The Search

Title: The Search
Author: Keira Marcos
Beta: Ladyholder
Series: Sentinels of Atlantis
Series Order: 20
Fandom: Sentinel/Stargate Fusion
Pairings: McKay/ Sheppard, O’Neill/Patrick Sheppard, OC/OC, Ellison/Sandburg, Vala/Cameron, etc etc
Warnings: No beta, explicit sex, filthy language, & an author with a transitory respect for canon.
Rating: NC-17 (because of the smut)

Summary: John is drawn to explore an off-world facility but Rodney is concerned by the impact the facility has on his Sentinel. Blair Sandburg and James Ellison take Jack O’Neill and Patrick Sheppard into the jungles of South America on a journey to the Temple of the Sentinels.  Anne Teldy and Allison Porter hitch a ride on a submarine to the Ross Sea in search of what appears to be another Ancient outpost. Sam and Daniel sneak into Egypt to search for a hidden tomb. David and Andy take a trip to Great Britain where they meet up with Carson Beckett. Matt Sheppard and Chase Harris step through the gate to a planet on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy and finds something rather unexpected.

The Search by FanArtsSeries

The Search by FanArtsSeries

– – – –

Atlantis had opened up to them in a variety of ways but many parts of the database the Ancients left behind remained a mystery more so for their unspeakably horrific code and lack of searchability than anything else. Rodney hated the Ancients and that pissed him off. There had been a time when he’d admired them—sought to be like them. That had changed in weeks after they’d arrived and learned what the Ancients had left behind.

The damage the Ancients had caused in the Pegasus galaxy was mind-numbing in its vastness. The loss of life, the lack of honor in their actions, and the cowardice that made them seek ascension when the war they created was lost to them made it difficult to respect any of them. What they’d done Sateda—the havoc they’d wrought with their ancestors made him hate them. Such vivid emotions in a Guide were not… uncommon but negative ones could taint the bond between partners if not carefully controlled and dealt with.

Rodney knew he had no secrets from John. It was both a blessing and a curse to be bonded to a powerful Sentinel like Sheppard—his empathy was as advanced as McKay’s. Their emotional connection was just as primitive and consuming as their physical one. When one of them was angry—it eventually, no matter how hard they tried, bled all over their partner. He turned on his back and stared at the ceiling—John was asleep but close to surfacing.

Rodney let his mind glance over his Sentinel’s, John was both at once relaxed and on alert. Even in his sleep, a Sentinel’s body spread out senses in search of threats. Situational awareness was never a problem for a balanced, online Sentinel. John stirred physically, shifted and turned his body so he could throw an arm over Rodney’s chest.

McKay stroked his fingers down the length of John’s arm and took a deep breath. They’d been arguing for three days over what the city had given them. The data on an Ancient outpost had appeared out of the blue on John’s computer. It had taken Rodney just a few minutes to confirm that the data had come from the city herself. Most of the science staff flipped back and forth on the issue of the city and her apparent sentience. Some of the more traditional sort tended to think she was just a very intelligent computer program.

Rodney had tried to think of her that way no matter how the city prodded his empathy like a needy, neglected child. She didn’t intrude and had never tried to communicate with him outside of when he was in the chair. Some could argue the amount of psionic crystal in the city explained the empathic feedback but it couldn’t explain the personality that the Guides had all felt. Atlantis was for lack of a better word, alive. John stirred again and his eyes opened.

Rodney frowned and looked away. He didn’t want to argue with John again but the idea of just going to the outpost that Atlantis had given them with so little information was not something he was comfortable with. The city hadn’t offered up any more research about the facility – not even when John had sat down in the chair and attempted to search himself.

“I understand how dangerous it is,” John finally said in the silence of their artificially darkened bedroom.

Rodney signed and mentally prodded the screens over the doors that lead to their balcony. The morning sun filtered in. “But you don’t care.”

“I do care,” John snapped then took a deep breath. “Do you honestly think so little of me that I would put us and our mission in danger for nothing?”

“No, of course not!” Rodney caught his arm when John started to move away from him. “We have to stop arguing about this, John. We’re bleeding all over the Expedition. Even Cameron and Vala are snapping at each other.” He curled his fingers around John’s wrist and held tight.

“You have to stop treating me like I’m fragile,” John said tightly. “What happened… the Genii were always going to target us and the fact that we haven’t figured out how they tracked us is disconcerting but we can’t hole up on this city and forget what our purpose in Pegasus is.”

“We’re vulnerable until we figure out how they did it,” Rodney ground out through clenched teeth. “What do you think they thought when they finally dialed that planet and found their people piled up in front of the gate like some fucking sacrificial offering?”

“I hope they went back to their home planet and retreated to their underground compound like the murdering cowards they are!” John jerked his wrist free, rolled from the bed naked and furious. “What the fuck am I supposed to do to make this right with you? I underestimated the enemy, okay? I let myself and half my fucking pride get trapped on a planet where we had little to no advantage. I could’ve gotten them all killed!” He jerked on a pair of boxers then his BDUs with shaking hands. “I live with it and have since it happened. Christ, what kind of Alpha am I that I let my people…”

“John.” Rodney slid from the bed and took a deep breath to steady himself so that he could push past the fury that his Sentinel was pouring all over him. “You kept our pride safe. You brought them all home—kept them level in an insane situation that would have driven most Alphas into a feral combat drive. You did exactly what was required of you and you came home to me. I couldn’t have asked for more from you.”

“Yet, we haven’t left the city since it happened,” John said levelly. “The mission schedule remains clear and even though you have sixteen planets you want explored for scientific purposes—you’ve vetoed every single attempt I have made to put them on the mission schedule.”

“I wasn’t the only one who suffered that day!” Rodney shouted and ran a shaking a hand over his face. “For fuck’s sake, John, half the Guides on the city are emotional wrecks! Peter is so fucked up with guilt that he can barely contain it. Parrish is hardly sleeping because Radek is up all hours of the mother fucking night stalking through the city. We’re all in recovery here and your obsession with this outpost is infuriating.”

“I’m not obsessed,” John protested. “I’m interested and Atlantis thought it was important enough to bring to my attention.” He waved a hand in defeat and rummaged through his drawer for a t-shirt which he jerked on in a huff. “We’re going round and round on this same crap but nothing changes. You need to stop treating me like I’m made of glass.”

Rodney watched John sit down on their bed and pull on a pair of socks. “You’re not fragile or made of glass or incapable of protecting us or our mission. What you are, John Sheppard is the love of my goddamned life.” He lifted his chin when John stopped what he was doing to stare at him. “If I’m over cautious… if I make you stop and think it’s not because I don’t trust you but because I spent my whole life waiting on you and I never want to live without you again.”

There was guilt there, lurking in the back of John’s mind and it served as a constant reminder to Rodney that his Sentinel had hid on purpose. That he pushed his gifts down deep, ignored the Center when they tried to test him, and in turn had prevented them ever meeting through official channels. That they’d finally come together was nothing short of a miracle. McKay remembered the shock and the lingering fear he had felt in John that first day—when they had met and bonded. There had been no courtship, no negotiation, no ritual to speak of and he hadn’t wanted any of that. He’d long before given up any hope of bonding at all so the immediacy that had surrounded his coming together with his Sentinel hadn’t concerned him then and it didn’t concern him now.

“I love you,” John whispered. “I’ve honestly never loved anyone the way I love you—you’re the center of everything for me. I can’t… I wouldn’t survive if you were taken from me, Rodney and that’s actually a comfort. I’m not one of those Sentinels who could have a mourning period and eventually find a new Guide. I don’t have it in me to survive and even thrive the way Ronon did. The way Sentinels on Earth have. It’s not something I can do or to be honest, it isn’t even something I’d want to do.”

“I hate the arguing with you,” Rodney said ruefully. “Which is frankly amazing since I consider arguing with people something of a hobby. Some of my best times ever have involved arguing with someone until they admit defeat just to escape me.”

“I’m aware.”

“The planet—it’s important. There is something there we need to see.”

“It doesn’t have a Stargate,” Rodney protested. “We’d have to spend a full day in a jumper at least to reach the planet. A planet we have no intel on. It could be infested with Wraith for all we know.”

“You don’t honestly think they’d have made a base on a world with no gate,” John protested. “It’s totally contrary to our intel on them, you know that.”

“I do,” Rodney said quietly. “Look, let’s plan a mission together and I’ll try not to be an asshole if you try not to be a jerk.”

“Deal,” John laughed and held out his hand. He relaxed when Rodney took it.

– – – –

“The Navy is balking at the idea of having an online, unbonded Sentinel on a sub,” Jack said roughly, as he tossed a pencil on his desk. He glared briefly at his phone and focused on Chase Harris. “Tell me you can handle it.”

“Sir, I can handle it.”

“With or without Matthew Sheppard?” Jack asked dryly.

Chase flushed. “Either, but I’d prefer to have him to ground my senses on. His latency aside, Commander Sheppard has proven to be a perfect foundation for my senses.”

“The Center has some concern about that,” Jack admitted. “They’ve requested that as your superior officer I order you to attend the mixers they have there.”

“I see.” Chase took a deep breath. “If so ordered, I would attend but I won’t accept another bond just because they want me to or they have a Guide in need that fits me psionically. I buried one Guide already—a man that could be alive today if I’d refused and he’d been sent home to the States for training. I won’t take on another out of guilt.”

“I don’t expect you to and I already informed them that I won’t be ordering a Sentinel under my command or in my pride to attend mixers now or in the future. Bonding is a personal, intimate experience and I won’t have it turned into a social politics game for the Center in my region. Until they are on the same page with me on this, I’m refusing them the right to place a Sentinel/Guide Center in Colorado Springs.”

Chase raised an eyebrow in shock. “That can’t have gone over well.”

“Ellison thought it was pretty funny,” Jack said. “Sandburg thinks I’m being contrary just to be contrary but neither of them tried to make me change my mind.”

“I don’t think they could or would try to do so, sir.” Chase shrugged when O’Neill sent him a considering look. “We all know you outrank Ellison, sir. I’ve never been in the presence of a stronger Alpha than you. Even before you came fully online—it was rather overwhelming being in the same room with you.”

O’Neill honestly didn’t like the sound of that. It must have shown on his face because Harris held up a hand as if to capitulate. “What do you mean by that, exactly?”

“Sir, how would you define your role as a military man and a Sentinel?”

“It’s my job to protect my Guide, my pride, and defend the Stargate from off-world intruders.”

“So you’re saying it’s your job to defend Earth?”

It was like getting kicked in the gut and Jack knew that feeling stupidly well. He sat back in his chair and cocked his head slightly as he considered the ramifications of his instinctual answer.

“Yes.” He motioned Chase to sit and relaxed when the younger man did it without any sort of hesitation. The younger Sentinel had been a little standoffish and formal with him since joining the SGC and it wasn’t all because of their professional relationship. “I spoke with the SecNav about the mission and your placement on it—I made it clear that it was mission essential that a Sentinel be included in any exploration of the coordinates. I’m going to send SG1 and I won’t make any explanations regarding your relationship with Commander Sheppard. It’s clear, as far as I’m concerned, that between the two of you that your senses are balanced and maintained as well as can be expected of an unbonded Sentinel.”

“Perhaps…” Chase took a deep breath. “Maybe SG1 should take the off-world assignment and Major Teldy and SG3 could take the Ross Sea mission.”

“It crossed my mind,” Jack said. “Teldy seemed pretty intent on taking the off-world mission when we discussed the coordinates we were gifted with. Do you feel any particular attachment to either assignment?”

“No.” Chase paused. “Do you?”

“The moment I reviewed the list that Daniel gave us—I knew that I was going to Central America. I’ve… had dreams about the jungle since I came online which I’ve been ignoring. Sandburg had some rather unflattering things to say about that, I might add. Apparently, keeping secrets about ‘spiritual jungle dreams’ is just completely unacceptable.”

Chase laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Jack picked up his phone and ordered the person who picked up to locate Major Teldy and have her report to his office. He hung up the phone and frowned. “Carter wants to put radios on people.”

“I’ve seen the ones that we sent with the Atlantis Expedition, it would probably be…” He trailed off at the knock at the door and sat back in silence as O’Neill called for Teldy to enter. “Good for everyone who can’t hear a bear growl from three miles away.”

Teldy offered him a quick grin and sat down. “I wasn’t listening actually—not on purpose but I always pick up when my name is said. I have since I came online.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Chase said. “I can’t do that kind of filtering. Maybe you could teach me?”

“I can try,” Anne said with a nod.

“The Navy is reluctant to allow an unbonded Sentinel on a submarine,” Jack said without preamble. “They haven’t gone so far as to outright deny us access to their equipment but they’d probably be more helpful if I sent a bonded Sentinel. I’d rather not put Daniel Jackson on a Navy vessel of any sort so that leaves you, Major. Do you have any pressing desire to go off-planet for your leg of the treasure hunt?”

Anne shook her head. “I offered for it because I knew Major Carter isn’t… interested in taking her Guide off world and that Daniel was uniquely suited to the mission in Egypt. I don’t think switching with Captain Harris would be an issue for me on an instinctual level. Allison has been on a variety of vessels though neither of us has ever been on a submarine. It’s not an ideal environment for a Sentinel or a woman. While the Navy has changed their policies about women serving on submarines—very few have actually qualified to do so.”

“I wouldn’t want you to take your Guide into a situation that makes you or her uncomfortable, Major,” Chase protested. “It’s… the Navy isn’t going to say no once it the orders come down from the President.”

“Better the Sentinel they approved than the one they were forced to take,” Anne said bluntly. “General, I have no doubts about my ability to function in a submersed environment. Allison and I both can handle the Ross Sea assignment. They’ll be so relieved to get a bonded Sentinel instead that they’ll willingly overlook that I’m female.”

“Yeah, until they have a whole submarine full of sailors imagining the hot lesbian sex,” Chase said dryly and grinned when O’Neill choked on the coffee he was drinking. “My apologies, sir.”

Jack glared at him and wiped his mouth with a napkin he’d been using as a coaster. “Right. Very well, consider your missions traded. I trust you’ll exchange any research you’ve already gathered for your missions. Dismissed.”

– – – –

He’d come to the Center in Denver to pick up a Conservator that was powerful enough to work with both him and his son. In all honesty, David hated coming to the Center. He hated the looks, the Guides that crowded him in an effort to get his attention. He understood that there were more Guides than Sentinels; he even kind of understood their desperation to bond. His body and mind craved a Guide but none of the ones he encountered were right. He’d heard more than one person at the Center speculate about him—his lack of interest in males Guides was already somewhat legendary. But he knew his Guide was female. He’d met all the ones available at his level and none came close to being what he needed.

The last Conservator had been replaced by Sandburg personally but the younger man wasn’t available to travel with him to Europe due to his school schedule. David didn’t want to interfere with that so they’d parted ways earlier in the week. He wasn’t sure he needed a Conservator at all but he wasn’t going to risk an international trip with his son without a Guide on board. He put down his phone and focused on the person he was about to meet. The Guide was young… probably under thirty and he had a pretty face and a slim attractive body to go with it. He stood as the Director of the facility brought him across the room.

“Sentinel David Sheppard. Guide Sean Taylor. Sean has just finished his doctorate work in Anthropology at the University of Colorado. He had dual Masters degrees in Sentinel/Guide Studies and Psychology. He is a Level Five Guide and feels confident that he can act as a Conservator for both yourself and young Andrew should the situation call for it.”

David offered his hand to the Guide without hesitating and felt a slightly twinge of disappointment when touching him didn’t do a thing for him psionically. Sean sent him an amused look of understanding even as his fingers glanced over David’s palm. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sean.”

Sean nodded. “The feeling is mutual, Sentinel. It’s unfortunate we aren’t more compatible.” David felt his face flush and the Guide grinned in response. “Still, I think I can handle your senses and be on hand for your son as well. I’ve been given an overview of your situation and neither of you are dire need at this point. I’ve seen Andrew here at the Center a few times and found him to be well-balanced for someone his age.” He inclined his head. “That is if you don’t have any objections.”

David found he had none, which was a surprise in itself. Even the Conservators he’d accepted in the past had put him off slightly. Sean Taylor was just genuinely nice to be around. “No, I have no objections. I expect to be in Europe for at least a week and you’ll have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Though I have to admit I’m surprised to find someone who hasn’t worked in government contracts with your kind of security clearance.”

Sean smiled. “My suite mate in undergraduate was the President of the United State’s grandson and I’m a level five empath. The Secret Service investigated me quite thoroughly before I was allowed to room with him. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement then as well considering I had access to various information that was considered classified. The kid always knew where his Grandfather was and such information about the POTUS is at times a state secret.”

“My son and I are leaving for Great Britain in the morning. If you can give me an address; I’ll have my driver pick you up.”

“I have my bag with me, Mr. Sheppard.” Sean rocked back on his heels slightly. “I’m packed for two weeks. I was told by the Center that you’ll be picking up the tab.”

“Yes, all expenses,” David said. “Good, Andy might adjust to you better if you spend the night at the house with us. You’ll meet his grandfathers—Jack O’Neill’s approval is important to my son. Please keep that in mind.”

“I’ve seen but not met the Alpha but I have every confidence that I’ll be a good fit to act as your Conservator until you are ready to bond, sir.”

– – – –

Sam Carter didn’t trust the Ascended. They knew too much, helped too little, and were on the wrong side of arrogant. She resented how long they had kept Daniel a hostage no matter the fact that he was eventually returned to her. He’d only ascended because he’d been told he could return to his Sentinel. But Oma had underestimated how fascinated the Ancients would be with Daniel Jackson and Sam had paid a price for that. Not the ultimate price, in the end if Daniel hadn’t Ascended he would’ve died and Sam would’ve waited for her Guide to return to her for years before accepting that death was the better option.

The coordinates they’d received from Bastien had been discussed for weeks. Daniel was all for immediate exploration but thankfully General O’Neill had been less willing to toss people at coordinates on a map on the say so of an Ascended Guide. It wasn’t a matter of trust for the General but one of logistics and political impact. Going into the Ross Sea was tricky as the IOA was already combating the Antarctic Treaty provisions while trying to keep alien technology a secret. At least the international nature of the Stargate program was good for something—they’d managed to keep the Ancient outpost under wraps for quite a while.

Their quarters were a little bit of home in the Mountain. They shared a desk but Daniel often just took what he was reading to the bed. His laptop was currently perched on two piles of books to his left while he had that book spread out in front of him. He’d poured over it every day since the day the Ascended Guide had come to them and written in it.

He hadn’t let the book out of his sight since then for more than a minute and Sam wasn’t entirely sure that was healthy. Sometimes she was sure that Daniel remembered more about his ascension than he admitted. Their bond was fresh and almost new in the wake of the changes in their physical relationship. Sam had been questioned extensively by the Center once she’d reported a marked difference in the management of her senses and how she believed in directed to the sexual relationship she’d gained with her Guide. Many hadn’t wanted to hear it. They didn’t want to know about it and maybe some were genuinely threatened by the implications.

Sam closed her laptop and stood. They were in their base quarters—they had, in fact, spent more time on base than in their little out of the way cottage in the last few months. She adored the house they’d bought and furnished together but so much had happened and a part of her didn’t like being that far from the rest of her pride. There were six new Sentinels in the Mountain—most of the coming in the wake of O’Neill’s status becoming known among the military ranks. No one Sentinel or Guide who had requested a transfer to O’Neill’s command, no matter the branch they served in, had been denied. The Mountain had always been manned by personnel from all five branches so that wasn’t unique even in their new circumstances.

“Jack gone for the day?” Daniel asked amused as he sat aside his own work and focused on his Sentinel.

Sam flushed a little at being so obvious. It was hard not to be on duty when the General was in the Mountain. “Yes, Dr. Sheppard picked up him about ten minutes ago at the front gates.”

“Did you want to do a round check everything out?”

Sam shook her head. “Frost is taking care of it. He’s been on the prowl since his arrival basically. He reported to Teldy and myself a half dozen security violations since he arrived thirty-six hours ago. At first we thought he was just adjusting his territory but there is something… wrong.”

“Wrong?” Daniel asked.

“He’s on edge but doesn’t have a Guide so Teldy and I aren’t sure what is going on exactly. He came online two years ago after the birth of his nephew.”

“Really?” Daniel inclined his head. “How odd. I mean I’ve heard of men and women coming on line with the birth of their own child but…”

“His sister gives birth and Declan went down like a ton of bricks in the waiting room twenty minutes later. He was sequestered for nearly three weeks and the Center had to make special arrangements with the new mother to bring her infant in so Declan could see him. He took six months leave from the Navy after that.”

“The kid is latent?” Daniel prodded.

“Yes, a Guide from all reports, but latent. The parents live and work in Denver and this is as close as Declan can get to a combat posting and still be near his family. O’Neill practically signed off on his transfer before Frost could officially request it. He has his admin trawling military records for Sentinel/Guide assets. I heard the Secretary of Defense has had to smooth a lot of ruffled feathers due to the cherry picking.” Sam stripped off all of her clothes casually and plucked a towel from a stack on the top of the dresser. “Shower?”

Daniel grinned. “Hard to turn down an offer like that… what with you being naked and all.”

“I’m a genius,” Sam said airily as she walked into the bedroom.

– – – –

Anne tilted her head slightly and she listened to Declan Frost’s progress through the Mountain. The first few nights on the base she’d chalked up his patrol to adjustment and the fact that their Alpha never slept on base. In fact, O’Neill hadn’t used his quarters on base for more than privacy since he’d bonded. She also knew he’d shifted his primary residence to the house that David Sheppard had bought which she figured had more to do with the little Alpha than anything else.

Most of the pride in Colorado Springs had gone out of their way to meet or at least see Andrew Sheppard. Anne figured that the first official meeting, which was not on O’Neill’s radar at the moment, would be very large. Nearly twenty bonded civilian pairs had moved into the area from around the country since O’Neill had come online. Some were government contractors but most were not—cops, social workers, doctors, search and rescue, and paramedics for the most part from what she’d researched. She wondered if they’d be surprised to find that O’Neill’s beta was female.

She’d honestly expected some wrangling from Carter but the older woman had surprised her by just smirking and admitting that she’d never met a female Sentinel so close to being Alpha. It wasn’t the first time Anne had heard such and it hadn’t always been a compliment. Her Guide was also female which had led to varying degrees of bullshit over the years and her own dominant instinctual drives had more than one mundane suggest she was transgender or just a dyke. She could’ve explained that Allison’s gender hadn’t even been a consideration but she didn’t bother. In a different time she might have admitted that her Guide was the only woman she’d ever laid hands on in a sexual way. Bonding wasn’t about being gay or straight—it was about finding a missing part of yourself and slotting it back into place.

“Do you think you need to sort him to the Center in Denver?” Allison questioned from her place on a small couch in Anne’s office.

“No, I discussed the situation with Colonel Carter and General O’Neill earlier in the day. His levels are fine and he has a bit of a history with environmental adjustment issues. He’s going to visit his family for twenty-four hours.”

“And when he returns, his Alpha and Beta will be gone on missions.”

“I made him aware of the mission schedule. He has no problems with the chain of command and has never been a discipline problem. I introduced him to Colonel Caldwell earlier in the week because Frost is now the ranking NCO on the base.”

“Yet, he’s prowling around this base like a grizzly bear.”

Anne laughed and offered her Guide a little smirk. “More like a man-eating tiger actually.”

“His Spirit animal?”

“Yeah, I usually ask Sentinels because we often take on some of the more base characteristics of our animal. Tigers are solitary but will socialize and they are extremely territorial.” She tilted back in her chair. “The most interesting thing is that Sentinels with tigers for Spirit animals most often achieve a primal bond with their Guides. It’s interesting that he’s over thirty and unbonded. The Center has expressed some concern about both of our unbonded Sentinels.”

Allison snorted. “Chase Harris is not unbonded… he’s just… in limbo, sort of. I’ve never seen a Sentinel latch onto a latent Guide the way he has Commander Sheppard. It won’t take much to push them into a full mating drive. When Sheppard flips online it’ll be explosive.”

“You think he will?” Anne questioned. “I mean just because his father did and O’Neill changed the Commander’s status…”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Allison admitted and shrugged when Anne focused on her entirely. “He’s already putting out Guide vibes. Not like his Dad after we were at the outpost but there is a little empathic buzz around him. Dr. Jackson and I have talked about it. That’s why we suggested that Matt go to the Center for those classes. We’ve also been included him in our meditation exercises. At first, I have to admit he was impatient with it but over the past two weeks he’s really calmed down and found his center.” She paused and bit down on her bottom lip. “He achieved an empathic shield two days ago.”

“Oh.” Anne’s eyes widened. “Did you report that to the Center?”

Allison shook her head. “No, he was a little freaked out when it happened and asked Daniel and I not to report it. It’s kind of personal but more important than that—it’s a sign that he really is going to come online. I don’t think he was all that convinced he would. He’s been very careful not to discourage Chase from visiting the Center to meet potential Guides. No matter how much it pisses him off when the Center pressures Harris into doing it.”

Anne grimaced. “They asked O’Neill to order Harris to attend meet and greets.” She paused and laughed. “I’m pretty sure he told them to kiss his ass but that’s not how he phrased it when he told me and Carter about it.”

“I bet he frustrates the hell out of them—between not having the genetics they think he should have and being all big-dick swinging Alpha,” Allison exclaimed and flipped her hand around in the air as if to illustrate her point.

“You’d better not ever repeat that big-dick swinging Alpha thing in his hearing range,” Anne warned with an amused laugh.

– – – –

The mission plan was excessively careful but John didn’t mind that. In the end, the fuss about who would be traveling with them had been so aggressive that McKay had made the Sentinels draw straws. Cameron had won. Radek was pissed because of science and everyone else was pissed because they all agreed it was dangerous but six people in one Jumper for twenty-five hours was also a torture of its own. A team of four was the maximum they could take.

There was an urgency in him—telling him to get to the planet as soon as possible but he wasn’t going to share that with McKay. If he was being prodded by the city or more likely by someone Ascended, McKay would probably lose his shit. Though they all trusted Bastien and Marius to an extent—they’d learned over the years that those who had Ascended often had an agenda that was beyond what they were seen to be doing. The fact that they weren’t Ancients did a lot to make Rodney more comfortable with them.

Zelenka and Cadman were handling the preparing for the Jumper the trip. John had decided to leave it up to them considering the outright dirty looks he’d received during the briefing when he’d suggested such duties could be delegated.

Rodney moved to lean against the balcony next to John and sighed. “So, on a scale of one to ten—how much do you need to be on that planet right now?”

“Nine,” John admitted. “It’s getting worse—there is something there we need or need to see and I can’t explain it more than that. It isn’t a torture or anything but I want to go.”

“No, you need to go,” Rodney said quietly. “I can’t say it doesn’t concern me.” He glared at his Sentinel when John laughed. “Fuck you.”

“I wish you would,” John said ruefully. He sent McKay a quick grin. “Who knew you’d be one of those Guides to withhold sex?”

“Yes, I’m sure the last three days have been an agony for you.” Rodney prodded him with his shoulder and John laughed. “Wanna go find an empty office and have elicit, secret sex like the other half of the Expedition?”

“Sounds appealing,” John admitted. “But so does our bed except we have three more hours on shift before we even get a lunch break.”

“Being responsible is bullshit,” Rodney confided. “Meet me for lunch in our quarters?”

“Done deal.”

– – – –

“A pride forms around an Alpha,” Jack O’Neill said. “That’s what you told me.”

“Yes,” Jim Ellison agreed. “It’s the theory that Burton postulated and one that most of our researchers agree with.”

“And Sentinels can move in and out of prides at will?” Jack questioned. “There is not… I don’t know… pre-destination involved?”

“Oh.” Blair Sandburg stood up from his desk across the hotel room and joined them by the fire. He slid into his Sentinel’s lap with an easy grace and casual knowledge of complete acceptance. “What’s going on?”

Jack envied them that—he had to wonder at his age if he’d ever accomplish that with his Guide. Ellison and Sandburg were going to join him and Patrick on the mission to South America. As far as he knew, Ellison was the only modern Sentinel to find and return from the Temple of the Sentinels. He had to believe that the coordinates in South America that Daniel Jackson had been given lead to the temple or something similar. Very little had been published about Ellison’s trip to the temple or the results of it.

“I’ve a level five Sentinel in the Mountain. A Navy SEAL that requested a posting as close to Denver, Colorado as he could get because of his two year old nephew. He was prepared to leave the Navy altogether so you can imagine that the SecNav was very interested meeting his needs at least on the short term. The Navy is under the mistaken impression that they’ll get him back at some point but I don’t give up Sentinels once they are in my command. Additionally, he’ll probably bond with one of my civilian scientists within the year.”

“He’s met someone compatible already?”

“No.” Jack shook his head. “Just experience talking here. I’ve yet to bring an unbonded Sentinel into Cheyenne Mountain who remained in that state more than a year. His Guide is here or will be here sooner rather than later. I don’t know if it’s the region, the access to Ancient technology, or…”

“You,” Blair said somewhat amused. “Many at the Center have speculated about you and your little habit of bossing high ranking Sentinels around like they are children. Even when you were believed to be mundane, Sentinels didn’t intimidate you, which I have to say is very uncommon. So tell me about your new Sentinel?”

“His senses are under control, he obviously wants a Guide but isn’t willing to settle for one that isn’t a very good match, and he’s been prowling around my Mountain like a wounded animal since he arrived.”

“We’re discussing Declan Frost,” Jim said bluntly. “The people at the Center are less than pleased with his response to their overtures about setting up another Guide search for him. In the past, he’s insisted on meeting other military personnel only and obviously that isn’t working in his favor. The bevy of military/civilian pairings in your command should’ve worked in their favor in encouraging him to at least entertaining the idea of a civilian Guide. His response was negative.”

Blair laughed. “Jim, he threatened to report them to the Department of Defense for harassment.”

“After the fifth phone call in a week,” Jim interjected. “Frankly, I would’ve done the same. How many ways can a man say no before he has to involve a lawyer?”

“They’re just pissy with me and taking it out the Sentinels under my command,” Jack muttered. “They called Chase Harris fifteen times in a month and the only reason they stopped is that he lodged a formal complaint. I sent Patrick over there to explain the position of our pride on their bullshit. He took Major Teldy and three lawyers.”

“I heard,” Ellison admitted. “Any complaints on the Teldy front?”

Jack shrugged. “If there is a man or woman in my pride who has a problem with me having a female beta – they can go fuck off to another area.”

“Is Frost a problem for your pride? Does he balk against your authority?” Ellison questioned.

“No, not at all. He’s a career military man to his bones. I have no worries that he won’t follow my orders to the letter. I’ve reviewed his records with Navy. He has no history of using anyone as a Conservator.” Jack rubbed the back of his neck. “Except, I’ve seen this kind of behavior before and I’m concerned.”

“When?”

