Semper Fidelis

~ Written for saeva for the prime_not_prime ficathon. I didn't get Taoist!John into it, for which I apologise. Thanks to Miss Smooth for the beta!

It's Friday night, far as they can figure. The Lantia days aren't the same length and number as back on Earth but they're used to dealing with that sort of thing. Sergeant Deion Bates' platoon of Marines has spent more time offworld than most units have spent in chowline.

They've gotten used to making up their own calendar here on Atlantis since the eggheads haven't agreed on one yet. Lately, "Friday night" is whenever Sergeant Cruz declares they're in need of one. It's as good a system as any, as far as Deion can tell.

Anyone off-duty spends Friday night in the Barracks -- an open room the Marines have named that's more or less central to their assigned quarters. It's a good five minutes from the mess hall that the civilians use as a common room. None of the civilians venture down here unless they're looking for someone; it's the way the Marines like it, much as they really don't mind being saddled with babysitting duties this time. The civilians were hand-picked and, in general, are a pretty savvy bunch. In Deion's opinion, some of them would even make pretty good grunts, if they didn't have better things to do with their brains.

But he's still glad they don't seem to feel invited to join in on Friday nights. They probably don't feel welcome, and Deion -- they all -- prefer it that way. Some things just aren't meant for outsiders.

"Man, the way he *passed*! Oh, god, such a fucking moron." Conners grins, tossing his hands in the air in a not-so-inaccurate rendition.
He's a tiny white guy, and he's been assigned to Deion's squad for almost two years. Deion doesn't trust him to tell the truth, ever, unless he's reporting on the field. But he's not far wrong about Ratboy's ability to throw a basketball.

"Man couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with a tank," Stephens agrees. He'd only been with the SGC for six months before they got sent out to Pegasus. Of any of them, he'll be the one to write a book when they get home. As long as he sells it as science fiction, Deion figures he won't tell anyone about the notebook Stephens is keeping.

"So of course they fucking gave him a staff weapon," Cruz added, slapping his knee in commentary on the intelligence of military brass. Cruz had been in the platoon for years when Deion got assigned. Been everywhere, seen and done practically everything a man could do and still be breathing.

The stories they tell on Friday nights are the guys who did it all. Deion usually just listens, but he knows it's important for him to be here.

"Yeah. Hey, give me that." Conners takes the jug of so-called cider and pours himself another mug. It isn't beer, but it's alcohol and serves almost the same purpose. If you ignore the way it smells like roses, Deion thinks, it's even pretty damned good. Doesn't replace a cold can, but Marines are nothing if not adaptable.

He takes the jug as it's passed by, pours himself a mug. Hands it on to Denisof, the quiet little import from Moscow who barely ever says a word. All the weeks they've been here, Deion still can't figure out if he's a scary SOB or just doesn't speak enough English.

Could go either way. Even drunk he never loosens up. Deion makes it a point never to play cards when Denisof is at the table. Otherwise it's a lot like just handing over your lunch money before the bully has a chance to hit you.

"Oh, man, what a fucker." The guys laugh, then they're lifting their mugs in toast and Deion does the same. Takes a good, long, drink and thinks about how many of his men have died.

Too many, but at least the number is still higher than the civilian count. They've got no reinforcements coming unless the eggheads can get the gate powered up again. They're gonna make themselves last as long as they can, but Deion knows sooner or later--

He decides he doesn't want to think about that right now. He listens to Conners again, laughs in memory of the time Ratboy got himself chased halfway across some tiny little town in Iraq wearing nothing but his boots.

Ratboy died a hero, a month before they got shipped out here. They all did, all the ones who fell in duty. Deion can remember each and every face, every single mission. He drinks to each of their memories and listens as the guys tell their stories.

Sometimes -- when Friday comes on a particularly bad night and the cider is strong enough -- Deion tells a story or two of his own. He's the only one who tells tales of the old man; the others never talk about him when he's around. If they tell tales when Deion's not there, he doesn't know about it.

He knows they know -- but nobody says anything. They all loved the Colonel, even the ones who hated his ass. They all have stories they could tell, and they'd all drink to him in a second.

But when Deion's present on Friday nights, they leave the story-telling to him. He only tells a few of the best. The times when Colonel Marshall Sumner led them to PXR-481 is a good one that lets them all remember the time Sumner got shit-faced drunk and still showed up for duty at 5am, shouting at the grunts who'd been just as drunk but were still trying to be unconscious.

