Five Things Lorne Wishes He Hadn't Seen (and One He's Glad He Did)

by Domenika Marzione

One

They make jokes about subcutaneous transmitters and Lojack and Atlantis herself tattling, but Lorne's ability to find Sheppard in the city really does have a logical and organic basis. Early on, it was indeed technology-fueled -- either asking the lieutenant on gate room duty to find the Colonel or, less frequently, Lorne himself finding Sheppard while wandering around learning how to use his PDA. After that, though, it became less about reading monitor screens and more about reading the man. Sheppard has a fixed stable of known hiding places and guessing which one he's currently using is as simple as figuring out why he's using one in the first place.

Lorne pretends no great insight into Sheppard's psyche, so he doesn't know the real why of it all, but after all this time, he's got a decent handle on the what. He knows that the place Sheppard goes to do routine paperwork (when he's not parked at Lorne's conference table) is different from the place he goes when he has to write AARs detailing the deaths of those who served under his command and both of those places are different from the place he goes when he doesn't expect to get much done at all. He knows when Sheppard's regularly-scheduled appointments to get beaten up by Teyla or ground down by Ronon are and when it's likely that an extra session has been arranged. He knows that Sheppard doesn't make a habit of hanging out in McKay's labs, but there are going to be days when that's the first place to look for him. He knows that Sheppard likes him both personally and professionally, but that most of the reason Sheppard spends so much time in his office is so that the marines know where he is and and have some sense of connection to their commander.

Sheppard will occasionally go someplace new in the city, but it's usually for a specific reason and Lorne most of the time doesn't know where those places are, although he'll pretend he does if anyone asks. Atlantis can be claustrophobic even for someone who gets out as often as Sheppard does and true privacy is a luxury none of them really have, so if Sheppard can create a reasonable facsimile for a little while, then Lorne is inclined to let him enjoy it so long as neither command nor circumstance intervene.

Over the years, pretty much everyone, civilian and military, has come to Lorne to find Sheppard. Most of them understand that most of the times that he says that he can't find Sheppard he really means that he won't and there are very few people in the city with the ability to tell him to try harder (and have him comply). Weir and Carter have always trusted him on this front because he's never used this 'authority' for bullshit reasons and even Caldwell has resigned himself to there being a few layers of interference between himself and Sheppard.

There has, point of fact, been only one time when Lorne knew it was pretty important to retrieve Sheppard and came back reporting that he couldn't find him when he actually knew exactly where he was. Sheppard was in the first place Lorne went to look, but Lorne wasn't prepared for what he found and, more importantly, wasn't prepared to interrupt it.

The Stargate Program is an awesome place, giving its members access to wonders beyond anyone's imagination. But it's also a hard place to work, with long hours, difficult and dangerous conditions, and a loneliness that can freeze you from within. You also spend a lot of time burying your friends. It's no wonder that the turnover rate is high -- a lot of people leave because the price for the stars is more than they're willing to pay.

Sheppard spends a lot of time pretending that he's okay with the cost, that he can afford it. And, Lorne thinks, most of the time he can. But everyone's bank account hits zero sometime and the timing's rarely convenient.

Lorne's stood next to Sheppard at Wall Ceremonies and at funerals; it's not like he's never seen Sheppard's tears before. But those were... if not public tears, then at least unashamed ones. Seeing Sheppard weep alone is something else entirely, not a sight for him or anyone else to behold.


Two

"Do you want to see the pictures?"

"What?" He's sitting in his sister's kitchen, cradling a mug of coffee as if something bad will happen if he puts the cup down. Vicki's been a hurricane all day, freaking out that her brother, the one she buried six weeks ago, is alive and well and how the hell are the kids going to react?

Vicki comes back into the kitchen with a box. "All of your stuff's in the basement. I guess we can ship it back to Colorado Springs if you're... are you?"

"I am," he says. He's on leave for now, putting back in order the life he hadn't realized was interrupted until he'd tried to return to it. As far as he'd known at the time, he'd been enjoying complimentary hospitality at the finest Goa'uld prison cell and interrogation center; Anubis, however, had provided proof that SG-11 had been killed and, with that, a lot had happened back on Earth.

