Title: Battle Ready
Series: Hold My Coffee
Series Order: 6
Author: Keira Marcos
Betas: Ladyholder & Jilly James
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Relationship: Meredith McKay/John Sheppard
Genre: Romance, Rule 63, Alternate Universe
Word Count: 15,298
Warnings: Explicit Language, discussion of rape culture, discussion of child abuse and domestic abuse, verbal abuse by a parent
Author’s Note: DADT never existed in this world, and LGBT people can serve openly in the military with no real issues to be had. I just didn’t feel like dealing with that utter bullshit.
Summary: Meredith confronts her father, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps comes to Colorado.
Meredith swallowed a yawn as she poured coffee and went to the conference table. While she and John had been in Canada, Elizabeth Weir had left the outpost and returned to Colorado. They hadn’t even found a place to crash after their arrival before they’d gotten an earful about her attempts to interfere in the expedition organization. She knew there was a formal complaint already from Weir regarding Anne Teldy, which pissed Meredith off, but it had infuriated John so much that his hands had been shaking by the time he’d finished reading the email.
Shortly after she got settled at the table with her tablet and coffee, John entered the room. He slid into place beside Jack O’Neill and glanced her way briefly before putting several folders on the table in front of him. Meredith figured that Elizabeth had no idea what sort of war she’d courted when she’d attempted to undermine John’s authority with his own people, but she was about to get a lesson in military politics that was long overdue. The Marine Corps had a culture—for good and bad—and Elizabeth had literally no clue she’d kicked a hornet’s nest. If she wasn’t so irritated herself, Meredith would be a little amused by what was coming.
“Colonel Sheppard, the floor is yours,” O’Neill said and sat back with his coffee. “Where would you like to start?”
“Thank you, General, I’ve reviewed the various issues that arose while I was providing security for Dr. McKay in Canada and I’ve reached solutions on several which have unfortunately created a few new problems—there are five civilians currently on the expedition roster that have out of date security clearances. As it stands, we’re going to have to replace Dr. Grodin and Dr. Kate Heightmeyer effective immediately.”
John sat back and focused on Weir. “Unfortunately, it was recently discovered that Dr. Grodin is taking an antipsychotic medication to treat his bipolar disorder. While this doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from working in the SGC, it does prohibit him working off-world long term because we can’t guarantee we’ll be able to provide him the medication he’ll need to remain healthy. His medication has a shelf life of a year. Dr. Brightman has already discussed this with him, and he’s agreed that he would not want to risk being isolated in Pegasus without his medication.
“He also reported to Dr. Brightman, Dr. Weir, that you knew of his condition and removed the diagnosis from his official file so he could be included on the expedition. Because of this, every single civilian will have to be interviewed extensively by the medical staff here in the Mountain to ensure we won’t get an unfortunate surprise on the other side of the gate. Of course, I’ve also reported your incredible breach of ethics to the IOA and put forth the question of how Peter Grodin was granted a security clearance at all.”
Weir flushed. “Dr. Grodin is a brilliant young man and shouldn’t be held back by his diagnosis.”
“He is a brilliant man,” John agreed. “And I’m horrified that you’d risk him in such a way. Dr. Heightmeyer has been removed from the expedition because she allowed you to alter Grodin’s records without reporting it. As I’ve already discussed with General O’Neill, we can’t afford to have someone so willing to dismiss the welfare of her patients on the mission.”
Meredith took a sip of coffee to keep from laughing. John had done a complete surgical strike on Elizabeth’s little fiefdom in the soft sciences without even breaking a sweat.
“How did you…” Weir trailed off and took a deep breath.
“One of Major Teldy’s duties, while I was in Canada, was to complete background checks on the entire expedition. Despite what you might believe, Dr. Weir, Major Teldy is profoundly competent.” John opened a folder in front of him. “Speaking of Major Teldy, I’ve taken the liberty of reviewing the complaint you’ve filed against her, and I’ve spoken with the JAG office regarding your inappropriate use of our justice system. For the record, Dr. Weir, you don’t have the authority or the legal right to report any man or woman under my command for insubordination. I’ve had the complaint removed from her file.”
“She disobeyed me!” Elizabeth snapped hotly. “Jack, I insist you file another complaint. I won’t have that woman on the expedition.”
“No,” Jack murmured. “You went around me, Dr. Weir, because you knew I wouldn’t back your play. You were repeatedly told that you don’t have the authority to issue orders to military personnel in this Mountain.”
“She’s part of the expedition, my expedition,” Elizabeth said firmly.
“And you know that any requests you had for military personnel during the course of the expedition would have to come through Colonel Sheppard,” Jack snapped.
“He wasn’t here! He was being wasted babysitting Meredith in Canada!”
“Which means you should’ve come to me!” Jack said evenly. “In case you missed it, Dr. Weir, this is my Mountain, and you don’t have a role in it. The moment you step through the gate to Pegasus, you’re the leader of the Atlantis Expedition—until then, you’re just one more civilian getting in the way around here. Major Teldy is an excellent asset, and Colonel Sheppard chose her as his second command. You don’t get a vote.”
“She’s arrogant and refused to listen to me,” Elizabeth said in exasperation. “What happens if Colonel Sheppard is ill or off-world when we’re in Pegasus? Will she ignore me then, too?”
“She’ll do her duty as it is exactly laid out in the charter,” John said coolly. “And for the record, Dr. Weir, if you’d asked me to do what you ordered Teldy to do, I would’ve told you no. It is my duty to see the expedition fully supplied for no less than a year in what we must consider primitive circumstances which means that we must pack for extreme conditions. We have no idea what we’re facing on the other side of the gate, so we must prepare for everything. You ordered her to halve the cold weather gear for the military and eliminate it completely for civilians. Are you insane?”
“We won’t need it,” Elizabeth said. “It’s a waste of space!”
“The Ancients built an outpost and apparently kept their flying city in Antarctica,” John said flatly. “How can you possibly assume to know where they ended up leaving their city? Moreover, having reviewed gate missions out of the SGC, I know for a fact that nearly twenty percent of the planets that we’ve visited since the gate program began have had extreme environmental conditions, including sub-zero climates.”
“So we don’t go to those planets,” Weir proclaimed. “Problem solved.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Meredith burst out and flushed when everyone focused on her. “Look, Elizabeth, we can’t control what we’ll find in Pegasus. We can’t control where the Ancients left their outposts, labs, and toys. The expedition must be supplied to research and explore. This isn’t some picnic, okay? You’ve never been off-world, so you don’t understand, at all, how potentially alien our environment Pegasus could be.
“The Ancients were a hardy, physically advanced people. They built Atlantis in Antarctica because the temperatures down there weren’t a concern for them. We’re really lucky that they have the same basic atmospheric requirements we have, or we could end up on a world we need suits for. We don’t even know for certain what sort of environments they could thrive in. What if the world they settled is gravity heavy? What if the oxygen levels aren’t quite right for us but tolerable for them?” She winced because Elizabeth was pale. “And what about the life already on the planet? The exploration of the Milky Way has been dangerous, of course, but most of the planets we’ve encountered were populated by people originally stolen from Earth.
“We’ve met some genuine aliens, but they’ve been few and far between. What will we encounter in Pegasus? Did the Ancients populate worlds with human-like species? Did they seed worlds with other forms of life or did they let nature take its course? Maybe we find a species like the Asgard—intelligent and helpful. But maybe we don’t—maybe we encounter aggressive aliens who don’t want to share their planet or galaxy with us. The air could be poison, and our destination planet could be the Australia of Pegasus.”
“Meredith,” Elizabeth said and swallowed hard, her face paling. “That’s…how do we prepare for that?”
“You and me? We don’t prepare for that because we haven’t been trained to prepare for it, okay? But Colonel Sheppard and his people have been taught to live and fight in conditions that would frankly kill you and me in a matter of days. Let them do their jobs and stop micromanaging his people. It’s getting us nowhere, and you’re creating hostilities where there should be none. You owe Major Teldy an apology. She’s an outstanding person, and I was relieved when Colonel Sheppard chose a woman as his second. Placing women in authority on the mission will help foster…an environment where certain behaviors and abuses will not be tolerated.”
“What do you mean abuses?” Elizabeth questioned.
“For fuck’s sake, Elizabeth,” Meredith said and sighed. “Ten women have been sexually assaulted in one form or another in this Mountain in the past year. The offenders were dealt with swiftly and harshly, but it happened. With the loss of Dr. Heightmeyer, there are now just sixty-two women on the mission.” Weir frowned like she didn’t understand. “Jack, hold your hands over your ears—I’m about to offend your delicate sensibilities again.”
O’Neill snorted. “I can take it.”
Meredith leaned forward and focused entirely on Elizabeth. “Despite our best efforts to make sure only the best sort of people are attached to the mission, Elizabeth, we will be in living in close proximity with over a hundred men. That’s a lot of dick looking for a wet place to spend the night.”
Jack lowered his head to the table and groaned.
“I warned you, Jack,” Meredith said and continued, “So we can hope they take no for an answer out of respect for us or out of fear of what Colonel Sheppard will do to them if they get out of line. Because he’s not just our military leader—he’s the head of our policing agency. If we have to imprison someone for bad behavior, he’ll be in charge of providing a prison of some sort and guarding that person until we can return them to Earth. Do you understand?”
