Prodigal files: Gillick

by Domenika Marzione

"Are you working this weekend?" Dani asked him over dinner on Tuesday.

"Not unless the Wraith attack or Colonel Sheppard gets captured again," he answered casually, then thought better of it. "Why?"

Because Dani's plans for free weekends sometimes meant more than stocking up at the general store and not leaving her quarters until Monday morning. Which meant that Aaron occasionally found himself at art gallery shows and weird music performances and other ill-conceived attempts at raising Atlantis's culture score. Which in turn meant that his marines would be full of comments come Monday morning and his gunny would be allowing them on the belief that Aaron should've known better by now.

"I've been asked to go to the Mountain for a few days to work on a project," Dani explained as she pushed her potatoes around in the sea of gravy. Weapons Company was in the kitchen again, which meant simple starches, raw vegetables, and things that came from cans were suddenly everyone's favorite foods. "I figured that if you didn't have the duty or anything, you could come out and we could have a couple of days of edible food and cable TV."

The last time he'd gotten back to Earth, it had been a Guy's Paradise weekend with Kagan and Eriksson. They'd lived on meat and beer and watched live sports and gone to clubs where he'd played wingman for Jamey and Marty. Not that they'd needed the help; in a town full of Air Force and Army, even a flake like Kagan could do fine and Marty's shyness was easily mistaken for confident reserve by college girls who'd never seen him stumble through simple conversations with a woman over thirty.

"I can probably get a pass," he said. "I've been a very good boy."

Dani cocked an eyebrow. "For marine values of 'good boy,' right?"

Aaron grinned. "Maybe."

He'd cut short a fight between Mad Matt and Geology by volunteering to take an extra mission; his marines liked Geology missions because those tended to be on planets where the odd extra explosion from, say, a SMAW, went unnoticed. For a brief moment, he'd simultaneously been The Best Platoon Leader Ever and his entire chain of command's favorite junior officer. And then he'd been reminded that he was two weeks behind on his paperwork and his marines were stuck with cleaning the gym during Field Day.

"Do you want to find a nice place to go to for dinner?" he asked. "Cloth napkins, reservations, identifiable animal proteins?"

He loved taking Dani out in the real world, outside of the small town in Atlantis, where nobody knew their day jobs and three quarters of the population didn't think he was swinging above his weight class.

"Only if you don't try to pass off your field scarf as a real tie."

Aaron sighed. "It was only the once," he pointed out. "And it was an emergency."

Aaron queued up with everyone else on a weekend pass back to Earth, a motley crew of marines and civilians. They made it through the way station and back to the Mountain with more than the usual bullshit; the SGC was uptight about something. Security breach or something. Now that he knew what actually went on in Colorado Springs, he was all the more impressed that everyone on Earth didn't know about aliens; with all of the fuck-ups, it was hard to believe that even his tiny little hometown in Minnesota wasn't well-versed in the Goa'uld pantheon. But truth was stranger than fiction, so it was easy to believe the lie that they were alone in the galaxy.

"Lieutenant Gillick?" an airman was standing at the foot of the ramp. Aaron was wearing civvies, so he had to identify himself. "Could you come with me, please?"

Aaron exchanged a look with Connaway, one of his marines who was heading home for two weeks' leave.

"You get in trouble already, LT?" Connaway asked mischievously. "New record even for you, sir."

Aaron frowned at Connaway, but privately wondered. It was unlikely he was in trouble -- not that he hadn't done anything that could merit a stern talking to if his command chain didn't include officers nicknamed Mad Matt and Batman. But neither Polito nor Sheppard would have let him come back to Earth to get ambushed, certainly not without warning him first.

The airman led him through the rabbit warren of hallways and stairwells that made up the SGC and stopped outside an office.

"Here you go, sir," he said and went off without waiting to see if whoever was waiting for him was actually there or if he needed help getting back to the office where he officially checked out for leave. Typical SGC bullshit; the airmen were passive-aggressive and the instructions cryptic.

Aaron shrugged and knocked on the door, hearing a muffled response and then the door opened.

"Ma'am," he said, surprised. Colonel Carter was sitting on a tall stool, hunched over a computer.

"Ah, Lieutenant," she greeted him, standing up and coming over to him. "Just the marine I wanted to see."

