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Fanfiction: Changed Circumstances - Part I

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Series: Aftershocks in Atlantis
Prequel to Episode: S1 Rising
Rating: PG-13
Author's Note: Team friendship with specifically John & Rodney, John & Ford, John & Elizabeth, Teyla & Elizabeth. Mention of John/Teyla UST, Elizabeth/Simon, Teyla & Kanaan friendship.  Mention of mercy killing/canon character death.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Written for entertainment purposes only.

Changed Circumstances

The hangar with the puddle jumpers was cavernous and shadowy in the semi-dark. John Sheppard took a step inside and thought hard at the mental touch of the Ancient technology hovering on the edge of his consciousness asking him if he wanted the lights on; he wanted to keep the lights off. A subtle flicker over the surface of his mind from the technology told him his command would be obeyed. It was weird and he wasn't sure he'd ever get used to it.

John took a moment to stare up at the puddle jumpers. They weren't the most beautiful of flying machines: too oblong, too squat, too beige. They were ugly ducklings but God could they fly like a…and OK, his simile – or did he mean metaphor – was bad because swans didn't fly – did they?

God, he was tired.

Exhausted.

It had been a long day.

The understatement of that thought had John laughing; a thin high laugh that bordered on hysterical. He wiped a hand over his face and got his breathing back under control. He walked over to the puddle jumper they'd used on the rescue mission, skated a hand over her flank and went inside once the ramp lowered. He made a mental plea to stay powered down; he only wanted a place to think. The darkness suited him and eased the headache thumping behind his eyes.

It had been too long a day.

Almost eighteen hours; an hour travelling into the SGC, three hours spent at the SGC, twenty minutes on Atlantis before they discovered the power issue, five hours on Athos which had the shortest daylight hours ever that he had seen outside of Alaska and the Antarctic, another four hours of preparing for a rescue he wasn't sure he'd be able to pull off, an hour and twenty-six minutes on the actual mission (killing his CO had happened somewhere around the forty-eight minute mark), and three hours since their return (one hour since Doctor Weir had surprised him with the impromptu celebration party).

The math of it floated in John's head; equations written out on a whiteboard in his mind, scrubbed out and written over again with one thing glaring in big red printed bold letters.

He'd killed his CO.

John hadn't been given the chance to know Marshall Sumner. He'd spent just over an hour total in the other man's company, most of that on Athos while they drank tea and made nice with Teyla and her people. Most of his impression of Sumner was coloured by the older man's unhidden dislike of John in the small amount of interaction they'd had before they'd gated to Athos. John's record of disobeying orders hadn't endeared him to Sumner who was – had been – a by the book Marine as far as John could tell.

Maybe there had been more flexibility in Sumner than John had witnessed. The Marine had handled the mission to a different planet a hell of a lot more smoothly than John, and Sumner had actually stepped back and let John take the lead with Teyla when it appeared she responded better to his clumsy attempts at charm than Sumner's no-nonsense bluntness. At one point, John could vaguely remember thinking that Sumner looked amused at John's clumsy attempts at charm. And according to Teyla when she'd spoken to John and Weir in the infirmary after the rescue, Sumner had stepped up in the Wraith cell. Sumner had offered himself as a hostage, looked after his men, and had even attempted to protect Teyla and her people.

He couldn't get the look on Sumner's aged face out of his head; the shock and pain and horror of having his life drained out of him. One small look, one brief connection between them, had been enough for John to know Sumner wanted John to take the kill shot but damn it…

Twenty-eight.

He wondered if that was a large or small number of people to have personally killed when in active service. He'd shot most of them; knifed three in an escape from South America because a machete had been the only weapon he'd had; beaten one guy to death with a rock to steal his helicopter in a small African country. Secret missions with secret scars that he couldn't talk about but in the end they all added up to the number twenty-eight.

Sumner made twenty-nine. Of course technically John should add the people in the helicopters and planes he had shot down, the associated fatalities with the ground targets he had wiped out, but he didn't always know the exact number of kills only the confirmed number of hits. His kill number was really a lot higher than twenty-eight – twenty-nine.

Thirty. If he counted the Wraith female. Thirty-two if he counted her two goons. Or had he actually killed them? Maybe they had regenerated like the female's hand had regenerated. According to Carson Beckett there was every chance that he hadn't killed them. Maybe he should start a new count for the Wraith because they weren't human.

So, twenty-nine people.

He hunched down in the seat and closed his eyes.

He'd only just remembered Sumner's tags; he'd had to go back for them just as he and Ford cleared the room. He could feel the weight of them in his pocket. Thank God for Aidan Ford, John thought tiredly. If the young Lieutenant hadn't searched for him…he had a feeling he would have been the Wraith's dessert and it was something he would rather not contemplate. He realised he was rubbing at his chest and stopped abruptly.

He had things to do, John mused tiredly. He'd talked with Ford and Bates, who was the most senior NCO, just enough before the party to understand that the patrols were already organised; the perimeters already in place. Sumner's preparations and contingency plans had been detailed and Ford and Bates had been fully briefed.

Unlike John.

It wasn't his fault. The Pentagon and Joint Chiefs had put him on leave while they'd debated his deployment. His ability to manipulate the Ancient technology had almost meant that he'd been considered too valuable to send to Atlantis – something he couldn't get his head around. But they'd decided to include him in the expedition and his recall had been done swiftly but at the last minute. He'd had no time to meet with Sumner or Weir properly before they'd stepped through the Stargate, just an awkward five minutes in General O'Neill's office where John had realised immediately that Sumner hated him and that he had landed smack bang in the middle of a power struggle between the expedition leader who wanted John along and her military CO who didn't. The wasted weeks grated on him. He barely knew the basics about the expedition; hardly knew anyone else on the team.