“I…” Weir stood, and Meredith noted that her hands were shaking. “Excuse me, please.” She stumbled away from the table and into the small restroom in the conference room.
Meredith lurched out of her seat the moment she heard the woman start to throw up. “For fuck’s sake.” She grabbed a bottle of water from the refreshment table and followed Weir into the restroom where she pulled the door shut behind her.
Weir was on her knees, shoulders trembling. Her body gave a little heave, but she didn’t throw up again. She took the water when Meredith offered it and took a deep drink. “I…” She closed her eyes. “I was part of the committee that defined sexual violence as a crime against humanity for the International Criminal Court. I’m not stupid, you know, I know it happens…I just…”
“Thought you’d be surrounded by men of honor,” Meredith supplied. “It’s the kind of thing they teach us, right? That a man in military uniform is a cut above the rest? But they’re all human, Elizabeth, and with that humanity can come some profound and ugly flaws.”
“Were you…” Elizabeth shook her head. “That’s none of my business.”
“Not rape,” Meredith said as she pulled some paper towels free of the holder and wet them. “But I’ve had men get violent with me when rejected. I don’t want to say it’s just part of being a woman, but you know it is.” She leaned on the sink and stared at her. “You’ve got to stop.”
“Grasping for control when there’s no need. Your role for the expedition couldn’t be clearer, Elizabeth. You don’t have to fight Colonel Sheppard. He’s a good man, you know, strong and honorable. We can trust him, and he’s not going to go power hungry in Pegasus.”
“How can you be so certain?” Elizabeth demanded. “Especially after you what you just said out there.” She waved hand toward the conference room.
“Have you even bothered to read his file?” Meredith asked sharply. “Even the non-classified version I got in Nevada explained in full, lurid detail how he nearly destroyed his career reporting not one but three superior officers for sexual misconduct in Iraq. It’s the reason he ended up being posted in Afghanistan, but before he was transferred, he spent a week in the infirmary recovering from what they called a training accident. I haven’t asked him about it but…” She sighed. “Well, the implications are clear enough, right?”
“Right.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Is this why you went around me and complained to O’Neill about Sumner?”
“I went around you because O’Neill doesn’t know you and frankly doesn’t trust you,” Meredith said. “I needed immediate action before a decision was announced and Sumner was too embedded in the preparations to be removed. Sumner’s the sort to think that rape is just a mistake.”
Elizabeth took another sip of water. “Have you recovered from your fall?”
“Yeah, I have a big bruise on my back from where he punched me, but they used to the healing device to take care of the breaks.” Meredith crossed her arms. “Why is Richard Woolsey out there?”
“I don’t know, but I assume it has something to do with Peter.”
“Why would you do something so silly?” Meredith demanded. “It would be one thing if we could count on even semi-regular supplies from Earth or if we knew we could recreate the drugs in Pegasus but our synthetic drug program is concentrated on the various medications the entire population will need. Dr. Grodin is an excellent linguist, but he’s not…I mean…there are plenty of those.”
Weir shrugged. “He’s been with me a long time, and I didn’t want to part with hm.”
Meredith snorted. “Are you fucking him?”
“No, of course, not,” Elizabeth denied with a huff. “You know Simon has asked me to marry him.”
“You need to break up with him.”
“What? No, I love him.”
“If you truly loved him, you wouldn’t be planning to leave the planet without him. The mission has been approved, and unless the gate connection fails to connect, you’ll be in Pegasus in three weeks. Were you just going to leave him a letter?”
Weir flushed. “A video—I have approval from the IOA to give him a few details.”
“Wow, you heartless twat,” Meredith said in wonder. “Are you serious? A video?”
She huffed and opened the door then left before she said something worse. A few seconds later, she settled back down in her chair and frowned at her empty coffee cup.
“Richard, I swear to whatever god you worship that I will throw my coffee cup at you if you have one disagreeable thing to say. I’ve reached my limit.” She focused on him then. “I’ll try to avoid your head, though.”
Woolsey hesitated then cleared his throat. “Yes, well, thank you for the warning. Colonel Sheppard was outlining the preparation he’s undertaken regarding alternate energy sources and has indicated that your team has provided excellent feedback on the supply list. We’re getting close to the deadline regarding the finalization of supplies for the expedition. At this point, the council would like to offer you an apology for temporarily entertaining the idea of Dr. Rush joining the expedition.”
“I see, and why would that be?” Meredith questioned.
Woolsey flushed and shifted his legal pad around in front of him. “It appears that Dr. Rush is now under investigation by the Pentagon. There are some issues regarding his personal motivations for joining the Stargate Program and his desire to go to Pegasus.”
“And…” Meredith prodded.
“He’s recently received a rather large amount of money which he used to place his ex-wife in an experimental cancer treatment trial.” Woolsey cleared his throat. “We made the decision to leave that part of the situation in place—the woman is very ill, and it’s not her fault that her ex-husband has proven to be capable of treason.”
“What does the Trust plan to do with him?” Meredith questioned quietly.
“I believe they’ve already done it,” Woolsey admitted. “Under duress, Dr. Rush has admitted that he was instructed to take your place on the Atlantis Expedition to control the flow of Ancient technology back to Earth should the mission be successful.”
Meredith made a face. “So he tried to alienate me with his dick?”
Woolsey flushed a bright red and cleared his throat. “It appears that his attempts to seduce you were mission oriented for him. Dr. Rush has also admitted that his contact with the Trust was quite thrilled with the possibility that you would quit the program for the private sector.”
“And my sperm donor?” Meredith questioned. “I’m sure that Owen has forwarded all the information his people had on the subject.”
“Yes,” Woolsey began and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Prime Minister Tremblay was quite irritated by the Trust’s interest in you. We were unaware of your previous relationship with him, Dr. McKay.”
Meredith grimaced and sighed. “I’m not going to give you a list of men I’ve slept with, Richard.”
“Yes, but perhaps you might have mentioned that the Prime Minister of Canada is quite invested in you personally,” Woolsey returned and raised an eyebrow.
Meredith rocked her head a little back and forth as she considered that. “Eh, I don’t agree. My private life is none of the IOA’s business.” She flicked a hand when he started to speak. “I mean it, Richard. Move on to your next topic, immediately, or I’ll go upstairs and ruin your credit.”
“Right.” Woolsey shifted his legal pad and pulled a folder from underneath it. “Your father was found to be in possession of nearly fifty of your projects dating back to your time in undergrad. He’s claimed that a large amount of them belong to him actually and that you stole them from him.”
Meredith made a face. “I see, and your thoughts?”
“He’s an intelligent man, but I’ve had his verified work reviewed and compared to yours—Dr. Ingram tells me that your father’s work lacks your elegance and reach. Dr. Ingram is of the belief that one day you could lead us into technological frontiers beyond even what the Asgard has offered us. He also thinks that within the next two years you’ll be well on your way to charging a ZPM.”
“My father is a security threat,” Meredith said.
“Yes, he’s asking to speak with you personally, but he will be handed over to Homeworld Security, and his connection to the Trust will be fully explored. There are some who believe that agents of the Trust used his arrogance and his jealousy of you to manipulate him. As far as we can tell he doesn’t know anything about the Stargate Program.”
Meredith grimaced at that. “So he’s playing you. Who have you had interrogating him?”
“Major Davis from the Pentagon has been handling his questioning.”
Meredith sighed. “Richard, my father is smart, and he purposefully sought out an intelligent woman to bear his children. He wanted a son—he expected to father the next Einstein.”
“Some would say he succeeded,” John said and flicked his pen between his fingers. “You’re not actually entertaining the idea of talking to him, right?”
Meredith grimaced. “I think he’s going to run circles around Major Davis and anyone else that they could throw at him. Honestly, the best method of throwing him off his game is to get personal with him, and I’m the best shot you’ve got at that. We need to know what the Trust is up to and what my father has done for them. Besides not having my elegance, my sperm donor also lacks my ethics.” She stood and picked up her cup. “If he’s been radicalized then I wouldn’t even put a number on his threat level.” She hitched up her chin as Weir rejoined them. “I’ll be in Carter’s lab getting in her way and being a pain in the ass when you’re ready for me to provoke my father into a rage.”
John watched her leave the room. He wanted to follow, but he still had a few issues to cover in the meeting. The door shut behind her. “I’m not on board with that.”
“No, me neither,” O’Neill murmured. “Her father throws McKay off her game, and if we let him get under her skin, we’ll all pay for it.”
“It’s Meredith’s choice at this point, isn’t it?” Weir questioned. “I don’t think she’d appreciate anyone taking that away from her.”
Sheppard hated that she was right about that. “I assume that Homeworld will make the final decision on the matter of Scott McKay. I’d like to finish the conversation about Peter Grodin and your editing of his records, Dr. Weir.”
“It was a mistake, I’ll admit. He’s been working with me for years, and I trust Peter. I altered his records with Carson and Kate’s help to allow him on the expedition. I apologize, but I don’t think that Kate should be punished by being removed from the mission for following my directions.”
