Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard looked over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow in curious amusement. They were watching a strange admixture of scientists, Marines, Athosians, and RDRs (Random Displaced Refugees; the unofficial acronym for the collection of stragglers and survivors the Atlantis mission somehow collected like pennies) as they gathered around the fires. Food was being prepared on most of the smaller flames, but a central bonfire provided light and focus for the gathering in the clearing. Athosian moonshine provided an altogether different energy.
"I haven't been anywhere else in our galaxy," Sheppard replied easily, looking back toward where some of the children were chasing a dog who had run away with a hunk of meat. "I'll have to take your word for it."
Sheppard shook the mostly full mug in his left hand, but did not sip from it. The Athosians kept filling his cup and Sheppard thanked them enthusiastically every time they did, but Lorne had already seen him pour its contents on the ground when he thought nobody else was watching and take measured gulps from it when they were. Come morning, when Sheppard showed up for PT and demolished the dozen or so Marines currently enjoying their night of liberty on the mainland, the LTC's reputation would soar that much higher. Can take on the Wraith, the Genii, Dr. Weir, and the best of Athosian moonshine and come away victorious.
Lorne didn't mind. It made his job as Executive Officer that much easier, really. They didn't have the Good Cop/Bad Cop front going, not like he'd had with Edwards back on P3X-403, so it came down to the Heroic Leader and his Faithful Retainer and Lorne could handle being considered the human one of the two.
"Oh, we are definitely the cheap dates of the Milky Way," he confirmed, ruefully eyeing his own mug of hooch. Stuff tasted a little like rosemary but mostly like the smoothest firewater ever and it went down like frozen vodka. "But at least we have an excuse there because so few of the other worlds are populated by humans. Here..."
"Here we just giggle a lot."
In truth, Sheppard was a dream to work under as far as XO duties went. He was always mindful of what sort of crap he was foisting off on his subordinates and did more of the boring day-to-day stuff than any commander Lorne had ever served under. That, and he willingly took Dr. McKay out of all of their hair on a regular basis. He wasn't perfect -- Sheppard had no head for coming up with any sort of rational duty roster and wasn't above scheduling himself a mission to cure restlessness -- but he generally let Lorne's decisions stand without second-guessing and, really, what else could an XO want? (Besides a more pliant NCOIC; 1st Sgt. Washington's disdain at a Marine detachment being led by two Zoomies was thinly disguised only on the best days and she was the reason neither he nor Sheppard spent much time in the Military Commander's Offices.)
"Did we remember to have the talk about intergalactic relations before we left?"
Lorne followed Sheppard's gaze toward one of the cooking fires. Sergeant Velazquez was looking very friendly with one of the RDR women. Very friendly.
"Beyond the pep talk in the jumper?" he asked. On the ride over, Sheppard had been blunt about what was and wasn't permissable interaction while at the powwow. "We discussed where little aliens came from, yeah. And where they shouldn't be coming from."
The conversation with Dr. Beckett to procure condoms had been embarrassing, but it would pale in comparison to what would happen if one of the Marines suddenly faced fatherhood.
"'kay." Sheppard took another look at his mug. He brought it toward his lips, but paused halfway into the motion and shook his head instead. "Stuff's dangerous. I thought local homebrew was supposed to be rotgut."
"That's just because the still in the back of Otkharev's lab produces rotgut," Lorne answered with a shrug and a small sip from his own earthenware mug. They had known almost from the start that that the engineers had built a still and hid it in an unused closet in the smallest of the three electronics labs. The quality of hooch produced was so low that it had been allowed to persist as much for disincentive for illegal drinking as for the fact that it was easier to monitor the one they knew about than to have to chase down its successor, which in turn might produce drinkable results. "We've gotten plenty of nice liquor on other worlds. I think we'll be trading for Dalmarian wine soon as we get permission to go wet."