He was going to have to catch up and fast. John let the resentment that he was so wholly underprepared roll over him again before he locked it up; he wasn't going to have time to be that indulgent going forward.

Marines weren't typically predisposed to accept an Air Force pilot as a commanding officer. Maybe those who were SGC veterans would be OK – they had ultimately reported to O'Neill and his predecessor. But for those in the same boat as himself – still trying to get their heads around aliens, wormhole travel and being stranded in another galaxy in the lost city of Atlantis – the loss of their Marine CO might be the straw that broke the camel's back. He'd have to keep a careful watch, balance following Sumner's plans with making his own decisions. But hell – he hadn't commanded an entire unit before. There was supposed to be training and promotions and…he shut off the building panic sharply.

It was going to be a nightmare.

God, he wished Sumner wasn't dead. John didn't want the responsibility; he didn't want the command. His brief fantasy once Rodney McKay had shown him the puddle jumpers and before he'd left for the rescue had been that he'd return with Sumner, and maybe get his own small group of people who had the ATA gene to build a team of viable pilots. He'd seen flight duty to other planets in his future; aerial surveys; aerial infiltrations and extractions. The stuff he knew inside out. And in between he'd be helping the science team out. Maybe even indulging his love of math; giving into his inner geek…

John sighed heavily. That fantasy was dead in the water before it had ever had a chance to fly. He was the CO. He was going to have start acting like it.

He stiffened as he recognised sounds outside the jumper; the presence of someone else. Whoever it was they weren't being purposefully stealthy and the tension he'd felt at the noise eased. He turned in the chair to glance out of the open ramp and into the hangar – and hangar sounded so uncool – jumper bay was better.

McKay shuffled into view; his uniform jacket done up tightly as though he was cold, his brown hair sticking up like he was a mad professor, and his entire body language declaring him tired beyond all reckoning.

'Hey, you in the jumper!' McKay snapped out. 'What do you think…'

'It's me, McKay.' John interrupted sharply before he got a lecture; he wasn't in the mood.

'Oh.' McKay climbed up the ramp and into the back compartment. 'People were looking for you.'

John felt a twinge of guilt. He had left the party early. He'd gone because it was expected and he'd needed to make an appearance but he hadn't been in the mood to party at all. It felt crass and disrespectful to those they'd lost even if the Athosians had seemed very on board with the idea and they had been the ones to lose the most; their people, their planet. But John had never been one to enjoy the whole 'let's celebrate we're alive' thing that others did, (the way Mitch and Dex had). He'd barely been able to swallow a mouthful of the champagne Weir had given him – and seriously, she was the one person who he had actually told the whole truth about Sumner's death to because she was effectively his boss, and she offered him champagne? He forced the anger back. Weir had probably thought it was a comforting gesture or something. She was a civilian and she didn't understand the horror and revulsion of having to kill someone in an act of mercy; in truth he didn't want her to understand.

McKay sat down with a muffled thwump into the passenger seat of the jumper, ignoring John's raised eyebrows. McKay really didn't have a clue about social cues. John could relate – genius equalled skipped grades equalled lack of social interaction plus defensive measures against bullying. John had skipped grades, probably not as many as McKay, and if it hadn't been for Patrick Sheppard's insistence on expensive private schools that taught socialising as a skill for a future life in business and politics, John probably would have been in the same boat as McKay. McKay, who evidently believed a man hiding in a darkened puddle jumper was code for come-in-and-make-yourself-at-home and not go-the-hell-away. John opened his mouth to point out the mistake to him.

'We should probably schedule this for maintenance and I should get my laptop at some point and go over the data because I'm thinking there were probably scans of the facility and who knows what we could learn, right?' McKay said before John could say a word. 'I have a feeling these babies take in a lot of data and…'

'Did you just call the puddle jumpers babies?' John asked, caught off-guard and amused despite his want to be alone.

McKay's chin came up challengingly. 'I may have off-handedly referred to them as…' he began before his hands gestured weakly at John, 'oh, like you haven't thought it.'

'Like I would admit it if I had.' John shot back.

'Which is as good as a confirmation.' McKay informed him with an absent-minded wave. 'I should get my laptop.' He said again but he didn't move and blinked tiredly at John.

'You should probably go to bed.' John corrected sympathetically but firmly. Because if McKay went to bed, he could go back to brooding.

'Who can sleep? Do you have any idea how many things we still have to do? I mean, yes, we've got the basics set up but the whole party thing took out a valuable hour of my time and set me back and I really need to make sure…'

'McKay.' John broke in before McKay could babble him to death.

'Hmmm?' McKay stared at him blankly.

John rubbed at his own eyes tiredly; he was going to have to escort the other man to bed. 'Do you have somewhere set-up for sleep?' Which was an excellent question because had anyone assigned him quarters? Did they have quarters yet? He had a vague recollection of Weir saying something in the debriefing from hell but he'd been preoccupied with the knowledge that he'd just killed his CO.

'Carson's saving me a bed in the infirmary.' McKay pointed at John. 'The Marines are bedded down in the big room off the other corridor along that way.'

'Yeah, maybe I'll stay here.' John winced. He hadn't meant to say that out loud. McKay's curiosity was written all over his face and he would bet the next question out of his mouth would ask John why. It was probably best to pre-empt. 'I don't think they need a new CO bedding down with them when they're probably trying to deal with…everything.'