"I... God, Evan," Vicki sighs, sitting down across the breakfast table and staring at the box between them. "It was so hard. I didn't realize you were doing things other than flying. I thought you were safe up in the sky -- they don't shoot down refuelers. And then the doorbell rings and..."

And two casualty assistance officers told her that he'd been killed in action. He'd been told the story they'd told her, then the story they'd had to tell her again when he got rescued by the task force led by SG-1 last week. It's logical, plausible even, if a little short on details that Vicki might've asked for had she been military and not civilian.

"I was doing my toenails," she goes on, holding up a bare foot bereft of polish. "Telecommute and nobody knows that you're naked, right? And I toddle to the door in ratty sweats with cotton balls between my toes and they're standing there in their dress blues."

"I'm sorry," he says, meaning it. His unintentional vacation on a ha'atak wasn't a whole lot of fun, but, as he keeps telling the base shrink, he signed up for this job and sometimes that comes with the territory. But Vicki hadn't signed up for the job, had instead been drafted as Next of Kin to an airman drawing five different hazard pay salary adjustments, and for that he could be at least apologetic.

"These are the souvenirs from our trip to Virginia," Vicki says with an ironic tone. "I'm sure they'll be funny in a little while."

She opens the box, taking out first some etching paper and 8x10 glossies. The paper is curled in on itself, but he can see enough that he knows what it is, which is an etching of his tombstone. He was 'buried' in Arlington, which was a nice honor, he supposes. There was a caisson and a rifle salute and General Hammond had presented Vicki with the folded-up flag. He knows that's going to be in the box, too, but he doesn't want to look at it.

"I'm harder to get rid of than that," he tells her, reaching across the table and around the box to touch her wrist. She looks at him and he can see her distress. "I'm sorry I scared you."

"You did more than scare me," Vicki tells him, but he can see she's regained control of herself -- or at least enough that he can pretend that she has -- and he sits back in his chair. She laughs uneasily. "At your gravesite, I forgave you for wrecking my Rick Springfield albums. But since you're not dead, I can rescind that."

He rolls his eyes dutifully; she's been bitching about this for twenty years and it's a joke between them now.


They close up the box without examining the rest of the contents; he knows he'll have to at some point, but he's no more ready than she is to look at them again. It's almost three and the kids will be home from school; they know he's alive and that he's visiting, but it's still an emotional reunion.

"I knew you weren't dead," Amelia tells him, tears rolling down her cheeks as she hugs him tight. "I knew it."

He wants to make a joke about next time, maybe her mother will listen, but next time may not be like this one, so he doesn't.


Three

The battalion variety show happens once a year and, in a place that the USO doesn't even know exists, it carries a certain importance. Of course, as with every other kind of entertainment not the Birthday Ball, putting the marines in charge is an open invitation to madness. Especially because 'shame' is not a concept the marines are familiar with when it comes to this sort of thing.

Many of the marines play instruments (some well, some not), a few sing, and several are willing to lip-sync to whatever tracks will garner the biggest laughs. (Sergeant Moore's heartfelt rendition of the Titanic theme was possibly only outdone by Bravo Company Third Platoon's sparkly rendition of an Andrews Sisters medley.) There are a couple of comedians, a handful of rappers/beat poets, and other surprisingly interesting hidden talents among the leathernecks.

The main attraction, though, are the skits written by the marines making fun of Pegasus, Atlantis, the people in Atlantis, and whatever else is considered a fair target -- which is everything. It's equal opportunity harassment as far as the military personnel go with the officers writing a few skits and the NCOs most of them. While they all use (and abuse) all manner of source material, it's natural and expected that every science fiction series has been mined for its gems. Away from the Star Wars/Star Trek/Aliens/Spaceballs homages,'The Office' has proven to be an enduring set piece, although Lorne thought the Wraith Siege as Helm's Deep was pretty inspired (Elrond McKay had the entire place in stitches).

The demographics of Little Tripoli being what they are, however, the skits are performed much in the same vein as Monty Python -- lots of men in drag. Which is how Lorne, dressed up in scrubs for his role (he's playing Yoni, more or less), comes across Lieutenants Kagan, Salker, and Murray done up as Bond Girls (Pussy Galore, Honey Rider, and May Day respectively). Kagan and Murray, tottering around in heels and adjusting their falsies, are trying to help Salker make a go of Ursula Andress's bikini.

