Title: The Guardian
Author: Keira Marcos
Series title: The Sentinels of Atlantis
Series Order: 3
Fandom: Sentinel/Stargate Fusion
Pairings: McKay/Sheppard (many secondary pairings)
Warnings: Explicit sex, violence, adult language
Summary: Sheppard and McKay travel to Athos and meet their Guardian and his consort in an effort to create a relationship between the people of Athos and the Expedition. They learn the name of a new enemy and a new threat for Earth.
– – – –
John tapped his ink pen on the desk he shared with McKay. The office above the gateroom had an excellent overview of the area and afforded him a great location to look both like he knew what the fuck he was doing and keep an eye on how truly messed up things were. Eight days in a new galaxy, and the entire expedition was looking a little ragged around the edges. He knew most of the mundanes weren’t sleeping well. He tracked their movements around the city as they paced the halls late into the night.
“You even look stunningly beautiful when you brood,” McKay leaned against the doorway. “Maybe even more so, I’m starting to get why romance heroes are always brooding and depressed.”
John favored his Guide with a smile. “Hey, how are things going down there?”
“The isolation room is almost complete. The walls… thickened on their own. Everyone is trying not to get all freaked out about it but once I announced the plans to build an isolation room for Radek to recover—the city sort of started to pitch in as much as she was physically capable. The air filtration system in the room I was encouraged by her to investigate is three times what the rest of the city has. The walls, literally, thickened by six inches since I agreed with her on the choice. The floor softened, John.”
John scrunched his nose. “Should we worry about this?”
“Well, out of all the things we have to worry about around here—an artificial intelligence with limited power who wants to make us comfortable seems to be the least of our problems.” He came fully into the office and dropped down in the chair in front of the desk where he normally sat and bitched while he worked.
“I want to go to Athos personally.”
“I figured you might.” Rodney checked his watch and then slouched down into the chair. “We need to debrief the senior staff members and David thinks that Radek is up to participating via radio. I sent him a few computers earlier and hooked him up the Ancient database we were given access to last night.”
“Any word on his levels?”
“David reports that he is working through the training stages quickly. Zelenka is an intelligent man; he isn’t going to let this kick his ass. David is confident he’ll be able to function within normal inside the month. It’ll slow down our work but that can’t be helped. Radek is doing what he can remotely and he’ll probably do better once we can move him into the isolation room.”
“I don’t want him to get dependent on the isolation—so he can sleep in it but he has to be in his regular quarters during the day.”
Rodney frowned. “John.”
“I realize he isn’t getting the kind of care a Sentinel in his situation would normally get and that it’s made for some seriously difficult circumstances for him. That being said, he’s a Sentinel and coddling him does not serve him.” John held up a hand when Rodney started to protest. “Look, I know your instinct as a Guide and his friend is to shelter him as much as possible but you and I both know that it’s not the best situation for him or his place in our mission. We need him on his feet and that kind of strength comes from forcing himself to work through his gifts; not wallowing in an isolation room where he doesn’t have to deal with it.”
Rodney reluctantly nodded. “Yeah, okay.”
“I get that he’s your friend,” John murmured. “I hope that as the weeks pass he’ll become my friend as well but I have a responsibility to him and all of the other Sentinels on this city that I cannot afford to slack on.”
“I know. I even understand mostly. No Guide really gets the whole pack dynamic among Sentinels but I do get that you’re compelled to treat them a certain way.” He stood up. “It’s time for our meeting with Elizabeth.”
– – – –
“John, I realize you’re only seeking to shelter me but I am the ambassador on this mission and it’s my job to meet with these people. The expedition is obviously in a good place supply wise, except for the power problems but we need to cultivate relationships in this galaxy quickly. That’s where I factor in to this whole equation.”
“And under normal circumstances I would be the first to suggest including you on a mission but Cameron and Vala have their concerns about this man the people on Athos call a Guardian. All of the Sentinels you’ve dealt with on this mission are urban; they’ve spent their lives in mostly civilized conditions. This guy—we don’t know what kind of man he is or how he will react to a threat.”