And he wasn't certain that he wouldn't be having nightmares – of life-draining aliens, of the damn cold that had gripped him the instant he'd stepped into the wormhole, of killing his CO – and the Marines definitely didn't need to see or hear him if he did.

'Ah.' McKay's face creased into unease. His fingers tangled with the edge of his uniform jacket. 'I guess not?' He shook his head. 'I hadn't actually properly considered that you would be CO, I mean obviously, but not obviously but really I'm glad, well not glad because that would mean I was pleased about Colonel Sumner dying, which I'm not, I mean I didn't like him and I'm not going to pretend I did just because he's dead, but I am relieved that if we had to have a new CO that it's…'

'McKay.' John chided as he tried not to laugh, partly in horror, partly in genuine amusement.

'You.' McKay finished.

John felt unaccountably touched, far too much for a Major in the USAF who was supposed to be in charge of the military in an alien city in another galaxy. 'Thanks?' He managed when he trusted his voice wouldn't crack.

'Hmmm?' McKay seemed taken aback at the gratitude. 'Well, you know,' he said awkwardly, 'after today, I know if I ever get taken by the life sucking aliens you'll do everything you can to find me.' He joked nervously as though waiting for John to disagree and squirmed when John didn't because it wasn't a joke. 'And, ah, you know, so does everyone else. I mean, think that you'll find them if they get taken by life-sucking aliens not finding me per se.'

That was kind of scary.

'Why I'm here, right?' John tried to dismiss the idea of everybody counting on him to save them when he hadn't been able to save Sumner and there was a whole list of people in his past that he resolutely wasn't thinking about at all.

'Actually, no.' McKay frowned at him, his face pale and unhappy in the dim lighting. 'You said that before to Elizabeth when you showed off the puddle jumper and I didn't get why then either because you're here because you won the genetic lottery not to risk your life running off on rescue missions. Elizabeth wouldn't…she worried the entire time you were gone.'

John assimilated that briefly and wondered at his non-surprise; possibly because Weir had been reluctant to authorise the mission in the first place.

'Who told you that was why you were here?' McKay asked bluntly.

O'Neill. The answer popped into his head before John could even think about it. In hindsight though O'Neill had only said he thought the expedition might need someone like John which could have meant anything although his reminder that John couldn't save everyone maybe hit closer to home. None of which he felt like sharing with McKay.

'Does it matter?' John evaded instead.

'No,' McKay said, 'but…I hate to think you thought you were here just to…I don't know, perform insanely dangerous heroics? Even if they are kind of, uh, reassuring in the face of the aforementioned life-sucking aliens?'

'Can we stop mentioning the life-sucking aliens?' John requested sharply.

'After all,' McKay continued blithely as though John hadn't spoken, 'it's not like we have SG1 here to save the day.'

John had heard of the team in the brief time he'd spent in Antarctica before his transfer and his unexpected leave, and he was thankful that it wasn't something he needed to ask McKay to explain. SG1 was the premier team of the SGC; O'Neill before his promotion, Carter (Lieutenant Colonel and genius) with a brain as big as McKay's, Jackson the history guy and Teal'c the alien warrior guy. OK, so maybe there was a model he could use for the team Weir wanted him to put together. Maybe not an exact duplicate but enough to make it saleable to Weir.

He'd need a scientist. Hadn't O'Neill said something about scientists saving John's ass? And McKay had: he'd come up with the gate address and he'd shown John the puddle jumper – had helped him get it flying. His eyes narrowed on McKay sat across from him.

McKay shifted under his regard. 'What?'

'Doctor Weir's asked me to put together a team.'

'Ah,' McKay nodded quickly, 'that makes sense.'

'I need a scientist.' John said bluntly because if he waited for McKay to get a clue he would probably be sat in the puddle jumper for the rest of his life.

'Right,' McKay agreed with a tight smile, 'so I'll get you a list of people who aren't entirely stupid and…'

And really? McKay thought John was asking him to refer someone? But then maybe that wasn't a surprise either. John could remember painful moments before he'd grown into himself and found the running team in high school when he'd always ended up last on the team pick.

John sighed heavily and interrupted McKay who seemed to be going through his list of not entirely stupid scientists he thought appropriate for John's team. 'I'm asking you, McKay.'

McKay's look of shock made John wish he could take picture.

'But…' McKay waved a hand at himself, 'I mean, of course, you're asking me because obviously you want the smartest person but…but I'm, I may not exactly be, uh, what do you call it: mission fit? I have allergies and…'

'McKay,' John broke in again, 'I want someone I can work with and…we did OK today working together. You thought of the puddle jumpers when we saw the space gate and you helped me get this one flying.' He gestured at him. 'Yeah, we'd need to work on your fitness level and give you some self-defence training,' weapons training too, John's mind supplied helpfully, 'but I couldn't have done the rescue mission without the help you gave me so…'

'Huh.' McKay said, clearly stunned. 'Well, I, um…yes?'

'Great.' John said brightly. It wasn't the most ringing acceptance he'd ever had but he'd take it.

McKay gestured at him. 'We should probably OK it with Elizabeth though. I'm sure she probably planned on my remaining in the city at all times so...'

'Good point.' John agreed. He didn't want to get into the same power tussle she'd had going with Sumner.

McKay beamed at him. 'So, um, who else is on the team?'

'I haven't asked anybody else yet.' John admitted tiredly. Maybe he'd ask Teyla about an Athosian joining the team, or maybe Teyla herself. She could supply the Pegasus know-how in the same way Teal'c had supplied his expertise to SG1 and her spidey-sense about the Wraith could come in useful. It would mean no more flirting though; he knew from experience it was never a good idea to get romantically involved with a team-mate. He felt a moment's regret about that because he liked Teyla with her coffee-coloured complexion, strange long red hair and warm smile.