"Tuck and fold, man," Kagan insists. "That's the only way it's gonna work."

"Fold? I am not fucking folding anything."

"It's gonna look like The Crying Game if you don't, Tom."

"It's not like you've got a lot to worry about there, anyway."

"Fuck you."

"Seriously. It's not that hard and it doesn't hurt. Here--"

"Lay your hands on my dick, Jamey, and you're not getting them back."


Four

"Sir?"

Ortilla is holding out a mug of something hot. Lorne accepts it without asking what it is and takes a sniff. Cocoa. Over the course of their adventures, Ortilla has somehow acquired a stash of drinking chocolate, which he prepares on occasions like this, when they're overnighting off-world either in the rough or, like tonight, on a planet where the local hospitality (or just their cuisine) leaves something to be desired. It's not cocoa from Earth and it's not quite cocoa, but it's close enough and they all view it as a treat.

Ortilla's got his own mug and sits down nearby; Lorne doesn't even need to look up to know that the others are already settled. These little conversations never begin unless the 'kids' are taken care of. For the record, Suarez is watching something on his iPod (his snickering, devoid of context, is more funny than annoying), Yoni is reading (something in Hebrew with a garish cover; they have all decided that he is a fan of trashy novels) with help from a tiny book light and his own iPod, and Reletti is doing what Reletti always does if left alone and is dozing.

"What do you make of the Aldokans, sir?" Ortilla asks.

The Aldokans, neighbors of a large Ancient outpost they are not yet willing to let be visited (let alone investigated) by the Lanteans, are making what could be a very easy process into a very drawn-out one.

"I think they put too much starch in their shorts," Lorne says, taking a sip from his mug. "I can't tell if they're scared of us or disgusted by us."

It had been a long day of careful discussions and it will be a longer day of even more careful ones tomorrow; Lorne is not inclined to keep his team out any longer than that.

"Both, I think, sir," Ortilla says, cradling his mug in his huge hands. It's cool on this planet and their mud hut accommodations keep out the wind but not the cold. "They don't want to say yes and they're afraid to say no."

Lorne chuckles because Manny's probably right and that's not going to make tomorrow's negotiations any easier. "I would like to come away with an agreement not based on fear."

"Some people like the decision to be taken out of their hands, sir," Ortilla says, drinking. "They're not to blame if we forced them."

They sit quietly then, drinking their cocoa and mulling their own thoughts. Occasionally Suarez giggles; Lorne doesn't even want to know what he's watching.

Lorne doesn't rate his trio of marines against each other on any real scale. He's aware of their professional skill sets and their personalities, which in turn makes them better fits for certain tasks than others, and that's as far as it goes. Suarez cannot be measured by Ortilla's scale (or vice versa) and it's probably best for all involved if there's only one Reletti.

They can surprise him, although they don't do so nearly as often as they'd like to think, and he can defy their expectations as well. (Thankfully, they seem to have revised their estimation of Air Force officers upward, or at least of him.) Sometimes it's a good surprise, sometimes it's less than good, sometimes it's the unquantifiable 'marine thing', and once in a blue moon, it's things like this.

While he'd never considered the question before it was answered for him, if someone had asked him which of the three he'd most likely come across having sex in a hallway in Atlantis, he'd probably have gone with Suarez. He'd have been wrong, however.

Lorne doesn't know if Ortilla knows; their relative positions (Manny's to Doctor Brousseau, Lorne to the pair of them) meant that Ortilla absolutely couldn't have seen him and while Doctor Brousseau most certainly did, he doesn't know if she mentioned it. He certainly has no plans on bringing it up; he is aware enough that his marines are not monks in the city and so long as they are not breaking any rules, he does not care how or with whom they spend their time. At least that's his official position. Unofficially, while the caveman portion of his brain mustered up a 'Go, team!' on encountering the pair, the pseudo-paterfamilias part was... maybe a little saddened.

