Title: Eye of the Tiger
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, The Sentinel
Relationship: Rodney McKay/John Sheppard
Genre: Science Fiction, Fusion, Romance,
Warnings: Discussion-Violence, Explicit Sex, Discussion-Human Experimentation
Word Count: 30,394 (complete)
Notes: If I were on AO3, I’d tag this: Marshall Sumner is a Cinnamon Roll.
Summary: The Genii invasion pushes John Sheppard online and he must deal with the political fall-out, the changing relationship with his lover, and unexpected betrayal from within.
John shuddered against the pressure of the water pouring out of the showerhead. He was filthy—covered with the blood of so many Genii that he couldn’t have provided an accurate number under any circumstances. John had seen combat before he’d stepped through the gate. He’d dipped his toe in the kind of operations that shouldn’t have been in the wheelhouse of a pilot, but John had made a career of stepping up and kicking as much ass as required to complete a mission. Eventually, that had led him to the FUBAR mission that got him put on ice at McMurdo.
The door opened in the front of the room, and John braced one hand on the cold tile wall. His fingers curled into a fist as he closed his eyes. Everything was too much, and getting a grip on his senses was paramount if he didn’t want to be isolated for his own sake.
John took a deep breath. “Sir.” He glanced briefly toward Marshall Sumner and took a deep breath. “How many?”
“46 and counting,” Sumner murmured. “Weir’s got a concussion, and Beckett used that ancient device to heal McKay’s arm—otherwise, he’d have probably needed upwards of 40 stitches to close up the wound. Weir wasn’t all that upset about the fact that McKay was tortured in front of her.”
John grimaced and lowered his head so the water could pour down his back. “Do you remember when you asked me, months ago, if I thought Weir could handle remaining in charge?”
“Yeah, your smart ass quoted the expedition charter at me,” Marshall said, and John couldn’t help but grin. “But I’m fond of your father, so I refrained from kicking your ass.”
“The answer is no. She is in no single way equipped to lead a mission in a war zone, and we can no longer pretend that’s exactly where we are. The clusterfuck of the last twenty-four hours is her fault. The Genii wouldn’t have even had our gate address if we’d had an alpha site set up like we wanted.” John almost reached for the soap but lowered his hand. “Fuck.”
“Weir didn’t know you were a latent Sentinel. I admit I didn’t notice the discrepancy in your file. I was just relieved to get another officer with experience on the mission—one I knew.”
“It wasn’t required when I joined the Corps,” John said. “And I wasn’t asked to update my records when those regulations came through. If my CO is a hardass, I guess I’ll get another ding.”
Sumner laughed and leaned against the wall a few feet from John. “McKay’s outside. We’ve been keeping him back because you ordered Ford to keep the two of you separated. They told me you’ve been in here for hours but didn’t start cleaning up until about ten minutes ago.”
“I wanted to make sure I could maintain my composure around him,” John said quietly. “He’s the only online Guide on the city, and I…” He took a deep breath and looked toward his CO. “You know.”
“A Sentinel is supposed to want a Guide,” Sumner said. “You got something mentally going on that I need to know about? You and McKay have been getting along fine since before we left Earth.”
“McKay doesn’t want a Sentinel, ever,” John said roughly.
Sumner hummed under his breath. “Maybe he’s changed his mind because he’s furious that we won’t let him in here. He’s already reduced one Marine to tears.”
John snorted. “I…” He took a deep breath. “What about Weir?”
“She’s horrified by you and your behavior during the invasion, but then you did shoot the man holding her hostage in the head. She had his brain matter in her hair.”
John couldn’t give a fuck less about that if he tried. “Maybe Heightmeyer can explain the reality of being a female prisoner of war to her. If he’d gotten her through that gate—we’d have never gotten her back.”
“I told her that,” Sumner said. “She called you a savage. Carson put her in an isolation room after that because we’re still bringing in the bodies, and she wasn’t coping with the carnage.”
John frowned. He didn’t want his kill stored on the city. “We should dial the Genii’s gate and toss the bodies through.” He inhaled sharply. “I think keeping them on the city might fuck with my instincts.”
“McKay’s already suggested it, but I wanted to verify with you because it’s not standard SGC procedure to make a pile of bodies on an enemy’s homeworld.”
“It’ll make a statement,” John said evenly. “They need to know we won’t tolerate their intrusion again.”
“Weir isn’t going to like where things are going to go,” Sumner said.
“I’ve known Weir’s agenda didn’t mesh with our own since I kept that wraith Queen from giving you a lap dance, sir,” John sent the older man a look and shrugged when Sumner grimaced. “If she’d had it her way—I wouldn’t have gotten to rescue you at all. I had to threaten to confine her to her damn office just to plan the mission. Despite the success of that mission, she hasn’t forgiven me for not agreeing with her ridiculous assessment of the situation.”
“Do you know what drove you online?” Sumner questioned.
“Kolya threatened McKay,” John said. “The moment he drew McKay’s blood, he was a dead man. I killed every single Genii that got between him and me.”
“You and Kolya or you and McKay?” Sumner questioned.
“Does it really matter?”
“Not specifically for the report, but it’ll certainly matter for future events,” Sumner said roughly. “I’m not asking you to bare your soul here, Sheppard, but… I need to know how to manage future situations.”
“If he’d killed McKay like he threatened to do—I’d have ripped Kolya limb from limb. I can’t say I would’ve stopped with him. It’s my most basic instinct—protect the Guide.” He wet his lips. “I’ll need to make a scent imprint on all the gate teams so I can locate them off-world if something goes wrong.”
“Military personnel know the drill, and I’m sure McKay’s already sent out more than one memo to his staff regarding your change. He’s camped in the infirmary with a laptop and four cups of coffee, which his staff is keeping full.” He cleared his throat. “How much training have you had?”
“You know my mother is an Alpha Sentinel. I was taught the basics from a very early age. My brother David came online in his early twenties, but as far as I know, my brother, Matt, is still a latent Guide. I have the tools I need to manage without a Guide, Colonel.”
“Don’t bite off your nose to spite your face, Major.” Sumner pushed off the wall. “Give McKay the conversation he clearly wants, for fuck’s sake.”
“Is that an order?” John asked wearily as he met the older man’s gaze.
“Nope, just a bit of kibitzing,” Sumner declared and waved a hand. “I’m leaving now because staring at you naked is making me feel bad about myself. Remind me to start running more.”
“You’re gonna regret that next week.” John laughed as Sumner sent him a dark look and headed for the door. “Tell McKay I need some soap that won’t destroy my skin…” He huffed. “He can bring it in if he’d like.”
“I’ll send Ford to your quarters to pick up some clothes—your senses will respond better to your own things than a pair of scrubs,” Sumner said.
John stayed under the water because, at some point during the conversation with Sumner, the water had stopped stinging. He rubbed both hands through his hair and reminded himself to get a haircut. The doors opened again, and John dialed down his sense of smell so he couldn’t glut himself on McKay’s scent.
“I raided a supply closet,” McKay said quietly. “We have a few bottles of hypoallergenic soap and just one bottle of lotion. I had earmarked a lot of it for you when we first came out here, but when you didn’t come online in response to your CO being kidnapped by aliens—I figured you weren’t going to do it. I released the hold on the items.”
“It’s not because if we can’t find a solution off-world, you’re going to get very uncomfortable very quickly. The generic soap the military stocks will be terrible on your skin.”
“Sentinels have survived and thrived for thousands of years without expensive soap for sensitive skin,” John pointed out and glanced at McKay out of the corner of his eye. “I’m okay.”
“You banned me from the room for hours,” McKay said huffily. “But that didn’t do a damn thing but leave me to feel all of your stress and anger without a way to help you. And that was after I practically swam in your near-feral hostility for hours while you killed upwards of 50 people.”
“I’m so fucking sorry,” John said and closed his eyes. “I’m not… I don’t know what to do with this, McKay, because I shouldn’t let you anywhere near me. The problem is that I have all of these sense memories of you—so many, in fact, that I don’t think I’d need a physical imprint to bond with you.”
“I knew what I was getting into when I took a latent Sentinel to bed,” McKay informed him tartly.
“You told me you’d never once been tempted to bond and had removed yourself from the Burton Foundation’s system to avoid getting potential match notifications in the future,” John pointed out. “You said you didn’t want to bond with a Sentinel because it would get in the way of your career.”
“Well, clearly, I was lying to get in your pants,” McKay retorted and huffed when John’s mouth dropped open. “You were being really damned unreasonable, John. You came waltzing into my Ancient wonderland with your Superman genes looking like a wet dream in that stupid flight suit. No one is supposed to look good in one of those things! I knew you were latent the moment I set eyes on you, and I thought—oh, look, I can have my cake and eat it, too.”
