Nice Place to Visit, But....

by Domenika Marzione

Cam likes Atlantis. As a place to visit, not as a place to stay. Daniel's in heaven -- nobody's forgotten that he was supposed to be out here permanently -- and he's so wrapped up in what he sees that he doesn't seem to notice that he's been stuck with Vala-sitting duties. Sam's got her toys to play with and McKay to fight with and she's got this permanently wicked gleam in her eye that makes Cam think that she's enjoying herself on both fronts. Cam... Cam has a lot of free time to get lost in a city that M.C. Escher might have built if he'd had the materials.

The Ancients were useful -- were instead of are because it'd be nice to have a little help fighting their enemies for them -- but Cam's got no special affection for them or their legacy. Daniel's gone on (and on and on) about the wonders of Ancient technology, but Daniel's got a nasty habit of forgetting all of the other stuff that Ancient technology does as well. Maybe he forgets it all because his memory's still a little dodgy from being ascended twice. Stockholm Syndrome for a higher plane of existence. Meanwhile, this city doesn't sing to Cam -- 'cuz if it did, he'd be able to figure out how to get from the commissary to the military building -- and it sure as hell doesn't make him want to forgive them for their cryptic hints and refusal to confront the Ori.

He's standing in front of a transporter, looking over the printed-out schematic of the city they gave him back on Earth and trying to figure out which spot gets him to where the rifles are when he hears voices and bootsteps coming from somewhere behind him.

"--without their best pitcher! How many teams got two rookies in the starting rotation, let alone in first place?"

"And a fifty million dollar outfield to cover their asses. And what'd they sign Reyes and Wright for? Sixty mill?"

"Not all in one year, fucker."

"Hundred million dollar payroll!"

"Keep it down to a roar, Suarez."

"Sorry, sir."

"Fifty cent defense... Ow!"

Cam turns around to see Major Lorne trailed by a trio of marines, presumably the ones from his team. He knows Lorne a little bit from his first year at the SGC (which was Lorne's last), mostly from running into each other under the Mountain and the odd time when SG-11 had to show up to serve as either cannon fodder or rescuing force. He knows of Lorne through the endless flow of reportage that comes from Atlantis to Earth, including the bureaucratic stuff that has Landry wondering if Lorne is Sheppard's accomplice or his straight man. Cam usually skips the drone weapon requests tucked into the condiments section of the resupply list, but he sees most of the mission reports. Lorne's team's adventures usually don't have the same drama as Sheppard's, but there a certain bone dry tone to his AARs that fairly screams 'you haven't heard the half of it', which is probably true. Because while Sheppard tends toward understatement as well, his mission reports always come with separate statements from McKay, who leaves no tale untold despite his shocking lack of actual observational skills. But there are no addendums to Lorne's reports. His civilian scientist can't be bothered (Sam and Daniel assure Cam that the reason why would be completely obvious if he were to ever meet Doctor Safir) and his marines are content to let the officer handle all of the paperwork.

Lorne grins as he approaches, a friendly smile touched with a little bit of 'can you believe who I get stuck with?', which would work better if Cam didn't know that Lorne had picked his own team. The three marines are grinning as well, but Cam can tell that that's more because they're looking at the map in his hand and are pleased that he's lost. Marines are marines, no matter the galaxy. "Major," he says by way of greeting and cocks an eyebrow at the marines. "Gentlemen."

The marines stand up straight and chorus back "sir" and Lorne looks over his shoulder for a second and gives him a look that is both entertained and pleased and it is a different expression than the one Cam has ever seen from him. Granted, Edwards is a hardass and nobody on SG-11 ever actually looks happy, but this is different. This isn't the relieved look of someone out from under a difficult CO; this is the look of a man who is exactly where he is supposed to be. Cam makes a mental note to tell Landry that the answer is "accomplice."

"Where are you off to, sir?" Lorne asks.

"I'm trying to get to the range," he admits, since he's already been busted for being lost. "Laser tag on the Odyssey's all well and good, but them blasters don't have any recoil and I don't want my hands getting too soft by the time I get back to our galaxy and have to shoot people for real again."