“Dr. Heightmeyer had a choice, and she chose to make a terrible and unethical decision,” John said evenly. “Ethics seem to be a real problem for you. I don’t mean to be insulting but is your moral compass broken?”
O’Neill snorted. “Don’t look surprised, Elizabeth. It’s a valid question. You’ve made some questionable decisions, and Sheppard has a right to know if this is a hobby for you.”
John tried really hard not to look as appalled as he felt by that particular thought. “Look, the fact is that I’m stuck with you. The IOA made that clear to me this morning before I ever entered this room. Moreover, Dr. Weir, you’re stuck with me. You need to get on board this team effort pretty quickly, or you’re going to create problems that we can’t fix.”
Weir blushed, and her eyes brightened. John resolved to get up and leave immediately if she started crying. “I’ll do my best, Colonel.”
“At this point, that’s all I can ask,” John admitted dryly and shared a look with Richard Woolsey because it was literally all he could ask, he’d checked.
* * * *
He found her pacing around in his office which was the third place he’d looked. Anne was sitting at her desk with her feet propped up on the corner. John leaned in the doorway and watched Meredith. It was a hobby he’d developed in Nevada and he was more than willing to own it.
“Drinking my coffee?”
Meredith sent him a dark look. “If it’s in my cup then it’s my coffee.”
He laughed. “Lunch?”
“I could eat,” Meredith said and downed the rest of her coffee. She set the empty cup on his desk. “I figured you’d be stuck in meetings all day with Weir. I heard she had a whole basket full of drama planned.”
“I heard that as well—that’s why I derailed her from the start. It’s hard to play offense when you’re busy covering your own ass.” John focused on Teldy. “Did you need me for anything, Major?”
“No, sir, I think I’m good. Dr. Brightman has a few options for replacing Dr. Heightmeyer, and those names have been submitted to the Pentagon for verification that their background checks are current. I’ve filed a complaint with General O’Neill’s office regarding the current security officer for the Mountain, by the way, so there could be some backlash. He’s been a problem for a while, and I figured I’m about to take myself off to Pegasus for a year or more so I don’t care if I make a few people mad.”
John grinned. “We’ll just lock the door then?”
“Good idea. I’d hate to have to ruin Emerson’s self-esteem by kicking his butt.”
John flicked the lock on the doorknob as he motioned Meredith ahead of him out of the room. He pulled the door shut and resisted the urge to touch her as they walked down the hall. The security cameras in the Mountain were pure hell on a person’s privacy. There was enough gossip in the place concerning the two of them, and he wasn’t interested in feeding it since it would inevitably turn lurid which would piss him off. Their relationship was too new to deal with that kind of crap since Meredith was skittish enough as it was.
“Come here a sec,” Meredith said and motioned toward a small empty conference room.
He followed her inside and grinned as she closed the door and prodded him against it. “Pushy, Dr. McKay.”
“I’ll show you pushy,” she promised, and he laughed.
He pulled her close by cupping her hips. “It’s silly, but I missed waking up with you this morning.”
Meredith pursed her lips. “That is silly—you’re not the needy sort, right?”
“I could be,” John admitted and grinned when she sighed dramatically. “That a problem?”
“I can probably handle one needy Marine,” she said with a grin and looped her arms around his neck. “I have to admit that I had to use extra blankets because it was cold without you.”
“How is that Weir has no clue we’re involved?” John questioned.
“Oh, that’s easy—she has no friends and therefore no one to gossip with. The people who do talk to her, mostly Miko and Radek, wouldn’t tell her anything about me. Maybe Grodin and Heightmeyer would’ve told her, but they aren’t exactly cozy with people in the Mountain, so they didn’t know anything about it either.” Meredith smoothed his collar down. “I like the Service Uniform, but I was kind of surprised to see you in it.”
“I have a few meetings in the afternoon and evening with the CMC.”
“Why is the Commandant of the Marine Corps coming here?” She frowned. “Does he have a problem with you?” She straightened his tie. “Because I could talk to Randolph.”
“For the love of everything, Mer, please tell me he isn’t another ex.”
She laughed. “Oh, no. He married my cousin briefly in the 90’s, but he’s really married to his career, so she left him, but I decided that even if he divorced CeCe that he didn’t get to divorce me, too.”
“That makes a weird kind of sense,” John admitted. “And to answer your question, he doesn’t have a problem with me. Every active duty Marine is his, in a way, and he’s coming here to speak with us before we leave for Pegasus.”
“Oh, so Marine bonding?” Meredith questioned. “That sounds terrible.”
He laughed. “It’ll be dinner and speeches mostly. You’ll probably get an invite or more like a politely worded order to attend the dinner.”
“I usually ignore those,” she admitted. “But I guess I’ll make time for some boring dinner with terrible food for you.”
“I appreciate your willingness to sacrifice your evening,” John murmured and brushed his mouth against hers. “I love the way you taste.” He cupped her ass and pulled her closer. “The way you feel.”
“We could take lunch in my quarters,” she suggested. “Naked.”
“I was too irritated to eat breakfast,” John admitted as he kissed her jaw. “Which means that Weir has not only pissed me off by picking on Anne—she’s also managed to cockblock me.”
“She’s evil,” Meredith said with a shake of her head. “That reminds me—she’s going to break up with her boyfriend via video which apparently he’ll get after we leave.”
John made a face. “That’s a real dick move.”
“Right?” Meredith sighed. “Let’s go get some food.”
“I have a meeting in about two hours so we can leave the base if you don’t have anything on tap.”
“No, but I figure I’ll be pulled into a decision meeting this afternoon regarding Heightmeyer’s replacement. And there’s really no telling what we’re going to do about replacing Grodin. Elizabeth depended on him a lot, and I doubt she’ll handle replacing him with any kind of grace.”
“I’m sorry it’s going to be a source of stress for you, but I’m not sorry for taking him off the mission. It’s too dangerous for him and us—I’m honestly confused as to how he was able to get a security clearance with bipolar disorder. Any little hitch in your stride can ruin your chances of getting even a low-level clearance much less what civilians have to get to step foot in this place.”
“Weir has a lot of influence,” Meredith murmured. “She entangles herself with powerful people—mostly men. She’s all velvet and steel if you get my meaning, and a certain sort of man can be utterly charmed by her. Even Woolsey has fallen prey to her several occasions. She briefly took command of the SGC because of her tight friendship with Woolsey, but some of the shine’s been worn off that relationship. Probably your fault, truth be known, Elizabeth doesn’t have the ability to undermine you or make you look like you can’t be trusted, so it’s hard to get people on her side against you.”
“Is she blackmailing someone in the IOA or are they trying to get rid of her?”
Meredith laughed. “I can’t figure it out, and she didn’t say when I speculated on it in front of her.”
“You get away with so much more than I would,” John muttered. “I’m starving.”
“Let’s go get you some food then,” Meredith said and smiled. “What’s on your mind?”
“Hamburgers and a huge amount of fries.”
“I’m on board with this plan and know the perfect place.”
* * * *
“You went to lunch with Colonel Sheppard.”
Meredith looked up and found Elizabeth standing in the doorway of Carter’s lab. She glanced at Sam who just shrugged and picked up her laptop then walked to the opposite side of the room. “Yes, we had lunch in town.”
“Don’t you think it’s inappropriate to make him act as your bodyguard?” Elizabeth asked. “He has important work to do on this base, Meredith.”
“He also has to eat,” Meredith pointed out. “And it was his idea. I hate being stuck here and I’m not looking forward to speaking with my father which I expect Homeworld to ask of me within the next few hours.” She shrugged. “So I showed the Colonel a good place to get a burger.”
Weir frowned at her. “Just be careful—we can’t afford to make him hostile to the civilian half of the expedition, and you aren’t exactly the most pleasant person to be around.”
Meredith just lowered her head to the counter as Weir left the lab. “That woman is…”
“I can’t believe she doesn’t get it,” Sam said with a laugh. “The man looks at you like you’re his last meal.”
Meredith blew air out between her lips. “Apparently there’s going to be some kind of dinner tonight?”
“Yeah, you should have an invite in your email.” Sam put her laptop down in front of Meredith and reclaimed her stool. “Weir has a history of using her femaleness to control men around her. I’m not saying it’s always sex with her, but she does play on a man’s weaknesses as it comes to women to get her way. Whether she’s playing sex kitten or wide-eyed innocent damsel in distress. She doesn’t appear to notice when men find other women attractive. It’s like she assumes every man in the room is entirely focused on her one hundred percent of the time—even the gay ones.”
“You were right, by the way, she annoys the shit out of John plus she tried to get Teldy in trouble. He and Teldy are bros, so he took that really personally.”
“Oh, I heard,” Sam said wryly. “He looked dead on his feet, but he was all up in it the moment he entered the Mountain despite the fact that O’Neill was already working to get the report retracted. Weir doesn’t understand how things work and that is going to be a real problem for her in the future. She’s not going to last long term, you know? Eventually, she’s going to cross the wrong person and suffer for it. The IOA’s power is only as broad as the current President allows, and they know it. None of the other countries give enough people or funds to justify bad decisions.”
“And Elizabeth will eventually be a liability they can’t defend,” Meredith murmured.
