Word Count: 8,000
Genre: Gen, understated H/C
Spoilers: Takes place between “Search and Rescue” and “The Seed”.
Characters: John Sheppard. Some team.
Summary: After Carter is transferred, Sheppard has to take over while still on the mend. They say command has its privileges, but running a city in another galaxy is a challenge like no other.
Written for susnnfor help_pakistan. Thank you to wildcat88 for the wonderful beta.
A shower in the morning is part of his wake-up routine, step two on the list immediately after his alarm. Step one is reading the overnight incident reports waiting for him on his laptop the moment he's on his feet, even before he pees or grabs a toothbrush. He always has to be ready to throw on some clothes and bolt out the door the moment he's vertical. Of the six urgent messages, none of them require his attention until breakfast.
John wanders into the bathroom feeling like an old man, last night's pain medication a hazy froth over his brain. Stepping under the cascading water washes away the fuzziness and he's very careful of the four inches of sutures running below his naval. He can't wait for those to go away.
Changing into his uniform hurts, even when he’s extra careful bending and stretching. Nothing like torn and barely healed muscle and tendons to wreak havoc with every movement. After lacing up his boots, he chops his morning Percocet in half and slips both pieces into his shirt pocket. It's his first day of light duty and according to Keller it's still several days earlier than she would prefer, but the city doesn't stop operating just because he's recovering.
The door slides open and Rodney's there bouncing on his heels, PDA clutched in his hand. “Oh good, I'm glad I caught you. I thought we should go over the last few days while I've been in charge.” At John’s oh really expression, Rodney amends with, “Well, you know. I've been in charge of the civilian operations and let's face it, that's a bigger portion of city management than what your people oversee.”
“Good morning to you, too, McKay,” John says dryly, walking past him.
Waving his PDA, Rodney quickly falls in step behind him. “I also have a list of suggestions for budget allocations and manpower, not to mention--”
“Rodney, I haven't had my morning coffee yet, so if it can wait?”
“Sure, but as soon as I email it to you, it'll get lost in the vortex of your inbox, believe me. I know.”
That's what John’s counting on, but he gamely conceals it by not saying a word. He has forty-five minutes before heading to the gate-room for a daily briefing and the start of a twelve-hour day, not that Keller is aware of it, and he intends on enjoying those free minutes eating pancakes and powdered scrambled eggs.
After going through the line, he finds a seat in the corner, grimacing when he sits down.
“Should you be drinking coffee?” Rodney asks, taking the chair next to him at the table and trying to grab his blueberry muffin.
“Maybe?” John doesn't recall reading about that on the precaution section of his care-sheet instructions. “A half a cup won't hurt.”
Munching on oatmeal, he casually looks around the mess, gauging the overall feel of the room. There's no eerie silence preceding a major offensive or the aftermath of a heavy casualty loss. The chatter and muttering is lively, body postures tense, eyes flicking toward him and quickly back to their plates.
There's apprehension, an uncertainty hanging in the air like a black cloud. Nervousness breeds tension which can cause mistakes. Morale has taken a nose dive and John is fully aware that it’s his job to improve it, but he really isn’t a rah-rah pep talk leader, more like the let's-get-the-job-done type of guy.
“Hey? Are you still here?” Rodney asks, snapping his fingers.
“You inspire me with so much confidence. You know, Lorne has been crutching around everywhere I look. Why don't you take it easy a few more days?”
Rodney means well, but John's not the only one with dark circles under his eyes and the responsibility of an entire city on him. “I'm fine.” But he knows Rodney won't accept such a standard bullshit answer. “Look. We've had an unexpected change of command and it's going to be another two weeks until Woolsey arrives and until then, we have to maintain a sense of normalcy.”
The news that Colonel Carter wasn't returning spread like wildfire in mere hours according to scuttlebutt. John wouldn’t know; he’d been in surgery when the news hit. Being well admired by both military and the civilian population is rare; the sudden change without the proper preparation is like an earthquake, the shockwaves reverberating down the chain of command from those in the kitchen and supply rooms to the gate team leaders.
There's a reason for a thirty-day SOP for leadership transitions.
“The IOA are idiots. Way to reward your people,” Rodney mumbles, stripping layers from a piece of toast. “Remind me not to be too successful next time.”
That's hard to imagine. Rodney's ego and IQ won't allow him not to give over a 110% to any task.
“I'm sure her next command will be rewarding,” John finds himself saying, hating how much it sounds like he's toeing the company line.
Then again. That’s his job right now.
No one's staged a sneak attack on them; there are no wraith hive ships in the area or any other hostiles for that matter. With no impending doom, John conducts a quick briefing and reviews and signs off the day's off-world mission to MS2-272.
