Title: The Gathering
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: The Sentinels of Atlantis
Series Order: 1
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard, Sam/Daniel, Cameron/Vala, Cadman/Ford, Keller/Lorne
Category: Sentinel/Stargate: Atlantis– crossover, Alternate Universe, Romance, Adventure
Content Rating: NC-17
Warning: Explicit sex, adult language, violence
Sentinel John Sheppard thought he’d spend his life unbonded and then he met Dr. Rodney McKay. The mission to Atlantis is their mutual path and they will gather the strongest, brightest, and best for the mission that will take them to another galaxy.
While this is a Sentinel/Stargate: Atlantis crossover – I’ve played fast and loose with pretty much everything from the way a Sentinel/Guide pairing works to the events leading up the Atlantis mission, character ages, etc. Basically, anything was fair game as I created this world. This is definitely AU in every single way.
* * * *
“There is an unbonded Guide here.”
Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter paused and turned to face the pilot she was giving a tour of Stargate Command. He’d been located through his DNA. Major John Sheppard had the Ancient gene and was from all reports a low level Sentinel. He’d barely registered on the scale and had eventually been evaluated at a level two out of six. There was no way he should’ve been able to sense an unbonded Guide in the Mountain. She could barely feel Dr. McKay and she rated at level four on the Sentinel scale. There were fifteen floors between their current location and the lab that Rodney preferred. It was… odd and something of a puzzle. She loved puzzles.
“Actually, yes, there are two that work here but only one is on the base today. Dr. Rodney McKay. He’s a level six guide. The Sentinel/Guide Center does not believe he will bond. He’s refused every single candidate ever presented to him for potential bonding.”
“Really? But, Sentinels are so… rare.”
Sam nodded. She knew it was rare for a Guide to actually refuse a Sentinel – even more rare for it to repeatedly happen. “Yes, Guides have always out-numbered Sentinels but Rodney is a unique sort of person and not your typical Guide. There are only five or six Guides in the entire program that have tested at level six. Unfortunately, there are only ten Sentinels in the world who have tested at level six and most of them are bonded. He met one a few years back and while the Sentinel was very willing – Rodney would have nothing to do with her.”
John frowned. “I don’t suppose I get to meet him?”
“Actually, yes, he’s the Chief Scientist for the mission you’re here to be briefed on. I should warn you, however, not to touch him. He’s not comfortable around unbonded Sentinels and rarely tolerates being in their presence for any length of time.”
* * * *
Carter had left him alone for nearly twenty minutes, but the time alone hadn’t been enough for him to repair the tears in his shields. Just being in the same facility with McKay was overwhelming. John closed his eyes and forced himself to erect every single mental wall he had. He knew the moment the man entered the room that it just was not going to be enough.
He opened his eyes reluctantly and found himself drowning in the bluest eyes he’s ever seen in his life. John tried to look away, forced himself to look at the Carter and the other people she’d brought with her but his gaze snapped back to those amazing eyes. Warmth, understanding, acceptance, shock, intelligence, and then a slick hot wave of anger flowed over his shields and right into his mind. The phantom touch that had been in his mind for twenty years blossomed in an instant and he knew this man. He knew this man in a way he’d never known anyone. It was too much. He felt the fugue state coming – fought it but it was impossible. The surprised voice of Colonel Carter barely registered.
Blue. He was surrounded by blue. It was amazing and so enthralling that he couldn’t imagine ever wanting to leave the safety of it. John had never known something so amazing and pleasurable before. He couldn’t move, didn’t care if he ever moved again. Unknowingly, he pushed in deeper letting the color drench his mind, into the peace it offered.
Then strong hands were on him, pushing him back against the rough concrete wall. The sensation of the warm hand in the middle of his chest was enough to pull him immediately out of his first zone out he had experienced in fifteen years. He took a deep breath and swallowed hard. This man, this Guide who had refused so many Sentinels in the past was his. Would McKay refuse him as well? And if he did, what the hell would he do then? John had never met a Guide that had called to him, never met a Guide he wanted to claim as his own. He was wholly unprepared for it.
“Major, can you speak?” McKay asked, his voice penetrated like a knife.
“I’m good. Thank you. I haven’t zoned out in years.” he whispered, his voice naked with emotion.
“Yes, I realize that,” McKay murmured. “One day you’ll have to tell me exactly how you managed to fool the Sentinel Council into rating you a level two.”
“He’s not?” Sam asked, shocked. They had discussed Sheppard all the way to the conference room. She’d never Rodney so off balance and shaken before but it hadn’t even crossed her mind that Sheppard was the cause. No Sentinel had ever disturbed McKay like this before.
“No,” McKay whispered, his voice a little broken at the knowledge. “I don’t think he would even register on the ridiculous scale you American’s use—he’s so far above it.” He refocused on John. “You do realize if you hadn’t hid what you were I would have found you years ago.”
John nodded. He also knew he was about to lose it and zone out again. The man’s voice was a sweet, unbearable agony that pitted in the bottom of his gut. It twisted, delicious and vicious against his insides. “You have to stop talking. It’s killing me.”
“It’s not killing you, Major. I promise. What you’re feeling is perfectly natural considering our circumstances.”
John shook his head. “No. No Guide has ever done this to me.” He started to shake. “You have to shut the fuck up.”
“No Guide has ever done to this because they weren’t yours.” McKay looked back over his shoulder at the four people who had followed him into the room. “I need, Sam…”
Sam Carter nodded, obviously stunned. “Yes, of course. I’m sorry, Rodney.” She turned to the others in the room. “General O’Neill, Dr. Weir, we need to give these two sometime alone.”
“I don’t understand.” Elizabeth Weir turned to stare at John and Rodney.
Sam smiled gently. “It’s actually not for you to understand. The Sentinel/Guide bond is a private matter.”
“Oh. Oh!” Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “I see.”
“Rodney, Daniel and I will be outside if you need us.”
John shuddered as the door shut. “You’re still hurting me.”
“I know,” Rodney murmured. “I know. Why did you hide, John?”
John swallowed hard. “I was tested when I was six years old. If I hadn’t hidden what I could do. If I hadn’t tested below a level four they would have taken me from my parents and forced me into one of the schools. They didn’t give parents or kids the choice back then. I had to hide it. I didn’t want to leave my family.”
“It was easier to hide it.” John opened his eyes and looked at his Guide for the first time since the man had touched him. “A Sentinel at my level would have been heavily recruited by practically every government agency in the country. I wanted to fly. I didn’t want… I didn’t want anything else.”
“I understand.” Rodney tilted his head. “You have two choices.”
“Okay.” John took a deep breath and tried to push the pain deep so he could concentrate on what was about to be offered to him. God help him if McKay told him no. What the fuck would he do?
“You can leave this room and then this mountain and never look back. I’ll make sure you get the posting of your choice anywhere in the Air Force. The General will see to it. We’ll never tell anyone what you’re hiding.”
“Or?” Because God, that first choice was so fucked up and stupid that John wanted to scream his pain and frustration.
“You can stay with me. You can bond with me.”
“Colonel Carter told me you’ve refused every Sentinel you’ve ever encountered – even ones that really wanted to bond with you. Why me?”
“Do you remember the exact moment you felt me today?”
“Yes,” John nodded.
“I felt you, too. In that very moment and I nearly passed out. My skin suddenly was too tight, too uncomfortable. I was looking for you before Sam even came to get me. I’ve felt you for years, John. Sometimes you were so close to me that I felt like I could reach out and grab you – only I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t find you. And I looked. I looked to so many times. I know you felt it, too. The tug deep in your mind. You’ve heard me in your dreams for years.”
“Yes.” John nodded. “Christ, yes, I have.” He rested against the wall and closed his eyes. “And you’d give that up? What are the chances you’d find a Sentinel to bond with if I walk out of this room?”
“Zero. You are my Sentinel. It’s you or it’s no one.” Rodney stepped back and pulled his hand away. “That being said, because you are my Sentinel my primary concern is your happiness. The decision is yours.”
“No.” John shook his head. “There is no decision to make. There is no way I can walk out of this room without you. I – I – fuck, I don’t even think I understood how empty I was until now. Until you touched me.” He sucked in a harsh breath. “I feel like my insides are on fire.”
“How much training have you had?”
“I did the standard two years. I went to a Sentinel program during undergrad. I wasn’t given any advanced training because of my rating. They figured I was so low on the scale that I would never have the desire to bond with someone.” John started to shake. “Your voice—it’s like a sharp knife in my gut. Will it always be like that?”
“If I said yes?”
“I’d learn to deal with it because I’m not sure I can part with you.”
Rodney laughed, obviously pleased. “Fortunately for you and your gut – it won’t always be like that. It’s painful because your body is fighting me. Once we bond, every part of you will accept me. Your mind, your body, and your heart.” He paused then. “You realize if you bond with me—there will be no hiding from the Sentinel Council. They will demand to see us and confirm our relationship. They know I would never accept someone unless they were at my level, which is why I’ve never met you. They’ve never sent a Sentinel beneath a level four to meet me.”
“Colonel Carter is around level four. Was she sent to you?”
“No, when I met her she had already bonded with her Guide. He was the other civilian that came in with me. Dr. Daniel Jackson. They’ve been bonded for nearly seven years.” Rodney inclined his head. “You can sense her abilities?”
“Oh yes.” John swallowed. “Her shields are pretty much paper thin to me. Really, I’ve met very few people in my life that could hide from me.”
“Do you need to talk to her? Talk to them? Maybe talking to a bonded couple, someone who has been through this would help you.”
“I think so.” John opened his eyes again. “Yes, I need to talk to her.” He grabbed Rodney’s hand and held it tight against his chest. “One thing? How could you offer to let me leave you behind? Don’t you want this? Don’t you want this bond as badly as I do?”
McKay moved closer and touched John’s face with hesitant fingers. “I want it more. I’ve waited – turned away Sentinel after Sentinel over the years even when the Council questioned my sanity over it. I’ve waited for you nearly all of my life, John. But, you’ve hidden what you are nearly all of yours, and I would have you do nothing that you aren’t comfortable with.”
John rubbed his face against the fingers that still trailed on his skin. “I’ve waited for you, too.”
“I’ll get them now.” Rodney whispered. He separated himself from John, walked across the room, and opened the door. “Sam, Daniel—could you join us for a few minutes?”
John forced himself to leave the security of the cinder block wall and go to the conference table. He pulled out a chair and sat down as Colonel Carter and Dr. Jackson entered and took seats near him.
“You hid your true abilities to stay with your parents?” Daniel asked as soon as he sat down.
“Yes, how did…?”
“You wouldn’t be the first Sentinel or Guide to purposefully hide from them. It’s a problem that the Council is well aware of. They’ve tried through the years to discreetly retest adults in our age group so that people like you get the rating they deserve and of course so they know exactly what they are dealing with.” Daniel looked from Rodney to John and then refocused on John.
“I’ve never been retested,” John admitted. “They tried to recall me about four years ago but I was in a war zone and I pushed them off. They didn’t try again.”
“John? Would you be willing to drop your shields so I can see you?” Daniel asked gently.
John shook his head. “I, fuck, the last time I did that I was zoned out for nearly an hour.”
“It won’t happen this time.” Sam put one of her hands on his. “Rodney snapped you out of a zone-out in seconds. I’ve never seen anyone come out of a fugue state that quickly. Daniel and I have been bonded for years and it takes a full minute to pull me out if it happens.”
“I didn’t think bonded Sentinels zoned.”
“We’re in a high stress environment. It’s happened twice in the past five years.”
“Okay.” John nodded. That made sense. High stress in the past had always made controlling his heightened senses very difficult.
He forced himself to relax back in the chair and slowly started to open holes into his shields. As each layer bled away, he felt the room change around him. Coffee, deodorant, bath soap, aftershave, and he realized that it was Rodney – his senses were already focusing on his Guide above all other things in the room. He spread out a little and connected with the gentle thud of his heart. Yes, his Guide. It was overwhelming and more than he’d ever hoped for. John had known hiding would make a bond nearly impossible and he’d prepared himself to be unbonded for life.
Then Rodney’s hand was on him and he pulled back from the steady beat of the all too important heart and brought his shields back up. When he looked towards Carter and Jackson, he found them both pale and a little shaken. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”
Daniel shook his head and folded his hand into Sam’s. “No, my God, not at all. I’ve never…” He cleared his throat. “John, you’re amazing. I don’t even understand how you’ve managed your whole life without a Guide. I’ve never felt anything like that ever.”
“I was uniquely motivated to learn to protect myself.”
“Yes.” Daniel nodded. “I can see that.”
John cleared his throat. “What is the fastest and most efficient way to bond? Because the sound of his voice is an agony right now.”
Sam smiled then. “As painful as it is now… after the bond it will be that much more soothing and pleasurable. So, at least you have that to look forward to.”
“The fastest way to bond is to find some place very private – both of you drop your shields and fuck yourselves stupid as you engage as many of your senses as you can. Essentially you glut yourself on him.” Daniel grinned when both men turned to stare at him. “If that method doesn’t suit your sexuality—you’ll have to go through the standard bonding ritual which can take hours but isn’t nearly as much fun.”
“The bond you share isn’t sexual,” John mentioned, if they were surprised that he guessed this about them neither Daniel or Sam made mention of it.
Sam smiled softly and John felt a momentary rush of sadness from her before she pushed it deep. “No, Daniel and I are just very good friends. We share a profound love for one another but it’s never been sexual. It’s rare with a pairing such as ours – most Sentinel/Guide pairs that are male/female end up in a romantic relationship.”
John nodded. He’d encountered several such pairs in the past and he’d never understood it. “Okay.”
“The sexual component would speed up the process; especially since you are in a great deal of pain. It’s written all over you and frankly, you’re making the other Sentinel/Guide pair in the facility very uncomfortable. Your distress is getting difficult to push away.” Daniel inclined his head as he looked at them. “Do you know how to create the mental connection?”
“Not really. I was rated so low that the Council assumed I would need help creating such a link if I ever found a Guide that I wanted.”
“You won’t need any help,” Daniel promised. “The easiest way to surrender to your Guide is drop your shields and let him nest in you. Rodney is a powerful Guide and he’ll be compelled to surround your mind with his own. The connection will build on itself from the first moment you’re both together in an unguarded mental state. The sex will help create the intimacy you need to do this.”
“All right.” John swallowed. The idea of it was a little horrifying. He’d never dropped his shields completely; at least not since his mother had taught him to make them. “I haven’t been in an unguarded mental state since my gifts started to manifest.”
“It’s a big leap of faith,” Sam admitted. “When Daniel and I did it—we spent three hours in the bonding ritual before I could even let him past my primary shield. Once that breach was made and I could move around in his mind—things got much easier for us both.”
Daniel smiled. “Can you explain how you were able to hide so effectively?”
“My mother was a Sentinel. She taught me to build shields practically from the moment I started to walk. By the time I was tested at six, even she couldn’t penetrate them and she was a level five. She never had a Guide so I have very little experience with having one in my life.”
“Major, you do know that Sentinel/Guide relationships supersede any regulations and codes of conduct that the military places on us. They are entirely too desperate to have bonded pairs to concern themselves with fraternization or homosexuality.” Carter stood from the table. “So, should we prepare a room for the ritual or would you just prefer to go back to Rodney’s base quarters?”
John knew which one he preferred and when he focused on Rodney, he could see it in him too. The way his eyes had dilated, the increase of his pulse, and the blooming scent of masculine arousal. Yes, they were definitely on the same page. Thank fucking God.
“What is your spirit guide?” Rodney asked softly.
The tone did nothing to dull the pain of it but John appreciated the effort. He smiled. “A golden eagle. Yours?”
“His quarters will be fine,” John said finally as he stood from the table. “Now.”
* * * *
“Well,” Jack O’Neill started with a small smile. “That certainly solves the problem of the Major agreeing to go to Atlantis. He’ll go with Rodney.”
Sam winced then and exchanged a look with Daniel. “Actually, Sir, Rodney will adhere to whatever his Sentinel wants.”
“But, Rodney has worked towards the Atlantis mission for over a year.” Elizabeth Weir frowned and stared at the door that separated them from McKay. “Can we prevent them from bonding until we know what the Major’s plans are?”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open. “What? No! First and foremost, interfering with a pair bond is illegal. Not even the Air Force could withstand the assault the Sentinel Council could levy. Second, neither McKay nor Sheppard would tolerate it. If you attempt to come between them things will get nasty and probably violent very fast. They are already half-way there anyway. They were sharing a partial bond when Rodney entered the room. I didn’t realize it at the time—but they’ve been connected for literally years. They just couldn’t find each other and now that they have separation is impossible for either of them. Third, every Sentinel/Guide pair on this base would be compelled to help and shelter them.”
“What would happen?” Jack asked neutrally.
“It would be mentally devastating to them both,” Sam answered her gaze connecting with Daniel’s. “Losing your Guide is like having your heart torn out of your chest.” She would know – she’d experienced it with Daniel. Granted, when he’d ascended he’d returned to her as soon as he could but it didn’t lessen the pain of the event.
The door opened and John leveled his gaze at Elizabeth Weir. “You should be aware, Dr. Weir, that I can hear a conversation from more than a mile away when I want to and sound proofing is absolutely useless.”
Her mouth dropped open. “I see, Major.”
“It’s good that you do,” John’s eyes darkened with temper. “As for Atlantis, I was already going to say yes. I was going to say yes pretty much the second someone mentioned the possibility of a space ship. The lot of you basically had me at hello. Now, if you’ll excuse us, Dr. McKay and I have something very private to attend to.”
* * * *
John glanced around the disaster area that Rodney had led him to. “You’re going to have to be so much neater in the future.”
Rodney laughed. “So, we had you at hello?”
John turned and looked at him. “You’ve had me so much longer than that. I think I felt you the first time when I was ten years old. The day my mother died. I was in so much pain that I just wanted to crawl into the grave with her.”
Rodney nodded. He remembered. Emotional pain so deep that it had staggered him – forcing him to sleep and seek out the damaged soul that screamed inside his mind. “I helped so little.”
“You helped so much,” John corrected. “That night—I felt like I was alone in the world. My father never understood me the way my mother did. He was never comfortable with my gifts. He tried so hard but he wasn’t her. I was alone and then you were there—on the edge of my mind and I knew I’d never be alone again. I’m so sorry I hid for so long. I just didn’t know. I don’t think I knew what you were there in the back of mind until I saw you today. I can’t explain it.”
“That’s the beauty of us.” Rodney reached out for him and sighed when John immediately came to him. “You don’t have to explain.”
“So.” John brushed his fingers over Rodney’s face, tracing his angular jaw and then brushed the tips over the crooked mouth he was pretty much half in love with already. “I have to glut myself on you. That’s what Dr. Jackson said.”
“Yeah, about that.” Rodney tilted his head. “Have you ever slept with a man?”
“I prefer men,” John admitted. “Women often wear too much perfume, use scented soaps and hair products, and they get so emotional during sex that it’s difficult not to zone out. I’ve always liked the way men smell, feel, and taste. I assumed that if I ever found my Guide that it would be a man.”
“The same… but for just the emotional reason. Men are better at keeping their emotions at bay during sex and my empathic abilities manifested long before puberty. Women were just way too complicated and I was thankful when I realized that I didn’t really enjoy touching them all that much. Guys just want to get off and I could get that.”
John stepped back a little. “Take off your clothes.” He pulled his t-shirt over his head and tossed it aside. “Don’t hide from me.”
“I wouldn’t,” Rodney promised.
John sat down in a chair and unlaced his boots as Rodney efficiently stripped in front of him. As the clothes fell away, he was left with the body of his Guide. Pale, lean, broad shouldered, slim-hipped. Perfect, really. Not very muscular but John had never wanted that in his lovers. Rodney’s cock jutted, dark and beautiful, from his body the head already wet with pre-cum. John let his primary mental shield thin so that he could surround himself in Rodney’s presence and his amazing mind. His Guide shuddered in that moment and John smiled.
“Yes, I’m very pleased. I can’t wait to taste you.” John dropped his boots on the floor and then stood to unbuckle his belt. “Lay down on the bed, please.”
He stripped as quickly possible, his gaze glued to the lounging form of Dr. Rodney McKay. It seemed impossible that it had only been mere minutes since he’d set eyes on the man. He never wanted to forget a single detail of this. John walked to the bed and crawled onto it, his head dipping automatically as he moved up between Rodney’s thighs. The strong scent of an aroused man… of his man filled his nose and he wallowed in the power of it. He brushed his lips over the silky flesh of his lover’s cock, sliding the length of him and flicking his tongue over the head with no pretense masking his enjoyment of it.