Laser tag on the Odyssey sucks, actually, because firing at the target with a harmless laser pointer is about as much like actual shooting as pointing your index finger and going "blam, blam!" and he can do that in the comfort of his rack without the hassle of making a reservation. He'll probably need a reservation here, but once he knows how to get to Atlantis's range, then he can come back whenever. Even -- especially -- if the range is open all hours. His body clock's still on Earth time, which puts him off-kilter from everyone in Atlantis anyway. The marines being in charge of the commissary, there's no waffles for dinner, either.

"We're on our way to Little Tripoli," Lorne says with a 'come on along' tilt of his head. "The indoor range is on the second sublevel and the outdoor ones are easy enough to find."

Cam follows Lorne into the transporter. "Little Tripoli," he repeats. Because that's not on the map in his hand.

"New Montezuma doesn't have the same ring, sir," the blond sergeant offers helpfully, tapping the transporter map. "And nobody liked Montezuma's Revenge."

Cam smiles weakly at the bad joke, but he's still confused as hell and must look it because Lorne chuckles. "There are two Air Force officers and more than two hundred marines. We lost the battle for naming the military administration building without a shot being fired."

The marines smile the satisfied grin of benevolent victors.

The doors open again and they're somewhere else, some place with open windows and bright sunshine and the smell of the ocean just faint enough to remind you that Atlantis is an island in the sea. It's nothing like being under the Mountain and Cam's jealous for all of half a second until he remembers that he's got the best job in the galaxy and life-sucking vampires aren't really an improvement on self-immolating missionaries. And while his own team is frustrating, eccentric, and makes it very clear that they are humoring him by letting him call himself the unit commander, they're still his team and none of them are marines. Cam envisions life among Atlantis's marine-heavy military as an extended Sodan vacation and his first one was long enough, thanks much.

There's an armed guard on post when they get out of the transporter and he straightens up once he sees who is approaching and salutes and Cam returns it even as he's distracted by a bright light to his right. It's a hallway, illuminated by the sun, and the glare off of the rows of framed photographs is amplifying the brilliance.

"That's the Wall, sir," the marine on guard duty explains. "It's where we honor our fallen brothers."

There's no equivalent at the SGC. A list of names somewhere and every single one has received some sort of honor, but after ten years the sheer number would be a depressing weight that would suffocate if it were hung over them like this. They joke about the mortality rate of field-grade officers on SG teams, but only because they aren't confronted daily with how much of a joke it really isn't.

"May I?" he asks Lorne.

"Sure," Lorne replies, gesturing for him to go ahead. Cam walks over slowly, shielding his eyes until the glare is no longer blinding. There are photographs (far too many from three years to be anything other than sobering) along both walls, posed portraits in the fancy Marine dress blue uniforms. The first picture on the wall to his left is Colonel Marshall Sumner, followed by a progression of sergeants and the odd lieutenant. Below each is the man's name and date of death and it's a bit disturbing because Cam remembers some of the names from the various reports and this is how he gets to put a name to a face. There's Sergeant Markham, the infantryman who died a pilot. That's what Lieutenant Morrison looked like before the Wraith got him. Captain Maguire, who never lived to replace his lieutenant's bar. Cam turns, squinting against the sun, to the other side.

"These are our missing," Lorne explains and Cam didn't realize how close the other man was. Or how many the Wraith have taken -- because that's what 'missing' means in Pegasus terms. It's optimistic and the SGC isn't thrilled with Sheppard's decision to keep them all listed as Missing/Captured instead of KIA, but nobody's overruled him yet. "Too many."

Cam grunts agreement because there's nothing to say, not when he knows that some of them have been lost following Lorne's command.

Lorne's marines stand in respectful silence, looking over the list of names next to the first photographs, as Cam finishes up. They follow him and Lorne as they go back from whence they came, past the guard, and toward a stairwell.

"Go down two stories and hang a left when you get out," Lorne tells him. "Then just follow the noise."

