by Domenika Marzione

"I can't say that I ever thought that my first command -- hell, that any command -- would involve leading marines. But so it did and here you are and I think we did a damned fine job. I... I'm not real big on goodbyes. Or very good at them. So I'm just going to say 'thank you.' For bailing my ass out of a few -- okay, more than a few -- hairy situations and for busting your nuts to fight the good fight. You gave the best of yourselves and I am very proud and very grateful to have served with you. So thank you and Semper Fi."

There was applause and ooh-rahs and a few whistles and Sheppard was blushing a little as he sat down next to Lorne. They didn't have an auditorium that could fit the entire battalion at once, so they'd collected everyone in the big gym for the talks about what would happen Earthside, what would be the schedule until they left, and all of the other details that went into the sudden shift from using the gate bridge to plan long overdue visits home for the marines to evacuating the city for real and for good.

Lorne's head was still spinning and his voice was a little hoarse from all of the talking and shouting and order-giving he'd done in the last forty hours. But that wasn't why he shook his head no when Sheppard asked if he wanted to address the men.

The marines were sitting on the floor, on the bleachers, on the mats, and wherever else they fit. Some of them were happy to go home -- most of the battalion were either lifers or aiming to be, but some were guys just counting down the days until their enlistment was up and they could return to civilian life, which would be easier on Earth since Atlantis did not cater to double-digit midgets. And some were looking forward to returning to a more familiar battlefield and a more familiar enemy. Almost all of the marines would be returned to the Corps; the Stargate Program simply didn't need that many jarheads, stop-loss and security concerns be damned.

Lorne had already asked his trio what they wanted to do; he was sure that he could pull in enough favors with folks like Doctor Weir and General O'Neill to get them whatever they wanted. But they wanted to go back to being marines, at least for a while. Lorne understood to an extent -- the Ori were a vague threat compared to the human villains they'd known on Earth; they considered their loved ones at greater risk from terrorists than intergalactic invaders. And, truth be told, he himself wasn't sure if he even wanted to stay with the SGC; five years and maybe fighting something other than aliens would be a nice change. Although he was fairly sure that getting out would be far more difficult for him than for the marines. O'Neill had already told him that he was a lock for his own SG team, which was the sort of offer that you couldn't refuse and still hope to make O-5. And then there was the simple matter of getting into the action -- if he went back to Big Air Force, he'd just end up someone's staff officer, trapped in a headquarters office somewhere. At least with an SG team, he'd get some air. The marines had said as much when they'd had their hurried final team meeting in Atlantis, that they had rubbed off a bit on him, too, if he was looking to get to the pointy part of the spear. He'd been disproportionately pleased at the "too" part.

"All right, marines, let's get back to packing and stacking," Matt Polito announced.

"Your uniforms will be in your stall by the end of the day," Sergeant Meeney went on, gesturing over his shoulder in the general direction of the men's locker room. "Lieutenant Price is flying in from Osan, but Captain Yuan and Lieutenant Bleicher are at Peterson. Their phone numbers are in their files if you want to contact them before you go on leave, sir."

Lorne nodded, looking around the office that was now his. "Thank you, sergeant."

Meeney finished piling papers and files on the desk, then left him with a "Good afternoon, sir, and welcome back."

It was too soon. Even General Landry had admitted that it was too soon. Lorne had shaken hands with his marines that morning, the last time he'd probably ever see them, and now he was already the commander of a new team and he just wasn't ready. But the Ori didn't care about his feelings, so neither did the SGC. They owed him leave from before he'd even gone to Atlantis and thus he was getting a vacation before his first mission as commander of SG-18, but apart from that... back to the grindstone, swapping out the lifesucking vampires for the wacky fundamentalists with unwacky powers.

The Atlantis Battalion had been kept under the watchful gaze of the Stargate Program for a week, debriefing and discussing future options and doing all of the usual DoD steps for soldiers returning from combat. Don't beat your wife, don't drink too much, and try not to see the enemy behind every tree and in every car. Almost all of the marines were going on block leave and then to either Lejeune or Pendleton for reassignment. Of the officers, only Radner was being retained because he'd been part of the program before he'd gone to Atlantis with Everett. There'd been talk of keeping all of the marines with the Ancient gene, but he and Sheppard had gotten help from Doctor Weir in putting the kibosh on that.

"And then there were two."

Lorne turned around to see Sheppard leaning in the doorway. "Radner's running around somewhere," he replied.