“You’re beautiful,” Rodney whispered, his fingers drifting in John’s hair. “Amazing. I want you inside of me in every way possible.”
John moved up, his lips trailing soft kisses across Rodney’s chest until he could capture his mouth. He moaned into McKay’s mouth as he lowered himself and their bodies came together. Skin to skin.
He lifted his head and hazel eyes met blue. “Lube?”
Rodney rolled to his side slightly, opened a drawer in the small nightstand beside the bed, and pulled out a tube. “Do you have a preference about condoms?”
John paused. “I’ve always used them in the past… to dull the touch sensation. I don’t think I want anything between you and me. I’m clean. I’d never risk you that way.”
Rodney smiled and sat up. Running one hand down the center of John’s chest, over his stomach to the fine dark hair that surrounded his cock. “Let’s see if you can handle me touching you this way.”
John bit back a curse as Rodney’s strong, calloused hand wrapped around his cock. His world whited out for a few precious seconds and then he came back to himself. “It’s perfect. You’re perfect.”
McKay relaxed on the bed and spread his legs wide for John. He watched his Sentinel react to the shameless display through half-closed eyes and shivered when John lowered another shield for him. “You’re not really dropping your shields, are you? You’re just opening a door for me?”
“Do you have any idea how fucking impressive you are?” Rodney demanded, his voice full of disbelief and awe. “As impressive as you are hot; and really you’re the hottest person I’ve ever seen naked. Ever.”
John paused in his, his hand stilling in their quest over Rodney’s thighs. “You know I’m already half in love with you, right? I didn’t even know it could happen so fast.”
“Open all of your doors for me, John. Let me see all that you are. I promise you I’ll keep you safe.”
“I know,” John whispered as he opened the lube and slicked his fingers. “I know that deep in my soul where you’ve always been. The deeper you go in my mind the more you will see… the more you will know how much of you has always been with me.”
Rodney groaned and lifted his hips as John brushed his blunt fingers over his entrance in a teasing motion that spoke of experience, care, and patience. As much as John could trust his mind into Rodney’s care… McKay understood that he could give over everything to his Sentinel for safekeeping. His body, his heart, and most certainly his mind. The mind that had been his only consolation in a childhood filled with rejection and isolation. The mind that helped him forge his way in a world that could have easily destroyed him with the tainted thoughts and vicious emotions he was exposed due to contact with others. The mind that had protected his abilities practically from birth… shielding him in ways that he did not understand until he was an adult.
“John!” He shuddered as he two fingers breached him again and again, stretching and preparing him to be taken. “More.”
Sheppard added a third finger carefully and when he pushed again, he brushed against Rodney’s prostate and his Guide floundered before him, his body bowing and straining against the pleasure he knowingly bestowed. He pulled his fingers free then. “I can’t wait… I need…”
“Yes. Now.” Rodney agreed, his hands clutching at his own legs as he spread himself further. “Now.”
John shook himself and closed his eyes briefly to find his center. Then he positioned the head of his cock against the ring of muscle that protected Rodney’s body and pressed. McKay’s body gave away to him quickly and John slid deep with one powerful, smooth stroke. “Fuck.”
“Yes.” Rodney wrapped his legs around his Sentinel, high up on his waist and clutched at John’s shoulders with strong hands. “More. Give me all that you are.”
John opened mental doors he’d kept in place for years allowing Rodney entry into parts of his mind that no one had ever touched until he laid was bare before his Guide. He shuddered at the exposure and cried out with relief as Rodney’s brilliant and amazing mind surrounded him; enveloping his unguarded psyche and inviting it into safety in much the same way his body had accepted John’s physical invasion.
He started to move as their minds came beautifully and fully together. The blend was as uniquely pleasurable as their physical joining. At once, the places that had lain open and empty between them filled with trust, loyalty, and the strongest, purest of emotions. Honesty and new affection drifted into love as the seconds turned into minutes. Their gazes locked together, their bodies rocking and straining to pleasure to each other and their minds fully connected… then it was there.
The bond flowed between them fast and so strong that they both moaned. Connections unfurled between them like vines. Glowing silver tendrils of thoughts, emotions, and needs drifted through them until nothing separated them. Until there was nothing left unsaid or unknown between them.
John lowered himself against Rodney and buried his face into the side of his Guide’s neck as he acknowledged that he’d never be able to close the pathway he’d given his lover into his mind and he couldn’t imagine wanting to. McKay clutched him with big, strong hands as John thrust deep one last time and came. He slid one hand between them and stroked the hard cock that slid against his belly with a firm hand. On the fifth stroke, Rodney tightened around him and came with John’s name pouring from his mouth like water.
* * * *
“So, what you’re telling me is that my new second in command for the Atlantis mission is downstairs fucking Dr. McKay,” Colonel Marshall Sumner summed up just short of snide.
“No, Major Sheppard is downstairs bonding with his Guide,” Jack O’Neill repeated and wondered why Sumner was in such a bad mood. Everyone knew Sentinel sex was supposed to be a morale booster. He was starting feel very relaxed and pleased, himself.
“Considering the empathic bleedoff I’m doing my best to ignore,” Sumner began. “I’d say they are having sex, General.”
Jack cleared his throat. “As you well know, Colonel Sumner, the relationship between a Sentinel and a Guide is protected by the highest laws in our country. We’re not allowed to question or speculate on the nature of their relationship in any form whatsoever. The Pentagon is very pleased to have a bonded Sentinel/Guide pair on the expedition, especially one of their levels of suspected ability. Colonel Carter believes them both to be at a level six on the Sentinel Evaluation Scale. Even you can’t deny how valuable such a pair would be to your mission.”
“Not if they are fucking,” Marshall snapped. “It’s a violation of the codes of conduct and it’s a detriment to my chain of command.”
“You’ll watch your tone with me, Marine, or you’ll regret it,” Jack snapped.
“Dr. McKay has joint leadership role with me, for the love of God, and with Sheppard has his Sentinel… I won’t have it. I won’t have him,” Sumner said, this tone subdued. “The mission is already difficult enough without adding their personal relationship on top of it.”
“Then you don’t have Atlantis,” O’Neill responded evenly. “Dr. McKay is mission essential to the Atlantis Expedition. Where he goes, his Sentinel goes, and we cannot touch Major Sheppard in regards to his relationship with McKay. It would be a direct violation of the agreement we have the Sentinel/Guide Council and would endanger the continued service of over one hundred Sentinels in the United States military.”
“Sheppard has a shoddy record at best. He’s been passed over twice for promotion in the past four years,” Sumner protested. “Not to mention that McKay’s personality makes him ill-suited for leadership.”
O’Neill grimaced. “Did you bother to read about the so-called incident that earned Sheppard the black mark?”
“No. General Holland is a good man. I’m sure he had his reasons for the reprimand.”
“If you had, you would know that he reprimanded Sheppard for failing to bring home Lt. Jared Holland alive. He reprimanded a good man who brought home three men alive because his own son was killed in action. He disciplined every single soldier on the ground, including the three that were rescued, during the incident and the Pentagon did nothing to stop it.”
Sumner’s eyes hardened stubbornly. “They had a responsibility to their CO.”
“They had a responsibility to their mission and they completed it. The entire mission went under review an hour ago by the Pentagon at the request of the Sentinel/Guide Council. They are livid that we allowed a Sentinel to be so mistreated and threatened to pull him from our service entirely.”
“They can pull a Sentinel from service?”
“Yes, without reason. Sentinel’s answer first and foremost to their own Council, Sumner.”
Marshall frowned. “I had no idea. Why in the hell do we allow any of them to serve?”
“Because they are the best soldiers you’ll ever work with. If you can’t accept Sheppard on this mission, Marshall, I’m going to have to make some pretty heavy changes for the expedition. We are six months out from our launch date; you realize that.”
“I won’t lie to you, General. There is no way I can accept this.”
“Then you may consider yourself removed from command of the Atlantis Expedition. You’ll receive your new orders within the hour. Dismissed.”
* * * *
Ten hours had passed. Daniel had watched his own Sentinel relax by degrees within the first hour of Rodney and John seeking privacy. Now she was mellow and happy, working at her laptop as if she didn’t have a care in the world. And, God how could she? Sheppard’s peace and contentment had spread out over the entire base in a matter of hours. McKay’s overwhelming relief and staggering protectiveness layered on top of it all. Even the mundanes, normal humans, were heavily affected and that was pretty damn cool. He took off his glasses and rubbed his nose.
“He’s an Alpha Sentinel Prime,” Sam said. “If we still… if we used such titles these days.”
“Which we don’t,” Daniel reminded with a wry grin. “Officially.”
“It’s amazing he hid what he was from the Center and other Sentinels he served with for so long.”
“He might have worked hard to hide himself from the Center but I can’t think that others of our kind working with him didn’t notice. But they also would have noticed his desparate desire to stay hidden and they would’ve respected that.” Daniel put aside his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “So, for Rodney to be his Guide…”
Sam sighed. “Rodney must have held back during testing, too. McKay wasn’t tested until he came here to work. He was raised and trained in Canada and they don’t test their Guides or Sentinels like we do.”
Daniel nodded. “They also don’t pressure their Sentinels into public or military service.”
“I wasn’t exactly pressured.”
“You have two PhDs, Sam, and you’re in the Air Force. You could have done so much in academics.”
“I still do a lot and I’m very happy with my career, you know that.” She slid off her stool and walked to where he was working. “So, how’s this going?”
“Slow. My Ancient isn’t as good as it used to be. I’ve lost a lot of it… and no matter how much I study it… it’s difficult. Like they did it on purpose when I was made human again.”
“Maybe they did. You’ve never had a problem with a language before.”
“So, I was thinking. You know how Beckett said that Sheppard had the strongest ATA gene he’d ever seen?”
“I wonder if his ATA gene is enhancing his Sentinel gene?”
Sam’s mouth dropped open. “Holy shit, Daniel.”
Daniel laughed. “It didn’t cross your mind? You and I both have fairly weak ATA genes; but it can’t be a coincidence that the most powerful Sentinel either of us has ever encountered also has the strongest ATA gene we’ve ever seen. Rodney’s gene is pretty powerful, too.”
“No, it didn’t cross my mind.” Sam admitted ruefully. “Frankly, I’m just getting my head around the fact that he’s probably like a ten if the scale went that high.”
Daniel’s mouth fell into a flat line. “He’ll still have to hide during testing. If he tests off the scale, the Council might try to keep him for extensive testing. They may even remove him from the Air Force. You know how they can get with advanced Sentinels.”
“We’ll warn him. It isn’t as if he can’t do it. If he could hide it nearly all at six… at thirty-one he must be able to show people exactly what they need to see and nothing more.”
* * * *
Rodney arched under John’s mouth and shuddered as his lover lifted away. “You do realize that a lot of Sentinels avoid giving head.”
“The taste of semen is overwhelming.”
“It never has been for me,” John admitted, flicking his tongue over the weeping head of Rodney’s cock. “And you… I love the taste of you. You taste amazing, everywhere.” He placed a sucking kiss against McKay’s hipbone and chuckled when he twisted and lifted up against the pressure. “I could spend a week with you like this but I don’t know that they are going to give us much more time.”
“No, they won’t. Sam has probably been on the phone with the Council. As the Sentinel representative for the base she’s required to report any changes in my status.” Rodney carded his fingers through John’s hair with a soft sigh. “Let’s talk about your testing.”
John rolled over onto his back and stared at the white ceiling above the bed. “I can control how much I’m affected by stimulus, even better than I did when I was younger. I won’t test above a level six. It’s what you did, right?”
“Yeah.” Rodney rolled to his side. “Testing above me would lead to questions and maybe retesting for me.”
John pulled him close and stroked his back. “I’ll protect you, Rodney.”
“Due to the details our mission, we’ll have to go to them. They can’t really know what we’re up to. They might refuse to let us travel with the expedition if they find out about the Stargate. Level six bonded pairs are very rare.”
John nodded. “I know.” He placed a soft kiss against the top of Rodney’s head. “We should shower and dress. O’Neill is getting impatient with our bonding.”
Rodney snorted and then paused. “You can pick that up from him? Sense that from this distance?”
“I have six advanced senses not five. I pretty much always develop a loose empathic imprint on my CO when I come into a new assignment. It’s second nature to keep him as safe as possible,” John admitted. “But I’d rather keep that as much to need to know as possible. A lot of mundanes wouldn’t appreciate that level of monitoring on my behalf and the Center has no idea I’m empathic.”
“All right.” Rodney pushed the brief spark of panic and shock down deep aware that John would pick up on it.
He’d bonded with an Alpha Sentinel Prime—one who had been able to hide his own empathy during their mental bonding. It was the damnedest thing he’d ever heard of. There were few of them alive in the modern age—less than twenty Rodney would assume. He knew only a few were registered with the International Sentinel/Guide Council.
* * * *
John sat and glanced quickly around O’Neill’s office. “Thank you for the time, sir. I realize it was unexpected and might have caused problems with my orientation in the program.”
“It is a red letter day around here, Major.” Jack sat back in his chair. “To have gained a bonded pair like the two of you in a matter of hours… the President is quite pleased. The Pentagon is beside itself and…” He sighed. “And that brings me to the point of this meeting. Why didn’t you officially protest the reprimand you received after your last mission in Afghanistan?”
John winced. “It would have brought undue attention to me as a Sentinel and I didn’t want to risk being brought before the Council. I was in a rough place emotionally. I’d lost a good friend, a friend who had in some ways acted as a Guide to me despite his lack of gifts, and I couldn’t…” John sighed. “I feel guilty. I should have said something. Several men faced censure on the ground that did nothing wrong and I did nothing to help them.”
“So, Lt. Holland and you were lovers?”
John flushed. “You aren’t supposed to ask questions like that, General.”
“I’m just trying to get a good grasp on why his father reacted the way he did and you’re a Sentinel, John, those rules don’t apply to you.”
“But they did apply to him,” John responded neutrally. “Please don’t make me answer that question.”
“Understood.” Jack sat back in his chair and tapped a pen on top of his desk. “The entire matter is before a review board at the Pentagon as we speak. You and the ten men that were disciplined with you will probably receive written apologies and any promotions due you. If and when that happens, we’ll discuss your role with the Atlantis Expedition. For now, the Sentinel/Guide Center is demanding that you and Dr. McKay make a trip to the main facility in Seattle immediately. We are arranging transportation. Dr. McKay doesn’t fly commercial if he can avoid it and being a pilot yourself, I’m sure you’re not fond of it.”
“No.” John shook his head. “Not at all actually.”
“Sam and Daniel would like the see the two of you before you leave. They’re probably already with Rodney.”
John wanted to confirm that because he could feel his Guide’s anxiety. He knew the three of them were discussing something pretty distressing and John figured it had to do with his coming retest. It would’ve been easy to push his hearing out, center on his Guide, and find out exactly what they were discussing but his mother had taught him early in life to respect the privacy of others as much as he could. “Understood. We’ll be ready when to leave as soon as the plane is ready.” He paused and checked his watch. “Do I have time to meet with Colonel Sumner?”
Jack pursed his lips and had the grace to flush. “Colonel Sumner is no longer in charge of the military contingency assigned to the Atlantis Expedition.”
John’s mouth dropped open and then it fell into place in his mind. “He had a problem with me? He approved my placement on this mission six weeks ago. Most anyone that has read the incident report about my black mark hasn’t held it against me.”
“Yes, and then you went downstairs and had copious amounts of gay sex with Rodney McKay,” Jack responded amused. “He had a real problem with that.”
“I wasn’t aware that he was allowed to have a problem with that.”
Jack sighed. “Agreed and it was obvious he was going to continue to have a proble with it. Dr. McKay is mission essential to the Atlantis Expedition. Since the two of you are effectively joined at the hip for life—where one is not welcome the other is not welcome. I relieved Sumner of command and trust me that was not a part of the red letter day we have going on around here.”
“Is that going to reflect badly on him?” John asked with a frown. “While I don’t appreciate his mindset regarding my intimate relationship with Dr. McKay, the man isn’t wrong. The relationship with my Guide is detetrimental the chain of command. There are any number of situations that could lead to me disobeying direct orders when it comes to Rodney’s safety.”
“No, I’ll make sure it doesn’t. He’s a good soldier. Sumner is just very much by the book and has never agreed with the things that Sentinels get away with. He’d rather none of you served at all than to let you run roughshod over his precious codes of military conduct.”
“It’s good that you do.” Jack looked over his face then, took in the measure of him as best any mundane could. John wondered what he saw. Then the General nodded. “I believe you’ll find your Guide with Carter and Jackson on level four, lab six. That’s their favorite lab to get together and bitch about stuff. Your plane for Seattle leaves in two hours.”
John stood at the casual dismissal, offered the General a precise salute, and left at the man’s brief nod. It was not the conversation he’d expected to have. As he walked towards the elevator, he let himself relax. The answering relaxation in Rodney was a relief. He wondered how apart they could be and still have a connection. He figured it might be pretty damn far since they’d had a tenuous connection since childhood.
He caught McKay’s scent as soon as he got off the elevator and for a moment, he stood there and inhaled. It was amazing really, amazing and fulfilling, acknowledging the changes that had taken place in his mind and body just in a space of hours. John made his way down the hall and to the door of the lab.
It opened before he could even touch the knob and Daniel Jackson offered him a smile. “You’re projecting quite nicely right now. We’re going to have to work on that before you leave.”
John’s mouth dropped open but he allowed himself to be prodded into the lab and then the door was shut and decisively locked behind him. “I haven’t projected unwillingly in years.”
“Oh trust me,” Daniel said dryly. “You are projecting all over the place. Even the normal humans in the mountain are in a fucking amazing mood because of you. That’s some serious afterglow you’ve got going on. We all feel like we got deliciously laid. The other Sentinel/Guide pair on the base stopped by and thanked McKay personally a few minutes ago.”
John had the grace to flush. “I had no idea.”
“No, we’re not surprised by that either. Your bond is very deep.” Daniel motioned him to sit. “Come, we have a lot of ground to cover and very little time to cover it in.”
John slid onto a stool beside Rodney and bumped shoulders with him. “It’s not just me, you know.”
Rodney laughed. “I know. I’m doing my own share of projecting; but it’s my nature to project pleasure and happiness. It’s not supposed to be yours so that’s something we’re going to have to hide at least from the Center. The bonded pair on the base would never report back to them on your abilities. It’s a violation of our most basic principles. Very few Sentinels are actually loyal to the organization in that way—and they all work for it.”
“So six senses.” Sam leaned forward. “What else?”
“I have a fast and reactive adrenalin response. I’ve been able to control that for about ten years. So – it makes for better reflexes, high-hand coordination, and speed. I’ve never had my base levels tested for that though. That’s something I’d like to do here, after I get back from Seattle.”
“Agreed. They don’t need to know that.” Rodney ran his hand down John’s arm and curled his fingers through his. “They’ll test you without me present but I can still help you build shields if needed. They’d probably have to put us on different planets to prevent it.”
John nodded his agreement. “I think so, too.”
“So you think that you could contact each other anywhere on the surface of this planet?” Sam asked softly.
“I think it would take a couple of light years of distance to truly separate us; and I’m not even sure then,” Rodney admitted and flushed under her scrutiny. “It’s something we can test with the Stargate before we go to Atlantis.”
“Yes.” Daniel nodded, obviously excited. “Sam and I have about a five hundred mile barrier.”
“What happens in your head when the connection breaks?” John asked.
“It’s like a light gets shut off,” Sam responded immediately. “Sharp, quick, and painful if you aren’t paying attention and can prepare for it. We’ll be very careful in testing you.”
John nodded and focused on Daniel. “You’re a level five Guide.”
Daniel raised one eyebrow. “Yes, you can sense that?”
“Yes. I hate to be rude but there isn’t a single Sentinel or Guide on this base that can keep me out.”
Sam’s mouth dropped open. “Okay, that is definitely something you need to keep to yourself. If the US Sentinel/Guide Council knew you could test others by just being in the building with them they would never let you leave the Center again. I’ve never known a Sentinel that could penetrate mental shields like that.”
