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Orders and Orders

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Evan really hated this plan.

John said it again. “Major, I need you to shift. It’ll give us the element of surprise - and weapons, frankly, because we have none.”

Evan blinked and forced himself to respond. “Sir? Are you sure that’s a good idea? I - don’t have any shifter clothes.” Shapeshifters traditionally wore clothes made of dead shapeshifters, because those clothes shifted with them. Since Evan was in the Air Force, he had military-issue clothing, and if he shifted, he either had to strip first or ruin a set of clothes, and replacements were rare in Pegasus. Not that he was wearing his uniform anyway. The Genii had badgered him into this outfit so they could dress some poor corpse as him to trick Atlantis into thinking he was dead.

John raised his eyebrows. “Is it the naked thing you’re worried about? Because you know marines have no shame.”

“Sir,” Evan said, “I can’t. The rules. I could never -”

“Major,” John said, emphasizing Evan’s rank, and Evan realized, not just his military rank but also Evan’s rank relative to John, who was the son of a Redfern and a Harman. Evan, a shapeshifter - and one of the Forsaken to boot - had no choice but to follow orders from an Elder or a prince, even if that order meant death. Not that the Council would find out what he’d done, in another galaxy as they were. But what John was asking went against every fiber of Evan’s being, everything he’d been raised to know and believe. Never ever tell a human about you.

“That’s a direct order,” John said, and Evan nodded. He started shucking the outer layers of the dusty Genii clothes.

John swung around and faced the marines.

“Okay boys, here’s the deal. Shapeshifters are real. That’s right - people who can turn into animals are real. I need you to keep your cool. Because it’s about to get crazy.”

“Major?” one of the marines asked.

But John beckoned the marines in close, started issuing orders to effectuate their jailbreak.

Evan could feel them staring at him. This was one of those things they’d never covered in SERE - seduction as a means of escape, but being posted with women meant women sometimes talked about it (and the darker side of it), and some of the men had wondered about it too. Was it a viable option? Would any of them go through with it if it seemed like a viable option?

“Sir,” Reed in a low voice, “Colonel Sheppard didn’t ask you to - to sacrifice yourself, did he?”

After AR-1’s mission to the planet with the Ancient control tower, the notion that Pegasus natives might want expedition members alive for breeding purposes had pervaded the marines, some of them jokingly volunteering for goodwill ATA gene-spreading missions.

“No,” Evan said. “Get ready for combat, all right? Colonel Sheppard’s right. You need to keep your head. Don’t worry about me.” Then he cracked a tense smile. “Just, you know, don’t shoot me.”

“Jeez, Major,” Coughlin said, “I thought you were from California. Where’s your tan?”

On the other side of the cell, John was rousing Rodney and the others who’d passed out from the gas.

“Don’t worry about me,” Evan said. “Keep your heads.”

Walker, pressed against the far end of the cell, said, “Someone’s coming!”

John was on his feet, standing between Rodney and whoever came through the door. The rest of the marines arranged themselves around John in combat formation. Behind them, Evan shifted.

Usually he did it on the fly, on the run, the way he’d been trained from youth, so to shift standing still, crouched low, felt odd, unnatural, but this wasn’t a romp through the halls of Atlantis on a designated Sunday, this was combat. And Evan had been in combat in his true form more times than he cared to admit.

One moment he was human, the next he was formless, weightless, pure energy, quicksilver. And the next - the next he was himself, three hundred pounds of solid muscle, senses heightened further, aware of the heat of everyone around him, of their scent and motion. He yawned, licked his lips, and crouched, ready to spring.

If he thought too long about this, thought too hard about this, he’d panic, because he had shifted in the presence of humans, but all of the soldiers had their backs to him, were clustered around Rodney and John, and shifting was silent, so they wouldn’t know until it was too late.

The door of the cell swung open.

Evan heard Ladon’s voice.

With a roar, he leaped.

Later on Atlantis, the marines were put on stand down while they recovered, and they got drunk on Athosian wine and celebrated their insane victory and yet another escape from certain death.

Evan would have retreated to his quarters to tend to his wounds himself after he begged some raw liver off of the KP marines (they thought he had befriended some local sea creature and gave it treats off the southern pier), but Beckett caught him, and Evan forced himself to sit still while Beckett patched him up.

“You can eat in front of me,” Beckett said. “I don’t mind.”

“I know. I’ve seen your black dahlia t-shirt.”

“You took a massive risk out there, son.”

Beckett wasn’t much older than Evan. “Orders are orders. We got out of there alive. And the Genii will be crippled by the loss of their military and science leaders. Keep them off our backs for a while.”

Beckett raised his eyebrows. “Colonel Sheppard ordered you to shift?”

Evan lifted his uninjured shoulder in a shrug, was pleased when his voice stayed calm. “We’re in another galaxy. The Council will never find out. Their disdain for human military forces works to my advantage. They don’t even care to dig up classified information. And you can bet no one is putting this into their reports.”

None of the marines, not Evan’s teammates or any of the others, would ever look at him the same again. He would forever be a monster in their eyes, something subhuman, something to be feared, someone they could never really trust.

“I meant you took a massive risk, exposing yourself to their weapons. You had no way of knowing if any of their weapons incorporated silver.”

Evan shrugged. “You use magic when you heal people, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. Every bit helps.”

“And so I used my abilities to help save my men.”

“But you’ve been very careful,” Beckett said. “Letting injuries affect you the way they would a regular human. Training like a human. Running like a human. Lifting weights like a human.”

“Orders are orders,” Evan said again. “And Colonel Sheppard is a Redfern.”

“He’s a Sheppard.”

“You’ve seen his eyes.”

Beckett affixed a bandage to the bullet wound in Evan’s shoulder. It would be healed soon, with nary a scar to tell of its pain. “Aye, I have.”

Evan chewed on a piece of liver.

“You shouldn’t let them treat you like that,” Beckett added. “Let him treat you like that.”

“He treats me better than any lamia ever has.” Evan caught Beckett’s gaze.

Beckett opened his mouth, and Evan said, “Don’t ask, and I won’t tell.”

Beckett sighed. “All right, Major. You’re patched. On your way.”

Evan flashed him a grateful smile, scooped up his plate, and headed back to the mess hall so he could drop off his empty plate. Then he’d go find John and thank him for helping him be brave, do what he had to do to save his men. He’d do it again in a heartbeat, if it meant all his men coming home.

He always wanted all of his men to come on home.

If they were still his men in the morning.