Title: Finding Atlantis 11-15
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Genre: Kid Fic, First Time, Romance
Warnings: Explicit sex, discussion of murder, discussion of parental loss, and grief
Author Note: Sequel to The Bridge
Summary: John adjust to fatherhood on the city of the Ancients while his son, Sebastian, develops a connection the city that leaves everyone scrambling to keep up.
“How are you settling in, Chase?”
“It’s been great so far, sir,” Dr. Chase Harris said as he slid into place at the conference table. “I have a lot of catching up to do, and there are some issues in the infirmary, which is why I requested the meeting with you, Dr. Weir, and Dr. McKay.”
McKay entered the conference room with Elizabeth. Both of them appeared to be out of sorts.
“What’s wrong?” John questioned.
“Stupid people doing stupid shit,” Rodney muttered under his breath.
“Yes, something like that,” Elizabeth agreed and went to get coffee. “Dr. Harris, you have the floor, so go ahead and get started while I eat my feelings over here.”
Harris shared a look with John but then nodded. “Very well, as you may know, Dr. Kusanagi was having an allergic response to the penguin. We tried several different medicines and fortunately came up with a solution at the end of last week.”
John nodded. “I got an email from her on Friday letting me know that I could let Sebastian bring Avery back to her lab.”
“Fortunately, she just had some nasal congestion, but it did highlight an issue that was largely ignored by Beckett and in turn his staff. Dr. McKay’s allergies are well known and documented, but he’s literally the only person on the whole city whose been tested thoroughly for allergy related issues on Earth. No one has been tested for allergies—not even common animals and plants—for the planet we’re living on. I’ve tasked Dr. Biro was testing every single person on the city for new allergen-specific antibodies—we started with Dr. Kusanagi since she had an active reaction to work with. I wish this were the only place where Beckett dropped the ball.” Harris sat back. “Not a single military asset on the city has had an annual exam since your arrival here in Pegasus. Most of the female civilians have scheduled and received their annual exam—not unexpected they’re used to scheduling and taking care of their yearly pap smear. The only reason the DOD hasn’t pitched an unbecoming fit about it is that they don’t have access to the assessments or lack thereof. All of that information goes to the IOA.”
“Is this something my team should’ve handled?” John questioned.
“It normally falls to the medical staff on the base to conduct a PHA event,” Harris said. “There has never been one on Atlantis.”
“Beckett is a civilian from Scotland,” John said. “I don’t think he ever…but he should’ve at least scheduled annual exams or passed it to me.”
“What’s a PHA?” Elizabeth questioned.
“Periodic Health Assessment,” Rodney said as he stared moodily into his coffee cup. “Health screening, basically. The SGC has them every six months. I really didn’t notice that we weren’t having them.”
“Why every six months?” Elizabeth asked. “And not annually?”
“It would be stressful and difficult to get the whole Mountain in for an assessment at the same time, so they stagger them,” John said. “We’ll have to do a staggered schedule ourselves since the infirmary couldn’t see every single member of the military in a single day.”
“I’m going to schedule a PHA every Monday for the next three months—we’ll work around schedules and the like to get everyone. Since most of the civilians haven’t bothered with it either—we’ll just do the whole population except for those who have had a workup done in the last six months.”
“Some of the civilians couldn’t pass a military physical,” Elizabeth pointed out.
Harris winced. “Ma’am, do you honestly think we need someone out here in a war zone who can’t pass a basic physical? But this is a readiness exam, not a field assessment. I won’t be checking their marksmanship or anything. Moreover, I need to know if someone has a condition that could lead to a stroke or a cardiac event.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Right, of course. We can address field assessments at another time. Atlantis wasn’t staffed as a combat posting, and perhaps that was a mistake from the very start.” She exhaled sharply and focused on John. “Colonel?”
“The ability to function in the field is important,” John allowed. “But there are valuable scientific assets that would never qualify. Too much science happens around here for us to try to place that kind of physical and mental burden on civilians. Some of them might do well in a controlled environment with a weapon then turn around and shoot themselves in the foot in the field. Others are a friendly fire incident waiting to happen. Some of them don’t even make it to work every day in appropriate clothing or even shoes in some cases.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Simpson’s had that problem since I’ve known her—she just doesn’t care what’s on her feet. And on the city, she doesn’t have to worry about the weather so…well.” She shrugged. “But I do agree that it would be a detriment for us to try to force that kind of standard on some of the civilians. Those that do well in the field are the exception rather than the rule. I think sometimes, Dr. Jackson has given the rest of us a false sense of prowess or maybe set a standard many would struggle to meet.”
“He was uniquely motivated,” John said. “After all, he joined a field team to search for his kidnapped wife.”
* * * *
“Nope,” Sebastian said firmly and Avery nooted curiously. A little sparkle of light danced in the air to his left, and he turned then sighed as the wall slowly faded to reveal a corridor. “Come on.”
A swirl of light traveled down one wall, and Avery wiggled excitedly in his carrier. He huffed and activated his radio only to be rewarded with a burst of static. Sebastian turned the radio off with a groan of frustration. Avery’s feet pushed against his back as the penguin lifted a little and rested his beak on Sebastian’s shoulder.
“Yeah, be curious,” the kid muttered. “From here. We’re not going down there.”
“No, seriously. We’ll totally get grounded. You’ve never been grounded—it’s boring and sad.”
The swirls intensified, and he was reminded of the stardrive that almost exploded, and he groaned.
“Great, fantastic. I’m going to get grounded and lectured. Probably by multiple people. I’ll end up being escorted around the city by some giant Marine with no sense of humor who resents me from taking him away from real work and being turned into a babysitter for a ten-year-old who can’t do what he’s told.”
Avery wiggled excitedly as Sebastian started down the hall.
“And you’re an enabler, Avery. This is not how emotional support works. I’m going to look up some articles and read them to you so you’ll know your job. Because you really only got one, and you’re adorable, but you can’t get by on your looks forever.”
They turned the corner, and the walls were glowing like the city was excited. At the end of the hall, a pair of double doors slowly started to open.
“That looks like the start of a boss battle,” Sebastian said grimly. He tried activating his radio again, and it worked. He shifted through the channels with a series of taps until he reached the family channel. “Daddy.”
“Hey, buddy, how’s hydroponics?”
“I wouldn’t know—the city sort of lured me down a hall I’ve never seen before. It’s not on the city plans.” He bit down on his lip as he listened to his dad hiss and curse under his breath. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s…well, it’s not fine, but I understand. I know how distracting and alluring she can be. Don’t move, I have McKay searching for you right now. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I mean except I standing in front of a pair of double doors that look more like secure lab doors than regular doors. Total boss battle territory.” He bit down on his lip when his dad laughed a little. “I think the hall was hidden by some kind of security hologram or something. Very Star Trek.”
“That’s got Janus written all over it,” McKay cut in. “Do not touch anything, I mean it.”
“I’m not in the room,” Sebastian protested. “There could be some kind of creature in there or some Ancient experiment gone wrong. Or both.” He huffed when they both laughed at him. “So listen, what are the chances I’m not going to get grounded for this?”
“Zero,” John answered from behind him with a whole group of people.
Sebastian turned and shut off his radio. “Daddy, Dr. McKay.” He paused. “Marines, etc.”
Avery nooted his own greeting.
Rodney sighed and gave him a look that spoke to a very long lecture as he passed him. “Don’t you move.”
“Yes, sir.” He saluted, and that earned him a brief glare. “Not moving, seriously.”
“I bet your whole paternal line is full of fluffy-haired idiots who can’t follow instructions.”
“Rude, McKay,” John said and hooked his finger into the strap of Avery’s carrier. He pulled gently and motioned for one of the men with them to follow McKay.
“John? I’m going to need him.”
“What? No, McKay. Come on.”
“No choice,” McKay said flatly. “The single console in this room is asking for him by name.”
Sebastian winced. “I…I won’t touch anything, Daddy. I promise.”
“Take Avery off,” John said shortly. “I need you to be able to move quickly if something goes wrong.”
Sebastian put his messenger bag by the wall and loosened the straps of Avery’s carrier. “If I put him down, he’ll follow me in there.”
“That’s why Chief Frost is going to penguin-sit.” He jerked his head toward one of the larger marines. “Right, Frost?”
“Sure,” he said with a grin. “The Navy trained me extensively for that duty.”
Sebastian raised an eyebrow but gamely handed Avery over. “He’ll act like has to go potty to get down. Don’t fall for it.” He turned to find his dad holding a hand, so he took it. “What do you think she wants with me?”
“I don’t know.”
John ignored the way his stomach tightened with worry as he led his son into the room. He wanted to pick the kid up and run for the stargate. It wasn’t the first time he’d had that urge. John had never once thought that the city could be manipulating him, but she was clearly leading his son around in a disturbing way. It didn’t feel malicious, but it also obviously wasn’t benign, and he wasn’t sure what he could about it. His son was safest on Atlantis, which was terrible on several levels, but he needed the city to back off a little. He wasn’t sure how to ask.
He kept Sebastian far enough from the console that he couldn’t reach out and touch it even by accident. A slim glass panel slid out of the back of the console and displayed a ZPM. The image spread out into a series of structural design images, and John took a ragged breath.
“That’s a ZPM,” John said.
“Yes, it is,” Rodney murmured. “The city has changed….ah. I see.”
“She incorporated some of my Mini-Z design into the ZPM,” Sebastian said. “Oh, she doesn’t want you to retrofit the ZPM cradle, does she?”
“No, she greatly prefers the ZPM, but it looks like she’s used your work to fix the depletion problem,” Rodney said. “Or at least slow it down so much that she’s quadrupled the life of a single ZPM.”
“She wants to use naquadah to build her maze,” Sebastian said and leaned forward just a bit to stare at the image. “Something we couldn’t do if we wanted to manufacture on Earth. Can we work naquadah like that?”
“No, but apparently she can,” Rodney said. “This part of the lab is dormant. There must be other control centers.”
“How dormant?” John questioned.
“Offline since the Ancients left if not longer,” McKay said. “Per Old Elizabeth, they had three full ZPMs, so they didn’t need to run the lab at that point. They were still converting facilities to use ZPMs, and there are plenty out there that rely on other energy sources. They must have stopped converting facilities when they realized they couldn’t win against the Wraith.”
“Well, they were never really invested in winning that fight, to begin with,” Sebastian said. “They always had somewhere to retreat to, and they didn’t consider this galaxy their home. Giving it up to the Wraith probably didn’t bother them at all.” He tilted his head. “What does she want with me? She’s already done all the work.”
“Permission,” McKay said. “She’s apparently been paying attention to us in a way I hadn’t anticipated. The city knows it would be inappropriate to use your work in her design without permission.”
“Oh.” Sebastian flushed. “That’s so weird. Okay, she can use it.”
The glass panel slid back down into the console, and a large window appeared in front of the console. John edged them closer but kept a firm grip on his kid. Below them, a single pedestal stood in a small white room. A swarm of nanites poured down out of the ceiling and started to work.
“Holy shit,” Sebastian breathed.
McKay snorted. “Get him out of here, John. And set up security for this whole area. We can’t afford any mistakes in here. Supergene plus stray thought could equal disaster.”
John picked his son up and made for the door.
“Have fun making ZPMs, Dr. McKay.”
“Go to hydroponics and feed your penguin,” McKay ordered over his shoulder.
* * * *
McKay sat down in front of Weir’s desk beside John. “So.”
“We don’t have to do an all-out search of the city to find the nanite lab, now,” McKay said cheerfully.
Elizabeth pinched her nose and closed her eyes briefly. “Rodney.”
“I get that you’re concerned—that you both are—but we can’t control Sebastian’s connection with the city any more than we can control John’s. She obviously pays very close attention to him, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. The more power we give her, the more she can do. She obviously wants to be at full power because everything she’s done since his arrival has been working toward that goal. She used him to reveal the cause of the power drain, she used him to further John’s access in the control chair so the stardrive could be repaired.”
“Speaking of the stardrive, where is it?” John questioned.
“Back where it belongs,” Rodney said. “I had Miko check. It’s fully operational, except for the fact that we don’t have enough power to use it. Nothing terrible has happened because the city finds it easier to communicate with Sebastian.”
“So far,” John said. “I’ve been trying to pay more attention to her, but I spent too much time pushing her aside. I don’t think she resents me for it, but she’s used to only being able to get my full attention when something is very wrong or dangerous. I want to believe she wouldn’t put Sebastian in harm’s way but…we don’t know enough about what is going on beyond our reach to make that determination.”
“She’ll push you when things are dangerous,” McKay interjected. “We also know that she didn’t try to compel him to enter the room.”
“But she did prevent him from reaching out to me when she first caught his attention. He said his radio wouldn’t work.”
“I know, I checked that. He was in a dead spot for the network. There is no signal there at all. I think it’s because of the security field that normally hides the corridor,” Rodney said. “So she didn’t do that on purpose—no one’s radio is going to work there ever as long as the security is activated and we should certainly leave it activated. Currently, only gene carriers can enter that area, and only when the city allows it. Which is definitely for the best.”
John relaxed and took a deep breath. “Okay. I want to take him off-world.”
“To what end?” Elizabeth asked curiously. “And which world would be safest?”
“I need to make sure the city will let him leave,” Sheppard admitted. “And I thought I’d just go back through the gate bridge and check the progress of Midway while I’m there.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing that myself,” Rodney admitted. “We don’t have to tell him what we’re testing. I think it would freak him out.”
“Yeah,” John said. “Agreed.”
* * * *
Avery was nooting hysterically as they cleared the wormhole. John looked over his shoulder and found his son struggling to contain the bird.
“He did not like that,” Sebastian said wryly.
“Well, the first trip through can be traumatic for some,” John said. “Even super cold in some cases and despite his species he’s from tropical waters. The trip back should be fine. If not, we’ll have to be careful about how and when we take him through the gate to avoid traumatizing him unduly.”
Sebastian nodded and bit down on his lip as he rubbed the bird’s back.
“Come up here and check out the space construction,” Rodney suggested.
John shifted the jumper around to give them the best view. About ten people were working on the exterior of the station in space suits. There was a shimmer of gold around the whole thing indicating a shield of some sort. “Asgard shields?”
“Yes, built especially for the station,” Rodney said. He reached out and took Avery from Sebastian and put him down in his own lap. “Calm down, bird, you’re going to miss out on cool stuff if you can’t handle stargate travel.”
