Title: The Spirit
Author: Keira Marcos
Beta(s): Ladyholder and Chris King
Fandom: Sentinel/Stargate Fusion
Pairing: Mckay/Sheppard, etc (see series page)
Series: Sentinels of Atlantis
Series Order: 18
Word Count: 9,685
Rating: R (for violence)
Warnings: Violence, adult language
Summary: John takes the Sentinels off-world for training and Rodney explores the depth of his bond with his Sentinel when they are forced to stay apart. On Earth, Jack and Andy meet up with something entirely unexpected on the streets of Colorado Springs.
* * * *
Rodney was uncomfortable behind the desk he and John were supposed to share in the office above the gateroom. The fact was that he fully expected John to take care of much of what was their dual role because it fell in line with his duties as the military leader. But, John and the rest of the Sentinels from Earth were off-world with Ronon and Tyre doing some warrior-Sentinel bonding thing to do with his being their Alpha that he really didn’t understand and none of them had been able to offer a satisfying explanation. Even Radek and Elizabeth had gone through the gate—leaving all the Guides behind. It was disconcerting to say the least.
Vala and Jennifer were sitting on the stairs in front of the gate glaring at it like it was the very root of evil. Graham and David were sitting on the command deck despite the fact that neither one of them had to damn thing to do with the running of the gateroom. Peter was alternating between pacing on the balcony and sitting in the office across from Rodney glaring at the floor.
The only ones who seemed to be at all comfortable were Teyla and Simon Wallace. The man was so fucking Zen that Rodney wanted to take potshots at him with the Wraith stunner he’d taken from the labs to study while he brooded in John’s office. The psychologist was currently on the balcony behind the gate with Teyla doing some kind of martial arts exercise. Rodney liked the discipline and movements that Teyla brought to the table on that front and had done the routines with her when time allowed. He just couldn’t figure out how the two of them could calm down enough to do it. It had been twenty-two hours since the Sentinels had gone through the gate.
Rodney had been separated from his Sentinel for longer periods of time and it had never made him feel this on edge. He looked up when a throat cleared noisily in the door way of the office and he sighed at the sight of Ford. The young Marine was normally quite easy to deal with, both as a member of the expedition and as a Guide. He was disciplined with his mind and dedicated to his Sentinel. They were a good, solid pairing and Aidan never seemed to have any problems keeping Laura centered and focused.
“I’ve had about all I can take.”
Rodney nodded his agreement. “Something is wrong, right?”
“They haven’t missed their check-in,” Aidan admitted grudgingly. “It’s due in two hours but something is really…” He trailed off when Teyla appeared at his side.
“Wrong,” Teyla finished and took a deep breath. “Yes, something is wrong. We should dial the ring and retrieve them. They had no business leaving us behind.”
So, apparently she’d been faking. Rodney stood up and sighed. “Let’s go dial in and see what the hell they are up to.”
Chuck was already dialing when Rodney made it to him and only hesitated briefly in pressing the final symbol but continued at McKay’s sharp nod. The wormhole established and Rodney activated his radio.
“Colonel Sheppard, this is base. Please respond.” There was a burst of static over the signal and then nothing. Rodney’s nostrils flared in a mixture of ire and worry. “Colonel Sheppard. Respond.”
Jason Markham flinched from his place beside McKay at the use of the Guide voice and then walked away with a radio in hand—calling out orders after a shared glance with Ford who could only nod.
“Goddamnit, John, respond!” His voice was so rich with empathic power that several people in the room went weak in the knees.
“This is Chief Cowen of the Genii.”
Rodney’s stomach dropped into his feet and he reached out to brace himself against a console. “This is Dr. McKay. What have you done with Colonel Sheppard?”
“We hold the gate,” Cowen said simply. “They will not escape this planet without paying for the crimes they have committed against my people.”
“You are a fucking idiot,” Rodney seethed through clenched teeth. “Haven’t you killed enough of your people with your greed?”
“There are but a few of your people here. We outnumber them greatly, Dr. McKay. I do hope you said your goodbyes because Colonel Sheppard isn’t going to leave this planet alive.”
“You’d better hope otherwise,” Rodney responded his voice low and dark. “His belief that most of your people are innocent is the only reason why I haven’t bombed your ridiculous backwards society off the face of that miserable little planet you call home.” He cut the radio connection with a muttered curse. “Markham, can we launch an UAV so we can contact them? Whatever technology the Genii are using to prevent us from talking to them can’t be all that advanced and can probably be circumvented with a UAV.”
“It’s on the way up, sir.” Markham took a deep breath. “I’ve also prepped teams 4 and 6. You should switch to another channel and try the Colonel again.”
“Right. Even if they don’t need radios to talk to each other they would have all switched to the secure channel when their situation was compromised.” Rodney turned back to Chuck and they quickly made the changes in the system. He activated his radio. “Colonel Sheppard, this is base. Please respond.”
“McKay.” The stark relief in his Sentinel’s voice was a new kind of horror. “They used some kind of chemical weapon on us. Ronon doesn’t recognize it but its… we’re all blind.”
Rodney reached out to steady himself against the console. “All of you?”
“We pushed Elizabeth and Laura really far out ahead of us so they didn’t get the same dosage of the chemical as we did. They can see shapes but that’s about it,” John admitted roughly. “There are no burns that we can feel and it doesn’t hurt—its feels like a weapon designed to neutralize us. They haven’t tried to kill us, yet. In fact, they’ve given us all the space we need since they used the chemical on us.”
Rodney’s stomach clenched tighter. “Like they are waiting for something?”
“Yes.” John’s voice was neutral. “They are definitely waiting for something. They expect the Wraith to dial in at any minute. Cowen doesn’t seem to understand that we can hear him. He’s arrogant bastard. I’m really going to enjoy killing him.”