“I’d prefer that knowledge never leave this room,” Rodney said. “I’d hate to have to cause an international incident over the unlawful imprisonment of my Sentinel. You know my government has never liked the policies of the US on Sentinels.”
John rubbed his thumb against Rodney’s hand. “They couldn’t keep me. Because as much as I can project pleasure and satisfaction… I can also project anger and pain. Granted, I have to actually work to hurt someone but I’m capable of it.”
“On mundanes as well?”
“It’s actually easier to give them pain than it is another Sentinel,” John admitted. “I’ve only done it a handful of times in my life and always in an effort to defend myself. It’s not pleasant and it often makes me physical ill afterwards.” He focused on Daniel. “Tell me what you can sense from me.”
Daniel paused. “To be honest, with your shields fully in place you barely feel like a Sentinel at all to me. If you hadn’t zoned out when Rodney walked into the room the first time I would have believed you were a level two. But when you zoned out your primary shield failed. I still wouldn’t have pegged you anywhere above a level five or six but you obviously are.”
* * * *
The Sentinel/Guide Center was outside the city limits of Seattle in area that was almost rural. The peace of the place often proved to be a haven for fragile Sentinels and Guides alike. John had been there exactly four times ever. The last three times had been in an effort to find a Guide. None of them had ever appealed and after the third social event, he’d stopped responding to invitations. Eventually, the Council had stopped sending them.
As soon as they entered, everyone in the front lobby paused, turned, and looked. He knew his shields were firmly in a lock down position and that the response was mostly due to the fact that they’d heard that McKay had finally bonded. On the trip, McKay admitted to him that he’d turned down thirty-six Sentinels in his lifetime. It was a staggering number. It set his teeth on edge that his Guide was so attractive to other Sentinels. He knew his mark was all over Rodney now. Even Rodney’s shields had altered and changed. In his mind’s eye, John could see that the shields that had once been almost translucent in color shimmered silver now like his own.
He put one hand on the small of Rodney’s back and prodded him to the front desk so that they could sign in. The receptionist, an unbonded mid-level Sentinel that practically dripped with disdain, stood at their approach. She was jealous of John that much was obvious and like all the other Sentinels in the room, she thought he was fairly low on the scale. Lower than her. A level two Sentinel bonding with a level six Guide was practically sacrilegious to them. The class system that emerged due to the United States’ classification system was another reason many other countries refused to be a part of it. John figured they would all be relieved when he retested at a six.
“Dr. McKay.” She offered him a smile. “Director Morris is expecting you and Sentinel Sheppard. If you’ll step into the elevator on the left, you’ll be shown to testing.” She shot John a look and her smile immediately turned fake. “He’s not convinced your bond will pass the integrity test.”
“Then he’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Rodney snapped in a sharp unpleasant tone that had her jerking back a little from the desk. “Do let him know that we are on our way up, thank you Suzette.”
“Susanne,” she corrected through her teeth.
“Whatever,” Rodney waved her off. “Tell him I expect coffee. The good stuff, not the crap he puts out for everyone else.”
John held his laughter back until they were in the elevator. “That was… cruel.”
“She’s a bitch. She’s barely a level four and she was looking at you like you didn’t deserve to be in the same room with me.”
“Is she one of the ones that you said no to?
“I never even gave her the opportunity to ask; her intentions were written all over her face the first time we met. She’s tried to make overtures twice. First, she’s only of average intelligence and didn’t even finish her undergrad degree. I have three PhDs for fuck’s sake. Like I’d bond with a woman like her. I despise intellectual laziness. Second, she’s a woman and I made my preference clear a very long time ago. I’ve only been offered three female Sentinels by the Council and only then because they all tested high. They were all level fives.”
“I have a Masters in Theoretical Math.”
Rodney grinned smugly. “I know. I figured I might talk you into a PhD one day.”
“You might succeed,” John admitted. “I always thought I’d go back after I got my twenty in with the Air Force.”
“That’s hot. Later I might ask you to do proofs for me in your head. It’ll be practically porn for me.”
John was laughing when the doors opened to a large room that felt very full even though it only had eight people in it. He cupped McKay’s elbow as they moved out of the elevator.
“Deacon.” Rodney slid into a chair in front of them without offering his hand and John did the same. “Where is my coffee?”
“My admin is brewing for you right now. I chose an Arabian Mocha. I believe you’ll find it very acceptable.” Deacon Morris focused on John and frowned. “I was reviewing your initial tests in preparation for this meeting. It was obvious from the results that you were hiding your abilities. Why didn’t the evaluating Sentinel call you on it?”
“He tried,” John smiled. “But I was six years old and pretended that I didn’t understand him until he got frustrated. Then I cried and screamed for my mother. He abandoned testing on me and marked me a two.”
Deacon laughed and shook his head. “Well, I take it you won’t be crying today.”
“No. Air Force Majors don’t cry—it’s bad for our image.”
Deacon’s face clouded then. “I have a bone to pick with you about that. We’re all a little more than pissed about how you allowed yourself to be treated in Afghanistan. It’s dangerous for other Sentinels when you don’t stand up for yourself, you must realize that.”
“I also allowed several good soldiers who were not Sentinels to suffer that day as well. It was a selfish and vain attempt at avoiding confinement to a Center for testing. I was already up for retesting and I didn’t want it then. To be honest, I don’t want it now.”
“Let’s not spend a lot of time on that path, Deacon. It’s no secret that the past actions of this organization have forced many Sentinels of John’s level into hiding for their own protection.” McKay’s gaze lasered around the room like a weapon and watched the four Sentinel/Guide pairs that made up the governing body of the organization color with discomfort and embarrassment. “If things had been different in the past, John wouldn’t be faced with retesting today.”
“Where do you think you’ll test?” Deacon asked, obviously trying to change the subject. He was a Guide, John realized, a level four at that. His Sentinel was on the other end of the table and like the others in the room wouldn’t be formally introduced to him. Their names were never actually revealed to anyone who did not work for the Sentinel Center.
“A five or a six,” John finally said.
“Rodney do you agree?”
McKay nodded. “I’d say a six. I had a high level of exposure to his gifts during the bonding.”
“I understand that you completed that yesterday within hours of meeting.”
“Yes.” Rodney grinned and John laughed. They were both still pretty pleased with how they’d spent the day before. “We chose a profound amount of filthy sex. It was…”
“Amazing,” John finished.
Deacon Morris laughed. “I bet it was. You do realize that if you test at a six John… that the two of you will be only bonded pair on record at that level.”
“Yes.” John inclined his head. “Of course, we have no real way of knowing how many there are. The United States is the only country on the planet that actually rates Sentinels and Guides. There could be many more – in fact there are probably far more Sentinels than we are aware of because testing isn’t automatic in the majority of the third world countries.”
“Granted,” Deacon nodded. “We’re excited to test you, at any rate. About the Afghanistan matter, the Pentagon is reviewing it. Your record will be cleared and you will be given all that has been due you for the last four years. My word on that. I won’t have a Sentinel/Guide pair of your abilities held back by anything so obscene as a blatant lie.”
“And if it hadn’t been a lie?” John asked.
“We would put your ass in an ethics class. You’re very lucky you didn’t end up in one anyway.” Deacon accepted the coffee that his assistant slipped in front of him. “Disobeying orders from your commanding officer is a violation of the agreement we have with the military regarding Sentinels. The only time you’re allowed to such leniency is in the event that your Guide is mortal peril. No one can prevent you from aiding him in any way you see fit.”
“Oh.” Rodney sighed into his coffee cup. “This is lovely. This is almost as lovely as all the sex I had yesterday.”
John leaned into him and after a second or two of reluctance; Rodney let him have a sip. He let the chocolate flavored coffee swirl on his tongue and then nodded his agreement as it slid down his throat. “Close.”
“I’ll see that you get a few pounds.” Deacon stood. “Rodney will stay here with his sex-like coffee while you’re in testing, John.”
John shared a glance with Rodney. They’d discussed the tests the entire plane trip. Tested their mental connection through a series of situations on their own and had found they could even talk to each other on a limited basis. It was a rare gift among bonded pairs; so they were both a little smug about it.
“Don’t be a perfect six. It’s best if you appear to struggle a little.” Rodney’s mental voice flowed over John’s mind like silk. It was delicious and intimate. It actually was as good as all the sex they’d had yesterday but it was very distracting.
John met his gaze, for a few seconds let himself get a little lost in the blue, and then he pushed it back. He couldn’t afford to zone out in this building. It was their biggest fear. “I’ll be careful.”
He followed Director Morris to the elevator silently and didn’t speak until they were in the elevator. “The receptionist said you didn’t believe we’d pass the integrity test for our bond.”
“I said no such thing.” Deacon grimaced. “I would never say something like that about a bonded pair in front of staff, even if I thought it. She made assumptions because she’s harbored interest in McKay for several years. Susanne is a level four and has always believed that Rodney was her Guide. She was adamant and even asked us to make him seriously consider her. He on the other hand can never even remember her name. It’s a source of horrific amusement around here.”
“So you don’t plan to put our bond through an integrity test?”
“No, not even if you were to be some act of God test at a level two for real would I do such a thing to a Guide of Rodney’s status and level. He chose you. You’re his Sentinel. End of discussion.”
The elevator doors opened and Deacon motioned him out. “Testing has changed only slightly since you were a child so you can relax. We know exactly why your mother taught you to hide. It’s a source of embarrassment that the previous administration was so harsh with young children who tested well. The Sentinels that came out of that program at times lack the social skills to fully interact with society. That’s on us.”
“They also often lack an emotional connection to their family and others,” John admitted. “It makes for suicidal soldiers. But you know that.”
Deacon opened a door. “Sentinel Fordham will be with you shortly. I encourage you to be as open and honest with him as you feel comfortable Sentinel Sheppard. The more we know about your gifts the better we are able to help and protect you.”
John nodded and Deacon left him alone. The room wasn’t all that different. It was small and completely without color; but that had purpose. It gave a Sentinel very little stimulation and that was key during testing. That way different sounds, smells, noises, etc could be introduced in a controlled environment and measured according to his sensitivity.
A small man entered and shut the door behind. “Sentinel Sheppard.”
“Call me John.”
Fordham smiled then, sharp and insincere. “Call me Kevin. I’ll be testing you today. I’m very pleased to meet Dr. McKay’s bond-mate. It’s been exciting around here for the past two days. He’s been such a picky and stubborn man that we knew instantly that there was something special about you. So, you can imagine our surprise when we saw your file and your low scores.”
John laughed. “I’m sure.”
“Please sit and we’ll get started.”
John slid into the chair Fordham motioned to and reached out for Rodney because in that instant he realized exactly what Fordham was and what he could do. Fordham was above a level six, not quite as powerful as John was but easily one of the most powerful Sentinels he’d ever encountered. He wondered if they had a special in-house designation for him. His shields thickened and increased threefold as Rodney traveled into his mind through their mental connection. He almost went slack with relief at the ease in which it happened.
“I’ve been testing for the Council for a little over a year and we’ve discovered a few new methods for testing that I believe will be beneficial to our process today.” Kevin smiled and opened a folder in front of him. “I’d like you to drop your primary mental shield. Please feel safe, your Guide is close at hand should we need his assistance. I won’t hesitate to request him.”
John knew it wouldn’t be necessary. If he got into trouble he couldn’t handle, Rodney would know immediately. He let his shields thin and as Rodney moved around hiding the things that they wanted no one to know and helping to lower sensitivity of his gifts to the level they deemed acceptable. He was surprised at the level of trust he already had in his Guide but then the bond made not giving McKay his trust completely impossible. They knew each other too intimately.
The minute Kevin breached his mind he flinched.
“Relax, John, you can trust me not to hurt you.”
John didn’t trust lightly. “I don’t know you.”
Kevin laughed. “I know this invasive. Okay, we’re going to start the first test. A scent will be introduced into the room and I’m going to measure your ability to pick it up. The faster you pick it up the higher you will rate on this test.”
* * * *
John was a disoriented and shaking as he let Fordham lead him back up to the conference room. Rodney was waiting at the elevator and shot the Sentinel a dirty look as he took a hold of John and pulled him close. “You should have brought him up sooner.”
“He did well, Dr. McKay. Very well.” Fordham joined the others at the table and left them alone at the elevator.
Rodney took a deep breath. He knew exactly how well John had done on the tests and it worried him. He’d tested on the high end of level six. There was nothing they could do about that.
“Do we need to give you a few minutes?”
Rodney shook his head at Deacon’s question. “We’re ready.” He led John to the table and prodded him into a seat. “He’s rebuilding his primary shield carefully. We have a flight back after this meeting and the airport will be taxing if he doesn’t.”
Fordham flipped open his folder and cleared his throat. “He tested very high on the scent, touch, taste, and sight tests. The sight tests aren’t much of a surprise due to his training as a pilot. We find that most Sentinels with pilot training have a more highly developed sense of sight with matching high hand coordination. Of all of his senses, I would rate his hearing the lowest at a five. Overall, despite the hearing I rate him on the high end of six. I looked at Dr. McKay’s scores and this makes them practically a perfect match. I’ve never seen scores so close before.”
Deacon smiled, obviously pleased. “Excellent news.”
Fordham closed the folder. “I’d like to keep him for training. He’s only had a standard two year course and he would benefit from a few classes.”
“He’s dealt with his gifts on his own since he was six,” Rodney snapped. “I’ll be able to provide anything he’s missing.”
“Dr. McKay, surely you understand how important a Sentinel of his level is.”
“I understand that he is my Sentinel. And the kind of training you are suggesting is something that is done before bonding not afterward. You’d separate us for several months to teach him things he could learn from me just so you’d have someone of a high level to play with.”
Fordham flushed. “That’s…”
“Don’t deny it,” one of the normally silent Sentinels at the end of the table said with some amusement. “It’s obvious. It’s also obvious that their bond is too new and entirely too deep to suffer that sort of separation. So, I’m afraid, Kevin you’ll simply have to let your shiny new toy go home.”
“We could keep them both. We’ve never studied a bonded pair of their ability obviously.”
“Their bond is sexual,” Deacon interrupted. “You know we can’t ask them to let us observe or study such a thing. This conversation is over Sentinel Fordham.”
“Yes, of course.”
* * * *
John used the plane ride home to sleep. The all Air Force crew moved around the plane as quietly as possible and Rodney found them slightly amusing. He knew it would have probably taken a collision or maybe a crash landing to wake John up from the sleep he’d put him in but it was amusing to watch big men with guns practically tip-toe around the Major.
He woke John shortly before they landed but he could tell that his Sentinel hadn’t gotten enough sleep. The testing had been a little more taxing than anyone had been prepared for and he couldn’t wait to tell Sam what they’d done. He’d only been tested ten years before and they hadn’t used another Sentinel to mind-probe him during it. But he was a Guide and he had no idea what kind of testing Sam had endured over the years.
A half-hour after they landed, he prodded John into the quarters they would be sharing and put him to bed. The Sentinel went without a single complaint and fell into a dreamless state almost immediately. Rodney pushed back the other Guides on the base mentally. He knew they’d been worried about both of them but John was too weak for their thoughts to be that close to him. Too weak by far.
He weaved several thick mental shields around his lover and left him to sleep in their big bed alone. Sam was several floors above him in a lab so Rodney went to talk to her.
“They mind-probed him.”
Sam looked up from her computer. “Excuse me?”
“They used an Alpha Sentinel Prime to evaluate him. Did they do that to you?”
“No.” She paled a little. “How did he do?”
“Very high end of the spectrum, level six. It took us both to keep the guy at a distance and even then, it wore John out. He slept the entire trip home and is asleep now.”
“Who did it?”
“Kevin Fordham. He wanted to keep John. In the end, he tried to keep us both so he could study our pair bond. Thank God our bond is sexual or they might have let him.”
Sam smirked. “An added benefit of the sexual bonding method. The Council has no choice to keep their nose out of your bed. How are you?”
“Hungry. Irritated. The entire time it was happening I wanted to stop it but I knew if I did that it would reveal more about both of us than we could afford.”
“The news from the Pentagon came in a few minutes ago.” Sam tilted her head. “Full apology for all ten men sanctioned, General Holland has been asked to retire, Sheppard will receive not one but both of the promotions due him.”
Rodney’s mouth dropped open. “Wow.”
“Yeah, with proactive salary.”
“Well they pay you guys shit until the stars start to appear on the collars but it’s good that they are doing what is right for him and the others. He’ll be pleased by that. I could tell during the meeting today that he was more embarrassed about what his inaction did to the other men in his unit rather than himself. Especially when his circumstances allowed him to lodge a complaint when the others could not.”
“I can’t blame him though. I mean, really. I lived in fear of being removed from my parents most of my teenage years. My gifts were latent until I was almost seventeen, that’s the only thing that spared me being put in a Sentinel school for training until I was ready for college.”
“I heard Sumner was removed from command.”
Sam grimaced. “He did not take the news of your bonding with Sheppard well at all. In fact, the General was left with no choice but to remove him.”
“Unfortunate. He picked most of the men that are currently on the mission.”
“Yes, but it shouldn’t take much for the new CO to work through all of the personnel available for the mission and make any decisions he needs to.”
“Do you know who it’s going to be?”
“Rodney.” Sam stared for a minute. “I told you Sheppard is going to get the promotions due him. He’ll be a full bird colonel when he reports for duty in the morning. They aren’t going to send anyone above that pay grade to another galaxy on what could be a one-way mission. I think it’s pretty obvious it will be Sheppard’s command.”
“Wow. You know he has no clue.”
“He’ll get one soon enough.” Sam grew serious. “It’s what he’s due and everyone knows it. The real story has already made the rounds to the Marines on the base. People are pretty pissed off about how that situation went down and what the Pentagon let Holland get away with. It makes his son sacrifice… it’s a disgrace to his son who died fighting and that hasn’t set well with anyone.”
“You know I don’t get that whole military thing but I understand the disrespect thing. It’s too bad that Holland got so wrapped in revenge for his dead son that he lost sight of the good man he’d raised. The one who volunteered to serve and died for his country.”
“He didn’t volunteer.” They both turned and stared at Jack O’Neill in shock. “His father forced him to join up. Well as much as parent can force their kid.”
“Sucks.” Rodney leaned forward on the counter. “He did well in testing. He’s sleeping.”
“I’ve gotten word from Director Morris. He was pleased with you both and told me I had to take extra special care of you since you’re practically superstars in the Sentinel community already.” O’Neill grimaced. “He’s a kiss ass.”
“Yes.” Rodney nodded. “Sam told me the news from the Pentagon.”
“Can you keep it from him until I’ve spoken with him?” Jack asked.
Rodney pursed his lips. “As long as he doesn’t ask me direct questions… probably. I don’t know that I could actively lie to him. I am sorry about Sumner.”
“Don’t be. It was his choice. I gave him an opportunity to learn to deal with it. He chose not to. Of course, he’s in for a rude awakening in a few months.”
“What do you mean?” Sam asked.
Jack looked at her briefly and then smiled. “The President is going to abolish DADT and put anti-discrimination laws in place that will allow gays to serve openly. The new code of military conduct has been in the draft stages for the last six months. It was the first thing he dumped.”
“Huh. Pretty cool.” Rodney walked towards one of the white boards and picked up a marker. “You know this is wrong?”
“Yeah. I haven’t gotten around to fixing…” She laughed. “Go right ahead, McKay, knock yourself out.”
He waved at her with the open marker and started to erase things. “In the meantime, how is our relationship going to affect his ability to function as an officer on this base?”
“Failure on the part of any Marine to yield to Sheppard’s authority will earn them a one way ticket out of this facility,” O’Neill responded coolly. “Soldiers that intolerant have no business going through the gate and visiting other races. I can’t have people around that will stare too hard at the Asgard for being naked and stuff.”
“You know,” Rodney turned. “It’s more disturbing that they don’t fuck. The naked thing… well that just highlights the pure lack of genitals. It should really be a rule—any race that gives up the ability to fuck for procreation is automatically circumspect for at least a year.”
Sam burst out laughing and Jack stared for a moment and then started laughing himself. “Christ, McKay, sometimes… you’re a little too much for even me.”
“Of course, little kid Asgard running around would be equally creepy. So maybe the cloning thing is actually quite okay,” Rodney muttered as he wiped out an entire line of the proof in front of him and started to scribble madly. “This is utter crap, you know, who did this?”
“He either needs more sleep or to be fired. Or maybe both.”
* * * *
“Well that explains the half-opps-salutes I’ve gotten from four Majors and one Lt. Colonel in the past twenty-five minutes.”