"Wine I'm not worried about," Sheppard said, taking his right hand off of the tree he'd been leaning against and unzipping the neck of his shirt a little. It was a pleasantly cool night, but the heat of the fires plus the inner heat of the alcohol was enough to have everyone's jackets on top of their bedrolls. Sheppard had been running around with the kids before sunset, playing some modified version of soccer with a ball that they'd brought over, and his sleeves were still pushed up. "Wine gets a couple of scientists piss drunk and that's McKay and Weir's problem. But get us some beer that doesn't taste like mulled pondwater or hooch that doesn't double as paint thinner..."
"Teyla said that they'd be sending some of this back with us tomorrow."
"Oh, great," Sheppard sounded exasperated, but it was mostly for show. Mostly. Lorne suspected Teyla would be getting an earful from him at some point. "Just make sure we get an inventory from her on how many bottles... jugs... barrels... whatever we're carrying it back in. I don't want any of this stuff falling off the back of the jumper."
Sheppard turned and looked at him again, a wry grimace on his face. "Why aren't you off having fun, Lorne?"
"I am, Sir." He raised his mug in salute and took a sip. "Was just doing a perimeter check."
The mainland is, as far as they can tell, uninhabitated by anything other than flora and fauna and the settlement. There are some large animals on the prowl, but nothing predatory or that can't be turned into dinner by a couple of the Athosian hunters. The Athosians run security patrols as a matter of course, but cut off from stargate as they are, it is as much for practice and tradition than for any real concern. Lorne was actually off relieving himself and he's sure the LTC understood that.
Sheppard smiled and nodded and turned away and Lorne understood that that was as good as a dismissal. It had taken them months to work out a comfortable, easy rapport -- Sheppard had been plainly unprepared for the explosion of resources, especially of ground forces, to go with his first full command post and Lorne had never had to break in a rookie commander. They'd both been through ACSC, but Lorne knew that Clown College had been practically useless for work within the Stargate program and was even less helpful here in the Pegasus galaxy. Plus, he had been chosen for his current position before Sheppard had been elevated to his and, on the assumption that someone else would be taking over, General Landry had spoken to him at length at the probable requirements of having to whip into shape a group of Marines led by a maverick officer who perhaps should have gone to Atlantis as a civilian. Lorne had met a very newly minted (and still shocked) LTC Sheppard with those words of caution in mind, but two days of planning-and-procedures conversations later, he'd realized both why the brass hated him and why the re-enlisting NCOs thought he walked on water. Valid reasons for both, but the brass didn't come out to Atlantis very often.
"Briddan says the meal should be ready in an hour," he said as he moved past the other man. "Meat's almost done."
"Spit-roasted Near-Deer," Sheppard agreed with a pleased grin. "It's like a gyro. Mystery Meat at its finest."
Lorne chuckled as he entered the clearing. Sheppard appeared a little later, the center of a mass of boys trying to get him to teach them how to grip a football. He tossed the ball in a perfect spiral to Ronon Dex, who reacted with predictable lack of humor. One of the Marines got the ball away from him before he tossed it into the bonfire.
The meal was full of toasts and Sheppard's mug -- empty at the time of its retrieval -- was refilled more than once. The food was surprisingly good, although any of the Athosians would tell you that their cuisine tasted better outdoors, and festivities didn't die down until quite late.
They flew back to Atlantis the following morning, after which Sheppard led the returnees on a 5K run at a pace that had two Marines puking. Excused from the PT session, Lorne had the contents of a dozen earthenware jugs of Athosian firewater transferred to some carefully cleaned ammonia bottles. The afternoon was spent first watching Sheppard and Weir argue with McKay about how many of the science team were cleared for offworld excursions and how many should be and then getting beaten up with the other officers-not-Sheppard by Ronon Dex.
The next day, a still-sore Lorne set out for Jenev on a long-planned diplomatic mission with one of the newly cleared biomedical engineers. Sheppard, facing the prospect of another six hours in the conference room, took his team out in search of a ZPM that someone Teyla vaguely knew maybe kinda coulda heard about possibly existing. It was the last normal morning for a while.