If McKay had looked stunned before he was rapidly moving into gobsmacked territory. 'Really?'

'Really.' John confirmed. And it felt good to offer something as simple as being the first chosen for a team to McKay. It made the overwhelming horribleness of the day a little brighter somehow.

McKay's mouth opened and closed; once then twice. John had rendered him speechless.

'OK,' John said loudly, swallowing the urge to break into more hysterical laughter which he didn't think McKay would appreciate, 'I think it's time all good scientists went to bed.' He stood up and gestured impatiently for McKay to get with the concept of leaving the puddle jumper.

McKay rose to his feet and slowly walked out ahead of John into the jumper bay. John followed him and patted the jumper fondly as she closed the ramp on his mental nudge.

'You're never going to get bored of doing that, are you?' McKay asked dryly.

'Nope.' John agreed easily. He saw McKay hesitate as he realised the jumper bay was mostly in the dark.

And that, John thought with righteous smugness, was why McKay should have stopped with the mentioning of life-sucking aliens.

'I'm going to check on the patrols,' John aimed for a casual tone, 'you're in the infirmary, right? I'll walk with you.'

McKay nodded, trying to hide his relief that he wouldn't be left alone. He started talking about his list of things to do and John let the endless rush of words roll over him as he escorted his brand new shiny team member down to the infirmary doors. McKay didn't seem to need him to do anything other than hum an agreement occasionally which suited John fine. They parted at the doors and John continued on.

He nodded absently at some of the Athosians camped out the corridors and did what he'd said he was going to: check on the patrols. The Marines assigned reported no issues and on his way back to the jumper bay he ran into a British scientist in a stairwell who informed him that his gear had been placed in a small room off the main control area which had been designated as the military command office.

John found it easily; it was hardly bigger than a closet but it was close to the Stargate. He paused in the doorway. He mentally asked for lights and a dim glow illuminated the room. There was no window and barely any furniture bar a desk and a chair. John identified his own backpack and duffle bag off resting against the left wall. He took in the two laptop bags on the desk and assumed they'd been designated for his use. His and Sumner's he realised belatedly taking in the second duffle and backpack on the right wall.

He slowly made his way over. The duffle was familiar issue; and John's hand clenched on it tightly. He could go through it the next day; he should go through it the next day, John mused wearily. He should get his sleeping bag out and get some rest.

John sat down on the chair and opened Sumner's duffle bag first. He separated out the clothing and personal items, noted what could be added back to stores because light years from Earth they couldn't afford sentimentality; what would be deemed Sumner's property he placed to one side. He found a bottle of aged scotch and placed it in the desk drawer.

He moved onto the backpack. In the second zipped compartment he found a letter addressed to himself with the shape of a USB flash drive buried in the envelope. His fingers skated over the neat print of his name; Major Sheppard. Suddenly he desperately wanted a hit of the scotch. His stomach churned remembering the earlier taste of champagne and he changed his mind. He took a deep breath and opened the letter.

Major,

If you're reading this then our mission has gone completely FUBAR from the word go as I intend writing a different version as soon as I can sit down with you to brief you on all this personally.

I'm going to guess that we haven't gotten to know each other and that you think I'm a tight ass because I'm intending to make it clear when we meet that I won't put up with you deciding when you should follow a chain of command and when you shouldn't.

I will admit that your record is impressive. You're smart, capable and the type that thinks best on your feet. You're the type of officer that is imminently suited for the Stargate programme. You may think you're not ready for a command, and thanks to the Air Force, you're definitely unprepared for the expedition, but I don't think you need me to tell you that you can't let that show to a bunch of Marines potentially stranded in another galaxy and under fire.

The enclosed data storage device has everything you need to know to take command. It has the personnel files of your unit; my personal notes on assignments and future assignments, skills development, training needs, etc. It also has the military protocol that I had envisaged implementing; plans on how best we could support the expedition and Doctor Weir.

The men and women I've selected will do a good job for you; trust them. For what it's worth, I trust you with them.

Good luck,

Marshall Sumner

John's fingers crumpled the slip of paper before he regained enough control to smooth it out and tuck it back in the envelope. He felt like maybe he'd missed out on never being able to get to know Sumner properly. Buried in the letter was the possibility that they would have gotten over their initial impressions and worked together well. His vision was blurry and he blinked until he could focus again. He picked up the USB drive and reached for one of the laptop bags. Sumner had entrusted John with his Marines; it was time to honour that trust and earn it.

o-O-o

The city felt strange to Teyla as she made her way around the corridors checking on her people. It felt more alien than any other world she had travelled to in her role as Athosian leader and trade liaison.

The shape and feel of the building was sharp and angular; it cast odd shadows and shapes even where artificial lights relieved the dark. The air was preternaturally still; the lack of natural scents – the thick dank of the earth and the fresh green of leaves and grass – was jarring. The flooring was smooth and hard beneath her feet rather than the uneven ground of Athos or the warm weave of her tent rug. There was so much that was unfamiliar.

They had potentially lost Athos. The Wraith had come and they had lost families and friends and retreated to another world. The scale of loss was immeasurable. It hadn't hit Teyla yet. Perhaps when they returned…if they returned…

It was not their way to dwell on grief. Cullings were rare but happened and they could not afford long periods of mourning. They preferred to celebrate life as they had done with Doctor Weir's party earlier. But there were those who grieved and Teyla gave what comfort she could. Marta sat with her brother; they had lost a sister. In another corner, a child was crying for its absent mother. Jayga huddled with her husband, Pau, who had been rescued along with Teyla from the Wraith.