“Certainly.” Carter took a deep breath. “So you’ll just have to manage her in Pegasus until we finish the Prometheus and join you out there. Document her mistakes and be prepared to report in full when you’re debriefed.”
“Potentially,” Sam said. “And you should cover your ass at every opportunity when it comes to Weir. She’ll throw you under the bus to save herself, remember that.”
Meredith nodded. “Be prepared to throw her under the bus before she can get ahold of me.”
Sam laughed. “Yeah, exactly. Maybe Sheppard will help you.” She glanced toward the door, got up, rushed over and shut it. “Is he fantastic in bed?”
“I’m serious,” Carter cajoled. “I’m not asking for details or anything.”
“He’s a total warrior,” Meredith admitted and shook her head when Sam offered her a delighted grin and a fist bump. “And that’s all you get.”
“That’s all I need,” Sam said cheerfully.
* * * *
Paul Davis gave up trying to get anything out of her father a few hours after lunch, and Meredith had gotten a call from General Hammond himself regarding the matter. She adored George Hammond and had missed him a great deal since he’d taken over as Director of Homeworld Security. Her father was in an interrogation room complete with a two-way mirror on level sixteen. The SGC often held prisoners there for conversations, so she was familiar with the setup.
“You don’t have to do this,” Sam said then bit down on her bottom lip. “Seriously, Meredith, it’s completely out of line for them to even ask.”
“George was apologetic about the necessity,” Meredith murmured. “And I do have to do it—we need to know what he knows, and we’re not going to get anywhere as long as he controls the conversation.” She took a deep breath. “Major Davis, before I enter the room I’d like him handcuffed to the table.”
Davis frowned but nodded. “Of course.”
He left the room and shortly thereafter she watched two MPs enter the room and handcuff Scott McKay to the table with the little metal loop that was embedded for just that purpose. She studied her father, taking in the way age had changed him, and was relieved that the small part of her that used to fear him was utterly gone. Meredith didn’t know if it was distance or experience that had taken that from her but, either way, she was grateful. She filled up her coffee and shared a glance with John who was standing silently with O’Neill. John didn’t want her to do it either, but he hadn’t voiced a complaint since she’d entered the observation room.
The door opened again, and Major Davis inclined his head. “Ready, Dr. McKay?”
“Yes, Major, thank you.”
A few moments later, she settled down in a chair in front of her father and took in the shock that he couldn’t hide.
“You look like your mother,” he said gruffly. “Always did.”
“Small favors,” Meredith said and sipped her coffee. “I’m surprised, Dr. McKay, that you’d attempt to claim my work.”
He smiled. “I made you—everything you do is mine, and don’t be formal with me, Meredith. I expect to be addressed properly.”
“How about Wife Beater?” Meredith questioned and raised an eyebrow when he flushed with fury. “Or maybe Child Abuser? They’re certainly more accurate titles. I don’t know how you earned a Ph.D., to be honest. I’ve read your dissertation—it’s a load of shit.” She inclined her head. “I guess I could call you Scott, though normally I just call you Sperm Donor. You know, thanks to you, I had to turn down a date with a Nobel Prize winner—his first name was Scott, and I was utterly disgusted to be introduced to him.”
“You insolent little bitch,” he hissed.
“Come now, Scott, that’s no way to talk to your progeny.” She shook her head. “Who gave you my work? Not the stuff from college—you could’ve gotten that on your own. Who gave you the clean energy designs?”
“Does it matter?”
“They’re classified, and you passed them to your government; that makes you guilty of espionage.”
“Tremblay already knew about all of that stuff,” McKay said. “Don’t threaten me with ridiculous charges, little girl.” He glared at her. “You should’ve married that twat when you had the chance—it’s the least you could’ve done for me.”
“If you were on fire, I’d toast marshmallows over your corpse,” Meredith said evenly. “So marrying to benefit you is the last thing I’d even think about doing. Who is your contact with the Trust?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Is that so? Did you steal my work all by yourself?”
“You wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for me,” he said. “Everything you’ve done—it’s all mine, Meredith, you’re just an extension of me.”
“You didn’t understand a third of what you were given,” Meredith returned. “That’s why you gave Tremblay my work from grad school because the rest of it was so far over your fucking head that you couldn’t make sense of it.”
He paled. “Shut up, you bitch.” He jerked at the cuffs as his hands fisted. “Smart to get them to lock me up.” He rattled the cuffs again.
“I didn’t do it for myself,” Meredith admitted. “I did it for someone watching, because if you hit me—he’d come in here and kill you. I didn’t want him to get his uniform dirty since he has meetings later today with someone important.” She sat back and crossed her legs. “So you’re just a patsy then? They threw you in the shallow end of the espionage pool because you weren’t smart enough to truly be an asset. Not a surprise that you’ve been reduced to the role of fuck-toy for the assholes running the Trust. Though I’m disappointed in their intelligence gathering abilities—as bait goes, you were a very poor choice. They had no hopes of luring me out to look for you when I was in Canada.”
He stood and tried to pull free of the table. “You little cunt!”
Meredith just stared at him. “The table is bolted to the floor, so sit down, old man, before you hurt yourself.”
“I know,” he seethed. “I know it all, Meredith! All about the stargate and other planets and the ships they’re building! I should be here instead of you! I’m four times the scientist you are—how many men did you have to screw to get here?”
Meredith stood with a smile. “Thank you for your time, Scott. If you’d like to survive the rest of the day, I would suggest you start answering Major Davis’ questions.” She walked to the door, and it opened.
“Don’t you dare leave, Meredith. Come back here! I’m not finished talking to you.”
“Well, I’m finished with you,” she returned evenly and left while he screamed her name repeatedly.
John exited the observation room, shut the door, and frowned at the MPs guarding the area until they averted their gaze. He offered her his hand, and she took it, ignoring the way her fingers were trembling. She said nothing as he led her down the hall and to the elevator. John held her hand until they reached the door to her quarters. She put the code in and opened the door with a sharp exhale.
Meredith sat down on the bed and took a deep breath. She set aside her coffee aside since it was cold and rubbed her face with both hands. “I…”
“I have more uniforms,” John said dryly.
She laughed abruptly and looked at him. “John.”
“I mean, I know he fathered you, and I owe him for that because you’re amazing and the world is better for your being here but I’ll go back up there and beat him half to death if you like.”
“I can’t say I’d be opposed, which is probably horrible.” She toed off her shoes and pulled her legs up onto the bed. “I sometimes wonder if the violence I witnessed when I was little is the reason I’m so unfazed by it now. It was just normal, you know? I had no idea it wasn’t something that happened in everyone’s house until I was eight.”
“God, Mer.” John exhaled sharply and sat down in the chair across from her. “I don’t even…while I’m sure it happened, I don’t even remember my parents arguing loudly. I think if my father had hit my mother—my brothers and I would’ve been helping her dig a hole in the backyard for his body.”
Meredith laughed. “She must have been fierce.”
“Yeah, she was,” John said with a smile. “Strong-minded and worldly.” He braced his hands on his knees and took a deep breath. “General Rampart will be here soon. Are you okay?”
“I’m better than I thought,” Meredith admitted. “I mean—I’m not okay because just looking at him makes me sick to my stomach and I hate him. My mother’s life was short, you know, and she spent a lot of it being beaten by that asshole. Even after she left him, he filled up her head and made her doubt herself. Scott McKay ruined my mother’s life and destroyed her potential.”
“You don’t look like him,” John said quietly. “You said that on the plane, and it’s not true.”
“I have his eyes,” Meredith murmured. “I always wanted blue eyes like Jeannie and Mom, but I have his instead—I hate that.”
“No,” John said and stood. He sat down on the bed with her and cupped her chin. “Your eyes are warm and beautiful.” He brushed his thumb gently over her lips. “My grandfather favored bourbon—rich brown with hints of gold. That’s what I see when I look in your eyes. He’d drink it in his study after dinner in an expensive tumbler that I wasn’t allowed to touch when I was little. The day I joined the Corps, he poured me a drink in that glass.” He leaned in and kissed her mouth. “There is nothing of that bastard in you, Mer. Nothing.”
He kissed her again, gently, and she couldn’t help but shiver a little. “I’ll see you later tonight at the dinner?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.” She smoothed down his collar and adjusted his tie. “Go before you have to rush—it will diminish your badassness.”
He laughed and stood. “Be good.”
“Oh, you know me.” She wiggled her eyebrows and grinned as he opened the door.
Meredith dropped back on the bed as he shut the door and stared at her ceiling. She was kind of furious but more her stomach was so tight it hurt. There was nothing in the world more hateful than the sound of her father’s voice, and if she never had to hear it again, she would be relieved. There was a little knock on the door, and she turned her head a little.
“It’s me, Meredith!”
“Come on in then,” Meredith called out and let her hand fall to her stomach as she listened to Miko input the code and enter.
Miko came in and pushed off her shoes at the edge of the bed. She crawled up on it and settled on her back beside Meredith. “I finished moving all of our projects onto the portable hard drives for the mission.”
“I added another five hundred pounds of coffee to Teldy’s supply list. She promised to make room for it.”
“I slept with SG1.”
