Word Count: 12,317
Series: Dramatic Exit
Author's notes: Future-fic, and AU diverging sometime in S4. Beta by archae_ology. This is my longest fic ever and still a bit rough on the pacing, but if I don't stop fiddling it'll never get posted.
Summary: A visit to Earth results in a few surprises for Sheppard and Lorne.
"Can we leave yet?" John asked for the seventeenth time, just for the pleasure of watching Evan roll his eyes. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do, after all.
"Ten more minutes, sir," Evan said, before going back to signing things on his tablet. John waited impatiently for a few minutes, then asked, "How about now?"
"You're like a little kid," Evan complained half-heartedly. "Seriously, it was just one day. You've spent longer in jail cells that weren't nearly as comfortable."
John snorted. Midway may as well have been a big jail, and in John's opinion whoever had come up with the quarantine idea for Midway deserved to be shot. The fact that neither of them had the slightest clue why O'Neill had summoned them back to Earth for a week only made the stay more difficult. "Yeah, well, at least then I wasn't locked up with you."
Evan didn't even look up when he raised an eyebrow. "What about that time when-"
"Locked up and unable to touch you," John corrected plaintively, knowing he was whining just a little, "on account of being trapped in a tin can with a dozen other people."
"I can't imagine why you'd want to touch me, Colonel," Evan replied, putting a little extra emphasis on the title.
John grinned deviously and leaned in closer, so he could say right into Evan's ear, "Well, there's that thing you do with your tongue, for one." He grinned to himself when a shiver managed to get through Evan's placid shell. As far as John was concerned, if he couldn't actually touch his lover, poking at him was the next best thing.
Evan stood, the tiniest hint of a smile on his face, and said, "Come on, sir. Time to head out."
The two of them strolled out of the tiny cabin and out to Midway Station's main chamber. Even one day aboard for quarantine was about twenty-three hours too long for John's tastes, and having Evan along had actually made the wait even worse than usual. Sure, they'd shared a cabin, but the bunks were even smaller than the bed he had back home. Normally that might not have stopped them, but the walls may as well have been paper-thin. Evan could be absolutely silent when he had to be, but John had an unfortunate tendency to be noisy at inopportune times. Hopefully, whatever they were being called back to Earth for would be worth the trouble.
When John, Evan, and a dozen other Earth-bound personnel stepped through the wormhole, General O'Neill was waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp. "Colonel. Major. Pleasant trip?"
"Yes, sir," Evan replied, while John told him, "The accommodations leave a little desired."
"I'm sorry it's not up to your standards, Colonel," O'Neill replied. He waved them along as he started for the door. "Come on, we've got some stuff to talk about."
O'Neill led them out of the gateroom and into the warren of tunnels that made up the SGC. Looking around at the drab concrete walls, John had to suppress a shiver. The base held nothing but bad memories for him, and he couldn't help but imagine the weight of the mountain pressing down all around him. John thought there was probably something poetic about that connection. Finally, they reached a small, obviously temporary office down in the soft sciences section, and O'Neill gestured for them to sit while dropping into his own chair.
"Well, gentlemen, there's good news and bad news," he said once they were settled.
"We'll take the bad news first," John responded with a glance toward Evan, who gave him one in return. He was already starting to think of what sort of bat-shit ideas the Pentagon, or worse yet the IOA, might have come up with this time.
"Did I say there was a choice?" John shrugged, and after giving him a pointed look O'Neill continued. "The President and the other IOA leaders have been talking recently about the possibility of disclosure to the public. It's getting harder to keep concealing the program, especially as the new shipyards become operational, and the idea is that it'd be better to reveal it in a controlled fashion then have CNN catch a cruiser on camera. It's looking like they're going to settle for sometime around the New Year, which means we've got about six months to prepare."
John and Evan looked at each other again, then John asked, "Is that the good news or the bad news?"
"That's the neutral news. Can I finish?" O'Neill replied caustically. After a moment, he said, "The good news is that we'll be looking at a lot of funding, and a lot more manpower. There'll be the usual growing pains that come with that, of course, but we've got a solid cadre to build off of. Since we want to make sure anyone essential has appropriate seniority, the president has given us special authorization to give early promotions or brevets for anyone who needs them."
