Title: Damage Control
Series: Hold My Coffee
Series Order: 7
Author: Keira Marcos
Betas: Ladyholder & Jilly James
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Relationship: Meredith McKay/John Sheppard
Genre: Romance, Rule 63, Alternate Universe
Word Count: 13824
Warnings: Explicit Language & junk science that I half-assed from information on forums and Wikipedia articles.
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. UPDATED CASTING PAGE ON THE SERIES HOME PAGE.
Summary: Fallout with the Trust leads to the Patrick Sheppard being briefed on the Stargate program, and that goes down pretty much how John expected it would.
Elizabeth Weir wasn’t much of a diplomat, Meredith thought. The woman was short-tempered, and, moreover, she had zero ability to keep her emotions off of her face. Additionally, John was right to be worried that the woman was dangerous for the mission. It was annoying, really, that in the beginning she’d dismissed Weir as a problem and had focused entirely on Sumner. It had been pretty arrogant, Meredith decided, to assume she’d be able to control the “fluffy academic” they’d put in charge of the mission.
Weir was deeply emotional in a way that was practically foreign to Meredith. The woman ran hot and cold but in no discernable pattern that McKay could see. She played people against each other, railed against circumstances that didn’t require it, and had insane ideas about basically everything. She also micromanaged the oddest things and totally ignored far-reaching situations like Carson’s ATA research because of her own personal ambitions.
Meredith didn’t think Weir had been aware of the cloning or the methods that Beckett was going to deploy for testing, but she did wonder if the woman could’ve been talked around to authorizing it if Carson had gotten to her before she and Helen Simpson had. Weir’s desire for an ATA gene was pretty intense and her personal research at the SGC was focused solely on the Ancients despite the fact that most of the experiences the SGC had with Ancients and their tech had been a mixed bag of loss and gain. Certainly more loss in the end.
Weir had backed off the supply lists when John had stayed firm and backed all of Teldy’s decisions regarding the expedition. It had been two days since the dinner with Rampart and the woman hadn’t said a single word to Meredith. She’d sent several barely polite emails demanding information she already had and attempted to rearrange Meredith’s work schedule. It hadn’t worked since McKay had shifted herself and Miko onto Sam Carter’s team. They had nothing else to do for the expedition at the moment, and she wasn’t going to do busy work for Elizabeth ten hours a day.
Elizabeth had made the insane choice to double down on her protests regarding the removal of Kate Heightmeyer from the expedition, which had annoyed O’Neill so much that he’d fired Heightmeyer outright and sent her to Homeworld Security for an exit briefing. Meredith had never attended one of Hammond’s exit briefings, but she had heard that it was basically two hours of thinly veiled threats about protecting national security and the Stargate Program.
Meredith spun around in her desk chair and looked upward in search for guidance as she considered the email she’d just received from the general’s office. O’Neill had apparently put her on the interview committee that Weir had insisted be created to find a new head of the psychology department. John had sacrificed Anne Teldy to the job, and Meredith wondered how the major was going to make him pay for that. She spun around again and found Weir standing in the open doorway.
“Why are you being involved in the selection process to replace Kate and Peter?” Weir demanded.
“Probably because I was included in the decision to replace Beckett,” Meredith said and slouched back in her chair.
“I wasn’t here then,” Elizabeth said and came fully into the room. She shut the door and crossed her arms. “You’re not needed.”
“Obviously General O’Neill doesn’t agree.” She picked up a pencil and tapped it gently on the surface of her desk. “You’ve made some questionable decisions regarding staffing, Dr. Weir, and this is the price we’ll have to pay for it. Your hiring decisions will be scrutinized for the foreseeable future, and there’s nothing either one of us can do about that.” Weir’s cheeks flushed, and Meredith didn’t know if it was embarrassment or anger. She frowned. “Did you read the weekly departmental briefs that I gathered?”
“Brief?” Weir demanded. “I don’t think seven fifty page documents can be considered brief.”
“Well, each department houses a variety of disciplines. The head of biology handles botany, biochemistry, microbiology, genetics, etc. Planetary sciences and physics are just as crowded. I was relieved to get such short reports considering that.” Meredith propped her feet on the corner of her desk. “So you haven’t read them?”
“I’ve only had them for three days,” Weir snapped. “I have my own research. I don’t have time to…and what do you mean weekly?” She frowned. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Dr. Weir, you don’t have a research role on the Atlantis Expedition,” Meredith said evenly. “You’re the administrator for the expedition, and you need to…” She let her feet fall to the floor. “You know what? It’s not my duty to give you your job description.” She stood and ran her fingers through her hair then pulled a clip out of the middle desk drawer which she used to put all of her hair up. “Excuse me, I have an appointment with Colonel Carter.” She paused. “And yes, those are the weekly reports. A monthly report would be useless as our research needs will change rapidly. I’ll do my best to keep them under a hundred pages, but I can’t guarantee that once we get settled into genuine research circumstances in Pegasus.”
“We need to talk about the applicants.”
“I’ve read their files and prepped questions for them—what’s there to discuss?” Meredith asked as her gaze narrowed.
“Without Peter, I haven’t had the time to….” She trailed off when Meredith raised a hand. “What?”
“Surely you don’t expect me to prepare you for this meeting, Dr. Weir. I’m not your administrative assistant. You have an hour to review the files for the people that have been gathered. I suggest you use that time wisely.”
Meredith brushed past Weir, jerked open the door, and left before she could give in to her temper. It was galling, and she had to wonder how often Peter Grodin had been reduced to the role of glorified secretary. The man had studied linguistics at Oxford for fuck’s sake. She slipped into the elevator with two Marines and she stabbed the button for level nineteen. Meredith huffed, took a deep breath, and out of the corner of her eye she watched both men shift over to the other side of the elevator away from her.
The elevator lurched a little, and she tapped her foot impatiently until it opened on her floor. Meredith started to exit but turned to face the two men. “Do I look like someone’s secretary?”
“Yes. No. I mean…” The younger of the two of them blushed furiously. “Maybe more hot librarian?”
She grinned despite the fact that his companion had buried his face in both hands. “Okay, I can work with that.” She turned on her heel and stalked off toward Miko’s lab where she knew Carter had spent most of the day.
She made for the coffee pot as soon as she entered. “Some corn-fed farm boy just said I look like a hot librarian.”
Carter raised her head. “Well, you probably need glasses to complete that look. Take down your hair and shake it out like a girl in a soft-porn vid.”
Meredith laughed and dropped down on a stool. “No. Also, Weir came to my office with the expectation that I would brief her for this afternoon’s interviews because she hasn’t had time to read the hiring packages for any of the people that have been vetted by the Pentagon. She also hasn’t read this week’s departmental briefs because she’s pursuing her own research.”
Miko frowned. “But…” She pursed her lips. “This is going to be a clusterfuck, Meredith. How can she manage our resources when she doesn’t have the first clue what we’re doing on a daily basis? Personal research? She’s on the mission as an administrator, not a scientist. Her work day shouldn’t have any sort of time allotted for research.” She huffed and crossed her arms. “We’re going to have to run some kind of shadow organization behind her back to get a damn thing done.”
“I know.” Meredith rubbed her face with both hands then propped her head up on her hands as she leaned on the counter.
“Why is she micromanaging Sheppard when she hasn’t even bothered to read the reports she asked for?” Carter questioned with a frown.
“Because, insultingly enough, she doesn’t consider me a threat to her authority.”
“Well, that’s just dumb. You’re the ranking civilian under her—if she’s removed from duty then you automatically become the leader of the expedition,” Miko pointed out. “And you also have more power to remove her than the Colonel could even dream of.”
“Weir is also used to managing men—getting them to do her bidding—and Sheppard clearly doesn’t give a damn what she wants,” Carter pointed out. “Right now she’s still trying to figure out how to push and prod him into place, but she’ll change tactics—probably after you leave left Earth.”
“Seduction or overt hostility,” Meredith surmised. “I’m almost looking forward to his response.”
“Not worried?” Miko questioned.
“John thinks Weir is an asshole.” She grinned when both Sam and Miko burst out laughing. “You still have time to take me to the range, right?”