“Right.” Rodney took a deep breath. He turned and found Miko hovering at his side. “We need that program the SGC designed to rapid dial the gate—the one from when Sokar attacked. You helped work on that, right?”
“Yes,” Miko nodded and went to Chuck. “We have to keep the gate busy.”
“Very busy,” Rodney agreed.
“McKay, we need to power the gate directly with a generator. The rapid dialing program will tax the ZPM. A direct connection to the gate would be less of an energy drain,” Graham offered from his place in front of a darkened console.
“Yes, agreed,” Rodney agreed and cleared his throat. “Okay. Okay.” He snapped his fingers at a Marine near him. “Jenkins? Right. Jenkins, go to Lab 4 and retrieve that generator we picked up on Sateda. It’s big—take help.”
It was their chance home—the one John had been holding in reserve in case the Wraith found them. There was no guarantee it would work but it was better than having no plan at all. He glanced towards the gate just in time to see the UAV launch and winced at the noise.
He glanced towards Chuck who had jerked violently in his chair. “Sir, Chief Cowen is threatening…”
“Right.” Rodney motioned him to activate the channel because he wasn’t going to give up his connection with John on his own radio. Cowen’s voice filled the gateroom.
“What did you send through the ring? I’m going to kill them all, McKay!”
“Shut up,” McKay snapped. “I don’t care how many men you have on that planet. I know you’re afraid of Colonel Sheppard. You saw the men and women they returned to your planet—you saw how they were killed. It took us four days to get the blood off the floor and walls. I have news for you, Cowen, that was the work of three of them.” He waved his hand and Chuck muted the transmission on the main channel. “John.”
“How are you on supplies? Ammo?”
“Good. We’re real good,” John admitted. “You launched a UAV. Are you getting any data that is useful?”
Rodney went to the console where the UAV was sending data and started to review it. “I’m counting forty-six life signs immediately around the gate and then I see a pocket of… I see where you and others have dug in. The animal life is minimal around the gate at this point. The chemical they used… it’s botanical, similar to mangrove sap on Earth. They weaponized it but the concentration is very low. I estimate it’s going to start to fully dissipate in the within the next three hours based on the results the UAV is sending back.”
“The Wraith will be here before then.”
“No, they won’t. We’re going to keep the gate busy. You just kill anyone that isn’t friendly that gets near you, John. Don’t hesitate, I mean it.”
“I won’t,” John promised. “Get the other Guides on their private channels, Rodney. We could all use the connection.”
“On it.” Rodney went back to Chuck and they started to rearrange the signal until it could support and encrypt ten channels. “Done. It’s as private as we can make it under the circumstances, John. Cowen is still screaming at me on the other channel. When you find that bastard, I want you to kill him so hard that people on Genii feel it.” He glanced briefly around the room to confirm that all of the Guides were on task and engaging their Sentinels in conversation. “How do your eyes feel? Does it hurt?”
“Not at all. It’s surprising.” John took a deep breath. “How did they find us, Rodney? How did they know we’d be here? Are all of the Athosians accounted for? Did they capture another one of the traders that goes off-world?”
“No, the schedule is clear. Everyone is home and accounted for.” Rodney sat down in a chair near the DHD so he could help Chuck dial manually when the time came. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Miko working on the program—integrating it into Atlantis’ systems but she wouldn’t be done before the first thirty-eight minutes was up. “What about the planet itself? Is there evidence of occupation?”
“Looks like hunting parties from off-world visit often but the gate wasn’t dialed after we arrived until the Genii came through. No one would have had a chance to contact them.” John exhaled in frustration. “I think that asshole, Cowen, just likes to hear himself yell. He’s threatening dire consequences if you don’t release the gate.”
Rodney snorted and stabbed at the radio button to unmute the channel Cowen was still on. “Are you really under the impression that you scare me?”
Cowen sputtered. “They won’t leave this planet alive—McKay—I’m going to kill him for what he did to my people. Then we’re going to come for you and take our city.”
“I could dial your home world up right now and send weapons through the gate so advanced that your people would barely know what hit them before they were all dropping dead,” McKay returned icily. “There would be nothing you could do about it, Cowen. You and your people are defenseless against us—yet we let you live after you invaded us. We let you continue to plot and wreak havoc after you tried to send a nuclear weapon through our gate.”
“I have him, McKay. Your mate. I have him and I don’t see you doing anything about it.”
McKay’s gaze narrowed and he hit the mute button. “John?”
“You have a few options,” John began roughly. “You can use the UAV to paint a few targets surrounding the gates and then fire several missiles through the wormhole. The noise will be horrific for us but only Ronon and Tyre haven’t been trained for that kind of noise. We can get them to dial their hearing down to zero—difficult in the circumstances because all of our senses are maxed out to make up for the loss of sight.”
“Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind to just start tossing grenades through the gate and seeing how much they like that!”
John laughed softly. “Ah, McKay, I really love you.”
“Yes, well, I really love you back and I’m precariously close to losing my temper with this moron standing between me and what is mine.” Rodney frowned and unmuted Cowen’s channel. “Shut up, I don’t see how your own people haven’t killed you just to get some peace and quiet.”
“You will take me seriously!”
Rodney couldn’t think of a single reason he should—Cowen certainly wasn’t taking him seriously as a threat. Without meaning to, his voice dropped, and his next words were laden with empathic weight. “Before this day is over, I will stand over your corpse while my mate bathes in your blood.”
People all over the gateroom flinched, because Cowen might not have understood the significance of the words—but very few people on Earth would fail to recognize the primal level of the threat. John growled and Rodney closed his eyes. There was so little he could do for John, as a Guide, in their current circumstances. He knew that he could push John into a feral combat drive and thought it might come to that. It was horrifying because all of the Sentinels in the pride would follow their Alpha into that primitive state—without a single Guide on the planet to offer any kind of psionic refuge.