"Anyone?" John asked, sitting up a little straighter and not quite believing what he was hearing.
"Within reason, and mostly from the current crop of junior officers and the enlisted. I've already got a list of field-grade officers for this first round of promotions - Reynolds, Caldwell, Davis, a few other SG team leaders and base staff. I'll need recommendations for what to do with your guys."
John deflated slightly, because if O'Neill was picking the senior officers himself, that left off one person John would have put on the list. Still, it was good news. The SGC had long since been forced to deviate from normal promotion procedures, with drastic stop-loss measures in effect. The constant need for experienced staff meant up-or-out was out of the question, and transfers away from the program for anyone competent simply didn't happen. Still, Atlantis was even odder, and its distant position meant that a lot of times the decision-makers on Earth didn't give people the recognition they deserved.
Beside him, Evan was nodding slowly, probably thinking the same thing. "I can think of a few dozen people who definitely deserve it. Are we talking just the Americans, or the international staff, too?"
"Eh, shouldn't be too hard to swing for the rest, if you want," O'Neill said with a shrug. "I'm sure their governments will want to keep the status quo."
"You said more manpower, right?" John was starting to get a gleam in his eyes, the sort usually associated with young boys in toy stores. They'd been barely keeping up with replacements for men they lost or who transferred home. Some of that was John and Evan's own pickiness when they screened them, because the last thing they needed were troublemakers, but he'd give a lot to get more than the occasional handful of inexperienced troops. "Enough marines or soldiers to form actual battalion instead of a miniature one - or better yet, enough for two. Trained pilots. Paratroopers! Oh - SEALs, with some of those cool little boats."
Evan shot John one of his 'please shut up, sir' looks, then asked O'Neill, "Before the colonel gets ahead of himself, I have the feeling that I should ask what the bad news is."
"Good idea," O'Neill replied with a slight smirk that told John he was about to hear something he wouldn't like. "See, the thing is that when I said there's a lot of new funding and manpower, I didn't mean you were getting any of it. The SGC is expanding enough that we're taking over the rest of the mountain, and a few other Homeworld Security projects are benefiting, but the majority of it is going to - god help us - the Navy's new starship program. We'll be sending a few green troops your way, but not another company, and not many SGC vets."
John sat back and groaned. He really should have known better than to get excited. "Of course. No one cares about us, all alone out there, holding the line against the darkness, all that keeps Earth from being a fast-food joint."
"Yeah, that seems pretty accurate," O'Neill said cheerfully. "Fact is, Atlantis is far away and doesn't have as much a direct impact on Earth's security as operations in this galaxy. People can't see you, but they can see big, shiny battle cruisers."
"We fight the Wraith, that's security," John protested. He didn't have anything against battle cruisers - far from it- but this was absurd. "And didn't we just cure cancer?"
"I'm sure people will thank you, once the cure stops killing people." O'Neill spread his hands in a 'what can you do' gesture. "Look, the president and I appreciate what you're doing, but the fact of the matter is there's just not room in the budget for major troop increases. If you've got any specific requests, I'll see what I can do."
"People with the gene. Everyone who you can get, civilian or military," John said, deciding to focus on the most vital points in the hopes that he could at least guilt that much out of the general.
O'Neill got a skeptical expression, but before he object Evan continued for him, "You don't need nearly as many as we do, and there's always going to be people who won't volunteer to go out to Pegasus under any circumstances. Just bring it up with anyone who might be willing to give it a shot, maybe send them our way for a week or two to convince them."
John nodded in agreement. "Just a couple of days, even." That, in John's experience, was all the time that anyone ATA-positive needed to decide.
"Hmph." O'Neill looked thoughtful, then shrugged. "Fine. It's doable, especially if they're replacing people coming back to Earth. Anything else?"
John hesitated, and decided to take a chance in case an opportunity like this never came along again. "Along the same lines, the expedition needs a formal exemption from 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
Evan didn't quite manage to suppress a surprised and dismayed exclamation of, "Damn it, John", while O'Neill just raised an eyebrow.
"Look, it's unfair to have different rules for US and the international troops, and we all saw how well the informal policy worked when Ellis got pissy." John went for broke and added, "Besides, if we actually enforced it, we'd lose everyone with the gene, and that would just be disastrous."
