to help the instructor with his golf swing when the lesson is over. She's seen him cleaning his gun while he waits for a simulation to finish running, using skilled hands to carefully grease the parts. She thinks McKay is like that now. Well-oiled. A machine.
She writes him a highly-complimentary, if stiffly-worded, recommendation.
The night before the Atlantis team is scheduled to depart, Sam isn't surprised to hear a knock on her door. She's braced for it, for McKay standing in her doorway with haunted, accusing eyes. She imagines him standing there, looking floppy-haired and impossibly young, looking like an honest, innocent jerk and demanding an equally honest answer from her when he asks, Why?
Instead the McKay her door opens to looks like himself, his current self: short tuffed hair, seemingly unconcerned with how it's thinning; strongly muscled arms and shoulders that are clearly the work of actual exertion, not meaningless hours spent toning in the gym; falsely guileless eyes and stiff, robotic smile. He's wearing a leather jacket and civilian trousers; he looks like he's going somewhere, like he's on his way out.
"Ah, Sam," he says. McKay has taken to calling everyone by their first name; General Hammond had been pretty much the only one exempt. "I'm glad you're here. I wasn't sure I'd get another chance..."
Sam does not clench her fists or grip the doorway but keeps her body loose. She's ready for this; she's been waiting for this.
McKay looks at her. "I, ah. I know that at first things were a little...tense between us. Our working relationship didn't begin on the best of terms."
The last thing she needs right now is a run of exposition. Spit it out, McKay, she wants to say. She says nothing.
"It's been quite an experience, working here. But now that I'm leaving, I think it's time that I finally say..."
He stops. Sam can't stand it. She wants to rail at him, grab him, shake some goddamn sense back into him, kiss the arrogance back into his blandly serene mouth. "What?" she asks.
"Thank you," Rod says, and before he leaves he kisses her, lightly, on the cheek.
1. Yeah, so this is actually a MENSA-verse story. It was actually meant to be my entry for mensa_au’s “Getting to Know You” ficathon, only it’s really, pathetically late. *shame*
2. Oh yeah, and approximately, um, four lines of dialogue are taken from ‘48 Hours.’
3. I’ve missed writing totally extraneous author’s notes.