A warning alarm on the DHD warned them that the wormhole was about to fail. Rodney cleared his throat, disturbing the silence that had reigned even on Cowen’s end of things. He closed the radio connection with the Genii and focused on John. “The wormhole is going to disengage in thirty seconds, John. We’re going to dial back immediately to keep the gate busy. If the Wraith get through before us, do whatever you need to do to survive and don’t let them take you off the planet. Do you understand me, Sentinel?”
“I understand, Guide,” John whispered fiercely.
Rodney stood seconds before the wormhole blinked away, prodded Chuck out of the way, and started to dial the gate—working through the address as quickly as he could. The chevrons engaged far slower than he would have liked and he could only slump in relief when the wormhole swooshed out of the gate. He held up a hand when Chuck started to open the radio connection. He activated the radio personally—making sure to keep their end of the communication muted.
“This is Chief Cowen with the Genii. We’ve trapped the individuals you wanted and we are prepared to trade them as arranged. There is clearance at the gate and you send through your ships to cull them.”
Rodney tapped his chin and frowned deeply. He already knew that the Wraith were involved but he had to wonder what Cowen was going to take in trade from a Hive. The fact that the Genii were so fucking corrupt that they would actually give other human beings to the Wraith was so offensive and horrible that it was almost incomprehensible.
Teyla shifted to his side and she exhaled sharply. “I never suspected they were such people, Rodney.”
“Negotiating with them seems impossible.”
“Agreed.” Rodney nodded. “They aren’t to be trusted and we can’t let them leave that planet—we can’t risk letting go of the gate.”
“I agree,” Teyla whispered. “Ronon said his vision was still clouded but he could see shapes and shadows in the last few minutes before we were forced to cut communication.”
Rodney nodded. “He might recover faster because he’s native to this galaxy.” He looked around the gateroom and found Peter hovering just a few feet from him. “What did Tyre say?”
“He isn’t able to process any visual stimulation. His hearing and his touch senses were dangerously closely to spiking.” Peter’s jaw tightened. “He hasn’t had enough training. I shouldn’t have…”
“Peter.” McKay cut him off. “Establishing your bond and shoring up his emotional stability was your only choice. Training and teaching him to use his skills as a Sentinel had to come second to that. Do you think, for a single minute, that the rest of us didn’t know, deep down in our bones how much he hurt? How much surviving cost him? Because, trust me, we all knew. We all saw it. You’ve made his world new—the training will have its place. He’s not alone in the field. The others will take care of him and if he goes… feral… frankly, sensory spikes will be the last of his concerns.”
Peter nodded. “Right.” He crossed his arms and moved to stand near Simon Wallace who was staring longingly at the communication that Rodney still had running silent.
Rodney activated the channel. “A man who would make deals with the Wraith deserves no mercy and no salvation.” He ignored Cowen’s stuttered response and muted the channel on their end before activating the private channels instead. “Get them ready—Teyla, Peter—prepare your Sentinels for a very loud noise. Get them maneuvered into position beside Elizabeth and Radek. Jennifer, Vala—let Evan and Cameron know that they’ll need to be close to all four of them in case they zone on the noise.” He activated John’s channel on his own headset then. “John, we’re going to launch a weapon at them—Markham has a few choices available to him. I think he actually brought a grenade launcher up here.”
“It would be a better choice,” John admitted. “Low range, limited bang compared to some of our more advanced weapons, and deadly. You could eliminate easily fifty percent of their contingent in a single volley.” He paused and then continued in a lower tone of voice. “Did you want me to give the order, McKay?”
“I can do it.”
“There is already a lot of blood on my hands, Guide.” John took a deep breath. “I can handle it far better than most.”
“I won’t lose sleep over this,” Rodney admitted as he watched Markham and the unit of Marines he’d brought up from the armory set up. “They’re ready. I want you to dial your hearing down to at least one and then hold it there for a full minute, John.”
Rodney took a deep breath and glanced over in surprise when Aidan Ford stepped close to him. The young Marine nodded to McKay and fell into parade rest at his side. “Markham, you have a go. Fire at will.”
* * * *
He hadn’t been able to let go of hearing completely—how could he? It was his only link with his Guide. The bang was horrific but he pushed the pain aside and slowly dialed his hearing back up to mid-level. Even at mid-level his hearing was easily four times more sensitive than a mundane. When he could—he pushed his hearing out towards the gate. Death—he’d never been able to explain the sound of death but it was unmistakable.
“How many are left, John?”
John took a deep breath. “I count twenty-four heart beats but ten are sluggish. They are obviously extremely injured. Cowen is still on his feet and very upset. One of the dead men was his son. He’s ordering the men who aren’t injured to come after us. He wants everyone dead but me.”
“You kill them all,” Rodney hissed in his ear. “Don’t let them hurt you, John.”
John pressed against the tree and pulled out two knives. It was good to have the weapons in his hands—it made him feel more solid and in control. He kept his eyes closed—it made him feel like the loss of his sight was by his own choice.
“Radio silence,” he ordered softly and then closed his own radio connection. His Guide wasn’t going to listen to him kill like this.
John counted eight heart beats heading their way—live, vibrant heart beats pushed by adrenaline and anger. “Ronon.”
“My vision is at fifty percent. I can move around come up behind them and start taking them out that way.”
“Agreed. You have a go,” John said. “Elizabeth, keep your back to that tree. Radek don’t let go of her. You two are going to stay put and let us do our jobs, understood?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth responded immediately.
“And don’t get dead,” John ordered. “I know you’re both experiencing some spiking—Radek can you differentiate our heart beats from the enemy?”
Radek nodded. “Yes, Colonel, I am aware of the enemies. I can tell the difference.”
