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Minor Characters: Off the Record - Year One

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Out With The River

“Cuz sometimes you’ve gotta let love go
Even though it’s hurting, even though
And sometimes you’ve got to let love slide
Out with the river, the river of life.”

Heather Nova, “River of Life”

 Well, that was a hell of a first day in a new galaxy.

 I’m not even sure what was the weirdest thing. The whole “Atlantis is literally a city under the ocean” thing or the lights switching on everywhere any of us natural gene carriers walked in or the space vampires or, you know, being told that “no, Lieutenant, you will definitely not be going off-world” by Sumner, along with the other three female Marines – two more Lieutenants and a Corporal – in the Expedition, while, mysteriously, none of the male Marines were given desk jobs.

 Mh. On second thought, I’d say it definitely was the last one. I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in my year with the SGC so yeah, cities under the ocean, lights switching on and space vampires I can totally take in stride. Being told I wouldn’t get to do what I was trained to do? That was one hell of a weird and disturbing thing.

 I mean, I knew that Sumner was more of the old school variation of a Marine officer – not overtly sexist in the cat-calling, down-talking way, more in the condescending “a female Marine’s job is to free a man to fight” way – but for Heaven’s sake, all us female Marines have been part of the SGC for at least a year and know how to hold ourselves in a fight. Aside from that, at the SGC, no one even questioned our presence. Sumner’s first reaction to female Marines was looking right through us. His second was putting us all behind desks.

 I’m not saying that I’m glad that he died, because I’m not – apparently, according to the already well working grapevine, dying the way Sumner died is horrible – but… contrary to most of the male Marines, I don’t find the thought of being commanded by someone like John Sheppard such a bad thing, actually. I don’t know much about him, since he was brought in to the Expedition even later than I was but I’ve been serving under another Air Force guy with a not so sterling reputation. It wasn’t so bad, actually.

 Oh, who am I kidding? It was one of the best things that ever happened to me and I threw it all away because I was afraid I might fall in love with that guy. Because I was afraid he might fall in love with me – conceited much, Lieutenant? – and because I’d seen what that did to another Major Moore. I…

 Okay, Maureen, get a grip on yourself, will you? City’s been saved in the last minute, there’s a big party in our newly minted cafeteria and what am I doing? Exactly. Sitting in my bare quarters, only two half unpacked crates and my backpack for company, trying not to cry at the thought of probably never being able to see or at least speak to my team again. I have never been prone to homesickness, but right now, my heart is aching with it.

 All I can think of is that those one-hundred and seventy-four people – less now, actually, because we already had our first casualties on the first day here – who came through the Gate with me might very well be my last ever connection to the planet I have been living on for the first twenty-four years of my life and that my team isn’t part of those one-hundred and seventy-four people. One-hundred and seventy-odd people in this city – and that’s not even counting the Athosians in – and I feel more lonely than I have ever felt in my life before.

 Which is ridiculous. I have never, never felt truly lonely in my entire life, I swear. Not even when my parents died. I was sad and I grieved, yes, and I still think of them every day in one way or the other but lonely wasn’t ever on the list of feelings attached to their death. I’ve always been someone who actually enjoyed being alone. I never needed much social contact to be happy and now I’m missing my team so much that it hurts.

 I miss Laura’s wry observations and every time I have to listen to yet another McKay speech, I keep wishing she’d appear out of thin air to give a trademark running commentary, making me laugh. I haven’t even been able to put my hands on the little “Pegasus Survival Package, trust me, you’re gonna need it” she gave me shortly before we set out for Atlantis because I know that if I do so, I will be reduced to a little heap of incoherent sobbing.

 I miss Dee’s quiet presence, his knowing little grins, his dry humor. He’d have something to say about Sumner confining all four female Marines of the Expedition to the city, and it wouldn’t have been nice and he would have had some of his sage sergeant wisdom to help me cope with the feeling of utter frustration at having to deal with Sumner’s particular brand of sexism. I haven’t been able to even only open the old worn-out field manual he gave me even though I’m probably in dire need of some of the annotations he alluded to when he gave it to me.

 And I miss, miss the Major and his smirks and snorts and absolutely inappropriate bouts of insolence. I miss the way he runs a hand through his hair when he’s out of his depth and I miss his stupid jokes that aren’t even funny and I miss the way he keeps looking at me when he thinks I’m not noticing it. I deeply regret the whim of taking the NYC snow globe he gave me for my birthday with me because every fucking time I look at it, I’m reminded of the fact that he didn’t even have the guts to tell me good-bye personally and that the last thing I saw of him was him staring down at me through the control room window with an unreadable look in his eyes. Just staring, not even raising his hand or anything. Bastard couldn’t even get off his high horse to…

 Huh? Chirping sound. What was that chirping… oh, right. My doorbell. The chirping sound is my new doorbell. Must remember that.

 And will definitely not answer it, even if it just chirped a third time. Not going to answer… “Come on, Lieutenant, I know you’re in there. Don’t make me exercise my rights as a medical officer and call someone to override your door control. Just open up, will you.”

 Right. German accent just strong enough to faintly carry through the door’s material, tone of a guy who knows he’ll eventually get what he wants… definitely sounds like the only guy I could kind of make a connection to yet since apparently, Laura got to know him at med school and introduced us to each other at the going away ball the DOD gave us. German Army doctor Stabsarzt – a Captain, but apparently, he has this stupid quirk of insisting that people use his German rank – Dr. Matthias Morsberg, at my service.

 I sigh, getting up from my bed. Trying not to look too insolent – he does outrank me, after all – I open my door. “Sorry, sir, been sorting through some stuff…”

 “I’m not here to ask you to join that party in the cafeteria.” What? “I’m pretty sure you were just going to tell me that if I were here for doing that, you’d unfortunately have to decline. Weren’t you?”

 You know what the Major would say now? He’d say “Fuck me, Kid. You finally found your match.” He’s been steadily claiming to all and sundry that I am psychic – which I’m not, just good at reading people and especially him is all – and he’d be practically cackling with glee by now. Because that was exactly what I was going to tell Morsberg. I blink at him and then can’t help defiantly folding my arms in front of my chest. “Got me there, sir.”

 That makes him grin a little too cocky for comfort – not in the way the Major would, just… cocky – and then say, “Good to know I’ve still got it.” Right.

 Idiot. I try not to glare at him. “So, if you’re not here to very covertly make sure everyone socializes according to the psychologists’ recommendations, then why are you here?” Hey, guy still outranks you, even though he looks even younger than you. “Sir.”

 “Oh, I’m just here to make a delivery.” A what? “Shortly before we took off, your commanding officer asked me to give you this once we’re on the other side.” I’m about to ask him what the fuck he’s talking about when he pulls a small box out of his pocket to hold it towards me. It’s unremarkable; black cardboard or something, rectangular… “Maureen… is everything okay?”

 Fucking medical officers. They see you hesitating to pick up a small black box for a moment too long and think something’s wrong with you. Now I do glare at him and snatch the thing from his fingers. “No, everything fine. Good evening, sir, I really need to get back to my unpack…”

 “You’re not going to open it, are you?” Goddammit.

 In my head, I can just hear the Major full on laughing and telling me that yes, this is exactly how he felt every time I did that to him – which, by the way, was never intentionally. “I’m… I’ll do it when I get to it, sir. I just…”

 I don’t even know what I was going to say next but I don’t need to, anyway, since for some reason, I’m feeling my throat constrict and my hand clamp around the little box. I’m not even sure if I’m chocking with anger – he had to give whatever is in there to a stranger, didn’t he? Didn’t even have the guts to give this to me in person – or with hurt because he did give me something, after all. I try to take a deep breath. “Sir, I…”

 “Look, I’m just a surgeon, only took the mandatory classes on mental health at uni but if you need someone to talk, I’m right here. You just need to ask.” My first instinct is to tell him again that I’m fine, thank him very politely and then shut my door for another round of trying really, really hard to remember that Marines just. Don’t. Cry.

 But he’s right here, and he’s my only link to home right now and maybe that’s why, in the end, I just nod and step aside. He hesitates for a moment – frightened by your own courage, sir? – but then comes in and the door slides shut behind him. I gesture towards the bed and he nods.

 There’s some really awkward silence when we make our way over to the bed and apparently, he isn’t very good at coping with those because I hear him say, “And, by the way, you can lose the sir,” before we even sit down on the edge of the bed. I’m about to tell him that this is not how Marines are raised but he doesn’t let me, just adds, “In case you were about to ask what to call me instead: Matthias works. Or Mats. Couple of friends in Munich kept calling me that. Mats is fine, really.” He pronounces it the German way, ah instead of a and I have a feeling that there’s a story behind “Mats”. Just something in his tone that suggests that at least parts of that story aren’t exactly happy parts. I decide not to delve into that. Everyone’s allowed to have their little sad secrets.

 We sit down on the bed. He’s giving me expectant looks.

 … what? “Aren’t you, you know, going to open it?”

 Probably one of the rudest things anyone ever said to me, considering that we don’t really know each other and that farewell gifts can be extremely private things. And yet I don’t immediately throw him out. Instead, I look at the box sitting on my flat palm again. It’s really unremarkable. Not even a bow or something. Just a stupid box. Nothing to be afraid of.

 I take a deep breath. Nothing to be afraid of.

 With as little hold-up as possible and enough determination that my hand almost doesn’t tremble, I finally take off the box lid and… the bastard.

 That absolute fucknut asshole stupid as a log bastard.

 “Maureen? Are you…” No. No, I’m not.

 I’m not okay because the thing my former boss gave me as a parting gift are Captain’s bars. His Captain’s bars, if I’m not completely wrong. Captain’s bars, and a stupid little note on a stupid piece of paper, saying Sorry for being an idiot, Kid. Expect to see those on your shoulders soon as I see you again.

 Who does he think he is?

 “He’s a piece of shit, that’s what he is.” Did I just say that aloud? “How dare he do this? How dare he write such a piece of crap? How dare he… how…” I must have said that aloud because I definitely heard my voice. I also must have started to cry – when did I start to cry? – at some point because my cheeks definitely feel wet and I feel like choking again, like something’s stuck in my throat why is something stuck in my throat

 Morsberg – Mats – doesn’t say anything but I feel something heavy being draped across my shoulders… that’s his arm, must be his arm, no other explanation, really. His arm’s draped around my shoulders and he must have moved me because I’m leaning against something surprisingly solid and there must be his other arm draped around my shoulders as well and I realize that I’m being held by a German Army medical officer I have known for maybe a day and a bit, in my quarters in a city in another galaxy with no means or ways to contact Earth and I just can’t stop crying.

 It never was supposed to go like this. My first day in a new life wasn’t supposed to end in crying my fucking heart out and yet here I am, feeling myself being unable and unwilling to stop. So, in the end, I give up trying – what’s the point, anyway? – and succumb to it, let a guy I barely know hold me while I cry out all the loneliness, all the regret, all the homesickness I have in me and maybe that’s gonna help somehow. What other choice do I have, anyway? What is there left for me to hope, really? And maybe, if it starts like that, chances are it’s only gonna get better from here. It has to be.

Chapter Text

It Figures

“It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought... it figures.”

Alanis Morisette, “Ironic”

 Yeah. So. Night shift again. It’s been two weeks since we arrived here and so far, I have yet to do anything else than sit around nights, dispense pain medication and the occasional Ambien and uh… catch up on my professional reading. And yes, that’s just a fancy term for scrolling through the data base and find something that doesn’t put me to sleep immediately. Considering that I only graduated from med school two years ago and still have three more years of residency to go before being allowed to call myself a full-fledged surgeon, that’s been surprisingly hard.

 Anyway, my point is: yes, I’m a doctor. But more importantly, I’m a soldier. I’m the latest off-spring of a family that has been producing military doctors since before World War I – my father, a Brigadier General in the German Army medical corps, once managed to trace that tradition back to my great-great-something-grandfather and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, no joke – and I take that very seriously. I mean, not the whole tradition thing because that’s what my father cares about and I have made it my life’s mission to agree on as little with my father as possible but yeah, the soldier part.

 At first it was mostly a way of putting myself through university without having to depend on my parents but already back in basic and officer training I realized that I actually like being a soldier and by the time I’d been done with med school, I’d been through enough military training that I made it all the way to Calw where the German Army’s special forces are located. Officially, I’d been an intern at the military hospital in Ulm but yeah, somehow I ended up on the duty roster for deployments in Calw, anyway.

 Long story short, when I was put on the duty roster for Atlantis, I was serving in Afghanistan on an OEF-related deployment I’m still not allowed to talk about – officially, my job was to provide inside-the-wire medical support to special forces operations, unofficially… well – and truth to be told I was getting a little bored so the offer of going to another galaxy had sounded like a damn good idea. That I’m now doing even less soldiering than at any moment ever since joining nearly ten years ago… well, that’s the kind of irony my father – who, by the way, really hates that my approach to military medicine is a little more combat oriented than his – would be laughing his ass off about. If, you know, that were his style. Which it isn’t.

 So naturally, I decided to go and see Major Sheppard about finally getting a permanent assignment to one of the off-world teams. And naturally, that didn’t go as I’d hoped it would. But yeah, I’m trying not to be too pissed off by it and instead excused myself from the infirmary to go and get something to eat and also escape the inevitable boredom that’s going to settle in once the city is asleep for as long as I can.

 It’s already past the dinner rush so I expect the room Command designated as mess hall to be empty but am proven wrong. There are two guys from the science department sitting quietly in a corner and playing chess, three Airmen at a table by the railing having a late dinner… and my favorite Marine at a table by herself, concentrating on her PADD, apparently a half-eaten sandwich off to the side and a small heap of files on the table in front of her.

 Okay, so, she’s actually the only Marine I had any closer interaction with up to this point, and yes, that interaction mostly consisted of me just wanting to deliver whatever the rudest Air Force officer I ever encountered forced me to and somehow ending up in her quarters and having to console one badly crying Marine. Since then, I haven’t seen much of… Wait. You know, come to think of it, I think she’s been avoiding me. And, if I can trust the word of her office mate, just about anyone else, too. Mh. That won’t do.

 I grab a sandwich off the small buffet laid out for the graveyard shift and head over to her table. I consider asking her if I can sit down but decide against it. Ambushing a Marine might turn out to be a really stupid idea but trust me, sometimes stupid ideas are the best ones. So I just sit down in the seat opposite to her, lean back and wait to see what happens.

 At first… nothing. She keeps reading whatever’s on the screen of that PADD, her chair tipped back a little and her legs bent, the shins against the table’s edge. Okay. I don’t have all night and Dr. Beckett hates it when we eat in the infirmary, so I reach forward to get my sandwich. I can still observe while… “Yes, sir, I have noticed you and no, sir, I’m not in the mood for conversation.”

 Right. At least she didn’t get up to leave. Man muss ja nehmen, was man kriegen kann. Also, „Told you, Mats is fine.“

 She doesn’t answer right away, just keeps reading. When she finally does, she still doesn’t look up from her PADD. “Okay then, Mats. I’m still not in the mood for conversation.”

 Mh. That’s really not the slightly shy but friendly and witty Maureen Reece I remember from that evening at the Broadmoor before we came here. I consider being an ass about it and make some stupid quip but something tells me another approach might yield better results. I lean forward. “Why?”

 Ah, that gets her attention. She hesitates for a moment but then I can see her leaning slightly to the side, peering at me. “Because I’m supposed to go off-world tomorrow and am trying to familiarize myself with the planet and the mission objectives.”

 “Oh.” She keeps peering at me, her eyebrows raised now. “That uh, actually makes sense. Sorry for bothering you.” And I am. Kind of. I mean, I still don’t really get why she’s doing it here but yeah, I can see that…

 “You know, you could try a little harder at hiding that you’re jealous.” Wait, what? That got a reaction other than sarcasm and defensiveness out of her? When I apologize and decide to leave her alone after all?

 Oh, and also, “I’m not jealous.”

 She puts away the PADD and puts down her legs, smiling at me and now she looks like that girl I got to meet at the Broadmoor. “Of course you are.” She also sounds like it, too. Anyone else probably would have just sounded callous and a little mean but she just… makes a matter-of-fact statement. “Sheppard didn’t approve your request to take you off the infirmary roster, huh?”

 I blink at her. “How did you even know about that?”

 She shrugs and I can see that she’s trying very hard to keep a straight face but there’s still a little smile just under the surface. “I know things.” Oh yeah, she’d love to play sphinx but usually, it’s enough to waaait for it… “I’m a linguist, Mats. I listen to people.”

 Huh. “You haven’t even talked to me for the last two weeks.”

 At that, she looks down for a moment and is she blushing? Seriously? That’s allowed for US Marines? Then she looks back up and makes an apologetic face. “Yeah, uh, sorry about that. Actually, sorry about the whole…”

 “No, it’s fine.” Because I have a feeling that neither of us really wants to talk about what happened in her quarters that first day, and I don’t see a point in making her. “Seriously, forget about it. Everyone has bad days.”

 She gives me a small silent laugh. “Even you?”

 I can’t help making a face. “Yeah, even me.” But anyway, “You still haven’t answered my question, though. How did you know I put in a request to be assigned an off-world team?”

 “Actually, I didn’t know about that.” Oops. I think I’m starting to get an idea how she learns about “things”. I don’t know much about that team she served on back on Earth, except the things Laura and she told me while we were getting seriously wasted at the Broadmoor but as far as I can remember, their CO and their Sergeant were some kind of super spies or something. I wonder how much they taught her. “But every time you came into the office, practically all you did was bitch to Julika about still being assigned to the infirmary. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what you’d do soon as things were about to calm down.”

 Alter, was zur Hölle? “We were talking in German. How did you even…”

 “Again, Mats, linguist.” Fuck. Of course.

 Seriously embarrassed, I just put down my head on the table, so I can’t see her but I can definitely hear her laugh. Not really loud, just a very amused chuckle. I groan. “How many fucking languages do you speak?”

 She keeps laughing so I decide to bravely face it and sit back up, giving her something that’s hopefully a dead-pan look. She calms down a little, then clears her throat. “Aside from English? Russian, French, Japanese, Spanish and German more or less fluently, I read and write Ancient and I’m currently trying to make sense of what little we know of the Wraith language.”

 More or less fluently, huh? “So, does your office mate…”

 “Yes, she does.” I… can’t believe it. Captain Julika Naumann, her office mate and the only other German military officer in Atlantis, actually knows that Reece speaks German well enough to understand practically everything we’ve been talking about and she didn’t even see fit to… “And yes, we actually talk about it, too.”

 That… I…

 Okay.

 I sigh. “Serves me right, huh?”

 She nods, in a friendly, kind of resigned way. “Yes, it does. Deliberately talking in a language you think a third person doesn’t speak? That’s pretty rude, Stabsarzt.”

 It’s my turn to shrug now. “What can I say? I’m German, being rude is in my blood.”

 At my accompanying grin, she just snorts and rolls her eyes. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”

 Well then, at least that settles that question. And since I still have almost half an hour for dinner left and I actually like talking to her, I gesture towards the PADD. “So, whose team are you on, anyway?”

 "No one’s.” Huh? “Sheppard just pulled all the female Marines off desk duty as soon as he could and assigned us to the regular duty roster. So every time they need a linguist and maybe every other time they need a security escort off-world, I get to go out.” Oh. Right. Well… “Just wait for it, Mats. You’ll get your chance, too.”

 Ah. Funny enough, it’s taken until now that I met someone who could read people as well as I sometimes can, and if anyone had asked me, I’d never have put any money down on that someone being a female US Marine in a different galaxy but here we are. Because let’s be all honest here for just a moment. I am jealous. A lot. And so far, it seems as if Sheppard has no inclination of going head to head with Dr. Beckett over just one medical doctor, not with the shortage of medical personnel in this city. I rub my neck. “It’s just… I shouldn’t be sitting around here, pulling graveyard shifts. I’m a combat medic. Going out there, providing medical support in the field is just what I do.” Actually it’s all I ever wanted to do, ever since basic training all those years ago. But yeah, she doesn’t need to know that, and quite frankly, if she’s worth her salt, she probably does anyway.

 She takes a deep breath. “I get that, Mats. Really, I do.” For some reason, I do believe that. I was there when Sumner told the female Marines they wouldn’t be going off-world, after all. “And trust me, sooner or later, they’ll need you and they’ll call on you. You’re here for a reason, and they know that.”

 Yeah, easy for her to say. I nearly tell her that but something – maybe all that earnestness in her eyes – makes me refrain from it and just give her a resigned shrug. “Yeah. Your word in God’s ear and all that.” Or maybe better not because trust me, when they need people like me, shit really hit the fan and people are about to die.

 I just remember that in time and make a move to correct myself but something tells me she got it, anyway. She gives me an apologetic smile. “Yeah, well…”

 “This is Sheppard to all security personnel. We have a missing person so everyone report to the armory immediately, in full gear.” Right.

 She gets up, packing up her stuff. “Okay, uh, you heard the man. I’ll uh you know. Head out.”

 Yeah, no, she’s not going to get away that easily. “Wait, I’ll come with you. I mean, this is practically a textbook Search and Rescue…”

 “Jinto?” What? “This is Doctor Weir. If you can hear me, please respond.” Oh right, just Dr. Weir calling out to the missing person. Why am I not surprised that it’s one of the kids? With them sneaking around the city after hours – yes, being on the nightshift, I get to see all kinds of uh interesting things – something like that was probably bound to happen. “Jinto? If you’re lost, if you can’t…”

 Wait, where did the lights go? “Maureen…”

 In the semi-dark of the emergency lighting, I can see her shake her head. “Go back to the infirmary, Mats. Right now.” What the… “Trust me when I tell you that the chances that “missing person” plus “power outage” is just a coincidence are at about zero. Something like that almost always ends with people needing medical attention and usually in pretty fast succession.”

 I’m about to contradict her since you know I don’t really appreciate being given orders by people I outrank but then I remember that she’s a year of weird coincidences turning out to be clusterfucks ahead of me and I concede. Sort of. “Yes, and someone needs to be there to get them to the infirmary.”

 I’m pretty sure I just saw her roll her eyes but I’ll just pretend I didn’t. “Hey, I get that you’re eager for action, really, I do. But trust me, just venturing out there right now without expressive approval by both Sheppard and Beckett will get you in deep water. You definitely don’t want to go there if you ever want to have a shot at joining an off-world team.” Yeah, well, here’s the thing: I won’t ever get a shot at that off-world team if no one ever lets me show what I can do. I mean, let’s all be honest, I know how the Marines look at me and… “Mats. I’m only telling you this because I like you. We have been here for only two weeks. You antagonize everyone in Command so early on, you’ll be labeled as trouble and trouble has a very hard time getting permission to go off-world regularly.”

 Oh, right. “You mean like Sheppard?”

 Now she did roll her eyes and gave me an exasperated sigh. “Perks of command, Mats. Now, get the hell going because if you don’t, I’ll just leave you standing here because I really need to get my ass to the armory.”

 I am this close to telling her where she can stick that really unnecessary hint that she’s on the regular military schedule while I’m still supposed to sit around the infirmary but yeah, that would be unfair. Because neither of that is her fault in any way and she’s not the one I need to take it up with. I sigh and nod and then can’t resist one short quip, after all. “So you like me, huh?”

 “Shut up and run, Stabsarzt,” she shoots back over her shoulder, breaking out in a run herself. But yeah, I’m pretty sure she grinned while she said that so I must have done something right.

 And well, truth to be told, she’s right, even though she just did that ordering me around thing again and with a resigned sigh I start after her, breaking off toward the infirmary with reluctance when she continues towards the armory. But she’s right, we’ve only been here for two weeks and honestly, we could well be here for the rest of our lives so yeah. Considering all that, chances that I’ll get an opportunity to do what I’m best at aren’t that bad, after all. Just not today.

 But hey, she likes me. I guess I just made my first US Marine Corps friends. That’s gotta be worth something, huh?

Chapter Text

Looking for Signs of the Spring

“In this whole world there's nobody as lonely as she,
there's nowhere to go and there's nowhere that she'd rather be.
She's looking for lovers and children playing, she's looking for signs of the spring.
She listens for laughter and sounds of dancing, she listens for any old thing.
Fly away, fly away, fly away .“

John Denver, „Fly Away“

 “So, who’s next?” Please let him not notice me, please let him not notice me, please… “Ah, Lieutenant Reece, you’re the only one left.”

 Fuck. Apparently, the “I’m just an extra Marine, kind of like cargo, don’t mind me” approach didn’t work. Then again, this is Major Sheppard we’re talking about. The damn ship probably told him that out of the three people he took up for flight training today, one still hasn’t been even close to the controls. It’s certainly been trying to tell me something and in the process giving me a damn headache.

 “Lieutenant?” Right.

 I take care not to clear my throat or give any other indication that I haven’t been paying attention to my commanding officer, considering that the other two trainees are both sergeants from the Marine Corps contingent and I’m not in the mood for the whole “damn LTs, really can’t take them anywhere” spiel – or even worse the whole “damn females, never being up to scratch” one – and I try to give him a blank face. “Present, sir.”

 “Come on up, change places with Sergeant Markham. It’s your turn.” Did he have to say that? Now I can’t even keep on stalling.

 Okay, then. Exchanging blank for confident and trading places with Markham at the controls of the jumpers. I shortly consider reminding him that my MOS code is 2791, not anywhere near the 75 field but yeah, did I mention the two sergeants in the backseats? Exactly.

 So I sit down, giving him a hopefully crisp sounding, “Yes, sir,” and look at him, waiting for his instructions. Technically, I already know what to do, having at least paid some attention to what he taught Stackhouse and Markham but yeah, somehow, that damn defiant streak deep down just makes me think that if I have to endure this fucking pilot crap, then he can very well jump through every damn instructor hoop there is.

 That the ship is apparently a pushy little asshole filling my entire head with an incessant buzzing isn’t helping much, either.

 Sheppard tries to make an encouraging face. “Alright, let’s start with the basics. Just put your hands on the control and try a left turn.” Well, that sounds easy. And both Markham and Stackhouse didn’t mess it up so I should be able to execute that command, right?

 Right. Except with all that buzzing in my head, I can’t really concentrate and the turn ends up as an uncomfortable jerk, shaking all of us in our seats. Oops. I make an apologetic face. “Sorry, sir.”

 Mh, Sheppard doesn’t look too happy. But apparently, he seems determined to be patient, at least for the time being. “Yeah, well, not everyone’s a natural Maverick.” Yeah, some people are Cougars and seriously, did it have to be Top Gun? I’d honestly expected more from Sheppard than the lamest fighter pilot movie reference he could find. “Just try again, Lieutenant. Left turn, nice and smooth.”

 Trying not to let my frustration at not getting done with this as fast as possible show through, I grip the controls again and just when I’m about to convince the damn ship to just do as I’m telling it to, the unbidden thought of the Major having a field day with this rises in my mind and the smooth left curve I’d been going for ends up in a very sharp left turn, momentarily straining the inertial dampers and pressing us into our seats. Dammit.

 “Okay, that wasn’t bad.” Yes, it really was. Stop lying, sir, the Sergeants can see right through that and it’ll only make both of us look bad in front of them. “But uh why don’t you see if you can uh improve that. Try to go for the right this time, Lieutenant.”

 Well, okay, I can appreciate not being yelled at – contrary to popular belief, Marines do not enjoy people getting in their faces and bellowing at them. Or at least this Marine doesn’t – I have to give him that. And I used to know a guy who wouldn’t be so patient in the face of me messing up a very simple command, twice. So I do my best at not thinking about that guy, in fact not thinking about anything else than flying, that kind of angry buzz in my head notwithstanding.

 Doesn’t matter, though, because in the end, the damn ship wins by bucking to the right for one short moment and then going into a nose dive towards the planet’s atmosphere. The only reason we don’t end up hurtling towards the ocean is that I manage to put all my frustration and indignation into a very loud Stop command in my head that makes the jumper screech to a halt – figuratively – shortly before reaching the upper atmosphere levels.

 For a moment, everyone is silent but then I can hear Stackhouse mumble from behind me, “Damn, LT, that wasn’t Maverick, that was Goose,” in a pretty dissatisfied voice.

 Before I know it, the words, “Goose was the RIO, Sergeant, he didn’t fly the Tomcat. He just sat in the backseat behind the pilot,” are out of my mouth. Seriously, if you have to keep dragging up that movie, at least keep your references straight?

 Sheppard, for his part, still doesn’t yell at me, even if honestly, I wouldn’t have faulted him for it if he had. Instead he…Wait. Did he just laugh? “Been a while since I encountered anyone who hated that movie as much as you obviously do.”

 Excuse me? “I never said I did, sir.”

 “Nah,” he drawls and grins, “didn’t have to.” We’re still hanging upside down above the planet just out of reach of its gravity pull and whoa, thank God, neither fear of heights not motion sickness is a thing for me. Doesn’t seem to be a think for Sheppard, either, because he lets us hang there for another moment, changing pace and asking me in a less amused voice, “Lieutenant, you’re a natural gene carrier, right?”

 Uh, “That’s what it says in my personnel record, sir.”

 He nods, more to himself than to me. “So this should be really easy for you. Just… let the jumper do the job for you. Don’t fight it.”

 Yeah, uh-huh, right. “Easy for you to say.”

 “Sorry, Lieutenant?” Oh. Oh, fuck, I just said that out loud. Damn, and here I thought Major Moore was the only superior officer who could elicit that kind of unthinking remark from me.

 I straighten up in my seat a little, still staring down at the planet’s surface. “Sir. Easy for you to say, sir.”

 I’m… not sure if that made it any better because Sheppard very much looks like he’s trying to figure out whether I was being deliberately insolent or am just another spectacularly stupid Marine Corps lieutenant out here to annoy the hell out of our Air Force overlords. Then, he says, apparently still undecided, “And why is that?” Why do people keep asking me that? First Mats two weeks ago in the mess hall when I told him that I’m not interested in a conversation – and I really wasn’t but for some reason that guy has a rather irritating talent for worming his way behind my lines of defense, anyway – and now Sheppard. Why is everyone in this damn city so interested in the why and wherefore of every little thing? Anyway, I open my mouth to answer him but get beaten by him. “Wait, before you answer: try to be more original than just the old “you’re a pilot and I’m a grunt” thing. I think I heard enough of that for a lifetime in the last couple weeks.”

 Mh. “Damn. I got nothing then, sir.” Which, actually, is the absolute truth. I am a grunt, I am not a pilot, I have no desire to become a pilot and to be perfectly honest, I have no inclination of socializing with pilots, either. A year with Thomas Moore and his less than stellar conduct after my announcement to go to Atlantis made sure of that.

 And to top it all off, out of the blue the damn jumper bucks again, shaking and then swerving off in an upwards curve, away from the planet and it takes all my concentration to make it stop again. What is your damn problem you fucking rust bucket?

 Another moment of absolute – I’d almost say shocked – silence it’s Sheppard who seems to find his words first. This time, it’s clearly audible that my inability to control the jumper does put a strain on his patience. Well, it’s putting a pretty big strain on my patience, too. “Lieutenant… you encountered Ancient tech back when you were at the SGC, didn’t you?”

 Right.

 It had to be that mission, didn’t it? Of all the mission reports I have written in that year at the SGC, he could have picked any other and it would have been fine. Instead, he picked the one report and mentioned the one mission that would instantly transport me back to a place I have been desperately trying to avoid ever since coming back from that mission. We’ve been here for about a month, and the mission was a little over two months ago but just at mentioning it, I’m right back there in that alternate SGC, with the alternate version of Major Moore and the dumbest thing I ever did. And I’m right back in those weeks afterwards when I told Laura and Dee about all possible reasons I had for deciding to join the Atlantis Expedition except that one reason, back to those weeks when I felt like a horrible friend for keeping something like that even from Laura, the closest friend I ever had, while simultaneously pressing her to do something about Dee.

 I take a deep breath. “Sir, with all due respect but I’d rather not…”

 “Markham, Stackhouse, go see if any of the nets in the back got lose when the jumper misbehaved. Pretty sure I heard something suspicious from back there.” Huh, what?

 Contrary to me who still hasn’t quite managed to grasp at what Sheppard is playing here, the Sergeants seem to have gotten it. Or maybe they’re just better at not questioning the sanity of our Air Force overlords. Either way, both just give him a succinct, “Yes, sir,” and get up to “check the nets” in the back of the jumper. And then I finally realize what this is all about. Sheppard wants a word in private, probably to give me a dressing down without having the Sergeants witness it in full. Oh God, I hate decent commanding officers. Because there’s no way you can hate them, not at all.

 “Lieutenant,” yep, here we go, “I’m not going to ask you whatever happened on that mission that didn’t make it into the report but here’s the thing: while we’re out here, you gotta put it behind you.” Yeah, again, easy for you to say. “We need all personnel able to interact with Ancient technology to be able to fly these ships, if this Expedition is supposed to survive.” Well, okay, unfortunately, there’s truth in that. “You’re a Marine, you do whatever needs to be done to ensure the mission’s success, right?”

 Damn. He got me there. People never believe me when I tell them what I do for a living and I can’t really fault them for that, since I neither look like the stereotypical Marine nor do I talk or walk like one. I do take my service and commitment to the Corps and its values very seriously, though and not letting yourself be deterred from getting a mission done is one of them. I swallow and nod. “Yes, sir.”

 “Good,” he says, looking genuinely satisfied with my answer and then adds, “Now let whatever it was go, relax and let the jumper do the job.”

 Uh-huh. Still easier said than done. “Yes, sir.” Or at least I would, if there wasn’t just one small problem. “I don’t think it likes me very much, though.”

 “She.” What?

 “Pardon, sir?” Because what the fuck was that meant to be?

 “The jumper.” Huh? Still don’t get it. “It’s a ship so doesn’t nautical convention say it’s a she?”

 Okay. Seriously? I consider just ignoring it but honestly, no. I give him a longsuffering look. “That’s just the Navy, sir. Marines don’t really care about the gender of the vessel that ships them off to fight.”