“When Vala Mitchell was held hostage off-world. Her Sentinel roamed the base like a man dying. He was restless, short-tempered, and on alert 24/7. It was that behavior that forced me to contact the Center regarding treatment for him. I can’t… no. I won’t request or order another Sentinel in command or in my pride to turn themselves over the Center for care on that level again. The breach of trust was unspeakable and I’ll never trust the organization again.”

“No one can blame you for feeling that way,” Blair said. “We know how much the Center has to regain on that front and no one expects it to happen overnight or in some cases at all. Even if Cameron Mitchell was on the planet—no one from the Center would contact him without my personal permission. I regret, deeply, that I never had the chance to speak with him before he left with his Guide.”

– – – –

He hadn’t had sex with anyone since he came online and none of the other Conservators that the Center had saddled him with had even tempted him but Sean Taylor was easily the most attractive person he’d been alone with in years.

Sean offered him a small smile as he dropped his duffle on the luggage rack near the door of the guest suite. “Nice.”

“I assumed I’d have to house a Conservator for my son at some point so I had the house decorated with that in mind. The suite has everything but a kitchen. The cook sets the table at 5am and 6pm for meals during the school year. We’re on our own for lunch if we are home for it. The housekeeping service I use is Sentinel friendly but if you have any special needs just leave a note for Natalie on the corkboard in the kitchen. Laundry goes out twice a week and I do ask you to use that service. Andy’s sense of smell is his most troubling and it helps if there are no foreign detergents in the mix on top of everything else.”

“I reviewed your requirements,” Sean reminded. “All the clothes for the trip I brought were cleaned through them. I’ve been Sentinel friendly on the body front since I was sixteen. I don’t use scented soaps or colognes.”

He really didn’t need to, David thought dryly. The man smelled good enough to eat which made him feel like a lecher. “Good. My father is picking up Andy and they’ll return home with General O’Neill around eight tonight. They are dining with Ellison and Sandburg this evening in Denver.”

Sean hummed under his breath and shrugged out of his jacket. “In your records with the Center, it was documented that you’d turned down sexual contact with all of your past conservators.”

David grimaced. “Did they mention they all phrased it in such a way that I felt like I was being offered the services of a high priced whore?”

Sean laughed. “No, they didn’t quite mention that. As you know, a Conservator is not required to offer sex nor is there to be an expectation of sexual contact by either party in the relationship but it is acceptable if both parties understand the limits and boundaries of such a relationship.”

“Yeah, it’s the explanations of such limits and boundaries that lead me to believe I might be negotiating sex by the hour,” David said dryly. “Beer?”

“Love one,” Sean agreed with a small smile. “Do you have any problems with alcohol consumption?”

“I can handle a beer but I haven’t gone near hard liquor since I came online. I wasn’t much a drinker before hand—most of it has always been too strong for my palette. An indication, I’ve been informed, of a latent heightened sense of taste.”

“There are many people who have been questioning the validity of our current DNA tests since that process was started but is better than what we had before which was nothing but instinct.” Sean followed him down the stairs and into large, open kitchen. “Beautiful property. Isolated but easily accessible. How much land?”

“Thirty-six acres,” David said as he opened the bottles of beer he’d pulled from the frig and offered one to the Guide. “So that we’re on the same page—did you bring up the sex thing to let me know you aren’t interested in sharing my bed or to let me know I could climb you like a tree if I were so inclined?”

Sean rested against the counter and pursed his lips. “I’m currently unattached romantically. I’m sure my current blood test results were included in the packet you were given about me so you know I’m clean.” He inclined his head. “When is the last time you had sex?”

David shrugged. “I was seeing someone when I came online.”

“Right.” Sean waved for him to continue.

“She was a liar and…” He exhaled sharply. “She smelled off or weird to me after I came online. We had an open relationship which wasn’t a problem for me before but after my senses were fully developed being around her was infuriating. When I realized she was hostile in my son’s presence—I dumped her. I never touched her after I came online.”

“You’ve been online for about four months.”

“Give or take a day or two, yeah.”

“You’ve been through four Conservators.”

“Two were scared off by O’Neill. They couldn’t be near him without falling apart which was stressful for Andy. The third wanted a bond with me despite the fact that we weren’t compatible and my son requested I sever the Conservatorship but before I could do so Blair Sandburg interfered and sent her packing. The fourth worked well and Andy had no problems with him. Unfortunately, he had difficulty traveling with us on a short-term basis. Him travelling to Europe with us was completely out of the question, which meant a new Conservator. I hope that we can work well together. Andy needs stability.”

“You as well,” Sean said bluntly. “You son depends on you for more than you realize, Sentinel. He uses his family to center himself, his mind, and his gifts. The fact that he is empathic as well—only adds to the burden he already carries when you aren’t at your best.”

“No one has actually said that to my face before,” David admitted.

“Because of your father,” Sean admitted. “His guilt he carries due to his poor relationship with your brother John radiates around him. We all feel it. Even Andy carries that. His love, his helplessness, the fear that no one will explain due to the classified nature of John Sheppard’s status, and the failure that seems to have no end. It won’t end until he can make amends with your brother. No one can miss the parallel that can be drawn between your relationship with your son and his relationship with John. They are careful with you because of him and because of Andrew. Upsetting an Alpha of his rank is… unnatural to Guides no matter his age.” He paused and set aside the beer. “As to the sex—yes it’s on the table. You’re really attractive, I’m single, and if you want we can go upstairs, spread out on my big bed and fuck like animals.”

“Wow.” David laughed and set aside his beer. He checked his watch. “We have about four hours before anyone else comes home.”

Sean offered his hand and a little smirk. “It’ll be fine. I promise the only thing I might get attached to is your cock.” He wet his bottom lip. “Have you ever been with a Guide?”

“No.” David let himself be led back up the stairs but prodded the younger man towards his own bedroom feeling a little seduced and definitely turned on. “I have supplies.”

“Me, too but your territory is fine.” Sean let go of his hand and pulled his t-shirt over his head as David shut and locked the door.

David fiddled with the white noise generator that he hadn’t needed since he’d broken up with his girlfriend setting it high enough that O’Neill would take it for a warning and Andy would retreat immediately. It had been one of the first rules he’d set down for his son after he came online. In theory an Alpha could work past a white noise generator but Andy had promised not to attempt it unless there was an emergency. He pulled his shirt from his slacks and unbuttoned as he watched Sean Taylor slide out of the last of his clothes and drop them on the floor.

The Guide tossed back to the duvet and flat sheet, prodding them both out of his way before making good on his promise. Sean crawled up onto the bed and tossed a few pillows at the top of the bed to lean on then spread his legs in a negligent sprawl that looked a bit practiced but was nonetheless arousing.

“You’re a pretty bastard, Taylor,” David muttered as he shed shoes, socks, his slacks, and finally his boxers.

“Thanks,” Sean murmured as David pulled a tube of lube and a strip of condoms from his nightstand. “We’re both clean. You don’t have to use condoms if you don’t want to.”

“I’ve never had sex without a condom. My son was conceived by accident though I don’t dwell on that.”

He tossed the condoms back in the drawer. The idea of being inside Sean without a condom was insanely attractive. The file on the younger man hadn’t been sparse on details—he was beautiful, well-educated, empathically gifted, a wolf Guide, sexual but selective about his partners. He had acted as a Conservator just once before and it had been for a Sentinel who had lost his Guide.

David moved onto the bed and shifted so that he could kneel between Taylor’s legs. He let his gaze travel over slim, hairless legs, upward over plump pink balls and the length of Sean’s cut cock which was hard and leaking on a leanly muscled stomach. “God.”

Sean spread his arms out above his head and relaxed. “You don’t have to hold back, David. You can just take. Take what you want.”

David wrapped his hands around Sean’s ankles and spread him open wide. Without a word, he lowered himself between the Guide’s legs and sucked one of those gorgeous pink balls into his mouth. Taylor groaned and relaxed under him—surrendering with a shuddery breath. There was a little wave of guilt then pushing against the back of his mind where he’d been feeling that small connection with someone beyond his reach.

“Shh,” Sean whispered as he ran his fingers through David’s hair. “No one will begrudge you this, David, not even your Guide.”

He accepted that, knew it because if his Guide was in someone else’s arms right now than he was glad for her—pleased that she’d found some comfort until the moment they would be together. David licked up the length of Sean’s cock, sucked on the head and clamped both hands on the man’s hips as Taylor rolled his hips slightly. He sucked him in deep—swallowed around the sweet, fat head of Sean’s cock. David lifted off of him and licked his lips.

“Turn over.” He sat back as Sean moved to do as he’d ordered. He didn’t kid himself—it hadn’t been a request at all. “You’ve got yourself pretty locked down, Sean. This doesn’t have to be just for me.”

Sean shivered as David ran a hand down the length of his back and prodded his legs further apart. “Just let me know if it’s too much.”

“You do the same,” David said clearly amused. “I want to eat you out, you okay with that?”

“I…” Sean snagged a pillow and shivered. “Yeah, I took a full cleansing from the Center’s day spa before we were introduced in case you needed a physical grounding period.”

“Lucky me,” David murmured as he cupped Sean’s ass and spread him open so he could look at Sean’s soft, pink hole.

“God,” Sean gasped as David swiped his tongue boldly over his hole. His back arched and he buried his face in the pillow.

By the time David was working his tongue in and out of the younger man’s hole, Sean was rocking into him, sobbing softly. Finally, he lifted his mouth away and reached for the lube. He slicked up three fingers and dropped the tube on the bed. “You good?”

“Hell yes,” Sean whispered.

“Good.” David worked a finger into him roughly. “Tell me if I get to rough with you.”

“Sure, sure,” the Guide promised a little breathlessly as David worked a second then third finger into—twisting them as he went. “So, you’ve… hmm… slept with a man before.”

David laughed. “Once or twice.” He paused and slowed his fingers. He pressed into Sean again. “You?”

“Yeah, a couple of years ago. I met a Sentinel… he was on leave from the Navy. I let that guy fuck me through a mattress. It was great. I was latent then. Never expected to come online.” Sean hissed softly and shuddered.

“Just him?”

“For anal, yes but I’ve never been picky about gender when it came to getting off,” Sean rocked back onto David’s fingers. “Seriously, you gotta fuck me right now.”

“And if I want to take my time?”

“I’d have to tell you that the torture of an online Guide is a federal crime,” Sean whispered fiercely as David removed his fingers. “Then I might throw you on this mattress and give your cock a ride.”

David picked up the lube, slicked up his cock, and wrapped one hand around Sean’s slim hip. “I guess I’d better give you what you want then.”

“Hell yeah,” Sean agreed.

David rubbed the head of his cock against Sean’s loosened hole a few times before he let himself slid in with one slow stroke. “Fuck.” He tightened his grip on Taylor’s hip. “Give me a second or this will be all over.” He pulled the younger man up and settled him in his lap to forestall any movement on his part.

Sean turned his head, offering his mouth and David took the kiss as awkward as the angle was without hesitating. He’d wanted to kiss the Guide since he’d set eyes on him. He ended the kiss with a little groan and started to move. It took Sean just a minute to catch up with his rhythm. They rocked together—indulging in the new, burning pleasure. When he could take no more of the slow pace, David pushed Sean forward gently and started to fuck into him in a quicker pace.

Sean took each stroke with a hard little groan, his pleasure rolling off of him in empathic waves and David let himself get a little lost in that. He wrapped a hand around the Guide’s cock and jerked him roughly when he felt his own orgasm building. The smell of the man’s semen when he came, coupled with the feeling of it clinging to his own fingers sent him right over the edge. He thrust into Sean’s ass deep and hard, his body jerked roughly as he came.

David caught Sean before he fell forward and pulled him back into his lap. He nuzzled the Guide’s neck and let his senses catalog the man’s condition. Over pleasured, exhausted, but not hurt. “Thank you.”

Sean hummed and relaxed against his chest. “No, thank you.”

David laughed and pressed a kiss under Sean’s ear. “We’re bad for each other I think.”

“I adore being a bad influence.”

– – – –

There were times when his son was every bit the child he should be. Right now, he was making the biggest mess possible in the bathroom. David wanted to scold him but he just didn’t have it in him. He pulled a towel from the hamper and dropped it on the floor to gather up the worst of it and leaned against the counter while Andy swished a boat around in the water.

“Sean’s nice.”

Andrew looked at him then, a small smile playing on his mouth as if he knew some grand secret and David figured he knew more than a few even at just six years old. “Dr. Blair says that grown-up Sentinels sometimes need stuff from Guides that little Sentinels like me don’t.”

“Oh.” David felt his face heat and he focused on the ceiling. They’d had a very brief talk about sex shortly after Andy had come online because the kid had overhead their neighbors having sex and had flipped out thinking they were killing each other. At the Center they taught young Sentinels most of them easily five or ten years older than Andy to tune out the intimacies of others until it became something like second nature. Andy would pull his hearing in focus on something else if he accidently came upon people having sex or an intimate conversation that wasn’t for him to hear but he was six and curious and David worried constantly that he was going to grow up with some weird sexual dysfunction.

“Dr. Blair says that sex is natural and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.”

David wondered if he could get Blair Sandburg to give him a pep talk about sex. “Okay.”

“He says that sometimes Sentinel/Guide pairs have sex because they have affection for one another than transcends the bond but that it’s a decision for grown-ups to make and since I’m so little I don’t have to think about that stuff until I’m eighteen.”

“Good age,” David agreed. “Maybe twenty? That’s a good age, too.”

Andy laughed and shrugged. “Dr. Blair says that when I bond with a Guide—that nature and instinct will give us the tools we need to be a good pair. There is a Sentinel at the Center—he’s fourteen. He found his Guide last week. Her parents are all freaked out—they’re mundane. She’s a year older than him but the Dad was yelling at everyone and threatening to take her away. The Sentinel, Travis is his name, he went feral and had to be tranq’d but she didn’t get taken away.”

He knew about the situation. The two had achieved a bond shortly after meeting. The father was threatening to sue the Center and had already tried to involve the FBI and Denver Police Department. Unfortunately for him, the laws protecting his daughter from being separated from her Sentinel against her will were actually working against him. She’d refused to speak to either of her parents since the incident at the Center two days before.

“The Dad—he’s afraid his daughter will have sex with her Sentinel before it’s proper?” Andy asked.

“That’s part of it,” David admitted. “He’s also very upset that his rights as a parent aren’t more important when it comes to Sentinel/Guide law. That we are letting his daughter decide to stay with her Sentinel no matter what her parents have to say has upset him a great deal.”

“Travis would never hurt her, she’s his Guide.” Andy dumped two unfortunate GI Joes out of the boat and watched them sink to the bottom of the large garden tub. “Man down.”

“Looks like two men down,” David said with some amusement.

Andy laughed and scooped them up. He tossed them out of the tub into a pile with a bunch of other GI Joes. “The body count on this mission is high.”

David knew he shouldn’t laugh but he couldn’t help himself. “Yes, it seems so.” He put the lid down on the toilet and sat. “So…”

“Sean smells like you,” Andy said bluntly. “That’s okay, I guess, but he’s not your Guide.”

“No, he’s not.”

“Maybe your Guide would be upset about that.”

“No, I don’t think she would,” David disagreed. “People… need other people and sometimes that involves being physical intimate. Sentinels maybe need it more than others but that’s a pretty hotly debated theory in the community right now. I don’t know where my Guide is but I hope she’s… seeking what comfort she needs when it is necessary until we can be together.”

“I’m going to save myself for my Guide.”

David said nothing for a few seconds because he was totally on board with his son skipping all the angst and pain and worry that came with being intimate someone who wasn’t going to be there long term. He couldn’t say he hadn’t gotten his heart broken more than once.

“That’s an honorable choice,” David finally said. “But you could wait years before you meet them.”

“Like Uncle John did.”

“Yes,” David agreed. “Like Uncle John and that’s a long time to be alone. Your Guide might not wait.”

“That’ll be okay,” Andy said. “I want him to be happy until we can meet and be friends. He’ll be my best friend, Daddy.”

“He will,” David agreed. “You’re sure it’s a boy?”

“Yeah.” He pushed aside his toys. “The water is cold.”

David plucked up the towel he’d pulled out for his son and opened it as Andy stood. He wrapped him up and hauled him out of the tub. The boy wrapped wet arms around his father’s neck confidently. “Sean is nice. Can he read me a story?”

“He might. We’ll ask him.”

– – – –

David entered the den, dropped down on the couch in a frustrated sprawl and stared pointedly at Jack O’Neill. “Well?”

Jack laughed. “I didn’t expect he’d be so blunt about but you had to know he’d comment on it.”

“And the rest?”

“I think you handled it the best way you could.” Jack set aside his iPad and curled a few fingers around Patrick’s wrist. His Guide shifted slightly so the contact was easier for them both but other continued to read on his own tablet.

With half an ear, they both listened to Sean Taylor read to Andy. David rubbed his bare toes against the carpet and sighed. “We’re wheels up in twenty-two hours and I saw the email where you traded Teldy and Chase’s missions. Any reason why?”

“The Navy didn’t want an unbonded Sentinel on a submarine so I’m sending them the meanest woman I know instead,” Jack said with a little smirk. “We’ll see how they like that. They were both fine with trading. The President has already sent his final approval. He signed off on your contract as well.”

David nodded. Signing on as a civilian contractor with the SGC had been the easiest way to keep him in the loop and allow him to gather information from various projects to make the work they were doing in Nevada easier. But what he needed—was a scientist. One that could look at all of that gathered information and imagine what was possible. He wasn’t an idiot and didn’t let anyone treat him like one but some of the science coming out of the SGC might as well have been written in a foreign language.

– – – –

Matt’s day had started off-world with a gut-shot Jaffa and Jonas Quinn stumbling through the Stargate and right into his lap. He knew the man from mission reports but had never met him. There were pictures—team stuff from when O’Neill had lead SG-1 and Quinn had been a part of that. The Jaffa was in medical, Quinn was in a guest room in the Mountain and he was having coffee with Dr. Joseph Franks in an upscale diner in Colorado Springs.

Franks was the Director of the Denver Sentinel/Guide Center and a well-known pain in the ass. He was an unbonded Guide but Matt didn’t know much about that situation. He knew the man had a PhD in Sentinel Studies and a few other degrees in anthropology and biology. He’d been appointed Director several years before. He also knew that Blair Sandburg didn’t like him. That was enough to put almost everyone in the community on edge.

“I’ve had a very long day, Dr. Franks.” Matt set aside his untouched coffee. “If you could get to the point.”

“I’ve had several discussions with the committee about your latent status and your intimate relationship with Sentinel Chase Harris. The general consensus is that the relationship should be terminated. You’re endangering a high-level Sentinel who, not even six months ago, was considered fragile and on the cusp of a full blown psychotic break. He has moved very quickly through the grieving process and that causes some concern. To process the loss of a Guide that quickly makes us wonder if he’s even capable of a proper bond. Your relationship is a distraction at best and a detriment to him finding his real Guide at the worst.”

“I’m latent, Dr. Franks and even if I wasn’t you wouldn’t be in a position to tell me who can and cannot fuck. Chase Harris is a grown man and the state of his previous bond is his personal business. He can’t be forced to bond legally and you have to know if you try to make demands on him that O’Neill will make you regret it.”
Franks grimaced. “We’re aware of O’Neill’s position on the matter. I’ve already lodged a complaint with Ellison on the matter. Things were certainly more orderly before the Pride system re-emerged.”

“It was never gone, you idiot,” Matt snapped. “Are you so far removed from your own community that you honestly didn’t know that? The pride in Denver has had the same Alpha for fifteen years and I assure you no matter what agreements were reached between the Center and the government—his authority has not waivered for a single minute. He allowed you to run the Center there without his interference. He allowed you to think you were in charge of the region’s Sentinels but let me assure you—nothing you wanted happened without his approval.”

“None of this changes how damaging your relationship with Sentinel Harris. I must insist you end it.”

Matt slid out of the booth and tossed a ten on the table. “You’ve probably not bothered to have this conversation with him. I don’t suggest you try it. We both know the limits of our relationship as it currently stands and you’re intrusion is completely unwelcome.”

“I’m prepared to file a complaint with the Navy, Commander Sheppard.”

“Oh, you go right ahead,” Matt said with a small, grim smile. “You think you have issues with Alpha Sentinel Jack O’Neill? You’re going to be in for a very different experience if you cross General Jack O’Neill. They don’t put two stars on a man’s collar just for the hell of it, Dr. Franks.”

Matt called Chase from his car to let him know he wasn’t returning to the Mountain. He could tell his lover was disappointed but Matt knew he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be around Harris. He was furious but more than that he felt guilty and stupid. He sat in the SGC issued SUV for a few minutes—brooding and trying to calm down before the porch light came on and Jack O’Neill strolled out.

O’Neill stood there for a full minute then crooked his finger at Matt. He sighed and for a few seconds imagined what it would’ve been like if his father had bonded when he was a teenager. Life would’ve been far less… sexy, Matt thought. Coming home smelling like sex at fifteen wasn’t on when you had a step-Daddy Sentinel. He slid out of the vehicle and sulked up the path to the porch.

“I’m probably too stressed out to be around Andy,” he admitted.

“The boy is asleep and we have a Conservator here for him if he wakes up. Come in, kid, your daddy is pacing a hole in the floor in the kitchen.”

He would’ve preferred a beer or something a little stronger but said nothing when his father put a cup of tea down in front of him. Guide training was starting to show on Patrick Sheppard in a couple of hundred different ways. Matt knew his father had private sessions weekly with Blair Sandburg and had taken a few online seminars. There were probably fifty books on being a Guide in the house right now—all of which Patrick had devoured within weeks of coming online. Matt had read half of them himself—the ones that his father had recommended mostly.

“Spit it out, kid,” Jack ordered and shot his Guide a look when Patrick started to protest his approach.

“Stupid mission. Stupid people. Primitive goddamned cave people with projectile weapons. Christ, who knew a symbiote could scream?” Matt pushed the tea out of the way and laid his head on the table for a few minutes. “It came out of him… making some weird screaming noise and Chase killed it. I can’t fault him for the instinct but the Jaffa, Turavore, was screaming, too. I followed mission protocols—Turavore isn’t cleared for the SGC so I took us through the gate to the Alpha site. They did what they could while I contacted the SGC to let them know the situation. Everett didn’t want to bring the Jaffa into the Mountain once we confirmed that he wasn’t on the list that Teal’c provided but the man was/is dying. They were bringing in a Jaffa healer when I left.”

“Right. I’ll read the report on all that,” Jack said quietly. “I got a phone call from Jonas Quinn.”

“Yeah, he just…” Matt waved a hand. “The gate opens and out he walks into the Alpha site. He requested sanctuary and he used to be part of SG-1 so I granted it before anyone else could say anything. I don’t think Everett or Caldwell was all that thrilled with me but they didn’t override it.”

“I’ve already talked with Everett,” Jack admitted. “But none of this is the reason you were sitting in the drive way. You’ve had more difficult missions on and off-planet.”

“Dr. Franks from the Center requested I meet him for coffee. I agreed. I figured it was about… well, they’ve been sending me emails about classes, which I’ve been ignoring. They also keep asking for blood samples. I gave them one early on—I just don’t think I should have to let them prod me day in and day out. I get enough of the vampire squad from Dr. Lam and her minions.”

“I instructed them to leave you alone,” Patrick snapped. “I’ll do so again.”

“Right.” Matthew rubbed the back of his neck as David and someone he’d never met entered the kitchen. The guy was uncommonly pretty, slim in build, and he had a very comforting aura.

“Sean Taylor meet my brother Lt. Commander Matthew Sheppard. Sean’s acting as our Conservator. Derek couldn’t go to Europe with us,” David explained.

Matt offered the Guide a nod and bit down on his bottom lip. “Dad, am I a detriment to Chase finding a Guide?”

Patrick’s jaw tightened. “Yes and no.”

Matt glared at him. “Seriously? I thought you agreed not to give me bullshit answers after I came out of SERE training.”

Sean laughed and slid into a chair beside Matt with a cup of hot water. He snagged a tea bag from the basket and opened it deftly. “May I offer a less ambiguous answer?”

“You’ve met Chase?”

“Yes, I was included in the last Guide search he agreed to at the Center in Denver. He’s a talented Sentinel—beautiful and strong. You can’t think there aren’t Guides all over the area who don’t want to gather him up and take care of him. He suffered an immense loss though maybe not to the extent he would have if he and his Guide had any sort of emotional connection. The man in him doesn’t mourn and he feels guilty for it. The Sentinel in him longs for the empathic embrace of a Guide.”

“Alright.” Matt took a deep breath.

Sean dipped his tea bag as he considered his next words. “Does he suffer in your relationship? No. Would he better served if you were online and could bond with him? Absolutely. But there are things we can’t know the answers to. We don’t know if you’d be compatible with him if you come online. We don’t know if his emotional attachment to you will prevent him from seeking a Guide indefinitely.”

“Dr. Franks said I should terminate the relationship because Chase is fragile, unstable, and six months ago he was on the cusp of psychotic break,” Matt snapped.

“Franks is an asshole,” Sean said and grinned when Matt laughed. “No, really. There is a reason he isn’t bonded and it has nothing to do with compatibility. He’s a level six Guide but he puts McKay to shame on the asshole front and that’s saying something since the prevalent belief is that Rodney McKay could teach at Harvard on the subject. I had a friend in Guide school say that Franks’ Sentinel is probably dormant. At any rate, the man is a bitter asshole.”

“But he’s not wrong about Chase?”

“He’s not wrong about his state six months ago but he wasn’t even at the Center in Denver the last time Chase Harris was there. Chase is balanced, happy, and generally satisfied with his life as it currently is. He also isn’t the type to let something go on if things weren’t going like he wanted.” Sean shifted in his chair and stood just short of every Sentinel in the room tilting his head just to the right.

“What?”

“It’s Andy,” Patrick said quietly.

Matt heard the kid on the stairs and relaxed in the chair as he wandered into the kitchen trailing a fleece blanket with the words Air Force embroidered on it. He ignored everyone and went straight to Matt. Andy crawled into his lap with a little yawn and arranged a blanket over himself with a huff.

Matt patted his back with a sigh. “Sorry I woke you up, kid.”

“Dr. Franks is an asshole,” Andy declared sleepily and turned his face so he could press it against Matt’s neck.

Sean watched the exchange with a small smile and sat back down at the kid drifted off back to sleep. “It must be difficult for you, Commander Sheppard living on the edge of a gift and a curse.”

Matt trailed his fingers through Andy’s hair. “I can’t say it doesn’t have its days. I’m not sure I would’ve asked for it… well, I never understood what it was like for John and I resented him leaving us the way he did. I still resent it.”

“And you resent that he hasn’t returned to your family as well,” Sean murmured. “I don’t know the specifics, of course, but most of the people in our community know that Alpha Sheppard isn’t available and at this point can’t return home. We could find out—probably more easily than some mundanes are comfortable with but we’ll wait until Ellison makes his announcement. How far along do you think you are?”

“On any given day,” Matt began. “It feels just out of my reach. I don’t think it’ll take much more.”

Jack sighed and stood. “What is it with you children and sitting in the drive way?”

David laughed as the older Sentinel stalked out of the room. “Chase is here.”

Matt glared at him. “How long?”

“He turned down the drive way just after Andy came in here,” David answered as O’Neill prodded the young Sentinel into the room and pushed him into a chair. He grabbed bottle of water from the frig. “Your guys’ room is ready as always.” He handed Sean the bottle and took his son from Matt’s arms. “Just turn on your white noise generator. I’d rather not have to deal with any more sex questions this week.”

Sean laughed and grabbed the blanket as it started to fall. “You’re the one banging your Conservator.”

David huffed. “Apparently every man has his limits.”

Matt chuckled as the three of them left and he sighed when he turned and saw Chase outright glaring at him. “Franks called you, I suppose.”

“He was the meeting you had off base, right?” Chase demanded. “I can’t even say what I want to say to your right now, Sheppard.” He slouched down in the chair and tapped furiously on the table with his pointer finger.

– – – –

The thing about Cameron and Vala Mitchell… was that they moved and communicated with each other like they’d lived, loved, and fought together for a thousand years. It was the first thing John had noticed about them after they’d finally emerged from the isolation suite at the SGC. Vala was a brilliant woman with an amazing smile and a vivid personality. He’d rarely seen anyone remain in a foul mood around her. Despite the horrors she’d faced during her captivity, she remained strong and intent on her Sentinel. He knew she didn’t always sleep well and when she didn’t – Cameron was a steadfast guard.

She’d earned the respect of the soldiers in his command long before he’d ever stepped foot in Colorado. Vala was a tough lady, with a big heart, and a devotion so intense to her Sentinel that it humbled. John had to wonder what they’d been like before they’d bonded and how meeting each other had changed and enhanced them both.

“You cheating cheater who cheats like a dog!” Vala flicked a card at her Sentinel and snatched the pile from between them on the little table they’d pulled out of storage in the back of the Jumper.

Cameron laughed. “I didn’t cheat! You can’t bluff a Sentinel and your hand was crap.”

“Hush!” Vala gathered up all the cards and shoved a pretzel into his mouth. “I should’ve never taught you this game. Let’s play one of those children’s games from Earth that you suck at instead.”

Cameron grinned at her and leaned back on the bench. “Or we could make Sheppard shut the doors and you could come sit in my lap.”

“Oh, never, I can’t have sex with a man who cheats like a dog,” Vala proclaimed. “Rodney, come take my place. I want to sit up front.”

Rodney looked up from his tablet in the co-pilots chair and looked at Cameron who was pouting. “I’m not having sex with him either. Well, I’m not having sex with him again.”

Cameron grinned and snagged another pretzel from his wife’s pile. “He’s a great fuck, you know.”

Vala glanced McKay over and nodded. “I get that feeling about him. Too bad John is so stingy—we could both take him for a ride.”

John choked on nothing but air and sent all three of them who were laughing a glare. “They didn’t have exclusive pair bonds on your planet, Vala?”

She grinned. “All pairings were encouraged to add a third to their relationship in order to spread the genetic legacy. Most often it was another Guide. On my world, I would’ve probably shared a Sentinel with another Guide. The triad remains a very honorable and traditional relationship among my people. When I brought Cameron home to meet my father—several Guides from my people approached us to offer themselves. Cameron was utterly horrified.”

Cameron flushed. “She didn’t warn me.”

Rodney chuckled. “I wouldn’t have either. You can’t buy that kind of entertainment.”

“John, did you need me to take a turn at the stick?” Cameron asked.

Sheppard stretched in the chair. “Yeah, I could do with a mental break if nothing else. It isn’t physically all that taxing to sit here and think at the ship.”

He stood and they easily shifted in the small space so that Cameron could take the pilot’s seat. After John dropped onto the bench that Cameron had been sprawled out on—Vala and Rodney exchanged places.

“Want to sleep?” Rodney asked.

John nodded. “Yeah, I could use a nap.”

No matter their teasing, the four of them had agreed to no sex in the Jumper. The environment was too small and while the air filtration system was good—smelling sex on each other for twenty-six hours was a little much to ask of two Sentinels in a closed environment.