Elizabeth tilted her head and offered him a grin. “I’m a threat?”
“No, you are a petite, female untrained in physical combat who can’t hold a gun without shaking,” John returned dryly. “And until you can handle a weapon as well as my Guide at the very least, you don’t get to go on first contact missions.” He held up a hand when she started to respond. “No. This is absolutely not negotiable. There are a number of people on this mission that we need for survival and success—and you’re one of them. You can’t do your job if you’re dead.”
“Very well, I’ve been looking at the Ancient database and while there is no information on the people of Athos, I did find a great deal of information on the people the Ancients called the Wraith. I’m still filtering through the scientific data which is dry and difficult to translate. Since they seem to be important to the Ancients—you should definitely find a way to ask the people on Athos if they are still around. They seemed to be technologically advanced.”
“Friend or foe?”
“I haven’t gotten that far. The database isn’t the easiest to use.”
“McKay can you fix that?” John turned to him.
“It’s one of the projects I have Radek working on. He’s developing a program that should help us index and search the database sort of like Ancient Google. I desperately wish we’d brought Daniel Jackson along, now; his ability to translate Ancient on the fly would have come in handy. We have his translation program and Elizabeth has a great working knowledge of the language—so we should be able to get meaningful access to the database within the next month. In the mean time, I’d like to drop Elizabeth down in the chair and see if she can’t teach the city English.”
Elizabeth flushed. “Do you think the chair would interact with me?”
“I’ve asked Atlantis if she would and she agreed to give you limited access to her systems despite what she called your genetic disadvantage. She has forwarded several files to Dr. Keller concerning gene therapy but until we are convinced that giving someone the ATA gene artificially won’t trigger another Radek we are treading carefully with that research.”
“Is that a real concern?” John asked with a frown because that was the last thing he needed.
“Jennifer thinks she can isolate the gene that specifically works with the operation of technology. Radek was given the ATA full genome apparently. Once she is confident that Atlantis can only administer the one gene change… we’ll do a test with a volunteer.” Rodney paused. “This is actually quite exciting and she’s been looking over our DNA. If her theories are right, she could revolutionize the Guide search for an online Sentinel. Help bring together potential matches based on DNA.”
John figured that was kind of scary but he wondered if he would have met McKay sooner if they’d had DNA testing that sensitive when he’d first come online. He shared a look with his Guide and saw the same question there in his eyes. The empty years that stretched out behind their bond wasn’t exactly a sore point between them but John felt the small bit of resentment his Guide carried because John had hidden what he was for so long—hidden it and made it impossible for them to be introduced, bonded.
– – – –
“Absolutely not.” Evan put the pack back down and glared at his Guide. “I need you to be flexible and agile in the field. You can’t be that if you’re toting a hundred pounds of medical supplies on your back.”
“I’m not weak,” Jennifer protested. “I can handle…” She frowned at the glare her Sentinel sent her. “It’s a standard medical pack for field use.”
“And if you were military you still wouldn’t be rated to carry it. It weighs nearly as much as you do.”
“Oh, it does not.” Jennifer scoffed and crossed her arms. “I’ve got at least twenty or thirty pounds…”
“Fifteen,” Sheppard interrupted from his place four feet away. He was going through his Guide’s TAC vest taking inventory. “You weigh one hundred and fifteen pounds and that pack weighs one hundred pounds.” He handed McKay his vest and then pulled out a smaller empty back pack out of one of the crates. He carried it over to them and dropped it on top of the pack Evan had set aside. It was roughly one-third the size. “Pack supplies for essential treatment only. Morphine, field dressings, suture kits, etc. If things get nasty out there—I’m not going to stop and give you time to do surgery anyway.”
Jennifer took a deep breath. “Can I pack more to remain on the Jumpers?”
“Yes. Have someone from your department make a large field kit for each Jumper but all of your personnel need to understand that when they are in the field they need to be able to move with purpose and loading yourself down like a pack mule isn’t going to cut it.” John glanced at Lorne and shrugged. “She’s always going to argue with you—because she knows sometimes you’ll give in.”
“Yes, sir.” Evan frowned at his Guide but didn’t say anything else.