“You liar. Sam’s straight,” Meredith said with a laugh and turned to stare at her friend. “If you want to bag a whole gate team—I’d go with SG6.”
Miko hummed under her breath. “The oldest on that team is only 28.”
“Exactly,” Meredith said with a laugh. “Four hard-bodied Marines under the age of 30—you’d have a great time. Though Teal’c is hot as fuck, so I wouldn’t blame you for taking a ride on him.”
“I heard about your father. Sam said it was terrible. She sent me to pet you.”
“John took care of the petting,” Meredith said with a smile. “I’m not as upset as I thought I would be but I’m furious at the same time. I hate him, and that feels abnormal since you’re supposed to love your parents. I’ll be relieved the day I’m told he’s dead. I resent him for living when my mother died so young—it should’ve been him. Why do terrible people live forever?”
“I don’t know,” Miko said. “I should’ve blown up his car when I had the chance.”
Meredith laughed sadly. “You’d have gotten caught.” She caught her friend’s hand and squeezed gently. “Going to the dinner tonight?”
“Yes, I also came by to ask you what you were wearing since we have a dress that is very similar in design.”
“I thought I’d wear the dark blue one I bought last week.”
“Ah, good, I’ll wear my red one. I heard Elizabeth complaining about it, but she’s going as well though she thinks it is a waste of her valuable time to socialize with a bunch of grunts.”
“She’s such an asshole,” Meredith said in wonder. “Did you hear about the video she’s going to leave for Simon?”
“Yes, I did.” Miko grimaced.
“John said it was a dick move,” Meredith confided and grinned when Miko burst out laughing.
* * * *
“I’m not sure I approve of this mission,” Rampart said thoughtfully as he stared at the stargate. “Never have liked sending my Marines here, Jack, no matter how important it is. You take too much for granted.”
“We’re protecting the planet,” Jack said.
“That’s not all you do here, and the costs are profane,” Randolph returned evenly. “And Pegasus? How political is this assignment? Because I have to tell you, I’m not aboard on letting you keep Sheppard for it. He’s a highly trained, elite combat asset. I sent him to Nevada to recover and regain his balance, not to end up leading a bunch of Marines on an off-world mission.”
Jack sighed. “He was adamant about joining the mission as soon as he was briefed. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he wasn’t going to take no for an answer once he found out that we’re sending Meredith McKay to Pegasus. You might have sent him to Nevada to get his head right, but that’s not all that he managed to mend while he was there.”
“He’s in love with her then?” Randolph questioned. “Do you think he’d fight me if I reassigned him?”
“I think he’d resign his commission and join the mission as a civilian,” Jack said evenly. “He’d be furious, of course, and you’d have to deal with McKay.”
Randolph grimaced. “The last time I pissed her off, the IRS mysteriously found a reason to audit five year’s worth of my personal taxes.”
Jack snorted. “You got off easy, and I mean that. I don’t know how the particulars of that relationship but they’ve been circling around each other for about a year and when she accepted the mission to Pegasus, her first request was that he be added to the mission. In fact, she told me that she wouldn’t go at all if he weren’t put in charge of the military part of the expedition. The IOA knows that, and that’s why they’re completely on board with Sheppard’s position. So if you mess with what the IOA has set up, you’ll probably make POTUS really unhappy.” He inclined his head. “What do you need Sheppard for?”
“Nothing I can discuss with you,” Rampart said roughly. “There are others—I’ll find someone else. He was my first choice because it would be good for his career and the man has earned all of my consideration when it comes to his future.”
The door to the conference room opened, and Sheppard entered.
“Sirs.” John glanced between them. “Is there a problem?”
“Take a seat,” Jack said and motioned Sheppard to a chair near him. “General Rampart isn’t happy that I’ve transferred you out of Nevada and into another assignment without discussing it with him.”
Sheppard took a seat, shoulders stiff. Randolph knew that posture well enough to know that O’Neill had put John on the defensive. Rampart took a seat directly across from John and stared.
“Still having nightmares?”
Sheppard’s eyes darkened, and his cheeks flushed. “It’s been a few months since the last one, sir.”
“Just the…two I had when I was at Bethesda. Looking back on it, I felt trapped by the hospital staff. They wouldn’t let me leave my room without an escort, and my family wasn’t helping either. I needed space and no one wanted to give it to me.”
Rampart nodded. “Look me in the eye and tell me you’re ready for combat, John.”
Sheppard cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “I can’t say it with a hundred percent certainty, sir. I’ve done little more than target practice since I returned stateside. Physically, I’ve regained the weight and muscle I lost while being held captive. In fact, I’m in better shape today than the day I was taken hostage. I believe I’m there mentally but you and I both know I won’t know for certain until I’m in it. I’ve been sparring with a few people in the Mountain since I came to Colorado, and I haven’t had any adverse reactions to being hit. I also haven’t felt abnormally aggressive or angry during those exercises.”
“Good signs,” Rampart murmured. “You’ve served your country with distinction, John, and survived conditions that would’ve destroyed most people. You know you don’t have anything to prove, right?”
“Permission to speak freely?” John asked.
John leaned forward. “Sir, those assholes in the IOA are sending Meredith to another galaxy. She isn’t stepping foot off the planet without me, ever again. Period.”
“Like that, is it?”
“Until she says otherwise, yes,” John said evenly.
Randolph laughed. “She’s got a way about her, doesn’t she? I heard she turned Gibbs’ head while he was here.”
“He told her he was glad she was leaving the planet because he didn’t need another ex-wife,” John said then paused with a frown. “How many ex-wives does he have?”
“Three,” Rampart said. “He’s a serial husband—last time I saw him I told him he should just marry that pretty boy he brings with him everywhere. DiNozzo apparently likes bastards. Speaking of ex-wives, the Pentagon finished their review of the situation with Nancy,” Rampart said. “She took a ding as they considered her behavior an ethics violation, but if she keeps her nose clean, she won’t lose her security clearance. Your father is making some moves, by the way, and within the next three years Sheppard Industries will be tapped for work with the Stargate Program.”
“Moves because of me?” John questioned.
“No, as far as we know Patrick is merely expanding the engineering parts of his company and he’s become aware of some very lucrative projects that he’s been missing out. Your father likes to make money. We can keep him out if you prefer,” Jack interjected.
“No. I mean, that’s not particularly fair to him or his people. If they earn a place in the program then they should have it. I suspect that you’ll get a fist in your face, sir, when he’s briefed on the program, especially if I’m not on the planet when that conversation takes place.” John grimaced. “So maybe you could be conferenced in remotely. I doubt he’d punch the Director of Homeworld Security, so General Hammond is safe. Probably.”
“The next time your father takes a swing at me—I’m going to hit back,” Rampart said.
“I have the reports to back up John’s physical health,” O’Neill interjected. “And I’ve watched him in PT—his reflexes are great, and his responses in sparring are normal for his training. Granted, he’s the only Force Recon Marine I have in this place, so the people around here were a little startled by the depth of his training. I have something in the Mountain that could give you both a little peace of mind regarding mental and emotional readiness for combat.”
“I’m listening,” Rampart said.
“It’s alien—a combat virtual reality environment. I don’t let many of the civilians get in it often because it is intense and very few have managed to get through a single scenario. Teal’c uses it for training regularly. We tried to program some specific scenarios, but it quickly became clear that we weren’t going to be able to control the level of conflict.”
“Why?” John asked curiously.
“Because it gets in your head and tailors itself to challenge you. It’ll play on your weaknesses and make you work to survive. If you die in the simulation, you get kicked out. The Spec Ops team I have in the Mountain and Teal’c are the only ones to survive a scenario on a regular basis. Sam’s done it once or twice. I’ve done it a handful of times, but I die more than I live. Oddly enough, Daniel Jackson holds the record among civilians, but he has a stupid amount of luck.” He cleared his throat. “And I have to tell you that I’ve had several men go into it with the appearance of being fine and come out of it nearly psychotic.”
“I’ll do it,” John said.
“Sir,” John began and took a deep breath, “I need to know if I’m a liability. I need to know where my soft spots are and…if I’m dangerous for her.”
“All right, son, let’s go play an alien video game.”
* * * * –
The Combat Virtual Reality Environment was the single worst thing they’d ever brought back to Earth as far as Meredith was concerned. She hated it and wished she’d never fixed it. Moreover, she wished she hadn’t figured out to make more of them. There were currently six in the Mountain, and she knew that Teldy had already requisitioned one of them for the expedition. But as much as she hated it, she wasn’t going to let John get in it without her there to monitor it unless he didn’t want her to watch.
She offered Rampart a glare as he reached out for the chair beside her. “The audience sits over there, General.” She flicked a hand toward the set of theater seats. “You’ll get the best view of the action from the main screen.”
He braced himself on the chair and stared down at her. “Meredith.”
“Fuck off, Randolph.”
He sighed and sat down. “Look at me.”
She focused on his face. “What?”
“I need to know if he’s right. He’s one of my boys. I wasn’t there when they pulled him out of that four by four cell in the back of a cave in Afghanistan. But I was on the base they brought him to.” He took a deep breath. “And I was there when his father buried the memory of him in Arlington, and I brought him all the way home to Virginia when we found him alive. Protecting him is my only goal here—if he’s not ready for combat, we need to know before we put him in a situation that could get him killed.”