“Yeah, but you’re certainly missing an opportunity here. Men love to teach women how to fire weapons.”
“I’d like to actually qualify today,” Meredith said tartly. “John plus a P90 would be too distracting. He’s all competent with his big, warm hands. I can’t handle that and guns at the same time without more practice.”
“With the weapon or his hands?” Carter asked in amusement.
* * * *
“The Pentagon has been reviewing the situation with McKay’s father,” O’Neill said as he motioned John to sit in front of him. “And it’s raised some questions about your own father and his company.”
“My father is a Navy vet,” John immediately responded. “He’s a patriot and would never…” He trailed off when O’Neill raised a hand.
“The concern is that he could unknowingly give aid to the Trust, Colonel. Sheppard Industries is on the cutting edge in the private sector when it comes to research and development. Your father is dipping his toes into a variety of pools lately—there is an obvious redirection in the company, and most believe that is because you returned to service. He’d started to back away from government work and military contracts after you went MIA. The Pentagon figured they’d lose him and his people outright within the next five years.”
“Then I came home,” John said.
“And you stayed in uniform,” O’Neill continued. “It’s no secret that your father isn’t on board with your continued service, Colonel, but it is also well known that the quickest way to get him on board a project for the military is to emphasize the ways the technology can protect our people in the field. If he were approached in the right manner by the right person within the Trust he could be manipulated into working toward their goals and never even realize it.”
John blew out a surprised breath. “How big is this organization?”
“Big enough and well-situated enough that they were able to kidnap Sam Carter several years back. They probably don’t know exactly where the outpost is, but they’ve surely learned we found an Ancient facility on the planet. In the past, they’ve gained access to Asgard and Goa’uld technology. They’re dangerous, and we’ve worked hard to isolate that threat to on-planet targets because, at one time, they came precariously close to costing us valuable relationships with other worlds.
“The situation with Rush brings home the fact that they’re still gaining the loyalty of people within the Mountain despite the fact that such a thing is treason and we’ve punished those we’ve caught in the past severely. There is a whole maximum security prison facility to set aside for those people, Sheppard.”
John sighed. “Right.” He stood and paced around in front of O’Neill’s desk. “You’re going to read him in.” When O’Neill said nothing, Sheppard turned to face him. “Sir?”
“That process began about two hours ago,” the General admitted. “Major Davis and General Hammond are handling the briefing personally. We figured it would be better received from the Director of Homeworld Security.”
“And he’s going to learn everything—including the Atlantis mission?” John questioned.
“He’s going to ask and probably even demand that I not go on the mission,” John said roughly. “I can’t say he’s going to be even remotely reasonable about it and he’ll probably be on his private plane headed this way as soon as he can escape General Hammond’s company.”
“Is his rabid disapproval a factor for you?” Jack asked.
“No. Meredith is going to Pegasus—I’m going, and my father will just have to accept it.”
Jack sighed. “Please don’t ever let that woman know what kind of power she holds over you, Sheppard. It’ll be the end of you.”
John laughed. “I think that ship has sailed, sir.” He sat back down and rubbed his face briefly in frustration. “I guess the best choice is to keep him occupied and involved. We’re a lot alike in that regard—the more he can involve himself in a solution for a problem the better. The Mountain itself needs more power for the stargate and Dad has a whole company dedicated to the creation of clean power. If you gave him that kind of goal—the ability to contact Pegasus again after the expedition leaves—then he’ll get it done, probably sooner than any single person you’ve got on the payroll right now since I’m taking Mer and her people with me.”
“I’ll discuss that with Hammond. He’ll be on board since it wouldn’t be busy work.”
“My father would shove busy work up someone’s ass, sir,” John said and grinned when O’Neill laughed. He sobered. “All that said, it’s going to be difficult for him to come to terms with the fact that I’m going on what many view as a one-way mission.”
“I don’t consider it a one-way mission and I’ve got three ships in construction to back that up,” O’Neill said evenly. “And I’m not above stealing one from a Goa’uld if required. Also, I’m good friends with the Asgard, and I’ll trot my ass out to Pegasus with Thor to get you personally if required.”
“Maybe you should lead with that when you meet him.”
Jack leaned back in his chair as he nodded, then he sighed. “So, I’m about to lay something real personal on you, and I wouldn’t do it if I had a choice.”
John blinked. “Sir?”
“My son was eight years old when I buried him. To escape that horror, I took a suicide mission through the stargate when we weren’t even sure what the damn thing was.” O’Neill paused. “There isn’t a single day when I don’t hear the echo of that gun going off in the house. I know the grief your father endured intimately, and I know that despite the fact you were returned to him that he’ll never get over the loss he already suffered when it comes to you.” He held up a hand when John started to speak. “I’m not trying to give you a guilt trip. The fact is that I think you shouldn’t have to live the rest of your life in the shadow of being believed dead for so long. It’s not fair to you. I understand your father, that’s all I’m saying, and I’ll do what I can to mitigate those circumstances the best I can.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss, sir, I can’t imagine it.”
“I wouldn’t want you to,” O’Neill murmured and cleared his throat. “So sort yourself out and wait for your father to call because we both know he will. I’m mostly clear after eleven hundred hours tomorrow to speak with him so let Walter when you need that meeting to happen.”
“What happened with Scott McKay, if I’m allowed to know?”
“He’s still being interrogated by Homeworld. He’ll face charges regarding the distribution of documents he knew to be classified. But it’ll be quiet, and it’ll go away quickly. Both Tremblay and Hayes want it handled with as little noise as possible. Keeping a lid on the program is always going to be more important to the powers that be. He’ll probably be deported eventually, and I believe his own government has plans for him. Tremblay is going to work very hard to make sure that asshole never gets near Meredith McKay again,” Jack said. “Is that weird? His big ole obvious crush on her?”
“I can’t say it wasn’t a bit uncomfortable,” John admitted roughly. “And it’s beyond a crush. Honestly, I figure that poor bastard will love her the rest of his life, and she’s more confused than anything else about that. It was apparently very casual for her even when they were living together.”
“Ouch,” Jack muttered. “That woman can punch a man in the dick from another country. Thank God I never gave into that temptation.”
“And now we’re in a very awkward place, sir,” John protested. “Please dismiss me.”
Jack grinned. “Permission to be relieved elsewhere, Colonel.”
* * * *
He barely had to wait an hour before his cell rang. “Hey, Dad.”
“Goddamn it, John,” Patrick said roughly. “I…”
John left his desk to shut the door and flicked the lock on it. Teldy had a key and no one else really needed to enter the room during this conversation. “Listen, Dad.”
“I don’t know what is more outrageous,” Patrick interjected. “That you’re leading a mission off world or the fact that they’re staffing that damn expedition with some of the most brilliant people on the planet. It’s fucking ridiculous.”
John dropped down in his chair and frowned as he adjusted his headset. “So, seriously, listen. The very worst thing about you is the belief that my intelligence should limit what sort of life I’m allowed to live. Sometimes when I was younger, I wasn’t certain you saw me at all—just the number that asshole teacher gave you that confirmed to you and Mom that I was a genius. I realized as I got older that you were just over protective by nature and mom’s death just made it worse. I know you don’t see a number when you look at me, but it took me a long time to get here.”
“You value intelligence, and that’s not a bad thing—you recruit the brightest people you can find for the company, and you provide them the kind of work environment that is indulgent and safe. Most of them need it, and I’m proud of the fact that you protect them and their intellectual property rights, even from the government when necessary.”
“I try every single day,” Patrick murmured. “You realize Meredith McKay is in the top one percent of the population, right? They have no business risking her on an off-world mission.”
“She’s brilliant,” John agreed. “She’s also the foremost authority on Ancient technology, and she wants Atlantis. If that city is out there, I’m going to find it for her, Dad.”
“I realize you’re enamored…” Patrick sighed. “Is there a damn thing I can say or do that will keep you on this planet, John?”
“No. I love you but, no. If the gate opens, then I’m stepping through it with her because I can’t let her go without me and I’m not going to ask her to stay on Earth. First, it wouldn’t be fair, and second, I think she’d tell me to go get fucked.”
