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Minor Characters IX: We Can Be Heroes

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Minor Characters: We Can Be Heroes

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day.”

David Bowie, “Heroes”

One

 

Moore

 Honestly? If I don’t get anything to do in the next ten minutes, I won’t be liable for any damages caused. A couple weeks cooped at the SGC waiting for them to find a ZPM – we could have helped with that, dammit – and then four days cooped up on this bucket of bolts with jack shit to do but run, train and worry would make anyone eager for action. Any action, at this point. Lorne at least had enough flight hours on the F-302 to end up on the Daedalus’s backup pilots roster and has been in standby… “Contact, all personnel brace for impact,” someone announces over ship wide and now I’m really starting to get pissed.

 Because I’ll just bet that now he does get something to do. With his luck, one of the primary pilots just happened to get food poisoning an hour ago. I know I should just leave it alone because I’ll just get crankier but yeah, did anyone expect differently of me with nothing to do and a computer terminal right in front of me. I can feel Dee’s eyes on me, probably full of that “Why can he never behave like normal people would?” but yeah, oops, already hacked into the fighter channels.

 Alright… “Snakes squadron, this is Snake Leader, ready for contact in three, two…”

 “Snake Leader, this is Six, contact!” Yep, there he goes. Major Evan Lorne, eternal eager beaver, snagging first contact when he isn’t even a regular part of the squadron. “Whoa, those fuckers are fast.” Yeah, serves you right.

 I turn around to Dee and see that he has positioned himself so that no one can see what I’m doing at my terminal without it looking as if he’s shielding me. Well, that’s thoughtful, Sergeant. Definitely some points for forward… ah, right, here’s what he wants for that favor. He discretely stretches out his hand and I roll my eyes and hand him the second earpiece that just happened to be in my pocket.

 So now we’re both listening in on the fighter crews and holy hell do they get a pounding. Whatever  those space vampires are flying, it’s giving our guys a run for their money. They’re good, at least judging from what I see on my screen – yes, I couldn’t resist hacking into the tactical screens, too – but the space vampires are faster, more agile and also suicidal. Or at least they don’t seem to value their lives as much as we do because their favorite tactic is basically running full speed at anything that isn’t them.

 Preferably the ship, as it seems because we’re by now constantly being rocked by impacts. The screen doesn’t say whether it’s the space vampires’ fighters or their shipboard guns and have I mentioned how much I hate having to sit around without being able to do anything?

 On the radio, the chatter is getting more intense and I realize after about two minutes that tapping into the channel was a mistake. Because I now get to see an entire space battle in real time, hear one of my best and oldest friends fly his way out of one tight spot after another and often enough multiple tight spots at the same time and keep wondering why I didn’t take the chance to qualify for the F-302 when I had it. Because then at least I wouldn’t be relegated to the backseat right now and… “Hate to remind you, sir, but you can’t do everything.”

 Right. One of the downsides of having worked closely with someone for over ten years: they know you inside out and aren’t afraid to tell you when they shamelessly read your mind and don’t agree with you.

 “Don’t want to do everything, Sergeant.” I don’t look at him, just keep staring at the screen but I know exactly what he looks like. He has this “Uh-huh, yeah, right” look on his face he always has when he thinks I can’t see it. The one with the slightly rolled eyes and all. “Just stuff that means I won’t have to sit on my ass and watch others commit needless Big Damn Heroics.”

 “Instead of committing needless Big Damn Heroics yourself?” This time, I do turn around to throw him the narrowed eyes and he almost smirks and adds a belated, “Sir.” Ever since our let’s call it altercation in that workout room at Eglin, Dee’s gotten a little… cocky. Or maybe a little more transparent about what he really thinks, I don’t know. I also don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing and quite frankly, right now, I don’t care. Because Lorne’s squadron leader just gave the order to fall back from the biggest ship and… whoa!

 I blink at the screen. “The hell? Where did the big one just go?”

 Dee doesn’t say anything, just frowns at the screen, and then someone on the channel says, “Kill confirmed, Daedalus Actual. Hive ship’s gone.” Okay, how the hell did they just kill one of those big ships when all the fighters were engaged and the rail guns didn’t seem to have much effect just a moment ago? What…

 “All squadrons, keep your distance from those cruisers, they’re next. Nuke away in one, two…” Nuke? Nuke? And… where did the smaller ones just disappear? “Cruisers just jumped to lightspeed. Squadrons, concentrate fire on those remaining Darts.” Those cruisers jumping to lightspeed definitely is a bad thing. I’m not big on space battle tactics but even I know that enemies with suicidal tendencies who suddenly retreat usually don’t do so because they’ve become so scared of us they’d rather flee.

 “Daedalus Actual, Darts are regrouping. Looks like…”

 “Snake Leader, they’re heading for Atlantis.” What?

 I blink again and look at the screen and… there are hundreds of those fuckers. Of those fast fuckers. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. “They’re making a suicide run for Atlantis. Shit, Dee, those motherfuckers are making a suicide run for Atlantis.”

 I look at Dee and either I got finally better at reading him or he really got worse at hiding it but I could have sworn that I just saw a sliver of actual fear cross his face. Then he says, almost sounding like his usual unflappable self, “They should have the ZPM by now, sir. Shield should be up and running just fine.”

 “Yes, but what if…”

 “Daedalus Actual, we can’t get a read on the Atlantis shield. Do you copy, Daedalus Actual? No read on the shield.” Oh, great. Awesome. They can’t get a read on this shield. Which likely means that there isn’t… “Correction, Daedalus Actual. Shield is online, repeat, shield is online, Dart suicide run is not successful.”

 Oh. Oh, good. I didn’t even need that heart, anyway. Just keep giving me heart attacks, it’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine. Just… “Attention, all ground combat personnel slated for Atlantis. Report to Bay 15-F immediately for embarkation to Atlantis. Repeat, all ground combat personnel slated for Atlantis, report to Bay-15 immediately.”

 Yes. Oh God, yes. Can’t wait to finally get off this damn bucket to kick some space vampire ass. I grin at Dee. “That’s us, Sergeant. Let’s go kick some alien ass.”

 And this time, Dee does give me a grin. Full-on, by his standards. “Let’s go do that, sir.”

 Yeah. Kick some alien ass. And reunite with that little lieutenant I let go about a year ago. If she’s still alive. Which, of course, she is. She has to. Yeah. Let’s go do that.

 Reece

 Oh hell, next time I go and join an expedition into some unknown region of space, I’ll make absolutely sure that I’m on the list of “non-essential personnel”. After four days – or at last I’m pretty it was four days because to be honest, I have kind of lost track of time by now – or hunting Wraith in the city and one bad surprise after the next, I’m really read to call it a day and be done with it.

 I mean, yes, ever since Sheppard’s let’s say unconventional approach to solving the authority problems we had with Everett’s people, it’s gotten a little easier but there still enough idiots among them that they manage to screw up things, and there’s the issue of Wraith still wreaking havoc in the city and Major Sheppard apparently having flown off on a suicide mission – although, wait, Daedalus arrived and he was on it? God, it’s gotten a little hard keeping everything straight – and uh have I mentioned the fact that Operations just advised everyone to find shelter because apparently, we have an entire wave of Darts inbound on a ballistic course? Yeah, it’s that kind of day.

 So right now, I’m leading my strike team – Strickland and two male Atlantis Marines going by Tweety and Sylvester, no, not their real names – in a frantic chase for some shelter closer to the core of the tower we’re currently in while hunting for a band of Wraith that have been playing hide and suck the life out of the last two teams coming through here. It’s not gonna help much when the projected number of Darts hit us but as team leader, it’s not my job to just sit down and watch everyone and everything getting torn apart. It’s my job to keep my team…

 “Shit. Goddammit, can’t believe this just… oh, hell.” What? What? Oh no. That’s not good. That just can’t be good.

 “Strickland. The fuck just happened?” Stupid question, because by the scene in front of me – Strickland sitting on a step in the stairwell we were racing down, Tweety trying to help her up and Sylvester immediately having moved to provide cover from anything coming from above.

 For a moment, it looks like Strickland is going to snap back something in the line of “The fuck does it look like, Cap?” but she seems to be able to catch herself in the last moment and instead goes with, “Was being a dumb Marine, took a step too fast, pretty sure I broke my goddamn ankle.”

 Yeah, that’s not good.

 In fact, that’s really, really bad. We’re pretty far from the infirmary and the last thing I want to do is leave behind an injured team member. I’d consider it in more secure quarters of the city but this one is still listed in the top category of Wraith infestation so no way I’m going to leave anyone behind here. Okay, fine, first things first.

 “Tweety, cover down here, Strickland, let me look at that ankle.” Tweety moves into position and I move up a couple steps, to crouch down, always the ticking clock about those darts in my head, and hoping against hope we’ll somehow be spared the devastation that’s going to follow their impact.

 Mindful of what Mats taught me, I don’t move to take Strickland’s boot off. Instead, I do a quick probing and yeah, it’s definitely already started to swell up so there’s no way she’s going to be able to walk unassisted. Shit. Splint. I need a splint. Just a goddamn… “Think this is gonna work, Cap?” Right, yes, standard issue K-BAR knife. That might just do it.

 “Yeah, good thinking, Amy,” I tell her while working to tie the knife to her ankle with the rest of the bandages we’re supposed to carry around with us.

 Any minute now, any fucking… “Shit, LT I mean Captain, ma’am, look at this!”

 What the… holy crap.

 We’ve been running down the stairs so fast I hadn’t even noticed the balcony that was leading away from it at first. Tweety apparently did and… good God, we’re a couple lucky bastards down here. They must have gotten up the shield the last minute because instead of having been vaporized in one messy blaze of glory, we’re standing here, watching the fireworks of Darts slamming into the invisible wall of the Atlantis shield, and those four days must have really fucked me up because all I can think is the thing Strickland actually mutters out loud, “Damn, that’s almost beautiful.”

 I smirk. “Yeah, almost being the operative word. Okay, Lance Corporal, see if you can get up.”

 In the flickering, glowing light of Darts slamming into the shield, Strickland grimaces and then tries to get back on her feet with the help of the stairs’ railing. She manages but it looks like it’s a whole lotta more painful than she’d like to admit. Damn. “You need painkillers, Lance Corporal. And a cast.”

 “No, I’m fine, ma’am.” Uh-huh, yeah, no.

 I shake my head. “The hell you are, Amy.” Quick, Reece, think. You can’t stay here, you’re sitting ducks, and you’re endangering your entire team with every minute you don’t make a decision. Oh God, oh shit, oh… okay. Okay. “Tweety, Sylvester, you take Strickland to the infirmary. I trust you to take the quickest…”

 “All due respect but fuck no, ma’am.” Strickland, no. Not right now. “You said it yourself, walking around alone here will get you killed. I can still shoot, I just need to be careful with my ankle. We just have to clean up…”

 “Request denied, Lance Corporal. Guys, get Strickland here to the infirmary. There’s an Everett team two levels down from here who lost their Atlantis guide.” Strickland moves to protest again but this really isn’t the time for a lengthy discussion on strategy. “I know, I know, company grades, Wraith fodder, etc., blahblahblah. Trust me, even I am gonna make it two levels down without getting killed.”

 Now all three look at me like that’s doubtful at best and seriously? I made it for an entire year here. As a lieutenant. “Lieutenant” basically meant having “death sentence” written all over your forehead here, as we had to learn fast. “Get the fuck going.”

 They hesitate another moment, probably all feeling that same inability to leave someone behind but I at least still have two full mags, no broken bones and another bottle of stims. I’ll be fine. Finally, they seem to have come to the same conclusion, just nod at me and while Sylvester hauls Strickland up into a firemen’s carry, Tweety takes up his cover again and they make their way back up the stairs, presumably to find the next elevator taking them to an intersection closer to the infirmary.

 I, for my part, finally continue my decent to join that Everett team two levels down to… or… not.

 Fuck.

 On my lifesigns detector all three lifesigns just were joined by three Wraith lifesigns and then almost immediately went out. Goddammit, that’s what happens when you let people without any local knowledge lose in the city and oh good, the Wraith lifesigns are moving into my direction. Now I’m fucked, too. This is turning into an ever worse day by the minute.

 Readying myself for some really dumb heroics a la last stand, I make one last kind of desperate attempt and tap my radio. “Control Room, this is Reece, requesting immediate reinforcements. I’m in the North Tower, had to send the rest of my team to the infirmary, there are three Wraiths two levels…”

 “This is Control Room, stand-by for reinforcements, Captain.” What, fuck, no. I can’t “stand-by” because “standing-by” means staying put and staying put will get me fucking killed.

 “Negative, Control Room. I need to find cover and…”

 What the fuck just happened? Did someone really just beam down

 Oh. Oh no. Oh yes? Oh, fuck. It’s him.

 “Uh. Hi, Kid. Long time, no see, huh?”

Chapter Text

Two

DeLisle

 Wow. Of all the asinine things he could have said, that definitely ranks in the top ten. From the look of it, Maureen seems to think the same. Or probably will, as soon as she’s over her shock of having us beamed down right in front of her. She really does look a lot like a deer caught in headlights. Amazing how some things never change.

 “A day late and a dollar short, sir. If you’re here to exchange platitudes, that is.” Well.

 Amazing how some things do change.

 I don’t think he expected that as an answer, honestly. I didn’t, anyway, and since he generally leans toward the stupid end of the spectrum of interpersonal communication, I’m really pretty sure that this caught him really off-guard.

 “Funny, Kid. And here I thought we were here to give some space vampires a run for their money.” Huh. Good save, sir. Although that smirk at the end really wasn’t necessary.

 Maureen looks very much like she agrees. Or maybe that’s just the flickering light from those Darts still slamming into the Atlantis shield. I force myself to stop wondering about how long that shield is going to hold with thousands of tons slamming into it at top speed like that.

 “If we keep standing around here holding small talk, it’ll be the space vampires giving us a run for our money.” And… “Sir.” Right. Man, thank God the Major and Maureen apparently aren’t done with their little exchange yet. That does make it a little easier not to start doing the calculations in my head, even with only approximate data.

 The Major smirks again. “Really? Could have fooled me.” Oh good God. “How about a goddamn sit rep, Kid? They do that stuff around here, too, right?” He just keeps making it worse and worse. Hasn’t anyone taught him anything in the last twelve months?

 I can very clearly see, even with that flickering light from outside, that right now, Maureen would probably like nothing better than to punch the Major’s lights out. Interesting. I have never seen her with actual murder in her eyes before. This place sure seems to have done quite a number on her.

 Before I can finally step in to defuse the situation – you know, like Laura used to do – Maureen seems to have remembered that there’s more to Marine training than just being bad-tempered fighting machines. “Three tangos, two levels down, moving into our direction. Fast. No way to tell if drones or commanders.”

 The Major frowns. “Does that matter?”

 “The commanders have telepathic abilities and can really screw up your mind.” Awesome. That wasn’t even in the reports they gave us to read at the SGC and on the Daedalus. Why wasn’t that in the reports?

 “Great. I love having my mind screwed up.” That… probably wasn’t the right thing to say to Maureen, sir. It hasn’t been that long, right? “So… ideas, anyone?”

 Usually, this would be the moment when Maureen maybe bites her lip or purses her mouth and you know that she’d like to weigh in but is too… “Engage them head on.” Okay, then. Apparently, I need to redefine “usual” for Maureen. “We need to get rid of them, and fast. Wraiths can fuck up a lot in this city, and we can’t afford any more clusterfucks.”

 The Major looks like he’s considering asking her who she is and what she has done to Maureen Reece, and honestly, I can’t even fault him for that. Because that’s exactly what I thought, just for a moment. “Fine. Okay. Engage them head on. Why the hell not?”

 Oh, great. We haven’t been here for even five minutes and he’s already fed up with everything. That was fast.

 And finally, Maureen does something I would have expected from her, just not that openly. She rolls her eyes. Hard. “I’m being serious, sir. See this?” She shows him a handheld device with a grid on the screen and little moving blue dots. Lifesigns detector, I’m guessing. The Major nods, reluctantly. “They’re moving away from us. They know we’re here, and the fact that we’re apparently not their primary target means they have something else in their sights. They beamed their troops here to sabotage and fuck shit up and we really need to stop them.” She frowns and taps on the screen, zooming out. “Shit, I think I know where they’re going. Sir, we really need to neutralize them. Now.”

 Now it’s the Major rolling his eyes. “Did I fucking stutter? I already said it, engaging them head on is fine by me. What are you waiting for?”

 For some reason, that manages to break her stride and instead of jumping into action, she steps back and blinks at him a little owlishly, as if she can’t believe that he just deferred to her. Then she seems to have given herself a little shake and gets her head back in the battle, saying, “Roger that, sir. Okay, we need to… Wait, where’s Laura? Oh, infirmary, right?” Oh hell.

 Apparently, she never got a notification about Laura’s fate, and I know the Major well enough to see that even though he managed to learn how not to let anything show that mentioning Laura didn’t exactly leave him cold. He takes a breath. “Kid…”

 She frowns, now for some reason looking more like herself than a Marine in battle mode. “What? Don’t tell me she didn’t come with you. Seriously, where is she?”

 It takes him a moment to answer, and when he does, it’s just a clipped, “Arlington National Cemetery.”

 Her only answer is looking clueless and asking, “What?”

 I’m not sure what the Major would have answered if I’d let him but it definitely would have been something he’d have regretted later, so I decide that it’s finally time to intercede for me. “She’s dead, Maureen.”

 It came out more quietly than I’d intended it to and either the fact that I spoke up at all or the fact that, you know, her best friend died while she was away in another galaxy, seemed to really have thrown her off her guard, and this is the first time ever since being beamed down here that she looks and sounds exactly like her pre-Atlantis self when she says, “I…”

 “Didn’t you say we have work to do, Lieutenant?” Right. There are, once in a while, moments when the Major’s blunt and socially inept way is exactly what a situation needs.

 This, weirdly enough, was one of them because it somehow works to push Maureen away from the news we just delivered to her in the probably worst possible way, and makes her say, a little distractedly, “That would be Captain, sir.”

 Wait.

 What?

 The Major seems to be thinking the same. I just bet he nearly snorted disbelievingly but at least he’s smart enough not to do that. Instead, he goes for, “Seriously? Since when?”

 “Uh, yesterday.” What the… “I think. Time’s gotten a little fuzzy around here.” The hell happened here? I don’t even remember her having gone in front of the board back on Earth, and now she…

 “Someone’s moving up in the world.” Yeah, good idea, sir. Smirking and sounding like a condescending asshole. Way to go.

 At least, Maureen seems to have decided to mostly let it go, saying, “Right now, sir, I’d prefer it if we were moving forward.”

 Yeah, okay, I recognize that. She’s getting really fed up with this whole thing and wants to get back into the fight. She’s had those moments before going to Atlantis, too. She just wasn’t that vocal about it, and she sure as hell wasn’t as casual about it. She’d definitely be blushing by now, if we were back on Earth. Seems to throw off the Major a little, but at least it serves to make him say, “Uh. Right. Sure. I’ll bring up the rear, you take point… Captain.”

 That makes me the guy in the middle, I guess. Also, it takes me a moment to realize that this marks the first time ever that the Major orders her to take point. In all the time we served together on the same team, he hasn’t let or make her take point. Whatever he sees in her right now, it must have either really thrown him off or impressed the hell out of him. Either way, he forgot something essential. I close the gap between her and me and ask her quietly, “Maureen?”

 “Hm?” she makes a little absentmindedly, otherwise doing a pretty decent job as point man. Woman. Marine.

 I roll my eyes at myself and smile at her, even though she can’t see it, with her gaze directed to the front. She’ll hear it, though, because she always hears stuff like that. “Congratulations.”

 Surprisingly, she turns around for a moment, after all and when she smiles for a moment, I see that young Marine officer who didn’t know heads from tails when she came to the SGC shining through the veneer of several days of battle grit and a year of fighting for survival. “Thanks, Dee.”

 I smile back and hope to God that the Major didn’t see her smile. Because Lord knows he’s got a thing for it, even if he’d never admit that. After everything, we’ve already got enough problems. We really don’t need a dazed and confused Major, too.

 Okay, then. Let’s go do some Wraith hunting, huh?

