Author’s Note: Written because I was unhappy with the abrupt ending of a certain conversation in the episode “Hot Zone.” I felt that John needed to hear what Elizabeth had to say, so I let her say it.
Having presented their chilling news, Doctors McKay and Beckett promptly left the way they’d come, and Sheppard rose to follow them.
“Sit down, Major.” The quiet command in Weir’s voice stopped him halfway to the door. “I’m not finished with you yet.”
He turned back to face her, a pained expression on his face. “Look, Elizabeth…”
“Don’t ‘Elizabeth’ me,” Weir responded firmly. “You’re not going to charm your way out of this one. I meant what I said–it can’t happen again.”
John let out a deep sigh and reluctantly resumed his seat.
“I get that you’re a maverick,” she stated in a quietly sympathetic but unyielding tone, folding her arms across her chest as she studied him with a piercing look that made him deeply uncomfortable. “I understand that you do what you feel is right and damn the consequences. I’m even beginning to suspect that the only reason you joined the Air Force in the first place was for all the cool toys.”
The accuracy of that statement made him flinch a little.
“I understand that,” Elizabeth reiterated, “and to a certain degree I respect it. If I hadn’t, I would never have asked you to join this mission, Ancient gene or no.” She leaned forward, propping her elbows up on the desk, folding her hands and staring him straight in the eyes. “But when I asked you to join this team, you weren’t the ranking military officer.”
That made him flinch more than a little. “You don’t need to remind me–”
“Don’t I?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “You may have no respect for the chain of command, Major, but I should hope I don’t need to remind you that most of your men do. They’ll follow your lead, come hell or high water, and right now the example you’re setting is that it’s okay to ignore my orders if you disagree with them.”
He opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again when he realized he really couldn’t. He had ignored her orders, he grudgingly admitted. Worse, he’d directly countermanded them, in front of a subordinate. And if he was honest with himself, he’d gotten a certain grim, not exactly unselfish satisfaction out of forcing Bates to take his side in this argument.
But damn it, he still believed he’d done the right thing. Okay, so things had gotten out of control for a little while–they’d fixed it before anyone else got hurt. And if he had still been locked in the gym, he wouldn’t have been able to take that reactor up into the atmosphere and detonate it.
“Let me put it another way,” Elizabeth sighed, leaning back again and letting her hands drop to the desk. “Where would the United States be if the Joint Chiefs suddenly decided one day to start ignoring the President’s orders?”
“Well, for one thing we wouldn’t have gotten bogged down in Iraq,” Sheppard quipped.
Elizabeth frowned. “John…” she stated, exasperated.
He raised his hands in a peacemaking gesture. “Okay, I get your point.”
“I don’t think you do,” she argued, still frowning. “Because the point I’m trying to make is that as long as we’re cut off from Earth, I am your Commander in Chief. I’ve given you a lot of leeway because I trust you to do your job. But I also trusted you to respect my ability to do mine. If my leniency has led you to believe you have no one to answer to, then maybe that decision was a mistake.”
He frowned, a knot of apprehension tightening in his stomach. “So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying I want to trust you, but I don’t know if I can if you’re not willing to afford me the same courtesy.”
“I told you, I do trust you–”
“But you don’t trust my judgment. Or at least not as much as you trust your own,” she interrupted with another one of those keen, piercing looks. “Tell me, Major, when you defied orders to try to save those men in Afghanistan, did you succeed?”
“Well, no, but–”
“Did it ever occur to you that the reason you were ordered not to try was because your superior had the foresight to know the mission probably wouldn’t be a success, and wasn’t willing to risk your life to prove it?”
It was hard to miss the echo of their first argument, over whether or not to send a rescue mission after Sumner, Bates, and the Athosians. The similarity was reinforced by her next words: “I let you go after our people who were taken by the Wraith because you gave me what I asked for–a fighting chance. What made you so certain I wouldn’t have done the same this time once I could be sure it wouldn’t endanger any more of our people?”
She was making excellent point after excellent point, but John Sheppard was stubborn, and more than a little proud too. Traits that had gotten him into trouble in the past, he knew that, but that didn’t make it any easier to let go. “We were on a deadline–no pun intended.”
“Yes, we were,” Elizabeth stated softly. “A deadline that you shortened by giving Peterson access to that transporter.”
A long, uncomfortable silence followed.
“I think we’ve done a good job of leading this expedition together,” she affirmed quietly. “We make a good team. But we have to stand together, which means one of us has to bend once in a while and like it or not, sometimes it has to be you. This isn’t a game, John. This is life and death. Two hundred people have placed their lives in my hands–mine, not just yours–and we’ve already lost too many of them. And if you think for an instant I’m not constantly aware of that, that I don’t weigh those lives–all of those lives, not just the ones already in danger–against every decision I make, then maybe I was wrong to trust you.”
“You weren’t,” he vowed. “Look, I’m not…I’m not good at this. I can’t make any promises, but I’ll try.”
“That’s not good enough,” she sighed. “Not in the long run. But it’s a start.”
Weir turned her head away for a long moment, not saying anything. When she spoke again, it was without looking at him. “You may go now.”
Without a single characteristic word of protest, Sheppard stood and quietly left the office.