“I’ve never claimed otherwise,” McKay exclaimed and waved both hands. “It was like Christmas and my birthday all rolled up into one when it came down that you’d volunteered to come on the Atlantis mission. Because you’re honestly the best sex I’ve ever had in my whole life, and I wasn’t keen to give it up.”
John had done that, specifically, for Marshall Sumner. He’d served with the man previously, and after he was briefed on the scope of the Atlantis mission, he knew that his fellow Marine needed a hell of a lot more than he was getting—in a lot of areas. They’d done their best to shore up the holes in their supplies but had only managed to bring out three junior officers, none of which were all that valuable in the field. John wanted to punt all three of them back to Earth; use of the stargate was optional.
“That being said, if you don’t want to continue what we have, then I’ll do everything in my power to prevent us from bonding,” Rodney said stiffly. “It’ll require complete physical separation in the short-term since your senses are primed.”
“It’s…” John waved a hand in frustration. “McKay, you have to know I still want you, but it would destroy me if there was a single doubt in your mind.”
“Sentinels are always so dramatic,” Rodney said and sighed. “Honestly, I don’t see we got this far in the evolutionary process with the drama you guys come pre-loaded with.”
“I don’t know why I like you.”
“Two days ago, you were telling me you loved me,” Rodney said and smirked when John looked his way.
“I’d just come my brains out. I can’t be held accountable for what I said,” John said and laughed when McKay’s mouth dropped open. “Let me handle this by myself for right now, Rodney. I’m not saying no—because honestly, there’s no circumstance I can foresee where I would reject you if you really mean it. But the last 12 hours have been very stressful and traumatic for both of us. We owe it to ourselves to take some time to get our bearings—separately.”
“You’ve already got a rash,” Rodney said with a frown. “It’s contrary to my stupid instincts to leave you like this.”
“I know,” John said. “But I can handle this.” He grinned then. “Even if I’d much prefer to be handled by you.”
Rodney looked him over and sighed. “For the good of the expedition, I should probably tell you that I’m a terrible person when I’m not getting laid regularly.”
Rodney shrugged. “Use the lotion—especially on the more tender areas. Chaffing can be a problem for newly online Sentinels.” He gave a nod in the general direction of John’s dick for emphasis. “Jasper will probably check in on you as it suits him. I can’t and wouldn’t want to control his movements.”
John nodded. He’d met McKay’s spirit animal, a grey wolf, more than once and was comfortable around him. “That’s fine. I always assumed I’d get a bird of prey, which is common in my family line on both sides of the coin.”
“A tiger—a huge tiger. At least 600 lbs.”
“Siberian probably,” Rodney said. “Big cats aren’t uncommon for Sentinels. We can go over the lore later if you’re interested. Sentinels with large cats for spirit animals tend to have large territories—Jim Ellison would be the best modern example of that. Your baseline is going to read Alpha, but you already know that considering your family tree.” He waved a hand. “I’m going. Alyssa Biro is the only doctor on staff actually prepared to deal with a Sentinel or a Guide. The last I checked, she was arguing with Beckett over your care.”
“She’s my doctor of record and has been since I joined the expedition,” John said roughly. “Let them know I’m not interested in a change on that front.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Rodney promised, and after a moment’s hesitation, he turned on his heel and left.
* * * *
The food was terrible. John tossed the remains of the peanut butter sandwich he’d been given on the plate and left the hospital bed to pace around the isolation room. At least they’d given him the big one, even if it did have an observation room at the top. The intercom clicked, and John flinched.
“Sorry, sir. Did you need something, Major Sheppard?”
“No, Stackhouse,” John said wearily. “I can’t sleep, and the food tastes like shit.”
“We could wake Dr. McKay,” Stackhouse offered. “He said we should if you get…”
“Bent out of shape?” John supplied. “Feral?”
“Bitchy,” Stackhouse finished with a laugh.
John rubbed the back of his head in frustration. He really didn’t know why he liked McKay so much. Maybe there was more to that whole Guide aura thing than he’d previously thought. “He’s such an asshole.”
“Kind of his trademark, actually,” Stackhouse said. “Stand up, though, when he needs to be.”
True enough, John thought. When it mattered, McKay delivered. The doors to the observation deck opened, and Sumner entered with a cup of coffee. John inhaled sharply, but the isolation room was top-notch, so he didn’t even get a whiff. Disgruntled, he shot his CO a dirty look and resumed pacing. His spirit animal appeared and started to keep pace with him.
“That explains a lot,” Sumner said dryly. John glanced his way and watched the man take a sip of coffee. “Did you get any sleep?”
“Few hours,” John admitted. “I wasn’t even allowed breakfast food at breakfast. I’m pretty sure there are people in Leavenworth for murder who get better rations.”
“Did you guys call McKay because I’m pretty sure this qualifies as bitchy,” Sumner said.
John exhaled noisily and considered lowering his hearing down to zero so he wouldn’t have to listen to Stackhouse and Markham snicker like a couple of teenagers. He figured he might come out the other side of this experience hating a large portion of the expedition. Well, a larger portion of the expedition. The truth was about a third of people on the city should’ve never been allowed off Earth, and he fully intended on putting all of their names in a report explicitly laying out how the chances of their survival lowered daily in Pegasus.
The door opened again, and John considered telling Stackhouse to turn off the intercom. He looked up and found Elizabeth Weir standing beside Sumner. Stackhouse and Markham were dismissed from the observation deck with a hand motion from Sumner. John barely refrained from glaring at her. She’d made things worse during the invasion, and he had no intention of sugarcoating that fact in his after-action report.
She crossed her arms and frowned. “How are you, John?”
He hated that. She’d been calling him by his given name since they’d met, and he hadn’t invited it. He certainly hadn’t returned the favor despite the fact that she often corrected him in public when he called her Dr. Weir. It had become something of a running joke amongst the Marines. John had no intention of ever getting familiar with the woman despite her efforts and her fake friendliness. John didn’t need anyone to tell him that every single word out of her mouth was a trap of some sort or another.
“I’m fine, Dr. Weir.” His hand dropped to his tiger’s head, and the animal pressed his big body against John’s with a throaty purr.
“He’s beautiful,” she said. “What’s his name?”
John grimaced. “That’s… private, Dr. Weir, and not something normally shared with mundanes.” He ignored the way her gaze narrowed. “I was informed you have a concussion.”
“Yes, I was struck… at some point. I’m not sure when. I’m glad to see you didn’t require assistance in returning to normal.” She wet her lips nervously, and John inclined his head as he zeroed in on her as much as he could with his senses. Her heart was racing, and her pupils were blown open. Terror, he thought. She was terrified of him.
He figured he should feel guilty about that, but he didn’t. “Normal?”
“You were… you went… feral,” she said. “Didn’t they tell you? It’s why you’re being confined now.”
John sighed and shared a glance with Sumner, who grimaced. “Dr. Weir, I did not go feral at any point during the invasion. If I had, I would’ve had to be sedated. Moreover, Colonel Sumner would’ve probably had to hunt for me when he returned to the city. I self-isolated after the threat was contained for my own well-being. I made a conscious choice, and I’m not being confined against my will. I’m in isolation while I work on settling my senses and so I can establish my psionic shielding in a controlled environment.”
“You killed 54 people!” Weir snapped.
“That’s the final number?” John questioned.
“McKay said you shut down the gate on a few more, but there’s no headcount on that,” Sumner said and took another sip of coffee. “And yes, 54 is the final number unless we find a corpse tucked into a stairwell or something. We did a thorough search, so I don’t expect it, but you can let me know if you smell anything off once you get yourself set to rights.”
“Stop talking about what he did like it was normal,” Weir demanded. “He committed mass murder yesterday!”
“He defended this city from an invasion by hostile forces.” Sumner turned on her with a glare. “And every single one of those deaths was a righteous combat kill, Dr. Weir. He did his job, and I don’t appreciate your tone or the accusations against my officer.”
“Righteous,” Weir repeated and shook her head. “Can you hear yourself? You’ve still got people cleaning blood off the floors, Colonel Sumner.”
“Did you get all the brain matter out of your hair?” John asked, and they both focused on him.
Weir blanched and touched her hair with a trembling hand. “One of the nurses helped me.” She turned to Sumner. “Major Sheppard is dangerous and should be confined in the wraith cage until we can return him to Earth for a hearing of some sort.”