 Sheppard seems to be at a momentary loss for words at that which is probably why I can pick out the low snort from the back of the jumper from underneath the faint engine buzz and both Sheppard and I turn around to look at the Sergeants, standing there, Markham with his hands raised apologetically, looking at Sheppard. “What, sir? LT’s right, we honestly couldn’t care less what the Navy calls their ships. We’re really just ordnance waiting to be unloaded on the enemy.”

 Mh, look at that. A US Marine Corps sergeant telling a superior that a lieutenant got something right. Never thought I’d see the day. Sheppard seems to be as equally impressed, not pressing further or trying for another quip. Instead, he just orders the sergeants to resume their seats and me to try this whole flying thing again, “Once more with feeling, Lieutenant.”

 I wait until the Sergeants are back in their seats, buckled up and ready to go and that’s when I have a kind of epiphany. Maybe… Sheppard was right with telling me to let it go, only probably not in the sense he thought. Maybe, in my head, that entire mission to the alternate reality and the way I connected it with my team and the following bad weeks between the Major and me just made me subconsciously reject Ancient technology. Every time it was reaching out to me, all I could think of was that Ancient installation and the stand-off I had with the alternate Major and that automatically led to thinking of what I did at his office and then to how it translated to my Major Moore and really, it’s just one big mess fucking up everything I could accomplish here as one of the very, very few people who don’t have to hope that they’ll be in the forty-eight percent working range of Dr. Beckett’s gene therapy.

 So I close my eyes for a moment, take a deep breath and… let the jumper do the job. And it works.

 After that, somehow, the flying lesson goes by a lot faster than I’d like – once you get the hang of it, it’s even kind of fun, actually – and Sheppard even lets me fly the jumper back to Atlantis and into the hangar. After parking it safely, Sheppard declares the lesson closed and all of us ready to take our first solo flights in atmosphere next time. The Sergeants excuse themselves but I saw both of them nod at me with something like approval in their faces and I guess I didn’t mess up as bad as thought, after all.

 Then it’s just Sheppard and me in the jumper bay and I’m about to excuse myself as well when he surprises me by saying, “You’re a pretty decent pilot, Lieutenant.” I uh… hadn’t expected that, to be honest. So yes, just letting go had made it easier to fly the jumper but your CO, who apparently is qualified to fly about a dozen helicopter models and is being rumored to having done some Black Ops flying back in Afghanistan, telling you that you’re a “pretty decent pilot” that’s… not something a Marine like me gets to hear every day. Much less, “Ever considered changing services?”

 His grin tells me that he meant it as a joke but the expectant look in his eyes tells me that part of that wasn’t in jest. My answer’s still the same. “Not for anything, sir.” I consider additionally reminding him that the Marine Corps very well breeds its own pilots but if I have learned anything at the SGC then it’s not to awaken the Air Force hubris in regard to anything that flies.

 He shrugs. “Yeah, well, had to ask.” Then we both turn to go and… whoa, way to creep up on people, Mats! “Oh, Doc, didn’t see you there.” Rude, sir. Really rude. “Anything you wanted from me?”

 Mats shakes his head and gestures towards me. “No, sir, just here to pick Lieutenant Reece up for dinner.” Oh, right, damn, I nearly forgot about that. Somehow, ever since that late night conversation in the mess hall two weeks ago, Mats makes a point of sharing a meal with me at least once a day, usually dinner. Sometimes, other people, usually either from the infirmary or the humanities departments join in and that’s okay, too. I’m still not sure why he does that but as long as he’s being unobtrusive about it, I don’t mind and to be honest, it’s nice not to be alone at some table or other for every meal.

 Sheppard, to his credit, doesn’t give any of us weird looks or even makes some stupid remark or other like some people have tried in the first couple days of Mats appearing in my office and not only dragging his fellow German but me as well along with him but simply nods and says, “Right. Well, keep it short, you gotta get up early tomorrow, Doc.”

 Huh? I thought he was still on night shifts? “You do?”

 “Yep.” Since when? “Dr. Beckett graciously allowed me to accompany Sergeant Bates’ team tomorrow.” Again, when did that happen? Also, how did he manage that? Did he just keep sending Beckett e-mail after e-mail, like the electronic version of Harry Potter and the Hogwarts letters in Philosopher’s Stone?

 I blink another time and decide to keep asking him how the hell he managed that for another time because honestly, there’s something much more important to say. Something like, you know, “Wait, that means you’re going on a mission for the first time! Hey, we gotta celebrate that.”

 That makes Sheppard snort and then waggle his index finger like he’s the teacher and we’re the third-graders, saying, “Just a friendly reminder, kids: stay away from the Athosian moonshine. Hangover’s just not worth it.”

 Right. He should know, huh? I nearly say that but can just hold myself back and give him a very earnest sounding, “Yes, sir. We’d never be that irresponsible, sir,” instead.

 “Getting cheeky again, Lieutenant?” Of course, Sheppard being Sheppard, he doesn’t buy it for even one second. And what does he mean by “again”, huh? “Alright, go get dinner, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at the mission briefing, Doc. Dismissed.” With that, he just nods at us again, then makes his way out of the jumper bay.

 Mats waits for another beat, then grins at me. “So, how bad of a pilot are you, really?” There really is only one appropriate response for that and it is slapping him on his arm and adding a shoulder punch when he whines, “Hey! That’s called assaulting a senior officer and it’s a punishable offence, Lieutenant!”  

 “Nah,” I just can’t help drawling, sounding way too much like Major Moore there for a second, “that’s just how Marines tell you they like you.”

 “Uh-huh, right, of course,” he replies, sounding not the least bit convinced, “come on, we gotta celebrate the little victories.” Huh, what victo… “You know, me going on my first mission, you not crashing one of our precious little space ships, that sort of thing.”

 In response, I just roll my eyes and shake my head and then we’re off to the mess hall, exchanging some more banter on the way and I realize that I might be stuck here for the rest of my life but at least the company’s okay. I still miss my team like hell, even the Major, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make new friends. Right?

Chapter Text

As the Moon Came Out

“As the moon came out and the fire burned
everybody was singin’ along
To some Ramblin’ Man, a little Curtis Loew and all them feel good songs
We danced all night without a care, no place we’d rather be
Cause these are the days we’ll talk about, when we lived so wild and free.”

Lady Antebellum, “Perfect Day”

“So,” Lieutenant Elise Crown, one of my few fellow female Marines, says, and looks at the tents glowing in the light of the setting sun, “that was a pretty piece of work, huh?”

 I give her a short tired laugh and wipe my forehead with my uniform shirt’s sleeve. “Yeah, you can say that.” Ever since the Athosians decided to move off to the Mainland a week ago, we’ve been shuttling gear, supplies and people back and forth by jumper. Sheppard had us all rotate, so that the gene carriers would get practice piloting the jumpers in atmosphere and the Marines, Airmen and foreign soldiers wouldn’t get stupid ideas in the current lull of activity after the unpleasant goings on following Bates’s suspicion of the Athosians being spies for the Wraith. And today, finally, was my turn.

 Well, mine and the rest of the female Marines’. Aside from Crown, there’s Joanna Cuevas, another lieutenant and Corporal Amy Strickland, the lone female enlisted among the Atlantis Marines. None of us has any idea how all four female Marines ended up as the latest group of Athosian Camp duty – especially since Crown and Cuevas both are at least permanent members of their respective gate teams – but when Sheppard handed us the assignment, all we, good little Marines that we are, did was nod and go on loading the jumper with the last batch of supplies Sheppard and Weir set aside for the Athosians to ease their start on the Mainland a little. And honestly, after the stunt that Bates pulled, it was the least we could have done.

 Anyway, I think we did good today. Most of the tents were already set up when we came here since the Athosians are semi-nomadic in nature and truth be told are a lot better at setting up their tents than we are but we still had a lot to do with helping them to close the gaps in the security perimeter around the camp, bury the weapons caches Sheppard wanted them to have, clear some of the designated areas for growing next year’s crops… just another day at the office, really.

 Well. Sun’s about to set and apparently, here on the Mainland, we’re in the middle of fall season and it’s getting a little chilly. I turn back to Crown. “Okay, corral the troops, I think our work here is done for today.”

 Thankfully, Crown – a Marine with a bit of an explosive temper, a tendency for being in a crappy mood and very quick to annoy – just nods and walks away to find Cuevas and Strickland and I’m a little surprised by that. Technically, all Sheppard did was make me the designated driver and leave the rest up to us so I expected either Crown or Cuevas to take the lead because both of them are a lot more Marine in their habitus than I am and have two or three years in the service ahead of me but for some reason, when we came to the Mainland, all of them looked to me. Doesn’t really make sense and the only explanation I could come up with is that while we all have at least a year of SGC service under our belts, I’m the only one who served that year on a gate team on a permanent basis.

 So I kind of took the lead by mainly just telling them to make themselves useful and report back via radio in regular intervals when they left the camp and I guess it worked? Or at least none of them challenged me and since all three are very sensible and competent individuals, everything went fine, which, considering that practically all other teams who came here in the last week had some unpleasant encounter with local flora or fauna at some point, is actually a major achievement. Pretty sure it’s worth a commendation or two or something.

 Anyway… “Lieutenant Reece?” Huh? Oh, Teyla Emmagan.

 I’m still not sure if we’re supposed to call her by her first name or address her with Ms. Emmagan or maybe some honorary title she has in the capacity of being leader of her people which is why once again, I’m glad to be a Marine. Because when in doubt, there’s an address that never fails you. “Yes, ma’am?”

 It makes her smile, the kind we keep seeing whenever she seems to try and make sense of Earth customs and how to react to them. It’s a small half-smile, followed by her eyebrows rising and, “Teyla is really fine, Lieutenant.”

 Yeaaah, that’s not how Marines are wired. Pretty sure that from a politeness point of view it would be okay to tell her to call me by my first name but personally? I’m fine with Lieutenant. I like Teyla but being so close to Command sort of makes her a part of Command and as much as I respect Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir, I’d rather not get cozy with anyone in the command group. Not even, to be honest, Aiden Ford. Anyway, “I’d rather stick with “ma’am” for the time being if that’s okay for you. It’s the politest way to address civilian contractors and foreign leaders and…”

 “Then I will respect your choice and be honored by it.” Oh, okay. That’s nice. So… “And I would like to invite you and your team to have dinner with us.”

 Huh, that’s new. Far as I know, none of the other teams got invited to dinner? Or at least they were all back to Atlantis by dinner time and no one ever mentioned an invitation. I frown. “I’m not sure we can stay, ma’am. Atlantis expects us back as soon as we’re done here.”

 “I’m sure it will be fine if you explain the circumstances of your late stay.” Yeah, actually I’m not. Ever since Bates messed up the relationship with the Athosians and it turned out that Teyla kind of was betraying her team to the Wraith, only not intentionally, Command has been a little uptight about us socializing with the Athosians after duty hours. Relations are pretty fragile at the moment and I don’t have a feeling that Command would allow a couple lowly Marines to potentially jeopardize what little stability we currently have by possibly misbehaving.

 I’m still fumbling for the politest and most diplomatic way to tell her that when Strickland comes walking over waving around something that looks like a strip of cooked meat on a stick and grinning at me in the twilight. “You’re not gonna believe this, LT. This is better than anything the kitchen guys have come up with in the last two months. You really gotta try it.”

 Seriously? Before I even know it, the words, “Really, ma’am? Bribery?” are out of my mouth. I really should do something about this “Talk first, think later” thing.

 Teyla, however, just gives me another half-smile, this time definitely mischievous. “It is not our fault that your kitchen personnel don’t know how to cook.”

 Okay, that was a low blow. Mostly because she’s right and she knows it. Strickland, for her part, has reached us, alternating between chewing and grinning with delight. “Honestly, ma’am,” she tells me, “best mystery meat I ever had. Uh, no offence, Ms. Emmagan, ma’am.” Considering that Strickland was part of the initial Iraq invasion before she came to the SGC and has been posted to both Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune, I’m pretty sure that she can boast an impressive experience regarding mystery meat. Which just means that I’ll have to believe her.

 Teyla nods at her, giving her a diplomatic, “None taken, Corporal.” Then she turns back to me. “Will you have dinner with us, Lieutenant?” This woman is positively evil. Getting the enlisted girl hooked on tasty mystery meat and then repeating her invitation right in front of said enlisted girl. Who’s now giving me the damn puppy eyes. Also, Crown and Cuevas are coming up to us, too, at least not carrying any more food but definitely ready to hate me forever if I decline now. Really? Is this what command is about? Is this what the Major had to deal with all the time?

 I take great care not to sigh or show any other sign of defeat and give Teyla a conciliatory look. “Yes, ma’am, we’d very much like to stay. Thank you for your invitation, we feel very honored.”

 She squealed. Strickland just positively squealed. Almost inaudibly but she did. Knowing for a fact that this woman is one of the best female Marines in the entire Corps – one of the best Marines, period – a crack shot and a very skilled hand-to-hand combat fighter and instructor, this is just this side of disturbing but then again, who am I to talk?

 Crown and Cuevas – if I were Rodney McKay I’d probably have resorted to CC by now so everyone thank God I’m not – don’t squeal, which is kind of comforting but at least they don’t look like they’re planning to mutiny, either. Alright, team leader: lead. “Crown, go call Atlantis, tell them we’re gonna be here for a little longer. Strickland, Cuevas, you’re with me and Strickland, no more usage of the words “mystery” and “meat” in the same sentence for the rest of the evening.”

 She grins. “Roger that, ma’am. It is really good, though.”

 I catch Teyla looking at me and shrugging, as if to say “What can I say? She’s right.” and can’t help shaking my head, working hard on hiding a grin at Strickland’s enthusiasm for meat on a stick.

 Then Cuevas, not really a chatty person, surprises me by turning to Teyla and saying, “Hope you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, but why us?”

 Actually, that’s a pretty good question. Huh. Teyla, in turn, makes a face. “We did extend this invitation to all teams. You were the only ones to accept.”

 Right. That says a lot about the contingent and the damage Bates did. I know that he was just doing his job, and that he didn’t do anything wrong – in fact, from a military perspective, Bates handled that exactly the way it had to be handled – but here we are. I clear my throat. “We’re still in the process of settling in back in Atlantis and things are uh…”

 “I understand, Lieutenant, no need for excuses.” Okay. You know, I think that when I’m grown-up, I kind of want to be like her. Teyla Emmagan is, without a doubt, the most composed person I have ever encountered. Everyone else, it would just have sounded passive-aggressive or dismissive. Teyla somehow manages to makes it sound genuine. “I have, however, a small request on behalf of some of the young women in the settlement.”

 Okay, uh, what? I frown. “Just shoot, ma’am, and I’ll see what I can do.”

 “Well,” she starts and I notice Strickland and Cuevas listening intently, “you know that we are primarily hunters, yes?” I shrug and nod. Sure, everyone does by now, kind of a no-brainer. “My people are not a people of warriors.” Considering that I’ve seen Teyla and some of the other Athosians kick our guys’ asses on a regular basis in the gym, I kind of doubt that but okay. I motion for her to go on. “We also do not deal with warrior societies very often so in those last few weeks, some of my people have encountered a whole new way of life and some of the young women and the girls have become fascinated with the idea of female warriors, and we understand that the US Marines are considered as some of the finest warriors on your planet.”

 “Damn straight the finest,” Cuevas mutters and I raise my eyebrows at her, prompting her to add a crisp sounding, “ma’am.” Strickland just grins and I don’t move to correct Cuevas. No point in that anyway, considering she’s right about it.

 Teyla just smiles and continues. “So, we would be very grateful if you could share some of your experiences as female warriors with us tonight.”

 Huh. Okay, that should be easy. I shrug. “Sure, no problem, ma’am.”

 “Thank you, Lieutenant. Your contribution will be very much appreciated,” Teyla tells us and Strickland for one looks positively excited at the prospect of being allowed to dig out some of the jucier stories she’s got in her enlisted treasure trove of superior officer idiocy. Cuevas at least doesn’t look like she wants to kill me for agreeing to a bunch of Athosian kids peppering us with questions, so I guess that’s a win.

 I nod at her. “Okay then, I’ll just go collect Crown from the jumper and join you at the campfire, right?”

 At that, Teyla starts marching towards the nice cozy fire the Athosians have lit in the settlement’s central square, Cuevas and Strickland doing me the favor of checking with me for approval and then following her when I nod at them while I make my way over to the jumper, encountering Crown just when she exists. “You got to Atlantis?”

 “Uh-huh.” And? “Got Major Sheppard himself.”

 Mh. Okay. Is she just trying to inject some suspense in here? I give her a dead-pan look, trying to tell her that’s not flying with me. “And? What’d he say?”

 She snorts and rolls her eyes. “Told me to “have fun, kids” and then proceeded to make me remind you “not to drink and drive”.” Of course he did. It’s John Sheppard, what did she even expect. “He really has a thing about that Athosian moonshine, doesn’t he?”

 Come to think of it, “Yep.” And then, I have a kind of epiphany. “You know, make sure to secure a bottle.” She just gives me an uncomprehending, blank look. “For killing that desk posting shit Colonel Sumner tried to pull on us?”

 Crown seems to think on that, for a moment, and I nearly expect her to bust me for down-talking Colonel Sumner like one of the male Marine Corps lieutenants tried to do last week when I shut down his whining about being commanded by an Air Force guy while we were providing security for a couple of archaeologists. But then she just shakes her head and tells me, a weird grin tugging at the corners of her mouth, “Anyone ever told you that you make a pretty good Air Force officer whisperer, Reece?”

 One moment, just one short moment I’m not sure whether she just accused me of sucking up to a superior or, even worse, tried to take a veiled stab at that other Air Force officer back at the SGC I used to serve under and still refuse to think about but then I decide to give her the benefit of a doubt and not take the bait, if it was even meant as that. Instead, I just give her a fake resigned sigh and tell her, “Yeah, it’s kind of a curse, actually.”

 That makes her blink and then laugh a low, throaty laugh that sounds genuinely amused – and trust me, “amusement” is not something anyone would ever associate with Elise Crown – and shakes her head, holding out her fist and telling me, “I hear ya, sister,” and… oh, right. Fist bump. That’s what all the cool kids do instead of high-fiving.

 So, as someone who’s never really been one of the cool kids, I hesitantly acquiesce and she seems to be satisfied. Wow. Okay. Let’s not waste this moment with any awkwardness, then. So I don’t clear my throat but just say, “By the way, we’re supposed to share some of our “female warrior culture” with the Athosians tonight. Strickland at least seemed totally down with that.”

 Crown frowns. “Isn’t that more up your alley? You are the only humanities major here, right?”

 Huh? Far as I remember, Crown was an oceanography major at Annapolis and wow, is she actually intimidated by the word “culture”? I consider making some remark that the Air Force officer I refuse to think about would have made but then again, back at the SGC my paths didn’t cross all that often with Crown’s and I guess it’s still too soon for that kind of crap, even between Marines who usually live and breathe mutual harassment and picking on each other and decide to go for something a little less potentially offensive. “I am, but I got a feeling you’ve all got the better stories.”

 She grins, something else I didn’t think I’d ever see. “Yeah, I think so, too. But then again, none of us ever got to go off-world so I’m sure you got something to contribute, too.”

 Yeah. I just roll my eyes. “You have no idea.” And quite frankly, I’m not really sure I want to tell any of those stories but it’s been two months and I have to start getting over everything, truly getting over it all and turn over a new leaf at some point, so it might as well be tonight. I do take a deep breath, hoping she doesn’t notice it in the full dark and that I sound casual enough for her not to get any stupid ideas when saying, “Alright, I’m starving and I got a feeling that Strickland will have eaten all the good stuff if we don’t get to that fire ASAP. So let’s move.”

 She just snorts again and together we jog over to the fire, arriving just in time for the last two sticks of mystery meat and a small group of young Athosian women and a few girls apparently hanging onto every word while Strickland talks about putting one of the privates in her MP unit in his place during the run to Baghdad and you know, I now realize that Sheppard knew exactly what he was doing when he put us all on the same mission today and I kind of start to like that sneaky bastard even more for it. Maybe going to Atlantis really was the best decision I could have made, and I’m finally starting to be glad about that. If nothing else, that’s gotta be something. Right?

Chapter Text

Holes in Our Lives

“Well sometimes you can’t change and you can’t choose
And sometimes it seems you gain less than you lose

Now we’ve got holes in our hearts, yeah we’ve got holes in our lives
Where we’ve got holes, we’ve got holes but we carry on.”

Passenger, “Holes”

 You know, when Maureen went to Atlantis three months ago, I knew that things would be a little rocky afterwards. Can’t send off one of your team mates into the unknown and not expect any fall-out at all and all that. I even kind of expected trouble with Tom to a certain degree, seeing how much he hated having to let her go. What I didn’t expect, though, was just how long Tom was determined to be an ass.

 In hindsight, I guess I just should have known better. From the very first moment she told us about wanting to go, he acted like she betrayed the team or something. Okay, so I admit that I felt a little put off that she presented us her decision as a fait accompli, not as a suggestion but yeah, we had a talk a couple days later, when I had had time to let it all sink in and I could see her point. For her, going to Atlantis was the best decision she could have made, all things considered. I was sad to see her go but yeah, if going to Atlantis means that she can be all she is meant to be, then holding her back would have been the worst we could have done to her.

 Tom, however, took it personally. Ever since the Expedition left, he’s been in a really shitty mood. You’d think that at some point, being constantly angry and annoyed at everything and everyone would tire out even the worst misanthropist but Tom is currently taking it to a new level. Just yesterday he managed to nearly make a full grown US Marine Corps Captain cry. The guy survived a year in Fallujah for Heaven’s sake and Tom pushed him bad enough that he was basically begging to be taken off the team as soon as we were back in the SGC. Seventh guy in three months we lost that way. That’s an even worse track record than what we had before Maureen came to the team, which is why I decided to put a stop to it.

 Which is to say, I asked him to come to the apartment tonight, so we could have a grown-up discussion about how to get back on our feet. I mean, I’m pretty sure that it’ll very quickly spiral into undignified shouting at each other but at least then he’ll hopefully get it all out of his system and be done with it. It was either that or beat the crap out of him, and since he is, unfortunately, the better hand-to-hand combat fighter, that wasn’t really an option, after all.

 So… ah, right, there he is. Ten minutes late but yeah, at least he didn’t stand me up like he, you know, stood up Maureen. I still can’t believe he didn’t even feel the need to take that short walk over to the embarkation room because serious… okay, he just rang the doorbell, I better just put it all away and talk to him about the thing that actually matters, the thing that we can still change.

 I square my shoulders and open the door. “About damn time, Major.”

 “Yeah, yeah, whatever it is, let’s just get it over with, okay?” Right. You used to be able to take a damn joke, Tom.

 I snort, more cynical than good-naturedly, a little put off that apparently, my edges are starting to fray, too. “Got somewhere important to be?”

 “Fuck you, Laura.” Seriously?

 I give him a dead-pan look. “Charming.” He makes a face. What are we, sixteen? “Well, whatever. Come on in.”

 I step aside and he comes walking in, clearly looking like he’d rather be somewhere – anywhere – else. Yeah, well, feeling’s mutual but it’s not like we got a lot of choice if we don’t want to be thrown out of the SGC for the sheer inability to keep anyone on the team for longer than a few days. And I have no intention of leaving the SGC, least of all because of something like that.

 Tom enters the living room and for a moment I’m sure he’ll just plop himself down on the couch in front of the TV, ask if I have stocked up on microwave popcorn and go channel-surfing until we find a war flick to make fun of. Maureen will come out of her room…

 No. Wait. That’s what would have happened if she’d still been here.

 What actually happens is that he leans against the couch’s backrest, crosses his arms in front of his chest and looks at me defiantly. I’m tempted to remind him that he’s way too old to be acting like a petulant child but yeah, he seems pissed off enough already. Better not antagonize him prematurely.

 Alright. “So… I hear Captain Gladwyn elected to ship out to Afghanistan at the earliest date available rather than stay at the SGC?”

 “I really don’t give a shit where Gladwyn decided to park his ass next, Laura.” I wish he wouldn’t do that. Because that is very much not like him.

 I shake my head. “You know, I used to know this guy. He could be a bit of a jerk sometimes, but he knew what he was doing. He was smart, responsible, took care of his people. And I know that he would never…”

 “Cut that crap, okay?” Yeah, no, I’m not done. I… “I’m not in the mood for your lectures. If this is going to be one of them, I’m out of here right now.”

 My lectures? He thinks this is about a lecture because I like to play the stern teacher? Okay, you know what, screw that nice and friendly approach I had planned. “You think this is going to be a lecture, Tom? I’ll tell you what it’s going to be. It’s going to be me begging you to snap the fuck out of it!”

 “Snap out of what?” Seriously? Did you just ask me that?

 Is he really trying to tell me that he doesn’t even know he’s acting highly out of character? “Out of… everything. Tom, ever since Maureen…”

 “Don’t, Laura.” Oh, right. Three months of snapping, barking and growling and now he’s giving me the broken voice and wounded looks?

 I take a deep breath. “Look, we still haven’t talked about her going away, and maybe that was a mistake. Maybe it would help you if we…”

 “What would help me, Laura, would be if they’d stop assigning all those fuck-ups to us.” See, right there. Being out of character again. Yes, he hates having people shoved at him. Hell, he hated having Maureen shoved at him. But he still gave her a chance. Grudgingly, but he did. With the new guys? Not so much.

 Slowly, I’m running out of patience. “See, that’s what I mean, Tom! None of the seven guys you managed to run off in the space of a few days, sometimes hours were fuck-ups! They were all highly capable…”

 “Fuck-ups! Every last one of them!” No, you know, what? Scratch that. I am running out of patience very fast. “They were slow, they were dumb, they were…”

 “They weren’t her.” That stops him dead in his tracks. He’d been gesturing and shouting at me and the moment I say that, he freezes and just blinks at me and I have a feeling that I just made a giant mistake. I also, however, have a feeling that I managed to struck the one nerve that really, really hurts, which is probably why I find myself unable to stop myself from saying, “That was their sole flaw, wasn’t it? That none of them were Maureen Reece. But Tom, you can’t keep…”

 “Watch me,” he bites at me, his voice low and dangerous and sounding like he’s about to snap.

 So I should really keep my trap shut but goddammit, I just can’t watch him take out his frustrations and his heartache on unsuspecting Marines and Airmen who just want to make a damn living. So I decide that we really need to have this conversation now, even if he thinks he doesn’t want to. Because he needs to. I clear my throat. “Tom… I miss her, too. We all miss her. And it’s okay to miss her. But do you really think she’d want to…”

 “She’s not dead, okay?” And I didn’t say I thought she was? I just wanted to… “She’s still out there, with that great career of hers she thought she needed! You know, the one she thought she had to put before the team?” Right. Okay. “We taught her everything she knows and first chance she gets, she takes off. As if nothing of this ever meant anything to her! That sneaky little…”

 “Tom.” Because I’m pretty sure he was going to say something he might bitterly regret and…

 “No, seriously, push comes to shove, she’s just a traitorous little…”

 “Tom!” He wants to say something again but this time I am done. “Not another word. Yes, I get it, she could have talked to us before making that decision and yes, I get it, you are hurting and…”

 “You have no idea what I am feeling.” No. I mean, I do have an idea but no, I don’t really know what’s going on in that head and heart of yours. Because you just never talk about it and that’s exactly what I’m currently trying to change, for your own good.

 I try to sound calm and composed, as opposed to his volatile temper right now. “Look, Tom, I told you before, you can’t give her wings and expect her…”

 “No. No more smart and empty phrases, no more sugarcoating, no more psycho babbling.” It’s not “psycho babbling”, it’s goddamn pulling your head out of your damn ass, you idiot? “I am not having this conversation now and if you want to keep alive what’s left of this clusterfuck of a team, you will never touch the subject of Maureen Reece, ever again.”

 I blink at him and then something strikes me, massively. “Clusterfuck of a team? Are you even listening to…”

 “Never. Again. Are we clear?” Wait, are you pulling rank on me? In my fucking apartment? “Laura? Are we clear on this?”

 He’s… he’s being serious about this. He wants me – us – to bury the topic of Maureen Reece and his none too stellar reaction to her going away so deep that he’ll never have to talk about it again, probably because he thinks then at least he’ll never have to think about it again, either. Is he really that dumb or is he just pretending to be? “Tom…”

 “Did I fucking stutter, Captain Greenspan?” Right. There’s… no more reasoning with him, at least not today.

 And quite frankly, I just decided that I don’t want to reason with him, not like that. Maybe not ever again. About anything. This guy right there, standing in my apartment and pulling rank on me, that’s not the guy I called my best friend for almost all my life. That’s just some asshole I barely recognize.

 I straighten up, almost as if on attention and my voice is flat and impassive when I tell him, without looking at him. “No, sir.”

 There’s movement in the corner of my eyes and I make the mistake of looking at him right in that one moment he seems to at least have a tentative grasp on what just happened and in a moment of confusion he looks almost like he wants to back down.

 Operative word being almost, since a moment later, he just glares at me and grunts, “Yeah, didn’t think so.” Then he walks past me, up to my door, growling, “I’m done here,” and somehow it also sounds like “I’m done with you,” and quite frankly, if he hadn’t walked out that door – not without slamming it, stupid drama llama that he is – I might have felt tempted to get violent and throw something at him. Preferably something that really hurts.

 As it is, I’m suddenly alone in my apartment – haven’t found a new flat mate yet and if I were honest, I’d admit that I haven’t actually been looking that hard in the first place but yeah, enough honesty for today – surrounded only by silence and too many empty bookshelves. Maureen owned about three quarters of books in this apartment and I only realized it when they were all packed away to be sent into storage for as long as she’d remain in Pegasus. Somehow, the absence of those books just manages to amplify the absence of…

 Okay, no.

 So I’m not over saying goodbye to Maureen, either. So I still miss her. So I should talk to someone about it. I know, okay, I know. And I guess I also should talk to someone about that fight I just had with Tom because I honestly can’t remember ever having had one that was worse, and we had plenty ever since becoming friends. But right now, I’m done with talking. Right now, I need… something else.

 Which is why I end up doing the one thing I had sworn I wouldn’t do, and that’s calling Dee. We still haven’t talked about Pikes Peak but as it turned out we kind of didn’t have to, anyway. After the Broadmoor, things somehow fell into place. Missions are strictly hands-off, closets at the SGC are fair game, personal quarters are off-limits.

 Just making out, okay, nothing even close to actually having sex because we aren’t stupid and far too many people have been caught doing exactly that on SGC premises to not be extremely aware of the odds being against us. Neither of us wants to explain to Tom how his two remaining team mates ended up on a fraternization charge but yeah. Tension’s there, whether we do anything about it nor not and really, doesn’t matter in the end. It’s just some casual, no strings attached thing, anyway.

 So I really, really shouldn’t call him and mess it all up even further by breaking the unwritten rule we seemed to have established about personal quarters but I need a friend I don’t have to explain anything to right now, a friend who won’t ask. Hence, phone in my hand, finger pushing speed dial and me not hanging up fast enough because of coming to my senses in the right moment. Hence, Dee picking up and me immediately going, “Hey, stranger. Doing anything important right now?”

 There’s silence at the other end, for a moment, and I consider doing that hanging up thing, after all but then I get, “That depends.”

 Oh, okay. That’s how you want to play it? “On what?”

 “On whether whatever you having to offer is better than rewriting the Major’s last ten mission reports so they’ll meet at least the bare minimum SGC standards or not.” I can’t help snorting at that. For a moment I’m also really pissed off because I told him to stop putting out fires Tom starts because quite frankly, Tom just doesn’t deserve that kind of thing right now. But this is Dee we’re talking about. Dee who couldn’t stop doing it even if his life depended on it. Who couldn’t stop doing it even if he wanted to.

 So I sigh instead of taking out my frustration on him and tell him, “Everything is better than that.”

 “Exactly,” he says, trying to sound dead-pan and ending up somewhere closer to resignation, “my point.”

 Whatever that was supposed to mean. “So… how fast can you be here?”

 I’d absolutely expected him to pause or maybe ask me if I really wanted this – whatever “this” it’s going to be – or even beat a tactical retreat after all. I hadn’t expected a pretty succinct, “Give me twenty minutes, I’ll pick up popcorn and a movie on the way.”

 Huh. Uh. Okay. “Sure. See you in twenty.” He just acknowledges and hangs up and… what the hell just happened?

 What in God’s name did I just get myself into and why wasn’t Maureen here to stop me from doing it?

 Oh. My. God.

Chapter Text

And A Crumpled Polaroid Picture

„‘t ess alles em Lot, alles em Lot – waat aff, du weeß sinn:
Alles weed joot, dat krie' mer schon hin.
Un'e zerknittert Polaroid litt he om Desch vüür mir
un Papier, dat grau un durchradiert ess.
et kohm, wie't kumme moht,
Alles em Lot.“

BAP, „Alles em Lot“

                          

Dear Reece Dear Lieutenant Reece Hey Reece,

It’s my duty to inform I just needed wanted had to tell you Long time, no see, huh?

I don’t really know how to start…

I don’t even know if this letter will ever reach you, but there’s something I need to tell you. Ten days ago things went to hell in a hand basket I we the team lost a very valuable member my best friend your best friend

This is pointless. Pointless, time-wasting, superfluous shit.

And someone needs to do this. I need to do this. If I only knew how.

Hey Reece,

I know it’s been some time, and even if this never even reaches you, I gotta try. Ten days ago, Laura didn’t come home I failed to bring Laura home something really bad happened

I can’t do this. I have no idea how to do this. I fucking suck at this.

Hey Reece Kid

I already fail at the fucking address. I’m an ignorant asshole.

Another piece of crumpled paper lands in the overflowing waste bucket of the broom closet I get to call my office. I can’t do this. I can’t even look at her picture, at any picture showing either of them. I want to go home. I want to go on a mission. I want to sleep for a year. I want to run a marathon.