Patrick laughed. “I’ll be there by six this evening. I’ll text you with information regarding the hotel when my admin finishes the arrangements. Bring her with you to dinner.”
“You want to have dinner with Meredith?”
“I want to have dinner with the woman that my son is following to another galaxy,” Patrick explained. “I’m going to keep my opinions about her going on the mission to myself. George Hammond already told me that I was sexist and unreasonable.”
“That’s honestly for the best. Arrange for dinner to be delivered to the room. She’s deathly allergic to citrus, so make sure the staff takes that seriously. I’ll text you later with food preferences. I think she’s on the range taking her qualification for the P90, so I’ll have to wait until she’s done.”
“Shouldn’t you be doing that personally?” Patrick questioned.
“No, she needs an impartial judge for stuff like that. I don’t know if I’d end up going too hard on her or too easy, to be honest, but it wouldn’t be a good thing either way. I trust who’s doing it to make sure Meredith is rated properly.” John slouched back in his chair. “They’re going to give you a project for the SGC, Dad, something really important to my mission and you’ll need to pick the people who work on it carefully. I know you’ll be tempted to put Nancy and David on the team so they can be briefed about my genuine circumstances but don’t.”
“Why?” Patrick questioned.
“Because there is no legitimate way you can do the same for Mattie and that’s not fair to him or David. They’re very close, and, frankly, David has enough stress about me and my situation to add that to the mix.”
“Right,” Patrick sighed. “Okay, right. Well, there is a project for NASA coming up that JPL recommended us for, so I’ll put David in charge of that. He wants it, and it’s a good fit for Nancy as well. They also both like Florida, and I’ve got my eye on a property down that way for the project.”
“What’s the project? Can you say?”
“Your security clearance is higher than mine, John,” Patrick pointed out sharply. “I put it out about five months ago that I was interested in colonization—the Moon or Mars. President Hayes has green lit some exploratory missions to Mars, and I didn’t know why until now.”
“Early warning for system invasion,” John guessed.
“You bet,” Patrick said grimly. “Something we obviously need. I’ll probably move to Nevada and take over the X-303 project since that’s the best method I have of making sure you come home to us. Hammond and the President want to take public a portion of the X-303 project, and SI will be the front of it.”
“O’Neill didn’t mention this.”
“He’s probably being briefed as we speak. What do you want me to do?”
“We have one shot at going to Pegasus because of the power requirements of dialing a gate in another galaxy. I was hoping you could put together a team that could focus entirely on solving that problem so I can get a resupply sooner than the year we’re projecting.”
“What kind of output does a ZPM have? I haven’t read the specs.”
“About three terawatts,” John said roughly and winced when his father took a shaky breath. “Yeah, it’s intense. Mer’s pretty convinced that we could blow up a planet with one. The ZPM we have has enough power to open the gate, but we aren’t sure how long the wormhole will last.”
“I’d have to black out eighty percent of the country to get that kind of power funneled into a single location,” Patrick muttered. “It would be on scale with a natural disaster, John. I’ll get work up a few proposals and gather a workgroup. We’ll probably have to combine several methods—solar and geothermal are probably the best bet. I need a geological survey of Cheyenne Mountain. Ask about it. Also, I want a naquadah generator on site tomorrow so I can see it. Full specs, output…Hammond said it was on par with a nuclear reactor.”
“Yes, sir.” John relaxed a little and rubbed his face with both hands. “I need you to be very careful, Dad, when it comes to the Trust. They’re not above murder to get what they want and the more you dig into the SGC, the bigger that threat will be.”
Patrick huffed. “Dig in? I’m going to fucking run that place, John. They’re sending my boy to another galaxy. Jack O’Neill won’t take a piss without me knowing about it before I’m done.”
John laughed sharply and sighed. “Dad.” He shook his head. “I’ll see you a few hours.”
“You bet your ass you will.”
* * * *
“They briefed your Dad,” Meredith said unceremoniously as she appeared in the doorway of his office. “Holy shit.”
“He’s on his way here,” John admitted. “We’re both expected for dinner. Food preference? It’ll be room service.”
“Where’s he staying? Tell him to get a room at The Summit, I love their food.”
John picked up his phone. “Okay.”
“And we can order when we get there,” she said with a frown. “I like to talk to people about my allergy…”
“Relax, Mer, I’ll straight up murder the next person that foolishly exposes you to citrus,” John said seriously, and she grinned in what could only be delight. “And I’m more than willing to make that clear.” He fired a text off to his father and got a response immediately. “He’ll have his admin handle that. Speaking of admins, how did the meeting go with Weir?”
“We chose a psychiatrist—Dr. Eva Robinson. Weir wasn’t thrilled with the committee choice, but we out voted her. The more interesting thing is that Dr. Simon Wallace was on the short list to be briefed about the project and interviewed—Weir vetoed him.”
“He’s the man she’s currently engaged to be married to,” Meredith said and just shrugged when John’s mouth dropped open. “I know.” She came fully into the office and shut the door. “Where’s Anne?”
“Off being Anne,” John said and waved a hand. “Kicking someone’s ass or making enemies for me to berate. Who knows? Lock the door.”
She flicked the lock with a little smile drifting over her generous mouth. “You’re on duty, Colonel.”
John laughed. “Come here.”
Meredith moved around the desk and scooted up onto his desk in front of him. “Is this going to fuck with your head? I mean, I’m not sure what I can do about it but if I can help manage your father just let me know.”
“He certainly doesn’t want me going to Pegasus, and I imagine that both Hammond and O’Neill will come to regret reading him in. My father is a demanding son of a bitch with the kind of personal drive that is both intimidating and startling. He’ll push, prod, and outright order the people around him to get the results he wants.” John shifted forward, and she spread her legs to give him room. He briefly buried his face against her stomach as he wrapped his arms around her. “You know, when I was at MIT, he thought the Math Department wasn’t robust enough to meet my needs so he donated five million dollars to the program so they could build a new facility and they renamed the damn thing after him.”
Meredith laughed. “I’ve been in that building—it’s great.” She ran her fingers through his hair. “You’ve had a haircut.”
“Yeah, stopped in at the base barber this morning. We have mission photos starting tomorrow—I put out an order to the whole company to prepare for that, so I went first.”
“Lead by example,” she murmured and pressed a kiss to the crown of his head. “Why does your father want me to have dinner with the two of you?”
“Because he wants to get to know you,” John said and lifted his head. He pulled her off the desk and onto his lap then cupped her ass with both hands. “He knows that I said yes to the mission because of you.”
“Just me?” Meredith questioned. “Aren’t you at all curious…” She trailed off when he shook his head.
“I’m sure it’ll be challenging and fascinating, but I wouldn’t look twice at this mission if you weren’t on it. I mean that. When O’Neill briefed me—and I was standing in that conference room looking at the open stargate—the thought of you disappearing through it was like getting stabbed. I…the thing is that I found you attractive the moment I set eyes on you, but over the last year, I’ve grown attached to you in a way that I’ve never known before. I want to be with you, to be where you are—and I’m prepared to follow you wherever you want to go.” He paused. “And I mean that in the least creepy manner possible.”
Meredith laughed and pressed her mouth against his. “I get it.”
“Do you?” John questioned.
“Yeah, more than I’d like, to be honest. I’m not used to getting invested in a lover like this, and I don’t know if I can handle it, but I want to. A few weeks ago, I was certain I could go on the mission because Jack would’ve found someone besides Sumner if you’d said no. Now, I’m not sure I could step through the gate without you, and that makes me uncomfortable.”
“Because never once have I ever been tempted to put a man before my work,” she whispered and looked away briefly. “It’s just not something I thought I was capable of. I used to think it was because I watched my mom put my father first repeatedly until he did something that finally broke her free. Then I wondered if maybe I was just having a violent emotional reaction to Jeannie’s life choices, which offended to me no end. In fact, to be honest, they still offend the fuck out of me. I resent the waste.”
“And now?” John prodded. “What do you think now?”
“I just don’t think I ever met a man I could treat like my equal in a personal relationship.” She blushed and took a deep breath. “That sounds arrogant and terrible.”
