"I don't care what you think of him, Sergeant," Sumner growled at Mackinaw, getting right in his face like a drill instructor. "He has a gold leaf on his collar and that means that everyone in this room but me calls him 'sir'. Do I make myself clear?"

There was only one acceptable answer and Mackinaw gave it. "Sir! Yes sir!"

"Good," Sumner snarled, stepping back and looking around. "I don't want to be having this discussion again. With anyone. Major Sheppard is not in the chain of command, but he is still an officer and you will give him the respect that deserves."

A mixture of straight-ahead stares and guilty fascination with the floor, depending on who had been calling Sheppard by any of the many unflattering nicknames that had been circulating their barracks.

"Now get the hell out of here," Sumner ordered, the anger gone and his voice almost fond. "You won't be getting too many more chances at liberty. At least not in this galaxy."

They grinned at him and left the room, everyone's mind already on how best to get in trouble on what might be their last night out on Earth. Stackhouse, the man with the plans, was already organizing an outing to a local chophouse one of the airmen had suggested.

"Yo, Teague," Toussaint began, "You notice how the LT wasn't invited?"

They were all new to the platoon, but Ford was even newer and was still learning their names, let alone what made them tick. Or, in this case, ticked them off. And nothing did that better than Major Sheppard.

"Lieutenant Ford's probably gonna hear about this special," Teague replied, shaking his head slowly.

It had started almost as soon as they'd gotten to Colorado. The guys who had come from Antarctica (and how cool was that?) had spoken of an Air Force officer who was always hanging around the base, drinking coffee and talking football and turning shit on by touching it because he had the same gene as the Ancients.

(Stackhouse, who also had the gene, would tell anyone who'd listen how he'd been turning women on by touching them for years and that had never gotten him anywhere good before this. Markham would always reply that that was because Stackhouse's women were all inflatable.)

The guys who'd come from Antarctica hated Sheppard. Really hated him, not just the jealous kind of hate that was really just envy made macho. Sheppard was lazy, they said, didn't act like an officer -- even by the mommy-clinging, where's-my-latte Air Force standards -- or a fighting man. He'd gone to Antarctica voluntarily, they'd said, and not just to be the light switch for the scientists there. And that was the kicker -- not everyone could be where the action was, but anyone worth their dogtags wanted to be. And Sheppard didn't. Nobody said 'coward', but they didn't have to.

"--motel. Not gonna need the cash for a while."

"You think you're gonna get lucky, Bates?"

Sheppard in Colorado was apparently just like Sheppard in Antarctica, except surrounded by his own kind. Who apparently didn't like him, either. In person, Sheppard both failed to live up to his reputation and surpassed it spectacularly. He slouched his way through briefings and nobody had ever seen him in the weight room. And while fanatical attendance to the grooming standards was usually expected only by dumbass REMFs, the SGC had more brass than a foundry and it seemed especially stupid to not even bother to get a haircut when the chances were pretty good that you'd be sharing a hallway with a general at some point during the day.

The guys were split over whether Sheppard was trying to get himself thrown off of the expedition or whether he knew that he wouldn't be and was flaunting it. They all knew that Sheppard could do shit to the Ancient toys like nobody else could and, because of that, could probably fuck a sheep in front of the stargate and they wouldn't toss him off the roster. Not that they thought Sheppard fucked sheep. Why go for barn animals when you've got Dr. Weir?

That Sheppard was Weir's fucktoy was pretty much a universal concept. The major was a good looking guy and Weir wasn't blind. Was instead pushing Sheppard on Sumner like a used car salesman. Sheppard got attached to training exercises and briefings, whether or not he belonged. Rikauer had been a social studies teacher before enlisting and he said it was like Europe and their monarchies -- the queen giving her favorite whatever he wanted. Except maybe Rikauer was talking smack because Sheppard never seemed to want it much. He did whatever he had to do, but no more and no less. He didn't lag behind, he didn't excel, and that made him all the more frustrating. Irritating. Because 'just enough to get by' wasn't any service's motto. Not even the Air Force.

"You coming?"

"Yeah, hold your horses."

Picture Day came and with it the start realization that they were leaving the galaxy in two weeks and maybe not coming back. Everyone (but the lieutenant) had been to Iraq or Afghanistan -- a few guys both, even -- and, really, it was the 'leaving the planet' thing that had them more nervous. So they took it out on each other, mocking bad haircuts and crooked ties and Laganzo's hickey that he was desperately trying to cover up.

The worst part was the waiting around. To kill time, they compared ribbons and swapped stories and tried to organize who was bringing what music so they had no repeats and as much variety as possible because there'd be no care packages from home for a while. Staumitz was bringing audiobooks and Eversby knew how to download movies illegally off the internet and from there, the descent into who was bringing which porn was inevitable.

They were still discussing Jenna Jameson (lesbo era) versus Jenteal (lesbo era) when Sheppard walked out of the elevator and... conversation ceased.

Arguably for the first time, it was out of respect for the man and not for the rank. Because Sheppard was wearing far more chest candy than a reluctant warrior should be. And suddenly all the other rumors -- all of them based on the (previously ridiculous) idea that Sheppard had been in Antarctica because he'd pissed off brass for doing the right thing at the wrong time, that he was a disgraced Special Ops pilot and not a maladjusted crop-duster -- seemed a little less ridiculous.

"As you were," he said wryly, strolling down the gauntlet of pressed-and-starched Marines lining the hallway. "Don't let me interrupt a discussion that important."

He disappeared around the corner, but the conversation didn't resume. Instead, they exchanged raised eyebrows and mouthed "what the fuck?" and realized that the man they thought they had pegged, they really maybe didn't know at all.