She pressed her lips together and focused on the computer.
“Can I trust you not to make this easy on him?”
“I’d never disrespect him like that,” Meredith said evenly. “Now fuck off so I can concentrate. We’ll pull him if his vitals get erratic, but that’s the SOP.”
Randolph sighed and stood. “Don’t make this harder for him—put your game face on.”
“Don’t worry about me, I know exactly what he needs from me,” Meredith said evenly. “He might be your boy, but he’s my man.”
“God help us,” Rampart muttered as he walked away.
She glared at him as the door to the prep room opened, and John entered with Iona Brightman. He was wearing a pair of scrub pants and a dozen or so sensor pads. She picked up the monitor, the leads, and the VR headset. Brightman paused at the end of the half-reclined chair, but John slid into it.
“Kind of reminds me of the chair in Antarctica,” John said. “Though a little more comfortable.”
“Jack said the control chair is butt-numbing so anything would be an improvement,” Meredith said. She handed the leads to Brightman and put the monitor in the pocket built into the chair. “The headset will fit over your face from the top of your forehead and down to the bridge of your nose. Have you read the reports on this tech?”
“No, not yet.”
“It’s alien, of course, but the Asgard helped us test it for our use, and while it’s not normally physically dangerous, it can be mentally and emotionally stressful. It’s going to root out your weak spots and exploit them. The moment I activate the headset, you’ll be rendered unconscious for about fifteen minutes while the device accesses you. When you wake, you’ll be in a VR environment that will feel exactly like reality. If you’re injured during the scenario, you will feel pain appropriate to the injury. At any point, you can request an exit, and it will end. This isn’t a contest so don’t…torture yourself. If you’re in extreme emotional distress when you request an exit—you’ll be moved to the infirmary and restrained before we wake you up.”
“Will my physical abilities be on par with reality or will it give me a handicap to increase the difficulty?”
“You go in fit, you wake up fit,” Meredith murmured as she made the final adjustments to the headset so that it would fit him properly. “It’s designed to give you a challenge, but you can win the game, so to speak. You’ll be given the standard field gear that all teams are issued for off-world exploration.” She paused while Brightman attached two leads to monitors on his head. “You’ll see people you know—enemies and friends alike. People you know will die around you, and it will feel very real. That’s the point.”
“I get it, Mer,” John murmured. “This is being recorded?”
“Yes, and successful runs are normally added to the training archives. However, if the scenario is too personal for you, it will be deleted at your request. General Rampart and General O’Neill need to stay since you’re doing this for them but everyone else in the room is subject to your approval, and that includes me. Dr. Brightman can monitor your vitals from a terminal next door which does not have a video feed.” She shifted one of the leads off his cheek and took a deep breath. “You don’t owe anyone any explanations for your choices on this front.”
“Just you then,” John said as he relaxed in the chair.
“You heard the man,” O’Neill said from his place in the front row on the observation deck.
Meredith noted that Elizabeth hesitated but said nothing as she left with Woolsey and Sam Carter. She settled the headset on his face, and he touched her wrist briefly with a soft brushing of his fingertips before he put his hand on the armrest. Iona Brightman was the last one to leave with a nod in Meredith’s direction.
She walked away from the chair before she gave into the urge to pet him and activated the headset as she swallowed a variety of complaints that she had no right to voice in their current circumstances. Contrary to what some of them thought, she’d never undermine John, and if she had a problem with him—that argument would take place in private if there was any choice in it at all. She understood how important it was to support his leadership to the fullest measure, even if Elizabeth didn’t.
Focusing on the tablet attached to the system, she watched the system tailor itself to John Sheppard. The process wasn’t new to her. In fact, she’d insisted on being on hand for the first fifty or so trials they’d done with the CVRE before it had been made available for extensive training for the military personnel in the facility.
“Talk to us, McKay,” O’Neill prodded.
“It’s still assessing,” Meredith murmured. “He’s a bit different than what the system has been exposed to—I expect it’ll respond to him much like it did that Navy SEAL you had in here three years ago.”
“Maybe a little more than,” Rampart said neutrally. “Sheppard went from the Basic Recon Course and straight into SERE training. He’s an elite combat asset, Meredith, and entered the Corps with a black belt in Krav Maga—which was one of the reasons his degrees didn’t dissuade us from recruiting him for special operations.”
Meredith frowned at him but turned her chair as the lights started to dim and the large screen above the chair activated. She resolved to ruin Rampart’s life if John woke up in a fucking cave. If she could’ve nixed that particular scenario from consideration, she would’ve and lied about it if she’d been asked. She hadn’t been surprised by the Krav Maga when she’d read it in John’s file—most career military assets of his caliber had one or more forms of martial arts on tap. Sam favored Judo and had taught Meredith a lot after she’d come to the SGC. Evan Lorne knew Taekwondo and was a regular kickboxer—Meredith had taken lessons from him, too.
The screen activated, and she was greeted with a rich, green, wet jungle. A bit surprising since John’s deployments in the Corps had been predominantly in desert environments. It was kind of like watching a movie—a terrible one that would probably give John nightmares. There was a burst of shadow along the path and John primed his weapon.
“Fuck me,” Meredith muttered and let her head fall back briefly.
“What?” Rampart asked in concern.
“We’ve got another Watkins on our hands, Jack.”
“Shit,” Jack muttered.
“What?” Rampart demanded. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Meredith sighed. “John’s just got a great imagination and a huge catalog of sci-fi movies and shows in his head. I’m pretty damn sure we just saw a fucking xenomorph.” She watched John move through the jungle quickly.
“Like from Alien?” Randolph demanded. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, Corporal Watkins got chased through New York by Godzilla,” Jack said with some amusement. “Smart kid, though, he eventually blew the giant lizard up.” He sighed. “Why couldn’t it be something fun like that? Instead, we get sci-fi horror. Great.”
“You know I need to see him engage human combatants,” Randolph said.
“Why?” Meredith asked and turned to him. “You think we’ll only see humans in Pegasus? Seriously? We’ll be lucky if xenomorph-like is the worst of it.” She jerked when John shouted in shock and turned to find him jerking off his tac vest which was covered in acid. He dropped the garment to the ground, and he was running again. He primed his weapon and opened fire as the alien swung down out of the tree in front of him. It fell to his feet.
John huffed in obvious disappointment and kicked it. “That’s bullshit.”
Meredith laughed and shook her head then sighed when John turned to the sound of shouting. “What language is that?”
“Afghan Persian,” Randolph murmured. “He’s fluent—I guess the alien was a red herring?”
“No,” Jack said. “It just means that CVRE isn’t going to let him forget that he has to watch out for humanoids and aliens. It’ll probably throw some stuff at him he’s never seen before either—unas, Goa’uld, etcetera.”
Two hours later, Meredith was half way through her second plot to ruin Randolph’s life by introducing him to one of her foolish sorority sisters. He had that shit coming, and she figured if she’d had to suffer through actually having sorority sisters then he deserved to end up married to one. The scenario was pure escape and evade—what he’d failed to do in real life the day he was captured, she assumed. He’d killed two unas, three Jaffa, ten humans, and three xenomorphs in a variety of profoundly violent ways. She wished she could’ve talked to him in private before he’d gotten ready for the simulator. There were ways to minimize the inclusion of fictional content though it had been and always would be hit and miss with Eli Watkins.
“What the hell is that?” Rampart demanded.
Meredith sighed. “Darth Maul. For fuck’s sake.”
On screen, John was laughing.
“Pay attention, John,” she admonished even though he couldn’t hear her. “Getting impaled by that ridiculous lightsaber is going to hurt like a bitch.”
She watched out of the corner of her eye basically since she didn’t want to see John beheaded, and the last time Watkins had gone up against the Sith warrior—it had gotten really ugly fast. He chose an up-close and personal attack—grasping the wrist of Darth Maul’s sword arm and shoving seven inches of Ka-Bar into the alien’s gut. She couldn’t help but laugh at the furious disappointment on his face when the light saber disappeared the moment it hit the ground next to Darth Maul’s body.
“Well, that’s some bullshit,” Randolph muttered.
“It doesn’t let you keep weapons you aren’t trained to use,” Jack explained. “It threw a ninja at me once—I really wanted those damn swords.”
The screen blurred and Meredith cursed softly.
“It’s changing his location,” Meredith murmured. She shuddered when John stumbled across a dirt road, and something exploded in the background.
John ran toward a damaged helicopter and wrenched open the pilot’s door. “Holland.” He pulled the Marine out of the cockpit after cutting through a harness. “Fuck.”
“Sir.” The man’s hand curled into John’s tac vest. “Hurts.”
“I know, kid, I know,” John said and shouldered his weight. “On your feet, Marine.”
Holland stumbled against him. “Can’t.”
Meredith closed her eyes briefly as they fell against what was left of a wall as gunfire sounded all around them.
“You will,” John snapped. He jerked his belt free and cinched it around the younger man’s leg. “Stay focused—evac is…”
“Not coming,” Holland interrupted, his voice slurring with pain. “Left us out here to die—left me. Didn’t know about you. Sorry, I didn’t see you. Thought you were already dead. They’d have come for you. Sorry, sir.” He flinched at the sound of shouting. “Insurgents.”
