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It was nearly midnight before John had a chance to take a breath.

They had lost nearly a week due to the Pentagon's issues with John, and Elizabeth and O'Neill's retaliatory stonewalling campaign. Now O'Neill wanted the Daedalus underway ASAP, before anybody thought of any other reason to stop her, the Atlantis committee wanted data and reports transmitted right now, John was suddenly a lieutenant colonel, they were cramming a year's worth of supplies and replacement equipment into the Daedalus's hold, and there was some sort of hysterical running battle in the hallways over who got to go back with them, Dr. Jackson or Colonel Carter. All John knew was that O'Neill had said it was Carter's turn, but that Jackson seemed really determined.

John was alone in the conference room, going through the supply manifests and all the other files people kept running in to hand him, trying to catch up on everything he had missed while his assignment was being decided. For midnight, the SGC was pretty damn busy. They weren't getting new personnel until later, though Beckett had two SGC medics who had volunteered and he was trying to push through an okay on that before the Daedalus left. Rodney was off trying to requisition equipment out of the SGC labs, Teyla had wandered in to tell him that she and Teal'c were going to the Super Target to get some last minute "necessary items," and Elizabeth had been on the cell phone with the UN for the past three hours. Two hours ago she had come into the conference room, still on the phone, for a conversation conducted by emphatic pointing (on her part) and nodding and shrugging (on John's part). He had no idea what that was about.

Then General O'Neill walked in. John stood up as O'Neill shoved an Air Force major forward and said, "This is Lorne."

John blinked. "Sir?"

"Your 2IC," O'Neill said, waving at them as he ducked out the door. An instant later, he stuck his head back in and said darkly, "I wasn't here. You got that?"

"Yes, sir," John said in chorus with Lorne. Lorne looked a little weirded out, but for once John knew what O'Neill was talking about.

O'Neill vanished and John and Lorne stared at each other. John leaned on the back of a chair, squinting at him a little desperately. "Did I know about this?"

"Sir? Uh..." Lorne's expression went from formally stiff to wary. He nodded cautiously toward the conference table. "I think that's my file."

John looked down. The file folder on top of the pile was labeled with the name Major E. Lorne. He suddenly had a vague memory of Mitchell strolling in a couple of hours ago and handing him the file, snorting and saying, "You're lucky. You should have seen some of the geniuses they tried to saddle SG-1 with before Carter and Teal'c decided to come back." Okay, yeah, should have paid more attention there. Possibly the emphatic pointing conversation with Elizabeth had also had something to do with this. John bit his lip. "Right. I didn't get a chance to look at this." Trying to get his thoughts together, he asked the important question. "Did you volunteer?"

"Yes, sir," Lorne said immediately. Then he hesitated, as if debating how much to say. "Well, I..."

John nodded wearily. "Yeah, that was how I volunteered, too."

Rodney swept in suddenly, dumped an armload of files on the table, and shouted, "They don't need that Asgard particle accelerator, they're just selfish bastards!" He stared at Lorne suspiciously. "Who the hell is that?"

John rubbed his eyes. "This is Major Lorne. He's my new 2IC."

Rodney eyed Lorne skeptically. "Yes, I'm sure he'll fit right in with our crazy Marines and the Athosians who swore fealty to you in blood and offered to bear your children. Does he even have the Ancient gene?"

Lorne turned to John, deadpan. "Sir, does he know I can hear him?"

John sighed. "Yeah." He asked Rodney, "Don't you have some more labs to loot?"

Before Rodney could answer, Dr. Jackson appeared in the doorway, sweeping the room with a narrow suspicious gaze. He said, "Have you seen Jack?"

John put on his best blank expression and shrugged. "No."

Lorne, proving he was on the ball, followed John's lead. "Not lately."

Rodney's face twisted in consternation, as he was obviously torn between the urge to sell out O'Neill and the desire to keep Jackson from coming back with them again. He smiled thinly. "Apparently not."

Jackson's expression became saturnine. He stepped back into the corridor, looked thoughtfully up and down, then went left. Rodney started to say something. John held up a hand for silence.

It was quiet out in the corridor, except for Jackson's footsteps moving away. Then O'Neill hurried by in the opposite direction.

Rodney snorted, unamused. "Fine, now I need to assign someone to make sure Jackson doesn't handcuff himself to any of my equipment." He eyed Lorne again, and told John, "Well, if you want to keep him, you're going to have to convince Bates that he was there all along and we just forgot to unpack him."

John gritted his teeth. "It's not that bad, Rodney." He turned to Lorne. "It's not that bad."

Lorne seemed more resigned than alarmed. "Yes, sir."


end