Pairing: Gen; McKay/Sheppard if you squint
Length: 750 words
Summary: For the sga_saturday Challenge #18: Stand
"Sheppard reporting for duty," John saluted Sargent Stefanski. There was no rank here, only fellow soldiers.
Stefanski saluted smartly. "Thank you, sir."
"Thank you," John said softly. "Relieving you of your post."
"I am relieved." Stefanski turned and gently touched the box he had been guarding and if he whispered anything, John tried hard not to listen. He limped down the darkened corridor.
John fell into parade with his back to the box, guarding against any further harm.
Captain Jennifer Gromada was scheduled to return to Earth today and it had become tradition among the military on Atlantis to watch over their returning fallen soldiers. There was a 24 hour honor guard that took turns watching over their comrades.
There was no official assignment, soldiers showed up when they were able or felt that they needed to. John never said anything but he had always taken the middle of the night shift, when Atlantis was dark and quiet and few were about. It was the least John felt he could do, allowing team mates and friends to get some rest before the assembly for the final trip back to Earth.
Standing honor guard let John pay his respects to soldiers, some of whom he knew better than others. Regular contact with Earth expanded the military contingent and he didn't get to know some of the new recruits as well as he would like.
Gromada had been a natural ATA gene carrier and a pilot, so he had gotten to know her flying missions together. She had been cheerful and friendly, good looking in a girl-next-door sort of way. She had giggled for a full minute the first time she sat in the pilot seat to take a Jumper out and sobered when she saw John watching.
"Sorry, sir," she said, eyes dancing.
"No, I understand," John replied easily. "It is amazing."
She grinned back. "I'm flying a spaceship with my mind!" she blurted.
"It never gets old," John assured her with his own grin.
She had died on what should have been a simple rescue mission. Lorne's team had been investigating the plant life on PXD-479 and had been stranded by flash flooding and rockfall. They had been close enough to the gate to get a message through and John had no worry sending Gromada's team.
Rodney and Radek had muttered about "fucking stupid Ancients" as they later figured it was something about the flying craft that triggered the automatic weapon that the team on foot had not. A laser beam had shot out from a close-by hillside, slicing through the unshielded Jumper. Jennifer had died with the single strike as the laser cut through the front window. Her team was badly injured when the Jumper dropped out of the sky like a stone – two were still in the infirmary and one was bad enough to be going back to Earth for additional surgery. Stefanski had escaped with a broken shoulder and ankle to go with multiple contusions.
In the dark of the night, John paid honor to the fallen, working hard to not take each death personally… he was in command and responsible and some things were out of his control. But it was hard. Standing guard was his own apology to those he failed to protect.
O'Neill had made him come fishing with him one time on Earth. They hadn't talked about it directly but O'Neill had told him stories over beer and steaks – they never did catch any fish – about some of SG1's missions that hadn't gone well or about leading the SGC and knowing how it was to send teams on missions that might get one or all of them killed.
It wasn't any one thing in particular but knowing that someone like Jack O'Neill didn't have any good answers was at least faint comfort to John.
So John remembered Gromada flying Jumpers, running PT with her team, playing poker late at night, performing 'light switch' duty in the labs, arguing cheerfully with Ronon over the last serving of tormack in the mess.
Rodney ghosted in and John knew that the next shift was about to appear. Rodney always came to stand with him for at least a few minutes, the same way John came to stand with Rodney when it was one of his scientists.
Lorne and Parrish came together.
"Lorne reporting for duty." He saluted. Parrish waited near the door.
"Thank you," John returned the salute.
"I am relieving you of your post," Lorne said formally.
"I am relieved." John turned and saluted the coffin.
Rodney fell in at John's side as they walked away.
Author's Note: Jennifer Gromalda is a real person. I saw her name and "USAF" on her tombstone and wrote this story totally without knowing anything of Jennifer's background. Only respect is intended. Here's a brief part of her obituary: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-23181875.html