Trading between worlds is a weird game of strategy. The Blaz will gladly give them twenty bushels of grain for raw silk, which Atlantis has from previous bartering. On the mission scheduled for tomorrow, they'll take the grain and trade it with the Tup'i in exchange for thirty kilos of itrite ore.
It'll be worth the trouble since the itrite is an accepted form of currency at one of the biggest trading bazaars held next month on PM2-746, which will provide the city with almost everything they'll need for the next few months.
With the Midway station obliterated and supply runs limited, the ability to trade for everything from cloth to spices and handcrafted goods adds variety to Atlantis' mundane staples and supplies. Not to mention it ensures that the next time a mold infects the city's monthly ration of flour, they won't have a revolt on their hands.
People don't want to hear the words wheat-free when it comes to chow time.
Last coming out of the conference room, Doctor Kenisi, a young spry thing, blocks his path using all five foot two inches of her height. “Colonel, the CO2 levels in the air circulation are two percent above normal.” She doesn’t wait for his answer, barreling on as if not expecting one. “Doctor McKay is busy with the weekly check of the ZPM power levels and I need someone to sign off on the work order.”
“Um, isn't there a--”
“It requires a type three security level clearance to modify any life support settings. Since you're standing there....”
“Right, of course.” John signs the order and Kenisi swipes the PDA out of his hand and stalks away. “Have fun with that,” he mutters.
Chuck Campbell sweeps over, looking like he's slept in his uniform, and apologizes. “Sorry, sir. Doctor Doyle is in charge of all routine maintenance, but he was called away to help with the repair of one of the city’s sensor arrays. The change to his schedule was emailed to you.”
“Must have missed it,” John answers, realizing that all the emails not marked priority need to be read soon.
He doesn't run into any more prickly scientists on his way to his office and he resists the urge to lock the door behind him. Before stepping foot on Atlantis, the most paper pushing he'd ever done was as a flight commander ferrying around Special Forces units. He'd study maps, attend intelligence briefings, and conduct post mission reviews and equipment inspections. Now he has hours worth of red-tape on a daily basis and if he gets behind (which is often) it takes a shovel to find his way out.
And ever since Carter's absence, everything's quadrupled. Being laid up is almost a blessing in disguise, except for the whole mobility without pain thing. Expertly he makes a V with his arm, bracing his stomach and side as he lowers himself into his chair.
Opening his desk drawer, he pulls out a new ballpoint pen, clicking it off and on as he grabs his first stack of paperwork. Oh, his favorite-- supply reviews. He doesn't write the assessments, but they still require his approval. At least it's not the operational budget. Fingering the four-inch stack, he notices a thinner one and snatches the latest round of gate team medical evaluations.
Only in the military do they still waste so much paper.
Thirty minutes later there's a knock at the door and Lorne hobbles inside, pulling up a second chair to lay his heavy cast on. “Hope you don't mind, sir?”
“No, feel free. I've never been so glad about a meeting in my life.”
John broke his leg once and he's aware how physical activity can impede the healing process. Lorne looks as crappy as he feels, but injury takes a backseat to duty. Two days after surgery, John had daily briefings around his bed, Lorne relaying information from his wheelchair, feeding him intel and updates.
Thumbing through the FITREPS results, John slides them under his desk calendar, some of Keller's other reports nibbling at his craw. “There was a fourteen percent increase in requests for sleeping aids last month.”
“Isn't that on top of the month before?”
“Yeah.” They're going in the wrong direction. “That's the fourth increase in a row. I'd expect that after the whole, you know...”
“Nightmare on our street?”
More like his street, John thinks, but he nods with a scowl. “It's been months since that incident, but our new residential shrink, Doctor Shronder's caseload has increased as well.”
He'd been emailed a list of names of those undergoing counseling. While never given access to patient files, he's made aware of individual progress and recommendations regarding fitness for the field. For every other name, he has a face to go with it. But not all of them. He's not expected to get to know all his men, although he tries. But duty rosters, workload, and the distance between ranks keep him feeling disconnected.
Eyes drifting to the model of a HH-60 Pave Hawk sitting on his desk, he wonders whatever happened to the pilot who used to fly one just like it.
Lorne stretches his arms out, twisting his back. “Everyone handles stress and anxiety in different ways. We're a research expedition in another galaxy, constantly under threat and involved in a war with an alien race. I'd be more worried if half the city wasn't seeking support.”
Reverting his attention to his XO, John lets out a chuckle. “Remind me to buy you a beer next time we're off duty.”
“You got it.”
“So,” John says, trying to decide which stack of bureaucracy to tackle first. “Carter requested a review of the Off-World Rules of Engagement. The gate team leaders submitted their suggestions and we need to review them.”
“Yeah, Rigs was particularly thrilled with the idea.”
“Yeah, well, he can talk to me about how thrilled he is.”
Lorne needlessly shuffles around his folders, stalling as he chooses his next words. “He did two tours in Iraq and lost several men in ambushes within friendly zones.”