I want everything back to the way it used to be.

Kid,

Something happened. Something really bad and I’m a pathetic asshole and if you didn’t think so by now through some unfathomable miracle, I’m about to convince you of the opposite, once and for all.

I’m a pathetic asshole and yes, I know you knew that already but it’s official now

And there goes another piece of paper, this time landing next to the waste bucket. I can’t even aim straight anymore. Look at me. Sniper who can’t fucking dunk a piece of paper into a waste basket. I am a waste of time.

Look Maureen, I have no idea why you or Dee or Laura ever bothered with me when I can’t even manage to keep you on the team or Dee from going back to his psycho ex or Laura from dying

I’m pathetic. I am utterly and generally pathetic and it should have been me who stayed behind to evacuate the wounded. It should have been me who got shot giving first aid. It should have been me who never made it back alive to the SGC.

It should have been me me me.

Hey Reece,

Here’s the truth for you: Laura died and it should have been me. It should have been my casket they carried to its hole on Sunday. It should have been me they laid to rest at Arlington two days ago. It should have been Laura giving my flag to my mother, not me giving it to

And now I sound fucking suicidal. I’m not, I swear it. I just think that if anyone deserved to die on that day ten days ago, it was me. It was always me, and it was always supposed to be me. It’s what happens to Black Ops trained SGC officers who learned to literally lead from the front: they die eventually. Usually in combat, and usually before their time. Doctors, they don’t die before their time. Doctors are not supposed to die before their time.

God, I need to fucking calm down and just get this over with. Maybe… maybe one more try. Just one more.

Hey Reece

Lieutenant Reece

Kid

Right.

One more try.

Dear Maureen,

Two days ago, I knelt down in front of a woman I used to call Aunt Peggy and told her “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service.” after carrying a casket on my shoulder and giving a eulogy and listening to three volleys and a bugle call. And here’s what it all comes down to.

After everything is said and done, after the casket carrying and the eulogy giving and the flag folding, after everything is said and done, it was my fault. Laura Greenspan died and it was my fault.

It happened on a mission, ten days ago. Started out normal. Only the three of us and a medical team, for some MEDCAP stuff. We never even knew what hit us but suddenly, everyone was screaming and lots of people were bleeding and crying for help. Turned out it was one of the last twitches of the Goa’uld and they wanted to give us a demonstration of a strength they didn’t even have anymore back then.

I can hear you in my head, telling me that I’m being an idiot and that none of that was my fault but that’s not what I’m talking about. I know that a chance hit and run Goa’uld attack isn’t any of my fault, I’m not that stupid. No, what happened was that I wanted to evacuate all SGC personnel as soon as the hat’acs were gone and Laura being Laura didn’t want to follow my orders. I was about to drag them all back to the Gate but she wouldn’t let me, telling me I should evacuate the healthy and walking wounded and she’d stay behind with the rest of the medical team and do some local medical relief until we came back with more personnel. I shouldn’t have fucking listened to her.

Because, you see, I had this gut feeling that that was a really bad idea but she kept telling me that she could handle it and that they wouldn’t be back, anyway, having made their point and everything. I don’t even know why I listened to her but I took Dee and most of the uninjured locals and went back through the Gate, telling her to go and move everyone to some cover. I told her I’d be back in less than an hour with reinforcements.

I did come back, even with reinforcements and in just under an hour. Only the entire camp was gone, scorch marks everywhere and then we found the villagers and our guys. They were all

Maureen, they were all burned and there was almost nothing of them left. Maureen… that was the most horrifying site I’ve ever been to I don’t even know how to describe it all to you I keep waking up from seeing it in my dreams I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep without nightmares again

None of them were alive. We just had enough of them left to identify most of them. The medical personnel we brought called Mortuary Affairs and they took back all mortal remains. We never learned what happened but at least we could recover all of them and give them a proper burial.

Maureen… I’m sorry. I know I should have stayed with her or even better convinced her to go back to the SGC, lobbied harder for leaving me in charge of the wounded. That’s my job, and I should have done it that day. I didn’t and I’m sorry for that. I know I can never atone for it, for you losing your best friend due to my idiocy and gullibility wherever Laura is was concerned but please believe me when I tell you that I am genuinely sorry.

I don’t know if this will ever reach you but if it does

“Sir?” Huh? “Sir, you okay?” Oh, huh, I guess Dee must have knocked and then proceeded to open my door when I didn’t answer. I didn’t even hear him. Weird.

I blink and realize that I must have dropped some fluid on the paper because some of the letters look strangely smudged. I shake my head. “Yeah, I’m good. You wanted anything?”

Just for a moment, he looks like he wants to comment on the piece of my paper in front of me and the pen in my hand but then he just nods and says, sounding oddly formal, “General Landry wants to see you, sir. Us, actually.”

I frown. “Whatever for?”

At that, Dee shrugs. “Dunno, sir. He said something about discussing our options for new team members or something… really no idea, sir.”

Right. I can’t believe I was nearly sick when I heard the words “new team members” but I guess I’ll have to live with that. That’s how it is at the SGC, after all. You lose a team member through a transfer, you lose another after a mission gone down the drain, you get pressured into finding new ones as soon as possible. That’s just the way it is, I guess.

Only. Huh. Only I don’t think I can go about life that way, anymore. Not after what happened ten days ago. Not after laying my best friend to rest at Arlington. I get up. “Yeah,” I tell Dee, “I think I might have some suggestions about that.”

Dee manages to surprise me. “Whatever it is, sir, I got your back.” Apparently neither of us feels like they can stand being part of the SGC for much longer. So that’s the way it is.

I nod. “Thanks, Dee, appreciate it. Now, let’s not keep the General waiting for much longer.”

And I guess that’s how my time at the most prestigious assignment I ever had ends. Huh. Figure that. Guess my letter to Reece will have to wait until further notice, then. Just getting out of here suddenly made it priority number one. At least I finally know where I want to go, now. Away. Just fucking away.

~*~

„Everything’s alright, everything’s alright – just wait, you’ll see:
Everything is going to be okay, we’ll manage it.
And a crumpled Polaroid picture is lying on the table in front of me
And a piece of paper, grey and scraped through.
It came like it had to come.
Everything’s alright.”

BAP, “Everything’s Alright”

Chapter Text

It’s to Be a Cold Night

“Remember when they were in reach
And all the teachers used to teach
You can do anything if you put your mind to it
We put our minds to it all
But disappointment crashed the ball
We could’ve done anything
We just never quite knew it

So tie your scarf on tight
It’s to be a cold night
Tie your scarf on tight
It’s to be a cold night.”

Passenger, “Staring at the Stars”

 I don’t think I have ever been more tired in my entire life than today. Which is, granted, weird coming from a guy who passed all his tests and didn’t flunk out of med school mostly because he’s really, really good at last minute all-night cram sessions and who’s been through more than one multiple day grueling special forces training set ups and a number of undisclosed outside-the-wire operations deep behind enemy lines.

 But then again, I never before encountered a group of people who were convinced that it was okay to poison an overwhelming part of their population if it meant to protect the few that survived from getting eaten by life-sucking space vampires.

 Oh God, I really promised myself I wouldn’t become that kind of medical professional callous before even turning thirty but it’s been a long, long few days spent entirely on Hoff, trying to save people we knew were long beyond saving. Not much work for a surgeon there, but enough for an emergency doctor, although honestly? A palliative specialist would have been most useful.

 Jesus fucking Christ, just listen to me. Here I am, lying in my bed, trying to fall asleep and all I can do is remember walking through labs hastily converted into hospital wards, full of people coughing and gasping for breath and the only thing we could do was make it as easy for them to go as possible. Turns out that I might be cut out for patching someone up under fire but not for that. I have lost people under much, much more terrible circumstances, even once kept someone else’s guts from spilling out while blood was seeping out of my side, curtesy of a bullet wound and nothing, nothing was ever as bad as those Hoffan wards full of people who basically poisoned themselves, willingly.

 Suddenly, my lofty quarters with their floor to ceiling windows and the sea breeze wafting in through gauzy drapes seem so cramped and close that I feel like I’m suffocating and before I know it, I have thrown off my covers and left my quarters, aimlessly stalking through Atlantis’s corridors. The lights are turned down and everything is quiet, way too quiet. I don’t even know what I thought would roaming around the city instead of doing what’s best for tired people – that thing called sleep – accomplish but getting some peace of mind is definitely not it.

 I consider going back to my quarters, get my PADD and find some place to read, seeing as I might just as well get caught up with outstanding paperwork and professional reading but even the thought of sitting down to read makes me irritatingly jittery so I keep walking on, just walking on… until I remember that a few weeks ago, Maureen told me that she discovered a nice balcony high above the East Pier during one of the routine discovery missions inside the city the gene carriers are put on in rotation and I decide to give it a shot. Not sure what I’m gonna do when I find it but at least I have something to focus on. Something despite the memories of Hoff assaulting me in a continuous barrage, that is.

 So I walk and take a transporter and after a few wrong turns, I do discover a door leading to what looks like a balcony, about the size Maureen described it, overlooking the East Pier and the sea beyond it, lit by the full moon hanging above us. Might as well walk out and admire the view, if nothing else.

I step out on the balcony, the omnipresent sea breeze blowing again, a little chilly but not uncomfortable, even though I’m just wearing an old HSV Handball t-shirt and track pants and… “Hey.”

 Heilige Scheiße. Where the hell did she just come from?

 Oh, okay, I guess Maureen was already here, just didn’t see her there sitting in a corner to my right, wearing track pants and… is that the USAFA’s mascot on her t-shirt? Huh. Weird. She, for her part, is giving me a sheepish face and the words, “Sorry for startling you.”

 “Yeah,” I snap at her, a lot more bad-tempered than I’d wanted, “ you better. Nearly gave me a fucking heart attack.”

 She doesn’t answer, just eyes me for a moment, her head cocked to the side a little and I feel as if I’m being scanned or something, before she purses her lips and asks, “Are you okay, Mats?”

 Everyone else, I probably would just have brushed off and told to go to hell or something but in the last four months, that Marine there in the corner became the one person here I wouldn’t yell, growl or tell off to in this city. Probably the only one here who’d ever get an honest answer to that question, and that’s, “No, not at all.”

 At that, she just looks at me again and nods, slowly. Then she gives me an understanding, also kind of questioning look and pats the spot next to her. She doesn’t say anything, just makes that small invitation and I guess that is why I, in the end, take it. Anything else from verbal prodding to cajoling probably would have yielded a different result, but that little “You can, if you want, but I won’t make you” gesture somehow made all the difference.

 So I walk over and sit down next to where she’s sitting with her knees drawn to her chest and her arms hugging her legs, as if she wants to make herself as small as possible. For a while, neither of us says anything and I think I can feel myself getting better, convinced that Hoff was a fluke, that it’ll just fade away at some point and then I hear her say, “That bad, huh?”

 I don’t even know what she’s talking about because all I did was sit here and stare at the sea and uh breathe. So I give her a frown and add a deadpan look on top of it and decide not to dignify that with an answer. Which just makes her clear her throat and say, “You’re… Mats, you’re uh…” and gesture vaguely in the direction of my face.

 And that’s when I realize that for some reason, there’s wetness on my cheeks and it takes me at least a full minute to make a connection and comprehend why it’s there in the first place. When understanding finally does happen, all I can do is take a deep, shaky breath, cover my eyes with my hand and nod. I try to say something but for some reason, I can’t get anything out, can’t even get my mouth to open. I can hear her move next to me and then half-whisper, half-rasp, “Wasn’t really my place to ask, Mats. I’m sorry.”

 No, that’s not… I’m not mad at her or anything. I take another deep breath, but keep looking ahead instead of at her and answer her, my voice sounding like I’m choking on the tears I just spilled without even noticing just a moment ago, “Only one in this city who gets to ask that is you.”

 She’s silent for a moment, then says, “Thank you,” sounding somber and serious and adds, “You know, if you don’t want to talk about it, I’m not going to make you.” Even though she probably should is what she’s thinking, I’d just bet.

 I nod. “’S okay. But you’re right, I don’t want to talk about it.” I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help snorting cynically. “I really don’t want to talk about spending the last five days on a planet where over ninety percent of the population decided to inoculate everyone with a drug that made half of them die a slow, horrible death and all we could do was watch. Nope, not wanna talk about that. Or, you know, the fact that the reason they all voted for it was because over ninety percent of the people on that planet thought that half of them dying was an acceptable price if it meant that the rest wouldn’t get eaten by the Wraith because that’s how fucking terrible getting eaten by the Wraith is and oh God, Maureen, I so really do not want to talk about… I…”

 Somehow, at some point during my rant, I ran out of air and now I’m sitting here, wheezing like I just ran a ten miler after five years of not working out and I feel a small hand tentatively touch my back and that’s the moment that breaks me. This time there are no silent, unnoticed tears, there’s just gasping breaths and loud wrenching sobs and it takes me another moment to realize that those are from me and that she’s drawing me in, towards her. She’s drawing me in and holding me close, my forehead on her shoulder and her hand cradling the back of my head. “In was für eine scheiß abgefuckte beschissene Galaxie haben sie uns eigentlich geschickt, Maureen? Wer macht so was? Wer macht so was? Wer…“

 „Ich weiß,“ she says in faintly accented German, „ich weiß,“ and I don’t doubt for a single second that she means it. She knows, goddamn, she knows and that’s why she’s the first and only person ever I allow to see me falling apart like this. I curse and I sob and I choke and she cradles and holds and hugs and it just doesn’t seem to end.

 Then, eventually, it does end. I knew it would because as ludicrous as it sounds, this isn’t the first time I ever fell apart – a doctor who tells you they never had a least a little work-related freak-out is either really fucking stupid or lying to you – but… not like this. Not ever before like this.

 Anyway, it ends and I feel terrible. Dried out and empty, sore, hurting all over. Kind of like the day after a three day solo survival training exercise. I always hated that part of training. Right after, you feel like you can do anything, if you just set your mind to it. The day after, you know you can’t and it’s like hitting the wall that is reality really, really hard. Doesn’t stop you from doing it all over again every time they ask you to and sometimes even when they aren’t asking but you always end up in that same suck of a place.

 So I’m sitting here, trying to find my way back from and it takes Maureen again to get me there, asking quietly, “Are you going to be okay?”

 I consider telling her that sure, I’ll be fine, this was just a momentary thing, acute posttraumatic reaction, nothing to worry about because if the last four months told me anything it’s that this does work with some of the Expedition shrinks if you do it the right way but never with Maureen Reece. Not for me, anyway. I run a hand through my hair, replying in a voice rough and thick from crying, “I really don’t know.”

 For the first time ever since coming here and snapping at her, I look at her again and see her nod, only kindness and understanding in her face. She opens her mouth to say something, probably to tell me that no matter how this turns out, I can always come to her every time I feel like not talking about it because she’s that kind of person but I finally notice it. There’s something about her that tells me that she didn’t come here because of the view, either. I blink and beat her do it. “What happened, Maureen?”

 That stops her dead in her tracks and I realize that it was stupid to ask that. All she’ll tell me is that she’s fine because that’s what she always does when you notice that she’s anything but fine and ask her about it. If she wants you to know something about her, she tells you, when she wants to, which is why we still haven’t really talked about our first night here and the reason why she spent it mostly crying her heart our over a couple of Captain’s bars.

 Realizing my mistake, I open my mouth to take it back, tell her the same thing she told me – that it just wasn’t my place to ask – but she does something that surprises me. She pulls the rubber band from her hair, reties the curls into a messy ponytail, spends too much time trying to get it into some order and then tells me, “I botched my first mission command.”

 Right. I remember now. She went on a recon mission today, first time as the official officer in charge and judging from the way she looks, her entire posture, it went spectacularly wrong. And here I am, making this all about me. I’m such a fucking idiot. “Fuck.”

 “That about sums it up.” I’m about to ask her what happened but then I remember that I saw Amy Strickland in one of the infirmary beds when I stumbled back into it and helped put some order back into our supply stock after the Hoff fiasco. I didn’t have time to read her chart or anything but from the looks of it, she was pretty banged up. Nothing life threatening as far as I could see but yeah, definitely needed at least a night at the infirmary.

 So instead of asking her what happened, I go for, “Strickland’s gonna be fine, Maureen.”

 This time it’s her taking a deep breath and nodding, not looking convinced but saying, “I know.” Okay, so, that’s good, right? “Doesn’t change the fact that I made a bad call and she paid for it.” She says it all matter-of-factly, maybe a bit of resignation mixed into it, but I know her well enough by now to still hear how much she’s beating herself up about this in it, and it breaks my heart. I do believe her that she made a bad call because Maureen is not the kind of person to make up something like that but I also know her to be the kind of person who takes things like that really, really hard. Harder than she has to. Harder than she should.

 Fuck, I shouldn’t be saying this because it’ll amount to nothing but not saying anything sounds like a really stupid idea and all my medical professional instincts tell me that I shouldn’t leave this alone. So, granted, surgeon, not psychiatrist but yeah. Even surgeons do have some grasp of human emotions. I take a deep breath, once again. “Look, Maureen, I know you don’t want to…”

 “You’re right, I don’t.” Once again, I’m kind of amazed at how she can make stuff that other people would just bellow or hiss or spit at you say in a voice that’s all calm and kind and at least today just a little tired. And how she can soften something as brusque as that with adding, “But if I wanted to, you’d be my go to person,” and a smile.

 Okay. “Fair enough.”

 Wait. She just basically told you that you’re the only one she’d talk to about any of the stuff she never wants to talk about, if she wanted to. I uh. Don’t know what to say but I’m pretty sure that “Fair enough” is not appropriate to something like that, from someone like her. “Fuck.” She looks at me, eyebrows raised. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. That was probably the dumbest thing to say and…” Huh? “What?”

 “I’m making you shut up for your own sake.” Did she really just say that? And what’s with the tin cup full of… liquid stuff smelling like something I haven’t had in… “Yep, that’s hot chocolate.”

 “Where the hell did you get that?” Because I’m pretty sure that by now, all our stores of that have been used up.

 She grins and pushes the mug into my hand. “Personal stash.” Huh? That was the personal item she brought? “Laura gave me a going away “everything you’ll need in Pegasus” package. Opened it tonight.”

 Okay, we’ve been here for four months. “Wait, are you saying that you…”

 “Yep.” Uh-huh, someone knows exactly what that says about her. “And if you judge me for it now, just wait for our next hand-to-hand combat training.”

 Normally, I’d laugh my ass off at that because she’s what, one sixty-seven and I’m about one eighty-six and while I’m not hulking big, I do pack enough to carry a full combat load plus the emergency kit comfortably for a long time and long story short, none of that matters if you go up against someone who had to fight against people who were taller and stronger than her for a long time and that someone is a United States Marine. I make a face. “Good point.”

 She snorts, then chuckles and takes a sip from her own mug, closing her eyes for a moment, then murmuring, “Really thought it would lessen at some point.”

 I throw her a questioning look. “Really thought what would lessen?”

 “Missing Laura.” Right. From what I figured, Laura Greenspan must have been her best friend in that year she spent at the SGC. They lived together, went on missions together… “I thought that after four months… well. Guess it figures.”

 I’m about to nod and say something generic about friends and bonds forged in combat but then I happen to take another look at her and I realize something. She doesn’t just miss Laura. She’s really worried about having left her behind, went somewhere her best friend couldn’t or didn’t want to follow. “Maureen?” She looks at me. “Laura Greenspan’s a big girl who can take care of herself just fine. I’m sure she’s okay.”

 She nods, putting on a brave face and takes another sip. “Yeah, I’m sure you’re right.” What she means is: she hopes that I’m right and just is afraid to say that out loud, probably because she’s afraid to jinx it otherwise. Usually, Maureen Reece is one of the most rational people I know but yeah. Even rational people worry. “Doesn’t change that I really goddamn miss her.”

 I’m this close to asking if it’s just Laura she misses and what about the rest of the team but yeah, I have a feeling that this falls squarely into the “I don’t want to talk about it” category, so I stay the hell away from it and instead go for, “It’s okay to miss people, Maureen. Even for a Marine.”

 That makes her laugh again. And strangely, scooting a little closer and bumping her shoulder against mine. “I know. And for the record: I’d miss you, too.”

 Huh. That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in the last couple of months. “Thanks.” She’s about to say something, probably something like “Don’t mention it” or some other nonsense of that variety but I meant it. And I need to say it. “For, you know, letting me be here.” Because I needed that. I needed to come out here and find someone who just knows, who understands so bad after everything that happened in the last couple days, last couple months. I needed a place to fall apart because if I hadn’t found it, everything would have gone way, way worse.

 She doesn’t answer, at least not verbally, just puts her arm around my shoulders and gives me a light squeeze and I let her and we just sit there, sipping that hot chocolate and looking at the ocean and even with everything that happened up to this point, I’m grateful to Laura Greenspan for putting my name on that list. Because if she hadn’t, I might never have found the first friend in my entire life that I can fall apart with and those are the ones that really matter.

 So I just really hope that I’m right, that she’s okay and that at some point, I’ll get to see her again to thank her, too and that Maureen will get to see her again to tell her that even US Marines do miss people because if that really happens, there will be at least one major point to all of this, even to what happened on Hoff, even to Maureen making a bad call that ended with Strickland in an infirmary bed. And that’s all I’m asking for, right now and it’s not asked too much, goddammit. It’s not.

Chapter Text

Doesn’t Matter Where You Are

“It doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter where you go
If it’s a million miles away or just a mile up the road
Take it in, take it with you when you go,
who says you can't go home.”

Bon Jovi, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”

 Ah, lunch. Ever since they used up the last batch of Earth meat – you know, any kind of Earth meat – a month ago, meals have become a much more err interesting affair. Because “mystery meat” here doesn’t just mean “I’m pretty sure that’s not how beef is supposed to taste”, it actually means that we have no idea where the meat came from, neither locally nor what kind of animal it produced. And quite frankly, we really don’t want to know.

 Okay, except the biologists. They do want to know. In excruciating detail. Then again, those guys are weird in a lot of other aspects, too, so there.

 I have to admit, I did consider going vegetarian after all the Earth meat was gone to, you know, avoid eating stuff of very questionable origin but then we also used up most of the frozen Earth vegetables, too and let me tell you, this galaxy has some really weird vegetables. So in the end, going vegetarian wouldn’t have made much difference in the “I really don’t want to eat mysterious food I have never encountered before and seriously, are you sure this is edible? It’s staring at me” department and long story short, I really hope that the stuff on the tray I just set down on the mess hall table is some of that meat on a stick stuff we ate when the Athosians asked us to stay over for dinner nearly three months ago. The alternative is not something I’d like to contemplate on my lunch break. Or ever.

 Anyway… “’Scuse me, LT, you mind if I sit down here?”

 Thank God I haven’t started eating yet or I’d now sit here and choke on my food, courtesy of Strickland scaring the hell out of me with appearing out of thin air opposite me. So instead of embarrassing the hell out of myself, I just get to look up, blink and tell her, “Sure, knock yourself out.”

 Let’s be honest here: that was a lie. In fact, I’d rather not sit here and have to make small talk with Strickland, considering that it was my idiotic decision that sent her to the infirmary a couple weeks ago. Sure, both she and Sheppard told me that the entire mission was a clusterfuck right from the beginning and that we were caught between a rock and a hard place, that the only calls to make were all bad and truth be told, they might be right but it still sounds like excuses. Marines don’t do excuses.

 Strickland, for her part, just puts down her tray, sits down and starts eating and I kind of wish I’d brought something from the office to work on. Strickland is like an overgrown, kind of overeager puppy when it’s about socializing, even with officers, but she knows when to shut up and leave people to their devices as long as they look like they’re working. If they don’t… “Hey, ma’am, did you read Team Sheppard’s last mission report?”

 Yep. I appreciate that she keeps trying business as usual but it just doesn’t sit right with me. Ever since the botched mission, Sheppard didn’t put me in command again. In fact, I’ve been off-world only twice in four weeks, and even for someone who doesn’t have a permanent spot on one of the teams, that’s very little, considering how thin we’re stretched here and that I am basically two assets in one. I don’t resent him for it. If I were in his position, I’d probably do the same but yeah… it does put a dent in a girl’s confidence. And it still makes me a little awkward around Strickland. I walked away from the mission without a scratch, after all.

 But yeah, if she makes an effort, I owe it to her to make one, too. I shrug. “Skimmed it. Why? Anything interesting in it?”

 Far as I remember it, they went to a planet populated by uh mist and were kind of taken hostage, until Dr. Weir managed to broker an agreement that the mist let them go. Strickland shakes her head. “Not really. Just got me thinking.”

 Mh. Okay. I’ll bite. “About what?”

 She looks at me for a moment, apparently expecting me to make some quip about being surprised that she knows how to think in the first place and again, that kind of weirds me out. Usually, Strickland possesses a healthy amount of self-confidence but every once in a while, she’d get those weird moments of expecting officers – especially lieutenants – to talk down to her or make fun of her. At some point in her previous service, someone must have done a real number on her and if I ever meet that someone, I’m going to make them regret it.

 Strickland shrugs. “Earth.” Notice how she didn’t say “home”? After five months here, rarely anyone still says that when they speak about Earth or the Milky Way galaxy.

 And now I remember what the mission’s sticking point was. The mist people communicated to Sheppard’s team and Dr. Weir by getting into their heads somehow and “transporting” them back to Earth, making them believe they were back for real. “Mh,” I tell her, “what about Earth, Corporal?”

 You know, other than the fact that the mist people won’t let us use their gate to get back to Earth because it would kill them and we’re still stuck here. She shrugs again. “Oh just…”

 “Mahlzeit.” Seriously? Five months of Julika Naumann telling him that “only middle-aged senior NCOs who haven’t been to the range in ten years but are on first name basis with everyone on the mess hall staff say that” and he still keeps doing it? At this point, I’m pretty sure he only does it to annoy the shit out of everyone on this base who speaks German. I just throw him a dead-pan look when he sets down his tray. In turn, he gives me, “What? Please tell me this isn’t a Marine Corps Only table because then I’ll be forced to sit down with the biologists and listen to their analysis of whatever this is on my plate and I’m really not in the mood for that.”

 I roll my eyes. “No one is ever in the mood for that. Just sit down already.”

 That just gets me a grin, and he sits down, starts to dig into his food as well. “Okay,” he says, “what’s the lunch conversation topic du jour?”

 “Anything but Australian rugby and nobody gets hurt.” What the… and where did Crown just come from?

 Not that I don’t like her or anything – in fact, once you get past the sandpapery exterior, there’s a kind of dry and dirty humor I very much appreciate and a really sharp mind that makes discussing anything from Marine Corps doctrine to late nineties television shows a real challenge – but why do all of them appear whenever I’d rather not spend my lunch break talking? Tons of translation work currently keeps me practically tied to my office and whenever I get out of it, I just really want to go somewhere, empty my mind, get enough sugar and caffeine to get me going and return. Social interaction was not on today’s list of preferred activity.

 But then again, it could be even worse. I make a sympathetic face. “Still on security detail for Davis and Yunjin?”

 Crown’s only answer is grumbling something sounding suspiciously like a really dirty version of “You bet,” and stabbing the meat on her plate with her fork so viciously that Mats just visibly winced. Yep, still on security detail for the two Australian engineers Zelenka tasked with cataloguing labs in one of the outer sections of the city. I really do not envy her. Had one mission with them to an off-world Ancient lab, never again, and let’s really just leave it at that.

 Okay, let’s change the topic. I turn back to Strickland. “What were you about to say, anyway, Corporal?”

 While Mats doesn’t even try to hide his totally justified fear of Crown’s ire, Strickland seriously makes a valiant attempt at appearing unfazed but then again, she’d be setting a bad example for her fellow enlisted if she’d let herself be intimidated by one bad-tempered company grade. “I was about to ask what you miss about Earth is all.”

 Not surprisingly, “Decent food,” is the first answer she gets from all three of us officers, in perfect unison. She just smirks. Oh really, Corporal? To forestall any tales about MREs during OIF, I launch a counter attack. “What about you, Corporal?”

 She seems to take a moment to think, and I just bet she wonders whether she should expose herself and give us something really personal like missing her parents or her dog – she does have one, as I found out more or less by accident – or not. Since she leaves it at, “HBO,” I guess she finally decided against that. Yeah, well, no surprise there.

 Crown nods at that and adds, “Totally. I’d also give anything for some new music,” and okay, coming to think of it, she’s right. Even though most of us brought a decent digital music collection with us and we decided to pool it together on one of the servers, stuff is starting to get old and… “Hell no, Doc.” What? “You start humming that song and I’ll rip out your vocal chords right here.”

 Right. Yeah. “No, Mats.” I could see it. It was all over him. He didn’t even have to lift the corners of his mouth to grin. I could see that he was about to start humming that German tune again. We just got rid of it and the bastard just was about to start it up all over again.

 Because see, by now we’ve been living here long enough to learn about at least a few quirks and tics of the people we grew close to here. One of Mats’s quirks is that he unconsciously starts humming or low-key singing under his breath during routine tasks or tasks that don’t require much of his mental capacities. And four weeks ago, just two or three days after his almighty breakdown on that balcony, he assisted in a surgery, just something minor. A week later, three quarters of the Expedition were desperately trying to get rid of a really fucking catchy German tune he’d first infected the other infirmary staff assisting in the surgery with and then successively everyone else who came in contact with them. It was like a goddamn infectious disease simulation run by a crazy CDC rear echelon minion.

 The remaining quarter probably would have succumbed, too, if Command hadn’t acted and ruthlessly banned humming, singing and everything else related to producing music for another week. We weren’t even allowed to privately sing in the shower, it was that bad. Command’s initiative worked but it took us a full two more weeks to finally get the last remnants stamped out.

 And here he is, just about to get it started all over again. I glare at him. “Seriously. Don’t even think about it.”

 He grins back. “Wasn’t thinking about anything.” Then, in a pretty swift move, he turns tables and says, “What do you miss most? I mean, except decent food.”

 That was kind of a low blow. I just bet he wants me to crack, be the one Marine at this table who spills something personal, just to see how much longer I’ll be able to keep stuff like that to myself in an environment like Atlantis and truth be told, if it were just us, I would crack. Thankfully, as much as I like both Strickland and Crown, they’re not the people I’d share anything personal with here.

 I lean back and look at him, desperately trying for something that is the truth but doesn’t reveal anything I’d rather like to keep to myself. If I lie, all of them will know it and if I don’t… well. Because the truth is, I don’t just miss Laura. I think I do miss her the most – her enthusiasm, her dry humor, her encouragement – but I also very much miss Dee. I finally, after four months, went to open that field guide he gave me, in desperate search for some wisdom on the crappy mission that put Strickland in the infirmary and I kind of did. When I flipped through it, reading all the annotations Dee put in there, I could hear his voice in my head and I realized that I very, very much miss his confidence in me, his steady nature, his understated humor. And yes, by now, I can be honest enough to myself to say that I miss Major Thomas Moore, too. I determined that thinking about what I miss about him is a really dumb idea because once I start, I won’t be able to stop but yes, at least I can finally admit to myself that while I’m still pissed off at the way he treated me after my announcement to go to Atlantis, I miss him in all his obnoxious, irritating glory.

 But yeah, no one needs to know any of that and in the end, I settle with something that, while it’s true, is also a lot more harmless. “Buying books,” I tell them, “I really fucking miss buying new books. Just walking into a book store, browsing and leaving with a stack of new dead trees.” I mean it. Not that there isn’t enough to read here because there very much is, and now and then, we stumble across a planet with some kind of publishing scene or other and that’s great, but I really, really miss weekends spent browsing B&N and then a few independent book stores and maybe one or two used book shops and hauling home all those new treasures and just lose yourself in them.

 Crown smirks. “Figures.” Did she just insult me? “Come on, Reece, you gotta admit it does. Far as I know, you’re the only one here who goes out on recon for intel on the Genii or Wraith and finds a book store. Only one on the entire planet at that. It’s like you’ve got a Spidey sense for those or something.”

 I glare at her. “Once, Elise. That happened once.” Last week, when I accompanied Lieutenant Parker on a mission to find out more about our newest enemies, to be precise. And of course Parker just had to include the book store thing in his mission report, so now everyone knows about it. The way all three of them are grinning at me tells that, yet again, it’s time to change the subject. Thankfully, there’s one of us who hasn’t been subject to individual scrutiny yet. “Hey, Mats, what do you miss most?”

 I’m not sure what I expected as an answer but Mats not even making a show of having to think about it and instead replying without missing a beat, “Anonymity,” wasn’t it. Also, him sounding so sober and serious when saying it. He means that. That’s the one thing he misses most and the truth is, I can very much sympathize. In a place like Atlantis, it’s more or less impossible to stay under the radar for very long. By now, we’re down to about one hundred and fifty people and let me tell you, that is way below the critical mass for comfortable individual anonymity.

 Strickland makes a huffing sound. “Really, anonymity? It’s a big city, Doc…”

 “And there is such a thing as a life-signs detector, Corporal?” Good point, and Strickland seems to have noticed it, too. “And seriously, am I the only one here who…”

 “Dr. Morsberg, report to the infirmary. I repeat, Dr. Morsberg, report to the infirmary immediately.” Right.

 He rolls his eyes and gets up, throwing his half eaten mystery meat one last lingering look. “Alright, nice talking to you. Duty calls.”

 Yeah, he hates having his meal times interrupted. But he hates one thing even more. I give him a serene little smile. “Don’t worry, Mats, one of these days, they will get it right.” Yep, that’s payback for trying to make me crack, again, and he knows it. Because trust me on this, they will never get it right and we all know it. He’ll always be “Dr. Morsberg” instead of “Stabsarzt Morsberg” in that infirmary. Telling him to keep holding out hope for a different outcome is a really dirty move and he damn well deserves it.