Cam thanks him and Lorne and his marines head off for direction unknown. Cam goes down the stairs, hangs a left, and follows the familiar noise, muted from (really good) soundproofing, until he gets to the anteroom for the range complex. The sergeant there tells him that he's welcome to start now, but the rush hour ends around 1800 if he doesn't want to be sharing range space with platoons of drilling marines and 2100 if he wants to avoid the civilian classes. He reserves space for 2130, not so much because he fears shooting next to marines or civilians, but instead because he's got a dinner thing with his team and the Atlantis command and the Odyssey's senior officers and he'll probably want to be shooting something after that.

"That sucks," Cam announces to everyone and no one as the Midshipmen on the field celebrate. Getting blown out by Navy -- again. "This is what, three in a row?"

"Four," Carter, sitting to his right, corrects sourly. "I just hope they keep it within twenty."

It's 24-7 midway through the fourth quarter and the crowd is getting a little restless. Cam feels a pang of sympathy for the doolies, who will be paying for this rout-in-progress. The third was ugly, pretty much Navy playing keep-away and scoring at will, and the Falcons are damned lucky to only be down by seventeen.

Next to him, Sheppard makes a face. "No ground game," he says, eyes still on the field. "Ballard's probably got more yards rushing than the entire Falcons offense put together."

Sheppard's not wrong, at least not until the good guys stage a rally and bring the score up to a respectable 24-17, but it was still a crappy running game by the home team.

After the game, the four of them -- Lorne muttering about an inbox full of emails from smug marines -- trudge out with the rest of the disappointed airmen. None of them especially want to linger and mingle to look for old pals or classmates; it's too hard to explain where you've been and what you've been doing and why your rack's got combat citations and no Iraq ribbon. They've all been out of circulation for so long that there's not many people to see, anyway -- Sheppard's the most recent drop-out from Big Air Force and he's not exactly eager to be recognized.

Cam wonders, not for the first time, if maybe the invite was a bad idea -- it had seemed like a nice welcome-back-to-the-planet gesture, but Sheppard and Lorne haven't been back quite two weeks yet and, in hindsight, maybe this was tossing them in on the deep end even though Sam had thought it was a good idea, too. Sheppard and Lorne are both a little jumpy in the crush of the crowds and Cam bullshitted about SGC petty cash so that he'd be the one to make concession runs, but there's no avoiding the cattle drive to get out of the stadium after the game is over.

They get back to Sam's car without incident and both Sheppard and Lorne try and fail not to look a little relieved. Getting out of the parking lot takes a little time and Sam guns the accelerator a little once they're finally free, muttering about Navy drivers and Navy running backs and announcing that beef and beer sound like good ideas and does anyone have any better ones. And none of them do -- or are willing to admit it -- so she drives them to an out-of-the-way burger joint Cam knows about but has never been because the one time he suggested it for a team dinner, Daniel had absentmindedly said something about it being a favorite of General O'Neill's and he'd dragged them there many a time.

It's a Jack O'Neill kind of place, Cam decides as he follows the others inside. It's darkish and unpretentious and there's a picture of Don Cherry among the wall of celebrity patrons and they've got ten beers on tap. They slide into an oversized booth and Cam can make out that there's a football game on the screen by the bar, but can't see more than the colors of the uniforms. They order their beers and Cam is sipping through the head on his Laughing Lab before he knows it.

Sheppard and Lorne are finally starting to look relaxed as they all order their burgers and fries. (Sam glares menacingly at the waitress who wants to know if she wants to substitute broccoli for potatoes.) Cam can't imagine what it must be like for them, uprooted and returned to a place that's supposed to be home and isn't. For all of the wacky crap he's seen in the last couple of years with SG-1, he's almost always gotten to sleep in his own bed at night and it isn't until the Atlantis mission returns that he understood just how much of a difference that makes. Pegasus is frontier country, far away in more than just distance.

It's late for lunch and too early for dinner and this isn't the sort of place that does any traffic in Early Bird Specials, so they have the corner of the restaurant to themselves and that gives them a little bit of freedom to talk in less oblique phrases and ambiguous references than is usually required in public. But even if they weren't being careful, the waitress could be forgiven for confusing a discussion on the fugly battle with the Ori they'd all been present for with, say, the Middies walking all over the Falcons. The good guys didn't have much of a ground game there, either.