In the gateroom, John stopped to stand with Cameron Mitchell as the rest of the team sorted themselves for the trip through the gate. “Concerns?”
Cameron shook his head. “No, sir. I think the geeks are a little nervous because you’re taking their king off the city.” John snorted but didn’t dispute the distinction given his Guide. “Vala and I are going to invade Radek’s space while you’re gone. Parrish is coddling him too much.”
“Agreed.” John clipped his P-90 to his vest and took a deep breath. “Threat assessment on this planet?”
“Without their Sentinel—I’d put the native population at zero. But he’s an unknown. Vala found the people sincere but leery of us. Not much different than anything we’d encounter in the Milky Way to be honest. I’d be curious to know what they have to fear out here.”
John couldn’t help but agree. He nodded and then motioned to the gate tech at the DHD. “Dial it up, Chuck.”
His Guide’s fingers interlinked with his as he stepped through the event horizon and into nothing. He stepped out and found a gun in his face. John leveled his own weapon and pushed his Guide behind him in the same instant—Lorne hissed a curse under his breath as the four Marines coming out after them all but pushed them further into the threat.
“No!” A female voice broke through the air and a woman emerged from the woods. “Ronon, no!”
John cocked his head but his eyes never left the other Sentinel’s. “Do you always ignore your Consort?”
Green eyes darkened. “She never stays where I put her.”
“I can relate to that on so many levels,” Evan responded neutrally, his own gun level on the Sentinel.
The woman reached them, her hand wrapped around his wrist and the weapon was slowly lowered. “Ronon, they are like you.”
“No,” Ronon murmured. “There are none like me left—the Wraith made sure of that.”
John pushed back the shock of the man’s words and inclined his head. His eyes shuttered just briefly before he cleared his throat. “You have three hundred and twenty six people in your village. Fifty one of them are small children.”
“There are technologies that could tell you that. Don’t mistake me for a primitive because I dress like one.”
“You’re Consort is… bleeding.” He shot the woman an apologetic look when she gasped and glared at him. “Sorry.”
Ronon frowned at him. His gaze flicked around and pointed. “There is animal sitting on a rock. Tell me what it is.”
John followed his direction and zeroed in immediately on a bird of some kind. “I have no clue what you’d call it. It’s a small bird, blue feathers, red eyes, dark blue beak and it’s not sitting on a rock. It’s sitting on a large reptile sort of animal that has six very short legs, and a tongue as long as my forearm. One mile past that, there is a collection of insects we call butterflies flying around a small bush with blue blooms. They are all bright yellow with black spots on their wings.”
“I’ve never met anyone like me who wasn’t from my home world and the Wraith exterminated my people five years ago.”
Rodney pressed his face against John’s shoulder and curled his fingers into John’s shirt. “Christ.”
“Who are the Wraith?” John asked, his tone completely neutral. “Was your whole world like us?”
The man blinked in surprise and then slowly holstered his weapon. “Come, this is a long discussion.”
– – – –
Rodney thought he might be sick but he made it a point to never throw up in front of people he didn’t know. The Athosians had proven to be very friendly once their Guardian had approved them. They’d been plied with food and drink almost continuously since they’d sat down to what was surely the strangest and most horrific story hour he’d ever been party to. The Wraith made the Goa’uld and the Ori sound like garden variety school bullies in comparison but he figured that’s because no one really could understand an enemy that would want to eat them.
Ronon’s home world, Sateda, had sounded a great deal like Earth. The Sentinel-Guide population had been proportional to the rest of the population and the protection of their society had fallen to the Sentinels. He was startled to learn that Teyla was, in fact, Ronon’s second Guide. He’d lost his first during the final battle with his planet. He’d searched over many worlds for a Consort before stumbling out of the gate on Athos and literally falling at her feet. They’d been bonded just under two years and none of the children in the village showed any signs of Sentinel traits.
“So these things hibernate?”
“There are times in our history when their numbers have diminished and we’ve heard of hives landing on planets for long periods of times—sometimes even decades,” Teyla admitted. “But in the past two years they’ve started to cull in large numbers. We do not know what or who woke them. Most believed the majority of their population would sleep for at least another hundred years.”