Sheppard rolled his eyes and pushed off the door frame. "But he's back in the bosom of Mother Marine Corps. The recidivism rate is something like 98%; everything we did will get completely undone."

Lorne gestured for Sheppard to take a seat. He did, but frowned. "These aren't as nice as your old ones," he said, shifting around. "How long until you commandeer better ones?"

"I'll see how much I like my new team," Lorne replied, leaning against the edge of his desk. "But if you're going to be stopping by, I'll make sure to get at least one after I get back."

He hadn't figured out what he was going to do on leave yet. Get out of town, sure, maybe visit his sister, but beyond that, he had no idea. He'd spent the week either sorting out problems for the marines, getting his own supplies and gear and finding out who was on his team (he didn't get to choose), going to briefings, debriefings, and getting taken to lunches, dinners, and happy hours by old friends and acquaintances. It had been busy, which had been good, because he really wasn't ready to let go of Atlantis just yet. He didn't think Sheppard was, either.

"It's good that you got your own team," Sheppard said, slouching down. "You deserve at least that much."

"We'll see about that," Lorne replied, looking down at the service jackets of Yuan, Price, and Bleicher. "They gave me all officers. Two lieutenants and a captain. General Landry said it was the first open slot, but I'm not sure it's not a message after my last team."

Sheppard cocked his eyebrow. "If they've been paying any attention at all to our reports, they wouldn't have given you two lieutenants."

Lorne gave him a look, but he was grinning when he did because his marines had said the exact same thing that morning. "Reletti suggested that they were assigned to me to thin out the herd."

Sheppard laughed, which was good because they'd had a rough time of it with the lieutenants the last few months and it was a sign of progress that the awful joke was funny. "Your guys are good?"

He nodded, knowing that Sheppard was not referring to SG-18 and that Sheppard knew that Suarez, Reletti, and Ortilla had rejected the offer to stay at the SGC. "Reletti's over the moon -- he got put back with his old unit and he's already got a deployment date. Ortilla and Suarez are going to Lejeune, so they haven't gotten their assignments yet."

"They gave me a team, too," Sheppard said after they were quiet a moment, each lost in thoughts of what they'd left behind in Pegasus. Leaving Teyla and Ronon had been hard for Sheppard, but he wasn't about to confess to it. "Landry said I could pick them, but I don't know anyone here, so it would have just been a crap shoot anyway. I think you may have something with the message thing, though. I've got two airmen along with a scientist."

The alarm for unscheduled gate activation sounded, the flashing lights in the hallway visible through the open door. Sheppard turned to look over his shoulder. "It's going to be a long time before I stop thinking that I'm supposed to be doing something about that."

"Yeah," Lorne agreed with a sigh.

The phone vibrated loudly, the wood of the nightstand amplifying the noise. He reached for it by sound, not even bothering to open his eyes. "Lorne."

Next to him, Michelle stirred.

"I'm sorry to wake you, sir," the unnamed sergeant said through the earpiece. "But all SG teams are being recalled."

He sighed and sat up, rubbing his eyes and opening them. The clock said 3:42. The line from the SGC was secure and his phone was encrypted up the wazoo and he doubted that the NID or the Trust had gotten around to bugging Michelle's condo, so he asked what the problem was.

"Urgent message from the Jaffa, sir. Got a list of planets the Ori are targeting but haven't gotten to yet."

"Wonderful," he sighed. "I'll be in ASAP."

He closed the phone and pushed the blankets back.

"Do you want coffee?" Michelle asked before he could swing his legs over to the side of the bed. She'd had a year of this before he'd left, the schedule of arrivals and departures that had nothing to do with the motion of the sun or the regular schedule of a military post. He shouldn't be surprised that she'd fallen back into the old rhythm here as with everywhere else.

"No time," he replied, leaning back to kiss her forehead. "Go back to sleep."

He hadn't meant to pick up where they'd left off. He'd come back from leave and sent an email, just to check in. They'd parted amicably, if unhappily, and after fifteen months, he'd just wanted to know how she was doing. He hadn't expected her to be either available or interested, hadn't expected dinner to turn into anything more, and so he was still a little surprised that it had. Or that it was turning out to be so easy to go back to being one of a pair. Of this pair.

Almost a month back on Earth and he'd still rather be in Pegasus, but he was starting to wonder what he'd do if the opportunity to go back presented itself. If he had had one regret going in the first place, it had been leaving Michelle. He'd had more than a year to meditate on that choice and he wondered if he could do it again if he was asked to.