Rodney put away the table and grabbed a thin blanket for John, which provided more a psychological need than a physical one. He knew that his Sentinel slept better when he was under some type of cover.

– – – –

“He’s not ready.”

Bastien sighed and focused on his Sentinel. “We can’t keep him with us, Marius. The fact that the others haven’t already taken him from us and returned him to Earth is a miracle. They never agreed with us bringing him in the first place. He doesn’t belong here. The Astral Plane is not meant for the living.”

“We can’t just leave him on some planet alone,” Marius hissed. “And I’ll un-Ascend myself and murder those people if you say we should return him to his so-called family.”

“We aren’t going to return him to those horrible people,” Bastien snapped. “He isn’t even going to remember them if I have anything to say about it. It’s been two years and he’s learned everything we can teach him in this realm. Now it’s time for him to go home to Earth.”

“Earth.” Marius sighed. “Why would we send him to Earth? Wouldn’t John Sheppard and the people on Atlantis be better guardians for him? John would be a good father.”

“He would and one day he will be. Atlantis will help him and McKay have children when they are ready. You’ve seen it. You know that but Tobias isn’t meant to be on Atlantis. I’ve wanted to send him to Earth since we found him.”

“No, not yet.” Marius turned from him. “He’s not… not yet.”

“When?”

“Let O’Neill and his people finish the tasks we gave them then we’ll see if they are ready for such a gift,” Marius murmured. He cut his eyes at Bastien and found his Guide radiating with satisfaction and pleasure. He looked towards Tobias, who was sound asleep. “I still don’t think he’s ready.”

“He’s young but letting him hide here isn’t helping him and you know it,” Bastien said with a sigh and prodded his Sentinel out of the room.

Like most Ascended, they preferred to spend their time in the Astral Plane. Those that had moved on to living in the Psionic Plane were a different matter altogether. Most of the people who had ascended from Sateda had made their homes in the Astral Plane—some weren’t all that sure they’d died at all and that was for the best as far as Bastien was concerned. Some of them had died horribly and didn’t deserve to remember it.

Tobias wasn’t the only living person currently in the Astral Plane. There were two others—one half alive and half dead but Oma had given over her eternity to keep him occupied at least until they found some way to stop him entirely. The other was a child of a different sort—the protégé of Oma, herself, and he was not meant to exist anywhere. He stayed in the Astral Plane for the safety of everyone.

They’d found the child, Tobias, on a world decimated by Goa’uld occupation and civil war. The pain of losing his parents and of the abuse he was suffering at the hands of his father’s brother was so intense that Bastien had felt it. Before anyone could interfere or even protest, he’d taken the boy. Appearing in harsh flash of gold light he had snatched the half-dead boy from under the boot of the man who had been determined to kick him to death. Bastien hadn’t killed since he’d Ascended but he’d come close that day—close to killing that horrible man and his two wives who had done nothing while he’d tried to murder his own nephew.

After they’d healed him, Bastien had tucked those horrible memories away from his mind and Tobias had flourished. He didn’t want for teachers or conversation. He had children from Sateda to play with and Guides from many different worlds, faiths, and times to teach him. But they all knew he wasn’t meant to stay. Even Tobias knew it. The child’s Spirit Animal would leave the Astral Plane and visit Earth of its own accord often. Bastien believed that eventually Tobias would leave for the temptation of Earth on his own which could be dangerous.

“Do you regret never having children?” Bastien asked.

“No,” Marius murmured. “Our mortal life had no room for children and we have plenty of children to take care of here.”

True enough—their house in the Astral Plane had swollen from just five rooms to twenty-six because many of the children from Sateda were parentless in the realm. For every one adult they’d helped ascend on Sateda—there had been at least ten children. In fact, many of them hadn’t taken much prodding at all. Bastien had found it easy to coax the dying children of that world to follow him into ascension. There were other children on the plane—some from Abydos and others from worlds decimated by the Replicators. Some of the Ancients didn’t appreciate Bastien and at one time Oma’s efforts on the matter but he was of the opinion that they could go fuck themselves.

– – – –

The Center in Denver was modern and it was regularly updated with the most Sentinel-safe materials and technology that could be provided. Chase hated the place and he’d hated it since his arrival in Colorado. The Center in Virginia wasn’t old or worn out by any means but it was warm and inviting. He felt at home in the building and among the staff. They didn’t treat him like a barely leashed animal at home and that was exactly how he’d been treated by the personnel at the Denver Center.

They thought he was unstable. They thought he was on the edge of being feral every minute of every day. Well, he was more than prepared to show them exactly how much control he had. He was just ten hours out from a mission but he hadn’t been able to concentrate in the Mountain. His permission to leave base was spotty so close to a mission so he just hadn’t discussed it with Sheppard or O’Neill. He’d signed out and left. There had been three phone calls but no voice mail since then.

He ignored Franks’ admin assistant as he strode past her and only held up a hand to keep her back when she tried to get in his way physically. She was smart enough to back off immediately. He threw open the door, took in the six people with Franks with a mild glare before centering on the man who was directly responsible for his temper.

Franks had stood and took two steps back as Chase approached. Chase pushed him against the wall near a large window and held him there with one hand.

“Let me be clear with you, Dr. Franks. The only reason I haven’t ripped your head off is because you’re a Guide. Your interference in my personal relationships ends today. It ends right fucking now. I am not nor have I ever been the property of the goddamned Center. I will not, under any circumstances, accept a bond with a Guide that does not meet my needs. I don’t care how many are waiting. I don’t care how many might fit me psionically. I’ve met all the ones in the area that could possibly be a fit for me and frankly every single motherfucking one of them was found lacking. Here’s a news flash for you, asshole, I don’t have to settle for a less than perfect match. I don’t have to accept someone in my life who can’t or won’t meet my needs.”

“Sentinel Harris if you would calm down…” One of the men in the room began only to trail off as Ellison and Sandburg entered. The Alpha Pair of North America had been in Colorado since O’Neill had come online and they showed no signs of leaving.

“I am calm as I can be,” Chase said coolly. “I’m not painting myself in this motherfucker’s blood.” He pushed Franks again when the man tried to slide away from him. “Matthew Sheppard is off limits to you. You don’t fucking speak to him. You don’t fucking think about him. And you don’t ever fucking presume to tell him or anyone else in my life what you think is best for me. You don’t even know me, Dr. Franks. How dare you assume to know what I need or want.”

Franks gathered some backbone from somewhere deep and glared at him. “What you are is an emotionally damaged Sentinel, Harris. You never properly mourned your Guide and you aren’t fit to bond with another. This half-assed relationship you have with a latent Guide is probably the best you’ll ever do.”

Fury and grief bloomed in Chase and half the Guides in the room, Sandburg included, went weak in the knees. “I carried my Guide’s body out of a goddamned combat zone,” Chase hissed. “His blood soaked into my uniform… into my skin. I’ll never forget that smell as long as I live. For days afterward, all of my senses were saturated with the slow decay of his body as I carried him on my back for sixteen fucking miles. The smell of blood, the waxy texture of his skin, and the way his body started to break down from the inside. Death is ugly and horrible. You don’t know what grief is, Dr. Franks. You don’t even fucking know and I hope, despite how much I can’t stand you, that you never do.”

A hand he knew as well as his own slid around his wrist fingers locking firmly and Matt Sheppard pulled him away from Franks slowly. “That’s enough, Chase. He made a mistake—interfered when he shouldn’t have but he won’t do it again.”

Chase resisted, pulled slightly at Matt’s hold.

“Captain Harris,” Matt snapped. “You’re going to back off right now.”

Chase glared briefly at Franks before focusing on Matt. Sheppard was in fatigues, a 9mm strapped to his thigh much like himself was dressed. For the mission—a mission he’d ignored in favor of venting his temper on a civilian. “Yes, sir.”

“I’ve had your vehicle returned to base. Mine is in emergency parking downstairs. Go and wait for me.” Matt paused and lifted an eyebrow. “That’s an order, Marine.”

Chase nodded abruptly and when Matt released his arm, he stalked from the room. Sheppard took a moment to run his hand over his face before looking around the room. Ellison was leaning against the wall—making no appearance of interfering and Blair Sandburg was staring at him with curiosity. Matt turned to Franks.

“I told you to back off and leave him alone, Franks. As his commanding officer, Chase Harris is my responsibility and your behavior has driven him to leave the base without permission within hours of a very important mission.”

“He’s unstable! Look at what he’s done!”

“You are responsible for this bullshit,” Matt snapped. “He’s been furious to the point of boiling over since last night. I warned you not to call him and what did you do? You called him and proceeded to lecture him about his personal relationship like he’s a fucking child. He’s a goddamned Recon Marine. In case you don’t know what that means, Dr. Franks, it means that he is one of the most advanced combat assets on the planet.”

“I’ll be filing complaints with the Marine Corps and the US Navy regarding this relationship, Captain Harris.”

Matt punched him. Franks hit the floor, blood streaming out of his mouth and nose—shock all over his face. “You do make sure to put that in your report, Dr. Franks. I like to earn the reprimands I’m given.”

Franks put trembling fingers to his mouth and rubbed. “You hit me… You can’t hit me… I’m a Guide.”

“Congratulations, asshole, you’ve finally met someone who doesn’t give a fuck about that.” Matt stalked from the room without another word.

Blair Sandburg cleared his throat and Ellison shifted away from the wall. He pulled the door shut and flicked the lock on it. “Well, now we see what happens when someone interferes in the courting process. It stuns me that all of you, for all of your gifts and education, have failed to recognize the signs of a burgeoning Guide. If Matt Sheppard doesn’t come online in the next month—I’ll be very surprised. Harris’ immediate and frankly overwhelming attachment to Sheppard is telling and for you to stupidly assume that it is based entirely on sex is beyond me. They have already achieved a partial bond for fuck’s sake!”

Franks frowned. “That’s not possible, Sheppard is latent. He can’t have achieved something like that with an online Sentinel.”

“You’re a fool,” Blair said pointedly. “Sheppard already has empathic shields. He pulled Harris back and gained control of him in a matter of seconds. I was half convinced we were going to have to knock him unconscious before Matthew Sheppard arrived.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed. “I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks and I was hopeful that I could simply shift your focus. But that’s no longer possible. Dr. Franks, you’re fired and this committee is hereby suspended. I will be taking over the Denver Sentinel/Guide Center as Director.” He held up a hand when Franks struggled to his feet, a complaint half out of his bloodied mouth. “No discussion is permitted. You’ve stressed and abused an already grieving Sentinel with your supposed authority, Dr. Franks and while those two might eventually forgive you for it—I don’t. Pack up your office and prepare yourself for an isolation period. I’m sending you to Seattle for a re-education session. You should thank me. I barely prevented Jack O’Neill from following his step-son here today.”

– – – –

SG-1 had been a four man team. Chase was the newest among them but the rest of the team had made room for him without complaint. He’d replaced someone they hadn’t liked and for that alone he’d been well received. They didn’t have a civilian/scientist asset so Chase hadn’t been particularly surprised when Jonas Quinn had joined them for the final mission briefing, bumping their number to five. He’d been a part of SG-1 before, was a fast study, had the training for the field, and he was eager to re-establish himself at the SGC. O’Neill trusted him and that made it easier for Chase to trust him despite the fact that the man had yet to provide a satisfactory answer as to why he had left his home planet.

The ready room for the team was bustling with activity as the others made friendly with Quinn. Sergeant Colby Granger was an Army Ranger—stone cold badass and easily one of the Chase’s favorite people on the base outside of Matt. The man was funny, easy going, and attractive on top of it. Lt. Alicia Vega was the only woman on the team and one of only ten women on the gate teams at present. Not on purpose, Chase knew, O’Neill apparently never bothered to look at gender when he was recruiting for the program. He looked for combat experience, courage under fire, and the ability to make the ultimate sacrifice. Due to the structure of the US Military, there weren’t many women with combat experience on the level needed to work on a gate team with the SGC.

Matt entered, glanced around and cleared his throat. “Harris, my office. The rest of you… we’re two hours from a go and I want Quinn up to speed on everything you can tell him during that time frame.”

Chase waved off the eyebrow wiggles from Colby and the concern from Vega. He knew Matt was furious with him but he wasn’t particularly worried about it. After all, he wasn’t the one that had punched the Director of the Denver Sentinel/Guide Center in the face. He followed Matt down the hall and into the office that his team leader and lover had been assigned.

The office was small, but not much like a closet. Chase hadn’t spent that much in time in the room as Matt often did his paperwork in his quarters and Chase pretty much always ended up in Sheppard’s quarters. He knew why the Navy man let him come to him—it was a mixture of protecting his own ass professionally and gaining some power in the intimate relationship that was dominated by Chase’s senses.

Matt shut the door and flipped on the white noise generator with a vicious snap of his wrist. “You fucking leave the base again without permission and I will write up your reprimand myself.”

“I could say that I couldn’t help it but that wouldn’t be true,” Chase said. “I was just so angry and getting more angry by the minute. It built up until I couldn’t even fucking keep track of it. I should’ve said something to someone but I couldn’t and maybe I didn’t want to be talked down or talked out of it. They think that he meant nothing to me. They think I’m a fucking sociopath because I didn’t crawl into a hole and will myself dead after burying my Guide!”

“I know,” Matt said quietly. “I know how much you grieved him, Chase. I know how much it hurts you even now that you couldn’t protect him. You say his name in your sleep and sometimes you scream it. I know what his death cost you and that no matter how far you come and how far you go that a part of you will always belong to him.”

“And you resent it?”

“I don’t like it,” Matt admitted. “But I don’t have room resent it for his sake. I resent the fuck out of your former CO and what he all but forced on you. It was bullshit and everything I’ve learned about being a Guide tells me that Will wasn’t right for you. That relationship would’ve become abusive had you allowed it continue. The guilt you carry for thinking about severing your bond is just as damaging as the loss itself. The lack of faith you had in each other is frankly appalling for a bonded pair. That asshole Franks doesn’t think you’re capable of a full bond. I know he’s wrong. It is a Guide’s responsibility to monitor, shore up, and build the bond between him and his Sentinel. Will failed you.”

“I failed him,” Chase said hoarsely. “And my failure cost him his life.”

“If he’d bothered to build a proper bond with you instinct would’ve driven you to protect him. You had to rely solely on your senses because he’d done nothing to help you maintain a connection with the psionic plane. You were half blind!” Matt took a deep breath and leaned on the desk. “It’s bullshit. Okay? It’s just utter bullshit.”

“What did O’Neill say?”

“He hasn’t got the time to deal with this or the bullshit at the Center but we can both be secure in the knowledge that he’ll have quite a fucking lot to say when he returns from South America.”

“Right.” Chase frowned.

“Come here,” Matt whispered. He held out his hand and pulled Chase in when the Marine slid his fingers through his. “You should’ve come to me. I can’t keep track of your moods or really anything else empathically. I said I would help you with all of this bullshit but that requires that you communicate with me.”

Chase nuzzled against Matt’s neck and sighed. “Okay. Fuck. Okay.”

“Just stay here a minute and relax. I don’t know what we’re going to face on the other side of the gate. I need you at a 110%.”

“I need…” Chase trailed off and sighed.

“More than I can provide,” Matt murmured a little miserable at the thought. “Are they right? Am I doing more harm than good?”

“No,” Chase answered and curled his fingers into the material of Matt’s BDUs. “No, you really aren’t.”

“But you can’t ask me for what you need?” Matt asked as he ran his fingers through Chase’s hair. “You can’t tell me when you’re upset? When your instincts are making you do something that is contrary to orders and our mission plan for the day?”

“I…” Chase pulled free from him. “Whenever I had to point out what I needed from Will he acted like it was an inconvenience. He begrudged me everything.”

Matt frowned at him. “Christ, Chase, what did he expect? He used you and your gifts to balance the weight of his empathic burden and gave you nothing in return?”

Chase shrugged.

“What do you need?” Matt demanded. “What will ground you and help you center your mind?”

“Sex,” Chase said bluntly. “If you were online it would be different but frankly, Matt, without those skills the only thing that you can do to help me at this point would be let me fuck you like I paid for it.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” Chase said softly. “Now what do you think?”

“I think I should keep lube in my desk,” Matt muttered. “Your quarters are closer.”

Chase reached into his pocket and pulled out lube. He dropped the tube on the desk and stared pointedly at Sheppard. “Well?”

Matt went to the door and locked it. Checked his watch and set an alarm on it before pulling it off and dropping it on the desk. He pulled his t-shirt over his head and dropped it on the desk as Chase reached down to untie his own boots. The rest of Chase’s clothes quickly hit the floor. “There is a towel in the bathroom. Grab it for the couch.”

Chase strode naked into the small bathroom connected to Matt’s office taking note of the tiny shower and the towel rack. He grabbed one of the towels, brought it out and spread it over the small couch. Then he grabbed the lube and took a seat on the couch, spreading his legs lewdly as Sheppard shed the last of his clothes.

Matt slid into his lap without hesitating and leaned in for a kiss. Chase opened the lube and slicked up two fingers as he opened his mouth in surrender. The taste of Matt’s lips and the sweet glide of his tongue was enough to wake all of his senses. Pleasure and pain drifted over him until he reined in his sense of touch. When he could pushed two wet fingers into Matt’s hole roughly. Sheppard arched against him and shuddered. Neither was a consistent bottom in their relationship, which was fine, but it meant that Matt hadn’t been fucked open in about a week.

He worked his third finger in and worked Matt’s muscles open ruthlessly but the way Sheppard was moving on his fingers and moaning into his mouth told him that he wasn’t out of line at all. Matt pulled his mouth off Chase’s with a greedy little moan and shivered as he fucked himself on Harris’ fingers. “Hell, yeah.”

“Gonna give my cock a ride?” Chase asked lowly as he pulled his fingers from his lovers ass and slicked up his dick. “You ready to give me what I need?”

“Yes,” Matt murmured as he shifted and shuddered as Chase pressed the head of his cock into place. “Fuck, that’s good already.” He settled down slowly. “Give it to me.”

Chase wrapped his hands around Matt’s hips, planted his feet on the floor, and lifted up to impale his lover completely. “Like this?”

“Yeah, just like that.” He wrapped his hands around the back of the couch and shuddered as he rocked up and down on Chase. “You like so much foreplay that I sort of thought just a fuck like this wasn’t going to ever happen.”

Chase chuckled. “I can get hard for you anywhere, Matt.”

Matt laughed with him and pressed a firm kiss against Harris’ mouth as fucked himself down on Chase’s cock. They moved together roughly, skin smacking together lewdly.

Harris relaxed on the couch and stilled Matt. “Get up. I want… just get up.”

Matt laughed and pulled off Chase’s cock with a little shiver and stood. Harris stood and maneuvered his lover around. “Kneel on the couch.”

Chase crowded up behind him, kissed the back of Matt’s neck as he pushed his dick back in. “You are the sweetest fuck I’ve ever had,” he admitted roughly. “I love the way you take it… so hot and tight on my cock. You’re like silk on the inside, did you know that?”

“No,” Matt admitted breathless as Chase worked his hole hard and deep.

“You feel so much better now—without the hair,” Harris admitted. He slid one hand around cupped Matt’s smooth balls. “I didn’t think I could ask for it but when you came back from the Center without it—I wanted to lay you on the bed and just lick and suck and eat you out. You taste so good—perfect.” He wrapped his hand around Matt’s cock and stroked him a few times. “Can you stay hard for me? I want to suck your cock after I come in you.”

Matt shuddered. “Fuck, Chase. Yeah, whatever you want.”

“Good. So good,” Chase praised. “Just so fucking good. I’m going to come soon—fill up your tight little ass with my cum. I love to do that—you smell like me for days when I do no matter how much you shower. Love it when you come in me—when we fuck so long that your sweat sinks into my skin. You don’t even know how good that is. I wear your clothes sometimes—just so I can keep the smell of you on me.”

“Chase. Fuck.” Matt smacked a hand against the cinderblock wall behind the couch.

“Yeah,” Chase said by way of agreement. “Yeah. God, I’m coming.” He thrust in hard and rocked as he shuddered through his orgasm. He pulled out roughly, pushed and prodded Matt onto his back then sucked his cock down in one motion.

Matt’s fingers scrambled back against the back of Chase’s head even as his legs fell completely open. “I’m not going to last.”

Chase pulled off with a groan. “I don’t care. I just want… I need you to come in my mouth.”

Matt hissed as Chase sucked him back in. He worked the head of Sheppard’s cock into the back of his mouth briefly and swallowed around him a few times before wrapping a hand around him so that he could jack him properly.

“Now,” Matt said. “Now, Chase. God. You’re going to make me come.” He shivered and rocked up into Harris’ mouth as he came. “That’s so good.”

Chase cleaned him with delicate swipes of his tongue before shifting upward and pressing his slightly wet mouth against Matt’s. “We’re good together.”

Matt touched his face with careful fingertips. “Are you sure?”

“So sure,” Chase promised. “I wouldn’t lie to you about it. You’re exactly what I need right now and if someday you can be more that would be great.”

“And if I can’t?” Matt asked. “Or I come online but we aren’t compatible?”

“We just have to promise to be honest with each other,” Chase said and kissed him again. “That’s all we can do.”

– – – –

Patrick settled back in his chair and retrieved his tablet. A quick conversation with the Air Force pilot that Jack had put at the stick of his private plane had given him an idea of how much time he had to work though he didn’t expect Blair Sandburg would allow him the whole flight. The other Guide hadn’t worked since Jim Ellison had retired from the police department where they’d both been employed for years. In fact, they had retreated to a private property in the Cascade Mountains and ran the prides in the US by phone and Internet. Patrick had to wonder if he could’ve made that kind of sacrifice for his Sentinel. He looked up from his tablet and found Jack staring at him.

He was a good looking man, strong and intelligent. Jack was deceptive in many ways as most would never assume he was anything but the laid back man he projected. Patrick knew differently and he was relieved for it. He had to wonder what they would’ve had in common if they hadn’t had the shared military experience and the loss. The unspeakable losses they’d both suffered damaged them both but it gave them some sort of common ground. He let his shields shift and thin enough to pull his Sentinel closer to him mentally so he could take stock of Jack’s levels. Once he was satisfied that O’Neill was where he should be—he retreated and refocused on his work.

“Wants some help with that?” Jack asked.

Patrick raised an eyebrow. “You don’t really want to read expense reports and research proposals, do you?”

“No, but my work is done and if we split yours we can get that done faster.”

Patrick nodded his agreement and dumped half the documents he had left to read in the workspace they shared as Jack retrieved his own tablet. They worked in silence for nearly an hour—trading documents back and forth. Jack left pithy little comments on projects varying from “bullshit” to “I saw an episode of Wormhole Extreme that had this in it”.

“You’ve got some very creative accounting coming out of this aviation project—Falcon878PR-A1,” Jack murmured. “We might need to pay these boys a visit next month.”

“It’s DOD,” Patrick murmured. “I’ll have to get you cleared for a site visit but it shouldn’t be a problem. Though I don’t know why either of us would want to go to Alabama. Let’s send David.”

Jack laughed. “It’ll do us good to get out and about—we could go down to the coast afterward and fish.”

“Fish. Right.” Patrick didn’t sigh but the look his Sentinel sent him told he’d made his lack of interest in fishing in the Gulf coast clear regardless. “Sure, I’d love to hang out on a boat and watch you tease fish you don’t plan to actually catch with death. Sounds like a fantastic time.”

“You have a better idea?” Jack asked.

“I have a house in Oahu with a perfect, private stretch of beach and no neighbors to speak of. We could go there and fuck like animals for a week.”

“That is an excellent plan,” Jack agreed. “But first, these assholes in Alabama need to be straightened out before they rob you blind.”

Patrick nodded his agreement and made a few notations on their calendar. “How much annual leave do you have?”

“I could handle two weeks as long as I stay in contact with Hammond and available to whomever I leave in charge of the Mountain,” Jack said.

“You’ll want to inform the Alpha of Oahu that you’ll be in his territory,” Ellison said from the other side of the plane. “He’s not exceptionally territorial so he won’t have anything negative to say about it. Islanders tend to be rather laid back about that sort of thing. Never hurts on the political front to give them a heads up though.” He pulled off the black sleeping mask his Guide had given him and cleared his throat. “Blair and I have gone over the maps we made after our first trip to the temple in Mexico. We searched for it twice years later but couldn’t find it. The coordinates you have are about hundred miles south of what we had marked. There is no way we went that deep in-country on our trip.”

“Your writings about the temple visit are sparse,” Patrick said as he set aside his tablet and focused on Sandburg. “Care to tell us why?”

“It’s not a great story,” Blair murmured. “Neither Jim nor I were even thinking of going to the temple in Mexico. Many pairs had made the journey at that point and they hadn’t returned. Our contacts with the Chopec were not optimistic that we’d be any more successful so we weren’t going to do it.”

“But?” Jack prodded.

“I was an asshole,” Ellison said without preamble. “I hadn’t wanted to bond but my father was the Alpha of the pride and he pretty much threw Guides at me left and right after I left the Army. I eventually had a very bad zone out and Blair was brought in to help me from out of state. During that process, we bonded.” Jim reached out and took his Guide’s hand and Jack wondered just how bad things had been between them at the beginning.

“Our bond was platonic,” Jim said roughly. “My father was against homosexual pair bonds and it was drilled in my head from a very early age that it was improper. I had these instincts and feelings combined with the homophobia my father taught me. My father actually bonded with a female Guide who wasn’t anywhere near a good match for him to avoid the male Guide who was perfect for him. He attended my father’s funeral some years later—never having bonded himself. I heard he died just a few weeks later.” He rubbed his face with his free hand. “At any rate, I wasn’t taking care of my Guide. I wasn’t responding properly. My senses were shot. His shields were thinning and he was throwing off distress hormones which I ignored.”

“Jim.” Blair sighed. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. It takes two people to make a mess like we did.”

“Maybe,” Ellison murmured. He brought his Guide’s hand to his mouth and kissed it gently. “We were so bad off that Blair moved out of my apartment and into his own—in the same building but he said he couldn’t live with me anymore. I didn’t like it but I had no choice but to accept it. A female Sentinel joined the pride a few weeks after that happened—her name was Alex. She was an anthropologist and a historian for the Center. Blair agreed to work with her on several projects concerning our history and during that time she decided that if I wasn’t going to properly care for my Guide that I didn’t deserve him.”

Blair patted Ellison’s hand when the older Sentinel simply stopped talking. “When I refused her—she tried to kill me and very nearly succeeded. Jim saved me from drowning.”

“No, I didn’t. You died,” Jim said. “But he came back to me and it was enough to make me reevaluate everything I thought about our relationship and our bond. I was torn between hunting her down and killing her… or making sure that Blair never, ever left me. She took that decision out of my hands by kidnapping Blair and taking him to Mexico.”

“That’s not in any of the records,” Jack said with a frown.

“No, we managed to keep it from the Center. I followed them down with a good friend of mine named Simon Banks. We tracked her through the jungle and stumbled across the Temple of the Sentinels. She was going to use it to—she thought to break my bond with Sandburg so she could have him for herself. There was a pool there—in the temple. A glowing blue pool of what we would later come to call psionic energy. She’d dragged Blair into it. I followed them. Blair and I came out together—Alex didn’t.”

“Physically or mentally?”

“Mentally. Simon dragged her body from the pool when she drifted to the edge but she never regained consciousness. Her body died about five years ago in the long term care section of the Center in Seattle,” Blair said quietly.

“What do you remember about being in the pool?” Patrick asked.

“It was like a really long dream,” Jim said. “I was shown the life I would lead if I continued to refuse Blair his proper place in my life. It wasn’t pretty but hammered home the truth for me. It took us almost a year to repair the damage done to our bond and when it went primal we had a visit from the Alpha Pair of North America. They were ready to retire and they wanted Blair for the Alpha Guide. I came along for the ride.”

“What do you think we’ll find?” Jack asked.

“Considering what we are facing from the universe at large—I’m hoping we find the information and tools we need to protect our world,” Jim said.

– – – –

Egypt reminded him of Abydos—of a world full of sand, rich with living culture and the loss of the first woman he’d loved. Sha’re’s kidnapping and eventual death had changed him both as a man and as a Guide. His fascination with the woman that was his Sentinel had overwhelmed him and in his hurry to meet her—to show her the world he’d made his home in the hopes of keeping her with him, he’d lost his wife. He didn’t blame himself or Sam for Apophis’ men taking Sha’re through the gate or what happened after. He didn’t believe in fate but some part of him understood that his life on Abydos was over the day Sam Carter stepped through the gate beside Jack O’Neill. He would’ve eventually been compelled to return to Earth, to her.

The concept of a Sentinel was unknown on Abydos but Sha’re had been, in those first few moments, very aware of what was happening with her husband and the woman from his own world. Sam, for her part, had been interested in meeting and knowing them both. She hadn’t displayed any jealousy or possessive behaviors that plagued many of her kind. She’d kept up with Sha’re even as they’d moved around exploring the complex left behind on that beautiful desert world. Sam had heard the gate activate with the first chevron and the battle that had followed hadn’t been enough to save everyone—Sha’re and several other women from the encampment had been lost. None of them had ever returned home… not even for burial.

Sam’s fingers slid across his palm and clutched him as he led her through the crowded market place. They were dressed conservatively but there was no need to try to pass as natives. There were plenty of American and British tourists in the city and while their mission had been cleared by the government, it was supposed to be as covert as possible. They had arranged for emergency transport out if things got rough by way of the British Special Forces who had been supplying people to the SGC for little more than a year.

But the better connection had been made through the prides. Ellison had made contact with the Alpha Sentinel Prime of Egypt and they’d arranged for a the Alpha of Cairo, a man named Gahiki to meet with them. They settled down at a small outdoor café and Daniel ordered for them both. The climate wasn’t exactly ideal for his Sentinel who was just about as urban as her kind could be. Egypt was hot, dusty, and the difference in soaps, perfumes, and varying degrees of hygiene was obviously getting to her. She lived in a practically sterile environment in comparison. The cats on the streets alone were driving her a bit crazy.

He watched relief filter over her face when a plate of fruit and a tall glass of water were placed in front of her. Daniel had chosen to keep his own food simple as well—had since their relationship had taken an intimate turn. It wasn’t much of a sacrifice when compared to the pleasure he found in his Sentinel’s arms and the depth of the bond they’d made since that day in Antarctica.

They were alone with their food for just a few minutes before a pair of men all but appeared in front of them out of the crowded street. Sam inclined her had towards the empty chairs and regarded the other Sentinel with a narrow eyes as he inspected her.

“Problem?” She asked bluntly.

He smiled. “Not in the least, my friend! It is an honor to meet you, Dr. Samantha Carter.” He sat down and waved over the server where he ordered for himself and his still silent Guide. “There are no female Sentinels in many thousands of miles so you are a rare treat for those in my pride. Many look forward to meeting you. We have arranged the traveling party as requested and have made sure that rumors of Dr. Jackson’s research trip are well seeded. No one will question the story.”