“To give the food supply time to replenish,” Jennifer murmured from her place at the table. “Are they culling themselves to extinction?”
“In the past they would leave people behind when they culled… but in the last year they’ve started to take whole villages.” Ronon frowned. “It’s like they are harvesting… preparing for a long trip but that doesn’t make any sense. Where would they go?”
“You said they woke up two years ago?” Rodney asked softly. “Do you have a time frame specifically?”
“No, I’m sorry.” Teyla shook her head. “Is it important?”
“I don’t know,” Rodney admitted. He took a deep breath to ease the pain in his chest. “Maybe.”
– – – –
John stayed at the DHD while the rest of his team walked towards the open wormhole. “Have the Wraith been here?”
“Not in many years but that means little. They can come in ships or by the ring, there is no rational pattern to their culling,” Ronon admitted.
“If they come…” John pulled a GDO out of his pocket and offered it. “Dial us up and hit the green button on this. It’s got a radio transmitter in it—we’ll be able to receive verbal messages from you. Send your people through to us.”
“Why?” Ronon asked. “You’d risk your people for mine?”
“Where I come from the kinship between Sentinels—men and women of our kind—has no equal. Your people are mine. Your battles are mine.”
Ronon slid the device into his vest and nodded. “On my world, among our kind you would be an Alpha. Does that mean anything to you?”
“On my world in a different time, I would have carried the distinction of an Alpha Sentinel Prime. There was a time, in the past, when such titles had meaning and distinction but we’ve allowed mundanes to civilize us to some degree.” John offered Ronon a smirk. “At least, they think so. They really don’t have the first clue.”
Ronon laughed. “No, I imagine they don’t. Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “Do you think… do you think your people and mine are somehow related?”
“I think your people were the last population in this galaxy to directly descend from those you call the Ancestors. We’re pretty sure the Sentinel and Guides gifts come from the Ancients.” John glanced towards Teyla. “One of her parents was from your home world?”
“Yes, her mother. I even met her once when we were both young but our elders determined we weren’t a match,” Ronon admitted. “She was my last chance—if we hadn’t been able to join I wouldn’t have lasted another week.”
“On my world, a Sentinel rarely survives long enough to bond a second time—especially with pairings that are very compatiable. In fact, most Sentinels don’t survive the death of their Guide—it’s like a soul death for them.” John glanced toward his own Guide who was lingering in front of the open wormhole. “I don’t think—no—I know I wouldn’t survive losing him.”
“I lost a wife and a Consort on Sateda,” Ronon admitted. “My Consort was a soldier like me and my wife was a healer. I mourned my Consort more than my wife—I can’t explain the guilt I carry over that.”
“You don’t have to.” John reached out and gripped his arm firmly. “We will return in a week and I’ll bring our trade negotiator as well.”
Ronon covered John’s hand with his own. “It’s good to know I’m not alone. To have brothers again.”
“And a sister,” John grinned then. “Wait until you meet her…she loves to blow stuff up.”
“My favorite kind of little sister,” Ronon promised.
– – – –
They breezed through the post mission medical easily, Jennifer directing the process with sharp impatient tones that sounded like she was channeling McKay. The truth was that both Guides were bleeding off anxiety and quiet fury from both of their Sentinels and it wasn’t an easy thing to do at all. But more than that, nearly the entire team including the mundane Marines seemed to understand their CO was suffering on some extreme level.
Rodney physically prodded his own Sentinel down the hallway, into a transporter, and into the area they’d set up for crew quarters as quickly possible. He could feel John ripping around the edges, the normally flexible shield he kept around his mental gifts felt rigid and increasingly fragile. The doors to their quarters closed sharply under their combined mental command and they slid to the floor, knees hitting harder than either would have liked. John groaned as he buried his face against Rodney’s chest, his fists clenched in his T-shirt.
