It doesn't get worse, so much as random.
John appreciates the value of psychological warfare, and Rodney and Zelenka are pretty much on a constant sugar high at this point, so the switch isn't surprising. An entire day passes without incident, though John suspects most of them will never see an unfamiliar vegetable again and not flinch, and after that, it's all tiny and insignificant and even Lorne can't complain about things that just--happen. Stupid, meaningless things that involve Ancient technology, careless personnel, and a suspiciously convenient rainstorm.
John convinces himself that there is no way even McKay could summon up a storm on demand.
Caldwell is about as hostile as usual, but John's also heard of an unfortunate incident involving circuitry that has restricted his ability to sit down for long periods of time. McKay tells him about it over lunch during a completely standard recon mission that involves no disasters, no homicidal natives, except, apparently, a severe allergic reaction to pollen that's going to send half the team back covered in hives.
John's carefully not commenting on which half of the team, either. "You know, you could make it easier on them. They're new."
"I could do a lot of things." McKay finishes off his third sandwich. "Besides, that wasn't my fault. There," Rodney stabs a finger in the air dangerous inches from John's eye, "is a botanist. He said, 'don't wander off'. You know, even when you were being an asshole--or more specifically, that kind of an asshole--you still asked around before wading out into strange plants."
It's nice to be appreciated. "They might not believe you. You know, with all those plots against their lives going on."
Rodney's smile is sharp and pleased. "If I wanted them dead, even you wouldn't figure out how I did it. No. This is educational. And besides, the rash will clear. In a few days."
John tries not to twitch, despite the fact he's sitting on grass that has a vague resemblance to the plants in question. "How did you know it was poisonous?"
Rodney pops out a Snickers and gives John his most innocent smile before breaking it in half and handing it over. Since McKay never shares food, it's as good as a confession. John really has to figure out where they're hiding all the candy. "I asked."
When Lorne and McKay go off on a mission alone together, John's pretty sure that it will end in bloodshed.
Three days of itching had, apparently, been the final straw. John had heard rumors about the party in the labs after, though the only evidence was the number of scientists trailing into the mess with hangovers the next morning. Even Lorne's toned down the level of hostility; there's no sign of a transfer request on John's desk, and it's been an entire two days without a single inexplicable malfunction. Everyone is showered in the mornings, and Carson's back to researching instead of treating. As ideal as life gets here, really.
Of course, it's going to end spectacularly. He really should have known better.
Bates and his men are in their usual positions on the floor, all perfectly normal. It could be his imagination that makes him think that McKay tosses Bates a glance before walking through the event horizon. But he doesn't imagine the slight smile back, and okay, things can get worse, apparently.
Maybe he should think about some leave on the mainland. For a few years.
Elizabeth watches with him, mouth a tight line, and John thinks this transitional period probably hasn't been easy for her, either. "They need to learn to work together."
Well, yeah. Except really, no. There are a multitude of reasons that McKay's on his team and his team only, but fairly high up the list is that McKay dislikes change intensely and reacts to it badly. He's a good teammate and he's amazing under pressure, but toss him in with someone who doesn't know him, and for that matter, doesn't even *try* to, and he's a mess in the field.
"This," John says, staring at the gate, "is a really, really bad idea. Have I mentioned that yet? You *approved* this?"
Elizabeth looks equally tense, and John wonders if it's just this mission. Lorne's scorn plays on repeat-- *"I've heard stories about you, Colonel. How you got this command."*--and oh, right. He can't help but glance down at the floor, wondering how many people watch them now, wondering. There's a space measurable in feet between them as he eases back, and he catches the sharp turn of her head when he does it, the flicker of understanding in clear eyes. "Colonel. John--"
"I'd better get back." To security, to his office, to reports, to another message from Caldwell detailing some other complaint, hell, maybe he'll run some diagnostics on the puddle jumper and pretend it's actual work and he's not hiding. He nods shortly, not meeting her eyes. "Doctor."