“I’m not going to imprison my XO for doing his job, Dr. Weir,” Sumner said. “There a hundred or so regulations in the UCMJ outlining his rights as both an American warfighter and a Sentinel that ensures he can’t be punished for doing his job to the best of his abilities. If you think anyone is going to have a problem with a Sentinel defending his own territory during an invasion, then you’re in for a rude awakening. If I stuck him in the wraith cage—you and I would be the ones facing charges on Earth when we re-establish contact.”
“He’s a United States Marine,” Sumner returned evenly. “He’s always been dangerous. You just weren’t paying attention. The man’s a special operations pilot. Just what do you think he was doing before his supergene got O’Neill’s attention?” Sumner focused on John. “You didn’t say—did you want us to wake McKay?”
“Let him sleep; he’ll come back around when he’s ready,” John said and focused his attention on his tiger. The tiger tilted his head and chuffed. “I know.”
Elizabeth Weir was a problem, and he’d been ignoring it as much as he could since he’d met her. If he’d trusted his instincts on that front, he’d have never agreed to the mission as long as she was in charge. Her demeanor had been off from the start, and at first, he’d just figured it was because she found him attractive. John was utterly, openly gay, so he’d ignored her. He’d been ignoring people, of both genders, who wanted to fuck him for a long time. He was really picky about who he took to bed, and even if he’d been bi, Weir wouldn’t have made the cut. Something about her put his teeth on edge. He felt like an idiot for ignoring it.
“Even if we can’t legally lock him up—you can order him to stay in his quarters,” Weir argued.
“Get out,” John snapped, and they both focused on him. “Get the fuck out of my face, Dr. Weir. I have work to do, and I can’t do it when you’re up there being rude and disrespectful. You’re welcome, by the way, for saving your life.” He glared at her and grimaced. “Such as it is.”
“Are you going to let him talk to me that way, Colonel Sumner?”
Sumner shrugged. “He’s currently emotionally compromised due to coming online as a Sentinel and can’t be held accountable for what he says.”
John figured he did not need that kind of information and just huffed when Weir glared at him and left the observation deck. Sumner lifted an eyebrow at him and shook his head. He had no excuse, so he just waved a hand and started to pace again.
“How are your levels?”
“My skin itches,” John admitted. “The food really tastes terrible.” He was definitely chaffing even though he’d used the lotion, but he wasn’t going to share that with Sumner. Also, he hadn’t woken up with an erection, which was like a first since puberty, so he was worried that his dick was broken. Maybe it was the chaffing. “Concentration is low.”
“I took note,” Sumner said dryly. “Aren’t you supposed to be meditating and shit?”
John went back to the bed and slouched on it with a huff. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Want me to send in a laptop so you can work on your report?” He inclined his head. “If you tell me to fuck off, Major, I’ll make you regret it.”
John sighed. “I tried to use a laptop last night, but it was weird and loud. I couldn’t concentrate enough to use it because it made too much noise.” He crossed his arms and focused on his tiger. The animal was lounging on the floor across the room from him. “The literature on Sentinels says that a spirit animal won’t appear on our plane if there are problems with my psionic balance, so at least there’s that.”
“I’m going to go have a talk with McKay about testing you,” Sumner said. “I need to establish some kind of baseline for fieldwork, so I’ll know what to expect from you going forward. Do you have any idea what his level is?”
John raised an eyebrow. “Sir?”
“McKay’s records are locked down like Fort Knox when it comes to the Guide stuff. Can he help with any of this?” Sumner flicked his free hand around to encompass John and his whole situation. “Did you two reach an agreement last night?”
“We’re giving each other space,” John said neutrally. “And, yeah, McKay can handle whatever I’ve got going on, sir. He’s a wolf Guide.”
It was gratifying that Sumner’s mouth dropped completely open. John had responded much the same when McKay had confided that information to him after they’d left Earth.
“They let us bring a wolf Guide to Pegasus?” Sumner asked and exhaled sharply.
“Wolf Guides go where they want,” John said and shrugged when Sumner frowned. “It’s what he told me when I questioned it because I certainly did question it months ago when I met his spirit animal.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Sumner muttered and stalked out the observation deck.
Stackhouse and Markham slid back in and offered John a wave before turning the intercom off.
* * * *
Rodney had considered skipping breakfast altogether, but that never worked out for him. There was a good mixture of people in the mess hall—military, civilian, and Athosian. They hadn’t been able to check the mainland to see how much damage the storm had done. Or, really, to access if there was anything left of the village to salvage. He gathered food from various places and sat down at the table he usually used.
On mission days, the rest of the team would appear practically out of nowhere the moment he sat down, but there would be no missions for a while. He frowned at that thought as he shook his milk carton. A tray dropped into place in front of him, and Aiden Ford settled in with a quick smile.
“Ford,” McKay said and started to protest the invasion as he’d planned to work during breakfast. Teyla slid into the chair next to him before he could, and he closed his mouth. “Good morning, Teyla.”
“Rodney,” she said with a warm smile. “I’m glad to see you recovered so well from everything that happened.”
“Beckett used the healing device on my arm since the… cuts were deep, and everyone was worried about John continuing to smell me bleeding,” Rodney explained. “I don’t even have a scar.”
“Good,” Aiden said. “There’s no need to have reminders of that bastard.”
True enough, Rodney thought and quickly made a sandwich with the bacon he’d piled onto his plate. One benefit of not having Sheppard around at a meal was that he could eat what he wanted without getting sad faces. He took a healthy bite and raised an eyebrow when Ford started to speak.
“The major wouldn’t like it,” Ford muttered but then held up a hand when Rodney glared at him. “You probably earned a half-pound bacon sandwich.”
“Have you seen John?” Teyla questioned. “Colonel Sumner spoke with me briefly yesterday about the changes in him and about what it meant to be a Sentinel. Of course, I knew a lot from our previous conversations.”
“I saw him last night after he got settled,” Rodney said. “And brought him some soap and stuff to clean up with. He’s in the big isolation room now working on his baselines. It’s best if he does most, if not all, of it on his own so he can be as independent as possible going forward. I am on call if he runs into trouble, though.”
“You’re gonna be his Guide, right?” Ford questioned. “I mean…”
“We aren’t even sure if we’re compatible at this point,” Rodney said shortly. “And no decisions regarding that will be made until he’s ready. Coming online in combat is stressful, so he needs room to get comfortable in his skin again. The best thing we can do is avoid making assumptions about his choices. He doesn’t deserve to be pressured one way or another about bonding.”
“Bonding creates stability, correct?” Teyla questioned.
“It creates a circumstance where a Sentinel can use the full measure of their gifts with fewer repercussions,” Rodney corrected. “There are those in hectic urban environments who must bond for their own health as Sentinels and Guides did not evolve to deal with the amount of sensory feedback that a large urban city full of millions of people can offer. They either bond or retreat to a Burton Foundation property for sanctuary. There are circumstances where a Sentinel can go into sensory prolapse or be pushed into a feral spiral, but all of that is rare. John will be fine—even if he has to wait to do a Guide search on Earth.”
“You make it sound like you’ve already rejected him,” Aiden said and frowned. “That sucks, McKay. He trusts you a lot.”
“It’s not about rejection,” Rodney snapped. “As I already explained, we don’t know if we’re compatible, and John doesn’t deserve to be trapped in a bond that doesn’t serve him just because we’re isolated out here. We’ll figure things out here, Ford, so don’t worry about it.”
The fact was that Rodney knew they were profoundly compatible, and only their physical separation was keeping the bond at bay currently. But he would not allow anyone on the city to pressure John into bonding—not even someone well-meaning like Aiden Ford, who hero-worshipped John to a mildly horrifying degree. Rodney wasn’t sure if the kid was looking for a father or a daddy, but thankfully, John wasn’t interested in either role.
“I’m sure John will be fine,” Teyla said. “He adapts well to change.”
True enough, Rodney thought and concentrated on his food. He had a long day, and the first thing on his agenda was writing a report about the Genii’s invasion of the city. Well, he planned to write two—one that Elizabeth Weir would read and a second, explicitly honest one, that would be for O’Neill and the IOA. He made it a point to avoid reading the emotional landscapes of the mundanes around him unless he had no choice. Her reactions during the invasion had unnerved him so much that he’d felt he had no choice but to take a significant look at Elizabeth Weir.
The results were not great. Her paranoia was only outmatched by the terror caused by her everyday circumstances. She was absolutely not fit to remain in charge of the expedition, and he knew he had no choice but to tell Sumner precisely that. Rodney didn’t know how that information would land. Sumner and Weir had jockeyed for power repeatedly since they’d come to Pegasus. In fact, that conflict was the central reason why the Genii had been able to invade the city. Weir had refused the military an alpha site for staging because she thought it would lead to empire building on Sumner’s part.