That certainly got O'Neill's attention. Watching John like a hawk, he leaned forward and drawled, "Oh really."
John swallowed. "Doctor Beckett found a strong correlation between the natural ATA gene and bisexuality, and lesser one among those with it recessively. Which, given that we've always selected for the recessive so the gene therapy is more likely to work, means a lot of the city's population."
"Researched it, did he?" O'Neill asked in a conversational tone.
"He didn't share it outside the command staff, for obvious reasons. Sir."
O'Neill's face was expressionless as he stared at John and tapped his fingers on the desk. As the silence dragged on, John started to wonder if he'd made a horrible mistake in bringing it up. He'd expected O'Neill to say no, at worst - after all, he'd found out about John and Evan months before - but given that John had basically implied O'Neill was bi... most older military men wouldn't take that well, to put things mildly. John started to come up with an apology, and prayed that the situation was salvageable.
"I'll talk with Hayes," O'Neill suddenly said, tipping back in his chair. "I know Weir had brought it up before, and her ideas still have a lot of sway with him. But no promises."
John relaxed and nodded. "Thank you, sir, that's all I'm asking."
"Any other demands?" John and Evan looked at each other but after a moment shook their heads. John didn't want to push his luck, and he suspected he'd be lucky if Evan didn't kick his ass for trying even this much. "Good. I know it's not much, but it could be worse. Just keep your heads down and we'll see where things stand."
"It's probably better this way," Evan said after a moment. "Less attention means less interference. No offense, sir, but the last time the SGC brass got a scheme in their heads, we lost Doctor Weir and six others, not to mention all the damage to the city."
"I don't blame you. I'll tell you right now, I think you guys and Carter are doing a good job, and the last thing I want is for some senator to try and shove his pet general on you. For now, it's easy enough to keep her in charge, but I'll feel a lot better once she's got enough time experience under her belt to justify a promotion."
Grudgingly, John accepted that. He knew exactly how bad that sort of politics could be, and one of the reasons they'd succeeded as well as they had was the relatively low level of meddling from above. If some Pentagon hotshot was put in command, a lot of damage could be done, both to the mission and to the lives of a lot of his men. "So is there any more than that we will be getting?"
O'Neill thought about it for a moment, then said, "Nope."
"I guess we'll make do, then." It was what they'd been doing anyways, and when you got down to it, at least green troops didn't take as much retraining to get them used to working in Pegasus. One other bright side John could think of was easier contact with families, which would make a lot of people happier, at least among those who actually had families on Earth. "Anything else you need, sir, or should we get to work?"
"I need a word with you in private, Colonel. Lorne, while you're waiting, go see Major Nagly. She's taking issue with the concept of underwear-eating moss and would like a word with you." Evan winced and nodded, before leaving with a quick grin to John.
After the door closed, John waited for O'Neill to go on, but when he just stared back John eventually said, "So... about those promotions for field-grade officers."
"Wondering what kind of chances Atlantis' pair have?"
"Not about me, no." John grinned and dipped his head to the side. "Even if I had time in grade, I think you made it pretty clear back in November what my prospects are anytime soon."
O'Neill raised his eyebrow. "Good to know. As for Lorne, he was up for one anyways. Official paperwork actually just cleared the promotion board. I figured you might want to tell him yourself."
John shifted in his chair and despite his best efforts he felt himself starting to blush. "Listen, sir, I want you to know-"
"Can it. I really don't care whether it's some alien-induced bond or sappy true love." O'Neill's expression was hard, although there seemed to be a trace of amusement in his eyes. "You're both doing your jobs and keeping your thing out of your professional lives. As far as I'm concerned, that's all that I need to know."
"Thank you, sir," John said, relieved not only to hear that but that he wouldn't have to talk about it any further.
"Now, with regard to you..." O'Neill leaned back in his chair and paused dramatically before finishing, "You get one, too. Landry's not too happy with me, and you're lucky it was Carter writing your performance review this time. That meant it didn't include words like 'insubordination' and 'treason', but does have things like 'heroic' and 'deserves a pile of commendations.' Normally I'd still let you stew for a while, but I can't afford that luxury right now. On the other hand, I do get to watch a bunch of Pentagon desk jockeys sputter, so there's at least a little consolation. You'll also both be doing Air War College by correspondence. Unusual, but since the entire point of all this is to keep you where you are, I'm not about to pull you to take some classes."