Zelenka is doing something that requires a hell of a lot of panels being open, and also, damn. It's the only place in the city that John can go, barring wandering the uncleared areas, and technically, he's on duty. "You need something, Colonel?"
Just wondering who will come home in a body bag, that's all. Lorne is military--smart, trained, and able to kill. McKay is, well, McKay--vicious, innovative, and possessed of a truly epic temper. It could go either way. "Just going to--" Do something absolutely pointless. "Carry on."
"Perhaps you could stay and assist?" Zelenka's waves his scanner at John. "Could use the ATA gene. Sit." Generously, he moves a set of disassembled--somethings--from the floor. John could fit there. If he doesn't breathe much. "Sit."
It's not like he has anything else to do. Picking his way through Ancient technology and various bits of semi-recognizable equipment, John lowers himself down, and a laptop is plopped into his lap. "Um, Zelenka--"
"You can read, yes? Good. Good with numbers too, yes?" Zelenka's smile threatens to take over his entire face. "Or so Rodney says. In his way."
In his way. "Not quite as caveman as expected?"
"He upgraded you to Cro-Magnon, of course." Zelenka does something inexplicable with a metal cone smaller than the tip of John's thumb. "Rodney wants to know about energy fluctuations during flight between natural ATA and artificial. Speed of response."
"Ahh." McKay's eternal quest to figure out why he still can't fly a puddle jumper straight. Of course it has to be the gene. Can't be, say, *talent*. "What am I looking for?"
"Reading log files. Sudden jumps. Here." One thin finger stabs the screen, not quite touching or smearing the surface. McKay has them trained. "Red is interesting, blue, not so much."
"Got it." It's an almost Zen thing, watching the numbers flicker by, almost faster than he can follow, and John entertains himself memorizing the baseline. "So, I've noticed a lack of terrorizing."
"New people are adjusting, not so much regulations and annoyance and do this, do that. We think it is time to--ease them in." Zelenka grins at John's startled look. "They did not understand. Now they do."
"We are here, first. This place." Zelenka makes a soft sound, punching a quick combination of buttons.
"I think they got the message," John answer dryly.
"Perhaps. Rodney thinks, however, that Major Lorne might need more instruction."
Fuck. "This mission was his idea?" And why hadn't John thought of that? "Lorne isn't--he's--" It's not you that's pissing him off, it's me. "Fuck."
Zelenka smiles peacefully. "Rodney thinks, perhaps, that Lorne thinks wrong about many, many things." A precise twist of a narrow wrist, maybe like he's imagining it's Lorne's head. "Says things that he should not, in places he should not, to people he should not. The others, they learned better. He has not." There's an edge in Zelenka's voice that John's never heard before. "He will."
John turns his head sharply. Lorne had said something. And McKay knew--Jesus, *Zelenka* knew-- "What did you--?" Of course they knew. Who the fuck maintained the security systems? Automatically, his eyes catch a jump in the readings. "Red. What--?"
Zelenka waves a hand, cutting him off. He has to have learned that from McKay. "Nothing worth the air to repeat. Nothing they will ever say again." Zelenka leans over John's shoulder to glance at the readings. Dark hair brushes his cheek, and a thin hand pats his shoulder. "Do not worry, Colonel. We've handled. Is Rodney we are talking of, yes?"
John tries to pretend that he's always around the gate room when teams come back. It's a complete and utter lie, but he doesn’t think anyone will call him on it. Elizabeth, in her office, pretends that she's concentrating on some terribly important report. They really aren't fooling anyone. Bates' smirk as he passes isn't helping.
McKay barely gives him a glance when they come in, bitching about something to do with light problems and contaminated samples with Carson while Lorne's still slowly coming off the platform. He has that look that John always associates with blood loss, or perhaps, ten hours straight of McKay exposure, unfiltered. John remembers the feeling. In small doses, McKay is intense enough to last for days if you're not used to it. Hours--Jesus.