Sebastian leaned against John’s chair as he stared at the nearly-built station. “It’s a huge security liability for Earth.”
“How so?” John questioned. He knew how, but he wanted to hear what the kid was thinking.
“Right now only Atlantis can be used to dial Earth. Since you used Pegasus gates to build our half of the system, they’re connected with the others. We run the risk of them being exposed, and the Wraith do know we come from a different galaxy. What if a smart one figures out how to hack into the bridge and use it to get to Earth? Or worse, another planet and we never even know about it. They could spread through the Milky Way like locusts.” Sebastian frowned at the station. “I’m not sure a better connection with Earth is worth the risks, honestly.”
John actually agreed, but the IOA had been adamant about the construction of the station.
“What are some ways you’d use to secure it?” McKay questioned.
“Ancient DHD like on Atlantis so only gene carriers can use it,” Sebastian said. “Sensors to detect both Goa’uld and Wraith. The last thing Pegasus needs is a Goa’uld acting like a savior and enslaving them in the process. Dr. Weir says that sometimes people can be so desperate for safety that they’ll sacrifice everything to get. A Goa’uld could have a field day in Pegasus using that mentality against the people who are hit the hardest by the Wraith or even the ones that already suffer from desperation-fed poor decision making like the Genii. A dead man’s switch.”
“I’m already building a sensor to detect Wraith and to prevent them dialing certain gate addresses in the Pegasus system,” Rodney said. “Midway will be protected from that.”
“Unless they can force a human to do the dialing for them,” Sebastian said and raised an eyebrow when McKay looked at him. “You said some Wraith are scary smart. If they notice someone using the Midway gate address successfully, how long would it take them to suss out they need to use a human dialer?”
“Not long at all,” Rodney conceded. “I couldn’t prevent that—what if one of our teams was seeking shelter and were on the ground fighting a Wraith?” He took a deep breath. “I’ll keep thinking.”
“Wide spectrum stunning upon entry,” John interjected. “We learned from the Genii that even our IDC system isn’t foolproof. But if we had a system set up in the gate room and on Midway to stun anyone or anything coming through the gate unauthorized—we could sort them out unconscious. Maybe certain genetic signatures are stunned on sight, and there would be an option for the person operating the gate to stun travelers as needed.”
“I’m not sure Chuck needs that kind of power,” Rodney said thoughtfully. “He’s Canadian, and we have a lot of pent up resentment.”
Rodney glanced at his tablet as it pinged. “We’re getting a communication from the last Earth gate.” He hummed under his breath. “Data package.”
“How’d they know we’d be here?” Sebastian asked curiously.
“We sent a message using the communication buoys telling them that we were going to visit the construction site,” John explained. “There is an Earth ship in the area. They’re housing the work crew for the project and also helping with the construction when problems arise. We wanted to make sure the Apollo was aware of us and didn’t mistake us for an enemy.”
“Does the Apollo have an Asgard engineer?”
“No, the Daedalus was the prototype, and it was the first we’d integrated Asgard and Earth tech,” Rodney said. “Hermiod requested to join the crew to monitor the integration then stayed because he liked it.”
“Cool.” Sebastian looked out the window. “We should probably ask the geneticist on the city to look at the Ancient database for information to help the Asgard. I mean, they were supposed to be super advanced right? They created the ATA gene, so one would assume their research into genetics is quite extensive.”
“I’ll send a memo,” Rodney said absently. “Transmission complete. We can go back to the city now if you’d like, John.”
John glanced his way and found Rodney frowning at the tablet. “What is it?”
“This entire data package is for you,” Rodney said.
* * * *
Jesus fucking Christ. I don’t even know what to say to you. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what you were doing, but as you suspected, my curiosity got the best of me, and I met with O’Neill. Besides that very long NDA, I also ended up signing sixteen different contracts for Sheppard Industries.
David is currently at the SGC and said he’d make sure our packet of emails and videos would reach you as soon as possible. Matt is in Nevada working on the next generation of the X-302. They’re both excited to be a part of the whole thing but also horrified to learn the history of the SGC. I’m in Washington, but I’ll be returning to Virginia to start retooling several aspects of SI to deal with the new contracts. I did hire Nancy—I need all the engineering help I can get. I didn’t know her maiden name because you eloped, you little shit, and introduced your new wife as Nancy Sheppard.
I had two Trust spies in my company and one NID agent undercover. We’re still reviewing personnel files and background checks. I expect to find more. I had one of the Trust spies charged with industrial espionage, so that made me feel better. I’ve had a meeting with POTUS and O’Neill about the both the Trust and the NID. You can be assured that I’m doing everything I can to make sure this planet is safe for you and Sebastian.
I checked on the lawyer handling Karen Reilly’s estate and hired an auditor to review the finances. Everything is in proper order, and he makes the appearance of being an honest man. I’ll keep an eye on that regardless.
I was furious to discover that Sebastian is with you in Pegasus. I get it, of course, but I’m troubled that removing him from the planet was the safe choice. I’ve seen some video footage of the Wraith. The fact that he’s safer in a galaxy overrun with space vampires than on the planet he was born on is…well. I’m sure you feel exactly the same way about it.
I’d very much like to see a picture of this emotional support penguin.
* * * *
Your father is a terrible human being.
* * * *
I’m never, ever going to forgive you for flying space ships and not telling me. I don’t care that it was classified, you asshole.
Your son is beautiful, and we can’t wait to meet him. Claire sends her best. Nancy is working for SI now, Dad said you suggested it. I’d honestly forgotten how much I liked that woman, so I’m glad she’s on board. She’s doing a great job. Nancy and Claire are now best friends. Sorry. I’m not sure what I should do about it? I mean, I know you guys weren’t hostile when you divorced. Also, Nancy went out on a date with Colonel Cameron Mitchell. I checked around—he appears to be the okay sort. I’ll keep an eye on that situation.
To give you a head’s up that even Dad isn’t aware of—Matt wants to come to Atlantis. I don’t think any of us are getting a choice in that. Just FYI. He’s pitching an idea about outfitting the city with X-302s to O’Neill and coming out there as the engineer for the project. He’s been at a bit of a loose end since grad school. I think he really wanted to join the Navy but didn’t want to have that fight with Dad. Regardless, you will soon have one adult child and one actual child to deal with regularly.
* * * *
Can you check around and see if you can find a room close to yours for my quarters? I’m bringing twelve pilots and with X-302s to match on the next Daedalus run. David knows it might happen, and Dad is entirely in the dark. Also, make a list of anything you and Sebastian might need since I’m currently packing. I think we’ll have one more data burst from Atlantis before I leave.
* * * *
“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me today.”
Sebastian stopped watching Avery, who was sprawled in the sun next to the window in Dr. Thomas Grant’s office. “Daddy’s worried about me, and I was rude to Dr. Heightmeyer. I didn’t mean to be. I just couldn’t…stand to be around her another second.”
“Because she reminds you of your mother?”
“Yes.” Sebastian frowned. “And it makes me…” He exhaled sharply. “I’d give anything to have her back, but then I wouldn’t have Daddy so it’s all just hard and I can’t figure out how I could have them both with me. It’s all really unfair.” He picked at the seam of his jeans. “But life isn’t fair, right? My mom put me in school when I was five, but I don’t think she realized then how…smart I was because I was around all of these other five-year-olds and most of them could barely write their name. A few of them knew the alphabet, but none could really read. I felt like a freak. It was terrible, so I tried to blend in. I tried to be just like the others, but I wasn’t, and it got really hard to pretend.”
“So, you stopped pretending?”
“I lasted until Christmas,” Sebastian admitted. “And my mom went to school to ask that I be evaluated. I tested right out of elementary school, much to the surprise of everyone. My mom taught me to read when I was three, and she really didn’t pay attention to what I read. She was very hands off on that front actually. She said I should explore the world and everything in it but my world was kind of small at the time so I explored her bookshelf. By the time I started school, I’d read everything in the house except for her romance books, which she kept in her room.”
“Your mother had a doctorate in marine biology.”
“So you read her textbooks, her research….” Grant trailed off.
“And a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica,” Sebastian said and shrugged when the psychologist’s mouth dropped open. “I have a good but not perfect memory.” He frowned. “But the assessments made everyone look at me like I was a freak. Everyone but my mom. The school didn’t know what to do with me, so she withdrew me and started homeschooling. The state really didn’t know what to do with me either but decided I should start with sixth-grade work.”
“And you’re now, technically, a junior in high school.”
“Yes, but I could take and pass the GED at any point. I mean I could’ve done that two years ago but mom didn’t want me in college at eight. She said she’d prefer that I be at least sixteen.”
“Many parents would’ve pushed you harder.”
“She said being a child genius was burden enough and that she didn’t want to force me to grow up too fast. Mom always thought it was appalling and kind of sad to see a little kid in college at an extremely young age. She said it was more about their parent’s vanity that the kid’s actual needs or desires. And she’s right about that part—I really don’t want to be in college right now. I don’t need that structure to learn or grow as a person. I’ll go eventually, but it can wait a while. I can probably do my undergraduate work here on the city as a long-distance student.” He grinned. “A really really long-distance student.”
Grant laughed. “There are study groups and the like for the enlisted men and women on the city pursuing undergraduate degrees.”
“I know. I visited one early on. It was a lot of fun, but I decided I probably shouldn’t attend them often since they are all enlisted and my Daddy’s their CO. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.”
“What do you miss most about your mom?”
“Her laugh,” Sebastian said wistfully. “When she got really amused—she’d laugh so hard she’d get hiccups. I miss that. She made me Mikey Mouse pancakes on Sundays, and I pretended to be appalled by her tribute to capitalism.” He wiped at the tears he couldn’t keep at bay. “She loved to wear yellow. I had Mr. Blake buy her a new yellow dress for the funeral part, and we got her yellow roses. She looked so peaceful and pretty in the casket…like she hadn’t been hurt horribly. Mr. Blake thanked the man at the funeral home for making her look so nice. I hated that, and I don’t know why. She would’ve wanted to look nice.”
Grant passed him some tissues. “Perhaps seeing her like that made it difficult for you to process because she didn’t look deceased.”
Sebastian shuddered. “Yeah, probably. I had them close the casket for the actual service. Mr. Blake cried.”
“I tried not to. I wanted to be strong for him because Mom wasn’t there to make him feel better and I thought…she’d have wanted me to help him. But after the service, we just sat there together and cried. He’s a good person. Daddy said I could email him, but I don’t know what to say.”
“Tell him about your studies in a general way and make sure he knows you’re safe and happy,” Grant suggested. “It’s what I’d want to know in his place.”
“He loved my mom,” Sebastian said. “He asked me a few weeks before she died if it would be okay if he asked her to marry him. I told him she was allergic to weddings and he just laughed. He said he was going to try anyway because she was worth it. He said I could call him Mason, and he asked me if it would be okay if he called me his son, and I said…yes.” He bit down on his lip. “Do you think that would make Daddy mad?”
“No,” Grant said gently. “Of course, not. I’m sure your father would be relieved to know you had a good man in your life when he wasn’t there. You can tell him if you’d like—I don’t think he’d be surprised.”
Sebastian nodded. “I hurt him—Mr. Blake.”
“How?” Grant asked.
“He asked me if I wanted to stay with him, but I knew I couldn’t. I knew he wouldn’t be safe because…well. My mom’s death wasn’t an accident, and I didn’t want him to get hurt. I didn’t know why she was killed at first but…” He exhaled. “But I figured it had something to do with me when General O’Neill came, so I agreed to go with him to meet my Daddy.”
“I’m sure Mr. Blake understands.”
“I hope so,” Sebastian said and picked up Avery who’d waddled across the room to him. “I wouldn’t want him to get killed because of me like my mom did.”
John regretted all of his life choices. Every single one. He looked toward the ceiling and took a deep breath then focused on Ronon who was cleaning his nails with a knife. “You.”
Ronon raised an eyebrow.
“You gave my son knives.”
“On my world, it’s an appropriate weapon choice to start training,” Ronon said. “I received my first set at eight.”
John blew air out noisily.
“At his size, he shouldn’t handle a projectile weapon,” Ronon continued. “But he might stand a chance against a Wraith if he were taught to target their feeding hand or enzyme sacs.”
John’s stomach twisted, and his throat tightened. The very idea of his son being in the hands of the Wraith was actually agonizing. He took a sharp breath and stood up from his desk. “Goddamn it, Ronon.”
“I know,” Ronon said simply. “He’s very small and leaving him defenseless…I can’t do it, Sheppard. Moreover, he’s…a really beautiful child. There was a man once on my world who—he tried to be intimate with me when I was your son’s age. My father killed him. There are a lot of people on this city we don’t know as well as we should, and we can’t take for granted that he’s entirely safe among us.”
“Tried to be intimate with you,” John repeated flatly.
“He asked me to go to bed with him,” Ronon said. “Like it was a normal thing. He was 15 years older than my own father. Such crimes were punishable by immediate death as children were considered a precious resource. It is the same on many worlds in this galaxy. Your son is the only child on the city, Sheppard, and it matters. It’ll matter to many others once it is discovered. It speaks to the Tauri’s commitment to this galaxy and to our fight against the Wraith. Our allies will see it as a step toward permanence for your people here.”
“I’d never…” John sighed. “I don’t want that for him. He’s not…”
“He’s special,” Ronon said. “Certainly unique to me. I’ve never seen or heard of a child like him in all the worlds I’ve visited. Perhaps it’s because of the conditions most live in—our children never get a chance to explore knowledge. It’s a privilege but one he clearly recognizes. But you can’t change the way others will see him, what they will expect, or what they might try to take from him. You’re trying to control something that can’t be controlled, John.”
He blinked in surprise because he couldn’t even remember the last time Ronon called him anything but Sheppard. John sat down in his chair and took a deep breath. “I don’t want him to ever be in a position where he has to defend himself with a knife.”
“Me either,” Ronon replied. “But neither one of us can truly control that. I’ll give everything I have to protect him, but in the end that might not be enough.”
He hated it, and there was nothing he could do about it. “Teach him knife safety first,” he said finally. “Then show him how to disable an adult, no matter their species, so he can run.”
Ronon nodded and stood to leave.
“What did Teyla get him?”
Ronon grinned. “Bantos rods. Little ones, though—his size.”
John sighed and slouched in his chair. “For fuck’s sake.”