O'Neill crossed his arms as he waited for a reaction. John's eyes were wide as he stammered out, "Sir. I, I don't know what to say."
"Whatever. Just don't do anything to make me think I've misplaced my faith, or you're going to regret it. Now scram. I'll see you in the morning."
John stood up, his spine straight. "Yes, sir, Thank you, sir. You won't regret this." O'Neill rolled his eyes and waved him towards the door. John walked out and carefully closed the door behind him, then managed to walk down the corridor and around a bend before shouting, "Yes!" and breaking into a run to find Evan.
Evan shook his head as he headed to the quartermaster's office. He honestly didn't see what was so improbable about a plant with a taste for dirty socks and underwear, and yet apparently it was too much to ask for the SGC to cover some replacements. He'd have to make sure he talked with Siler and Harriman before he left, because he'd be damned if he got stuck wearing plain cotton briefs the next time some spear-wielding barbarians thought it'd be funny to strip his team.
"Ah, Major Lorne, just the man I wanted to see." Evan turned around and saw General Landry leaning out of his office.
"Afternoon, sir," he said with a polite nod. He hoped Landry hadn't decided to take the opportunity to complain about something, because after John had nearly given him a heart attack, the last thing Evan felt like doing was deal with a pissy general.
"So, heard the good news yet?"
"General O'Neill was just briefing us. It sounds like life will be interesting. Well, more so than normal."
"Isn't that the truth. Come in for a minute." Evan stepped into the office and Landry waved him into a chair. "I was wondering how things were going on Atlantis. Colonel Carter settling in well?"
"As well as could be expected, sir," Evan said slowly, wondering where the general was going. "There've been a few rough spots here and there, but it's just been a matter of getting adjusted on both sides."
"Even for Colonel Sheppard? I can't imagine he's happy having closer supervision from a senior officer."
Ah. It was going to be one of those conversations, then. "He wasn't pleased at first, but he's gotten used to it, I think. He took Doctor Weir's loss pretty hard, especially after it was confirmed she was dead. Twice. But over all, the transition went smooth."
"Good, good." Landry was smiling and his tone was friendly, but Evan knew better than to be fooled. He was up to something. "I'll have to admit, I was a bit worried he'd have trouble adjusting and start being even more of a loose cannon than before."
"No, sir, he's not acting any different then he did with Doctor Weir." That wasn't quite true, but Evan wasn't going to discuss the crimp the changeover had put in their sex life with Landry any time soon. "I think he respects Colonel Carter's field experience and appreciates the fact that he's still in charge of military operations."
"I was hoping that'd be the case," Landry said, seeming satisfied with that answer. "And you haven't spotted any unusual activity on the part of him or his team, any blatant violations of regulations?"
"Not unless you count the still or what botany's growing in greenhouse two, sir, but the colonel doesn't have anything to do with that." Evan sat up a little straighter and put on his best pensive look. "Sir, I have to say again, I'm not entirely comfortable with the assignment you gave me. It doesn't feel right to be watching a superior, and for that matter a friend, like I'm some sort political officer."
"And I wouldn't trust you if you did, son," Landry replied with a nod and a broad smile. "But it's for his own good. His heart in the right place and God knows he's one of the bravest men I know, but left to his own devices the man's a menace to himself and everyone around him. With disclosure coming, we can't afford to have him pulling any stunts right now."
"I understand, sir, and if he ever does pose a threat to the city, I'll notify Colonel Carter or you immediately." Evan chose his words carefully, not wanting to lie outright. He really would notify them if John was ever a genuine danger, but he suspected their definitions of the word were different. His, for example, didn't include the words 'conspiracy' or 'rebellion.'
"That's all that I ask, Major." Landry checked his watch, then said, "I've got a briefing with SG-6, and I'm sure you've got work to do. It was good talking with you. Oh, and if I don't catch you before you gate out again, congratulations."
