Spoilers: Runner, very lightly
Summary: The learning curve can be a little rough.
Thanks to chopchica and CJ for the beta, and fixing my tenses and articles.
The mess is too quiet, in that way that makes John want to raid the armory before settling down with breakfast. An extra Beretta, maybe, and one of those wicked little boot knives they traded for three missions back. Some C-4. A small thermonuclear device. Considering the number of personnel in residence--and the fact that, well, it's *breakfast*--the room shouldn't be this empty.
It's suspicious, as only peace and quiet and an almost deserted room can be. Giving the room a casual glance, he spots a few of his men, but none of the new ones.
And doesn't that tell him a few things, none of which mesh with digestion.
Choosing a seat with a wall at his back and potential for decent cover, John settles with a plate and an eye on the door. Early morning sunlight spills over the table, and outside, he can hear the ocean murmuring, the Atlantean equivalent of a gull sweeping near enough to see the fish trapped in its beak. The mess crew looks warily at him from behind the partition, and John realizes he's fingering his Beretta between bites.
There's paranoia, and then there's just plain instinct. John trusts his instincts, he trusts his gun, and most of all, he trusts that six in the morning, come rain, shine, hail, or Wraiths, the military will be here, will eat, and will be ready for duty.
Long minutes later, John watches McKay and company come in suspiciously early, a horde of blue shirts and white coats, looking tired, minimal bitching, and somewhere in there, John sees a high-five discreetly exchanged between moving bodies. Amazing, how quickly anything resembling food vanishes, and John reflexively pulls his tray closer as a small group detaches itself from the mass, coming his way. He's eaten with McKay enough to know that no one's breakfast is sacred after a late night, and John remembers that McKay had still been in the labs when he went to bed. For good measure, he licks his nearly-biscuit when McKay sits down across from him.
"That's disgusting, Major."
Zelenka drops at his side, looking incredibly cheerful for someone with dark circles beneath his eyes, eyeing John's semi-Danish before enthusiastically digging into a double portion of squares of oatmeal. Squares. Of. Oatmeal. John can't get over that. "Good morning, Colonel."
At least *someone* remembers his rank. "Morning, Doctor." It's always a kick to see McKay and Zelenka decimate everything edible in sight. Or it would be, if John could stop twitching every time Zelenka moves. They're in far too good a mood for this early in the morning.
Pod people. Maybe John should be checking under beds later on during security sweeps.
"You can stop fondling your gun now," McKay says through a mouthful of something that looks like fruit. "Everything's under control."
"Under control?" John checks the room again. Scientists and veteran personnel. None of the new guys. Yeah, no degree in rocket science needed to figure this one out. "McKay--"
A fork waves dangerously close to his nose. "Don't even try, Major."
"Whatever." The fork dives for John's unprotected sausage. He lets it go. "We've been thinking."
Oh God. "'We'."
"With all the new people coming in, there just hasn't been time for a get-to-know-you." McKay waves the fork again, eyes settling on John's other sausage with intent. Sighing, he just nods, and the sausage departs for parts McKay. "So everyone can get comfortable with each other." The fork waves again, but John figures that it's safe enough. All that's left is eggs and a contaminated biscuit. "Good for morale. Team building." McKay stabs the unmoving eggs enthusiastically. "Education."
Oh. God. "What did you do?"
McKay grins, and John hides a wince as Zelenka's sharp elbow makes companionable contact with his side. "Nothing they will forget, Colonel. Here." A thin slice of meat drops onto his plate. John regards it sadly, as the sign of capitulation that it is. "Have some ham."
Major Lorne is not amused. "I'm going to kill them."
Rubbing his nose, John considers the group facing him, all new to Atlantis, trying to ignore the faint smells of sewage mixed with too much aftershave. Their breakfast consists of dry toast and water. There are a lot of reasons John gets to the mess early. "Major--."
Lorne's hair is almost hypnotizing, standing at some form of attention that seems to defy logic, gravity, and frankly, it's kind of offensive, almost like a McKay specific message to John. Stay neutral or you, too, will suffer. John really doesn't want to suffer. Again. "Sir--"
This is going to be a long day. Picking up his coffee, John sighs. "What happened?"
One of the new lieutenants, two chairs down, glances up, and John shudders at the sight of a blackening eye. "Doors."
Yeah, that's a classic. John remembers. "Showers?"
Lorne's expression darkens. "Doors. Showers. Toilets. *Environmental controls*."
That's new, and kind of interesting. "Desert or arctic?" John asks, morbidly curious.
Huh. John picks up the remains of his biscuit and is the focus of ten pairs of highly-trained-to-kill glares. Yes, he gets it. He's a collaborator by proxy. "I told you."
"This is Atlantis, not the SGC. This is *Atlantis*. Civilian enterprise. You didn't read the memo?" John went through three versions before McKay, wandering by, had leaned over his shoulder and reminded him of the Incident With the Transporters That Day. After that, John had been more explicit. "Whatever the hell you did to piss them off? I suggest an apology. They like food and groveling. Keep that in mind."
Lorne looks like he just might try a raid on a certain lab area of the city, and really, who knew they came suicidal this young? "They're interfering with base security!"
