Disclaimer: Not mine. You know the drill.
Author's Notes: Thank you to sarka for all the encouragement. And last01standing, this is your real Xmas present. I just didn't have it done by the deadline, so you get bookends!
Summary: New Stargate soldiers get both the official and unofficial Atlantis briefing.
Major Lorne's first briefing on the Atlantis outpost hadn't been brief, but it had been to the point.
The mission parameters (which were likely to be ignored, depending on the commanding officer), the complement (which could change fast according to the competence of said commanding officer), the enemy (space vampires? Bizarre enough to require a creative commanding officer), armament and defenses (the briefing whisked along after dropping the bomb that the entire base was invisible--wow, what were the power requirements?). Then last, but it seemed least, the specs on that all-important commanding officer: Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, United States Air Force. The end.
No listing of the colonel's achievements. No medals, no praise. Not even those homilies of past service intended to instill an artificial sense of pride and temporary respect to carry the men until a commander could earn it himself.
Major Lorne glanced around and met the eyes of other officers doing the same. The major giving the briefing twitched papers, ignoring their discomfort.
Lorne's first thought was black ops. Colonel Sheppard had been involved something scary the military didn't want to admit to.
But a search of Sheppard's service record turned up not even a hint. None of the usual commendations that outstripped the evidence. Sure, the colonel had spent some time in Afghanistan, the black hole of black ops--but black ops in Antarctica? In the flying motor pool?
Lorne did the obvious next move: ask Sheppard's buddies.
Of course, most Air Force bases had a high turnover of people going TDI. Anyone could slip through cracks. But not the SGC. People stayed till they retired, and got their friends to join if they could.
No one knew Sheppard. No one had done any missions or flown with him. He'd come straight from Antarctica and gone through the gate to Atlantis.
Lorne had to resort to base gossip. Which got interesting.
Sheppard was widely believed to have fragged Colonel Sumner. They hadn't gotten on, went on a mission together, and Sumner wound up dead. And Sheppard got a promotion for it?
Not a chance.
It turned out Weir had pushed through Sheppard's promotion. The general consensus was that it was unearned, a political maneuver on Weir's part.
The next rumor came from a good source, a former Atlantis scientist, Kavanagh, who claimed Sheppard and Weir were sleeping together. The soldiers in the lounge vehemently denied that—defending Weir, not Sheppard.
And that's when Lorne noticed.
Sheppard. He was never the colonel, or Colonel Sheppard, or John. He was always just the vaguely disrespectful "Sheppard."
The habit became even more obvious on the Daedalus. Colonel Caldwell never failed to use Sheppard's rank, but every time he did so, his voice had a combination of humor and sarcasm that made his bridge crew smile.
Every complaint about Atlantis somehow turned towards Sheppard. Atlantis wanted an entire case of Starbuck's coffee? Of course Sheppard couldn't sign off on something important--like zat guns. The scientists had a crate leaking slime and labeled "dangerous"? Of course Sheppard's pampered scientists ran the show. And on and on.
Caldwell's bitterness was easily explained—the base command was supposed to have been his—but no one at any level put a stop to it, or stuck up for Sheppard.
Er. Colonel Sheppard. Lorne was chagrined to discover he was doing it, too.
After a month cooped up in curiosity and confusion, anxious about their new assignment (if they couldn't trust Sheppard, they were screwed), the Daedalus finally orbited Atlantis. The new recruits were beamed down to the gate room floor, met by a skeleton crew on night duty. Sheppard was on hand to greet them. They found themselves invited to...
The men stared at their new commander like he had tentacles growing out of his head.
Lorne stared as well. The man who had (reputedly) fragged the respected hard-ass Colonel Sumner, who was (reportedly) sleeping with the leader of the expedition, who was (clearly) friends with the most hated man in the SGC, and (obviously) hadn't a friend in all Stargate Command, stood with his hip cocked and a practiced laid-back air, thumbs hooked in his belt loops. He seemed the kind of guy who would've been a geek if he hadn't been good at sports in high school.
At ease, soldiers, he told them.
Lorne didn't believe he was laid-back for a minute. But he wasn't sure if Sheppard was the type to come down hard on petty regulations after getting you off-guard, or the sort to stick it to the higher ups when he disagreed with orders. Though the latter type didn't make it past captain.
Their new colonel smiled. The men saluted, but hung back, nervous. That smile didn't reach Sheppard's eyes.
Two years later, Sheppard had a new batch of recruits who stared at him in the exact same way. He'd added disobeying orders and attacking the Alterans to his rogue's gallery of dubious accomplishments.
Yet Colonel Sheppard was only too happy to avoid the onerous administrative task of an Atlantis mission briefing. In his opinion, the men could be briefed when it came time for their gate team assignments. He'd always hated the pointless and long briefings himself.
He still held that damned party.
Lorne decided that Colonel Sheppard was politically tone deaf.
Late in the party, once the men had started glancing at the door, Lorne nudged a soldier to pass the word: there'd be an unofficial mission briefing in the major's quarters. Bring the beer if you wanted it.
As word went around, he saw them perk up. As they should. Unofficial briefings at the SGC were notorious. They gave you everything you needed to know but no one would say. Such as Sergeant Siler's unintentionally funny guide to the skills Stargate engineers required. Starting with the ability to walk into fire. Metaphorically? "No, sir. The gate room is often on fire."
Once Lorne had his room crowded with about a dozen more people than it was ever intended to fit, he began:
"You're about to fall in love with your commanding officer."
Low male laughter shuddered the room.
"No, I mean it. You're all gonna have hard-ons for Colonel Sheppard any day now." Lorne saw the folded arms and doubtful smiles, but forged on. "He's gonna pat your back, remember your birthday—he'll remember your mom's birthday. You'll like him. Because he wants you to like him. Yeah, you learn in command school not to care if your men like you, I know, but he's been promoted through field commissions.
"After you've fallen in love with him, the colonel's gonna break your heart."
He had their attention now. "You're all going to do end runs around me, go direct to Colonel Sheppard—because he's your friend, your buddy. You're gonna expect him to solve all your personal problems. You have an issue with the commissary, oh sure, he cares. He'll get you donuts from Krispy Kreme.
"And he does. To a certain extent. He'll promise. And a week will go by, and another ... and you'll find out where you really stand in his priorities."
"Then you're going to come to me and complain. You might even complain to Caldwell—hell, he'll listen." Lorne glared at them. Anyone with a trace of sense knew how bad that would be. They'd just come from the Daedalus. "So let me head you off, before you do real damage: come to me. I'm your mommy. I solve your problems."
"What'll happen next, if you stick around, is that you're gonna fall back in love with him." The men laughed, but quieter this time. He had them thinking at least. "He'll go back through the gate alone when everyone tells him not to and save your buddy's ass—or your ass. You will owe him your lives. Ten times over." Lorne pressed his lips together, swallowed. "I do. Colonel Sheppard leads from the front, and someday he'll die out there.
"Your real job is to keep him alive."
Lorne picked up his beer, and watched his words sink in. The turn of one soldier's shoulder away from him, doubting. Another one staring into nothing, tapping his beer bottle, adding this up with what he'd heard about Sheppard.
The quiet of the group encouraged Lorne. They'd at least heard him out. He waved his beer bottle at them. "Dismissed."