 I also kind of hope he didn’t really hear that because he was already on his way out but it looks like he did. There’s no other explanation for him turning around and coming back to the table, leaning down on his hands and getting face to face with me. What the… “I’m a Barbie Girl in the Barbie world, life in plastic, it’s fantastic… Enjoy your lunch, Maureen.”

 Jesus fucking Christ.

 I can’t believe he just did that. I can’t believe he just sang that, to my fucking face and then just turns around, leaving us all in shock.

 Thankfully, we recover fast enough for him to be still in firing for the vegetables we simultaneously throw at him. Just a forkful for each of us but it’s kind of gratifying to see the splats against his back, even if he makes his exit laughing madly. 

 Crown, on the other hand, looks very much like she’s ready to go after Mats. I make a note to tell him to steer clear of her for a few weeks. Much as I hate what he just did to us, I like him enough to not want him ending up without vocal chords. I try not to sound like I’m having a hard time not breaking out into laughing and tell Crown, “Let it go. Honestly, he’s not worth a murder charge.”

 She turns to me, glaring. “He just planted fucking Barbie Girl in the heads of three Marines, at this point it’s not murder, it’s fucking self-defense, Reece.”

 Mh, okay, “Fair enough.” Unfortunately, that didn’t do anything to kill the bloodlust in her eyes and I have to think fast, really… right. “But someone’s gotta explain to Dr. Beckett the loss of one of his surgeons, and it sure as hell isn’t gonna to be me.”

 Crown growls. I’m pretty sure she just actually growled. Yep, got her there.

 “’Sides, he’s too damn pretty to kill, LT,” Strickland helpfully intervenes, finding herself the subject of two officers giving her “What the hell, Corporal?” looks. She throws up her hands. “What? I sure wouldn’t kick that guy out of my bed, and neither would you.”

 “Uh-huh,” Crown grunts and then… turns to me. Wh… “Say, Reece, you’ve been spending an awful lot of time with that guy. Is there something you’d like to tell us?”

 Yeah, uh, no. Another thing I’m starting to dearly miss? Fucking privacy. And people minding their own damn business.

 Okay, so, she’s right, I have been spending a lot of time with Mats, ever since that late night dinner I had two weeks into the expedition. But that’s all. We’re friends, and I have a feeling it’s never gonna be more than that, which, let’s all be honest, is actually a really good thing. I roll my eyes. “Just friends, Crown.” Both nodding and throwing me looks. Oh come on. “Seriously, no attraction whatsoever. Not from him, not from me. He’s just not my type.”

 And, more importantly, ever since spending more time with him, I started to get the sneaking suspicion that I’m not his type, either. I also have a few suspicions as to who is his type but I’m a little at a loss at how to proceed and get confirmation for my suspicions. But yeah, those two? Not someone I’d share those suspicions with.

 Because both of them are nodding and grinning and giving me “Yeah, sure,” and “Uh-huh, who are you trying to kid” expressions and I just kind of hate them for that. I glare at them. “Do yourselves a favor and mind your own business, both of you. Also, can we talk about something important here? Anything important?”

 For a moment, it looks like they’ll just ignore my advice and keep right on trying to shaking me down for information but in the end, Crown just shrugs and says, “Bates’s team had a run in with the Genii yesterday. Apparently, they’re gonna be a real pain in the ass. Way I heard it…”

 And while she’s talking about the Genii nearly fucking up a perfectly good mission for Bates, I just keep digging into my mystery eat – definitely not the stuff we had in the Athosian camp but it doesn’t taste too bad, so I’m not dumb enough to go and ask where it came from – and wondering how almost six months in Atlantis could go by before I realized something fundamental about my best friend here. And how I’m going to approach it with him, if I’m going to approach it… but yeah, that’s probably a thing for another time because the Genii actually are interesting enough to draw me back into the conversation and well, at this point, I’ll take anything to distract me from the damn thing Mats planted in my head.

 I’m a Barbie Girl in the Barbie world, life in plastic, it’s fantastic…

 God. Dammit.

Chapter Text

A Gallery of Broken Hearts

“Open me up and you will see
I’m a gallery of broken hearts
I’m beyond repair, let me be
And give me back my broken parts.”

Ingrid Michaelson, “Be OK”

 “You know,” she tells me while I’m doing my rounds, taking care of all the minor scrapes and bruises people managed to acquire when we were doing our best to get Atlantis storm-proof before leaving it for Manaria, “you’re really one of the worst secret keepers I ever encountered.”

 Okay. That actually took me by surprise. Better not show her. Maureen Reece is freakishly good at reading people. Good enough that more than once she’s been accused of being a psychic by her fellow Marines. But then again, Marines are just a bunch of superstitious old women when it gets down to it. I, however, am neither a Marine nor superstitious. I shrug. “And why would you say that, Lieutenant?” She turns to answer but on closer inspection, that laceration at Dr. Halverston’s temple looks a bit nastier than I thought at first. I gesture towards her while slightly tilting Halverston’s face to the side to get some better lighting on the wound. “Get some disinfectant on a swab and hand it to me, please. Keep a suture kit ready.”

 In front of me, Halverston just winced at hearing the words “suture kit” but seriously, this needs stitches. Whatever he did during storm-proofing, he must have had a really nasty encounter with something really sharp. Diplomats. I try not to shake my head at the thought and instead concentrate on dapping at the wound with the swab Maureen prepared for me. Six months into the expedition and she’s not doing half bad as unskilled medical labor. I guess Greenspan trained her up better than she let on during our last conversation. “Oh,” I can practically hear the shrug she most probably inserted here and really, is it too much to ask to get some decent lighting around here, “because I think I know more about you than you think I do.”

 What the hell is she getting at here? “Suture kit, please. And you know, if you’re so bored that you’re resorting to mind games, how about you get me some light here?” Because that’s gotta be it. She’s anything but stupid, and I’ve known more than my fair share of intelligent people who start all sorts of shit when they’re bored. And Maureen Reece is an intelligent Marine, which is, as I have learned, a really dangerous combination. They’re like bloody overgrown cats.

 At least she’s smart enough to know what I was asking of her because as soon as I set out to sew up the gash, there’s a very neat and steady cone of light shining onto the exact spot where the gash is. Nice thinking, Lieutenant. She keeps quiet while I spray some local anesthetics on the skin around the wound – stop twitching, Doc, it could be worse than a bit of ice spray, ‘sides I’m being a lot more careful than I have to – and then start stitching it up provisionally and I appreciate that.

 I don’t actually need to stop talking during something as routine as this but it’s nice to know that some people remember that even routine tasks require a certain degree of concentration. Exactly why I asked Maureen to be my assistant here instead of my favorite fellow German Army officer, Captain Julika Naumann. I love Julika to pieces and for someone who didn’t go through the usual Bundeswehr OCS wringer and who doesn’t get to go off-world often, she’s surprisingly hard to unnerve but honestly, she just never shuts the fuck up. Besides, talking to Maureen keeps from slipping into that humming habit I thought I’d gotten rid of until a few weeks ago. I admit that it’s fun planting annoying songs in the heads of everyone but Crown actually scares me and I’m pretty sure that if I start singing or even humming again, she will make good on that threat about ripping out my vocal chords with her bare hands. I happen to like my vocal chords.

 Alright, finished here. I put a gauze patch on the sutures and then squeeze Halverston’s shoulder. “Okay, that’s it, Doc. Probably gonna leave a scar but you know what they say.” Halverston, a British guy in his forties who is usually part of Weir’s diplomatical team, just stares at me a little hostile. Meine Güte. “Chicks dig scars?” Mh, apparently not a good thing to say. “Right. It’s provisionally, anyway so as soon as we get back to Atlantis, have someone look at it for the real job. Trust me, you don’t wanna leave it that way for too long but you’ll be fine for now.”

 Okay, moving on now before Halverston gets seriously pissed off about my supposed “lack of bedside manner” and getting back to that weird little conversation Maureen started. “So, what’s that devastating secret you think you have on me?”

 She gives me a look that can safely be interpreted as dead-pan, even in the semi-dark of the house the Manarians left us for an impromptu infirmary. “You can drop your act. I mean, at least around me.”

 Äh, was? “Excuse me?”

 Now she rolls her eyes and I half expect her to shove the medical supplies she’s carrying against my chest and go and take a break from clueless males but then she of course goes and does the unexpected, “You can stop trying to make everyone believe you’re just coming by our office to flirt with Julika and me.”

 Huh? The hell’s going on here? “I’m not…”

 “Not consciously, no.” How can I be “non consciously” flirting with two women I consider my friends, especially if I wasn’t flirting in the first place, consciously or not. “But honestly, everyone with eyes in their head can see that you’re not interested in either of us. Okay, except Crown and Strickland.” Yes, and I never made a secret out of that? Wait, what about Crown and… “Or any woman, for that matter.” Okay. I might have made kind of a secret out of that.

 But honestly, I had – have – my reasons, and I don’t give up that easy, either. “What in God’s name makes you think that?”

 She shrugs. “Easy.” Easy, uh-huh. Let’s see what you got there, Lieutenant. “You haven’t looked at any woman in Atlantis or outside the way you look at Major Sheppard sometimes – excellent taste you have there, by the way, but so does half the Expedition,” hey, it’s not my fault he’s my type, “and you never talk about any significant others left back on Earth, yet you have a picture of just you and some other guy on your desk in which neither of you look like you’re just friends.”

 Right. I just had to go and put that damn picture on my desk, didn’t I? Stupid fit of nostalgia that made me put it there, or maybe I just wanted to show myself that I’m over Oliver. Also, who the hell looks that closely at pictures on the desks of other people? I make a face. “Precious few clues you have there, Lieutenant.”

 “Bad break-up?” Goddammit. At least now I know how it must feel to be interrogated by me the way I did with her after our first day in Atlantis.

 I sigh. No use in denying it anymore, and since Marines happen to be like a dog with a really juicy bone once they found something to hack their jaws into, she won’t let it go, anyway. “The worst.”

 “You wanna talk about what happened?” Mh, not really.

 Then again, maybe I should. It’s been a year and a half, and if I’m really over him, I can talk about it, right? Right. I shrug and try to make it sound conversational. “Just the usual. He was out to practically everyone he knew and wanted me to “be open about it, come on, it’s not like it’s forbidden for officers or something”, I wanted it to happen on my terms, and only my terms.” There was more to it, of course, because there’s always more to it but maybe I’m not as over it as I thought I was. It’s just not the right time and place to go into that now. Or ever. “Water under the bridge now.”

 She nods and I can see that she knows very well that I’m not being entirely truthful. “Mhm, that’s why you still have that picture on your desk.”

 Not the right time and place. “Maureen…” I swear, if she doesn’t get the hint now

 “I’m not going to tell anyone.” Oh, okay. She got it alright. “And neither is Julika.”

 “Appreciate it.” I do. While I’m theoretically not affected by DADT, what with not being a US soldier and all that, I’m still not exactly keen on letting the entire city know about my sexual orientation. I still have to work with US Marines and Airmen and a couple non-American soldiers on a regular basis and trust me when I tell you that I’d rather do without the inevitable “jokes” and stupid questions. The less people know, the easier life gets.

 Maureen, once again proving that she’s one of the less stupid Marines, just gives me a little encouraging smile. “It’s what friends are for.”

 Uh-huh. And you know, since we’re friends and all that, I think it’s only fair to say, “Yeah. And concerning that… what’s with the ridiculous snow globe on your desk?”

 Aha! Gotcha! Total guilty look there, if even just for a second or two. “I’m a New Yorker. We’re attached to our city.”

 Smooth save, Lieutenant, really smooth save. Pity that it doesn’t add up if you factor in, “Mhm, that’s totally why you keep looking at it like a lovestruck idiot when you think no one’s looking.”

 “Mats…” Ouch. There’s more to that story than I originally thought. Can’t think of another reason for the genuinely pained look she just threw me.

 And I know I should just let it lie but even before I can finish that thought, it already slipped out, “Captain’s bars guy gave it to you, didn’t he?”

 “Look, I don’t think…” Yep, totally a Captain’s bars guy thing. Six months cut off from Earth, and still the only thing I know about him is that he used to be her boss and they had some kind of unresolved issues and that he must be some kind of coward, making me the delivery boy for his going away present to her; that’s how much – how little, if you want to be precise – she’s been talking about him.

 And judging from how she’s trying to avoid my gaze at all costs, “You don’t wanna talk about it, huh?”

 “No, not at all.” Right. Someone’s not over anything by a long shot here. That’s alright. I can work with that.

 “Okay, fair enough.” And it is. I’m pretty sure that if I’d told her that I don’t want to talk about breaking up with the guy I’ve lived with for five years and whom I’d maybe, possibly had wanted to marry if such a thing had existed for people like us at the time, she’d have accepted it. She’s that kind of person. So it’s only fair that I accept that she doesn’t want to talk about Captain’s bars guy. Even if she definitely should, as even I can see. So I think it’s not a bad idea to tell her, “But if you do, you know where to knock, alright?”

 She nods, firm and in a “I totally got this, don’t worry” way people keep doing when they mostly want to convince themselves that they’re in control of everything. “Absolutely.”

 Alright. Pretty sure she’ll never knock on anyone’s door to talk about Captain’s bars guy and whatever unresolved issues they have but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? “Good.” And I think that’s enough confession time for today. We are, after all, still stuck on an alien planet that’s inhabited by people none of us really trust, with no news from our home on another alien planet and well, when in doubt, do your job. “Now come on, there’s an entire group of anthropologists who had a run-in with some pretty hostile doors before we left Atlantis over there.”

 She rolls her eyes, muttering, “Oh joy, can’t wait.”

 Uh-huh, that’s the spirit, Lieutenant. I grin. “Just another day at the office…”

 Come on, come on, you know what to say… “In space.” Yep. Good girl.

 And there’s no reason to look so annoyed. I can’t help grinning even wider and hold up my hand. “High five, Lieutenant!”

 She makes a face. “High five yourself, Stabsarzt.”

 Nope, that’s not gonna do it. A group of headless chickens I mean anthropologists is waiting for us and it’s still gonna be a very long day. We need to do something about morale, so I give her a reprimanding look and hold my hand up again and yep, there it is. Accompanied by another annoyed eye-roll but a high five is a high five is a high five and at least she’s hopefully not thinking about Captain’s bars guy anymore, the way I’m not thinking about Oliver anymore, so I risk slinging my arm across her shoulders and giving them a squeeze. Surprisingly, I don’t get my head ripped off, just a pretty painful punch to the ribs, which, as I was told is the US Marine equivalent of “I love you, too, you stupid motherfucker” so I guess we’re totally fine here. Ah, it’s so nice to have really, really good friends.

 Now, about those anthropologists…

Chapter Text

This Ain’t One Of Them

“An empty house, a setting sun
At four a.m.
Some battles fought are battles won
But this ain't one of them.”

Milow, “Out of my Hands”

 Maybe quitting the SGC wasn’t such a good idea, after all.

 Or, no, scratch that, it was – every time I walked past the work-out room I remembered Reece punching me in the face and every time I walked past the infirmary I waited for Laura to come out of her office to tell me I should stop dating medical personnel and every time I sat down in the mess hall I remembered how Laura hated Salisbury steak and ate it every damn time it was on offer, anyway and really, the entire SGC was just one big mess of memories of both Reece and Laura and I couldn’t breathe down there – I’m just not sure if going back to AFSOC and Hurlburt Field was such a good idea.

 Surprisingly many of the guys I used to know during my first stint at AFSOC are still here. And they’re still as annoying as they used to be. Damn, you’d really think that guys having been in the spec ops community for seven years and longer know how to shut up when the answers you get for “Hey, Moore, where the hell’ve you been the last two years?” range exclusively between “Hogwarts”, “Narnia” and “Mordor”, depending on which mood I’m in.

 You know, just today, for example. I just finished training a couple newbies in successful infiltration when my fellow instructor, a guy I taught how to fucking shoot a sniper rifle, keeps badgering me about “Where have you been, Moore? How’s life been treating you? Are you really fucking your sergeant like some guy told me at Cannon last year? Or, hey, that chick you went to the Academy with… what was her name again? Laura, Laura Something…” Should have heard that idiot yowling when my fist found his face. Seriously, spec ops types today just can’t take anything anymore.

 Fucking my sergeant, my fucking ass – yeah, no, no pun intended – but that wasn’t even what earned him the fist in his face. I can live with that, have been living with it ever since Dee and I teamed up with each other the first time. No, it was dragging Laura into this. No one drags Laura Greenspan into any of their filthy… “Sir? Why’s everyone at the NCO quarters talking about you flattening Captain Mallister?”

 Dee. Just the guy I didn’t need to see right now. I ram my fist into the dummy’s head. “Because I fucking did, that’s fucking why.”

 There’s no answer at first and I’m almost positive that he must have left the gym again. Took that up at some point when we left the SGC three months ago. He’d come up and ask me something – usually something pertaining to some idiocy or other I’d just committed – and then leave the room without a comment after I gave him my answer. Kinda… disappointed but yeah, we’re currently preparing for long-term deployment, an insertion into enemy territory somewhere in Iraq or maybe Iran, I really don’t care, and honestly, I’m just not in the mood to bear with my disapproving nanny sergeant. I’d really rather keep beating the shit out of that dummy, thank you very much.

 Which is why it nearly startles me to hear Dee say, “The word’s Mallister’s pressing charges, sir.”

 I plant a biscuit in the dummy’s stomach, nearly expecting the dummy to surrender and rip open like a ripe tomato or something. “The word’s Mallister’s a fucking gutless, spineless jellyfish.”

 Why are we even talking about that little asshole? I know for a fact that Dee hates him with a passion, ever since he nearly got his first spotter killed during his first deployment as a sniper in Bosnia because he didn’t think “Leave no man behind” pertained to spotters, too. The only reason Mallister is still serving is probably that his father is some big ass general serving at the DOD.

 “Sir. Why don’t you take on someone of your size?”

 What?

 I blink and stop pummeling the dummy for a moment but don’t turn around. “Excuse me, Sergeant, did you just say something?”

 Dee knows that tone. And he knows that the one thing he shouldn’t be doing now is saying, “Yes, sir. I asked if you wouldn’t like to take on someone your size for a change.”

 The fucking audacity. “Don’t, Dee.”

 “I never took you for a coward, sir.” Seriously? Seriously?

 Okay, that’s it. I know I should just let this slide, just tell him to leave my be, just leave and never look back. I know I shouldn’t go for this. But then again, everyone continuously tells me that I’m probably the biggest idiot who ever walked the Earth, so whatever. I turn around. “You’ll regret this, Sergeant.”

 He shrugs. “We’ll see about that.” Then he walks over to the mats reserved for unarmed hand-to-hand combat and I’m kind of glad that it’s late enough for the gym to be empty. Just now, I couldn’t take the usual hooting and cheering band of fuck-ups always magically aggregating as soon as there’s a really juicy fight on the mats in the making. And that Dee means business is pretty clear to see.

 He’s not blustering or anything – that was never his style – but I can see something in his eyes that’s… weird. It’s the same look he always got before an especially tricky extraction or a nearly unwinnable situation. I really should have walked away from this.

 But yeah, it’s too late now and quite frankly, I could use a good honest brawl after three months of having to go easy on the newbies. So I take up position with Dee doing the same and he doesn’t waste time. Seriously, the first thing he does is strike out and shove against my shoulder to break my balance.

 Whoa, Dee, what happened to staking out your opponent’s weaknesses and waiting for the right moment to strike? Where’s all that… violence suddenly coming from? Why are you fucking lunging at me left and right?

 And why, in God’s name do I just let him do that?

 Good question and the next opportunity I get – Dee charging forward to ram his shoulder against mine – I strike back, placing the heel of my hand below his chin just in the right moment and knocking up his head. I can hear him grunt and yeah, I guess that’s probably one more hairline fracture for me, as well.

 Whatever, he seems to have recovered remarkably fast – the last time someone did that to me, it was Reece and I saw stars for at least two or three minutes – and seems to have changed his approach, now trying to goad me into attacking him. Not gonna fall for that, Sergeant.

 Instead, I try cooling my heels a little and work out any weaknesses in his faints and fake attacks, wait for him to come a little closer, lose focus just for a moment… there it is. One of his faints goes for my sternum and I snap at his hand in the exactly right moment, grabbing his wrist probably a little harder than necessary – he did want to play with the big boys and I know for a fact that he can handle it – and trying to flip him on his back… holy shit.

 Just when I was about to go in for a kill and twist myself into place, he managed to turn the whole thing into a chokehold and what the fuck is wrong with him? Must… break…

 Struggling in a pretty undignified way – what in God’s name got into that man? – I manage to kick him into the hollow of his knee and he finally lets go, only to… good God, what is wrong with him?

 He just used the fact that I’m still doubled over to turn around and ram his fucking knee into my solar plexus. That was a dirty move he’d never had used in a training fight, audience or not and it means fucking war.

 A growl escapes me and I keep being bent over, slamming into his midriff and taking him down with me. I hear him grunt again and then a sound I never heard before – a low growl, almost like a really pissed off wolf – and before I know it, we’re right in the middle of a very undignified, very violent struggle on the ground, not cutting each other any slack, just really bent on hurting the other and finishing this once and for all and…

 Why am I suddenly flat on my back, Dee straddling me and sitting firmly on my chest, holding a fucking knife to my throat? My fucking knife, I might add. Somehow, Dee managed to pull the knife I always carry inside my boot out and he’s touching my fucking knife and he knows no one is allowed to… “It stops right here, right now.”

 What?

 I try to struggle against the weight pinning me down. “Hey, listen…”

 “No, you listen.” The hell you thinking giving me orders? “Listen up because I’m only going to say this once. It stops, right here, right now. You stop being an asshole, a fuck-up. You stop ignoring orders and punching subordinates and being a slob. You stop dishonoring her memory, right fucking now.”

 …so that’s what this is all about? Laura’s death and my less than stellar conduct ever since? She’s been dead for three months and you asshole have the audacity to now speak up? “No, you listen. Three months and you never even…”

 I can feel the edge of my knife biting the skin right below my Adam’s apple. Just a millimeter closer and he’ll draw blood. I have to fight the nearly insurmountable temptation to swallow hard. “She was my friend, too and you never even asked, Moore. That day out there, I lost a friend, too and you just went into business as usual mode. Fuck you. I am done with you.” And with that, he drives the knife tip first into the gym mat next to my head and gets up, leaving without another word, without even looking back once.

 I, for my part, stay right here, on my back, staring up at the gym’s ceiling, trying to process what the fuck just happened.

 And failing miserably. All I know is that apparently, I was wrong in assessing that losing Laura never even made him blink and that something went horribly, horribly wrong between returning to the SGC with the bodies and now and that I have no clue what to do to make it right again.

 Because I have to make it right. After Reece leaving for Pegasus and Laura dying, Dee is the only one left from that other life, that better life. The only one left who knows what it is to travel a galaxy, who knows that different realities exist, that you actually can travel in time. The only one left who has seen what I have seen, the only left who knew both Reece and Laura. The only one left in my team.

 Oh God, I really, really screwed this up. I am an idiot. Fuck me.

Chapter Text

The People Who Leave You Behind

“Coming of age ain’t about who you meet
It’s about the people who leave you behind
Your brothers, your parents, your lovers, your friends
It is never what you have in mind.”

Milow, “Coming of Age”

 Here’s the first thing: I know that what I did was the single most stupid thing I ever did. Actually assaulting a superior officer with his own knife and telling him to fuck himself and then damaging some government issue really beats everything else I ever did in my life. And I did a lot of stupid things up to this point, including signing up with the CIA and deserting my post on orders a couple years later.

 Here’s the second thing: I’d do it all over again if I could. And I don’t regret a thing of it. And I’m probably going to get away with it since Major Thomas Moore is probably the only officer in all the US Armed Forces who would not report his NCO for something as singularly stupid as what I did back there in that gym, two hours ago.

 And that makes me feel ashamed.

 That’s idiotic but that’s how it is. I’m not ashamed of the assault thing or not holding back – after all these years, I’m still the one who’s better at unarmed combat, and we both know it – or telling him to go fuck himself. I’m ashamed of doing all this simply and only because I knew that he’d never report me.

 I’m a fucking mess, yeah, I know. I’ve known it since we lost Laura three months ago, maybe even since Reece left us six months ago, maybe when I signed up with the Agency. I’m an idiot and an asshole and basically, I don’t really have a right to call the Major out on any shit he pulled in the last couple months, even before Laura’s death. Then again, I didn’t slip into doing only what I need to do, stop caring about orders, appearance and punching my subordinates.

 Ever since Reece broke up the team with leaving, something had been off about him but I guess Laura had a big influence in keeping him going like always; just a bit too cocky, just a bit too sarcastic, just a bit too irreverent but a dedicated officer, smart, fast, competent. Just the way I trained him.

 And then everything went to hell and we never even talked about it. It was really just coming back from that planet, body bags in tow and us nodding at each other and going “Debriefing at oh-eight-hundred, Dee” and “Yes, sir” and it never really went past that.

 For a long time, I thought it was mostly because we learned to deal with losing people, friends and because we learned to cope with stuff like that wordlessly, without having to talk to each other. I thought we knew each other well enough that we knew what the other was thinking. In some instances, it did work. Without even having to talk about it, we agreed on leaving the SGC as soon as we had a chance to and I still support Moore’s decision to tell Landry to get us a transfer back to AFSOC two days after we laid Laura to rest. But then things just… went downhill from there and I… “Hey, uh, you got room for one more?”

 What the hell?

 “Yeah, uh, I’m sorry. I know I got some nerve coming here and everything but I just… I…” Against my better judgment, I tear my gaze away from the silent, dark Santa Rosa Sound and look up to where the voice came from. It’s Moore, still wearing his gym clothes and… are those beer bottles in his hands? “Look, it was a stupid idea, I guess I just…”

 Nah, that’s not gonna fly, now that you walked all the way out here. “Landing’s big enough for two.”

 He looks as if he’d like to say something but in the end, he just nods and sits down on the planks next to me, carefully keeping his distance and setting down the bottles between us, like a divider. Or maybe like a peace offering, I don’t know.

 I’m inclined to leave those bottles where they are, make a point of it and tell him to fuck off after all since I’m really not sure if I want to talk to him right now. Or ever again. I meant it when I told him that I was done with him.

 Or at least done with his post SGC-self. The hell I’m gonna tell him that, though. Not before he has earned it. Right now, it seemed that he suspected at least something in that direction, and has no idea how to go about it to boot. He’s silent for an awfully long time, just taking a swig from his bottle every couple of minutes and staring out at the Sound and I nearly give up and get up to let him sit here and keep on stewing when he says, in an oddly quiet tone, “It was Laura who got me into the Air Force.”

 That… wasn’t what I expected him to say. I don’t know what I expected him to say but it wasn’t that. I fumble for words, knowing I owe him an answer. “I didn’t… you never told me that.”

 He shakes his head, making a face. “No.” Meeting my eyes, just for a second. We’re making progress here. “It just never really came up, did it?”

 “No, it didn’t.” I consider leaving it at that, let him guess at how to go on. But then again… even after everything, I’m not a completely heartless bastard. I throw him a bone. “How’d she get you to sign up?”

 That earns me another few ominous minutes of silence, ponderous from everything I can gauge and I guess that’s what nine years get you. You learn to read your superior officer’s ways to be silent just as well as you hear what he says.

 Then, finally, he takes up talking again, still quiet and a bit too detached to not be on purpose. “Laura… you know, she was really ambitious. Driven.” Yeah, I remember hours of medical research, the rest of us taking turns in coaxing her to lay off the research in favor of neglected basic needs, like eating, sleeping, sometimes breathing. She’d always planned to go places a lot further than captain, and I loved that about her.

 Moore, though, seems to be oblivious of my own ponderings and goes on, “Youngest of four kids, the only girl. Her father used to be an Army surgeon, her mother an Army nurse. They met in Vietnam. Textbook wartime romance and then ‘Nam killed her dad when she was ten.”

 After that… nothing, so I feel compelled to hide my surprise at hearing about her father’s death for the first time ever. I squint and remember older NCOs and officers who’d fought in ‘Nam and who kept contracting weird diseases. “Agent Orange?”

 That gets me a shaking of his head and the very succinct answer, “PTSD.”

 Right. That other disease killing so many Vietnam veterans years and years later. “Suicide?”

 “Yep.” God. No wonder she never talked about her father. “Sad, sordid story and I remember my mother going over to her house every damn day for three solid months after it happened. We were neighbors, houses right next to each other.” I know she wouldn’t want me to feel sorry for her and her family and so I’m not but God… that’s a horrible way to lose someone, to lose a father.

 “So, anyway, she was this really focused overachiever, you know?” Right. So he doesn’t want to dwell on it. Understandable, to be honest. He must have been, what, twelve at that time? I guess hearing about your neighbor killing himself is tough on a twelve-year-old, even if it wasn’t his father. “I remember her brothers going off the rails after her father’s death, all three of them but Laura? Man, all she did was focus even more, study even longer, get even better grades, at ten, you know. I used to tease her about it.”

 Of course he did. If anything, twelve-year-old Thomas Moore was even more immature than thirty-something Thomas Moore. I decide not to comment on it, though, instead going for, “How’d she take that?”

 That makes him snort and rub his neck a little embarrassedly. “Judging from all the bruises resulting from me calling her an eager beaver? Not too well.” Uh-huh. That’s my girl. “Then, a year later, she asked her mother to allow her to go to fencing classes and she got really ambitious in that as well.” Yes, I remember seeing a glimpse at her trophies and medals when I could get a little glimpse of her room when we were helping her and Maureen putting Maureen’s stuff in storage. Nothing in the living room but man, she still must have been proud of them if she kept them on her shelf.

 “She was good, you know. Her brothers, they just drifted away, one after another and she stopped keeping in touch with the last of them when she was fourteen.” So. That explains why she never talked about them either, instead kept focusing all her sibling energy on Moore and Maureen, having probably fully adopted them as older brother and younger sister. “But Laura… I remember that one time, when I’d just turned sixteen and everyone kept starting to ask me “What do you wanna do with your life? Where do you wanna go? You wanna take over your old man’s firm?” and I was like “What the hell do I know, I’m fucking sixteen.”.”

 I can’t help snorting at that, having a pretty clear picture of a teenage Thomas Moore annoying the shit out of every single adult in his life. I’m nearly tempted to ask him to elaborate on that but he plows right on, as if he’d just sensed that. “Laura, though, goes, right out of the blue, “I’m going to go to the Air Force Academy, graduate with honors and go to med school. I’m gonna be an officer in the Medical Corps, and I’m gonna be good at it.”.”

 Yeah. Yeah, I can see that, just as clearly as I can see Moore’s teenage self being an obnoxious pubescent asshole. Swallowing the lump of regret of never being able to ask her about it now, I go for the next best thing. “Why Air Force?”

 He nods, gesturing towards me with his bottle. “That’s what I asked her, too. And she said, in a total adult, reasonable voice, “Because out of all military academies, USAFA is the one with the best conditions and offering me exactly what I want” and I know I kept thinking “How can she fucking know? She’s fucking fourteen.” She scared the hell out of me.”

 She would have scared the hell out of me. Took me all until I turned seventeen that I developed at least an inkling of what I wanted to do with my life. It’s not about me, though. It’s about Laura and Moore. I look at him. “Then how’d you end up at USAFA, after all?”

 He’s silent for a few minutes, then continues in that weird quiet storyteller voice he’d adapted early on tonight, “Two months after she said that, my brother died.” I knew that about him, at least in general terms but I hadn’t known what exactly happened. Until now. “Stupid motorcycle accident. Mike was her age but he moved among the wrong crowd.” While I’m wondering if he’ll elaborate, he’s already past that, saying, “Anyway, I uh… I started to drift away, too. Not really in a bad way, just…” He makes a vague gesture with his hand, followed by a shrug and it’s scary how well I know what he wants to tell me anyway. How much we share that phase of our past. I did have a phase like that as well.

 I’m almost about to comment on that but it seems that he wants, needs to get it all off his chest because he doesn’t even look at me to see if I’m still listening, just keeps going on. “Well, anyway. Laura, you know, she was probably the only one who got through to me and I remember her saying one day, “You know when you were eight and I was six? When we watched the sea gulls from the deck of my dad’s boat and you said “I wanna be a bird. I wanna know how it is to fly”?” Yeah, I said, I did, so what about it? “The Air Force,” she said, and I remember this part like it was yesterday, “can teach you that.”.”

 Funny she’d tell him that, seeing as he was pulled out of Weapons School to be trained in spec ops when he caught the eye of some AFSOC big wig or other. Clearly, the Air Force thought he was useful in a completely different field. I’m about to remark on it but he’s still not done so I let him talk. “I still have no idea why she struck up that conversation on that day but I know that something in what she said struck a chord with me, got through whatever fog my brother’s death left me in when she looked at me and said, “But you gotta work for it. You gotta be a fucking eager beaver or you’ll never get to fly” and for some reason that stuck with me.”

 He shakes his head, adds a bit of humorless laughter at some private memory and I realize that I’m probably the first person besides Laura he ever tells his story to. Weird how you can work alongside each other, go through hell for nine years and still not know stuff like that about each other. “It still took me two or three months to finally catch on what she meant but in the end, that pulled me out of it. I got my head back together, pushed up my grades, applied to the Academy.” He pauses and I patiently wait for him to go on, watching him stare into the distance, his nearly empty beer bottle in his hands and his feet dangling over the rim of the landing. But I’m still a little startled when he finally looks at me and finishes with a strangled sounding, “Maybe, in a manner of speaking, she saved my life for the first time that day.”

 The thing is: I’d been aware of the fact that Laura Greenspan dying of course didn’t leave Thomas Moore cold, right from the first minute. I’d never doubted that he grieved for her, not for a minute. But it turns out that all my awareness, all my knowledge of how Laura’s death affected him were merely academic, and I never even questioned it. I’ve known this guy for nine years and I should have known better. I should have known, right from the start, that Laura’s death killed something in him, too. Just like it did to me.