"Ah, thank you, sir." Evan shrugged and sighed as he walked down the corridor. Landry was a good leader, and usually he was as fair and friendly as any other general officer, but sometimes he had a temper, and when he decided to hold a grudge it was a truly amazing thing to watch. John's stunt seven months prior had made Landry completely furious - Evan still remember the way the general's face had been almost purple when he'd returned from a mission, and the several hours spent in the brig before Landry cooled down enough for Dr. Jackson to convince him that Evan couldn't have been involved - and the entire disobeying orders thing had stuck with him. Evan kept hoping the general would let it go, especially after John had saved the city and possibly the world again, but by all appearances it wasn't being dropped anytime soon. At least being Landry's personal informant made it easier to insure any news sent back matched the creatively edited official reports.
Evan turned around to see John running up with a broad smile. Apparently, his chat with a general had gone better than Evan's. "Sir?"
"Come on, we're leaving early. You and I are going to find the best restaurant in town and celebrate."
Evan raised an eyebrow. Apparently, it had gone much better. "More good news, I take it?"
"Promotions. Both of us." John started to drag him towards the elevator, and after a moment of surprise Evan started to hurry along with him.
"Really? That's great!" After a second's thought, he snickered and added, "I guess that explains why Landry's on the warpath again."
John flashed him a grin. "Oh? Did he want another report from his favorite commissar?"
"Da, comrade. He's worried that once we go public, you're going to do something horribly embarrassing. I can't imagine why." Beyond their horrible dark secret, that was, and Evan had never loved General O'Neill as much as he did at that moment. Maybe Evan could send him some kind of present. Athosian wine, maybe. No, a painting, maybe one of the city or Doctor Jackson. Maybe Doctor Jackson in the city, he'd gotten plenty of pictures to work off the last time he'd visited. Or should he do one of Colonel Carter? He'd never quite figured that one out. Safer to do both.
They entered the elevator and John leaned against the back wall, frowned when nothing happened, then remembered to hit the button. "I never expected this in a million years. Well, for me, I mean, not for you. I expected you to get one the instant you made time in grade, hell, everyone loves you. You're calm, you're reliable, you-"
"Don't disobey orders or go on random suicide missions that give his friends heart attacks," Evan interrupted, before John could start saying something he'd regret later. The only thing that would be worse than him getting emotional in an extremely awkward, if cute, manner would be him doing in while they were covered by the SGC's all-seeing, all-hearing surveillance system. "I know what you mean, sir."
"Right, right," John said sheepishly. "But five years ago, no one would have thought I'd ever get promoted again, let alone twice."
"I knew you would," Evan said, quiet, sincere, and meaning every word of it.
John looked at him, and his smiled turned a little softer. "I... thanks. Now come on, I've got plans."
Plans sounded fun to Evan.
They spent the next day in the SGC handing a few routine matters that always needed to be done in person - mostly the usual arguments over supply expenditures and scheduling downtime - before they got shipped off to Washington. Even if disclosure was months away, preparations were already under way at the Pentagon, with numerous generals and other high-ranking officers being briefed on the program so they'd be ready for the larger changes that would follow. Evan was quickly reminded that one reason why he loved Atlantis so much was that people there didn't have the usual military obsession with PowerPoint. No such luck in the Pentagon. Thankfully, they were down to the last meeting before the weekend, and it was only supposed to last an hour. The room was full of officers from different services, mostly majors and colonels.
"Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and this is Lieutenant-Colonel Elect Evan Lorne. First things first, this material is classified, so if you don't have ARGENT CRAWDAD clearance, you need to leave the room." No one got up, which Evan thought a nice change from the last meeting, when two different briefings had been scheduled for the same time at the same place. "Great. I'm the commanding officer of the Atlantis Expedition's military component, and we're here to brief you on the current strategic situation in Pegasus. Major Lorne will start us an overview of our own forces."
Evan stepped up to the podium and started clicking through slides, starting with the theoretical expedition organization chart, as opposed to the absurd crisscrossed real one. "Currently, the expedition is comprised of a little over five hundred permanent members, about half of whom are civilians. Our main military force consists of two companies of marines for base defense, plus seventy-eight other military personnel who fill out our off-world teams and support positions."
One of Army major near the front raised her hand. "I notice you have quite an odd mix there. Multiple services, even multiple countries. Is that causing any trouble?"