Aaron's trouble radar started sounding loudly. Nobody at the SGC, even the relatively cool people like Carter, were ever happy to see Atlantis marines. Or any marines, really.

Carter picked an envelope up off of the desk. "Here are your travel orders," she said, handing the envelope to him. "Take a look at them now, then I'll explain."

Aaron wanted to point out that he had plans for the weekend that didn't involve crazy SGC shenanigans, but he was a lieutenant and she was a light bird and so he kept his mouth shut and opened the envelope. He wasn't officially on leave yet and, even if he were, it was within Carter's power to revoke that leave and send him on any errand she wanted.

Inside the envelope was not the usual paperwork from DTS; there was no paperwork. The only contents were a boarding pass for a flight from Denver to DC, what looked like a used boarding pass for a flight from San Diego to Denver, and a twenty dollar bill.

He looked up. "Ma'am?"

"You are going to DC to meet up with Doctor Esposito," Carter explained mildly. "You're supposed to be at Pendleton, so you're coming from San Diego. The cash is for meal money; the airlines charge you for everything these days."

Aaron waited for the rest of the story. The military was not known for its compassion or generosity. If you came home on leave for a weekend with plans to see your fiancee, who'd apparently been sent to DC, that was your own sob story. They didn't give you tickets to join her or money to buy a sandwich on the plane.

"May I ask what I'm really doing, ma'am?" he finally prompted when Carter didn't say anything. He held up the envelope. "This is not standard issue."

Carter smiled wryly. "You're going to visit Doctor Esposito in DC," she repeated. "You'll be met at the airport by the luggage carousel."

Right. One weekend of crazy SGC shenanigans coming up. He hoped he got to see Dani at some point.

Fucking Air Force.

The flight to DC was unremarkable; he'd taken the USAF shuttle to Denver Airport, boarded without getting searched or needing to check his bag, and spent Carter's money on a ham-and-swiss sandwich, a bottle of water and an oatmeal raisin cookie. He was curious about who was going to meet him and how they were going to find him and what happened if nobody was there; if this was supposed to be a below-the-radar flight, there probably wasn't going to be anyone standing there with a sign with his name on it.

It turned out not to be a problem.

"What the fuck is going on, Sergeant?" Aaron asked Reletti as they left the baggage area. Reletti, also dressed in civvies, had been leaning against a pillar across from the carousel reading a paperback copy of The Red and the Black.

"Crazy alien shit, sir," Reletti replied, dropping his sunglasses down on to his face as they went outside and looking around. "Better let the Major explain because I sure as fuck don't understand it all."

Major Lorne was supposed to be on leave; Little Tripoli was collectively wondering what they could get away with in his absence and terrified of what Colonel Sheppard would unintentionally get them into without the Wizard of Oz to get them back to Kansas. Reletti was supposed to be on libo, too, because Major Lorne's entire team had gone home -- including Doctor Safir -- to take advantage of the Major not being around to need them. But either they'd never gotten to take their leave or they'd never intended to take leave. Which in turn made him wonder if Colonel Sheppard knew what was happening because crazy SGC shenanigans were up there with unauthorized ass-chewings as far as what he tried to keep his people clear of and Aaron, along with everyone else in Little Tripoli, assumed that Sheppard and Lorne had no professional secrets from each other.

Not finding what he was looking for, Reletti pulled out a phone, hit a number on speed dial, and then asked someone where the fuck they'd gone off to. A long minute later, a silver Nissan SUV sped up to the curb with Suarez at the wheel. They got in and Suarez drove south, into Annandale, and pulled in to a residential block in what was clearly the tony part of town. Suarez parked on the street and Aaron followed him and Reletti to a large house a few down from where they'd parked.

Reletti had keys, but once they were through, they were met by an unfamiliar face wearing a holster that contained both a zat and a Glock.

"Major Lorne and Doctor Safir are in the kitchen," the guy said. He made a point of looking Aaron up and down and Aaron, unsure of who the guy was, gave him a challenging look back. If he was military, he was enlisted; he spoke to Reletti and Suarez like a colleague, not like someone with command authority. He could also be NID or some other agency that had dealings with the SGC, but those guys tended to have sticks up their asses and spoke to NCOs and officers alike as if they were peons.

Aaron followed Suarez and Reletti back through the house, which actually seemed pretty crowded. He didn't recognize anyone, although a few seemed to be scientists judging by their conversations. Maybe Dani was here after all.