“I won’t be able to once the action starts,” Elizabeth confessed, her voice drawn with guilt. “I have the most issues with my hearing. Simon and I…”
“It’s no problem,” John interrupted. “Hearing is often the most difficult sense to fully master because in our natural state—it’s our best defensive option and it runs high. It’s not bad in a rural environment for the most part but we are urban Sentinels despite our circumstances. Do not pull your gun unless you have no choice. Everyone—Elizabeth is going to lose track of us when we start moving around—speak to her before you approach her to avoid getting a k-bar in the gut.” He heard the slide of the blade as it left its sheath and nodded though he knew she couldn’t see him. “Stackhouse, Lorne—I want you to take up flanking positions and keep an ear on Ronon.”
He said nothing until both men were moving on his orders, discussing between them who would go where and working out their auditory signals. “Tyre.”
“I…” Tyre shuddered. “I’m here, Alpha.”
“I know you’re suffering the most,” John shifted around until he could touch the younger man. “I blame myself for this—you haven’t received as much of my time on the training front as you should have.”
“We have a busy mission, sir.”
“It doesn’t excuse my duty to you,” John returned evenly. “You’re going to shift around and take a position between Elizabeth and Radek.”
“I should be protecting them,” Tyre murmured. “I’m the soldier.”
“Right now, you’re a Sentinel in a near-zone and when we start firing weapons, it’s going to get very difficult for you. We are all pride and we are equal. Elizabeth and Radek might not be soldiers but they are Sentinels. Let them protect you, it’s their duty as much as it is yours.”
“Yes, sir.” Tyre went willing and let John prod him into place between the two civilians.
“My vision is twenty percent at best,” she admitted softly. “But I’m good. I’ve practiced with zero visual stimuli on the range—I’m almost as good blind as I am otherwise. My close quarter knife work has no discernable difference between sight and unsighted combat.”
“You’re with me,” John said. “We’re going to come at them from the front, take out their point man and leader.”
“Yes, sir.” Cadman shifted on her feet.
“I’m ready to rock,” Cameron responded. “Bates?”
“I’ve already picked my target,” Dean said evenly.
“Happy hunting, gentlemen.”
And it began. John shifted around a tree and started to weave his way around—the sun was setting and the forest around them was cooling rapidly. He opened his eyes and found the amount of light he was able to process was decreasing in tandem with the temperature drop. He drifted into another shadow as he listened to Ronon break a man’s neck. The thud of the body dropping to the ground shouldn’t have been a comfort but it was.
Dean’s k-bar scrapped over bone and the scent of blood assaulted John. He shuddered, slightly horrified by the way the smell made his mouth water and his own blood rush with excitement. The Genii soldier closest to him had an erratic heartbeat. He was drenched in fear and his labored breaths were so loud as to be almost obscene. John slid one knife into a holster and snatched the soldier in one smooth move. He slapped his hand over the man’s mouth and cut his throat in the next instant. John lowered him to the ground as the too fast heart beat slowed down dramatically and then stopped.
Twenty feet away from him, Cadman took down their point man smoothly. She lowered the body carefully to the ground with the kind of strength that belied her slight physical form and whispered to John that her kill was confirmed.
P-90 fire in controlled, precise bursts followed and bodies fell in quick succession. John inclined his head, listening to his Sentinels work—Cameron’s heart beat sped up briefly just before a single 9mm fired and the final body fell.
“Ronon, circle back and watch over Tyre, Radek and Elizabeth. The rest of us are going for the gate. There aren’t that many left alive.”
It took them fifteen minutes to get back to the gate, the gate had disengaged briefly and then engaged again very quickly much to the chagrin of Cowen who had tried to dial out but failed. It hadn’t mattered; John knew he would have followed the man back to his homeworld to kill him. His Guide had given him a directive and at that point, nothing else mattered but what Rodney wanted. Rodney wanted all of these men dead and they were all going to die.
The light of the active wormhole was almost an assault on his vision and John was relieved by that. The rapid improvement of his sight indicated that his body was adjusting quickly to his circumstances. He found Cowen pressed up against a tree four hundred yards from the gate. John wrapped his arm around him, hand sealing over his mouth in one swift move. Cowen jerked against him and the smell of fear washed over John.
“You are a crime against nature,” John whispered fiercely in Cowen’s ear. “That you would feed anyone to the Wraith makes me so sick I can’t even fathom how the Universe allows you to exist.” Cowen tried to pull free again but John’s knife was already sliding between his ribs. “You’re lucky I’m civilized, Cowen, there was a time when men like me would have taken a great deal of pleasure and pride in killing a creature like you slowly.” He listened with half an ear as the others took care of what was left of the Genii on the planet. “You have caused harm to your own tribe—seen to the deaths of over a hundred of your own people because of greed. If it were survival that drove you—I could forgive you your sins but there is nothing in you but avarice and that is unacceptable.”
Cowen choked on blood as John pulled the knife out of his body and then shoved it back in again. “Guardian.”
“Yes,” John agreed neutrally. “We would have been your ally, Cowen, you’re closest and best defense against the Wraith were it not for your greed.”
“Guardian,” Cowen whispered again as blood bubbled out of his mouth. “My people…”
“I’ve done them a favor this night.” John lowered him to the ground carefully, wiped his knife on his pants, and left him there to drown in his own blood.
* * * *
Jack O’Neill had one ear on the child that had started calling him Grandpa Jack and another on the butcher in front of him. He already had several wrapped and sealed packages in front of him. The meat counter in the grocery store was one of the few places that Andy had a serious problem with on the senses front so he’d planted the kid in the small toy section with instructions not to move and to scream bloody murder if someone even looked at him wrong. Still, Jack had focused as much of his senses as he could on the child while he ordered pork chops for the rest of the family.
It was such a damn odd thing in his life at his age—to go from having no one to having a family. Patrick Sheppard had invaded his life in a thousand different ways really and Jack was lucky for it. Lucky and relieved. He finished ordering all the meat and dropped all of it in another plastic bag he could seal until it was time to check out. The last time he’d taken the kid grocery shopping with him—Jack had learned a valuable lesson about why the youngest of the Sheppard clan was practically a vegetarian. Prolonged close exposure to uncooked meat made the kid sick and apparently a sick kid made Jack sick as well. They’d been a sorry pair.