“We've had three different incidents of civilian casualties in the last six months,” John reminds him.
“And all those incidents involved hostiles that blended into the local population.”
Some things never change despite millions of miles in between worlds. Images of blistering stretches of sand and targets in the middle of civilian populations swarm in his mind along with the stink of aviation fuel and the noise of rotary blades. John pushes back the memories to face the here and now.
“There has to be definitive evidence of hostile action, not just intent, before we use deadly force.”
There are rules in war; unfortunately there is only a split second to judge whether someone plans on killing you.
“You know that hostile action is subjective from world to world,” Lorne says, adjusting his casted leg.
“We encounter populations culled by the Wraith, engulfed by war, wracked by disease, and who knows what else.” The term 'exploring new worlds' has a romantic, adventurous ring to it, but there's never a mention about starvation, genocide, or the other types of horrors they encounter. “Not everyone is going to welcome us with open arms, but it's our job to gain trust.”
“Win the hearts and minds.”
John knows he sounds like all those analysts with their stats and computers, telling ground forces from thousands of miles away how to engage in and out of a hot zone. “It's our job to clearly define the difference between intent and action and hold our team leaders accountable.”
“And when the situation involves going to the aid of our people in unknown circumstances?” Lorne pushes, poking holes in John's neat answer.
How many times had he entered a hut or cave in search of someone, unsure if those inside were friendly or not? Being a hypocrite in the eyes of your people will lose you respect in the blink of an eye and John's fully aware that two of the incidents involving native casualties were during search and rescue operations.
There's nothing like walking blindly into unknown territory.
John thanks God he doesn't have to give orders in the use of airpower. That they don't deal with high profile targets, where bombing a house and killing everyone inside is an acceptable use of force. That Atlantis is not Afghanistan.
Lorne's looking at him with concern and John realizes he hasn't answered his question. “We'll write out clear definitions, but as you said, everything’s subjective and I'll trust all our team leaders' judgment.”
John really hates administration; that's why he spreads the love around.
Major Teldy chairs all safety meetings to give her more experience in base management. Major Holmes has been stationed on Atlantis for two years and he heads up all security briefings. Lorne is stuck inspecting the occupied areas of the city, which is over twenty square miles. It requires scheduling each sector on various days of the week, so by the end of the month, he's poked and kicked each part. John however, keeps one spot for himself and inspects the jumper bay every thirty days.
Walking around the bay, he enters various ships, pulling out maintenance logs and flight checklists over the last four weeks. Normally, he'd take one up for a ride, test the thrusters, speed, and navigation, and maybe practice some evasive maneuvers. But he's not cleared for active duty and while he longs for a trip around the planet to clear his thoughts, he contents himself with making sure everything is up to snuff.
By the fourth one, he feels like he's run a marathon, his whole body aching with fatigue. Leaning on the aft side of the ship for support, he rallies his strength to keep going. God, he hates this run-down-and-spit-out feeling. Keller warned him about this type of weakness and he's fully aware that he could go inside one of the jumpers and fall asleep either on the floor or the pilot's chair without a problem.
“Sheppard here,” he says, answering his radio.
“This is Staff Sergeant Lopez. We've had an incident on the North Pier that needs your attention, sir.”
“Could you be more specific, Sergeant?”
“Um, we just blew up an entire shipment of P-90s”
The guys in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit have the highest winning streak in the city’s poker tournaments. Remaining steadfastly cool when dealing with unstable incendiary devices, derelict weapons, and explosives means you have balls of steel, steady hands, and never sweat under pressure. Since transporting explosive materials to the mainland is out of the question, a team of combat engineers and scientists had rigged together a special container to house the ordnance to be destroyed, and constructed a hoist to lower it into the ocean for detonation.
It'd taken months of environmental impact studies before the program had been approved. And thank goodness, because finding a place in the city to store the crap had been a nightmare.
It takes three different transporters to get to the North Pier from the jumper bay and another ten minutes to reach each one of them when it should only take him two or three. By the time John steps outside, he's pretty sweaty, the crisp ocean breeze giving him goosebumps. A sharp pitching pain has started splitting down his abdomen, so by the time he arrives outside, he's in a pretty pissy mood.
Sergeant Lopez is six-foot-two of lankly torso and long limbs, his tanned skin soaking up the sun as he stands fully at attention. Three other members of the EOD follow suit, forming a straight line beside him. “Sir, there seems to have been an inventory mistake,” Lopez speaks.
John had better not have been dragged out here over a paperwork snafu. “You are aware that Gunnery Sergeant Phelps is in charge of the armory?”
“Yes, sir. But the gunny fell ill with the flu yesterday and given the size of the mistake, we felt it warranted your attention,” Lopez answers.
“We were scheduled to detonate a defective shipment of P-90s and there was a mix up and we destroyed the wrong ones.”