"Not by sabotaging the showers they're not. Which by the way, if you can prove it, more power to you. Because you won't." John had tried. God, had he tried.
Lorne looks at him like John just declared Canadian citizenship. Which, if he's smart, he should consider doing. Lorne's been working on his nerves for a few days now, and the smothered hostility is beginning to grate. "You should do something."
They've got to be kidding. "What? Arrest them for being *mean*? This isn't grade school, Major. You're on your own."
Lorne's mouth tightens mulishly. "I'm going to have to report this to Colonel Caldwell." Since you, you yellow-livered scientist lover, are not cooperating, he doesn't say, but he looks it well enough.
John takes a second and thinks of his last report of Caldwell, locked in a transporter on an upper level. Zelenka had been very apologetic. From what John could hear over the radio, they'd been playing poker outside the doors for about an hour. While the circuits cooled. Of course.
He's got to wonder what Caldwell did to piss off McKay. It'd be interesting to ask. John forces himself not to smile, but it's hard. "When you find him? You do that."
Assigning out security, John's careful to give Lorne a route far enough away from McKay that there's not much of a chance they'll run into each other by accident. Lorne's going to be a problem.
Not being an idiot, John goes to Zelenka for his information. Zelenka is Satan's right hand man, but he's also trying to get into Elizabeth's pants, so…. "What did Lorne and the new guys do to piss McKay off?"
Zelenka regards him over the top of a microscope with twinkling good humor, like the happiest sociopathic elf ever. "Read the field report."
John sighs and make a mental note that never, ever, will Lorne work directly with McKay again. "Yeah. That's it?"
Folding his hands, Zelenka gives him a pitying look. "Among other things. New personnel may bring bad habits to resident personnel, yes? Go here, go there, do as told, shut mouth. Very annoying. Perhaps they need reminding of peace and harmony in Atlantis when all goes smoothly."
"When we bend over backwards, yes, I remember." Bend over, period. They really should have taken that memo more seriously. He wants to ask what else, but he's seen enough of the interactions to guess. The new people aren't quite on board with the concept of a civilian-run mission yet.
"New personnel is not quite understanding." Zelenka smiles maliciously and picks up something Ancient and dangerous looking, but it's probably the equivalent of an Ancient spoon, just fancier. "So. We explain."
Yeah. John thinks of Carson and his Tylenol supply with a longing he usually associates with hot showers and ice cream. "Anything else?"
Zelenka's screwdriver moves very precisely in answer. Yes, John gets it, thanks very much. "I'd suggest staying away from mess hall at lunch, Colonel."
McKay comes with power bars and, God love him, actual honest-to-God soda. John turns from his diagnostic of the puddle jumper and takes the can without a murmur. He's hiding, and he's not ashamed to admit it. "How's it going?"
McKay grins with bloodthirsty good cheer and tears off a bite of power bar like he's imagining it's flesh. It'd be disturbing, if it wasn't McKay. "Carson says hi, and also, hiding? Here? Very funny."
"I'm *working*." John vaguely remembers Carson's voice over the radio, thick with Scottish glee and forces himself not to sigh. It would only encourage McKay. "Food poisoning, huh?" He takes a power bar, too. He's already a collaborator, after all.
"Nothing so crass, Major." McKay makes himself comfortable in the copilot's seat, reminding John of a pleased cat, curling up in sunlight. "A little indigestion from an unfortunate Athosian root. They'll be fine." He eats like he does everything else, completely focused, making the kind of happy sounds most people associate with relatively good sex. "Elizabeth thinks we may want to take another supply run to the continent this afternoon, since they had to dispose of so much of our supply of Athosian vegetables." A second power bar is waved in John's face. "Danger of contamination."
John tries not to wince. "Do I want to know?"
McKay considers it. "Probably not." Finishing, McKay stands up, tucking away the wrappers with the kind of glee that makes John so very, very glad he's going to be out of the city this afternoon. He really doesn't want to know. "Come on. We have a briefing at one." And he wanders off, like there's no chance John's not going to follow, like the smart, completely whipped Air Force officer that he is.
John's not stupid. He follows.
The next morning, John stops by Lorne's table on his way out of the mess hall. The blue streaks in his hair are almost the exact color of the ocean. "Just a thought. They like chocolate."
He doesn't laugh until he gets out of the room.
Their own people settle down in a day or two, brutally chastened from their attempt to disrupt the status quo. Offerings of chocolate, porn, and contraband liquor slowly accumulate in the labs. The scientists are looking smug. Hopped up on sugar and the joy of victory, they're making stunning progress in fields of study John can't even pronounce.
Lorne and the new people, however, are still not reading the memo. Elizabeth gives him a look and a short report that starts with a confrontation over access to one of the newly discovered labs and ends with what appears to be a turf war over security procedure versus project deadlines in alternate power research. Somehow, and John can't figure out *how*, Lorne has managed to get on Bates' worst of bad sides, which has pretty much turned Atlantis into the most bizarre power struggle ever.
To think, Caldwell could have had all of *this*.