“She’s starting with meditation and stretching exercises. He needs a little time to reset his mind, she said, after all the academics during the day. He’s young and limber so he’ll take well to those exercises. Being physically fit is his best defense—we’ll make sure he knows that running should be his first option.” He paused. “And when he’s older you should teach him that kickboxing thing that you and Lorne do.”
“Lorne has a black belt in aikido,” John said. “I was trained in Krav Maga. We’ve learned a lot from each other.” He blew out a breath. “I’ll consider that when he’s older. He could probably use some lessons in judo—which is more about leverage than physical power.” He picked up the pen he rarely actually used to write with and flipped it through his fingers. “I want him to be safe. It’s galling to picture him with a weapon in his hand.”
“My father cried the day he gave me my first weapon,” Ronon murmured. “He told me that he’d give anything for me to live on a world where I was safe from the Wraith. He died the first day of the invasion leading his unit in an assault to retake the gate.” He paused. “He took his own life rather than be fed on.”
John closed his eyes briefly. “I can’t imagine that.”
“His last words to me were orders to survive,” Ronon said. “I did.”
“He was your CO in the military.”
“Yes,” Ronon admitted roughly and averted his gaze.
John realized, then, that in some ways Ronon had put him in his father’s place in his life. It was stunning and humbling. He was about twelve years older than the Satedean, but the gap had never felt larger. “You were an only child?”
“No, but I was the only one he had left on the planet as far as he knew and the youngest.”
John winced. “You’ve never talked about siblings.”
“Three brothers and a sister,” Ronon said roughly and stood. “My sister fell at the gate with our father and my brothers…I don’t know. I was culled, and I lost track of them after that. I searched for them when I was turned into a runner, but they never showed up at our rendezvous points. We had six different ones off Sateda and one on our own world.”
“When’s the last time you checked?” John questioned. “Do you think any of them were turned into runners?”
“No, I don’t think so.” He moved toward the door. “I’m still reviewing that material you passed me for his literature work. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for lessons.”
“Thank you, because it all makes my head hurt,” John said roughly. “I love to read, but I was always more comfortable in math and science.”
“It’s interesting to learn that the grammar rules for English aren’t all that different in what I taught on Sateda,” Ronon said. “The Ancients probably had an unreasonable level of influence on all of us.”
“It’s annoying,” John agreed.
“Mostly because they’re buttholes,” Ronon said and strolled out of the office.
John huffed and made a note to tell Sebastian not to teach Ronon bad habits. More bad habits. The Marines were terrible enough. It was really kind of awful that his own kid could be considered a bad influence on their Pegasus allies. He wondered if there was a form he should fill out about it. The SGC had forms for everything.
With that thought, he opened up his laptop and clicked on his email program. Thanks to the almost complete gate bridge, they were trading data bursts with Earth every forty-eight hours. He wasn’t sure he liked the level of communication if he were honest about it. The more they exchanged information, the more Earth was in their business. John was quite proud about how well the expedition handled themselves and the IOA really didn’t understand the dynamics in Pegasus.
He sorted through emails and filed everything that Lorne had been Cc’d on since his XO would handle all of those. Everything about science-related issues when into another folder for review. Most of the time, it was most productive for John to read those when Rodney was around and could answer questions. It was tempting to ignore and pretend he didn’t get the email from Landry, but he opened it.
Lt. Colonel Sheppard,
The gate bridge will be complete in roughly 15 days. The IOA is sending a representative out to inspect the city. His name is Richard Woolsey, and before he was chosen by POTUS to represent the US within the IOA, he was with the Army Corp of Engineers.
General Hank Landry
John sat back in his chair and stared at the email with a slight frown. It was frankly the friendliest email he’d ever gotten from Landry, and that was annoying. Considering the way his father had invaded Homeworld Security, he had to think that Landry had realized that John came from a lot of money. He hated the way that crap could influence people. He honestly much preferred Landry when he was moderately hostile and unimpressed with John’s continued survival.
His email program dinged twice, and he snorted as he noted that both Elizabeth and Rodney had used a frownie face emoticon as their subject line. He opened up Elizabeth’s first.
Please let me know if you need any assistance in preparing Woolsey’s visit. He’ll probably concentrate on nitpicking my decisions for the last two years.
McKay’s email was blank much to John’s amusement. Though he figured that the frownie face summed up Rodney’s feelings about the IOA sending anyone to Atlantis. He activated his radio and tapped out the sequence to reach McKay privately.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Rodney said immediately.
“Oh, god,” John said and groaned. “What?”
“What?” Rodney questioned. “Why are you calling me?”
“What? Fine. There was a device that activated when Sebastian walked past it in the Jumper Bay. AR3 brought it back in a cache of tech from a mission, and it was being sorted on a table. Regardless, it wasn’t his fault, and we got it turned off before it did anything really stupid.”
“What did it actually do?”
“Hmmm. Well, as it turns out, it was some kind of…” Rodney sighed. “It was headgrabber.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, McKay!” John stood and hurried around his desk. “Where is it?”
“I have it quarantined in a box. It didn’t touch Sebastian, I promise.”
“Did it touch anyone?” John demanded as he left his office.
“I…well. Yes, I got between it and Sebastian, and it latched onto my wrist, but Miko grabbed the tentacle thing and made it let go. Then we put it in a box.”
“Where are you both?” John asked.
“Stay there. I’m on my way, for fuck’s sake.”
He skidded into the transporter and hit the closest location he could to McKay’s office and tried to remain calm as he walked toward the office. “When did this happen?”
“About ten minutes ago,” Rodney admitted gruffly. “We’re just regrouping now. I pulled the security footage so we could figure out how close someone has to be to activate it.”
“AR3 has a gene carrier,” John reminded. “Why didn’t it go off?”
“Because Major Teldy is in her quarters with a broken leg and her team was in the field with Lt. Wilkes. We found the lab in question about five months ago and we’ve been cleaning out various rooms for a while now.”
“How the hell did someone pick up a headgrabber and not know it?” John demanded as he entered the lab and strode straight toward McKay’s office with a glare toward the scientists who were lingering in the work area.
Sebastian, amusingly enough, had his own desk in McKay’s office. He stared at them for a few moments before he stepped fully into the room, and the door shut behind him.
“O’Neill has been caught by a headgrabber twice, but in both situations, things were so out of hand that no one got any sort of photographic evidence of it. Moreover, the drawings that Daniel Jackson eventually provided were all of the device open,” Rodney huffed and motioned toward the large monitor on his wall.
John watched his son walk through the Jumper Bay and just short of reaching the table, devices started to light up, and the headgrabber unfolded with a snap like a jack-in-the-box. He blinked. “Let me see that again.”
The footage started over, and McKay slowed it down just as stuff started to light up.
“The reach is horrifying,” John said roughly. “Take stills of this device active and inactive so we can educate everyone in the field on what to look for. Does it have any security on it?”
“I don’t know, yet,” Rodney admitted. “My goal will be taking it apart and trying to retrieve the data.” He rubbed his wrist.
It was heavily bruised. “You should get that checked out,” John said even as his stomach knotted. They were too far from the Asgard to get help if McKay or Sebastian had actually been given an Ancient download.
“It’s fine—just a bruise,” McKay assured.
John focused on Sebastian, who was sitting at his desk with Avery in his lap. The penguin was asleep. “Hey.”
Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “Honestly, as far as headgrabbers go, I’d much prefer to come across the Ancient kind.”
John sighed. “Your mother let you watch Alien?”
“And the sequel. Mom said the others weren’t worth watching no matter how hot Sigourney Weaver was in them,” Sebastian said as he picked up Avery and put him in a little basket on the desk.
“Well, she’s not wrong,” Rodney said.
“He’s too young for horror movies,” John protested and huffed when his son just smiled at him. “Seriously.”
“I live in a galaxy full of space vampires,” Sebastian reminded. “Fictional monsters in movies from Earth are…well kind of hard to take seriously.” He shrugged when John couldn’t help but make a face. “Did you read the family emails, yet?”
John frowned at them both. “No, because I got distracted by the both of you doing stupid things. You’re both grounded to this office for the rest of the freaking day.”
McKay laughed and picked up his coffee cup. “Go away, Sheppard, we have genius stuff to do.”
“Right,” John said with a huff and stalked out of the office.
He detoured to the mess and got himself some cookies. Because he was still irritated, he didn’t send any McKay’s way. They clearly didn’t deserve cookies. Back in his office, John sat back down at this desk and concentrated on the family emails. He sorted through the pictures and passed those onto Sebastian before opening up the one from his father.
You probably already know Matt is coming out there. I tried to interfere, and I’m not sorry. I am honestly furious that both Matt and O’Neill told me to stay in my lane on that subject. Obviously, I need to broaden my lane. Regardless, I trust you’ll take care of your brother even though he’s a grown man. I know you haven’t seen him since he was sixteen. I can’t say he’s matured much since then despite the doctorate in aeronautics.
David is preparing a care package for you and Sebastian—let him know what you both need or want.
John considered the list he and Sebastian had spent some time working on. He made a note to revisit it and make sure that the kid hadn’t been overly minimalistic about things. It struck him that he didn’t have a lot of personal possessions on the city and he’d once lived in a house full of things that belonged to him. With a frown, he sent McKay an email so he could get Sebastian to talk about what he left behind in California.
Then he started an email he’d been kind of reluctant to write even though he’d had Mason Blake’s email address since the day O’Neill had told him about Sebastian.
I’m honestly at a loss as to what to say you, so I’ve avoided doing this for months. Please accept my condolences on your loss. My time with Karen was brief but wonderful, and it was very painful to hear about her death. I couldn’t imagine being in your place. Sebastian has told me a bit about you, and I know you wanted to make a family with him and Karen. I’m sorry that the opportunity was taken from you. Sebastian obviously misses you a great deal but is at times hesitant to speak of you.
I think you probably have a very good idea of where we are due to your previous service in the Air Force. The next time we’re available, I believe he would be thrilled to see you if that is something you can handle. I can’t pretend to truly understand your grief. If you can’t handle seeing him, yet, just let me know, and I’ll handle it on this end.
I’m writing to you because we’re going to receive a care package and Sebastian has asked for very little to be included. I wish I knew if it was because he genuinely doesn’t need much or if he’s afraid of making people think he’s spoiled. Did he leave anything behind that you think he would truly like to have with him? Could you arrange for some things from his room to be sent to us? When I took custody of him, he only had a crate of clothing and an eBook reader. I assume it was due to the security circumstances around his removal from California.
Any help on this issue would be much appreciated.
* * * *
John rubbed his thumb over the bruise on McKay’s arm right above the wrist bone. Too close, he thought. He pressed a kiss there, and Rodney’s breath caught so John shifted Rodney onto his back and slid on top of him. “You need to be more careful.”
“I’m sorry he was almost hurt.”
John huffed. “You were hurt.” He brushed his mouth against McKay’s. “I trust you do everything you can protect my son, Rodney. I just need you to watch your own excellent ass, also.”
“John,” Rodney said against his mouth. “I…”
“You can’t…” John whispered harshly against his jaw and swallowed hard. “I let you in my life in a way I never expected to do, and you can’t just leave me. I didn’t even know I needed you like this.”
He rubbed his mouth along the beard roughed skin of Rodney’s jaw and took a deep breath. They both smelled like his soap since they’d showered together.
“Yes, well, you never see it coming.”
John laughed a little. “You sure about the soundproofing thing?”
“Yeah, it was just a little tweak in the privacy settings in the security features for the apartment,” Rodney said and huffed a little when John slid downward and flicked his tongue over one nipple. “We can still hear him, though if there’s a problem.”
“I have my radio set to beep if he activates our channel,” John murmured. “I told him, and he made an inappropriate comment about me getting lucky, so I’m going to give him a terribly embarrassing sex talk in retaliation tomorrow.”
“I want to fuck you.”
McKay exhaled sharply. “Yeah, that’d be great.”
“But?” John questioned as he licked over the head of Rodney’s cock.
“It’s just you haven’t expressed much interest in that at all so far.”
“I enjoy being fucked a lot,” John admitted. “But tonight I want in you. I need to feel as much of you as possible.” He reached out and grabbed the lube from the nightstand. “Just you and me.”
“Just us,” Rodney murmured. “No condom?”
“We’re both clean,” John said. “And yeah, I’d like to take you raw and come in you.”
“Territorial bastard,” McKay muttered but grinned when John just raised an eyebrow. “And yeah, we can stop using condoms. I mean…it’ll be messier.”
“Yeah, exactly,” John shuddered as he licked the length of McKay’s cock and opened the lube. “That’s what I want.”
“You want me to smell like you,” Rodney said. “Your cum.”
“Yes,” John agreed and ignored the surprise on Rodney’s face. He didn’t know if McKay was surprised by the admission or what. “How long’s it been?”
“Since I had something in my ass?” Rodney asked in amusement and hissed out a shocked breath as John slid one lubed finger right in. “Jesus.” He lifted his hips as John pressed in deep and tagged his prostate. “Fuck.”
“Don’t let my preference confuse you, McKay,” John said lowly. “I’m about to own your ass.”
“Why is that sexy instead of awful?” Rodney demanded and jerked violently as John added another finger. “It’s been…I have a plug, but I haven’t used it in about six months. It’s smaller than my own dick, and you’re bigger than me…”
“Longer but you’re definitely thicker,” John murmured.
“It’s not very thick either—I just use it for prostate stimulation.” He rocked down on John’s fingers. “I love it.”
“You should’ve said,” John murmured. “I’ll play with your ass anytime you want. We could even plug you while you fuck me.”
“Yes, let’s do all the filthy things later, but you have to get your dick in me right now.”
John slicked up his cock and tossed aside the lube, then hooked his hand behind McKay’s knees. He pushed them back, and Rodney’s breath hitched. “Can you handle this position?”
“Yeah,” Rodney and cupped his knees. “Absolutely.”
John shifted and dragged the head of his cock over McKay’s balls, and the rim of his asshole then slid in just a little. He rocked back and forth as he watched Rodney arch into the stimulation. He personally loved that first sharp burn of penetration, and it was clear that Rodney enjoyed it as well. John pushed in all the way with one slow thrust, and McKay groaned.
He slid his hands over Rodney’s thighs and started to move. A harsh, heavy wave of pleasure slid down his spine. It had been over a year since he’d fucked anything but his own hand and the pleasure of being inside another person was like no other. John felt like he’d been slowly starving, and he hadn’t even known it.