The Major was indeed in the kitchen, which seemed like it was almost the size of Aaron's quarters in Atlantis, deep in discussion with Ortilla and Doctor Safir at a table covered with papers and coffee cups. They, too, were in civvies and, especially the Major, had the looks of people who'd been studying hard for an exam they didn't think they'd pass.

"Hello, Aaron," the Major greeted him. "Doctor Esposito's upstairs."

It was a greeting and a dismissal all at once. Not an unwelcome or unkind one, but a surprise considering everything that had happened to him today and he didn't turn to go immediately and only partly because Reletti was still blocking his way.

"Aren't we going to..." Suarez trailed off with a hand gesture that could be interpreted as 'explain what the fuck he's doing here.'

"Lieutenant Gillick is here to see his intended, Sergeant," Lorne replied with a faint smile. "Let him do that."

And the inevitable shitstorm will follow after, he didn't need to add.

Reletti stepped out of the way and Aaron went back the way he'd come to the staircase, already mentally filling out the kangaroo court paperwork for a lieutenant's purple heart with a green alien for valor. Maybe two green aliens. Getting into the shit with Major Lorne's team on Earth had got to be worth more than its Pegasus equivalent.

Dani was in one of the upstairs bedrooms. He knocked on the open door and four faces looked up, only one unabashedly happy to see him.

"Excuse me, guys," she told her colleagues, then came around the table and took his hand in hers and dragged him off... to the bathroom.

"We've done more with less," he said, looking around as she locked the door. "The sink looks sturdy."

She came close enough to put her arms around his waist and her chin on his chest so as to look up at him. "As tempting as it would be to provide clear audio proof that I am the only one here who has gotten any in the last calendar year, I think we can wait until tonight."

He pulled her closer. "I suppose I could be bribed to postpone any scheduled ravishing. But it would have to be a good bribe. I did travel from another galaxy to see you."

They had about five minutes before someone started banging on the door. After giving their interruption a dark glare, Dani led him to the staircase that went up to the third floor and gestured for Aaron to sit. They did and then she started explaining what was going on. There was a Goa'uld mole at the SGC, someone intent on putting together some kind of weapon that would be sold to the Ori to use against Earth. Major Lorne, for reasons nobody seemed to know, was leading the mole hunt. ("He fixes everything in Atlantis, he's got alibis for the murders, and he's got SGC experience, but so do a lot of other people at the Mountain and most of them outrank him.") Colonel Carter was leading the team trying to figure out what the Goa'uld was trying to develop and steal, which Dani was a part of.

"Jesus H Christ," Aaron sighed when she finished, amazement warring with genuine concern. "Are you at risk? What happens if this mole finds out you guys are working on his project? Do you even know if the mole isn't someone here? Can't you do this from Atlantis?"

Dani gave him a fond look tempered by wryness. "I'm glad you get to feel a fraction of the worrying I do every time you go charging through a wormhole into danger," she said seriously. "But I'm as safe here as I can be -- everyone here is here because they know we're not the mole and security is very tight. And we can't do anything from Atlantis -- which, by the way, is still at risk of being attacked by life-sucking vampires -- because everything would have to be routed through the SGC, which we're trying to avoid. General Landry's going to shit housebricks when he finds out what's been going on. Provided he's not the mole, of course."

Aaron didn't feel very reassured by Dani's lack of concern -- this was not a commensurate situation with his professional duties -- but he understood that there wasn't a whole lot he could do about it right now. Which made him wonder why he was here in the first place.

"Maybe it was just Colonel Carter trying to keep things quiet," Dani suggested. "You don't go looking around asking questions where I am or sit around the SGC moping because I'm not there when I'm supposed to be."

"I wouldn't sit there and mope," Aaron pointed out, which got him a slap on the thigh. "And I'm a lieutenant -- nobody owes me any kind of explanation or make-up prize. Especially not in a program where everyone's got their own special flavor of SCI clearance. They tell me you're not around and I don't need to know where or why, I shut up and go spend the weekend at Hooters."

This got him a dirty look from Dani, but not too dirty because he was twenty-five, a Marine, and most of the time, she liked that about him. "Maybe the Major wants you for something."