His radio pinged, and Sumner’s voice filled his ear.
“Dr. McKay, can you come to my office at your earliest convenience?”
Rodney activated his radio. “Yes, of course. Is there a problem with the major?”
“He’s in a mood but otherwise in good health,” Sumner assured.
“I’ll be there shortly, Colonel,” Rodney said and slid out of his chair as he closed the comm. Teyla and Ford both looked worried. “John’s fine. I think Colonel Sumner has questions about Sentinels in general. I’ll catch up with you both at lunch?”
“Do you think we could see him?” Ford asked.
“No, he’s in isolation for his own safety,” Rodney reminded. “He doesn’t need to worry about our concerns right now.”
“Right,” Ford frowned and slouched a little in his chair. “How long do you think we’ll be grounded?”
“Unsure, it’ll depend on how well Sheppard does with his baseline testing, which I’ll have to set up with Sumner in the next week or so. Plus, he’ll probably have to go through counseling for all the…” He flicked a hand. “Bullshit.”
Ford winced, and Teyla bit down on her lip. An indication, surely, that he’d picked the wrong word, but he often did. People were hard, and he honestly would prefer not to deal with most of them. Worse, nearly everyone who’d ever met him expected him to be friendly and stupidly generous with his time. He had neither the time nor the inclination to pat people’s feelings. He put away his tray and headed for Sumner’s office.
He walked to Sumner’s office since the military tower wasn’t far from the mess hall. The door was opened as he approached, and four Marines were lined up like they were waiting to see the principal. Rodney refrained from saying that to them since it would probably hurt their little Marine feelings, and John would give him a lecture. He was probably going to be scolded for making that one guy cry already. There was no need to add to John’s burden on that front.
Sumner motioned him in as soon as he appeared in front of the open door. “Come in, McKay. Get the door.”
Rodney gamely shut the door. “You’ve got four Marines out in the hall.”
“They’ll wait until I’m ready,” Sumner said and rocked in his chair a bit. “Emotions are running high because of the invasion and because of our losses. Stress and tight quarters equal bickering or fist fighting. Those four chose to have a brawl this morning instead of a morning run.”
Rodney sat down in the chair he was pointed to. “Ah, well, I’m sure they regret it.”
“They’ll regret it more,” Sumner assured. “John told me that you’re a wolf Guide.”
“Yes.” Rodney took a sip of coffee. “That’s not a secret, Colonel.”
“I didn’t know,” Sumner said roughly. “I’d have probably protested bringing you out here if I had. Didn’t the Burton Foundation have something to say about it?”
“No,” Rodney said with a frown. “I make my own decisions, and I go where I want.” He sat the cup down on Sumner’s desk. “And if you’d protested it—you’d have been left behind on Earth. O’Neill could’ve found a replacement easily enough.”
Sumner grinned and shook his head. “I’m sure. You’re the reason Peter Kavanaugh was left behind, right? Weir is still puzzling that one since she told the IOA more than once that she was fine with his inclusion.”
“Kavanaugh has an inferiority complex and is prone to verbally abusing people around him when he’s frustrated, which is often,” Rodney said. “I haven’t agreed to work with him in over five years. I told the IOA they could have him or me on the expedition. They chose me, and I’m uncertain as to why they stonewalled Weir on the reason. How is John?”
“Frustrated,” Sumner admitted. “And stubborn. So not far from his norm. Will you be able to remain objective when it comes to testing him?”
“Pardon me?” Rodney questioned.
Sumner lifted an eyebrow. “I’m fully aware of the fact that you and Sheppard have been involved since the day you met.”
“Well, not the same day. Honestly, John was quite difficult to get into bed. I’ve rarely had to work that hard in my life to get laid. I wasn’t aware that you knew. It’s never come up. We’ve kept it as private as possible because of Weir. She’s weird about personal relationships.”
“I’ve never asked him because I don’t care how or when my XO gets his dick wet, McKay,” Sumner said dryly and smirked when Rodney huffed dramatically. “But I need to know if you’re going to be able to keep your personal feelings out of his assessment as a Sentinel.”
“If anything, I’m likely to go harder on him,” Rodney admitted. “We need to push him and his senses to make sure he can handle being in the field in Pegasus. His circumstances are unique to him. No human Sentinel has ever found themselves the sole protector of an entire planet, and he will see this whole planet as his territory because of how he came online. We live and work in a warzone—a war against a species that considers us food that is spread out over hundreds of planets.
“In some ways, we’re lucky he didn’t come online in response to your kidnapping. I don’t know how that would’ve shaped his imperative. The wraith threat will certainly impact his instinctual responses, but it would be worse if they’d been the first threat he faced as a Sentinel. At least the Genii are essentially a variant of human.” McKay rubbed the back of his neck. “We’ll need to check his sensitivity for each sense. I expect he’ll test at five or six for each one. After bonding, he’ll certainly present as an Alpha, which is common for his family.”
“Weir accused him of mass murder.”
Rodney pushed down the immediate fury that statement caused. “She’s not fit to remain in charge of the expedition.”
“No arguments here,” Sumner said. “But there are plenty of people on the city who would argue on her side.”
“I don’t doubt it—she’s a savvy politician when she needs to be,” Rodney said roughly. “But she’s a hot mess both emotionally and mentally. Her paranoia and fear are going to drive her to make one disastrous decision after another. She’s already nearly cost us the city because of the security nightmare she created. You were right from the start—no one should’ve been given our gate address. An alpha site would’ve been double duty during the storm—we’d have a safe place to send our own people, and the Genii wouldn’t have been able to torture the location of the city out of those Athosians. The thing is that she’s going to spiral right out of control, and it’s going be so messy that even her most loyal supporters are going to back away from her.”
“You’ll see it coming before any of us will,” Sumner pointed out.
“I don’t make it a habit to monitor her or any other mundane at that level,” Rodney admitted.
“If I asked you explicitly to monitor Elizabeth Weir’s emotional affect?” Sumner prodded.
“Then I would do so,” Rodney said. “O’Neill told me I could trust you and John would probably follow you to hell with a water pistol, so I’m inclined to believe you wouldn’t ask me to use my gifts as a Guide to monitor anyone without just cause, which is exactly what I’ll say when I’m asked on Earth at some point.”
“Fair enough,” Sumner murmured. “I suspect that Sheppard is wondering where are you are, but he’ll be too stubborn to ask for you.”
“I was going to take my laptop to the observation deck,” Rodney admitted. “Who do you have on guard duty now?”
Sumner checked his watch. “Bates and Yeager will be on duty by the time you get there. Are they a problem?”
“No, John finds them both amusing, which will make it easier for him to relax. Avoid putting Ford or any of the other junior officers on the duty if possible—they all frustrate the fuck out of John in a variety of ways he’d never want to make official.”
“Understood,” Sumner said. “Can you send me whatever information you have on testing for Sentinels?”
“I’ve some stuff on my laptop,” Rodney said by way of agreement. “I’ll email it to you but don’t share it with Weir. She’s… I don’t want her to have a weapon to use against him, so the less she knows about a Sentinel’s strengths and weaknesses, the better. She most certainly should not be involved or allowed to witness his testing.”
“Considering her attitude, I’d already decided to ban her from the proceedings,” Marshall said. “He told her to get the fuck out of his face when she started suggesting alternatives to the wraith cage since I told her that would be illegal.”
Rodney stood and grabbed his coffee cup. “The first chance I get, I’m going to make her regret her own goddamned conception.”
Sumner grinned. “Stop flirting with me, McKay.”
Rodney huffed, walked to the door, which he opened with a wave of his hand, and stomped out. “Fucking Marines.”
“Oorah, McKay!” Sumner called after him.
All four Marines in the hall repeated the oorah part.
Rodney shot them the bird.
Rodney put his laptop down on the single table in the observation room and set down the thermos of coffee he’d brought from the mess hall. John was asleep, but McKay knew that wouldn’t last long due to his proximity. He refilled his cup and focused on Dean Bates.
“How long has he been asleep?”
“He was down when I came on shift fifteen minutes ago,” Bates reported. “Colonel Sumner told us to run any errands you need during the day but to keep visitors on the observation deck to the minimum.”
“Only Zelenka is authorized to come up here from my staff,” Rodney said absently as he stared at John’s still form.
The tiger was sprawled on the floor, not far from the bed, focused entirely on John.
“The spirit animal has been here all night, apparently,” Bates continued. “Stackhouse reported that it hadn’t left the room and seems content to watch the major.”
“It’s not something to be concerned about,” Rodney said.