He pushed his cart back towards Andy and the kid turned to look at him as soon as he turned down the aisle. He offered Jack a bright smile and put down the toy he’d been looking at. “Can we get some of those chocolate granola bars?”
Jack nodded and relaxed slightly when Andy hooked his fingers around the edge of the cart as they moved down the aisle. “How are your levels?”
“I’m good,” Andy promised and inclined his head towards Jack. “How are yours?”
“Place is kind of noisy,” Jack admitted.
“That’s because you’re focusing too much attention on me,” Andy grinned when Jack felt himself flush. “It’s okay—they say at the Center that Sentinels with small children in their family usually have hearing issues.”
“Right.” Jack nodded. He’d taken several classes at the Center regarding his senses, mostly with people in their late teens and early twenties. He wasn’t the oldest Sentinel to come online but sometimes it felt like it. Fortunately, his acknowledged Alpha status kept everyone from giving him a hard time about it. “How’s your Dad?”
Andy frowned. “He has spikes and I don’t like the conservator they assigned him from the Center. She’s…”
Jack lifted an eyebrow at the way Andy trailed off but decided to bide his time until the kid was ready to say it. He already knew the problem and he agreed wholeheartedly with his adoptive grandson. The young woman the Center had assigned to David as a conservator was angling for more and it wasn’t pleasant. As far as Jack could tell, David could barely tolerate her despite how much help he needed with his burgeoning senses. The man had lost ten pounds in a month which was what had forced them to consider a conservator in the first place.
“Nature protects me,” Andy murmured. “Because I’m so young—I have natural mental shields that Daddy doesn’t but she sucks.”
Jack snorted. “I suggested to your Dad that he request a different conservator.”
“Don’t think it’ll help,” Andy muttered.
“She doesn’t like me,” Andy said then. “Thinks I’m in her way.”
Jack didn’t know how to respond to that. He knew that Andy had an empathic sense—much like his Uncle John but he hadn’t really considered what that meant until now. “I… what makes you think that?”
“She’s all the time making up stuff about me—trying to convince Dad I should live at the Center because I’m fragile,” Andy’s nose scrunched up as a man passed by them reeking of cigarette smoke. “She tried to tell Daddy she could help him with his senses more if she slept in his room.”
Jack’s mouth dropped open briefly and then he sighed. “Did you eavesdrop on your Dad’s private conversation, Andrew?”
“No, she thinks I’m stupid.” Andy turned and frowned at Jack. “She said it at breakfast last week like I wasn’t even sitting there. I’m surprised she didn’t try spelling the words.”
Jack laughed softly at the obvious scorn in Andy’s voice. It had been something to get used to but he’d realized that someone who was over exposed to sensory data like Andrew would have to adapt quickly both mentally and emotionally to deal with it. He couldn’t imagine how damaged the kid would be otherwise.
“You know your Dad isn’t going to sign you over to the Center.”
“I’m not worried,” Andy assured. “If she steps out of line with me, I’ll let her know how I feel about it.”
Jack didn’t doubt that at all. Three weeks ago, the youngest Alpha Sentinel on the planet had thrown a rather impressive temper tantrum in the middle of the Center’s recreational center because one of the mundane’s in the place had reprimanded him unjustly. Andy had been so furious, he’d put two Sentinels in the building in a feral combat drive trying to get to him. Patrick and in turn Jack had felt the kid’s emotional distress from nearly fifty miles away.
They made quick work of the rest of the list that Jack had been emailed and then headed towards the check-out. “We can get some candy if we eat it on the way home.”
“’Cept Daddy would know and probably tell on you,” Andy advised seriously. “I’m cute enough to get away with it… but I suppose they would expect better from you.”
Jack grinned despite his intentions and sighed. “Right.”
The guy in the check out raised an eyebrow at the two boxes of Fruit Loops and Jack, who refused to defend his cereal choices to a sixteen year old, raised an eyebrow right back at him until the kid cleared his throat and hurried through scanning all of their stuff.
Andy lingered on the sidewalk while Jack loaded the groceries in the back of the SUV, his gaze focused so intently that when Jack turned back to him he immediately worried if he’d let the kid zone. He knelt down on one knee in front of him and cleared his throat.
“I’m cool,” Andy murmured. He inclined his head. “Do you… do you see him?”
Jack turned in the direction that Andy was staring. “See what, buddy?”
“The wolf,” Andy said with a small frown. “He’s standing on the corner. I don’t understand why people aren’t afraid of him.”
Jack started to respond that he didn’t see anything but then thought better of it. “Hey, kiddo, is the wolf solid or… is he kind of transparent?”
“Like my spirit animal?” Andy questioned. “They taught me how to see my animal at the Center. It took me a while but he showed up eventually. My teacher helped me look through all the pictures she had of eagles until I found mine—a black hawk eagle.”
“Okay.” Jack nodded. “Do you still see the wolf?”
“Yeah.” Andy’s hand curled around Jack’s fingers as the Air Force man stood up. “Can we go down there?”
“I think we should,” Jack admitted roughly. He used the remote to lock the SUV. “We can’t be long—we’re supposed to be home by six or your granddad will send out the Marines.”
Andy grinned. “Yeah, it’s like you’re not even in charge anymore, right?”
Jack laughed. Patrick Sheppard could be a very rigid man—he liked routine and order and discipline. They were opposites in some respects because while Jack would be content to sit by his pond and fish for hours—Patrick couldn’t sit still for thirty minutes. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Andy nodded. “Uncle John went a long time without a Guide. Do you think…” He sighed. “Will I wait a long time, too?”
“Dr. Sandburg says that nature provides,” Jack murmured as they walked down the block at Andy’s pace. “He still there?”