Aaron couldn't imagine what. Major Lorne had his team with him and there wasn't much Reletti, Ortilla, Suarez or Doc Safir couldn't do that he could.

Eventually, one of the other scientists in Dani's project group came into the hallway looking for her -- tentatively, like he maybe expected Aaron to be having his way with her right on the stairs and didn't want to get caught interrupting. Aaron gave the guy a snarling look just because it seemed the thing to do; Dani rolled her eyes, but clearly didn't mind too much.

Left to his own devices, he went back downstairs. Suarez and Reletti were sitting with Ortilla at the kitchen table, studying the papers that covered it. Ortilla saw him first.

"Howdy, Lieutenant," he said with a nod. "Coffee's in the corner, milk's in the fridge. There's food if you're hungry, but don't take anything that's labeled -- the scientists here don't like sharing any more than the ones in Atlantis."

At the other end of the giant kitchen, which was where the fridge and appliances were, Aaron could see a conference-style urn on the counter with accessories and went over.

"You owe me five, vato," Reletti said quietly as Aaron filled his cup.

"No way, man," Suarez protested.

"Way," Ortilla said. "Told you it was a sucker's bet."

Aaron could see Suarez reluctantly pulling out his wallet as he looked in the fridge for the cream. "It should've been a sure thing. We're marines. I would've..."

"Anything that stood still long enough to get your teenie weenie into it," Ortilla agreed.

"Fuck you both," Suarez sighed and Aaron could hear what was presumably the sound of Suarez slapping money down on the table. Aaron took an especially long moment to stir his coffee since he didn't yet have a snappy rejoinder in response to finding out that the marines were apparently betting on whether he'd had sex with Dani in the time he'd been upstairs. He could tell them that it wasn't from lack of interest or intent, but that wouldn't be fair to Dani.

Through the doorway at the end of this side of the kitchen, he could see Major Lorne talking to someone he didn't recognize. The Major had his back to Aaron, but the other guy saw him and must've said something to Lorne, who turned, acknowledged Aaron, and turned back to finish up his conversation.

Aaron rejoined Suarez, Reletti, and Ortilla at the table. They were back to work and while they made no attempt to keep anything from him, they didn't explain what they were doing, either.

The Major showed up shortly after, Doctor Safir trailing, and sat in one of the empty seats around the table.

"I'm assuming Doctor Esposito filled you in," Lorne said and Aaron nodded. "You're here because there's a chance we might need an extra body we can trust. Odds are, we won't and you'll go back to Atlantis and carry on as normal. Just without saying anything about what's going on here."

Aaron nodded again. "Yes, sir," he agreed, then paused before continuing. "Sir, if I may ask..."

"Colonel Sheppard doesn't know yet," Lorne cut him off. "Nobody in Atlantis does. It's not how I'd liked to have done things, but it's how it unfolded. There are going to be a lot of apologies handed around when this is all over and I'm going to be leading the league there."

Safir muttered something that Aaron couldn't hear, but Ortilla did because he shot Safir a warning look.

Aaron ended up spending the rest of the day doing marginally useful things like moving furniture and making food and Office Depot runs; the rest of the time he read, napped, and called various family members on his cell phone because it was so rare that he could. He was watching the Nats lose badly to the Phillies with some of the off-duty security people when Dani found him.

"You ready to get out of here?" she asked, tossing a set of car keys at him. "I've got to be back by 0800."

They found a place with cloth tablecloths, but no tie required because neither of them felt like changing, and then went to the hotel the SGC had booked them for the duration of his stay.

"I'm sharing a room with three other girls at the house," Dani explained when Aaron had raised an eyebrow at this further attention paid by SGC personnel to their love life. "I'm sure Rappaport would love the show, but the other two not so much. The Stargate Program is rolling in dough; let them spend it on something nice for Atlantis people for once instead of just telling us to do without."

"This is not me complaining," Aaron insisted. Dani was leaving a trail of clothing on the way to the shower. "Really not."

"Hey, LT," Suarez greeted him when he walked into the kitchen the next morning. It had become clear to Aaron by the end of yesterday that while the house was for the scientists and their security, Lorne and his team had free run and had chosen the kitchen table as their base of operations. Anyone coming in to actually eat had to do so at the island on the far end. "Do you have a criminal record?"

Aaron stopped short. "Um. No?"

"How do you feel about the risk of acquiring one, sir?" Reletti asked, a little too brightly.

