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Title: Necromancy for the Living
Author name: Icarus
Author email: email@example.com
Sub Category: Slave fic
Pairing: John/Rodney, Caldwell
Summary: How does John write a mission report about something no one wants to hear?
DISCLAIMER: The characters and universe contained in this story are Copyright MGM, Showtime, Gekko, Double Secret. No infringement on their copyright is implied. Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or part without the author's explicit permission. Ask, guys. I'm easy to reach and usually quite generous.
Author notes: There are no spoilers here. None. Zero, zip, nada. Yes, the story is a mission report based on Auburn's In The City Of Seven Walls, but I reveal little more than what you could learn from the first paragraph and the header. I'm reassured by
Two weeks since his request and not a word from Sheppard. Caldwell's uniform made a rasping sound as he strode through the halls of Atlantis, sunset pooling on walls and turning the stained glass gold. He nodded brusquely to a Marine who saluted him as he made his way towards Sheppard's temporary office, assigned until he figured out what to do with the man.
A cluster of F-302 pilots broke off their conversation when they saw their base commander coming, and Caldwell pretended he hadn't caught them goofing off; though he mentally noted their names: Bigeon, Rigazonni, Juarez. All new to Atlantis with the expansion of the base staff in response to the new Wraith alliances. He deliberately kept an unpredictable schedule, and as a result, Atlantis hummed with a satisfying bustle of activity even at 1900 hours. With a few notable exceptions.
Colonel Sheppard was due some leeway under the circumstances. He and McKay had virtually come back from the dead after being MIA over two years. But hell, he was getting a lot of latitude, and Colonel Caldwell wasn't used to his emails being summarily ignored.
He raised a hand to rap on Sheppard's door, but it was wide open, as was the window over them in the near-empty office. McKay was there, of course, kneeling at the computer in front of Sheppard, who sat cross-legged on the floor, the desk they'd requisitioned for him abandoned against one wall. You didn't see Sheppard without McKay these days.
His hand paused in mid-air, Caldwell's gaze flickered between the two of them. They were pressed together, side-by-side, like two sorority girls. McKay nudged Sheppard as they murmured to each other in their private little bubble, and a smile broke across Sheppard's face as he looked down bashfully. You'd have to sit within inches to hear what they said -- strange, considering how loud McKay used to be. Now he was nicknamed "Dr. Fu Manchu" for the way he bowed and dodged away from the soldiers.
The glyphs on Sheppard's hands had long since faded, though no one had forgotten the make-up, the long black tear painted down one cheek and the wacky designs drawn across his forehead as he came through the gate, gold bangles, harem pants and all. It had been quite an entrance. Sheppard's hair was still too long -- had always been too long in defiance of military dress -- but currently it brushed his collar, an affront to the uniform. McKay stroked a lock off Sheppard's face, absently tucking it behind an ear, and the colonel didn't even glance up at the gesture.
Cultural differences, Caldwell reminded himself of Heightmeyer's assessment of their condition. After years of acculturation it would take more than a few short weeks to relearn Earth habits. Even if to Caldwell it looked like something else that was entirely inappropriate. Think of them as if they were from an alien planet, she'd told the command staff.
He narrowed his eyes and still wondered where McKay slept, though he was very consciously not looking into it. There were a million reasons to get rid of Sheppard, most of them in this room. But the SGC had cheerfully told him, "He's all yours." Atlantis had taken on a problematic pilot and they could keep him. Caldwell didn't waste good men anyway, and for all that Sheppard had been promoted above his ability when he was given the Atlantis command, he was still a good officer.
Had been a good officer, he amended. Caldwell shook his head subtly. He wasn't sure if there was anything left to salvage; though he had Sheppard scheduled for an off-world mission. One reason he needed to get back into the swing of things and finish that damn report.
He cleared his throat.
They didn't separate or even seem guilty or surprised, which widened Caldwell's eyes and convinced him that Heightmeyer was right. Animated a moment ago, all expression wiped from Sheppard's face, his cool gaze turning upwards to Caldwell, as serene as a statue.
"The door was open," Caldwell explained, and wondered why the hell he was apologizing.
"Yeah, I keep forgetting about doors."