 I consider spitting it out, making him talk about it right here and now but if there’s one thing I have learned about this man it’s that there’s always a time and a place to talk about stuff like that with him and that isn’t here and now. I can’t believe that I’m still doing what I always did – protecting him from himself and take care that he doesn’t trip over his own goddamn feet at every corner – after everything that happened since Laura died but yeah, here I am. I resist a sigh and ask him, “Even though you never really got to fly?”

 He shrugs again, a slight humorless grin pulling up the right corner of his mouth. “Yeah, well, turned out, I was never made for flying.”

 You know, I always knew he was supposed to become a fighter pilot, like Evan Lorne and I knew that he made it through undergrad pilot training just fine before he got pulled out of Weapons School. I just never thought to ask him if he regretted it. He took to spec ops training like a fish to water, even though he tried to make everyone believe that he thought most of it was esoteric bullshit, and I always thought he hadn’t cared about becoming a pilot that much, anyway. Maybe I was wrong. But then again, “She was still right, you know. The Air Force did teach you how to fly. In a manner of speaking.” Because let’s face it, despite everything, he is doing a top notch job as a spec ops officer, has always done it, even if he didn’t believe so himself.

 The Major, though, shakes his head. “No.” No? Come on, please don’t try to give me that shit of having messed up when… “That was you.” Oh. “And Laura.” Well… “And Reece.” I uh, didn’t know… “God, I miss her.”

 For a moment, I’m tempted to ask him which “her” he means but then I realize that the slight hitch when he said that last sentence was the Moore equivalent of a strangled sob and that the reason he just ran a hand over his face and through his hair was most probably to conceal how bad it was shaking. I guess the reason why he keeps acting in ways Laura would never have tolerated is because she’s not here anymore to tell him so. God, I’m an idiot.

 I take a deep breath. “I do, too. Both of them.” Because I’m slowly coming to realize that maybe, if Maureen were still here, we wouldn’t have ended up in that gym like we did. Maybe, if Maureen hadn’t left for Atlantis, she’d have been there to force us to act like normal people, would have forced us to talk about it, would have shown us how to talk about it. Maybe, if Maureen hadn’t gone away, she’d have seen long before me why Thomas Moore was putting his career on the line over one stupid remark from an asshole not even worth our attention.

 From the Major, though, there’s no reaction this time, aside from very briefly clenching his jaw and moving his head in a way that could or couldn’t be a nod. Thought so. I wonder if he’s ever gonna admit to at least himself what he feels for Maureen Reece. That it’s something even I could see as soon as it started to develop. But yeah, maybe not the best topic right now. Or ever.

 So I stay silent and patiently wait out the time until the Major gets over regretting again that he let Maureen go to Atlantis. It takes a while but when I look next to me and finally see his shoulders drop down a little more relaxed and his gaze less focused on the water below the landing and his grip on the planks a little less tight, I feel ready to admit a couple things myself. Maybe he deserves that, after all. He talked about Laura all voluntarily for the first time ever since she died, after all. I try not to sigh. “The thing I said about you going back to business as…”

 “You were right, I did. And it was dumb.” Huh? That… wasn’t supposed to be his answer. Whatever I expected him to say, that wasn’t it.

 It does throw me of a little and I need some time to compose a reply but yeah, I guess I have one, after all. I take a deep breath. “I get why you did it, though.”

 That makes him raise his eyebrow a little disbelievingly. Come on, sir, give your sergeant some credit. “You do?”

 I shrug. “Yeah. It was easy.”

 Luckily, even after everything, I don’t need more to say than that to make him look a little embarrassed, rubbing his neck and nodding. “It was,” he says and adds, “Until it wasn’t anymore.”

 And really, that’s all he needs to say. Because I know that feeling. I know how something can make you want to go back to business as usual as fast as you can, to skip giving yourself some time for coping and charge straight ahead, because time for coping would mean you had to come to terms, really come to terms with losing someone or something you never meant to live without. It would mean that you would have to let yourself learn about finality, about someone or something never coming back, about things never going back to normal. And I know how the feeling when you realize that going back to business is not gonna solve your problem; it’s gonna make it worse.

 And God, did it make things bad for the Major and me. I don’t even mean all that putting his career on the line with flattening subordinates and me putting my career on the line for putting out fires that he started. I mean all that pretending that not talking to each other means we understand each other without words we’ve been doing since Laura died. I mean realizing all that he’s beating up himself by accidentally stumbling over several attempts at a letter he apparently meant to send to Maureen and never saying anything or not being able to walk past an infirmary because it meant being reminded that she’d never come out of this one and never saying anything or feeling disgusted enough by the way fellow NCOs were talking about female medics to steer clear of any NCOs as much as you could and never saying anything, that kind of thing. That was bad. Idiotic. Ignorant.

 My fault. My fault, because Laura once told me that she didn’t fear dying on a mission because she knew that as long as the Major and Maureen had me to watch over them, they’d be okay. Because she knew that I was the one person she could trust with her two best friends’ lives if she had to.

 Oh God. I really owe the Major an apology. Not for kicking his ass and holding a knife to his throat, but for neglecting my duty towards Laura, and him and… “Did you love her?”

 What? I blink and stare at him for at least a full minute and all he does is look back expectantly, probably ready to reiterate his question as soon as I blurt out a “What?” and then it hits me.

 He knew. The bastard knew, all along, probably since the first moment Laura and I realized that there was… there was potential between us, probably even before that. He knew and he  never even said a word, not until this very moment. He goddamn knew.

 I take a deep breath, considering flat out denying everything but in the end, I settle with, “I would have liked to find out.”

 And that’s the truth. After Maureen went with the Atlantis Expedition, things between Laura and me became even more complicated, weird, tensed. On missions, we would walk with the greatest distance possible between us, talking to each other only when absolutely necessary, not even look at each other much and as soon as we were back at the SGC, we would be looking for the next storage closet. I kissed her again, more than once and it was just really fucking good, every damn time.

 There also was that one evening, when I was absolutely, horribly bored back in my quarters at the SGC and she called, in the exact right moment, to ask me if I wanted to come over – I think she’d just had a fight with the Major, one of the bad ones – and I said yes. We didn’t even make it through the first ten minutes of the movie she’d picked before ending up using her couch for a whole different purpose. I ended up spending the night at her place, sleeping next to her, waking up next to her. And it was good. And I wanted to do it again. And again.

 And I never got to because two days later, we brought her lifeless, charred body back to the SGC and everything went to hell.

 I take a deep breath. “I really would have liked to find out.”

 He doesn’t say anything, just nods, slowly, as if I just confirmed something he’d at least suspected long before asking and I wish Laura could see him now. She was so intent on keeping it a secret, and I went along with it because she was right. We both assumed that he wouldn’t react well to learning how we spent an increasing amount of our off-duty time. It was weird. We were fine with breaking non-frat regs because we both knew that we probably could have found a way around getting punished for it but God, we really didn’t want to find out how the Major felt about the two of us.

 Turned out, we didn’t even have a reason to be afraid. God, I hate the universe.

 Okay, maybe I should be a little clearer about this, after all. “Sir, I’d just like to…”

 “How’s Nevada sound to you, Dee?” Uh… what? “You know, aliens, desert, Vegas…”

 Huh. Area 51. That’s what he must be talking about. He… he wants another transfer. He wants to get out of AFSOC – and good for him, because honestly, I’m not sure for how much longer I can keep on putting out all those fires that he keeps starting – and back into Homeworld Security’s loving arms. Everyone else I’d say they’d never get that transfer, only three months after asking to be sent away. But I know that the Major has a friend in Personnel, a Major Williamson, someone who managed to pull us out of Black Ops before, on the shortest notice I ever saw, and all while Williamson was deployed to Afghanistan. The guy really is that good. I try not to smile. “Nevada sounds good, sir.”

 The Major nods again, more to himself than to me and then I can see a lopsided grin. “Nevada it is, then.” Alright, so now that we have that… “So, did I ever tell you about the time Laura and I were dating each other?”

 Huh? “Uh, no, sir, can’t remember that.”

 “Good. You’re gonna love this one. Worst relationship I ever had.” Right. Whatever. If telling me old anecdotes is what he needs to cope with his best friend having died three months ago, who am I to tell him no? Even though, really, the thought of the Major and Laura dating each other really… “I was in my senior year and she was in her sophomore year when our moms really turned up the heat on both of us and we felt we had to do something about it. And this is how it went…”

 And then he goes on talking about her, about their high school years and I realize that I don’t really mind him doing it. I even find myself starting to enjoy listening to him, telling me about the woman we both loved in our own way and I feel something deep inside loosening up. Maybe, I can’t help thinking, maybe things are going to be okay, after all. Maybe I’m not done with the Major, after all. Maybe we’re still friends. It’s a thought I like immensely. Huh. Figure that.

Chapter Text

What Do I Know

“You don’t know, you don’t know
you don’t know anything about me
what do I know I know your name
you don’t know, you don’t know
you don’t know anything about me anymore.”

Milow, “You Don’t Know”

 So, okay, I admit it, sometimes, being still mostly confined to the infirmary doesn’t suck. For example, when practically the entire Expedition is deployed throughout the city for post-storm damage assessment, we get to stay in our nice, cozy offices, labs and ORs while everyone else gets to crawl around vents or trudge through knee high brackish sea water. All we have to do is wait for the inevitable casualties of slippery stairs, dark corridors and unsecured wires trickling in. Sure, being a combat medic, I’m usually the one going out there instead of people coming to me so it kinda does suck having to stay here, after all but yeah, at least I’m not getting wet feet. I’m really trying to do my best and appreciate the little things here, and I’m almost succeeding.

 At least tonight, I get company, seeing as Maureen apparently finally used up her luck and succumbed to the Pegasus Galaxy, after all. Because, you see, after surviving here without getting injured even once for six months – considering that she does go off-world more or less regularly, that’s an impressive record – she did fall down one of those slippery staircases and twisted her ankle. Also hit her head, earning her a ticket for one of our infirmary beds for a night of observation. Scans said her head’s fine but trust me, head injuries are one thing we take very, very seriously here, even the least conservative of us.

 But yeah, other than that, it’s been kind of quiet today. Only a few other minor injuries, some more sprained appendages and a few cuts and bruises but no one else needed to stay overnight so we only got the usual skeleton grave yard shift personnel and a couple more on call in their quarters and it’s shaping up to be another boring… “Dr. Morsberg, this is Operations. Please come in.”

 They’re doing that on purpose. I swear to God. They know how to correctly address me, they just don’t want to. At this point, I’d even accept being addressed with Captain, goddammit. I rolls my eyes. “This is Morsberg, go ahead.”

 “Jumpers One and Two are back, two KIA, await transfer to the morgue.” Aw, no. Muss das sein? Did it have to happen when I’m the doctor in charge? Currently, three of us are on duty and we drew straws for first shift and apparently I drew the short one. The other two and the night nurse are in the on-call room, catching up on sleep which means that I’m the one stuck with having to do the initial documentation and necessary paperwork on the two KIAs coming in and I hate that stuff. Until now, I could get around it because I was either off-duty, one of the lucky ones in the on-call room or not the most senior dude around but apparently, bad luck finally caught up with me.

 I resist a sigh. “Acknowledge two KIA, handling transfer to the morgue. Who’s accompanying them?”

 There’s a pause, then Operations, sounding somewhat put off, “Looks like Dr. McKay just lost the argument with Major Sheppard. Sorry.” Oh hell no.

 I’d really like to take out my frustrations on that Canadian guy currently manning Communications back at the gate room but yeah, it’s not his fault so I force myself to do the sociable thing and be nice. “Appreciate the heads-up, Operations. Morsberg out.”

 Operations signs off, too and I grunt and get up to collect the PADD I need for the necessary paperwork. There are about a million things I’d rather do than the whole KIA song and dance with Dr. Rodney McKay of all people but I like our two pathologists too much to make their work even harder than it already is by sloppy paperwork. And yep, there they are. Two gurneys obviously carrying the KIAs, two guys from the security team currently on duty at Operations and His Royal Canadian Pain in the Ass, Rodney McKay.

 I try to remember where the hell Sheppard’s team went last and, ah, yeah, right, that planet fifteen hours from here. Which is why we didn’t see them all for almost three days and Dr. Zelenka suddenly turned out to be really good at doing the stuff McKay usually does. “Ah,” McKay makes, looking vaguely uncomfortable, “Mooseberry, isn’t it?”

 Right. At least I already knew that about him from various scientists complaining at mess hall tables and various semi-official social functions that he never gets their names right. I try my most costumer-friendly pasted on smile. “Morsberg, sir. Stabsarzt Matthias Morsberg, at your service.” Then I nod at the Marines who take the opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge. Traitors.

 Wariness is pretty evident in McKay’s face and okay, can’t fault him for that. It is a fake smile, as all costumer-friendly ones are. “Yes, well, whatever. Here you go, two dead scientists, delivered directly to your doorstep.” There we go. Haven’t even been talking a full minute to this guy and I already feel my blood pressure spiking. Seriously? “Two dead scientists, delivered directly to your doorstep”? I know that he’s got all kinds of issues but I didn’t know callousness was one of them. “Which means that I…”

 “Get to tell me everything procedure tells me I need to know. And thank you for your cooperation, sir.” If he’d shown anything else than that weird uncaring and kind of hurried attitude, I might have been lenient and done the short version. Since he hasn’t, though, we’re doing the full Twenty Questions. Congratulations, Doc. “Alright. Let’s start with…”

 “Me getting out of here.” Yeaaaah no. Not even the short version would have allowed that. “Listen, Munchby, I know you guys can do all this without harassing the rest of us. I wrote that procedure manual,” not really, you just kept annoying Dr. Beckett with useless additions until he gave up and pretended to incorporate a couple of them, “you really don’t need me here.”

 Okay, I have got to stop automatically wanting to correct him whenever he addresses me with a wrong name because let’s be honest, he’s not going to stop doing it, either way. He just really doesn’t care enough about anyone outside of Command to remember our names. Just focus on the important things here. “As a matter of fact, I do, sir. Now, we can either get this done in about five minutes or I can radio Dr. Beckett. Would you like to tell him that I had to wake him in the middle of the night because you’re trying to push me into violating protocol or shall I?”

 He’s just this close to telling me to go fuck myself but a little threatening him with waking up one of the very few people who tolerate him here and telling him that he’s trying to circumvent the procedures he claims to have written goes a long way and he ends up glaring at me and crossing his arms. “Scare tactics. That’s something you Germans really like, huh?”

 Uh-huh, not going to dignify that with an answer. Or maybe I will. “Nope, that’s just me. Works every time like a charm, too.” Oh, I think someone’s about to blow. Better make it quick. “Okay, sir, names and departments of the deceased, please?”

 “Is this really necessary? I mean, you can just look at them yourselves, it’s not like you guys are afraid of dead bodies or anything, after all.” Okay, that I recognize. Dr. McKay is notorious for his aversion against anything having to do with sickness and, God forbid, death. Maybe he’s just being an ass because he’s uncomfortable?

 Nah, that would be too simple an explanation. And if there’s one thing Dr. McKay doesn’t do, it’s simple. I do my best not to sigh and rolls my eyes. “Yes, sir, it’s necessary. Now, names and departments of the deceased?”

 “Would it kill you to display at least the barest minimum of civility, Mickenbush?” Okay, that’s it. I’ve gone out of my way to be professional and polite for him but there are only so many times a surgeon can say “please” – and ignore being called by a new wrong name every damn time – to anyone before it becomes ridiculous, and we’re already past that point by now. Fuck you, Rodney McKay. I’m about to give him a piece of mind which he luckily – for me – forestalls by just plowing right on. “But if you must know, this one’s uh Abbey and this one’s Gaul, both Science Department.”

 Right. I know for a fact that we have neither an “Abbey” nor a “Gaul” in the Science Department and shouldn’t he know that, being the fucking Head of the Science Department and all? Okay, don’t go flipping tables now, there’s gotta be a reason for McKay being even more insufferable than usual. And I still don’t know who it is there on the gur… fuck it.

 I move to lift the shrouds after all, under the pretense of, “Alright, just verifying, sir,” and… ah, that’s… one very sucked out scientist. So sucked out that I don’t recognize him. Oh God. And then I remember, kind of out of nowhere that there might not be an Abbey in the Science Department but there definitely is an Adams. Or rather was an Adams. “Dr. Patrick Adams, sir? That him?”

 McKay doesn’t really look at Adams’s remains and to be honest, I can’t even fault him for that. Yes, studying medicine means getting used to dead people and human remains in all kinds of conditions but that doesn’t mean that we’re immune to being shocked by especially gruesome kinds of death. For someone like McKay… well. He nods and visibly swallows. “Yes, Patrick Adams, that’s what I said, right?”

 Okay, I just… whatever. Seriously. Let’s just… get on with it. “Cause of death, sir?”

 Now he’s glaring at me. What? It’s fucking procedure, okay? You signed off on that one! “What does it look like, you moron?”

 You know, all I want is to throw this idiot out of the infirmary and get it over with alone but I just bet that it’ll get me into a lot of hot water with both Dr. Beckett and the morgue staff and while I like them, people working in a morgue are not people you want to get on the bad side of. So I just let it go, take a deep breath and mutter, “So, Wraith encounter it is,” while checking ticky boxes and scribbling on my PADD.

 Okay, one down, one to go.

 Fuck. Really bad choice of words. Better keep that to myself, too because I swear, even though it sounds like I’m a callous asshole, I’m not. Because I can assure you, seeing the desiccated corpse of someone I just saw playing Monopoly with a couple other Expedition members in a common room three days ago does not leave me cold. But I have a job to do, and I’ll do it right and that’s why check the blocks, mutter and move on to the next one. “Sir, can you please again tell me the name and department of the second deceased?”

 “No, I can’t! And I don’t have to! Isn’t there anything else you have to do, like, I don’t know, roll up bandages or count aspirins or something?” Oh God, why is he making this so hard? We could have been done with this in five minutes flat if he’d just been cooperative.

 I suppress a growl. An actual growl, everyone. I do not growl. Growling is not in my nature. And yet I just almost did it. “Yes, sir, you have to do it and…”

 “You want to know who this is? This is Dr. Brendan Gall, Science Department, two PhDs, one in astrophysics from CalTech and one in molecular biology from the Sorbonne, he had an unhealthy interest in Rubik’s cubes and he shot himself in the head because a Wraith fed on him and took away twenty years of his life in five seconds, with the weapon I gave him.” Holy… “Are you happy now, Dr. Moronbully?”

 Before I can reply anything, though, he glares at me again, then turns around and storms off and I just… stand there, like an idiot, blinking and then something makes me look down to realize that McKay must have pulled off the cover of the second body and… that is indeed Dr. Brendan Gall, Science Department. Looking twenty years older. With an obvious gunshot wound to his right temple.

 And then it finally hits me. Rodney McKay doesn’t have a problem with remembering people’s names and it’s not like he doesn’t care enough about them not to learn them, either. Rodney McKay very well knows the name of every person working under him, as well as their professional history, areas of expertise and apparently also some personal stuff as well.

 Well shit. Seems like I actually deserve that last name he called me.

 There’s this one moment when I stand there, PADD in hand, staring down at the aged face in front of me and I try to tick the right boxes, over and over again. It takes me at least a minute until I realize that my attempts are unsuccessful because my hands are shaking so much that I constantly miss the block and the PADD refuses to take my order.

 Fuck, I hate it when that happens. This has serious shades of Hoff and I thought I’d left that behind a couple months ago. I’ve been through a lot of shit, even before coming to Atlantis because that’s what happens to special forces soldiers but suicides… man, that’s a whole other ballgame as my American friends like to say. Combat related deaths, accidents, even illness I can deal with. Suicides… not so much.

 Okay, just get a grip and get this over with. You’re a surgeon, you do delusions of grandeur, arrogance and God complexes, not sentimentality. I take a deep breath, grip the PADD a little tighter and do this whole ticking boxes thing again. This time, it works and five minutes later, I can put away the PADD, cover both scientists’ faces and wheel them into the morgue to stow them away. I leave the pathologists a note and get back into the main infirmary.

 I briefly consider looking into the on-call room, to see if anyone’s in the mood for bullshitting but that would probably just lead to someone looking up the incident reports out of boredom and I’m not in the mood for talking about what just happened so I do the next best thing. Check-up rounds.

 As we currently only have one patient here, I don’t expect much in the line of company – seeing as by now, Maureen should be sleeping – but yeah, concussion, so I better actually do go and check up on her.

 When I get to her bed, though, she looks pretty much awake. Okay, she looks halfway awake. As awake as someone who got knocked on the head a few hours ago can look. “Wow. You look serious.” Mh. Seems like her situational awareness didn’t get bumped.  

 So much for the stealth approach, then. I give her a resigned sigh and come walking over, hands in my pockets. “Just got a lesson in biblical justice is all.”

 “Biblical justice? Sounds grave.” Yeah, well, if she says it like that

 I waggle my hand while leaning my backside against her bed. “Judge not lest ye…”

 “Right.” Well, at least my year abroad in the Bible Belt during high school served some purpose if I can still cite the Old Testament from memory. It kinda also really sucked, you know, being a closeted gay kid in evangelical Small Town America but other than me being kind of really afraid of them learning that one thing about me, my host family was pretty nice. Maureen gives me a sympathetic look. “You wanna talk about it?”

 Tempting and I know that she’d listen. But I also know that if I tell her no, she’ll take it at face value and leave me alone for the time being. I shake my head. “Not tonight.”

 She nods. “Fair enough.” That’s what I love about her. She really does take a no like that at face value.  

 Okay, that’s probably a good point to change the topic. Redirecting attention always works well, as I figured out back at the start of my medical career. “And you? Can’t sleep?”

 She nods and then winces, making a face. “Yeah, a pounding headache tends to do that to a person.”

 Right. Maybe she got a bigger bump to her head, after all. I straighten up and take up my instructor pose. “You might not have been unaware of it until now, Lieutenant, but this is called an infirmary. We have one very nifty advantage over every other department, and that’s having access to little miracle pills called “pain killers”. You’d honestly be amazed at what one can do with those…”

 Her first reaction is to snort and chuckle a little and then wince again, her face contorted with pain for a moment. She grunts and shortly massages the bridge of her nose and says, her voice genuinely pleading, “Please don’t make me laugh.”

 Damn, now I actually feel bad. It makes me drop the instructor pose and hop on her bed, looking apologetic. “Just trying to cheer you up.” She wants to say something and okay, yes, I get it. “And I’m really sorry for that. So, you want some?”

 Gingerly, she shakes her head. “Nah, I’m good.” Yeah, of course she’d say that. She’s a Marine, after all. And at this point into the Expedition, I’m almost sure that it’s not even about the whole “Pain is just leaving the body” thing Marines have going on, it’s about that underlying feeling that we need to be alert here, all the time. We made a lot of enemies in the last six months, not to mention all that other crap that has happened to us. She gives me one of those looks that mean that she has seen through my casual attitude, even with the pounding headache. “But you look like you could use some company.”

 Yeaaaah, well, she’s not wrong about that. There was a reason why I came here in the first place. I raise my hands. “Guilty as charged.”

 It makes her smile but thankfully she remembers not to laugh just in time. “’S okay, I’m here. I mean, not like I can just get up and leave or something but…”

 “Tell me again how you ended up here?” Because seriously, that was one funny story. And since she, as she so rightly stated, she has to stay here for the night and I have to be awake for a few more hours until shift change and medical journals can only keep you awake for so long, I’m going to take full advantage of anything that takes my mind off the fact that I just put two bodies in the morgue. I give her the puppy dog eyes. “In excruciating detail, please?”  

 She glares at me. “Bastard.”

 Yeah, I know, that’s what my last boyfriend liked to call me when we… Well. There’s a reason he’s my ex-boyfriend and a reason that I resolved to stop thinking about him back on Manaria. I decide to concentrate on intensifying the puppy dog eyes. “Pretty please?”

 That results in her rolling her eyes, wincing once again and then giving me an acquiescing sigh. “Okay, fine. This is how it went…”

 And while she tells me again how she happened to end up here, I manage to be entertained enough to stop thinking about the two scientists in the morgue and how having twenty years of your life being sucked away from you is so terrible that you’d rather shoot yourself in the head than live with it for even one more day for at least a few minutes at a time and I realize that that’s probably the main reason why she decided to retell the entire story in the first place. Because she’s a friend like that.

 Damn, I just hope Rodney McKay has friends even half as great as I have because he sure needs ‘em. Everyone here does. Because whatever this galaxy decides to throw at us in the future, as long as those friends are there, things can’t be that bad. Never that bad.

 

Chapter Text

Save Your Tears For Those Left Behind

“Cause someone somewhere’s going home tonight
Trying to understand the sacrifice
So save your tears for those left behind.”

James Blunt, “No Tears”

 Well, this sucks.

 Okay, that was dumb and really inappropriate. Then again, Elise Crown was a Marine, and Marines live and breathe dumb and inappropriate… and it’s not getting better.

 Fuck, fuck, fuck.

 It’s been three days since First Lieutenant Elise Crown died on a mission. It was an ugly, very nasty chain of events that lead to a severed aorta and Crown bleeding out even before they could dial Atlantis. I just… I’m still not sure if it even has fully registered what happened. All I know is that, ever since it happened, I’m carrying around the dreading feeling that the impacts are coming closer.

 It’s stupid and kind of selfish, I know but that’s what it feels like. In the last six months, us four female Marines gradually grew closer. Not the way I grew closer with Mats, that kind of weird, wonderful friendship of acceptance and instinctively knowing when not to ask dumb questions I haven’t even had with Laura. But yeah, when there are only four of you in the entire city, you tend to gravitate towards each other. Because sometimes, yes, only a female Marine knows what it’s like to be a female Marine.

 And now one of us is dead. Just… gone. And because both Cuevas and Strickland are off-world and someone has to do it, I’m the one tasked with sorting through Crown’s things and decide what to “redistribute”, what to throw out and what to put in storage. Technically, we have people in Admin assigned to do that but it just… it didn’t feel right to have someone else do it so I volunteered and here I am.

 Kind of wishing I’d let the Admin people handle it, after all. Because additionally to all the awkwardness and uncomfortable feeling of going through someone else’s personal things and the thing about the impacts coming closer, I also can’t get over just how unfair it all was. Just two days before Crown died, the city was hit by nanites that were accidentally released by one of the groups doing storm damage assessment. I wasn’t here because I was off-world at the time but Crown was. She survived the nanites, only to die two days later. That just isn’t fair and it makes me all kinds of confused, angry and just… I just…

 “Lieutenant Reece, is it?” Fuck, where did she I mean Dr. Elizabeth Weir just come from? And why didn’t I just shut the door?

 I straighten up, probably looking ridiculous with Crown’s running shoes in my hand. “Yes, ma’am. Lieutenant Reece, ma’am.”

 Weir, still standing in the doorframe, frowns at me. “May I ask what you’re doing here? Far as I remember, Carl Whitacker was assigned to these quarters for personal effects management duty?”

 Right, uh, that volunteering thing? Wasn’t officially volunteering. More like um requisitioning or maybe commandeering the duty away from Whitacker. My grip on Crown’s running shoes involuntarily tightens. “Yes, ma’am, he was. But I offered to handle this one for him.”

 Well, “offered” is kind of a euphemism and I really hope Dr. Weir doesn’t want to go into details as to how I accomplished to make Whitacker relinquishing one of the duties he usually takes very seriously. Doesn’t look too good, though because she’s frowning at me. “And he agreed?”

 Uh-huh, good question. Let no one ever say that Elizabeth Weir isn’t one of the most perceptive persons in the entire Expedition. I resist the temptation to clear me throat. “He acquiesced, ma’am, yes.” Because “agreeing” technically wouldn’t be the right word, and I don’t want to outright lie to the woman who’s the boss of my boss. “Ma’am, I know it’s not proper procedure but Lieutenant Cuevas, Lance Corporal Strickland and I just wanted this handled the right way and while Dr. Whitacker is more than competent to process the effects of a deceased Expedition member…”

 “He’s not a female Marine.” That’s… exactly the problem, yes. I mean, not really a problem but judging from her look she understands where I’m coming from and that is really, really, really rare in civilian leaders. Especially civilian leaders who keep clashing with their military subordinates, like she reportedly does with Sheppard.

 I swallow. “Yes, ma’am.”

 She gives me a long, contemplative look, narrowing her eyes for a short moment and I fully expect her to give me a speech about how she’s disappointed in three Marines of all people who apparently have no respect for proper procedure and chain of command and that she can’t start making exceptions for everyone and their mother just because they think they’re some kind of special snowflake but then she just goes and nods, saying, “I see. Carry on, Lieutenant.”

 Wait. That’s it? No reprimand, no reminder that special treatment will not be given, just “Carry on, Lieutenant”? I blink. “Yes, ma’am.”

 She nods her head again, this time looking somehow preoccupied and then turns to leave… only to turn back, something like… doubt in her face? “Lieutenant, are you alright?”

 Huh? What made her ask that? And why is that of any importance, anyway? I shrug. “Yes, of course, ma’am. Why do you ask?”

 “Well,” she says and throws me a pointed look, “one of your fellow female Marines died three days ago and you let’s call it volunteered to take on the tough task of sorting through her personal effects. I just thought it prudent to ask.”

 Right. First of all: she saw through my beating around the bush concerning the way I pushed Whitacker into letting me do this, of course she saw through that. And second: she’s way too smart for her own good. And way too perceptive. Did I mention that? Now, how to answer without outright lying to her? “I… we’re a little shaken up right now but we’re going to be fine eventually, ma’am.”

 That’s as much as she’ll get from me and I hope she knows that. Considering that she’s at the top of my chain of command, admitting that Cuevas, Strickland and I are in anything than peak battle readiness shape was a pretty bold step. One both of my fellow Marines will hopefully not beat the shit out of me for next time we’re in the work-out room. Dr. Weir, for her part, cocks her head to the side a little, then says, “Good. I’d just like you to remember that Dr. Heightmeyer and her team always have open spots in their schedules.”

 Ah, that’s what she was getting at. And why do I have a feeling that once again, someone singled me out as the female Marine unofficially in charge of the other female Marines? I kind of hate it when people do that because technically, Cuevas is still the senior one between the two of us and the last thing I want to have a is a fight with Joanna Cuevas about precedence and rank. I wish people would remember that.

 Right now, though, I can’t say anything because Dr. Weir didn’t make the mistake of directly assigning the task of dragging the other two to a therapy session so I just do what good little Marines do. I say, “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”

 After that, I expect her to go, her duty to one lowly lieutenant of many done but she surprises me, yet again. “Lieutenant Reece… I’d like to ask something of you.”

 Okay, what? I give her a wary glance. “Sure, ma’am, you are the boss, after all.”

 Dr. Weir gives me a short, tight smile, then breaks eye contact, just for a moment and I notice that she very furtively wrings her hands and is she nervous? Then she’s back in her leader self. “I know it’s procedure that Major Sheppard writes the next of kin letters for military personnel but I’ve made it my duty to write additional letters for every member of the Expedition. But I… recently found that I didn’t know some of our recently deceased members as well as I should have. In fact… I don’t think I knew Lieutenant Crown at all.” Right. I get it. “And I… Well. I’m sure you can see where I’m going?”

 She’s right, I can. And I have no idea what to think now. I mean, yes, we’ve been here for a while, long enough for all of us to get used to being commanded by a civilian who, while assertive when she has to be, respects her military personnel and credits them with enough intellectual skills to make the right calls most of the time. Unlike, you know, basically every other civilian in command most of us have ever encountered.

 But, anyway, I don’t think I ever had a superior, civilian or military, bluntly asking me for advice on their duties. Okay, so, with the Major, he didn’t ask but we gave our advice… whatever. Not the topic here. And Dr. Weir is still waiting for an answer.

 I take a deep breath and set Crown’s running shoes down, taking a short look around her quarters in the process. The room’s in a bit of a disarray because let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly being methodic about my approach but I can still remember what it looked like when I came in here. “Elise Crown was… one of the best Marines I ever met.” Yeah. Well. I give her a short humorless chuckle. “Actually, if you look at her service jacket, you’ll see that she was one of the best Marines, period. Textbook.” And she was. Crown was a lot more of a Marine than I ever was, right down to the “could bounce a quarter of her bunk” thing. Honestly, pristine quarters, no knick-knacks on her bed stand, no lose paperwork on her desk, not a speck of dust anywhere to be seen. Elise Crown was one squared away Marine. In fact, “When I was a baby Marine, I wanted to be exactly the kind of Marine she was.”

 Again, that’s true. Crown graduated from Annapolis with honors, top of her class, Dean’s List, captain of the basketball team, every discernible overachiever bullet point, you name it, she had it. Expert marksmanship badge three years running, certified combatives instructor, insane PT scores, picture perfect performance reports… I blink, slowly and then look at Dr. Weir again. “But that’s not what you wanted to know, right, ma’am?”

 She gives a little shrug. “Well, if what you’re saying is that I could find all of that in her service records and didn’t have to ask you about it, then yes, you’re right.”

 Yeah, thought so. I tentatively sit down on Crown’s bed, thinking hard and without looking at Dr. Weir, I dredge up the things she actually wanted to learn about Elise Crown. “She um… she had a temper. Like, a nasty temper even, at times. “Sandpapery” was a word we frequently used when referring to her. She…” I can’t help snorting at that memory, “she actually once very casually threatened Stabsarzt Morsberg with ripping out his vocal chords at the lunch table and honestly, he would have deserved it.” I look at Dr. Weir again but she doesn’t smile, just frowns at me. Well, the world would have come to an end if a civilian understood that kind of humor the way Marines do.

 I shake my head, remembering all the times Crown displayed the kind of assertiveness and downright aggressiveness in dealing with unwilling and contrary subordinates and sometimes even superiors that I will never be able to summon, not in a lifetime. “She never took crap from anyone, I always admired that about her.” And I admired another thing. “But when she screwed up, she owned up to her mistakes, went to confront them head on and did everything she could to make it right again.”