It takes sheer willpower for John to keep his face calm. “How many rifles are we talking about?”
“There are ten to a case and four cases in the defective batch.”
“Those rifles cost fifteen hundred a piece. We don't get bulk discounts.”
“Yes, sir. I'm aware of that, sir,” Lopez replies, chin held high.
“You just blew up nearly sixty thousand dollars worth of ordnance,” John growls. If Lopez stood any straighter at attention, his spine might snap. “I want a full report sent to me by tomorrow morning. But first, I want you to locate the correct faulty shipment and separate them out. After that, you and your men will do a top-to-bottom inventory of the armory. I want every bullet, every cartridge, every firearm accounted for.”
Eyes wide, knowing that it will take hours to complete, Lopez gives a snappy salute. “Yes, sir.”
“I'll let Phelps handle any disciplinary action, after he figures out how to shave what was lost from next quarter's budget.”
Okay, John feels like an ass for sounding like a bureaucrat stickler, but goddamn it, he went round after round with the IOA when they wanted to cut his munitions’ budget by five percent. He despises red tape and hates writing a quarterly budget, but Carter delegated that role to him partly because of her own crazy workload, and partly because she was aware of his reluctance to do it.
“I assure you that this will not happen again, sir.”
“I know it won't,” John sighs, cutting the marine some slack. “Dismissed.”
Slowly shuffling back inside, his side twinging angrily, John decides lunch is in order so he can take the other half of his pain pill.
Stepping off the transporter onto Level C, John wonders if McKay could crack the secret regarding Asgard beaming technology and apply it to Atlantis. There has to be an easier way to reach different parts of the city without using multiple transporters. Maybe he could rig a supercharged golf cart to do the job; on any other military base there are jeeps to get around with.
Smiling at the thought of puttering around in his own personal transport vehicle, John almost doesn't see the herd of people running through the intersection.
What the hell?
There's been no emergency call over the com, so he switches from the command channel to the citywide one, and almost has his eardrum blown out by all the shouting.
“My God, what the hell?”
“Hurry! We need more help!”
“It’s getting bigger!”
At the word help, John kicks it in gear, jogging down the hall, riding a wave of adrenaline and skidding to a sudden stop around the corner, his eyes wide. The entire hall is filled with a gigantic foam cloud that reaches from the floor to the ceiling. Three or four people with mops slap at the bubbles unsuccessfully. The whole thing looks straight out of some weird comedy.
“Don't just stand there, help!” someone yells at him.
Chuckling, John schools his face before casually going toward the nearest person. “Has anyone cut off the water supply?” Obviously there's been a major malfunction with one of the laundry machines on the level.
“Don't you think we've tried that?” a woman snaps, turning her suds-covered face at him and stammering, “Oh. Um...Colonel Sheppard. I didn't--”
“No worries,” John smiles, trying to keep from laughing in her face.
“Doctor Simm's super-concentrated detergent has a high reaction point,” the woman explains, brushing away the suds that are soaking through her grey uniform. “We cut off the washer producing the soap, but it's reacting to the moisture in the air and...”
“Produced an army of scrubbing bubbles,” John deadpans. Watching her cheeks flush the shade of her burgundy hair, he clears his throat, triggering a slight coughing fit from the detergent in the air. “I'll um...call for some reinforcements.”
It's hard to tell if that soothes any ruffled feathers, but she gives him a quick 'thank you, Colonel' and turns on her heel to plunge back into the soapy hall.
Hitting the com, John walks back toward the intersection. “Lorne, it's Sheppard. Get whoever is on KP duty to report to Level C. Sector E3 of crew quarters.”
“Roger that, sir.”
Escaping death by soap, he finds the transporter and steps inside, his side screaming at him for that little sprint down the hall.
The mess hall feels claustrophobic with too many voices and eyes, and John moves onto one of the quiet balconies to be alone. If the last few weeks have been a roller coaster ride for him, it’s been hell for everyone else. After all, it's not every day he goes missing for twelve days to reappear with scary prophecies of the future, has a compound implode on him and his team, only to reemerge to stage a daring rescue from a hive ship.
While he finds the rumors about his team amusing and the folklore about his own exploits disconcerting, it’s hard to ignore the bigger picture. His adventures inspire confidence and boosts morale, but the collective weight of responsibility can be crushing.
Colonel Carter is a living legend and when she was in charge, it took away some of the blinding spotlight. Elizabeth had been a wonderful leader of the expedition and how he longs for her confidence and vision. But Carter was military, with years of war and exploration under her belt—and she just knew what the job entailed with plenty of stories to top his own. He could talk to her about anything, share confidences that he didn’t dare with anyone else. Even his team.
And now she was gone.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Glancing up from his bowl of soup, John raises a hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “Only a penny, Jake?”
