Santayana in Pegasus

by Domenika Marzione

Once upon a time....


Lorne looked up from his notes, getting a glance at the clock. It was about that time. "How'd the chat with Earth go, sir?"

Sheppard made one of those faces that answered the question before he spoke. "You'd think that they'd be less frustrating from a galaxy away," he replied as he dropped into one of the chairs in front of the desk. Lorne sort of suspected that Sheppard really came to visit the chairs.

"That good?" He didn't press because he wanted Sheppard to relive the torture, but instead because if he didn't ask questions now, then he would be surprised later on by information that had been given to his CO and not passed on. Because Sheppard tended to tune out most of what got said by General Landry and the others and if he didn't access it quickly, it would be gone.

"Well, there was one bit of news," Sheppard said, perking up a little. "They've decided that we're a little... bottom-heavy here."

"Bottom-heavy," Lorne repeated, saving the document on his laptop and closing the screen. "As in 'too many indians, not enough chiefs' kind of bottom-heavy?"

Sheppard nodded ruefully.

"Wonderful." Because one of the advantages of the set-up in Atlantis was that it was pretty much the opposite of the SGC -- they didn't have enough officers. (The SGC was practically swimming in field grade guys, a fact they were not above using as a threat -- nobody was as replaceable as an O-4 assigned to Cheyenne.) The resulting ratio of manpower to duties in Atlantis kept everyone busy, officers and enlisted alike, and Lorne thought that it was rather brilliant in its chaotic simplicity. Nobody had time to get into trouble and everyone got their fair share of shit duties. It was efficient, effective, and in the spirit of a frontier outpost and of course the IOA would want to screw with it.

"I'm not quite sure what they want to do," Sheppard admitted, rubbing the back of his head. "I kind of stopped paying too close attention when they started with the cascade of bullshit about how we're doing such a fine job here and we should look at this as a kind of reward for all of our hard work."

Lorne sighed. "Maybe we get a proper headquarters staff?"

Sheppard frowned. "I don't want an office full of people doing nothing but pushing paper," he said. "I like this command precisely because I never have to write 'he files well' on a fitrep."

They both knew that that wasn't actually even in the top five reasons for why Sheppard liked this command, but that wasn't the point.

"The odds are that they'll be Air Force," Lorne pointed out, looking for a bright side. "Even out the imbalance a little."

Sheppard laughed. "Yeah. It'll be what, two-hundred-plus to five?"

They moved on to the rest of the news from Earth (Ori incursions, Air Force opens its season against Tennessee, SG-1 was probably showing up either the next time the Daedalus returned or with the Odyssey) and the important business of Atlantis (Charlie Company had accidentally discovered a Genii spy outpost on a training exercise; hilarity ensued) until Sheppard was summoned by Doctor Weir.

Sheppard sighed and stood up, rubbing his face. "We still on for this afternoon?"

The weekly meeting for off-world teams and officers who led off-world missions was at 1500.

Lorne chuckled. "After Murray got chased off yet another planet by pointy spears? Oh, yeah."

"What is it with him?" Sheppard asked plaintively. "Can we spray him with something? I thought we were trying to send him to uninhabited worlds."

"We are," Lorne replied. "Lieutenant Murray's uncanny luck trumps the Ancient database."

There was nothing to say to that, so Sheppard didn't try, instead gesturing vaguely in farewell and heading for the door. He paused before he left, though, and turned around. "You do know that no matter how many other majors show up, I'll still love you just as much, right?"

"Thank you, sir," Lorne replied before he started laughing.

"You want the newbies or the rock stars?" Sheppard leaned over to ask as they watched the first batch of people transported down from the Odyssey materialize. SG-1, or at least part of it, and a small contingent of soldiers and scientists, all with large bags and an assortment of crates that filled the gate room.

"I think SG-1 expects to see you and not me, sir," Lorne replied dryly. He gestured behind him to Lieutenant Salker and marines with trolleys appeared out of the north doorway.

Nevertheless, he was greeted by name by Colonel Carter and Doctor Jackson and introduced to Colonel Mitchell and Vala Mal Doran before he got down to the platform and the newest members of Atlantis's military. The scientists were guided away by Doctor Zelenka and Lorne greeted each of the five marines before sending them off with one of Salker's men, leaving him with one guy in ACUs.

"What sort of pictures do you have that they promoted you?" Lorne asked, holding out his hand.

The so-newly-made-he-probably-didn't-remember-to-answer-to-Major Leonard grinned broadly and accepted it, shaking firmly. "I'd tell you, but then what good would they do me?"