"I feel it would probably negatively impact my ability to get a command worth having once I make captain," Aaron replied warily. "Should I be concerned that this is not a hypothetical discussion?"

"Would we get you into the shit without a plan, sir?" Suarez answered with what he probably thought was his innocent look.

Aaron didn't even bother to hide his disbelief. "Are you seriously asking me that?"

Suarez and Reletti were still laughing when Lorne came into the room with Ortilla.

"I see the topic's already been broached," the Major said mildly.

"Just the preliminaries, sir," Aaron replied. "I'm still unclear on precisely why I'm being asked if I know more about prison than I learned watching Oz."

Lorne shook his head at his marines. "Sit down, Aaron, and I'll explain everything that isn't the worst-case scenario."

Aaron sat and the Major explained. It turned out that while the attempts to keep the SGC from realizing that there was both a mole hunt and an off-the-books tech project going on were thus far successful, the attempts to hide the search from everyone else in the DoD were not. NCIS and Army CID were already involved because of the murders on military bases, but they had no idea who or what they were dealing with and keeping it that way was a higher priority than keeping things quiet at the Mountain. General O'Neill had tried several times to quash the investigations, but NCIS was having none of it. And now it seemed that they had decided that Lorne was a person of interest, but nobody was sure how much interest or how much of a problem that would be. Which led to why Aaron might finally see the inside of a brig for reasons other than bailing out his marines after a weekend bender and why it couldn't be Lorne or any of his team.

"You want me to be bait, sir," Aaron summarized. "See how quickly -- or if -- NCIS comes running."

The Major looked almost apologetic. "There's nothing they can actually get you on. You'd just be carrying my cell phone, which will be sterilized. Agent Gibbs might try to give you a hard time about where I am, but he's got nothing on me except a lack of better suspects and a vivid imagination. He'll have to let you go because he won't be able to charge you with anything, but I can't promise that it will be right away or that there won't be some residual mess we'll have to clean up later. Which is why this is a voluntary assignment. I'm not ordering you. I'm asking you."

It honestly never crossed Aaron's mind to say no. Yes, there was a chance this could fuck up his career, but not a huge one. The SGC had a much better history cleaning up its messes than avoiding them in the first place. But it was a small risk for a big problem and, most importantly, while it was for the SGC, it was Major Lorne asking.

Dani was neither surprised nor thrilled when he went upstairs to tell her that there was a chance they wouldn't be having dinner together tonight.

"There'd better be an extra green alien award in it for you when it's all over," she said instead of all of the other things she could have.

"Don't worry," he assured. "I'm going to be the reason we have to come up with the equivalent of a silver oak leaf cluster."

He didn't think it prudent to remind her that he already led all junior officers in that particular race; it decreased his odds of getting a kiss goodbye.

Back downstairs, he got to watch Ortilla verify that the Major's phone was clean both digitally and physically. "It'll be fine, sir," Ortilla said as he handed it over. "The zoomies didn't fuck it up."

Aaron thanked him and pocketed the phone; he'd given Dani his own to hold for the time being.

"Sir, if this shit blows up -- when this shit blows up," Ortilla began carefully, "if Lieutenant Patchok or Captain Polito or Colonel Sheppard ever ask you, could you tell them that we're sorry it had to go down this way? I know the Major's gonna be apologizing all over, but..." he trailed off and shrugged. "The Major asked and we said yes."

Aaron smiled. "You mean, after I get done explaining to my CO and his CO why I let myself get tossed in the brig at the Navy Yard when I was supposed to be having a quiet weekend in Colorado Springs?" he asked brightly. "Sure."

Ortilla grinned and shook his head. "You'll be back in Atlantis in time for PT Monday morning, sir," he pointed out and the grin faltered for half a second. "We're gonna be UA -- at the minimum -- before this is up."

Aaron unofficially knew that Ortilla had required a moral waiver to get into the Corps; he didn't know for what reason precisely, just that it wasn't one of the near-automatic minor ones, like a bunch of speeding tickets or getting caught with a spliff. Which made the risks to his future greater not only for what he was actually doing, but also because of the taint of recidivism, actual or just implied. Not that that was going to stop Ortilla or even slow him down. Because Major Lorne had asked.