 Like when she assaulted Teyla during that nanites crisis a few days ago. Soon as it was over, she went to Teyla, apologized, did everything she had to do and two days later, she was dead, anyway. I take a deep breath. “Elise Crown wasn’t just one bad tempered Marine, though, ma’am. She had a dirty humor and a razor sharp wit and she was… she was frighteningly intelligent. She had an oceanography degree and she wanted to go back to school if we ever reconnected with Earth. Get a Master’s, maybe even get a PhD and come back to Atlantis, learn everything she could about the ocean here. She had… she had plans, ma’am. Everything laid out because she knew what she wanted and she’d have gotten it. She’d…”

 It takes me all until this moment to realize that I’m crying, probably have been crying for a couple minutes already. Not really caring about decorum anymore – because once your superior sees you crying like that, there’s no use in trying to go for the usual “If the Corps had wanted us to have emotions, they’d have issued them to us” thing, anyway – I wipe my sleeve across my eyes and take a deep breath. Only to learn that right now, talking is a skill I seem to have forgotten.

 Dr. Weir hovers in Crown’s doorway for a moment, awkwardly until she nods and tells me, “Thank you for sharing that with me, Lieutenant. I greatly appreciate it.”

 I can just summon enough strength for a wan smile and, “You’re welcome, ma’am.”

 “Well, then, I’ll let you carry on, Lieutenant” she says after another moment of awkward silence – aren’t diplomats trained in the art of effortless conversation or something? – and turns to leave, this time for real, leaving me alone with a dead fellow officer’s belongings in the room and a mess made up of grief, guilt and loss in my heart.

 So here I am, sitting on Crown’s bed, face tear stained, not even… “Huh. Never, at any crisis of your life, have I known you to have a handkerchief.”

 What the fucking… Cuevas? “Don’t you just hate it when she quotes that movie, ma’am?” And… Strickland? Weren’t they supposed to be off-world until tomorrow?

 I blink at her and absurdly, the only thing I can come up with is, “Far as I know, Lieutenant Cuevas has never before quoted Gone With The Wind, Corporal.”

 “Exactly my point, ma’am,” Strickland shoots back and that… explains exactly nothing.

 Okay, uh, whatever. There’s another more pressing question. “What are you two doing here, anyway? Not that I don’t appreciate your company or anything but… weren’t you supposed to stay off-world until tomorrow?”

 They shrug, and Cuevas replies, “The friendly natives of M9S-657 turned out to not be so friendly, after all. Just another day at the office.” Okay, apparently she doesn’t want to talk about it. Fine with me, to be honest. Then she smirks and apparently picks up where Strickland left off, going, “Anyway. Crown just fucking loved that fucking movie didn’t she?”

 Huh. It’s true, she did. We only found that out ten days or so ago and yes, it has provided us with an endless list of bullshitting opportunities and I can’t help both starting to cry again and chuckling a little, this time with actual humor. “Fuck, she really did. That was weird, wasn’t it?”

 For some reason, that makes both of them grin at me and Strickland saunters in, Cuevas following her. “Honestly, you think you know a person…” Strickland, on the other hand, hates that movie. But then again, she being from some backwater town South of Nowhere, Georgia and African-American, I can totally get behind that. She shrugs. “But yeah, she had her moments, huh? Remember when she kicked all those overconfident zoomies’ asses at the combatives tournament three months in? That girl had balls.”

 Oh yeah, she did. Cuevas nods and picks up the running shoes, putting them on the “toss” pile. “Yeah, or that time in that oceanography lab when she gave an impromptu lecture on differences in planetary rotations and ocean currents and one of the guys actually jumps up and applauds her at the end?”

 I wasn’t there when that happened but I swear to God, for a week after that, everyone from Oceanography worshipped the ground Crown walked on. Fuck, now I really have to laugh at that memory and Strickland and Cuevas exchange another grin and I… “Hey, didn’t she have that kind of unofficial community outreach thing with the Athosian women?” Strickland ventures and yes, she did. After that dinner on the mainland, Crown somehow took it into her head to create this little thing about female soldiers doing monthly exchanges with the Athosian women, everyone learning from each other. I let her convince me to participate a couple times and yeah, Strickland is right when she says, “That was fun, wasn’t it?”

 Uh-huh. “I’ll talk to Dr. Weir about continuing it, alright?” Strickland gives me a toothy grin. Sometimes, she’s really one easy to make happy NCO. Cuevas just smirks again. Guess that’s a yes from her end, then. “Okay, let’s… get this done, huh?”

 And with that, both just give me a clear and succinct, “Yes, ma’am,” and start sorting through Crown’s things, while recalling the kind of Marine that she was and the things she did here and at the SGC and suddenly, I’m very glad that I don’t have to do this alone, after all. Some things, only female Marines can do right and this is one of them. Thank God for having some of them here, and thank God for them be just the way they are. Thank God.

Chapter Text

This Is No Anthem

“This is no anthem ‘cause anthems are proud
And pride isn't something
that this is about.”

Milow, “Born in the Eighties”

 Fuck.

 Fuck, fuck, fuck.

 Verdammte Scheiße nochemal, ich hab’s satt, ich steige aus, das war’s, ich mach nicht mehr mit, ich…

 I need to take a deep breath. Yeah. That’ll help. Okay. Taking a deep breath. In, out, in…

 Nope, didn’t help. Still pissed off as hell. Pissed off enough to ball up my surgical cap and fire it into the next corner, gratuitous furious grunt included. Followed by me giving the wall next to me a good kick, which is then followed by another frustrated shout of pain because I forgot that we’re forbidden from wearing combat boots in the OR and I just came out of one.

 “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I keep on swearing while I slide down the wall and come to sit on the ground, breath heaving and pressure building up inside of me that threatens to spill over in the form of either sobs or another round of pointless violence against inanimate objects. I sit here, back against the wall, my legs drawn up, leaning my head back with my eyes closed and still breathing heavily, as if I just came back from a punishing ruck run.

 And it all comes down to one thing: this should never have happened.

 None of this should have happened. It was just a goddamn routine operation, repairing a broken femur, just three pieces at all, cut open, puzzle together, slap a metal plate on it, good as new. Stuff even residents in ordinary hospitals should be able to do two years into their residency and not just us very few and kinda proud junior surgeons who get uh encouraged by Dr. Beckett to do way more than we would in hospitals back home. No one was supposed to die, and yet Dr. Wendinger kicked the bucket right there on the operation table and there was nothing I could do.

 One minute I was preparing to close up with the assistant and the next Wendinger’s pulse spikes high enough to hit the roof, our anesthetist goes, “Oh crap,” tells us to get the fuck out of the way and starts reanimating Wendinger who flatlines and… then it’s over. Just like that. Right out of the fucking blue.

 Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck… “Dr. Morsberg, are you alri…”

 “Fuck no, does it look like I’m alright?” Ah, shit, and now I snapped at my boss but oh my God did he have to squat down in front of me and address me without any warning at all? Couldn’t he just have let me sit here and wallow in my fucking misery? Also, “And it’s Stabsarzt, goddammit, how often do I have to say that?”

 Beckett, curse his bloody brave Scottish heart, makes a placating gesture with his hands and attempts his usual “let’s calm the agitated patient down” number. “Now, there’s no reason to be so belligerent and…”

 “I just lost a patient during a fucking routine surgery, I have every reason to be as fucking belligerent as I fucking like!” Okay, I really didn’t want to be that hostile. Honestly, I didn’t. But I am not a patient of Beckett’s and if there’s one thing I really, really hate it’s other doctors practicing their bedside manner on me. ‘Sides, I really do have every reason to be pissed the hell off.

 Beckett, for his part, gives me a look and it’s really, really hard not to snap at him again for the sheer amount of sympathy in it. Not pity, which at least would have given me another good reason at being rightfully “belligerent” but actual, genuine knowing sympathy, from one experienced doctor to a less experienced one. “Just give it time, lad. You’ll be alright eventually.”

 Yeah uh no. Not in the mood for that right. Or ever. “All due respect, sir, but fuck that because you know what? Dr. Wendinger won’t.”

 I kind of wish Beckett would be at least a little more like Sheppard because Sheppard, as laid back as he usually acts, would never have let any of his soldiers get away with the crap I’m currently flinging at Beckett and I realize that I’m practically craving an argument, craving someone fucking yelling back at me and putting me in my place. Maureen, I guess, would know that, too and know what to do about it but she’s currently off-world, taking part in the search effort for those ZPMs the alternative Dr. Weir pointed us towards, as is Sheppard, and so I’m stuck here with Dr. Beckett who just gives me another sad look and nods, more to himself than to me, saying, “You’re right, he won’t. And it looks like you need some time for yourself so I’ll leave you to it. I’ll be in my office if you need anything.”

 If I need anything? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Hey, Doc, what the… where are you…

 Huh. Guess he really is going to his office. Leaving me here with all that rage and guilt. Just like he said. Well. That. Uh.

 Okay, I… I guess I should be getting up, shouldn’t I? Get up and… help the rest of my surgery team with cleaning up and do post-op paperwork to admit Wendinger to the morgue and… all that, right? Something like that, yes, I think I should do that.

 So, I get up, kind of like in a daze and stumble around a couple steps. I… OR? Work station?

 Dr. Beckett’s office?

 How the hell did I get here?

 Oh, wait, no, I remember. I got up and took a couple steps towards a work station and… ended up standing behind Dr. Beckett. I uh. Huh. I think maybe I should sit down again, try to get back some of the mind I apparently just lost out there? Yeah. Sounds like a good idea.

 So I sit down on the bed behind me, legs dangling and my elbows braced on my thighs, head in my hands. I’m not entirely sure if I added a groan or not – by now, I have kinda stopped being sure about anything – but when I lift my head, Beckett still sits at his desk, his back to me, alternating between typing away at his laptop and consulting a notepad next to it. As if nothing ever happened. As if Dr. Wendinger never died in that OR.

 Immediately, I feel another surge of blinding anger, my blood pressure spiking, adrenaline shooting up, priming me to lash out, even get physically violent but from one moment to the next, it all disappears, leaving me hurt and confused and inexplicably tired and before I know it, I hear myself murmuring wearily, “Dr. Beckett?”

 Beckett doesn’t turn around. In fact, for a moment, it looks like he hasn’t even heard me because he doesn’t react at all, just keeps working on whatever he is writing there but then, still without turning around and still typing, he does reply, “What is it, son?”

 See, one of the reasons why, even after eight months, no one here even thought about complaining about the crazy ass workload, the shitty hours, all that overtime and people still dying, is that everyone here in the infirmary basically worships the ground Dr. Beckett walks on, and I’m not even ashamed to admit that I am no exception to that. It’s not even his insane medical knowledge and skills or his dedication that makes him take on the biggest workload, work the shittiest hours and accumulate the longest overtime. It’s that even when you snap at him and he has every right to go over your ass with a wire brush, he never, not even for a moment, forgets to be anything but professional, encouraging and just so goddamn nice.

 Admittedly, the Scottish accent doesn’t hurt, either.

 I take a deep breath, preparing to ask a really stupid question. “Do you think there’s anything I could have done, sir? Anything at all?”

 There’s another beat of silence and then he does turn around, after all. I half expected him to look at least disappointed, if not angry but all I can see is kindness and a hint of sadness, telling me that seeing Dr. Wendinger die on that operating table didn’t leave him cold, either. And honestly, not even in the fog of my anger did I ever truly believe anything to the contrary. Beckett takes a resigned breath before telling me, “The fact that you’re asking me that means that you already know the answer.”

 I do. Of course I do. I’ve been a combat medic for over seven years now, if you take BCT and officer training in account and a doctor for two years, having spent the majority of my service so far patching up people in emergency rooms, ORs and the field, under all kinds of conditions, I know what I’m capable of and where the extent of my skills and modern medicine ends. I even know that sometimes, not even the best doctor and the best technology could have saved the patient because I’ve assisted in surgeries often enough not to harbor any illusions anymore. But, as I just had to find out, none of that matters when the entire surgery was your show and not someone else’s. I shake my head. “’S all so pointless. All that damn technology, and people still keep dying while we’re repairing a broken femur.”

 Beckett just nods, sagely and looks genuinely sad when he says, “We can’t save everyone, lad.”

 The weird thing is: that’s something my father could have said, too. Only, if it had been him, it would have had a certain let’s say patronizing quality about it. Pontificating, too. Also, kind of annoyed. You know, in a kind of “Oh my God, have you still not realized that? Just how dumb a son did I raise?” way. Because that’s my father for you. Have I mentioned that we’re not exactly close?

 If that had been my father telling me that, I’d have either gone fully ballistic or just simply gotten up, walked out and not have spoken to him for about two weeks. Beckett, though, is neither my father nor did he patronize me or shake his head at me disappointedly. All he did was spell out a universal truth that doctors have failed to learn for as long as the profession exists and that he himself is still struggling with. That’s why I owe him a reply. “Doesn’t mean I can’t still keep trying.”

 I’m almost prepared for him to write me off as a hopeless case, after all because there was just a bit too much of stubborn insolence in my answer to ignore it but instead of reprimanding me, he… grins. Just a small, barely visible crooked grin. Almost… appreciative? “And you shouldn’t.” Yep, definitely appreciative, or at least approving. Huh. “But if you don’t want to burn out before you’re thirty, remember that we aren’t gods.” Right. Should have seen that one coming. “We’re just human, after all.”

 Uh-huh. Only, there’s this tiny little thing that, “Being human sucks.”

 Beckett gives me a resigned smile. “No one said it doesn’t.”

 Yeah, that’s… not really helpful. True but not exactly helpful. “Sir, I… I just keep wondering if anything I did here…”

 “Son, you realize that you did make a difference?” Okay. How did he know that that was the problem? How did he manage to verbalize it even before I knew what exactly my problem was and could think it?

 And great, now he’s got that senior physician look, the one that stares right into your soul and helps them detect lies before you even thought them up. Yes, okay, I’m being a little dramatic here. Also, honest, despite not wanting to be. “Not really, no.”

 Unfortunately, that doesn’t suffice for him. “Come on over,” he says, motioning vaguely in the direction of his screen. Huh?

 I look at him with my eyes narrowed, with no idea what the hell he’s getting at. “Sir?”

 “Come on,” he says again, adding, “I want to show you something.”

 And I’m not in the mood for any of that senior doctor teaching their padawan junior doctors a lesson thing. Not. At. All. “Sir, I’m really not…”

 Now he rolls his eyes, something he really rarely does. “Just come on, Matthias.” And now he used my first name. Totally butchered the pronunciation but I do appreciate the effort. “Don’t force me to make it an order, please?” Right. No one can say no to Dr. Carson Beckett when he says please.

 I try not to give any outward sign of resignation and hop off the bed to saunter over to where he’s sitting at his computer. “Okay, fine. So… what is it you wanted me to see, sir?”

 “This,” he says and swivels around on his chair to gesture at his screen again.

 This time, I’m close enough to see what is actually on there. It’s… “The infirmary log?”

 Beckett nods. “Aye. Read it.”

 Seriously? “What, now?”

 He nods. “Aye. I’ll take care of the post-op cleanup and paperwork, you can take your time.” That’s… really nice of him because post-op cleanup and paperwork is a bitch, especially when you lose someone right on the operation table during a routine operation.

 But here’s the thing: I lost Dr. Wendinger on the operating table. My mess, so I should be cleaning it up. Right. Now. “Sir, I really have other…”

 “Not right now, you haven’t.” Really? I’d beg to dif… “Just sit down here, make yourself comfortable and read.”

 You know, what my father could never have achieved with blunt force, that is blunt words – make me buck up and actually listen – Dr. Beckett apparently manages with friendly, polite tenacity. I can’t believe I’m doing it but yes, I’m sitting down in the chair he just vacated and look at his screen with a cursory glance before looking back at him, hoping that it comes out deadpan. “That an order, sir?”

 “Do you want it to be?” Not really but… “Right, I thought so.” Apparently, I really need to work on my skills as a human enigma because apparently, everyone and their mother can see right through me.

 Alright, so I guess I have exhausted all my options and now have to face the inevitable. Rolling my eyes, I turn the chair towards the screen proper, for the first time actually seeing what’s on it aside from “infirmary log” and… why is my name highlight… Wait. That’s what he’d been doing when I came in here. He’d been using the log’s search feature to find… to find what? Entries I’m mentioned in? For what?

 I lean forward, eyes narrowed a bit, and randomly pick out one of the search results. It’s from three months back and my name is under the tag of assisting surgeons. Beckett was the attending and oh yeah, I remember that. Lieutenant Crown’s team had had a nasty run-in with local wildlife and one of them – Dr. Cheng, their zoologist – had ended up on the table with a multi-trauma. We’d had to work simultaneously on several injuries and okay, that’s all I remember from it because that surgery had taken hours to finish and I’d been in a kind of tunnel, focusing exclusively on the tasks Beckett gave me so the rest wouldn’t distract me. The log entry says that apparently, I managed to repair an artery in Cheng’s leg that had ruptured and that ultimately, that was the reason she didn’t die. Okay, one of the reasons but apparently, crucial? Huh.

 With a click, I return to the list of log entries that Becket pulled up and click on another one, from just last month. One of the rare occasions I’d gotten to go off-world, not for a MEDCAP but an actual SAR mission. It had been messy and bloody and the entry says that the only reason none of the members of the team that had been trapped off-world had died, was that I had been in command of the rescue team, consisting of Chief Petty Officer Christie, a Navy Corpsman, Sergeants Wazowsky and Peterson, both of them Air Force pararescue jumpers, and Maureen and Strickland for additional firepower. Again, I don’t remember having made any particular contribution that might have led to single me out like that but if there’s one thing that Dr. Beckett doesn’t do, despite his affable manner and everything, it’s give out praise that is undeserved. I must have done something right, then.

 Well, I… wait. Why is my OR team still here? I think I remember telling them to get the hell out of here right before losing it just outside the OR and I honestly thought that all anyone would want to do after a messed up surgery as the one we just had would be walk out of here and never look back on this particular day. Which is why I told them to get the hell out in the first place.

 And yet, they’re still here. The anesthetist, Dr. Kwon, Jones and Capellito, the two OR nurses, Bailey, my assisting surgeon… all of them still here, sitting just a few beds away from the OR’s entrance. They don’t seem to be talking or anything, just sitting there and… “If you’re thinking “well, I should be over there, saying something” right now, you’re at least half right, son. You should be over there but I don’t thinking talking is necessary right now.” Jesus fucking Christ.

 I swear to God, I’m gonna find a bell and I’m gonna fucking tie it to his ankle because honestly, sneaking up on subordinates like that? What is he even thinking? Also, “Sir, I don’t think…”

 “That’s fine, it’s not required, either.” What? “Go ahead, like I said, I’ll take care of post-op.”

 I don’t even… go ahead what? Walk over there, give them some kind of pep talk, tell them they did everything right, it was me, not them? What did he mean by “talking isn’t necessary right now”? Throwing them another looks makes pretty clear that none of them is particularly happy, more like… lost maybe? I’d, well, I’d understand that because that’s basically how I still feel, despite Beckett’s attempts at encouragement and they do look a little like I feel.

 And for some really weird reason, that’s when I have some kind of epiphany. Maybe… maybe this is what Sheppard meant when he told me that yes, my successful one-time command of that rescue team a month ago finally put me on the list of prospective permanent off-world going personnel, if we ever managed to acquire more surgeons so Beckett didn’t have any more leverage to keep me in the infirmary permanently but that he didn’t think I was ready for a permanent spot on any team. He said… he said I needed to learn how to “play nice with others” and I remember how thoroughly pissed I was at that. I have been working in teams for all my professional life, right since the first day of BCT and the one thing I always got high marks on had been my ability to function as part of a team.

 Only… I don’t think Sheppard meant the whole “functioning as a part of a team” thing. I’m starting to think that he meant that part off the battlefield, that part when, after all the adrenaline is gone and you find yourself crashing with withdrawal and you realize what a shitty, shitty day it’s been. I don’t even know how he did that but somehow, Sheppard must have found out that when that happens, I usually go and find myself a cave to lick my wounds in or, in this city, a balcony. He must have realized that when things go to shit, I have exactly one go to person and aside from her, completely avoid letting anyone see me completely lose it. Letting anyone in.

 I look at my OR team again. And then swallow and look back at Dr. Beckett. “Yes, sir.”

 He nods back at me and thankfully keeps whatever he’s thinking right now to himself while I get up and walk over to my OR team. I still have no idea what to say to them but when I see them look up and realize that it’s me, I realize that maybe Dr. Beckett was right. Maybe talking isn’t required, right now. I know that I’ll still wait with letting myself completely fall apart until Maureen is back from her mission because there’s no way in hell anyone else is ever gonna see me like that but yeah, this – walking over, sitting with them, quietly sharing this loss and this grief and this anger, because we don’t need to talk about it, because we’ve been there – is a first. And everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right?

Chapter Text

Guns in My Head

“I got guns in my head and they won’t go
Spirits in my head and they won’t go
I got guns in my head and they won’t go
Spirits in my head and they won’t go
But the gun still rattles
The gun still rattles, oh
I got guns in my head and they won’t go
Spirits in my head and they won’t go.”

The Strumbellas, “Spirits”

 

 Okay. If I casually state that I might need a change in my workout routine ever again, please make me shut up immediately, before someone actually hears me. Someone like Matthias Morsberg who shows up on my doorstep at oh-dark-hundred, grinning from ear to ear and very eager to “run some laps, come on, you said you need a change in your workout routine”, making me join a goddamn special forces workout.

 So it’s not like I’m a complete couch potato or anything, right? Just because we’re in a different galaxy cut off from Earth doesn’t mean we’re allowed to fall behind on our PT scores and I make a point of acing those, ever since realizing that as a member of a gate team, my life literally depends on me being in peak physical condition. Also, my former team leader being a Special Tactics Officer kind of made sure that my PT went beyond the standard US Armed Forces physical fitness training.

 But I swear to God, I have never been as exhausted and as pissed at someone as I am now, sixty minutes after Mats practically kicked me out of bed – that guy is probably the only person who regularly gets up earlier than I do and likes it – and then dragged me all over the city at a brutal speed, with breaks at the firing range, the pool the engineers rigged up at one of the piers a few weeks after we came here, the workout room we use for hand-to-hand combat.

 Although “break” is probable the wrong word. “Torture” would be much more adequate. Crunches, push-ups, swimming laps, the whole nine yards. I will never, never underestimate doctors, ever again. Not a “real” special forces member, my fucking ass.

 Fuck, I should just tell him I give up, at least then this torment would be over. Unfortunately, my professional pride as a Marine and my damn, stupid stubbornness keep me from just conceding defeat, and that’s why I’m still trying to keep up with him on the catwalk, high above the city.

 But hey, at least this keeps me from thinking too hard about, you know, our impending doom. I… “Hey.” Huh? Damn, nearly ran into him. And why couldn’t he have the decency to sound exhausted instead of just a little winded?

 “What?” Oh good, that came out as an actual wheeze. I will never be able to live this one down, mark my words.

 He grins. The bastard actually grins. “You realize I’m just messing with you, right?”

 Uh. “What?”

 Instead of answering right away, he takes a deep breath, then laughs, now decidedly wheezing himself in between bouts of laughter. What the hell? “Please don’t tell me you think that this is my regular workout.”

 I’m…

 I’m going to fucking kill him.

 And I’m going to do it now. “I’m going,” I tell him, taking a deep breath and goddamn wheezing again, “to kill you. Painfully,” another deep breath, “thoroughly,” yep, deep breath, “and very, very slowly.”

 Mats, for his part, is still oscillating between laughing and coughing and I honestly hope he fucking chokes on his stupid workout. “Fuck, you should,” he coughs, “you should see your face.”

 Okay, that does it. I move to give him a really hard punch to his shoulder but the damn bastard is fast enough to avoid me and I’m kind of glad that we’re on the catwalk because the way I just stumbled would have thoroughly ruined my reputation. “I hate you. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.”

 “I know you do,” he says good-naturedly and steps up to the railing, leaning on his elbows. “That’s why I did this, you know.”

 I move to stand next to him, mirroring his pose. “Now you lost me.”

 He snorts. “You needed a distraction.” He scratches his head. “Okay, we needed a distraction.”

 Raising my eyebrows, I look at him. “Care to elaborate, Stabsarzt?”

 That makes him shrug. “That armada of lifesucking space vampires… ring a bell?” Uh, yeah, fuck, it does. “Yeah, thought so. We’ve been training civilians to run for their lives, blow shit up and shoot to kill for a week now, non-stop. I honestly don’t know about you but I really needed a break.”

 “And that break consisted of torturing me?” Honestly, I still can’t believe I let him do that to me. I can’t believe that after almost two years around Special Forces soldiers I let him dupe me into something like this.

 And again, he’s laughing. Fuck him! “Trust me, it was mutual.” Which I still don’t get, not even as a Marine. Why would a break consist of torturing others and yourself? “By the way, what are they feeding you Marines? I’ve seen grown-ass men break down weeping after about ten minutes of workouts like this.”

 As a matter of fact, I believe him. Because I’ve seen it, too. We weren’t big on formation at the SGC but once in a while, someone higher up – usually a new full-bird who thought they had something to prove – would get it into their heads that customs at the SGC were a little too “removed” from Big Air Force and Marine Corps – usually before an inspection involving guys with stars on their shoulders – and it would usually end in some stupid stuff like PT in formation or some such nonsense, and anyway, there was this one time someone thought it was a good idea to put the Major in charge of a base-wide PT formation. It was exactly the disaster it sounds like. Come to think of it, it was also the last time anyone got any stupid ideas about doing anything in formation at the SGC. Huh.

 Anyway, we’re not at the SGC. We’re in Atlantis, and we’re just a few days away from being overrun by lifesucking space vampires and he just dragged me through half the city for a “break”. “It’s not the food.” He looks at me with his eyebrows raised. “It’s just plain old sheer stubbornness they breed into us at MCB Quantico.”

 “You didn’t want to give an Army guy the satisfaction of giving up before him,” he states matter-of-factly and fuck, he’s right. That’s exactly why I didn’t just tell him to go fuck himself after ten minutes. That and just being used to going along with whatever impossible workout regimen was on for today without asking, because asking usually ended in extra rounds. I made that mistake exactly once.

 I sigh. “Yep, that too.” It makes him grin.

 “So,” he says after another moment of both of us catching our breaths, “did my distraction work?”

 Seriously? I give him another punch to his shoulder, this time hard enough that I’m pretty sure it’ll leave a bruise. His according yelp sounds more accusingly than pained, though, so I’ll kindly ignore it. I’m about to tell him just how well his “distraction” worked – I’m pretty sure I’ll be sore for about the next two weeks – but then, for some reason, I decide to get serious and ask something completely different, “Are you scared?”

 He blinks, probably tries to gauge where the hell that just came from – quite frankly, I’m not so sure myself – but then I see him shift to a sober look I haven’t seen for a long time and says, sounding completely honest, “Shitless.” He swallows, then adds, “You?”

 I’m tempted to give him either some non-committal stuff or some honest to God gung-ho Marine shit about it taking more to scare a US Marine than some space vampires. But this is Mats. My best friend and confidante ever since coming here. The only one who knows about Tom, the only one who has ever seen me really, truly down on my knees here. I take a deep breath. “Same.”

 He nods, then shakes his head and leans his forehead down on his arms, murmuring, “Civilians are gonna get eaten alive. Literally.”

 Uh-oh. Oh, no. That doesn’t sound good. If someone like Matthias Morsberg, the most annoyingly upbeat person I have ever met, and that includes Laura Greenspan, has already lost his faith like that, we really have a problem.

 Also, and that’s the worst thing, it’s not like he’s wrong.

 It’s me swallowing, this time. “Yeah.” He raises his head and looks at me, almost disappointed. As if he expected me to soundly object to his assessment. But as we both know by now, that’s not how I roll. “What, Mats? I’m not gonna lie to you.”

 He snorts. “Yeah. You are the worst liar I ever encountered.” Ugh, not him, too. I don’t even know how many times Laura, Dee or the Major have told me that in my year at the SGC. The Major especially seemed to have taken every chance he got to tell me that, and after six months I was ready to throttle him if he ever did it again. I never did get to… “Anyway… why are we even putting up the effort of training them?”

 That’s a good question. If they’re all gonna die, anyway… why are we putting time and effort into training them? According to the calculations from Zelenka and McKay, we have maybe two weeks, three if we’re lucky until the Wraith armada is here, and that’s not nearly enough time to teach soldiers all those things we’re trying to teach the civilians right now. Most of them have never even looked at a gun at close range, and those without off-world clearance have had a let’s say loose relationship with the workout room. None of them are really out of shape but only some of them are in peak physical condition. And with the exception of the medical staff who have some experience with MSF or the Red Cross and couple of the diplomats who served in hot spots back on Earth, none of them have ever even gotten close to the confusion and fog of war.

 But still. I take a deep breath. “Because it’s their city, too, Mats.” And that, in the end, is really the only explanation I can come up with on such short notice. “They deserve a chance at defending it, just like we do. And we’re the only ones who can make that a fighting chance for them.”

 He frowns. “You really believe that?”

 Huh. What kind of question is that? I raise my eyebrows, genuinely irritated. “What, you don’t?”

 He doesn’t answer immediately, just takes a deep breath – more like a sigh, really – and then runs his hand through his hair and down his neck. “Fine, yes, of course I do. It’s just… you’ve been out there, you’ve seen what it’s like.” Yes, I have. So has he. And a number of the civilians, too. “Look, I know what you’re going to say and you’re right. But I just… can’t help remembering Brendan Gall whenever I put a gun in a botanist’s hand or teach an archaeologist how to apply a tourniquet or…” He just shrugs a little helplessly.

 Okay, I get it. I might have been a little out of it due to a mild concussion but I do remember that night. He never really told me what happened but I read the mission report. Dr. Brendan Gall, having shot himself in the head with a Beretta, after a Wraith took twenty years off his life span. And I remember the way he sat down on my bed, his shoulders slumped a little, his face a little bleak… yeah. He never spoke of that again, and I just assumed he’d somehow put a lid on it and got on with it. Apparently, I was wrong.

 I turn around, leaning on the railing with my back to it. “You’re right, Mats. We can’t save everyone.” He looks at me like he’s about to ask me what kind of crappy pep talk that’s going to be but I don’t let him cut in. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to, anyway.”

 That, for some inexplicable reason, makes him snort and laugh a little humorless laugh. “I think I heard that before.” I give him the raised eyebrows but he shakes his head. “Never mind. Just a conversation I had with Dr. Beckett some time ago.”

 Right. He doesn’t sound like he wants me to dig in deeper, so I don’t. “Seriously, if what we do right now means that at least one of them won’t end up like Dr. Gall, it’s been worth it. We can do that, right?”

 Come on, Matts. You know the right answer to that one. “Yeah, okay, I guess we can.” Good boy. “Don’t you dare give me a pat on the head.”

 Wow. He really is psychic. I grin and give him a friendly, very light jab on the shoulder. “Come on, we gotta go catch a shower and breakfast before it’s SERE 101 for me and “How To Communicate Without The Wraith Listening In” for you.”

 He rolls his eyes. “Okay, fine.” Then he… wait! He starts running again, way too fast for someone who just forced both me and himself through a stupid Special Forces work-out, and throws a, “Last one to get down the catwalk gets to take the botanists to the shooting range!” over his shoulder.

 Dammit. No one wants to take the damn botanists to the shooting range, not even me so I pull myself together and start after him, determined to overtake him before it’s too late, and if it’s the last thing I do. How much worse than a full-blown Wraith invasion can it be, anyway?

Chapter Text

The Bitterness That Lasts

“So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts.”

Mike & The Mechanics, “The Living Years”

“I said no, Lieutenant.” As I have said for the last twelve times you asked me that, goddammit.

“Come on, Doc! Just a couple minutes!” Twelve times! I said no twelve times!

 Jesus fucking Christ. He’s been on my heels for at least twenty minutes now, trailing me through the infirmary. From checking the medicine cabinets to making sure all emergency equipment is easily accessible to building med kits for the imminent Wraith invasion. All around the damn place, pestering me with his damn video camera and his stupid idea of recording a “letter” to “a loved one”. I’ve tried being nice to him – Aiden Ford is basically the equivalent to a very eager puppy, only that this puppy is a US Marine and a highly capable weapons expert – but even I have my limits.

 So I finally stop, take a deep breath to calm myself down at least somewhat and then turn around, to look into the weapon expert puppy’s face and tell him, barely keeping it together, “Lieutenant Ford, which part of “No, thank you, I don’t need to have anything recorded” did you not get? Seriously, which one is it?”

 He stops short, apparently not having quite anticipated me stopping mid-walk but then gives me that boyish half-grin half of Atlantis is swooning over. “Doc, you gotta have someone back on Earth, right?”

 I do, of course. I just don’t have anything I’d like to contact or send any famous last words to, that’s all. And really, that should be my decision and mine alone. “None of that is any of your business, Lieutenant.”

 He makes a face. “Why are you being so difficult, Doc? Even McKay had me record something.”

 Oh right, because Rodney fucking McKay is fit to serve as a good example for anything. I frown. “I’m not being difficult, Lieutenant.” I’m this close to pulling rank, by the way. I never pull rank outside of medical emergencies. “I just don’t have anything worth saying into that camera.”

 “You got family back on Earth, right?” Go away, Ford. “They haven’t heard back from you on nearly a year. They’d sure be happy.”

 Okay, that’s it. I’m finally past being nice. “As far as I know, this is not mandatory. It is my personal decision whether I want to say anything into that camera or not. And I hereby exercise my right not to do that. Do you understand, Lieutenant?” One more prod and I will pull rank, just watch me.