 Morsberg

 We’ve been at this for four days, and I’m getting really, really tired of this. And by “this”, I mean being on rotation in the infirmary, all the time. There’s a battle raging outside and Doctor Beckett is still keeping me in the infirmary. I get it, we’ve got a lot of work here but the truth is: we could have more work. If we weren’t sitting on our asses and letting the wounded come to us instead of making use of the assets we have, namely a bunch of really good combat medics, including me.

 The fact that we keep losing people because we’re spread too thin and combat teams can’t also act as SAR teams is driving me crazy. I told Beckett that concentrating all medical personnel in the infirmary is a really bad idea. I get that it makes sense to keep all civilians with only basic combat training at most here but dammit, not all of us are civilians with only basic combat training at most.

 Also, to be quite honest, I think I really need a break from what I’m currently doing: sewing up the n-th laceration and then probably moving on to a sprained wrist. I mean, yes, I’m glad that we mostly get trivial stuff but you know why that is? Because all the bad cases are out there because they simply can’t make it back here.

 And dammit, Everett’s people aren’t helping much, either. For some unfathomable reason, they brought Seabees but no corpsmen. Not a one. Don’t get me wrong, Seabees are awesome but bringing them to Atlantis is like… Eulen nach Athen tragen. Err, carrying coals to Newscastle. Or something. Anyway. You know what we have in abundance here in Atlantis? Technicians and engineers. Know what we don’t have? Medics. Trained combat medics. So, bringing corpsmen would have been tremendous.

 But since they didn’t, it’s left to the combat teams out there to either leave the fight to bring in their casualties or leave the casualties out there to fend for their own because Beckett has decided that he can’t spare any of us. I don’t exactly fault him for the decision because we are stretched thin in this department but damn…

 “Stand-by? What do you mean…” Huh? I look up from bandaging a graze on the arm of the Everett Marine whose name I already forgot and see Dr. Beckett frowning while he’s apparently listening to his radio. “No, wait, what do you mean, stand-by for reinfor… Control Room! What…”

 Whatever he wanted to say next, he never gets to do it because from one moment to the next, there’s a group of people standing in the middle of the infirmary, appearing literally out of thin air. Beaming technology sure is wild, folks.

 It takes all of us a moment to realize that this just really happened but thankfully, one of the newcomers steps away from the group – and yes, I’m pretty sure we all made the same “Take me to your leader” joke in our heads – and steps up to Dr. Beckett, “Dr. Carson Beckett?” Beckett just nods, and she sticks out her hand. “Dr. Caroline Cole, SGC. Tell us where you need us.”

 Beckett, looking a little like he’s in a daze, slowly raises his hand to shake Dr. Cole’s. I’m this close to giving Beckett a little helpful push to shake him out of his confusion – at this point, we’re all really short on sleep, and we’re all on caffeine and stims, even the great Carson Beckett, so we do have to look out for each other – but he seems to catch himself just in case. “Honestly? I need you everywhere.”

 That makes Dr. Cole smile, which, for some reason, tells me she’ll do just fine here. “Two surgeons, three anesthetists, five OR nurses and three paramedics, at your disposal. Daedalus’s infirmary is also standing by with an additional ten beds and an OR.”

 Beckett nods and wow, I think he’s ready to break down crying with relief and gratefulness. “Alright, make yourselves useful. I trust you to know where you’re needed most.” Dr. Cole, to her credit, doesn’t insist on being told what to do. Instead, she turns to her group of newcomers and puts them to work immediately. Beckett, for his part… is he climbing on a chair? Why is he climbing on a… “To everyone from Atlantis here: take a break. Right now. Sit down, eat something, drink something, take a breath. That’s an order!”

 Yeaaaaaah no.

 Because here’s the thing: with those reinforcements and more medical personnel available from above, Beckett’s excuse to keep me in the infirmary is void. He’s got more than enough surgeons and emergency medicine specialists here now, so I don’t even consider obeying his order and instead move away from the patient I just finished, to find a backpack and supplies and… “Where do you think you’re going, Doctor?”

 Ack. Goddammit. Even tired and under the influence, Dr. Carson Beckett apparently still knows where to look in the exact wrong moment. But really, I’ve had it now. I don’t even look up, just take the ready packed emergency backpack I found and start checking the contents to see if it has everything I need, when I tell him, trying to keep my voice level, “Where my job is.”

 “Your job is here.” No. No. Fuck no, it isn’t.

 But, okay, I get it. Wer ficken will, muss freundlich sein and all that. I straighten up to face him and take a deep breath. “With all due respect…”

 “It’s still a battle out there!” Okay, fuck being nice. “We need every available medical personnel that we have here! I’m not going to let one of my surgeons go around shooting Wraith just because he feels like it!” That’s not what this is about.

 I’m generally a really laid back type of guy, not given to temper tantrums and outbreaks but oh God, even I am starting to fray around the edges and it takes every last bit of self-control that I still possess not to shout at him. “It’s not about shooting Wraith, sir. It’s about rescuing people. People who are dying out there right now because they can’t get to the infirmary fast enough. I’m talking about bringing the infirmary to them!” Fuck. Ended up shouting, after all. Bad move. Bad move.

 Beckett seems to have decided not to treat it as the gross act of insubordination that it was and instead tries to go for exasperated and slightly disappointed. “Do I have to repeat myself? It’s a battle. They are shooting…”

 Oh for fuck’s sake. “Would you just listen to me? I’m a goddamn combat medic! Going into battle to find and treat people is my job! Just because I didn’t get to do much of that here for the last year doesn’t mean I can’t still do it! I’ve been doing CSAR even before…”

 “What is CSAR even supposed to mean?” He… didn’t just ask me that, right?

 I’m this close to a full-blown… “Combat Search and Rescue, sir. Like regular search and rescue, only for special forces behind enemy lines.”

 Chief Christie. Right there next to me, out of the blue, calm as a duck pond, just appearing in the exact moment I would have landed myself in the brig. Amazing. US Navy Chief Petty Officers really are a breed of their own. I get a grip on myself and breath through my nose before telling him, “Thanks, Chief.”

 “Anytime, sir,” Christie just nods and… doesn’t leave. Smart Chief.

 I use the newly acquired relative calm to try and make my case, again. “So, Dr. Beckett, can I go now and do my fucking job, please?” Okay, that apparently was less than convincing. Let’s go for some logic, then. “Honestly, sir, you have more than enough staff here now. What you need are people out there who can get your patients to you. And I can do exactly that.”

 A-ha. That got his attention just fine. Or at least it somehow keeps him from giving me another negative answer right away. And… there it is. The exact moment when Beckett finally realizes that I’m right and that he really needs to let all of us combat medics and corpsmen do that job we’re supposed to do. A little reluctantly, he sighs and then says, “Very well. What do you need?”

 Yes. Yes. Yessssssss. Okay, cool, composed, professional. You really don’t want to blow it in the last minute. Okay. Okay. I take another deep breath, then manage to get into the right frame of mind. So, to my own surprise, I sound a lot less frantic and frustrated and a lot more organized and professional when I tell him, “Bag full of emergency medicine supplies, two or three combat qualified medics…” Wait. Medics. I got an idea. “Oh, and take those paramedics Dr. Cole brought, stick them with a couple Atlantis Marines each, strap a Beretta on them and let them do their jobs.”

 Beckett, seemingly a little taken aback by my little switch of tone, blinks at me for a moment, then murmurs, “I’ll… consider it,” before finally giving me green light, “Alright, go ahead.”

 Thank God he finally saw reason. Alright. Let’s do this shit. “Thanks, Doctor. Okay, Chief, you’re with me, get me Dunn, Strelkov and uh Miller. Let’s go do some rescuing.”

 Damn, feels good to be finally allowed to do what I do best.

Chapter Text

Three

 

Reece

 Fuck, I really need sleep. I need a shower. I need real food. I need to lay off the stims.

 And most of all I need to stop thinking, “My best friend is dead, and I didn’t even know, and I was so sure she’s alive, she was my best friend, shouldn’t I have known somehow?” while walking through a dimly lit corridor with my rifle raised on the prowl for a group of life-sucking aliens.

 Unfortunately, there are still too many Wraith in the city for more than really, really short power naps – if you manage to get back to the Wraith free parts in time for your relief and if your relief hasn’t been killed or otherwise incapacitated before they can go back out – some water in your face now and then and a power bar when you can spare a few minutes. And that’s only when your intended Wraith targets aren’t on the move into a part of the city that was categorized as high priority and was supposed to be explored next. Because a lucky find in the database made us realize that one of the rooms there could be a possible secondary ops/control room. Fucking hell.

 Okay, Captain, don’t freak out, just do your job. This isn’t the first time I’m on point – even though it’s the first time he made me take point but really, that doesn’t mean anything, in the grand scheme of things – and it’s not even the first time I’m hunting Wraith in a close quarters combat situation. In fact, I haven’t done anything but hunting Wraith in close quarters combat situations these last four or so days. So, I got this.

 It is, however, the first time I’m hunting Wraith who are possibly on the brink of gaining control of the city. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

 And fuck, I’m so screwed up I nearly forgot that the first thing I should have done the moment I realized where they are headed was calling this shit in. I can just keep myself from muttering “Ugh” under my breath and instead tap my earpiece. “Reece to Control Room. Headed to Sector 52-E to intercept three tangos.”

 Doesn’t take long for the Control Room to radio back. “Did you just say 52-E, Lieut… Captain? Confirm.”

 Jesus, did I fucking stutter? “Confirming, Control Room. 52-Echo.”

 “Reece, what’s the matter?” Can you not do this now, sir?

 “Relaying your intel to…” No. Nuh-uh. This is, as we like to say, a time-sensitive issue.

 I roll my eyes and keep advancing in the dark corridor, the lifesigns detector giving me nearly a heart attack because of the speed of the Wraiths advancing towards their apparent target sector. “You do that but don’t alert Command just yet. We got this.”

 Or at least I think we do. “Reece, seriously, what’s going on? Talk to me, goddammit.” No, ugh, not him, too.

 “Captain, 52-E is a high priority target, I have to alert Command. Until they have decided…” No-oh.

 “Fine then, alert Command. But you said it yourself, it’s a high priority target, so like hell I’ll just stay here and let them take it. Reece out.” Have they lost their mind in that Control Room? We have three Wraith advancing on a possible means to fuck the city up into a gift-wrapped present for the Wraith main battle group and they want us to sit on our hands?

 I grimace and keep moving forward… until I hear a faint snort behind me. My first impulse is to turn around and get into the fucking face of whoever that was but yeah, that would be a little too much out of character for me and also most probably result in a seriously confused Major Thomas Moore. This is not something anyone would want to happen in a place and time like right here and right now, and I’m being serious about this.

 So I keep walking on, checking on the lifesigns detector every two steps and… “Did you just honest to God disobey a direct order, Kid?”

 Oh for fuck’s sake.

 No, wait, don’t turn around to jump at his throat. Take a deep breath… and another one… and another one… and, for good measure, another one. Now look over your shoulder. “Technically, probably not. Sir.”

 In the dim glow of the emergency lighting and over my shoulder, I can’t see much of his face so I can’t be sure that he’s smirking but it does look awfully like it. “So you totally did.” Is he really going to chew me out now? Honestly, I swear to God… “Good to know my training paid off, after all.” Oh God, he is smirking. I still can’t actually see it – mostly, because I decided that delaying getting to the room we assumed might be a possible secondary ops to have that conversation would be stupid – but I could hear it. All the way here. “Damn, I think I’m proud of you.”

 You know what’s funny? A year ago, I would have killed to hear him say that even once. I was, deep down, really hungry for some fucking approval for all the goddamn hard work I’d been doing in that year – all the endless hours on the shooting range, all the bruises in the work-out room, all the chaffed skin in place I didn’t even know I had after ruck marches – and I never fucking got it. Not from him, anyway. I got it plenty from Laura and Dee but never from him. And I’d have killed for that. Literally killed for that.

 So it’s kind of hilarious that my only answer now is a non-committal grunt and signaling for the guys to stop.

 We’re at another intersection and the detector tells me that the Wraith just stopped only about three intersections away from us. They’re still at a considerable distance from their most likely target but until this moment, they were definitely moving in the right direction. Damn, if I could just… “So, hey, I was wondering… is there possibly a way you could fill us in what the fuck is happening, Lieutenant?” Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

 I did not stop here for chitchat and goddammit, it’s… “Captain.” Huh. “I think that’s Captain now, sir.”

 Thank you, Dee. That’s actually nice of you. Then again, he probably sensed that I was about to jump at the Major’s throat again and just wanted to diffuse the situation. He’s like that. Okay, come on, don’t squander the perfect groundwork he gave you. I take a deep breath and try to keep an eye on the lifesigns detector. At least that way, I can pretend I didn’t see the Major’s eye-roll at being reminded of my new rank. “See these tangos here? Remember I said I had an idea of what they might be after?” They both nod, Dee expectant but benevolently, the Major with a deep frown. “Their heading until now suggests I was right.”

 “And what does that have to do with you disobeying a direct order?” Good question. And if you’d just let me keep on talking I would be done a lot sooner and we could keep advancing on them.

 Okay, okay, calm down, a superior officer asking you to clarify a situation isn’t that unusual. “They’re headed for Sector 52-E of the city. It’s marked as high priority on the next to explore list because we recently found entries in the city Ancient database that it’s highly possibly that it contains a secondary ops.”

 “Fuck.” Yup. Exactly. “Control Room told you to stay and wait for reinforcements, didn’t they?”

 “Yes, sir.”

 He nods, grimly. “Good call, Kid. Anyone gives you shit about it, you tell them to come to me.” Uh, what? “Don’t look so shocked. You really think I’d throw a subordinate under the bus for a tactically sound decision?” I’m about to answer but he holds up his hand. “You know what? Don’t answer that. Just tell me how you want to play this.”

 I um what. I blink. And look at Dee. Who just shrugs his shoulders and gestures for me to say something. This… isn’t what I remember this whole thing to be like. I’m not sure he ever just… deferred to me. Every time I knew I was correct, I had to fight for it and it usually ended up with him not listening and something stupid happening and Laura going “I told you so, moron” and… Laura. Laura’s not… here. I… “Kid.”

 Fine, okay, yes. Head back in the game. Now. I clear my throat, not caring anymore whether that betrayed something or not. I show him the map on the detector in a slightly bigger zoom. “This here,” I point towards three dots, “is us. And this,” the other three dots, “are our tangos. The suspected target is here,” a room several intersections and a stair wall over, “and I suggest we move here to intercept them.”

 “You can take us there fast?” I nod. Like hell I can. This is my fucking home. “Okay. Carry on.”

 Okay, then. Good we cleared that up, huh?

 Now hopefully, Command will be too busy with whatever is going on outside that shield to bother with a simple Captain telling the Control Room where to shove their stupid orders.

Morsberg

 Shit, if I’d known there were so many people still out here hiding from the Wraith and/or trying to get to the infirmary with serious injuries, I would have taken everyone with basic first aid training and a general concept of how to handle a sidearm I could find with me. Also, quite frankly, I’m pretty sure that if Dr. Beckett had known about that, he wouldn’t have blinked twice at my request to do some nice old CSARing. He probably would have thrown me out of the infirmary to do exactly that.

 We’ve only been on this for about thirty minutes and I already had to leave one of the PJs I took with me behind and had to request additional medics from the Daedalus to run an improvised casualty clearing station off one of the balconies they installed the ray guns on. Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of ugly shit in my career so far but the carnage left behind by an exploded railgun… holy shit.

 So right now, I’m on my way to a pneumothorax that was the result of some scientists hastily retreating what they thought were a bunch of Wraith but turned out to be some Everett Marines. Normally, I’d say the fault had to squarely lie with the scientists but quite frankly, when Everett’s Idiots are involved, it’s pretty safe to assume it wasn’t the scientists’ fault. Victim should be right around… yep, there we are. Damn, that doesn’t look good.

 Before me and my accompanying medics are three scientists and two Marines, crouched around a fourth scientist on the ground, gasping for breath. Even from here, three meters away, his skin color doesn’t look particularly reassuring, so I don’t waste time and take the last steps towards the victim, letting my medics clear the site for me. While Strelkov keeps the scientists occupied, Dunn takes care to keep the Marines away from me and the rest of the medics. Christie immediately gets me everything ready I might need, and this looks very much like emergency surgery is the only viable option.

 Thank God Christie knows what he’s doing so I let him first clear away the scientist’s uniform and then take over the part of anesthetist while I put on new surgical gloves and prepare the spot where I’ll make the incision to help this guy breathe again. Okay, sterilized it, scalpel pointed here… yep… looks good… “Control Room to Dr. Morsberg.”

 Jesus fucking Christ. Not now.

 “Control Room to Dr. Morsberg. Please respond.” Fuck, no because good God, this isn’t a pneumothorax, it’s a chest full of blood and holy hell, I really need to… “Dr. Morsberg, please respond immediately.” Goddammit.

 Christie, God bless him, realizes I’ve got bigger problems than tapping my earpiece right now and helpfully does it for me. I growl. “Morsberg to Control Room, can this wait? I’m kinda in the middle of something here.” Then, because I’ve really got a problem here, “Dunn, over here, need to find the source of the bleeding, now.”

 “No, sorry, it can’t wait, Doctor. We need you…” Yo, are you guys deaf?

 Dunn reacts immediately, leaving the Marines in their corner and crouching down, assisting me like the trained OR nurse and pararescue jumper he is, as best as he can under the current circumstances. Which are really, really shitty. “Control, when I said I’m in the middle of a something, I meant a patient who’s bleeding and chocking to death right now, so forgive me if I am not in the mood for chitchat.”

 For a moment, there’s blessed silence in the other end of the conversation and I half hope that Control simply gave up and decided to let me do my job in peace but then, just when Dunn somehow managed to fashion a rudimentary suction from a breathing bag and throat tube, they’re back again, “We have a Wraith intrusion in Sector 52-E. Currently, only Captain Reece and two reinforcements from the Daedalus are in pursuit.” So? “You’re the closest combat qualified asset we have.” Oh, no. No, no, no.

 “I’m out here to fucking provide medical assistance. Just ask the Daedalus to beam down more personnel, for fuck’s sake.” Because yes, I’m combat qualified, and I usually don’t pass over an opportunity to kick some Wraith ass but right now, my primary role is a lot more important. “Dunn, get me some damn light here.”

 Shit, the blood just keeps coming but at least Dunn’s improvised suction device seems to work at least somewhat. “Daedalus has beamed down all available combat personnel. Currently, everyone is engaged elsewhere or too far away to get to 52-E in time to reinforce.” Yeah, Control isn’t happy, that much is clear.

 And neither am I because I just can’t find out where that blood is coming from. “Look, this guy here is dying. Can you please let me concentrate on that?”

 “Finish your current assignment, then head to 52-E.” Says… “That is an order, Stabsarzt.” Oh good, it took them only a year to finally learn how to properly address me, and of course it’s that moment when they pull rank. Fuck them.

 I’m about to tell them so but it’s Christie, once again, who keeps me from crossing a line I’d definitely regret crossing. “Sir, it’s okay. We finish this up, then Strelkov, Dunn and me can take one of the Marines for unskilled labor, you get the other one and then go get help to the Captain.”

 Okay, fine. Right. Dammit. “Acknowledged, Control Room.” And then, because I’m really not in the mood for any more chitchat, I simply add, “Morsberg out,” and let Christie tap my earpiece to shut it off.

 Now for that damn bleeder… “Sir, I think I see it. Damn, that’s easy to miss.”

 Dunn points towards one of the guy’s lungs, pointing his flashlight directly at it and… “Holy shit, you’re right.” It’s a laceration in one of his lungs, almost too small to detect but damn, it’s bleeding. This is way above our current means. “This needs to go to an OR. Right now. Christie.”

 He taps my earpiece again, and this time it’s me, hopefully getting someone. “Morsberg to Daedalus Actual. Anyone out there?”

 There are a few seconds of wait time before I hear someone new say, “We read you…”

 Huh? Oh, right. “Morsberg. Stabsarzt. Atlantis combat medic. I’ve got an emergency who needs to go right to your OR. Please tell me you can beam people up to any part of your ship.”

 “Confirm… Stabsarzt.” Almost correct. At least not bad for a first attempt. It wasn’t completely mangled, at least.