McKay's hand slid, carding through Sheppard's hair till it rested on his shoulder. He sat protectively between them, partially blocking line of sight. Sheppard didn't brush him aside like he once would have. Caldwell had noticed that before, the role reversal. If Sheppard so much as dropped a pencil he didn't even bother to reach for it; McKay had it.
The moment drifted. Sheppard let the silence stretch until it filled the room, and for a breath Caldwell forgot his busy schedule, the reasons he'd come, the pressing concerns, caught in something… different. A different pace of life. Wherever they'd been, this Selket, they'd brought it with them. The room even smelled foreign, spicy and warm. Sheppard and McKay watched him from the floor with the calm, wary poise of two cats gone feral.
Then the wind from the open window buffeted Sheppard's hair, rustling ordinary requisition forms. Caldwell took a breath, remembering why he was here and that he had a base to run. And that Sheppard was getting in the way of basic operations.
"I need your report," he said, leaning one hip against the door to get a view past McKay, whose hand tightened on Sheppard's shoulder.
Sheppard looked down again, eyelashes sweeping his cheeks, and Caldwell frowned and wondered if they had gotten longer, vaguely disturbed. "Harem Boy" the soldiers called him behind his back, and Caldwell could appreciate the joke. It was more than just the outfit.
"Well," Sheppard drawled, not looking at him directly. "I'm having a little trouble squeezing two year's worth of time into one mission report." And there was that snide attitude Caldwell remembered so well, surprised that it came as a relief. At least one thing about Sheppard hadn't changed.
"Do the best that you can," he said patiently.
"I know," Sheppard interrupted with an elaborate sigh and a graceful dance-like gesture. Caldwell watched him, fascinated. "It's supposed to help me." McKay glanced away, not quite rolling his eyes.
Caldwell gave him a blank look of confusion, mildly irritated. "No," he said slowly, squinting. "It's standard procedure."
There was a brief, dumbfounded blink.
Then Sheppard slumped, a bright, almost child-like smile spreading across his face as he looked up at Caldwell. He leaned against the wall, head tipped to the ceiling, and simply laughed. A smile twitched at the corner of Caldwell's mouth, affected by his laughter, although he really didn't get what was so funny.
"Of all the stupid, mindless, military…" Sheppard coughed into his fist, catching his breath. "Everything I used to hate." He beamed, face hungry and intense. "God, I've missed you guys."
Caldwell could appreciate that. Doctor Reinhardt said that Sheppard had been tortured, repeatedly. Sheppard didn't act it though, other than the occasional haunted look. Caldwell said almost affectionately as he patted the doorway, "Sheppard. Get a haircut."
"Yes, sir," Sheppard said, leaning forward over the computer like an eager kid to do his report. A glimpse, maybe, of what Sheppard had been like before Afghanistan.
An aide had Caldwell's coffee already steaming beside the blotter as he arrived in his office at 0600 hours, wisps caught in the cold early morning sun that patterned the ceiling. Caldwell pulled his chair closer, clicking open electronic files. He didn't eat breakfast till he finished his paperwork, something he'd learned the hard way at the Pentagon: afternoons were peppered with interruptions, mornings held unexpected meetings, so early morning was his only shot at getting his own work done.
Weir had several more "science for science's sake" projects, which he skimmed. She could sign off on as many as she liked; if they didn't have a direct military benefit they didn't get a military escort, and that was that. They were at war with the Wraith. In reaction, the scientists tried to make everything sound like it had a military purpose, and he spent his time decoding science-speak. Sadly for them, his degree was in engineering; he knew exactly what he was looking for. But it was a game they played. Elizabeth pretended she didn't know her scientists were full of it, and Caldwell pretended to give their projects serious consideration.
This morning's prime example: a lichen study masquerading as research into an alternate food source in case they were once again under siege. Denied. Caldwell snorted as he took another sip of coffee.
Sheppard's report waited in his email, arriving a lot sooner than he'd expected. Sent, he noted, at 4 a.m.
Up all night? Not Sheppard's style. He wondered if he could expect some other positive changes. He ignored thirty other messages red-flagged "urgent" from staff who weren't in charge of anything he considered important, and opened the colonel's report. Only self-discipline had kept him from viewing it first.