“Do you think…” John began and shook his head. “Mer, has it crossed your mind that giving a lover any sort of power in your life creates a situation where you’d be vulnerable like your mother? He had a lot of power over her, obviously, and he abused that trust repeatedly. You can’t get equality in a relationship without trust.”
He watched her process that and wasn’t surprised when her eyes dampened. Tears didn’t spill, but he figured it was a close thing. Her thighs were tense against his as if she was ready to spring from his lap at any moment. Meredith exhaled noisily and scrunched up her nose.
“Right.” She frowned and crossed her arms. “So maybe I don’t trust men as a rule. I mean, at least on a personal level. I trust Radek, but we’ve never gotten sexual. Honestly, you’re probably the first man since Owen that I’ve trusted enough to sleep beside.” She blushed. “I usually make lovers leave if I take them to my bed and if the bed is theirs then I’m up and dressed within five minutes of an orgasm. Miko says when it comes to sex that I’m more like a man.”
“You can assure her that you’re nothing like a man when it comes to sex,” John said and grinned when she laughed. She relaxed against him. “I’d know.”
“How many men have you slept with?”
“Four—three in college before I married Nancy.” He paused. “And one after my divorce was final.”
She made a face. “Do I know them?”
“No, it wasn’t at Area 51. I went to Vegas one weekend and picked up a guy in a bar.” He rested against the back of the chair. “Does that bother you?”
“No, of course not. I don’t care about any of that, like I said. Was he super hot? I think you probably like big guys—broad shoulders.” She spread her hands out in demonstration. “Built and uber masculine.”
John grinned. “Yeah, that about sums him up. It wasn’t particularly intimate, though, and more like stress relief for both of us. What about you? Have you ever slept with a woman?”
“No. I mean, I’ve had a few opportunities, and one night Sam and I got drunk enough to kiss, but we both agreed that it was kind of weird. She’s a great kisser, of course, and if I were going to be gay for any woman, it would be her because she’s awesome.”
John nodded. “She’s hot, and she likes to blow stuff up, which is great.” He let his hands fall to her thighs and rest there. “How’d your qualification go?”
“Certified, but she says I should practice often because she’s worried I’ll hesitate in the field against a real target.” Meredith pursed her lips briefly. “She’s probably right. I’d rather not actually kill someone.”
“I can’t promise you won’t face that situation,” John said quietly. “Pegasus is a complete mystery, and we can’t really prepare for it. It’s pretty instinctive to load for bear though.”
“Agreed, and I think that is what bothers Weir the most.”
“How?” John asked.
“She’s spent most of her career as a peacekeeper, John. I don’t think a gun is ever going to be her go-to solution to any problem, and she doesn’t see people as…” Meredith waved a hand in frustration. “When she was briefly in charge of the SGC during the transition from Hammond to O’Neill, Weir actually negotiated with the Goa’uld. She basically sectioned off the galaxy, claiming territory for Earth, and seemed to completely dismiss the fact that she’d essentially ceded hundreds of planets to a species that keeps slaves. She didn’t care at all. I don’t even think she realizes that most of the humans out there living on the other side of the stargate are actually descendants of people stolen from here.”
“I really do think she had her moral compass surgically removed,” John said. “And I honestly don’t think she and I are going to see eye to eye on a damn thing once we get to Pegasus. I’m sure as hell not going to let her endanger people’s lives, and I do understand the charter we all signed, even if she apparently doesn’t.”
“I think she ignored anything she found disagreeable under the assumption that she could force the rest of us to do what she wants,” Meredith admitted.
“What about a replacement for Peter Grodin?”
“Come to find out she’d essentially slotted Grodin into two positions—he was to act as both a linguist and as her administrative assistant.”
John’s gaze narrowed. “The man speaks five languages and has multiple degrees—she was going to waste him on admin work?”
“He was supposed to split his time between the two positions, and I kind of want to go find him and ask him just how big his crush is on her, because honestly why else would he even consider such a position?” Meredith sighed. “Regardless, we had to make a choice on that front, and Woolsey agreed that Elizabeth needed an admin, so we’ve lost a linguist, which is utterly ridiculous, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Also, since the position is to support her personally, the decision was entirely hers. She picked this twenty-something guy with a BS in political science. He looks fine on paper, though I think even he is probably overqualified for the position. His name is Tyson Nelson.”
John found that whole situation annoying, so he pushed it aside and pulled her a little closer. “Tremblay is sending me two assets, and Canada supplemented the expedition budget to pay for them.”
“Who?” Meredith questioned.
“Two Mounties—to help with operations and security. Inspector William Bouchard and a Sergeant Charles Campbell. They’ll be here within the next twenty-four hours, and I’ve zero choices in their inclusion.”
“He’s sending William Bouchard to Pegasus,” Meredith murmured. “I…geez…John. Do you want me to call Owen and tell him to stop being an asshole?”
“I don’t mind the help honestly as we don’t have a single person currently on the mission that is trained for police work outside of Sergeant Bates who worked as an MP in Iraq. Until he was recruited for the SGC, he was trained mostly for base security and not investigative work which I’m told Bouchard did before he was tapped to protect Tremblay. I’ve already told O’Neill that once we establish a base and good communication with Earth that I want an Agent Afloat.”
“What’s that?” Meredith questioned.
“Traditionally, it’s an NCIS agent that’s assigned to a ship in the Navy, and the Atlantis mission could be disguised as that at the top level. And while the company is small right now, once circumstances are more established, I expect to get more volunteers and a bigger population of both civilians and military.” He cleared his throat. “I am concerned about Bouchard’s priorities though and whether or not I can trust him to follow my orders.”
“Owen is many things, John, and not all of them are great, but he wouldn’t send anyone on the mission that would interfere with the chain of command. Besides, Bouchard is ex-Canadian Army and spent his last two years in the service as a Ranger. He’s trained for extreme conditions, search and rescue, etc. He’s not going to be a hindrance professionally.”
“No, he didn’t strike me as a problem in that regard.” John frowned. “I guess even if his primary mission in Pegasus is to defend your life—I don’t really have a problem with that. I just want to know his agenda up front.”
“Ask him,” Meredith suggested with a laugh. “He’ll tell you the bald truth then probably apologize. It’s what Canadians do.”
“I’ve put in a request for his military records. I’d rather sort him into my command with his military rank as long as he doesn’t think he’s taking Anne’s place. Though I might just let her kick his ass to decide that.”
“I’d buy tickets for that,” Meredith said and grinned when he laughed.
* * * *
Patrick Sheppard had all of John’s intense focus and apparently none of his patience. It was weird, and Meredith wondered if John had gotten the aura of calm he exuded from his mother. She found the whole thing more fascinating than she should considering how much John’s father was obviously stressing him out. Dinner had been more like an interrogation than anything else, and by the time was dessert was served, John was so tense he barely touched the pie he’d ordered.
Meredith relaxed back against her chair and stared at the older man. “You must have been an utter bastard in uniform. I bet half the damn Navy celebrated when you retired.”
John choked on the water he was drinking, and Patrick’s mouth dropped open.
“It’s funny though because when you sent me a job offer, I made a few calls to see what kind of employer you were. I’d just been kidnapped by North Korea, and I was really tempted to bail on the SGC for something a little safer. I’m not foolish enough to think that a change of jobs would make my threat profile go neutral but I figured it might help. Not a single person I spoke with mentioned this.” She waved a hand around between them, and she turned to John. “Do all three of them do this to you? Because if they do, I’m really starting to understand why you were so frustrated when they just showed up here with no warning.”
John shook his head and smiled briefly as he took another drink of water. “No actually. This is the first time he’s ever had enough information about any mission I’ve been assigned to interrogate me like a hostage.”
Meredith nodded and focused on Patrick who was staring at her with John’s eyes. She noted that he didn’t look at all offended, which she found amusing. “I’ve visited fifteen different planets, which is a pretty low number for someone working at the SGC, but I’ve never been much of a field asset. At the most, I’ve gone off world to explore facilities that we’d eventually come to know had been left behind by the Ancients. The first time I met an Asgard, I was profoundly irritated because I’d never believed the stupid Roswell rumors and there he was—a goddamned Roswell grey staring at me with his big eyes and no dick in evidence. He looked like a creepy little doll, but he had the power to destroy worlds at his fingertips.