 “Good. Patch me through to your infirmary and stand by for beam request.” Okay, stabilize him, as best as you can. Thankfully, both my combat medics are really good at what they do and have already put out the right medication.

 From Daedalus, I only get another confirmation and then don’t even wait for anyone in their infirmary reporting, just start rattling down my stuff. “Patient, civilian, laceration in his right lung, down left, lost a lot of blood. Needs to be in an OR right now. Keep,” Christie gestures the guy’s blood type to me because Christie really is that type of person to have memorized everyone’s blood type a week into a new deployment, “Oh negative, waiting and lots of it.”

 They don’t even seem shocked when I get another new voice telling me, “Acknowledged, Atlantis. Tell the bridge to put him in OR 2.”

 Then, after another few very vital seconds, I get the Actual voice again and tell them exactly what the infirmary voice told me. And wow, immediately after that, there’s blue light, leaving a pool of blood behind where the scientist was just a second ago.

 Okay, then. Clean up as best as we can, check supplies and then it’s off to a new assignment. “Alright, Strelkov, Dunn, Christie, you take the Sergeant,” because there’s no way in hell I will put one of Everett’s Idiots in charge of three of the most experienced NCOs we have in this contingent, “Lieutenant, you’re with me. Let’s go.” I can see the lieutenant wanting to protest so hard about me ordering around his guy but apparently, he has at least some brain cells left and must have realized at some point that this is my show, not his.

 In the end, he just nods, looking none too happy and my medics decide to take two of the scientists with them for additional manpower and then leave to take care of the next clusterfuck while I take up my P90 to go and see what all this Sector 52-E fuzz is about. Just another day at the office, right?

 

Chapter Text

Four

 

DeLisle

 Well, then, I guess she’s really grown up here. Last time I went on a mission with her, she was good but she didn’t have that… battle veneer, yet. She was as good as we trained her and she’d been through a whole range of trials by fire but she definitely didn’t know it, yet. She wasn’t a Marine, not really, not that much in your face. Now… man, whatever happened here, it really made her grow into her own.

 And fuck, I’m proud of her. It’s kind of hard to recognize the young woman I sent off beneath all that grit and the tactical hand signals and practiced tactical walk and that sets me off in a weird way but at the same time, I’m really proud to know that I was always right: she always had it in her, it was just that someone had to help her find it.

 She’s doing a good job on point, even with that little moment of insubordination – and yeah, figures that that would be the moment the Major finally tells her he’s proud of her – and the subsequent moment of almost insubordination directed at the Major. Right now, she’s leading us through another dimly lit corridor, her pace careful but as fast as the environment allows, and I’m honestly glad that I’m not the one having to navigate this place. We’ve had a bit of map material to study back at the SGC and on the Daedalus but that didn’t include the sectors the Expedition members hadn’t explored until the point when we re-established contact.

 Maureen seems to know this place like the back of her hand, or at least she seems to be able to use that lifesigns detector thing to her advantage as she leads us through this fucking maze. I can’t see much of it from my perspective but she seems to keep close taps on those Wraith we’re tracking and from everything I can tell, we’re advancing the projected intercept point fast enough.

 We… “Shit.” Okay. That’s not what you want to hear the person running point on an op whisper, especially if it’s combined with a “freeze” hand signal.

 “What…” That’s definitely the most emphatic gesture to shut the fuck up I have ever seen. Seems the Major thinks the same. Or at least was surprised enough to just back up and blink in a slightly confused manner. I’m starting to get the feeling that this will end with a lot to process for him. Good thing he can compartmentalize. Because he’s really not good at quickly processing complicated personal and interpersonal stuff.

 Maureen doesn’t talk again, instead rapidly signals that she heard something suspicious in the corridor ahead of the crossing we’re at right now and that’s she’s going to… investigate? On her own?

 The Major furiously shakes his head and… wow, I didn’t know he knew ASL, additionally to a shitton of weird specialized tactical hand signals. I only have a basic level of knowledge so I can get a rudimentary meaning but knowing how colorful he can be, I can translate the rest just fine. Essentially, he’s telling her that is a stupid idea and he’s not going to let her do it, and did that just say “over my dead body”?

 In her answer, Maureen gives him a furious look and, wow, I think she signs a lot faster than she talks – and kudos for her not missing a beat and wondering where the hell he learned that. Because I don’t have a clue, and I’ve been with him for almost every day for the last ten years or so. She signs so fast that I get maybe a quarter of it but at least I finally remember the sign for “slower”.

 She doesn’t notice it at first, until the Major gives her a really dirty look and gestures towards me. I can see her taking a deep breath, then giving me shorter, slower version of what she already said. If I read this correctly, she wants to go ahead, with us staying here in the rear because she thinks that advancing as a whole would tip whoever is in that corridor off because it would be too loud. Apparently, she seems to think that since she’s the smallest and lightest of us, she’d make the least noise. Oh come on now, that’s just bullshit.

 I try to tell her that I fucking know how to advance on a potentially hostile position without making a sound because I’ve been doing that shit for years but… Fuck, where is she going?

 “I hate it when people do that.” Yeah, you and me both, sir.

 I don’t answer as that would be pointless, because now he’s taken off after her and I don’t waste time to keep up with the two of them, sprinting along the corridors and… what the fuck? Did she just disappear behind a corner, sliding on the floor beneath a volley of laser fire coming out from behind the turn, firing from her P90?

 The Major is doing what I’m too stunned to be doing – swearing under his breath in an endless stream of really colorful invectives, that is – and follows her around the corner, with me hot at his heels.

 As it turns out, she must have somehow known – probably heard it with those freakishly well-tuned ears of hers – that there were Wraith who somehow managed to evade the lifesigns detector in that part of the maze that is this sector and went to intercept them before they could get to us, in a pretty spectacular move I wouldn’t have credited her with even attempting a year ago.

 Now, though… I have to admit, that was pretty fucking… “The fuck did you think you were doing with that stunt, Lieutenant?” Okay, then. The Major apparently doesn’t think it was that awesome.

 Maureen, having gotten up from the ground in a surprisingly swift motion just walks up to him and holy fuck, she gets in his face, going to toe with him and probably stopping short of poking her index finger in his chest when she tells him, “My goddamn job, sir. And it’s Captain.”

 This is getting… weird. I swear to God, I have never seen anything like that. She’s at least half a head shorter than him, probably more, is several years younger and doesn’t have half of his time in service and just walked up to him like that, correcting him and all of that without even a hint of the mortification that would have followed a year ago. What the fuck happened here?

 From the look of it, the Major is torn between yelling right back at her and going over her backside with a wire brush and actually letting her walk all over him.

 In the end, it’s neither. In the end, he doesn’t look away from her, locked in some stupid staring battle, but tells me, “Dee, go check if those bogeys are dead. I’m ending this shit show right now and taking back the lead since, clearly, Captain Reece here has completely lost the ability to show any kind of judgement.”

 In the world I lived in until a few minutes ago, this would have been the moment when Maureen Reece would definitely have backed off and probably left the entire conversation. In this new world, Maureen Reece keeps looking up right at him and says, “Without my judgement, you would be fucking dead now. With all due respect, sir, I suggest you take a goddamn backseat for the remainder of the mission, if you want to fucking survive it.”

 Okay, then. It’s definitely safer right over there with the maybe or maybe not dead space vampires, so I make my way down to the two dead suckers at the end of the cul-de-sac that this corridor is and try not to be concerned over how big the Major’s explosion is going to be at that set-down.

 So, wow, at close range, those guys are even uglier than in those kind of blurry body cam pictures they gave us in the familiarization briefings at the SGC and on the Daedalus. Shaggy white hair, bluish-white skin and what’s with the… “Dee, the suckers.” Yeah, I was just about… “Captain Reece, you shut the fuck up. Right fucking now.”

 I take the chance to get a word in edgewise, before she can dig herself in even further, “Suckers look pretty much dead to me, sir.”

 “Check their pulses but keep the other finger on the trigger, Dee,” I hear Maureen tell me and now it’s getting difficult. Because the Major just told her to take the backseat and she just gave me an order and you know, why do officers always have to be stupid in the worst possible moments?

 “Which part of “you shut the fuck up now” and “I’m taking over” did you not get, Captain?” I can’t believe this is happening, again. This is that damn Goa’uld planet all over again.

 I do a short pulse check on both suckers – with my finger on the trigger because something about those two masked Wraith gave me the creeps – but can’t find one and am ready to end this undignified and downright dangerous little command conflict when Maureen finally does something I recognize: she stares at him for a moment, then narrows her eyes and finally seems to have decided that she has enough and simply walks away into the direction of the other Wraith team.

 The Major is not amused. “Hey! You stay here, and you listen to me and I tell you…”

 She walks on for a few more steps, then… turns around and comes back a few steps and then tells him, “Okay, let’s make one thing abundantly clear: I have been living in this city for a year. Living, okay, not just working. Most of that year was spent exploring and securing it. This is my home turf. So either you get over yourself and keep following my lead or you get eaten by the damn Wraith. Take it or leave it, sir, I really don’t care. I got my city to defend,” punctuating every one of her statements with a jab of her index finger and then turning around on her heels and walking off.

 For a moment, the Major looks almost… petrified and I know that for that moment, just that very short moment, he’s back on that planet where we lost Laura, right before he let her steamroll him into leaving her behind and I’m ready to do something – anything – drastic to snap him out of it but just like that, he’s back, muttering a very quiet but very decisive, “Goddammit,” before setting off to go after her. Right on, then. Right on.

Moore

 So far, this is shaping up to be the worst clusterfuck I have ever been in. I know that sounds like hyperbole, considering my service record and all but this is some real weird shit here, like, you know, my former linguist going ape shit on me for pointing out that she really needs to dial down the attitude on this. Honestly, I can deal with most other shit my job throws at me but that was something else.

 I also can’t believe that this is the Goa’uld planet all over again. It’s that damn planet again, and it made me fucking freeze up on a goddamn mission, and honestly, you’d think after nine months, I’d be over that shit enough to be able to compartmentalize it away fully during missions. But nooo, my Lieutenant oh sorry Captain walks out on me once and I’m back on that damn planet, the moment we enter the cave, Laura’s words of telling me that she’s going to stay, take it or leave it, still in my ears and…

 No.

 Not again.

 This is neither the time nor the place to revisit that memory, so I won’t do it. Not while I’m chasing Reece through a labyrinth of dimly lit corridors, off to catch a couple life-sucking space vampires before they find a way to screw us all six ways from Sunday.

 But damn, she’s fast. Not just “for a Marine” or “for someone who’s been awake for almost four days straight”, but actually truly fast. The only reason for not getting horribly lost after two corners is that I can still hear her boots pound the floor and… wait.

 Where’s that pounding gone? Shit, where is she?

 And for that matter… where the fuck is Dee?

 Okay, this is… disconcerting. I’d even say “terrifying” but that would probably put the final nail in the coffin of my reputation, you know, after a I let a goddamn Marine walk all over me. So, damn, where is everyone? And… what’s with the lights? I’m pretty sure they weren’t flickering until a moment ago? Why am I feeling like I somehow managed to enter the set of a damn horror movie?

 Blinking and keeping my P90 raised, I tap my ear piece, “Moore to Control Room.”

 Static. Uh-oh.

 I tap it again, knowing it makes me look more and more like the red shirt in a damn Star Trek episode or, alternatively, the next serial killer victim in a cheap horror movie. “Moore to Control Room. I just got separated from my team and need assistance. Please come in, Control.”

 Static. Again.

 Sure, fine. Whatever. Maybe this section is too far away from that Control Room or something. Next step: hailing Reece and Dee, respectively and… getting nothing but static back, both times. Fuck.

 Okay, this isn’t just disconcerting, it’s straight up dangerous. Something isn’t right here and I can’t believe this city managed to get me in my first hour here. Also, where the hell are Reece and Dee? And would it be asked too much to stop the damn lights from flickering? It’s starting to give me a headache.

 Which, by the way, wasn’t meant in a figurative sense. There is a damn headache developing behind my forehead, and the lights aren’t exactly making it better. What the hell is going on here?

 Just when I’m ready to hail the goddamn Daedalus for an extraction or at least reinforcements, I hear the faint pounding of combat boots again and through the slight headache induced haze, I still manage to work out that it must be coming from somewhere in front of me, just around the corner… okay, just around the next corner… I frown, calling into the general direction of the combat boots, “Hey, listen, Reece, I got the message. You get command back but seriously, do we have to play that kind of game?”

 I swear to God, if she answers yes… “Your companion is not going to answer, human.”

 Holy hell.

 Breathe… I need to goddamn… breathe… “How would you know… Nosferatu…”

 Nosferatu – or whatever other totally over the top name the guy currently holding me by my throat and pressing me against the wall has – does something even more fucked up: he grins, and oh God, is that how Wraith kill their prey? Terrifying them into petrification by the sheer amount of ugliness of that bluish-white skin and those good God ugly ass teeth? “Because I just killed her.”

 That’s… bad. Also, totally a lie, right? Right? “Nah, she’s… too scrappy for that.”

 “It does not matter.” Really? ‘Cause it kinda does, at least to me. Also, this being pressed against the wall by my throat with my feet dangling several inches above the ground thing is getting really uncomfortable. Could we maybe do something about that? “You will definitely be dead by the time I’m done with you.” No, not like that!

 And, okay, now he’s raising his hand and oh hell, is that a mouth embedded in his palm? Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…

Chapter Text

Five

Reece

 Damn, I really need to dial it down. That was one of the most stupid things I ever did. Disobeying my technically superior officer’s orders, yelling at my technically superior officer and just taking off without checking if my team would be following me really isn’t what I’d call my A game.

 And of course now I lost both… oh thank God there’s Dee. The moment I see him, he thankfully notices me, too but… frowns at me. Uh-oh. “Dee? Where’s… the Major?” Still can’t just talk about him like nothing happened. This has to be the most pathetic reaction to seeing a superior officer one used to crush on after a year of no contact without any warning.

 Dee’s frown deepens. Aw, hell. “Isn’t he with you?”

 Obviously not. I’m close to answering him when I hear a faint sound, like someone talking… I blink and look at the life-signs detector. That finally has deigned to work again. “Never mind, I found him.” Oh, crap. “And something else did, too. Shit, shit, shit.”

 Dee, at least, has immediately grasped the urgency of the situation and doesn’t ask, just follows me hot on the heels as I sprint to where I saw the Major’s life-sign a moment ago and… crap. This is not good. This is really, really bad.

 There, at the other end of the corridor, a Wraith commander is holding the Major by his throat, pressing him against the wall, the Major’s feet several inches above the ground. Okay, oh God, think, Reece, think. What… right. Yes. Of, course.

 I’m too far away from them to just use my P90 as the risk of stray munition hitting the Major in critical locations is too big. So I gotta get closer to them. And there’s still the risk of this being an ambush, drones lying in wait around the next corner. Life-signs detector doesn’t say anything of that sort but then again, something in this sector apparently makes it unreliable. Okay, fine.

 I signal for Dee to give me backup while I draw my Beretta side-arm and slowly make my way to the Major and the Wraith holding him. They seem to have some kind of interchange – what is it with Wraith always trying to talk their victims into oblivion first? – and I manage to get even closer which tells me that either the commander is severely weakened and therefore off his game… or that I’m playing right into whatever trap he laid for us but it’s either risk it and walk right into a trap or… yep, there it is. The commander raises his hand but thankfully, I’m finally close enough to be fairly sure to hit him instead of the Major if I fire my weapon.

 Showtime.

 The moment he raises his feeding hand, I manage to raise my Beretta to the height of his head and growl, “Knock it off, asshole.”

 “And why would I?”  The very slight but definitely real hesitation on the Wraith commander’s part tells me that this probably wasn’t part of his plan. So maybe… not a trap, after all?

 Anyway… why would a Wraith let a nice meal like the Major go, just like that? Oh right, that’s why, “Because you desperately need to feed and I’m holding a nine-millimeter to your head. One bullet, you’re finished.” I’m kind of going out on a limp with this one but it seems I hit a nerve. There is a slight shaking in the hand that keeps pressing the Major against the wall.

 The Wraith isn’t ready to give up yet, though. “And kill him in the process?”

 That’s actually a good question. I’ve got a good angle, so the shot would most probably go straight into the Wraith’s head. But I’ve seen what those fuckers can do when they’re truly desperate. They are fast enough to slam their hand right into their victim’s chest and take them with them when threatened with imminent violent death. Still, and I really hope he believes me, “I’m willing to take that risk.”

 The Major, for his part, obviously does because even pinned against the wall, his air supply seriously impeded, he somehow manages to give me a “What the hell, Reece?” face. I desperately try to ignore it and keep concentrating on the Wraith, now grinning at me. Ugh. “You’re bluffing.”

 Hell, yes, I am, it’s not like that is a secret or anything. “Fuck, no, why would I do that?”

 That… makes the damn Wraith pause for some reason, looking first at me, his head curiously tilted to the side, then at the Major, almost… pensively, then back at me, grinning again. “A queen in waiting protecting her consort. How quaint.”

 Jesus fucking Christ, that’s enough. I use that moment of apparent distraction for the Wraith and squeeze the trigger, muttering a deeply felt, “Oh for fuck’s sake,” and putting a damn bullet in the sucker’s forehead.

 There’s a moment when I’m terrified that he has just enough energy left in him to turn around and suck the Major dry after all but then, he just falls down on his back, releasing the Major in the process who crumples to the ground and grabs his throat, coughing and sputtering and that’s the moment when I realize just how horribly wrong this could have gone.

 That realization results in a short bout of freezing dead in my tracks, but the Major is too preoccupied with trying to get air into his lungs and Dee is too preoccupied to keep up giving us cover that no one – hopefully – notices my moment of undignified post-stress reaction and by the time I hear the Major wheeze, “Honestly, I’m not sure… what’s more disturbing,” I manage to get my bearings back enough to fully appreciate him smirking and continuing, “You just point-blank shooting a life-sucking space vampire in the face or someone using the word “quaint” completely unironically. Also, what was that… consort thing…”  

 “No idea and I’ve got a feeling I don’t want to know, anyway.” That came out a little too fast to sound as casual as it was intended. We haven’t made much headway here in learning about Wraith culture which mostly had to do with the fact that they’ve been trying to kill us just a tad too aggressively for us to facilitate any real social research but we did learn that apparently, they’re a society based around queens and that those queens… whatever. Not the place or time to think about that. I crouch next to him, now really, really wanting to reach out and do something nice and comforting because there’s still an ugly wheezing sound when he breathes and he’s still coughing in little starts and fits. “Sir… are you alright?”

 If that one-eighty from how I treated him before this little incident to checking up on him and being a lot closer to my pre-Atlantis personality, that is a little apprehensive in his presence somehow confused him, he’s pretty good at not showing it, waving me off and murmuring his usual, “Just fine, Kid.”

 Yeah no, not really. I sigh. Now is probably a good moment for a good old-fashioned apology. Because damn, this really is my fault, and in hindsight, just taking off like that was a really bad lapse of judgement. “Sir? I’m sorry for what happened back…”

 He waves me off again, finally not wheezing anymore. “Been there, done that, got the really ugly scar to prove it.” He… does? Oh yeah, of course he does. Why did I even doubt that? It’s not like he doesn’t have a bit of a history of telling superior officers to go fuck themselves and then just do it his way. He shrugs and rolls his eyes. “Really. It happens. We’ve all been there at some point, Kid. I’ll survive.”

 But yeah, “Still, I’m really sorry for this. I made a bad call and…”

 “I meant it, Kid. It’s fine.” No, it’s not, and we both know it. “We got a job, right? Let’s concentrate on that, maybe?”

 Oh, okay. Good point. I repress a sigh and instead get up. “Yes, sir,” and then, just because I’m apparently really dumb, reach out with my hand.

 He looks at it, hesitating for just a moment and I realize that it’s going to be a whole new world of awkward and complicated if he’s here to stay and I don’t get orders to rotate out. That realization is only further cemented when he finally decides to take that hand, clasping my wrist and instinctively making me react with doing the same with his and hauling him up, a little too forceful and he ends up coming to his feet way too close to be comfortable. Whoops.