“Sorry. It's all I got.” Laughing, the city's chaplain points at the empty chair and John nods his permission for him to sit.
“Someone needs to bump your upgrade,” John jokes, knowing the marine just earned his full lieutenant’s bar last month.
Pulling a coin from his pocket, Jake slides it across the table. “My momma gave that to me when I was five. Told me it was my first and last handout, and if I needed more, I better go out and earn it.”
Jake is as easygoing as they come, with an attentive ear and a voice rich as honey. He's in his early thirties with a heavier build than John, shorn salt and pepper hair and dark hands that would make a mason envious. Except for the cross stitched above his silver bars, he's indistinguishable from any other marine.
Gesturing at John's bowl of tomato soup, Jake's forehead scrunches in curiosity. “Did you do something to piss off the kitchen staff, sir?”
“I'm on a bland diet for another week until my insides settle down.” Taking a packet of crackers, John crumbles them into his lunch. “So, is this a random visit or is there something I can do for you today?”
Eyes twinkling, Jake shakes his head. “Always to the point, Colonel?”
“What can I say? I'm a busy guy.”
“I know. I was going to make an appointment, but I heard you were booked until next week.” Clapping his hands together loudly and rubbing them together, Jake leans forward on his elbows. “I was wondering if I could have permission to visit with the Athosians in the camp we set up.”
“I'm not sure that's a very good idea.”
“Why? They’re our brothers and sisters, are they not?”
If only it was that simple, John thinks ruefully. “They’re undergoing rehabilitation from being Michael’s hybrids.”
“More reason for me to pay them a visit.”
“We already have doctors and psychologists who attend to them daily.”
“To poke and prod their body and mind. I was thinking more just being there for whatever they might need,” Jake argues with a smile on his face, never to be deterred.
It's like arguing with Mr. Rogers.
“They're a security risk.”
“Good thing they're being overseen by God's mightiest fighting force in the world,” Jake exclaims proudly, his booming voice echoing outside.
“I know you listen and talk with people of different faiths, but those are Earth’s religions.” The last thing John needs is to be investigated for trying to impose Earth culture on other populations.
“I'm not a missionary, Colonel. I'm here to provide for and advise everyone in the uniform and those who do not wear one. But in this case, I want to show those who need it most that we care about them.”
“Let me talk to Teyla. If she's fine with it then--”
“Already have. Went to visit her and that bouncing baby boy. She's in full support.”
It takes John a second to realize he's been conned. “All right. I'll make arrangements for an escort later in the week. I want to check with Keller on a few things first. Got it?”
“Yes, sir.” Slapping his palms together again, Jake sits straighter in his chair. “How are you doin’? Seems awfully soon to see you out and about. Despite what some might think, you're not Wolverine. Got to be hard keeping up appearances after havin' your side speared.”
Grimacing at such an apt description, John pours on his own brand of charm. “I may not have healing powers, but our medical staff can work wonders.”
“Maybe you should hang out more outside, let the sun put a little color back in your face.” Standing, Jake places a hand on John's shoulder. “I'll say a prayer for you, Colonel. As I always do.”
“A little prayer couldn't hurt, Jake.”
John hasn't seen Teyla since last week. She'd stopped by a few times with food when he'd been recuperating in his quarters, unable to do much more than lay in bed. He'd drawn the line when she piled clothes into a laundry basket, but she'd already been out the door before he'd gotten into a sitting position, a pillow bracing his side. Motherhood kept her visits brief, Torren swaddled to her chest with one of those baby slings.
Feeling guilty at how exhausted she seemed, John banned her from visiting and they hadn't crossed paths in days, and he really wants to see how she's doing. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone. With his batteries already running low and the other half of his Percocet barely putting a dent in the pain in his side, using the radio to locate her seems like a good idea.
“Teyla, this is Sheppard.”
“Where are you?”
“In the rec room.”
“Could you wait for me?”
Luckily the recreation room is on the same level as the mess, no more locating transporters, but it's four blocks away and by the second one, he's shuffling like a ninety-year-old geriatric. Okay, perhaps Keller had been right about taking a few more days off. The idea of propping his feet up on one of the sofas to relieve the stretching of his abused muscles sounds fantastic.
Rounding the corner, he's greeted by Teyla and the muffled noise of loud voices from the other room. Straightening up with a grimace, his eyes skirt from Teyla to the continued commotion. “Hey,” he says, smiling at the cooing baby snuggled against her chest.
“Are you alright?” she asks, stepping forward to take his arm.
“Just... you know. Sore,” he answers truthfully, leaning against the wall. “What's goin' on?”
Rolling her eyes at the noisy voices, she shakes her head. “There was a misunderstanding about scheduling, I think. One group wants the other to leave so they can watch their movie.”
“And what about you?”
“I was next door in the music library to find some lullabies for Torren. I came out when the arguing started. I did not want them to disturb him,” she says, cradling her son tighter.