“I’ve met beings who believe themselves to be gods, and I’ve met some who exist in a god-like form that would probably spawn a world-wide cult if they were exposed. I’ve come face to face with a genuine artificial intelligence and a race of mechanical bugs who have destroyed whole societies through sheer numbers. I’ve stood on the bridge of Thor’s Hammer and facilitated the destruction of an entire solar system.” She watched the blood drain from Patrick Sheppard’s face. “The Asgard assured me it was uninhabited—just a small collection of little rock planets orbiting a white dwarf.” She leaned forward. “But I once took a star supernova in a solar system full of Jaffa loyal to the Goa’uld Hathor. She was preparing to invade Earth, and we couldn’t allow that.”
“I don’t find a bit of that comforting,” Patrick told her dryly.
“It’s not my job to coddle you, Dr. Sheppard,” Meredith said evenly. “Considering your looks and money, I’m sure you’ve got a line of women waiting with baited breath to take care of you.” She picked up the wine she’d barely touched and took a sip. “We opened Pandora’s Box, you see. We had no way of knowing what was on the other side of the Stargate but we had to go. If humanity has a universal failing, it is curiosity. Though we found out a few years ago that Ra had every intention of returning to Earth to reclaim his resources here, so, in a way, by opening the gate, we saved the lives of millions. If we hadn’t been prepared for what was out there—he could’ve entered orbit and destroyed half the population from orbit. We’d have never stood a chance.
“The Ancients went to Pegasus, but they also tucked tail and returned to Earth. We don’t know why, and we have an obligation to find out. We can’t prepare for a threat we don’t know about. We also have too many enemies in this galaxy who do not need to get their hands on whatever Atlantis is. As I said, we’ve found dozens of facilities throughout the Milky Way. What’s to say there isn’t another outpost out there that will lead a Goa’uld or something worse to Atlantis? We have to find her first and make her ours. There is no choice, and frankly, John’s genetics are probably going to be the key to unlocking whatever technology the Ancients left behind.
“It’s a lot of pressure—the fate of the world resting on your shoulders. I’d know that better than most.” She flushed and averted her gaze. “The people at the SGC have enough pressure points, you see, and we all know that a single second could change the fate of our world. You’re going to come into that place like a hurricane, and that probably isn’t a bad thing, but the last thing any of us need is a Monday Morning Quarterback. Clear?”
“Very,” Patrick murmured and shook his head. “Hell, son.”
“I know,” John said with a laugh, picked up his fork, and focused on his pie.
Patrick sighed. “I didn’t mean to interrogate you.” He frowned and left the table only to return a few moments later with two bottles of beer. He passed one to his son. “I find the whole thing with the SGC both challenging and irritating. My company is on the forefront of a lot of the technologies you people need, and yet we weren’t tapped.”
“It was on the horizon,” Meredith said. “Probably two or three years—they certainly would’ve put it off until after we’d established regular communication with Pegasus since they would’ve wanted to start out on the right foot with you. Though, to be honest, if the expedition were to be lost, you’d have never gotten a single hint of the SGC. You’ve already proven to be quite unforgiving when it comes to John’s service, and the risk of program exposure would be extreme in those circumstances.”
“You’re not wrong,” Patrick admitted roughly. “I’d have ruined lives.”
“You already have,” Meredith pointed out, and John jerked a little.
“What?” John questioned.
Meredith looked at him. “You don’t know?” She laughed. “Your father hired ten of the most aggressive black hat hackers on the planet to root out the funding of the terrorists that held you hostage. Two hundred million dollars disappeared, and forty-six people in six countries were arrested. More than half of them have been executed by their own governments. Ten from the US ended up in Gitmo.”
Patrick flushed. “I thought they’d killed you, so I made them pay for it. I regret nothing.”
John frowned and opened his beer. “Dad, please tell me you hid the money well.”
“I’ve been donating it to various military charities for the past two years,” Patrick admitted. “Not at all at once and all anonymously. I kept a few of those boys—the hackers. They’re useful. Of course, I had to use some of that money to clean up their public records.”
“You realize that’s criminal,” John said in protest.
Patrick shrugged. “I won’t get caught.” He turned to Meredith. “How did you know?”
She grinned. “Because that was the second time you tried to hire me. I didn’t make the right connections on that front until recently, but it’s no secret that someone very wealthy waged a very effective cyber war against one of the most successful terrorist groups in the world. The same group that held John hostage. Moreover, it was quickly made clear that it officially never happened.”
Patrick nodded and took a long sip of his beer. “Your handle?”
“Obsidian,” she admitted and smirked when he spewed beer. The older man glared at her briefly as he snagged a napkin to clean himself up.
“Are you messing with me, Dr. McKay?”
“Nope.” She grinned. “My better half on that front is my second in command at the SGC. When Anubis attacked last year, we hacked the planet to hide the invasion.”
“Your better half being the Jaded Queen,” Patrick murmured. “I really wanted her on my team. She’s known to be quite ruthless, and rumor is that Obsidian is a man. It’s a good rumor to keep—no one suspects you at all.” He frowned and picked up his beer again. “John said the output of a ZPM is about three terawatts.”
“That’s the maximum output, yes, and it holds roughly nine hundred terawatt hours. Based on previous experience, we only need a little over a terawatt to open a wormhole to another galaxy and about five hundred megawatts of current to keep it open the full thirty-eight minute window in those circumstances. The average trip through the gate is substantially less, but Cheyenne Mountain does consume a lot of energy. The stargate is currently being powered by two naquadah generators with a total output of eight gigawatts.”
“Which is the equivalent of the largest nuclear power plant on Earth,” Patrick murmured. “That’s mind boggling.”
“Wait until you see one,” Meredith said. “It’s visually the most unimpressive thing you’ll ever see. We have a few theoretical models regarding enhancing a nuclear reactor with a generator, and the projections are nothing short of horrifying. It’s a point of no return option due to how inherently dangerous it would be to have nuclear material on site with the stargate, which is just one giant superconductor. Stargate plus naquadah plus nuclear material plus the current artillery supply for the SGC would be… Well, if the Mountain blew in those circumstances, it could be an extinction level event.” She paused when he nodded. “The first time I said that in front of the IOA committee they all looked at me like I was insane.”
“A lot of people don’t understand how delicate the life balance is on the planet, and perhaps they have no desire to know how fragile our existence is,” John said. “That kind of destruction could have ecological and astronomical consequences that humanity wouldn’t survive.” He put down his beer when his cell phone went off. “Excuse me, it’s Nancy.”
Meredith watched him leave the table and returned her attention to the chocolate cake she’d ordered.
“You have nothing to be worried about on that front.”
She raised an eyebrow at Patrick and sectioned off a piece of cake. “I know, and even if I did, we’ll be in Pegasus in a week and a half, and she’ll be on Earth.” She grinned when Patrick laughed. “So listen, I have something to say, and you’re not going to like it.”
“So earlier, you were being delicate?” Patrick questioned, clearly amused.
“For me, yes.” She frowned at him and huffed a little. “As I said, we’ll be in Pegasus soon enough. The gate will open, and we’ll find the city of the Ancients, I feel it in my bones, and I’m not prone to such flights of fantasy. John’s position on the expedition isn’t without opposition, and the leader of the whole thing is probably going to be difficult for us both to manage. She used political weight to gain her place on the mission, and we can do nothing about that. Regardless, we’re going to Pegasus, and we’re going to explore a whole new galaxy. It’ll be dangerous and foolhardy roughly ninety percent of the time. We’ll make friends and enemies. Hesitation gets people killed, Dr. Sheppard.” She glanced at John who was out on the balcony of the suite. “Don’t be the reason John hesitates.”
“Call me Patrick,” the older man murmured as he too focused on John. “And I wouldn’t want to be the reason he hesitates to do his duty.”
“He’s carrying around a lot of guilt for the grief he caused his family when he was MIA, and while I think he’s handling that well, the last thing he really needed personally was for you to be read into this mission. So you need to man up, Patrick, and stop treating John like a child, because it’s dismissive and bordering on cruel. Love should be a source of comfort, but your whole family has been using it as a weapon.”