 I’ll also happily throw him out of the damn infirmary, if he only will leave me the fuck alone. “Look, Doc…”

 “Leave me the hell alone, Lieutenant. That’s a fucking order.” See what you made me do? See?

 He frowns. “Doc, I’m pretty sure you ain’t got no authority to order me…”

 “Lieutenant.” He nearly jumped to attention. Good thing Maureen isn’t here or she’d have my balls for snapping at a fellow Marine like that. Or maybe she wouldn’t. She’s been known for occasionally getting pretty fed up with her fellow Marines, especially the male variant. “This, right here, is the infirmary. And right now, I’m the highest ranking available member of the infirmary team, civilian or military. I wear the rank of Captain. I have every right to order you the fuck around here.”

 That finally seems to make it through his thick skull, penetrating at least some of that relentless determination to drive me bonkers. Then, “I’m sorry, sir. No excuse, sir.” That’s more like it. “Wasn’t my intention to question your authority.” If it wasn’t, then why did you do it? “Permission to ask something, sir?”

 “No.” Yeah, didn’t really count on me flat out denying your request to keep pestering me, huh? “You have permission to leave, Lieutenant.”

 He swallows. “Sir…”

 Holy shit, how dumb is this guy? “No, Lieutenant! Seriously, which part of that didn’t you get?” He actually attempts to answer that, goddammit. “No, don’t answer that. Instead: listen, and listen real closely. This year, here in Atlantis, with almost three-hundred-sixty five days of having been completely cut off from my family, was basically the best year of my entire life, precisely because I didn’t hear anything from them and wasn’t forced to talk to them in any way, shape or form.” Again, he tries to interrupt me. I’m not having it. “I have nothing to say to my parents or anyone else in my family, so kindly leave me the hell alone, Lieutenant!”

 At that, he blinks at me but doesn’t leave. Why is he not leaving? “No one you’d want anything to say to, Lieutenant? No girlfriend?”

 I glare at him, and can just keep from outright yelling to him by grinding out, “No. Girlfriend.”

 “Ex-girlfriend?” Jesus fucking Christ.

 “No girlfriend. Ever. Do you understand?” Good God, I really did not want to come out to a goddamn US Marine like that. In fact, I didn’t want to come out to any other US Marine than Maureen Reece at all. Yet, here we are.

 Ford, for his part, again blinks at me like he needs a moment to process what I just told him and I already brace for the inevitable. It’s either unfunny and downright degrading jokes or gay panic, never something else, just you… “Boyfriend, then?”

 Holy hell. “Out, Lieutenant.” It’s one thing to talk with Maureen about my ex-boyfriend. That’s okay, because she’s her and because she knows and I don’t really have to explain that much. It’s something completely different having someone else ask after him.

 And finally, finally he shuts the fuck up, nods and takes himself and his camera out of my… “’s not my place to judge, sir,” damn right it isn’t, “but I got no parents, either. Lost ‘em when I was really young.”

 “Sob stories don’t work on me, Lieutenant.” I know I’m being unfair but I don’t really care. Ford really has no idea what it was like growing up as the only son of Hans-Joachim and Ingrid Morsberg. No idea what it was like to know that neither of them had any particular interest in you despite as a vessel to fulfill their ambitions – continuing a five generation tradition of serving as a medical doctor and continuing the family name in my father’s case, having grandchildren in my mother’s case – and that they probably wouldn’t throw you out if they knew who you really are but damn well just pretending that you’re someone entirely else.

 Ford shakes his head. “No sob story, sir. Didn’t even know them so I never missed ‘em. But I get it, you’ve got some beef with your family.” No, you don’t get it, that’s the thing.

 I take a deep breath. “Lieutenant… I don’t have any beef with my parents. I just really don’t have anything to say to them. They have no idea who I really am, and I’m not sure they’re even interested in that.” And that really is the crux of the matter. It’s not even that I’m mad at my parents. I just don’t think we have that much in common is all.

 “You uh… your parents, they don’t know?” This guy really is fundamentally incapable of simply accepting a no when he hears it, isn’t he?

 “No, Lieutenant, my parents don’t know. And I’m not telling them. Ever.” Because what would that accomplish, really? Like I said, they’d probably just pretend they never heard it and go on with business as usual, never even acknowledging a – you know, kind of essential – part of who I am.

 He’s silent, and I finally expect him to leave.

 I… “Lieutenant Reece, she got no family back on Earth, right?” Right. Of course he wouldn’t leave. He hasn’t gotten what he came here for, after all.

 Okay, maybe, if I can’t throw him out right now, I’ll just play along until some emergency or other happens – in this city, something always happens at some point – and then get rid of him by way of having something more important to do. I sigh. “No one biologically related to her, no.” Also, yes, I’m actually curious. “Why? What has she got to do with this?” And still pretty much annoyed, okay.

 “She had me record a video.” Right.

 What? “For whom, in God’s name?”

 He shrugs, a little nonchalantly. “Someone from Homeworld Security.” And… that’s it. That’s all he’s saying.  

 I frown. “I don’t…” Wait, Homeworld Security? “Really?”

 “Yup, sir.” Oh come on, You’re really gonna hold out on me like that? This is a really transparent maneuver to make me curious, if I ever saw one.

 And damn, it’s working. I fucking walked right into this one. Well then, might just go the full distance, then. “The hell did she say in that recording?”

 “Not my place to tell you, Doc.” Fuck it.

 I can’t even be pissed at him for that because he’s right. It isn’t his place to tell me, and ordering him to would just make me look like an ass who doesn’t know how to respect his fellow officers’ privacy. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. “Right, of course it isn’t.”

 But dammit, now I’m curious. From everything I know of her past at the SGC – precious little, as it is – there aren’t that many people within Homeworld Security she could have contacted, and I’d just bet that it includes Captain’s bars guy. Who, if I interpreted it correctly, used to be her superior officer and was the guy who nearly decapitated me when I cut in their dance at the Broadmoor. You know, the guy who nearly bit my head off shortly before we set out for Atlantis back at the SGC.

 The guy she almost certainly has some really weird unfinished business with.

 Well.

 Here’s the thing: I’m still not going to send my parents a message. My father has enough brass on his shoulders to hear through the grapevine that we managed to reestablish contact at least long enough to send through the messages and as many official reports as possible, and someone will alert him that I’m not on any casualty lists. That’s gonna have to be enough for them. But there is someone else I have unfinished business with.

 I sigh. “Okay, fine, Lieutenant.” He’s this close to letting out a whoop but apparently, he’s smart enough to realize that that would result in me throwing him out. “Two minutes, then you’re out of here.”

 There’s a grin lighting up Ford’s entire face, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t left an entire trail of broken hearts all over the city without even knowing about it. Then again, he’s young, he’s healthy, he’s a Marine. I’m pretty sure he’s had some act… whatever. Not my business.

 Still grinning, he sets up his damn camera and I sit down on one of the infirmary beds, my legs dangling. When he gives me the go sign, I sigh another time and then set off, hoping Ford is as discreet as he promised to. Because otherwise, this is going to be really embarrassing. Alright, here goes nothing, then.

 “Hi, Oliver. Du fragst dich vielleicht, warum du dieses Video bekommen hast…”

Chapter Text

I’m Out in Space

“All I had to do was
Pick up the phone
I'm out in space
Trying to talk to someone
Yeah, we're living in
In a modern world.”

Electric Light Orchestra, “Calling America”

You know, it’s days like today that I really regret letting the Major drag me all the way from Hurlburt to Area 51. There is absolutely jack to do on this base and honestly, I’m starting to consider a reenactment of the fucking Folsom Prison Blues in Reno. I used to be really good at waiting out even weeks of stretches with nothing to do but sit and wait but it’s been… months now since we quit the SGC for a transfer to AFSOC at Hurlburt after Laura died and then another transfer to Area 51 when they wouldn’t stop badgering us for information on our last posting. The Major didn’t take really well to it.

 Anyway… it’s fucking dull out here and you can mix up chemicals until they make boom only so often before even that becomes boring. I’m pretty sure the Major feels the same way, even though they put him in electronic countermeasures as soon as they could get their hands on him. I know that he’s been trying to get into Area 51’s networks even since before he knew that there actually was something worth getting in for and they probably figured that it was better to have him on their side. It’s always better to have him on your side.

 But damn I just wish… “Hey, Dee. You got a minute?”

 Huh? Oh right, Major just asked me something. I resist clearing my throat and look up from the data sheet that I’d been trying to analyze. “Sure, sir, what is it?”

 “Look at your e-mails.” What… oh right. Been at least three hours since I haven’t looked at them. I shut the alarm off because I wanted to get some fucking work done and… what does “data burst from Atlantis” mean?

 “Uh, sir… is that what I think it is?” I look up at him and he runs a hand over his face.

 It takes another minute until he nods, and only now I realize that he looks like he just saw a ghost. Honestly, it could be the bad lighting in the lab but I’m pretty sure he’s all pale and everything. And are those dark rings under his eyes? “I wouldn’t know. Haven’t opened mine yet.”

 Right. Coward. I click open mine, noting the attachment but concentrating on the text first.

 To the recipients of this e-mail,

 Today we have received a data burst from Atlantis. It was a super compressed cluster of video messages from the expedition members. We have decrypted and decompressed the data. In the attachment, you will find the video that is intended for you. If you erroneously received a video that is addressed to someone else, please contact us immediately and we will sort it out.

 Sincerely,

 Walter Harriman, CMSGT, USAF

 A… video message? I look at him again and he just shrugs, looking pretty much forlorn. Seeing as we both only know one person in the entire Atlantis expedition, we know exactly who our message is from. I have a look around the lab. Right now I’m alone but the rest is on their lunch break and could be back any time. Well… I do have a lot of overtime logged, anyway. “Sir… how about we take this to my quarters?”

 He simply nods, as if he expected me to make that suggestion. I just hope he cleared that with Lieutenant Colonel Jarpeth, his superior officer. Ever since Laura died he became… kind of reckless, or maybe more like disinterested in his superior’s good graces. He’s had a disobedient streak since I first got to know him but when he disobeyed, it always was for a reason. Not because he just didn’t give a fuck about what his superiors think about him. “Don’t worry, Sergeant, Jarpeth gave me the rest of the day off. Something about grabbing the sleep I forwent in the last couple weeks or something.”

 Rrright.

 Well. I type a short e-mail to Dr. Mariana, the lab’s head and then grab my laptop and coffee cup to make for my characters. Thankfully, it’s lunch break so the barracks aren’t as crowded as in the evening and we get to my quarters without people asking us to join any number of community activity you can think up in the middle of the fucking desert. We plunk down on my couch, the laptop on the coffee table in front of us.

 So. Here goes nothing, I guess.

 “Hey Team,” holy fucking crap. Instinctively, I hit pause and the Major and I just wordlessly stare at each other. I mean, I knew what was coming but to see her again after over a year and be greeted as if it’s only been a few weeks… that’s so weird I don’t have any words. And the Major… God, I don’t think I wanna go there.

 Which is why it surprises me a little that he’s so fast with hitting play again. “How are you? Alright, stupid question, you can’t answer.” Yeah, that sounds like our little Lieutenant, even though she doesn’t quite look like her anymore. Just… older, somehow. “Anyway, I just wanted to say that I hope that you’re all okay and that the Major hasn’t gotten any of you killed.” Shit. Shit shit shit. She still doesn’t know about Laura. Of course she doesn’t know about Laura and even though I’m aware of that there’s a moment where I just want to strangle her for being so damn casual about it. The Major… “I’m alright, apart from the impending danger of space vampires bombing this city into…

 Huh, what?

 “Hold on a minute, Dr. Weir said…” Seriously, sir? Did you just go into jealousy mode, just because there’s a male voice from behind the camera?

 Reece, in the video, rolls her eyes. “This goes to my SGC team, Aiden. Security clearance isn’t an issue.” Okay, so she’s on first name basis with the guy behind the camera. Big deal, sir. Still no need to get jealous.

 “Yeah, but… don’t you want to send anything to your family?” Aiden seems genuinely flabbergasted. So apparently, Aiden doesn’t know her well enough to know that essentially, she doesn’t have

 “That team is my family.” Oh. I… honestly didn’t expect that one. And from the look of it, the Major didn’t either. So far he hasn’t said anything but if I’d had to hazard a guess, I’d say that for some reason, that sentence got him harder than the one about him not having any of us gotten killed yet.

 For a moment, Aiden is silent. Then, “Right.”

 Reece, on her side of the camera, looks a little annoyed now and I’m not sure if it’s the MARPAT camos or the lighting or anything but… she looks as if she’s much more aware of her rank than she was the SGC. “Can I proceed now?

 “Sure, uh, knock yourself out.” At that, she rolls her eyes again.

 Then she continues, “Thank you. Anyway… where was I?” I distinctly remember something about, “Oh yeah, the space vampires bent on bombing this city into rubble.” Yes, that. Wait, what? “Right now, they’re kind of our biggest problem but don’t let that faze you.” Sure, no, why not. “We’ve been through worse here, I guess.” You guess? “Or maybe we haven’t but you all trained me well and the people here really are the best and brightest and it’s, as the Major always likes to say, gonna be a piece of cake.

 “Did she just say space vampires, Dee?” The Major hit pause and she’s frozen in mid movement, imitating the look on the Major’s face when he tells you that something’s gonna be a piece of cake pretty well. He’s staring right at my laptop’s screen but I’m not sure what he’s seeing there.

 I take a deep breath. “Yes, sir, I believe so.”

 “Why in God’s fucking name did she want to go there when there are fucking space vampires?” Right, so apparently, he still hasn’t forgiven her for accepting a transfer to the Atlantis Expedition. Jeez, that man really can hold a fucking grudge.

 “You know, sir… I don’t think anyone knew about the space vampires when they went to Atlantis.” Actually, they didn’t know anything but I sure as hell hope he’s not going to point that out to me.

 Thank God, he just gives me one of his looks that say very loud and clearly, “I hope you’re aware of the bullshit you just said” and hits the play button again. Right.

 “You really think so?” Aiden, behind the camera doesn’t seem to be very convinced of the Major’s favorite saying. To be honest, there yet has to be an instance when I am convinced of it.

 She raises her eyebrow and is it just me or did the Major just discretely hide how that turned him on? “What, you don’t?” Then she looks back into the camera and he still seems a little… uncomfortable? “Okay, apparently, Lieutenant Ford here doesn’t think so but then again, he’s not SGC so there.” Apparently, that’s a familiar argument between them and sir, there’s no need to look so relieved at Aiden turning out to be one of the fresh faced Marines being trained at the SGC for their trip to the Pegasus Galaxy that Reece only had some eyerolling and exasperation left for. “Anyway, it’s been an awesome ride here so far and the team that I’m usually attached to is alright.” Mh. Does that mean that she doesn’t actually have a regular team there? It is kind of ridiculous how relieved that makes me. “They’re not you but they’re okay. I learned a shit ton of new languages and I could actually get to pass on some of skills you helped me acquire.

 She looks really excited now and I realize that even though she might look older and more mature, this posting seems to have her done a world of good. She sounds so much more self-confident now, too. “I know that the Major won’t like to hear it but… the decision to come here was the best one I could have made.” Okay, except when she has to directly address issues that were left unfinished between her and the Major. Somehow, it’s good to know that some things never change. “Now…

 “You got two more minutes.” There’s that annoyance at being interrupted again and it starts to figure. She might not be big on the usual blustering and chest beating that Marines like to have going on but she does seem to have internalized that she’s more experienced than and senior to Ford, even though they still hold the same rank.

 “Thank you Aiden.” Yep, just like I thought. “Okay, you heard the man. I’d just like to personally address each of you now.” Oh, huh, really? “So… Dee, you’re first.” I… am?  “Thank you for everything you taught me, from explosives to infiltration. I probably wouldn’t have been able to survive here without that.” I… honestly don’t know what to say to that. I look at the Major and actually slaps me on the shoulder. As if to thank me too for teaching her all of that. Huh.

 “And I… you know, I just wondered if you and Laura ever… well, you know what I mean.” What? I… what? How did she… I mean… what? “I just want you to be happy so if you haven’t… you know, just do it. Whatever makes you happy.

 I have to pause the video, swallowing against the big lump that suddenly appeared in my throat. I look at the Major and I’m pretty sure that he’s thinking back to that not exactly pleasant encounter at Hurlburt that we had about his behavior after Laura died. I’d wanted him to stop moping around and start being that badass soldier that I knew him to be again and he’d thought I didn’t care about Laura being dead and well… let’s say we settled it like men.

 So, with the biggest amount of stupidity possible, as both Laura and Reece would have said.

 I look at him again and he questioningly raises his eyebrow, asking me if I want to continue. The answer is definitely no, feeling as if someone just stabbed me and twisted a knife when Reece told me to act upon my feelings for Laura before it was too late and not even being able to be pissed off at her for that because dammit, she doesn’t even know that her best friend has been dead for months now. I hit the play button anyway.

 “Laura, if you haven’t done so yet, give that man a chance.” I’m not sure if she’d have needed that encouragement, to be honest. Two days before she died, we’d kind of somehow maybe agreed to something sort of like a date. And then she’d sacrificed herself on a planet full of goa’uld and stayed behind to cover our retreat and all we found of her when we went back where the charred remains of her uniform and her dog tags. Swallowing is starting to become an issue for me. Does feel more like choking now.

And do cut the Major some slack sometimes. We both know what an idiot he sometimes can be and he just needs someone to look out for him.” I expect him to hit pause and gripe about how she became insubordinate and delusional during her time in Atlantis but all he does is stare right at the monitor, only occasionally blinking. I’m wondering what’s hurting him more; hearing her talk as if Laura’s still alive or telling us effectively that she worries about him. “You and Dee are probably best qualified to do that so I’m counting on you.” And we haven’t let you down so far. I just wish though it hadn’t taken the ultimate sacrifice to achieve that.

 There’s a pause now and for a moment I wonder if the video is having issues but then I realize that she became very quiet and that there’s something like shame and insecurity in her face. And… pain? “And last but not least… the Major. Sir, I… you’re probably still pissed at me and I guess I understand that I have to accept it but just let me say that…” she takes a deep breath and the pain I thought I’d only imagined a moment before is fully visible now and damn, sir, are you about to fucking tear up on me? “For what it’s worth, sir, I’m sorry for never giving you the chance to say your piece. I… Well, uh, I just wanted to say…

 The silence after that seems to be excruciating, just like watching her squirm in her chair and looking anywhere but the camera… and watching the Major grip the fabric of his trouser’s leg really hard, as if he needs to keep himself from reaching out and touch the screen or something. This is really, really bad.

 “Make up your mind, Maureen.” To be honest, I’m almost thankful to Ford for breaking up the silence and quietly reminding her that she’s only got a few seconds of video left.

 “Fuck you, Aiden.” Funny enough, she seems to be, too, even despite her rather harsh words. But they lacked any real bite and you could see it in her eyes, just for a moment, that he gave her something else to think about than whatever she wanted to but couldn’t tell the Major. “All I wanted to say… ah, yeah, uh, Laura!” Huh? “If we ever see each other again, I’ll totally kick your ass if the first thing you give me isn’t the next Harry Potter book. I’m being serious here.” Oh, Maureen.

 Oh, Maureen.

 Strangely, the Major seems to be thinking the same, shaking his head, his grip relaxing a little and actually snorting under his breath at Ford saying a little incredulously, “Really? Harry Potter?

 There’s indignation in her face now, the same that she always showed when Laura was making fun of her interest in a children’s book series. “I take my obsessions very serious, Lieutenant Ford.” Then she gets serious again, looking back directly into the camera. “Anyway… goodbye, guys. I hope to see you again soon but if… if I don’t… it’s been an honor serving with you and serving here and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’d never have gotten as far as here without you. Thank you and… farewell, guys. I’ll see you on the other side!

 “Aaand… we’re out.” With that, the video ends, leaving behind only static for a second or two and then silence. There’s the slight humming of the laptop and the whirring of the air condition but other than that… God.

 Then, after another minute or so, the Major blinks and looks at me. “She was being serious about the space vampires hell bent on destroying the city, wasn’t she?”

 Oh for the love of… well. I clear my throat. “Yes, sir, I believe she was.”

 He blinks again. “She’s… she’s gonna be all alone over there, fighting space vampires.” No, she’s not, sir. She’ll be with her Atlantis team and the rest of the expedition members. She’ll be fine.

 I decide to remind him of that, knowing it’s probably futile, anyway. “No, sir. Not alone.”

 “She’s got no team, Sergeant.” Yes, she does. Didn’t you listen? “She doesn’t have us.” Well. No. She doesn’t. And she doesn’t… she doesn’t have you. That’s what you can’t say out loud, isn’t it?

 I’m almost tempted to say something to that effect but then the Major’s Blackberry makes itself known and after a moment’s hesitation, he takes it out, looking strangely like Reece in his annoyance and only now I realize why that look on her face struck me so odd. Good God.

 He takes a moment before looking up, still frowning. Instead of speaking, he just holds the thing out to me and a little weirded out I take it. There’s an e-mail on the display, sender being a certain e.lorne@sgc.mil. I frown. Now what… holy shit.

 Hey idiot,

 They’re putting together a strike force to reinforce the Atlantis Expedition and you and your sergeant are gonna be a part of it, no buts allowed. I put in your names as suggestion to Landry and O’Neill and don’t you dare saying no. If you do, I’ll personally have them beam me down to Nevada to kick your asses back to Colorado. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen, so get ready for your marching orders. They should arrive tonight or tomorrow morning so I suggest you start packing. It’s gonna be a long ride and I personally do not want to spend all that time with you two bored out of your wits on a space ship. I’ll see you as soon as you get on the Daedalus.

 One more kick in the ass,

 Evan

 PS.: I was being serious about coming down to Nevada. Don’t test me.

 Whoa. That. Whoa. “He’s really serious about this, isn’t he, sir?”

 The Major just rolls his eyes, slowly being back to his usual obnoxious self and boy, am I relieved to see that. “No kidding.” So, what are we gonna do now? “Okay, you start packing and I…” Yes, sir? “I need to go to Rachel. I need to organize a couple things.” Organize a couple things, mhm. Of course.

 “Sir, you might want to wait until later tonight.” He’s looking at me like he has no idea what I’m talking about and I’m almost sure he doesn’t. I can’t help and grin a little. “Half-Blood Prince won’t be sold until after midnight tonight.” Because I’m pretty sure that’s what he’d wanted to “organize”.

 Aaand, “Right. Uh. Anyway… get packing. I’m gonna see where those marching orders are.”

 And with that, he’s gone like a bat out of hell, probably to harass the next best personnel officer into making those orders appear out of thin air and well… I’m not sure who to be more grateful to. Reece, Lorne or the space vampires. It’s not really important anyway because thank God at least the Major is back in all his glory. You have no idea for how long I’ve had to wait for that.

 So, well, anyway… I guess it’s off to Pegasus now. I just wish I could tell Laura about that. I wish I could take her with us but as it is, I’ll at least finally be able to get the things she left for Reece to their rightful owner. It’s the least I can do, for the both of them. And myself. At least that.

Chapter Text

It Could Be Something in the Air

“I think there’s something in the water
Well, then again, it could be something in the air
Well there’s none to be found
In the dirt on the ground
And the choices I’ve made are at heart anyway
I think it must be the water.”

 The Jealous Girlfriends, “Something In The Water”

 Next time I volunteer to go check out a planet’s suitability to serve as an Alpha Site to get away from training civilians… please shoot me. Or at least tell me that it’s a really stupid idea. And then proceed to shoot me.

 The only, and I really mean the only saving grace M9I-379 had is that at least it was mostly devoid of murderous flora, fauna, fungi or mineral structures, we didn’t freeze to death or nearly died of heatstroke, no Genii spies, no Wraith and hey, none of that shit I encountered in my time at the SGC, either. However…

 “Lieutenants. Corporal.” Right. Time for the debriefing. At least they gave us a towel each. Not that it had much effect, considering that we’re basically soaked through but yeah, points for effort.

 But, okay, I get it. The Wraith are coming closer, and we really do need that damn Alpha Site yesterday, so yeah, no rest for the Marines, only the sociologist with a broken ankle and a bit of a trauma reaction. I nod. And tell myself to stop channeling the Major, as I apparently I have taken to ever since this whole business with the Wraith Armada began. “Sir.”

 Sheppard nods, too and gestures towards the chairs. “From the look of all of you, I got a feeling we’re gonna be here a while, huh? Sit down, all of you.”

 Errr. “We’d uh rather not, sir.” I still have no idea why Cuevas and Strickland keep deferring to me of all people but apparently, we have, once again, decided that I speak for all of us. Or at least I’m pretty sure both of them feel the same let’s call it reluctance to get in contact with our dripping wet uniforms any more than necessary that I feel. We’re Marines but that only means we won’t tell you just how shitty it feels, not that it doesn’t feel shitty in the first place.

 Sheppard, for his part, just raises an eyebrow. “Okay, fine, suit yourself.” For someone under the pressure of organizing the defense against an armada of murderous space vampires with only a few hundred people, finding a suitable alpha site for non-essential, non-fighting qualified personnel, McKay and Zelenka getting on his nerves because of the damn chair and a hundred other things, he looks surprisingly relaxed. But I guess that’s just Sheppard being Sheppard. “Alright, talk to me, Lieutenant. What’s the story to your uh state?”

 I can’t resist the temptation of sharing a look with Cuevas to my right and Strickland to my left and of course it’s me who gets the job of reporting. Fine. “Not a lot of story, sir.” Really, there isn’t. At least not from the point of a simple recon mission, that is. “We did a sweep of the conditions on M9I-379 and came to the conclusion that it’s not suitable for an alpha site.”

 Now Sheppard leans on his forwards, hands folded loosely. “That’s weird. MALP telemetry and camera footage showed that it’s basically perfect.”

 “MALP telemetry showed a load of crap,” Strickland mutters and makes Sheppard give her the raised eyebrow. Strickland, bless her little corporal’s heart, takes the cue and adds a belated, “Sir,” and that’s it. That’s right, sir. Marines totally can behave themselves.

 Sheppard looks from her to me to Cuevas and back to me. Uh-oh. I can just keep myself from clearing my throat. “I concur with Corporal Strickland, sir. MALP telemetry and footage gave us an incomplete assessment. That planet really wouldn’t work.”

 “Why, Lieutenant?” Oh come in, it’s gonna be in the damn mission report. I really just want to get out of my soaking wet uniform. Please. “Look, Lieutenant, I know you’re gonna write me a mission report, and it’s gonna be a good mission report because all of yours are,” is that a compliment or an insult, “but here’s the thing: I don’t have time to read any of them right now, and you don’t have time to write them. So, indulge me, Lieutenant.”

 I’m this close to asking him if that was an order but I think he’s probably closer to snapping than I originally thought. There’s this little twitch thing in his… whatever. Indulging my commanding officer, sure, I can do that. Under one condition, “I’d like nothing better, sir, but seriously, we need to get rid of those uniforms, first.”

 Because otherwise, three of your Marines might be incapacitated by fucking pneumonia by tomorrow morning at the latest and yep, you can see the exact moment he realizes it, too. Finally we’re getting somewhere. “Right. Of course. Uh…”

 Another look, first at Cuevas, then at Strickland and I realize that if we really want this to be over as soon as possible so we can all go and do something useful, we only have one option. “Requesting permission to divest ourselves of all wet equipment, sir.”

 It’s almost funny how Sheppard blinks, blinks again and then says, still looking a bit like a deer in headlights, “Here?”

 Don’t laugh, oh God, Reece, don’t laugh. Keep your fucking face straight, for the love of God. “Yes, sir.” Did I just hear Strickland snorting very faintly under her breath? Or was that Cuevas?

 “Lieutenant…”

 “You can turn around, if you prefer to, sir.” Dammit, Cuevas. She still keeps me fooled with that no-nonsense “If the Corps had wanted Marines to have a sense of humor, they would have issued us one” act, and then she goes and says stuff like that, completely straight-faced, but you just know that she’s making fun of you. You can’t ever prove it to her, and that’s the worst about it.

 From the look of it, Sheppard must know that, too. He narrows his eyes, just for a second or so, probably ready to ask her if she’s really trying to bullshit him but apparently, that’s gotta take a backseat to more pressing issues for the moment. “Permission granted. And now, talk, people.”

 Okay, then. Both Cuevas and Strickland shrug at me and I gesture at them to start getting out of their gear while doing the same myself. Sheppard, to his credit, doesn’t turn around but makes an effort not to stare and look very professional about it. Sometimes, Air Force guys and their delicate sensibilities can be kind of endearing.

 Anyway, while I take off my flak vest, I do start talking. “Like we said, sir, MALP telemetry and footage only showed part of the big picture. When we arrived at M9I-379, we didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, so we proceeded to secure the perimeter and then set off to do some recon further inland.” And off goes the jacket. Finally.

 “Which was when you were hit by whatever deluge got you wet to your bones?” Yeah, we wish.

 “Not exactly, sir.” Pretty sure I just heard Strickland mutter something under her breath again but when I throw her a warning look, she just gives me one of her “I didn’t do anything, LT!” looks and goes to take off her boots. Yeah, good idea. Wet boots are the worst. “This actually isn’t a weather issue.”

 “Then what kind of issue is it, Lieutenant?” Uh-oh, close to snapping again.

 Better hurry up with this shit. While getting rid of my socks and then going for the trousers, I try to explain what the fuck happened on that planet. “It’s a the water in the stream we discovered about two kilometers away from the gate was intelligent and also apparently laws of physics didn’t really apply there issue, sir.”

 That shuts him up effectively long enough so all three of us can finish stripping down to our underwear and wrapping the towels they supplied to us in the control room around ourselves. At least they finally learned to stock stuff that’s big enough to cover everything essential. “Come again, Reece?”

 Right. Maybe go a little differently about it. Also, I know my fellow Marines are fighting a really desperate fight against breaking out in grins at Sheppard’s reaction. I do get that. It’s not every day you can shock that guy with a mission report. After all, his team still holds the Atlantis record for most weird shit ever since arriving here. And all of us have seen some really weird shit since arriving here. Anyway, “About two kilometers inland, we discovered a medium size stream. We tried to do a preliminary test whether the water was drinkable and collect some samples for further analysis back in Atlantis.”

 “Operative word being tried,” Cuevas injects and looks like she’d considered growling that. Can’t really fault her for that. She was the first one to get drenched.

 Sheppard frowns. “Take a seat, everyone.” Huh?

 Oh, he’s being serious. It’s an actual order. Okay, fine, why not? At least we won’t be sitting there in soaking wet uniform trousers, anymore. I give both Cuevas and Strickland a short nod and we all take a seat, careful not to have the towels reveal anything and get Sheppard’s Air Force overlord panties in a twist about needless propriety again. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate his caution and proper treatment of subordinates but by now, all of us know that he’s a decent officer and a decent person and trust him not to make a mess of something like this. We probably wouldn’t have done it if it had been just one of us and him but we’re three versus one, and we have bigger problems than three Marines voluntarily wrapping themselves in towels in front of their commanding officer.

 “Now, tell me the goddamn story, Lieutenant. Lieutenants. Corporal. Either one of you. Tell me how you got soaked through, how Dr. Ferreira ended up with a broken ankle and apparently a traumatic reaction and what you meant with “intelligent water” and “laws of physics not applying” and make it quick.” That’s gonna be… interesting. I mean, either you want the whole story or you want it quick.

 Okay, fine, that’s not gonna fly.

 I take a deep breath. “Yes, sir.” Anyone want to continue? No? Fine. “Like I said, two klicks away from the gate, we discovered a stream. When Lieutenant Cuevas went to get samples, the water suddenly surged up and drenched her.”

 Sheppard frowns. “What do you mean… surged up and drenched her?”

 “She means that there was an almighty wave that went down on me like the goddamn flood went down on Noah.” Cuevas is a lapsed Catholic, just like me. Unlike me, however, she hasn’t given up speaking in religious terms now and then. I’m still not sure whether I find it amusing or grating.

 Our commanding officer seems to have decided on barely sustained patience. “Just like that? A biblical deluge?”

 Cuevas looks very much like she’s ask him if he fucking listened but I do like her enough not to let her risk her career over something as singularly stupid as this. “Yes, sir. An unprovoked drenching, followed by the stream rising up and the water behaving… against the laws of physics.”

 “Can be a little more specific, Lieutenant?” Of course he’d ask that.

 I try to remember that I’m a linguist and therefore his request shouldn’t be so hard to fulfill. But I’m also a Marine, and I’m thoroughly done with this day and all I want is to have blessed thirties minutes of silence, lying in a tub full of hot water and then go back to training civilians in How Not to Die During the First Three Minutes of a Wraith Encounter 101. Ah, hell. “Basically, it behaved like water behaves in zero G, only that we weren’t in zero G. Blobs of water floating around, strings of water just hanging in the air, that kind of thing.”

 “And the pulling. Jesus, fuck, don’t forget the damn pulling.” I look at Cuevas, gesturing her to go on because like hell I’m gonna run this show all on my own. Strickland is just lucky that she’s a damn enlisted who can leave the field to the LTs without it being suspicious or I’d make her share the burden, too. “Soon as I was soaking wet, something started pulling me to the stream. Not really hard but noticeable. Lieutenant Reece ordered Dr. Ferreira to keep his distance and got Corporal Strickland to help her pull me away.”

 “Which was when the water got us, too,” Strickland injects and reminds me again of the fact that she actually doesn’t mind me and Cuevas as much as she minds the rest of the LT posse or she would have just kept her trap shut and let us do all of the work.

 I appreciate that enough to take up the thread again but Sheppard beats me to it. “Soaked you, too?” We nod. He frowns again. “And Dr. Ferreira?”

 Yeah. Well. I clear my throat. “Went against my order and came up to help Corporal Strickland and me.” Which is commendable – and not really punishable in the strictest sense because he’s still a civilian and technically not required to follow any military orders but fuck, by now he should have known better – but was also pretty stupid. “Soon as he came close to the water, everything kinda… stopped.”