Sam nodded. “Good. Call me Sam and my Guide prefers Daniel. We are looking forward to seeing the sites, Sentinel Gahiki.”

“Gahiki is fine, my beautiful new friend,” he offered her a sly smile and she laughed. “I would play the part of the mysterious, savage, and handsome native if I thought it would do a bit of good but I can tell you and your Guide are as close as nature intended.”

Sam grinned. “You were educated at Oxford, Gahiki. I’m afraid your Queen’s English gave you away. I’d never take you for a mysterious native.”

“But handsome and savage, yes?”

“Well, very few on this planet can match the savagery of a Sentinel, Gahiki.”

“I could not agree more,” Gahiki said and sat back in his chair as new plates were delivered. “We will depart in the morning and the trip will take a little over two days. The area we were given is barren and there are no ruins to speak of so I’m at a loss as to what you expect to find there.”

Daniel cleared his throat. “We were told to search there by spirits of the Other World, Gahiki. There is something important there—something that may protect our people in ways that are still unknown to us.”

“There is a looming threat,” the Egyptian Guide murmured. “I dream of it—a ravenous threat from beyond the stars.”

“My Guide, Khufu,” Gahiki said gently. “He does not often speak to strangers.”

Daniel offered the young Guide an encouraging smile. “How often do you dream of this threat from the stars, Khufu?”

“Often—most nights,” Khufu admitted. He stirred the tea he’d been given by the server and frowned. “Though many times it is in the background of the dream. Something is coming—dangerous and hungry but there is another. Another who stands between our world and that threat. He is strong—sometimes he moves in my dreams.”

“Do you see his face?” Sam asked neutrally.

“Black hair, green eyes… a white man… a Sentinel. He stands in front of a gateway—ready to fight and die for us all. A wolf lingers at his side—fierce and so protective that I dare not approach them.”

Daniel took a deep breath. “This… what we search for may make it possible for us to help this man.”

“The Guardian of the Gate,” Khufu murmured. “Yes, if we can help him—we must. The threat he faces is… unlike anything I’ve ever known.”

– – – –

The Jumper had been throwing readings and data at McKay for more an hour. They’d achieved orbit roughly thirty minutes before that. John had swallowed back any arguments about going down immediately. He’d agreed to the mission plan and he wasn’t going to pressure McKay to change it now that they were so close. He certainly didn’t want to start another argument with McKay over the mission.

“Well?” Vala asked.

Rodney sent her a narrow, half-pissed off look. “Don’t rush me. The environmental data is coming in from the probes we launched and it appears near Earth normal and about the same as Lantea.”

The Athosians had named the planet that Atlantis was currently on and the Expedition had adopted the name without much of a fuss. It made sense and was less of a mouthful than the Ancient name for the place which was fifteen letters long and John thought looked a great deal like Vulcan. John lounged back in the pilot’s seat and let his gaze drift over the HUD. The Jumper was picking up data from the six probes they launched and was also searching for the research facility that was supposed to be hidden on the planet.

“Oh.”

“Oh?” John questioned.

Rodney’s mouth tightened in concentration. “There’s a stargate.”

“We tried the address repeatedly,” John protested. “Twice a day for an entire week, McKay.”

“I know what a stargate looks like,” McKay snapped. “The energy signature of one is fucking unique in the universe as far as we know. It’s down there but appears to be… the DHD is damaged. It might not be able to receive wormholes due to the damage.”

“Can we do a remote dial from here and try to touch base with the city?” Cameron asked.

Rodney turned in the chair and prodded the Jumper’s DHD to do a search for the gate. It pinged immediately and he started dialing. The HUD signaled each time a chevron encoded then the entire DHD lit up as the wormhole was established.

John activated his radio. “Atlantis, this is Colonel Sheppard. Can you respond?”

“This is Atlantis,” Evan Lorne said with some relief. “It is a surprise to hear from you so soon, sir.”

“There is a functional gate on the planet. McKay thinks the DHD down there is damaged and that’s why we couldn’t dial in. Not sure; we’ll verify once that we land. Rodney is going to send you guys a databurst of all the data we’ve gathered so far. We’ll open the gate again – say in twelve hours unless there is a problem?”

“Roger that,” Evan said. “Zelenka reports that the wormhole is well-established and stable for travel should it become necessary, sir.”

“Understood and appreciated.”

– – – –

The London International Airport was crowded and loud. He kept a hand on the small of Sean’s back. The Guide had been a real lifesaver ­half way through the flight as Andy had experienced several sensory spikes. It made David wish he could’ve left his son at home but he trusted very few people with his child and tromping around the English countryside had seemed hell and gone safer than leaving him with the Center in Denver or allowing him to take a trip to South America.

The line for customs wasn’t unreasonable but then they’d also come in from a private plane. The VIP area was practically empty. He presented all three of their passports and the agent looked at them in a bored manner, stamping first his and then Sean’s before pausing on Andy’s. He looked up and cleared his throat. “I’m going to need to see the child’s face, sir.”

“Pardon me?” David asked.

“I need to verify his identity. There are rules about traveling with minor online Sentinels as you know and with the black market being what it is…”

David ignored the insult of it in favor of acknowledging that the man was right. Online children disappeared sometimes—not as often as it appeared to outsiders because a pride would go to the ends of the Earth to find a missing member—adult or child. “Andy? Can you say hello to the man for me?”

Andy lifted his face away from Sean’s neck with obvious reluctance and blinked sleepily at the Custom’s agent. “Hi.”

“Good afternoon, Sentinel Sheppard,” the man said with a quiet deference. “It is my honor to welcome you to the United Kingdom.”

Andy nodded and tucked his face back against Sean’s neck. The man stamped the final passport but paused as he closed them.

“The Alpha of the London Pride will be notified of your arrival. It is standard procedure.”

“He is already aware that we’re coming,” David said shortly. He held out his hand for the documents.

“Very good, sir.”

David let his gaze travel around them as they moved towards luggage claim and quickly found a man holding a sign with his name on it. The car service he’d had arranged for them had a good reputation but he’d also called the Sentinel/Guide Center in London to verify that they were what they seemed. Taylor shifted closer to him as they moved, he could hear the Guide humming low and soft to Andy who was shaking with fatigue. Sleeping on the plane had proven pretty much impossible half-way through the trip.

David introduced himself to the driver and arranged with the man to pick up their luggage so he could get Andy and Sean out of the airport and into the safety of the armored, soundproof car he’d arranged. It was quickly done and he settled in the car as Sean focused all of his attention on Andy. As much as the younger man had focused on David since he’d joined them as a Conservator—it was kind of weird not to be the center of his attention.

It didn’t irritate or piss off the Sentinel in him to take second string to his son but it was weird. The small empathic tether Sean had been able to establish between them was still there—flexible and strong but nothing like a bond, he’d been assured. Talented, powerful Conservators were capable of creating such tethers to better protect the fragile or damaged Sentinels they were assigned to help. He wondered if his own Guide would be able to create such a tether with his son when the time came.

“Sir, I took the liberty of calling ahead to the hotel and you’ve been checked in. The butler assigned to your suite will be in the lobby upon your arrival and to take you up.” The driver cleared his throat as their gazes met in the rear view mirror. “The lad seemed tuckered out.”

David nodded and glanced at Andy who was whimpering even in his sleep. “I didn’t anticipate the trip being so difficult on him. He travels with me often.”

“It could be territorial,” Sean murmured. “Combined with separation from his grandfather whom he grounds much of his empathy on.” He ran his fingers through Andy’s hair and rocked him gently. “He’ll be fine. He’s already leveling out.”

David nodded and relaxed slightly. “Okay.”

“Did you need to visit the Center before going to the hotel?” The driver asked.

“I’m a level five Guide,” Sean said with no hint of arrogance. “And I have fully developed empathic tethers with them both. I need no assistance from anyone at this time.”

“Of course, sir.” The driver returned his attention to the traffic after that point and David merely raised one eyebrow at the younger man. Sean flushed and averted his gaze.

“Did the Alpha of the Pride request you to drive us?” David asked.

“I am a latent Sentinel—the only one working for London Excellence Car Service. He would’ve probably tried to force one of his online Sentinel/Guide pairs on my boss if I hadn’t been on hand to take the assignment. Even then, he wasn’t thrilled with me being the only choice. It isn’t often we have a Sentinel of his…” The driver glance up and focused on Andy in the mirror. “Status come into the country. We only have four Alphas in all of the UK and none his age at all. In fact, we haven’t had an online Sentinel under the age of fifteen in nearly a hundred years.”

Intellectually, David knew that his son was famous among certain circles. The youngest online Alpha Sentinel Prime ever documented—though that honor really belonged to his brother John who had hidden what he was for as long as he could. Alpha Primes were rare and in some circles very valuable. David had asked Ellison to visit several men in the US government personally to let them know that Andy was off-limits. The men he hadn’t been able to intimidate had gotten phone calls from the President after Jack O’Neill had come into their lives.

The driver pulled up in front of the hotel and David took note of two men standing just short of the entrance. “Local pride?”

“Not entirely sure,” the driver admitted. “As I said, I’m latent so I don’t actually belong to the pride. My brother is online but we don’t discuss it much.”

David nodded. “I’ll step out and when I do I want you to lock the doors. Keep the engine running and I’ll give you a signal if I want to you to leave. Take my son and Sean directly to the London Alpha if this situation is untenable. Clear?”

“Very clear, sir.”

David opened the door and stepped out. He put away his phone and stared pointedly at the two men as he shut the door. Upon leaving the vehicle it became immediately clear that they weren’t part of the London pride. Sentinels and Guides—just smelled different to David. Mundanes didn’t smell bad per say, but there was a difference and it was obvious.

“How can I help you, gentlemen?”

The older of the two stepped forward and offered his hand which David frown. “Mr. Sheppard, my name is Brandon Jessup. I’m with the…”

“MI5, I’d say,” David interrupted before the man could lie to him further. “Not MI6, you don’t have the bearing or the training of a man who’s ever spent time in uniform.” He turned to the man’s still silent partner. “And what fake name would you like to give me?”

The man smiled. “Theodore Marcus.”

“Right.” David leaned against the car. “Why are you here and what do you want?”

“We’ve been instructed to offer you personal security for your stay in London.”

“No,” David said simply.

“Sir,” Jessup began.

“I’m sure your boss told you to be insistent about it,” David said conversationally. “If I wanted personal security—I would’ve hired it and to be frank I wouldn’t have picked two mundanes to maintain security for my child if I felt it was necessary.”

“Our government was informed by your government that the safety of the child was paramount.”

“My government has no say whatsoever in the care of my child,” David said. “And your government has even less of a say if that is of interest to you. Leave and do not come within a mile of my child again if you know what is good for you.”

“Mr. Sheppard…”

“No,” David snapped. “Leave. Now.” He lifted away from the car and glared pointedly at them both. “My son had a difficult flight over and he needs rest in a safe, quiet environment. You are currently preventing that.”

Jessup raised his hands in defeat. “Of course, sir. Our apologies. We will report your refusal to our superior.”

“You do that.” David glared at them until they were well down the street and heading towards a car before he tapped on the roof of the car and the door locks clicked again. He opened the door for Sean and the Guide handed Andy out the door to him.

He took his son with careful hands, doing his best to not put pressure on already over sensitized skin and sighed when Andy relaxed against his chest and wrapped his arms around his father’s neck. The butler was waiting in the lobby and he came forward immediately to help the driver with the luggage. David handed Andy back to Sean as he moved to take care of the paperwork with the driver. He signed off on the trip and wrote in a large tip before sending the man on his way.

They took a private elevator up to the suite he’d booked and David was relieved the man assigned to them wasn’t the chatty sort. Once in the suite, David did a room by room scan checking for products that his son might have difficulty with and was relieved to find that the hotel had taken care of everything. Sean took Andy into the smaller of the two bedrooms and shut the door.

“Thank you for getting us in quickly.”

“Stevie said the child was in a bad spot,” the butler said bluntly. “We just never know how children will respond to international travel—it must be even more difficult for a Sentinel that age.”

“It wasn’t pleasant at all,” David admitted. “For either of us but he suffered more. Are you the only staff for this suite?”

“No, there is a chef as well. A Mr. Taylor already spoke with him about meals for the three of you while you are here. He’s left a meal plan out for your approval. It’s in the kitchen.”

David nodded. “Very good. Cleaning staff?”

“I’ll handle all of that, sir. Our Sentinel friendly suites are maintained with a minimum staff to insure that there are no mistakes made concerning products and the like.”

“I’m sorry,” David said suddenly. “I didn’t even ask your name.”

“Geoff,” the older man smiled then. “My son is the Beta Guide for the London pride. I requested this assignment to make sure you and your family were properly taken care of during your stay.” He paused and continued. “I also reported the two government agents that were lying in wait for your arrival. I wasn’t able to get them removed from the property but I can assume if Alpha Edeson has anything to say about it that they won’t be returning.”

David nodded. “Fine. We have an early morning visitor but no one tonight. I’d prefer that we not be disturbed unless it can’t be avoided. Both my son and I have had enough stimulation for the day to be frank.”

“Of course, Mr. Sheppard.”
“David is fine, Geoff.” David slipped off his suit coat and jerked at the knot of his tie. “A light meal would be appreciated in about an hour. I’m not sure what my son can handle at the moment—maybe some sandwiches?”

“We’ll try that sir but we will be prepared with other options if the bread and meat is too heavy on his stomach.”

David nodded and watched the other man head off to make arrangements. He felt solid—reliable. The older man had an aura around him that spoke of being a sensitive or perhaps a latent Guide himself. He felt at ease with him as he often did with latent or online Guides, which was telling. He walked to the door to the bedroom that Sean had taken Andy into.

Andy was asleep, sprawled out on the bed with a pair of noise cancelling headphones on. The iPod it was attached to was clutched in one hand. Sean was on the other side of the room staring out the window. He turned as soon as the door opened and stared pointedly at David. He inclined his head towards the window and David walked across the room to look out. He frowned at the sight of the two mundanes who he had currently no choice but to call Jessup and Marcus.

“MI5,” David murmured. “Apparently someone in the US government told them that Andy needed security.”

“Right.” Sean sighed. “Don’t they know if they put you on edge that your son will respond in kind? Neither of you need this kind of stress.” He pulled out his phone and motioned David to follow him out.

“Who are you calling?”

“I spoke with the Alpha Guide of London twice preparing for this trip,” Sean admitted. He tucked the phone against his ear and walked to the mini-bar where grabbed a bottle of water and opened with a savage twist of his wrist. “Travis, hi, this is Sean Taylor. I need to see you and Alpha Edeson. Now if possible but at your earliest convenience.”

David said nothing, content to watch Sean move around the suite while he outlined the problem and arranged for the most powerful Sentinel in London to come right over at his beck and call. He smiled when Sean ended the conversation. “I sort of envy your Sentinel.”

Sean grinned. “Because of my fine ass?”

“Well there is that,” David admitted roughly. “You’re an amazing…” He glanced towards the bedroom where Andy was sleeping. “But more so, you’re challenging and interesting. I think most Sentinels would value that beyond the excellent… intimate care you have to offer.”

“I envy your Guide,” Sean said quietly. “She’s going to come into an amazing family. I could love your son like he was my own.”

David patted the couch beside him and Sean came forward. He slid onto the couch and tucked close to David. “Is that a problem?”

“No,” Sean murmured.

“Are you sure?” David asked. “I wouldn’t… I’d never want you to get so attached that it’ll hurt you to leave us when you find your own Sentinel.”

“I think it would be impossible meet Andy and not love him a little,” Sean admitted. “He’s amazing and special in ways I’ve never seen in a Sentinel of any age. If it’s going to hurt when I leave—it will already. No amount of time is going to make a difference.”

“You’re exhausted.”

“I’m also starving,” Sean admitted. “And you’re a mess. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

“You gonna sing me to sleep?” David asked with a little laugh. He ran his fingers through Sean’s hair and snuggled down in the couch with him as he listened to Geoff re-enter with the man who was apparently the chef. He shifted slightly and slid his arm around Sean’s waist as the two entered from the kitchen area.

“Sirs, may I present Joseph Welling. He will be your personal chef for your stay.”

Sean smiled. “We’ve talked a bit on the phone. The little guy is down for a nap but he needs to eat something before he’s down for the rest of the day.” He slid out of David’s embrace and motioned them both towards the kitchen. “Let’s talk food, Joseph.”

“Very well, sir. There are a few options on short notice which would work better for a light meal if nausea is a problem for the lad.”

David watched them disappear into the kitchen and focused on Geoff. “The Alpha pair will be joining us shortly. Sean is very put out by the MI5 presence—they are across the street watching the hotel.”

Geoff nodded. “Very well, sir, I will inform hotel security of the pending arrival. Would you like me to contact the police concerning the men across the street? It would annoy them more than anything but those secret government types don’t like to get attention.”

David laughed. “Might be worth doing for the annoyance factor alone actually. But we’ll see what Alpha Edeson wants to do. This is his town and I’m prepared to ignore the spooks if he’d prefer it.”

Andy wandered out of his room a few minutes later, his Air Force fleece blanket in tow. David had heard him rummaging through his carry on for it but had stayed where he was and let Andy come to him. It was a lesson he’d learned early on his own development as a Sentinel. His son had an independence streak a half a mile wide and he liked to have the freedom to seek out comfort when he wanted it.

Andy sprawled out the love seat opposite his father and dragged the blanket over him with a little huff. “It smells weird over here.”

“Yeah, it does.” He jerked his head towards the kitchen. “Sean is getting us some lunch.”

Andy nodded and snuggled under his blanket.

– – – –

Sean was freshly showered and playing a game with Andy on an iPad by the time the Alpha Pair of London showed up. Sentinel Micah Edeson was slender, tall, and deceptively non-threatening. It put David’s back up almost immediately, which was ridiculous. His Guide seemed sweet but he had a hard look in his eyes that spoke of a past that David didn’t want to think about. He’d taken his Sentinel’s last name which implied they’d married—not uncommon among pairings but it was a detail he filed away for later use.

Travis Edeson didn’t stray far from his Sentinel as the Alpha moved around the room—a casual inspection that did nothing to shore up David’s building ire. Sean slid his hand into David’s and cleared his throat. “Sentinel Edeson if it is your intention to determine the depth of David’s paternal instincts regarding his son you are fairly close to a physical demonstration.”

Micah Edeson offered a quick smile and tilted his head in acknowledgment. “There are some who find the child fascinating beyond the measure of it. An online Alpha Sentinel Prime at any age is attractive but to find one so young and… malleable. I wasn’t sure you understood his threat level to be honest. You brought him into another country and under the authority of an Alpha you don’t know.”

“My son is not under your authority,” David said coolly. “Neither am I. Sentinel Ellison secured permission for me us to enter your territory and that is extent of your authority over us. Any attempt on your part to exert power over my child will result in your pride looking for a new Alpha. Understood?”

Edeson inclined his head. “I heard you were retired military, Sentinel Sheppard.”

“Yes. US Navy SEAL, retired,” David said. “I’ve been out of uniform three years but you needn’t think I’m any less of a threat now than I was then. I don’t have an accurate number on how many men I killed while I served. Adding a few more bodies to that pile won’t keep me up at night.”

Edeson blew out a breath and pulled out his phone. He dialed a number without taking his eyes off of David. “Director Colter. You have two agents watching Sentinel David Sheppard and his son. They are irritating him. You should remove them before he feels his offspring is threatened by their presence. He would be within his rights to kill them both if they presented any sort of threat to his child. The International Sentinel/Guide Treaty would protect from him facing any sort of charges.” He ended the call without another word and cleared his throat. “They will be gone within the next ten minutes and will not return.”

The door to Andy’s room in the suite opened and stared pointedly at the Alpha Guide. “Don’t do that anymore.”

Hearing the Guide voice come out of his son’s mouth—heavy with empathic suggestion was like getting gut punched. He’d only ever heard Andy do it once and it had been during his one and only feral episode.

“My apologies, little one,” Travis Edeson murmured. “I was merely following orders.”

“It was a stupid order,” Andy said bluntly. “I could’ve hurt you.” He frowned at him and glanced at Sean who was thin lipped and glaring himself. “Don’t touch my Daddy’s mind either, Guide Edeson. I’ll know if you do and I won’t hold back next time.” He reached out and a wolf Spirit Animal appeared under his hand. He clenched his fingers in the animal’s fur. “You’ve upset my friend.”

Both Micah and Travis paled at the sight of the animal. David figured they’d heard the stories about the Spirit Animal that visited his son but wasn’t his own. The wolf growled and bared his teeth in an intense show of aggression.

Sean shifted around the room until he stood between Andy and the Alpha Guide. “Andy please return to your room. He won’t bother you again.”

“It’s not your fault he did,” Andy said bluntly. “He’s… strong like Dr. Blair and Grandpa.”

Sean nodded. “Alright. Why don’t you get mediate for me and take… your friend with you? He should stay for a while.”

“He has been with me since we left home,” Andy said simply.

David took a deep breath as Andy shut the door again. “Who ordered you to do an empathic scan on my son?”

“The Alpha Sentinel of the United Kingdom was curious about him,” Travis admitted. “He has a granddaughter – a Guide who is online. She’s seven years old and he was curious as to whether or not she would be a good match for your son. We didn’t honestly believe the rumors about the second Spirit Animal that appears to your son. I’ve never seen anything like that. We were told his Spirit Animal was a bird of prey of some kind.”

“So it is,” David acknowledged. “Dr. Sandburg believes the wolf belongs to his Guide. The animal is rarely far from him and appears more often than his own Spirit Animal does. Your Alpha’s granddaughter?”

“She has an fox for a Spirit Animal,” Travis explained. “I will inform him that the match is not viable though he might request they meet regardless.”

“My answer will be no. Andy believes his Guide is male. He’s quite certain of it and doesn’t even speak to the female Guides he encounters that are unbonded. He’s only met one Wolf Guide his own age since he came online and they were not a match. In fact, they could hardly stand to be in the same room together. I can’t see a different outcome for your Alpha’s granddaughter.”

“Andy has expressed no interest whatsoever in having a Guide search,” Sean said bluntly. “He will not entertain one here. In fact, the last time the Center in Denver tried to surprise him with an introduction to several online Guide within his age range he went feral on them. A feral Sentinel his age is… difficult to control and it could see him injured severely both physically and emotionally. I won’t have any of you putting him in that kind of danger. If necessary, I’ll file a complaint with the International Sentinel/Guide Council .”

“It won’t be necessary,” Micah said. “I’ll make it clear to everyone that he is to be given his space.” He held out his hand for his Guide and urged him towards the exit at the door he paused and turned to look at David. “I’ve never been around a Prime before—can they all use the Guide voice like that?”

“My brother is a Prime,” David said. “When he was fourteen he and I walked into a hold up. He’d been online for years but had learned to suppress most of his gifts for his own safety. The gunman turns his gun on us—pointed it at me and my brother John ordered him to put down the gun. He used the Guide voice. Every mundane in that store fainted under the weight of it. When the cops got there—we lied to them. Told them that everyone in the store was unconscious when we walked in. John didn’t leave the house for weeks afterward.”

– – – –

“Major Teldy, the USS Seawolf will be your transport. The boat is nuclear. Is that going to be a problem for you?”

“Not unless it’s a problem for everyone, sir,” Anne responded. “I would react negatively to a leak in the reactor but then so would everyone else on board. While I’ve never been on a submarine, I have been in and around nuclear powered facilities more than once. I experienced no problems or spikes even before I was bonded with a Guide.”

“The men on board have been instructed to treat your Guide like their sister,” Admiral Nathan Drapper said bluntly. “They were just on shore leave a few weeks before so that’s not really a concern. I don’t anticipate any disciplinary problems. That being said, if someone on that boat crowds your Guide or touches your Guide, no matter their rank, you feel free to break their arm or whatever other offending body part they might have used but I’d prefer you not kill them.”

Anne tilted her head and offered the Navy man a sly smile. “Sir, I’d never kill someone in a closed environment if I had any choice in the matter. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to put with that smell for a week or more.”

“I’ll be sure to let Commander Volger know. Departure is scheduled for 0400 which is fifteen hours from now. You and your Guide will report to the harbor no later than 0315 so Commander Volger can introduce you to his officers. They are rearranging quarters so you’ll be provided private space on board. The mini-sub ordered by SecNav has already arrived and the crew of the Seawolf are getting prepped for the ride. Any mission details you can share with Commander Volger once you are on board would be appreciated by him. The rest of your team will have to bunk with the other men on board in the shift rotation.”

“We expected that, sir, and the private space is appreciated but not necessary if it’s a problem.”

“Commander Volger would rather give you his own bunk than ask you and your entirely too attractive Guide to sleep with half the men on his boat at any given time, Major.”

“Understood and appreciated.”

– – – –

The scans from orbit had indicated an Ancient structure—a technologically advanced outpost much like the one they’d found on Earth. John shifted the Jumper around so that Rodney could take another reading. “This is it?”

“This is it,” Rodney said grimly.

“I’ve seen this before.”

“An artist rendering maybe but the only Sentinel that we know of to return from the Temple of Sentinels on Earth didn’t take pictures while he was there,” Rodney said as he activated another scan with the Jumper. “The Ancient technology is inside the stone structure, which is not a façade. The stone is acting as a amplifier rather than concealing the technology within. Fortunately, it doesn’t amplify it beyond orbital range.” Rodney continued to read from his tablet. “There is a high psionic reading—the temple must be sitting on a literal ton of psionic crystal. The stargate is inside the structure… one second.”

John watched and waited until the stone started to shift and move revealing an opening much like the Jumper bay on Earth. “That’s for me?”

“That’s for you,” Rodney said quietly. “It didn’t even protest so we can assume this place is running much like the technology on Atlantis herself. There doesn’t appear to be a central computer of any kind so no artificial intelligence to worry about. The Jumper is telling me this temple is about five thousand years old.”

“The Ancients…”

“Right, they weren’t here then. This must have been built by people from Sateda. Which means they had access to this planet through the gate at one time. The Ancients must have built the temple in South America or more likely the people that they kidnapped from Sateda and brought to Earth built it as a way of reconnecting with what they’d lost.”

“Agreed,” Vala murmured as John lowered the Jumper into the bay and landed. The area around them lit up bright and white despite the years of disuse. “Eerily efficient and clean technology—check.”

Rodney sent her a miserable look. “Do you pray? If so could you pray to whomever that we aren’t going to find any fucked up alien mutant-bug experiments here?”

She offered him a grin and pulled out a laser pistol much like Ronon’s. “Cameron and I traded off-world for these last week.”

John offered Rodney a glare from the pilot’s seat.

“Do not even,” Rodney warned. “You’re the one that requested I move my people off the weapons from Sateda and focus on moving the thermal power plant.”

“Right,” John huffed and turned the pilot’s chair. “Air in this place?”

“Just as good as the outside—if not a little cleaner actually.”

“Life signs?”

“Small animal life,” Rodney began as he went back to the tablet. “Nothing abnormally large or potentially nightmare inducing within range. Well, unless one of these small creatures turns out like those cute little horrible aliens who definitely wanted to kill Guy.”

“I wanted to kill Guy,” John muttered as he stood and stretched. “Have the Jumper map the complex while Cameron and I check the packs.”

– – – –

O’Neill had left Colonel Caldwell in charge of the Mountain. Matt didn’t much care for the man and it was obvious the feeling was mutual. Caldwell had wanted the Atlantis mission and had lobbied for it after some guy named Sumner had left the program to return to the Middle East for reasons that most left unsaid. Matt knew of course, because he listened to the civilians and had found out quickly enough that Marshall Sumner was a homophobic twat who had refused to go on the mission if John Sheppard and Rodney McKay were included.

Matt didn’t know a lot about Rodney McKay and if he were honest he knew just as little about his own brother. John had left home a long time ago and in that time had changed a great deal. It was obvious from the reports he’d read coming in from Atlantis and the single personal video he’d sent. There had been other .avi files in the databurst from Atlantis. A partial tour of the Ancient city had been included. John had been behind the camera most of that but had changed places several times with his Guide as they’d lead the theoretical viewer through the parts of the city that were available to them and safe to be in. They’d also all watched an autopsy of a Wraith performed by a young woman that Matt knew to be Dr. Jennifer Keller. Just one of the many bonded Guides who had gone on the Atlantis Expedition. He wondered at her age and if she was strong enough to be out there. His brother was ultimately in her care and he couldn’t say her age didn’t concern him despite all the reassurances he’d been given.

“General O’Neill has given your mission a priority status, Commander Sheppard. Are you sure you should be taking an unbonded online Sentinel on it?”

Matt looked up from the file he was reading through. Caldwell was trying to pressure him into agreeing to both leave Chase behind and taking an additional gate team with him. “General O’Neill was very clear that he believed it not only important but mission essential that Captain Harris be a part of this operation. I realize you haven’t been read in on the entire mission as it pertains to the other priority missions but changing O’Neill’s orders at this junction has the potential to be very dangerous.”

Caldwell frowned at him. “No, I wasn’t briefed beyond the general mission locations and I realize that there is more in play that I’ve been told but taking an online unbonded Sentinel to another planet on a mission that O’Neill has labeled a priority concerns me. Despite what I’ve heard about your relationship with him.”

That, Matt figured, was the crux of the matter in all actuality. Online Sentinels could be unpredictable in intimate relationships outside of a bonding situation and while he didn’t believe that Caldwell was homophobic the man had made more than one pointed observation about the fraternization rules and how even latent Sentinels and Guides were exempt from them.

“I can’t explain it, sir, but I stand by O’Neill’s original orders and will follow his mission plan to the letter,” Matt said simply. He pushed aside the folders on SG-6. “It is too late to read an additional team into the mission and it can’t be postponed.”

“Very well,” Caldwell said coolly. “Assemble your team, Commander Sheppard. Your dial out time is in thirty minutes.”

– – – –

The submarine was confining, small, and the heady mixture of cramped quarters, sour bodies, and machinery was hard to assimilate. Teldy was very glad she’d traded missions with Chase Harris. She was beginning to think that the Navy had been right to question the idea of bringing an unbonded Sentinel onto a submarine. The hormone levels alone were making her equal parts aroused and furious. The rest of her team, Sergeant Brady Sinclair and Airman Dylan Wringer were near the back of the vessel answering questions and avoiding talking about their CO being a lesbian. More than one sailor had made mention of it in a joking manner, but nothing sounded hostile to her so she had let it go. It wasn’t the first time that she’d encountered that kind of talk and knew it wouldn’t be the last. Even the men in the SGC who had known her for months sometimes forgot that she could hear them and would speculate on her relationship with Allison.

She prodded her Guide slightly ahead of her as they entered the Bridge. Commander Volger was facing the entry and inclined his head when he saw her. He motioned her forward with a sharp hand gesture. Allison seemed to relax more as they fully entered the bridge and that put Anne at ease. She met the commander near a large computer map and offered him a precise salute. “Sir, Major Anne Teldy reporting.” She relaxed when he nodded and held her hand out for Allison. “My Guide Dr. Allison Porter. We are thankful you made room for us and the rest of the team.”