Rescued.

Such a thing was unheard of. Those who were taken never returned. Never. Yet in the cell, the one who had called himself Colonel Sumner had claimed that if there was a way, his people would come. Teyla had not believed him but they had.

She had not liked Sumner. He had been dismissive of everything that he had seen on Athos; dismissive of everyone he had met. As she had said to Major Sheppard, Sumner had looked through her. But he had surprised her in the cell; putting himself forward to be and he had walked away with strength and courage. She would not have wished him dead and certainly she would not have wished for him to die at the hands of the Wraith. Yet she could not deny that she was relieved that she would deal with Major Sheppard.

Major Sheppard had been more upset at the loss of his military commander than she had thought he would be, given the interaction between them she had witnessed during their morning tea had led her to believe the two men did not like each other much. The Major had not shared the details with her but she had overheard his veiled comment to Doctor Weir, she guessed he'd confided in his own people, and if he had witnessed the feeding…

She shuddered.

She could not imagine such a horror.

It had felt natural to offer him the Athosian traditional greeting of friendship as a way of comforting him. But she had a duty to attend to her people and hadn't been able to remain beside him. Teyla had looked for him later but he had disappeared and she had been unable to find him. Perhaps it was for the best. Her time should be spent with her own people, Teyla mused unhappily.

She rounded the corner and found her old childhood friend Kanaan talking with Alen. Kanaan shared her ability to sense the Wraith and it had united them as children. He was a good man, a skilled warrior, but he was content for others to lead. His passivity frustrated Teyla hugely, especially as he took such pride in her achievements as a leader of their people, but he only laughed when she berated him for not stepping forward more. As she watched him speak words of comfort and encouragement to Alen she was reminded again of their old argument.

Kanaan looked over at her as though he had heard her thoughts and smiled. He excused himself from Alen and greeted her, moving into the stance with a grace that had eluded the Major at the party.

'Charin was looking for you.' Kanaan said. 'I will take you to her.' He began leading her away down a corridor and she fell into step beside him. His hand brushed hers gently. 'We have not spoken since your return. How are you?'

'I am…' Teyla sighed; she had always been able to speak the truth with Kanaan; had never had to pretend that she was strong just because she led them. 'I am many things.'

'As always.' Kanaan teased her gently.

Teyla smiled warmly, grateful for the familiarity of their friendship amongst everything else that was strange. 'I miss Athos.'

'It is our home.' Kanaan agreed. 'This is not.'

'Perhaps in time.' Teyla suggested hesitantly. But something told her it was a faint hope. The Athosians were proud and tradition was important to them; a way to continue living despite the Wraith. They were farmers and hunters; a city had no call for either. And there was the issue of sharing.

'Some say this is the City of the Ancestors.' Kanaan murmured. 'If it is true then it is as beautiful as I imagined it but…'

Artificial. Cold. Unnatural.

Teyla filled in his unspoken thoughts. 'I believe it is the City of the Ancestors.' She was certain of it in a soul-deep way that Teyla never ignored. 'It responds to Major Sheppard as described in the old tales.' She had seen the lights brighten as he walked past them; the consoles flicker when he touched them. He had made the machine fly.

'I believe it is not the only thing to respond to Major Sheppard.' Kanann said lightly. He nudged her shoulder with his.

'I am merely being friendly to a new ally.' Teyla defended herself briskly.

'Yes,' Kanaan said dryly, 'I saw as much at morning tea.'

Teyla blushed a little because she couldn't deny she liked the Major. He was attractive with his unruly dark hair and changeable eyes. There was a genuine sincerity that lurked in his gaze; a desire to be friends. But there was a gracelessness to him, like a young buck learning to walk, that endeared him to her more. His smile meant to charm her had held a touch of shyness; he had stumbled in his words where a liar would have glided effortlessly.

'They could require an alliance union.' Kanaan said tongue-in-cheek.

Teyla rolled her eyes at him. 'We have not agreed to alliance unions since my Grandfather married Tiann of Liuonl.' She pointed out dryly. 'And besides, I do not think it is their way.' She nudged him back. 'I could offer you if you would like? Their leader is female.'

That had been a shock after the Major and Sumner; arriving in the city and being introduced to Doctor Weir as the expedition leader. She had assumed a patriarchal structure rather than the matriarchal one she had been presented with. It was not often she was surprised.

It was Kanaan's turn to roll his eyes. 'They are different to any other people I have met.' He said quietly. 'Their weapons…the tools they use…they are formidable, Teyla.'

'They are a match for the Wraith.' Teyla said with fierce satisfaction. It was so strange to meet people who were. Teyla suspected that the Wraith culled any society that reached a certain level of knowledge and skill so as to keep their herds from becoming a threat. These people though came from a place that did not know the Wraith and it gave her hope that the Wraith could be fought; that her people could perhaps be free of them one day; it gave her hope.

'Some blame them for the Wraith attacking us. The one that died explored the old city.' Kanaan informed her. 'But more are grateful that they have given us shelter and helped to save those who were taken.'

Teyla let out a sigh. The news was as she had suspected. 'Thank you, Kanaan.'

He stopped in front of an open doorway and motioned at it. 'Charin awaits you.'

They touched foreheads but Kanaan held onto her shoulders when Teyla went to pull back.

'I am pleased you are unharmed and returned to us, Teyla.' Kanaan said softly. 'When I heard you were taken…'

Teyla nodded in understanding. Kanaan had lost his parents in the culling that had taken her father, Torren. 'I thought very much the same.' She admitted, her voice dropping to a whisper.