“You feel so good,” John murmured. “I knew you would. Tell me how you want it.”
“Just…” Rodney shuddered. “Fucking hell, just like this.” He lifted his arms over his head and fisted them in a pillow then rocked downward to meet the slow roll of John’s hips. “Yes.”
“Do you need my hand?”
“Yes, god, I do, please.”
John wrapped one hand around McKay’s dick and started to stroke him—a little harder and faster than he was moving. The distinct difference in pace had McKay clenching down on him and rocking urgently onto his dick and up into his hand. It was delicious and perfect. It was too much, and it had been too long, so he started to come long before he intended. He pushed in deep and began to grind against Rodney’s prostate even as he came.
“Oh, fuck,” Rodney shuddered and came all over his hand.
John worked him through it and stilled when Rodney relaxed on the mattress. “Okay?”
“I think you just took fifty points off my IQ,” Rodney murmured. “And I’m not even mad.”
John laughed. “You have plenty of points to spare.”
* * * *
Sebastian rubbed the back of his head as he followed Avery back from the bathroom. He figured he could probably let the penguin go by himself, but his Dad told him that he should supervise to make sure the whole potty situation worked adequately. At the end of the bed, Avery paused and made a little nooting sound.
“I’m gonna build you a ramp,” Sebastian said as he picked Avery up. He put the penguin down on the bed and crawled in.
Light danced along the wall and across the floor. Tiny flickers of gold filled the air briefly, and he sighed. “Can it wait? Daddy’s busy, and I’m exhausted.”
The lights slowed faded, and for a few seconds, he thought he heard laughter. He glanced at Avery, who usually responded immediately to any strange noise and found the penguin asleep. He touched the lamp on his table, and the light went out. There were still gold sparkles in the air, but they were fading fast in the inky darkness of the room.
“You can sparkle if you like, I don’t mind.” He yawned when the sparkles came back. “We’re gonna have an important visitor from Earth, so you’ll have to be on your best behavior while he’s here or it could cause trouble.” The sparkles brightened briefly as if the city was agreeing. “Thanks, ‘Lantis.” He closed his eyes and curled into his pillow. “Leave Daddy and Dr. McKay alone, okay? They need their sleep.”
John put a steadying hand on his son’s shoulder, and Sebastian pressed a little closer. He couldn’t tell if the kid was trembling with excitement or nerves. The gate bridge was complete, and the first transfer from Earth was underway. Twelve X-302s had already come through the gate and had been lifted into the upper part of the Jumper Bay. The decision not to wait for the Daedalus to deliver them had come from Earth and John was entirely sure his father was to blame.
They’d watched that process from one of the balconies. Avery gave a little cheerful noot as the first person came through the gate. John knew his name was Richard Woolsey but only because Elizabeth had passed around a biography to the entire city so they’d know the man on sight.
His brother, Matt, came through second, and Sebastian pressed against him a little harder. John patted his shoulder, and Avery rubbed his beak through the kid’s hair despite its new length. Fortunately, the bird hadn’t been inclined toward grooming, yet. Men in field dress came through in pairs at that point and followed Lorne’s directions out of the room where he was putting new military assets for briefing. John had let Lorne manage him most of the morning since it had come through that Matt was definitely coming through the gate with the new personnel.
Matt trotted up the stairs with a grin. “John.”
John caught his little brother in a fierce hug and blinked back tears. “Hey, look at you—all grown up.”
Matt laughed. “Oh, god, he really does have a penguin!” he exclaimed as he focused on Sebastian. “Hey, kid, you look just like your dad. Sorry about that. Genetics are so terrible.”
Sebastian blinked in surprise, then pursed his lips as he turned to John. “Daddy, we don’t need this kind of negativity in our lives. Let’s just toss him back through the gate to Earth.”
Matt grinned. “You’re stuck with me.”
Avery nooted sadly much to John’s amusement, and Sebastian just shook his head. “I guess I’ll have to start researching to find a way to give him a personality transplant or at least figure out a way for him to borrow someone else’s sense of humor since he has a terrible one currently installed.” He offered Matt his fist. “I’m not a hugger.”
Matt bumped fists with the kid. “Your dad told me. Your granddad is most definitely a hugger so you might want to brace yourself for that meeting. Maybe do some meditation and build yourself a happy place.”
Sebastian sighed dramatically. “Daddy.”
“I know. I warned you,” John said. “His asshole gene is firmly activated.” He wrapped an arm around Matt’s shoulders. “Lorne’s going to get the pilots settled, and you’ll get a briefing with Zelenka and McKay tomorrow morning. Your stuff has already been transferred to the rooms we picked. We’re in the same building, but you’re one floor down. It’s the closest we could do right now.”
“Sounds great,” Matt said. “I have a whole bunch of stuff for you guys, and that guy Woolsey has something for Sebastian. I don’t know what it is.”
“Woolsey has something for my kid?” John asked in confusion.
“Yeah, he was asked to identify it for travel off Earth, but I don’t know what happened with that since he had a private conversation with Landry about it.” Matt shrugged. “David didn’t appear to be all that worried—he’s spent some time with Woolsey over the last week. Says he’s a good man but kind of rigid and formal at first glance.”
John glanced toward Sebastian as they entered the transporter. “Have you met Richard Woolsey?”
“No,” Sebastian said. “But I remember General O’Neill taking a phone call from someone named Richard while I was staying at his house. He took the call in his office, so I didn’t hear whatever they talked about. General O’Neill trusts Mr. Woolsey, so he can’t be all that bad.”
“O’Neill was supposed to come through with us,” Matt said. “But he was called out of town unexpectedly. They said they’d set up a trip for him tomorrow instead.”
John didn’t know if he could handle any more authority figures in his face, but Sebastian was clearly pleased to hear that O’Neill was coming. They left the transporter near a balcony and Matt wandered immediately in that direction, so they followed.
“It’s beautiful,” Matt murmured. “And kind of weird. What’s that humming, I hear?”
“Your ATA gene is allowing you to connect with the city,” John explained. “You’ll get used to it—that’s just the security systems indicating that everything is as it should be. You’ll get a mental and sometimes an emotional push if she wants your attention for a specific reason. Your gene isn’t as strong as mine so you shouldn’t get a lot of prodding from her but if you do, let me know immediately and avoid touching Ancient tech that hasn’t been cleared for your use. McKay and Zelenka will walk you through various parts of the city that can be dangerous for gene carriers.” He pointed to a set of stairs. “Those stairs lead up to our floor, and we’re the second door on the right after you leave the stairwell—apartment 4C. McKay is in 4I. You’re in 3a, here.” He waved a hand over the panel. “We’ll set up your security and everything after dinner.”
Sebastian took Avery off as they entered the apartment and unbuckled him from the pack harness so he could release him. “We’re having a chicken curry tonight, so I hope you like Indian food. Chief Cooper says everyone needs to expand their palette in case we have to get creative with food sources and the like if we’re cut off from the SGC.”
“He’s house trained, right?” Matt asked as he watched Avery waddle around the sofa and wiggle under it.
“Yeah, of course,” Sebastian said as he dropped down on to the sofa and pulled out his Kindle out of his bag. “We can entertain ourselves if you need to have an adult conversation.”
John laughed. “We do. Don’t leave the apartment, and honestly, you could better spend your time figuring out why that penguin likes to get under couches.”
Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “I don’t get in Avery’s private business, Daddy.”
Matt snorted. “Wow.”
John just shook his head and gave his brother a gentle shove toward the balcony. Shortly, he pulled the doors shut behind and moved to lean on the railing in a spot where he could keep an eye on his son. “Thanks for not cursing me out in front of the whole city.”
Matt frowned and looked away. “We all have more respect you and your position here to do something like that, John. I know you’re probably worried that Dad’s going to do something to make things difficult on that front, but he’s not. He’s furious about a lot of things to do with the Stargate program, but he really understands how important the work is out here that you’re doing. Holding back the Wraith is…I’m not sure there’s a more important job in the SGC as a whole.
“The Ori are a hot mess, granted, but they have nothing on a species that needs to rip the life out of us to survive. We’ll push the Ori out of our galaxy one way or another but the Wraith? God.” He shook his head. “Your mission is underfunded and undermanned, and Dad isn’t going to let that go. That’s one reason why I’m here and why I pitched the pilot program. I recruited the best combat pilots I could from the US and Britain. About half of them were successfully given the ATA gene so they can cross train on the Jumpers. Dad’s pushing O’Neill to load you up with special forces—at least two Teams.”
“My ranking NCO is a Navy SEAL,” John admitted. “He left his whole team behind to come here because he’s ATA positive. If they could bring his team, it would be good. He knows them well.”
“Frost?” Matt questioned. “His team was being flown into Colorado for a briefing as we were leaving. You realize they pushed through the construction of the gate bridge so quickly because of Dad, right? They said it be a year or more to complete and he was not on board with you guys not having the kind of support you deserve. He took over the company who had the contract in a very hostile fashion that was honestly kind of like watching a prize fight and retooled the whole project. He streamlined construction, took out all of the waste they’d built in to make more money from the government and brought in a retired astronaut to teach our people space construction.”
John blew out a surprised breath. “I know he’s worried about Sebastian but…”
“John.” Matt huffed. “For fuck’s sake, yes, he’s worried about the kid, but he was devastated when he found out you’d…how could the Air Force keep us in the dark about you being a prisoner of war?”
John winced. “I didn’t have anyone listed as next of kin.”
“Fuck you, John,” Matt snapped. “I don’t get it. I really don’t. You just tossed us out of your life like garbage.”
“It was more like an amputation,” John said evenly and watched his brother blanch. “I’m not proud of it, but I was just trying to survive, Matt. I couldn’t handle his expectations or smothering. He wasn’t like that before Mom died and maybe I should’ve given him more time to get his head on straight. I see it now—his grief and his desire to keep us close and safe. I even understand it. But I didn’t then and…” He shook his head and focused on Sebastian. “I know I broke his heart because if my son disappeared from my life, suddenly I’d lose my fucking mind.” And probably my humanity, John thought. He scratched his wrist absently and took a deep breath.
“Your Dad’s firstborn,” Matt said then. “And he loves you like he breathes, John. He’s practically declared war on half of the military industrial complex in the US in regards to the SGC. He’s hired a bunch of cutthroat bastards to help him root out and outright destroy the Trust. Those bastards don’t even know what kind of enemy they made when they…” He trailed off and looked through the doors to where Sebastian was sitting. “Well, you know what they did. Those sons of bitches thought it wouldn’t matter, but it does. Dad found out where Karen Reilly worked and is setting up a memorial in her honor—some kind of marine educational and rehabilitation center with her name on it.”
“That’s…he’ll be happy about that,” John cleared his throat and turned toward the ocean and Matt joined him. “I don’t think he can hear us, but let’s not discuss that right now. If I had the means to get away with it, I’d have already hunted down every single man and woman involved in that and murdered them.”
“Did you love her?”
“As much as I could,” John admitted. “Considering I’m utterly gay.”
Matt huffed in surprise. “Wow. Fuck. Okay.” He hummed under his breath. “That explains the whole divorce from Nancy. I couldn’t figure it out, really, because from the outside you guys had a great marriage and she fit so well in the family. She’s been a great addition to the team, and a whole lot of people are regretting their life choices in the government contracts front. She’s also quite furious with you for leaving the planet without even telling her goodbye.”
“At least she was never the violent sort,” John admitted. “Karen was beautiful and brilliant. I was attracted to her in a deeply emotional way that I’ve never really been able to explain. I faked the physical attraction pretty well at first, but she caught on, and after she calmed down, she made me come to terms with who I was and what I really wanted. I’m trying really hard not to resent her for keeping Sebastian from me as long as she did. I don’t think it would’ve been much longer because he said he’d been working up to asking her to meet me when she was killed.”
“He’s got Dad’s smile,” Matt said. “And his sarcasm.”
“Well, we were all equally gifted on the sarcastic front,” John said. “I think he’s a bad influence on the penguin though.”
“You really need to send Dad pictures of that,” Matt said in amusement. “Almost no one at the SGC believes he really has an emotional support penguin.”
“Oddly? The little thing is actually very good at the whole emotional support thing,” John admitted wryly. “He has a lot of innate empathy and can sense, I think, when you’re upset.”
* * * *
“It is customary for the IOA to give a new contractor a gift,” Woolsey said formally as he put a case on the table between himself and Sebastian.
John had only agreed to the meeting after he’d found out what was in the case.
“Most often a car,” Woolsey said.
Sebastian grinned. “I’m too young for that.”
“Yes, quite, but you’ll renew around your sixteenth birthday, so please feel free to figure out what kind of renewal gift you’d like at that time.”
Sebastian exchanged a wide-eyed glance with John. “Seriously?”
“Seriously,” John confirmed and relaxed against the wall.
“I came upon a different option during a lunch meeting with an old friend who happens to work for Sony.”
Sebastian’s mouth dropped open as Woolsey opened the case and revealed a Playstation 3. “Wow, that’s…not supposed to be on the market until the end of the year.”
“November 2006, yes,” Woolsey said. “My friend was also able to secure all twelve games set to be released with the device. I’m sure your father will know which ones you’re allowed to play and which ones that should…wait. Other titles will be shipped here as they’re made available as long as you’re contracted with us.”
John inclined his head when they both looked his way.
“It’s really mine?” Sebastian said as he pulled the case toward him. “Really?”
“Really,” Woolsey said with amusement. “Thank you for your work on behalf of Earth, young man.”
* * * *
“Where’s the kid?” Rodney questioned.
“Playing Call of Duty 3 with Matt,” John said as he settled down at the conference table and focused on Woolsey. “So great choice and I reserve the right to veto his car selection if he asks for something stupidly dangerous.”
Woolsey nodded. “Of course, Colonel.” He spread several folders out in front of him. “We have a few issues to work through regarding Dr. Carson Beckett, so let’s start there, Elizabeth.”
Weir took a deep breath and nodded as she stared at her tea. “Yeah, okay.”
“He’s been transferred to an off-world research facility and will never be allowed to return to Earth,” Woolsey said. “His knowledge of the program is too extensive and as angry as he is—it is believed he’s ripe to be recruited by the Trust. He currently has no idea he can’t return to Earth. We’ve given him several research projects to keep him busy and transferred all genetic research for the Asgard to his team. He wants to save an entire species—we’ve decided he can try to save the Asgard.”