“I don’t know how he survived…” John took a deep breath. “I know why Sentinels rarely bond again if they lose their Guide. I didn’t understand before. Maybe I didn’t even understand the drive to survive that kind of loss, either. I’m not sure I do now. He is the strongest man I’ve ever me. To lose all that he did—his Guide, a wife, his pride, and the entirety of his world—in such chaos and pain is more than I can fathom.”
“The pain they carry around inside is too much for most Guides to take on a daily basis,” Rodney murmured. “It can be an agony—a never ending agony. It’s often the reason that Sentinels are isolated when they lose their Guide. If the pain doesn’t drive them insane and they survive the bond being severed so fiercely—the pain just never ends. Teyla is a very strong woman to endure that—to bear the grief and guilt he carries for his entire world every single day.”
“I need.” John took a deep shuddering breath. “Fuck.”
Rodney got them both up off the floor with more effort than he’d ever admit to and pulled John’s shirt over his head. “Yes, I’ll give you what you need.”
He stripped them both efficiently and spread his Sentinel out on their bed with careful, attentive hands. John shifted and surged under him like the tide—powerful and brash. Their mouths met in deep, intimate kisses that they only emerged from when air became absolutely necessary. Rodney concentrated all of his thoughts on John, breaking him down and sheltering him with each touch, each press of his lips until John went languid and lazy in his care.
McKay wondered briefly if he should warn someone that the entire city was about to get laid but figured that Cameron Mitchell had a pretty good idea what was going on behind their door. John was mentally projecting lust and love in equal measure. He pulled out a tube of lube and carefully prepared his Sentinel. John was rarely on bottom but when he wanted it like this – he all but wallowed in the pleasure his Guide could provide.
John lifted off the bed and shuddered at the breach of a third finger. “Yes. Rodney.”
“You’re so hot.” Rodney pressed a kiss against his inner left thigh and shuddered when John spread his legs further, opening himself up completely to his Guide’s touch. “I’m the luckiest bastard in two galaxies.”
“That’s me,” John whispered. “I’m the lucky one.” He hooked one leg around McKay and pulled him down. “Fuck me. I want you in me, right now.”
Rodney shuddered. “You can’t talk like that.”
John laughed, low and dirty. “I can. I could say some very filthy things if you want.”
“I just bet,” McKay murmured as he slid one arm underneath John and then slowly pressed against his entrance. He watched his Sentinel’s bright green eyes go wide and then blur with the hot pleasure/pain of penetration. “I love you.”
John arched against him, his body bowing tight and fierce against the steady press of his Guide’s cock. “Jesus, Rodney, just… fuck… I love you, too. So much.” His fingers clenched against the sheets and he started to shake.
– – – –
Vala collapsed on her Sentinel’s sweat slicked chest and huffed out a breath. “They’ll be the death of us.”
Cameron chuckled. “What a way to go.” He ran one hand down her back idly and closed his eyes as he lifted his hips just a little. “Wife.”
She sat up and tossed her hair back. Their gazes met and held—months of separation still pressed against them both. Anger burned between them as well, the need to avenge the other was hot and desperate. His hands settled on her hips as he slowly hardened within her.
He sat up abruptly and wrapped his arms around her. “I don’t know how to make this better for you.” Cameron pressed a hot kiss against her throat. “Tell me what you need.”
“Just you, Sentinel.” She eased her legs around his waist and held him tightly against her. “Always, just you.”
– – – –
It took McKay three hours of searching to find it and seeing all of his suspicions confirmed wasn’t unlike being punched in the face. He stared numbly at the data but nearly ten minutes before Miko Kusanagi prodded him with the question. By now the story the Athosians had told them had filtered throughout the expedition. John had let Elizabeth handle the dissemination of information when she finally found the entries that detailed the war between the Ancients and the race called the Wraith.
“You found it?”
Rodney nodded. “Yeah, I did.”
“It is bad, then?” Miko shifted a full coffee cup in front of his right hand. “What will we do?”
He didn’t have the first clue but he could hardly say that to her. The scientists were hanging on by a thread—eight days in and they were already jumping at shadows and praying to find a ZPM so they could go home. As beautiful and awe inspiring at Atlantis was—the sheer magnitude of the city had all reminded them how advanced the Ancients were and just how out of their depth they truly were.