Kanaan pulled away from her and smiled. 'Major Sheppard will always have my friendship for no other reason than he returned you to us.'

'Perhaps you should be offered to him if they request an alliance union.' Teyla teased.

'Perhaps.' Kanaan joked with a smile. 'He is very pretty.'

Teyla pushed him away with a brief laugh and Kanaan went. She felt anew the rush of delight in having such a friend. She entered the room and closed the doorway as she had been shown with a sweep of her arm.

Charin looked up from a small bed. Her wrinkled face brightened at the sight of Teyla. 'Child.' She opened her arms to Teyla and Teyla went, cuddling in carefully to Charin's embrace, too aware of Charin's elderly fragility to risk hurting her.

Teyla allowed the woman who had helped raise her comfort her for a long moment before she shifted to sit on the bed. 'Do you have everything you need?'

'Now that I have seen you for myself.' Charin said.

Teyla flushed. She should have sought Charin earlier after her return, but there had been so much to do and assimilate…

Charin brushed Teyla's hair back over her shoulder and tugged on a strand. 'You should remove your hair-piece; your scalp with thank you.'

The hair-piece was a tradition that Teyla had kept; the fierce red colour denoted her as a leader. The reasons why it was used had been lost but Teyla honoured the tradition nevertheless.

Teyla sighed. 'I believe I cannot. I may be called upon in the night.'

'You need rest, child.' Charin chided gently. She brushed a finger over Teyla's cheek. 'Our people need you rested. There will be much to do in the coming weeks.'

'What do you think of these people of Lantea, Charin?' Teyla asked.

Charin pursed her lips and her rheumy eyes grew thoughtful. 'I believe they mean well. Whether they were at fault for bringing the Wraith among us as some believe or not, I think they have good hearts.'

Teyla was relieved to find her own view was shared by Charin. 'I believe so too.'

'You also believe they may be able to fight the Wraith and win.' Charin tapped her arm. 'I know you, child. You have a warrior's heart.'

'They fought today and won.' Teyla pointed out. 'Is it so bad to hope that they may help us change things?'

'Things are already changed with their arrival.' Charin said softly. 'Some would say not for the better.'

Teyla nodded, chastened. Was the arrival of these people worth the loss of Athos? If they enabled her people to one day live without the threat of the Wraith…it would be worth it, Teyla mused. There were other worlds; the value of her people was counted in their lives, their hopes and dreams, the memories and shared culture they embodied. Athos itself was only soil and land. They moved their camps around enough for Teyla to consider her home a fluid concept; one more shaped by the people around her than the ground she stood upon.

'What about you?' asked Teyla, wanting to know Charin's thoughts.

'I am old enough to know that change is only as good or bad as we want it to be.' Charin said. Her eyes suddenly fixed on Teyla's neck and she brushed a hand over the pendant Teyla wore. 'I have not seen you wear this for many years.'

'I lost it many years ago.' Teyla admitted a little sheepishly. 'Major Sheppard found it on the floor of the caves when I showed him the drawings.'

Charin's face took on a teasing note. 'Major Sheppard is a fine young man. If I was younger I might have fought him for you.'

Teyla blushed furiously.

'He saved our people.' Charin said before Teyla could refute her own interest in the Major. 'He offered us a place here.' She stroked Teyla's hair. 'Some of the children hero-worship him already,' and there was a cautionary note that told Teyla Charin was concerned that Teyla hero-worshipped him too, 'but I think he is just a man albeit a good man.'

He was; Teyla wanted to reply. She knew he felt responsible for the events that had transpired with the Wraith. To know that he truly questioned whether his actions had been for good or ill was another reason to like him; he was honourable. But, her inner voice whispered cautiously again, Teyla needed to put her people first. However much Teyla liked the Major, she could not allow her feelings to sway her decisions.

She allowed Charin to coax her into resting. There would be much to do the next day and Teyla would need to be strong. She would need to find a way to balance the different views of her people. She would need to make some tough decisions for her people's future including whether to trust those that sheltered them.

o-O-o

Aidan Ford rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and yawned widely. He had bedded down in a room that adjoined the large space the rest of the unit had sacked out in. Sumner had drilled it into Ford that there was cohesion and there was a line which didn't get crossed because they were officers.

Ford felt a pang of loss as he made his way to the bathroom and got showered and dressed quickly. He had liked Sumner for all the guy was tougher than the other COs Ford had served under at the SGC. Young had been tough but very transparently nurturing the team he led. Dixon had been brusque but his dry sense of humour had offset the bluntness of his orders; he had simply expected Ford to get things done and Sumner had been the same in that regard. Sumner had also stated out loud that he expected Ford to pull his weight as an officer and didn't have time to mollycoddle him.

The sight of the Colonel's drained corpse flitted across Ford's mind and he grimaced. It wasn't his first dead body but it was the first dead body of somebody he'd served with. He felt a tug of guilt. He should have insisted on going with the Major when he'd gone in search of the Colonel; maybe he would have been able to help find the Colonel before he'd been drained of his life. At least he'd saved Major Sheppard.

He was so relieved he had. If he hadn't followed after the Major…would they have been down two officers? Ford didn't like to think about that. If he'd ended up in charge of the unit? He shook his head. Whatever issues Sumner had with the guy, Sheppard was a Major. It was a couple of ranks down from Colonel but it was better than a Lieutenant who had almost no command experience outside of the training exercises.

And Ford liked Sheppard, more if he was honest than he had liked Sumner. But then Sumner had made it clear he didn't really care if he was liked or not; he only expected for his position to be respected. The unit had effectively been given the same message in the briefing Sumner had held the day before they'd left; the day before yesterday.