“You weren’t there when we buried that coffin in Arlington.”
“In Nancy’s place, I wouldn’t have allowed the Corps to declare him dead, and there sure as fuck wouldn’t have been a funeral without a body. That’s not how I operate. I know you did it for closure, and maybe if he’d never come home, it would’ve been enough for you. I don’t know. It certainly wouldn’t have been enough for me. I can’t operate without results and proof.”
“I love him and want him to be safe,” Patrick said roughly.
“I want him to be happy,” Meredith shot back. “What sort of safety can be found in a prison built of grief and unrealistic expectations?”
“I don’t think I like you,” he admitted.
“I really don’t care,” Meredith replied and smiled when he laughed reluctantly. “I don’t kiss ass, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for that kind of interaction.”
John returned at that moment and dropped down in his seat. “She’s pissed you came back to Colorado without her. I told her to take it up with you.”
“She’ll get over it,” Patrick said. “She shouldn’t be flying in her condition anyway.”
“What condition?” John asked with a frown.
“Oh.” Patrick exhaled sharply. “She’s pregnant—almost four months. She told David just three days ago. Needless to say, a wedding is going to happen very soon.”
John scowled and pulled out his phone. He dialed rapidly as he stood and stuck the phone to his ear. “You asshole, you knocked up my ex-wife and didn’t tell me!”
Meredith sighed as John headed back for the balcony. “You people are like an episode of Jerry Springer.” She sat back with her wine glass and stared at Patrick. “We should figure out now how to get along in public because as long as John doesn’t do anything dickish, I’ll be keeping him.”
“I was hoping for an ally,” Patrick admitted. “Nancy never stood up to John regarding his career choices, but you must understand how he’s wasting his potential in the Corps.”
“Actually, having recently read his uncensored jacket, I can tell you for a fact he’s not wasting his potential in the Marines. He finished his master’s work in Nevada for a degree in aeronautical engineering and was accepted into three different distance learning Ph.D. programs in the subject. He’ll have to put that on hold for the Atlantis mission, but it’s there waiting for him when we can swing regular communication. He’s done the math for half a dozen defense projects for the Pentagon since he joined the Corps, and he’s listed as an auxiliary scientist on this expedition. I’ve authorized him to work in a variety of departments and projects at his leisure. He’s also pursuing a Millennium Problem as a personal hobby. In this, I understand him like very few people do, and I also know that he needs a balance of challenges that working in the private sector will never be able to satisfy. I get that because I see that in myself. I’ve seen too much of the universe to ever be satisfied with sitting at a desk for the rest of my life.”
“Even if working in such classified situations means you never get the recognition you deserve? You’ve been short listed twice for the Nobel, Dr. McKay, and they don’t even know what you’re truly capable of.”
“Meredith is fine. I would say that there was a time in my life when I considered the Nobel Prize the most important goal I could and ever would have.” Meredith paused when John returned to the table. “But the first time a Goa’uld achieved orbit around Earth, that dream burned away, and nothing but ashes remain. A part of me was relieved, actually, to realize that I wasn’t a complete sociopath since I’d been called that more than once. It was good to know that I could give myself in service to the protection of the planet even if it meant giving up what had been, up until that point, a lifelong dream.”
“You’re making me feel petty and unreasonable,” Patrick muttered and took a long sip of what now had to be warm beer.
“Making men feel like that is a hobby for her,” John said dryly and put his phone down on the table. “Do not let them name this kid after me in any fashion, I mean it.”
Patrick snorted. “I’ll do my best.” He sat back in his chair and stared at Meredith. “Tell me about naquadria. It was mentioned briefly in the report I read about naquadah generators on the flight over.”
“It’s unstable and radioactive. It was created artificially by a Goa’uld in an attempt to increase the power of naquadah. I’ve repeatedly recommended to the President and the IOA that the SGC avoid the use of it as a power source as I consider it more dangerous than any nuclear material we have on Earth. Since past exposure led to the brief ascension of Dr. Jackson, General O’Neill has backed me on my position regarding its use. It has great potential, yes, but it’s not worth the risk in my opinion. It’s best theoretical use would’ve been to power hyperspace engines, but the Asgard have given us the technology we need to build those engines.”
Patrick nodded. “Several scientists at Area 51, including Dr. Peter Kavanagh, have research proposals on the table for naquadria.”
“Kavanagh is reckless and leaps to conclusions with the kind of startling ease that makes me nauseous,” Meredith said pointedly. “Colonel Carter and I go out of our way to limit the kinds of materials and projects he has access to because, while he is intelligent, he’s dangerous.”
“I’ve often found that the two go hand in hand,” Patrick admitted.
“Granted, but there’s no need to give a toddler a loaded weapon, and that’s exactly what Kavanagh is. A man-child full to the brim with the kind of entitlement only a white, heterosexual man can accomplish in this country. His vanity will get him killed one day, and I don’t want to be nearby when it happens. That’s why he was never seriously considered for the Atlantis Expedition. Well, that and the fact that he once told me that I should get a boob job so at least he’d have something fun to look at when he was forced to work with me.”
John snorted then laughed when she poked him. “Sorry. Really. He’s an asshole. Your tits are perfect.”
“It’s too late for you,” Meredith exclaimed with a laugh and poked him again. “You know that jerk still doesn’t understand why it was wrong to say? And people think I have problems with my interpersonal skills. I bet he wouldn’t like it if I told him he needed to get a penis extension.” She focused on Patrick.
“I don’t have an opinion about your tits,” he told her firmly. “I have rules about that when it comes to my son’s girlfriends.”
“He had to develop rules for that,” John confided with a laugh. “My high school girlfriend hit on him.”
“That tart,” Meredith said with a laugh and pushed aside her cake. She focused on Patrick. “No current power options we have on Earth are going to come close to the output of a ZPM without seriously taxing the power grid on a national scale, which would be a disaster and potentially thousands could be hurt or killed in the attempt. I made it clear early on that it was simply not an option, and Hayes agreed but presidents come and go. Before Hayes leaves office, we need a viable power solution in the Mountain that would make the use of the established power grid a non-option in every single respect. We have precious few reasons to dial another galaxy right now, but that could change with the discovery of Atlantis.”
“Granted. Where would you start if you had the time to dedicate to solving this problem?”
“The naquadah generators have a lot of untapped potential, but we’ve been using them as is since we traded for them. Carter is the leading authority on them and she could, with your resources, start work on the next generation of the generator. Currently, we’d need roughly three hundred generators to put out a single terawatt of power continuously in a stable way. We don’t have that much naquadah, and even if we did, a project of that size isn’t viable since we need at least 1.5 terawatts for a viable trip to another galaxy. A single trip would blow through all of the generators. That kind of waste is unacceptable outside of an extreme circumstance.”
“Agreed, and even if I could double the output of a generator, it wouldn’t be enough for the trip to Pegasus. What about recharging a ZPM?”
“It’s been one of my main projects, and I’ll be able to continue it in Pegasus, but I’ll be working in a vacuum of sorts without the benefit of communication with Earth.”
“Can the stargate manifest a smaller wormhole?” Patrick questioned.
“You mean like an Einstein-Rosen bridge,” Meredith said. “In theory, we’d have to do some reprogramming on both gates…oh.” She smiled and picked up her wine again. “We’ve not really considered it since that kind of wormhole structure isn’t traversable due to the inherent instability.”
“Communication could be viable through such a bridge and perhaps limited supplies. Nothing living, obviously, as the risk would be astronomical,” John said. “What kind of power requirements would it have?”
“Nothing on par with a traversable wormhole,” Meredith said. “In fact, if we could get it to work between two specific gates, it wouldn’t be any more taxing than dialing a local gate due to the size. I don’t know how big we could go before stability became an issue. The smaller, microscopic wormhole would be the most stable for communication, but we could run tests up to a meter, perhaps. We know, already, that a wormhole as small as five by five feet is viable for travel. An Ancient built a gate that small in Carter’s basement using her microwave.”
“I read that report,” John said dryly. “That kind of insanity is the reason the project should never be declassified.”