“It’s fine, Jake. I promise.” John took a deep breath and reloaded his weapon. “Just sit tight, and I’ll get us out of this.”
“You should go—run.” Holland pushed at him weakly. “I’m dead.”
“John.” He paused and coughed, blood slicked his lips. “Please, you need to go. You’ve got a chance if you leave me behind.” His fingers clenched weakly around John’s wrist. “Don’t let these bastards take you.”
John put his hand on Holland’s and sat down abruptly against the wall. He closed his eyes. “God, Mer, get me out of here. I can’t watch this kid die, again.”
Meredith lurched forward and hit the emergency exit button immediately. She stood as the lights brightened and turned to find both Rampart and O’Neill on their feet. Rampart looked furious, and O’Neill had a haunted look in his eyes that she figured would linger for days.
“If you tell me this makes him unfit for duty—”
“No,” Randolph interrupted. “I can’t blame him for that. I wouldn’t want to relive some fucked up shit like that either. If John has a failing, it’s that he can’t leave anyone behind. It’s why he was captured—he stayed with Jake Holland until he died. He’s more than ready to deal with combat situations, and that’s all I needed to know. Tell him I’ll see him in an hour at the dinner.”
Meredith just nodded as both men left. She walked to the chair and carefully lifted the VR headset off of John’s face. He was still relaxed, asleep. She took her time removing the sensors from his skin and setting them aside for Brightman to deal with. She’d just plucked the last from his stomach when he stirred.
“Hey there, Marine,” she murmured as she focused on his face. “How do you feel?”
“Pissed off,” John said and sat up. He curled his toes against the foot rest briefly then slid out of the chair. “I can’t…I expected it, and I thought I was prepared for it, then when it didn’t happen at the start I figured the machine wasn’t going to pick at that wound. I’m not afraid of being held prisoner again—I mean, I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I don’t fear it.” He looked toward the control center. “Can you delete that last part? I don’t care about anyone seeing the rest of it, but I don’t want them seeing Jake…” He took a deep breath. “No one needs to see that.”
“I’ll take care of it while you get dressed.”
“It felt stupidly real,” John admitted. “I didn’t expect that—there were times when I forgot I was even in a simulation. It came and went, I can’t explain it.”
“You don’t have to,” Meredith said. “I’ve been in the CVRE. The first time it put me in a class in grad school and gave me a test on psychology.”
John burst out laughing. “What?”
“I fear failure,” Meredith explained and flushed when he raised an eyebrow. “Most specifically academic failure so it set me up to fail to see how I’d respond.”
“And how did you respond?”
“Sarcastically,” Meredith admitted with a blush. “Go get dressed.”
“We okay?” John questioned
She frowned and moved closer. “Why wouldn’t be?”
“Well, beyond the fun elements—you did watch me kill a lot of people just now,” John admitted as he pressed a hand against the small of her back. “So I’m just asking.”
“We’re great, and we would be if those bodies were real,” Meredith murmured. “Promise.” She ran her fingers down his abs and lifted her chin slightly in invitation.
He kissed her gently and stepped back with a sigh. “I really resent all that time we had on our hands in Nevada since we have none these days.”
“It’ll even out,” Meredith promised. “Or, you know, we’ll just run away or something.”
He laughed. “Deal.” He pressed another quick kiss to her mouth and left her.
He’d just shut the door to the prep room when the outer door opened and Elizabeth Weir entered. Meredith sat down at the computer terminal and started processing the file. She’d decided to end the final recording at the blur. There were a few files like it in the archive since scenarios often took a personal turn when the location changed mid-scenario.
“Is that the recording?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, but Colonel Sheppard hasn’t officially signed off on it being viewed by anyone.” She identified the blurred moment and decisively erased the last ten minutes of footage then saved the file then she replaced the automatic back-up with the new file.
“General Rampart said he passed.”
“It’s not a pass or fail situation, Dr. Weir,” Meredith murmured. “It was an evaluation regarding his response to combat stress, and he did very well.”
“Why did he let you stay?”
“You’d have to ask him, but someone did have to stay and run the CVRE, and perhaps he preferred someone he knew versus another scientist in the Mountain.” She saved a copy of the file to her personal network drive since she figured that John might want to review it later then closed out everything with her security codes.
Weir sat down abruptly in the chair beside her. “I don’t like how friendly the two of you are.”
Meredith blinked in surprised and turned to look at her. “Pardon me?”
“It’s detrimental to the leadership of the expedition for you be his friend, Meredith.”
“You told me to be nice to him,” Meredith pointed out dryly. “Moreover, Dr. Weir, you don’t have the right to tell me who I can socialize with. There are no fraternization rules within the expedition charter regarding civilians and the military half of the expedition. Those rules don’t exist because it would be a heinous abuse of power to attempt to regulate such a thing.”
“I don’t like it.”
“For fuck’s sake, this isn’t high school!” Meredith stood. “And by the way, from now on you should call me Dr. McKay.”
Weir frowned. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, it’s the best choice to make for the leadership of the expedition. You’ll be my boss in Pegasus, not my friend. That should be clear to everyone, most of all you.” She picked up her laptop and closed it as the door to the prep room opened, and John exited. “Colonel Sheppard, I’ve saved a copy of the video to my personal server. I’ll put it on a USB drive for you to review. You’ll need to stop by General O’Neill’s office to sign off on its inclusion on the training server. You’ll have the chance then, to determine who should have access to it—civilian, officer, and enlisted respectively. Many officers of your rank restrict their recordings to military only.”
“Thank you,” John murmured and glanced between them then left the room with a small frown in place.
Weir stood as the door shut behind John. “Look, he has way more authority than he should, and I can’t do anything about that, but the last thing I need for him is to manipulate you into taking his side against me. He’s probably the sort that would seduce a woman to control her.”
“Then you’d think he’d be trying to get into your pants,” Meredith said snidely, and Weir flushed. “Why can’t you just do your damn job and stop indulging in paranoid fantasies where everyone is out to screw you over?”
“Watch your tone, Dr. McKay.”
Meredith sent her a dark look and walked across the room. “Don’t get confused, Dr. Weir, we’re not in Pegasus, and don’t talk to me like I’m a child.” She paused at the door and turned to look at the older woman. “It’s going to be really difficult for me to back any of your plays if I don’t respect you and you’re making that more difficult by the day.”
* * * *
John was pretty certain that Meredith wasn’t wearing her much-discussed date panties under the dark green dress that was clinging to her every curve like a second skin. Her dark hair was down, brushing over her shoulders and down her bare back. The modest neckline had been a relief until she’d turned down and he’d discovered the dress was cut all the way down to the small of her back in a ‘v’ shape. He’d only had to glare at two of his men before it had spread around that staring at Dr. McKay was a really bad idea.
He was sure that Rampart had given a moving speech about duty and sacrifice—John just hadn’t been paying attention because Meredith had flouted the seating arrangement and the basic rules of such things and sat down beside him, displacing Jack O’Neill with a flick of her hair and a smile. O’Neill had just shook his head at her and sent Major Davis off to sit elsewhere.
John realized halfway through the meal that Meredith was staking a claim on him, and since he didn’t mind, he indulged her little display and let his arm rest on the back of her chair after he’d finished eating and had declined dessert. He also noted that Elizabeth Weir, who was seated at an entirely civilian table two rows to their right, was glaring pointedly at Meredith—she’d been doing it most of the meal.
“What’s her problem?”
Meredith sectioned off another piece of cake. “Signal the waiter and get more cake.”
John laughed but did as instructed. “Seriously, what’s with Weir?”
“Oh, I took her prom date apparently.”
O’Neill burst out laughing, and John sighed then shifted closer to Meredith. “Are you being serious?”
“Well, she told me I can’t be friends with you and told me you were the sort to seduce a woman to manipulate them. That’s pure high school drama right there though I hardly know since I was already in college at sixteen. Still, I chatted with Miko before the dinner when I was confirming she hadn’t changed her mind about the dress she was wearing since I’d decided to wear this one instead of the blue one. And she has this dress in a lovely burnt orange. Regardless, she kept the red dress decision.”
The waiter slid a piece of German chocolate cake into place in front of John and Meredith immediately switched it out for her empty plate.
“So I guess you should be prepared for her to make some kind of comment or whatever,” Meredith shrugged.
“She has a degree in political science,” John said in disgust.
Sam Carter laughed and sat back in her chair with her wine. “You snob.”
“She literally earned a Ph.D. in a field dedicated to studying how people lie to each other to gain social and economic power,” John said. “Name one field more boring than that.”
Carter opened her mouth to immediately respond then frowned. “Hmmm, I knew someone who majored in Russian Literature?”
“No, literature of any sort is fascinating,” John disagreed. “The passion of our entire species is contained in the great works of the people that have come and gone before us. The written word is the greatest and most amazing discovery of mankind when it’s all said and done. It changed our ability to communicate, and it ensured that we would be able to pass on the stories that make up the fabric of our societies.”
Carter flushed and bit down on her lip.