“I don't see how he could tire of his mother's lovely voice.”
Teyla laughs. “It gives out after an hour and he gets cranky.”
“Well, we can't have that.”
If John could bottle moments like these and reuse them over and over again, he would. But he savors it for more than he should and pushes it aside. “I talked to Jake about visiting your people.”
Her face reflecting surprise, Teyla lightly bounces Torren. “I thought it was a good idea. I think having a representative of Atlantis will not only show we support their progress, but Jake will listen to them without judgment. My people have a deep respect for spiritual leaders and I think they will be comfortable sharing openly with him.”
“You know you can always come to me about such things.” John searches her face for any signs of apprehension in trusting him. He goes for a lighthearted tone, but his voice ends with a rasp. “My door's always open. No matter the time of day.”
“I'm sorry if it appeared that I did not,” she says in all sincerity, squeezing his shoulder. “Jake talked to me about it yesterday and I had no idea he would discuss it with you before I had a chance.”
“He caught me during lunch. It’s okay,” John reassures her. “I'll check with those stationed in the camp on their progress before making arrangements for his visit.”
When the arguing in the next room reaches a fever pitch with no sounds of intervention, he lets out a sigh. “I should probably take care of this.”
“Can you not radio someone else to handle it?”
“I could, but by then it could escalate out of hand.”
Teyla follows behind him like he's about to walk into an ambush, taking his six while he assesses the situation. It's a nice feeling. The room's ripe with tension, four guys staring down each other like they're about to draw at high noon. It's easy to spot the two marines standing to John's right, their shorn hair and combat boots giving them away. He recognizes Corporal Nelson, a younger twenty-something from New Jersey with a face covered in freckles.
“Sir,” Nelson greets him, posture stiff.
“Oh good,” one of the civilians says. “Colonel, could you please tell these gentlemen that they should leave? We signed up for this room and it's twenty minutes over when we had it reserved.”
John bristles at a familiar nasally voice. Doctor Richter is one of the newer geologists that John had the misfortune of spending six hours in the jumper with surveying a moon, the guy backseat driving the entire time. Standing next to Richter is, thankfully, Zelenka, who looks like he wants the floor to swallow him whole.
“Radek, what time did you guys have the room schedule for?”
“It was at 1600.”
Casually stuffing his hands into his pockets, John scans both men, eyes resting on a stocky marine wearing an olive colored Ooh_Rah! t-shirt.
John's brain blanks on his name, but not his rank. “Sergeant...”
“Bailey, sir.” The soldier salutes, fingers framing the scar down his right cheek.
“What time were you penciled in for today?”
“You're over three hours late to view your movie, Sergeant. Did you get your time zones mixed up?”
“No, sir. We were late comin' in from a mission and we may have been a little obnoxious when we arrived in the rec room.”
“Obnoxious?” Richter yells, sounding like he swallowed helium. “Obnoxious is marching in here like you own the place, yelling at us to get out.”
“The sign-up sheet is booked up for three days,” Bailey snaps. “We can't control the times we get shot at or chased off a planet, protecting your asses--”
“Protecting us? How many times do you need someone with a brain to operate technology you're too bone-headed to understand?” Richter yells in return. “If something doesn't work, your solution is to shoot it!”
“Yeah? Well if I handed you a gun, you'd drop it and get yourself killed in the process!” Bailey yells, body visibly shaking.
“At least I can learn how to fire a gun!” Richter snaps, taking two steps closer until Zelenka places a restraining hand on the geek's shoulder.
“Enough!” John shouts, stepping in between them. “What is this? The first week of the expedition? We all play vital roles in getting things done. We all make sacrifices!”
“Yes, sir. Sorry for our behavior, sir,” Nelson answers, giving Bailey a back off expression, before turning his attention to John. “We had a really bad mission, sir. All we wanted was to blow off a little steam.”
Staring at Bailey, John lowers his voice. “What happened today, Sergeant?”
“There was a huge brush fire that overtook one of the villages at MX2-474. We couldn't rescue everyone in time.” Lowering his head, rubbing his hands roughly across his face, Bailey lets lose a growl. “The rest of the team went to get some sleep. Nelson and I just wanted to veg out for a while.”
Glancing at Richter, Zelenka pinches the end of his nose to adjust his glasses. “We just got off our fifth thirteen-hour shift in a row. We have been waiting on the new season of Dr. Who. So were a bit...impatient.”
Two sleep deprived geeks want to watch sci-fi and two bone-weary, stressed out grunts would prefer football.
“Is there anything you guys could agree on watching?” John asks, grasping at straws.
“Seriously, sir?” Bailey sighs.