Jack O’Neill started to laugh. “Sorry, the news got out pretty fast. My admin had permission to spread it far and wide because I didn’t want anyone to question the legitimacy of this.”
John glanced towards Rodney, Samantha Carter, and Daniel Jackson. “You knew.”
“Yeah,” they all three said together and then gave him nearly identical smirks.
“I considered doing this in front of the entire base but considering the newness of your bond and the day you had yesterday, Sam convinced me it would be best done in private.” O’Neill met John’s gaze steadily. “The Pentagon would like to extend its full apologies for the misuse of command that lead to your being unduly reprimanded and the four years of bullshit you had to put with after the fact. On July 1, 2004, you were due to be promoted to Lt. Colonel, which you were denied, based on a false reprimand. Two years later, you were up for another promotion and were denied due to the same reprimand. The Pentagon has determined that if you’d been allowed to continue your career path unfettered by dishonesty you would hold the rank of Colonel.”
He paused and carefully removed the gold leafs that adorned John’s collar and then attached the colonel insignia, the silver eagles were bright and polished like mirrors. “It is my privilege to see that rank with all the privileges and responsibilities dropped on you like a very shiny bomb. My apologies if you freak out later.” He stepped back and saluted.
John returned it with a smile. “Thank you, Sir. All freak outs will be in private.”
“Small favors,” Jack said with a grin. “Speaking of, you’re due in the infirmary in an hour. Dr. Beckett owes you a full physical and then wander back up here and we’ll go over your orders, duties, and future headaches with all good speed.”
* * * *
Dr. Carson Beckett was apparently a very good friend of Rodney’s, literally quite tickled to be the primary physician to another bonded pair, and a closet vampire. John dutifully held a cotton ball against his arm and glared after the doctor. He was seriously considering asking for his blood back. It couldn’t be healthy to lose that much at once and for once, it had happened when he wasn’t even shot.
“I’m fully trained to deal with Sentinels so you needn’t worry that you’ll have problems on the mission that I can’t handle.” Carson swung his evil light saber, which he was totally pretending was a penlight, and checked John’s pupil response. “I’ve already added notations to both yours and Rodney’s records indicating your status as a bonded pair and I realize this light is uncomfortable. Just one more.”
John was still seeing little white dots when the light went away. “No problem, doc. You aren’t the first so-called physician that has tried to blind me with the evilness that is a penlight.”
Carson laughed. “Well, I see you’ll have no problem keeping up with Rodney in the smart arse department.” He sat down on a stool near the bed John was sitting on, and started to make notations on a tablet PC. “Tell me about your physical condition. I understand that you and Dr. McKay are sexually active. He’s a fairly endowed man; do you have any problems with rectal tearing?”
John’s mouth dropped open briefly and then he closed it abruptly. “Huh, Doc, you know – I think we need to spend a little more time together before I can discuss such things with you.”
Carson grinned a little and went back to his notations. “Gonna be doing a prostate exam anyways, lad.”
“Yes, well, I still won’t be talking about it.” John focused on the wall above Carson’s head. “Besides… huh… I’ve only ever topped.”
“Well, won’t that be interesting,” Carson mused as he scrolled through screen after screen. “I understand you want to do a baseline today for your physical abilities.”
“Yes, but just for me personally. I’d rather nothing be written down in my medical records.”
“I’d like to be on hand , but I’ll keep the results out of your official records.”
“Thanks, Doc.” John swung his legs a little and focused on his socks. Within seconds, the individual fibers defined themselves, the weaved pattern of the soft cotton became enthralling, and he slipped under fast. He barely heard Carson’s exclamation of surprise and then nothing.
* * * *
Rodney rushed past a nurse and into the exam room. He’d been in the gateroom nearly ready to make a small trip to P90-3X7 when it happened. He was seriously pissed at himself for even thinking about leaving John so soon after his retest. John had seemed fine and had even encouraged him to go. It would be a good test, he’d said, of their mental connection. “Carson.”
Carson backed away and nearly fell as he encountered Samantha Carter. “He was talking to me and the next second he was gone.”
“They pushed him very hard during testing yesterday,” Sam murmured. “Very hard.”
Rodney ran one hand down John’s face, then leaned forward, and pressed his forehead against his Sentinel’s. The connection between them bloomed hard and fast. Nearly thirty seconds after Rodney laid hands on him; John’s gaze focused and took a deep breath.
“Hey you.” Rodney kissed his mouth softly, relief evident in his body posture.
“Hey,” John whispered. He reached out and covered Rodney’s hand with his own. “How long?”
“Just a few minutes. I hadn’t left, yet. Thank God… I don’t know…”
“There are other Guides here. Someone would have been able to help me until you returned,” John closed his eyes and Rodney felt him seeking his mental focus.
“It’s no wonder, really, you’re very tired. That bastard Fordham battered on your shields yesterday like a berserker. I’d like to punch him in his smug face.”
John shook his head. “That’s not why.”
“I had to fight so hard not to hurt him, not to lash out and fuck him up for what he was doing to me. He was so vain and full of himself. He didn’t even bother to reinforce his own shields.”
“So not only were you fending him off, you were fending off his unshielded thoughts, emotions, trying to keep from over testing, and preventing yourself from lashing out at him.” Rodney closed his eyes briefly and then opened them. “Okay, this is what we’re going to do…”
“Those people on that planet need you right? Their shield generator is damaged? It’s making them sick?”
“Then you have to go.”
“I can’t leave you like this.”
“You can if you force me to sleep.”
Rodney’s mouth firmed up and pressed into a thin line. “I’d rather not, John. It’s one thing when I’m here… it’s another when I’m going to be on another planet.”
“You know you can do it. Have Jackson and the Guide on the fifth floor, he’s strong, come up here to watch me. They’ll keep me centered until you return.”
“It should work, Rodney,” Sam murmured. “I would stay as well and make sure nothing happens while you’re gone. You know I’d go in your place but I know nothing about their system. It could take me days and those people don’t have days. Radiation sickness has already killed over a hundred of them.”
“Okay.” Rodney swallowed. “Get Dr. Parrish down here. He’s never bonded but he has the skills needed to back of Jackson.”
He concentrated on John , weaving shield after shield around his tired mind until John’s eyes fluttered close and he relaxed on the hospital bed. It was against every single fiber in his body to leave his Sentinel in such an a state. But his choices were limited. John’s emotional state was tenuous and he feared his own gifts. They both knew he had reason to. John was far more powerful than either of them ever wanted to say out loud. A deep sleep was worse than a fugue state – because most Sentinels could eventually pull out of a zone-out by themselves even if it took hours. This was different because John would be unable to wake up on his own. It would require a high level Guide to pull him out.
“Daniel, you first.”
Daniel crossed to the other side of the bed and after a nod from Rodney touched Sheppard. The blood fell from his face and he closed his eyes. “The two of you are… huh… okay I see.”
David Parrish entered at that point, took in the situation with a sweep of his gaze, and swallowed hard. “Dr. McKay?”
“David. Come here.” Rodney carefully pulled his hands from John and fisted them when they shook a little. “This is my Sentinel, Colonel John Sheppard. I’ve forced him into a deep sleep. You and Dr. Jackson are going to keep him centered on the mental focal point I’ve given him until I can return. I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”
Parrish hesitated. “I’ve never…”
“He requested you specifically, David. John said you were strong enough to do this.” Rodney pinned the younger man with a hard gaze. “I’m trusting you and Dr. Jackson with the most important person in my life.”
David relaxed marginally after he glanced at Daniel Jackson, obviously relieved he wasn’t doing this on his own. “I’ve only done this during training.”
“Daniel has experience with it. Just relax and let him lead. He’ll need your help shoring up John’s shields… without the two of you he will be defenseless against his unconscious and the emotional states of all of the people on this base. I’m going through the gate and we haven’t even tested how far apart we can be before our connection breaks but I think fifty or so million light years is going to be pushing it a little.”
Parrish nodded and reached out and touched John’s hand. He flushed a little and then chuckled. “Excellent focal point. Though I’m not sure I ever wanted to know that much about my boss.”
Rodney felt himself laughing and then he relaxed. These were his friends, colleagues – people he could count on to keep John safe. “Okay, just keep that shit to yourself. I’ll be back in two hours at the latest.”
Daniel and David shared a look and Daniel asked, “Is this a memory or a fantasy?”
“I’ll leave you two to decide,” Rodney said with a small laugh.
Minutes later Rodney stepped through the gate. Once it closed, he stood still for a second and swallowed hard at the overwhelming loss. He staggered briefly.
“McKay!” Sergeant Stackhouse grabbed him by the arm. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. It’s just the first time we’ve been too far apart.” He closed his eyes. “Okay, get me where I need to go so I can go the fuck home. This is very unsettling.”
“Understood.” Stackhouse kept his hand on McKay’s arm as they walked down the stairs from the gate together. “The Colonel will be fine.”
* * * *
“Rodney!” John woke with a start, jerking loose from the near coma state McKay had left him in like it was a nap. “Fuck. Fuck.”
Daniel Jackson was there, pushing him back onto the bed. “Okay, John, take a deep breath. He went through the Stargate. He’ll be back in two hours.”
John shuddered. “He was supposed to put me in a deep sleep.”
“He did. I’ve never seen a forced sleep so deep and strong.”
John turned to the sound of the voice and frowned. “The other Guide?”
“Yes. Dr. David Parrish.” Parrish offered his hand and smiled when John took it immediately.
“I didn’t hurt either of you?” John asked softly.
“No.” Parrish shook his head. “Of course not, Colonel, Dr. Jackson and I are fine.”
“I’ll get up to the control room and call McKay back.” Carter started to leave but John shook his head.
“No, you said those people were dying. I can deal with this for two hours. I’ve been without a Guide my whole life until a two days ago… I can do this.”
“Okay, John, since deep sleep isn’t going to help you and, tell us what we can do for you.”
“Too many… too many normal people. Their emotions are…” John took a deep breath. “There is a woman on the tenth floor, she’s arguing with her husband on the phone and is practically psychotic. She needs to go somewhere else. Somewhere far from me. I can hear her, feel her… fuck.” He looked toward Sam, her eyes went blank for a minute, and she winced.
“Okay, wow, I can barely hear her. I’ll go take care of it.” She paused. “Anyone else?”
“The General.” John swallowed hard. “The General needs to go home. I can’t take… I can’t listen to that gun go off in his head over and over again. He touched me earlier when he was giving me… and Christ, I almost lost it.” John closed his eyes. “Charlie. God, that’s so fucked.”
Sam paled. “I—okay. John. Okay.” She left the room at a near run.
* * * *
Rodney was half-way down the gate ramp when it hit him. He fell to his knees in shock at the pain rolling over John’s mind and Stackhouse was there picking him up. “Goddamn it.”
“Yes. Yes.” Rodney shrugged off his workbag, dropped it on the iron ramp without even thinking about it, and passed his P-90 to a soldier at the door.
The infirmary was a short walk and Carson met him at the door. “He woke the near second the wormhole closed but wouldn’t let us call you back.”
Rodney stopped. “He woke up?”
Carson nodded. “Yes. Immediately. I’ve gathered all the Guides that were on the base.”
Rodney nodded. There were three Sentinel/Guide pairs in the SGC, including him and John and David Parrish was the only unbonded Guide. O’Neill had a habit of collecting Sentinels and Guides and since he’d saved the planet a few times, most everyone let him have his way.
Carson stopped him when he started forward. “He had us send people home, Rodney, in the end close to twenty people were asked to leave the base because they were in so much emotional pain that he couldn’t take it. I’ve never known a Sentinel with a empathic sense before. You didn’t tell us he was a Prime.”
“The Council doesn’t know about it.”
“They won’t learn from me.”
Rodney unbuckled his tac-vest as he entered the room and shrugged out of it. John’s gaze immediately zeroed in on him. “Hey you.”
“Hey.” Rodney glanced around the room and found Lt. Laura Cadman there as well. She was a low-level bonded Sentinel and her Guide, Lt. Aidan Ford, had been hovering near John’s bed. “I see you met our own personal Sentinel sewing circle.”
“Yeah, they are all a barrel of laughs.” John sucked in a deep breath as Rodney thread his fingers with his. “I hate this.”
“Well it’s what we get for letting an asshole like Fordham skip around in your head with his best invading Viking imitation.” He carded one hand through John’s hair and pushed off guilt. He knew he’d had no choice but to leave. “So we can safely say that light years can separate us.”
“Fifty million,” John murmured. “Parrish says you’re the smartest man in the galaxy but even you have limits.”
“If Parrish keeps discussing my limits I’m going to fire him.”
Everyone laughed and one by one the others left until only Daniel and Sam remained.
“Parrish has an unhealthy fascination with plants,” John confided in a whisper.
“He’s a botanist. We try not to hold it against him,” Rodney returned in the same loud whisper. “It’s a soft science, you know, but there is an off chance he’s going to find the cure for cancer on some planet one day.”
“Daniel tried to teach me Ancient. Apparently, he thinks I’m going to need it.” John sent Daniel a look. “It was worse than Korean and that took me months.”
“You learned Korean in a few months?”
“Yeah.” John nodded. “Three or four.”
“Then I don’t think Ancient will be too much of a problem for you,” Rodney murmured. “I’m going to start building you a buffer, alright?”
“Yeah.” John nodded. “I haven’t had a problem keeping mundanes out since I was a kid.”
“The entire base is under a great deal of stress,” Rodney admitted. “That makes emotional responses run high and fast. With what you expended yesterday, protecting yourself from Fordham… it just wore down your shields. We’ll get them back up and it won’t be a problem.”
John nodded. “It’s why I never wanted to be tested again.” He swallowed hard. “It hurt so much the first time. I thought I could handle it this time.”
“This happened your first time testing?”
“Yes, it wasn’t a mental probe but it wore me out—hiding so much.” John closed his eyes; he was already drifting into the buffer Rodney was providing. “No Guide. I screamed for two days. My mother had to take me into the mountains… hours from everyone. It was too much. Life is pain, Rodney. You know that, right? Life is pain.”
“It’s more,” Rodney whispered. He placed a soft kiss on John’s forehead. “It’s love, it’s a really good piano, it’s an ocean breeze, it’s hitting the perfect wave on your favorite surf board, it’s a space walk with the Earth at your feet, it’s making love like it’s your last chance ever.”
“It’s a three hundred year old book written in Old English,” Daniel murmured. “It’s the perfect sunset, it’s making out on the beach, it’s the Great Pyramid at midday, it’s a library overflowing with knowledge, it’s hearing a dead language spoken for the first time in a thousand years.”
“It’s a supernova,” Sam continued. “It’s going a hundred miles an hour on a Harley, it’s a really good beer on tap, it’s the yellow brick road, it’s children laughing, it’s swinging so high on the swing set you know you can fly and letting go to prove it.”
“Ferris wheels,” John whispered. “It’s Ferris wheels.”
* * * *
John paused at the foot of a set of stairs and met his CO’s gaze over the porch railing. “Sir.”
Jack O’Neill tipped back his beer and motioned towards the grill. “I’ve got steaks on, John, figured we’d make a meal of it.”
“I wanted to apologize for yesterday.”
Jack shook his head. “I should apologize to you. I had no idea…” He cleared his throat. “I had no idea that touching you would give you that.”
“Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t.” John shoved his hands into his jeans and looked away. “Yesterday wasn’t a normal day. In fact, it’s been a pretty messed up week.”
Jack laughed ruefully. “Yes. Still, I would never have wanted you to know what it feels like to lose a child. There is no pain like it.”
“No.” John agreed. “None like it at all and for the record—the touching just made it stronger and harder to ignore. I was so shattered yesterday that I would have probably caught it regardless. It’s a powerful and wretched memory to have.”
“Daniel offered to soften it for me once… to mute it in my mind so it wouldn’t be so powerful. I don’t know that I ever want to let go of it like that. You can’t learn from the mistakes you forget.” Jack shook his head. “Beer?”
“Water, please. Beer makes…” He waved his hand around. “Alcohol makes things fuzzy. I just got back on an even keel this morning, no reason to tempt fate.”
Jack motioned him up the steps. “Get comfortable then.”
John slid into the porch swing as O’Neill disappeared into the house. It wasn’t exactly how he’d imagined a meeting with the Major General to go, but he was more than capable of going with the flow. He hoped the week had proven that. Jack came out and handled him a bottle of spring water.
Jack nodded. “Director Morris has called me several times; he’s very upset about what happened yesterday. Sam downplayed it a lot but that doesn’t change the circumstances and didn’t mention the full extent of your problems. He does know you had to be isolated and that most of the floor you were on had to be evacuated. He promised a full evaluation of how Sentinels are tested and Fordham may face a review of his own. Apparently they had no idea he was that invasive during testing.”
John snorted and Jack laughed.
“Well, that’s what he said.” Jack walked over to the grill and turned the steaks over. “You do realize that Fordham was probably onto the fact that you were hiding something from him.”
“Yeah. He knows but he has no proof and I’ll never consent to be testing again. Not ever.” John looked out over the lake that spread out beautiful and blue behind O’Neill’s house. “You’ve got a nice place, sir.”
“It’s good to have a place away from the base to crash when things get to be too much. Perhaps you can talk McKay into getting an apartment or a house—something because he hasn’t lived off base in years.”
John nodded. “I’ll work on it. Honestly, I may require it eventually. I’ve never enjoyed living on a base – the emotions run so high all the time. And with a place like the SGC…” His words trailed off knowingly.
“Well, apparently I’m to thank you and McKay for everyone being in an excellent mood on Wednesday.” Jack wiggled his eyebrows and laughed when John blushed. “So it has its benefits as well. Good for morale, you know.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“So, let’s discuss you.”
“You know I’ve had many conversations that started that way and really they haven’t always been great, sir.”
“You do realize that tacking ‘sir’ on the end of an insulting sentence doesn’t make it okay, right?” Jack asked with a small laugh. “I’ll keep it painless, Sheppard.” He sat down in the chair he’d abandoned earlier and propped his bare feet up on the porch railing. “You’re the CO for the Atlantis Expedition. You’ll share power equally with Dr. McKay.”
“Is a diplomatic advisor and her role on the expedition will be to deal with circumstances that pop up like – meeting non-Earth humans or Ancients. That sort of thing. There was some talk of making her the expedition leader but frankly, I don’t like that. I don’t like a civilian being in charge out in the middle of another galaxy and neither did Sumner.”
“Except Rodney is a civilian.”
“Rodney is a Guide and he’s worked with us for years; since he graduated from college really. It helps that he’s your Guide. I honestly didn’t know how it was going to work with Sumner, and frankly the man wasn’t thrilled with the thought of working with a scientist.”
“You’re close to Carter and Jackson.”
“We were on the same team for years before I let myself get promoted to a desk. I trust them; more importantly, I understand their dynamic. It makes you and McKay perfect to lead the expedition.”
“Weir is a politician,” Jack answered. “A good one. She’s a strong diplomat with amazing people skills but she also has a wide focus and can often fail to see the details in the big picture.”
“Like suggesting that you prevent Rodney and me from bonding.”
“Yeah, exactly like that. It simply didn’t occur to her what that might do to either of you. She just saw Atlantis potentially losing the only man who will probably understand what the fuck is out there.” Jack waved his hand at the sky. “So, there you go. You and McKay. You’ll have fifty scientists and one hundred Marines and twenty-five support staff including Weir and her diplomatic corp. Total expedition count 177.”
“I take it I don’t get Carter and Jackson?”
Jack laughed. “Hell no.”
“Are you sure?”
“Very sure. Currently there is one other Sentinel/Guide team on the mission. I think you probably met them yesterday.”
“Lt. Aidan Ford and Lt. Laura Cadman.”
“Yes, they’ve been together since they were teenagers. Went through college and basic together. There really is no separating them. They are a handy pair to have around. They both like to blow things up, they have several degrees – Chemistry and Engineering—, and he’s very slick with a sniper rifle.”
“Good to know.” John frowned. “I want to vet each Marine going with me personally. I realize that’s a logistics nightmare and something of a bitch but…”
“No need, John. After Sumner’s attitude I understand it perfectly.”
* * * *
Rodney was sitting in front of John’s desk watching him work while he tapped away on his laptop. They both stopped working in the same moment and their gazes connected. “Huh.”
John grinned. “Well, he’s interesting. Do you know who it is?”