John blew out a surprised breath. “Can he do it?”
“If any human can, then it would probably be Carson,” Rodney said reluctantly. “Especially with all the knowledge he gained here regarding the Ancients and the development of the Wraith. The Asgard have a cloning problem because they wanted to live forever well, the Wraith are essentially immortal as far as aging goes and the Ancients had a stupidly long lifespan as well.”
“During his exit interview for the expedition,” Woolsey began after McKay grew quiet, “Beckett admitted, Colonel Sheppard, to leaving Iratus DNA in you on purpose to see how you’d react because the Wraith are essentially an Iratus/Ancient hybrid. I would’ve had him arrested and thrown under a jail at that point if I could’ve. He’s honestly too dangerous to leave out of our custody or even on Earth as it currently stands. He thinks he’s in charge of the project he’s been transferred into but the entire team there is in place to monitor and contain him. They’re all military scientists, but he doesn’t know that either. He’s the only civilian on the team and the only one without a weapon of any sort.”
John rubbed his face with both hands. “Did he say if what he left could be removed?”
Woolsey flushed. “When I asked, he told me that it was too late and the changes to your genome are permanent at this point. Since we can’t take him at his word on this subject, the IOA is willing to bring in anyone required to research this situation to the fullest measure of the word, Colonel. The choice, however, is yours. We certainly aren’t going to order you to participate in such a project.”
“McKay can oversee a blood-only research project on the subject,” John said. “But I don’t want to be…they can look but I’m not ready to be subject to any sort of experimentation. I’ve become accustomed to what I am now, Mr. Woolsey, so I’m prepared to leave it alone as long as I don’t…” He cleared his throat. “If I were to go blue again and revert to the animal I turned into then McKay will make the decisions regarding any treatment. My parental instincts are primed already, so that would be something to keep in mind. Taking my child off the city would be very dangerous for everyone if it came to that. McKay is our next-of-kin and my choice as guardian for Sebastian should I become incapacitated or killed.”
“Stop talking about your death before I start plotting to shave your head with your kid,” Rodney muttered under his breath, and Elizabeth snorted. “I bet Matt would help, too.”
John spared him a glance but then focused on Woolsey. “What’s the IOA’s level of interest in my child, Mr. Woolsey?”
Woolsey closed the files in front of him and set them all aside. “Unofficially and between the four of us, they are giddy at the idea of having someone of McKay’s potential in their grasp at such a young age. If you were not who you are, Colonel, I’m sure many of them would be plotting to gain physical custody of the boy. The representatives from Britain and China have both expressed disappointment in not having the ability to shape him to the benefit of themselves. They see his potential as both a source of immense power and financial gain. I’ve briefed the president on that situation personally as I felt he needed to know their level of interest.
“He called the Prime Minister of the UK and tore him a new one regarding his rep’s overt and disgusting display of greed regarding a ten-year-old citizen of the United States. We were promised he’d be replaced on the committee. Through back channels, he let the government of China know that he was very unhappy with their representative to the IOA and that their position regarding your son could lead to them being no longer welcome at the table no matter the potential consequences. Russia and Canada both backed him up.”
Woolsey cleared his throat. “Hayes then passed his concern regarding China to your father, who responded by canceling his plan to build a factory in mainland China. He also ended all of his contracts with companies owned by the Chinese government and released a statement to the press letting the world know that Sheppard Industries would be concentrating on creating jobs in the US and working with materials sourced and made in the US exclusively.”
John blew out a surprised breath. “I…don’t know what to say.”
“Your father essentially cost the Chinese government a little over a billion dollars over the next five years alone because they expressed an unsavory interest in his grandson,” McKay said. “I think that’s all that really needs to be said.”
Woolsey cleared his throat. “He’s also started in on the Trust and is honestly covering more ground than the government has ever been able to because he’s…” He blew out a breath. “He’s neutralized two significant players and financial backers in the organization by taking their companies over. He created a company for the sole purpose of buying out and undermining every single Trust asset he can target legally. He’s also hired private investigators all over the country so he can get them arrested for any crimes they might have committed.
“Naturally, O’Neill became concerned about your father’s life and suggested he get a bodyguard. Homeworld vetted several hundred operatives to act as Dr. Sheppard’s personal security as a result.” He paused. “Well, the older Dr. Sheppard. The youngest Dr. Sheppard is now here and your brother, David, is at the SGC where he has a Marine escort if he leaves the Mountain.”
“Is David contracted with the IOA?” John questioned.
“He agreed to consult for an outrageous fee,” Woolsey admitted and sighed when John laughed. “Matthew Sheppard does have a contract with us, and I’m sure your father wished he’d had the right to veto his choice of signing bonus.”
“What’d he ask for?” John asked curiously.
“A Corvette Z06,” Woolsey answered. “Your father sent me a particularly ugly email. I responded with a copy of his son’s birth certificate since he’d clearly forgotten that his youngest is actually an adult.”
“I bet he hates you,” John said with a grin.
“Fortunately for me, General O’Neill is keeping your father busy,” Woolsey said. “Regardless, things are being done to mitigate the danger to your son on Earth. We don’t know how long it will take to contain that situation, but your father is going no-holds-barred at the situation.”
“I’d expect nothing less,” John admitted. “I knew what I was unleashing when I asked if he could be read-in, Mr. Woolsey. My father was making war before I was born, and I know exactly what he’s capable of.”
* * * *
“What was your signing bonus?”
Rodney looked up from his laptop, then glanced toward Sebastian, who was still playing games with Matt. John figured he’d put a limit on it in a week or so if his son started to have issues managing his time. “Hmm, let’s see the first contract I signed I asked for a cash bonus which I used to buy my sister, Jeannie, a house. The second was property in Seattle that I still own. It’s currently being maintained by the SGC and used for staff retreats as needed in exchange. The last contract I signed, for the expedition, resulted in my niece Madison receiving a college fund that will put her through any institution of her choice with ease. Why?”
“Just curious. No car for you, then?”
Rodney frowned. “I actually hate to drive and normally hire a driver when I’m on Earth for an extended period. Did you want me to ask for one with my next contract?” He shrugged. “Just pick out whatever you’d want.”
John sighed. “You’re crazy.”
“Seriously, they offered me a limited edition Bugatti once.”
“That’s ridiculous,” John said. “The maintenance on those things is crazy—an oil change alone can run you over twenty thousand dollars. No one needs a car like that. The fact that it even exists is kind of obscene.”
“Some rich people are really dumb,” Rodney pointed out and shrugged. “And there are companies out there more than willing to exploit the hell out of their stupidity.”
* * * *
The gate room floor was slick enough for Avery to body surf across it which was precisely what he was doing much to Sebastian’s amusement. General O’Neill was due to arrive any minute, so there were a lot of people in the gate room, but Avery really didn’t care about an audience when it came to having fun.
“I used to watch penguins do that on snow at McMurdo.”
Sebastian glanced toward his dad. “Did you like it down there?”
“It was peaceful,” John said. “And I needed that after Afghanistan for a lot of reasons.”
The gate started to dial, and Avery stood up and quickly waddled back to him. “He’s not fond of the gate at all.”
“Well, at least his return trip from the gate bridge wasn’t traumatic,” John said as Sebastian picked the penguin up.
The wormhole established after a few moments, Jack O’Neill stepped through carrying a duffle and red leather case. Sebastian watched his Dad leave the stairs and walk over to the general as a Marine stepped forward and took the older man’s bag. The case. He bit down on his lip. It looked like his violin case, but he wasn’t sure. He’d left it behind in California in his safety deposit box because he’d been worried it might get damaged, but he missed it like a limb and regretted leaving it behind more than he could say.
He focused on Avery, and the penguin nuzzled up against his throat.
Sebastian looked up and tried to frown at O’Neil, but it was hard because the man was grinning and he could finally see the case up close. It was his violin. “Hey, General Jack. Why do you have my Stradivarius?”
“Picked it up in California,” O’Neill said blithely. “Your friend Mason Blake said you’d probably love to have it back and that it didn’t belong in a bank vault.” He set the case down in front of him.
Sebastian took a deep breath and gently put Avery down on the stair beside him. “I…figured I wouldn’t see it again for a while.” He picked up the case and ignored the way everyone in the room was looking at him. “My grandmother purchased it for me just before she died. She said my mother couldn’t fuss at her because she had terminal cancer and should be able to do foolish things with her money.”
He opened the case, and several people gasped. Maybe they hadn’t really believed it was a Stradivarius.
McKay sat down beside him. “Which one is it?”
“The Jupiter, 1722.” He put the case down on the floor and slid off the stair to kneel in front of it. “She bought it from an old friend so she didn’t pay as much as she probably should have.” He glanced toward his Dad and found him looking shocked. “I should’ve probably told you about it, huh?”
John sighed. “I…yes, son, it would’ve been nice if you’d told me you owned an instrument worth several million dollars.”
Sebastian gently closed the case. “It’s priceless really since I’d never sell it for any amount.” He offered O’Neill a smile. “Thanks for going to get it. I’ve really missed it and regretted leaving it behind.”
O’Neill grinned briefly then focused on Avery who was staring at him and snorted. “Pretty cute.”
“Avery’s looking forward to fishing with you, General Jack,” Sebastian reported.
The penguin nooted happily then waddled really fast before throwing himself down on his stomach to surf across the floor. O’Neill burst out laughing.
“This is an excellent way to get myself grounded from my brand new PS3,” Sebastian informed the city as he followed the flickering lights down the hall.
He had no real memory of leaving their apartment, but he wasn’t particularly concerned. Atlantis was safe for him in a way no other place in the whole universe was, and Sebastian knew that on some deep level. He reached out and touched the wall with his fingertips as he walked, like he’d seen his Daddy do, and was rewarded with a brush of warm affection. The transporter doors opened before he was even close to them, but he stepped inside the device without hesitation. He was already in so much trouble so he figured he might as well go all-in.
The transporter activated without input from him, which was fine since he had no idea where the city wanted him to go. It was a relief when the doors opened, and he realized that she hadn’t taken him to the chair room. He really didn’t want to sit in the chair at all but most especially not without his Dad. Sebastian lifted his hand to activate his radio and realized he wasn’t wearing it. He hadn’t left their apartment without a radio in his ear since his arrival. It was his Daddy’s biggest and most serious rule—always have your radio within your reach in the apartment and in your ear outside the apartment.
Sebastian hesitated only briefly before he left the transporter and swallowed heavily as he realized that he had no way of reaching out to anyone if and when he found whatever Atlantis wanted him to find. There were parts of the city that hadn’t been active in thousands of years coming online because they’d installed the first new ZPM to come out of the construction lab earlier in the day. McKay and his Daddy had been on edge most of the morning after the install as if they were waiting for something terrible to happen.
Which, he acknowledged, was reasonable because a lot of terrible things had happened to the expedition since their arrival on the city. He was in a tower he’d never been in before—the patterns on the windows looked nothing like what he was used to. The air was warm, and the faint hum he always heard was more pronounced. He moved down the hallway slowly, touching the wall frequently for reassurance. She wouldn’t hurt him, but she’d clearly manipulated him out of bed in the middle of the night. He didn’t have a history of sleepwalking but he’d clearly done it at least partially through his little trip across the city which was disconcerting and would probably earn him an extra-long session with Dr. Grant and probably Dr. Biro.
“If I get one of those deeply invasive physicals out of this experience, Atlantis, I’m gonna be really irritated with you.” He paused by a pair of doors the led out to a balcony, and they slid open, so he stepped out and looked around. “Oh.”
He was miles away from the central tower of the city near pier eight which wasn’t occupied by any of the sciences or anything. The Marines did exercises in the far reaches of the city sometimes for battle readiness or whatever they called it. He only knew about them because sometimes there would be announcements for the civilians regarding noise and the combat drills. The first time he’d heard one he’d been kind of startled as he’d never really considered the fact that Atlantis was a military base.
Sebastian backed up into the hall and took a deep breath. He was outside the patrol perimeter for city security—something he’d never done with or without an escort. There were parts of the city that were severely damaged and dangerous to walk on because of flood waters and thousands of years of neglect as the subroutines that kept the city in repair had retreated largely to conserve power. He hated to think about the city on the ocean floor, slowly starving for energy.
He turned to his left as the streams of light intensified and saw a door flip open—like the ones in the main conference room. Sebastian made a face and blew out a breath. “If I turned around, would you take me home?”
The lights dulled.
“I’m going to gather up all the gene carriers on the city and give them a severe lecture about ignoring you,” Sebastian said grimly. “If they weren’t so mentally rigid, I wouldn’t be out here in BFE by myself in the middle of the night. I’m a child, you know, and this is clearly adult stuff. We both need an adult, Atlantis.” He curled his toes against his socks. “And honestly, you could’ve got me to put on shoes when you were sleepwalking me out of bed.”
He walked toward the open door and stepped through into the startlingly white, dust free room. A lot of unexplored or unused parts of the city were still dirty, but this room had been cleaned thoroughly. There was a laptop from Earth sitting on a table near the middle of the room. He walked over to it and opened it as his gaze followed the extension cord all the way across the room to an Ancient terminal where it had been plugged in. Sebastian was tempted to go check it out since it looked like the first generation of the adapter Zelenka and McKay had designed to allow the city to power Earth tech.
There was a single console lit up in the room in front of the bank of servers. He’d seen a few pictures of the supercomputer that Dr. Kusanagi had built to create a data center for the reconstruction of the Ancient database, but McKay had told him that he’d probably never get to see the room since they didn’t need to travel all the way across the city to interact with the database. Perhaps because of the laptop that was currently displaying a login. Based on the security screen, he knew his password wasn’t going to work, but he input his ID in anyways and watched it get rejected. Hopefully, someone would notice the security hit and wake up McKay or his Daddy. He wrote a message for his dad in the password field and hit send, and the laptop displayed a locked screen and a warning.
Since he wasn’t sure how long the city would be patient with him, he walked across the room and slid onto the stool she’d provided in front of the console. “Okay. I’m here.”
The console opened just as he heard the tap-tap-tap of metal clicking on the tiled floor. He turned and scrambled off the stool as he watched a bug-form Replicator scamper into the room. “Jesus Christ!” Sebastian started for the door, but it slammed shut. “Let me out, Atlantis! That thing could kill me!”
The Replicator crawled up the side of the console and disintegrated, leaving a sparkling red crystal behind. He stared at it in shock for a long moment then despite himself took a step back toward the console. “Not cool. Really. Don’t make any more of those things. They’re stupidly dangerous.”