 There’s this moment of me staring at his chest while not being too pissed off to mind being close to him and a flash of that stupid, stupid mission when we ended up in the alternate reality and I was dumb enough to actually kiss his doppelganger and the only reason I don’t die of unresolved tension of something is that Control chooses that moment to hail me. “Control Room to Captain Reece. What the hell is going on down there? What’s the matter with your team, Captain?”

 Right. Yes. I take a step back, careful not to look at the Major and hoping fervently that the light here is low enough that he doesn’t see the damn blush heating my cheeks. “Team’s fine, Control. Why are you asking?”

 There’s a very low cough from the Major and did that sound embarrassed? “We received a distress call from a Major Moore. That’s one of your Daedalus reinforcements, isn’t he?”

 Uh, yes. I look at him, raising one of my eyebrows inquisitively and he looks a little awkward and definitely embarrassed, quickly signing “Long story, tell you later” in ASL, and I’ll have to ask him where the hell he learned that. I decide to spare him further humiliation, just for now, because I’m not a complete monster, alright? “Confirm, Control. Distress call must have been a technical malfunction.” I’m about to add that everything’s fine but then I realize that that would be a lie. I’m not big on telling them this – because it sure as hell will get us being sicced on with engineers and technicians – but this really is something Control needs to know. “Life-signs detectors seem to be malfunctioning around here, too. We haven’t yet worked out whether that’s the Wraith or the city.”

 To be honest, I only have worked out that they’re unreliable around here about five minutes ago but Control doesn’t have to know that.

 Thankfully, Control doesn’t seem to want to waste our time with further questioning, instead tells me, “Acknowledged, Captain. Your first objective is still locating and securing that secondary ops. But keep updating us on your position every five to ten minutes, reinforcements are inbound.”

 What, more people I have to lead around here? “Holy shit, Control, please tell me it’s not more Everett… hold on.” Aw, not again. Just heard another one skulking around here and why is this sector so full of people who really shouldn’t be here. “We got contact, will report back in once situation is resolved, Reece out.”

 I just bet Control is really pissed about constantly getting cut short by me but there are matters a little more pressing than figuring out how to hide from the damn reinforcements around here right now. Like, you know, surviving this shit.

 I signal both Dee and the Major the direction from where I heard the slow, deliberate footsteps, sounds very much like another Wraith commander skulking around in the semi-dark and this time, I at least don’t get any opposition at my plan to advance, investigate and engage.

 Okay, then. Back to Wraith Search and Destroy, huh?

Morsberg

 Goddammit, I should have taken the risk and just taken off alone. This Everett Idiot is the worst. Basically, he’s the epitome of that old Vietnam War adage of there being nothing more dangerous than a second lieutenant with a map and a compass, only that this guy was also issued a P90 and just about zero interpersonal intelligence. Or, you know, any intelligence at all. Until now, I strictly refused to buy into this “keep your crayons hidden away when Marines are in the room” thing everyone else seems to love and not just because my best friend here is a Marine with superior intelligence but by now I’m thoroughly ready to devise that sentiment.

 So far, Second Lieutenant Dumb As Fuck And Double The Arrogance has managed to almost get us lost, nearly injured himself by unnecessarily jumping over a staircase railing, refused to listen to me three times on the – false – account of me not having any authority over him since I’m foreign military, almost shot up an empty balcony – and betrayed out position – because he “saw something suspicious” out there and just generally managed to piss me off every couple of steps. Why couldn’t I get one of the people in Everett’s outfit who are actually capable, intelligent and all around professional Marines?

 Also. Also. Why isn’t that damn life-signs detector working? It’s just this side of inconvenient when you have no idea where your enemy is and where your friends are, especially when you know that the enemy can screw up a perfectly good mind and get you turned around about five times before you realize that they’re about to fucking eat you alive.

 I know I could just hail Maureen and ask her where the hell she and whoever else is with her are but down here, that could actually be a really stupid idea because it could reveal either her or my position to the enemy and honestly, it would be useless anyway, without working life-signs detectors and no real knowledge of the layout of this part of the city.

 So basically, Lieutenant Dumb As Fuck and I are relegated to traipsing around a badly lit and unmapped part of the city like goddamn idiots because Control thought it would be a good idea to send the only combat trained emergency doctor this contingent has when there are still people out there needing medical attention instead of, you know, a bunch of grunts very well suited to this kind of thing. Sometimes I honestly wonder why I still bother.

 And goddammit, why has no one taken the time to train that lieutenant in how to move without telegraphing our exact position to every fucking Wraith in a one hundred meter radius? That’s not rocket science, even I learned it at some point before coming here, honestly. I…

 Oh, crap. I signal the lieutenant to freeze and at least he doesn’t seem to have forgotten how tactical hand signs work and immediately stops. This is one of the moments when I wish I had Maureen’s freakishly good ears because then I could be sure but I think I just heard something a couple meters ahead of my current position.

 Damn, I really hate this part of the city. Everywhere else, corridors are mostly wide, easy to navigate and mostly straight. Here, it’s all relatively narrow, lots of turns and crossings and basically just a damn maze. I feel like a fucking hamster already and I’ve only been here for maybe five minutes. And somewhere in front of me, someone’s skulking around and it sounds very much as if that someone is a damn Wraith. God, I hate Wraith.

 I signal the lieutenant to take cover by pressing himself against the wall and for a moment, it looks like he’s about to argue and I swear to God, if he so much as thinks about stupid heroics and charging ahead… yeah, okay, that’s better, Sportsfreund.

 Okay, to be honest, for just a moment, I debated charging ahead myself, just to get rid of those fuckers as fast as possible but since the damn life-signs detectors don’t work, I have no idea how many of them are there – it does sound like there’s more than one, although they seem to be more skilled in silently  moving than the one I heard – and even a damn recruit knows that’s a recipe for disaster. So I keep waiting, hoping my breathing doesn’t betray the lieutenant and me.

 Waiting… waiting… yep, they’re definitely coming closer. The fact that I don’t hear any voices raises the probability of those really being Wraith exponentially, considering their telepathic abilities and all. Shit, shit, shit. They’re now also too close for me to hail Control without being heard… okay, honestly, sometimes the best defense is a good offense, so I signal the lieutenant to cover me while I walk ahead, probing to see if they… yep, definitely heard me. At least they haven’t tried messing with our heads. Well, yet.

 Okay, closer… closer… now.

 “I swear to God, if you shoot me, I’ll have Dr. Beckett chain you to the damn infirmary for the rest of your tour.” Or… not.

 I blink. “Maureen?”

 She gives me a dead-pan face. “Obviously. So you’re the reinforcements Control announced?”

 “Yeah,” I tell her, still a little jittery from the adrenalin that my attempted charge set free and that’s going nowhere now, “me and Lieutenant” don’t say “Dumb As Duck And Double The Arrogance”, don’t say “Dumb As Fuck And Double The Arrogance”, don’t say “Dumb As Fuck And Double The Arrogance”, “Rivers here.”

 She gives me the raised eyebrow and I answer with rolling my eyes and, yeah, she noticed the Everett Idiot Corps fatigues alright. Smartly, she doesn’t comment on it, though, just says, “So, what took you so long?”

 Oh come on. “You know how I love my big entrances.” Because damn, it would have been a really big entrance if I’d come up guns blazing at her and… wait, is that her SGC CO coming up behind her? Ah hell, no time for introductions. Smart-ass comments are more important, anyway. “But I’m really sorry for stopping to improvise three casualty clearing stations along the way and performing two lifesaving emergency surgeries. Won’t happen again.”

 At that, she actually sticks out her tongue and I just bet Lieutenant Rivers behind me just had half an apoplexy at how far Atlantis has left standards for officer conduct drop, but it’s neither one who answers. It’s her CO, stepping closer and frowning at me. “Who the fuck are… wait, you’re that German Army clown from the Broadmoor.”

 Seriously? “That’s the best insult you can come up with?” Let’s see if he missed the “sir” I intentionally left out. Because damn, it’s just so funny seeing American field grades and above twitch every time they notice it’s missing on purpose.

 “Why you little…” Yep, noticed it alright. Damn, this is gonna be a fun mission!

 “Stop it, both of you.” Or not, because apparently, Maureen decides to be a spoilsport. That’s not nice! “Seriously, you can go beat the crap out of each other when we’re done securing that ops.”

 I pull a face. “Aw, damn, you’re no fun, Maureen.” Also, honestly, why is she calling the shots here, anyway? Shouldn’t her CO be the one handling this entire thing? And why did that guy just look like he actually agreed with me about Maureen being a damn spoilsport?

 “Show a little gratitude, buddy. Lieutenant… Captain here just saved you from a defeat worse than the Bulge.” A World War II reference? Really?

 At least I’m not the only one finding this tacky and stupid and really not funny. Maureen and the third guy – hey, I remember him, that’s the Sergeant Laura introduced to me who looked like he worshipped the ground she walked on every time he thought no one would see him – both utter very faint groans. While I’m considering whether that nonsense even warrants an answer, it’s Maureen who takes back initiative. “Hey, the mission? Anyone here remember it? Anyone?”

 Her CO smirks. “Colonel Klink’s right. You really are no fun today, Kid.” Hogan’s Heroes, yeah, really, very original. Idiot.

 “Can we not keep standing around here being witty and shit? How about we get the fuck moving?” Okay, I think it’s time Maureen finds a secure spot and gets some sleep. And yes, this is an actual medical professional assessment and I’m this close to actually making it a medical or…

 “Anyone got an idea what this is?” Oh, and now the lieutenant, too? Maybe it’s not the lack of sleep making Maureen edgy and not quite her usual charming self. Maybe it’s people saying and doing stupid shit…

 Oh. Oh. That doesn’t look like it belongs here. I look at Maureen and she agrees. This definitely looks… “Step away from it, Lieutenant. Right fucking now.”

 The lieutenant frowns. And stays right where he is. “Hey, I was just…”

 “Did I fucking stutter, Lieutenant? Bring some distance between you and that thing, ASAP.” Honestly, is he really that stupid? It’s plain as day that this little device sitting on a wall, a few centimeters above ground, is not Ancient made. Everything about it – the organic look, the damn tentacles snaking away from it, everything – screams Wraith at the top of its voice and the first rule everyone learns here is “Look Wraithy, no touchy”, goddammit. “Lieutenant. There’s a high probability that whatever this is, it’s booby-trapped. Do not touch it. Do not even think about touching it.”

 The lieutenant still doesn’t move and it almost looks as if he’s about to do something really stupid, such as saying “Oh yeah? Watch me.” and touching the damn… “You heard the Captain, Lieutenant. Leave it alone.”

 That damn fool of a lieutenant actually snorts. “Says who?”

 “Says the oak leaves on my shoulders. Get the fuck away from this or you’ll find yourself in front of a court-martial.” Wow. He actually raised his weapon at the lieutenant. Subtly and almost unnoticeable but if the lieutenant isn’t completely dumb, he’ll have… yep, so saw it. Stepping away now from it, resentment clearly written all over his face. Buddy, honestly, you should just have listened to Maureen the first time she told you to step away. Her CO doesn’t take his eyes off the lieutenant, but adds, “Dee, do your thing.”

 What… “EOD. That’s his thing,” Maureen tells me, as the Sergeants moves forward and the rest of us moves backward and she doesn’t sound happy about it. The Sergeant for his part just crouches down, pulling his K-bar from his belt and oh hell, do I hate booby traps. Here we go. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy…

Chapter Text

Six

Moore

 You know, I’m not sure what’s the story with this guy in fatigues okay Lieutenant Rivers but I’ve got a feeling he’s probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I could live with German Army Clown having a problem with him because that guy just rubs me the wrong way but the fact that Reece – even allowing for a very apparent lack of sleep and a million other issues due to having been in the fight for several days now usually someone who needs a lot of pressure to telegraph her animosity that clearly – also seems to have lost all her patience for him tells me that there’s a good chance he’s bad news.

 That and the fact that he thought touching an object obviously planted by an enemy unit was a good idea, just to own the Captain explicitly ordering him not to. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that that Captain was female or anything.

 Anyway, I’ve only been here for maybe two hours and I’ve already had my windpipe nearly crushed, life nearly sucked out of me, had to pull rank at least twice which I really, really hate and had to threaten someone with a damn court-martial, which I hate even more than pulling rank, and am now watching my Sergeant carefully examining something that could very well blow us all to fucking kingdom come. I can already say with a certain amount of certainty that I really fucking hate this place. Which is funny because I signed up for at least one year, with an option to make my posting here more or less permanent. I’m an idiot.

 Add to that my complete inability to find a workable way to react to this wholly unknown version of the Maureen Reece I used to know and here I am, trying to look like I’ve totally got this when I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. Last time it was that bad was in flight school, holy shit.

 So, about that… whatever it is that Dee is currently poking at with his K-Bar, I just really hope it’s not a damn booby trap. I really, really hate that shit because you know, aside from the obvious – the danger of making mincemeat of everyone currently hanging around here – they also cost so. Much. Time.

 Case in point, Dee’s been at this for at least five minutes now. Five minutes that we could really have used to find that second ops that’s still our primary objective or at least to hunt those Wraith types, even with that life-signs detector thing not working reliably. Also, five minutes we could have been just basically walking around, keeping Reece and German Army Clown awake. Both of them look like a very weird cross between exhausted and wired, and if I’ve learned one thing in my Black Ops time, it’s that that is never a good combination. Walking at least would have kept them awake while getting rid of at least some of that pent-up nervous energy. As it is…

 “Hey, Maureen, I need you to look at this.” Did Dee just ask the tired-wired jumpy pissed off linguist to look at something that could explode into our faces any minute?

 I’m about to intervene when I catch Dee looking at me, just for a moment and shaking his head, just barely noticeable. Okay. Okay. He’s an experienced professional – probably the most experienced and professional individual around here at the moment – who knows what he’s doing when he isn’t engaged in illegal activity with one of his superior officers so I guess I have to trust him.

 Reece, for her part… wow, whatever did I do to earn actual deference? Granted, she doesn’t outright ask, but she does wait for me to give her my okay by nodding, and she goes forward, cautiously making her way over to Dee who’s still crouched in front of that infernal whatever it is.

 “What is it, Dee?” I’m trying so fucking hard not to be pissed off by their obvious familiarity – he fucking called her by her first name, after all – even with the kind of frosty welcome I got and it’s almost working, so really, I’m actually pretty proud of myself right now. I think I’ve earned it, haven’t I?

 I can’t really see what he’s showing her after she went into a crouch as well but at least I can still hear him. “Here, look at this… How much do you know about Wraith technology?”

 Enough to know at least that this is a potentially dangerous device, and shouldn’t that be sufficient? “Enough to know that I don’t see any obvious detonators from this angle. Why?”

 Rivers next to me is about to make an ass out of himself and I know because I’m a field grade and he’s a second lieutenant and field grades who’ve had their oak leaves for as long as I usually have the ability to sniff out any bullshit second lieutenants are about to utter before the second lieutenants have even thought them. I turn to him and level the best field grade stare I have at him.

 Laura, you know, Laura used to laugh about it, every damn time. She laughed about it really hard and told me I sucked at intimidating looks, repeatedly. On Rivers, it seems to work pretty well. Which only confirms my suspicion that he’s probably not that bright, after all.

 “Because I don’t see any indicators that this is gonna blow up, either.” Uh, maybe you should have told me first? Guys? “I’ve got a hunch what it might be but I’ve only just gotten here, so…”

 “No, you’re right. Fuck… I think you’re right.” What? What is he right about? “I think I know what this is.”

 Next to me, there’s again some movement in the direction of stupidity so I need to step it up. “Hey, anyone mind keeping me in the loop, too?”

 Reece turns around but… not to me. “In a minute, sir.” Excuse… “Mats, get your ass over here, tell me you think what I think.”

 Who the fuck is… oh, right. German Army Clown. Apparently, German Army Clown’s name is Mats. That’s ridiculous, honestly. Also, now three people of my team are hunched around a still potentially dangerous device and I’m ready to break this up, and if it’s just so Rivers won’t consider being stupid with me now.

 In the end, I decide to give them two more minutes because I hear, “Remember, the report on M8J-932?” from Reece and a murmured, “You’re right, that’s what kept bugging me,” from “Mats” and you know what, since they seem to have found a consensus of some kind, let’s screw the two minutes. “Please, for the uninitiated among us? Captain? Whatever… your actual rank is, Colonel Klink?”

 Now they both turn around and wow, amazing, I never thought I’d ever see that “I know how to use a scalpel, you asshole” look on anyone else’s face than Laura Greenspan but here we are. “It’s Stabsarzt, followed by Morsberg.” I swear to God, if he leaves out… “Sir.” Dammit.

 Also, that is absolutely impossible to pronounce. The rank, I mean, not the name. And I have no idea what that is in real ranks and… “He’s an O-3, sir.” A Captain, then. Great. Two Captains – one of them Army – and a Second Lieutenant, please shoot me now. “And now that we’ve cleared that up: this is most probably a jamming device.”

 I frown at her. “You’ve seen that before?”

 She makes a face. “Something like it, yes. It was in a report from one of the recon teams, maybe two months ago. They found it in what looked very much like the Wraith version of an R&D lab. Some of the engineers took care of it and were convinced that it was a prototype for something that could mess up our life-signs detectors.” She presses her lips together for a moment, looking very unhappy. “Guess Dr. McKay owes Zelenka a couple bucks now. Or whatever scientists and engineers use in bets.”

 Oh God, I actually managed to forget that Rodney McKay is part of this expedition, too. The prospect of serving here for an entire year looks better and better by the minute. And by “better” I mean “worse than a land war in Asia”. Anyway, “You got any idea how to shut it off?”

 That earns me a kind of resigned snort from her. “I wish.” Then, a small sigh, almost apologetic. “Still a linguist, not an engineer, sir.”

 Right. I guess I can skip asking Morsberg over there, too, because I’d probably just get another version of “I’m a doctor, Jim” and Rivers here next to me doesn’t inspire much confidence in anything other than knowing where to correctly point the business end of a P90. Ah, hell. “Okay, Rivers, cover that end of the corridor, Reece, Doc, you go cover the other two exits. Dee, let’s see what you got there.” Because, I honestly can’t believe this, the two people closest to being anything engineer related here are the two who got here last. That is, Dee and me.

 I crouch next to him, pulling a flashlight out of one of my leg pockets and training it on the jamming thing. Damn thing looks way too organic to be comfortable, almost like a living thing. And the little lights blinking inside don’t actually make it better. I still can’t quite shake the feeling that this is some kind of trap but as I understand the situation, we won’t be getting any combat or civil engineers or technicians to deal with this thing safely in the near and foreseeable future and all that shit happening since we got here tells a very clear story of life-signs detectors being a crucial asset that need to work properly. So someone needs to shut it the hell off.

 Fine. I pull a knife out of my boot, one that’s smaller and more slender than your run-of-the-mill K-Bar and look at Dee. “What do you think?”

 He looks contemplative, just for a moment. Then, “Could still be booby-trapped, even if there’s no visible trigger.” Yeah, my thoughts exactly. “We need to get rid of it, one way or the other.”

 “Agreed.” Okay, another look at it with the flashlight. If I hadn’t already had one less than pleasant encounter with one of those Wraith types, this would definitely the moment to decide that I really do hate their guts. If they even have them in the first place. Anyway. I point to two possible points of application inside the device. “Here… and here?”

 Dee takes a moment, then says, “More like here and here,” pointing a little further to the right of my first idea and a little further up from my second.

 Okay. Okay, yeah, that makes sense. “Do you want to or shall I?”

 That earns me a dead-pan look. What? “All due respect, sir, that was a stupid question.” Ah, shit, I did walk right into that one. “You might wanna step back?” Oh, yeah, right.

 I clear my throat and get up and yeah, okay, I absolutely do not want to but I guess Dee would kick my ass if I didn’t, so I put the knife back in its place inside the shaft of my boot and order the rest of this ragtag “team” to fall back behind the corner the furthest away from Dee and the device, pointedly not wishing my Sergeant luck before retreating myself.

 Then, silence and thankfully, all my of my charges keeping their trap shut. I do catch a look of Reece, though, and I can see that she tries to keep a blank face so very, very hard. But apparently, she never really learned the art of the poker face here – or maybe it’s just the fatigue messing her up – and I can see very well just how hard it is for her to leave Dee to his fate.

 Yeah, well, you and me both, Kid.

