Royal Jelly & Return to Oz

by Domenika Marzione

Royal Jelly

(an outtake from Custer's Last Stand)

"-- the east side. Ronon, you'll take Staff Sergeant Ortilla's squad and Lieutenant Patchok with you."

Ronon growls, a sort of sub-sonic rumble Manny thinks he can feel more than hear. Ronon's been surly and practically monosyllabic since the lead-up to the exercise, not really taking it out on the marines the way he's been taking it out on Sheppard, but not really sparing them, either. It's been a rough couple of days for everyone, but Manny knows it's been rougher on Ronon. It's like asking the POWs from Vietnam to relive their days in captivity for the sake of a training exercise.

"I work better alone," Ronon replies with a glare.

"I know that," Sheppard sighs from where he's standing in front of their sand map. "But the whole point of this is to teach and the marines need to be able to see what you do in order for them to learn."

Manny is impressed (and a little horrified) at both the cost Sheppard is willing to ask Ronon to bear to train them as well as by the fact that he got Ronon to agree in the first place. They need Ronon's experience, both as predator and prey, because they have so very little intel on their enemies, but this is a hard way to go about it. And, no matter what sort of dynamic Sheppard and Ronon have together, the Colonel is asking a lot from a man who has already given all that he could. Lieutenant Patchok made sure his squad leaders understood this and Manny, in his turn, has reinforced to his marines just how seriously they need to take this exercise, 'snack' flags and Wraith Princesses aside. He thinks about when that video game about Black Hawk Down came out, about how everyone was a little weirded out that fat kids were eating cheetos and pretending to be Medal of Honor recipients so they could shoot bad guys (except they, unlike the MoH guys, didn't die at the end). He doesn't want Ronon thinking for a second that they're trivializing what he went through just so they can zap each other with stun weapons.

"Trust me, even if they mess with your efficiency a little, we're still cleaning up." Sheppard gestures to the box of flags with "snack" written on them. It's half-empty and there were at least a hundred extras.

They're cleaning up at a rate that would pass the most rigorous inspection at Parris Island (and Manny knows, having conducted his fair share), something that would be cause for satisfaction if not for the fact that they are playing the bad guys and they are catching their brother marines with frightening ease. It feels like cheating, like fighting dirty, and it is and they are and they have to. They are not using any playbook the Marine Corps recognizes, not any script Earth recognizes. They are intentionally liberating themselves from all of the rules of engagement that pertain to acceptable risk, acceptable loss, acceptable anything except getting what they came for. It goes against years of training, years of civilization, and Manny knows he's not the only one who wonders how deep under the skin this shift will go and stay. Because he hasn't spent six months watching Colonel Sheppard to not realize that this isn't something you wash away at the end of the day. This shit clings to your soul in the way combat always does, but without the ability to take comfort in the fact that you're following the rules written to minimize collateral damage and you're not trying to hurt the good guys. Manny doesn't know how long you can stay out here and not be irreversibly changed. He wonders how he (and the marines in his care) will be transformed. He wonders what Sheppard was like before Pegasus.

"Gustafson, your squad's on security this go-round. Sanderson, you'll come with me. Gunny Haumann is chief of the hive while we're out. He calls, we come running, no matter what."

The rumors about Sheppard are myriad and diverse and most are full of shit and some are so ridiculous that they're probably true and Manny knows without a doubt that none of them will ever know which ones are real. He doesn't think that even the Major knows all of the truth, although between him and Doc they can probably thin the bullshit down a little. The marines know that Sheppard was a rotor pilot and that he was probably Special Ops and that the brass back on Earth dislikes him for more reasons than just that he does what's best for Atlantis first and always. They knew he was good on the ground, far too good for an Air Force pilot, but it's only in the last couple of days that they've really understood how good because this is when most of the marines are seeing him in action for the first time. It's far from Manny's first time and he's still surprised and he knows Reletti and Suarez are, too.

"Okay," Sheppard says, looking around the room, taking the measure of his men. "We'll SP in ten. Everyone comes back in one piece and out of flags."

Return to Oz

"Are you brain-dead? Have you finally lost what little common sense you had left? What were you thinking?" McKay is bright red, arms waving and, if it was a cartoon, steam would have been coming out of his ears.

Chris has long years of practice in making himself invisible. Camoing up for a field exercise, making himself small in a turret so that a sniper couldn't aim for him, hoping that if he wished it hard enough that the teacher would pick on someone else who had done their homework. His parents didn't fight a lot and never in front of him and his brother, but he still knows that this is kind of like that and he'd better not do anything to remind anyone that he is there.

"I'm fine, Rodney," Colonel Sheppard sighs, sitting down like an old man, stiff and with a groan. He doesn't look fine. He looks worn and bloodied and like he just got pulled out of a fight by Ortilla and Reletti. Which he did. "It looks worse than it is."

McKay had been turning away toward where Chris was looking out over the makeshift rampart, on his own planetary rotation around Sheppard's bench, but then he wheels around. "You don't expect me to believe that, do you?"

It had been just another wander through just another planet that might have Ancient technology until the natives showed up, angry and armed and if this had been one of the first times a joint mission had gone pear-shaped, then maybe they could've been surprised that they found another planet that was prepared to keep the Ancestors good and gone, by shuriken and tomahawk if necessary. At least that's all they had -- no fancy gate-transporting technology.

They got away, but not to the stargate and not without injury. Most of the cuts are flesh wounds, more blood than damage, but Ortilla has a pretty nasty gash in his right shoulder and Teyla got caught above the knee and the colonel took one in the back and that was before he pushed McKay out of harm's way and needed to get dragged to safety. Chris has cuts on his arms and the back of his right thigh and a bruise on his temple from where the dull end of a tomahawk bounced off. He doesn't want to think about how close he came to getting an ax to the forehead and a spike in his ass, but Reletti keeps reminding him anyway, which is part of the reason the Major sent Chris off to pull security over here.