 “Stopped, Lieutenant?” Look, sir, either you want us to get done as fast as possible or you keep interrupting us. Which one is it?

 Oh, shit, Cuevas looks like she’s close enough to saying exactly that and yeah, not gonna happen. “Yes, stream stopped flowing, blobs of water in the air just sort of froze, that kind of thing.” Yes, sir, that’s exactly how we looked, too, and if you interrupt any of us just one more time, I’m probably going to be the one risking her career. Good God, and here I told myself not to channel the Major. “And then suddenly it was like Dr. Ferreira was the sole target. Everything just… swept towards him.” I can’t suppress a shudder and just hope that Sheppard ascribed that to the fact that I’m wearing nothing but my underwear and a towel.

 “Yeah,” Strickland takes up the thread, “that was just fucked up.” She blinks. “Err, I mean…” Sheppard just waves it aside and gestures for her to continue. Time and again, it really is nice to see that his Air Force overlord sensibilities don’t extend as far as language because if they did, the entire Marine Corps contingent – including me, good God – would be fucked. “It just all surged towards him and put him in some kind of full body size bubble, raising him up a couple inches. Damn, poor guy nearly drowned in there.”

 “Which at least explains why he needed emergency mental health care,” Sheppard says and I like the fact that he doesn’t scoff something about damn soft-heartened civilians or some such nonsense. Because trust me, everyone would have needed immediate trauma therapy after that. “And the broken ankle?”

 “Lieutenant Reece was the first to react and jumped to pull him out of the bubble by his feet,” Cuevas supplies. I’m almost grateful for her non-nonsense kind of tone because the last thing I want Sheppard to believe is that any of us were engaging in needless heroics. “She succeeded but I guess the Doc just somehow botched the landing and that’s when his ankle got broken.”

 Sheppard leans back at me and nods. “Still, good thinking, Lieutenant. Any of you got an idea why that happened?”

 I shake my head. “No, sir. No idea.” I make the mistake of looking from Cuevas to Strickland and… oh come on. We’re not actually going to… oh fine. I sigh. “However, after Dr. Ferreira recovered sufficiently to be able to speak, he said something about the water feeling… possessive.”

 “Possessive, Lieutenant?” I knew I should just have kept my trap shut. Thanks so much for making me do this, fellow female Marines.

 I heave another sigh, tired of playing it cool and professional. “Possessive, sir. He said that he was sure that the water in that stream had the capability of feeling and communicating emotions and that it was… very emotional when it enveloped him.”

 Another Sheppard frown. That’s kinda a relief. I’m almost sure the Major would be yelling at me by now. He’s not that big on yelling – or at least he wasn’t anymore when I left Earth almost a year ago – but he’s not the most patient sort of commanding officer. And that’s why I’m kinda annoyed that apparently, I still miss him enough to actually channel him when I’m really stressed out. “Can any of you confirm that?”

 I shake my head, and Cuevas and Strickland mirror it. “No, sir. And quite honestly, we really didn’t feel like testing the hypothesis by further engaging with the water.” Which is a fancy of saying “And then we decided to get the hell out of Dodge” and I really hope that Sheppard…

 “So… bottom line?” Oh, finally.

 Trying not to let my relief show too much, I make a stoic face and tell him, “Bottom line, sir, please do not establish an alpha site on that planet.”

 He raises an eyebrow. “You’re sure about that? Because look, Lieutenant, we’re really running out of options here and…”

 “Fuck no, sir.” Oh God. I think we broke him. Or maybe our careers.

 Because we just all but yelled that at him, at the same time, in that same annoyed and maybe a little bit horrified tone and he’s just sitting there and blinking at us and then, just when I think that now he’ll yell at us, after all – we did just interrupt a superior officer, and that’s a no-no, even in Atlantis – does a kind of unexpected pivot to asking, sounding at least a little terrified, “Wait, are you telling me you brought an unknown intelligent entity into this city?”

 Oh, now you’re asking the important questions? “No, sir. At least not from everything we could tell.”

 Ready to snap, ready to snap, ready to snap. “Lieutenant…”

 It’s Cuevas saving our asses, sounding way more no-nonsense than I probably would have by now. Sheppard actually snapping is not a pretty thing and even though I managed to get rid of most of my timidity regarding superior officers here, that is something guaranteed to make me flounder. “We retreated as fast as we could with Dr. Ferreira in tow. About a klick away from the stream, the pulling stopped and our wet uniforms were just that: wet uniforms. We also waited an hour before contacting Atlantis.”

 Thank God for Joanna Cuevas, honestly. That report seems to have calmed him down somewhat. “So you think that whatever caused this was confined to the river?”

 I nod and move to confirm, taking the reins back. “That would be our assessment, yes.”

 He takes a moment to review that, leaning back in his chair, folding his arms in front of his chest. I’m almost sure he’ll give us some crap about how we could possibly qualified to make that assessment but in the end all he says is, “Alright, Lieutenant. Sounds plausible, and I trust your judgement.”

 Errr… what? It’s my turn to blink a little bewilderedly, and even through the haze of exhaustion, stress and fear that’s been gradually creeping up on every Expedition member, I realize that something… big just happened. A superior officer just told me that he trusts my judgement, just like that and somehow… that wasn’t what I expected to hear today. I blink again and then remember something. “I’d still recommend a full decon sweep through the control room and burning the damn uniforms. All of them. Just to be sure. Sir.”

 That earns me the narrowed eyes again and I’m almost sure he’ll immediately take back his statement about trusting my judgement but in the end, all he says is, “Just to be sure. Right. Anything else, Lieutenant?”

 Uh. Well. I clear my throat, getting Cuevas’s and Strickland’s approval once more before I say, “I suggest you make this mission report classified, sir.”

 “Oh come on.” What, now he throws up his hands in annoyance? When we’re almost done?

 Okay, okay, I know. It does sound a little ridiculous to classify a mission report to keep it away from the population of a place so secret that most people on Earth have never heard of it or the organization that sent us here but bear with me. We’ve got a good reason for suggesting that. I can’t help raising an eyebrow sardonically when answering, “You really want Biology, Psychology and Physics clamoring for permission to visit it, sir?”

 “Good point.” Yeah, thought so. I just bet that for a moment, he’s tempted to ask what Dr. Ferreira thinks about that and if he’ll keep his trap shut but then he must have remembered that Dr. Ferreira is probably the one person on this temporary team who definitely does not ever want to remember that mission ever again. Also, Dr. Ferreira is a sociologist which means, and even Sheppard knows that, he keeps the hell away from the MINT posse and their overbearing prejudice against the humanities. He makes a face. “Classified, it is. Dismissed.”

 At that, we get up, collect our uniform items and leave the briefing room, all miraculously without the towels falling down. Once in the corridor, I expect a few raised eyebrows and weird looks from people passing, at least, but no one even bats an eyelid. Either we’re all too fucked up from preparing for the Wraith Armada or serving in Atlantis taught us that there are a lot of things weirder than three female Marines coming out of a briefing room in towels, uniforms in hand.

 I’m about to suggest that we get rid of them but Cuevas beats me to it, grumbling, “He hates us,” in the direction of the briefing room that still has Sheppard in it.

 Strickland immediately moves to contradict her, even going as far as grinning. “Nah, he doesn’t.”

 “Yes, he does. Fuck, I would hate us.” That’s a little harsh?

 And really, “Honestly, I think he kinda likes us.”

 “Easy for you to say.” What is that even supposed to mean, huh? “You’re his favorite Marine.”

 Yeeeeah no. I give her a deadpan look. “No, Lieutenant Ford is his favorite Marine.”

 That was a no-brainer. Ford is on his goddamn team, after all. And Sheppard likes him. I know he does. He likes mentoring him, and that’s fine. Lord knows Aiden Ford can use some mentoring.

 Cuevas, however, doesn’t really like Ford – I think it’s really just a personality thing, you know, a Pitbull against Labrador kind of thing – so I’m not really surprised and hearing her say, “Right. Somehow, I keep forgetting about Boy Wonder.”

 Aw, that wasn’t nice. “Now, don’t be mean.”

 She grimaces, and I’d laugh so very hard right now if that wouldn’t endanger the precarious position of the towel wrapped around me. “It’s my natural state of being.” Now, that’s not actually…

 “True.” Strickland! That is not a nice thing to say about a superior… “What, LT? It is.”

 Alright. Fine. I concede. “Yes, and we all love her for that.” Well, that’s not actually wrong, either? I mean, she’s not an easy person to like but she grows on you? In a way? Somehow?  Anyway, “Now let’s go find a place to burn this shit, we all got stuff to do.”

 “Damn, you finally learned to sound like an actual Marine. Achievement unlocked, Reece.” The worst thing about this is that the appreciation in her voice is most probably real. Dammit, Cuevas.

 I manage to give her the finger, even with my hands full of my uniform, and full-on channel the Major one last time. “Well, fuck you, Cuevas.”

 “We love you, too,” Strickland answers before Cuevas can spin this little bitch fest out, even smiling like a little ray of sunshine while saying it.

 Which is my clue to break this up once and for all, before it becomes too weird. I roll my eyes and grumble something like, “Go do stuff.”

 Fortunately, both of them simply acknowledge it with a hearty, “Yes, ma’am!” and then turn away to hopefully find a way to burn their uniforms before going back to defense against the Wraith Armada related things.

 I, for my part, will first find one of the lunatics in Chemistry to tell them to have some fun with all of my uniform items and then proceed to my quarters for those thirty minutes of blissful quiet and a hot bath and then try to convince Zelenka and McKay that they please stop pulling off random natural gene carriers from their actual duties for tinkering with the damn chair. Someone damn well has to, and since Sheppard has his hands full of important things, it might as well be me. Oh. Joy.

Chapter Text

What Terrifying Final Sights

“Summer evening breezes blew
Drawing voices deep from you
Lead by your beating heart

What a year and what a night
What terrifying final sights
Put out your beating heart.”

Bastille, “Laura Palmer”

 You know what I really hate? Waiting. I really, goddamn, hate waiting.

 Which is kind of ironic, considering that “Hurry up and wait” is military life in a nutshell. And it’s true. Most of my time in military service, I spent waiting so far. Waiting for my turn in the line for medical evaluation during the induction in Rennerod, waiting for being issued my gear, waiting for my ride to my next duty station, waiting for my first duty station after university, waiting for my deployment orders… waiting, waiting, waiting. You’d really think I’d be used to it by now.

 But good God, I really never did get over my absolute hate for having to sit around, doing nothing because while you didn’t have anything to do until someone told you to, you also couldn’t leave to go do useful stuff because someone would notice and make your life hell for it. And right now, it’s the worst form of waiting: waiting for someone else to do something that might either save or doom everyone, while being absolute powerless to do anything about it.

 Right now, the entire city is waiting for Drs. McKay and Grodin to get that Ancient defense satellite that just might save us all operational while also being geared up and packed up to leave the city the moment McKay and Grodin mess it up. If they get that satellite to cooperate and make it operational, there’s actually a chance we might survive that damn Wraith armada that’s been coming for us for the last three weeks. If they don’t… yeah. We’re fucked.

 Because if they don’t, it means Alpha Site for us, and let’s just say that without Atlantis and her technology to fall back on, we’re all screwed six way from Sunday. So yeah, I really hate waiting right now.

 Also, you know, being a soldier and all, being told that you’re supposed to retreat without even putting up the least bit of a fight kind of… rankles. I know, I know, sometimes, retreat is the only tactically viable option, etc., blahblahblah. But fuck, this is our home. Does Command seriously expect us to retreat from our home just like that?

 See, this is why I hate waiting. Because I find myself questioning Command decisions once and again, and let me tell you: for a lowly company grad, especially a non-American one, questioning Command decisions is a shitty idea.

 So I’m almost wishing for something to happen in the city, some kind of emergency, so I have something to do – stabilizing Bates wasn’t that hard, actually, and right now, we can’t do more than making sure he’s comfortable and someone has an eye on his vitals – but yeah, technically, I know that no news is good news, especially in a tense situation like this. Wraith in the city, satellite activation remains doubtful, Wraith armada still coming closer… in a way, this is worse than even skulking around behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. I… “You okay, sir?”

 Right. Chief Hospital Corpsman Ron Christie, US Navy, most senior enlisted medic in the infirmary and actually my favorite. He’s in his mid-thirties, no-nonsense, laid back and still has that vaguely caring mother-hen “Gotta make sure they don’t mess up too badly and are adequately fed and cared for” thing for junior officers and younger enlisted that all the good E-7s and above have going on. Also, he’s one hell of a medic, and I would have screwed up really bad a couple times here if it hadn’t been for him.

 I make a face. “Just not good at waiting is all, Chief.”

 He gives me a grin that’s only a little pained, while continuing to check the diagnostic equipment we packed up to take with us, should our last defense go to hell in a handbasket. “Much about patience you have yet to learn, young padawan.”

 At that, I just roll my eyes and give him the finger and Christie’s kind enough to let it slide with another grin. Trust me, I have known a couple senior NCOs who wouldn’t take that in stride from a stupid young captain. And compared to senior NCOs, all captains below the age of thirty are stupid.

 And yeah, I guess I should just keep my trap shut but like I said, I’m a Captain, I’m under the age of thirty, and I’m stupid. “Also, not good at giving up without a fight, truth to be told.”

 Christie just raises an eyebrow. “Who says we’re giving up without a fight, sir?”

 Fair question. “Leaving and blowing up our home without so much as setting a couple booby traps beforehand sounds a lot like giving up to me.”

 The Chief doesn’t answer at first, just frowns, and I realize that I might have gone too far. I should have seen this coming. I’ve been serving alongside Americans for longer than I have been serving alongside other Germans and yet I managed to walk right into one of the biggest no-noes: criticizing a Command Staff decision in front of an NCO. Way I learned it, it’s worse when you do it in front of the younger ones but pretty sure Christie’s gonna give me a very helpful, very polite set… “You’re right, sir. Sounds pretty much like giving up without a fight.” Uh-oh. “And honestly, sir – don’t tell the junior guys that – I get that it rankles. Hell, rankles me too. Rankles everyone on this goddamn base who’s made it this far, doesn’t even matter if it’s civilian or military.”

 Okay. That’s not the answer I expected. So naturally, my next question is, “But?”

 “No but, sir.” Huh? “Rankles to have to retreat without putting up a fight, even if it’s a Command Staff decision. You know, even if it makes sense.” Ah, there it is. “Quite frankly, sir, wouldn’t ever say this to any of the below E-7s but fuck, right now, I don’t even care if it makes sense. It’s a shitty thing to do, period.” Or… not?

 For a moment, the only reaction I can muster is blinking at him with confusion before coming up with a sort of feeble, “So, what are we gonna do now, Chief?” I know that theoretically, officers are supposed to be the ones leading and guiding and stuff, but let’s all be honest, the main function of anyone E-7 and above is basically making sure that officers don’t make a mess of everything by being sage voices of reason in the exact right moment, and I’m pretty sure that right now is a prime moment for some sage voice of reason-ing. Because I genuinely am running out of ideas of how to cope with the mounting feeling of helpless anger at having to leave my home without getting at least a chance of fighting for it. So I’m glad when the Chief doesn’t even hesitate but opens his mouth to respond.

 Which is, of course the exact moment when suddenly, the city-wide PA system goes online. “May I have your attention, please? This is Doctor Weir.” Ugh, fuck. This is it, isn’t it? This just can’t be good. I can count the times Dr. Weir went city-wide on one hand and it was never good. We… “Our plan to stop the Wraith armada has failed. They will make it to Atlantis.” Called it. Fucking called it.

 I throw Christie a look and even he stops his routine checking, making a slightly disconcerting “Oh, fuck” face. Senior NCOs aren’t supposed to make that kind of face, ever. Scheiße. Scheiße, Scheiße… “Therefore we must begin our evacuation plans.” Yeah, that was to be expected.

 Christie returns my look, his eyebrows raised questioningly. I hold up my hand, telling him to wait for what she’s going to tell us next, but when she goes, “I wish I could tell you all that this is a fight that we will win, but I can’t do that,” I take my hand down and nod at him. That’s it. That was the order. No more moaning, no more whining, no more questioning. We’re leaving. Everything else after that will be Dr. Weir giving a pep talk, mostly for the benefit of the civilians, and we don’t have to sit around with idle hands while listening to that.

 At least I finally have something to do, even though I’m absolutely not happy about it. I don’t say anything – because when Dr. Elizabeth fucking Weir gives you a fucking pep talk, you fucking listen – but being that hell of a medic and hell of a US Navy Chief that Christie is, he doesn’t need me saying anything. Instead, he immediately starts moving around crates, silently directing me to give him a hand wherever he needs it, while Dr. Weir keeps talking over the PA. “I wish I could tell you that we will find a safe harbor when we leave here. I can’t promise you that either.”

 That’s… kinda not what I’d have said but it is, after all, the truth, and no one in Command ever bothered with sugarcoating things before. It’s one of the reasons we’ve all been so goddamn loyal to Command up to now, even up to and including not mutinying when being told to leave and never come back. And why we will most likely remain loyal until the day we die. Which might not be so far-off, actually. Dammit.

 “I can tell you this: up to now, you all have accomplished extraordinary things, and I believe that even in the face of an uncertain future, as long as we stay together we have a chance to continue to do so.” Okay. That’s actually a really nice thing of her to say. I’m not sure what’s extraordinary in anything I have done here – after all, I just did my job – but yeah, I know a lot of people here who have done extraordinary things. Maureen Reece, Chief Christie, Maureen’s posse of female Marines… Yeah. “Now, we all have our evacuation duties, so thank you – and I’ll see you on the other side.”

 Well, fuck. I look at Christie. He looks at me. And then says, without missing a beat. “Now we do what we’ve been doing for an entire year, sir. Survive.”

 Right. Survive. What else can we do but survive, anyway. Also, I realize, that’s probably all the NCO wisdom I’m going to get for today, so I decide not to get on his nerves with any more prodding and questioning and nod. “That’s really it, then.”

 He nods. “Yes, sir.” Then he wipes a hand over his face and it looks a little like that anger about having to leave without a fight just leaks out of him. “Gonna miss her.”

 “Yeah,” I hear myself telling him, “me, too.” And it’s true. This here, right this moment, is when I realize that Atlantis has truly become home. More than any other place I have ever lived in, this city has become home, in just about a year. The city, the ocean, the people living here… shit, I really am going to miss this.

 Christie looks at me for a moment, looking kinda afraid I’ll launch into some kind of “so this is how it ends” speech but by now, he really should know that I’m not the speechy kind of officer. Also, to be honest, I’m pretty sure I haven’t even begun realizing what this all means. At this point, it’s not even about being afraid of never getting back to Earth, it’s really just being downright miserable about having to leave Atlantis and not even be allowed to take as many Wraith with us as we can. This is… unexpected. I swallow. The Chief gives me sad little half-smile. “Whatever it is, sir, ‘s not the end.”

 Yeah, well. That was, oddly enough, the exact right to say right now. I find myself making a face. “Your word in God’s ear, Chief.” And because there really is, right now, nothing more to say and we really do have a lot of stuff today, I add, “Now do me a favor and organize the rest of the medics while I go and give Dr. Beckett a hand in whatever he needs it for.” Moving Bates would be my guess, but knowing Dr. Beckett it could be literally everything.

 The Chief just nods, gives me a two-finger salute and activates his radio to order the other medics around while I turn around to go look for Dr. Beckett. Just before I’m finally around the corner, I hear Christie call after me, “See you on the other side, sir!”

 Right. Apparently, Weir started a trend? I turn back and give Christie something that’s hopefully a confident grin and reply, “I’d hope so, Chief,” before turning back and finding my place in the evacuation op.

 So, that’s not really how I pictured my life to go – you know, marooned on some goddamned planet looking like British Columbia, with only the bare basics of things making life comfortable, that sort of thing – but even despite being kind of terrified of having to leave my home, deep down I have a feeling that it’ll be fine in the end. It’ll be shitty but it’ll be fine. And yes, that only makes sense because of people like Command and Dr. Beckett and Maureen Reece and Chief Christie.

 Survive, then. Surviving is what we do, what we’ve been doing for an entire year. We’ll just have to keep on doing it. Easy as pie. Right?

Chapter Text

In Life You Gotta Spread Your Wings

“In life you gotta spread your wings
Don’t worry ‘bout the little things
Keep fighting
Keep trying
We’ll be here waiting on the other side
Underneath the Stars and Stripes.”

Amy MacDonald, “Under Stars”

 Here’s a funny thing: in the entire year I have served here, right now is the point when I’m actually close to just quit. Technology talking to me, collective near death by drowning, being cut off from Earth and basically everyone I called my family, space vampires, nanites, having to learn to fucking fly, mystery meat, hostile flora, fauna and natives and I never once even thought about quitting. And just when we finally get new blood in the fight against the Wraith and it looks like we can finally put up a real fight and maybe won’t have to leave and blow up the place we’ve been calling home for the last year, I get the sudden, nearly insurmountable urge to call it quits, right here, right now.

 Here’s an even funnier thing: the reason for that isn’t the fact that I had to sit in a jumper and drag several tons of explosives through space, only to see it get evaporated in the space of a few minutes – rumor has it Major Sheppard asked Colonel Everett to spare a couple of the space mines and Everett just blew him off on that and goddammit, are all male Marine field grades douchebags? – or that soon thereafter the Wraith began making attack runs on the city and beamed drones and soldiers right into the city while also beaming our people out or that we’ve been hunting and fighting them inside the city for what must have been several hours and none of us has had any sleep for the last probably forty-eight hours at least. Nope. The reason for me wanting to quit so very, very badly right now is, and I really would appreciate the irony if it weren’t such a big pain in the ass, Colonel Everett’s relief party.

 No, really. The reason I just want to call it a day, gate to the Alpha Site and refuse to ever come back is the one thing that actually gave us a fighting chance to survive this entire thing. Seriously. No kidding.

 Because, see, it’s like this: Everett, as I might have mentioned before, pretty much turned out to be a douche about as big as Sumner. And he’s not just any douche, oh no, he is, apparently, an incompetent douche who refuses to listen to the people he’s supposed to support, makes atrociously bad tactical calls and thinks that he’s the greatest gift to warfighting to ever happen. And every last one of his people thinks Everett is God and, apparently, wants to be exactly like him.

 And, oh fucking hell, most of them outrank us. Everett has brought a lot of Majors and Captains with him, and a couple senior NCOs who mostly outrank our NCOs, more or less exclusively Marine Corps, and every one of them in crisp fatigues that have never even been close to a fight on goddamn TV and snazzy berets and buzz cuts or buns and attitude. So. Much. Attitude. Attituding all over the goddamn place. Bellowing orders and playing Recon Marines, even the guys who’ve most certainly been clerks for most of their adult lives, and getting people killed.

 None of them know how to fight an enemy like the Wraith, which, in itself, isn’t surprising since they have literally never encountered a Wraith ever before and which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t try to order us around and take command every chance they get. They also have zero orientation in the city and keep getting turned around and mostly suck at close quarter fighting – don’t they teach that at the SGC anymore? Where did Everett find these people? – and I swear to God, we already lost at least three people in blue-on-blue incidents because these idiots have no idea how to use lifesigns detectors in a fight. 

 I’m so far gone that I’m tempted to switch to using my Wraith stunner sidearm exclusively on anyone wearing Everett Idiot Corps fatigues and I’m positive that even the two scientists in the five men squad of city defenders I’m currently leading at least privately considered something akin to that. Strickland definitely did, which I know because she told me so just five minutes ago. In unmistakable terms. I didn’t do much to dissuade her, mostly because we’d just run into a bunch of drones guarding a Wraith trying to sabotage something connected to the force shields in our area of the city when she did.

 Okay.

 You know what? I just reconsidered. Because, I swear to God, if I have to hear the words “Is that a fact?” only one more time, I will immediately and without preamble shoot anyone who utters it. In their fucking face.

 Oh dear God, listen to me. Or maybe better not. By now, I have seriously started to lose track of time, the stims Dr. Beckett reluctantly agreed to fork over to everyone busy with the city’s defense, the lack of sleep and my adrenalin levels are wreaking havoc on my entire system, I don’t know about the fate of at least half of the people I’ve come to actually like here including my best friend – last thing I heard Mats tried to volunteer for Search and Rescue but Beckett refused to let him out of the infirmary but I actually have no idea how long ago that was – terrifyingly many parts of the city have been destroyed or unreachable ever since that Dart attack wave and Dr. Weir just gave another pep talk speech about the Daedalus arriving soon but our fate being in our hands right now. I. Am. So. Fucked.

 As is the rest of my team, and it’s a miracle that any of us can still shoot relatively straight, even the two civilians. Then again, Dr. Karlsen is one freakishly trigger happy historian and Dr. Organzo used to be a beat cop in Los Angeles before she decided she liked mathematics better than chasing perps. So, you know, my current team – Strickland, the two civilians and a male Air Force Staff Sergeant going by the name of Oswietzki – isn’t so bad. It’s really not them who make hunting Wraith a pain in the… fuck.

 I raise my hand, balled into a fist and by now, even Karlsen and Organzo know tactical hand signs well enough to stop dead in their tracks. I signal for everyone to take cover and since we’re currently in a corridor in the residential area, the only possible cover is pressing yourself flat against the wall. So that’s what we do while listening to the footsteps coming closer from around the bend immediately ahead of us.

 They’re heavy and fast, like someone running in combat boots and that would suggest human rather than Wraith but they’ve been wreaking havoc all over the city with their mind-altering powers. You know, making you see and hear things that aren’t there, disguising their tells as sounding or looking like humans… The steps are coming closer. I raise my rifle and the rest follow suit.

 Just a couple more yards… closer… closer… “Holy shit, Lieutenant!”

 Okay, then. Not a Wraith. For a moment, I actually blink and then realize that I just almost shot my commanding officer. No joke, the moment I knew that whoever was approaching would round the bend in front of me, I automatically stepped away from the wall, and put the business end of my P90 practically in John fucking Sheppard’s face and almost shot him point blank. I blink again. “Sorry, sir. Just…”

 “I know, I know, Wraith fucking up everyone’s minds and all that. You get a pass, Lieutenant.” Right. Yes. Okay. That’s good.

 Also, why is the city’s military contingent commander going anywhere without a fucking escort? “Thank you, sir. Sir, if I may…”

 “Gotta take the chair a second time, no time to chat, Lieutenant.” Yes, no, I didn’t want to chat. I wanted to address an actual real problem.

 I can just keep myself from rolling my eyes. “I understand that, sir. But, sir, we haven’t exactly finished mop up operations and…”

 “Listen, Lieutenant, you know I really like to chitchat with my second favorite Marine,” oh my God, stop giggling, Strickland, I know you are, okay, just stop it, “but time’s kind of an issue here and…”

 Okay, fine. Whatever. “Contrary to public opinion, Marines can talk and run at the same time, sir. And you really need someone to watch your back.”

 It’s Sheppard’s turn to stop and blink, then shake his head. “We’re spread too thin for all five of you to accompany me to the chair room and I can really take care of myself.”

 Not in a city still infested with Wraith you can’t. Not even you are goddamn Superman, sir. “I know, sir.” He almost resumes running through a city at war alone but I’ve had it with male officers and their Big Damn Heroics. “Strickland, you’re with Major Sheppard and me, Oswietzki, you take Karlsen and Organzo and pick up the remains of Karilin’s team two levels down. They got clobbered pretty bad and could use some reinforcements.”

 That’s actually an understatement. Sergey Karilin’s mixed Atlantis/Everett Idiots team lost half their members when they ran into a bunch of Wraith drones because the Everett half refused to listen to a Russian Air Force sergeant who’s a close quarters combat expert and knows the city better than almost anyone else who’s been stationed here and shit, I’d rather have him get some reinforcements who actually listen to him than even one more of those beret wearing high-and-tights Everett threw at us.

 I can see that Sheppard so very badly wants to counteract my order immediately but one of the things especially us junior company grades learned to love about him was that he took great care in never undermining us in front of enlisted personnel or civilians and in the end, he just makes a face, then nods. “Get going, everyone.”

 Oswietzki doesn’t waste any more time, just gives Sheppard a casual two-fingered salute and gestures for Karlsen and Organzo to follow him towards the nearest staircase, already radioing Karilin while Sheppard takes up running in the opposite direction, with me and Strickland following him closely, P90s down but ready.

 He’s not going full speed, more of a slightly faster jog, and either he’s smart enough to know that not even he can hope to make it to the chair room from this point in the city in a sprint and still arrive in any useful condition or he’s more tired than he lets on. I sure know which version I prefer, despite knowing that it’s actually not the most likely one.

 But at least the relatively easy speed allows me to do what I said: run and talk. Because remembering what happened to Karilin’s team gave me an idea that in my current condition, I am absolutely unable to shake off. Might just air it out, then. I take a deep breath. “Sir, I’m sorry to interrupt you but while we’re at it… we’ve got a problem.”

 Sheppard, only slowing down a little before another bend, probably mindful of what just almost happened, doesn’t turn around but at least replies, “What is it, Lieutenant?”

 Okay, then. Now or never. “Colonel Everett’s people, sir. They aren’t listening to us.”

 I know it’s really bad form to rat out the badly needed reinforcements to your commander who, according to people who actually witnessed it, clashed with said reinforcements’ commander for several times already but good God, people already died. Sheppard, for his part, just turns around for a moment to frown at me. “What do you mean, not listening to you?”

 Oh great, he hasn’t even heard about this yet. I share a short look with Strickland and she looks at me like “you brought it up, you go the full nine yards” and okay, yeah, she’s right. On to being a non-sporting officer, and the one who says what everyone keeps thinking and apparently so far hasn’t had the balls to say. “We keep losing people because the company grades refuse to take orders from us LTs and the NCOs, the NCOs keep asking their company grades for permission to following our orders…”

 “Yeah, you’re right, that is a problem.” Why, thank you for acknowledging that, sir!

 Also, great, bad conscious kicking in almost immediately. I clear my throat. “Sir…”

 “You’re all promoted.” Uh. What?

 That one catches me off-guard so badly that my first thought is that I must have imagined it. It actually makes me stop dead in my tracks, but at least Strickland does exactly the same so if this is a hallucination, at least I wasn’t the only one having it. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if that is such a good thing.

 Err. Anyway, “Sir?”

 Sheppard, not having noticed that his escort just stopped, jogs a few more steps before realizing that we haven’t gotten back to moving – I’m almost sure that if all of us managed to survive this I will never hear the end of this entire “able to talk and run simultaneously” thing ever again – and turns back to us, saying, as if that makes total sense, “Everyone below Captain, you just got bumped up a paygrade.”

 Yeah, uh, no. “With all due respect, sir, I’m pretty sure that’s not how it…”

 “Lieutenant uh Captain, I just made a command decision and that decision is to promote everyone below Captain.” That’s… really not how this works. I know I’m not exactly a JAG officer but I know that much. “And what is the appropriate response to a command decision?”

 “Sir, yes, sir.” Damn Marine training making me instantly respond like that. Try again, Reece. “But sir, that decision is meaningless if no one knows that we just…” No, wait, that wasn’t the appropriate reaction I meant. I screwed up. Abort, abort, ab…

 “Yeah, yeah, I know. Listen, I’ll notify Dr. Weir and have her log it formally.” Wait, what? “Anyone gives you crap about this or refuses to take your orders, tell them to take it up with me and a court-martial.”

 Okay. Holy hell. He really means it. John Sheppard just gave a substantial part of the Atlantis military contingent a field promotion. I turn to Strickland and she mirrors my disbelief but makes a vague “Let’s just go along with this for the time being, LT” gesture with her hand. Oh, fine. I frown at Sheppard. “What about when this is over, sir?”

 I could see he nearly rolled his eyes. “You really like asking the hard questions in the crappiest moments, don’t you, Lieutenant?”

 “All due respect, that would be Captain, sir.” Goddammit, I really need some sleep. Or at least to lay off this stupid habit of speaking first and thinking later, especially in front of superior officers. Even if it’s just because Strickland never learned not to snicker whenever it happens. She’s trying really, really hard to be quiet about it but I know she does it. Every. Damn. Time.

 Thankfully, Sheppard seems to have gotten used to this whole thing enough by now that he doesn’t miss a beat and instead just smirks at me. “Cheeky, Reece.” Then he gets serious again, and I can see his impatience building up again. “Okay, listen, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I promise this promotion is permanent.” Yeah, sure, since SGC brass is always so understanding about your actions, sir. See Everett riding roughshod over you and Dr. Weir for way too long. “You’ll all pin on new ranks soon as this is over.” Uh-huh, yeah. The thing he doesn’t say is “if we all manage to survive this, and right now I really have to stress the if” but both Strickland and I heard it loud and clear. “Just roll with it now. I’ll have Ops tell everyone who needs to know. Oh and… no one tell Ford. I kinda wanna tell him myself soon as I see him.” Right. I did say Ford was his favorite Marine, and this time, I have Strickland as my witness. Cuevas better survive this, too, if only so I can tell her that I was right about this.

 Oh, also, okay, conventions must be met. I nod. “Yes, sir. Understood, sir.”

 He smirks again, this time with a definite predatory edge to it. An edge I recognize immediately from the memory of that other Air Force field grade I tried to very hard to forget for an entire year. This is what it looks like when Air Force overlords get in a hunting mood. “Now let’s go kick some Wraith ass, Captain. Lance Corporal.”

 All right, then. I throw Strickland a look and she’s grinning and wow, I guess I’m grinning, too. Whatever just happened, at least it didn’t change one fundamental thing: we’re out to hunt Wraith, and we’ll do it with everything we have, as long as we have to. We look at Sheppard again. “Sir, yes, sir.”

 So, okay, maybe, I won’t quit. Not just yet. Not until we kicked the Wraith out of our home, at least. Everything else, we’ll sort out later, but damn, we got work to do, and we gotta do it now. Ooh-fucking-rah.