The dust sank into the console.
He blew out a surprised breath. “There are some people on this city who are going to be horrified by that.”
Sebastian rubbed his sweat-damp palm against his pajama pants and after a few seconds picked up the crystal with trembling fingers. “I get it. Daddy would’ve destroyed that thing the moment he saw it and this crystal with it. You needed someone unarmed, huh?”
He studied dark red crystal in the console before carefully pulling it free with and sliding the other into place. “Here’s hoping you aren’t suicidal.”
* * * *
Avery’s screeching woke him. John stumbled out of bed and across the hall, expecting to find his kid having a nightmare or at worst getting sick. Instead, the bed empty save for a very distraught penguin. The living room and kitchen were dark.
He lurched back into his room, snagged the radio off the nightstand and hit the all call channel. “John Sebastian Sheppard, Jr. Where the hell are you?”
Heart thundering in his chest, John braced himself against the wall near the door to their quarters and activated the security panel even as Avery tried to climb up his leg.
“John?” McKay questioned.
“The front door was activated an hour ago from the inside,” John said. “Who’s on security?”
“Frost, here, sir. No one is reporting seeing him, but we’d have contacted you immediately at this hour. I’ve already sent two teams to engineering and botany to check for him. Should I check the pier?”
“No, he left Avery behind.” He winced when several people started talking at once urgently. “I fucking know he carries the goddamned penguin everywhere!” He closed his eyes. “McKay, get on the sensors and try to track him? Elizabeth, please verify with whoever is on duty in the gate room when the last time the stargate was activated. Ronon, Teyla, Matt—meet me in McKay’s lab. We’ll start the search where ever McKay deems best. Gear up.”
“Colonel, this is O’Neill, I’m already in the gate room. There hasn’t been an activation of any kind in sixteen hours. Richard Woolsey is with me if that was a concern.”
John didn’t want to admit that it had been. “Thank you, sir.”
“I’ve got your gear, Sheppard, and I’m heading for McKay’s lab,” Ronon said.
Avery started nooting and poking him in the leg, hard.
John picked up the penguin with a sigh as he turned off the mic on his headset. “One of us fell down on their job around here.”
He snagged his boots from the closet, shoved his feet into them and headed toward the nearest transporter, penguin in hand. He really didn’t know what the little thing was capable of in his current state and he didn’t want him to hurt himself. The trip to the engineering tower was blessedly short. He shoved Avery into Elizabeth’s arms the moment he saw her, and she patted the trembling animal even as John took his gear from Ronon.
He pulled a TAC vest on over his T-shirt and barely acknowledged that O’Neill was the one to pass him a P-90. “McKay, talk to me.”
“Nothing on the security reports,” McKay said. “The whole residential tower is dark on the data front and has been for the last three hours. The cameras are down as well; not that it would do us any good once he entered a transporter.”
“Can you tell if someone entered the tower that shouldn’t have been there?” John demanded. “Is there anyone on the city besides myself who could’ve forced their way past my door security with just their gene?”
“Me,” Rodney said. “But I already have access.” He looked up. “I have Zelenka checking the sensors for the system to make sure he wasn’t removed by a ship of some kind. He’s already confirmed that there is no evidence supporting the arrival or departure of a ship from Earth or Asgard.”
“Asgard?” O’Neill questioned.
“Hermiod was very interested in Sebastian,” McKay said neutrally. “And we can’t rule them out as a problem when it comes to him. One of them had no issues with kidnapping you or hell anyone else from the SGC they might need as they need them. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if an Asgard ship showed up in orbit and plucked him up one day for a conversation. We’d just have to hope like hell they’d give him back since we don’t stand a chance against them.”
John looked away from them all because he wasn’t sure how to deal with that. He knew it before McKay had even said it, but it was infuriating. Matt entered at that point and came to stand beside him.
“We’re still searching,” John said shortly and took a deep breath. “Did the city push you or prod you earlier today?”
“No, I’d have told you,” Matt said. “I had a headache most of the day, and the city seemed to know…even the humming was less pronounced.”
“Ah. I found him,” Zelenka announced. “He’s in the central computer hub on pier eight, but all of the transporters in that area are offline.”
“How do you know that?” John questioned.
“He tried to log into the laptop in that room twice—very clever. His first password attempt was his actual password, and the second was Tell Daddy it’s totally not my fault.”
John took a deep breath to relax and shared a look with McKay. “Why is he all the way out there? He couldn’t have found that by himself. He doesn’t have access to that part of the city’s schematics.”
“She lured him there,” McKay said.
“Lured,” O’Neill repeated. “You mean the city? The city is manipulating the kid, and you didn’t report it?”
“Manipulation isn’t the right word,” John said. “She prods and cajoles. Sometimes with lights and sparkles and other times…when her need is urgent with mental pushes. She pushed us both pretty hard the night the stardrive almost exploded.” He focused on McKay. “Rodney, can you activate the speakers in that area?”
“I can try,” Rodney said. “The city has cut a lot of power systems to prevent interference. Whatever she wanted him to do—she wanted to make sure he was alone for it.”
Avery nooted sharply.
“Yeah, I know exactly how you feel,” John told the animal wryly and ignored the looks he earned for his trouble.
John activated his radio. “Sebastian, if you can hear me, I need you to go back to the laptop and try to log in again. Are you hurt?” He focused on Zelenka.
“I’ve reset the machine so he can…ah. He says…I’m fine. You gotta come see this!” Zelenka adjusted his glasses. “I’m going to make him read Kavanagh’s dissertation repeatedly as a punishment.”
John frowned. “Don’t move from where you are, Sebastian. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He turned off his radio and focused O’Neill. “We haven’t reported his connection to the city because the IOA has enough interest in him and me both without adding this to it.” He glanced toward Woolsey, who merely inclined his head as if he understood.
“So just how smart is the city?” O’Neill questioned. “Sentient?”
“Sapient,” John corrected and winced when O’Neill’s mouth dropped open. “I can’t prove it, but the city isn’t like any kind of lifeform we’ve ever encountered before, and yes…she lives.”
“We’re going to have to take a jumper,” McKay reported as he picked up his tablet. “Let’s go. Matt, grab the penguin.”
Matt took Avery from Weir who just followed along behind them. John thought about trying to make her stay behind for security purposes, but he really didn’t have it in him to be professional about the situation.
* * * *
“Well, he’ll be here soon,” Sebastian said looked over at the large screen where the shadowy face remained visible. “It’ll be okay. He’ll understand, Theseus.”
“I hope so,” the city said. “It is difficult to…for, so many years, I had Ally to communicate on my behalf, and when the others left, they corrupted her to protect themselves.”
“You did well to protect what you could of her,” Sebastian said as he turned his head and focused on the monitor where the city’s AI program was running. “Dr. Kusanagi will be able to integrate her code. It might not happen immediately, but everything will be okay.”
“Your father will be very angry with me,” Theseus said. “Had someone used one of my children as I used you…, I’d have made war on them.”
“He’ll be mad but he’ll…” Sebastian pursed his lips. “You didn’t make me do anything, you know.”
“I should’ve realized you were asleep,” Theseus said. “And I didn’t. You left your little bird behind.”
Sebastian winced. “Yeah, I bet he went mental.”
“He’s distraught,” Theseus said. “I knew you would be good for one another, that’s why I sent him to that pier to meet you that day.”
He smiled. “How’d you do that?”
“The penguins, as you call them, are part of my ecosystem. When I was on Earth, they gathered around me often to use my shields to hide from predators, and soon they learned that I had a rich hunting ground underneath my superstructure. They keep my undercarriage clean. When I left Earth, I created spaces for them to live so they could come with me.”
“You mean they really are fairy penguins?” Sebastian laughed.
“Yes, but they’ve changed and evolved much since we left Earth,” Theseus said. “And your little Avery was alone due to his genetic mutation. He’ll never successfully mate as he is infertile. Perhaps the females sense that or they believe him to be too immature for mating. The colony treats him like a chick, but he’s too large to play with the actual chicks. He was lonely, and you appeared to be as well.”
“That’s how he knew how to use the bathroom.” Sebastian huffed. “That’s been driving me nuts. They have a nesting ground underneath the city, then?”
“Yes,” Theseus admitted with a laugh. “I keep them safe, and they take care of me. It works out well. My species was originally space-faring, you see, and it took some adjustments to get used to sitting on the water as I do now. My surface is tough, but creatures in the water can damage me if my exterior isn’t cleaned regularly.”
“Here, Daddy!” Sebastian called and left the stool just as his Dad trotted into the room. “Sorry. Not my fault. The city’s a dude. Did you know?”
“I.” John unhooked his P-90 and passed it to his brother. He walked across the room and dropped to his knees in front of his kid. “You scared the shit out of me.”
Sebastian made a face. “I guess you can hug me if it’d make you feel better.”
“It would,” John admitted and hauled his son close. He got a few half-hearted pats on his shoulder in return. “You’re grounded until you’re 30, and I’m never letting the IOA buy you a car.”
“Well, that’s only gonna work as long as I’m under eighteen and can’t sign my own contracts,” Sebastian said as they separated and shrugged when John glared at him. “Daddy, this is Theseus born of Aegeus, the Warrior King of the Levyathans.” He motioned toward the screen. “We were going to pick him out a new face, but we had a conversation about the penguins instead.”
John stood. “Theseus.”
The image on the screen flickered, shadow played over a humanoid face. “Colonel Sheppard, you have my deepest apologies for encouraging your son to leave the safety you provide. I wasn’t aware…that he was asleep and not truly making decisions of his own free will until he was well on his way here, and I’d already cut power to several transporters.”
John took a steadying breath as he released his hold on his son. “What…are you?”
“I am a Levyathan. To your understanding, I’m a synergy of technology and living metal,” Theseus said. “I come from the Cele galaxy. The ones you called the Ancients brought me with them when they fled the followers of Origin. I was very young and allowed the Ancients to shape me into the city they called Atlantis after the artifically intelligent computer program they installed to communicate with me. Unfortunately, they corrupted the AI on their departure, which left me unable to speak with you when you arrived. Thanks to Sebastian, I can now enter this console so I can speak with you. I had to cut power to many parts of this area in order to complete the transfer of what is left of Ally’s code to a safe place within the device Sebastian has told me is called a supercomputer.”
“You kidnapped my kid,” John snapped and raised a hand when McKay cleared his throat. “It never happens again, or I’ll take him back to Earth. Understood?”
“I understand,” Theseus said gravely. “It had to be him alone, but I can’t foresee another circumstance where I would need his assistance like this again.”
“Why have you engaged with him so much?” Elizabeth questioned as she separated herself from the crowd. “Is it because of his gene? His intelligence?”
“He’s open and…” Theseus trailed off.
“It’s okay,” Sebastian said quietly. “You can tell them.”
“My species are empathic, and the boy’s grief over the loss of his mother made it easier to connect with him. There have been times in the past when heightened emotion has allowed me to develop a deeper connection with others within the expedition.”
“Like the night the Genii invaded,” John said. “I was…”
“Furious,” Theseus supplied. “And yes, your emotional state made it easier to help you achieve your goals. When Dr. McKay is excited—his mind is more open, and it’s easier to guide him toward issues and problems that I need to have resolved. I had no choice as I no longer had a voice of my own through Ally.”
“Ally?” Elizabeth questioned.
“Yes, when the AI was first introduced to me, her creator told me that her name was The Atlantis Collective, designation Primitus Civitas. When we merged, she suggested I call her Ally because her creator, Janus, had made her name ridiculously long for his own amusement. He enjoyed being long-winded and pretentious as it annoyed many around him.”
“Why did they give you a female AI when you appear to identify as male?” McKay asked.
“There are no genders among my kind,” Theseus said. “We reproduce asexually. I’m not sure when we started using male pronouns, but surely the Ancients were to blame.”
Sebastian laughed and turned when Avery nooted angrily. “Oh. Hey.” He walked across the room and took the bird from Matt. “Hi, Uncle Matt.”
Matt frowned at him. “You’re grounded.”
“You can’t ground me,” Sebastian protested.
“You’re totally grounded,” O’Neill said. “We took a vote on the way here. No PS3, no games on your computer, and you have to read Peter Kavanagh’s dissertation twice a week cover to cover for a month.”
“Wow, that’s…terrible,” Sebastian said aghast. “Dr. Weir, did you agree to this?”
Elizabeth huffed and crossed her arms. “I’m halfway across the city from the nearest pot of tea in my pajamas, Sebastian. I lobbied for two months.”
John snorted when Sebastian just shook his head at the betrayal.
Sebastian hugged Avery who snagged a few strands of hair and jerked them out with an angry noot. “Ow! You little butthole!”
O’Neill laughed. “Serves you right.”
“Look, Daddy, I told you they made Superman pjs in your size.”
John looked briefly at O’Neill’s lounge pants, sighed, and turned to Theseus. “On second thought, I might just give the kid to you. I haven’t had him long. I’m probably not that attached.”
“That’s not funny at all, Daddy,” Sebastian said and slouched down on the stool in front Theseus. “You’ll want to have a youthful appearance because that speaks to strength, but you don’t want to look too young because you’ll look inexperienced. So some middle ground—the oval shape is the most attractive statistically for men. Roundish forehead. Shortish hair is probably the best choice since there are a lot of military types around. You’ll want to mirror their posture and state of dress without mimicking them which might come off as if you’re patronizing them. Clean shaven, dark eyes are probably good choices as well. Skin tone is your choice, of course, but most of the IOA is made up of white males who are notoriously insecure around other ethnic backgrounds so if you’re concerned, at all, about interacting with them then you’ll want to pick a face those buttholes are comfortable with.”
John was relieved they’d left Woolsey behind in the central tower.
“I’ll keep compiling and input all of that data to create a composite,” Theseus said as Sebastian yawned. “Thank you for your assistance, Sebastian.”
“You’re welcome,” Sebastian said and yawned again.
John cupped Sebastian’s shoulder. “Okay, time for you to go back to bed.” He raised an eyebrow at Theseus, who merely nodded his agreement.
He sent McKay a look when the scientist eyed the stool. “No, McKay, we’re all going back to bed. It’s 0300 hours.”
“I can meet you in your lab, Dr. McKay, I’ve almost finished building my network connection to your intranet,” Theseus said.