Lorne had been amused as hell to see Leonard's name on the list of candidates to be sent to Atlantis for the newly created billets. Captain Leonard had served in SG-11 for a while, longer than most because while there were constant reshufflings of the team rosters, rare was the man who didn't send Edwards storming in to Hammond's office demanding to get that idiot off of his team before he got someone killed and those lucky few got to stick around.

"Come on," Lorne said, gesturing toward the south doorway, away from the marines and their trolleys, "let me show you around."

"I'm getting a team," Leonard announced without preamble as he dropped down on the Nautilus next to Lorne. "But you knew that already, right?"

"Yeah," Lorne confirmed as he brought his forearms together. Sheppard had asked what he'd thought and he'd enthusiastically agreed. Leonard had taken his share of the paperwork without complaint, but he was a field guy and there was no point in keeping him cooped up in Atlantis.

"Colonel Sheppard said I could pick whoever I wanted," Leonard went on, shifting so that he was in position to use the equipment rather than just sit on it. He'd been in Atlantis long enough to know that the marines descended upon exercise equipment not unlike a plague of locusts -- either you stood your ground and fought for it, or you found yourself sitting on the floor. "He also said that I shouldn't ask you for advice."

Lorne laughed instead of exhaling slowly and ended up coughing. "I happen to be very fond of my team."

He'd gone on three missions since Leonard had come to Atlantis, none of which had gone the slightest bit wrong. At least not the sort of wrong that went into AARs. Yoni was usually discreet treating those sorts of injuries and Suarez healed quickly.

"He said you'd say that," Leonard replied, leaning forward to adjust the weight, then leaning back. "I don't get it. You have a CO who's about as far from Edwards as you can get and still be in the same service and you make it up by picking the crankiest guy on the expedition for your SG team?"

"He's not that bad," Lorne promised, finishing the rep and then doing an extra two because he always lost count when he was talking to people. Yoni and Leonard hadn't gotten off to the best of starts, mostly because Leonard had shown up in the infirmary for bandaging right after Yoni had apparently had an argument with one of the other doctors. "He's good in the field. He's great in the field. And his bark is worse than his bite."

"You didn't see the other doctor weeping in the corner."

"Holy shit!" Leonard shouted as he dove behind the boulder, the blast from the Wraith stunner too close behind him. Sergeants Gilman, Soto, and Anderson were already accepting the new clips Lorne was holding out to them, snapping them in and turning around to continue the fight. "That was a little close."

This was supposed to have been a cakewalk. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a cakewalk on a planet infested by Wraith.

Reletti dropped down from where he was perched and took a new clip as well. "Score another one for the Ancient database, sir," he said, then clambered back up to where he'd been relying on his coefficient of friction to win over gravity so that he could get a clean shot.

They'd been separated by more than a kilometer when they'd heard the whine of the darts. The first part of the plan was simply to get both teams back together. The next part was actually getting the hell off of this planet without meeting any scoopy beams.

"Sir," Gilman called out as he shuffled over to the edge of the boulder. "You've been hit."

Lorne looked over at Leonard's right arm, which was bloody beneath a partially torn sleeve. "Hey, Doc!"

"I'm fine," Leonard insisted, rolling on to his back so that he could sit up without putting pressure on his arm. "It'll keep."

"Bullshit," Yoni said, appearing from where he'd been effectively hidden by Ortilla's bulk. "Let me see it."

Leonard sat still as Yoni poked around. Lorne went back to putting his rifle back together, then digging up one of their last extra clips. He inserted it, but was prepared to give it up to one of the marines if they needed it since they were in firing positions and he was using his PDA to try and plot them a course to the stargate.  

"I'm going to be picking debris out of this for hours," Yoni muttered and Lorne looked up. There was a hasty wrap around the arm. "Next time, Major, lead with a body part that has more protective padding."

"We're getting too fucking good at these."

Lorne didn't turn around. He figured Sheppard would understand. Instead, he looked out at Atlantis, beautiful as ever in the late morning light.

Sheppard was right. The wall ceremony had been very good. Practice had made perfect, or close enough to it. Boots, inverted rifles with bayonets, dogtags, and helmets all in a row, just like the pictures on the wall. They didn't have a chaplain, but they had enough devout Christians among the marines to fake it. They'd barely needed to hold any last year -- one for the opening and to remember those who'd died in the siege, then one for Maguire and the others killed on Malthusa -- and they'd already surpassed that total in the last few months. The number of men whose portraits now graced the wall of the deceased was still small in comparison to the dozens who'd died during the siege, but Lorne knew every one who'd been added since he'd arrived. Some better than others. None better then the last.