Mission Report No.: 057-1056-03-4This much they'd determined. By the time Sheppard's team missed their check-in, the attackers had been long gone but their tracks were clear, along with the lines scraped through leaves by four sets of dragged military boots. No Wraith beams. Halling had supplied the missing piece of the puzzle, the growth of the slave trade due to heavy culling; his calm, sad voice saying, "It has happened before." Everything in the Pegasus galaxy was ugly.
Planet Designation: M47-031
Mission Objective: Exploration, Intel
Stepped through the gate onto M47-031 and were immediately hit with Wraith stunners from four o'clock, eight o'clock, and dead ahead. Recommend reinstituting use of MALP, modified with life signs detector. McKay has the plans. Captors were human. We were taken to an intermediary planet, designation unknown, then transported to a third unknown location….
Dismantling the gate crystals on the planet, a frantic Dr. Zelenka hadn't been able to determine a reasonable number of planets to search, there were over eight hundred in the cache. So they'd set a trap. Caught one man, killed five, one Marine wounded. But either the man they'd captured didn't know the base of operations, or it wasn't worth his life to give it up.
Probably the latter. The Athosians believed slavers gave tribute to the Wraith. That wouldn't make them popular.
Caldwell, Weir, and Zelenka had been in the briefing room, had just formulated an idea to release their prisoner with Dex's tracking device -- a cruel plan if it went badly -- when the news of the prisoner's suicide reached them. It left them stunned and silent. The sergeant on duty was given KP for a year, and they were suddenly out of options. Angrier than anyone had ever seen him, Zelenka insisted that if they'd listened and started the search immediately, maybe there was a slim chance they could have found them. But now? They would have gone through a second Stargate and then another, and then another.
Unfortunately, after losing six men the slavers didn't return.
Everything in Sheppard's report confirmed Caldwell's worst predictions. And didn't make him feel one whit better. Three intermediary Stargates, and then a thriving slave market with entire worlds complicit in the slave trade. Caldwell licked his lips. Some with advanced technology, and fortifications that would require artillery. Sheppard and McKay were bought -- purchased -- and then sent to the heart of a veritable Fort Knox. It didn't help to know that without the right intel there was nothing they could have done.
Sheppard filled in the blanks,
Then we were introduced to the "quaint" custom of slavery on Selket….
Caldwell worried as he read the report, considering strategic information and the idiocy of a base commander going off-world. Especially when it came to the drugs, this dranzi. But while Sheppard was clearly incapacitated, the Selketi didn't know they were from Atlantis, and didn't care. What they wanted….
Eyebrows raised, Caldwell read with prurient interest a veritable Kamasutra of things Sheppard was taught to do with women, in a level of detail that would definitely need to be edited before it was sent to the SGC. He skipped the dull bowing and scraping, postures of submission and humiliation. Then he read, written with dry humor,
There are 37 ways to pleasure a man's cock, none of which I'd ever considered, though there are really just eight, with variations on the theme; speed, position….
He read no further. He shut the file, and stewed.
Caldwell slumped back in his chair, leaning his chin on his fist, angry for reasons he couldn't quite name. At Selket. Sheppard. What the fuck was Sheppard doing, sending him this? He shook his head and couldn't fathom the stupidity. Did he have any idea how hard Weir had worked to get him on an off-world team?
Shoving away from his desk, he stormed out of his office. His aide took one look at his face and backed away a step as Caldwell barked, "I'll be on the radio." Then he made for Sheppard's quarters.
McKay answered the door wrapped in a bathrobe, still fumbling with his belt, which Caldwell supposed answered that question, though at this point he wasn't surprised. The room was bare aside from clutter on the table next to the bed, and yes, a crumpled science uniform draped over Sheppard's on a chair. All Sheppard's personal effects had been shipped back to Earth.
"I need to talk to Colonel Sheppard. Alone, if you don't mind," Caldwell said with more calm than he thought he'd be able to manage.
Sheppard was visible over McKay's shoulder, sprawled on the bed dressed in military sweats. There were dark circles under his eyes and he rubbed his face as he rolled to a sitting position. "It's okay, Rodney. He's invited."
McKay didn't argue but the slant of his frown spoke volumes. And he didn't move. Caldwell folded his arms, and caught a flicker of fear in his eyes.
"Rodney," Sheppard said, and got a sigh of acquiescence. McKay ducked his head and dodged around Caldwell, barefoot and still in just that bathrobe, treating the public hallway as if it were an extension of the bedroom. Caldwell had another one of those weird off-center moments, and wondered briefly what would be in McKay's version of that mission summary. The door shut behind him.