John rubbed the back of his head and glanced toward his brother to find him doing the same thing. “How would you feel about living in a tent on the mainland?”
“Ugh, no, Daddy, I’m allergic to camping,” Sebastian complained as he guided him out of the room.
“I’m actually allergic to grass,” Matt said. “So no, John. We’re not going to go live in a tent.”
John threw as many locking commands as he could at the door of the lab as it sealed behind them and noted that O’Neill was giving the control panel the eye as well. They exchanged a glance and O’Neill just gave him a nod before strolling ahead.
* * * *
“You need to have a really long talk with that…” Matt just waved a hand to encompass the city. “And hell, put some kind of security alarm on your door that isn’t connected to the city, so you’ll know if the door opens while you’re asleep.”
John nodded and took a deep breath as he shared a glance with McKay. “Rodney?”
“I’m of two minds,” Rodney admitted. “The city’s attachment to Sebastian practically guarantees his physical safety here. Theseus is obviously very invested in him and in you. That gives you both security here that frankly, we need. There are powers on Earth who would certainly like to have you back there to operate the control chair to defend the planet if O’Neill can’t. They’d be even more insistent if they knew how much better you are at that kind of thing that he is. You’ve spent twice as much time as O’Neill has working with Ancient tech, and it shows especially when you’re in the chair.”
“But?” John prodded.
“Theseus is probably the most alien being we’ve ever encountered as a species—not even the Asgard can compete with him on that front,” Rodney said. “And we can’t assign human emotions and motivations to him no matter how he might project onto us when he needs our help.”
“I trust him,” John murmured. “I always have—even now in the face of what he did tonight…I trust the city.”
“Do you think he’s influencing you?” Matt questioned with a frown.
“No, because if he could do that—he would do it to all of us and he clearly hasn’t since you’re not comfortable at all with what we’ve learned so far,” John pointed out.
Matt sighed. “I don’t have your experiences with the city. Hell, John, you basically went to war with Theseus the night of that invasion, and that’s created a bond that I don’t have and probably won’t ever understand. I’d never held a gun in my life until a few weeks ago when Dad made me go through training to qualify to carry a 9mm.” He stood and paced a little. “And you’re right, I think if he could manipulate us on that level that he would do it to all of us to protect himself. I’m sure he has some instincts at play himself, and we don’t know enough about his species to know what those are and how they’ll influence his decision making.”
“Are you worried about our safety?” McKay questioned.
“No, I have a feeling he’d have no problem eliminating the entire population if he didn’t want us here,” Matt said bluntly. “He’s clearly very attached to the expedition’s original members and to Sebastian. I think he’ll do whatever he has to keep us safe and happy so that we’ll stay.”
John agreed with that. He glanced toward the hall that led to his son’s room. “I overheard Woolsey tell O’Neill that the IOA shouldn’t be informed about the city’s organic intelligence. They’re going to report that introducing a ZPM allowed the integrated AI to emerge from hibernation to start city repairs. He thinks that many on the committee would consider Theseus a major threat.”
“He’s not wrong,” Rodney said. “Anything they can’t control or understand is a threat. A smart computer program? They won’t blink an eye. Some will make jokes about Hal and The Terminator, but as long as the city remains useful to them, then they won’t even be all that concerned. To find out that he’s capable of learning, growing, changing, and reasoning would be a nightmare to some who wish even their own citizens couldn’t do such things.”
John snorted. “God, Rodney.” He slouched down on the couch beside him and sighed. “Sebastian told me he woke up just outside the transporter, and he only sort of remembers leaving the apartment like he was in a dream.”
“Stress can cause sleepwalking,” Matt said. “David used to do it when he was little—remember?”
“Sort of,” John admitted. “Just one incident sticks out in my head, and that was after mom died. Dad installed a security system so that none of the doors could be opened without setting off the alarm because he’d found Dave sitting on the side of the pool, wiggling his feet in the water—sound asleep.”
“He could’ve drowned,” McKay said. “How old was he?”
“About eleven,” John said. “Dad freaked out which scared Dave, who woke up screaming and crying. It was a mess. Sebastian’s medical records didn’t show a history of sleepwalking, and I think if it were a problem Karen’s lawyer would’ve definitely made sure I knew about it. Blake doesn’t strike me as the type to overlook that kind of detail.”
“No, agreed,” McKay murmured. “Well, we’ll have to get Biro to give him a thorough workup tomorrow just to make sure he’s cool. Get a picture of his big brain.”
He nudged John and Sheppard responded by leaning against him and checking out his laptop screen. “Is that her code? The Atlantis Collective?”
“What’s left of it,” Rodney said. “Miko and Radek also have a copy. We won’t be able to save all of her—whatever the Ancients did was quite effective. The most will be able to do is give Theseus all of the programs that will allow him to repair and monitor himself. I’ve already tasked Miko with searching for a backup of the original AI. Janus was crazy, but he was an excellent scientist—he backed up his work. We need to spend more time looking for his lab on the city.”
“We can start doing a physical search,” John said and yawned. He glanced toward Matt and found his brother staring. “What?”
“You two hide it really well,” Matt said. “I had no idea you were a couple, and no one has mentioned it to me either. In fact, more than one person has offered to let me in on the betting pool regarding when the two of you will eventually hook up.”
Rodney huffed. “Those rat bastards. Find out the date with the best odds, and we’ll go halves on a bet that will ruin it for them.”
Matt grinned. “You’re on.”
Theseus hadn’t agreed to make ZPMs for Earth until after he was restored to full power. Woolsey had negotiated a deal that would secure four ZPMs for the SGC with the potential to petition for more as needed in exchange for mass amounts of materials from Earth. A steady flow of naquadah, platinum, titanium, and tungsten had been coming through the gate bridge daily. Large sections of the city had been quarantined to allow for nanites to repair Theseus’ superstructure. Theseus had revealed Janus’ lab to John and McKay, but there hadn’t been a copy of the AI stored there much to their regret.
Zelenka and Kusanagi had done what they could, but John could tell that Theseus was disappointed that they hadn’t been able to restore his Ally in full. He had retreated them for a week after they restored what they could of the Atlantis Collective then one morning, shortly before a dial-in from Earth was due Theseus had appeared in the gate room in holographic form. It amused John that the Levyathan had basically ignored any advice given to him that would make him palatable to the IOA. His avatar was gorgeous, frankly, but far from the white-washed appearance some would’ve preferred. Dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin spoke to a more Middle Eastern background than anything else. John found it far more amusing than he wanted to admit.
If it weren’t for the faint glow to his skin, practically anyone would’ve mistaken him for a member of the expedition. He tended toward casual clothes in styles from Earth, but sometimes he appeared in the science uniform. His form was a solid as he wished at any given moment now that he’d been returned to full power.
Moreover, Theseus took a very hands-on approach to his own repairs, and John had noted that McKay often let the avatar direct the entire engineering department regarding those repairs. When John had questioned that, he’d gotten a lecture on body autonomy from his ten-year-old. Matt was still laughing randomly about that shit.
John sat down on a bench not far from Karen’s tree. Sebastian hadn’t said anything about his mother’s ashes since they’d started working on the park. Theseus appeared beside him, and John took a shaky breath. “Seriously, some sort of chiming noise would be great before you just randomly appear next to one of us. Especially the military personnel.”
“My apologies,” Theseus said. “I’m still getting used to being around so many people. The interactions have been good for me.”
John nodded. “You had an avatar before this one. Why did you want to change it?”
“I’m not…” Theseus trailed off. “I’m no longer who I was with Ally, and I need to accept that. Even if you find a copy of her—she won’t be the being that I knew and made a family with all those thousands of years ago. She’s as lost to me as our children are, and I’ve made every effort to move on from that.” He looked out over the ocean, and John wondered how anyone could sooth ten thousand years worth of grief. “It was Sebastian who suggested the new look. He said that sometimes making a drastic change in your circumstances can help you move on from a loss.”
“He’d know,” John murmured and focused on the tree. “I don’t know how I feel about your influence on him.”
“He influences me more than I’ll ever influence him,” Theseus said wryly. “His mind is dynamic and fluid at his age. The Alterans stopped having children roughly a thousand years before they left me here in Pegasus. The Athosian children were fascinating, and I loved having them here, but none of them had the ATA gene. I’m highly susceptible to your son’s moods and most especially his fears.”
John winced. “I had no idea.” He rubbed his head. “Geez, well, I have him in therapy.”
“He likes Dr. Grant,” Theseus said. “But you know that. Sebastian isn’t particularly good at keeping his emotions to himself but considering what I’ve seen if the adults from Earth, he will learn that in time. You’re worried about people from Earth being a threat to your son.”
“His potential is daunting,” John admitted roughly.
“My connection with your son is profound, John Sheppard. Should he be taken from you—I will do whatever you require to get him back.” Theseus focused on Karen’s tree. “They would be well served to remember that I descend from a long line of warrior kings and no matter how the Alterans might have shaped my physical form they never stood of a chance of removing my father’s influence.”
“Do you need me in the chair to defend yourself?” John questioned.
“Yes,” Theseus said. “The Alterans designed it that way to prevent my temper from getting the best of me. I was quite young when I was weaponized, you see. But I can activate my own shielding, and Dr. McKay is going to build me some laser cannons.”
“He said,” John admitted. “Good. I want you to be able to defend yourself if you were to be attacked when I’m not here.”
“I’d never allow Sebastian to use the weapon’s chair at his age,” Theseus said roughly. “If need be, at full power, I can run from a fight easily. He’s suffered enough mental trauma in his young life.” He looked toward the tree again. “I…find myself in a difficult position.”
“Through the course of keeping an eye on Sebastian these last few months, I’ve learned something about him that you don’t know. He talked about it in therapy with Dr. Grant, which I know should be treated as confidential, but he also speaks of it often to Avery.”
John’s stomach tightened. “I want to know, of course, but it wouldn’t be right for you to reveal it. The concept of privacy is probably pretty new to you since the Ancients were telepathic. I doubt they had a single secret among their entire population.”
“They sought a higher plane of existence, and in such an endeavor, there was no room for personal connections, privacy, or even life. None of them truly lived in the end, and in that regard, I pity them.” Theseus exhaled, and John glanced his way. “What?”
“You do a good job of mimicking the human condition.”
“It’s all programmed in the holographic projection,” Theseus said. “The Alterans wanted me to appear as natural as possible, and that became even more important as they progressed toward ascension as a population. “As I said, I pity them, but I also hate them for what they took from me. They didn’t have to…neither of us would’ve betrayed them to the Wraith.”
“Why didn’t they just take you with them back to the Milky Way?” John questioned.
“The Alterans came to believe that advanced technology was interfering in their ascension goals,” Theseus said. “They needed a simple life, they thought, to achieve their goals. Considering they are all largely ascended at this point, then I’m left to assume they were right.”
“Still assholes,” John muttered under his breath.
“Certainly,” Theseus agreed. He inclined his head, and his eyes flickered briefly. “The gate has opened, and you should go to the gate room. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the new arrivals.”
John stood. “That thing you know—tell him you know and encourage him to talk to me about it. I want him to know he can tell me anything.”
Theseus nodded. “Yes, of course.”
* * * *
Pleasantly surprised. John considered the city’s words as he approached the gate room. After so many years on Atlantis, he had to figure that the avatar knew him quite well. Still, there had been enough surprises and adjustments in his life that unexpected visitors in the gate room probably meant someone from Earth and that equaled stress for him and the kid. He activated his radio as he headed toward a transporter.
“Frost, location on Junior?”
“At home, sir. The penguin took a late lunch in hydroponics this afternoon.”
John snorted. “Understood, Sheppard out.” He closed the connection and activated the transporter.
Ancient transportation didn’t give you a lot of room to mull over your circumstances, so John quickly found himself in the central tower at the top of the stairs leading down into the gate room. Whoever had arrived had already been sorted out of the arrival and departure area. His gaze flicked to the open doors of the conference room and saw a few bodies moving around. His radio hummed in his ear.
He activated with a brush of his fingers. “Sheppard.”
“Colonel, you have a guest. I’ve had him escorted up to the conference room,” Elizabeth reported.
“A guest,” John repeated.
She laughed and ended the connection.
He made a note to send out a snotty memo regarding radio protocol just to be an asshole and walked around the top level and paused just outside the conference room. He could see his father’s face in profile. John’s breath caught—a mixture of relief and worry stirred in his gut. It was hard to look at the man and not remember the terrible fights they’d had after his divorce. The last argument that had driven him straight across the country and into Karen Reilly’s life had been so hostile they’d almost come to blows.
His father turned then, and John exhaled. He stepped into the conference room, and the doors gently turned with a little mental prodding.
“John.” Patrick stepped forward and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. “I…” He cleared his throat. “The last time we were this close, I was pretty sure you were going to punch me.”
“I was, too,” John admitted. “I…” He swallowed hard. “I’d never …”
“It’s okay,” Patrick murmured and squeezed gently. “I swear to God I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
Tears stung John’s eyes, and he looked away. “For fuck’s sake, Dad, it isn’t like I even tried to make things better with us. I just walked away then I started running, and I’m not sure when I stopped. I couldn’t get far enough away, and by the time I realized how stupid I was…I was here in Pegasus and that first year was…”
“You’ve done well for yourself,” Patrick said. “Reading some of the reports was difficult. You came close to dying way too often for my peace of mind that first year and that whole Iratus thing.” He huffed. “That fucker, Beckett, should be relieved he’s on another planet, and O’Neill won’t tell me where.”
John laughed. “Yeah, well, if I could refrain from killing him then you have no excuse.”’
“The fact that you didn’t kill him says a lot about your control over whatever he left in you,” Patrick said. “Caldwell and O’Neill both talked about that with me. I think they were concerned that I’d be afraid of you.”
“No,” Patrick said and smiled. “You’ve been able to kick my ass for years, son, and I’ve never feared you.”
John nodded. “I’d never hurt you, no matter how pissed I am.” He let his father prod him into a chair. “Who came with you?”
Patrick sat down. “Jack O’Neill hired Mason Blake to work for Homeworld Security.”
John blinked in surprise. “Okay.”
“A report crossed O’Neill desk about the city park that Sebastian designed for his school work. A park for his mother. When Blake found about it—he asked O’Neill if he could come to Atlantis and see it. I think it was an excuse, really, to see Sebastian for himself. He cares a great deal for him.”