“Doc, I’ve never seen your spirit animal, and I’ve known you for the better part of a decade,” Bates said.
Rodney mentally prodded Jasper, and the wolf made himself visible. “He’s never far from me, Dean. The spirit animals of unbonded Sentinels and Guides spend the majority of their time on this plane to help us balance.” He dropped his hand to the wolf’s head and scratched behind his ears. “But I’ve been online for a long time, and I’m not especially vulnerable. My spirit animal doesn’t feel the need to make a presentation of himself.”
Bates nodded and focused his gaze on the tiger. “So, the Major is vulnerable.”
“Unspeakably so,” Rodney said and returned his gaze to John. “But he’s sleeping, which means his circumstances aren’t so dire that his instincts are keeping him up.” He took a sip of coffee.
“We’ve been ordered to keep Dr. Weir out of here,” Yeager interjected.
Bates snorted. “Come on, Tom, like the Major should have to put with her trying to sit on his dick at a time like this.”
Rodney focused on his coffee as Bates rolled his eyes. He’d always liked the fact that Dean was extremely blunt because there was rarely any emotional conflict in the man. It was easier to relax around people who acted the same way they felt most of the time.
“She was pretty put off by him coming online, so maybe she’ll lay off that,” Yeager suggested.
Rodney didn’t actually think that Weir was genuinely interested in John. She treated him more like a target than someone she wanted in her life romantically or sexually. He figured it had always been about undermining Sumner in his own command, and maybe it would’ve worked if John were straight and not a Marine. Maybe she’d have succeeded in delaying them when Sumner had been culled that their circumstances would be very different. Marshall would probably be dead.
“As she tried to come in?” Rodney questioned.
“Twice, but just once with me. Markham said she showed up after the Colonel went to his office and tried to have a private conversation with the Major, but he refused to let her in. She tried again at the shift change. I told her that the Colonel has made it clear that she’s not allowed to have access to Major Sheppard right now, and she shouldn’t try again.” Bates shrugged. “She’ll keep trying.”
Rodney figured he needed to do something about it. He was also sure that John wouldn’t appreciate him running interference on his behalf, but this was one of the issues that he could legitimately handle. He drained his coffee cup and grimaced. “If he wakes up while I’m gone—tell him I’ll be back and have the mess hall bring him something to eat.”
“He turned down the last food tray,” Bates said roughly. “Said it all tasted like shit.”
“Have them bring him a plain almost-turkey sandwich—meat, skip the alien lettuce, and cheese. Lots of water and probably a chocolate protein bar.” Rodney checked his watch. “And some cookies—he favors oatmeal raisin as terrible as that is. Tell him to keep the tray, and I’ll be back to help with his sense of taste if it remains a problem.”
Bates nodded. “Sure, Doc.”
Rodney put down his cup. “And have them send me another thermos of coffee.”
Bates raised an eyebrow. “You eat breakfast?”
“Yes, I ate so much alien pig bacon that I’m not even sure what real bacon tastes like anymore,” Rodney declared as he left. “I don’t need a babysitter, Sergeant.”
“I’ve got years of empirical data that says otherwise,” Bates muttered, and Yeager laughed.
Rodney ignored them and headed for Weir’s office. The gate room had been cleaned up first, so it all looked back to normal. There was some glass missing in various places, but they were already sourcing to replace it from unused parts of the city. Weir’s door was opened, so he paused at the top of the stairs to settle his mind so he could keep a better grip on his temper.
She looked up as he knocked on the door frame and set aside the tablet she’d been reading.
“Elizabeth,” he said as he stepped into the room. The door slid shut behind him, and he sat down in the chair in front of her desk despite the lack of an invitation.
“Shouldn’t you be babysitting Sheppard?” she asked and crossed her arms as she sat back in her chair.
Rodney inclined his head. “You’re worried that he’ll see right through you now that he’s a Sentinel. You think you’ve been playing this flirty game with him for months and that eventually, you’ll reward him with sex you don’t even want in your campaign to undermine Marshall Sumner.” Her mouth dropped open. “And you’re right—if he’d ever fallen for this little game of yours, he would certainly see through it now.
“The thing is that he’s never, ever been interested in any sort of relationship with you. He’s not playing hard to get. He’s not prioritizing his career or his relationship with his commanding officer over a potential romantic partner. John can’t stand you, Elizabeth. Perhaps he already had some instincts at play, even that far back. He thinks you’re weak and ineffectual as a leader because of the poorly constructed power games you play and the bad decisions you invest yourself in defending.
“He was so put off by meeting you that he would’ve turned down the mission altogether if he hadn’t been told that Sumner would be leading the military half of the expedition. The IOA was very invested in having him out here because of his ATA gene, so I’m curious as to how that would’ve played out—I wonder how fast they would’ve tossed you on your ass in favor of making him happy.
“There isn’t a single Marine on this city who doesn’t blame you entirely for the Genii invasion. It’s just the latest in a list of decisions you’ve made with the sole purpose of undermining Sumner that led to the loss of life. You’ve tried to get access to Sheppard twice this morning after Sumner left the observation deck. No one is going disobey orders for you, so stop making things difficult. None of us have the time or the patience to put with whatever you’ve got planned now.”
“John Sheppard will be confined until he can prove to me that he’s not a threat,” she said. “I don’t care what he wants or what Sumner orders. I’m in charge here, and I’ll be making all of the decisions regarding his situation going forward. You can go back to your lab, McKay, because you’re not allowed to help Sheppard anymore. It’s a waste of your time.”
Rodney laughed. “That’s the game you want to play?” He stood. “You know I can’t even look forward to the dumpster fire this is going to be.” He waved a hand around and sighed. “Just so we’re clear—Dr. Weir—the only person on this city that decides on which level I work with John as a Guide is John. From the moment he came online, John’s welfare became my central concern. This job, this city, and this mission—they no longer rank as priorities at all. I’ll work as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to support and help John. Per the charter, I can have up to six weeks of continuous leave if I bond with a Sentinel.”
Elizabeth made a face. “No matter how compromised he is, McKay, there’s no way John would bond with you. Maybe he’ll let you help him since he doesn’t have any other choices, but why would he want you? You’re 33 years old, and no Sentinel has ever wanted you. Why would someone like John Sheppard be the one? In what world would someone like you make that cut?”
Rodney laughed. “Wow.”
He turned and left her office without another word. There had been a time, when he was young and latent, when such a personal attack would’ve laid him low. But he’d come online and presented as a wolf Guide. He’d set aside his career plans to train as a Guide, but after that, he’d delved back into science, and he hadn’t looked back. John wasn’t the first latent Sentinel he’d taken to bed, but Rodney could privately acknowledge that he wanted him to be the last.
John was sitting in the middle of his bed in the lotus position, munching on a sandwich, when Rodney returned to the observation deck. John’s gaze connected with his almost immediately. He flicked a hand, and Rodney activated the intercom.
“Give us some privacy, Sergeant.”
“Yes, sir,” Bates said and gave Rodney a nod before he motioned Yeager out ahead of him. “Let us know if you need anything, Doc.”
“Sure,” Rodney agreed as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Weir thinks she’s going to confine you until you prove yourself to her.”
“It’s like she didn’t even bother to read the expedition charter she tries to smack Sumner with on a monthly basis,” John said dryly and took another bite of sandwich. “I’ve asked for another one of these—good call.”
Rodney poured himself some more coffee and pulled the chair up to the window so he could sit. “How do you feel?”
“You were right about the chafing and…” He trailed off and frowned.
Rodney swallowed back a grin. “It’s not broken.”
John huffed. “How did you…”
“It’s common for newly online Sentinels to experience a very temporary period of impotence.” He paused when John sent him a look of unadulterated horror. “Your body chemistry is adjusting, plus your body is waffling between over sensitive and numb. I’ve some documentation on the physical adjustment if you want it.”
“I can’t handle the laptop right now,” John said roughly.
“Then we’ll move you to a tablet for the time being,” Rodney suggested. “You’re not in a good place to do any work anyway, so you don’t need to answer emails or whatever.”
“A tablet would be good,” John agreed and opened up a bottle of water. “What else did Weir have to say?”
“She doesn’t care what Sumner orders, and she’s going to make all the decisions regarding your future on the city. She also tried to order me back to my lab because she doesn’t want me to help you.”
“I’ve decided to let Sumner handle her,” John said. “I think he’d have taken over months ago if I hadn’t talked him down. How do you think the civilians will handle it?”