"Not really," Sheppard admits. "But my unfailing optimism keeps me hoping that next time maybe you will."

Currently, they are holed up in the ruins of some Ancient building, an observatory according to the database (but when the fuck was that ever right?). It is on a hill and they can hold the high ground, but there isn't much except safety to speak for the place. The roof is gone, the walls are half-collapsed, and the only furnishings intact are a couple of benches that could have been carved out of the mountain itself for all that they can be moved. Ronon has gone off to get to the stargate on his own and call Atlantis for rescue; he's wounded, too, but he's used to running wounded (as he pointedly reminded Sheppard) and running alone, which is why Chris isn't with him.

Sheppard grunts as he stretches his legs out. He's in pain; Chris doesn't even have to be watching him to tell.

"Didn't Safir give you drugs?" McKay asks, annoyed. "Or were you too stubborn to accept them?"

Doc is in the main room, stitching up wounds. He has his own wounds, including a gash to his side that's maybe deeper than he's letting on because he's not letting anyone else touch it. Or it may be that he just doesn't trust anyone else to do it. Chris doesn't blame him.

"Safir hasn't treated me yet," Sheppard replies with a chuckle. "And he's not going to give me the good stuff, not while we're beleaguered."

Chris takes heart that the Colonel says 'beleaguered' and not 'beseiged'. The latter means it ends with a surrender and he's kind of had enough being held capture for the next little while. Especially if Reletti keeps puking every time they get nabbed.

"When I said that I wanted to find a planet where the locals weren't all hot and bothered by your genes, this wasn't what I meant," McKay says after it's quiet for a while.

"I know," Sheppard agrees with a sigh. "But I think this one's going to end with us sleeping in our own beds tonight, not two weeks of mindfucks."

Chris, in shadow and with his back turned to the other two men, smiles agreement. He thinks he should maybe move or make a noise or do something to let the Colonel and Doctor McKay know that he's there before they say something that they might not have otherwise if they knew they had an audience. Chris doesn't pretend to understand either man, doesn't try to, but he knows that they are friends after a fashion and speak freely to one another. After you've fought next to a guy long enough, you can say almost anything to him and probably have. But that doesn't mean that Chris is entitled to listen in, so he's relieved when McKay crosses to the far side of the room to where the destroyed equipment is.

"They've destroyed everything," he says, smacking his hand down on the busted console of some Ancient machine. "It's like those statues that the Taliban blew up because they weren't Islamic."

"The Buddhas of Bamyan," Sheppard supplies. "I flew by them once. Or, rather, what was left of them."

Chris figures this qualifies as proof that the Colonel was in Afghanistan, although they already kind of know that he was. They don't know if he made it to Iraq, though, and it's not like they'll see him in dress uniform at any point to tell.

"What? Oh, yes," McKay agrees absently. "It's like them. They didn't like what this place stood for, so they destroyed it. It was older than everything they believe in, it helped explain how they got to where they are -- and they just blew it to hell."

Another sigh. "Welcome to Radical Fundamentalism 101, Rodney. If it doesn't agree with your worldview, blow it up."

Ain't that the truth, Chris thought to himself.

"This is where the Ancients supposedly did a lot of their astronomical mapping," McKay went on. "This place helped build the stargate system. This is how they started the road that got them to Earth. And it's gone because some moron five thousand years ago decided that the Ancients were frauds."

"They kind of were," Sheppard says, hissing as he shifts in his seat. "Haven't you seen The Wizard of Oz?"

McKay knocks something over by accident and makes a noise of disgust. "And what am I in this production? The Tin Woodsman?"

Most of the marines would suggest the Cowardly Lion instead, but Chris has seen too much of McKay to quite go with that. For his own team, Chris suspects he'd end up fighting with Reletti to not be Toto.

"Is there a reason you are hiding in here than with the others? Or do you just prefer the company of McKay and Suarez?" Doc asks from the door. McKay turns to look at Doc and Sheppard turns to look at Chris, who ducks his head in embarrassed apology for not making his presence known earlier. Sheppard nods back, enough of a grin on his face that Chris knows he's not in trouble.

"Well, the sergeant here knows how to keep his mouth shut for a while," Sheppard drawls. "So maybe I just figured the two of them averaged out to one normal person."

Doc makes one of those faces, like he knows you've been hiding because you know he's going to yell at you. "If you cross an idiot savant with an idiot, I think you still get something with 'idiot' in the end."

"Hey!" Chris objects, even though he can tell that Doc is just being Doc. McKay just makes a face.

"Strip," Doc says, gesturing for Sheppard to lift his shirt.

"Are you sure I'm that kind of boy?" Sheppard asks, but he's unzipping his vest.

"If you weren't that kind of boy, we wouldn't be in half of the situations we find ourselves in," Doc replies. "I want to see that wound in your back."

Two minutes later, Doc gives Sheppard the choice of getting his wounds stitched now or later. The Colonel chooses later, although Chris thinks it's because nobody wants to listen to McKay get squeamish at the unanaesthetized suturing.

They are rescued two hours later, Lieutenant Eriksson and Lieutenant Paik flying cloaked jumpers that land in the large main room in turn. To everyone's surprise, Doc is the only one who ends up spending the night in the infirmary, the cut on his side having bled enough that he needs a transfusion and they're worried that he might've nicked a kidney.

feed me on LJ?

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28 January, 2007