“No. We have some new personnel coming in and I know Jack pulled in a squadron of X-302 pilots for an introduction to the SGC to see if any of them want to play with us full time. They’ve found several with the ATA gene in the program.”
John let his mind flow out a little and connected with the new Sentinel. He was strong, at least a level five, and unbonded. He was startled at the loneliness he felt in the man. “Did I feel that way?”
“Yes, worse actually. Much worse, at least to me.” Rodney set aside his laptop. “Let’s go Sentinel hunting.”
John nodded his agreement. “Yes, let’s.”
They were on level four when they encountered Sam and Daniel, obvious on a Sentinel hunt as well. They all four grinned each other as they stood outside the large conference room. After a few minutes, the door opened and Jack O’Neill tilted his head. “Colonels and Doctors. Should I be concerned about your loitering?”
Daniel grinned. “Come on, Jack, let him come out to play. You know we’ll give a better tour than whatever staff person you have assigned.”
“Besides, the debriefing is driving him batshit, sir.” John tucked his hands in his BDU’s.
“The last time I let an unbonded Sentinel mosey around my facility I ended up having to put off my whole schedule while he bonded for a full day with my Chief Scientist.” There was startled laughter from inside the room and then Jack sighed. “All right, Major Lorne, you’ve been sprung.” Jack stepped back and let a man pass through the door. “No wandering around meeting Guides and having all day sex bonding, please. I’ve had my fill of that for the month.”
“No promises,” Evan grinned. “Thank you, General.”
Jack shut the door.
Evan saluted. “Colonels.”
“He’s got a very nice form,” Rodney said approvingly. “We should keep him.”
“You only get one Sentinel, Rodney,” John responded fondly. “Doesn’t mean we can’t keep him, though.” He motioned to Sam and Daniel. “Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter, Dr. Daniel Jackson. I’m Colonel John Sheppard and this is my Guide, Dr. Rodney McKay.”
“It’s a pleasure. Your reputations precede you both. I was very surprised to hear that you had bonded, Dr. McKay.”
Rodney frowned. “I didn’t tell you no did I? You’re high enough… but you don’t look familiar.”
“No, actually my Sentinel gifts were latent until two years ago. I’ve never approached the Council for a Guide. I figured I owed it to myself to learn to deal with what I became before I involved anyone.”
“Wise, but difficult choice.” John jerked his head. “Let’s walk, Major. Sam will tell you all about how awesome the place is and I’m going to watch, and speculate about you the whole time. I’ll probably ask a few horribly invasive questions, too.”
“Sounds like a good time, Sir.”
Two hours later, Evan Lorne was staring at the Stargate like it was the best thing on Earth when John asked him the last question he had for the day. “So, how would you like to step through that and go to another galaxy, maybe we find Atlantis, and some space ships? Meet new people, find new technology, romance alien princesses, participate in kinky alien sex rituals, and stuff.”
Evan turned to him. “You had me at space ships, sir.”
* * * *
“Carson Beckett just quit.”
“What?” John frowned. “Quit?”
Rodney threw his hands in the air and started to pace. “Well not quit but damn it… it’s a near thing. He comes and tells me his mother is gravely ill and he has to go to Scotland. He’ll doubt he’ll return until she is thoroughly recovered or she passes. Well, she has cancer… so he’s not coming back, right? Who can blame him? I wouldn’t leave Earth with my mother sick like that. Well, I would because I can’t stand my mother. But, if I loved her the way Carson loves his—I sure wouldn’t leave.”
“So, we have to find a new CMO for the expedition that is both a good surgeon, a competent general practitioner, and has experience with bonded pairs.”
Rodney grimaced. “He recommended someone. A child prodigy, and a Guide herself, actually. She’s twenty-six, now, so not so much a child anymore but still a prodigy.”
“You were a child prodigy.”
“Yeah, so?” Rodney demanded.
“So stop staying prodigy like it’s a dirty word,” John said with a small laugh when Rodney tossed himself in his favorite chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “Why do you hate your mother?”
“Because she started it.” Rodney looked down at his feet spread out in front of him shrugged. “She never liked me. I was an accident and even when I was little, I knew she didn’t like touching me. We would have both been very happy if Canada had decided to treat the gifted kids the way the US did. They would have taken me and raised me and I wouldn’t have grown up with a snotty little sister who didn’t get the Guide gene and a set of parents who were continually stunned that I lived with them.”
John winced. “Okay. So, your parents are permanently off the table for discussion. We might revisit your sister at a later date.”
Rodney waved one hand as if he agreed. “So, the prodigy is going to be here in a week but Carson is leaving now. I’m all concerned for him and stuff but really I just broke him in and now I’ve only got six months to break in the prodigy before we leave on the mission.”
“Does she have a name?”
Rodney pursed his lips. “Dr. Jennifer Keller. She’s a prominent trauma surgeon, a gifted but unbonded Guide, level five if you care, and apparently she might look like a professional cheerleader.”
John laughed. “Great. I’ll have Marines getting injured on purpose. Is she aware of what the mission is?”
“Yes, she was debriefed this morning. Apparently, Carson has known for two bloody days but chose not to tell me!”
“Well, considering how you’re reacting I can see why. Besides, we were all a little busy the past several days.”
“I’m a shitty friend.”
“You are not. You’ve just been a very busy friend. You met your Sentinel after thirty-two years of being alone, bonded, flew to Seattle, saved a whole planet from radiation poisoning, and helped me steal an X-302 pilot from Area 51.”
Rodney chuckled. “Was General Landry pissed?”
“That we stole one of his squadron leaders? Yeah. Apparently, livid is a better term, but he knew the risks when he sent the man here so O’Neill kept our asses out of the line of fire on that front. Lorne will be back in a day to settle in. I’m going to make him help vet the Marines Sumner had chosen.”
“So, hmm, where is Sumner?”
“He got his choice of postings. He’s in the Middle East being a Marine.”
“Good for him.”
John checked his watch. “Teal’c is going to meet me in the gym to help me with my baseline. Are you game?”
“Yeah.” Rodney inclined his head. “Good choice. He’s likely to kick your ass, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
* * * *
“Dr. Jackson tells me I should expect a challenge out of you.” Teal’c hefted a wooden staff. “I do not.”
John grinned. “I like to be a surprise.”
He really didn’t appreciate surprises though, so he was a little miffed to discover that half the Marines on the base had found some reason to be in the gym during his first session with Teal’c. He glanced towards Rodney who grinned. He hadn’t let go himself physically in a long time and that was a little scary.
“Relax, John, you aren’t going to hurt him.” Rodney pulled out his laptop. “I’ll be dragging you to the infirmary inside of an hour.”
By the end of the first ten minutes, the only sound in the gym was the thud of staff meeting staff. Sam and Laura Cadman had wandered in and were sitting behind Rodney on a set of bleachers. Teal’c was strong, lithe, and very graceful. John didn’t think for an instant he could take the man in hand to hand. After all, the alien had nearly fifty years of combat experience on him.
He knew they were approaching the back wall of the gym and his body was responding quickly to being cornered; very suddenly, he had a lot of energy to expel. He turned, took the wall at a leap, ran up it, and flipped over Teal’c, landing on his feet five feet behind him.
Teal’c stopped and stared. “You surprised me.”
John laughed suddenly. “I surprised myself.”
“It’s an adrenalin response, a very big one.” Rodney set aside his laptop. “We should get some monitors on you for the next session so we can see what your output is and what it does to your heart.”
* * * *
Rodney shuddered and spread his legs wide as John slipped on top of him. “I wonder how many of the mundanes have figured out that our sex life is putting them in such a good mood?”
John laughed. “Not many or certainly we’d get better food in the cafeteria at least and someone would stop leaving the coffee pot empty in the officer’s lounge.” He buried his face against Rodney’s neck and groaned. “Fuck, the way you smell drives me insane.”
“For some, a smell they can’t imagine living without is a sign they’ve met their Guide.” Rodney ran a hand down John’s back and sighed when he started to move. “I love your cock rubbing against me. So hard and hot.”
“Do you want to fuck me?” John questioned in a whisper as he trailed his lips along his jaw. “Do you want to put that gorgeous cock of yours in my ass?”
“You’re a dirty, dirty man.” Rodney accused as he lifted his hips against John’s body as he drifted gently over him. “I know you’ve never bottomed before.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want it with you.” John sat up a little and met his gaze. “I always figured it would too much… too much input and until you there was never anyone I trusted enough with that.”
“You know you’re going to make me crazy.”
“I like crazy,” John admitted a little smug at the desperation he heard in McKay’s voice. That he could make a man like him lose it a little was something of an ego trip. “And I want you to fuck me.”
Rodney nodded. “I’ll make it perfect for you.”
“It’s always perfect with you.” John rolled onto this back and stretched out leisurely.
“You…” Rodney shook his head. “God, seriously, do you have any idea how hot you are? I mean I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a lot in the future.”
John laughed. “I don’t doubt it.”
“I’d think it was just me and the bond but I see the way people on the base look at you. It would piss me off if you weren’t mine.” Rodney nuzzled against the defined muscles of John’s stomach and sighed. “Yeah, I’d probably walk around in a perpetual bad mood. Base morale would go down. Everyone would suffer if you weren’t mine.”
“I know I would,” he whispered as Rodney moved down and sucked his cock in deep without warning. “Damn, Rodney, God your mouth is the best thing in the universe. Best thing ever. I swear.”
Rodney was shaking by the time he ran his hand through the covers of their bed and found the tube of lube they’d used and promptly lost in the bedding only an hour before. He slicked up his fingers and sought John’s entrance with ease. John’s inherent trust of him made entry easy—his body immediately relaxed against the invasion and after a few tentative thrusts of his finger, he added a second then a third finger. By the time Rodney was twisting three fingers and bumping against his prostate, John was lifting his hips and rocking back against the finger fucking. His breathy moans filled the room.
“You are really going to love this,” Rodney promised.
“More,” John demanded. “More.”
“I’ll give you everything. Everything I have.” He moved over him and pressed the head of his cock against John’s opening with deliberate pressure. “You can have everything I was, everything I am, and everything I will be. All of it is yours, John. All of it.”
John arched his back and twisted in shocked pleasure as Rodney slid deep and thick into him. “Yes, mine. All of you belongs to me.” He caught McKay’s hands and thread their fingers together into a tight grip. “Mine.”
“You’re safe with me, John. Every desire, every secret, every ambition – all that you’ve ever been and all that you ever will be—is a part of me and I want for nothing. You filled all my dark and empty places.” Rodney shuddered as he started to move; the sensation of working his cock in and out of John’s body was overwhelming. Each thrust was as if he was reaching out into a downpour of pleasure and getting drenched with it.
* * * *
John circled around Major Lorne, the man was stripped to the waist his own staff weapon swinging easily. Teal’c had been training them both all week and the effect on both men was clear. Their gifts had bloomed under the Jaffa’s instruction and they moved with astounding speed and accuracy. In fact, they had become something of a show for the Marines on base.
“So the I hear the new doctor is coming today.”
John nodded. “Yeah, she should be landing any time now. They are flying her in from Chicago.”
“And she’s going to just pick up and go to another galaxy with us?”
John laughed. “You’re going!”
“I was seduced by space ships. I can’t be held accountable for my decision.” Several Marines who were close enough to hear the Major’s response laughed.
John laughed. “She’s young, she has the ATA gene like Beckett, and Rodney says she’s a genius. Maybe she grew up on Star Trek like the rest of us and is hoping to encounter some hot alien guy.”
Rodney snorted from the bleachers. “Leave us all out of your adolescent fantasies, Colonel!”
“Don’t even, McKay, I bet you had a poster of Spock on your bedroom wall. Admit it.”
Rodney sniffed. “I was actually more of a Next Generation fan.”
“Patrick Stewart then.” John called as he jumped back and the Major missed him. Evan swore.
“Of course, bald is beautiful.” Rodney grinned. “Isn’t that right, Teal’c?”
“You are the smartest man in the galaxy, Dr. McKay,” Teal’s said in his most serious tone as he ran one hand over his own bald head and everyone around them laughed. “Major, you are telegraphing with your left shoulder. Alter your behavior.”
Lorne shot the Jaffa a practiced glare, which earned him the butt end of John’s staff in the gut. “I surrender!”
John laughed and backed off. “Anyone else want to play?” Every Marine in the room shook their head no. “Oh, come on!”
“The last Marine that got in front of you and that staff ended up in the infirmary,” Rodney called out. “I told you if broke one that none of them would want to play with you. It’s your own fault, Colonel.”
“Fine. Fine. Everyone pair up and start practicing. Remember gentlemen, we are going to another fucking galaxy. It would be a real shame to run out of bullets and discover you can’t fight with whatever you can pick up.”
* * * *
Dr. Jennifer Keller did, in fact, look like she might be a professional cheerleader. Blonde, pretty, curvy little figure, and a bright cheerful smile. It was a fucking disaster. John actually sighed when he met her. “Wow, I can’t take you to another galaxy with me.”’
Jennifer frowned. “Excuse me, Colonel?”
John turned to Jack O’Neill. “Seriously, sir.”
Jack started laughing. “John, be nice and say hello to your new Chief Medical Officer.”
“Colonel, I realize I’m young but I hope you don’t intend to hold that against me. I’m very qualified for this mission.”
She was still frowning at him. It was not unlike having a Dr. Barbie being mad at him. “Yes, I understand you were a child prodigy.”
“But I grew up.”
“Yes, and now you’re a beautiful genius,” John responded helplessly. “I’m traveling to another galaxy with ninety-five men and seventy-eight women including you.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Oh. You think I’m too attractive? Well, isn’t that odd?” She blushed. “I can’t get ugly, Colonel, so you’re just going to have to figure something out.”
Rodney started laughing and stuck out his hand. “I’m Dr. Rodney McKay, his Guide, and the Chief Scientific Officer of the Atlantis expedition. Welcome on board.”
Jennifer took his hand. “Yes, I heard about your recent bonding. Congratulations. There is a large topic on the two of you on the Sentinel forum. Lots of speculation and a few pictures.” She eyed the Colonel. “And I must say, Colonel Sheppard, if I’m too pretty to cross the galaxy through a wormhole you’re probably too pretty to even be here on the base.”
Jack O’Neill started laughing. “You know, John, I think she’ll be fine.”
John eyed her wearily and nodded. “The attitude will scare off a lot of the younger Marines. They can’t handle a woman who talks back.”
“The medical degree and the abnormally large needles will scare off the rest,” Jennifer promised as she finally offered John her hand. “I understand you’re a very gifted Sentinel. I won’t be offended if you do not wish to touch.”
John took the hand she offered. “A Guide of your skill level is rarely a threat to me unless they intend to be.” He released her hand and inclined his head. “This is a one way mission, Dr. Keller, we aren’t even sure if we’ll ever come back. Are you sure you want to miss a chance to bond?”
“I’ve met the majority of the Sentinels in the US Program in my age group, Colonel. As with many Guides, I’ve come to believe I will not bond and I’m content to use my gifts in my role as a doctor. I’m capable of offering a great deal of comfort to mundanes and as a doctor that is a very valuable skill.” She paused. “I’m not the only unbonded Guide on the mission, right?”
“No, there is a botanist on the expedition. He’s never been inclined to seek a bonding,” Rodney explained softly. “I think Sentinels intimidate him a little.”
“I’ve encountered many who have felt that way in the past…” She frowned and turned to look at the door as Major Evan Lorne entered. The color drained from her face and he stopped moving completely.
John turned and looked at Evan and then back to the doctor. All of his concerns about the too-pretty doctor slipped away.
“Huh.” Rodney tilted his head. “Should I make introductions?”
Jennifer nodded mutely.
“Dr. Jennifer Keller meet Major Evan Lorne.” Rodney looked at the still non-moving pilot. “Major, be a good flyboy and haul ass over here. She’s waiting for you.”
Evan shot McKay a look but walked slowly to stand by Sheppard. “Dr. Keller.” He looked down at the hand she instantly offered him. “I’m not sure we should do that, yet, Doc. I have a feeling my reaction is going to be pretty strong.”
Jennifer flushed and her eyes darkened. She nodded.
Jack O’Neill sighed. “Great, there goes another day lost to all day sex bonding and everyone walking around like they are stoned and very happy about it.”
Evan inclined his head. “Are you okay?”
“I’m not sure,” she started and then swallowed hard. “I didn’t expect this. I wasn’t told there was an unbonded Sentinel on the base.”
“I’ve been here about a week.” Evan moved toward her and then stopped. “We have a problem, Doc.”
“Yes,” Jennifer agreed. “Just be glad we didn’t meet in a room full of other Guides and Sentinels at one of the mixers. I’ve seen the pairs that meet that way – they always look so distressed and uncomfortable. They couldn’t hide anything from anyone in the room in those first few minutes.”
“We’re among friends; people we can trust.”
“It makes a big difference,” Jennifer agreed.
“I’m in trouble here,” the Major admitted.
Immediately, she moved and reached for him. Her fingers curled around his wrist and Evan pulled her close with a shudder. He inhaled and whispered her name in a shocked tone.
“Okay, yeah, we need privacy,” Jennifer admitted as she pulled the shaking Sentinel close. “He wasn’t kidding about the strength of his reaction.”
* * * *
John tossed his pen across the room. “Seriously, that’s her all by herself right? He’s not projecting at all?”
“Not at all.” Rodney chuckled. “He must be the fuck of the century.”
“Nah, you’re definitely the fuck of the century.” John spun around his chair and stopped at the sight of O’Neill leaning against the door that connected their offices. “Sorry, sir, I can’t believe I didn’t hear you coming or that I said that in front of you.”
“Considering the circumstances, Colonel, I’m surprised anyone can do anything. This is as nearly as bad when the two of you bonded. I had to send half the staff home that day.” He checked his watch. “It’s been seven hours, you know.”
“He’s twenty-seven and she’s twenty-six.” John smirked a little. “I could go all weekend when I was in my twenties.”
Rodney snorted. “You can go all weekend now, John.”
“Yeah, but my knees didn’t hurt afterward when I was in my twenties.” John sighed and Jack started laughing.
“Let me know how you feel when you start hitting the backside of forty like a bottle of good scotch, Colonel.” Jack pulled the door shut with a muttered comment about going home to escape over-sexed Sentinels.
* * * *
Evan Lorne paused in the entryway to Sheppard’s office and waited for his commanding officer to look up before he moved into the room. The Colonel raised his head and raised one eyebrow at him. “Good morning Major, we were beginning to think we’d have to plan an emergency evacuation for one of the two of you.”
“It was a surprise, sir.”
“I can understand completely. I certainly didn’t come here looking for a Guide. That makes you and me very lucky men.” He motioned to a chair in front of him. “Sit, I’ve been working on the list you gave me.”
Evan did as instructed and accepted a computer tablet when the Colonel offered. “Most of the Marines seem to be okay with the officer staff changes, there are a few who aren’t taking it well at all, but they came with Colonel Sumner and would have preferred to leave with him.”
John nodded. “The General and I have already discussed those men. They’ll be given the option of leaving the Stargate program but that doesn’t mean they’ll be returned to Sumner. The Marine Corps will send them where ever they are needed most.”
“Good because I really didn’t relish taking men to another galaxy who think answering to a man in an Air Force uniform is beneath them.”
“Are you and Dr. Keller in a good place in your bond to work separately? Dr. Weir would like Keller to join her at the Ancient Outpost in Antarctica. I told her it would depend on you.”
Evan moved around in his chair. He was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of his Guide leaving him. “We’ll do what is necessary, sir.”
“We’ll give it a week.” John shot him a look. “Then if you still find it uncomfortable, we’ll see about both of you going to the Outpost periodically.”
Evan relaxed. “I didn’t realize I would be so…”
“Possessive? Obsessed? Jealous?” John laughed. “Neither did I. They really don’t discuss that part of the equation in the bond. Maybe it’s a by-product of how we chose to bond with our Guides. I haven’t noticed it in Carter and Jackson.”
“I don’t understand how they can be in each other’s heads and not want to touch each other,” Evan admitted softly. “I don’t know that I could have kept my hands off of Jennifer even if we’d chosen to bond with the platonic ceremony. I’m so deep in her head that I know when she stubs her toe.”
“Speaking of which,” John started. He pulled a folder off his top drawer and opened it. “I need you to sign a confidentiality agreement related to her job with the expedition and the private medical information you’ll inadvertently get from your Guide.” He handed a stapled packet to him. “Read it, sign it, and bring it back to me. Discuss it with her if necessary.”