 This goes on for at least two or three more minutes, before I hear her say next to me, in a very, very quiet voice, “Sir, do you think…”

 I never do hear how she planned to finish that sentence because there’s an almighty explosion from around the bend and goddammit not again I can’t believe this is happening again this is really…

Reece

 Fucking hell. That damn thing was booby-trapped and I don’t even care for any secondary explosions or whatever other nasty surprises the Wraith could have hidden in that thing and sprint around the bend, arriving at the scene before anyone else.

 There’s smoke and soot streaked walls and, further down the corridor, the flickering of a small, thankfully already dying fire against the wall and Dee, where the hell is Dee, where… “I’m fine, Maureen.”

 Yeah, no, apparently, he isn’t. He’s sitting, leaning against the wall and coughing and I’m pretty sure those are small burns peppering his uniform on one side. “You don’t look fine, Sergeant. The hell where you thinking? We could have let it sitting there for the combat engineers to take care…”

 “He acted on my orders, Captain. Because no, we couldn’t.” Dammit, I hate it when he does that. Sound so damn business as usual when one of his friends nearly died. On his orders, by the way.

 I’m about to tell him so – and probably, to be fully honest, regret it the moment I say it because you don’t say stuff like that to a superior officer, especially not with a young and impressionable second lieutenant hovering in the background – but Mats is faster, passing both the Major and me by to kneel down in front of Dee. “Here’s a funny story, Sergeant: neither of you gets to decide whether you’re fine or not.”

 “Look, Doc, can’t I just…”

 “Shut up and let me do my job.”  Don’t fight it, Dee. He’s not gonna let you escape his clutches, anyway. He’s like that.

 So Mats does his thing, checking reactions and giving that laceration on Dee’s forehead the emergency treatment while Dee puts on that superficially deferent look he always has when medical personnel treat him and he thinks they’re just being overly cautious and I can’t stop thinking about how this could have gone wrong, how this didn’t have to happen, how this only happened because someone told Dee to do it, despite knowing full well what could happen. “Kid…”

 “He didn’t have to do that.” Fuck, that came out way more snappy than I’d wanted to. And hell, did I just do what I expressively knew to be a really bad idea just a moment ago?

 “Hey, listen, Kid, you know as well as I…” Fuck you.

 Okay, apparently, I did. And for some reason, realizing what could have happened just a moment ago, I’ve also give up caring for the consequences. “He didn’t have to do that, and you knew that and you still…”

 “Dammit, Captain.” You just ordered a man to risk his fucking life without the need for that. You don’t get to tell me nothing,

 “There was no need for this to happen and you knew that and you still…”

 “Captain!”

 “What?”

 Jesus fucking Christ, I really have a problem. I really, really shouldn’t have snapped at him like that and I shouldn’t have started this conversation in the first place and oh God, this whole siege thing is really bringing out the absolute worst in me, someone just get it over with and fucking shoot me and… “Check that life-signs detector, Kid.”

 Right. Okay. Or that. That sounds like a good idea, too. I take a deep breath and pull out the detector again. And… oh hell. “I take everything back, sir. And ask for forgiveness. We really did need to get rid of that thing.”

 “Apology accepted, Kid.” That… sounded a little too understanding and lenient – almost as if he wanted to, I don’t know, reassure me? – but I decide to let it go and quit obsessing about it right here and now. “So what does it say?”

 I show him the screen and he leans over and it takes me a moment to realize that this is a little too close for comfort because apparently I haven’t managed to get over my crush as well as I thought I had. Oh God. Be professional, Maureen. Professional at all costs. “You see that mass of dots aggregating here and here?” He nods.

 “Let me guess: our target?” Smart Major.

 I nod. “Yep. I’d bet a month’s pay that one of those two rooms here is the second ops. Seems like they split up and holed themselves up in both of them. I just have no idea why they’re just sitting…” I blink. Wait.

 “Kid?” I blink again, consider my thoughts and… it still makes sense.

 Aw, hell. “Those bastards. They’re waiting for a natural gene carrier to either get dragged to them or stumble across them. Shit.” He frowns at me. “Lots of systems in this city need someone with a natural expression of the ATA gene for initial activation. After that, most of them can be used by everyone but the natural gene carriers are essential.”

 He now raises an eyebrow, almost amused. “They’re waiting for someone to walk in to switch the light on? Seriously?”

 I can just suppress rolling my eyes. “Essentially, yes, sir.”

 Come on, don’t be standing there, looking like you have no idea what’s going on. You know that one, sir, come… “Ah, shit, okay, I get it. Damn.” There you go! “Fine. You keep your distance from the fight but you stay in constant radio contact. Got me, Captain?” Shit, I’d love to argue with him now, but he’s right. I really do need to sit this one out, at least until the Wraith are neutralized. “Captain?”

 I try hard not to sigh too defeatedly and almost succeed. “Yes, sir. Keeping my distance and keeping up radio contact. Got it.”

 He nods. He’s so close to giving me a pat on the head and calling me a good Marine, I can practically smell that on him. “Good call, Kid. Anyone else here got that damn gene?”

 Ah, yeah, good idea, sir. And yeah, just like I expected it. Mats and Dee, who are both standing again, shake their heads and decline, Rivers… just smirks. At me. Asshole. He’s close enough to have heard the entire exchange, and that smirk tells me pretty clearly just how much he enjoys me – a female Marine who outranks him, solely by the grace and ingenuity and disregard for rules of her commanding Air Force overlord – being taken out of the fight and having to take a backseat. Right where he probably thinks female Marines belong, if they have to hang around in his Corps. Ugh.

 “Okay, then. Once more into the breach and all that crap.” Major Thomas Moore. Always the warrior poet. And all that crap. “Move out, we’re going to have some fun!” Without me. But really, I’m not jealous. Not even a little bit.

 But man, dammit.

Chapter Text

Seven

Morsberg

 It bothers her. Actually, it pisses her off. Really fucking pisses her off, and that’s what tells me that she really needs a break. It’s not like Maureen usually shies away from a fight but she never actually craves it, either. Right now, she looks really damn riled up about not being allowed near the action because she’s got that pesky little thing called natural ATA gene expression.

 Herrgottnochmal.

 While we’re advancing on the objective, I manage to sidle up next to her close enough for her to hear me when I whisper, “When this is over, you’re going straight to the safe zone and find a bed.”

 She doesn’t turn around but I just bet she just rolled her eyes. “Says who?” Damn, if she’s apparently channeling a petulant second lieutenant, it’s worse than I thought.

 “Says the rod of Asclepius on my beret. This is a medical order, Maureen.” There’s a fifty-fifty chance she’ll just turn around, stun me and keep advancing but I had to take that risk.

 In the end, there’s a tiny snort from her, before she says, “Speak for yourself, Mr. Combat Search And Rescue. If I’m quitting, you’re quitting.”

 Dammit, this isn’t about quitting. This is about her being thoroughly out of character, mostly due to lack of sleep, self-medication with stims and coffee and a ridiculously high adrenaline level for way too many days. She actually needs to crash somewhere safe because if she crashes somewhere that isn’t safe, it’s gonna be ugly. No one wants ugly. I give her a very low growl. “I’m not doing this to piss you off. I’m doing it to help…”

 “When this is over, both of you are going straight to the safe zone to crash and catch up on sleep.” Dammit. And here I thought I was being sneaky. Is this Moore guy a linguist, too? “Now kindly just shut the fuck up.” I almost expect him to add “and don’t make me turn this car around” but sadly, that seems outside the realm of his brand of humor.

 But yeah, it’s probably not that smart to antagonize the resident field grade because as I have learned, it’s generally a bad idea to antagonize any field grades. Maureen didn’t talk much about him – aside from that little breakdown at the beginning of our stay here, that is – but this guy has special forces written all over him. Years of it, actually.

 So I try to reign in my inner agent provocateur and keep up with the rest of this ragtag band of people – I’d really not call it a team because that would require some kind of cohesion and honestly, I don’t see any of that here – as fast as a moderately quiet pace allows. Then, just one crossing from the objective away, Moore signals for us to break up. I get… huh, I get the Sergeant, while he signals Rivers to team up with him and… that’s actually a good call. I bet he filed Rivers under “bad news”, just like the rest of us did and wants to keep an eye on him and honestly, that’s pretty smart. I do feel a little for him because Rivers looks way too gung ho to be trusted to be an asset instead of a burden in that fight to come but yeah, I guess Moore decided to take one for the team, and I can respect that.

 Maureen gets told to stay behind but keep a channel open to his radio. I can see how much she resents it but she’s still Marine enough to respect and follow an order that makes sense, no matter whether she personally likes it or not.

 After that, we break up, Moore and Rivers walking to the door on the far right side of the crossing and me taking the Sergeant to the door on the opposing side. The plan is to smoke the suckers out with a flash bang, then basically take them off one by one as they leave the room. Easy as pie, right?

 When we arrive at the door, I can’t believe our luck. It’s open and to be honest, not really there anymore, which also explains why it’s open. They breached it with explosives, which is kind of shitty for whoever has to put it back together after this is over but a big stroke of luck for us. Because it means we won’t have to breach it.

 The Sergeant, kneeling in front of me, unclips a flash bang from his flak vest and holds it up, looking to me for confirmation and hell, he’s probably got like ten years in SpecOps on me but I like how he tries to make me feel vital to the mission. I nod and he pulls the splint before rolling it inside the room.

 One, two… there we go. Nice loud bang, complimented by a similar sound from a couple meters away, and smoke coming out of the room. And… there we go, drones. Drones to shoot at and yes, I’m a doctor but damn, it feels nice to just mindlessly putting the P90 up and letting fly.

 Something, however, keeps bugging me, even while aiming and firing and taking them off one by one and…

 “What the fuck is happening?”

 What the… “Keep firing, sir. Whatever it is, they got it.” Right, that was the Sergeant, raising his voice to the absolute minimum to be heard over the din and moving forward, into the room and… shit, why are there still Wraith and… “Moore to everyone around, room’s been activated, repeat, room’s been activated.”

 That’s bad. That’s really, really bad and oh crap, nearly got hit by a stun beam and fuck, someone really needs to get that smoke from the room. Or the Wraith. Or both. Both would be good.

 “Shit, Reece, Dee, Morsberg, anyone? Room’s all lit up and one of the suckers just…” Just what? What?

 “Sergeant, fuck, we need to…”

 “Damn right, we do. Room’s cleared, let’s go rescue a field grade.” No idea how he knows that the damn room is cleared but I do believe him. Out of everyone around here, he strikes me as the most mature, most experienced guy right now and honestly, they probably mined the damn room and we need to get out of it, anyway.

 So I follow the Sergeant down the corridor to where I can still hear occasional gunshots coming from. This is kinda not how I pictured this op going but we all know, no plan survives until first contact, blahblahblah. Anyway. Rescue a field grade. Just what I need.

DeLisle

 When the good doctor – I’m doing my best here not to call him The Good German, I think I deserve a bit of credit for this, thank you – and I arrive at the other objective, most of the action is already over but there are still two Wraiths, one of them a commander, one of them a drone, left and… whatever they’re doing, it can’t be good because both the Major and Second Lieutenant Red Shirt are still pumping lead into them and they just continue to… what the fuck are they doing?

 “Whatever you do, don’t let them finish what they’re currently doing.” Ah, and here’s Maureen. Guess she figured that when the shit hit the fan, she could screw the plan and jump into the fray, anyway. Smart Lieutenant. Captain. And just a little unexpected but okay, for now I can roll with it.

 So okay, let’s help the Major and the resident Red Shirt and… “Holy fuck, Reece, how much lead can those guys take?”

 Yeah, that’s actually a really good question, sir. I have been wondering that, too. “Depends on,” changing a clip for her Beretta and wow, that’s a hell lotta faster than her average time back at the SGC, “how much they fed before. And I’ve got a bad feeling we’re going to find a couple desiccated corps somewhere in the vicinity of this room.”

 That really doesn’t sound encouraging. Can you please just die already, space vampires who are currently definitely trying to fuck up this entire operation?

 “Okay,” the Major says and uh-oh, I know that look on his face, “everyone get out of the fucking room. Retreat, right now.” I can see Reece wanting to argue – and the space vampire grinning despite being full of holes – but this time, the Major wins the staring contest and we all file out of the room backwards, with the Major being the last and… “Fire in the fucking hole.” Yep, that’s what I thought.

 It wasn’t an actual hand grenade, because then neither of us would still be standing here but it seems that in those close quarters and already weakened by an onslaught of bullets, a flash bang does a nice job, too. When the Major re-enters the room, P90 raised and aiming at where the Wraith were trying to do something to the controls in the room, they’re finally on the ground and pretty much lifeless, too.

 “Well,” Lieutenant Red Shirt, of all people, drawls, “that was fun.”

 There’s a moment of silence, everyone staring at him like he kinda lost it and then… Maureen kinda loses it.

 “You.” Uh-oh. I have never heard that tone of voice – low, dangerous, very unlike her – before but I’ve got a bad feeling that she’s about to snap, really snap, “You. You did this. This is your fucking fault.”

 I throw the Major a look and just for once, he looks every inch like he’s on it. He’s moving in on her, just slow and casual enough for her to hopefully not realize it. The German doc looks ready to pounce, too but I try to direct him towards the Lieutenant. One of them might need rescuing soon, and it’s sure as hell not going to be Maureen, from the look of it.

 “Anyone ever tell you it’s bad form to throw accusations at fellow officers, LT?” Oh fucking hell. This is not going to end well.

 Maureen takes a step toward him and her hand is dangerously close to that Wraith stun weapon at her back. “You’re a goddamn gene carrier. And you knew that. Everyone on your fucking outfit knows their gene status.”

 Lieutenant Red Shirt is about to get annihilated, and I’m starting to get the feeling that someone needs to save Maureen, too. From herself. But oh God, if she’s right, I’m not above admitting that he’d fucking deserve it.

 “So what, LT? Nothing happened, and your stupid plan wouldn’t have survived past contact, anyway.” When we first met this guy, I had a nagging feeling he might not be the brightest crayon in the box. That one just confirmed it.

 Maureen looks less than enthusiastic, too. And getting louder. “You jeopardized this entire operation and Earth just so you could get a couple more confirmed kills than your goddamn buddies! Keep talking and there’s a court-martial in your future.”

 The Major’s now close enough to intervene if anything happens but I really hope the Lieutenant reconsiders his approach to this discussion. Or there might be a court-martial in Maureen’s future. “Oh come on. Everyone knows Sheppard murdered a goddamn field grade in cold blood and you want to threaten me with a court-martial, for walking into a fucking room?”

 Wow, I’m pretty sure this is the moment she does something really, really stupid. “No. I’m threatening you with a court-martial for failing to disclose crucial information for personal gain and endangering our entire planet. You’re done, Lieutenant.” Huh. Impressive. She honestly just managed to turn around and walk… “Oh, and, Lieutenant? It’s either Captain or ma’am.” Or not. But, okay, he deserved that. 

 “Is that a fact?” What kind of question is that and did he want to sound like a complete jerk, saying it in the most condescending tone I ever heard? Is he really…

 “Walk away, Kid.” Fuck, I missed it, and the Major didn’t. She was reaching for that stunner on her back and he managed to spot that before she could get as fast as her hip. That’s impressive.

 “You’re just jealous you got nothing of the action.” And that was stupid.

 Granted, Maureen doesn’t level him with the stunner anyway but holy shit, she’s got fucking murder in her eyes. The Major must have seen it, too, still standing between her and Lieutenant Red Shirt And An Asshole To Boot. “Walk away, Captain.”

 It comes a fraction of a second too late, though, because she already jumped forward, probably to plant her fist in the Lieutenant’s face, and the only thing holding her back is the Major holding her in a vise grip, his arms around her with her struggling against him. “Just let me…”

 Red Shirt seems to have sensed an opportunity and looks like he is about to taunt her even more and goad her into actually assaulting her and wow, the Major manages to spot it, while still holding Maureen struggling against him, addressing the German, “Doc! Get on this!” before somehow managing to turn back and block Maureen’s view of the Lieutenant who gets to be dragged off to the farthest corner of the room by the Doc and whatever the Doc just muttered, it sounded like it was something really, really filthy in German.

 The Major somehow managed to calm Maureen down enough that she stopped fighting him and instead stands opposite him. He has his hands firmly on her shoulders, forcing her to stay calm. “Hey, look at me… no, look at me, Kid!” Yeah, it’s not working that great. I consider intervening but decide to give him a little more time. Let’s see if he learned anything and can handle her, after all. “Listen. Kid. Are you listening? He’s not worth it. Whatever you were about to do to him, he’s not worth it.”

 It takes her a moment but then it looks like she finally relaxes, her shoulders sagging a little and the tension of fight-or-flight slightly sapping out of her, when she mutters, “I know.” It still sounds a little strained, a little too aggressive to let her go just yet but for some reason, the Major just looking at her and holding her steady seems to make her calm down further and the next, “I know,” is a lot quieter and a little resigned.

 Wow. I don’t think I’ve seen him deescalate a situation like that. Whatever she just saw in his face or heard in his tone, it must have worked. It’s… impressive.

 He takes another breath, then slowly takes his hands off her shoulders and takes another step toward her so that he’s close enough that he can talk so quietly to her that Red Shirt won’t heard it. In fact, I only hear it because I’m only maybe two feet or so away from them. When he finally speaks again, it sounds a lot less like an order and lot more like… I don’t know. Comfort? Compassion? Reassurance? Huh. “Take a minute to cool off, okay? Just walk away and take a minute to cool off. I’ll handle this.”

 I can see that she’s just this close to asking him how the hell he plans to “handle” this but then, something else seems to win out and I can see her taking a deep breath. “Okay,” she says, nodding more to herself than to him, reiterating, “Okay, fine.”

 This is the moment when the Major finally takes his eyes off her, finding me and… ah, okay, yeah. I get it. That’s definitely his “Your turn, Sergeant” look and sure, I can do that. I walk up to her while he takes a few steps away, tapping his radio to contact Control and give them a sit-rep. “Hey,” I approach her, “how about a little break, huh?”

 “Yeah,” she says, giving me a half-smile that’s part rueful and part self-deprecating, “break’s probably a good idea.”

 So while the Major gets to organizing the post-battle mop up, I walk Maureen off to another corner, shielding her from Red Shirt and trying to ignore the dead space vampires in our way to the corner furthest away from the Doc and Red Shirt. Surprisingly, ignoring the dead vampires turns out to be fairly easy, after all. Seems to me that they’re the least problem we’ve currently got. Holy hell. This city really is a messed up place.

Chapter Text

Eight

Reece

 So that wasn’t exactly smart. And I don’t even mean the “almost assaulted a fellow officer in a career ending move from hell” part. I mean, yes, that was ridiculously stupid, and I would have deserved if no one had intervened and just let me go through with it. But no, that’s not what I’m referring to.

 What I mean is what happened to stop me from going through with it. The fact that it had been Thomas Moore of all people being the adult in the room. His ability to spot what I was about to do before I even really knew what I was doing. Being physically held back by him holy fucking shit. That talk that finally got me off the ledge. Just… all of it.

 I know that sounds weird. But here’s the thing: you know when the last time was when I was as close to him as that? The last time I touched him? Exactly. It was when I kissed his doppelganger on that final SGC mission a little over a year ago. Now add to this a seething kind of fury I have felt maybe a handful of times in my entire life, a brain completely messed up by everything and a goddamn year of not really successfully trying to get over a guy I had a major – no pun intended, okay – crush on. The result? Me sitting next to the sergeant who’s been the best mentor I ever had, trying to sell everyone including myself the fiction that this entire thing didn’t leave me hot, bothered and very, very confused.

 “Maureen? Just for the record?” I blink, for a moment, just one moment, fully convinced that he just read my thoughts and now basically knows everything about the probably most embarrassing crush I ever had the misfortune to have. I honestly wouldn’t put it past him to be capable of something like that. “He would have deserved it. It would have been really, really stupid but he’d very much have deserved it.”

 Okay, maybe not a mind-reader after all. Or maybe a very polite mind-reader who just chose not to embarrass a friend with revealing how much he knows about her unfortunate thoughts and feelings about the attractiveness of her former commanding officer. Huh. That actually sounds very much like the kind of mind-reader Dee would be.