After, John gets a couple of bottles of Athosian beer from Zelenka and makes his way to Lorne's quarters. They're not hard to find.
A mental command opens the door, but reluctantly, since this is McKay's will he's going up against, and there are days that even Ancient technology knows better than to fuck with him. The room's the exact level of neat that John would expect, and John pulls his coat closer as he walks in, noticing the frozen condensation on most flat surfaces.
The bitter looking ball of Major Lorne snaps to attention from the bed, wrapped in two thin, army-issue blankets. John regards the bare feet and bare ankles for a second. It's bad policy to grin at the suffering of subordinates. "At ease, Major." A glance around the room reveals no surface that's safe to sit on. John wishes he'd remembered to bring a chair. "Have a seat."
Warily, Lorne sits down, pulling his feet back under the covers, and John glimpses a bare calf. Looking away quickly, he busies himself uncapping the bottles and with another glance around, gives up and leans into the desk. "Did something happen to your clothes, Major?"
If possible, Lorne stiffens even more. "Flooding. They're being dried now. Sir."
"Ah. Here." He extends the bottle, and Lorne has learned something after all, because he gives it a careful look before snaking one hand from beneath the blankets and taking it, sniffing suspiciously. "Don't worry. I didn't tell them it was for you."
Smart man that he is, Lorne nods and drinks. "Not bad." He eyes John like a deserter. That? Is getting annoying. "Why did you get some?"
"Because I'm not stupid." He's not. "Okay, short version. This will continue indefinitely."
"And you *allow* this? Sir?" The dark eyes widen, and John has to wonder if the kid's heard a word he's said. "With all due respect--"
"Don't even try. This isn't a military operation, in case Dr. Weir's presence didn't clue you in. This isn't the SGC, this isn't a war zone, and this isn't an American military base. You try to fuck around with the civilians here, you're screwed."
"Permission to speak freely?"
Well, why the hell not? Lorne seems okay, and he's a smart kid, and he didn't shoot McKay in the field, which is kind of impressive all on its own. "Granted."
Straightening, Lorne frowns. "Allowing this kind of behavior is demeaning, sir."
It would be so much easier if Lorne was stupid, someone John could throw back to the Daedalus, but he's not, he's good, he's better than good, or John wouldn't have picked him. "Answering to a civilian? Or the fact you managed, and this is pretty impressive, to piss off the entire science department and the head of security in less than a month? Make up your mind now, Major. All of you were told exactly what Atlantis would be like, and apparently, you didn't listen. We're here as protection, not to dictate what the civilians do."
Lorne frowns. "They--"
"Major, if you can't adapt, then you may need to consider reassignment." He knows how harsh he sounds, taking a drink of beer to stop himself from saying something incredibly stupid. There's no way Atlantis can function with an open breach in the ranks of the military, much less with the scientists in revolt, and there's zero chance of McKay backing down now.
Lorne's mouth opens silently in surprise, eyes narrowing. He looks a lot like John always did before he said something incredibly, incredibly stupid. "I've heard stories about you, Colonel." The bitter edge in his voice forces John's spine straight. "How you got this command."
Killing your superior officer has that effect. Or fucking the mission leader, and yes, John knows what they say, knows what the Daedalus crew murmured beneath their breath when they thought he couldn't hear, knows what *Caldwell* thinks every time he looks at John. Lorne's just the first to say it to his face. The first on Atlantis, and God, John so doesn't need this shit. "Consider asking for that transfer, Major," John hears himself say, standing up. You don't beat the shit out of someone for what they imply; that's what the gym is for.
Lorne stands up, snapping a salute with a familiar kind of blankness, the kind that hides how very, very much he doesn't like John, and John lets him stand like that for a while. The floor, John's knows, is very cold. And his bare feet are turning very blue. "Good evening, Major." He gives it a few more seconds, enough for the discomfort to show on Lorne's face, then walks out.
In the hall, he stops, leaning into the wall. He'd met every man who was assigned here, he *knew* them, he thought--
When he opens his eyes, he sees McKay, a few feet away with an energy scanner, not even pretending that he's working on anything. The science network is nothing if not thorough, and Zelenka probably told McKay about the beer. Probably making sure John isn't screwing around with any of the future horror in store. "Need something, McKay?"
The blue eyes study him for a second, all that attention that makes McKay so brilliant focused on John like a spotlight. John wonders what's showing on his face before McKay snaps the scanner into his pocket, all annoyance and waving hands. Almost enough to fool John into forgetting the way the blue eyes had narrowed on Lorne's door, and really, what could the kid have done to piss McKay off that much? "While you're lounging around drinking yourself into unconsciousness, I was getting some work done. I need an ATA gene to bring up some of the new wings we're opening. You're it."
"You have one of your own." He really wants the gym right now.
"You say that like I should care." A snap of fingers, because McKay's never met a person he couldn't beat into the ground with sheer determination. John's probably been weakened by repeated exposure; he doesn't even attempt an objection. "Chop chop, Major. I don't have all night."
John tries not to smile. "Colonel." Pushing off the wall, he falls into step. The gym can wait. "Are you ever going to remember?"
"I only bother with important things. Now be useful and help me get the system up, would you?"