“Most of us are used to being under military authority,” Rodney pointed out. “And Weir’s proven that a civilian leader isn’t ideal in Pegasus. Before the Genii invaded, there were quite a few who would’ve protested but not now. It’s no secret that you guys wanted an alpha site from the get-go, and Weir refused to consider it. Now we’ve all had to face the consequences of her lack of experience.”
John nodded. “How did you sleep?”
“Like shit,” Rodney admitted roughly. “I feel like I can’t watch your back in our current circumstances, which is contrary to my imperative.” He cleared his throat and shifted his coffee cup in his hands. “The first time I was offered a bond—I was 22.” He looked up and found John staring at him in shock. “I’d just finished training, and it was the first time I’d been included in a search. I was the only wolf Guide presenting, and the Sentinel immediately decided that I was the best choice based on that alone. He said he deserved a wolf Guide and that I would be good for his career. He also informed me he was straight and that our bond would be platonic. The final insult was when he told me that he would greatly prefer that I be celibate as well since he didn’t want me around stinking of someone else and sex.”
John exhaled loudly. “Wow, I didn’t know assholes like that actually existed outside of badly made TV movies.”
“Right. So I told him to fuck right off. He was shocked to be turned down since he was already testing at level six without a bond. The second time wasn’t much better, except he wasn’t opposed to fucking me. He was close to finishing medical school and told me that I would have to change all of my career and education plans to suit his own goals. It was my duty as a Guide, after all, to fully support him while he served the tribe.”
“How many did you turn down?” John questioned.
“Just two, but there was a third offer,” Rodney said. “I stopped answering the Foundation’s requests after the second and the sixth time they called—I had myself removed officially from the search. I was asked to reconsider my stance on the subject a couple of times since then, but no real pressure since that would be illegal.”
“How bad was the third one?” John asked wearily.
“Not bad,” Rodney said. “In fact, he was perfect. He said all the right things, and his career wasn’t an exact match for my own, but we could’ve made it work. He was at Area 51 as an engineer and had already made the rank of captain in the Air Force. I’d just joined the SGC, and I was studying the stargate exclusively. Eventually, I moved onto other Ancient tech projects, but at the time, my work was pretty narrowly focused.” He set aside the cup. “I was gun shy, really, because of my previous experiences, so we agreed to take things slowly. We hadn’t even told the Foundation that we’d met and found each other compatible.”
“Where is he?” John asked.
Rodney hummed under his breath. “His parents buried him at Arlington. There was a situation off-world, and SG1 wasn’t available. Adam was pulled in because of his experience and rank. There were three teams on the planet, and he was the only casualty. No one knew we were sort of working our way into a relationship, and I found I just couldn’t say anything at all. I felt frozen on the inside—like I’d missed my chance, and I’d never get another. We were a good match, and I thought I’d never find a better one.” He focused on John then and found him pale. “We would’ve had a fine partnership, but it would’ve never been anything amazing.”
“I’m sorry,” John said. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“Guilt? Bitterness?” Rodney shrugged. “Adam and I didn’t get a chance to fall in love, and I guess, in that, I was spared the worst kind of grief a Guide can experience. It got easy, after him, to lie about wanting a Sentinel. For a while, I probably even had myself convinced it was true.”
* * * *
Rodney had been summoned from the observation deck by a radio call by Sumner. Bates and Yeager had returned with little fanfare but hadn’t tried to engage him in conversation. John had read through most of the PDF Rodney had sent him on body chemistry. It was a dry read, but he was used to plowing through boring documents. Sumner excelled at trickle-down paperwork just like every other CO he’d had since he’d left OTS.
He looked and found Yeager near the intercom. “What’s up, Corporal?”
She made a face. “Did you want to go for a walk or something? We could clear an area so you could get some air and stretch your legs.”
John wasn’t sure he could risk it without McKay. “Maybe later. What’s for lunch?”
“Elkish burgers, those purple potatoes, and that pudding stuff that tastes like watermelon,” Tom said and shuddered.
He laughed. “Unfond of watermelon?”
“It looks like chocolate, sir, and tastes like watermelon. How is that fair at all?”
Pegasus had done far worse to them on the food front, but he refrained from saying so as it would just bring up bad memories and further highlight the pure lack of pizza in their lives.
Tomeka Yeager was a third-generation Marine who’d turned down OTS to come to Pegasus. She’d volunteered as soon as the mission was announced, and Sumner had approved her for a billet first. That’d told John exactly what kind of Marine she was, so he’d moved her around in the company making sure she got all the experience she needed for the next phase of her career.
“Have some space cleared for me on the west pier,” John said finally. “I’ll take a walk this afternoon if McKay is back from where ever he’s gone.”
“Weir tried to sit a tribunal to put you on trial,” Bates said. “Sumner put a stop to it, obviously, and the civilians are in the midst of a no-confidence vote regarding Weir’s leadership.”
John sat aside his tablet. “She moved fast.”
“Apparently, McKay pissed her off,” Yeager announced cheerfully. “And she blew her wad trying to exceed her authority. Everyone is up in arms. She ordered Beckett to declare you medically fragile, and Heightmeyer had to jump into the fray as well. I hate that I’m missing it, but I’m getting lots of good intel from Miko.”
John had no doubts.
The door opened, and McKay entered along with Kate Heightmeyer. John frowned briefly at the civilian psychologist before schooling his face into something he hoped looked neutral. One of the first things he’d done when he’d joined the expedition was insist on a military psychologist. They’d gotten a Navy man with a degree in psychiatry who’d joined as a chaplain. A twofer Sumner had declared with a happy grin. John wondered where Father Grant was and hoped he was helping keep the company settled after the losses they’d suffered during the invasion.
“As you can see, Kate, the major is not in here not foaming at the mouth,” McKay said dryly.
Heightmeyer stared for a moment, and John lifted an eyebrow at her. “Dr. Weir told me he had a feral episode during the invasion and was behaving erratically despite a period of rest.” She wet her lips. “How do you feel, Major Sheppard?”
“Bored,” John said and set aside his tablet. “And I did not have a feral episode of any sort during the invasion. I did exactly what I was trained to do by the United States Marine Corps, and my newly online enhanced senses helped. Per the Expedition Charter, I am not subject to an evaluation by you unless Father Grant is unable to do his duty to the military half of the expedition. Is that the case?”
“Dr. Grant is currently handling grief counseling for those who lost friends during the invasion,” Heightmeyer said. “But he can be made available if you need him.” She paused. “Do you need him?”
“I don’t,” John assured. “I’m not suffering any sort of after-action emotional trauma, which I can thank my Sentinel genetics for. We’re not prone to any form of PTSD, no matter our online status. I’ve had no issues establishing a primary psionic shield, and my most pressing concern is whether or not I’m still going to like that awful looking watermelon pudding.”
“Do you have any insights regarding Dr. Weir’s motivations?” Heightmeyer questioned. “She’s deeply invested in gaining control of your circumstances despite the fact that she’s clearly petrified of you and your potential for violence.”
“Rodney thinks she was planning to lead me around by the dick after she neutralized Sumner as a threat to her position. As to her current ham-fisted approach? No clue.”
Heightmeyer frowned. “You’re the gayest person on this city.”
“I object,” Yeager exclaimed hotly. “Not to be a lesbian about this, but I’m the gayest person on this city.” She grinned when John laughed outright.
Heightmeyer sent Tom a look and shook her head. “My mistake, Tomeka.” Kate focused on the floor briefly as she frowned. “Power distribution within the leadership of the expedition was to be even in most situations. She made every appearance on Earth of being content with how the expedition charter was worded. The IOA would’ve never left her in place as leader if they’d thought, for a moment, she’d undermine the security of the mission or Earth.”
“Atlantis has the only stargate that can contact Earth in Pegasus,” Rodney said roughly. “And due to her decisions, we nearly lost the whole city. If John hadn’t fought back and completed the plan to activate the grounding stations, the storm would’ve torn this city to pieces.”
“Why are you here, Dr. Heightmeyer?” John questioned.
Rodney snorted. “You’re looking at the new leader of the expedition, John. We voted her in against her will.”
Heightmeyer huffed and crossed her arms. “Apparently, the rest of the civilians think my actual job is the most expendable.”
“It was either you or David Parrish,” Rodney pointed out. “And he threatened to start spacing people if he got put in charge.”
Kate sent McKay a dark look. “I’m keeping it open as an option. Now, I have to go rearrange my department, reassign patients, and figure out what to do with Elizabeth Weir.”
John watched her leave the observation deck with his mouth hanging open. He focused on McKay. “Sumner didn’t just take over?”
“He really doesn’t want to lead the expedition, John, and never did. If he’d really wanted it—O’Neill would’ve put him in charge from the start,” Rodney pointed out. “Heightmeyer is going to handle the administrative stuff, and I’ll handle the science. We’ll work with your imperative and see if it changes your duties on the city when you’re fully settled down.”