“She mentioned this last night. I’ll apparently have to sign several of these for the American Medical Association as well. They are very particular about how licensed doctors and their Sentinels function. She’s in the process of registering our bond with them now.”
“Understood.” John leaned back in his chair. “The Council passes on their congratulations but feels no need to interview or test either of you since you’ve both been to a Center facility separately in the last eighteen months. Morris made a joke about the General being a Sentinel matchmaker and suggested they hold the next social mixer for unbonded Guides here.”
Evan laughed. “Wow. The Pentagon would never approve.”
“Yeah.” John paused, his body growing very still. Rodney had been a state of anxiety all morning; snarking at his staff left and right but it had just ramped up into what he could only call full-blown panic. He stood. “Excuse me, Major.”
He knew McKay had dismissed his staff and was working alone in Lab 3; he took the two flights of stairs that separated them at a dead run and the moment he entered the hall way panic bled away to anger and then surprise and physical pain. John didn’t even notice that Lorne was only a few steps behind him as he entered the lab.
“Rodney, what the fuck is going on here?”
Rodney was several feet away from a large Marine; his expression stunned, one hand clutched to his chest. “Sergeant Cole was expressing his displeasure over being under the command of a ‘fucking fag’.”
“It was a misunderstanding.” Cole crossed his arms over his chest. “Dr. McKay took something I said the wrong way.”
“What is wrong with your hand?”
“I think I broke it on his stupid face,” Rodney admitted. “It hurts a lot.”
John almost laughed; but he was very angry and he was trying very hard not to kill Cole for even being in the same room with his Guide. “Sergeant Cole, you’re ignorant of the strength of a Sentinel/Guide bond; that’s obvious. Because if you understood it, if you understood me, you would know that I’m a hair away from killing you for even assuming you had the right to be in the same room with him, much less vent your considerable temper at him.” He looked at Cole then. “Leave this room and don’t ever come near him or any of the other Guides on this base. Pack your things because you are leaving.”
“I’ve earned my place on the Atlantis Expedition.”
“And you just earned yourself a one way ticket out of the Mountain,” Evan jerked his head. “Come with me, Sergeant.”
* * * *
Rodney frowned at Keller but let her spread his hand out. “I’ve never hit another person in my life. I don’t believe in violence.” He glared at John then. “This is your fault. I was never violent before.”
“Just tell me and the General what happened so we can deal with this through the proper channels, Rodney.”
“Cole came into my lab and looked at me like he was disgusted. He was very angry; I could feel it pouring off of him without even trying. He starts ranting about how he goes on a two-week mission through the gate and comes back to find that Sumner is gone and some fucking fag is now in charge of the Atlantis mission. Then he pointed his finger at me and said it was all my goddamned fault that Sumner was gone and then he grabbed my arm.” He jerked his fingers away from Keller. “Hey, Dr. Barbie, watch it.”
She laughed. “Get new material, McKay. Barbie and cheerleader jokes are so old to me that I can’t even properly get mad about them anymore.” She took his hand back. “If you would calm down and accept my connection with you I could subdue the pain centers in your brain.”
“Oh.” Rodney looked at her with interest. “Really, you can do that?”
“Yeah, I can do that. I spent several years being trained to do that.” She smiled when he nodded and relaxed in her hold. “Just take a deep breath for me.”
John waited until he felt the pain subside in McKay and glanced at Keller in shock. He’d heard that some Guides could do it but he’d never seen it in practice. “So, can we get to the part where you hit him?”
“Well, he grabbed me.” Rodney frowned. “That was really invasive and presumptuous of him to think that I would tolerate that. Just because I’m not a soldier… it doesn’t mean people can just grab me and jerk me around. So, I got freaked out when he touched me and I punched him in the face. Then you arrived.”
“It’s not an uncommon reaction to an unwanted touch,” Jennifer murmured as she ran her fingertips gently over several of Rodney’s fingers. “Especially in a newly bonded Guide. It could take months before you can tolerate the touch of anyone but your Sentinel with any kind of patience. Even then it will be distasteful to you.”
“Really, you should actually pay attention to the information the Council puts out about bonding, Dr. McKay.” She smiled. “Good news is that is your hand is not broken. Bad news is that you don’t know how to throw a punch. You’ve strained your thumb and dislocated two fingers.”
“I’ve never hit anyone before, you know. I didn’t even get into fights in school. Most people are really very nice to Guides. They can’t help it.” Rodney looked at his hand. “So, dislocated?”
“Yeah, this might hurt a little.” She jerked his middle finger decisively and John hissed in a breath of sympathy. Rodney barely flinched.
“Your pain management thing is pretty cool. I mean…” Rodney leaned forward a little to look at his hand. “I felt that but it was more pressure than pain.”
“Good. One more and then we’re going to ice your hand.” She rotated his ring finger gently and then pulled hard. The snap of it going back into place was so wretched that she grimaced. “Okay, the worst is over so I’m going to back out of your head and you’ll want to firm up your primary shield so you don’t project all of this pain on the Colonel. We’ll get you something for the pain and an ice pack.”
* * * *
“If he’d hit him back I probably would have killed him,” John admitted softly to O’Neill. “I don’t know what I would have done if he’d still had his hands on him when I walked in. I stupidly assumed that all the men on this base understood that they shouldn’t touch a bonded Guide. Daniel Jackson has been here for seven years.”
“Carter and Jackson also have a platonic bond.”
“Which I really don’t get.”
“Daniel was married when they first bonded. His wife was killed a few years ago but I don’t think Daniel ever really got over her. I don’t know that he ever will.” Jack sighed. “I’ll dust off the Idiots Guide to Sentinels and see that everyone on the base gets a copy for required reading. I believe it’s especially important for all of the Expedition members – especially since there are now three bonded pairs on the mission.”
“Yes.” John was silent for a minute and then he asked a question that he’d been thinking about for a while. “What happens if we don’t come back? What are you going to tell the Sentinel Council?”
“The Pentagon hasn’t decided how they are going to explain your disappearance or your long term unavailability. We’ll be able to keep them at bay for a couple of months—six at the most before we have to admit anything at all. Officially, all three of Sentinels will be stationed at McMurdo during the Atlantis mission. It was a hard choice for them to make, as they really aren’t going to want to admit to the Council that they sent three Sentinels on what could be a suicide mission – that being said we’re at war here and we’re barely keeping the Goa’uld and the replicators at bay. If it’s not one fucking thing it’s another.” Jack stood up and started pacing. “We need to send the best to Atlantis and hope it all works out. It’s all that we can do.”
“I should tell you that most of the Sentinels I’ve encountered in my career would never leave the military on the sole word of the Council. When it comes right down to it, General, I’m an Air Force man who happens to be a Sentinel. I went to Seattle because you told me to. Otherwise, I would have told the Council to kiss my ass. We all accept this status quo around here, but the Council has a little actual power over us. My duty is to my Guide, to my planet, to my country, and to my oath. They don’t even enter the picture on the big scheme of things.”
Jack stared for a few minutes and then nodded. “Sam has said similarly in the past. It would certainly cause a great deal trouble if the Sentinel Council ever decided to try to put themselves in a better situation by pulling the Sentinels.”
“In the past, their advocacy and their protection was necessary. I’ve benefited from the power they do wield in the past, most recently, and probably will in the future. Their agreement with the military currently protects my relationship with my Guide—a relationship that would get me tossed out of the Air Force and/or maybe prison otherwise. I’d like to see a time in the future when we don’t need the protection of a political entity to be treated like human beings.”
“The government went overboard in the beginning – the unknown scares the hell out of people and suddenly we had a small percentage of the population demonstrating gifts of psychic ability and advanced sensory perception that defied what we knew about the human condition and our own history as a species. Granted, you and I know a lot more about our origin as a species than the average man. It’s easy to see that the Sentinels and the Guides both come from the Ancients. We’ve yet to encounter a Sentinel or a Guide that didn’t have the ATA gene.”
“We all come from the Ancients.”
“Yes, some closer to the part of the family tree than others.”
“Doesn’t explain people who have the Ancient gene but who aren’t manifesting Guide or Sentinel tendencies… like yourself.”
“I’m something of a mystery,” Jack admitted. “My gene is nearly as strong as yours but I do not have the Sentinel or the Guide genes in my genome. It’s an anomaly that even the Asgard can’t figure out and they’ve tried. They do believe that the Sentinel/Guide genes, specifically, may be the solution to their own cloning problem. One of the main problems they’ve had with their cloning procedure and perhaps the transfer into a body similar to our own is that the human brain isn’t capable of maintaining an Asgard consciousness. That being said they’ve started to experiment with gene splicing because Guides and Sentinels both use a greater portion of their brain—nearly fifty percent more than the average human being.”
John inclined his head. “So some of the blood that Carson Beckett took from me went to the Asgard?”
“Yes, it’s part of our agreement with them. Don’t worry—we have a very strict treaty with them. They would never make a clone of you specifically.”
John shrugged. “Look, as long as I don’t have to go to a planet full of John Sheppards I really wouldn’t care. And, on a side note, they have to promise that if they do clone me that the clone gets to keep his dick.”
Jack sputtered and then started to laugh hard. “Christ, Sheppard.”
“What? You can’t tell me that doesn’t bother you!” It bothered him and he blamed his Guide. Every time Rodney thought about the Asgard, he fixated on their lack of genitals.
* * * *
“How is your hand?” John asked as he picked up all of the clothes that Rodney had shed the moment he had entered their quarters.
“Not so bad. Dr. Barbie gave me a good painkiller and the ice helped a lot.”
John shook his head. “Don’t call her that; it’s disrespectful and it might catch on with the Marines if you do it front of them.”
Rodney snorted. “They’d only do it once. She really does have abnormally large needles. I saw some of them. One looked like the head of an ink pen it was so freaking thick. She said it was for cortisone shots and stuff. I think she’s injected plastic into people with those things. And for the record, you started that Dr. Barbie stuff in your head. I can’t help that I picked it up.” He watched John from their bed. “You really are a neat freak.”
“Thirteen years in the military, McKay, it gets beaten into a man pretty early on one way or another.” He dropped the clothes in a laundry basket and looked at him. “Do you have any ideas about why O’Neill isn’t like us? His ATA gene is as almost strong as mine.”
“You know Carson Beckett is the same way. ATA gene but no Guide/Sentinel gene at all. Not even a latent or dormant one. What we do know is that we’ve yet to encounter a Guide or a Sentinel who didn’t have the gene. So maybe the ATA gene acts as a catalyst for those who have the potential to be one or the other. Maybe we’ll find the answer on Atlantis.”
“I have a meeting with Dr. Weir tomorrow,” John confessed as he lay down on the bed beside his Guide. “I haven’t even seen her since the day we bonded.”
“Still pissed with her?”
“Her intentions were not malicious so no—I’m not still pissed with her. That being said, she probably isn’t going to like me very much after the meeting.”
“Because I’ve already told O’Neill that four of the people Weir has picked out for her diplomatic unit, aren’t approved by me for the mission. He backs me on the issue and it’s not going to be a great scene. Speaking of which, there are three scientists that I don’t want.”
Rodney sat up and glared at him. “Excuse me?”
“They make my gut itch. I don’t want them on the mission.”
“Kavanagh, Keener, and Phillips. Their personalities are not hardy enough for what we could face out there and you know it. I realize you picked them for their brains, but I don’t see them as people we can count on in times of crisis.”
Rodney sighed and dropped back on the bed. “Okay, let me think about it. Do I get a say in this or what?”
“You’re my other half on all fronts, McKay, of course you get a say. I just don’t want them. You’re welcome to try to change my mind.” John rolled to his side. “So, do you want to go to Antarctica with me tomorrow?”
“Absolutely. I want to get you in the control chair and see how it reacts to you. O’Neill makes it all excited and it hums. Your gene is stronger so that situation is made of win. I absolutely will not tolerate another scientist getting to play with you in the Ancient control chair before I do. I think it might skirt close to infidelity.”
* * * *
“Dr. Hamilton has degrees in psychology and political science.” Elizabeth Weir was stiff in her chair; her posture betraying her fury.
“He also has a substance abuse problem,” John responded coolly. “His drink of choice is vodka and he starts before breakfast. I realize you like the man but we can’t afford to take a risk on Hamilton.”
“You’ve denied four of the ten people I have personally chosen and determined that I can only take five. General O’Neill can’t possible approve this.”
“We need more room in the expedition for the sciences. The five slots from the diplomatic unit will be shared between computer science and engineering. General O’Neill has given me all the authority I need for the Expedition. You’ll have to figure out which one of your people remaining you can do without, Dr. Weir. I understand and value the role that you and your team will play on Atlantis but you must understand that we have a huge task ahead of us.”
“So you’re already giving into McKay’s wants no matter how it might damage the expedition.”
“Actually, Dr. McKay would like me to dump botany, psychology, sociology, archeology, and anthropology.” John raised an eyebrow. “Since that would be ridiculous I told him to shut up about it. We are going to a place that was seemingly abandoned ten thousand years ago. If even half the problems exist in Atlantis that exist with this outpost—we need all the engineers we can get. These decisions aren’t personal.”
“What role do you see me taking in the expedition?”
“I anticipate you and your people working to ensure our survival on Atlantis by establishing alliances, trade agreements, and treaties with the native peoples of the Pegasus galaxy. If the Ancients populated it the way they did the Milky Way, we have the potential for a great many allies and enemies. You’ll do second contact missions – once the military has determined the relative safety of such a mission. You will be our ambassador to a new galaxy, Dr. Weir.” John watched her relax, her pulse slowed down. “I’m not the man you thought was going to go to Atlantis with you and I’m sorry if that has you off your stride. We have to work together, Dr. Weir, I’d rather do it in a way that benefits the mission and all of the people we are taking on a potential one way trip with.”
“Then you should call me Elizabeth.”
“Elizabeth,” John repeated. “Please feel free to call me John or whatever you are comfortable with. I understand that you’ve had very little interaction with Sentinels or Guides – they don’t really allow us to play on the political landscape for obvious reasons.”
“I’ve been researching and reading.” She flushed then. “I would like to apologize for what I said the first day. I really didn’t understand.”
“Most mundanes don’t understand completely and that’s fine. It’s something that we’ve learned to deal with over the years. We can all thank God we’ve moved beyond the point to where we can actually work together with some level of trust.” He glanced back down at his tablet PC. “I do have a question.”
“Dr. Simon Wallace?”
“Sumner initially refused his inclusion in the mission. I’ve reviewed his file and I don’t understand why. He would have been ideal to lead the psychology department.”
“Dr. Wallace and I are personally involved. Colonel Sumner was adamant that there not be personal relationships between the upper levels of the administration.”
“I’m going to review the situation further. I haven’t interacted with the three psychologists currently assigned to the mission yet. They tend to avoid Sentinels and Guides alike. Wallace is attractive to me because he actually has treated Sentinels in the past. Since we have three on the mission… that’s a quality that makes him high on my list of people I want going through the gate.” He watched her eyes brighten but she kept from smiling. “I’m not trying to buy you off, Elizabeth, by bringing your lover along for the trip. At this point, I can’t even say it’s a complete yes. That being said, I’m very interested in meeting him.”
“I’ll let him know to expect you.”
* * * *
The base was one big glass igloo on top of a large hole in the ground and it was a hair above frigid even with heaters. John watched his Guide dart around in a bright orange fleece with affection. Seeing McKay in his element was probably the highlight of the entire trip. He was chatting excitedly, his hands waving around, with a small Czech man that John knew to be Dr. Radek Zelenka. Sumner had refused him because he was from the Czech Republic. John had put him back on the list this morning. Zelenka had met them at the door with a stream of excited Czech that portrayed excitement, thanks, and ire for not being on the expedition to begin with. He came within inches of hugging John but Rodney cut him off easily and without spoiling the man’s mood at all.
They were both circling the control chair and talking in half sentences. Watching them work and talk, John was stunned that Rodney had been prepared to leave the small man behind. Rodney turned then. “We get one personal item for the mission. Radek was going to be mine. Sumner didn’t even know what he was in for.”
John started laughing. “I see.”
“I’m not an item,” Radek muttered but laughed as he walked toward a workbench. “Come sit in the chair, Colonel.”
John glanced towards Rodney who nodded and he gamely walked over to the chair. The moment he got within a foot of it, the damn thing lit up. Both scientists stared at him in shock and Rodney pushed him the rest of the way, and into the chair. It tilted back, brightened, and the small room it was in filled with a rhythmic humming that soothed his very soul. “Is this the way the city will feel?”
“I don’t know,” Rodney whispered. “Tell me what you feel, John.”
“Like I’ve found a missing piece of home.” John took a deep breath. “This is… Rodney… if Atlantis is anything like this it would explain so much.”
“I don’t understand.” Rodney said, his voice straining and John turned him and projected directly at his Guide. Giving him everything the chair was giving him. Rodney swallowed hard. “It’s never done this for me.”
“It’s what you give me,” John admitted. “It’s a very small portion of what you do for me as a Guide. Do you understand?”
“The chair is mimicking a human Guide.”
“Yes.” John nodded. “If the city can do this… it would confirm what we suspect about the lineage of the Sentinels and Guides.”
“Yes.” Rodney nodded and took a deep breath. “Are you ready to interact with it?”
“Tell me what to do.”
“John, think about where we are in the solar system.”
A steady stream of excited Czech and French follow the sudden appearance of a 3-D holographic map of the solar system as it appeared over John’s head. “So, huh, Canada.” He was really going to have to learn French because his Guide used it a lot when he got really excited.
Rodney started tapping on his computer. “Think about Atlantis.”
And there it was, they all stared as a city with sweeping lines and towers sprung up beautiful and amazing in the middle of an ocean of blue. The same blue that John knew so well. The color of his Guide’s eyes. “The Sentinel/Guide Council will have no reason to complain about our going on this mission when they find out.”
“No.” Rodney agreed. “Because it’s our home. It’s the birthplace of the Sentinels.” He reached out and touched John. “We’re going home.”
* * * *
Samantha Carter hovered near the chair. She’d never sat in it and she felt like a fool for it suddenly. Her ATA gene was very weak and she’d never thought she’d be able to work the chair. “John?”
“Just relax, Sam, and sit in the chair. We won’t know if I’m unique if we don’t test it.” John glanced towards O’Neill who looked tense. They both knew that if she reacted the way John had that they would be hard-pressed to keep her on Earth.
Sam slid into the chair, it lit beautifully underneath her, and she shuddered. “Oh God.”
Daniel reacted immediately, moving forward and sweeping his Sentinel from the chair, cradling her close to his chest as a sob burst from her. “Rodney.”
Rodney came forward, wrapped his arms around them both, and leaned into Sam.
“What did it do to her?” John demanded.
“It overwhelmed her; she’ll be fine in a few minutes,” Rodney murmured.
“I don’t understand.”
Rodney stepped back and Daniel took Sam from the room. “Their bond isn’t as strong as ours, John. They aren’t true partners in every sense of the word. The chair offered her more stability and comfort than she’s ever gotten from her bond with her own Guide. It was more than either of them could tolerate.”
John’s mouth dropped open. “The chair…”
“Interfered with their pair bond,” Rodney stared at the chair for a minute and then with a small sound that portrayed curiosity slid into it. It lit under him and spun gently around as it initiated. “Come touch the chair while I’m in it.”
John put his hand on the armrest close to McKay’s arm and the chair responded with a gentle hum. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Sex.” Rodney sat up and the chair responded by spinning back into a position so that he could leave it. “A Sentinel/Guide bond isn’t fully developed without it. It’s why bonds made through sex are quicker, stronger; why it is easier to do it that way than with the bonding ritual.”
“That is…” Jack O’Neill sighed. “How exactly are we going to pass that information along to the Center?”
“We won’t be able to until they are clued in on the Stargate Program and Ancient technology.” Rodney frowned. “However, we can start spreading the words through our own private communities that sex strengthens and protects the pair bond. Most couples aren’t platonic but those that are should at least be informed.”
* * * *
Daniel closed his eyes as Sam relaxed in his arms. “I’m an idiot.”
“No.” Sam took a deep breath. “No, it’s not your fault. It was a decision we made when we first bonded, Daniel.”
“When we first bonded I was married,” Daniel murmured and pressed a soft kiss against her temple. “That has not been the case for four years and I’m sorry. I had no idea that I wasn’t giving you all that you needed from me.”