He squeezed her hand and got out of bed, into the shower and then into his clothes. He was halfway out the door before he remembered that he'd left his phone on the nightstand, so he went back upstairs and snuck into the bedroom to retrieve it.

"Be safe," Michelle murmured drowsily.

"I'll do my best," he replied.

An hour later, he was sitting next to Sheppard in the briefing room, listening to Teal'c explain the significance of the Jaffa's message to the team commanders. He felt as twitchy as Sheppard looked -- it was hard to go back to being one of many, to taking far more orders than they gave. The last month had been most instructive in that way and he'd developed a new respect for the Atlantis marines, all of whom had been NCOs who'd gone from leading their own teams and squads to being back on the bottom of the totem pole, trading a leadership role for being part of something special.

Of course, getting used to a CO who was about as far from Sheppard as Earth was to Atlantis was arguably harder than simply getting used to not being an XO anymore.

The rest of SG-18 was waiting for him in their team room after Landry'd dismissed them. Yuan, Bleicher, and Price were competent and courageous and he'd go through a door with them any day, but he missed his marines because he'd have gone through hell itself with them.

It was three days before they returned to Earth from M3X-447, bloodied and filthy and heavy-hearted because the planet had fallen to the Ori in the end. Price (arm) and Bleicher (foot) were both overnighting in the infirmary and Yuan looked confused when Doctor Beckett started in on Lorne for bringing back two more dented lieutenants. Sheppard, there because one of his airmen had taken a face full of some gas, nearly choked for laughing.

With his team comfortably convalescing and the AAR not due until tomorrow (and mostly to be written by Yuan, who took his team XO duties seriously to the point that Lorne had run to Sheppard for assurance that he'd never been that eager to do paperwork), Lorne had gotten himself cleaned up and to the flower shop in time to pick Michelle up from work.

"Did Lam put you up to this?"

Lorne sighed. "No, Yoni. Despite the fact that you have been back two weeks and there have already been three requests for reassignment from the medical research unit, no. Doctor Lam has not requested that I see if you want to go out for lunch."

Lam was Landry's daughter. If she really wanted Yoni gone, even just for a lunch break, she had far more effective ways of going about it. Beckett, on the other hand, had pleaded for him to take Yoni aside and try to explain that the folks at the SGC weren't quite used to his particular sense of humor.

Yoni was still looking at him accusingly, but he shrugged. "Sure."

Lorne was pretty sure there had to be some sort of weird Pegasus shell shock that could explain why he voluntarily threw himself into the lion's den like this. "Thirteen hundred, up on the surface. Try not to get the SFs called between now and then? We can't go out if you're in custody."

Yoni waved his hand dismissively. "They are all soft here."

Lorne sighed and left, knowing that they'd pick the conversation right back up during lunch.

"How was Israel?" he asked once they were seated at the Korean sushi bar, panchan arrayed before them.

Yoni smiled as he separated his chopsticks, a real smile and not the sardonic one Lorne was used to. "It was good. I haven't gotten to spend Yom Kippur in Yerushalayim in a very long time. I didn't know that I ever would again. I met the latest batch of nieces and nephews, saw some friends, made some connections. It was good."

The waitress came and took their orders, a transaction more complicated than it should have been because the waitress had a rough grasp of English and Yoni's accent had gotten somewhat thicker for his time away.

"I heard from the marines," Yoni said after Lorne had given an edited-for-public-space recap of the week's misadventures against the Ori. "They send regards to you. Reletti is far more verbose in emails than expected."

"How are they?" Lorne asked, not bothering to hide his hurt at them contacting Yoni and not him. He understood -- back on Earth, he was an Air Force officer and they were marine NCOs and the twain did not meet -- but he still felt it. Maybe as much because of the fact that it was yet another way things were different.

"Reletti should be in Kuwait by now, getting ready to move north," Yoni answered, picking up a piece of kimchee with his chopsticks. "Suarez just got into sniper school, but Reletti don't know when he goes to that. Ortilla is still in North Carolina; he had his assignment changed on him out of the blue."

Ortilla didn't have enough time in to start thinking about promotion to gunnery sergeant, but he'd be an excellent leadership asset to anyone's unit. "I might have had something to do with that," Lorne said, going for a slice of lotus root. "I submitted paperwork for their latest fitreps a couple of weeks ago."

Yoni, mouth full, just nodded.