Ford wondered what kind of leader Sheppard would turn out to be; how the unit would respond to a zoomie in charge. The SGC veterans would probably be more relaxed about it. Ford knew Sheppard had fought hard to rescue the men that had been taken and that had earned him brownie points, both in going to bat for the rescue and mostly pulling it off even if he hadn't been able to bring the Colonel back. Marines believed in the concept of 'leave no man behind' more than any other branch of the military; Ford believed that to his bone marrow. He grinned; he was a Marine after all.

Still, Ford knew the Major had made some mistakes. The decision to go off alone after the Colonel hadn't been tactically or strategically sound. They would all have been screwed if the Major hadn't made it back because the Major was the only one who could have flown them out. Ford had agreed with Bates that he needed to head out after the Major once the charges had been set. But then Ford had made mistakes too; firing at shadows on the way out. The Major had saved Ford's ass there at the end so maybe they were squared away on that one.

Ford glanced at his watch and winced. Oh-five-thirty. Early but he'd had worse. He headed to the small office Sheppard had informed him about when he'd called him on the radio late the previous night. Sheppard had ordered an early briefing and an all unit meeting for oh-six-hundred.

The office door was open and Ford knocked briskly on the wall outside, waiting for Sheppard's brisk call to 'come on in.'

It was small; too small. Ford figured they were going to have to find somewhere else because there was barely room to swing a cat between the chair, desk and the limited floor space. He frowned at the rolled up sleeping bag on the left wall. It looked like Sheppard had slept in the room. His eyes caught on neatly lined up stacks of belongings that edged the far wall.

Sheppard stood, bending over the desk as he tapped away on the open laptop in front of him. The Major looked surprisingly awake for such an early hour; he'd showered and shaved; the damp hair and smooth jawline gave that away. He'd obviously scrounged up a bottle of water from somewhere and Ford felt the instinctive need for his first cup of coffee along with a gnawing niggle in his belly that said he wanted breakfast.

The Major glanced up as Ford settled into an 'at ease' position in front of him. 'Did you pass the message about the meeting onto Bates?'

'Yes, sir.' Ford confirmed. He had dimly registered the sounds of Bates rousing the unit as he had left for the bathroom.

Sheppard nodded briskly and straightened. 'Before he arrives, I just want to thank you for yesterday.' One side of his lips quirked upwards. 'You handled yourself well and saved my ass so…thank you.'

Ford felt his cheeks heat and he wished again that he was prone to blushing easily. 'I think the ass saving was mutual, sir.'

Sheppard dismissed the comment with a wave. 'You're the only Marine officer on this mission, Lieutenant. I'm going to be counting on you a lot because let's face it, I'm not a Marine.'

'I won't let you down, sir.' Ford said immediately.

'I know you won't.' Sheppard said mildly. 'So, a couple of things: one, you don't have to sir and Major me all the time when it's just us. You have permission to call me John if you want.' He must have registered Ford's inner shock. 'It's fine if you don't. Whatever you're comfortable with.' He added hurriedly.

Ford smiled widely. 'Thank you. I'll stick to sir. I don't want to forget in front of the others.'

'OK.' Sheppard returned his smile. 'The second item I wanted to discuss is about gate teams.' He licked his lips. 'Doctor Weir asked me to put together a team. I believe Colonel Sumner anticipated you leading a team?'

'We had discussed it, sir.' Ford said evenly. He had been looking forward to it. 'I've had a year of off world experience.'

'The thing is…' Sheppard rubbed the back of his head, a sheepish expression flitting across his features. 'I don't have any off world experience. I mean apart from,' he gestured vaguely, 'yesterday.'

'Right.' Ford realised. He altered his position slightly, chest drawing back more, stance widening, his fingers tightening in the clasp behind his back. 'What's your suggestion, sir?'

'Actually that was what I was going to ask you. Several of the Marines have experience but I don't know them or how they would respond to being in the field with me.' Sheppard said. 'So recommendations?'

Ford skipped over a couple of names in his head and frowned. It wasn't that he didn't think that the men he'd thought of would have a particular issue with Sheppard but he did think they would find it difficult challenging Sheppard if they felt he'd made the wrong decision. That had the potential to be disastrous especially given Sheppard's own stated lack of experience. He'd suggest Bates but there was a tension between them that suggested a personality clash there that would be even more of an issue.

He repressed the urge to sigh. 'I recommend myself initially, sir.'

Sheppard's eyes widened. 'Why?'

Ford took him through his reasoning, skirting the issue with Bates in vague terms, and Sheppard nodded slowly.

'I can't say I'm thrilled that we'd have the only two remaining officers on the same team, Lieutenant.'

'Bates is an experienced NCO, sir,' Ford pointed out, 'he could probably run the unit if something happened to us both.'

Ford truly believed that because Sumner had told him he'd chosen Bates for that reason.

'OK.' Sheppard said, smiling. 'So, that's you, me, Teyla and McKay.'

'Uh, did you just say Doctor McKay, sir?' Ford asked, taken aback. Sumner had very much wanted the gate teams to remain military with civilians only along once a planet had been secured or deemed safe.

'We need a scientist, Lieutenant, and as McKay likes to tell everyone; he's the best there is.' Sheppard remarked with a smirk.

'You know maybe I should have my own team,' Ford began to joke.

'Too late, Ford.' Sheppard said. 'And don't say anything to Teyla just yet. I still have to ask her.'

'Understood, sir.'

A rap on the wall had them both turning to greet Bates.