“It didn’t take long to oust Weir,” John pointed out.
“It’s a half-done process at this point. We’ll have a formal tribunal next week. We have to elect a peer council first then gather all the data for review. No matter what gets decided, though, Weir’s not going to remain in charge. The no-confidence vote was 98% against her. She pitched an actual screaming fit in the middle of the mandatory meeting because Zelenka pointed out that she didn’t have the legal right to put you on trial for doing your job. Well, Simpson started it by asking Weir if she’d lost her damn mind.” Rodney waved a hand. “We were a broken beer bottle away from a brawl at several points during that 30-minute conversation.”
“Man.” Yeager shook her head. “I miss all the good stuff.”
“I’ve got video,” Rodney said and knocked his fist against hers when she offered it. He refocused his attention on John. “I need to discuss some things with the major in private.”
Yeager wiggled her eyebrows at John. “I’ll go work on your nature walk, sir.”
Bates just gave them both a nod as he followed Yeager out.
Rodney pulled the chair into place and sat down. “What do you know about the Trust?”
John frowned. There had been a briefing about on and off-world threats when he’d first joined the SGC. “Pro-Earth organization run by a bunch of rich guys who basically want to isolate us and make money off alien tech at the same time.”
“There was a deeply sourced effort in the US government who wanted the Ancient outpost gutted and moved to Area 51 within a week of discovery,” Rodney explained. “They didn’t want to share any of the information or tech gained down there with the rest of the IOA member countries. When Daniel Jackson discovered the gate address to Atlantis, the POTUS had to hand down orders personally regarding the expedition because of infighting within the DOD and political maneuvering on behalf of the IOA.
“Weir was briefly put in charge of the SGC due political pressure from the IOA and moved to the Ancient outpost after O’Neill was returned to Earth by the Asgard. His relationship with Thor guaranteed he’d stay at the SGC as long as he wanted. No one wanted to upset that alliance. Well, no one but the members of the Trust. O’Neill got in their way a lot and eventually broke the arm they’d snaked into the SGC itself. They’d love to kill him, but they fear the Asgard’s response to that.
“One of Weir’s first actions as the temporary leader of the SGC was to negotiate territory with the Goa’uld System Lords.”
“She what?” John demanded. “They… what the fuck, McKay? I’ve never read anything about…” John pushed down the rage.
“It changed the tone in a lot of ways,” Rodney acknowledged. “On and off-planet. Many of our allies started to see us as no better than the Goa’uld because of her actions. I heard about the meeting second hand as not a single report was ever generated regarding the outcome of it. But the rumors were hard to quash, and Weir was removed from the SGC due to several pointed complaints made directly to President Hayes. They essentially put her on ice to cool tempers amongst the Sentinel/Guide community, many of whom found her ability to casually permit enslavement to the Goa’uld as the right goddamned nightmare it is.
“O’Neill spent the first six weeks of his tenure as the leader of the SGC utterly destroying that treaty. He liberated 12 planets in Goa’uld held territory in the first month alone. As far as I know, he’s still making all-out war on them.
“The thing is—that Weir’s deal would have effectively accomplished a lot of the Trust’s goals. It was just the first step, really, in isolating Earth from our allies and creating a circumstance where many on Earth would see the scavenging of alien tech as our right.”
“You think the Trust put Weir out here,” John said. “To what? Control the flow of technology back to Earth? To undermine us? To create a circumstance where they can act outside of O’Neill’s sphere?”
“Maybe all of that,” Rodney said. “She’s certainly got an agenda that does not serve us and does not serve the SGC. Whatever her goals are, they aren’t an immediate problem.”
“Unless there are other Trust agents on the city,” John pointed out and frowned. He hated the idea of that. “Do you really think she’s been working against us from the start?”
“Remember how much hell she put you and Marshall through regarding supplying the damn expedition? I thought it was just about control and her silly little power games,” Rodney said. “Because in retrospect, it’s starting to look like sabotage. I spent so much time unbonded that I got really good at isolating my mind from others. Well, I’ve been giving her a hard look over the last 48 hours, John, and she’s a hot mess.”
“What kind of hot mess?”
“She’s terrified—not an unusual circumstance on the city considering the wraith and the recent Genii invasion. There is a deep-seated paranoia that borders on pathological. I’ve given Kate a head’s up on that issue. She doesn’t have a documented history of severe mental illness—she’d have never passed her physical for the expedition or the Ancient outpost if she’d had those sorts of issues. We couldn’t afford to bring someone who required medication we could run out of.”
“If she’s an undercover asset for the Trust, then the paranoia could be a fear of getting caught or failing in her mission,” John pointed out. “Prolonged periods of undercover work or even acting as a sleeper agent can be mentally taxing.” He slid off the bed and started to pace. “Where do I fit in?”
“If she’s Trust, then one of her mission goals would’ve been to monitor and recruit gene carriers,” Rodney pointed out. “They need someone like you to run the Ancient tech they plan to steal. You and O’Neill are the top-tier when it comes to the ATA gene, and they already tried and failed to recruit Jack.”
“And I’m a wild card,” John murmured.
“Well, you were,” Rodney agreed. “Now you’re an online Sentinel, and the only hopes she had of fixing that situation and making you useful to her mission would be to drive you dormant. I think the goal all along was to nearly destroy your career and make you dependent on her.”
“A trauma dormant Sentinel could have been discharged from the Corps,” John said quietly as fury continued to grow in his gut. “Maybe she’d have rescued me and my career—to make me feel like I owed her.”
“Certainly, but she’d be right here offering you a civilian position to stay on the city of the Ancients where you belong,” Rodney said. “Maybe she had time to plan that far ahead, or maybe not. Either way, the moment you came online—neutralizing the part of you that didn’t meet her needs would’ve become paramount to her.”
“Lock me up, isolate me,” John murmured. “Create bitterness and mistrust between Sumner and me. Prevent you from helping me with my senses. Fortunately for us, she doesn’t know how to be subtle.”
“Or maybe she’s too desperate to be subtle,” Rodney pointed out and rubbed his face. “What’s this about a nature walk?”
“Tom thinks I need to get out and stretch my legs,” John explained.
“She’s not wrong,” Rodney murmured. “Do you need me to confine myself to quarters while you do that?”
“No.” John shook his head. “We can’t figure out if we really work if we start avoiding each other.” He paused. “I miss you. I know it’s only been a couple of days, but this is starting to feel like torture.”
“You’ve been calling the shots on this,” Rodney pointed out and held up a hand in a gesture of peace when John’s tiger hissed. “Don’t get fussy with me, you know he has.”
“His name is Wym,” John said and slouched down on his bed. “I think he’s been asleep for a long time.”
Rodney inclined his head. “Some of the older ones have slept thousands of years. I’m Jasper’s first Guide in several hundred years. You’ll be able to have a deeper understanding of him on the spirit plane than you will here. If you’re lucky, he’ll even show you others he’s matched with in the past.”
“Do you believe in the past lives thing?” John asked suddenly. “You included a whole eBook on it in the folder you set up for me.”
“Before I came online, I thought it was a bunch of bullshit,” Rodney admitted. “But I’ve seen things on the spirit plane that I cannot explain, and there have been times when I’ve dreamt of real events that I could not have witnessed personally. Believe it or not, it’s good to know the lore because many mundanes buy it wholesale and will prod you with questions if they get an opportunity.”
John grimaced at the thought. He really didn’t want to answer any questions about anything to do with being a Sentinel. It was like his entire life had been shifted around him without a single voluntary act on his part, and he had no control left. Even his career, which he’d busted his ass for, would be impacted by coming online. He just hoped they didn’t try to pull him out of the SGC because he’d have to resign his commission. His responsibilities in Pegasus outweighed any concern anyone might have on Earth.
John was trying really hard not to resent the fact that his CO had taken him for a walk like a toddler. The entire route had been under guard. He’d counted twenty different guards, but that part had felt protective instead of restrictive. The civilians couldn’t agree on whether or not Elizabeth Weir should be confined to her quarters while they discuss her future on the city. Apparently, she’d pitched another fit in the gate room when her things had been moved out of her old office. She’d been assigned a desk in the social sciences department, which she’d found extremely insulting. John didn’t envy whoever would be responsible for supervising her in the future.
He wondered when it would cross her mind that the other civilians would expect and demand that she contribute to the expedition despite her new circumstances. There was no dead weight on Atlantis, and they couldn’t afford to allow such a thing to develop. Since the walk went well, John decided to go back to his own quarters. McKay had already gone through it to make there was nothing that would cause him to spike unexpectedly.