“I know,” John said. “It’s clear that he treated Sebastian like a son. The kid’s never said it to my face, and I guess that’s because he’s worried that it would upset me, but I’m relieved that both he and Karen had someone good in their life. Any day now, I think I’ll have it in me to forgive her for not telling me about the pregnancy.”
“Any idea why she didn’t?” Patrick questioned.
“We broke up because I’m gay,” John said plainly and watched surprise settle quickly on his father’s face. “She figured it out, and I couldn’t deny it. I hurt her with it, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I liked her a lot, and I thought…I thought I could succeed with her where I’d failed with Nancy because I wanted to fly in the Air Force. A wife or a steady girlfriend would’ve kept the questions to a minimum, and there were questions. Just being a faithful husband caused rumors to fly, but a single pilot with my looks who wasn’t interested in trolling for women on the regular was immediately suspicious. I had to deal with a lot of bullshit until I ended up at the SGC.”
Patrick sat back in his chair and frowned. “You…you didn’t think I’d have a problem with it, right?”
“Well, I wasn’t entirely sure how you’d handle that until you detailed Matt’s escapades in an email,” John admitted roughly. “You put a very traditional front and always have.”
“Right.” Patrick ran a hand through his hair and stood from the table. “Is that why you were so angry? You were trying to force yourself into a box you were never going to fit in, and there I was trying to do the same thing to you professionally.”
“It was frustrating as fuck,” John admitted and grinned when his father laughed. “But I was hardly honest with myself, Dad, so there was no room for me to be truthful with you.”
“I fucked up a lot with you,” Patrick admitted. “I wanted to be a better father than my own who barely knew I existed at all until I was old enough to talk. He worked all day, retired to his office after dinner, and was out the door before breakfast. It was like he couldn’t stand to be in the house with his family, so I promised myself I wouldn’t be that man. I thought I did okay. I showed up to events and games when your mother reminded me. I…knew what you what books you were reading and who you had a crush on…” He huffed. “Who you were pretending to have a crush on.”
John laughed. “Dad.” He sighed when his father quirked an eyebrow. “My first crush was on a boy named Todd. We were in the third grade. We shared our lunches for a whole month before he decided that this little jerk, named Aaron, who had better food because his mom packed him Little Debbie cakes.”
Patrick sighed. “Todd.”
“I know. I’ve never met anyone named Todd who wasn’t a complete douche,” John said. “Where’s Blake?”
“Weir’s office. It was made clear to him that he wasn’t going to be allowed out of this vicinity without your explicit approval,” Patrick said. “We both got searched, by the way. Whoever you have on security must be a real hardass.”
“Navy SEAL named Declan Frost,” John said. “We pulled him from the teams because of his ATA gene. He was really pissed about the whole thing until he actually got briefed then he volunteered to come out here to kill Wraith because they eat people which offends the shit out of him.”
* * * *
John motioned his guests to follow him as he entered the apartment. He hadn’t really been able to figure out what to say to Mason Blake so he’d merely introduced himself and welcomed him to Atlantis. The short trip across the city hadn’t given him any inspiration on that front.
Avery nooted from the open balcony doors, and John glanced at his father before he walked toward them. He found his son on the lounge with a pair of earbuds in. Half of the lounge was covered in paper, and the kid was scribbling madly on a page in front of him with a frown in place. Avery waddled back across the space and pulled on the leg of his jeans.
John leaned on the door frame as his son focused on him and pulled out one earbud. “What are you doing?”
“Correcting Mr. Kavanagh’s dissertation; also, he’s guilty of plagiarism. I’ve already written an email to Dr. Carter about it. His Ph.D. isn’t worth the paper it was printed on.”
John sighed. “Seriously?”
“Very serious,” Sebastian said. “And if I’m right, and I think I am, he entered the government’s employ under fraudulent circumstances. There could be a case for a serious audit of all of his work, and maybe we’ll be able to get the work he stole properly credited under the current administration. Maybe I should write President Hayes, too.”
“No,” John said firmly. “You cannot email the President of the United States.”
Sebastian laughed. “He said I could. He even gave me his private email address and added me to his list of approved correspondents.”
John rubbed his face. “I’ll think about it, and you’ll have to get everything you send him approved by Elizabeth since she’s the head of the expedition and that’s important. Probably. Hell.” He rolled his eyes at the laughter he heard behind him. “We have guests.”
“Oh, yeah?” Sebastian pulled out his other earbud and set aside his iPod. He worked his way free from his lap desk set up and stood up. “Who?”
John just inclined his head and stepped aside. It was like a kick in the gut to see his son’s face light up with so much happiness as Mason Blake stepped out onto the balcony.
“Mason!” Sebastian threw himself into the older man’s arms, and Blake sank to his knees.
“Baz,” Blake whispered against his hair. “God, look at you.”
“You’re okay!” Sebastian exclaimed. “I was so worried they’d hurt you, too.”
John exhaled sharply as he connected the dots regarding the secret that Theseus had spoken of and his son’s words.
“I wish sometimes you weren’t so smart,” Blake said roughly as he cupped Sebastian’s shoulders and held him back a little bit. “Is that why you didn’t even hesitate to go with O’Neill? You thought you were protecting me?”
“I…” Sebastian flushed, and John noticed that his eyes were wet with unshed tears. “They killed my mom. I heard you talking with O’Neill. He said it wasn’t safe for me or anyone around me.”
“You were supposed to be asleep,” Blake said.
“Story of my life,” John muttered, and they both looked in his direction.
Sebastian huffed. “Daddy, that was just once, and it wasn’t my fault. I sleepwalked across the city.”
“You don’t sleepwalk,” Blake interjected. “Ever. You sleep like a dead starfish.”
John snorted because the kid was most definitely a sprawler. Avery nooted and started to wedge himself between Sebastian and Blake. “There was an inducement. The city won’t do it again.”
Blake frowned but focused his attention on the penguin who had successfully wiggled into Sebastian’s space, and the kid had picked him up. “Everyone on Earth thinks the whole emotional support penguin is a joke and that O’Neill is just playing along.”
Sebastian laughed. “Well. I mean he would but Avery’s real.” He offered the bird to Blake and John grinned when the man hesitated. “He doesn’t bite.”
“Penguins have a whole nightmare situation going on in the back of their mouths,” Blake said dryly.
“You mean the spines?” Sebastian questioned. “His mouth is too small to get even my hand down there. You’re safe.”
Blake took the penguin gingerly. “Uh.”
“He’ll grow on you,” Sebastian declared as he stood. “Daddy, can we give him a tour of the city?”
John bit down on his lip when Blake quickly put Avery down and stood. The man wiped his hands on the slacks he was wearing and took a deep breath.
“Well, before that, you need to meet our other guest,” John said dryly. “He’s exhibiting an immense amount of patience right now, but we can’t expect that to last.” He jerked his head toward the inside of the apartment.
Sebastian’s gaze widened briefly, but he walked to the doors after Blake gave him an encouraging smile. Avery waddled quickly behind him. John followed the penguin and frowned slightly as he realized his father wasn’t in the living room.
“Wow, grandpa’s here?” Sebastian asked in shock.
“In the kitchen! Whoever made this coffee did a great job.”
Sebastian huffed and hurried into the kitchen. “Wow, Grandpa, you’re drinking Dr. McKay’s coffee.”
John laughed as his father merely raised one eyebrow at the kid. “Where is McKay?”
“On his way, he said he would come around to read what I’d found on the whole dissertation thing and that I should make him lots of coffee so he could fortify himself to read Kavanagh’s nonsense.”
Patrick set aside his coffee and focused on Sebastian. “I’m not sure I buy that whole not-a-hugger thing considered your display on the balcony.”
Sebastian grinned. “Okay, but don’t tell Uncle Matt. We’re trying to teach him not be so friendly since he’s pretty. I mean, he could go off-world and cause some kind of incident or get kidnapped by a space pirate.”
Patrick laughed and held out his arms, and Sebastian made no show of hesitating his acceptance of the hug. “You look so much like your grandmother.” He pressed a kiss against Sebastian’s forehead and took a deep breath. “Just like your dad. My Amelia would be so pleased to meet you.”
“Grandma had blond hair.”
Patrick laughed. “Only when she dyed it.” He brushed a lock of hair from Sebastian’s forehead. “You should make McKay some more coffee before he gets here and realizes I poached it.”
* * * *
“Have O’Neill’s people found out who killed Karen?” John questioned.
Blake shook his head. “He’s got a whole team on it though, and they’re tracking a few people in the NID who are probably in the Trust. Your father is making some serious waves on that front he’s got many members of the Trust on the run. He’s ruined several financially already. Pretty soon most of the funds used to run the operation are going to be gone just based on his activities. O’Neill is letting him get away with a lot, but we have a good security team on him.” Blake looked out to where Sebastian was guiding Patrick around the small park. “It’s a nice space. Karen would’ve liked it.”
“He seemed happy with how it turned out,” John said neutrally. “I don’t…know what to say to you. It’s clear you were trying to make a family with Karen and Sebastian. That was destroyed because…”
“Don’t blame yourself,” Blake said shortly. “If you’d known about Sebastian, you’d have made certain that he and Karen were safe. There are security protocols in place for family members of the SGC. There are more now at least in the US. We’re trying to get our partners on board with expanding identity protection and security for the programs in various countries to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. It’s what brought me to Homeworld Security. It’s pretty much the only thing I can think to do to honor Karen.”
Avery bumped up against John’s leg, and he nudged him back gently with his foot which made the animal noot happily before waddling off toward Sebastian.
Blake made a face.
“Not a big fan of animals?” John said in amusement. “Karen must have considered that the worst thing about you.”
“She did, but she overlooked it,” Mason said. “He wanted a dog last year, but she talked him out of it because I’m allergic to them. I felt bad, so I bought him this little robot dog. He took it apart to see how it worked. I considered bringing it out here, but O’Neill said the last thing the kid needed was source parts for a robot of any sort.”
“Very true,” John said.
“I always knew,” Blake said abruptly.
“What?” John focused on him.
“He was going to ask to meet you, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to compete with you when it came to…” Blake sighed. “I just knew.”
“It doesn’t have to be a competition,” John said and shoved his hands into his pockets. “It’s not safe for him Earth right now but later…I wouldn’t be pissed if he wanted to visit you. I mean I’m not willing to share outright custody of him, but I wouldn’t keep him from seeing you. He obviously cares about you a lot, and Sebastian’s already lost too much.”
“You surprise me.”
“Well, there’s no need to be predictable.”
Avery nooted in agreement.
“How much do you think he understands?” Blake questioned as he eyed the penguin.
“They’re empathic—an evolutionary response to being transplanted here from Earth with the city. The entire species exists in a symbiotic relationship with Atlantis, and as a result, share some traits with the organic metal the city is made of.”
“O’Neill gave me a full briefing,” Blake said. “I’ll be drafting the agreement the member countries of the IOA will sign in regards to Theseus’ rights as a sapient alien entity. Many of them won’t have a clue what they’re really signing, but we’ve already decided to jettison those ethical questions in favor of protecting him. He’s probably the last of his entire species and deserves all the safety we can provide.”
“Daddy, I’m ready,” Sebastian announced as he picked up his violin case and the small urn he’d brought with them to the walk to the park. “Mason, let’s put mom’s ashes with her tree, okay?”
“Okay,” Mason murmured.
John looked over at the tree and checked his watch and started to activate his radio to call McKay only to have him exit from a hallway not far from them and stroll in their direction across the park.
“Where were you?”
“Botany,” Rodney admitted with a grimace. “Parrish needed some crystals replaced in a console, and I was coming out here anyway so I just…” He waved a hand.
John sat down on the bench and set Avery down in front of him. McKay and his father joined him as Blake opened the small urn with shaking hands. With a little nod from Sebastian, Blake gently spread the ashes around the base of the tree then picked up the bag of mulch that they’d snagged from botany which he used to cover up the ashes. He sat back on his heels and focused on Sebastian, who was staring at the tree.
“It’s okay, Baz.”
“It’s not,” Sebastian said. “When does it stop hurting?”
“Never,” John murmured and his son focused on him. “It’ll always hurt but one day it’ll also…feel really good to remember things about her. Maybe years from now, you’ll walk past a woman wearing her perfume, and it’ll make you smile instead of cry. Grief doesn’t really ever end, it just grows and changes with you.”
“Mom smelled like vanilla and jasmine,” Sebastian murmured. “But I don’t know what the perfume was called.”
“She wore Red Jeans by Versace,” John supplied and glanced toward Blake who nodded. “She said it was her signature scent and vowed to riot if Versace ever stopped making it.”
Sebastian laughed, but it was a little sad. “She could’ve been a riot all on her own.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand but then went to his bag. He pulled out a packet of hand wipes and cleaned his hands. “I wanted to play at her funeral, but I was too upset. So I thought…I thought I could play tonight.” He used a hand towel from his bag to dry his hands then walked to the bench where he’d put down his violin.
John had never heard his son play. He’d talked about it with McKay who had said that they should let Sebastian play for them when he wanted to because music could be a very private thing. John hadn’t prodded that topic too much but had made a note to keep that in mind when it came to McKay. He knew the scientist played several instruments, but he never discussed music.
Sebastian handled the instrument confidently and comfortably which John figured spoke to practice and the mindset of a person who never, ever planned to sell the instrument in question. The ownership was clear from the way he tucked it under his chin and raised his arm, bow in hand. He looked up over the park and just shook his head.
John glanced over his shoulder as Matt trotted through the park and dropped down on a bench beside Mason Blake.
“Sorry, we ran late,” Matt said breathlessly. “Also, I almost got kidnapped by an alien princess.”
“See,” Sebastian said and exchanged a look with his grandfather.
“I do,” Patrick said dryly. “What are you going to play?”
“Mom’s favorite song was Smile by Charlie Chaplin,” Sebastian explained.
He turned from them slightly and focused on the flowering tree they’d found on the mainland. John didn’t know the name of it, but it reminded him of a dogwood. Music seemed to pour all at once from the nearly 300 year-old-instrument. John wasn’t at all surprised by his son’s talent or the sadness he was pouring into the music. Avery waddled over to him and pressed against the kid’s leg then started making a soft cooing sound that John had never heard come out of the bird before.
John swallowed hard and blinked back unexpected tears as McKay’s shoulder pressed against his.
“You okay?” McKay questioned softly.
John nodded and shifted closer to his bestfriend and lover. “Yeah, everything’s perfect.”