To Wellington Barracks

by Domenika Marzione

Lorne was looking over the list in his hand, trying to figure out the best way to pick everything up so that he didn't get caught in traffic more than once, when he heard his name being called.

"Heading out?" Mitchell asked as he jogged to catch up, gesturing toward the elevator Lorne was standing in front of. Mitchell, like Lorne, was dressed in civvies and was probably on his way home. "They putting you guys up at Peterson?"

"Yes and no," Lorne replied with a frown. "General Landry's not letting Ronon upstairs, so everyone's staying here, too. Except Doctor Cole, but I think she wanted to be by herself anyway."

Cole was a visiting scholar, an old friend of Carson's who'd come to Atlantis for a few months to work on some project; she was going to Scotland with McKay.

"So you're on the food run?" Mitchell gestured at the papers in Lorne's hand, one of which was the address of the restaurant Sheppard had ordered dinner from. Lorne had volunteered ostensibly because he had the best local knowledge of the area and Sheppard was the best candidate to keep Ronon out of trouble (and McKay needed to verify his travel arrangements and nobody wanted to let Zelenka drive). But the truth of it was that Lorne wanted to be on the surface for a little while, away from the hermetically sealed world of the SGC with its whispered rumors and questioning looks from the Earth-based personnel and the guilt and awkwardness of the men he'd come back with.

"If I can get a car out of Visitor Services," Lorne confirmed. His own was in long-term storage and there was no point in getting it out for such a short stay.

"I'll take you around if you want," Mitchell offered, entering the elevator once the doors opened. "You have a better chance of getting Ronon off-base than a car -- there's some NATO conference going on. I'm surprised they even offered you rooms."

"You sure?" Lorne asked, following him into the elevator. Mitchell nodded as he pressed the button. "Then thank you very much."

Lorne hadn't been back in Atlantis long enough to have forgotten the eighty billion steps required to leave the SGC and then Cheyenne Mountain and then the complex as a whole. Finally they were pulling out of the security gate and hanging a left.

"Anywhere else you need to go?" Mitchell asked at the first red light.

"I've got a couple of wish lists that are going to have me running around in Walmart looking like an idiot for an hour or two in the morning," Lorne replied, not wanting to take advantage of Mitchell's generosity. "Gonna have to get it all delivered anyway."

No matter the reason for their return to Earth, they were still on Earth and that meant an opportunity to fill the needs and desires for equipment (and the occasional luxury) that couldn't -- or wouldn't -- be met by those charged with supplying Atlantis. Pegasus had taught them nothing so well as how to multitask their grief, so it didn't even feel a little wrong to be working out what they could wedge into the rear of the jumper that was coming to retrieve them tomorrow. McKay and Zelenka had their own lists -- Rodney would be on Earth for a week -- but Lorne and Sheppard wanted to get Little Tripoli whatever they could.

"Let me know if you need anything," Mitchell replied and Lorne nodded in thanks. "We're not going anywhere for at least another couple of days and, frankly, I'd love any excuse to get out from under the mountain for a while. Don't know why this place bothers me more than being stuck in a space ship for weeks on end ever did."

"It's under ground," Lorne said, mostly to say something. "Even in hyperspace, you still know you're flying."

Mitchell had been helpful when they'd come back to Earth last time, confused and aching from the loss of their city and the lives they'd built there. All of SG-1 had, each in their own ways. It was more than just simple repayment for being amenable hosts during their visit out to Atlantis, but Lorne was in the wrong frame of mind to put any more thought to it than he already had. You accepted help when you needed it, offered it when you could give it. Simple as that.

"Probably," Mitchell agreed, muttering a curse as he had to brake sharply to avoid a careless driver stopping to make a left turn without signaling.

They were quiet for a while, sitting in traffic that was undoubtedly worse because of whatever NATO was bringing in to town.

"Everyone was expecting Doctor Safir to be part of the escort," Mitchell said at yet another backed-up red light.

Lorne chuffed an unamused laugh. "Yeah, we know," he sighed. And everyone, both here and in Atlantis, seemed to think that Lorne was the person to talk to about that -- Landry hadn't even bothered asking Sheppard. "I don't think Yoni felt up to dealing with everything here."

It was both an evasion and what Lorne best guessed was the truth after half a dozen migraine-inducing attempts to try to talk to the man. Carson's death had hit Yoni very hard -- in addition to fighting the same guilt that the rest of them were battling, Yoni also had to deal with the fact that he had inherited Carson's job. Yoni was an able, if extremely reluctant, administrator, but dealing with bureaucracy never brought out his most civil traits. Couple that with the raw grief of losing the man who had probably been his closest friend in Atlantis... Lorne had never seen Yoni this tightly wound, this obviously waiting for a pretext and a convenient target. It had been hard enough to get Yoni to go to the funeral -- he'd reduced Clayton to frustrated tears more than once in the interim between Carson's death and the event itself -- and Lorne was maybe a bit relieved that Yoni hadn't come to Earth. The meeting with the IOA to confirm Yoni's status as new CMO in Atlantis would have been a recipe for disaster.

"Don't blame him," Mitchell said with knowing sourness, hitting his turn signal. Lorne could see the sign for the restaurant up ahead on the right. It was a steakhouse; they'd figured Ronon could discover pizza not made by marines and Chinese takeout tomorrow. "Woolsey and company were looking forward to a coronation; fuckers forgot that someone had to die first before they could throw a party. The king is dead, long live the king and all, but sometimes you have to wonder."