"I'll testify on you guys' behalf to Patchok, Polito, and the Colonel," Aaron promised. "And anyone else up the chain of command all the way to General Landry. But you're on your own with Gunny Haumann."

Ortilla laughed. "Deal, sir."

"Hey, hot stuff. What're you wearing and can I listen to you take it off?" Aaron asked into the phone, wincing because he'd been overheard by some nearby tourists.

"Give me a line like that and I'll call NCIS on you myself," Dani retorted, but he could hear her smiling. "You okay?"

Aaron was standing outside the Air and Space Museum; his plan was to spend as much time at the Smithsonian as he could get away with before NCIS showed. It would fit with his cover story, which was shockingly close to reality -- a young marine officer at loose ends waiting for his brilliant scientist fiancee to finish being smart. The ex-NID officer who'd helped him cook it up had assured him that keeping to the truth as much as possible would make it easier to keep his story straight.

"I'm fine," he assured. "NCIS agents without the ability to prove that I'm part of some murderous conspiracy do not rate against life-sucking vampires, parasitic snakes, or whatever else is going after the SGC this week. Besides, I've been told it's very pleasant in Gitmo this time of year. I might be able to get a tan."

Dani sighed. "Let's assume it won't come to that," she replied. "Because you don't tan. You go from pale to lobster."

NCIS didn't come for him until the afternoon, which was enough time to see-saw back and forth between concern that he was going to get nabbed and it would be bad and concern that he wouldn't get nabbed and he'd just meet Dani for dinner and go home. But, in the end, Gibbs and his team came, played a pretty convincing game of hardball, and dragged him off to the Navy Yard... for the spurious charge of not having proof Major Lorne had given him the phone to use. It wasn't a charge he could take seriously, nor could he believe that the JAG office would, either, which was a big personal relief and made him think that NCIS (and CID) had nothing on the Major. If they had, there would have been more threats of accessory to murder charges and less demanding to be read into the operation. As it was, this was a fishing expedition and he felt somewhat confident that he'd not bite on whatever bait they offered.

The Army investigator, Colonel Mann, and one of the NCIS agents came to interrogate him. He was a little surprised that they tried to come at him through Dani, but he thought he held up okay. He wasn't worried about them knowing who she was per se; they had no more ability to get her on anything than him. Less, even. He was worried, however, about what might happen if she became officially linked to the investigation. If word got back to the SGC -- and the mole -- that Dani was being investigated, even peripherally, as part of this case, then whoever was killing scientists might go after her.

Eventually, though, the conversation got a little dicey -- repetitive and full of things he didn't want to have to come up with believable lies about -- and he shut it down. He was curiously ambivalent about lying to lawfully charged investigators; he thought it would bother him more than it did. He lied routinely in Pegasus about everything to do with Atlantis and more, but this was Earth, this was America, and one of his two questioners was a member of his service's official investigative arm. He was obstructing justice, at least technically. But that didn't jibe well with what he knew reality to be, and so good little Aaron Gillick, former star pupil of his Sunday School, was lying like a rug.

Staying overnight in the brig was not how he'd planned to spend his Saturday night, but he'd spent plenty of Saturdays in worse places both on this planet and in another galaxy. If all went well, someone would show up and take him back to Dani early enough tomorrow that they'd get a little time together before he had to go back to Colorado and then Atlantis.

He was not, however, expecting that someone to be Major Lorne. The Major and his team were supposed to have been heading out to continue their investigation while Aaron was getting pinched. Which made him wonder if something else had happened or if Lorne had simply decided that dealing directly with Gibbs was the way to go. Having met Gibbs, though, Aaron couldn't quite believe that last option was the best; Gibbs was frustrated and Aaron wasn't sure he wouldn't just grab the nearest high value target and call it a day.

Asking to go to the head at noon was not part of a pre-arranged plan, nor was it bladder-related. But Aaron figured that he had a better chance of seeing or hearing what was happening if he was out in the hallway and not locked in the room with the two-way mirrors. If Lorne did show up, he'd maybe get a chance to catch eyes or exchange a word or something before Gibbs had Aaron moved somewhere else. Because there was no way that Gibbs was simply going to let the Major sign a piece of paper saying that Aaron had had permission to borrow his cell phone; this wasn't about the cell phone.

All of which was to say that if there should ever be any kind of official inquiry, Aaron could swear on a bible to tell the truth and say that he had no idea that Reletti, Suarez, and Ortilla would be waiting for him in the head.