"You're correct, we've got a wide array of services represented. It's probably the most mixed interservice group in recent memory - we've even got a Coast Guard weatherman. There's sixteen different countries that have military personnel stationed in the city, thankfully primarily NATO so they're used to working together. There's a few oddballs, including a Mountie." That raised quite a few eyebrows around the room, and Evan smiled. "Don't ask, it's really not worth going into. Anyways, since most of them come to us piecemeal, they're simply slotted into the units just like anyone else. Overall there have been relatively few problems."
Relatively few meaning 'besides that time Sergeants Schwartz and Prodoun made out in public just to piss certain outsiders off', but he wouldn't say that in public. It would probably get back to the women somehow, and they could both beat him up. Besides, that definitely fell under the category of need to know information. "You'll note that we also have two Pegasus-born specialists on staff, technically listed as civilian contractors. In practice, both Teyla Emmagan and Specialist Ronon Dex are highly experienced combat personnel and are especially skilled at hand-to-hand fighting and field operations."
This time a full-bird Air Force colonel spoke up. "Aliens? And they're on the first contact team?"
John's expression went wooden for a moment, before a cheerful but entirely fake smile appeared on his face. "Their local knowledge is invaluable when dealing with the other native populations, as are all their other skills. Teyla and Ronon have been essential in off-world missions and have been instrumental in protecting the city and Earth."
"Still, bit of an odd choice, Colonel. While I'm sure they're helpful, isn't it unwise to put people we don't know that well into such important positions?" Evan could tell from the flex of John's jaw that he was starting to get annoyed at the nameless officer who was questioning him. Evan didn't blame him, either, especially since the tone the question had been delivered in seemed to be aimed squarely at questioning John's competence. Trying to defuse the situation, Evan smoothly inserts himself back into the conversation.
"Actually, sir, having an alien on the lead first-contact team is a practice that goes back to the first days of the SGC, and I doubt anyone could deny Teal'c's contributions to planetary security. There's several other examples, such as Jonas Quinn and a refugee name Nyan on Doctor Jackson's staff." Evan didn't mention Mal Doran, because for all her charm and helpfulness, she didn't exactly make a good example in favor of alien team members. "In any case, if you have questions about that particular policy, I would suggest you take it up with General O'Neill, as he was instrumental in creating it."
There were a few chuckles around the room, no doubt from people who had dealt with O'Neill before. Colonel Grumpy, as Evan decided to call him, didn't say anything in reply. Evan took that as an indication to go on. "In addition to those combat forces, the vast majority of our civilian population has fairly extensive self-defense training, thanks largely to to Emmagan, Dex, and several of our marines. While we obviously don't leave them unprotected at any time, this does let us concentrate more manpower carrying out operations. In addition, virtually all civilian members of the off-world teams have more extensive combat training, including the basic field survival and small unit warfare. In emergencies either in the field or in the city, they've proven to be extremely helpful as auxiliaries."
That drew a snort from Colonel Grumpy. "You can't be seriously using them on the front lines, can you? Putting a gun in a scientist's hand and teaching him a few neat tricks doesn't make him a soldier."
"No, sir, and we have no desire to make our civilian comrades soldiers," Evan replied. He was proud of himself for keeping his voice level. "However, they can handle themselves well, and have repeatedly demonstrated that they can be trusted to watch our backs and get us out of harms way if they need to. Beyond that, their technical knowledge is invaluable."
"Sure, sure, there's the science missions and all that, but surely the military has enough trained scientists that we don't need to rely on civilian contractors for initial exploration." Grumpy clearly doesn't know when to quit, and now the entire room seems focused on him. "You're just never going to get the same level of dedication out of someone who doesn't have a military background. I can see why you might have had to make do, but-"
Evan can tell the exact moment when something inside John breaks by the way his lips start to curl into the slightest smile. He doesn't let Grumpy finish the sentence, just interrupts to say, "Colonel, when was the last time you were out in the field?"
Colonel Grumpy looked annoyed at not being allowed to finish his statement, perhaps a bit confused at being confronted like that. "Well, it's been a few years, but I don't see what-"
"Okay, fair enough, that's normal at your rank," John said easily. "But when you were, what kind of unit was it?"