Even away from anyone who could care, both Lorne and Sheppard are careful to praise their new teams and protect them from criticism, but it's obvious neither of them would take their current lineups over their former ones. Cam doesn't blame them. The suddenness of the Atlantis recall threw everyone for a loop and accommodating hundreds of personnel on such short notice wasn't easy, but while the scientists could get parked in labs and the marines could be handed off to the Department of the Navy, something had to be found for Sheppard and Lorne and their teams' compositions reflected the rush. Cam knows from the sort of flotsam and jetsam that somehow makes it through the approval process for the Stargate program. It's more than just the little bit of hero worship he still has that makes him thank the Lord every day for giving him the real SG-1 back instead of having to sift through more personnel files to find three men who don't make him want to accept Origin and be done with it.

"Cell phones, cars that don't know exactly where you want to go," Lorne says and Cam realizes that he's completely spaced and doesn't know what Sam asked. "Having to use money to go buy food at the supermarket...."

Right. The 'how's it been going' questions. Because they've answered them a million times, but not when Sam's asked.

"On the other hand, food that isn't prepared by marines is actually kind of nice," Sheppard points out, picking up his beer. He looks amused and Cam doesn't think for a second that that actually means anything. Landry's been caught more than once bitching about how opaque Sheppard is and Cam believes it. Sheppard was gracious and useful as a host in Atlantis, making them welcome and letting them do their thing and never needing to prove his authority because it was so obvious without anyone having to say anything. But that was there and this is here and Cam's not sure he buys the casual routine Sheppard's pulling at the SGC because he knows damned well that this ain't no minor move.

Their burgers come, big ones on bigger buns and yet still dwarfed by the pile of steaming-hot fries. Sheppard and Lorne instinctively back up a little as Sam whacks the full bottle of ketchup, but she does it at the top of the bottle and it drops daintily on to her plate as she looks up at them smugly. Cam is pretty sure his burger mooed when he cut it in half, but it's all good -- really good. The fries are salty and crispy on the outside and they wind up in a discussion on where to get the best fries and everyone thinks Lorne's a little cracked for insisting that there was a chip shop right outside Osan that was almost worth getting stuck in Korea doing emergency drills for a year.

A month later, after Sheppard has stolen the puddle jumper and escaped back to Pegasus, Cam will reflect on this afternoon and wonder. Because everyone knows that Lorne is lying when he says he had no clue what was going on -- he was off-world when it happened -- but nobody can call him on it because there's no evidence apart from the vague feeling you got when you saw him and Sheppard together and the sort of bond they had that had nothing to do with shared experiences in a galaxy far, far away. Or, rather, it had everything to do with it.

"It's like when we got shifted in to another dimension," Cam tells Sam one night as they're huddled around a pit fire on a cold planet about to be beseiged by the Ori. "We were there, but we weren't, you know?"

He thinks Sam's going to give him the What Turnip Truck Did You Fall Off Of? look, but she doesn't. Instead, she nods and frowns. "This must've felt like some alternate reality to them," she agrees.

Cam wisely does not bring up the whole alternate reality-alternate dimension thing again because they are light years away from the nearest bottle of aspirin.

"Would they not have taken more of their people with them if they believed that they had to escape from this planet?" Teal'c asks. It's cold enough that Teal'c is wearing a hat. A Broncos ski cap, which looks less ridiculous on him than Cam would have expected.

"I don't think they thought they had to escape," Sam replies, burrowing in a little more under the blanket she's wrapped herself in.

"Maybe they just wanted to go home," Vala says quietly from somewhere just beyond the fire's light. Cam knows she's nominally leaning against the cave's wall but is really using Jackson, who is dozing, for body heat.

"But they can't." Cam feels obligated to point out. "They're not welcome there anymore and that was before those Replicators showed up."

Landry and the IOA reps talk about punishment for when Sheppard and Weir return, but among the SG teams, nobody thinks that's an issue -- Cam doesn't even think Lorne believes that they're making it back.

"How many times have we been told that we can't go back to where we came from?" Daniel's disembodied voice asks. "And how many times did we listen?"

Daniel, twice ascended and twice fallen back to Earth, has the last word on that score.

feed me on LJ?

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26 December, 2006