During the meal, they spoke mostly about people from Atlantis. Lorne may not have heard from his marines, but he had heard from a few of the lieutenants and Captains Hanzis and Polito. Unlike the marines, most of the science and medical divisions were being retained by the SGC, although there had been some attrition in both departments. Yoni reported that Clayton was still out adventuring, last postcard from Bora Bora and the last email from Tahiti.

"I'm thinking of leaving," Yoni said after the waitress brought their sushi.

Lorne wasn't surprised. Despite popular belief, Yoni didn't usually set out to make everyone around him miserable. For all of his many personality quirks and failings, Yoni was usually on his own version of best behavior unless provoked or deeply unhappy. "It's only been two weeks," he pointed out. Because as miserable as Yoni might be, it was still early .

"It's been six years," Yoni replied sourly as he reached for the soy sauce. "Everything under the mountain that made me happy to get stuck in Antarctica is still there. Budget cuts are making escape to another remote facility unlikely and I'm not sure I'd be happy there anyway. None of this is what I got into epidemiology to study and...."

"And you spent a year running around in the field and being trapped in a lab sucks," Lorne finished for him. He debated telling Yoni that Sheppard said that McKay was having the same adjustment difficulties, but chose not to because it was very rare for Yoni to be open like this and that would just be an excuse for him to close up again.

"Yes," Yoni agreed brightly, seemingly pleased to be understood. "I'm still young enough to have some good running around years left and if I want to leave the Mountain, then the sooner I go, the better. I can use 'classified research' for only so much explanation of my erratic publishing schedule since 2000."

Lorne didn't pretend to understand academia and he knew Yoni didn't especially care for all of the gamesmanship, either. "Have you decided or are you just mulling it over?"

Do you want me to talk you out of it, he didn't say.

"I'm going to explore my options," Yoni said, taking a sip of his barley tea. "In the grand scheme of things, this isn't the worst place in the world to work, but, well, you understand."

But it wasn't the galaxy either of them wanted to be employed in.

"This way, Major," Sergeant Harriman said quickly, ushering him into Landry's office. He'd barely gotten through the stargate, the wormhole still open behind him, when there'd been two airmen at the bottom of the ramp telling him that the general wanted to see him. Now.

"Reporting as ordered, sir," he said when Landry turned around, a thunderous expression on his face.

Landry didn't ask him to sit. He didn't return the salute. He just glowered at him. "What do you know about this, Lorne?" he asked ominously.

Lorne dropped his salute. "I don't know what you're talking about, sir."

He knew roughly what this was about -- there'd been exactly one subject of gossip in the gate room. But if he couldn't play completely dumb, then he could play dumb enough.

"Did Sheppard talk to you? Did he tell you what he was planning?"

Part of him was distinctly amused by this. By having to lie for Sheppard one more time. The rest of him was worried that it would be the last time because Sheppard hadn't exactly taken the best assault team with him through the gate.

"We discussed the fate of Atlantis, sir, if that's what you're asking," he replied. "We both agreed that we wished that we could go back to fight the Replicators."

Landry slapped a file folder on to his desk in frustration. "Well he has. And he's taken three civilians with him."

"Doctor McKay's not as useless as he used to be, sir," Lorne offered.

Landry stared at him. "You're not that stupid, Major. Please don't pretend to be."

"Sorry, sir."

Landry sighed and sat down heavily, motioning for Lorne to do so as well. He did, cautiously. "Are you telling me that you had no idea that Sheppard was planning to hijack the puddle jumper and make for Atlantis?"

"If I had, I'd have gone with him, sir," Lorne replied. Which was the truth and a lie all wrapped up together. He'd known that Sheppard had been considering such a move; hell, he'd helped work out some of the logistics of taking back the jumper. But Sheppard had made it very clear that he wanted Lorne to stay behind and stay clear. Because if either the plan failed or if the plan succeeded and Sheppard wasn't there to take command again ("the odds are that I'll either be dead or punted out of the Air Force before I can catch my breath"), then Sheppard wanted Lorne to be in a position to go back to Atlantis when the time came. Even if that meant leading a team to do cleanup after the radiation levels had cooled down from the nuke.

Landry looked at him closely. Lorne looked back, clearing his mind of all thoughts pertaining to the fallout of getting caught lying to a general about collaborating with an officer gone rogue.

"Go take care of your team, Major," Landry said. "I'll expect your AAR by the end of the day."

Lorne stood. "Yes, sir."

feed me on LJ?

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