“John, stop talking about the passion of our species,” Meredith said with a laugh and nudged him. “Did you want any of this cake?”
“I don’t like coconut,” he admitted.
Meredith turned to stare at him in horror. “Sam come sit beside him and do that whole thing where you try to feel the symbiote inside him—but don’t, you know, touch him.”
“I don’t have a symbiote.”
“That’s so sad,” Sam said and shook her head.
* * * *
“Your quarters or mine?” Meredith questioned.
“Yours—I’ll do the walk of shame in the morning.”
She laughed and hit the button for her floor. “Thanks.” Once the elevator was moving, she braced herself on the hand rail and slid one shoe off then the other. “I really like that you’re tall—I can wear whatever shoes I want without having to worry about being taller than you.”
“You know I wouldn’t care if you were, right?” John questioned. “That sort of insecurity is practically foreign to me.”
“I do know. Is it shallow to admit that I prefer tall men because then I can feel smaller and more feminine?”
He laughed. “No, I get it.” He wrapped an arm around her waist as they left the elevator and headed for her quarters. “You think Weir is going to complain about us, right?”
“I think she’s still trying to figure out we are to each other and yes I think she’ll complain. I think she’s going to blow her top when she finally realizes that we’re lovers. It’s going to be one more thing she can’t control, and it’s going to be ugly. Elizabeth is actually very rigid when it comes to her personal relationships; which is why she doesn’t think it’s terrible to leave her fiancé with a fucking video goodbye. She doesn’t allow for friendships at work. Even Peter Grodin, who has been with her for years, isn’t a friend, he’s just someone that she can boss around and control. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she’s used his diagnosis in the past to manipulate or even blackmail him into doing things she wanted to be done.”
“That’s terrible,” John said. “Maybe leaving him behind on Earth is the best thing we could do for him.”
“I hope so,” Meredith said. “He’ll have time to separate from her—make his own life.” She keyed in her code and pulled him into her room. “Gawd, take off all of your clothes right now. Seriously.”
He laughed but unbuckled his belt as she pulled her dress down her arms and shimmied out of it. “For fuck’s sake, Mer. You’ve been practically naked all night!”
She grinned. “The dress had boob-support, and I couldn’t have worn a bra anyways.” She slid her fingers into the thin lace sides of the tiny thong and took it off as well.
He watched her crawl onto the bed as he shed his jacket and tossed it across the back of her chair. The rest of his clothes, he put in the chair as neatly as he could since he’d have to wear them back to his own quarters in the morning. He tucked his socks into his dress shoes as she pulled a strip of condoms free of a box in her nightstand.
“I noticed your bruise is completely healed,” John murmured as he joined her on the bed.
“I stopped by Sam’s lab and asked her to fix it with the healing device since I was going to wear a backless dress,” Meredith murmured as she wrapped her hand around his cock. “Are you worried about Weir?”
“Let’s not talk about her while we’re naked,” John said. “Or about to get naked, or thinking about getting naked.”
“So never again,” Meredith surmised and laughed when he grinned.
She prodded him on his back then dropped a condom on his stomach as she moved downward. John took a deep breath and spread his legs slightly as she licked her lips
“Do we need a condom for a blowjob?” Meredith questioned as she cupped his balls.
“I’m clean,” John murmured. “It’s your choice, though.”
She hummed under her breath then sucked the head of him into her mouth. She loved the way he tensed under her hands and groaned. There was power in giving another person pleasure—a power she enjoyed without feeling remotely guilty about it. He slid one big hand into her hair, but there was no pressure or urging, just his fingers tangling in her hair as if he couldn’t help but touch her.
Meredith took as much of him as she could into her mouth, and the head of his cock tucked briefly into the back of her throat before she pulled off slightly. He sucked in a deep breath as she repeated the maneuver several times.
“Fuck, sweetheart,” John hissed and spread his legs further. He shifted his hips slightly and shuddered. “I…hell…I’m going to come.”
She sucked harder, worked him in and out of her mouth a little faster, and was rewarded with a burst of cum across her tongue. Meredith swallowed quickly and continued to lick and suck at the head of his cock as he shook through an intense orgasm. She released his cock with a little pop of her lips and looked up.
“Come here,” he ordered and tugged gently at her hair.
She met his demand with a little smile and groaned as he captured her mouth in a hard kiss. Tasting cum, even his own, didn’t appear to be a problem for him. John’s hands wandered over her body as they kissed and she just shivered as he slid two fingers into her cunt. He pulled his mouth from hers and shifted her slightly so he could suck her breasts. Meredith clenched one hand on the back of his head to keep him in place as he sucked. She loved his soft lips tugging on her nipples and the way his warm tongue was wet just enough.
John shifted to her other breast as he worked his fingers in and out of her hole. Her whole body was nearly vibrating with pleasure, so when he rubbed his thumb over her clit, she jerked against the sharp jab of pleasure it caused. She rocked up into him and was relieved to find his cock half hard when she worked one hand between them. She cupped his balls then stroked his cock even his teeth clenched gently on her nipple.
His hand slid along her side and plucked up the condom. He released her nipple then went back to lick it gently before pulling his fingers from her. “I’ll be honest—I normally let a woman pick the position, but I need you on your knees. Pretty much right now.”
Meredith grinned as he put the condom on and gamely rolled to her knees and braced herself on the bed. His hands immediately clenched on her hips, and he nudged at one thigh with his knee. She spread her legs more and tilted her hips.
“You’re gorgeous,” John murmured as he slid one hand down her back then brushed over her asshole with the tips of his fingers.
She groaned, and her hands curled into the bedding. “John.”
“If I weren’t so damn impatient, I’d work this pretty asshole of yours open. Would you let me?”
“Yeah,” Meredith admitted and groaned when he licked over her asshole. “Fuck. Yes.” His tongue flicked over her hole several times before he shifted on the bed and filled her cunt with his cock. “You’re so filthy.”
“You like it.”
“I love it,” Meredith admitted and shuddered he started to fuck her. His hips slapped against her ass as he worked his big cock in and out of her pussy. “You…you’re such a cock-stingy bastard, Sheppard, I swear I should kick your ass for not fucking me months ago.”
John responded by fucking her a little harder. It was delicious and perfect and on the right side of too much. The pace was brutal, but she couldn’t help but rock back into each thrust of his body until their skin was smacking together lewdly. Her skin was slick with sweat as she braced one hand on the headboard and demanded more. He gave it to her, tilting her hips a little more until she let her went down on her elbows and buried her face against the mattress.
Orgasm slammed into her like a sucker punch, and she groaned harshly against the duvet. She fought against the desire to collapse on the mattress and held her body in the position he wanted until his hips snapped against her ass one final time, and he came with shuddery breath. John pulled away from her and put her on her back immediately. He covered her body with his and sought her mouth. The kiss was soft and startlingly affectionate.
He lifted his head. “I have this crazy inclination to thank you.”
Meredith grinned and stretched as he shifted off of her. “You are welcome.”
John laughed and dropped on his back beside her. “For the record, insulting me during sex isn’t a turn-off. Who knew?”
“I’m not taking it back. You were cock stingy in Nevada. I didn’t even know what I was missing, and you should be ashamed of yourself.” She huffed when he laughed some more.
“Shower?” John questioned.
He rolled off of the bed and went into the bathroom. Meredith hesitated for a few moments, her body warm and relaxed from coming. She wasn’t sure if Elizabeth Weir was jealous or not when it came to John. Maybe it was just about her issues regarding the chain of command, or maybe the woman was already trying to figure out how to manage John, and Meredith was in the way. Frowning, she left the bed and went into the bathroom.
John was already in the shower washing his hair.
“You don’t think Elizabeth’s attractive, right?”
He looked at her through the glass door of the shower and stepped back to rinse his hair. “Physically, she’s my type, but I think you know that since the two of you have similar body shape and dark hair. She reminds me of Nancy which would be a comfort if she wasn’t such a complete asshole.”
Meredith laughed and pulled open the door. She stepped into the stall, and he reached out for her as soon she slid the glass shut. “And?”
“You’re hotter than her.”
“Granted,” Meredith said and waved a hand for him to continue.
“No, I don’t find her attractive, and it has everything to do with her personality. She’s deeply unpleasant, purposefully ignorant in subjects that she really should be learning everything she can about—from the military chain of command all the way up to survival training. She’s like a micromanaging, self-absorbed Pollyanna knock-off and that makes me uncomfortable.” He huffed. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about her ever again.”
“An unrealistic goal,” Meredith said with a laugh. “Why does she make you uncomfortable?”
“I guess it boils down to the fact that I don’t trust her because she doesn’t know how to play it straight. She’s a pile of ill-defined motivations and poor decisions. I think she’s going to get people killed.”
Meredith moved into his space. “Hey, look at me.”
He focused on her.
“I’ve got your back,” Meredith said. “There are ten different clauses in the charter that will allow me to minimize her ability to do stupid shit. She’s so focused on you, John, that she’s never bothered to notice that the IOA gave me all the legal tools I need to turn her into a powerless figurehead if she does something stupid.”
John pulled her into his arms and pressed his face against her hair. Meredith relaxed as the tension slid out of his shoulders. If Elizabeth Weir wanted a fight, she’d get one.