The sexual politics of Atlantis are convoluted and complex and, to many, not worth getting involved in. When it comes to civilian-military liaisons, for every meet-cute-after-an-explosion like Lieutenant Gillick and Doctor Esposito, there are a lot more casual hook-ups. With the marines in barracks, most of these encounters take place in civilian quarters... except those involving women who don't want their neighbors seeing marines leaving at any hour of the morning. Those take place in out-of-the-way labs or isolated public spaces or hallways that run between places nobody goes. Doctor Brousseau's a very beautiful woman and she was clearly having a very good time and while the arrangement's obviously acceptable with Ortilla, Lorne wishes on Manny's behalf that she thought enough of him to take him home.

"You done, sir?"

An Ortilla-sized paw is waiting for him to return an empty mug. Lorne drains the dregs and hands off the cup, leaving Ortilla to make another circuit around the room to pick up Yoni's mug, kick Reletti awake (because Reletti will pout if he missed his share), and tell Suarez he's washing dishes. Lorne is left to finish writing up his notes on the day's meeting and draw up some talking points for the morning.


Five

As soon as the meeting officially ends, Lorne leaves. He doesn't want to be in the room anymore, doesn't want to be in the complex anymore, and at the moment isn't sure if he wants to be in the Stargate Program -- or even the Air Force -- anymore. He's almost at the elevator when he hears a voice calling his name.

"Wait," Carolyn calls after him, running to catch up. "Please wait, Colonel."

He knows Carolyn is angry with him and for him, but he can't keep from snapping at her, too. "What?"

She takes a half-step back, like his words were a slap. "I just... I wanted to apologize."

He takes a deep breath, rubbing his face with his hands. He shouldn't be taking this out on her. "You don't have to," he sighs. "You're doing everything you can."

"Yeah, well obviously it's not enough," Carolyn retorts, her own frustration coming through. It's not, however, aimed at him because she's a better person than that. "Listen, I have an idea I want to try. Stop by my office later and I'll tell you about it."

What she doesn't say -- what she doesn't have to say -- is that there is probably a very good reason she did not bring up this idea at the just-concluded meeting.

Lorne nods. "I'll stop by before my shift."

"See you then," she agrees, and lets him go.

He could change into PT gear and take his frustrations out on the track upstairs, but he doesn't. He really does want to get out of here for a while. He ends up taking a long hike in Pike National Forest, the trees and quiet reminding him of his time in Pegasus, where things weren't necessarily easier, but the frustrations were maybe more predictable. And he'd maybe have felt less powerless.

The mission had been a clusterfuck from the start, bad intel coupled with rushed planning coupled with fragos based on more bad intel piled on top of the house of cards that was the over-worked and currently extremely understaffed SG-team roster. That people are actually going to get fired because of this is good, but it's not good enough. None of the reorganization and overhauling that is coming down the pike will do anything to save Captain Andy Shahan.

The SGC has state-of-the-art medical technology (Earth and otherwise) and access to some of the most brilliant medical minds in two galaxies. But the fact is that not everything that happens to SG team members can be handled at the Mountain, either because of staffing or severity, and they do end up farming out many patients to area hospitals. But only if the injuries can be ascribed to Earth-based causes.

Andy Shahan is going to die because they can't get him the care he needs. There is no possible way they can pass his condition off as anything that might've happened to him on this planet and there is no way to get the equipment that might save him. Lorne's not sure what half the stuff they're talking about is, just that it's made to order, incredibly expensive, and would require longer than Shahan has to get it even if they managed to dispense with the reams of paperwork and approvals that go with major acquisitions. And it might not work.

It's not that people aren't trying. There have been coherent plans for everything from taking over hospitals to using technology to cloak Shahan's appearance to trying to jury-rig a Goa'uld sarcophagus. (Which had been their greatest hope until the Goa'uld healing device had utterly failed to permanently arrest Shahan's deterioration.) Everyone from the generals on down is trying to do something.

Except the IOA. Who've just told them that their final position is much like their initial position -- embedded in the non-disclosure agreements everyone signs to be part of the Stargate Program is the clause that basically states that keeping extraterrestrial life a secret is the highest priority and they will sacrifice your life to do so if required.

If it weren't for Cam Mitchell, Lorne might've found himself hauled off by the SFs for slugging the IOA rep who looked him straight in the eye and told him that "Captain Shahan knew what he was getting into."