“No, don’t talk like that.” Sam clutched at him, her fingers fisting of into the material of his shirt. “I promised myself when you came back to me… after you died that I would have you in my life anyway that I could and be satisfied with it. I don’t need more than you can give.”
“A piece of ten thousand year old technology just interacted with you on a level I’ve never been able to. Do you know what that felt like for me?”
“Like I tried to sever our pair bond,” Sam said. She sat up and rubbed her face. “I’m sorry; I just wasn’t prepared for it.”
“No. God, don’t ever apologize to me for that.” He pulled her close again. “I think I just got a very harsh glimpse of what it felt like for you when I died. For a few seconds, it was the most agony I’ve ever known. What are we doing? What are we doing that we would deny ourselves the fullest measure of bonding available to us?”
“I don’t know. I never wanted to pressure you.”
“I heard Sheppard. He said the chair gave him an echo of what he felt from his Guide.” He touched her mouth with shaking fingers and swallowed hard. “Please tell me we can still have this. Tell me that we can fix this hard place that just sprung up between us.”
Her eyes widened briefly and then she took a deep breath. “Let’s see.” She leaned in and brushed her mouth over his. When she pulled back, he followed her and captured her mouth in a deeper and more passionate kiss. They parted, both gasping for air. “Okay, yeah, I think we can totally fix this.”
“Thank god,” Daniel responded as he maneuvered her out of his lap and down on the bed they were sitting on and laid them both down.
“Which one?” She laughed softly as she shifted beneath him. “Your head is full of so many gods and goddesses.”
“I thank them all. Every single one.”
* * * *
“About time,” Rodney muttered from behind his laptop. “I’ve never thought platonic bonding was natural for a Sentinel.”
John laughed and shook his head. “Get out of their bed, McKay.”
“I totally removed myself from their heads the moment I stopped touching them. He just needed me to help with his shields while he fought with hers. I’m not in their bed or their heads. That being said, I’ve shared mental space with them for years and even though he isn’t projecting yet—it’s coming and it’s going to make this whole base smile for days.”
* * * *
Dr. Simon Wallace was one of the coolest customers John had ever come across. His mind was precise and orderly, much like a seasoned military man. His body, like his mind, was well ordered, in shape, and not a single motion was wasted as he moved around his large desk to sit in a chair.
“Elizabeth tells me that I’m being reconsidered for the expedition. I can’t say that I understand that. Colonel Sumner was very clear on his decision and why he made it.”
“Colonel Sumner is no longer in charge of the Atlantis Expedition.” John looked around the psychologist’s office; pleased by the Spartan look of it. He hated clutter and had never understood anyone’s need to collect and hoard things. “We have three Sentinel pairs on the mission, Dr. Wallace, two of them very newly bonded. They will both have been bonded less than a year when we leave Earth. As you know, new bonds are fragile and can cause problems especially in the first couple of years.”
“How are you adjusting to be being bonded after being alone for long?”
John shot him a look. “Excuse me?”
Wallace smiled. “I looked you up, Colonel Sheppard. I’m aware of your circumstances though some things are not public record. I had no idea that Sumner had been replaced on the mission and Elizabeth would never violate the terms of her security clearance to tell me details of that sort. She takes her commitments very seriously.”
“It’s one of her best qualities,” John admitted. “As for my bond, I would only be willing to discuss my situation in-depth with you if you were assigned to our mission and our conversation would be protected under doctor/patient confidentiality. Generally speaking, we are moving through the stages of our pair bond and growing emotional connection as well as can be expected for two men who’ve never had a serious relationship in their lives.”
Simon laughed. “It’s all anyone can really do, Colonel. I can promise that it will get easier and the more you trust each other the better things will be. You know all of this. I’ve worked with Sentinels for a long time… both children and adults. I’ve helped latent adults come to terms with the emergence of their gifts and I’ve also helped older Sentinels deal with the loss of them.”
John nodded. “I’ve read your file as well. To be honest, Dr. Wallace, I didn’t come here to talk to you. I came here to evaluate you so that I could determine if I could trust you enough to take you to another galaxy.”
“Trust me with the Expedition or trust me with your Guide?”
John turned to face him, “In this instance it means the same thing, but you of all people should know that a Sentinel’s first and last thoughts are always centered on his Guide. Every choice I make is about him and his safety.”
“And what have you decided about me?”
“That you’re a good man; you’re comfortable in your own body and in your thoughts. The only part of you that is all twisted up is… your affection and attachment to Elizabeth. It’s something I understand perfectly.” He checked his watch. “I have to catch a flight back to Colorado. I promised my very impatient astrophysicist that we’d have dinner off base in a real restaurant with people who are going to wait on him and treat him like the genius he is.”
“When will I know your decision?”
John paused at the door. “You’ll receive your contract and confidentiality agreements within the hour, Dr. Wallace. You have three days to report to Cheyenne Mountain. Your work will begin immediately. I want the entire expedition interviewed and evaluated by you before we leave.” He paused and he inclined his head. “There is a Sentinel is this building?”
“Yes, he’s in a catatonic state.” Simon grimaced. “He’s been here for two months.”
“Not technically. His Guide was killed. We were told that he has not spoken since.” Simon stood from his desk. “Would you like to see him? Most Sentinels who come into the building request to meet with him if they know that he is here.”
“Yes.” John nodded. “Yes, please.”
He was silent as Simon led him down the hall to a set of stairs. It had taken John an hour to even enter the mental hospital where Simon Wallace worked and as he’d stood outside of the facility trying to push back the smells of death, antiseptic, and the general rot of the human condition he’d desperately wished that he’d suggested they meet over a meal. They went down two flights of stairs and passed through a security checkpoint. Simon explained carefully that most of the patients in the section weren’t dangerous but were segregated for their own protection.
John felt his stomach drop dramatically when he caught sight of the man. In seconds, images of him moving and laughing appeared in his mind and he knew that Rodney knew him. His cell phone started to ring immediately and he reluctantly answered it. “Sheppard.”
“Where the hell are you?” Rodney demanded breathless.
“I was just about to leave the hospital where Dr. Wallace works when I felt another Sentinel in the building. I asked to see him. I’m standing outside of his room.” John swallowed hard. “Rodney, who is this man and how do you know him?”
“Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell. He was with the SGC, lead SG1 for two years; he bonded with someone from off world. She disappeared during a battle three months ago and Cameron lost it. The Center in Denver admitted him for treatment. He was eventually transferred to Seattle. We haven’t…” Rodney sucked in a breath. “John, we haven’t been able to find him. He’s in a goddamned mental hospital?”
“I’ll kill that sonofbitch!”
“Director Morris didn’t tell you?”
“He said Cameron chose to take a leave of absence!”
John pushed back the anger that his Guide was broadcasting in FM and focused on the Sentinel in front of him. “He’s catatonic, Rodney. Wallace says it’s not a zone-out.”
“Well, how the hell would he know? He’s not a Guide.” McKay ground out through clenched teeth. “He’s an Air Force man, a level five Sentinel, a fucking hero, and I’ll be goddamned if you’re leaving that fucking mental hospital without him.”
“I have no intention of leaving this building without Colonel Mitchell. You have my word.” He glanced at Wallace who was staring at him in shock. He closed his phone carefully as if the sound of plastic meeting plastic was more than he could handle. “Dr. Wallace are you going to Atlantis with me?”
“Then you acknowledge that you are currently under my command?”
“Yes, Colonel Sheppard.”
“I want Colonel Mitchell prepped and ready to travel in five minutes. He’s leaving with me.”
“That’s not the name the Sentinel Council used when they put him in the facility. They are going to know that you removed him from the building within minutes of it happening. You know that, right?”
John looked at Wallace with hard green eyes. “I’m counting on it.”
* * * *
Sentinel Fordham, and three others were on the ground waiting on them when they landed in Colorado Springs. The black Humvee from the SGC was parked beside them as John walked down the stairs of the private plane.
“Sentinel Sheppard. We were informed that you’ve taken charge of a mentally damaged and fragile Sentinel without the consent of the Council. We’re going to have to take custody of Sentinel Mitchell.”
“Colonel.” John flicked his gaze at the other Sentinels as three soldiers rolled out of the Humvee with his Guide. “Colonel Sheppard. Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell. The Sentinel Council lied to the Air Force about his condition, tossed him in a facility that caters to mundanes and left him there. As far as I’m concerned, what I do with Colonel Mitchell is none of your business.”
He glanced over his shoulder and watched as Dr. Wallace gently lead a seemingly unseeing and unhearing Cameron Mitchell down the stairs of the plane.
“We are prepared to use force.”
John smiled then, predatory and full of all the malice he’d had stored up on the three-hour plane trip that had brought him home. “I’d rather not have to call Director Morris and explain to him that I’ve killed four of his men but that doesn’t mean I’m afraid to do it.”
“You can do nothing to help him that we haven’t already done.”
“I know the man is a goddamned hero and deserves better than to be tossed in a small, dehumanizing hospital room and deprived of even his own fucking name!” John moved forward when Fordham’s men moved to intercept Wallace and Mitchell. “Don’t. I’ve ten years of combat experience and a profoundly high adrenalin response – you’d be dead before you hit the ground. It’s the only warning you’re going to get.”
All three men stared for a minute and then took a step back as if pulled by one string.
Fordham sucked in a breath. “The Council…”
“The Council will accept this decision or I’ll find a too eager for their own good reporter, and tell him everything. Being forced to hide my own gifts from the council, being retested, and being purposefully broken down by one of my own, in a pathetic attempt on your part to prove you’re a stronger man than me.” John reached out, grabbed a fistful of Fordham’s shirt, and jerked him forward. “For the record, Kevin, you aren’t even in my league.”
“You think you’re better than me?”
“I know I’m better than you.” John released him. “Go home, and tell the Council that we take care of our own. We don’t toss them aside like garbage. Cameron Mitchell is in my custody for the remainder of his life or until regains himself. End of discussion.”
John swung up into the driver’s seat of the Humvee a minute later and looked at McKay through the rear view mirror. “Fordham tried to bond with you.”
“Yes, he was presented to me a couple of years back. He’s corrupt and dirty on the inside. I don’t know how he can stand to be in his own body.” Rodney gathered Cameron close in and tucked the man’s head against his chest. “Wallace, who told you he was in a catatonic state?”
“The head of psychology for the Sentinel Center.”
“They lied,” Rodney whispered. “They lied to you. He’s not catatonic; he’s not even in a zone.”
“He’s searching.” Rodney fisted his hand into Cameron’s shirt. “He’s searching for his Guide.”
“They said she was dead.”
“No.” Rodney shook his head. “Not dead, just missing.”
* * * *
Jack O’Neill was livid. He stood at the end of Cameron Mitchell’s bed and stared for a long minute. The rest of his team was gathered around him – Sam and Daniel were staring at Cameron with the most profound sense of loss, that he could barely stand to look at their faces. Teal’c was sitting in a chair beside Cam’s bed, his head bowed, fists pressed against his face.
“I never should have let them take him.”
“It was standard procedure. He was very upset, difficult to control, and when a Sentinel loses his Guide—they are automatically recalled to the Center.” Sam reached out and touched Cam’s hand. “I shouldn’t have believed them when they said he wanted time by himself. I should have known better. He knows she’s not dead. He wouldn’t have… he wouldn’t have given up on Vala without looking himself.”
“What can we do for him?” Jack asked.
“Rodney and Keller are conferring in her office about possible treatments. Since it’s not a zone out but a self-induced state; they aren’t really sure what they can do.” John Sheppard had been pacing back and forth behind them.
Jack was overwhelming relieved to have the man on his team. The soldiers that had retrieved them from the airport had reported fully on what happened. It had been pretty clear that John had been prepared to fight off four of his own to bring Cameron back to them. Granted, what he knew about John supported that in spades. The Council had not tried to contact the base at all, yet. He figured it was not going to be pretty but he’d be damned if they were going to take Cameron back. He’d send him off world first.
“The Pentagon might try to force us to send Mitchell back to the Sentinel/Guide Center for treatment. If that happens, you’re taking him through the gate to where ever you think is best. That way they can search the facility if they demand it and not find him.”
Teal’c nodded. “Yes. I’ll contact Master Bra’tac and we’ll locate a safe place for his… recovery. We’ll need medical supplies, of course.”
“If it comes down to it you won’t have a problem finding people to go with you to see to his physical needs,” Daniel murmured.
“Tell me about his Guide,” John demanded his voice tired and angry.
“We met her off-world. She was cheating a Goa’uld out of everything he had by pretending to be a Goa’uld herself.” Sam laughed softly. “She robbed Ba’al blind in a matter of days. She was in the middle of stealing a mother ship when we crossed paths. We were actually prisoners on the mother ship.”
Daniel groaned. “She opens the door and struts into our cell dressed to the hilt in leather and looking like a…”
“Alien dominatrix.” Sam grinned. “A beautiful one.”
“She took one look at Cameron and says… Oh, well, I’m keeping you,” Daniel murmured. “He kept her instead. The Pentagon had to do some pretty fancy computer work to create an identity and a life for her on Earth so the Sentinel Council wouldn’t get suspicious about her origins.”
“They were a perfect match,” Sam whispered stroking Cam’s hand. “Passionate with one another, demanding of each other, they pushed and prodded until they finished whatever task lay ahead of them; their bond was full of laughter and just a pure joy of living as fast and as hard as they could.”
“The battle where she disappeared?”
“They were separated and she was taken through the gate. We were fighting a pretty heavy battle with the Goa’uld Yu at the time. As far as we can tell, none of his men were involved in her disappearance. The general belief was that she might have been captured for the slave trade. Yu, himself, has no interest in Sentinels or Guides for his service or as hosts. Whatever has happened to her—it wasn’t pleasant.”
John winced. He hadn’t been able to read a lot of mission reports, yet and he really needed to dedicate a couple of days to learning all there was to know about the situation off world. “And we’ve had no luck finding her?”
“No. None.” Sam shook her head. “We searched for a month after Cameron left but everything dead ended after a few worlds. There is nothing left to follow up. Every team that goes through the gate looks for her, searches for clues, asks questions of the inhabitants in the hopes that we’ll find her.”
“If she could return on her own; she would have by now,” John said.
“Yes. She would have never left Cam on her own and would do everything to come back to him.”
John walked to the bed and stared for a long minute. “I want to take him to Antarctica.”
“Why?” Jack asked.
“Because the control chair could give him a whisper of what he’s missing and it might be enough to draw him out of this place he put himself in. He’s been this way for at least two months – and we all know he isn’t going to find her this way.” John shook his head. “He’s hiding rather than dealing with the loss of her. We can’t let him do that.”
“We agree.” Jennifer Keller slipped past Sam Carter and started to check Cameron’s vital signs. “About all of it –the hiding and the control chair. I don’t know if it will be enough to snap him out completely but it should be enough to give Rodney access to him and force him out of this. The fact is that Rodney could probably force him out without the chair but that would be a strain on his abilities. The chair will provide him a pathway into Colonel Mitchell’s mind.”
“Let’s see what sort of response we get from the Sentinel/Guide Council and we’ll make plans for another field trip to Antarctica.” Jack checked his watch. “I can imagine that we won’t have to wait long. Notify Dr. Weir, I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see us all again. Keller you’ll travel with him. Let your Sentinel know to dress warmly; we’d hate for him to catch a cold before we even finish breaking him in around here.”
* * * *
Director Deacon Morris and his Sentinel were on the ground and demanding entry into the base several hours later. Jack, John, and Rodney met them at the top of the mountain in a small conference room that looked like an interrogation room from a bad cop movie.
“This situation has clearly gotten out of hand, General O’Neill. You must realize that Sentinel Mitchell’s condition is not going to improve and he is our responsibility.”
“We’ve chosen to make him our responsibility,” Jack responded neutrally. “He’s a war hero, Director Morris. A man that has served his country with distinction, saved my life personally several years ago, and made himself pretty damned loved around this base. To find out that a man of his caliber was given a new name, hidden away in a state run mental institution, and left to rot without the care he truly deserved has me very irritated. And when men like me get irritated, things get blown up and people get very dead. So, you must realize that I really don’t care what your opinion of his condition is.”
Morris flushed. “This is a direct violation of our agreement with the military concerning the care and service of Sentinels. We can pull them all immediately.”
Jack smiled. “Sure, you do that and I’ll hold a press conference and tell the entire world what you did to Cameron Mitchell. How many of the Sentinels and Guides serving in the armed forces of this country will fall down on your side when they see how you would have them treated? Your threat is a valid one, of course, some might leave. More than we want could leave. On the other hand, they might all decide to tell you to go fuck yourself and you will have lost your leverage over the government and the military in this country when it comes to the service of Sentinels and Guides. So, you have to ask yourself if one man is worth the risk to you. Because in case you missed it, we’ve already all decided he’s worth the risk to us.”
Morris smiled thinly. “Fine, you can keep Mitchell. However, we are going to recall Sentinel Sheppard and his Guide for further testing at the Center. They’ll leave with us today.”
“No.” John shook his head. “I’ll never consent to testing or training with the Center again. You’ve had the only chance you’ll ever have.”
“I can have you arrested and brought to the Center against your will.”
“Don’t threaten him,” Rodney glanced over at Morris with hard blue eyes and then leaned forward. “Go home, Deacon, before you make enemies you can’t handle.”
“You think you can take on the Council?”
“I won’t have to,” Rodney said with a wicked smile. “Just you. All I need to do is take you apart and it won’t be hard, Deacon. It won’t be hard at all. Your mind has been an open book to me for years. Threaten my Sentinel again and I’ll toss every single ounce of ethics I have out the window and ruin your whole life. We’ll start with the so-called platonic bond you have with your Sentinel. Is your wife so stupid that she doesn’t really know you like to take it up the ass?”
Morris stood stiffly. “You’ll pay for this, McKay.”
“No. You’ll pay for this. You’ll pay for what you let happen to Cameron Mitchell. I’ll make sure of it. Fifteen years ago when we met for the first time you said you’d never want me for an enemy.” Rodney stood and pushed his chair roughly under the table. “Today, Deacon, you made an enemy out of me and mine. You come near John or Cameron again and I’ll take everything from you. Everything.”
* * * *
“He doesn’t know he’s safe,” Rodney met Daniel’s gaze across Cameron’s prone body. “That’s the problem. He is hiding but he’s not hiding from grief like I first thought. His thoughts are chaotic; purposefully chaotic. This is a carefully controlled display of insanity.”
Daniel leaned back in his chair and frowned. “Why would he do that?”
“They must have wanted something from him that he didn’t want to or couldn’t give to them.” John touched his Guide’s shoulder as he sat down in a chair beside him. “Has Morris or any member of the Council expressed undue interest in what goes on here?”
“They aren’t allowed to ask. It’s part of their agreement with the government. Sentinels must be able to serve on top-level projects and obtain high government security clearances but the Council had to relinquish the right to disclosure on projects deemed top secret.” Rodney focused on John. “You think they tried to get him to talk about the Stargate program?”
“I think that a man like Fordham could break a level five Sentinel with only five senses down in a matter of hours. Especially if he’s already drowning in rage and grief. With his Guide gone, Cameron would have little defense against a Sentinel of Fordham’s abilities. But we’re trained – heavily trained to never give into torture and to never allow ourselves to be mentally raped during capture. I’ve been asking myself what I would do if all of my shields failed and I didn’t have you. I think my only defense would be a seemingly mindless zone-out.”
“So their semi-militant response at the airport and Morris coming here personally was to prevent Cameron from waking up and telling us what had been done to him.”
“They sure as hell wouldn’t want it to get out. It would damage the Council’s ability to function within their current arrangement with the government.” John frowned. “Does he still have quarters on the base?”
“Yes. We left everything as it was.”
“So, something that belongs to his Guide would still be in his room? Something that smelled like her?”
Daniel jerked up. “Fuck, why the hell didn’t I think of that? I’ll go check. She wore this spicy perfume she got off world. Drove Cam bonkers.”
A few minutes later Daniel returned with Sam, O’Neill, and Teal’c. He was carrying a red silk nightgown. The scent on it hit John in the face immediately and he nodded. “It’s certainly strong enough. Did you douse it yourself?”