“I read the mandate for the mission,” Patrick said and stood. “It crossed my mind that I really can’t bring anything to the table in the time frame you have left to make your job easier. But I did bring you something to make life a little easier. I noticed that you’ve all been limited to a single personal item.”
“Yeah,” Meredith sighed. “Mine’s a case of notebooks.”
“I’m considering hiding my iPod in a totally untoward place,” John admitted and grinned when his father laughed.
Patrick left them and returned with a slim silver case. “This represents about five years of work and half of our prototypes.” He opened it to reveal six solid state drives. “One terabyte each.”
“That’s…” Meredith leaped up and walked around to look at them. “No one has this level of storage capacity in a single solid state drive. D2D, the leader in developing SSDs, said they wouldn’t approach one terabyte until 2009 at the latest. How did you get five years ahead of the curve?”
“Like I said, I kept a few of my black hats, and they’ve proven to be quite industrious when caffeinated and fed properly. We’re out of testing, and they’ll hit the market sometime next year. You’ve probably already transferred all of your data for the trip to portable drives.”
“Yes, first thing,” she said. “We could use these to build an entertainment server—movies, games, music, eBooks, personal interaction forums. I couldn’t justify the kind of storage I would need for it before…but these are so small. I could carry this case through the gate personally to avoid adding to the load.”
“Dad, that has to represent several million dollars in R&D,” John said roughly.
“True, but we already have the production line up and running. We’re going to sell them for fifteen hundred a piece as long as the market will bear it then drop them down as the competition catches up. Of course, we’re also building experimental super computers with them. We’re hoping to reduce the size to a third of the current farm model. I’ll make the money I spent in development back within three months.”
Meredith pursed her lips. “If you build me an experimental super computer, I’ll stop being mean to you whenever John leaves the room.”
Patrick laughed. “I’ll send it out on the first ship.”
“You just bought her good will for a couple million dollars,” John said dryly then glanced between them. “How mean?”
“He’s not bleeding,” Meredith said in her own defense.
* * * *
Meredith tried to bury her face in John’s shoulder but whoever was at her door banged again. “There’d be a better goddamned alien fleet about to achieve orbit.” She stumbled out of the bed as John laughed a little and picked up the first piece of clothing she saw—the polo shirt he’d worn off base to have dinner the night before. She pulled it over her head and unceremoniously jerked open the door after fumbling briefly with the dead bolt. “What?”
Elizabeth Weir reared back in shock. “It’s nearly eight…” She trailed off as her gaze drifted over Meredith’s shoulder.
“And I’m not on duty until ten,” Meredith said and glared at the woman to keep from wincing. She figured there were better ways to let the woman know about her relationship with John. “It’s Sunday, Dr. Weir.”
Weir’s cheeks flushed a dull red. “I want you in my office in fifteen minutes.”
“Thirty. I need to shower.” Meredith just raised an eyebrow at her, and Weir turned on her heel and stormed off. She shut the door. “Well, shit.”
“She’d have known ages ago if she wasn’t a self-absorbed asshole,” John said as he left the bed. “Give my shirt back.”
“I think I’ll keep it,” Meredith declared.
John laughed and snagged the hem of it. He pulled it over her head and tossed it aside. “Listen—she’s probably going to say some really stupid shit to you but don’t take any of it seriously. Okay?” He pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “I’ll go back to my own room to shower.”
“She sucks. I had sex plans this morning.”
“I adore sex plans,” John admitted. “Keep them on tap.”
Meredith rushed through a shower but took the time to dry her hair and put on a bit of makeup since she probably wouldn’t make it back to her room until after lunch. She put on a pair of black pants that hugged her ass and a red shirt since red made her feel like she was in charge. The walk to Weir’s office was spent reminding herself that she had nothing to be ashamed of, and they weren’t doing anything wrong per any damn regulation in the SGC.
The office door was open, so she entered and pulled it shut behind her. Weir was sitting at the desk, computer screen dark. She looked like she was about to vibrate out of her skin. Meredith once again wondered at the woman’s so-called skills as a diplomat. She obviously had a real problem keeping her personal feelings off her face and out of her body language. She dropped down into the guest chair, slouched there, and crossed her legs as casually as she could manage. Weir’s gaze narrowed, and Meredith barely refrained from smirking in response.
“You’re sleeping with Sheppard?”
“You’ll have to outline exactly what paragraph in the expedition charter allows you to ask that question before I answer it,” Meredith said mildly.
“As the Chief Science Officer, you’re required to maintain professional relationships with everyone on the mission, and that includes Colonel Sheppard,” Weir snapped.
“Colonel Sheppard and I have an excellent professional relationship,” Meredith responded. “We work well together. He has a healthy respect for the science we’ll be doing in Pegasus and has already volunteered for several projects in the math department. He’s also learning Ancient which will be beneficial across the board when it comes to the use of his ATA gene. What happens between us personally is none of your business.”
“Of course it is!” Elizabeth shouted. “You’re conspiring against me!”
Meredith laughed despite her best intentions. “No one is conspiring against you. The fact is that we don’t have to—you’re going to crash and burn on your own one way or another.” She frowned. “The best the rest of us can do is make sure you don’t get anyone killed, and that’s pretty much the singular goal of the entire senior staff of the expedition. You’ve proven over and over again over the last few weeks that we can’t trust you to do your job. It’s quickly become clear to me that my most important goal on any given day in Pegasus will be to minimize how much damage you cause with your willful ignorance.”
“I thought you had more self-respect than this,” Weir said, voice full of scorn. “You talk a good game about being strong in a man’s world, but you let one of them take you to bed without even a thought. He’s using you for his career, for sex, for power on the expedition. He’ll expect you agree with him on every issue—you’re just another weapon in his arsenal against me. Because let’s be honest, you’re physically attractive, but you have a terrible and abrasive personality. You’re rude, difficult to work with, arrogant, and dismissive. I doubt he’ll tolerate you long—no man ever has, right? You should end it before anyone else finds out. Because once people know he’s sleeping with you, the rumors—”
Meredith stood and planted both hands on Weir’s desk then leaned forward a little so they were close. “I’m going to tell you this exactly once. You don’t get an opinion about my personal life. You don’t know a goddamn thing about me and my past relationships with anyone. My relationship with John isn’t a secret—the whole damn Mountain knows we’re dating. This whole conversation has been a violation of my privacy, and if you even come close to saying any of this shit again, I’ll file a formal complaint with the IOA for harassment.” She straightened and took a deep breath. “I would advise you to not bring this up with him because he’ll be a lot less tolerant than I am.”
“I have right to be concerned about the stability of the mission, and you’ve made a terrible personal decision that could impact the entire expedition. How dare you, really, complain about my ethics when you can’t even keep your knees together!”
Meredith jerked back in shock and took a deep breath. “I’m beginning to understand how you have no problem dumping your fiancé via a video when he could’ve been recruited for the mission. You know what? Go ahead and complain to O’Neill or the IOA about my personal relationship with Colonel Sheppard. I’m really looking forward to all of them telling you to mind your own damn business. It’ll be entertaining.” She waved a hand. “But this doesn’t happen again. I don’t have the time or the patience to be called into your office to be lectured about a situation that is none of your business.”
“I’m your superior.”
“You’ll be my boss, sort of, in Pegasus, Dr. Weir. In no single way does that translate to superior.” Meredith shot her a hard look as she jerked the open door and left.
She headed straight for Carter’s lab and just hesitated when she found John sitting with Sam at one of the tables putting together a naquadah generator. With a frown, she joined them and dropped down on a stool beside John. “Weir slut shamed me.”
Carter laughed, and John turned to stare at her in horror.
“Are you serious?” John asked.
“She said I had no business lecturing her about her ethics when I can’t keep my knees together. Who even says that?”
“My grandma said it about my cousins all the time, but she was easily a hundred years old at the time,” John said and frowned as he returned his attention to the regulation system he was putting together. “How do you want to handle it?”
“Let’s see if she files a complaint with Woolsey,” Meredith suggested. “Or better, O’Neill, because that would be totally epic.”
“Do you think O’Neill’s hot?” John asked suddenly.
“Is that a trick question?” Meredith asked. “I hate those. Of course he’s hot. Have you seen him? I mean, if you overlook the fact his graduate work was in astronomy of all things.”