"I take it you read my report," Sheppard said softly, his hands resting palms up on his thighs. Kneeling position; Caldwell had just read that. Now it set off alarm bells. Sheppard's new habit of looking down as he spoke was starting to get on his nerves, too, especially given what he'd been willing to admit.
"It needs to be shorter," he snapped.
"You mean it needs to be less honest," and there was that insolent tone again, though Sheppard was finally looking him in the eyes, with a bitter amused smirk. Caldwell wondered how he could have possibly missed Sheppard's attitude.
He'd gotten the point, of course. Most of Sheppard's experience on Selket couldn't go in a report, ever. And Sheppard was right, although he hated to acknowledge it; he would have hounded him about that mission report until he knew this for a fact. But every soldier learned how to hedge, what to leave out. Some of his own reports were Swiss cheese.
"I just need a report for M47-031," he decided in exasperation, rubbing his temples.
"You mean the mission that lasted all of four seconds before we were dropped?"
"We only need to fill a blank space in our files, correct." Caldwell took a breath and let it out heavily. "If I want a report on Selket-" he'd ask McKay, who seemed marginally less screwed up, though he didn't say it, "-I'll ask for one. Now, McKay is going to expunge the current version from our server. I never received it." He realized he'd raised his voice and made an effort to control his breathing.
"That's illegal, sir," Sheppard observed, his tone suggesting the obvious question. Why?
Why did Sheppard even write it? Was it career suicide, a need to purge his soul, some kind of test of his commander? Caldwell found he didn't want to ask. He stabbed a finger in his direction. "Answer me just one question. I'm doing a lot of favors for you right now, the first and foremost burning that report. Tell me: are you fit for duty?"
The right answer was a straight back and a loud, Sir, yes, sir! Whatever problems he had, he'd suck it up and do his job. Not that he'd ever hear that from Colonel Sheppard. No, Sheppard would raise his chin defiantly and say, I like to think so. But the challenge in it was the same.
"Rodney believes I am." Sheppard looked wistfully out the window.
"I don't give a damn what McKay thinks, Colonel," Caldwell said in a tight voice, unreasonably angry, emphasizing the title. "Your mission is scrubbed until further notice."
Open shock played across Sheppard's face, his lips parted, an expression that should have been drilled out of him by the military. Everything about him said he'd gone soft, though soft wasn't quite the word.
"Report to Heightmeyer. I don't want to hear of you skipping any more sessions."
Then Caldwell turned on his heel and -- although he wouldn't confess it under torture -- fled.
A half-hour later found him leaning on one of the many balconies of Atlantis, hands closed over the rail, overlooking his base. Small dots of airmen wandered below between F-302s parked on the pier; they'd lost too many puddlejumpers. A couple of airmen were standing around. Caldwell frowned at them, until he realized he was doing the same thing, hit his radio, lied and told his aide he was in a meeting.
Anyone else would get rid of Sheppard, pressure him to retire. He wanted to, he admitted to himself, hanging his head. But he'd gotten this command over Sheppard's dead body, more or less, and even knowing there was nothing he could have done, he alone knew that he hadn't regretted it. Hadn't gone that extra mile for a fellow officer.
Caldwell narrowed his eyes, not seeing the glittering spires of Atlantis around him, the thin vapor trail of a jumper on high altitude maneuvers. He'd wanted that report, badly. More so than usual. Needed that proof he'd done the right thing. Well, now he had it, but Sheppard didn't let him off the hook: This is what you abandoned me to. Sir. He felt a thread of sympathy for how Sheppard must have felt, shooting his commanding officer. The difference was Sheppard hadn't wanted his job; never fought for it, that was always Weir. And Sumner hadn't come back like the ghost of Christmas past.
Whether he liked Sheppard or not, Caldwell had to do all he could for him, this time. Salvage the officer if at all possible; though at the moment he wouldn't trust John Sheppard to lead a troupe of Girl Scouts.
Caldwell raised his gaze past the whitecaps to the horizon, which was gray and undefined. If he didn't at least try, then frankly, no matter what his own commanders said, he didn't deserve Atlantis.
Now read Auburn's In The City Of Seven Walls.