 Oh God, okay, time to snap out of it. I lean my head back against the wall, closing my eyes and immediately opening them, remembering that closing my eyes while sitting down will almost certainly end in my falling asleep and I can’t afford that. Not yet. “He would, wouldn’t he?” I can’t help grinning, just a little disbelieving and cynical.

 I can’t see Dee’s face because I’m still staring at the ceiling without really seeing it. But I can hear the half-smile all the way, anyway. “You’d have done a pretty number on him, even without that stun pistol thing.”

 That makes me snort and look at him. “Fuck, I would. And we both know that immediately after that, I’d have resigned my commission.” I would have, that’s the thing. So I sober up a little. “Thanks for not letting me make the ultimate ass out of myself.”

 Dee just shrugs and gestures vaguely towards the Major who’s currently negotiating with Control to get some damn reinforcements down here. “Don’t thank me. That was entirely him.”

 Nah, we both know it wasn’t but I do admire his loyalty to his boss, even after, you know, being abandoned to handle a damn booby trap alone. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”

 We’re silent, for a while, after that and to stay awake, I make myself concentrate on listening to the Major having it out with Control. “No, I have no idea if they could actually do anything after someone activated the damn room. I was kinda busy shooting them up.” Ah. Looks like it’s going really well.

 It’s a little funny because for us, it’s a bit of a one-sided conversation since we can only hear the Major. Seems like he’s in a slightly heated exchange about whether the Wraith managed to screw something up after Lieutenant Idiot Corps stormed the room or not. My guess is not because they’d have to have configured their equipment to be able to interface reasonably well with the Atlantis hardware before doing anything sneaky that might blow up on us later. And if it had been a blunt force attack, we’d already be feeling the effects. I think we’re mostly safe.

 I also think one of us – that one being me – really should get up to check whether my hypothesis is correct. But weirdly, when you’ve had the chance to sit down, even for a few minutes, suddenly your equipment gets a lot heavier and it’s nearly impossible to get back up and…

 Ha.

 Ha.

 Goes to show, I really did a need a break. Took me way too long to realize that I don’t actually need to get up and go somewhere. I have that damn gene. I can fucking talk to this city. With my head. I’ve been doing this for an entire year now. Which, okay, is probably the reason why I didn’t think of this in the first place. I’ve been doing this for so long now, it’s become second nature, like something you needed a while to learn but are now doing automatically.

 I take a deep breath and lean back against the wall again, my eyes closed this time. Okay. Let’s just try it. And, alright, I wasn’t being precise a moment ago. It’s not really talking, it’s more like communicating in images and emotions and concepts. It’s not like thinking “Hey, can you check for malware?” and the city doing it, it’s trying to find the right combination of images and emotions and procedures and then interpreting the information the city sends back.

 Usually, I don’t have to communicate things more complicated than “Open door”, “Get me to the mess hall” or “This is not my preferred water temperature and you fucking know that”, so this is a bit more complicated and takes a lot more conscious work. It’s also kind of difficult because I’m not even sure what exactly the Wraith could have done so I have to hope that I’m not steering the city’s thinking in the wrong direction. So, it takes me longer than I thought it would and… “Maureen? Please tell me you didn’t fall asleep.”

 Dammit, Dee. Not now. I grimace. “I didn’t fall asleep. I’m communicating.”

 “You’re what?” Oh great, and now the Major, too.

 Don’t lash out, that’s only gonna start another bickering war and so far, those haven’t really ended well. I resist a sigh. “I’m communicating. With the city. Give me another minute and I can get Control off your back.”

 “Okay, that’s too far above my pay grade. Just… do your thing, okay?” I will, sir, don’t worry.

 Since my concentration has slipped, the city kind of lost patience with me, too, and it’s quite an effort to get her to talk to me again. When I have finally convinced her that this time I’m going to listen to her, she finally deigns to tell me her results and wow, fuck, not so fast. Thankfully, she heard that and slows down a little and after another maybe two or three minutes, I finally feel confident having understood most of it.

 Alright. I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, massage the bride of my nose – communicating with Ancient technology like that, so far out of my usual league, tends to leave me with a headache, and this sadly is one of those instances – and open my eyes, then tap my radio. “Control, this is Reece.”

 “Reece, this is Control. What do you have for me?” Is it just me or does Control sound just a little too done with me? To be honest, I wouldn’t even mind much. It’s not like I haven’t given them a fair share of trouble, so there.

 Anyway, let’s not keep them waiting. “Concerning possible damage: city says they tried to blow up a few of our long range sensor arrays and to activate a couple malware routines from here but didn’t get far enough for it to do serious harm before Major Moore and Lieutenant Rivers neutralized them.”

 A short silence, most probably Control relaying the info directly to Dr. Weir and possibly Major Sheppard, too. Then, “Thanks for the heads up, Captain. Has the city contained the rest of the damage?”

 “She says she has. I’d get some of the engineers and IT on it, just to be sure, but so far it looks like we got off light.” Shit, I can see the Major getting a little excited at me mentioning to get IT on it but since we don’t have any interface hardware down here and he, as far as I know, doesn’t read Ancient, he’s not going to get in on the fun, at least not yet. I almost feel a little sorry for him.

 Silence from Control again, then, “Thanks for letting us know, Captain. Please stand by for new assignment until the relief party shows up. Control out.”

 Well, then, that wasn’t so… what is he doing? I look at the Major first, frowning and then to Dee and he just gives me his “You know how he can be” face but honestly, he can’t really be about to try his hand at… yep, he totally can. He can’t even read that shit. And God, I know I should just keep my trap shut, but before I know, a slightly sarcastic, “I didn’t know you could read Ancient, sir,” has left my mouth.

 He doesn’t even look away from the screen, just keeps fumbling around with the controls and shrugs. “I can’t. But I can read ones and zeroes, Kid.”

 Ugh. I roll my eyes and Dee just shakes his head. Yeah, yeah, I know. Just let him figure out himself he’ll be of exactly no help and all that but I just can’t help telling him, “Sir, all due respect, but I really think the good people of the IT department have everything…”

 “We’ll be here for at least thirty minutes before our relief gets here, Captain. Might as well do something useful in that time.” Oh come on, was that meant as some weird veiled attempt at telling me to get my ass off the ground and do, I don’t know, something?

 I’m about to tell him but Dee shakes his head again, this time a little more forceful. Oh, fine. “Of course, sir. Suit yourself, sir.”

 “Snappy, are we, Captain?” He still doesn’t look away from screen but I can see the smirk even on his profile, and the most annoying thing about it is that it’s not exactly a mocking smirk, more of a friendly, amused one and I hate it when he does that. I can’t even be angry at him for something like that. And then, he finally does look away and at me, something like honest benevolence in his face, “Look, just do what I told you and take a break, okay? You earned it, it’s fine, the world isn’t going to end just because you let yourself relax for a few minutes. Just lean back and do nothing, okay?”

 Goddammit. I frown at him and all I get is him rolling his eyes good-naturedly. “Yes, sir. Will do, sir.”

 “Atta Marine,” he just murmurs and turns back to his screen and either he’s really good at pretending to understand what is happening on there or he actually is going somewhere. I’m not sure what would annoy me more.

 Fine. Taking a break, it is.

 And because I’m stupid and exhausted and desperately need something to keep me awake, I find myself asking, “Hey… can I ask you something, Dee?”

 He doesn’t answer immediately and that tells me that he knows what’s up and honestly because he can be scary like that. “It’s about Laura, isn’t it?” Called it!

 I nod and avoid looking at him. “Yeah. Are you okay with that?”

 Again, he takes his time and this time it’s so long that I end up looking at him, just to gauge if he’s pissed at me for bringing this up between one battle a possible next. But he doesn’t look angry, just… tired, when he says, “Not entirely.” I’m about to apologize, rifling my brain for alternative topics when he adds, “She was your friend, Maureen. Just ask.”

 Oh. Yes. Okay. Alright. Yes. I clear my throat, and ask the first thing coming into my mind. “When… did it happen?”

 “Maureen…” Fuck it, you told me to ask you!

 “When, Sergeant?”

 “About three months after you left.” And now I feel like a shitty human being for actually pulling rank on him in a conversation about a dead friend. How does he still put up with all the shitty and stupid officers fate keeps throwing at him? “Rescue mission for a couple Goa’uld victims gone sour.”

 Okay. I know the next logical question would probably be what exactly happened but something in me absolutely does not want to ask that question. Something in me does not ever want to know how exactly my best friend back at the SGC died, only three months after I went and broke up the team for a career move and, to be honest, also to run away from complicated feelings for my superior officer I never wanted to have to examine even the slightest. I take a deep breath. “What happened to you and… him, afterwards?”

 If Dee is confused by me skipping about the most logical questions, he doesn’t show it, just keeps answering without missing a beat, saying, “First three months at Eglin that were as much of a clusterfuck as would have been expected and the rest of the year at Area 51,” accompanied by a small, somewhat miserable smile. Fuck, that really is crap. I have never been to Eglin AFB but good God, I can imagine just how shitty it most have been after the SGC. And Area 51 isn’t exactly known for being a paradise of pleasure, either.

 I swallow, feeling even shittier for ever having left. “I…”

 “Maureen?” Okay, so not wanting me to apologize. I can respect that. For now.

 “What?” I try to smile, soften it all by making it clear that I’m not mad in any way.

 Dee just shakes his head and then furtively gestures towards the Major. “Try not to give him crap about it. It nearly did him in.”

 Oh. I didn’t expect him to say something like that. And meaning it. There was no trace of sarcasm or irony in this. Dee meant every word of that, including that second sentence. Whatever happened, Laura’s death seriously hurt the Major.

 Okay, so that actually shouldn’t be so surprising, considering that she was probably his oldest friend, or even closer to a sister than a friend, and you’d have to be a complete sociopath not to be hurt by that. But I guess I just… hadn’t even considered that, somehow never associated things like grief and pain with Major Thomas Moore, and quite frankly, that makes me a bit of an ass. He’s not an emotionless robot, and he has never been one and I should have known that because dammit, I once met a version of him who lost his two best friends, and a team member he’d had feelings for. That version was a mess who was trying so hard not to let anyone see his pain that he had no energy left for being himself.

 “Cross my heart and hope to die, Dee.” I so very much hope it didn’t sound flippant because I was being serious. I really did make a promise about never giving the Major any crap about whatever happened to Laura. I don’t even care if it was somehow his fault or if he thinks it was his fault, I just don’t want to add to the hurt and pain it all must have brought both him and Dee. After all is said and done, one is my friend and the other… well, let’s just say it’s complicated but deliberately wanting to cause him pain is not part of the package.

 He nods. “Thank you, Maureen.” See, that’s what most people don’t get about Dee: he’s not just some faceless minion, someone without a free will who’s somehow chained to the Major by some cruel turn of fate. Dee could have left any day of the time he has spent with the Major – and I just bet that he’s thought about it often and hard – and would have done it in a heartbeat if he’d found it necessary. And yet, he’s still here. Dee isn’t just some quiet extension of the Major, there at his beck and call. For all the denying both of them would level on anyone suggesting so, Simon “Dee” DeLisle and Thomas Moore are friends, and they care about each other and really, am I the only one who finds it ridiculous that the likelihood of one of them having at least once mentioned that is slim to none?

 I’m about to actually say that aloud but something in the way Dee looks at me tells at me that this really isn’t a good idea. Whatever happened after Laura’s death between the two of them, it very much looks like he’d rather not talk about it. Fair enough. “So… any hot Area 51 gossip you’d like to share with me?”

 He gives me a dead-pan look. “Seriously?”

 I try to give him one of my best dean-pan looks. “I’ve been awake for the majority of four days, mostly thanks to coffee, stims and being constantly in motion. Right now, I have nothing of that. Something’s gotta keep me awake. Might as well be that.”

 That prompts him to roll his eyes and give me a sigh and one of those tiny, almost invisible grins he reserves for only those people who can see them. “Okay, fine. So, remember Dr. Arakawa, from R&D? Way I heard it…”

Morsberg

 I can’t believe it had to be me of all people who ended up as the one having to pull Lieutenant Dumb as Fuck off a ledge he definitely wouldn’t have recovered from if he’d really had the chance to jump. For the last five minutes, while Moore somehow managed to hash it out with Control how to go on, Rivers did nothing but grumble about all the injustice in the entire universe and a crap load of other Woe Is Me For I Am A Male Marine Who Was Forced To Back Away From A Wook shit, and it’s honestly getting annoying as fuck.

 So I guess he really had his five minutes to snap out of it, and this is definitely where someone – unfortunately, me – has to step in. I heave a mental sigh and say aloud, “Just let it go already, Lieutenant.”

 If I get another “Says who?” like Moore did, I’m honestly not liable for any damage to the damn Lieutenant’s face, court-martial be damned but something seems to told him that would be a bad idea. Instead I get, “Pretty sure you got no jurisdiction over me.”

 Ugh, really? “I take it, then, that you have never worked in a NATO environment, Lieutenant.”

 He snorts. “As if you have. All your people do is…”

 “Twelve months of saving German Special Forces, US Army Ranger, Green Berets and Recon Marines lives behind enemy lines deep in Afghanistan. Now you, Lieutenant.” I know I should be confident enough not to feel like I have to justify or prove myself to this puppy of a fledgling Marine but I’m just tired of this entire shit show and I’m proud of what I accomplished over in Afghanistan, even though I’ll probably never be allowed to actually talk about it openly. Basically, no one outside a small circle of special forces types will ever know what exactly I contributed to their missions but that’s okay. Because I know.

 Lieutenant Rivers, for his part, is strangely… silent. I raise my eyebrows. “What, no deployment?”

 Damn, I can see just how much he wants to wipe that look off my face and give me a piece of his mind. Which makes it extra nice when he finally has to grind out, “Straight to the SGC from Annapolis.” Come on. You know what’s missing. Be a good Marine, Lieutenant. “Sir.” Good boy.

 Come on, now, keep that face straight, Stabsarzt. “But you were on an off-world team, right, Lieutenant?”

 Oh God, he fucking hates me. This is actually starting to be fun. Fun enough to keep awake for a little more while. This is good. “No, sir.”

 Holy shit, I think I just found a damn gold mine. “You must have done something there.”

 He’s actually grinding his teeth. Damn, that’s too good to be true. “Logistics, sir. I… led a logistics platoon.”

 Good God, just when I thought this couldn’t get any better it turns out that Lieutenant High And Tight here was a goddamn pogue. Holy hell, I don’t even know where I pull the strength not to break out laughing from but I actually manage to say, “So… not a combat posting?” with a completely straight face.

 “Every. Marine. Is. A Rifleman. Sir.” Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. I’m this close to tell him but apparently, I really struck a vein here. “Hey, there is nothing wrong with logistics, okay? I can hold myself in a goddamn fight, you’ve seen that, and…”

 Okay, okay, fine. A little sad, I abandon the little thing I just had going on here and get serious. “I know that, Lieutenant. I’m not infantry. Captain Reece over there isn’t infantry, either. In fact, she’s a linguist. We’re all in the same boat. But you know what’s the difference between you and us?”

 “No, sir. Please enlighten me.” Hey, show a little more humility, maybe? She nearly flattened you with her right hook, you idiot.

 I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “We’re not ashamed of it. We know we’re still good soldiers and we don’t feel the need to prove it every two minutes. That’s how we managed to survive here for an entire year.”

 Okay, that and huge amounts of luck. Often enough, the reason why Maureen and I survived was basically that we either weren’t there when the shit hit the fan or that we had the good sense to pull out of whatever situation we were in in the right moment. Surviving in Atlantis is, when you think about it, just a simple question of knowing when to hold ‘em, knowing when to fold ‘em and damn well knowing when to fucking get the hell out of Dodge.

 “A linguist, sir?” Oh, that’s what he took away from this? “No way in hell, sir. That’s not a linguist over there. Linguists don’t jump into fights like that.”

 I can’t help giving him the raised eyebrows again. “And you know this… how?”

 “My buddy from Annapolis is a linguist. He sits in the Pentagon on his ass all day and then gets to go home at five and hasn’t ever fired a gun in anger ever since TBS.” He shakes his head disbelieving. “That ain’t no linguist over there. No linguist knows her way around a combat environment like that.”

 Funny. That sounded almost… admiring? “Captain Reece has been on a gate team for a year before she came here. She’s been on several off-world missions a week and on security shifts here. That’s how you get comfortable on the battlefield with any MOS, Lieutenant.”

 He visibly swallows. Whoa. “A year on a gate team, sir?”

 I nod. “Yep. Major Has Special Forces Written All Over Him over there was her boss.”

 “I…” Oh no. Now I feel almost sorry for the poor guy. Dammit.

 I do sigh now. “You’re one lucky Marine, you know that, right? She would have flattened her, if we hadn’t intervened.”

 “I guess she would, sir.” See, that’s better. “Thanks for saving me from myself, sir.”

 Huh. Maybe he’s not that dumb, after all. “You’re welcome, Lieutenant.” And I even meant that. Figure that. “And when you’re over your inferiority complex for not making it into a combat outfit, you could even learn something here.”

 “Yes, sir.” I’m not sure he still has fully grasped why everything happened the way it happened but then again he’s a butter bar barely out of Annapolis and let’s all be honest here, everyone at that point in their life would probably have difficulties grasping the entirety of the situation. I just hope he has grasped the most important thing which is that he still has to learn so. Damn. Much. That and the fact that the “wook” – who even comes up with stupid, demeaning shit like that, anyway? – would have made short work of him if we’d left her. That’s really something he should never forget.

 After that, it’s twenty more minutes of everyone just somehow trying to stay awake – a near impossible feat, and I expect a fucking medal for it, goddammit – while Moore keeps swearing at the Ancient computer terminal before our relief team actually, truly appears and succinctly tells us to get the fuck out, they need space to work and I’m considering this day to be the last day I ever saved a scientist’s life. I get it, we’re all short on sleep, nerves and temper but you fucking wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t risked our goddamn lives to secure this room?

 They’re basically just lucky that both Moore and his Sergeant are considerable fresher, more alert and not quite as fucked up as the rest of us which probably saves the entire relief team from being eviscerated by Maureen and me and possibly Rivers, too.

 And, okay, Control’s orders for me to go back to doing CSAR and the non-medical people on this rag-tag excuse of a team being forced to act as unskilled labor and security escort throughout the city, worked, too. So here we are, ready to set off again when it’s Rivers speaking up, summarily avoiding everyone’s gaze, “Um… request permission to uh stay behind as security guard for the science team? Sir.”

 Moore just raises his eyebrows, looking part questioning, part mocking and… then looks at Maureen first, as if, I don’t know, asking her permission? I’m starting to get the feeling that whatever the fuck is going on between those two is really damn complicated and that I don’t want any part of it.

 Maureen in turn just rolls her eyes and… did she just refer to me? Dammit, I didn’t sign up for this kind of passing the buck and fuck, you really want my opinion? Fine. I shrug and nod, now being convinced that handling being commanded by anyone in this particular set of people is way above his paygrade and that it would probably be better for everyone involved if he got a bit of time to catch his breath before having to go out there again. I’m not entirely sure guarding Atlantis scientists is going to give him that time but from where I’m standing, that looks way more promising than still having to tag along with a bunch of combat-experienced SGC veterans.

 And then, something weird happens. Moore defers to my opinion and, without question or hesitation, tells Rivers, “Permission granted, Lieutenant. Just don’t get in their way. They seem kinda… bloodthirsty.”

 Wow. Huh. What. Okay?

 “Yes, sir. Good hunting, sir.” Moore just nods, giving the lieutenant a casual two-fingered salute before signaling for the rest of us to follow him.

 Only to realize that he has no idea where to go and… “You uh Morsberg, point. Dee, six. Reece, where I can see you. Let’s go.” The fuck?

 Okay, whatever. I’m done questioning anything, and Moore especially. If a field grade tells me to take point and let’s go, I take point and go. Back to CSAR it is, then.

Chapter Text

Nine

DeLisle

 If anything, those last couple hours have done nothing yet to endear this place to me. Sure, from glimpses off balconies, it looked kinda impressive and, being from Middle of Nowhere, Flyover Country, the location of the city somehow even reminded me of where I grew up – no, we didn’t have an ocean in Nebraska but in a way, the combination of a flat, uniform landscape being topped by a sheer endless sky, isn’t that much different – but there are so many dark corners, cul-de-sacs and endless corridors here. Not to mention the damn space vampires.