“Yes, he’s waiting on me.” Andy swung his arm a little, his hand tightening around Jack’s fingers as they neared the corner. “He wants something.”
Jack’s jaw tightened. He couldn’t even begin to guess would it could mean that Andy was seeing someone else’s spirit animal. “Tell me about the wolf.”
“He’s mostly brown and bigger than me,” Andy stopped and reached out to touch air.
Jack swallowed a shocked sound as the animal appeared out of thin air in front of him. From the short bout of screaming and the scrambling of people around them—it was obvious that everyone was seeing the animal now. The wolf’s eyes were bright and playful as he preened under Andy’s hand. O’Neill wasn’t at all surprised when a Sentinel/Guide pair crossed the street, headed straight for them.
“Is he yours?” Andy questioned, his gaze focused on the Guide.
“No.” The man shook his head. “He’s not yours?”
Andy shook his head. “Isn’t he pretty?” The wolf nuzzled against his body and rubbed his muzzle against the kid’s neck. “He’s not lost… I mean they can’t get lost, right?”
Jack shared a glance with the Sentinel and then looked at the Guide for well, guidance, only to have the attractive man shrug his shoulders delicately. “I don’t know, buddy. I don’t think they can get lost.”
Andy buried his fingers in the wolf’s coat and he sighed. “No, he’s not lost. He’s here to see me.”
The Guide squatted down beside Andy and the wolf, careful not to touch the animal. “You’re Andrew Sheppard, right?”
“Yes,” Andy flushed and averted his gaze. Jack touched his shoulder in a gesture of support. The kid had a difficult time around Guides; Jack figured it was because of how much he wanted one of his own. Andy had been online for over a year and he’d been socialized with several online Guides his own age to no positive results. Online children gravitated toward him but he didn’t respond to any of the young Guides with enough interest to warrant further interaction. “Is that important?”
The Guide grinned. “Well, you’re pretty important,” he conceded. “Is the spirit talking to you?”
“No.” Andy sighed, his fingers clenched in the wolf’s fur. “He’s just… he makes it feel better.”
“Jesus,” Jack muttered. “Can you take a step back and stop touching him?”
“Do I have to?”
“I think you should,” Jack advised. “We don’t know who he belongs to. They might not like it.”
Andy’s bottom lip quivered briefly but he nodded abruptly and stepped away from the wolf. When he stopped touching the animal, it slowly faded into nothing. “Can we go home now, Grandpa Jack?”
“Yeah.” Jack picked him up and sighed when the kid buried his face against his neck. He turned to the Sentinel/Guide pair. “General Jack O’Neill, by the way.”
“We’re aware, sir.” The Sentinel nodded. “We just finished checking in with the local Center. We’re moving here from Denver to set up a medical practice. I’m Dr. Mason Blake and this is my Guide, Dr. Thomas Grant.”
* * * *
Rodney curled his fingers around the railing in front of him as he watched the Jumper disappear through the wormhole. It was the best solution—it was probably the only solution that offered his Sentinel protection. If the Wraith managed to dial in before the Jumper could dial out—they could at least cloak themselves in the Jumper and wait out the Wraith. The wormhole blinked out as planned and he waited nearly forty-five seconds before the chevrons lit and an incoming wormhole was established. The shield launched immediately and Rodney let himself relax when the IDC pinged through almost instantly.
“McKay, I’m doing a field check on each of them as we bring them into the Jumper,” Keller advised. “I need isolation rooms set up for Tyre and Elizabeth. Radek seems to be recovering best of the three of them so he’ll be able to be in the infirmary.”
“Your staff is on standby and listening,” Rodney answered. “John?”
“All of the Genii are dead,” John said shortly. “I’ve asked Jennifer to run a test on the chemical from this end because I think we have another problem.”
“What kind of problem? Is it starting to hurt you?”
“No, I’m fine,” John promised. “Still partially blind but I’m fine.”
Jennifer cleared her throat. “Rodney, I need you to return to your quarters and confine yourself there for at least twenty-four hours. You can’t be in the gateroom when we return.”
“The chemical they weaponized… it’s got a citrus base. It’s still in the air and we’re all getting doused in it. Even the Jumper is going to have trace on it. I don’t know how it would affect you if you inhaled it.”
“Right.” Rodney closed his eyes briefly. “Right.” He looked around and took a deep breath. “Miko, you’re in charge.” He glanced around until he found Wilkes. “Lieutenant Wilkes, you’ll be in charge of the military personal until one of the higher ranking Sentinels comes out of the infirmary ready for duty. I expect you to fully support Dr. Kusanagi.”
“Of course, sir.” Wilkes nodded and walked to stand next to the small Japanese scientist who was glaring daggers at McKay. “She’s badass though, so maybe she’ll be supporting me instead.”
Miko offered him a wry grin before crossing her arms and glaring at McKay some more. “Being third in command of the sciences no longer makes me happy.”
“Suck it up, Kusanagi,” Rodney called over his shoulder as he left the gate room.
He made it all the way to their quarters before he felt the arrival of his Sentinel. That he wasn’t there to take care of John personally was grating and irritating on a level he didn’t know possible. His radio pinged in his ear and he answered their private channel with a sigh. Sliding down the wall beside the door, he took a deep breath. “John.”
“This sucks, McKay.”
Rodney grinned then. “I bet. Did Jennifer put you in an isolation room?”
“She’s walking me towards one now so I can shower in private,” John explained.
“How is your vision?”
“Crap but getting better by the minute—say forty percent, I guess.”
“Right.” Rodney rubbed his face with the back of one hand and took a deep breath. “Tell me about your other senses.”
“You’re heart is beating is 72 beats a minute,” John offered ruefully. “That’s a little fast for you to be at rest.”
“Stressful day,” Rodney reminded gently. “Let’s worry about you. What is your heart rate?”
“51,” John answered promptly as he turned on the shower. “I’m going to pull my headset out but I can still hear you so don’t stop talking, okay?”