“What? There has to be something universally appealing. Star Wars? Episodes of The X-Files?” At the sea of disinterested expressions, John wanders over to flip through the most recent titles of their book. “Mega Shark vs Octopus?” His men seem to consider it, but Richter rolls his eyes. Brawn and brains. There has to be some common ground. Searching the sheet, he taps one of the titles in triumph. “Wall-E?”
Zelenka's eyebrows shoot up. “Really?”
That's a positive sign, but Bailey crosses his arms over his bulky chest in a 'hell no' gesture.
“What about that movie Rodney acquired the other day?” Teyla suggests, gently rocking Torren who's making signs of waking. “Was it Transformers?”
“You can get the Transformers movie, sir?” Nelson asks.
“Is it the live action one?” Richter inquires with enthusiasm.
“Yes, yes it is,” John smiles, thanking Teyla with his eyes for the suggestion. Nothing like fighting robots to bring scientists and jarheads together. “I'll arrange for it to be transferred over the network. It might take five or ten minutes. Why don't you guys grab some food and stuff?”
Most of their films are stored on a media hard drive. One simple download and crisis averted. Without bickering parties to distract him, John doesn't think his legs will hold him up anymore. Locating a lumpy old loveseat in the back, he shuffles over and half falls, half slides into the cushions.
“I've called Rodney about the movie; he says it'll be on the menu and that you owe him one.”
“Thanks, Teyla,” he says gratefully. “Think I might watch part of it.”
“Or maybe you should take a nap?” she suggests.
“Maybe I'll do that, too.”
But it’s doubtful he'll be getting up anytime soon. It's really comfy here.
The marines and scientists return with popcorn, Bailey sprawling out on the red sofa, glaring at Richter to even dare say anything about it. Everyone grabs some floor or a chair, a temporary truce in place, but the air still crackles with tension. A single spark could blow everything sky high. It shouldn't be like this. They’ve all been through the emotional wringer. Exhaustion, anger, grief. All fueled by uncertainty and now more than ever is when they should band together, not snap at each other.
“Things will calm down, John. Everyone is tired. It has been a rough couple of months,” Teyla tells him as if reading his brooding thoughts.
“Yeah. If only I could figure out a way to help.”
“You'll think of something.” Torren's tiny hands grab at her hair, Teyla's face practically glowing in response. “Someone's waking up.”
“He really is beautiful,” John says, watching the two of them together.
When Torren starts getting fussy, Teyla rocks him lightly. “He is hungry. I should feed him.” Giving her son a kiss to his wrinkly forehead, she peers down at John. “It's okay for you to take a break, too. Everyone in the city looks up to you, but Rodney, Ronon, and I will always be there for you whenever you need a shoulder to lean on.”
“I know,” he tells her and gives her a tired smile as she leaves.
Bailey watches the movie like it's paint drying on the wall. It's a distraction plain and simple and not a very good one. John knows the look well, sees all the pain beneath the hard exterior and it eats away at him, seeing someone under his command suffer silently. Knowing there might be dozens of others.
Zelenka whispers at his buddy during one of the big special effects sequences, undoubtedly discussing the reality of physics. Nelson lets out a whistle when the first battle begins, giving John an epiphany.
John startles at the voice, jerking awake, his hand brushing his sidearm before his eyes fully focus on Ronon's bemused face. “Oh. Hey.” Rubbing his gritty eyes, John glances around at the empty room and down at his watch in surprise. He slept for over two hours? “Crap. I've gotta go.”
“No, you don't.”
“No. I do,” John grunts, still trying to clear the cobwebs away. Damn meds. Pushing with his hands, he gets about two inches off the chair before a pain rips through his side, stealing his breath. “Ow.”
A strong hand grips his shoulder, slowly easing him back in the chair. “I thought you weren't supposed to move around suddenly?”
Slowly releasing a breath, a familiar crimp spreads across John's abdomen. “Forgot about that.”
Shaking his head, Ronon snatches a pillow from a sofa and hands it over. “Here.”
Taking the small cushion, John braces it along his side as he did when he recuperated in his quarters. “Thanks.”
Ronon doesn't say a word, glancing around the room and back down at him. “No one's around. Come on. I'll give you a hand.”
John doesn't protest, allowing Ronon to help him to his feet, pressing the cushion along his stomach to ease the pain. “Okay, I'm okay,” he says, wavering on his feet for a second before standing on his own.
“Can you walk?”
“I've been walking all day.” Ronon gives John this look, because doing all that walking is the reason why he feels like crap. “Don't tell me you would just sit in your quarters doing nothing but rest in bed.”
“I didn't have a piece of steel poke a hole in my gut.”
John grumbles under his breath and begins his slow shuffle out of the room, Ronon hovering a few inches away like he might fall down. “You don't have to follow me to my office.”
There's something suspicious about the way Ronon answers him and John gives him a curious sideways glance, but says nothing as they trek like turtles down the hall. He leans on the wall inside the transporter and reaches for the control panel, grunting a little, but Ronon slaps his hand away and presses the map to officers’ quarters.