 So, okay, we got rid of most of them and the city should be Wraith-free by now but damn, they really did a number on it. Or, okay, her, apparently. Either way, they tried to sabotage the shit out of it and we came across a few really nasty surprises while accompanying the German doc on his CSAR mission. That was absolutely fun, and by “fun” I mean “somewhere between annoying and life-threatening”.

 But aside from that, I have to say… this guy is good. I finally got why Laura recommended him to the staffing board for Atlantis when we came across a mass-cal situation in one of the damaged minor towers where no one had had time to send some help until then. He somehow managed to simultaneously do triage, assign the minor cases to each of us, tell us what to do and do all he could for the really bad cases before we got reinforcements from the infirmary.

 Laura… was good at that kind of stuff but she wasn’t that good, and she knew that. She was, after all, an internist and virologist by training, and a combat medic more or less by accident. This guy? Was born to do battlefield and emergency medicine. She would have loved seeing him do his thing, considering they were friends and she clearly thought he was going places and all.

 Fuck, I can’t believe I still miss her.

 I really thought I was at least mostly over it, only thinking of her now and then, the pain kind of dulled but apparently, that only lasted until the Major and I got back into the game of combat missions, and honestly, I should have expected that. At Eglin and Area 51, we mostly either trained or sat on our asses and were mostly glorified lab or computer technicians. We sometimes did that in the SGC, too but it wasn’t our primary function. When Laura was still alive, our primary function was to go out there, to other planets and fight. Guess I really should have known that of course the feeling of badly missing Laura would come back as soon as the Major and I were back in a similar environment.

 Just in case you were wondering: no, the realization and subsequent rationalization doesn’t make it any easier.

 Aw, fuck. Here I am, trying to follow the two Atlantis residents on our team to find and treat missing and possibly wounded personnel while ignoring a new constant bombardment from space, and getting caught up in pain, nine months after it all happened. I know that it’s a pretty normal and common thing to happen to people who haven’t given themselves time to really work through their grief but it still makes me feel pathetic.

 I really don’t like feeling pathetic.

 But anyway, we’ve still got a job to do. It looks like we found most of the still missing and unaccounted for personnel but apparently, there are still people lost or hiding out in pockets in the city, which is why we’re currently traipsing around another tower, somewhere pretty high up, looking for a couple of Daedalus reinforcements having gotten lost while using those weird transporter elevators they have here and then running into some weird Ancient crap or other. Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to the one thing everyone learns in the first ever lesson of a survival class: if you get lost, stay the hell put.

 But hey, at least that way, we got a very long tour of our future living place. Granted, the guides were a little monosyllabic and didn’t really show us any sights but at least they taught us how to navigate this place. Those elevators are actually pretty tricky and truth to be told, they kind of give me the creeps. According to Maureen, they kept having accidents with people appearing and disappearing at random in them and ending up way off their actual destination. Just like our lost personnel here.

 By now, we’ve climbed probably two miles of stairs and… “Oh finally!” Right. Found ‘em. “Where have you been? We were told you would be here thirty minutes…”

 “Yes, thank you, your appreciation for our efforts is duly noted, Dr… what was the name again?” Ah, look who’s tolerance threshold for bullshit is rapidly getting lower. I was starting to wonder when the Major would start showing signs of clearly being fed up with the bullshit this city has been throwing us right from the moment we set foot in here.

 The man in question – one of the engineers we brought on the Daedalus whose name I can’t remember because for some reason he wouldn’t associate in any way, shape or form with non-commissioned officers – throws the Major a glare. “Elin. Dr. Elin. And you are…”

 “Here to get you and your people emergency medical care as needed and then all of you back to the populated parts of the city.” I see he’s not in the mood for chit-chat. I actually think I can empathize. “Okay, Doc, do your thing. We’ll be here if you need us.”

 Morsberg moves in to do his by now usual triage routine, ordering Maureen to accompany him and watching them, I realize that they must have done this a lot by now. Him leading the charge, assessing people’s need of medical attention, her trailing along and giving him a hand while he checks for injuries, stitches up wounds and puts on splints. In this case, none of the wounds sustained by the five people having ended up here are particularly serious but whatever happened to them, it banged them up quite a bit. Lots of lacerations, bruises, two or three broken bones, that kind of thing.

 While Morsberg and Maureen work, the Major and I are left to hang back and observe, right here at the top of the tower in some kind of observatory. The ceiling, as I just realized, is vaulted and made completely out of glass, meaning we get treated to first row seats for the bombardment the Wraith are raining down on the city, working to diminish the shield. I find myself looking up.

 “Hell of a first day, huh?” I take my look off the spectacle above our heads to find the Major looking up himself.

 “Yeah,” I hear myself replying, joining him in looking up again, “did you expect any different, sir?”

 I hear him snort and look away. He has stopped watching the bombardment, too and is instead focused on watching Maureen and Morsberg. “Not really. Wouldn’t be an SGC mission otherwise.”

 True. I find myself grinning for a moment. “Good point, sir. Guess it’s gonna be an interesting year here.” If we, you know, survive this first day.

 “Uh-huh,” he grunts, “provided those,” he points upwards, “don’t kill us first.”

 Same, sir. Same. “Maureen seems confident Command will come up with something.” She and Morsberg both, which means they either have a nearly superhuman confidence in the command team or they really need to step away from the fight and get some sleep. I’m not sure which is more probable, to be honest.

 The Major nods. “At least she said so.” Mh, seems the Major shares my doubts as to the ingenuity of the Atlantis Expedition command team. “You know… she kinda terrifies me, Dee.”

 Okay. I didn’t expect him to say that.

 Then again, I should have expected something like that sooner or later, considering how she kept confusing him with picking fights and making clear how we’re on her turf here. That’s not exactly the Maureen Reece either of us remember. Still. It surprises me a little that he’d admit it that openly. Cautiously, I tell him, “They’ve had to fight for their survival for a year here, sir. That would change anyone.”

 That makes him rolls his eyes. “Hey, I know that.” Really? Coulda fooled me, sir. “And I get it.” I’m not so sure he really… “But seriously, doesn’t she scare you?”

 Alright, time to be honest. I watch our Atlantis residents finish up, hoping she doesn’t hear me, when I admit to him, “Shitless, sir.” And that’s the truth and nothing but the truth. I’m really being honest, the new and not sure if improved Maureen Reece kinda scared the living daylights out of me in a few instances. It’s not like I’m not proud of her for really growing into her role as an officer in the US Marine Corps, but some of the things I saw her do today… I’m not sure what to make of them. I could tell myself that most of them were just due to sleep deprivation and combat stress, but that battle-tested hard look in her eyes? That’s not. That’s here to stay, and I really don’t know if I like that. Okay, maybe I need to give the Major some positive thing. “But at least you get to pin Captain on her. If they make it permanent.”

 He snorts again, this time definitely not amused, more cynical. “Yeah, if. Also, who says it’s gonna be me?” Oh come on, as if she would want anyone else than you pin her new bars on her shoulders.

 Laura. She would Laura want to pin them on her. Dammit. This keeps happening and… “We’re done, sir.”

 Right. Back to the mission. Probably the best for everyone involved.

 The Major addresses her and Morsberg. “Okay. Let’s put our charges here back on the right path and then finish this CSAR gig. All of them walking wounded, Doc?”

 Morsberg nods. “Yes, sir. Some slower than others, but all of them can move on their own.”

 “Alright.” Then he turns back to Elin. “Doctor, we’re going to point you and your people in the direction of the infirmary, make sure you get there this time. Everyone, move out.”

 Elin is ready to protest God knows what but the Major just ignores him and once again orders Maureen to take point – at least he doesn’t let his concern over whoever she is now override common sense that both she and Morsberg just know this city way better than he does and that Maureen can actually communicate with this city – and brings up the rear himself, leaving me and Morsberg to herd Elin’s people to the nearest elevator.

 In the end, it’s slow but actually pretty easy to send them on their way and they even get where they’re supposed to go, as a short check-in to the infirmary reveals. The Major even orders us on a short break to catch our breath, eat something and rehydrate and of course that’s when the next impact hits.

Morsberg

 Goddammit, I was just about getting something to eat. But no, Control just had to go and give out a city wide alert that one of our own – Aiden Ford of all people and how did that even happen, last thing I heard, he was missing, presumed dead? – was compromised and is now on the loose in the city.

 “Jesus fucking Christ.” Yeah, Maureen summed it up pretty well, while devouring a ration bar.

 Moore raises his eye-brows. “What’s the story with that alert, Captain?”

 “Ford’s on Major Sheppard’s team. Last I heard, he was missing, presumed dead. Command now putting out a an alert like that means some real shit must have gone down somewhere.” She rolls her eyes. “Ford’s a weapons technology specialist, and what he didn’t know yet about combat, Sheppard taught him. If he’s compromised and lose in the city, we really have a problem.”

 DeLisle frowns, “What does compromised mean in this context?”

 I exchange a look with Maureen and take up where she left off. “Last thing I heard, he fell off a balcony, with a Wraith feeding on him. I’d bet last year’s salary that the story of how he survived that is long and complicated because a fall like that is practically not survivable.” I shrug. “I honestly have no idea what exactly compromised means but it sure doesn’t mean anything good.”

 Moore doesn’t look exactly happy about either of our answers. “So?”

 “So we join the fun and make sure he doesn’t fuck up the city more than she already is,” Maureen immediately answers.

 I, however, don’t actually share her enthusiasm for a good old manhunt. “Maureen, Control didn’t actually pull us off to…”

 “There’s nothing more important than the security of this city, and you know that. Ford on the loose is definitely a threat to the integrity and security of Atlantis.” Yeah, that’s not exactly wrong but…

 “What exactly could he do, Kid?” Wait. Is this guy actually considering Maureen’s suggestion?

 She seems to have heard that, too, and I can see that she’s getting really antsy to join the hunt. “He doesn’t have the gene but he knows this city as well as the rest of us, he’s a crack shot and he’s been on a team with John Sheppard and Rodney McKay and Teyla Emmagan for a year. He can really fuck shit up.”

 Okay. She does have a point there. Still, “He’s also Sheppard’s favorite Marine. Sheppard’s gonna want to bring him in himself.”

 Now she gives me a dead-pan look. “Not even John Sheppard can bring a rogue Aiden Ford in all by himself.”

 “What is it about that Sheppard guy, anyway?” Right. Apparently, the US Air Force has enough field grades for them not to all actually know each other. “No, seriously, what’s with all this hero worship you all got going on?”

 Weird. Didn’t that just sound like, I don’t know, jealousy or something? Maureen seems to think so, too. “Not hero worship, sir. Just facts. Sheppard is an outstanding officer and commander, but he’s not that good.”

 Now everyone looks at me, Moore with a curious, slightly skeptical look on his face. “Morsberg?”

 Hey, can you please stop passing bucks to me like that? “Captain’s right, sir. Sheppard is good, but bringing in a rogue Marine like Ford on his own is definitely out of his league, too.”

 “Okay,” Moore says and frowns, apparently thinking whatever he’s going to say next through one more time. Then, “Fine. I’m giving this a shot. Everyone get back in formation, and watch your back. I’m not losing any of you on my damn first day here.”

 Oh hell, something tells me that this is a really bad idea, but as I have already learned, you don’t argue with one Major Thomas Moore and win. Unless, of course, you’re Maureen Reece. Then you just might have a shot.

 So we get back in formation – Maureen taking point, DeLisle in the rear, me behind Maureen and Moore on pre-last position – and make our way back in the direction of the infirmary. Control did say that that’s where he broke out, so yeah, okay, that makes sense. And… right, that would also make sense. “Maureen?”

 She doesn’t turn around but at least gives me a short, but not entirely unfriendly, “What?”

 “One of the auxiliary armories. I bet that’s where he’s going.” Because the chances of him getting the armament he needs in the infirmary are slim to none.

 She does turn around. “You’re right. He’d never go for the primary one but he definitely needs to stock up on guns and ammunition, whatever else he has planned.” Then she gives me a little appreciative half-smile. “Gut mitgedacht, Herr Stabsarzt.”

 Pffft. I might not approve of this idea but I sure as hell will not refuse to cooperate. We are all in this together, for better or worse. “So, which one is closest to the infirmary, Kid?”

 Okay, I see it now. That thing with Sheppard and our presumed hero worship, that was just annoyance. That right there? That was jealousy. Not a lot but it was definitely in there. What the fuck? “Two stairs down, three crossroads over, sir,” Maureen just says and being the linguist she is, she must have heard it, too. I just wonder if she chose to acknowledge it. She can be funny that way.

 So we follow her and… “Attention, all personnel! Cease all current action and fall back to the East Pier immediately and board Daedalus. Repeat, all personnel, fall back to the East Pier and board Daedalus ASAP.”

 What the fuck?

 “Okay, what is going on now?” Yeah, your guess is as good as mine, Major. I share another look with Maureen, and he must have seen it. “What? Seriously, someone give me a damn pointer here, because I’m getting whiplash.”

 I really wish I could but I honestly have no idea. Maureen doesn’t look like she has any clue, either. Thankfully, she takes it upon herself to deliver the bad news. “No idea, sir.”

 “But I’d recommend we follow Control’s order,” I chime in, and immediately get a dirty look from her. “What? You know as good as I that an announcement like that is sure as hell related to some really crazy idea Rodney McKay came up with!”

 Moore swears under his breath. “Shit, if this is in any way connected to an idea originating from Rodney McKay’s brain, we really need to get the hell out of here and on the Daedalus.” Ah, I see McKay really did make a lot of friends at the SGC before coming here, as some of his scientists – and Maureen – kept hinting at. “Okay, change of plans. We’re falling back…”

 “Aiden Ford is still running around this city, probably armed to the teeth by now and planning God knows what.” Yes, and that is so not our problem. “Whatever McKay’s plan is, that can’t be conducive to it.” Yes, again, and again: not our problem. “And he’s one of ours. If we have to fall back to the Daedalus, someone’s gotta make sure he does, too.”

 Damn. That’s actually a pretty sound argument.

 Moore doesn’t think so, though. “Kid, look, I don’t know Ford but if he’s on Sheppard’s team, he’s Sheppard’s responsibility. Let Sheppard deal with that and…”

 “No,” she says and what the fuck are you doing, Maureen? “That’s not how this works around here. If you want to fall back, fall back all you like. I’m not going to leave a fellow Marine behind.”

 For a moment, just a really tiny moment, it looks as if Moore froze. As if he were, just for a moment, completely unable to react or interact and I don’t know if Maureen saw it, too or not but that’s exactly when she turns on her heel and walks away in the opposite direction. His reaction – yelling, “You come the fuck back right fucking now, Captain, or it’s a damn insubordination charge!” – comes exactly thirty seconds or so too late to be effective because she’s already around the bend when he has it.

 And cue this guy starting to run off after her and yeah, no, let’s try something else. I clear my throat, and when that doesn’t help, I share a look with DeLisle. The sergeant seems to have understood what I’m about to do and joins me in overtaking Moore and keeping him from going after Maureen. Thankfully, DeLisle seems to have decided to let me have the lead in this. Or maybe he just has decided to let the officers hash it out among themselves and leave him the hell alone with their problems, I don’t know.

 Anyway, “Sir, I don’t think that’s a good idea. She’s not going to listen to you like that.”

 “Oh yeah, and how do you know that?” Yep, there it is again. Definitely jealousy. Did DeLisle just roll his eyes?

 I can just keep myself from doing so. “Let’s just say I got a hunch.” And that’s the hunch not to mention that I spend a lot of time with her over the course of the last year and am probably what you usually call a best friend. Which, weirdly, makes me wonder, for the first time since this shit show began, where Laura Greenspan is. From all I know, she and Moore have been friends since childhood, she has something weird going on with DeLisle and she’s Maureen’s best friend. For all intents and purposes, she really should be here, too. Huh.

 “A hunch? You got a hunch?” Okay, probably not the best moment to ask. Maybe later. When Major Green Eyes had a chance to cool off a little

 Also, I really need all my mental resources to avoid rolling my eyes openly at him. “Yes, sir. Just… let me handle this. Trust me, this is the best and fastest way to get her to listen.”

 DeLisle clears his throat. “Sir…”

 “Yeah, fine. Fine.” Wow, someone’s really in a mood. I’m not really sure what Maureen sees in him, to be honest. Sure, he’s not exactly ugly but other than that… “Get her back, and do it fast. I so do not want to be around when a Rodney McKay plan gets executed.”

 Yeah, about that. I actually think I have an idea… Anyway, first things first. “Will do, sir.”

 So, not waiting for anymore shit talking, I turn around, to take off after Maureen, while tapping my headset. About that idea I was having…

Chapter Text

Ten

Reece

 Honestly, I can’t believe this is even happening. After doing nothing but bringing in people who are one of us for several hours, I’m suddenly supposed to let one of them run around while the rest of us hole up in a battle ship to weather whatever storm Rodney McKay is planning to sic on this city? No. Way.

 I don’t even care if the Major meant that insubordination charge thing he yelled after me – I’m also not sure he even has a leg to stand on, considering that technically, he’s not really my boss right now – or not, I’m just really fucking pissed that anyone who lived here for a year like Mats would even consider leaving one of us to fend for himself. You know, additionally to the fact that that Marine I’m talking about is compromised and apparently has gone rogue.

 There is honestly so much wrong with this and… “Wait!” Oh, hell, really? Really? He came after me? “Fucking hell, Maureen, just wait.”

 I keep walking but I do pay him the small courtesy of turning around. “Unless you’re here to tell me that you have decided to join me: hell no.”

 He makes a small, decidedly German sound of frustration and then speeds up to next to me. “We really have to go to the Daedalus, Maureen. Control wasn’t joking that we really need to get somewhere safe.”

 Yes, and that’s exactly why I’m here? “He’s one of us, Mats! We can’t just leave him behind!”

 He shakes his head. “We aren’t. Sheppard is on it.” As if Sheppard could do this all on his own. Really, he’s good but not that good. “Seriously, we have to go.”

 Now I’m annoyed enough to stop after all and argue with him over something I thought was so clear that we didn’t have to argue about it. “Dammit, Mats, there’s a damn rogue Marine somewhere in this city and…”

 “No, listen. I just had a short chat with one of the engineers.” What? When? “This is a John Sheppard and Rodney McKay plan.”

 Oh.

 Oh no.

 I blink, and then the only thing I can come up with is, “Fucking hell.”

 “Exactly.” See, that’s the thing about all the people who have been living here for a year: we have seen our fair share of John Sheppard and Rodney McKay plans executed. Enough of them to know immediately what that means. I mean, obviously, they all ended reasonably well for us or we wouldn’t be here. But honestly, some of those were the craziest shit I have ever seen, and I served at the damn SGC. “Maureen, dammit, come on, we really have to get out of here.”

 And the worst thing is, “You’re right. Fuck, you’re right.”

 He nods. “I know. Now let’s get the hell back to where the rest is waiting and take them back to the Daedalus.”

 Right. Yes. Okay. Fine. I sigh and turn back, falling into a light jog. I’d really like to speed it up but for some reason, my legs just feel way too heavy for that by now. And now that I’ve finally come around, I realize that my decision was let’s say not the smartest and I can’t help asking Mats, who fell into step next to me, “So… do you think he meant that thing about the insubordination charge?”

 It makes him snort. “You know him better than I do. What do you think?”

 Yeah, good question. I roll my eyes, “Probably not.” I think. “I hope.” He grins at me and I hate it when he does that. Because he’s just waiting for me to say it and damn, he knows I will. “I really made an ass out of myself, didn’t I?”

 Now he laughs. Not really loud, but loud enough for me to give him a frown. “Fuck, yes. And I did tell you to get back to the safe zone and take a break.”

 He did, that’s the thing. I just roll my eyes again and nearly ask him if he saw that weird freeze moment the Major had after I told him I wouldn’t leave a fellow Marine behind. But then I remember that my first thought was, inexplicably, that that had to have something to do with Laura’s death and that most probably no one told Mats about that yet and that I’m not about to do so now because honestly, this is not the moment to do it. I hated – and, to be honest, still do – having to learn about it the way I did, so I’m not going to subject one of my best friends to it.