“I won’t,” Rodney murmured. “Push your clothes out of the bathroom so they can remove them from the room as soon as possible.” He cleared his throat and sighed. “It really does suck for me too, you know, not being there. I feel like I’m failing you—I’ve always hated this about myself. This stupid allergy. My parents made me feel like I did it just to annoy them. Of course, coming online so young didn’t help matters either. After I came online they both stopped pretending around me.”
“Pretending what?” John’s voice was distant but clear under the slap of water on tile.
“To love me, John.” Rodney sighed. “Did you know that aborting a Sentinel or Guide child was illegal in Canada? The law was repealed about ten years ago as a violation of women’s rights but when my mother was pregnant with me—she had no choice but to see the pregnancy through even though it was the last thing she wanted. My parents didn’t want children at all and then to be saddled with a kid who had the Guide gene on top of it. My father hated his mother—she was a Guide and she basically died of a broken heart when her Sentinel, my grandfather, was killed in a car accident. My father was just eighteen and he had two younger siblings to look after. He resented her so much for that.”
The water turned off abruptly. “And he resented you, too,” John said as there was a rustling noise. “When is the last time you saw your parents?”
“I was fourteen,” Rodney murmured. “I had a trust fund from my grandmother—it had been set aside specifically if my father managed to father a Guide or Sentinel. He resented that, too. If I hadn’t been born, the money would have ended up going to a Sentinel/Guide charity. I saw my sister Jeannie when she graduated undergrad but our relationship soured quickly. I hated the man she ended up marrying. It was frustrating that I couldn’t make her understand that he was just wrong on a level that only an empath can feel. She said that if I wasn’t good enough to even be bonded to a Sentinel that I had no business making judgments about people I barely knew.”
“I don’t have anything polite to say about that,” John admitted roughly. “I’m going to assume that silence is the better part of valor on the subject of your sister.”
Rodney laughed reluctantly. “Right. Regardless, I haven’t been home in many years and maybe now it’s too late.”
“Maybe it isn’t,” John murmured. “I hope it isn’t. God knows what I have to face on the family front when we make contact with Earth. Two brothers who have every right to resent me until the day I die. A nephew I’ve never even met. My CO is now, for all intents and purposes, my step-father and my Dad.” John sighed. “I really screwed up on that one, Rodney.”
“I thought we agreed the blame was equal.”
“I knew he loved me. I knew he felt helpless to deal with me. I could feel it… I have no excuse for bailing on my whole family the way I did. It was an extremely childish thing to do in retrospect.”
“Sentinels…” Rodney trailed off. “Sentinels instinctually detach themselves from extremely painful situations—physically and psychologically. Your mother’s death left a gaping hole in your family’s dynamics and in your family imprint. It would have been extremely difficult for you to manage at such a young age. It’s a testament to your strength that you didn’t end up in a psych ward.”
“Maybe I am a little crazy,” John said with a sigh. “Keller says I should rinse my skin every two or three hours until the chemical has degraded completely.”
“Right.” Rodney closed his eyes briefly and then with a groan shifted to his feet and stood. “I’m exhausted—so I can’t imagine how you feel. You should try to rest.”
“I had a hard time sleeping without you,” John admitted. “It’s not going to be any better this way.”
“I could put one of our blankets out in the hall and have someone bring it to you.”
John cleared his throat and sighed. “You haven’t washed your fleece from the weekend have you? Because…”
“Right. Okay. I’ll get someone to bring it to you.” Rodney glanced around their quarters and spied the bright orange fleece tossed across the back of his desk chair. He’d worn it almost all day Sunday because they’d spent that day wandering around the city together—exploring the areas they’d deemed safe structurally.
* * * *
John glanced up as the door to his isolation room opened and one of the infirmary personnel entered with a duffle bag clutched in a gloved hand. “From McKay, Marie?”
“Yes, Colonel. We’re also having a light meal prepared for you.” She pulled a small plastic wrapped sensor from her pocket and opened it. “Dr. McKay has also requested that we fit you with a health monitor since the other Sentinels aren’t in a position to monitor your life signs. We need to know if you zone.”
John took the small Ancient sensor with a sigh and tucked it behind his ear. It adhered to his skin immediately. The sensors were one of the newer devices that the sciences had cleared for use in the infirmary and Keller was extremely fond of the technology. “Is he monitoring this in our quarters?”
“Yes,” Marie answered as she took several steps towards the door. “You’ll have a tray in a few minutes, Colonel. Dr. Keller left specific instructions for you so please try to behave. We aren’t in a position where we can separate her from her Sentinel.”
John grinned and then sighed. “I’m too tired to be a problem, Marie. Make sure McKay eats, will you?”
“I have orders for his care as well,” Marie admitted with a wry grin of her own. “Dr. Keller left little to doubt before she was hauled away by Major Lorne.”
John waited until the door closed before he opened the bag. The fleece was on top, the scent of his Guide was so welcome that he shivered. His fingers clutched into the material and then with a small sound of contentment he couldn’t contain, he pulled the fleece out of the bag and spread it out over the pillow on his bed.
His radio vibrated gently in his ear and he activated it with a brush of his fingers. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Rodney murmured. “Since you have to take so many showers—I put your skin lotion in the bag as well. Don’t let your skin get dry and irritated—it’ll make your sense of touch spike.”
“Right.” John rummaged through the bag, pulling out a paperback copy of Spock’s World, his lotion, and an iPod. “How do you feel?”
“I’m okay. I’m not the one that got doused in a chemical weapon by Cowen.”
John lifted an eyebrow at his tone. “I killed him really hard for that, McKay.”
“I’m sure you did,” Rodney murmured. “He certainly had it coming. How is your sight?”
“Improvement is rapid,” John admitted. “I think the city is rapidly recycling the air to get rid of the chemical traces we brought back with us.”
