Title: Equipment Failure - posted May 9, 2006
Author: Lacey McBain
Pairing: none (could be read as McKay/Sheppard pre-slash)
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~1370
Summary: "It happens to everyone."
Notes: Originally written for the sga_flashfic This is Not Happening Challenge.

Equipment Failure

Elizabeth paused outside the door to McKay’s lab. Rodney had practically run out of the briefing with an embarrassed look on his face and a stammered explanation about needing to get to the lab. Elizabeth had kept John behind to clarify a few things, but the whole time she could see his eyes darting towards the door until finally she gave up and said, “Fine. Go talk to him, but we’re not finished.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he drawled at her as he bounced out of his chair, setting off at a half-jog in the direction of the labs. She’d pushed down the immediate don’t call me ma’am, and decided if she left the two of them to their own devices, they’d probably never report back to finish the debrief. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d skipped out on her. So, she followed at a leisurely pace, figuring she’d give Sheppard a little time to deal with whatever had McKay flustered, but then, dammit, they were telling her the whole story of what had happened on MX4-792. Somebody had to keep up with the paperwork.

The door to the lab was open, and she could hear Rodney’s voice, tight and angry. “Is that supposed to make me feel better, Major?”

“Rodney, it happens to everyone. Don’t worry about it.” Sheppard sounded genuinely sympathetic.

“No, no, no. Not to me!”

“Look, sometimes things happen. No matter how much you want it to, stuff doesn’t always work. You can’t take it personally.”

Well, that was interesting. Elizabeth chanced a peek through the door to see John standing with one hand on Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney wasn’t meeting his eyes.

“I—that’s never happened before. I didn’t know what to do.” Rodney raised his head and Elizabeth pulled back from the doorway, but Rodney was completely focused on Sheppard. “I’m not used to not knowing what to do.”

“You did just fine,” John said, giving Rodney’s shoulder a pat.

“I’m used to things working when I want them to. It was so frustrating to not be able to—” Rodney let out a breath and took a step back, leaning against the lab counter. “Well, you were there. You know what happened.”

“Rodney, equipment failure is a fact of life. No matter how much you want it to work at that moment, no matter how much adrenaline’s pumping through you, it doesn’t change things. Sometimes it doesn’t cooperate.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Rodney’s eyes had dropped back down to the floor. He was rubbing the toe of one shoe against the other. John sighed and leaned back against the table beside him.

“You know, it’s happened to me.”


“Lots of times. More times than I can count.”


“Yeah, and it’s always at the worst possible moment. There was this one time, I was pinned down by a bunch of guys, and wham, nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Elizabeth shook her head. The visual was … disconcerting.

“If you’re just lying to make me feel better …” Rodney glanced over at John carefully. “Well, I appreciate it.”

John smiled and shrugged. “It’s the truth. People don’t like to talk about it, but it happens. To everyone.”


Elizabeth waited in silence and wondered if there was more to come. She really wanted there to be more. She was about to step through the door to insist they finish the debriefing when she heard John’s voice.

“I could look at it for you,” he offered.

“You’d do that?”

“Sure. It’s kind of my responsibility, you know. After all, I was the one who showed you how to use it.”

Elizabeth stopped just short of pounding her head against the wall in abject frustration. Every single good-looking man on Atlantis and …

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt if you’d—”

“Not here!” John insisted in an urgent whisper that still managed to carry all the way to the door. “Jeez, you know how it freaks out your people. You can’t just whip it out and start waving it around the lab like that.”

Elizabeth blushed in spite of herself.

“Do you see anybody else here?” Rodney sounded terse. “When it’s just you and me, I figure I’m safe pulling it out. Besides, it’s not working, remember? The likelihood of getting off a stray—”

“Still, there’s no point taking chances. We don’t know what the exact problem is or even if it’s permanent. We don’t want it going off without warning.”

“I wouldn’t—I’m very careful!” Rodney was sputtering again.

“Yeah. I don’t think Sergeant Bates would necessarily agree.”

“That—that was an accident!”

“Safety first, Rodney.” Elizabeth could hear the smirk in John’s voice. She tried to remember if there’d been any kind of incident with McKay and Bates. Oh. Well, now everything made perfect sense. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

“That was totally uncalled for, Sheppard.”

“I’m just saying, I don’t want to end up in the infirmary trying to explain to Carson how—”

“Yes, yes, your ass is perfectly safe, Major. Can we just let it drop already? That was—”

“An accident,” John finished soothingly. “Could’ve happened to anyone. I know. Now, are you cleaning it regularly? Like I told you to?”

Elizabeth could hear inarticulate sputters. She dropped her head and grinned. Very few people could reduce Rodney to irate speechlessness. John had a particular knack for it.

“Are you using the oil on it like I showed you?”

“Yes! I’m doing everything exactly as you showed me, and it still didn’t work, which, as you’ve been trying to tell me for the last ten minutes is not my fault, it’s stupid equipment failure—”

Elizabeth could almost feel the tension building up in Rodney’s voice.


“—because the U.S. military can spend billions on weapons, but not figure out how to make them work when it really matters, like, say for example when your team leader is about to be impaled on the end of a long and pointy spear, and the damn gun won’t do anything—“

“Rodney!” Elizabeth could see John moving back to the position she’d originally found them in, John standing with his hands on Rodney’s shoulders, and he was shaking Rodney just a little.

“—and if Ford hadn’t been right there, you would’ve been dead, and it doesn’t matter if you call it equipment failure, it still would’ve been … it would’ve been …”

Rodney’s blue eyes looked large and frightened and Elizabeth could fill in the blanks. She’d forgotten how often they came close to losing someone every day.

“It wouldn’t have been your fault,” Sheppard said firmly, just enough edge in his voice to get McKay’s full attention. “The damn gun jammed, McKay. And I don’t really want you shooting people anyway; not if you don’t have to. It’s not your job.”


“No, it’s my job to protect you, not the other way around.” He held up a hand to cut Rodney off. “And I’m grateful for the times you’ve been there, but it’s not expected. Ever. You can’t control everything in the universe, Rodney, no matter how big your brain is. Sometimes shit happens, and it happens to us more than most people.”

“John.” Elizabeth didn’t think she’d ever heard Rodney call him that. The familiarity of it was soothing somehow. She realized she’d come to depend on them, not only for their loyalty to Atlantis, but to one another as well.

“I’m fine, Rodney. Now, let’s take this malfunctioning piece of equipment to the armoury and see if we can’t figure out why it won’t fire. Think we can do that?”

“Fine,” Rodney said, placated for the moment, but Elizabeth was pretty sure she'd be listening to them argue for the next several years. If they lived that long. She slid down the hallway in the opposite direction to the armoury; when they left the room, they didn’t even glance in her direction.

“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? If you’re good, maybe I’ll even let you try the rocket launcher.”

“Really?” Rodney’s enthusiasm was audible.

“No,” John said, settling his hand lightly on the small of Rodney’s back, guiding him down the hallway.


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