“SecNav was clear as mud on the mission details, Major but I did walk away from the conversation with the belief that this was a matter of national security.”

“I might go so far to say that it is more important than that,” Anne allowed. She pulled a USB drive from her shirt pocket and offered it. “I apologize that your official orders had to be delivered this way. We could not risk that this information might compromised. This mission and will remain Top Secret for the foreseeable future.”

Volger took the drive and nodded. “We are six hours from our destination, Major. How deep do you think we’ll have to go?”

Anne considered the mile deep hole that lead to the Ancient outpost and shook her head. “I honestly have no idea, sir. The mini-sub we brought with us has a crush depth of two-thousand feet. If we have to go deeper than that we have a problem and the mission will be aborted.”

“You have no intel on the location itself?”

“None, sir, we are going in blind.” She tilted her head slightly and took a deep breath. “Sir, one of my team is getting short tempered with a member of your crew.”

Volger pulled a radio mike down and flipped a few switches that Anne didn’t know the function of. She winced at the sharp, noisy sound of the intercom speakers activating all over the submarine. “This is Commander Brian Volger. We are pleased to have Major Anne Teldy and her Guide Dr. Allison Porter on board our fine vessel. As I briefed you before we left port, Major Teldy is a Sentinel and there is nothing on board this boat that is a secret from her. She’d like to say a few words.”

Anne took the mike with a wry look and clicked it on. “Sinclair, get your hands off Seaman Stalinsky.” She paused and nodded to herself. “Seaman Stalinsky, to answer your very rude question – no I’ve never had the inclination, desire, or need to engage in sex with my Guide in front of the rest of my team. However, if that need should arise due to circumstances outside all of our control—I have the utmost faith that Sergeant Sinclair and Airman Wringer will have my back. That’s what makes us a team.” She handed the mike back to Volger and just grinned when the Commander shook his head at her.

He sighed and turned the radio back on. “Chief Darrington, Seaman Stalinsky—report to my office immediately.”

– – – –

Dr. Carson Beckett arrived promptly and with little fanfare, as he joined them for breakfast and Andy expressed just a little curiosity regarding the Scotsman. He had a charming accent, a bright smile, and was eager to return to the US and the SGC. There was a lingering sadness in his eyes but maybe David saw that because he’d been briefed concerning the man and the loss he’d suffered. The loss of his own mother still lingered in David, resonated more now that his senses were online. His memories were full of sense impressions that he hadn’t expected—her perfume, chocolate chip cookies, and the naturally scented lavender soap she had used.

He wasn’t at all surprised to find the Alpha pair lingering in the hotel lobby when they made ready to leave for the day. David curled his hand into Andy’s backpack to stop his movement and stared pointedly at Micah Edeson until the man turned and gave a slight nod towards the other side of the large, elegant room. Another Sentinel/Guide pair was sitting near the fire and young girl in a pretty dress sat in a chair near the fire her gaze averted. He felt pity well in him for the child and he wondered how dire her circumstances might be that her grandfather would make such a move after he’d already declined a meeting.

Andy exhaled sharply beside him and David focused on his son’s pale face. Andy’s eyes were bright with no small amount of anger. “Hey, kiddo.”

“You told them no.”

“I did.”

“She’s here,” Andy hissed. “Why do they do this to them? It’s just going to hurt her feelings when I say no. I don’t want to her hurt her like I did those other Guides. They didn’t deserve that, Daddy.”

David knelt down in front of him on one knee. “Baby, I know. I’m so sorry.” He brushed Andy’s hair from his forehead and sighed. “Sean, take him back upstairs. I’ll handle this.”

“No,” Andy said with a sigh. “They’ll just try again and she doesn’t deserve to be rejected again and again. It’s not fair.”

The older Sentinel/Guide pair stood from their place on a leather couch and approached at that point. Sentinel Edeson and his Guide joined them at the halfway point across the lobby.

“Sentinel David Sheppard, may I present to you Alpha Sentinel Scott Smythe and his Guide, Mark Brown—the Alpha Pair for the United Kingdom,” Micah Edeson began.

“My son, Andrew Sheppard and our Conservator Guide Sean Taylor,” David said sharply. “I made my son’s wishes very clear Sentinel Smythe. He has not changed his mind.”

“I heard him,” Smythe said bluntly. “That being said I believe it would be best if they met while they have a chance.”

“It’s in your best interest, you mean.” Andy said pointedly. “You don’t even care that’s it is going to hurt her. You can’t force her to bond for your benefit.” He paused and glared at him. “It’s horrible.”

Smythe stared at him—obviously taken aback to be talked to in such a way by anyone much less a child. “Children in my pride do as they are told.”

“I outrank the Alpha of my pride,” Andy said simply. “I outrank you, Sentinel Smythe and you know that.” He reached out and the wolf appeared under his hand. The wolf growled low and deep. “Alpha Sentinel Primes are above the pride system.”

Andy shifted slightly and David let him go as he realized the little girl had left the chair she’d been sitting in and was crossing the room. The wolf shifted closer to him but lost the threatening posture and went quiet as she stopped in front of Andy. “Hi.”

“Hello,” she murmured. “My name is Amanda.”

“Andrew. My family calls me Andy.”

She nodded. “I read about you—on the forums mostly.”

“And in the report your grandfather has,” Andy supplied neutrally.

“Yes.” She glanced at the wolf. “Can I touch him, too?”

“He wouldn’t like it,” Andy admitted. “No one in my family touches him either—he’s here just for me.”

She frowned and her eyes darkened. “He belongs to your Guide.”

“Yes.”

Amanda took a step back and put her hand in her grandfather’s. “I’m ready to go Grandpa.”

“Amanda.”

She tugged at his fingers. “We shouldn’t have come. He doesn’t want us here because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. It was rude to ignore what he wanted.”

Sean cleared his throat and offered his hand to Andy. “We have a full day today, gentlemen, I hope you’ll excuse us. “

Smythe started to respond but a hard look from David made him pause briefly. “You must realize that your son is a very attractive bonding option for many young Guides all over the world. Resenting the attention he’s going to get is inappropriate.”

“You’re out of line,” Sean snapped. “Leave now or I’ll have no choice to contact Sentinel Trotsky and file a complaint with him.”

Trotsky, David knew, was the Alpha Sentinel of the European Union. Ellison had also contacted him about their travel to the UK but it had been a courtesy. It was the first time that David had actually been accused of being jealous of his own son. It was a disgusting thought.

“I begrudge my son nothing,” David said tightly. “Finding his Guide is and always be a priority for me, Sentinel Smythe. If you’re quite finished violating my son’s privacy and his peace of mind—we’ll be leaving.”

Sean picked Andy up and tucked his face close to his neck. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Amanda. I wish you luck in your Sentinel search.”

She smiled for Sean. “Thank you, Guide Taylor. I wish you the same.”

They’d decided to forgo a car service due to the secrecy of their mission and instead Carson Beckett ended up behind the wheel of a rented Land Rover as they headed out of the city proper and into the country side. The trip to the coordinates was a little over four hours and it would’ve been closer to have flown into Edinburgh but pride politics had a role in everything. They’d also been less than honest with the IOA about the trip and that had meant they’d been less than honest with everyone else as well. Even the President of the United States didn’t know where the various mission locations had come from. How O’Neill had gotten that past the man was a real mystery but not one that David was prepared to delve into.

Andy spent most of the ride wearing his iPod and playing on the tablet Sean set up for him as soon as they got settled in the rented vehicle. He’d calmed down a lot since the hotel but there was still a big of anger and stress shifting in the boy’s scent pile that infuriated him. When his son had first come online and David had been living as a mundane—not even a latent Sentinel—he’d often felt like his parental rights were flimsy and easily disposed of if the right powerful person came around. Even if he no longer had to worry about the US Government merely confiscating his son for schooling and training.

Now, even as a Sentinel his rights could and would be overridden if it was determined to be in Andy’s best interest. If his son had been a match for Amanda Smythe—the political fallout would have been immense and his son’s physical custody would’ve ended up being decided by someone other than himself. Separating a bonded pair, no matter their age, just wasn’t done. Parents often found themselves splitting bonded children between them like an embittered divorced couple. It was worse for mundanes but it wasn’t a great situation for anyone. He couldn’t imagine how he’d have left his son behind in Britain and doubted that Smythe would’ve allowed his granddaughter to leave.

The Alpha of the United Kingdom had essentially made a bid to gain control over the youngest Alpha Sentinel Prime on the planet. At least, David thought wryly, physical control. He had to wonder when and if Scott Smythe would realize he’d dodged a bullet today. Andy might have his mother’s nose but he was a Sheppard down to his bones. No one was going to be able to get one over on his kid and that had been true before he’d come online.

– – – –

The gate closed behind them but Matt made Quinn, Granger, and Vega remain where they were as Chase stepped towards the edge of the stone platform that held the gate. The grass immediately around the gate was missing—an effect that they’d see often because of the splash zone. The MALP they’d sent to the planet the day before was just off to the left in front of the DHD.

“Talk to me, Harris.”

“Animal life is within the normal range,” Chase murmured. “Insects, birds, small mammals all on par with an average forest. Nothing seems to be out of balance with the various populations. There are a few larger animals in the distance—several feline predators and a grouping of small canine creatures. The heartbeats don’t have the resonance of a large animal. The MALP provided accurate atmospheric readings—the air is fresh, pollution is very low to the point of non-existent, and there is fresh drinking water about a half mile out from the gate itself. No human or humanoid sounding heart beats, no chatter that sounds like a language but I do think we have some lower primates in the trees.”

“Fresh blood? Predator kills?” Matt prodded.

“Yes, but a few miles out. Nothing large is marking its hunting grounds in this area, which is normal. The stargate has a way of pushing animals back from it though no one has figured out why.”

“The sound, the smell,” Matt murmured. “Though Carter speculated that this stargate hadn’t seen activity in probably thousands of years.” He cleared his throat. “Vega, Granger—download the data from the DHD for the geeks back home. Quinn, start a scan for us and let me know if you pick up anything Ancient or Ancient-like that might explain our field trip.”

“On it,” Jonas said as he shrugged out of his backpack and pulled out a tablet.

Matt had been startled to find that the alien had an eidetic memory. He’d sort of thought that kind of thing was practically fiction but Quinn had been brought up to speed on their mission in under an hour and had read Carter’s briefings on the Ancients and a good portion of the information in the Atlantis databurst, all in the time between their mission and his return to Earth.

“So,” Chase said as he turned to look at Jonas. “You gonna tell us why you’re on Earth?”

Jonas flushed. “Sentinels and Guides are very rare on my world—they were believed extinct until Anubis attacked us and eleven Sentinels came online one after another in response to the threat. The Guides followed—seeking out Sentinels and bonding at an alarming pace. Our government contacted Earth and got information on genetic testing and they began to test our population for the markers.”

“You have the genetic marker?” Chase asked.

“They hadn’t tested me, yet and I didn’t want them to. I knew… I already knew I would test as a latent Sentinel because the first time I came to Earth I was tested. It is one of the reasons that O’Neill eventually started to trust me which had proven difficult in the wake of Daniel Jackson’s loss.”

“Your people are being assholes?” Granger asked from his place by the DHD. Vega was half-buried in the machine, a tablet PC on her stomach as she attached half a dozen wires to the inside of the thing.

“They’ve passed laws for mandatory registration, education, and what basically boils down to the government enslavement,” Jonas said neutrally. “I wasn’t going to tolerate it and despite the examples that Earth provided when it came to government regulation and proper bonding my people made no effort to treat those they identified carefully and with dignity. They attempted to force bondings and the failures were horrific. Several online Guides killed themselves in the wake of those forced unions. Sentinels went feral in response—thirty-six government workers were killed in one facility. Which only made them pass more laws to punish and therefore protect themselves from Sentinels. There was discussion of behavioral modification collars.”

“What did you do?” Matt asked.

“I gathered all the ones that the government had identified, took control of the building housing the stargate through lethal force, and we escaped. I wasn’t online so… my usefulness to them ended when we were off the planet. I gave them several addresses to chose from that would welcome them and treat them with respect. None wanted to risk coming to Earth due to the relationship our people seem to enjoy with the Tau’ri. But Earth is a second home to me—it was my only choice.”

“Glad you’re here, man,” Colby said as he helped Vega stand. “Did you have to leave anyone behind on your world? A lover or whatever?”

Jonas shook his head. “No, but many did. Some left behind everything that mattered to them to gain freedom and that is a horrible thing to do to someone. They would’ve been Langara’s greatest guardians if our people understood respect and honor.”

“Earth isn’t perfect,” Chase said suddenly. “There are pockets even in the civilized parts of our world were Sentinels and Guides are little more than government chattel.”

Jonas nodded but before he could respond his tablet went off and he returned his attention to the computer. “Right, we have a structure with… psionic crystal readings off the charts about a half mile east. There are also some Ancient technology blips but everything appears to be offline at present. I’m picking up some naquadah readings that are not related to the gate as well.”

“Vega, you’re on point. Chase—eyes and ears open for whatever passes on this planet for hostile.”

“Also,” Jonas said then paused. “I believe we all know what a ’face-hugger’ looks like? They aren’t common with Ancient technology but that is not something we want to hit on this planet. So everyone keep their faces away from technology that doesn’t look familiar.”

Matt grinned. “You know… that’s not the first image that pops into my mind when I think of the term ‘face hugger’.”

Colby snorted and lifted his p-90. “For the record, if I see an egg of any sort—I’m throwing a grenade at it.”

Vega sent them both a hard look as she passed them, bitching about James Cameron and alien horror movies under her breath. “I don’t know why I gotta work with a bunch of assholes who think Aliens is the kind of movie we should bond over as a team. Sure, Ripley was a bad ass but come on—everyone else died!

“You just had a crush on Vasquez,” Colby taunted.

“She was hot,” Vega defended and grinned when he nodded his agreement. “It was messed up when she died.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Colby agreed as they all spread out and started into the dense forest towards the signal Jonas had identified. “But she went out like a boss.”

Vega sent him a look over her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Granger, we ever get surrounded by aliens who want to rip us limb from limb—I’ll share my grenade with you.”

“That’s what I like about you, Vega, you’re all about helping your fellow soldier.”

“I especially liked how she helped Lt. Kepler last week,” Chase said.

“Ha, fucking, ha, sir,” Vega sing-songed as she swept her gaze across the path ahead of them—weapon at the ready. “He’s lucky I didn’t shove his balls into his throat.”

“True enough,” Chase agreed. “But the effort you put into trying was expert.”

Jonas who was tucked into the middle of the grouping and still mostly focused on his tablet cleared his throat. “What did he do?”

“Mistook me for someone who would tolerate an ass grab then called me a dyke when I pushed him off.” Vega made a disgusted noise and held up her hand to stop them. “Harris?”

Chase shifted so he could look ahead at the movement that Vega spotted. “Well sighted, Lieutenant.” An animal was moving in and out of the brush nearly two thousand yards ahead. “Mammal of some sort, roughly twenty pounds, based on teeth and eye placement I wouldn’t mark it as predatory but let’s keep a weather eye on it.”

“Any idea what we can expect, Quinn?” Matt asked as they started moving again.

“Nothing new so far in the scan. The building is a stone structure of some kind, this scanner isn’t sophisticated enough for in depth analysis but I’ll want to take samples of various surfaces for the geeks back home.”

“Did Daniel give you your own geek minions?” Chase asked with a little laugh.

“Yes, I have four people in my lab,” Jonas admitted and shrugged when they laughed. “But he said I couldn’t call them minions. Apparently it makes them all miss McKay when someone calls them a minion and half the civilians in the Mountain are still pissed and in mourning about not being chosen for the mission. In fact, there is a waiting list to go out as replacement staff.”

“They did see those wraith things, right?” Vega asked, obviously horrified. “Don’t know they’re all red shirts?”
“Oh, hey, I get that reference,” Jonas said happily.

– – – –

“Allison talk to me.”

Porter looked up from her tablet PC. They’d made room for her on the bridge of the submarine which she thought was pretty cool. It wasn’t an assignment she’d want long term for her Sentinel but the experience so far had been pretty slick. The crew was efficient, orderly, and disciplined. No one had touched her and beyond a little talk which was to be expected—everyone had been very respectful. Anne was a Marine and it showed in every move she made, every word she spoke. It hadn’t take long for the Navy men on board the vessel to notice and accept that.

“I’m getting interference—unknown origin. It could be anything from our proximity to the south magnetic pole, depth, or the nuclear reactor on board,” Allison shifted slightly in her chair as she turned to face her Sentinel. “What I do know is whatever is at the coordinates didn’t register there three years ago when the Navy took a hard look around the area due to other discoveries we made. Forty-six minutes ago, the facility appeared on the radar.”

Anne nodded. “Due to our coming within range of its sensors? It’s responding to our genetics?”

“That is the only assumption we can make at this point,” Allison said neutrally. “I have further observations but they are best said in private. I do believe that the entrance to the facility will be located near the top of the large central complex—a moon pool of some sort. It sent out an encrypted transmission that is very familiar.”

Anne inclined her head. “So this place was never not under water?”

“It might have been built on land then submerged,” Allison offered. “That is certainly within the capabilities of the builders.”

“Right.” Anne rubbed the back of her neck and exchanged a look with the sub commander. “Commander Volger, we need to speak with you in private.”

– – – –

Patrick had retired from the Navy a Rear Admiral and at that point it had been literally years since he’d been in the field. In fact, he hadn’t strapped on a weapon until he’d joined the SGC as O’Neill’s Guide in over ten years. They’d been through the gate a few times on diplomatic missions as Jack didn’t regularly do field work. Thus, the weight of the P-90 hooked on his tac vest was both reassuring and a bit disconcerting. Though, it had been his fellow Guide’s expression upon seeing the weapon that had been the biggest problem.

He knew that Blair Sandburg had been a cop for nearly ten years before he’d been shot and Ellison had basically gone to ground with his Guide. That they’d surfaced at all was something of a miracle when Patrick thought about it. O’Neill was stupidly protective of him and he couldn’t imagine what his Sentinel would do if Patrick went down with a catastrophic injury. Still, Sandburg had looked at him like he’d grown a second head. Ellison was wearing a holstered weapon and was wielding a machete like a pro as they literally hacked their way through the jungle.

They’d gotten out of civilization without a local Sentinel/Guide pair rather easily once they’d admitted they were probably searching for the Temple of the Sentinels. Urban and rural Sentinels alike had an instinctual fear of the temple. So many had gone there and never returned—never been seen or heard from again. Though, Patrick had a different perspective on that now than he had in the past. He’d read about the temple when John was a boy—when his Amelia had lived. He’d thought those men and women who’d gone into the jungle and never returned had merely become part of the tribes in the area or succumbed to the elements.

Now, in light of what he’d learned from the Stargate Program and what little information had been sent from Atlantis—he figured those people had ascended. What was in the temple that enticed their kind into ascension? Patrick planned to fight for his mortal life tooth and nail. There were too many in his life that he needed to stick around for to even consider it. What had made the others do it? Had it been easy to let go of the mortal coil with their life partner at their side? Why hadn’t Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg ascended?

“You have a question for me,” Blair said as he dropped back to walk beside Patrick.

O’Neill was at their back and Ellison was on point. Patrick rather felt like a child in a cradle, which was bullshit because he was badass. Not nearly as badass as he had been, say fifteen years ago, but he could definitely hold his own. He certainly wouldn’t go down without a fight in any circumstance.

“You read about ascension?”

“Yes,” Blair agreed with his assumption. “I also spoke at length with Dr. Jackson about what he remembers of the experience. It is enticing thing to contemplate—to remain at my Sentinel’s side for eternity. I’ve come to believe it is probably the natural progression of our species and that intermixing with humans as we obviously did thousands of years ago muted or retarded that genetic imperative in us.”

Patrick huffed out a shocked breath. “You got that out of what the expedition to Pegasus sent us?”

“Well, not entirely. I’ve had several astral projection experiences with an old friend of mine—a shaman named Incacha. He helped Jim when he was stranded with Chopec and eventually came to Cascade to help me in my own path as a shaman.” Blair glanced briefly at the automatic weapon Patrick carried with ease. “Not a path meant for a man like you but you know that.”

“I do,” Patrick agreed.

“You don’t lack the spirituality,” Blair said conversationally as he opened up his water and took a long pull. “In fact, your connection with the spiritual plane is rather intimidating. Your intuitive grasp of concepts that it takes most Guides years if not decades to fully grasp has people both pissed off and awed. I couldn’t evaluate Jim’s senses psionically until we’d been bonded for over five years and yet I watched you do it on the plane over for O’Neill. It’s a skill I haven’t even taught you, yet.”

Patrick flushed and pulled out his own water. “I read a few books—including all of yours. The Center has denied me very little when it comes to information on how to manage my abilities.”

“Yes, they’ve reported to me each time you’ve mastered a skill on your own. It makes them insane that you don’t seek out their instruction, you know. That you only take private sessions with me and refuse to participate in their classes. Also, most of the instructors in Denver think that O’Neill is just fucking with them.”

“I am just fucking with them,” Jack provided from behind them. “But in all fairness, they started it by talking to me like I’m a ten year old. They really should separate out the adult and children Sentinels for orientation classes. It’s insulting and a little unnerving to get some of those sense lectures right along aside my grandkid.”

Patrick flashed him a smile. Jack’s acceptance of Andy was easily one of the most rewarding parts of their relationship. He’d dated both men and women in the past who had never had time for his only grandchild. Some had even resented how much time he spent with Andy. Those relationships had never lasted long but that had been for the best.

Blair Sandburg was laughing. “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”

“Oh yeah?” Jack asked with a laugh. “Two weeks ago, one of the teenage Sentinels asked what to do about his constant and very painful inappropriate erections.” He glared when Ellison started laughing up ahead of them. “The entire ride home, Andy peppered me with questions about erections and what they were and if I had a problem with them because he didn’t and did that make him weird or deformed. And, really? Why the hell did I get stuck giving the puberty talk? What kind of bullshit is that? I’m pretty sure grandparents are just around to spoil kids rotten!”

Patrick pulled out a bottle of water from his pack and tossed it to his Sentinel. “Sucks to be you.”

Jack snorted. “The instructor told the teenager that he should find a quite, private place to take care of his situation. You’ll be pleased to know that Andy was perfectly willing to wait to discuss that with you at a future date.”

“Maybe he’ll ask David,” Patrick said half wistful and contemplating prayer as he walked.

“So, your question?” Blair prompted.

“Thirty-seven Sentinel/Guide pairs have gone in search of the Temple in the last hundred years and never returned,” Patrick began. “I’ve begun to think they ascended. That something in the Temple facilitated that. Do you agree?”

“I agree that is a very likely scenario for most if not all of the missing Sentinel/Guide pairs. A few might have been absorbed into local tribes as they would certainly be welcome with the indigenous people in this part of the world.”

“Why didn’t you and Jim Ascend?” Patrick asked bluntly. “Do you remember that from the dream state?”

Jim sheathed his machete as they came into a clearing and shouldered out of his pack. He rummaged through it for some water and downed half a bottle before he cleared his throat. “I don’t think our bond was strong enough to allow it at the time. We weren’t offered anything like that. In fact, in parts of the dream I felt chastised. When we left the Temple, I came away with the understanding that if I didn’t embrace the gift of my Guide that he might be taken from me by a force I couldn’t fight.”

“Like someone Ascended?” O’Neill questioned.

“It was just a gut feeling—an instinct that told me I’d been put on notice and that I’d better get my shit together if I didn’t want to lose Blair,” Jim admitted roughly. “I needed the kick in the face that was for certain.”

– – – –

“Fuck me,” Matt muttered.

“We really don’t have time for that in our mission schedule,” Granger said blithely. “And besides, I don’t think Harris would share.”

Vega nodded sagely. “He’s a stingy bastard.”

“I get that about him,” Jonas said as he started another scan. “So… this looks very familiar.”

“Yep,” Chase said. “And you’re all right. I’m a stingy bastard.” He rocked back on his heels and stared at the temple. “This is not good.”

“At least there are no face-huggers of any variety, yet.” Vega used her boot to break off a piece of stone and bagged it before dropping it in the pack Quinn had left open near his feet. “Exterior sample collected.”

Jonas sent her a grin. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Most of our historical ruins were destroyed in the civil war we fought and there was little time for archeology anyway. All of our sciences were dedicated to weapons development.”

“Scans?” Matt asked.

“Interior is… looking pretty Ancienty.”

“Ancienty?” Matt asked as he turned to stare at his recently acquired team-geek.

“Serious science requires a precise, descriptive language,” Jonas said straight faced.

“How?” Matt demanded. “You’ve been on the team less than twenty-four hours and they’ve already infected you!” Vega and Granger exchanged a completely indiscreet fist bump and Chase pretended that his left boot was utterly fascinating. “Assholes.”

Jonas cleared his throat. “Though, in all seriousness, I want to do a very extensive scan before we even step foot into this. At present, Vega is the only one here who could touch anything without activating it as the rest of us have active ATA genes. We need to map the exterior, check for secondary entrances, etc.”

“Let’s make camp then and get started,” Matt said. “Chase go back to the gate and report in on our find. Let Caldwell know that we’re on schedule and setting up a base camp as planned.”

– – – –

“You’re coming back home with us, right?” Andy asked, his gaze focused intently on Carson Beckett who was rummaging through the hamper of food they’d brought on the excursion for something to eat.

“Aye, lad, and I’m very much looking forward to it,” Carson said with a bright smile as he retrieved an apple and offered it to Andy. “Got that from an organic market just this morning—washed it before I came to the hotel to make sure it was safe for you.”

Andy took the shining red apple with a smile. “Thanks. It smells good.” He swung his legs and glanced out over the terrain. His father and Sean were up near a large hill with a handheld GPS. “You know why we’re here?”

“Aye, General O’Neill spoke with me about the mission and I received a packet of information through a courier a few days before you arrived. What do you know about it?”

Andy shrugged. “More than I should but… well, I know a lot of things I shouldn’t. It’s hard not to listen but it’s my duty to keep the secrets of others unless it’s bad. Daddy says I should tell him bad secrets in case there is something illegal happening so I tell him that stuff. But, well, now I don’t have to because he sees and hears the same stuff. Like, when we were living in the apartment before he bought the house—the man upstairs hit his girlfriend. Daddy says that a man doesn’t hit women like that.”

“A good man doesn’t,” Carson agreed. “I guess times have changed a bit though—what with women serving in combat.”

“Yeah, Daddy explained that but I have lessons on ethics at the Center, too. They talk about combat ethics and treating a prisoner with respect when it’s possible. It’s not always possible, though, right? Sentinels go feral.”

“Sentinels can be pushed beyond their control in extreme situations,” Carson allowed. “I heard you had an issue earlier in the year.”

Andy flushed and sighed. “They brought in all of these online and latent Guides in my age group. They didn’t even ask and when the mundane woman watching us… got on to me for not paying attention to my guests. I lost my temper. I didn’t mean to but they weren’t my guests and none of them were my Guide and I didn’t ask them to come.” He frowned at his apple and took an angry bite. “They made me hurt those other kids by telling them all no and I was so mad.”

“I don’t blame you,” Carson said with a sigh. “I understand better than you might think about being forced into a situation where you have no control and you’re expected to act a certain way.”

“Your mom died,” Andy said. “I’m sorry for that.”

“Aye, lad, but the last few months of her life were difficult and very painful for her. I don’t resent her finally escaping that. I’m grateful for the peace she has now.”

Andy nodded. “Still, it hurts you.” He reached out and put his hand on Carson’s. “I see it. I feel it with you.” He squeezed gently then released the fingers he’d grasped loosely. “I don’t know my mother. I mean, I know her name but she hasn’t seen me since the day I was born. Doesn’t want to see me, I guess.”

“You have a good family.”

“I do,” Andy agreed. His head jerked up and he dropped his apple. “Daddy!”

David barely had time to turn towards the sound of his son screaming as a bright white light spun up around him and the day sky disappeared. He fell to his knees in pitch black darkness. He could hear Andy screaming for him, Carson Beckett trying to calm him down, and Sean Taylor scrambling around up the hill above him. He was in the ground, he thought. He shivered and took a deep breath. He’d been in a POW in a country that didn’t even exist on a map anymore and they’d kept him in a deep, dark hole. Just thinking about it made his insides curl up in horror.

Daddy!”

David cleared his throat. “I’m fine, baby, I’m fine. Just calm down for me. Okay?” He winced as Andy’s screaming calmed only to turn into sobbing.

Lights flashed around him, giving him a brief look at the room he was in before the solid weight of his son’s body hit him. Andy’s fingers clutched at him, tore at the material of his shirt as he tried to get as close as possible.

“God, Andy.” David held him tight and took a deep breath. His son was throwing off stress and fear hormones on such a level—he had to figure that Sean Taylor must be near empathic overload concerning what Andy could be throwing at him psionically. “Calm down,” David ordered quietly. “Take a deep breath and center yourself. I’m okay. I promise.”

“Your heart was gone. I couldn’t hear it,” he whispered fiercely before taking a deep breath against his neck and settling against him with a full body shudder. David rubbed his back with a gentle pressure as his son stopped trembling. His breathing was ragged for nearly a full minute before that too evened out. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” David pressed a kiss against his forehead. “It’s fine. How did you get down here?”

“I wished I was where you were,” Andy said simply.

Lights flashed around them and David lurched forward off what he knew now to be a transport platform of some kind. He turned just in time to see Sean and Carson Beckett land in a tangle of limbs.

“Fantastic,” Carson muttered.

“Are you alright?” Sean demanded. He crawled off the platform to them and all but snatched Andy from his father’s arms. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Andy huffed as Sean patted him down. “Daddy caught me.”

“I’m lucky he didn’t land on my head,” David said dryly.

Lights turned on then, bathing them in a bright, white light that looked pure and otherworldly. David blinked and frowned. “Who did that?”

“I don’t like the dark,” Carson said abruptly. “I asked for lights. This is obviously an Ancient facility of some kind—it responds to the ATA gene which we all four have.” He stood up and dusted himself off. “Be right back.”

David watched startled as Carson disappeared in a flash of light then returned just a few seconds later. “What the hell, Beckett?”

“Just making sure we can get out,” Carson said as he stepped off the platform. “I appeared on the hill side where you disappeared. There must be a buried platform up there of some kind.”

“Right.” David stood and helped Sean up who still had Andy in a death grip. “We’re okay, Sean. Relax.”

Sean frowned at him and put Andy down. “You fucking asshole!” He poked a finger in David’s chest. “You just don’t disappear on people like that!”

David snagged his finger when the Guide went to poke him again. He pulled Sean to him briefly and hugged him. “Sorry, it wasn’t on purpose. I just… wished I could find what we were looking for that… that’s all.”

“Congratulations,” Sean snapped. “We found a hole in the ground!”

David grinned and brushed his mouth over Sean’s once then again when Taylor relaxed against him. “Don’t be all snotty. We just made a huge discovery.”