"We're only going to get better."

Sheppard joined him at the railing, not too close but close enough. "I know."

The AARs and debriefs had been nothing short of hellish and he hadn't even been there. The video had been bad, but thankfully a little abstract because god knows he's seen SG officers go delusional before, even fatally so. The interviews had been the worst, however, because those he'd had to do himself. With Heightmeyer, but with nobody else. Not even Doctor Weir.

Beckett's and McKay's had been okay, more or less -- manifestations of fears that would grow more embarrassing than disturbing as time passed. Their delusions had been more professional than personal, challenges to their egos and ethics as much as warping their realities. They'd be fine, although Lorne hoped that McKay realized that now wasn't the time to start griping at Sheppard for shooting him.

Teyla had been thoughtful and introspective and, since she was the only one not affected, her narrative had been the only straightforward one. She'd detailed her growing despair of being on the outside of a hallucination so powerful and unable to break through. She'd readily admitted her fear, saying that it was even worse than it had been with Thalan because Thalan had been someone else, but Sheppard had simply been somewhere else all while being right there. And armed.

Ronon had approached his interview with a clinical detachment, rattling off events and what he'd seen and what he'd thought he'd seen in a controlled monotone. Heightmeyer thought that he'd been the first affected, which seemed plausible considering that it was people like Ronon -- those immune to the Wraith -- that would be a prime target for manipulation. Ronon was unable to tell when he'd stopped seeing Leonard and started seeing Wraith and that clearly disturbed him, but he seemed more annoyed than troubled by it.

Sheppard, the reason the interviews had been closed to everyone including Weir, had been the most affected. If Ronon couldn't tell when the delusions had started, Sheppard knew precisely when he'd fallen prey. He'd pulled out of the hallucination long enough to see the tortured Leonard blow himself to smithereens (that he'd since queried the files on Kull warriors had not gone unflagged), then right back in to reliving one of his own darker moments. ("At least it wasn't Mindanao," he'd said in a flat attempt at finding a bright side.) He was determined to convince Heightmeyer that all of his personal demons were back in their little boxes, that he was far more concerned about how he'd scared Teyla and nearly killed Ronon and McKay. Lorne believed him -- and so did Heightmeyer. They'd both dealt with him after the iratus bug fiasco ("my blue period") and Thalan and he'd been the same way then. Making crappy jokes and fretting about his team and doing pretty much anything to keep the attention off of himself.

"I'm sorry," Sheppard said. Lorne looked over. "I know you and Leonard were friends."

"Thanks," Lorne said, meaning it all the more because he knew what Sheppard had 'seen' -- the friend he hadn't been able to save, now twice.

Nonetheless, he felt a little... deceitful. Because he wasn't just mourning the loss of his friend (and of Salker's and Kagan's marines). He was feeling guilty over his own relief that it had been Sheppard's team and not his. Intellectually, he knew that it was perfectly normal to have such feelings, that it was actually correct -- not only because Teyla was the key to stopping the whole fiasco, but also because his own team would have ripped themselves to shreds far more completely than Sheppard's had. They would have been Leonard's team -- dead by their own hands, reliving combat long gone (Hezbollah, Jaffa, arhabi insurgents) except in their memories -- and nothing could have saved them.

"Kagan looked pretty good," Sheppard said, mostly to make conversation. He didn't want to be alone with himself any more than Lorne did and Lorne was grateful. "Not so pale."

Kagan wouldn't be leading his marines in anything but a formation for the next few weeks, but he'd rebounded quite nicely (according to Yoni) from his ordeal. At least physically. Thankfully, he didn't seem to remember much of anything after he'd gotten shot, so if he'd been affected by the Wraith device and suffered his own hallucinations in addition to starring in Beckett's, they were gone. That wasn't enough to get him free of Heightmeyer's clutches, but it pretty much guaranteed that he'd be spending a lot less time with her than everyone else who'd come back.

"Yeah," Lorne agreed. "We'll see how he is after a week of desk duty."

Kagan was a good kid, all the more so for being the replacement for Appleman, whom nobody missed. He'd get through this, go crazy from being trapped in the city, and then finally be set free after pestering the medical unit into clearing him for duty. If he were smart, he'd go to Clayton or Yoni instead of Carson, who had had to be bullied into letting Kagan be released in the first place. He'd go on and life would go on and Lorne wished it would hurry up and do so already.

"Come on," Sheppard said, slapping him lightly on the arm. "Let's go back inside. There's some sort of food thing at eleven and we should put in an appearance."

feed me on LJ?

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