Once in a while he tells the story of the time Sumner saved a whole family from the Go'auld, laying down fire from his sidearm until the rest of the squad arrived, weapons blasting. The villagers were poorest of the poor, and they held a feast to thank the Marines. The soup had been practically water and bread dry as a bone, but Sumner had said it was the best damn meal he'd ever ate, and Deion didn't doubt that it was.

Sometimes he wishes he could tell one of the other stories. Those times when it's really bad and he can feel every inch between his quarters and the planet he was born on, or he can practically hear the Wraith howling in the wind and the idea of being shot at by other humans seems like it'd be a nice change of pace. He lays in his bed and wishes it were Friday night, and wishes he could tell just one story.

Doesn't even matter which one. The one where Sumner took him aside on his first offworld mission and told him to get his act together or he'd kick Deion's ass from there back to Earth. The one where they dragged Bone Smith's body fifteen miles across a swamp to get him back to the gate so they could ship something home.

The one where Marshall's arms around his middle was the strongest thing he'd ever felt in his life and he knew he'd have never broken free of them, even if he had wanted to try.

He wants to say that he can still remember the color of Marshall's eyes and the way his voice cracked when he laughed hard enough. Deion knows, deep down, that if he told those stories no one would say a word. They'd listen, and drink, and the stories would go on to the next guy. Next day it wouldn't be anything more than Conners telling how Ratboy couldn't throw a basketball to save his life. But he doesn't tell, and if he isn't always listening when the guys tell stories, no one calls him on it.

But he remembers something Marshall said and tonight he's thinking that maybe it's about damned time he passed it along.

He waits until half the guys are passed out and the rest of them are dragging their buddies back to their bunks to sleep it off in private. Then he empties his mug, thinks about what Marshall would have said about the flavor of flowers that really didn't ever go away. He'd laugh himself sick on that one, Deion knew. He grins to think about it, then rubs his face and stands up. Sober enough to walk the hallways and he does so, telling himself that the Major's a bastard, and doesn't deserve the ass-kicking Deion wants to give him.

But he's seen the look in both of their eyes and he hears all the scuttlebutt that goes around as gossip so he knows neither of them has done anything about it.

He gets to the Major's door, gives himself another chance to decide he's really going to regret this in the morning. But it's already morning, and he's standing here, so he knocks.

Counts to twenty before it slides open, and Major Sheppard is staring at him. The half-awake drowsiness vanishes the instant he recognizes Bates. "Is there a problem?"

Every once in a while Sheppard acts like an officer; it's the reason Deion doesn't accidentally get the Major killed in action. That and the fact he's actually kind of useful to the eggheads because of his alien gene.

"No. Can I have a word?" He keeps his tone calm, and Sheppard stares at him like he's wondering if he's still asleep. Then he steps back and nods him in. Deion enters only enough he can say this with the door closed.

"Well?"

"Sir...if I may say something completely off the record?"

Sheppard blinks, and Deion can see a half dozen explanations filter through his mind. All of them are wrong, but he's grateful that Sheppard only nods, in response.

"Someone once gave me a piece of advice. I think it's time I passed it along."

Sheppard grimaced. "This isn't about the Athosians again, is it? It's really too early in the morning for--"

"No, sir. It's about..." He stops, because maybe he's a fucking moron. Or maybe he really doesn't care if Sheppard almost makes the same mistake Deion did.

But he and Marshall were only lovers for six months before he died. Killed-- in action. Mercy killing that any Marine could understand, even if Deion still sometimes wants to tear off Sheppard's balls for doing it.

Or thank him. And that's really why he's here. "Off the record. Only a fool would avoid something that's good for him. It may not look like it, but these are the front lines. Rules...don't always apply the same out here."

Sheppard's looking at him funny, now.

Deion sighs. "If I may, sir...rumour has it that he likes you, too. So if you don't go talk to him, I'm gonna arrange for you two to get locked in a jumper for twenty-four hours."

Sheppard's eyes had gone wide. "I really hope I'm still asleep and this is a dream. Because otherwise--"

Deion ignores the pointless threat in Sheppard's tone. "If you say so, sir. But...if you do something, no one's gonna see a thing." None of the Marines, anyhow, and what the civilians do isn't Deion's problem. But he suspects they wouldn't care. For some reason they seem to like the Major and would probably just think it was damned cute or something.

He turns around and walks away. Behind him, the Major doesn't say a word. Maybe, Deion thinks, if Sheppard doesn't do something about it, he'd have a talk with Zelenka.

Or maybe he really will lock them in a jumper together. Life is short, Deion knows. And it's a damn fool who doesn't take advantage of the best parts of living.