“You're done with work today.”
“Yeah? And are you going to start drawing up the new defensive drills for this month?”
“No, Lorne is.”
“I've got this week's disciplinary reports to--”
“Teldy's doing them.”
“And there's today’s off-world post mission briefing?”
“Someone's covering that and that new Captain...Blinski? He's gonna conduct that surprise emergency drill on the security team guarding the gate room.” With the transport sliding open, Ronon points to the hallway. “We've got it covered.”
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, John tightens his hold on the rail inside the transporter, feeling nothing but relief and gratitude. “Thanks.”
“You look after the city. We look after you,” Ronon tells him, gesturing for him to get off the lift.
“Wait. I need to stop by one more place.” At Ronon's unconvinced expression, John musters his reserves, pulling himself fully upright to stare his friend down. “You can help, but I have to do this last thing.” Feeling victorious when Ronon reluctantly steps aside, John punches the coordinates of their next destination. “Now all I need is a computer.”
He doesn't question where Ronon found a laptop, imagining a scientist very irate at having it stolen. Of course, John doesn't know where the big guy got a table and chair so fast either. It doesn't really matter, nor does the fact that both are set up in the hallway across from the city bulletin board. But that had been the compromise since John really couldn't walk much more and he wanted to wait and see the results of his plan unfold.
Drafting his email only took a few minutes, adding a few well-placed taunts to rile everyone up for extra measure. Hitting send, he slouches in his chair, feeling every single step he's taken around the city.
“Is this good enough?” Ronon calls over.
“That's too high, buddy. Not everyone is as tall as you,” John tells him.
Scowling, Ronon readjusts the poster, lowering it so everyone can reach it. “Now?”
Having a public bulletin board seems really low-tech, but it’s the best way to post announcements for those who don't read their email on time. Or advertise goods or services for sale, although they stop short from tacking up personals.
Ambling over, Ronon stands next to John, acting a bit restless. “You really think people are gonna respond?”
“Never underestimate the thrill of competition and bragging rights.”
“Or a free day off and a case of your best beer.”
“That, too.” John grins.
It only takes ten minutes for the first couple of people to show up to sign their names on the board. It's not a surprise it's Doctors Bosh and Peters from IT. Five minutes later, Corporal Harris and Staff Sergeant Gainer of the mechanical maintenance crew hurry over and scrawl their signatures, glancing over at John in excitement.
The person John's most excited at seeing is Sergeant Bailey who strolls over, glances at the sign-up sheet, and walks to where his CO is sitting. “Can't I use the guys in my division, sir?”
“The point is for civilians and the military to work in teams.”
“I can build a helipad in the desert or rig an assault boat out of scrap parts and chewing gum.”
“And could you imagine the type of bot you'd come up with someone who could construct a laser? Or who could calculate the maximum weight and the force of a mechanical arm in their heads?”
John can actually see the gears spin in Bailey's head.
“You've got a point, sir,” the sergeant agrees, then pauses. “Can I have Doctor McKay?”
“Sorry, Sergeant. I'm drawing names out of a hat to keep things fair.”
The moment Bailey signs up, John feels some of that disconnected feeling dissipate a little. The bulletin board draws the attention of those walking by or those who read the email requiring them to fill out the sheet to participate. Members of botany, geology, zoology and other sciences seem as eager as the airmen and marines of all ranks and divisions.
“Still don't get why people are so excited,” Ronon says, when Zelenka hurries over to add his name to the list.
“Because you only understand about blowing up stuff,” Rodney mocks, strolling around the corner to stand in front of them. “Seriously, Sheppard? Robot Wars?”
“I take it you're skipping the contest?” John baits him.
Snorting, Rodney folds his arms. “Please. I am so going to win it.”
Walking over to join them with Torren sleeping soundly in his baby sling, Teyla raises an amused eyebrow. “I could have sworn that the email I read said that everyone would belong to a team of six.”
“Yes, well. I will need someone to actually build it. I’m sure one of the grunts I get can weld.”
Before John can thump him on the head, McKay heads over to the signup sheet and takes up three spaces with his name.
“It seems your idea is a big success,” Teyla observes with an all-knowing smile.
“Wouldn't have thought of it without your help.”
“Are you going to join a team?” Ronon asks him, eyeing the board as if he might be considering the idea.
John would love to design a tactical fighting robot. He'd find a way for it to launch itself into the air for a surprise assault. “I've got enough on my plate, but it'll be fun being a judge.”
“That sounds like a very good fit.”
Smiling at Teyla, John considers things a moment, watching random people chatting about the contest with each other. More and more people mingling in the hall in excitement.
In a month, he'll be back leading his team out the gate. “Yeah, what I can I say? Call it a perk of command.”
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