 And anyway, we’re back at the point where I left the Major and Dee and oh God, I can’t even look him in the eye. Which is probably why both Mats and Dee, the traitors, walk ahead, putting some distance between them and the Major and me. I hate how well both of them know me.

 But yeah, just better get it over with, while we’re on our way to the Daedalus. I take a deep breath. “Sir?”

 He doesn’t look at me, just keeps looking ahead, ostensibly to make sure he doesn’t lose sight of Dee and Mats. “What?”

 Yeah, I deserved that. “I’m sorry for yelling at you and disobeying your order. That was uncalled for, and I had no right to challenge your decision in both form and content.”

 He keeps quiet for a few more yards, and yeah, I deserve that, too. Then he takes a deep breath and stops, and being a little surprised, I can’t do anything but stop, too. Mats somehow must have heard or sensed that, and throws a look over his shoulder. Apparently, he must have seen my small gesture for him to go on because after a moment, he gestures for Dee to follow him.

 The Major must have registered that, too but doesn’t comment on it. Instead, he says, “You’re right, you didn’t.” Uh-oh. “And that’s really not your standard performance, and we both know it.” Oh God. He did mean that thing about the insubordination… “But… it’s not like it’s not part my fault, too.”

 Huh? “Uh, sir, I’m not sure I can foll…”

 “You need a break.” Yes, by now everyone has made that clear to me, multiple… “You really need a break, and I should have seen just how badly you need one and told Control to shove their order to accompany Morsberg on CSAR where it’s dark.” Um. What? “I should have taken both you and the Doc to the safe zone and made sure you were taken out of the fight and got a real break.” What is happening? “Sorry I failed you, Kid. Seems I’m more rusty than I thought.”

 I blink. Um. Uh. “It’s… okay, sir.”

 That makes him laugh, a small, cynical laugh. I immediately decide that I hate it. “No, it’s not, and we both know it. I sucked at commanding, and that’s why this nearly ended in a clusterfuck.”

 “No, sir. You don’t suck at commanding. I just suck at obeying.” Oh God, why did I just say that? And why did I smile at him like that? You know, friendly and encouraging and oh God, was I flirty, too?

 But that’s not even the worst thing about it. The worst thing is that this right here, is the first time I get to see him smile since we were reunited, and it looks like he got a little rusty at that, too. “Nah, it’s definitely a bit of both.” Then he rolls his eyes, probably more at himself than anything else and says in a conciliatory tone, “Ceasefire, Kid?”

 Oh. Okay. I didn’t exactly expect this to be the outcome of our little one-on-one but yeah, okay, I can live with that. I nod. “Ceasefire, sir.”

 That makes him smile, again, and I wish I he wouldn’t do that because when Thomas Moore smiles, really smiles, not grins or smirks or leers, I melt a little inside and I hate that that still keeps happening. “Good.” After that, he’s thankfully back to all business and adds, “Okay, let’s catch up with Dee and the Doc. Sure as hell don’t want to get caught out here when whatever Command has planned goes down.”

 We take up jogging again and I can see that he’d rather up the speed but doesn’t do so purely in consideration for me and if that’s not embarrassing I don’t know what is. Maybe I’ll just tell myself that’s not because he knows very well that by now, I don’t really have the physical resources left for anything faster than a light trot but because he’s almost half a head – and that’s a very optimistic estimate here, no, I’m not tiny, okay? – taller than I am and has unfairly long legs.

 Anyway, after about five more minutes, we make it to Dee’s and Mats’s position and carry on to the Daedalus. I can see the looks both of them are sneaking me – why just me? It’s not like I could have ripped him a new one, too? – and just answer them with a quick eye-roll and thankfully, both of them decide to just let it go, at least for now and keep running.

 When we finally make it to the Daedalus, I can’t help but stop and stare because holy shit that is a really big ship. I have never seen either a 303 or 304 up close – in fact, I haven’t even briefly been on one before – but I have seen my share of aircraft carriers and even though most of them are actually bigger than this ship, for some reason it’s something completely different to see a ship at a pier than a ship on a pier.

 “Yeah,” I hear the Major next to me, a smirk evident in his voice, “that was about my reaction when I saw her for the first time.”

 Huh? “Weren’t you beamed aboard?”

 “Oh, I was.” So how… “But I happened to get a ride in one of the 302s stationed aboard while we were waiting for the go ahead.”

 I know I really should stop mouthing off but I just can’t help it. “Do I really want to know how that happened?”

 To his credit, he doesn’t even miss a beat – probably getting used again to my damn tendency to be sarcastic first, think later – and just laughs. “You just have to know who to ask, Kid.” For some reason, I really don’t want to know who he “asked”. “Come on, before all the good seats are taken.”

 And that is how we end up wandering around the decks, trying to find a place with a little peace and quiet. Finally, after what feels like an eternity and were probably twenty or thirty minutes, we find an intersection that’s a little out of the way and just each plop ourselves down on the ground, as if by some inaudible order. And oh God, it’s just. So. Nice. To be sitting again and knowing you don’t have to get up any time soon.

 Or at least I hope I don’t have to get up anytime soon.

 I don’t even care what’s going on, just close my eyes and lean my head back against the wall, just for a moment and for that moment, the sounds of too many in too close quarters – you’d think a Marine would be right at home in the bowels of a damn ship but I guess by now, the SGC and Atlantis have spoiled me for life for “real” Marine stuff – just kind of fade into the background and… “Okay, so I have just checked back with Lorne…”

 What? I open my eyes and look at the Major, frowning. “Major Lorne’s here, too?”

 He shrugs. “Sure. He flew one of the 302s when we had a little run-in with the Wraith earlier.”

 From the look on Dee’s face, it was probably more than just “a little run-in”, but hey, I guess that explains how he managed to score a ride in one of the 302s. Literally no one else would let themselves get pestered into something like that by the Major than Evan Lorne. That man is just too nice for his own good, honestly.

 Or maybe they just wanted to relive their glory days from flight school or something. Those two are really weird.

 And anyway, there are more important things. Wondering for how long Mats next to me will be able to keep his eyes open, for example. Mh.

 “What did he say, sir?” Yeah, okay, or that. Good question, Dee. Thanks for asking.

 The Major shrugs. “Apparently, the plan is, get this…” But before he gets to the really interesting part, he starts laughing and actually needs a minute or two to compose himself enough to continue speaking and sir, I’m getting a little sleepy here. I think. “Fuck, this is some really crazy shit, even by SGC standards.” Sir. “Okay. So, what I could get is that they want to make the city “disappear”.” Disappear how? That makes no sense. Also, oh God, urge to close eyes getting insurmountable. Must. Keep. Eyes. Open. “I’m not really sure how it’s supposed to go. Kinda like this: they want to…” Must. Keep. Eyes…

Moore

 “…detonate a nuke in the atmo…”

 “Sir.”

 Hey, I was just about to explain the absolute most harebrained stunt I have ever heard… oh.

 Oh.

 I look at Dee again, first blinking, than incredulous. “Did those two just fall asleep on me?”

 Dee… looks very much like he’d really like to laugh. Oh, to everyone who doesn’t actually know him, he looks absolutely, totally straight-faced. But I do know him. And this guy is about to break out laughing. His version of it, anyway. “In all fairness, sir,” yep, all ready to laugh his ass off, “they have been awake for almost all of four days.”

 God, I hate it when he’s right. “Still could have finished listening first?” Oh, and now I sound like a sulking idiot. Most because I am a sulking idiot.

 My sergeant looks very much like he would like to point that out to me but only keeps it to himself because he’s not in the mood for any stupid discussions and honestly, I can’t even fault him for that. Still, “It was a good story, Dee. They’re planning to detonate a nuke above the city. That’s gotta be the most harebrained stunt I have ever heard of.”

 He clears his throat. What? What? “With all due respect, sir, but… someone once blew up an entire planet just to get us back to our own reality.”

 Dammit. He just had to go and point that out, didn’t he? “I hate it when you’re being correct.”

 “Sorry, sir.” Oh please.

 “No, you’re not.” And in all fairness, he really doesn’t have to be. Because he is correct and because that’s not actually a crime.

 Dee, for his part, wisely refrains from confirming my assumption and instead says, “Honestly, sir, I really don’t think either of them planned falling asleep right in the middle of your explanation.”

 Yes, okay, of course they didn’t. But… did they have to do it like that? You know, as close as that, and Reece’s head on Morsberg’s shoulder and all that? Really?

 Oh hell, if I mention any of that now, Dee will immediately recognize it for what it is – jealousy, goddammit – and very carefully and respectfully lecture me on how that is absolutely uncalled for and definitely at least bordering on Conduct Unbecoming and he’d be right and because I can only stomach being called an idiot by my sergeant so many times a day, I swallow my original reply and instead go with, “I know that, don’t worry. I just…”

 “They’ll be fine, sir. Nothing sleep and food won’t fix.” Right. Of course.

 And hey, here’s a funny thing: I just know that when Dee says “they’ll be fine” to reassure me, he actually means “she’ll be fine” because he thinks that’s what I want to hear and what I’m most interested in and that’s not exactly wrong but for some reason, I feel some kind of responsibility for the German, too.

 We’re not even actually on the same team, and quite honestly, he just really somehow rubs me the wrong way but… I know that he used to be Laura’s friend. And Laura had good taste in people, except maybe with me, and there must have been something to him to make her like him and even recommend him to the Atlantis staff selection board. So, I guess I just somehow feel some kind of obligation because Laura would have wanted me to make sure he came out of this entire clusterfuck alive.

 But damn, it does rankle just how cozy he and Reece are with each other.

 Fuck, I just can’t help it, I have to laugh; that weird cynical resigned laugh that kind of became a staple of my repertoire after Laura died. Dee looks at me, a little weird. “You know, I just realized… if they go through with that plan, and it works, we’re pretty much screwed, Dee.”

 He just raises an eyebrow, “Why, sir?”

 Because I’ll be forced to live and work and train in the same city as Maureen Reece. Because I thought I was finally over her and just sitting here and watching her sleep, all that tough as nails attitude gone, making her look exactly like that young officer sleeping on my couch, made me realize that I’m not even close to being “over her”. Because she’s not ever gonna want me the same way I want her and that’s gonna hurt.

 I take a deep breath. “Because this city is a really messed up place and there’s not even an option to live off-base.”

 “Yeah,” I hear Dee say after some consideration, when he no doubt worked through what I just said and found that to be not exactly a lie but not even half the truth, either, “I can see what you mean, sir.”

 He does, that’s the worst about it. I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t know the extent of my little problem with Reece – as sure as you can be when you still have lingering doubts that your sergeant may or may not be a mind-reader – but he sure as hell is smart enough to know that there’s something not exactly right.

 “The view’s nice, though.” Was he… just being sarcastic?

 I turn to him, and he sits there, completely straight-faced and I can’t believe I still have no idea how to tell whether he’s being serious or just bullshitting me. “The… view, Sergeant?”

 Shrugging, he tells me, absolutely earnestly, “Sure. Kinda feels like home.”

 Home? He’s been living in a lot of places and not that many of them have featured ocean views and I also had the distinct feeling that he didn’t consider any of them ho… oh, I get it. We tend not to talk about it – as we tend not to talk about a lot of things – but I remember it. This guy’s originally from Nebraska. Flat, boring landscape, big sky… yeah. I get it. But also, “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?”

 He smirks. He actually smirks. “Only a little, sir.”

 Goddammit. I should have known he would say that and because the day has been mostly shitty up to now, I decide that I’m just not in the mood to dignify that with a reply and instead give him a dirty look and keep my trap shut. I’m pretty sure that this has the potential to look like sulking but fuck, so be it.

 Which is how we end up sitting silently next to each other, taking care they all leave Reece and Morsberg alone and waiting for either the all clear or instant annihilation. When it comes – the all clear, kind of surprisingly, not the annihilation – it takes a moment to reach us and funny enough it seems that it also takes a moment for the people coming through our little intersection to realize that we really won. I guess that’s what a year of constantly being under threat, topped by four days of literally being on the brink of getting blown up, sank or going out in a blaze of glory does to people.

 When it finally registers, the big exodus begins and this is where it gets tricky. Because, you know, someone has to make sure that the two Sleeping Beauties here don’t get left behind and have to sleep off this battle somewhere in the bowels of a space ship instead of an actual bed. And I have no idea where either of them are quartered or if those quarters even still exist and what do to with people who don’t have quarters any… “Hey, is the LT I mean the Cap okay? Is the Doc?”

 Yeah, you’re only the tenth or so person to ask that. I’m about to tell the Atlantis Marine off but Dee is faster. “Yes, they’re fine. Just exhausted is all.”

 The Marine nods. “Good. I got a little worried after the Cap sent me off to the infirmary back in that stairway.” Huh, what… “Anyway, you’re Daedalus people, right?”

 Dee nods. “Yes. Senior Master Sergeant Simon DeLisle, Major Thomas Moore.” Hey, I didn’t give you any leave to just introduce me to any… “We’re part of the relief contingent.”

 “Oh, right, now I remember where I’ve seen you before! SGC, right? One of the Gate Teams, lower two-digs, wasn’t it?” We nod warily, and I think I might actually recognize her from one of the Gate Security Teams? “Ah, damn, sorry. Lance Corporal uh Sergeant Amy Strickland. And… wait… you were on the Cap’s team.”

 Yup. Time to take this over. “Captain Reece was on my team, yes, Sergeant.”

 The sergeant now deigns to register my presence, too – in all fairness, to a newly minted sergeant, a seasoned senior master sergeant is probably a lot more significant than some boring major – and gives me a weird look. “The hell did she do that you let her go?” What the… What? “Captain’s one of the good ones, sir. Not a whole lotta company grades like her out there.”

 Okay, whatever Reece did in her year here, it must have been something worthwhile, if it managed to impress a US Marine Corps lance corporal like that. I frown. “You worked with her?”

 “Kinda regularly, yeah. She’s got guts, sir.” That much is true. She already had them back at the SGC, she only didn’t know it, yet. “Doc’s okay, too, by the way. For,” a German? “An Army guy, anyway.” Wow, high praise from a US Marine.

 Okay, enough chit-chat. “So… you do know where they’re quartered, Sergeant?”

 That actually makes her miss a beat and blink at me, wondering what the weird major who let “one of the good ones” go just like that is on to now but then she seems to have decided to get along with it. “Sure. Just… hey, can I have that? Thanks.” And just like that, she snatches a tablet from a randomly passing and now slightly consternated Daedalus crew member and types around, before handing it to the crew member and telling us, “Good news and bad news, sir. Which one do you want first?”

 What now? I barely keep from rolling my eyes. “Either one is fine, Sergeant. I’m not picky.”

 “Okay,” she says, “good news is, the Cap’s quarters are fully intact, in the structurally safe zone and accessible.” Okay, that is good news. “Bad news is, the Doc’s aren’t.” My first instinct is to tell her that I couldn’t care less but not only would that be a lie – because for some completely unfathomable reason I do care where Morsberg ends up, God help me – it would probably also incur the wrath of a newly minted US Marine Corps sergeant. She did say she considers him an “okay guy” which basically translates to her being willing to physically fighting me for disagreeing.

 Okay, fine. I sigh. “Is there any word yet on where people who lost their quarters are supposed to go?”

 Surprisingly, she nods, now realizing where I was going with my questions. “Mess hall’s the word.” Then she frowns, looking at Morsberg again. “But honestly, if I were you, I’d rather try the infirmary. Don’t let them send you away, just put him in the ready room. He’s been pulling so many twenty-six-hour shifts, I just bet there’s a bunk with his name on it there.”

 Err, okay, so… “How about Sergeant Strickland and I take… Stabsarzt Morsberg to the infirmary and you take Captain Reece to her quarters, sir?”

 Yeah, you know, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. After everything that went down today, I’m really not sure she’d want me in her quarters and uh… “Sounds like a plan to me, sir. Only… we gotta take our time. Docs are gonna go ballistic if they see me running around this place.” Huh? “Sprained my ankle pretty badly doing Wraith search and destroy with the Captain, sir.”

 Right. The fact that she even mentioned it tells me she’s not the freshest member of the contingent, either but to her credit, she’s still awake when Reece and Morsberg aren’t. Okay, then. “Alright. There’s just flaw in this plan, Sergeant.”

 She blinks at me. “Huh?”

 I manage not to smirk and instead keep my face straight. “I have no idea where Captain Reece’s quarters are located and how to get there.”

 It takes her a tiny moment to compute this – another tell that our perky sergeant here is only marginally fresher than the two Sleeping Beauties we’re debating over – then she… goes and grabs another crew member’s touchpad and I have a feeling we should get her off this ship as soon as possible because at this rate, half the crew will probably hate her in about twenty minutes or so. She shows me the tablet. “Okay, so we’re here… and you have to get here.” She then proceeds to tell me where to go, offhandedly asks me if I have the gene, shortly explains to me how to communicate with the city without that damn gene and then hands the tablet back. Something tells me this Marine would have gotten promoted even without Sheppard’s let’s say odd way of problem solving.

 After that, I bend down to lift Reece up and… “Oh, you know what? I got an idea.” With that, Strickland crouches down and swiftly works to relieve Reece of her P90, Beretta and remaining flash bangs, somehow managing to stow all the excess ordnance somewhere in or on her own flak vest, then tells me, “Someone’s gotta check the Cap’s stuff back into the armory, sir.”

 Huh. “Good thinking, Sergeant.” At that, she grins. “Seriously. You’re gonna go places.” An even brighter grin. “But first, you and Sergeant DeLisle here go to the infirmary and I go to Captain Reece’s quarters.” An eye-roll now, and not even a discreet one. For some reason, I’m actually starting to like this one. “Alright, move out, everyone.”

 There’s a nice chorus of “Yes, sir” from both her and Dee, and it’s even semi-serious, while they somehow manage to get Morsberg upright enough so Dee can lift him up in a fireman’s carry and then manage to slowly make their way off the Daedalus while I trail along in their wake, carrying Reece in a more classical cradle and damn, she may be tiny but she sure weighs a bit in full battle rattle.

 At some point, our ways finally part and I tell Dee to meet me back in our quarters aboard the Daedalus before continuing alone towards Reece’s quarters and I’m pretty proud to say that I did find them on first try and only went sideways once due to accidentally punching the wrong button in one of the transporters and managed to make Atlantis let me in without completely losing my shit at the city being one uncooperative bastard.

 In the end, I just lay Reece down on her bed, flak vest and combat boots and all but something tells me she’s not gonna like waking up geared up like that so I take it upon myself to at least pull off her combat boots and even manage to get off her flak vest without her making so much as a peep. Considering how she used to make those little sleepy sounds when someone so much as looked at her while she was sleeping, this tells me better than anything else that she’s really out cold.

 And damn, I know I should just leave but something makes me sit down on her bed, in the little crook made by her lying on her side, her legs slightly drawn towards her. Here we are, somewhere high above the ocean, her window open for some reason, a light breeze wafting through it and the sound of the waves rolling in in the distance. Outside, the sun is rising, painting Reece’s quarters in soft pastel toned light and suddenly, I just feel so damn tired.

 Tired enough that I’d love to do nothing more than to just lie down next to her and fall asleep, too and I can’t help leaning forward and rubbing my hands over my face. It’s kind of ridiculous, me sitting here in the light of the new day, after the battle and thinking this is gonna be a really crappy year but that’s exactly what happens.

 Well, then. Nothing to do about it but soldier on and make the best of it, huh?

 “Been a hell of a first day, huh?” I hear myself telling her in a low voice and resisting the temptation to pat her thigh. Instead, I make myself get up, pull out the bottle of water I noticed when I pulled off her flak vest and put it on the nightstand next to her. Take it from me, when she wakes up, she’s not gonna want anything as much as she’s gonna want that bottle of water.

 But oh God, I know I should but I just can’t resist taking one of the post-it notes I found on her desk and using one of the pens in the neatly organized pen stand to write down You did good today, Kid. on it and stick it on the bottle.

 And then I finally beat a retreat and make my way out of her quarters and back to my own on the Daedalus, telling myself that I’m just making everything sound worse than it really is and that it’s actually not that bad, after all and trying to ignore that little voice in my head that sounds suspiciously like Laura, telling me to just suck it up and be honest, at least to myself.

 Yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen.

 Hell of a first day, indeed.