The order was waiting for them, a couple of bags' worth of foil containers and Lorne felt his stomach rumble at the scent. They made a pit-stop for a selection of Earth beers and then Mitchell brought him back to the complex. Lorne offered a place at the table -- there was certainly enough food -- but Mitchell understood that the offer was made more to be polite and wished him goodnight instead.

Dinner was subdued, but only for the first little while. Enough real, fresh Earth beef (not freeze-dried for transport aboard the Daedalus) and professionally made beer and they relaxed enough to debate whether the mashed potatoes and onion rings were better here (the Atlantis marines had a limited repertoire, but anything involving deep-frying or potatoes or -- especially -- both was expertly produced) and from there they segued into reminiscences of Carson. There'd been a wake in Medical, but only Rodney had gone and so they had their own little version in a windowless suite in the depths of the SGC. Misadventures both within Atlantis and without, stories from Antarctica, from the various times they'd come back to Earth, the first time they'd ever met the man (unsurprisingly, Ronon's introduction wasn't the most shocking). It was a good way to end the day, laughing over stories some of which Lorne didn't think had ever been told.

Lorne was still working out how he felt -- or didn't feel. He had the same woulda-coulda-shoulda guilt as everyone else -- if he'd agreed to go with Carson, Carson would have still been alive -- but it wasn't of a strength or magnitude to rival McKay's and Lorne didn't think it was worth trying to compare. Also, something Clayton had said stuck with him -- Carson obviously hadn't wanted to die, but he'd gone pretty much as he would have wished -- saving the life of his patient and saving the lives of his staff. It was an honorable death and in Pegasus, where too many people died in circumstances bereft of either meaning or dignity, that counted for something.

"You're what?" Lorne didn't feign his surprised slide off of the stool.

"I don't want this job on a permanent basis and I don't think anyone else wants me to have it, either," Yoni continued as if he were not proposing anything more exciting than changing his lab schedule. "I'm going to suggest an election next week, once everyone has calmed down a little. Let someone else serve as interim head until Doctor Weir and the IOA can come up with a permanent appointment."

Lorne climbed back up on the stool. "Are you sure? I'm pretty sure everyone's expecting you to get the appointment."

The official approval had already come, although Yoni didn't know that he was no longer acting CMO. Doctor Weir was sitting on it, not wanting to deliver the news before it was ready to be heard. Also, apparently the original message had apparently been a little too upbeat and she was waiting for an official rephrasing before passing it on.

Yoni shook his head and made a face. "I don't want it. Carson spent most of his time being a bureaucrat and a babysitter. His research suffered, his blood pressure suffered, and he was becoming very frustrated with how little time he spent actually being a scientist. His galavanting around the galaxy was as much a response to that as anything else."

It was weird hearing Beckett spoken about in the past tense and Lorne didn't miss the way Yoni hesitated just a fraction of a second before remembering to do so. A week wasn't enough time and Yoni hadn't taken a day off.

"If I got the job permanently, I'd have to choose between the team and my responsibilities here," Yoni went on, gesturing around him. "We haven't been off-world since Carson's death, nobody's needed coverage, and I'm still swamped. I had a hard enough time managing my normal obligations and Carson did the lion's share of the administrative work."

"McKay manages," Lorne offered, knowing that Yoni was right but feeling obligated to protest anyway. "I manage." Since there was no point in using Sheppard as the example.

"McKay micromanages the units he's interested in and leaves Zelenka to tend the rest," Yoni scoffed. "And you have relatively obedient subordinates accustomed to bureaucracy. This is herding cats and I have no reservoir of goodwill to rely on the way Carson did. Besides, I came to Atlantis because I wanted to do fieldwork. If I'm going to be an administrator, I can go back to Earth and enjoy the benefits of living there and not have to worry about Wraith or Replicators or exploding tumors."

The last had been spat out bitterly. Yoni had been off-world when everything had gone to hell, one of a large group of marines and civilians who had gone to M4R-629 to enjoy their day off away from the city. It was mostly a beach planet, where they sent the marines as a reward (or a bribe), and uninhabited except for some exotic birds and fish. Weir had sent Gillick to retrieve Yoni and the other doctors after the accident.

"Do whatever you're comfortable doing," Lorne said, holding his hands up in surrender and defense. Personally, he'd rather have Yoni on his off-world team than as CMO, but saying so seemed self-serving even though it was what Yoni wanted, too. He wasn't even sure Weir or the IOA would go along with any decision to abdicate -- the IOA wasn't exactly flexible and accommodating with its civilian personnel -- but it seemed pointless to bring that up. He'd rather have Yoni as CMO than quitting the Stargate Program entirely out of spite and anger. Which was a distinct possibility.

A couple of days later, Yoni nearly did just that -- according to Sheppard (who'd come to Lorne's office to gossip), Yoni told Doctor Weir that she could either accept an election or make her own choice for CMO, but he was going to request a transfer back to Earth if he had to continue in the post. A week after that, Jennifer Keller was chosen as interim CMO, with Yoni remaining deputy head of the unit. Whether she got the job because she didn't know to campaign against it or because she was low man on the totem pole was the subject of some debate, but (as Doctor Weir had pointed out) Carson had fought hard to get her to Atlantis in the first place and she'd handled all of the weird shit so far. Keller took the news about as well as could be expected -- she panicked a bit, yelled at Yoni at lot, and let Clayton take her cliff diving on the mainland since breaking her neck might qualify as an improvement in her situation. Lorne figured she'd do just fine.

feed me on LJ?

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20 June, 2007