"I was running logistics flights in and out of Afghanistan," Grumpy said. "I hope you're not trying to imply that-"
John nodded sharply and cut him off again. "Important work, but I get why you might not understand the kind of dynamics involved with what's essentially a small special-forces unit that has to rely only on itself most of the time. The civilians on the teams, the permanent ones, they're every bit as part of the teams as the military members. They know exactly what they're getting into and the risks they're taking every time they go out, and while they still need protecting, that doesn't make them any less valuable or strong, if anything it's the other way around."
Colonel Grumpy snorted. "Oh, please, there's a difference between going out expecting peaceful exploration and knowing its a combat mission."
Evan was impressed by John's self-restraint, because he only growled just a little. His voice vibrating with barely-contained anger as he bit out, "No, it's not just a matter of normal missions going wrong, because they'll demand to go out on search and rescue knowing exactly how dangerous it is, because that's what teammates do for each other. Civilians have literally walked through fire for their comrades and I've lost too many of them when they've done it, so I would very much appreciate it if you didn't denigrate their bravery or their dedication. Sir."
There was something dangerous in the cold stare John was directing at the other man at that point, something dark that Evan had only rarely seen, and the colonel seemed to wilt and shrink into his seat. Thankfully he shut up, and Evan let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. A glance around the room revealed a few skeptical faces, but considerably more people looked thoughtful. After a minute, Evan clears his throat and goes on with the presentation, clicking the presentation on to a slide of jumper picture.
"Our aerospace forces consist of two dozen puddle jumpers, piloted by expedition members with the ATA gene - we only have a few professionally trained pilots, but so far that hasn't been a major issue. While technically a transport craft, the jumper is still a superior fighter to just about anything we face, and can even pose a threat to small capital ships. At present the jumpers can't be replaced, but engineering division thinks they may have found a factory, so that might change. We also have intermittent support from BC-304 cruisers passing through, and we'll cover those in more detail later."
Click, diagram of the city, and he was starting to get back into his rhythm. "Atlantis itself is defended by an energy shield, three drone weapon bays tied to a control chair, and a network of point-defense railguns. We avoid using those at all costs, though, preferring to keep our location a secret."
"Excuse me, sir," someone near the back interrupted, holding up his hand. Evan tried not to wince. At this rate, the meeting wouldn't get over anytime close to on schedule, and somehow he doubted there would be anything like a flame-breathing squid to interrupt.
"I'm sorry, I must have missed a briefing somewhere along the line. What's Atlantis exactly? Some sort of ship or space station?"
John shot Evan a dismayed look and replied, “No, it's the fabled lost city of the Ancients. Although you're close, since it can fly." Evan can almost hear the word 'moron' tacked onto the sentence.
"I think this is going to take a little longer than we thought, sir," Evan murmured, while wondering who he needed to track down and shoot for this.
It ended up taking three long, agonizing hours for them to educate their charges on the wonders of gate travel, killer robots, nuclear fascist Amish, and space vampires. Fortunately for everyone involved no one had deliberately antagonized John again, either sensing it was a bad idea, not being assholes, or just wanting to get out of there as badly as they did. Once the briefing broke up, John and Evan quickly made their way to the parking lot and their government car. They had planned to hit a few museums, but clearly that idea was shot.
"Want to find a restaurant, or just room service?" Evan asked as they pulled onto the freeway. Long commutes were something he was definitely glad he didn't have deal with anymore, because even the longest jumper rides couldn't compare to sitting in the middle of traffic. Not even long jumper rides with hyper botanists or McKay.
"Room service," John replied, which suited Evan just fine. One benefit of this entire trip was they could actually share a room thanks to the USAF's beancounters. With a few precautions and a smuggled Ancient jamming device, they could actually spend the nights together in the same bed. They were well on their way back to the hotel when John's phone rang. They both groaned, and while John answered it Evan hoped that whatever emergency had come up was one that would at least get them away from their current hell.
"Sheppard." There was a pause, then a hesitant, "Uh. Hi. What's up?" As he listened, John desperately looked over at Evan. "Actually, ma'am, my XO and I were planning of seeing some sights, and it wouldn't be fair for me to leave him by himself. Maybe tomorrow would be-" He stopped, winced, and muttered, "Yes, ma'am," before closing his phone
"What's up?" Evan asked.
John looked over at him and took a deep breath. "Change in plans. We're having dinner at my mom's house tonight."