“Right.” Carson clapped his hands together and rubbed them gently. “Let’s… huh explore a little bit? Nobody touch anything and no one wish for anything that will lead them to be taken somewhere else.”

“We should probably stick together,” David said as he eyed the Scotsman. “O’Neill has plans for you, Dr. Beckett and if I don’t come back with you—I’ll have some explaining to do.”

– – – –

“I’m too old for this,” Jack muttered as he tied on his boots. He looked back at the sprawled form of his Guide and found himself laying back down beside Patrick Sheppard.

Patrick shifted on his side. “You haven’t felt better in years.” He trailed fingers down the center of Jack’s chest. “In fact, you’re in better physical shape now than you were even ten years ago.”

“Sentinel genetics,” Jack muttered.

“Close proximity to Ancient tech,” Patrick corrected. “At least that’s what I’ve been thinking. My knee hasn’t hurt since I sat in the chair at the outpost.”

“Psionic keys,” Jack murmured. “That’s what Carter calls the crystals that Ancients put in all of their equipment. The stuff that responds to our genetic code. I have to wonder—what the people on Atlantis have really learned about our origin and what it means for us as a species.”

“We’ll find out,” Patrick said simply. “I can’t… accept any reality that doesn’t include my son coming home to me, Jack. Don’t expect me to. If there ever comes a day when I have to accept the loss of John… I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“I’d never ask it,” Jack said quietly. “I’m going to bring your boy home, Patrick. If I have to go to Pegasus myself to accomplish it. I feel it, you know, the hole he left behind in your family.”

“Our family,” Patrick corrected.

“Had I known… really understood the situation I would’ve never have let him leave Earth without contacting you.”

“He didn’t think he could come home,” Patrick said. “That’s on me. I had a duty to him and I failed. I’ll do everything I can to make up for that.”

“It’s obvious that he wants to make amends,” Jack said simply. “At least… well, I think you’re in a better position than some. The argument you had with him has a different context now. He’s bonded to a Guide and you’re online. You do understand his imperative, right?”

“I understand it,” Patrick said quietly. “I don’t like it but that is more the father in me talking than the Guide.”

Jack sighed and sat up. “Ellison is breaking down their tent.”

Within twenty minutes, they’d each consumed an energy bar and more coffee than they wanted to comment on. They were on the trail just short of eight o’clock which was actually quite late for Jack to get a start on his day, but the mission, while certainly essential, didn’t feel like an emergency to him. They were going to reach their destination before noon and that seemed about right to him.

The satellite phone started ringing at that point and Patrick pulled it out of the pack. He handed it to Jack without breaking stride.

“This is O’Neill.”

“Sir, we have reports in from Colonel Carter, Commander Sheppard, and Mr. Sheppard in England.”

“Results, Colonel Caldwell?” Jack asked.

“Mr. Sheppard has reported locating an Ancient outpost. It appears to have been abandoned thousands of years ago and has no new technology to speak of. He’s currently exploring it but reports that nothing appears dangerous at this point. Commander Sheppard has reported in twice—once yesterday afternoon that they’d reached their coordinates and were setting up camp. This morning when we dialed into check with them, he transmitted video footage of what looks like a temple of some sort after his oral report.”

“A temple,” Jack said and stopped moving. “Anyone on hand to give me some more information on that?”

“Yes, I have Dr. Bradley from anthropology here and he has a very brief analysis for you.”

Jack grinned. Caldwell was all about the geeks being brief and to the point. “Dr. Bradley, talk to me.”

“General O’Neill, we have five minutes of video and roughly thirty stills to review. What we know is that it resembles ruins we’ve found on Earth in South America and most specifically in Mexico. Dr. Jackson left me a series of drawings of the Temple of the Sentinels that he borrowed from the Sentinel/Guide Center and it is my opinion that Commander Sheppard has found a corresponding temple off-world.”

“Are we talking corresponding as in travel back and forth type temples like with the giant invisible aliens that Jackson’s grandfather lives with or what?” Jack demanded.

“Sir, they haven’t been inside the structure at last report but Jonas Quinn is familiar with all of Dr. Jackson’s work and research. If he sees anything like a crystal skull—he’ll get his team out. I have no doubts about that.”

“Alright,” Jack said. “What about Teldy?”

“At last report, the Seawolf was on course and should reach the coordinates within the next five hours,” Caldwell reported. “We have a squadron of X-302’s on standby and the USS Abraham Lincoln is on station in case the sub requires emergency rescue.”

“Good.” Jack sighed and glanced up ahead to find that his party had stopped to stare at him. The tilt of Ellison’s head indicated that he wouldn’t have to brief his fellow Sentinel. “And Carter?”

“Colonel Carter and Dr. Jackson left Cairo roughly eight hours ago. They are traveling with a local Sentinel/Guide pair and their research trip has received no undue notice by anyone undesirable in the country. Dr. Jackson is a known entity in the field and his… err… crackpot image has served them well at this point.”

Jack grimaced. He knew that Daniel didn’t give a shit about his academic reputation outside of the SGC but it pissed O’Neill of that most of the people that looked down their noses at Daniel wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for him. Some in Washington believed that if the gate had never been opened that the would’ve been safe. But the Goa’uld had space ships and that was enough of a threat all on its own to make Jack think that not opening the gate would’ve been the gravest of mistakes long term.

“Right, then, we are a few hours out from our target and on schedule.”

– – – –

Being an urban Sentinel came with a unique set of challenges. Challenges that Sam Carter had met with vigor and perseverance from day one. She’d refused to allow her biology get in the way of her dreams and going unbonded for as long as she had given her great coping skills. Still, horses and camels smelled horrible and she’d spent most of the morning riding behind her Guide and keeping her face buried against the back of his neck.

The local pride had been welcoming and eager to work with them on their task, which hadn’t surprised her—not after what their Alpha Guide revealed. She wondered how many other Guides on Earth were dreaming about John Sheppard and the war he was waging in Pegasus. Daniel didn’t speak of such dreams—in fact no Guide she knew had mentioned any sort of dream about the gate. She had to figure they would bring up to Daniel at the very least. Though Patrick Sheppard was their Alpha Guide and Allison Porter was the Beta—Daniel remained the most easily approachable.

Allison Porter was sheltered and insulated by her Sentinel. Not that Sam blamed Anne Teldy for her militant protection of her Guide—having a beautiful, female Guide in combat situations must have been the stuff of nightmares. Daniel had always garnered more attention off-world than Sam had been comfortable with, though their bond had been platonic then and who he’d taken to bed had been none of her business.

Daniel’s hand settled on hers and she relaxed with a little huff. Old jealousy was stupid so she put it aside in her mind and let her senses stretch out a little, well all of them except smell. She kept that down because the camels were horrible and the horse she and Daniel were on wasn’t much better.

“We’re here,” Daniel said as he pulled the horse to a stop.

Sam frowned at the desert all around them and slid down off the horse. The rest of the party was dismounting as well. There was nothing just as they’d been warned. No crumbling ruins…she shifted slightly on her feet as something familiar and alien drifted across her mind. Several people around her reacted—startled and put off by what was obviously Ancient technology reaching out for them. There was something inherently needy about Ancient tech.

A few hundred yards ahead of her, the sand started to slide and shift. The ground started to vibrate and rumble as the dunes around them shifted. The animals panicked but most were kept under control physically. A few younger men gathered up the animals and pulled them away from the disturbance even as Sam grabbed Daniel to pull him back as well. Sand continued to sink away until the top of a stone structure was revealed.

“Son of a bitch,” Jackson murmured as sand cascaded downward, the dune shifted and more fell away. The pyramid itself wasn’t moving so he was definitely curious as to how the temple was revealing itself. He turned to ask Sam only to find her face first in a tablet.

“Shields—there are Ancient shields. The pyramid is using it to shift away the sand,” Sam said. “Thoughts on construction?”

“Egyptian,” Daniel said shortly as he moved up and hopped onto a piece of the temple jutting out. “I’d say close to the time of the Step Pyramid in construction. So, roughly 2600 BC.”

“So after the return but before Ra’s first visit,” Sam murmured.

Daniel nodded. “Ra emerged as a deity in Egyptian mythology some time during the Fifth Dynasty as far as we can determine—so around 2300 BC.”

Though there was some discussion as to whether or not Ra was worshipped as a god before the alien who came to Earth took on his name in order to subjugate the people of ancient Egypt. Daniel was on the fence about it—as it could easily have been the influence of alien visitations that shaped the mythology of the region. Still, the Goa’uld were an inherently lazy species and inserting themselves into the god-worship of a primitive culture would’ve insured a peaceful take over.

“This is a special place,” Guide Khufu said. “A spiritual place for our people.”

“Yes,” Daniel said. “It must be guarded as if it were precious and protected from those that might seek to plunder it for treasures that belong to our people.”

“Then it will be the duty of my pride,” Sentinel Gahiki declared.

Daniel nodded his agreement and a part of him relaxed. He knew how much power the prides had in Egypt and over most of Africa. If Gahiki said he would protect the pyramid then it was a done deal. The government would never intrude on pride business.

“So,” Sam began. “There is a high power reading but…” She trailed off and her mouth slowly formed a near perfect O. “Wow.”

“Wow?” Daniel asked. “Super wow we can go help John or regular wow you found something utterly boring?”

“Super wow,” Sam said awed. “I think we’ve found a full ZPM. We have got to get inside right now.”

– – – –

Matt shifted on his back and stared at the top of his tent. Chase was asleep in a tent with Jonas Quinn on the opposite side of camp. Granger and Vega had been sharing a tent for months—completely platonically since she actually was a lesbian. Though Colby had happily offered to be her beard and try to cultivate some UST for her if necessary. It had been his idea to sleep separately off-world and Chase hadn’t had any sense problems doing it so that’s what they did. It was uncomfortable recently for Matt not being able to lay hands on Chase even in his sleep. His inability to connect with Chase mentally and empathically was frustrating for him, which told him more about his impending online status than anything the Center or Daniel Jackson had been able to speculate about it.

He hadn’t told Chase. The last thing he wanted to do was open his lover and presumed Sentinel up to that kind of trauma. He did believe deep down in his bones that Chase was his. If he were at all honest about it, Matt had felt that way since he’d set eyes on the Marine. He closed his eyes just as something pushed gently at his mind. It was a delicate, knowing touch and he reached back for it without hesitating.

– – – –

“I should go first.”

Sam shot her Guide a hard look as she finished putting on the climbing harness. “Not going to happen.”

“I have more experience in tombs,” Daniel pointed out.

“I’m twice as badass as you are,” Sam returned with a bright smile.

Daniel huffed. “I’m physically stronger.”

“Wanna bet?” Sam asked her eyes glinting as she glanced her Guide over. “I go first. I always go first.” She threw her legs over the edge of the shaft, braced herself on the wall as she prepared to repel down. “You stay put until I give you the signal.”

Daniel frowned at her but nodded. He’d never successfully won that particular argument with his Sentinel but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try every single time. He might be her Guide but she was his… woman. Masculine pride dictated that he should be the one taking the risks and going down into deep dark holes first.

“It is difficult, yes?” Gahiki asked. “Being the mate of such a strong and capable woman?”

“I wouldn’t have her any other way,” Daniel muttered but nodded. Twenty minutes later, his radio clicked twice letting him know he had a go.

The shaft was twenty-two meters down so he took his time to avoid injury or a fall. He didn’t want to get down there and be a liability for his Sentinel. Roughly four meters from the ground, the shaft opened up into a small cavern—obviously man made. Sam had thrown out a handful of glow sticks that lead out of the cavern. He unhooked himself from the ropes, gave them a tug so the next man could come down and started after his Sentinel. He found her in a small anti-room that was reminiscent of a burial chamber.

In the center set a pedestal and on it—sat two shining Zero Point Modules. Sam was standing in front of them—hands trembling, tears of relief sliding down her cheeks.

“Hey, Badass.”

Sam turned toward him and laughed.

– – – –

Jack stared grimly at the Temple of the Sentinels while Blair Sandburg busied himself taking pictures. Ellison was quiet beside him. “The same?”

“The same,” Ellison agreed. “Though I can’t believe we were in this far… that doesn’t make sense.”

“The Temple might have altered your memories of the event to protect itself,” Jack said bluntly. “Ancient technology is semi-sentient and a lot more… manipulative than we put in the reports for anyone outside the SGC to read.” He paused briefly. “The thing is that I’ve been editing reports left and right since I before came online when it comes to what the IOA and the US Government is allowed to know about the origin and function of Ancient technology.”

“I realized that when I received a report from the President on a matter you’d already reported on—his information was quite sparse compared to what I’d been given,” Ellison said. “Can you explain why?”

“At first, I wasn’t even aware I was doing it,” Jack admitted. “When I realized how much I was keeping from them and on what subjects—I began to suspect that I was being influenced by…” His gaze drifted upward. “Well, someone of a different sort but Patrick thinks it might be an instinctual protection of our people. We may or may not have come from the Ancients but they are the reason we are here on Earth. Protecting that information seems very important.”

“I agreed,” Jim said. “It’s… the last thing we need is for the mundane population on Earth to get the idea that Sentinels and Guides are actually aliens. It would lead to social unrest, political sanctions, and violence. We’ve worked too hard to carve out a place for us in a civilized manner to have them turn on us.”

“Right.” Jack’s jaw tightened as he considered his newfound family. He could see himself burning whole cities to the ground to keep them safe.

Patrick shouldered out of his pack. “I… need to go into the temple.”

“What?” Jack demanded. “No, not yet. We haven’t even run scans!”

Now,” Patrick returned evenly his voice rich with empathic weight. “I have to go in right now, Jack.”

“Jesus.” Jack shrugged out of his pack and glanced briefly at Ellison who looked just as surprised as he felt.

– – – –

John tilted his head slightly, turned and left the room before his Guide even had time to ask him what was wrong. Rodney tossed aside the tablet he was working with carelessly and scrambled after his Sentinel.

“John? What the fuck?”

“Something changed…” John muttered. “Something is different.”

Rodney caught up with John, grabbed his tac vest, and shoved him up against a wall. “Absolutely not, Sheppard.” He watched his Sentinel’s gaze go from unfocused to sharp. “Tell me.”

“I don’t know,” John admitted hoarsely. “Something in the temple wants my attention.”

Rodney glared and clicked his earpiece. “Vala, is Cameron having any sort of reaction to the temple?”

“No, he’d probably be taking a nap if I didn’t have him taking video of the temple walls,” Vala returned dryly. “Is John?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll join you momentarily.”

– – – –

Matt crawled out of his tent and stared at the looming shadow of the temple. Colby Granger stirred from his place by the fire, stood, and stretched. “Take your two.”

“Yes, sir,” Granger said as he rambled over to his tent and crawled in beside Vega who promptly punched his shoulder in her sleep. “I think that’s why she doesn’t have a girlfriend. She’s mean when she’s asleep.”

Matt laughed. “She’s mean when she’s awake, too.”

He sat down at the fire after walking around the edge of the camp and checking the perimeter sensors they’d set up. They really weren’t all that necessary now that Chase was on the team but he hoped that they allowed the young Sentinel a chance to relax his guard while he slept. He knew that the only time Chase really slept soundly was when he was in the room that David provided them. Which Matt attributed to sleeping in the same house with O’Neill more than anything else.

The touch against his mind intensified—grew sharper and more demanding as he sat there. A part of him realized he should wake up his team and tell them—at least tell Chase but he also knew they would try to prevent what the temple wanted which wouldn’t be good.

Finally, he stood and walked towards the entrance—his P-90 dangling from the hook on his tac vest.

– – – –

Jack kept his fingers tight around Patrick’s vest as they walked into a large room at the center of the temple. A glowing blue pool of psionic energy spread out—placid and unmoving. “Ellison?”

“Yeah, this looks like the pool Alex dragged Blair into,” Jim said hoarsely. “I don’t remember why I ever thought I wanted to see it again.”

Patrick tugged at Jack as he tried to get closer to the pool. “I have to go in.”

“No way in hell,” Jack snapped. “Not without me.”

“Never without you,” Patrick agreed, his gaze snapped to his Sentinel’s face. “I’ll never go anywhere you can’t follow, Jack. I promise.”

Jack relaxed slightly and allowed his Guide to lead them to the pool. He noticed that neither Ellison nor Sandburg were speaking. He turned back to look at them and found that Ellison had gathered up his Guide and had his face buried against Blair’s neck. The Guide was running his fingers through Jim’s hair in a petting motion. The gentle rocking of their bodies was so in sync couldn’t begin to determine which one was doing it.

Patrick stepped down into the pool and Jack could do nothing but follow.

– – – –

John lead them to a large room in the central part of the temple—beyond where they had scanned and they all four stopped in front of the large blue pool they found there.

“Psionic energy,” McKay said bluntly. “Probably a direct link to the psionic plane that Marius and Bastien speak of. A path to Ascension.”

“Or knowledge,” John said softly. “I don’t think you can Ascend without the will to do so, Rodney.”

Think.” Rodney sighed. “It’s all supposition, John. We can’t… there is so much we don’t know.”

“And so much we can learn,” John countered. He turned to face his Guide and took up both his hands. “Remember that first day? The day we met and it was so painful for me to hear you speak?”

“Yes,” Rodney admitted. It had never sat well with him that he’d caused his Sentinel so much pain upon their meeting.

“It was my guilt—my cowardice that caused that pain,” John said. “I never searched for you. I never allowed myself to take a leap of faith and let the system work for me. You can’t know how much I regret all the years I had to live without you, Rodney.”

“I don’t resent you for it,” Rodney said bluntly. “I don’t have room for it. I love you.”

John let his forehead rest on McKay’s and he took a deep breath. “I love you, too. I think I did before we even met which makes no sense whatsoever. We took a risk that day—coming together like we did. It’s a risk our kind has taken for millions of years.”

Rodney lifted his head away from his Sentinel and looked at the pool. “John.”

“Take a leap of faith with me, Rodney?” John asked gently.

“Yes,” Rodney answered hoarsely.

– – – –

Matt shrugged out of his tac vest after putting his weapon down on a low bench near the blue pool in the center of the room. He dropped the vest on the floor just shy of the steps and he paused only briefly before stepping down into the pool. It reminded him of stepping through a stargate he thought wildly before he was enveloped in the suddenly writhing energy of the pool.

“Holy shit,” he whispered as he fell to his knees in the middle of a room not unlike what he’d left. There were three pools in the new room. Two shadows were moving beside the pool directly across from him. He stood and stepped forward into the light that radiated out from a short round platform.

“Matthew?”

– – – –

John caught Rodney as he was spit out of the pool and into a room that was very familiar but not the same because neither Cameron nor Vala were present. What he found instead had him reeling back in shock and reaching for his Guide.

“Dad?”

– – – –

Patrick Sheppard’s head snapped around and his gaze went from his youngest son to the son he’d thought lost to him a long time ago. “John.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Jack O’Neill said lowly. He let go of his Guide and Patrick took a step towards his son John.

Jack focused on Matt who was standing there staring at them all in horror. “Where is Harris?”

Matt glanced back towards the pool he’d stumbled out of. “I can’t imagine he’s far behind me, actually.”

Patrick’s gaze snapped back to Matt. “You went into that fucking temple by yourself, didn’t you?”

Matt winced. “I didn’t… I couldn’t…”

“Help himself,” the man at John’s side said dryly. “Not really a surprise. It’s like the survival instinct was bred out of the entire family.” He shared a look with O’Neill and shrugged when he was glared at by three different, but nearly identical pairs of green eyes.

Matt stepped up onto slightly raised platform where his father and O’Neill were. He reached out and his hand went right through his father. “This is the freakiest thing ever.”

“You are so grounded,” Patrick snapped and turned his glare to John who had hesitantly stepped onto the platform with McKay. “And you! You went off to another fucking galaxy without even calling me to tell to kiss your ass. Nothing!”

John winced. “I’m really sorry about that.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “This is Rodney McKay, my Guide.”

“I know,” Patrick said coolly. “I’ve read his file.” He crossed his arms and fumed. “I thought I’d be too relieved to see you again to be angry. I was mistaken.”

“Good thing we’re separated by an entire galaxy then,” Matt said cheerfully. “Well, actually I’m closer since I’m on a planet at the edge of the Milky Way.”

“Huh.” Rodney tilted his head and looked toward O’Neill and Patrick. “And you two?”

“The Temple of the Sentinels in Mexico,” Jack said shortly.

“We’re in a planet on Pegasus, near the edge of the galaxy. The last planet in this galaxy with a stargate before the void between galaxies actually,” McKay said.

“Right,” John said tightly. His hand drifted into his Guide’s. “I don’t fucking like this. How did you get to the temples?”

“An Ascended Guide gave the coordinates to Daniel Jackson, we’re undertaking a huge mission based on the intel we gathered from him,” Jack explained. “Your brother David is in the UK investigating an Ancient outpost and Sam Carter is in Egypt. You?”

“The database on the city gave us the address,” Rodney said and glared at John. “I told you this was bullshit. What the fuck, John?”

The pool behind Matt heaved and spat out a furious Chase Harris. Harris lurched forward and grabbed Matt, jerking him off the platform. “You son of a bitch! What the fuck were you thinking?”

“Hey,” John protested. “Get your hands off him!”

“Mind your own fucking business,” Chase snapped without even looking in John’s direction. His voice shook as he covered Matt’s heart with one shaking hand. “You… I couldn’t…”

“Hey, I’m sorry,” Matt said and patted his arm.

“Don’t fucking pet me, Sheppard!” Chase ground out through clenched teeth. “You violated mission protocols, scared the fuck out of me, and goddamn it! I woke up and I couldn’t find you. I thought you were dead.”

“The thoughtless asshole gene is obviously active in your entire family,” Rodney said dryly.

Chase huffed and released Matt. He stalked away from him and glared around the room, fury vibrating off of him. “What the hell is up with the…” He trailed off as he caught sight of the spectral form of his CO. “Oh.”

Jack grinned. “Harris, I was just asking about you.”

Chase winced and huffed. “Is this were I apologize for losing your son off-world?”

“No, but you might want to apologize for telling a superior officer and team leader’s brother to mind his own fucking business,” Jack nodded in John’s direction.

Chase blushed furiously. “Colonel Sheppard.”

John tried to look stern but he didn’t have it in him. He smirked and offered the younger Sentinel a little wave. “I ever get you under my command, young man, I’ll make you really regret that.”

“That’s something to look forward to,” Chase said dryly. He glared at Matt who had stepped back onto the platform. “How come they look like ghosts?”

“I think this is some kind of astral projection system,” the man with John Sheppard said. “Not really sure.”

“You’re Rodney McKay,” Chase said. “I’ve heard about you.”

Rodney inclined his head in what could only be a show of false modesty. “I can’t say the same but I look forward to meeting you at some point. Any man that can tell off two Sheppards in the space of just a few minutes is worth a conversation or two.”

Matt shoved his hands in his pockets. “Not that this isn’t really kind of cool and could come in handy but… what the hell are we all doing here?”

– – – –

Commander Volger had taken the entire debriefing very well at least outwardly. His heart raced through most of it—stress hormones poured off of him and Anne felt herself grateful he didn’t have a Sentinel among his crew. If someone had stressed out her CO like she had Volger—she’d have been after their blood.

Now the man was at the stick of the mini-sub that they’d brought for the mission. He’d known all along that he would be the driver for this part of the mission but hadn’t been debriefed until the location was confirmed. The President had been of the opinion there was no need to read the Navy man in to the situation if they found nothing. The Ancient facility was lit up brilliantly now.

A pair of doors opened as they approached in the sub and Volger spared her a glance. “Your doing, Major?”

“Mine,” Allison said from near the back of the sub where she was camped out on a narrow bench with a tablet. “I’m getting a lot of data from the facility. It’s kind of eager to connect with us.” She shrugged when they both looked at her in question. “I can’t explain it. No one can really—at least—no on Earth can explain it. I’m really looking forward to catching up with the people on the big mission.”

They hadn’t filled Volger in on the expedition to Atlantis. Anne figured he’d reached the end of his tether on the subject of aliens, stargates, and space battles anyways. The Commander took a deep breath as he guided the little sub into the entrance and swore suddenly under his breath.

“What?” Anne demanded.

“No control,” Volger snapped. He started pushing buttons but all of his instruments were frozen. “Locked out.”

“No, it’s okay,” Allison said suddenly from the back of the craft. “It’s a failsafe to prevent accidents. We’re probably being guided into a docking bay by the facility’s secondary systems.” She focused on Anne who was frowning. “When we finally got the flight bay uncovered at the outpost—we found it had a similar system in place. It only lets x-302s so far into the landing bay before the controls are locked out and the jet is sorted for an automatic and unmanned landing.”

Anne didn’t like it at all and she figured that Volger didn’t either from the look on the man’s face. Minutes later they were surfacing and the mini-sub was practically suctioned up against a narrow dock by an energy field.

“Jesus,” Wringer muttered.

“You’re tellin’ me,” Sinclair said as he stood and grabbed his pack. He also picked up Porter’s because the Guide was focused intently on her tablet. “Major?”

Teldy shifted on her feet as Volger popped the hatch. She inhaled sharply and everyone on the sub stilled as her eyes went a little dull. After nearly a full minute, she returned to herself and gave an abrupt nod. “We’re clear. The facility is empty. Allison?”

“Life support is working well as I reported earlier,” Allison began. “Temperature is hovering around 46° at this point. Power rationing. I’m going to need the generator to bring up any additional systems we find.”

Sinclair sighed and shifted his pack on his back before picking up a heavy, fortified box from the supply pile. “Got it.”

They exited the sub and Anne took a look around the small docking area they’d been forced into. “Wringer, you’ll stay with Commander Volger and our ride out of here.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Anne spread out her senses—weighing and measuring a few hundred things at once. The place had an odor of abandonment but as with all the Ancient technology she’d encountered—it was quite clean despite having been abandoned thousands of years before. It was interesting confirming which systems the Ancients considered a priority—in that they’d left ventilation and self-cleaning programs in place in every facility they’d ever found. Many at the SGC believed that it spoke to the Ancients having built and maintained their technology around the needs of a Sentinel.

Perhaps it was true but Anne doubted it was the main thrust of their motives. The presence of psionic energy in their technology spoke more of a connection to Guides. She often felt that her duty to protect Allison outweighed everything else. It certainly took precedence over any territorial imperative she had. Finding and bonding with a Guide had given her a unique and precious purpose in life. She’d said it more than once and she believed all the way down to her atoms.

“Something wrong?”

“No,” Anne murmured. “Just always a little weirded out by Ancient tech, you know. Out of everything we’ve read and learned since coming to the SGC tells me we’re connected to them but I don’t… I don’t trust them.”

“I don’t either,” Allison admitted. “They abandoned Earth to Ra and Pegasus to the Wraith. They never once interfered here—when he was taking people as slaves through the gates and obviously spreading them out over the galaxy using the very transportation system the Ancients built. The Tollan, the Nox, the Furlings—even the Asgard ignored the plight of Earth until we became a technological presence they could not ignore. The only ones that haven’t disappointed me on that point are the Furlings and they’re extinct.”

Anne nodded her agreement. She knew Allison’s sentiment regarding the so-called Four Great races wasn’t a popular one in the SGC. It was true that the Asgard had helped them a great deal and the Tollan had proven to be friends, even if they couldn’t be called allies by any reasonable person. Anne had to wonder if the Tollans had regretted that arrogance when Anubis came calling and through all the events that followed. Their entire civilization had paid the price for it.

– – – –

John and his father were sitting on benches on different planets light years apart and yet they were side by side. It was a mindfuck. John cleared his throat and scuffed the floor with his combat boot to avoid looking at the near transparent version of his father sitting next to him.

“It’s agony, to look at you.”
Patrick looked at him alarmed. “John, I…”

“I can’t hear your heart. I can’t… smell that soap you always used when I was little. It’s like you’re nothing but you’re standing there and it hurts,” John murmured. “I don’t know when or if I’ll come back to Earth so this may be the only chance I ever have to talk to you like this.”

“I’m so sorry,” Patrick said. “I don’t… I could’ve set Washington on fire when I was told what they’d done. I didn’t know whether I wanted to murder O’Neill or…”

“Crawl on top of him?” John asked dryly and laughed when his father glared at him. “I heard about your bonding shortly after it happened. We have this pain in the ass Ascended Sentinel/Guide pair who visit us and give us vague ideas and mostly they just piss McKay off which I’m pretty sure is my job.”

“It wasn’t what I expected but I can’t bring myself to regret it,” Patrick said. “I… that was you, when I was in the chair, right?”

“Yeah, it was me.” John rubbed his hand over his face. “I didn’t even know what was going on but the chair on the city sort of went crazy when you sat down in the chair on Earth. It dragged me out of a mission meeting and across the city. McKay was not pleased. It pisses him off how I react to Ancient tech sometimes.”

“Sometimes it feels like it’s intruding on the bond,” Patrick said. “I know what it feels like and it isn’t pleasant at all.”

“Will you…” John took a deep breath. “Can you tell me about David’s son?”

“Andrew Neal Sheppard,” Patrick said. “We call him Andy. He’s six going on about thirty. We school him in a Sentinel/Guide facility because he can’t handle being around mundane kids. He’s a bright kid and has already been recognized as an Alpha Sentinel Prime by the International Council. They call him—other Sentinels call him the Little Alpha. He’s formidable at a very young age. I can’t imagine what he’ll be like as a grown man.” He turned and looked at John. “Or maybe I can.”

John took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for him when he came online. He must really resent me.”

“No,” Patrick replied with a shake of his head. “He… I’d say he misses you but that wouldn’t make sense. I think he’s known, even before he came online, that someone was missing in our family. We didn’t even tell him about you until he came online.” He winced when John averted his gaze. “It wasn’t because we were angry with you, son. You just weren’t there and I didn’t see that changing. I tried to call you after he was born but you never responded to any of my messages.”

“I didn’t get them,” John murmured. “I… I was in a combat zone in Special Ops when he was born. I had no next of kin listed in my records so I doubt they would’ve bothered to forward me any messages that might have been… upsetting. Upsetting an online, unbonded Sentinel is not something they do if they can help it.”

“I took note that you only have McKay listed in your records as family,” Patrick said tightly. “Jesus, John… how could you think that was what I wanted?”

“It was… what I wanted at the time,” John admitted. “I had no one listed for years, Dad. I was so angry with you. Furious that you would try to… that you ordered me to act contrary to my instincts and nature. It was infuriating and I cut myself off from the entire situation. I regret that now, but I then I was young and hurt and if we’re going to be honest still mourning my mother.”

Patrick took a deep breath when John’s gaze flicked to O’Neill. “He’s not a replacement for your mom.”

“No, I wouldn’t… I don’t think that,” John said. “I have a great deal of respect for O’Neill, Dad. He’s like… he was good to me when I came to the Mountain. I hadn’t felt safe in years… moving from posting to posting to avoid being figured out by the Air Force or the Center. I knew it wouldn’t take much for someone to realize what I was hiding. But in the Mountain, even before I met McKay I immediately felt at ease and safe. Safe in his care.”