Agent McGee had no chance, but the boys were careful to do no more damage to him than necessary to effect an escape.

"Fort Meade wasn't enough of a challenge for you guys?" Aaron asked as he was rushed down the stairwell by the marines, a utility cover on his head to hide his face. Not that it would look any kind of subtle considering he was still wearing jeans and an oxford, but it would maybe hide him from the ceiling cameras.

"Shit hit the fan while you were in the hoosegow, sir," Suarez explained as Reletti pushed through the fire door, peeling off the duct tape that he'd apparently used to bypass the alarm and lock as he passed. They followed a hallway to another door, similarly taped, and went out into the parking garage. Ortilla whistled sharply once and they heard an engine rev as a black Navigator pulled up, Doctor Safir at the wheel and Major Lorne riding shotgun. Once they crammed into the back, Safir pulled out. He drove quickly but within parking garage limits until they got out on to the street, at which point he gunned the engine and swerved into traffic, earning horn honks and shouts from other drivers and amused (and maybe a little nervous) laughter from the marines as he negotiated the Washington DC streets like a man without fear driving a bigass SUV.

"These people would not last five minutes in Tel Aviv traffic," Safir muttered as yet another motorist expressed their displeasure with his driving.

They took a circuitous route back to Annandale, during which Major Lorne explained that there'd been another murder at Norfolk and they'd wanted to get Aaron free of Gibbs before NCIS headquarters found out about it.

Dani was waiting when they arrived. "You look no worse for wear," she said, eying him critically.

"I can officially say that prison food is better than whatever Weapons Company thinks it's cooking," he replied. "Seriously, it was never worse than mildly uncomfortable. I've had rougher nights doing the diplomatic thing in Pegasus."

General O'Neill was inside, as was Colonel Carter. Both of them welcomed him back to the fold, but there wasn't a lot of levity with yet another dead scientist and nobody being any closer to the killer. With the brass watching, there was a more thorough debrief, but in the end everyone seemed to agree with Aaron's own assessment that Gibbs and company were still fishing. The brig break might not have helped, especially since they'd clocked an NCIS agent, but neither General O'Neill nor anyone else second-guessed Major Lorne's decision to stage it.

"They would've asked too many questions and pulled out all the stops when he lied about the answers," O'Neill said to end the discussion. Aaron noted that he didn't say "if." First rule of the Stargate Program: nobody is above the Stargate Program.

Once it was over and O'Neill and Carter were off meeting with other people, Aaron offered to be of more service, but Major Lorne told him that the best thing he could do was to go back to Atlantis as planned because that would reduce suspicion.

"It's not that we couldn't use you," Lorne told him. "But the cost of doing so is too high."

There hadn't been any kind of official notice that he'd escaped from the brig; Flannery, the ex-NID agent, was monitoring that kind of traffic. The plan was for him to still be on his commercial flight to Denver leaving at 0600 tomorrow morning from Reagan International and Aaron and Dani made arrangements for the balance of their time together with that in mind. But their plans changed at 2100 with a phone call from Flannery; NCIS had put out a BOLO for Suarez, Reletti, and Ortilla. It was for the Fort Meade break-in, not for the brig-break, and Aaron's name was mentioned nowhere, but the timing was clearly not coincidental. The new plan was to put him on a military transpo -- a regularly scheduled cargo flight between Bolling and Peterson -- and get him back to the Mountain that way.

Aaron returned to Atlantis in time to get changed and get coffee for Gunny Tomasso before the weekly company staff meeting. He felt like a fraud sitting there as if nothing was wrong or different or weird. These were his comrades in arms, co-bearers of some pretty amazing and dreadful secrets, and he was lying to them -- and to Captain Polito, a man he respected and admired and never wanted to ever disappoint -- by omission.

Chris asked if he was being quiet because he was hung over; Aaron might've agreed.

News of the murders came to Atlantis, probably the same day it came to the Mountain. Aaron didn't know if it was because O'Neill told Landry or because the closely guarded secret got leaked. It whipped around the city at light speed, despite what looked like Sheppard's and Weir's attempts to prevent it. It made life difficult for the marines in terms of security patrols and gate room duty, all the more so with Lorne still on Earth and not able to smooth ruffled feathers. Captain Radner became Little Tripoli's hero for using his knowledge of the city and soothing words to keep everything from escalating.