“No, I didn’t want to mask her scent. Sam is pretty sure she wore this and that it hasn’t been washed.” Daniel hesitated and then walked towards the bed. “He’ll think she’s here with him. I hate…”
Cameron reached out, his fingers caught in the red silk and he pulled it from Daniel’s now limp hand with a harsh intake of breath. “Vala.”
Rodney stood and put both of his hands over the fist Cameron was using to grip the nightgown. “Cameron, you’re safe and in the SGC. We need you to let go whatever the hell you’re holding onto in your head and come back to us.”
“Vala,” the whisper was a tortured plea and it was like a punch in John’s gut.
* * * *
He’d never witnessed two General’s lose their fucking minds at the same time, but as he sat in a chair at the conference table while Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell detailed what had happened to him at the Sentinel Center after he was taken from the SGC two months before, he watched and felt the emotions roll over him like a tidal wave. Rodney was shaking in his chair beside him and John reached out to comfort him without saying a word, his hand curling around one of his Guide’s.
“Colonel Sheppard, where is this Dr. Wallace now? We’d like to speak with him.”
“He helped me bring Mitchell home. Then he left to settle his affairs so that he could join us here as a member of our civilian staff. I was in the mental hospital where he worked, evaluating him for placement on the Atlantis Expedition. It’s how I accidentally found…” John cleared his throat. “Dr. Wallace was very helpful and assisted us in every way that he could in bringing our man home. We have the intake records from the hospital so we know that Colonel Mitchell was placed in the facility under the name Derrick Miller almost two months ago.”
“You’ll pass along our gratitude,” General Landry said, his pencil scraping decisively across the legal pad in front of him. John hated the sound of pencil to paper – hated it like few things on Earth. He’d been glad to find out that his Guide preferred a very smooth liquid ink pen.
Landry glanced briefly at Cameron and then looked toward Jack. “And there is no word on the location of Vala Mitchell?”
“No. Every team that goes off world searches and asks questions but so far we’ve found no sign of her.” Jack looked away from them all. “Not going to stop looking. I figure it’s time we stick our foot in the slave trade and start making a mess to see what shakes loose. With the System Lords on the outs and mostly beaten down; the slave trade isn’t as profitable as it used to be. I imagine if we make a big enough mess someone will help us just so we’ll go away.”
“But we won’t,” John surmised.
“No.” Jack shook his head. “Slavery offends my delicate sensibilities and I’d like everyone to know how I feel about it.”
Cameron cleared his throat. “And what are going to do about the Sentinel/Guide Council and Director Morris?”
“Leave that to me,” Rodney held up a hand when Jack started to protest. “We need to act carefully as it is vitally important that the organization be protected. Hundreds of Sentinels and their Guides could be endangered or damaged if things fall apart. I’ll take care of Morris. When I’m done, he’ll have wished I just came to his house and killed him outright. If the entire Council was involved; I’ll fry all of their asses.”
“You believe it’s just Morris.”
“Yes.” Rodney nodded. “John and I will be going to Seattle in the morning to take care of the problem.”
“Do you want a team with you?”
John shook his head. “There is no need to involve mundanes in this. It’s a Sentinel matter from this moment forward. We’ll take Lorne and Keller with us as well—Keller will testify to Mitchell’s condition.”
* * * *
“C’ mere.” John pulled Rodney close. “When we get back from Seattle… I want to try an experiment.”
“Okay?” Rodney caressed his face. “What?”
“When you went through the Stargate—I didn’t wake up until the wormhole closed.” John relaxed on the bed. “I want to see if I can feel the others. I’d like to send them out to different worlds and test it.”
“To what end?”
“Because if I can do it with Keller, Ford, and Jackson—if I can locate other Guides through a wormhole…”
“We could dial worlds we think might have Vala and you can search for her.” Rodney stared for a minute. “Sometimes, I lose sight of what you’re truly capable of. Speaking of which, tomorrow – we’re going to show all of those bastards exactly what we are both capable of.”
John laughed. “Are you going to take over the Council?”
“No. I don’t want to lead it but I’m going to make damn sure the next Director isn’t some power hungry jerk-off like Deacon Morris.” Rodney rested his chin on John’s chest. “I don’t have to say it out loud do I?”
“No, I know you and Mitchell were lovers. Why didn’t you take him as your Sentinel? The potential was there for you both.”
“Yes, potential, but we both wanted something more than what we got from each other. I knew I wasn’t the ideal match for him. We could have been happy together but it would have never been enough. Cameron is a good, strong man and there was a time when I was tired of waiting that I thought perhaps we could settle on each other. In the end, that just seemed incredibly stupid—that either of us would be willing to settle. Then, about two months after we started to cool things off he comes home from a mission with Vala and the moment I met her I realized how foolish it would have been to bond with him when he was meant for her. They were perfect together. Perfect like you and I.”
“Do you think she’s alive?”
“God, I hope so. She’s is his everything. His Guide, his wife, his best friend, his lover, his partner in love and war – all of those things he deserved wrapped up in the same person.”
“If it’s possible we’ll make it right for him.”
“This place has changed since your arrival,” Rodney admitted. “It’s like we were all waiting for you, not just me.”
* * * *
He dreamt of Atlantis – the city of the Ancients filled with wonder, danger, and knowledge. Rodney had said nothing about the dreams but he knew he had no secrets from his Guide and that he was very aware of everything in John, even when he was asleep. The four of them had made the plane trip in relative silence; all lost in their own thoughts and opinions. John felt betrayal and fury from the other bonded-pair.
Jennifer Keller was a doctor, a healer. The intentional damage that had been inflicted on Cameron was at odds with the foundations of her beliefs. Evan was furious – that a fellow Air Force officer and Sentinel would be treated in such a way by the very people that were supposed to protect them all.
By the time, they were getting out of the vehicle he’d rented and walking towards the front doors of the Sentinel Center they were all four fueled by the rage that simmered between them. Rodney had told him not to hide what he was capable of so he thinned his primary shields so that every Guide in the place knew exactly what he was. The moment they entered the lobby he felt practically every person in the building stop moving. The walls and floors seemed to creak and groan under the sudden change of motion.
McKay who normally projected a ridiculous amount of calm and affection even when he was being verbally vicious was practically leaking venom. The Sentinel at the front desk actually staggered back, the phone slipping useless from her fingers. Rodney sent her an odd look as they went to the elevator and hit the button for the top floor. John and Evan both checked their weapons in the elevator but kept them in the shoulder holsters under their civilian clothes.
Fordham was standing in front of the doors when they opened and they stepped out. Rodney balled up his fist to hit the man but John caught his arm. “McKay, you know you can’t throw a punch.”
“Oh yeah.” Rodney frowned and jerked his head. “Go ahead, and make him feel it next week.”
Fordham had just enough warning to turn and glare at John before he was off his feet and smacking the floor on his back with an astounding amount of force. He rolled his head once and he fell unconscious.
“Per the Sentinel/Guide Charter voted on and ratified in 2001, I am calling a vote of no confidence in the current director of this Council.” Rodney tossed a file folder across the table and pages spilled out of it across the bright cherry wood. “I’ve proof, documented, and verified by two different sources that Director Morris allowed a Sentinel to be interrogated and mentally tortured in an effort to gain access to top secret information in relation to the government projects that the Sentinel was assigned to while he was an officer with the United States Air Force.”
“This is preposterous,” Deacon started to stand but his Sentinel put out his hand and forced him to sit. “What proof could you gain from an insane man?”
“Mitchell isn’t insane, you idiot. He faked insanity to escape you. Unfortunately, he couldn’t reverse the process on his own. He woke up yesterday and gave a full debrief regarding his treatment while he was in your care. He implicated both your Sentinel, a man named Giles Kinsey, and Sentinel Kevin Fordham in the attack on his mind.” Rodney snapped his fingers at one of the other Guides at the table. “You.”
“Guide Phillip Nelson.” The man supplied his name in a tight controlled voice. His own temper was evident in his eyes. “I would see this proof you offer.” He reached out and plucked up the papers. “If even one third of what you’ve said…” Nelson turned and looked at Deacon. “The price to be paid for this will be most severe.”
“Guide Jennifer Keller helped document Sentinel Mitchell’s condition upon his arrival to our facility. She also spent most of last night with helping him rebuild his shields with Dr. Jackson and myself. It took all of us to repair the damage that had been done to him.”
Nelson looked briefly at Jennifer and nodded. “I’ve watched you closely, Dr. Keller. I was pleased to see that you’ve bonded so well. Your match with Sentinel Lorne was unexpected but certainly well received. You complement each other nicely.”
“Thank you.” Jennifer moved closer to Evan.
“All of you will drop your shields for immediate discovery.” The term brought the room to a stop but Rodney didn’t stop. “Failure to do so will result in a no confidence action against you as well.”
John stiffened as the minds of nearly everyone in the room were totally open to him. They knew then exactly what he was but it was too late—he invaded, shook lose memories of Cameron with the mental equivalent of a scalpel and then he jerked free of them leaving every Guide and Sentinel in the room that had consented to the discovery shaken.
Nelson cleared his throat. “You cheated us again, Sentinel Sheppard. I see you decided to come out and play today.”
John flashed him a smile. “I’ll never consent to being tested again.” He turned to his Guide. “None of the rest knew what Morris was up to and believed the cover story that he offered about Cameron going on a little vacation to clear his head before accepting a new Guide.”
Rodney nodded. “Don’t even think about keeping my Sentinel. It would be insanely dangerous for any of you to try.”
“No, I can see that and don’t worry. No one in this building except for Morris is foolish enough to even think about keeping either of you. Frankly, between the two of you, I don’t think any of us would survive it. Morris is over confident and he often, as you’ve learned, allows his ambition to impair his judgment.” He glanced towards McKay. “Out of curiosity, Dr. McKay, where exactly would you rate your Sentinel?”
“The scale you use isn’t sophisticated enough to measure John’s abilities nor mine to be perfectly honest.”
“No, it’s obvious you cheated us in the past as well.” Nelson sighed. “Per section 31, part 4 of the Sentinel Charter I call for a vote of removal of office of Director Deacon Morris from both his place as Director of the Seattle Center and this Council effectively immediately. Does anyone disagree?”
“Guide McKay’s word has always been good enough for me. I’ve always found him to be too arrogant and rude to bother lying about anything.”
Rodney shot the Sentinel a practice glare. “Dr. Keller is prepared to verify Mitchell’s condition under oath and under a full scan.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Nelson shook his head. “Your word is good enough for my Sentinel; it’s good enough for me. We would ask you to leave now—the rest of our discussion is Council business. Unless…” He paused and evaluated Rodney carefully. “You plan to join us?”
“No. I have no interest in these politics. If I don’t like the results of this meeting, I’ll be back and I’ll institute proceedings to dismantle the entire council and seat a new one. I out rank every Guide in this room but I’ve never felt the need to use that power against you. Don’t make me start. I”ll drag Ellison and Sandburg out of seclusion if necessary.”
* * * *
Three Months Later
They’d been dialing planets daily, following slave traders, collectors, and various auctions based on information culled by different off world sources. John had counted close to one hundred and each time they did it – he reached out with everything he was while Cameron Mitchell stood silent and aching beside him. It had become such a ritual with them that Walter in the gateroom often came up to the control room after hours to help them with it. This was just such a night. They’d dialed six planets already and Cameron’s jaw got tighter with each dial out.
Planet 98. It wasn’t even feeling insane yet. He watched the swoosh of the Stargate and let his mind go –and he immediately slammed right into her. It was so stunning that he fell forward in his chair and called out for his own Guide in utter horror. A part of John had thought they’d never actually find her with his weird game of hide and seek with the gate system. But there was no mistaking the ravaged and bonded mind of Vala Mitchell. Cameron was weaved into her very soul.
He woke the whole base without even meaning to, projecting success and urgency with such strength that two teams of Marines surfaced in the gateroom armed to the teeth with enough weapons for a small scale war and attitudes that screamed ‘give me a reason’ in under ten minutes. By the time, O’Neill made it to the control room; they were all geared up. John was checking his Guide’s P-90 like Rodney hadn’t been going through the gate for several years and they still had the original dial out open. They had ten minutes left on the window and they hadn’t wanted to risk them leaving through the Stargate so they hadn’t shut down while they got ready.
Both men turned and looked at O’Neill from the gate ramp. “Yes, Sir?”
“Bring our girl home and don’t bother being friendly about it.”
It was the tenth time John had stepped through the gate and the first time he’d gone through with the intention of behaving very badly. They pushed through ten men on the gate; the Marines making quick work of the barely trained soldiers that had been trying to protect the gate with stolen Jaffa staff weapons. Vala had been gone almost seven months at this point so they didn’t expect to find her in good condition. That she was alive was more than any of them had even hoped for; though no one had ever said it out loud.
They heard her first, screaming for Cameron… she’d started screaming the moment he stepped through the gate. The camp was a half a mile from the gate but for the two Sentinels leading the assault that distance was nothing. John and Cameron moved ahead at a fast pace while Rodney and Lorne stayed behind to coordinate the defense of the gate. No one was getting the chance to leave with her again.
The six men in the camp tossed their weapons and fell flat on their faces the moment they saw them; leaving John and Cameron slightly disgruntled at the lack of a fight but free to go to the ten wooden cages that housed over twenty women. He found her in the fifth cage; her hands were reaching for him through the bars before he could break the lock off with butt of his weapon.
“I’m here, baby, let me get this.”
Vala pulled her hands back and shoved the three women with her in the cage backward as Cameron shot two rounds into the lock and it fell free. She launched herself at him as soon as she could and clutched at him with shaking hands.
“Kill them. Kill them all.” She sobbed. “Kill them.”
Cameron clutched at her and after a moment tilted her head back so he could look at her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Give me your gun.” He pulled his 9mm from his leg holster without blinking and handed it to her without hesitation. She walked to the men on the ground, the slave dress she was in, hung on her too thin frame in tatters. Vala pointed the weapon at one man. “Get up, Karlon.” The man rolled to his feet and stared at her. She pushed back her hair as Cameron came to stand beside her. “I told you the day you bought me that I was going to kill you. Do you remember that?”
“I’ve told you every single day since then that if it was the last thing I did in this fucking galaxy I was going to kill you.” Her hand started shaking and slowly she lowered it and started to fire. One knee, then the other, the groin, and then two in the stomach. “It’ll take you hours to die and it still won’t be enough for what you did to me. Nothing, no pain you could suffer will ever be enough.” She waved the gun. “Get up. All of you get up.” The rest got head shots, quick clean – bodies falling to the ground even as John released the rest of the women in the cages.
She handed the gun back to her Sentinel silently. Cameron put a fresh clip in it and handed back. “Let me take you home.”
“Yes. Yes, please.”
They were all the gate before she even looked at John Sheppard. “You found me.”
“You belong to McKay.”
She nodded. “Later, I want to hear that story.”
“We’ll have story time,” John agreed. “For the record, you are so much kick ass that I don’t even know where to start.”
Vala shot him a look. “I’m not done. I made a list. I’ve got gate addresses, names, and so many people that need killing it could take a year or two.”
“Sounds like a party. I love parties.” John waited while the gate was dialed and looked around to all the men. The air was full of gunpowder and deadly satisfaction. “Lorne, you’ll stay back with the other women and help them with the gate. I’ll send Keller back through for medical.”
“Marines, was a good time had by all?”
“Everyone get dead?”
“Then haul ass home. The General hates to wait.” John paused at the event horizon and sought his Guide. Rodney immediately moved to his side. “You know, this whole Stargate thing is made of win.”
“Yes, yes it is,” Rodney said with a smile.
John glanced to his right where Vala stood, her face tucked against her Sentinel. “Guide Mitchell, after you.”
She stepped back from Cameron, shook back her hair, and took a breath. Then with one last look at the planet she’d lost almost her life to – she turned and walked through the gate.
Cameron reached out and touched John. “There is nothing I can ever do – nothing to repay you for this. Sheppard, God, you’ve saved my life twice since we met.”
“Make sure I get an invite to all of your wife’s parties. I like the way she dances.”
* * * *
“How is she?”
Rodney shook his head. “Being in captivity can break the strongest of people, John. I’ve always thought that Vala was made of some pretty stern stuff but when I touched on her mind tonight, all I saw was devastation and anger. She’ll have a long road back but she has her Sentinel back and they share a profound bond. I believe together they will both heal from this.”
“The Center formally appointed Guide Nelson to the position of Director today. Morris and his Sentinel were removed from service – and can no longer work as a bonded pair.”
“Not good enough.”
“No,” John admitted. “Not nearly good enough. I don’t know what punishment they could suffer that would be enough.”
“A forced severing of their pair bond comes to mind.” Rodney closed his laptop and stood up from the desk. “I think Mitchell wants to go to Atlantis with us.”
“If it holds the promise that we think it does—I believe it would go a long way towards healing both him and his Guide,” John said as he held out his hand for Rodney. “Come – Sam, Laura, and Evan told me they were going to spend the rest of the night wrapped around their Guides. Let’s project all the pleasure, safety, and love we can on Cameron and Vala.”
“Wow, did you warn the General?”
“He sent everyone that has off-base residences home and warned the rest that things were going to get very mellow around here.” John sighed when Rodney slid on top of him. “Let’s remind them how perfect they are together. Perfect like you and me.”
“I can feel them already,” Rodney admitted. “Keller and Jackson the most.” He lowered himself and sighed when they were pressed fully together. “I love you.”
John pulled him in for a kiss. “Yes, I know. It’s been between us since the beginning. So much love and lust. I’ve loved before but nothing in my past prepared me for the way I feel about you.”
“Let’s give Cam and Vala all of that,” Rodney whispered. “Everything. Let’s give them everything.”
“Yes.” John nodded as he rolled them over and sought his Guide’s mouth.
They could do this. They could let their love and their passion for one another flow over the other couple like a tidal wave. Help heal the wounds and damage done to their minds by months of torture and separation.
Touches and kisses turned desperate with each passing minute; the emotions and passions of the other bonded pairs on the base were flowing over them as well. By the time John slid deep into his lover his whole world was centered on the sounds, sights, and heady smells of the man beneath him. Nothing else mattered – nothing else could ever matter as much as his Guide.
* * * *
One Month Later
John paused on the iron ramp that lead up to the inactive wormhole. “Good afternoon, everyone!” Soldiers saluted and scientists waved. He almost laughed. “Dr. Weir, Dr. McKay if you would join me.” They both moved into position behind him and John looked over the crowd feeling their excitement, their dread, and their curiosity in equal measure. “Today, we are going on a field trip to a place that is pretty damn far. If you need exact numbers—there are several people on hand who would be happy to give you the number right down to the last light year. I don’t know what we are going to find on the other side of the event horizon. I don’t know that we’ll be able to return to Earth. What I do know is that I am honored that each and every one of you is taking this trip with me. I also know that because of your talent, intelligence, dedication, and courage that this mission is going to succeed. If you will give your attention to Dr. McKay he’s going to go over the final transfer process one more time.”
“We will be sending through a MALP to determine if the location on the other side of the event horizon is capable of sustaining human life. If it is, we will start moving personnel and supplies through the wormhole as fast as we possibly can with reasonable safety. All of you know your responsibilities to this and please be aware that we only have 38 minutes to get everything and everyone to the other side of the event horizon. We have enough power in the ZMP to do this once.” He turned to Elizabeth. “Dr. Weir?”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “We are undertaking the mission of a life time and like Dr. McKay and Colonel Sheppard I am honored to be going on this journey with you. Whatever we find on the other side of the looking glass today – I believe it will be to the benefit of our people and our planet. You are the best of the best, the brightest minds, the strongest and most dedicated fighters, and I have every confidence in all of you.”
“Walter, let’s dial it up and take a look.” John turned to watch the gate turn and as each chevron encoded his body relaxed a little more. They were going to do this. “Sentinels and their Guides to the front please. Dr. Weir, you’ll lead the second volley through after we’ve determined that it is safe.”
The wormhole engaged and everyone behind him sighed with relief but he didn’t miss the fine layer of terror that settled over some of the people behind him. There were plenty, he thought, that though the gate address wouldn’t work. John watched the MALP go through and tried to keep his own nerves in check. He was more than a little desperate to get this show on the road.
“Conditions at the destination are dark but clear of containments, oxygen levels are good. You have a go, Colonel Sheppard.”
John shot glances at Major Lorne and then Colonel Mitchell. Both men nodded and checked their weapons. His hand sought Rodney’s and he took a deep breath as their fingers slid together. “Let’s go people.”
Go to Episode Two: The Chair