“Matt and David are good with him,” Patrick admitted. “Andy adores him. Calls him Grandpa Jack.”

John smiled at that. “Good. He needs that… a family. He was very lonely when I met him.”

“I hate this, too,” Patrick admitted. “I would’ve given anything to be able to connect with you when you were kid and now that I have the knowledge… the skills to do so I can’t even…” Patrick sighed. “Your Guide is good to you?”

“Perfect,” John murmured. “Perfect for me, at least. I couldn’t ask for more.”

The psionic pools started to shift and move—rolling like miniature oceans. The waves swelling but not spilling over.

“McKay, what the hell?”

“I haven’t got a clue,” Rodney said bluntly.

– – – –

Andy tilted his head as his father set a weird carved metal box down near the transport platform. “What is that?”

“Looks like data crystals. I’ve seen some at the SGC so I thought I’d gather them up for Dr. Jackson. There isn’t much else here…” David admitted. “So, I think this is what we are here for.” He cleared his throat and Sean and Beckett came back into the room that they’d originally transported into. “I think we need to go.”

“Spidey sense tingling, lad?” Beckett quipped.

“Yeah, we’ll go with that.” David frowned. “Sean.”

Taylor immediately came forward, picked up Andy and grabbed the pack full of recording equipment. They disappeared in a flash of light.

“You’re next, Beckett.”

“Right then,” Carson muttered. “If you’re sure?”

“Yeah, we need to get the hell out of here,” David muttered as a distant rumbling reached his hearing.

When he appeared on the hill with the box, Beckett was half way down and Sean was already at the car. The rumbling increased exponentially as he rushed down the hill to the vehicle. “Beckett, driver’s seat. Now.”

Sean helped him throw the last of their gear in the back of the Land Rover and they rushed into seats as Carson put the vehicle in gear and threw up dirt and rocks as they headed for the main road.

Behind them, the hill split and a stream of pure blue light shot up in the air. The hill sank in on itself as the light disappeared and in the back of his mind, David felt the outpost they’d been in die.

“Jesus,” Sean snapped. “What the fuck?”

– – – –

Anne stumbled back as the outpost around them started to shake. “Allison?”

“This thing is rising,” Allison snapped. “Jesus, Anne. It’s like Atlantis.”

“Atlantis?” Anne demanded. “How big is this place?”

“In weight? A few aircraft carriers?” Allison offered as an estimate and then tilted her head in thought. “Three Nimitz-class. Fully loaded. My Ancient math is a bit shoddy but we’re probably looking at ten square miles, including towers and the subterranean levels. Surface area? No clue really. We need room up there.”

“Mother fucker.” Anne turned on her heel and darted from the room. She made it to the docking area in under a minute. “Volger—you need to tell your boat to back the fuck off and they need to warn the Abraham Lincoln that we’re coming up. Their radar is going to go crazy. We need no less than a ten mile perimeter around the coordinates.”

“Damn it, Major,” Volger snapped and scrambled up the side of the mini-sub.

Anne went back to her Guide and found Allison in a different room. It had the marks of a control room. “Can you stop this?”

“No, it’s automated,” Allison said as she pushed off a stool and rushed to other side of the room. “I’ve activated the shields which happily also work as a cloak so no one on the surface is going to get a look at it. One less thing to worry about.”

“We don’t have fucking permission to do this,” Anne snapped.

Allison raised an eyebrow at her. “What do you expect me to do? Look, I’d love to MacGyver our way out of this but we’re stuck for the ride. Buck up Sentinel and make sure they clear the surface.” She cleared her throat. “This section is going to be above water in less than fifteen minutes. And… there is something else.”

“What?” Anne demanded exasperated. “I hope you enjoy retirement because I doubt my career is going to survive this.”

Allison smirked at her. “You know O’Neill adores you.” She tapped her chin. “Though in about five minutes you might want to get on the satellite phone with whomever we’re going to need to move this bitch. I have a feeling we’re going to have a very limited amount of time to hide this thing. Right now we’re in international waters and that’s probably a bad thing.”

“Right.” Anne rubbed her face and tried to think. “Navigation? Does this thing have navigation?” She paused and turned to Allison who had gone unnaturally still. Then her heart rate went through the roof. “Allison?”

“Get Volger and the mini-sub off,” Allison said quietly. “We’re not… we’re not going to stop at the surface. This thing is going to go for orbit.”

“Orbit,” Anne repeated and took a deep breath. “Are you sure?”

“100%.” She turned and stared at her Sentinel. “This is our mission, Anne; we can’t take Volger off the planet. He’s never had a medical work up for space travel. I have no idea what kind of stress this is going to put on our bodies.”

“No, agreed.” Anne turned and turned to leave. “Don’t… you stay right here.”

“Understood.”

– – – –

“General Hammond, I have a priority call coming in from a Major Anne Teldy—US Marine Corps. She has the proper codes.”

Hammond turned from his window, startled. He’d expected a call from Caldwell or one from Jack on his return. What had made Anne Teldy disregard the chain of command and contact him directly? He picked up the phone on his desk.

“This is Hammond.”

“Sir, Major Anne Teldy, reporting. My Guide and I have found an Ancient outpost at the coordinates in the Ross Sea. Unfortunately, due to circumstances we have no control over this facility is… sir. We’re going to achieve orbit or be destroyed in the attempt in forty-seven minutes.”

Hammond’s knees went weak and he sat down abruptly in his desk chair. “Can you evac from the outpost, Major?”

Anne cleared her throat. “We’re staying with it, General. Commander Volger is gone in the mini-sub with Sergeant Sinclair and Airman Wringer. I won’t abandon my mission and a valuable piece of technology in our war effort.”

Hammond understood then why she’d called him directly. “Do you have any family I can get on the phone for you, Major? Does your Guide?”

“My only family is my Guide, sir but Allison’s parents are in New York. It would be a favor to me if she could speak with them.”

“Major, it would be my honor to see to it.”

– – – –

The psionic pools looked like they were boiling. Rodney stared at the one he and John had emerged from more curious than anything else. He cleared his throat. “Bastien? It would be great if you’d pop in and tell us what the hell is going on!”

“Does he do that often?” Patrick asked. “Daniel says he’s only visited us once.”

Rodney raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Funny, he spies on you guys a lot then.”

“John mentioned it,” Patrick said disgruntled. “Don’t know how I feel about it either.”

“Can’t do jack shit about it,” John said with a shrug. “They come and go as they please.”

Jack stilled and his gaze went to the pool. Narrow and accessing. “We have to go.”

“What?” Patrick demanded. “No, not yet, Jack.”

“Yes, right now.” Jack held out his hand for his Guide. “Patrick. Right now.”

“What’s going on?” Harris asked even as he turned towards the pool he’d come out of. “Something’s wrong.”

“Very wrong,” Jack agreed. Before he could say anything else. The pool surged upward and jerked him off his feet.

Patrick grappled for Jack’s hand but his Sentinel disappeared into the pool. “Fuck.”

“Christ.” Harris pulled Matt towards their pool. “We gotta go now. Something is going down… a major source of distress.”

“John.” Matt turned towards his brother even as their father was pulled from the platform and disappeared.

“Go, Mattie, take care of our family,” John insisted tightly. “I’ll… come back here. We’ll find a way to get a message to you on when.”

“Okay.” Matt let Chase pull him into the pool before it took him. “We love you, John. You have to… you have to come home to us.”

“I love you, too. I’ll come home as soon as I can,” John promised.

– – – –

Allison had ended the phone call with her parents dry eyed and resolved. “It’s okay.”

Anne shook her head. “I always knew my duty might see you killed but… this.”

“This is better,” Allison insisted. “We won’t leave each other behind like this.”

The outpost vibrated around them as they launched from the surface of the Ross Sea. They’d barely had five minutes of sky before the outpost had launched to the next stage. Anne had half wanted to throw her Guide off the thing and maybe she would’ve if they’d been warmer waters. She reached out and took her hand.

“I wanted to have children with you,” Anne admitted. “I figured we could arrange a donor through the Center—maybe find a Sentinel willing to give us a child.”

“I thought about Chase Harris and Matt Sheppard,” Allison admitted. “I figured between the four of us we could have made some really pretty babies. I thought maybe we could be a family unit—the four of us if Matt came online.”

Anne nodded. “They might have been game.”

Allison took a deep breath as secondary engines engaged. “We might not have a lot of power left even if we achieve orbit.”

“I know,” Anne said. Her jaw firmed up. “It’s… I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you.”

Allison shifted into her Sentinel’s embrace even as the shields seemed to light on fire around them. She closed her eyes and surrendered to the serenity she’d found with Anne Teldy the moment the female Sentinel had kissed her that first time years before.

They sank to their knees in one movement and Allison tightened her grip on her Sentinel. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.

Anne shuddered against the empathic weight of her Guide’s words. Allison had quoted that verse from the Book of Ruth when they’d had a private commitment ceremony on cold winter’s day in New York sixteen months after they’d bonded.

A roaring sound surrounded them and Anne opened her eyes to greet the solid blackness of space.

– – – –

Jack stumbled out of the temple, ignoring Ellison and Sandburg as he scrambled through the pack in search of the satellite phone. He dialed the number with shaking hands and closed his eyes while he waited. Patrick’s sudden presence at his side wasn’t enough to push the anxiety back but he clenched his fingers around his Guide’s.

“Caldwell, report!”

“Sir, the ancient outpost launched into orbit.”

Jack sank to his knees in shock. “David and Andy?”

“No, sir, no! Major Teldy and Dr. Allison Porter found another outpost in the Ross Sea. It surfaced and achieved orbit ten minutes ago. I’ve ordered a squadron of X-302s to respond and investigate. We’ve had no contact with them since shortly before the facility launched itself off the surface of the ocean. Major Teldy called General Hammond so that… her Guide could speak with her parents.”

“Goddamnit,” Jack hissed. “Get me out of this fucking jungle, Colonel!”

“Sir, I have a helo en route to your location from Mexico City. Dr. Sheppard’s jet is being prepped for flight. We are unable to reach Colonel Carter or Dr. Jackson but do not believe them to be in danger at this point. I took the… sir, I’ve ordered both of your sons to return to base. David Sheppard and his party will be in the air within the hour. Commander Sheppard and his team are sorting themselves back to the gate. In the brief contact with SG1 it was clear that Captain Harris already knew we had a problem.”

“I know,” Jack said. He hurried down the steps of the temple and settled his gaze on the sky in the direction of the city. “We’re going to move toward the city. Order my ride to pick us up at the coordinates of our camp last night. I don’t want anyone seeing this temple from the air.”

“Understood, sir.”

“Colonel,” Jack took a deep breath and ran a shaking hand over his face. “Estimates on the survival of Major Teldy and her Guide?”

Caldwell’s pause told Jack all he really needed to know but the man cleared his throat and answered the question. “Based on initial reports from the Sergeant Sinclair and Airman Wringer the facility appeared to be solid structurally and it is Ancient. That being said, they indicated that Porter reported early on that power was in short supply. She estimated they had ten hours of life support when they boarded. She was unsure if she could use a naquadah generator to power the place. It’s been agreed that the surfacing of the facility and the energy it took to achieve escape velocity would have depleted the reported energy levels. Sir, it is likely that they lost shields and life support within the first five minutes.”

Jack pushed down fury and grief. He hadn’t lost a member of the SGC in two years and to lose two members of his own pride this way was horrifying. He took a deep breath. “We’re moving. I want reports every thirty minutes, Colonel. You will work under the assumption that both Major Teldy and her Guide are alive until we are able to positively confirm otherwise. Clear?”

“Crystal, sir.” He paused and had a discussion with Matt. Jack listened to it and let Caldwell relay the request his step-son had made. “General, Commander Sheppard is requesting permission to take the X-302 from the Mountain and join the recon team in orbit.”

“He has a go. Harris goes with him.”

“Understood, sir.”

– – – –

Allison’s hands were shaking as she finished connecting the naquadah generator to the power station. She’d pulled the shields in to the small central tower she was in. The rest of the station was exposed to the vacuum of space. That included the room two floors below her that held the medical pod she’d put her Sentinel in. Anne was safe in it—in stasis. The connection between their minds still thrummed with energy and affection but it was diminished somehow, in a way that she couldn’t readily explain. The generator wasn’t going to allow her to increase the shields range, but it would give her life support and protection for at least twenty-four hours.

Anne had tried to argue with her, but in this situation Allison was the one with the skills to survive and her Sentinel was a hindrance. There had only been one functional medical pod and the decision had been made very quickly.

The emergency radio she’d pulled out of her pack crackled to life and she launched across the control room and grabbed it.

“This is Major Kevin Marks with Stargate Command. Major Teldy, do you copy?”

Allison slumped down on the stool in front of the control panel. “This is Dr. Allison Porter, Major Marks. It is a relief to hear your voice.”

“Ma’am, where is your Sentinel?”

“Our resources were limited so the decision was made to put her in a medical stasis pod.”

“Like the one from the Ancient Outpost?”

“Yes, Major.”

“Ma’am, the facility looks… completely without power. Where are you?”

Allison’s mouth dropped open. “You have a visual? Where are you?”

“I am hovering three hundred feet away from the central superstructure of the… station, Doctor.” He paused. “In an X-302.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Major, but I think I love you.”

He laughed. “Report on your situation—there are some people on Earth very anxious about your circumstances.”

Allison sat down and rubbed her face. “My Sentinel is in a medical stasis pod two floors down in the bottom of the tower I’m in but I can’t extend the shields to cover that part of this place anymore. Right now at my current power levels, I have twenty-four hours of life support and shields. I can’t extend what shields I do have to the landing bay so I can’t be evacuated. You could, however, evac my Sentinel in the stasis pod if you did a space walk. Though I’m not sure… about getting her out of the pod itself without exposing her to space.”

“Ma’am, with all due respect, I would not want to be there when she woke up if we removed Major Teldy from this station without you.”

“If it comes down to the wire, Major, you won’t have a choice. I don’t… I’ve put most of the power from the generator I have into maintaining an orbit. In twenty-four hours, without major intervention this thing is going down in flames. My Sentinel will not be on board if that happens. I demand that you find a way to retrieve her safely. Understood?”

“Understood, Dr. Porter.”

– – – –

Daniel urged the horse they were on into a faster trot as soon as they gained footing on the narrow stretch of road leading back to the SUVs they’d been forced to abandon just outside of Cairo. Sam was trembling with barely restrained anxiety, her body pressed fully against his back. They’d just returned from the bottom of the pyramid with their find and a few hours of video footage when Sam had demanded they return to civilization immediately. He’d dropped and broken their phone on one of his trips down the shaft so they couldn’t check in.

Sam scrambled down off the animal, hauling the most precious cargo either had ever had in a backpack padded with the shirts off the backs of half their little expedition. She rummaged through the back of the SUV and found the backup satellite phone. She was dialing with shaking hands by the time Daniel reached her.

“This is Colonel Carter reporting in,” she began breathlessly. “With all due respect, Colonel Caldwell, what the fuck is going on?”

“Colonel Carter, you are ordered to return to base ASAP. The jet you took to Egypt is being refueled and prepped for flight as we speak. You’re cleared to leave as soon as you’re on board. Colonel O’Neill has been evac’d from Mexico.” He paused. “Major Teldy is currently in a medical stasis pod on what is essentially an orbital Ancient outpost. It launched off the ocean floor five hours ago. Per Dr. Porter’s estimates—we have nineteen hours to rescue them before they lose power completely and the outpost is lost.”

“I have… exactly what she needs, sir. Exactly. Route our ride to the nearest X-302. I’m going to have to EVA once I get up there. What can you do to help me, Colonel?”

“The Brits have a squadron of X-302s,” Caldwell said. “I’ll get you what you need and route your jet to the appropriate base.”

– – – –

Andy was shaking. David had made four phone calls since they’d left the ground and Sean knew that whatever was happening was very serious. Carson Beckett was currently on the phone in what appeared to be a conference call talking about stasis pods, Sentinels, and optimal results. He knew that Allison Porter and her Sentinel were in grave danger.

Sean pulled Andrew Sheppard closer and the little Sentinel shuddered. “It’ll be okay.”

He didn’t promise—because lying to a Sentinel wasn’t possible for him. Guides were trained from the beginning to understand the nature of the men and women they might eventually bond with. Lying to a Sentinel was a betrayal and it was stupid. They always knew when they were being lied to.

“Take a blood sample from General O’Neill the moment he lands,” Carson ordered. “He’s the only Sentinel we have on Earth who has been in an Ancient stasis pod. We took as much as we could after he was removed from it but unfortunately that was days after his removal as the Asgard took him from Earth before doing it. Though Dr. Porter might protest, it is best if we don’t consider removing Major Teldy from the pod until we have at least an emergency medical team in place on the station.”

– – – –

Allison had lowered the heat in the small space—it was survivable and more importantly it had added two hours to their window. Her tablet was sitting on the floor beside her—it’s screen full of readings from the active stasis pod her Sentinel was in. Everything looked fine but she didn’t know enough about the technology to trust it.

The radio clenched in her left hand pinged and she took a deep breath.

“Allison, this is General O’Neill. How are you doing?”

“Cold,” Allison said immediately. “A little hungry, feel sort of stupid actually and this probably isn’t what you wanted to hear.”

“Why are you cold?” Jack asked.

“Turned down the heat,” Allison admitted. “Added two hours to the window—two more hours for you to rescue my Sentinel. Tell me you’re going to do that, sir.”

“We’re coming for you both,” Jack said firmly. “You just hold on. Carter has prepped a databurst for you—it’s going to hit your tablet in about fifteen minutes. We are relaying it off the satellite we moved so we could communicate with you. You’ve got some work to do for us, Dr. Porter.”

“Yes, sir.” Allison shifted to her knees then stood.

“Tell me about your Sentinel.”

“The pod is in good working order and has its own power source which was full. It could function for several thousand years as it is. From what we learned studying the one you were in—it’s constructed well and shouldn’t suffer any damage if you have to move it. It wouldn’t survive reentry on its own but it would sustain her until the Prometheus is ready. You could move the pod to the moon and put it in a temporary shelter until that time.”

“Doctor, why aren’t you in one of those pods?”

“There was only one,” Allison admitted. “Well, at least one we could find on such short notice and I was more capable of surviving in this current situation. She wasn’t happy about it but without her taking in air—I had another ten minutes of life support while I hooked up the generator we brought with us.”

“Understood,” Jack said quietly. “I want you to know that I don’t consider that facility worth your lives. I would’ve never ordered or asked this of you or your Sentinel.”

“Sir, I’m currently standing on the kind of defense resource that could stand between Earth and a fleet of enemy space ships,” Allison said quietly. “It is and remains our duty to do whatever is necessary to keep control of this facility. Had we not stayed on board—it might have left orbit. It certainly wouldn’t have lasted more than fifteen minutes in orbit without my intervention. It wasn’t a risk we could take.”

“Understood. Stay put, do what Carter outlined, and don’t die. You’ll piss me off if you die Porter.”

Allison laughed a little. “I’d never want to do that, sir.”

– – – –

The EVA suits the Brits presented them were supposed to still be in the development stage. To find out one of their allies was lying to the IOA was more amusing to Sam Carter than anything else. They’d allowed her to review the specs and thoroughly inspect Daniel’s suit before he put it on. Now she was being suited up while Daniel communicated near non-stop with the SGC and the General who’d returned to the Mountain while they were still in the air headed towards a military base in the UK.

She hadn’t shared the contents of her cargo with them and hadn’t let the bag out of her sight since she’d packed it. Neither she nor Daniel had explained exactly how they were going to fix the energy problem on the orbital outpost but Sam figured Jack O’Neill knew exactly what they’d found in Egypt. Finding two hadn’t been a miracle like she’d first thought. Obviously, they were going to need two and Bastien had led them to it. One for their outpost and one for Atlantis.

“I’d like to thank you for the loan Commander Myers,” Carter said as the Royal Air Force pilot handed over her helmet. His name was on the X-302 she’d been assigned for the mission.

Myers gave her a brief nod. “I realize you have a squadron waiting for you up there already, Colonel. But it would be our honor to fly with you.”

“It would be great if you could stand by in case we need the assist,” Sam said. “I hope my plan works but it if doesn’t—my plan be is going to be finding some way to push or pull the outpost away from Earth so it doesn’t crash into the planet. Our first priority is the people on board but once…” She took a deep breath. “If Dr. Porter is lost then our mission becomes one of recovery—there is a Sentinel on board that station in a stasis pod.”

Myers grimaced. “In her place, Colonel, I can’t say I’d thank you for saving me. It would be a kindness to leave Anne Teldy in stasis rather than wake her only to force her grieve the loss of her Guide. I met her at Area 51 six months back—when she trained for the X-302.”

“I can’t say I disagree with you but we have a higher duty to our world to consider.”

– – – –

Despite the fact that her Sentinel had kissed her moments after they met and the very intimate imprint process, her bond with Anne Teldy had been platonic for nearly three months after they bonded. Allison had thrown herself into the bond with her Sentinel and that had meant a variety of things. She’d had to withdraw from classes because Anne’s inactive status had ended roughly four weeks after she’d bonded. Allison had found herself living in a tent in the desert while her Sentinel did her job. She’d learned to fire a variety of weapons with as much accuracy as some of the people Anne served with. Porter had always believed it was her duty to protect herself and in turn ensure her Sentinel was able to do her job.

Her security clearance and her ability to go wherever her Sentinel went eventually lead to Allison receiving several civilian contracts. She was a talented engineer with one PhD under her belt and just five credit hours and a dissertation away from another one. There were a variety of civilian contractors in the Middle East. She could admit now that she’d been lonely—emotionally and physically. Anne had been, at that time, an attentive and considerate friend. Allison had come into their bond with sexual experience with both men and women. She’d known within an hour of their bond that her Sentinel could not say the same.

Anne had been on edge about the potential sexual aspects of their bond so Allison had kept her attraction to her Sentinel to herself for the most part. She couldn’t control the way her body responded to the beautiful and very physically fit woman she’d bonded with but she could control what came out of her mouth. But no sexual bond meant that Allison was free to pursue other partners… in theory. The problem with that in practice was that her Sentinel was intimidating as fuck, badass, and a level five Sentinel. She was also rarely more than a mile away from her Guide so nothing happened to or was said to Dr. Allison Porter than Anne Teldy didn’t know about.

Many on the base had speculated about Allison’s relationship with her Sentinel—especially among the support staff and non-combat military assets. The special forces operators had given Teldy’s Guide a wide berth. Most of them had served with or knew of someone who had served with a Sentinel. You didn’t fuck or fuck with a Sentinel’s Guide in a combat zone. It was an unwritten code which was really too bad. Allison, supposed in retrospect, that Lt. Jeff Renard could’ve used a manual on dealing with Sentinels and their Guides. That thought was rather amusing because some four years later a manual had been passed around to all five branches of the military regarding Sentinels and their Guides.

Jeff Reynolds was an Army Lieutenant with more ambition than sense. That’s how Allison remembered him. A big, strapping, somewhat stupid young man with an accent like honey and absolutely no tolerance for homo-sexuals. She could still hear him drawing that word out like it was foreign to him and smirking afterward like she understood and appreciated his humor. She hadn’t. She still didn’t, as a matter of a fact. They’d been friendly in the months leading up to the incident. It was an odd word but no other really fit though Anne’s CO at the time had called it an “unfortunate situation”.

She’d thought him a friend until that day. Right up until he’d told her that he was relieved to find out she wasn’t sleeping with her Sentinel because it was unnatural and wrong to be homosexual. Then he’d put his hands on her, pushed her up against a table, and rubbed his rather unimpressive dick against her thigh. She’d been so startled and offended by his words that her reaction to his physical invasion was slow. Too slow. She had intended to respond. Allison had intended to break his dick and his face and maybe his soul.

But, Anne came into the logistics tent where they were at a sprint, combat knife drawn, and seconds later Lt. Jeffrey Reynolds was pinned to the very table he’d crowded Allison up against, a seven inch k-bar buried in his right hand and all the way through the table. Teldy had broken every bone in the man’s hand with the force of it. She’d turned then to stare at her Guide—horror at the violence she’d done in front of her civilian partner warring with the fury pouring off of her.

Allison had fallen back on her training, calming her mind and working to seclude her Sentinel as quickly as possible. That had proven difficult when faced with a various superior officers who wanted Anne to explain herself. Allison had finally had to resort to quoting Sentinel/Guide law at them at the near to top of her voice. It had worked—when combined with a Sentinel who’d been on the verge of a feral episode.

The conversation that followed hours later could’ve gone either way—because Anne had offered to leave the Marines so Allison could have a normal life.

“You’re not happy,” Anne insisted. “You think I don’t see? I took you from your work, your family, and a boyfriend you didn’t even mention until after you broke up with him!”

“It was a casual relationship and I ended it because you needed me more. That’s all that was. I’m not broken hearted over breaking up with Jeremy.” Allison shrugged. “Though I can’t say I don’t miss the sex.” She winced when her Sentinel flinched. “What? I’m allowed to miss sex, Anne.”

Anne had sort of fallen in on herself at that point, sliding to the ground in front of the bed she slept in. There were two beds in the tent—on opposite sides of the small structure that offered them little to no privacy but no real intimacy either. “I can… I’ll resign my commission and we’ll go home so you can have a normal life. You can enroll in your classes again if you want and finish your second degree. I can easily find work in security or even law enforcement.” She cleared her throat and rubbed her face with shaking hands. “I… you’ll get the chance to meet someone and I won’t stand in the way I promise and I’ll… I’ll love your kids like they’re my own, Allison. I swear it.” She shuddered. “And he’ll be safe from me. Your husband would be safe. I don’t know why I did that to Reynolds. He’s been hitting on you for weeks and you hadn’t pushed him off and I’m so fucking sorry.”

It had broken Allison—to see her strong, beautiful Sentinel reduced to an emotional mess because she hadn’t been paying attention. But it was all there pouring off Anne in that moment—guilty desire, fear that Allison would ask the Center to be separated from her, and horror at what she’d done to Reynolds.

“I don’t want Jeff Reynolds,” Allison said pointedly. “He’s a bigot and an idiot. Today is the first time he’s ever said anything about homosexuals in front of me. I thought we were friends. I ignored his flirting because it seemed harmless. I should’ve recognized you were getting territorial. It’s my fucking job to make sure you’re balanced and that you feel secure.”

“You’re perfect,” Anne snapped. “I’m on the one who can’t… I’m can’t get a handle on this.” She rubbed her face and rolled to her feet. “I knew what I was getting into when we bonded, Allison. I knew. You were an unexpected but very pleasant surprise. Sure, I’d been told all of my life that I would bond with a man and I’d prepared for that. What I got instead was a brilliant and beautiful woman. I don’t regret it. You’re everything the Sentinel in me could ever want.”

“And the woman?” Allison asked. “How does the woman in you feel about me?”

Anne grimaced and dropped down on her bed. “Don’t make me say it, Allison, it isn’t like I’m able to hide it in the state that I’m in. I’ll get it under control, I promise you and I swear it—I fucking swear that I’ll never interfere in any relationship you chose to pursue outside of our bond.”

“You’ve never been with a woman,” Allison said. She walked across the small space and sat down beside her Sentinel. “Was I the first one you ever kissed?”

“Yes,” Anne whispered. “I don’t even know why I did it—you were just talking and you were going to say something more foolish than you already had so I just kissed you to…”

“Shut me up,” Allison finished a laugh. “Right.” She ran her fingers through her short hair. “I don’t… I had a female lover through most of my Master’s degree, Anne. Had I not come online—I think I’d probably still be with her. I certainly loved her enough to deal with any bullshit we might have had to face because we were in a lesbian relationship. My parents liked her—didn’t blink an eye when I brought her home.”

“Do you still love her?”

“Like you might love an old friend you lost touch with,” Allison admitted. “She couldn’t handle me being online—couldn’t handle the attention I received from other people and especially Sentinels even if they eventually went away when we weren’t compatible. Even if we had been together when you and I met, Stephanie would’ve never tolerated my bonding with a Sentinel. She was insanely, stupidly jealous all the time.”

Anne winced. “I was… pretty keyed up over Reynolds.”

“Jealous?”

“He’s a fucking asshole and you deserve better,” Anne snapped. “The little prick better be glad I was content to do what I did.”

“I don’t want him. I don’t want any man to be frank.” Allison sighed. “Don’t you know that I’m… pretty much really all about you. If you don’t want me that way—it’s fine. I can deal with it. They teach us how to deal with that kind of rejection at the Center because internalized homophobia can be a huge stumbling block for male Sentinels.”

“I’m not homophobic,” Anne protested. “And, of course, I want you. Jesus.”

Allison pursed her lips, shifted, swung her leg around and dropped herself into her Sentinel’s lap. Anne’s eyes widened briefly and she hesitantly settled her hands on her Guide’s thighs. “How do I smell to you?”

“Like you always do,” Anne admitted. “Soap, shampoo, and your skin smells… like cotton candy. A little bit of sweat but we’re in the fucking desert so no surprise there.”

“Anything else?” Allison prodded.

Anne bit down on her bottom lip. “Just… you smell female—musky, tangy. I guess.” She flushed. “Like a girl.”

“You have no idea do you?” Allison sighed. “When they taught you to determine someone’s sexual interest in you—they focused on men.” She sighed. “Of course, they did.”

“Wait…” Anne’s hands drifted to Allison’s hips to keep her still. “You mean… this is how you smell when you’re turned on?”

“Yes.”

“But you’ve been like this since we met,” Anne protested. “Oh.”

“Exactly.” Allison raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“It’s just that Sergeant Nelson gets… it’s a little different, of course, no two people smell the same when they are aroused but… she… the other night at the range.” Anne blushed and scowled.

Allison snorted then outright laughed at the glare it earned her especially since her Sentinel’s fingers were curling into her BDUs and pulling her closer very carefully. “Oh, Anne, I wonder how much pussy you’ve missed out on because you didn’t even know it was on offer? You’re so gorgeous, you know. I bet I could find a few straight women that would grow a dick for you or at the very least strap a big one on for you.” She leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to her Sentinel’s forehead. “Do you want me?”

“Yes,” Anne whispered.

“Do you want to kiss my mouth?”

Anne’s hands clenched convulsively. “All the time.”

“My breasts?” Allison asked, low and breathless. “Do you want to suck my nipples? During the imprint I thought you might but you just kissed the skin above my heart… my nipples were hard for you that day.”

“I wanted to—I really did but I didn’t know I could,” Anne confessed as Allison leaned in to kiss her again.

The radio beeped in her hand and Allison Porter shook herself loose from the past. The memories had done little to warm her up which was unfortunate—the station was frigid. The radio beeped again and she turned it on.

“This is Dr. Porter.”

– – – –

“This could’ve been us,” Matt said quietly. “The mission in the Ross Sea—it was ours.”