“We have to find a way to warn Earth.” Rodney stood and gathered his computer. “Work on a compression program—I need to cram as much data as possible into five seconds of worm hole.”
“Five seconds?” Miko questioned.
“That’s about how long we could maintain a window between here and Earth at our current power levels,” Rodney answered gently. “Work on it, Miko. We need to tell them what we’ve found.”
Rodney hurried out of the science section and into a transporter that would take him to the control tower. John was in the gate room office, looking far more relaxed than he had when they’d returned from Athos but tension still lingered in him. The burden he was about to give his Sentinel was one he could hardly stand to know himself but there was nothing to be done for it.
The walls in the office darkened as he entered and the door slid shut behind him. The gentle snick of the lock made his shoulders slump. The privacy was such a relief that he dropped into the seat. “I know what woke the Wraith.”
“The Ancient outpost on Earth,” John murmured. “They woke around the time SG1 found it and fought off Anubis.”
“Yes.” Rodney put a tablet PC on the desk in front of him. “Three months after O’Neill sat in the chair in Antarctica a distress signal was received by Atlantis. Probably something entirely automated when the chair of an outpost is used to defense. There is no way to tell how many different races picked up the transmission. The Ancients were so goddamned arrogant that they didn’t even bother to encrypt it.”
“When the Ancients left Earth it was to escape a plague,” John murmured. “As far as they were concerned they were most advanced species in the in the Pegasus galaxy. Maybe at the time, they were. How many transmissions are leaving the surface of Earth every day?”
“Too many,” Rodney admitted. “But only one that is giving the exact coordinates of Earth.” He rubbed his face with a shaking hand. “I can’t believe we never noticed it, John. I feel like an idiot.”
“It got past everyone, McKay, including people whose entire job it is to monitor transmissions leaving Earth for Goa’uld and Ori spies.” John took a deep breath. “We need to recon the Wraith and we need to let know Earth what is coming their way. What do they want from Earth? Are they still trying to fight the war the Ancients ran from or is it something else?”
“Maybe they are just hungry,” Rodney muttered dryly. “They’ve about bled this galaxy dry and the Milky Way is steeped in so much war and conflict that it would be child’s play to overwhelm us—and they could feed, theoretically, for thousands of years without having to hibernate again.” He shot up from his chair and started to pace. “And the goddamned Ancients put a target on Earth with our help.”
“If we can warn them and turn off the signal?”
“It’s probably too late to keep the Wraith at bay but maybe we won’t catch the attention of something even nastier like—though I can’t imagine what would be worse than a bunch of space vampires.” Rodney waved his hand around in the air and then stopped pacing abruptly. “Christ, what if there is something worse than space vampires out there?”
John offered his Guide a tired and sad smile. “Well, just when we think something can’t get worse… it does. First the Goa’uld, then Replicators… now we’ve got space vampires who sound like a biblical plague.”
“We can’t let them reach Earth.”
“We’ll do all we can to stop them,” John promised. “And Earth isn’t defenseless, Rodney. We’ve got one ship and more being built. We have the Ancient weapons platform and we have strong, powerful allies. We aren’t like the people on Athos—or probably any of the other worlds in this galaxy who are just as primitive as some of the societies the Goa’uld subjugated.”
“It’ll be okay?” Rodney questioned softly.
“Somehow, yes, I think it will.” John took a deep breath. “Now, we’ve got a goal out here—something for everyone to focus and work toward. Let’s get our people working on this—and we’ll show the Wraith a thing or two about the galaxy they think they want to visit.”
“What are you up to?” Rodney asked with a little frown.
“I was thinking I might pick a fight,” John stretched leisurely. “Let’s see how many ships I can take out before they take a trip to another galaxy.”
“We shouldn’t try to meet with them first?”
John’s eyes darkened. “No. They… they killed Sentinels, Rodney. No matter what Ronon calls himself—they wiped out his planet and I’d see them all pay for it.”
“Your will is mine, Sentinel.” Rodney thread his fingers through John’s and brought his lover close. “Your battles are mine.”
Go to Episode 4: The Shield