“It does detract,” Sam said. “But yeah, the general might as well be lava.” She waved a hand in her face briefly. “Fortunately, I got over that crush quickly, or I’d be dragging my ass around this place in misery.”
“Yeah, mine only lasted about a week because he’s a dick,” Meredith confided and nudged John. “His divorce also made him relationship phobic.”
“Not the death of his son?” John questioned.
“No, I don’t think so. Pretty sure it was the ex-wife. I mean, their marriage fell apart because of Charlie’s death, but he’s great with kids and stuff so he handled that grief the best he could.” Meredith frowned. “Why do you ask?”
John raised an eyebrow at her. “Apparently he’s pretty relieved to have resisted the temptation of you.”
“You probably shouldn’t have told me that,” Meredith said with a laugh. “And honestly, I could’ve taken a ride on that if I’d really wanted to.”
“If I have to live with at that information then so should both of you,” John muttered crossly. “My Dad’s in the Mountain—he’s being processed by security.”
“So you’re hiding in Carter’s lab?”
“He’ll be brought here when they’re done with him,” Sam explained. “O’Neill asked John to stay out of the way until all the official stuff is done.”
Meredith watched them for a few moments before leaving the stool for a computer. She logged into the system and was reading a report from Area 51 about the X-302 project when the door opened, and Patrick Sheppard entered. John dismissed the security escort with his jerk of his head.
“Dad, meet Colonel Samantha Carter.” John paused as Carter offered his father her hand. “This is a half-assembled naquadah generator. Where did you want to start?”
“I’d like to see the stargate,” Patrick admitted. “Then I want to meet with General O’Neill.” The older man took a deep breath. “And I promise not to be an asshole to him.”
John offered his father a brief grin. “Sure, sure.” He checked his watch. “There’s a team leaving the Mountain in about ten minutes actually, so you’re just in time to watch a dial out.” He turned to her, and Meredith just shook her head. “Not interested?”
“It’s Sumner’s team, and I’ve been avoiding him as much as possible.” She shrugged when John frowned. “He’s not an idiot, so he isn’t going to lose his temper with me in public, but I’d rather not deal with him at all, to be honest. He’s a prick.”
“I can’t say he’s not,” John said but frowned. “Has he said anything to you?”
“No, but I think he found out about my interference in his placement on the Atlantis mission because of that thing with the stairs.” She glanced toward Patrick before continuing. “And if he has then he has a lot of room to be resentful of us both but most especially me since I’m a woman and he finds women inferior.”
* * * *
“Meredith said that your leadership within the expedition has some opposition,” Patrick said as he the elevator doors closed.
John looked briefly toward his father before hitting the button for the right floor. “Yeah, I mean, the civilian leader is a pain in the ass, and there are plenty of veterans of the stargate program who think they should be in charge of the military half.”
“How were you recruited?”
“I worked with Mer in Nevada—she requested me for the mission. We weren’t involved at the time, but most people don’t believe that. I don’t care about the rumors in that respect because my service record speaks for itself.”
“Hammond made that clear to me actually—when he told me to stop being a problem for you because you’re a big damn hero.”
John flushed and laughed. “Should I apologize?”
“No, John,” Patrick said and frowned as they left the elevator. “I’m trying to figure out how to let go a little.”
“It’s all I can ask,” John said.
He honestly wished he wasn’t a huge source of stress and worry for his father, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about that since he figured it was a parent’s job to worry about their kids—even adult ones. The conference room was empty, so John pushed the button to remove the shield from the window.
“It doesn’t look like much,” Patrick murmured.
John watched the gate start to move as it dialed. The wormhole swooshed, and his father flinched. “Yeah, not much.”
Patrick laughed. “I have a few thousand pages of research to read on it—most of it was written by Meredith. I read a few mission reports last night before I went to bed—she really did save the planet.”
“Yeah, she really did,” John agreed. “It’s humbling, honestly, to come face to face with the kind of sacrifice these people have been making for years. I can’t promise I’ll come back from Pegasus, you know. I wish I could.”
“I hate it,” Patrick admitted. “And I wish I didn’t understand it, but I do. I’d probably still be in the Navy if I hadn’t had to have my damn knee replaced.” He took a deep breath. “Though that isn’t something I’d ever say in front of your brothers, because neither one of them would really understand it.”
“Nancy said that David considers military service to be a burden on the family. I don’t remember it being that way when you were in uniform. Perspective is tricky, I guess because it isn’t like David and I are all that far apart in age. I remember when you were hurt and I was worried. Though I honestly remember being more worried about your surgery and how you came home in a wheelchair. I guess I’d always considered you kind of indestructible until that point, and that was pretty difficult to get my head around. Still, I was proud of your service, and I don’t think David was. I don’t get it.”
“You’re different than your brothers—even as a kid you were pretty self-reliant. If I missed a baseball game, you just went around and got copies of pictures from other parents to show me. I’m not saying that you didn’t need me, but you just didn’t focus on the time I wasn’t there.”
“When you were home you were present, and that was more than some kids had from parents who worked regular jobs,” John said. “I do remember David and Matt both being kind of resentful when you weren’t home to for something important to them. I probably was kind of a jerk about their disappointment now that I think about it.”
“Kind of?” Patrick laughed. “Oh, John, you were an intolerable little asshole about what you considered their pouting. Though you were much worse to David than you ever were to Matt in that regard. None of you were quite the same on that front when your mother was killed.” He sighed. “You’re right—I can’t tell David about any of this because there’s no reason whatsoever to justify telling Matt, and it would create a divide between them.”
John nodded. “Right now they’re pretty united in their disappointment over my life choices. It’s for the best.”
“It’s not disappointment,” Patrick said. “It might look like that, but it boils down to a bone-deep fear that one day we’ll have a body to put in that grave. The worst part, of course, is that you know it’s a distinct possibility and you still get up every morning and put on the uniform.”
“Like you did until they stopped letting you,” John said evenly.
“I’m utterly aware of my hypocrisy, John. Honestly, that’s all fatherhood is—a list of things I get to do that I’d prefer my kids didn’t.”
“Sounds about right,” a voice said from behind them, and John turned slightly to watch O’Neill enter the room. “General Hammond tells me you’re going to a pain in the ass, Dr. Sheppard. Fortunately, this place is full of those, so I don’t expect to have much of a problem with you.”
John watched his father’s gaze narrow slightly.
“That almost sounds like a challenge,” Patrick said and offered his hand.
“Jack O’Neill,” O’Neill said as he took Patrick’s hand. “And not a challenge—just letting you know that I’m used to assholes.”
John let his head fall back a little until it rested against the windowpane. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Problem, Colonel?” O’Neill asked in a clearly amused tone.
“Just wondering what I ever did to deserve my situation, sir.” John lifted his head and shrugged under the weight of both of their gazes. “Am I needed for this meeting because, honestly, I’d prefer to go watch McKay verbally eviscerate someone, and she’s going to be in the theoretical physics lab this afternoon. Kavanagh is being conferenced in from Area 51. It promises to be epic.”
The general frowned. “I thought that was tomorrow. I blocked off two hours on my schedule for it. I already have my leaning-spot picked out and everything.”
“Tomorrow is thermodynamics with that government contractor, Humphries, that she thinks is too stupid to live. Carter and McKay make him work with Felger normally.”
“Ah, I hate that guy more than Kavanagh.” O’Neill motioned Patrick toward the door leading to his office. “Let’s get started. Have fun, Colonel.”
John frowned as he watched his father leave with this commanding officer. Maybe he should’ve gone to the meeting. Although, he knew from experience he wasn’t going to be able to actually control either one of them, so maybe it was best to let them work out whatever hostility they might have with one another without him. A part of him figured he might just want to stay in Pegasus because, given a year, his father was capable of a lot of maneuvering.
“Hey there, Marine.”
John looked up and found Meredith leaning in the doorway of the conference room. “Hey.”
“Wanna explore the universe with me?” she asked with a little grin.
“Yes.” He relaxed a little because he really did, and whatever else was going on around him, that was exactly what they were going to do. John walked over to her and took the hand she offered. “Absolutely.”