“We’d be dead,” Chase said shortly. “Neither of us have the skills to do what Porter has done and no one on our team has the experience with Ancient tech to even try. I guess we owe the SecNav a thank you for being less than willing to take an unbonded Sentinel on a submarine.”

Matt sat back in the pilot set and sighed. “How is the mapping going?”

“We have a topographical map of the entire station mapped out,” Chase explained from the second seat where he was working with a tablet PC. “There are five piers, similar to the design elements we saw in the Atlantis data but only about a third the city’s size. It’s laid out very similarly to the outpost in Antarctica, most of which we can’t reach due to structural damage. Porter is in the central super structure, which is a tower fourteen floors high. Based on scans of the bottom and what McKay reported about the structure of Atlantis—I’d say this particular facility was designed to be an orbital defense platform of some kind.”

– – – –

Jack watched from his office while SG-9 returned to base. They look exhausted but from reports he’d already received knew they’d had a very successful trade mission. They’d returned with roughly nine hundred pounds of weapons grade naquadah. That was a good day by anyone’s standards. Walter Harriman appeared in the open doorway that lead to a set of steps that gave him direct access to the control room. It was a good set up and Jack had felt no need to change it when he’d taken Hammond’s place.

“Report?”

“We have two teams left sir but they are on their way back to the gate—SG-6 hasn’t finished their mission but SG-11 reports they were already packing up to return home,” Walter hesitated. “Sir, some people have asked why you’ve cancelled all the off-world missions but I don’t have an answer for them.”

“I don’t have one either,” Jack admitted roughly. “I just know our people need to come home. They need to be on Earth as soon as possible.”

“Thirty minutes on SG-6 and SG-11 should be dialing in just ten,” Harriman confirmed. “Should I start sending non-essential people home?”

Jack paused and considered that. “No, activate the Asgard beacon.”

Harriman glanced just once at the red phone on Jack’s desk just once before giving a nod and leaving.

Patrick cleared his throat. “Jack.”

O’Neill rolled his shoulders. “Protocol dictates that in times of emergency I don’t need authorization to contact the Asgard or any other potentially useful ally.”

“And you think that’s going to go over with the President?”

“Yes.”

– – – –

John had said as little as possible since their return from the off-world temple. Rodney didn’t have to guess—he knew how fucked up his Sentinel was emotionally over what had happened. The conversation with his father, the first hand knowledge of the changes in his family and how entrenched they all were in the SGC due to Jack O’Neill bonding with Patrick were causing emotional waves to move through him. All he could do was offer what support his Sentinel would take.

John had never felt more like an outsider in his own family more than he did sitting in that temple beside a projection of his father. The loneliness that had been in his Sentinel the day they met had bloomed in those soft, quiet moments in the temple and Rodney couldn’t figure out how to soothe him more than he already was. It had filtered out through the expedition that they’d spoken at length with General O’Neill and the knowledge that the people on Earth were working so hard to get to them was a relief.

The stress levels in the expedition had lowered by degrees as the news had spread. They were still in danger, still in a seriously fucked up situation but there was hope now when there had been none before. John had been quiet and withdrawn through most of the debrief with the rest of the senior staff. Jennifer was keen to go to the temple and enter the pool but Rodney figured her Sentinel wasn’t going to allow that any time soon. There was speculation about what else the three temples were capable of and how it worked mostly from Radek and Teyla. Rodney figured that Teyla was the most connected to the psionic plane—even his connection seemed less that hers but he spent the vast majority of his mental energy focused on his Sentinel.

“You ready to talk to me?”

John took a deep breath and looked at his Guide. He’d been sitting on the balcony off their private quarters for more than hour. “I can’t help them.”

“No.”

“Whatever is going at home is beyond my control, beyond my influence, and it’s driving me insane. I thought coming out here would change my territorial imperative but it hasn’t. If anything; I’m more focused on Earth than I ever have been before.”

Rodney sat down beside him and took a deep breath. “Atlantis is a thrilling place to be—it’s full of technology and the kind of advancement that could further our species in spectacular ways. But there are times when I would give anything to be back on Earth. The work out here is important but it’s agony knowing there is a huge threat coming and we aren’t there to help them prepare for it.”

John nodded. “Yes.”

“It is central to the foundation of our…species to protect our home. Earth is our home.”

“Atlantis came from Earth,” John said. “Could… could it be returned to Earth? Because there is going to come a point when our only choice will be to base our war effort in the Milky Way galaxy.”

“Maybe not Earth directly,” McKay murmured. “There are people on Earth who don’t need access to the kind of weapon that Atlantis has the potential to be. But it would take three full ZPMs and the ability to make more for the city to be that kind of asset in the war that is coming. In its current condition, it’s not even space worthy and the star drive is a fucking mess. I might get it fixed in a few years at best. Our best bet is to hook up the geothermal power plant and use the city as a staging area for Pegasus recon and covert mission operations. We need a different kind of people than what we have out here, John.”

“What do we need?”

“More military,” Rodney said, though he knew it was obvious to his Sentinel. “Fewer researchers, more field scientists—there are about thirty at the SGC and at Area 51 that I left behind because it was a risky mission and I didn’t want to cripple Earth’s scientific defenses even in the short term. We need reliable travel back and forth to Earth, a concrete rotation schedule that keeps science personnel and military assets fresh and in good spirits. Everyone on this city needs to believe that the people on Earth are thinking about us, helping us, and most importantly that they aren’t going to abandon us.” He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “We need ships. We need real weapons. We need to break the Wraith open and show them that what they did on Sateda was the biggest fucking mistake they could’ve ever made.”

– – – –

Sam Carter’s first look at the orbital station blew her mind. “Holy shit.”

“Is that your official report, Colonel Carter?” Jack O’Neill asked dryly over the open radio channel.

“Yes, sir.” Sam took a deep breath to steady herself. “Dr. Porter, report?”

“I’ve made the changes to the shield harmonics,” Porter began. “But if I implement your power adjustments—I’ll be cutting my time by six hours, Colonel. I worked on the numbers for hours already—trying to eke out as much as time as I could so you could rescue Anne.”

“Allison,” Sam Carter began quietly. “I need you to trust me. I have no intention of leaving either one of you on this thing to die. I need the power restored to the entire tower in order to navigate my way through it to the main power relay.”

“I looked it over briefly before finding the control room, Colonel. The main power relay is powered by a single nearly depleted Zero Point Module.” She laughed weakly. “Unless you’re telling me you found something so fancy that it’ll make my whole year… I don’t see how…”

“Dr. Porter, I found something so fancy and sexy in the desert it’s going to make your decade.”

“Oh.” Allison Porter’s breathing was all that they heard on the open channel, then her breath caught and soft sob echoed through fifty-two radios. The X-302 pilots, the command crew of the USS Seawolf, a room full of generals and the President of the United States in Washington, the scientists monitoring the situation at Area 51, the Ancient outpost, and the SGC. “Oh, Sam, God.”

“You ready to make that call, Dr. Porter?”

“Yeah,” Allison said bracingly. “Beginning the new power protocol now.” She paused and exhaled sharply. “I now have roughly three hours of time remaining in orbit.”

“I’ve picked out a landing area three hundred feet from the central tower. Daniel is reviewing the plans you forwarded—can you open all the doors leading in from the outside directly to the power station?”

“Yes, doing it now. I’ll have to do them individually; I’ll start from the outside and work my way in.” She paused. “Sam, I want to thank you for trying. Even if… even if it fails… thank you so much for trying.”

“Failure isn’t an option, Dr. Porter,” Sam said in a clipped tone. “I’ll be goddamned if I’ll be the one to have to tell your Sentinel I failed her.”

“Colonel, I’m going to move the squadron in—form a barrier above you in case the outpost doesn’t allow your boots to adhere properly,” Matt said over the radio.

“Excellent thought, Commander,” Sam said as she maneuvered the X-302 into the landing zone.

They’d been discussing the space walk she and Daniel were going to do and while the Brits had put electromagnets into the boots for the very purpose of walking on the outside of space craft, they weren’t entirely sure it would work on whatever the metal the outpost was made of. Sam landed her ship and activated the electromagnets in the landing gear. The X-302 shuddered as the clamps engaged and held. She relaxed.

“Looks like we’re safe on the magnet front, at least for the X-302. Don’t know if the ones in our boots will be strong enough to hold.”

“Understood, Colonel.”

Above the X-302s from the SGC and Area 51 were forming a loose circle in an effort to give them something to grab onto if they managed to float off into space. To fit into the X-302 in the EVA suits had required them to strip down to essentials—neither one of them had a mode of transportation. She muted their radios and took a deep breath. “If I asked you to stay here?”

“I would laugh at you really hard,” Daniel said bluntly. “Don’t even think about it, Sam. We’re doing this together. Besides, you can’t read Ancient and this might not be straight forward.”

“Right,” Sam exhaled and reactivated their radios. “General O’Neill, we are preparing to exit the X-302.”

“Good luck, Colonel.”

– – – –

Matt watched Carter and Jackson work their way from the X-302 to the first door leading into the tower, his breath caught somewhere in the middle of his chest. “They’re in. Dr. Porter, can you monitor them from this point?”

“I’ve turned on a few sensors that aren’t much of an energy hog,” Allison admitted. “Didn’t take but a few minutes off the deadline. Sam, I’ve opened all the doors you’ll need and Anne confirmed when we were in the ocean that there was nothing but us on the station so you shouldn’t have any surprises.” She paused. “Unless, I picked up something after we got up here.”

Sam laughed. “Not a comfort, Doctor. This suit has muted all of my senses.”

“What a nightmare,” Chase Harris muttered over the line.

“Absolutely, Captain Harris,” Sam admitted. “The only reason I can even hear my own Guide’s heartbeat is because our radios are both active. We’re approaching the stairwell, the power station for the facility is six floors down from this point.”

“Porter, tell us what you’ve learned about this place,” Daniel encouraged.

Matt relaxed in his seat and listened to Allison Porter ramble out data about the outpost with an almost fond smile. He enjoyed the woman a lot and found her Sentinel very inspiring. He knew that Chase felt the same way about the two women. A part of him figured that Anne would approach Chase to father a child for them at some point. He was a strong, intelligent Sentinel that would give either her or her Guide a very pretty baby. Maybe both, he thought. He pushed aside his own jealousy at that thought—he doubted that Anne would allow Chase in their bed so it wouldn’t be an intimate arrangement in that respect.

“The Ancients called it Lemuria,” Allison continued. “It was designed to remain in orbit and is air tight with a series of graduated airlocks leading outside. From a design perspective, it is a near replica of Atlantis but only 1/3 of the original city’s size. The shield can support an atmosphere under water and in space but without more power that’s not a possibility right now. It has advanced solar energy collectors that maintain many of the systems on the station including a transportation system similar to the Asgard’s that appears to be damaged and offline at present. It was the first thing I investigated after I set up the shield. Lemuria is an orbital defense platform, definitely Ancient in design, and it was hidden in Antarctica two thousand years after they returned from Pegasus. No historical data on why Lemuria was built is documented in the station logs. This marks the first time the station has been in orbit.” She huffed. “That is so infuriating. The Ancients had this and the outpost in Antarctica and they just let Ra come in and take our people from Earth as slaves. They could’ve easily defended Earth from the Goa’uld.”

“But then,” Daniel began. “The spread of peoples from Earth throughout the galaxy would have happened much more slowly. Also, Ra’s power over the stargate served to isolate the people on Earth and the knowledge of the gates disappeared into antiquity. Considering what we know about the Goa’uld and the Ancients—I have to think the Ancients were responsible for that. Ra wouldn’t have wanted to be forgotten and relegated to a mythical status by the history of anyone much less a race he enslaved and felt were inferior to his kind. That our people proved to be such excellent and easily maintained hostsfor them was boon for him and all those Goa’uld that came after him.”

“And with the spreading of people throughout the Milky Way, the genetic legacy of the Ancients spread as well,” Allison murmured. “A galaxy practically brimming with Sentinels and Guides. How often do we encounter a planet inhabited with just mundanes?”

“We found three or four in our exploration days,” Jack O’Neill said. “They were most often societies heavily controlled by the Goa’uld, Yu. He had no use for Sentinels and Guides—not even as Jaffa for him. He bred the characteristics out of his slaves and killed any child that presented with the genetics at birth.”

“He’s dead, right?” Chase asked tightly.

“Not yet,” Jack answered. “Maybe you and me will go Snakehead hunting and take care of that problem.”

“Sounds like a plan, sir.”

“We’re here,” Sam said suddenly. “Daniel is doing some quick translations on the ZPM station itself to make sure we don’t do anything completely stupid.”

– – – –

Sam shouldered out of her pack and watched Daniel working out of the corner of one eye as she unpacked one of the ZPMs. They were still wrapped in the shirts from the expedition in Egypt—she hadn’t dared unwrap or open the bag while they were on the base in the UK. She hadn’t trusted—well, she’d hated to have to butcher half of the men on the ground to keep the ZPMs but she would’ve. They were allies yes, but the kind of power she had in the simple backpack was staggering.

They left their radios up to keep everyone in the loop, Daniel translated quietly and fast—working through the Ancient labels faster than he had since his Ascension. She wondered if that ascended Guide who had visited had unlocked the knowledge that Daniel had long been denied after his return. Knowledge that had been his to begin with. It was an example of another problem that Sam had with the Ancients. It was one thing to take the knowledge he’d been given in his Ascension but to take away knowledge that he’d earned before he had left had been obscene to her. The arrogant sons of bitches had better hope that Sam Carter died peacefully in her sleep, because if she had the chance to ascend the Ancients were going to really come to regret what they’d done to her Guide.

“Okay,” Daniel began. “There is a failsafe for removal of the current potentia for replacement but at the current power levels it’s going to be tricky. The station itself keeps a charge that’s roughly ten percent of a ZPM.”

“Which is what I’ve been using,” Allison surmised over the connection. “When you pull the ZPM, we’ll lose life support first. The room I’m in is airtight, Colonel Carter. I’ll have about forty-five minutes of air in the system then I’ll have only what is left in the room. So, if I keep calm and enter a meditative state—I should have about two hours of oxygen.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Sam murmured. “Confirm that the room is sealed, Dr. Porter.”

“The systems indicate that the seals are in place and working as they should. The exterior airlock is not… but that’s not a problem for me right now.” Allison took a deep, noisy breath. “Let’s get this show on the road, Colonel.”

“Commander Sheppard, I need you to move the squadron beyond the limits of the station proper—the introduction of a ZPM might activate defense systems or more shields we are currently unaware of,” Sam ordered.

“Understood, Colonel.” Matt gave a series of orders to split his squad out around the perimeter of the facility until the six ships formed a big circle around it.

Sam paused and took a deep breath. “Dr. Porter, monitor communications for an outgoing databurst. You know what to look for.”

They couldn’t have a repeat of what had happened with the other outpost. When Porter confirmed the order, Sam removed the old ZPM and started the complicated but not lengthy process of introducing a new one. The time that Daniel had spent cleaning it in the pyramid had actually worked in their favor even if it hadn’t revealed any other clues. He’d been hoping for writing on the device itself but there had been nothing.

The ZPM slid into place and Lemuria woke up.

Matt reared back in the pilot seat of the X-302, jerking the stick roughly in shock as blue light swept out of Lemuria Station, rushed over his ship, before heading for Earth. He jerked the X-302 around just in time to see the light seep into the atmosphere and envelope the entire planet.

– – – –

The International Sentinel/Guide Council believed the disparity between online Guides and online Sentinels is 20:1. This ratio varies from country to country though they had no idea why. Many at the SGC have come to link the spread of the Ancients among the primitive populations of Earth for the genetic drift of Sentinels and Guides. Though they have offered no solid theory as to why there are more online Guides than there are Sentinels. This disparity does not often exist on other worlds in the Milky Way galaxy which has caused some theorist at the SGC to speculate on the purpose of so many Guides on their home world, the birth place of Atlantis.

The Sentinel on Earth is coddled, revered, and ultimately feared. There is nothing and no one more powerful that a Sentinel seeking to protect what belongs to him. On the day that history would remark on as the Great Awakening—the people of Earth learned what it meant to live in a world shrouded in the protective embrace of Sentinels. The light spectrum on Earth shifted for nearly twenty-four hours, bathing the entire planet in an eerie blue light that was familiar to a very precious few. When that light faded and the world returned to normal—every single latent Sentinel over the age of sixteen came online. History would also speak of Lemuria—an ancient, lost city believed to be a myth that woke the Guardians of Earth when they were needed most.

The End

Author’s Note

The Ancient city of Atlantis is said to be roughly the size of Manhattan which is 33.77 square miles (87.46 square kilometers). This makes Lemuria roughly 10 square miles but that doesn’t indicate length or width as Lemuria (like Atlantis) is a series of towers on a vaguely diamond base (the towers have lower/basement levels IN the foundation of the city that in my mind spread out over the entire foundation like a city underground) with five “pier” like structures jutting out from it. When Allison speaks of the size of the outpost while it’s underwater she compares it to a few Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. A single Nimitz-class carrier can displace (in the water) about 105,000 tons fully loaded.

As always, your non-consensual beta is not appreciated, expected, and will not be tolerated.

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Keira Marcos

In my spare time I write fan fiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on Facebook. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a "domestic engineer" in her 30's but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

63 Comments:

  1. I love the idea of John and Rodney having children eventually 😛 Those would be the snarkiest, most badass children ever. I got chills when I read the last paragraph – “Guardians of Earth”, hell. yeah. I’m kind of looking forward to Andy and John meeting – I think it’ll be interesting. And, of course, I want to know what the Sheppard Family thinks of Rodney 🙂

    Another fabulous installment – but that’s hardly a surprise. Yours are always amazing~

  2. Thank you for the belated Christmas and early New Year present! 🙂 I’m looking forward to my holiday reading with anticipation! 😉

  3. YES!!!!! *fist pumps* Girl I love you seriously I really do! Just when I start getting bored and look on your page there it is new goodie stuff. I adore Andy he is just the sugar in my Tea…not everyone is a coffee junkie. Love the smell but the taste is acquired…unless chocolate is involved then all bets are off.

  4. Thank you. The only thing I don’t like is coming to the end of your posts. I look forward to your next installment.

  5. Absolutely amazing! How you write blows my mind! I want to thank you so so much for sharing your talent with us! I really didn’t want this installment to end and am already eagerly awaiting the next bit…..

  6. OMG it’s breath taking, so thrilling, i don’t have words.
    The end and the awakening remind me the episode of Buffy where all the slayers came online thanks to Willow’s magic.

    Looking forward to see the new pairings and people, the dynamic that you put in your stories is wonderful.
    I want to see Matt an Chase bonding, If Sean will meet Declan or if David is for him. Does Jonas will find love… If Tobias is Andy’s guide … there are so much speculations in my head, i’m dizzy.

  7. OMG, I love this so much…. I can’t wait to see next what happens next.

    You are so intensely awesome that I read into the wee hours of the night, despite painkillers, sleep deprivation and even the fact that my bed wasn’t empty…. Even after having read this on the NakedNano site during November.

    *fangirling*

  8. Wow! I feel as if I have just finished a novel, or a blockbuster movie. The scenes with Lemuria had me on the edge of my seat!

    Congrats on managing so many threads and so many characters in this global epic. What a treat to revisit this wonderful universe you have created by combining these two brilliant fandoms.

    I really feel we are left with a world of possibilities for the future of this universe. Awakened Sentinels, an energized crew in the Pegasus Galaxy, the reemergance of Prides on Earth. Even if you never write another chapter you have set up so many interesting ideas and characters – it makes for a vastly satisfying ending.

    Thanks so much for this story and this entire series. I adore it – reread constantly and take it with me everywhere, on both my phone and ipad.

    Happy New Year too!

  9. Thank you. Just thank you for sharing your all your worlds with us.

  10. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. Love it, and Cliffie!

  11. OMG!, so good, I so love getting this to read! I hope, though it wasn’t mentioned, that if the beam woke all the latent sentinels, that it also brought Mathew online as well so that people can stop trying to force Chase to leave him for another Guide, and I can’t wait for Tobias and Andy to meet!

  12. LOVED IT SO MUCH. Hell of season finale. LOVELY as always.

  13. wow…that was a great installment in this series!

    ‘Guardians of Earth’ is a powerful sentence and has sent a chill down my spine and goosebumps on my arms!

    Already awaiting the next installment with so much patience! *g*

  14. Yay! Fab-o as always. Thanks for sharing

  15. Marvelous!! Thanks so much. Love this series. So heroic.

  16. fantastic love it

  17. OMG, you posted it … this is what I get for going away from computer for Christmas. Ewwwwwww, so thrilled!!!!

  18. Was totally late for work this morning but this made me happy all day so it was worth it!

  19. This epic novel is getting better and better.
    Even though I thought it impossible to get any better…
    Loved every word of it.
    Thank you so much for creating and sharing this.
    Wishing you a very happy, healthy and slashy New Year from Holland.

    Hugs,

    Brenda

  20. i have to admit that i have strayed from SG Atlantis
    i have read other fandoms (and got stuck on teenWolf) but now – thanks to you – I am back
    currently i am rereading eversthing you posted (i havent read the new chpter yet i am still just at the Queen)
    but i am confident that you can renew my SGA addiction
    i’d like to send you some of the muffins currently baking in my oven as thank you (imagine them sent per thaught and Woreshippexpress)

    hopefully i will remember to comment whan i have reached this chp but i am confident that aou will once again lead us down a path of greatness
    happy new Year
    Fla

  21. Wow, utterly brilliant like always!

  22. Wow! Every story you write always leaves me stunned and this one is no exception and what an ending!

    I am waiting (not so) patiently for the next sequence, pretty please 🙂 do you have an approximate date?

    Thank you!

  23. Wow what a brilliant end to series 1…really looking forward to series 2 (whenever that gets written) as I have no idea now where you are going to go with it. The coming online of all the Sentinels is just mind-blowing. I’m now at the stage where I don’t care what you publish next as I know I will enjoy it regardless of the fandom and whether I have prior knowledge of the characters or not (thinking about Criminal Minds here)

    Lady Keira I hope you enjoyed Chrstmas and here is to a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you.
    Hugs, Hxx

  24. Brilliant, I love the interaction between the various Sheppards as well as the sneaking in of numb3rs Colby Granger, though I am hoping for Charlie to join him at the SGC

  25. twilight_seeker3

    This is such a complex interwoven story I am in awe. It is like a wonderful symphony with each line/story building with the others to make sublime music. Each melody alone can be exciting and wonderful but it is the blending of the work that makes it magnificent.

    I have my fingers crossed that Sean and Frost find each other soon and David’s Guide appears post haste.

    xoxoxoxo
    twi

  26. You are a Goddess with a brilliant mind!! As long as you write, I’ll be here to read.

  27. Just a query M’Lady/Fanarts – is there a chapter artwork for this? hugs, Hxx

  28. Every single ending you write just trumps the one before. Super satisfying, and it still leaves us all eager for the next installment. I love how you’re always exploring and showing us more of your gigantic universe!

  29. So lovely, this made my boring day so much better. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Anne and Allison’s relationship. And of course everything to do with Chase and Matt was fantastic. It is quite strange to me that my favorite pairing for this series is between two original characters but I really do love them. Thank you for another excellent update!

  30. Another great installment and I an’t wait to read the next season! As I finished reading I found myself closer and closer to my computer screen. I can’t wait to see about Matt and Chase and how a real reunoin between the Sheppards will go, especially Andy and John.
    Thanks for such a great series!

  31. WOW…. just wow, this was amazing!! Thank you!

  32. And here I was, planning on skipping this one because I saw just a few epi of Sentinel, and it never really clicked. Girl, all your stories should come with a warning, because it is impossible to do anything else once I’ve begun reading. My work and husband are definitely suffering from the resultant gleeful neglect.

    After that last chapter of TTB, (when I imagined you channeling the ghost of Micheal Crichton) I didn’t believe I could enjoy anything as much, but WMHB and ROF were both excellent as well. So pleased you haven’t given up on ROF–chapter was a compelling start! (I can see it’s been a while since you posted it, though.)

    I’m also equally amused by the pairing shifts in the various SGA stories…Jonah and Patrick are the cutest, to my mind’s eye.

    But your grasp of sci-fi and the savior concept leaves me hoping you might one day write some Keira-verse OC sci-fi–pick a galaxy, any galaxy 🙂 M/M romance is my only fiction genre now (I’ve exhausted my interest in many others over the years) so if you do write OC outside of the fanfiction, hoping for some space cowboy loving. 🙂 There isn’t a lot of M/M sci-fi, (so not easy to write) I bet you would sweep the market! (or perhaps you already have on in the hopper?)

    Well, hope your poor foot is no longer sending frantic pain signals. Thanks for the beautiful stories. This was—ahhh, to be bathed in that blue light…the forthcoming fight will be brilliant. xoxoxo Michelle

  33. OMG! This is the best chapter yet! I love this series so much! I can’t believe how often I reread chapters and imagine what might come next. You are a fantastic author and there are just so many interesting possibilities in this series! It doesn’t matter what verse you are writing in- I know it will be great!
    Thank you!

  34. Many thanks for this epic ‘chapter’! I followed as you wrote it in Nano but hadn’t read the whole series for ages and it makes much more sense when I read it in sequence. Did you add a bit more at the end from nano? Not sure, but either way it’s excellent. I didn’t realise that it was the end of this ‘book’, nut it’s a good place to stop.

    Many, many thanks

    regards

    Daisy xx

    PS looking forward to following you in April with your shifter story. Not read any in that genre yet.
    x

  35. This is so well written and interesting. I love the slashy bits of course, but the plot is scientific and fascinating and just…gah. You’ve integrated myth and legend and woven a story that, in my mind, could actually happen. I am already anticipating the next season and am thankful it’s April. *g* The story of Miko and David is intriguing…unless I’m wrong about their eventual pairing, but I don’t think I am. Andy and Tobias is going to be interesting too. No idea who Carson is for, but I look forward to finding out.

  36. all I can say is Holy Fucking Shit!. I checked in when I saw the link for the epub of tangled destiny. read that and decided to check in on a old friend and grabbed on till the end of what is posted and enjoyed the whole ride. And I can’t wait for the next segment and you and your beta’s deserve a basket of roses and champagne and chocolate.

  37. Atlantis_Jackson

    Omg! I loved this episode! What a cliff hanger! I have so many questions! I can’t wait until they get answered next season.
    It’s probably selfish for me to wish you post the next episode very soon, but dang I don’t wanna wait 🙂
    Excellent story! Can’t wait for more.

  38. Beautiful

  39. A great story I can’t wait to see the next season will bring. Good Job

  40. Epic stories are … well, epic. This was an amazing read and i enjoyed every episode. I feel exhausted as I powered through the entire season over the last few days and am blown away at how you wove all the many plot and character threads through each episode and created an awesome world. I’ve grown much attached to these characters and hope someday you will continue exploring this world. <3<3

  41. Can’t wait for season two
    Good stuff
    More please
    Soon please
    Virtual chocolate kisses

  42. This story is amazing. I love how you draw us into the complexity of this world and its characters. I’ve re-read it multiple times and it still stuns me. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  43. Just binged this entire universe in a couple of days and loved it. Thank you so much for writimg it. Should you ever get to a point where you’re ready to comtinue with this, I would love to read it. Brilliant, in character, and terribly more-ish.

  44. I need more sleep and it’s all your fault! Like Rowankitty (love the name by the way) this was MUCH more important than sleeping. Please, if you’ve got it, more would be a lovely Christmas present!

  45. Like a bunch of others I just binged on this whole series. How lucky am I that I came across it when it was finished. I’m sure I would greatly enjoy a second “season,” but you tied up this installment in a way where I can calmly let them go and not worry for them overmuch.

    The ending gave me chills but left me smiling. Shit’s going to go down, but the Earth is protected.

    A really random thing… I love that in your universe the Sentinel/Guide Centers are messed up, but people are standing up to them. I’ve read many stories where the Sentinels or Guides are flat out abused by the Centers, and no one really does anything and just accepts it as a fact of life. I find your version more realistic and more satisfying.

    Thank you ever so much for sharing this, and I’m excited to explore your site more and read more from you.

  46. It seems that my Christmas reading every year is a re-read of your work. I love this particular story a lot, it’s nuanced and moves from between the story archs with such ease.

  47. This was –
    This is –
    You just –
    bgronsijga’fgna’rfvnz’iga
    I have no words.

    Please tell me you have the second season in the works. Please!!!! I am on my knees begging you, please!!!!!!
    So good.
    Amazing, your writing is incredible.
    I just
    gggaaaaahhhhh!!!
    No words!!!

  48. Wow. This whole series was epic! You had me both enchanted with your characters and engrossed in the story of alien worlds and cultures. Thanks for this. I can tell it took loads of work and I’m really grateful you shared it with us all. I can only hope this goes on and on.

  49. Another amazing, compelling series that just keeps giving.

  50. Oh wow…..this just wow!

     

    Off to reread again!

  51. greywolfthewanderer

    fuck *yeah*!!!!!

    damn, always enjoy your SGA, and this ‘verse especially!!

    *happy sigh*

  52. I know people don’t say this nearly enough but I Fucking worship you. I love everything that you write but i have a special place in my twisted little soul for TSOA. I appreciate what you gift me with when you write.  I always binge read your stories and I come back to them repeatedly but this here is a fucking work of art. My partner looks at me like i’m having a mental break when I read this story, I sit in my chair and chuckle when i read your characters, and I Fucking sob when I get to anne and porter. You make your world(s) captivating and real to me and my life  would be less without the joy your creations have given me. I just want you to know that when you are in pain or aimless or depressed that i can survive my aimlessness and pain and depression a little better because of my enjoyment of your works. ( this really isn’t meant to be creepy or put any pressure on you, just felt like people don’t let authors know how appreciated they really are.) So from the bottom of my little black soul.. Thank You.

  53. Ugh why do you have to be such an amazing writer? You’re making me add new worlds to my fan fic preferences. Not that that’s a bad thing. I LOVED this story and can’t wait for the next season!

  54. I could read and re-read this story endlessly; it’s just so sexy and awesome.  And in fact, as I write this, I’m pretty sure I’ve read it 10x already, and loved it just as much the eleventh as the first!  Thank you for being so amazingly creative.  It’s an awesome superpower you have.

  55. Ugggghhhh, getting to the end of one of your series can seriously be a gut-wrenching experience for me. I have been binge reading your Stargate fics and love how fantastic and compelling this series is. Reaching the end, and having to say good-bye to these characters, hurts. Allison’s little sob is one of the best/worst fic moments ever and I have tears blurring my vision as I type this. I can not say thank you enough for sharing your talent with us. I am a deeply and eternally grateful fan. <3<3

  56. It has been five years since I read this for the first time. Since then I’ve read it at least five times. Each time something else stands out to me. This time it is Anne and Allison’s relationship. You can grasp what connects the guide and the sentinel together, the absolute bond there is. Thank you for this. Greatful for more, thankful for what exists.

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