Dani, still on Earth, emailed to say that the gouge was that Colonel Mitchell found something out from Gibbs that made him realize that something was up and challenged Colonel Carter and from there, the gig was up. She also insisted that she was fine, that her work was almost done, and that she'd be back 'safe in Atlantis with the life-sucking alien vampires' shortly.

The day Lorne and his team were supposed to return came and went; the official story was that they had been temporarily assigned to the Mountain, but everyone kind of knew that they were UA.

During one late night in the Junior Officer's Club (i.e., the lounge where all of the lieutenants hung out, watch movies, gossip, and drank the booze they were not supposed to have), Kagan declared that he thought Major Lorne was the murderer, since he was so mild-mannered but also a really good pistol shot. Murray and Salker instead posited an alternate theory that it was Doctor Safir, since the murders required more strength than Lorne probably possessed and everyone knew Doc could fight dirty. Osgeny provided the simple and effective counter-argument. "If he was going to finally snap and take anyone out, why is Doctor Volnik still breathing?"

It stopped being any kind of funny when word came out that someone who'd been on one of the SG teams -- a marine -- had been murdered in his home and Lorne's fingerprints were on the knife found at the scene.

The next day, General O'Neill showed up and took Weir and Sheppard somewhere to talk. Eriksson was on gate room duty and he said that they came back looking shellshocked.

Everyone knew Aaron had been on Earth after the murders had begun and that Dani was still (as far as everyone knew) working at the Mountain, so he was the natural person to ask for extra gouge. But he kept his mouth shut, insisting he'd heard only what everyone else had. At least until Colonel Sheppard called him into Lorne's office where he sat there, with Captain Polito, and asked him to start talking about all of the things he'd known and not shared.

It was the most awful hour he'd had in Atlantis that hadn't involved the death of a colleague. And then Sheppard left him to Captain Polito, who'd spent that hour standing off to the side, arms folded across his chest and not saying anything.

"C'mon, Aaron. Let's go get a cup of coffee."

Aaron followed Polito out of Lorne's office and down the hallway; everyone who saw them got out of the way. All of Little Tripoli probably knew by now, which meant that everyone identified this as the long walk of the condemned man to his execution. Mad Matt was Charlie's favorite company commander ever; Polito mad was Charlie's greatest nightmare.

They ended up in the commissary where they indeed got coffee. Polito led them outside, to an empty table on this slightly cool day.

"I'm sorry, sir," Aaron began. "I--"

Polito held up a hand to stop him.

"Listen to me," he said. "You had a shitty choice to make. No matter what you chose, you were going to disappoint someone. I'll not say that I'm glad it was me because I'm not. But I'm pissed off at the circumstances, not at you. I don't think less of you as a Marine, an officer, or a man for making the choice you made. I'd think less of you if you weren't bothered."

There was more, but it was mostly Polito making sure Aaron didn't either develop a complex or make a habit of lying by omission to his CO. "At least about the important stuff," Polito amended. "I still don't give a shit about everything I didn't give a shit about yesterday."

Aaron took the opportunity to pass on Ortilla's message, prefacing it by saying that he understood that that was a conversation that Polito would have to have with them on their own terms. He also told Polito that he'd told Ortilla that they would have to make their own reckoning with Gunny Haumann, which made Polito laugh. "I'm going to have to find some Packers doo-dad First Sergeant Backman doesn't already own and sign their names on the card."

It was a light moment after a heavy conversation, in the middle of a heavy week.

Colonel Sheppard got summoned to Earth in the middle of the night. Captain Polito became the interim military commander and Aaron, as company XO (without portfolio), became the temporary commander of Charlie Company. The Wraith picked a fight with Third Platoon Bravo Company and Aaron found himself sitting at the conference table with Hanzis and Radner and Polito and expected to contribute.

Major Lorne returned to Atlantis a week after the mole hunt ended at NCIS headquarters. Everyone in Little Tripoli watched him and Sheppard with wariness and concern, like kids watching their parents after a big fight. But Sheppard and Lorne acted like they'd always done, at least in front of the children, and that set the tone for the rest of the battalion. No doubt by intent. By the time the next Pegasus disaster struck, everything was back to normal.

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2 August, 2010