Bates is standing his men down, and Lorne approaches Carson like a man expecting a quick and painful death. Rodney turns slightly, and that narrow-eyed look again, sharp as a missile guided laser. Lorne flinches, and maybe John imagines it, but he thinks he sees McKay flicker a smile before walking out, fingers snapping at Carson to come along for post-mission examinations. With an amused look at Lorne, Carson follows.
John stays there for a while, just thinking.
Major Lorne appears at breakfast, tray coming down across from John like a man attending his own execution. New, not welcome, but okay. John nods shortly, feeling the glances from around the room. "Morning, Major."
Sitting down, Lorne looks around, like he expects an attack in the mess at any moment. McKay's really conditioned these kids well. "Morning, Colonel."
John takes a bite of toast and watches Lorne stare at his tray. "Something on your mind?"
Lorne doesn't flinch, but it's a close thing. "Sir." He visibly swallows. "I wanted to apologize."
John take another bite. There are a lot of things he should say here. The transfer order is on his desk, and God, it would give Caldwell such a kick. He won't, though. "For what, Major?"
The dark eyes flicker upward warily, and John waits it out, letting him read anything he wants to into it. After a second, Lorne nods slowly. "Yes, sir." The pause is almost painful, then Lorne digs into his eggs with the concentration of a man dismantling a bomb.
"They like chocolate," John offers again, trying to smile, putting down his toast. He's not hungry anymore. Standing up, he reaches for his tray.
"People--talk," Lorne says, suddenly, and John freezes, biting back the words. All he has to do is sign the damn order. It won't change anything, not now, but God, it would feel good. A thing he can control, opposed to all the things he can't. Not looks. Not talk. Not thoughts.
"Talk doesn't mean anything, Major."
Lorne's on his feet in a blur of black, snapping to attention, like a new recruit just out of basic, and John almost stumbles in surprise. "They won't anymore, sir."
John nods slowly, saluting back, meaning it. "As you were, Major."
McKay just looks at him. "I was nice."
"You so weren't nice." Kicking his feet up on McKay's desk, John watches him scowl in annoyance. "What did you do to him?"
"He's in one piece. No mysterious rashes, no delusions of grandeur, no, shall we say, blatant idiocies in progress any longer. I'm almost disappointed." McKay stares at John's feet, like's willing them to move by the sheer power of his irritation. "Also, feet on my desk."
"Feet on the conference table. In *socks*." But John lowers his boots back to the ground. McKay tries to use the power of his scowl to move John off his chair, but no. It's a very, very comfortable chair. "So they've all learned their lesson? I can assume that the traditional breaking of wills is done?"
The flicker of smug satisfaction is so fast that John almost misses it, replaced too quickly with irritation. "You could say that. Now, is there anything specific you wanted, or is this a social call? Because I have far more important things to do than listen to you babble. Go--do something. Inventory. Fire guns. Spit."
John squints at him. "You know, you could be a lot nicer to me."
McKay crosses his arms over his chest, leaning into the wall. "Why should I be?"
For an answer, John spins the chair around, just to see McKay twitch. "There's a puddle jumper, all cleaned up, just begging for a little joyride around the planet. Zelenka wants you to test the new settings. You up for it?"
McKay blinks slowly, but he's almost *vibrating*. "You said, and I quote, that flying with me is what it must be like to drive drunk. While having seizures."
"I like to live dangerously."
McKay doesn't even pretend he's going to say no. Leaning over, he shuts down his laptop, then hesitates, giving John a suspicious look. "Any reason for this sudden rash of good will, Major?"
"Colonel." John thinks of everything Zelenka had carefully not said, then looks at McKay. Perpetually irritated, almost bouncing on his toes in excitement, about two seconds from snapping his fingers at John to get his ass in gear already. Not any different than any other day, except it's not any other day, and John wonders what else he hasn't seen.
He wants to say, I don't need anyone defending my honor. He wants to say, I don't need anyone to protect me. Maybe he wants to say, thank you, and you didn't have to, and God, why?
Instead, he says, "No reason. Let's go," and smiles.