'Major. Lieutenant.' Bates' eyes flickered over the room and stilled at the sight of Sumner's belongings out in the open.

'Come in, Sergeant.' Sheppard said swiftly. He placed his hands low on his hips and regarded Bates warily. 'Is everyone gathered?'

'Yes, sir.' Bates said tersely.

Sheppard paused for a moment before he spoke again. 'I understand from the letter and instructions Colonel Sumner left me…'

Ford tried hard to contain his shock at that news: Sumner had left a letter for the Major? He could see Bates was equally as surprised.

'…that you served with him previously, Bates?'

Bates nodded briskly. 'Yes, sir. He was a good CO; a good Marine.'

'I made a first pass through his stuff for what we could reuse or not. I'd like you to do a final sort through and take custodianship of anything personal.' Sheppard said briskly.

'Yes, sir.'

Sheppard pressed his lips together. 'You have questions?'

'In light of the Wraith, are you militarising the expedition, sir?' Bates asked bluntly.

The tension ratcheted up a notch in the small room.

'No.' Sheppard said.

'Colonel Sumner would have taken a different view.' Bates pointed out brusquely.

Sheppard stiffened at the implied criticism. 'If the Wraith were knocking on the gate, I would agree, but they're not and Doctor Weir has had months of preparation for this expedition which I don't. At this point in time, I think it's best we support her efforts.'

Bates glowered even more if that was possible and Ford barely stopped himself from saying something about his openly hostile attitude. He could understand Bates was upset by Sumner's death but it was no excuse.

'And the Athosians?'

'Friendlies.' Sheppard stated firmly.

'They were probably the ones that gave us up to the Wraith.' Bates said harshly.

'We don't know anything for certain, Sergeant.' Sheppard said. 'It's just as likely that our presence on their planet triggered some kind of alarm.'

Ford began to wonder if either man still realised he was in the room with them; they were each staring the other down. He cleared his throat. 'You should probably cover both topics in your briefing with the unit, sir.'

Bates looked at him. Ford figured he hadn't won any points with the Sergeant for interrupting the staring match.

Sheppard nodded. 'One final thing: I need you both to prepare a briefing on the Wraith for the unit.' He pointed at the laptop. 'McKay has a shared server up and running for military use. My notes on them are on there along with Beckett's observations on their physiology. Bates, I want any and all information that you found out when you were captured. Ford, talk to Teyla and get any other data you can about them. Add your own and get it issued by the end of today.'

'Yes, sir.' Both Ford and Bates replied in unison.

Sheppard grabbed his jacket and shrugged into it. He headed out, leaving Ford and Bates to follow quickly to keep up with him. To give Sheppard credit he didn't slow down; he strode into the large room the Marines had used as temporary barracks and up to the front with the same sense of purpose that Ford had seen when Sumner had done the exact same thing, just in a room a galaxy away.

The room quietened instantly as Bates called them to attention.

'At ease.' Sheppard said loudly, his low voice carrying easily. He assumed the position himself and let his gaze travel around them for a moment. 'Yesterday we lost Colonel Sumner. I didn't know him well but I know he died in the performance of his duty; protecting this expedition and Earth.'

The total quiet was unnerving. Ford understood Sheppard's pause was a moment of remembrance before he continued.

'I'm not the CO you were expecting but I'm the one you've got.' Sheppard said bluntly. 'If you think this means you can relax, drop your standards, let your discipline go; think again.'

Ford could see the shift in some of the men; there had been whispers no doubt that an Air Force officer would be easier on them.

The Major's hazel eyes hardened unexpectedly. 'We have an enemy who wants to eat us.'

Another silence while they absorbed that.

'You'll have a briefing document by the end of the day. Read it. Memorise it. Anyone has an idea about how to kill the bastards more efficiently, give your idea to Lieutenant Ford.'

Sheppard shifted his weight. 'That said; it's not my intention to militarise the expedition at this point. We'll continue to support and protect the civilian population as is our primary mission objective. The Athosians are to be considered friendlies and part of that civilian population until further notice.'

Ford didn't need to turn his head to know Bates was frowning.

Sheppard moved on briskly. 'However, speaking of the Athosians and civilians, I don't think I need to have the birds, bees and no means no talk with you all, but let me make myself clear: if anyone here thinks no means something other than no, I have no problems spacing you.'

There was another silent ripple because Sheppard sounded and looked as though he meant every word; that he was perfectly capable of carrying out his threat. He looked nothing like the easy going Air Force pilot that had walked through the gate with them the previous day.

'Ford and Sergeant Bates will continue to issue your assignments. Complaints, problems, issues should go through them. Anyone with an ATA gene will also receive pilot training once we've checked out which puddle jumpers are flight worthy.' Sheppard said the orders firmly. 'As of tomorrow, excepting emergency situations and those performing their assigned duties, the unit will meet daily for PT at oh-six-hundred hours.'

There were muted groans but the sound was more good-natured and intended to relieve the tension than genuine complaint.

Sheppard smiled a little. He rocked back on his heels. 'Colonel Sumner selected every one of you because he believed and trusted in you.' He let his gaze travel around the room. 'Prove him right. Dismissed.'

Ford fell into step beside his CO as Sheppard walked out. He felt unaccountably proud and inspired; he wanted to prove himself to Sheppard and he had seen the same reflected on many other faces. Although…he looked at Sheppard balefully.

'What?' asked Sheppard impatiently, taking a near-by set of steps two at a time.

'Oh-six-hundred PT?' Ford complained but he was smiling. 'Seriously, sir? Are you sure you're not a Marine?'

Continued in Part II.

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