By the time he gets back to the Mountain, it's almost time for his shift. Not to work; he's on the same flexible not-really-stood-down schedule as the rest of his team. But instead to sit by Andy's bedside and keep him company. Not only can they not bring him to treatment in the outside world, but they also can't bring his family here. So Lorne, Dosch, and Melero take turns staying with Andy, mostly reading to him (sometimes novels, sometimes the Bible) and making sure that he has everything he wants now and everything that needs to be taken care of later is arranged. Andy's awake and interactive less often this week, but back when he was fully alert, he knew what was happening and handled it with far more grace than any of them have mustered. They've taken dictation for his death letters, know how he wants to be buried, and what he wants done with his things.

"It's not the worst way to go, sir," he'd told Lorne in the middle of one of the first nights. He's right, but Lorne's too angry that he has to go at all to appreciate it just yet.

Before relieving Dosch, Lorne stops by Lam's office.

"I can't promise that it'll work or, even if it does, that it might not be worse than what's happening to him now," Carolyn begins. "I've got precious little experimental evidence and he's got even less time."

Carolyn is exquisitely aware of both the principle of seeking forgiveness instead of permission and also exactly how her civilian status can be an advantage in this military complex. And she's perfectly willing to get herself fired for her beliefs.

Lorne sits down on an empty stool. "Tell me."


(plus one)

It's a small gathering, but larger than Lorne expected. It's outdoors, in a lovely spot on campus, and the weather is perfect.

"Nice to see you, sir."

Lorne turns around and looks up. "Good to see you, too, Gunny."

Ortilla smiles and offers his hand; Lorne shakes it.

"You come alone?" Lorne asks, knowing that he hasn't.

"Household Six and El Nino are sitting by the tree," Ortilla says, gesturing toward the large spruce. Manny and his wife have had full custody of Robbie for a year now; the boy's mother and her husband and their children are living in China and it was deemed better for Robbie to go to North Carolina instead of Beijing. It's been a hard year; Lorne knows this because he's been the one pulling strings to keep Manny from being re-assigned to Atlantis.

"Lettie's good?" The other reason Manny was desperate not to be re-assigned to the Atlantis Battalion is that his wife is pregnant.

"Lettie's great, sir," Ortilla assures, shaking his head in amusement. "But she wore new shoes."

Lorne follows Ortilla back to the tree. Lettie indeed looks great and Robbie looks like he's wishing they'd get this all over with so they can go to lunch.

Suarez is a late cancellation ("His kid's projectile vomiting," Ortilla says with a chuckle. "He said between Kim's morning sickness and Ethan, he should have an endorsement deal with Pine Sol."), so it's just the four of them ("Four and a half," Robbie corrects) to go find a place to watch.

The actual oath-taking is brief and Reletti accepts his commission and his sword and gets pinned by his beaming mother ("Those're Major Polito's butterbars, sir," Ortilla confides) and Lorne can't help but feel a little bit proud because he's responsible for a very, very tiny bit of this moment.

The reception, such as it is, is part graduation party and part commissioning celebration and many of Reletti's friends from his college years are here. Robbie finds playmates in a couple of Reletti's nieces and splits his time eating and running around, leaving the adults to talk and eat in peace.

Reletti comes by, practically glowing, and shakes hands with Lorne.

"Congratulations, Lieutenant," Lorne says with about as much seriousness as he can muster, which isn't much.

"Thank you, sir," Reletti replies.

"Sir."

Lieutenant Reletti really being not that much different from Staff Sergeant Reletti, it takes him a half-beat to realize Ortilla's talking to him and not Lorne.

Once that's been resolved, Ortilla snaps off a perfect salute, which Reletti returns.

"You're just doing that for the payoff," Reletti tells him as the two embrace.

"Hey, I got mouths to feed," Ortilla replies. He pulls back to give Reletti a critical once-over, adjusting uniform parts that don't really need adjustment. "So do you feel a little clueless yet? Any dampness behind the ears? Greenness around the gills? Need a nappy change?"

Reletti frowns at him. "You're lucky I'm scared of your wife."

feed me on LJ?


back to the yearly index | back to the main SGA page

1 December, 2008