“Makes sense,” Rodney murmured. “I’ll send Miko an email so she can check the environmental systems. You should try to get some sleep, John.”
John sighed and sat down on the bed. He knew that was unlikely. His body was demanding the presence of his Guide and he was just thankful he was mentally functional enough to combat his own instincts otherwise he imagined he’d be quite a threat to everyone—including Rodney.
“I don’t think I’ll sleep,” John admitted. “Not without you.”
“Let me try something,” Rodney murmured. “I need to shower first.”
* * * *
Rodney put away his towel and settled down on their bed in a pair of cotton pants and a t-shirt. He put his radio back into his ear and clicked it on. “Okay, try to get settled on your bed and get as comfortable as possible.”
“I liked listening to you shower,” John admitted roughly. “It was nice.”
Rodney laughed abruptly. “Kind of pervy, but I guess you’re entitled to spy on me all you’d like with your senses.”
“I’m on the bed,” John announced. “It’s been a while since I’ve slept alone.”
“I know.” Rodney settled himself in the lotus position, a habit of training more than anything else and started to take deep, even breaths. “We haven’t spent a lot of time working on our spiritual connection—that’s my fault but in all honestly, with your empathic sense our bond has always been strong enough without it.”
“It feels strong and flexible despite our separation,” John murmured. “What are you…” He took a deep breath. “What is that?”
“That, Sentinel, is me,” Rodney murmured. “Just relax and close your eyes. Trust me.”
“Always,” John said immediately. “With everything.”
Rodney relaxed further as his mind reached out and wrapped around his Sentinel in the only way he could. He felt something shift inside of him—something he hadn’t felt since Guide school. There were moments in every Guide’s life when they meet their spirit animal. Rodney met his wolf when he was seven years old. The gentle press of his spirit animal on his mind had been such a welcome thing in his life that he’d barely been able to breathe. The Sentinel-Guide Center in Canada had been thrilled when he’d revealed what his spirit guide was. Wolf Guides weren’t exactly rare but it did tell them that little Rodney McKay had the potential to be something very special. His parents hadn’t been thrilled.
“I learned to hide what I was for different reasons than you,” Rodney murmured.
“I know.” John sighed. “But it didn’t make them accept you.”
“No, it was a losing battle. I never had any hope of gaining their approval or affection. It is a difficult thing to understand that your parents view you as an unspeakable burden.”
The bitterness burned between them briefly and then Rodney forced it down deep where he could control it. His parents’ betrayal was his problem and he didn’t want it tainting his bond with his Sentinel. His Spirit Guide stirred inside him again—shifting and pressing itself against the empathic weight of the bond that stretched out between him and John. Then it emerged and flowed physically out of him.
Rodney took a deep breath as his wolf turned to look at him with piercing blue eyes—an exact match to his own. “Go, he needs us.”
“What is that?” John questioned softly, awe bleeding over his voice and their bond.
“We are not alone, John. Sentinels and Guides are born with a presence inside them—a presence that shelters and leads us in our lives in invisible ways from our first breath.”
“Yes.” John took a deep breath and then sighed. “It’s getting closer.”
Rodney laughed at the breathless quality of his Sentinel’s voice. “Worried?”
“Never with you.”
* * * *
John rubbed his cheek against the fleece covered pillow and opened his eyes just in time watch a large grey wolf glide gracefully through the wall. “Oh.”
The animal lifted its head and chuffed gently before he padded forward. John snagged the fleece and pillow before he slid out of the bed and onto the floor. The wolf immediately came forward and nuzzled against John’s neck.
Pleasure and relief burned over John’s skin as he curled his fingers into the wolf’s thick fur. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, John.” Rodney’s voice was thick with empathic power as he continued. “Sleep, Sentinel.”
John took a deep breath and then reached out to pull a blanket off the bed. He curled up with the wolf. “Yes, Guide.”
* * * *
Blair Sandburg nodded and watched through the window as Andrew Sheppard gently prodded away one of the Guide children that always hovered near him when he was with them. “You have every right to be concerned, David.”
“Is he being influenced by someone we can’t trust? Is this Guide who is sending his spirit animal trying to hurt my son?”
“I don’t think so,” Blair murmured. “I would, of course, like to be present during one of the visitations. Do you know how many times the wolf has visited him?”
“Once yesterday and the wolf was with him this morning when I went to wake him—sleeping on the foot of his bed. I didn’t even realize it until Andy reached out and touched him.” David’s jaw clenched.
Blair shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from reaching out for him. A Sentinel in distress was difficult to ignore. “Your conservator isn’t working out. I’ll make another arrangement for you. Perhaps a male with no designs on your bed.”
David laughed abruptly and then sighed. “Right. Well, I’ve had a few of those over the years as well but I do think my Guide is female. I… have a presence lingering in the back of my mind but I can’t reach out for her unless I’m asleep.”
“It’s a pretty common circumstance for separated pairs. I’m making a list of high level Guides in the US and Canada that might be a fit for you so that you can meet them.” He laughed when David grimaced. “It won’t be that bad, Sheppard, you need to find a Guide.”
“Yes, I know. My senses spike dangerously in ways that are detrimental to my health and my ability to run the family business.” David crossed his arms and focused intently on his son in the other room. The white noise generators surrounding the room his son was currently in weren’t much of an obstacle for Andy but he had agreed not to listen in on his conversation.
“I don’t believe that a spirit animal is capable of causing a Sentinel harm,” Blair murmured. “Of course, the spiritual part of our lives has always been shied away from. Many like avoid it because of their own religious beliefs and by acknowledging the nature of spirit animals makes them uncomfortable.”
David nodded. “Right.”
“He thinks the spirit animal is part of his Guide,” Blair surmised. “Andrew is strong and will grow more so with age. I do find the situation one that we should watch carefully but we should also trust his instincts and the guidance of his own spirit animal.”
“Okay.” David sighed. He focused on his son and let the rest of the room fade away for him.
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