By the time he settled on his own bed, Stackhouse and Markham were back on duty, and his dinner was being brought to him. All the military assets were housed in the same tower on the city—a decision made for discipline and morale purposes. A lot of the Marines, John included, hadn’t lived amongst civilians since they’d joined the Corps. They couldn’t treat the whole city as a military base, but they could retreat to their own tower and relax in the structure provided.
The door chime sounded, and John went to the door instead of just prodding it up open mentally. He knew McKay was handling his evening meal, and he hadn’t been close to his lover since the invasion. McKay blinked and quirked an eyebrow as their gazes connected. He started to reach out, and Stackhouse cleared his throat and shifted off the wall so that he was partially between them.
“It’s fine, Marcus,” Rodney said.
Stackhouse glanced between them and looked toward John for direction. John let his hand drop to his side, and he took a deep breath. “Yeah, it’s okay.” He stepped back. “Come in?”
Rodney slipped past both Marines, and John closed the door with a brush of his fingers. He watched Rodney walk across the room and put one of the reusable pouches the mess hall had gotten from the Athosians for to-go meals.
“How do you feel?” Rodney turned and leaned on the desk, arms crossed.
“On edge,” John admitted. “Concerned about Weir’s next move and her motivations.” He walked to his bed and dropped down on it to keep himself from getting into McKay’s space. “I feel lonely in a way I never have before, and it makes me wonder how my brother stayed unbonded for so long.”
“Our connection to the psionic plane makes room for a bond from the start,” Rodney explained. “That empty feeling will lessen over time. After the first year, I stopped…”
“Stopped what?” John questioned.
“I would often wake up reaching for someone,” Rodney admitted roughly. “Sometimes, there would be someone in my bed, but the moment I made contact with them, I would be overwhelmed with disappointment. It’s why I stopped staying the night with lovers early on because it led to a lot of uncomfortable conversations.”
They’d been lovers for nearly a year, and John had never been invited to spend the night in McKay’s bed. On Atlantis, John had made the decision to always go to McKay when sex was on the table since it was the best way to keep down the chatter by their relationship.
“How do we determine our compatibility?” John questioned.
“On Earth, they’d analyze your psionic profile with an MRI and input it into the database along with the results of your genetic and body chemistry tests. There would be a personality test, and before a formal search began, you’d be asked to list any issues you’d consider a deal-breaker. Then you’d be presented to a series of Guides that fall within the guidelines of compatibility based on historical data collected by the Burton Foundation.” He waved a hand. “Before each meeting, you’d get a briefing with general information about each person—rating, spirit animal, education, relationship status, and current career.”
“I have no idea what my brother David’s process was like,” John admitted. “I admit to being…” He trailed off and looked away. “Jealous isn’t the right word, but it’s close. David chose a civilian life before he came online and already had his career planned out. He came online in the middle of getting his masters in engineering.” He waved a hand. “I was getting ready for SERE training and…”
“It was infuriating that your brother had been given skills that he’d rarely use compared to yourself,” Rodney said. “Skills that would’ve made you a genuine fucking rock star in the Marine Corps.”
“Yeah,” John admitted and felt his face flush. “I felt like a real asshole about it. I’ve not met his Guide—I didn’t even go home before this mission because he’d bonded while I was at McMurdo.”
“He went unbonded for a while then.”
“Yeah,” John grimaced. “He ignored the whole process for years because he said a Guide would get in the way of his goals. Dave didn’t want to come online, and I think if he could’ve forced himself dormant, he would’ve.”
“Not everyone considers the duty of a Sentinel an honor,” Rodney pointed out. “It can change your whole life if your imperative is shaped by some sort of trauma or a world event. An act of terrorism can drive Sentinels and Guides online all over the world—teachers, nurses, doctors—people who serve the tribe but don’t have the training or the personality to defend the tribe. Genetic drift and the spread of humanity across the planet created circumstances where our kind can’t always serve our intended purpose.”
“I wasn’t fair to him,” John said quietly. “He had to know I disapproved of his choices.”
“Certainly,” Rodney agreed. “It’s pretty hard to lie to a Sentinel, but I doubt you did permanent damage to your relationship with him if that is a concern.”
“We had a good conversation before I left Earth,” John admitted. “I had to leave the SGC and check into a hotel to call my family since he’s online. My dad wasn’t thrilled with the fact that I couldn’t go home before a long period of out of contact. I don’t know how they’re going to react when we reach the 24-month mark, and I still haven’t reached out to them.”
“I don’t think we’ll go that long,” Rodney said and cleared his throat. “You should eat.”
“Stay with me,” John said.
Rodney walked over him and, after a moment’s hesitation, cupped the back of John’s head. “Are we making this more difficult than it has to be?”
John didn’t know what to say to that, so he just turned into McKay’s touch and inhaled sharply against his hand. He loved the way Rodney smelled and always had—from the very moment they’d met.
“It feels like this is the way we should’ve always been.”
“Yeah,” Rodney murmured and moved closer.
John pulled Rodney into his lap, and McKay settled on his thighs without a word. “I feel needy and weird.”
“I could give you a whole speech about your senses, psionics, and the role of the Guide, but it boils down to the fact that you’ve spent the last year of your life intimately involved with an online Guide and now you’re in a position to get the most of it.”
“The most of you,” John murmured and pressed his face against Rodney’s neck. “What was it like before databases and personality tests?”
Rodney hummed under his breath. “Probably quite primitive—a Sentinel would use all of his or her senses to protect their territory. If needed, a Guide amongst their people would emerge to help them with their duty. The Sentinel would use all of their senses to find this Guide. Blair Sandburg says that we used to have elaborate courtship rituals—complete with gifts and pledges of undying loyalty.”
“Loyalty,” John murmured as Rodney sat back a bit on his thighs, so they were face to face. “What about love?”
Rodney smiled and shrugged. “For some pairs, that’s never a consideration. I have to admit, when I was younger—I wanted that more than I wanted anything else. I know many Guides that would settle for a lesser match if genuine love was part of the package.”
“Would you?” John asked.
“Yes,” Rodney admitted. “But we don’t have to worry about that, John. We are very compatible—personalities, psionics, and sexually. We have more now than some bonded couples have after a decade. There’s something to be said for how easy things were from us from the start.”
He’d wanted to bend McKay over the nearest surface within minutes of meeting him, and it wasn’t all to do with the man’s fantastic ass. John let his hands rest on Rodney’s hips. Sex had always been easy to get, but when he considered the relationship he’d built with McKay—it had always been something more. They’d fallen into bed and into a genuine partnership within days of meeting. The sex was deeply satisfying—emotionally and physically in a way he’d ever had before.
The day he realized he was in love with McKay had just been utterly average. There’d been no worry or shock over the realization—just a quiet acknowledgment with himself that he’d blurted out hours later when they’d been arguing about Star Trek. Rodney had paused mid-sentence, returned the sentiment like it was very fucking obvious, and John should’ve known how he felt, then continued to outline why he thought Star Trek IV was worse than Star Trek V. John still felt like that argument should’ve been a deal-breaker because who hates whales?
“What if the foundation doesn’t think we’re a good match?”
“The foundation couldn’t test us on that level without our explicit permission,” Rodney said. “When we get back into contact with Earth, we’d just register and move on. They’re a powerful advocacy group, John, not some oversite watchdog that polices pair bonds. Yes, historically, the foundation has made a few heavy-handed mistakes, but all of that was rooted in protecting our kind.”
“I felt desperate earlier—like I was going to burst out of my skin if I couldn’t touch you, but that’s calmed down a lot,” John admitted. “I was worried that I would hurt you—after I killed Kolya. Weir was screaming, and all I could smell was blood, but all I wanted…”
“Was to fuck me blind,” Rodney supplied and laughed when John huffed. “But it wasn’t hard to separate yourself from me, right?”
“Right.” John relaxed. “I just… I’ve never mixed violence and sex in any single way. It felt obscene.”
“You’d never hurt me.”
John felt like that was true, but it was difficult to touch on the wildness he’d felt during and immediately after the invasion. He frowned and took a deep breath.
“My dick is still not working,” John admitted. “But I still want you to stay, but we’ve never spent the night together.”
“And you feel suddenly insulted by that because now you know why I always sent you back to your own room,” Rodney said.
“Yes, honestly,” John admitted and pushed McKay off his lap when the asshole laughed at him.
Rodney sprawled on the bed on his back and sighed. “Don’t take it personally—I didn’t want to risk that sort of hurt between us. I mean—the sex and love are epic, but you’re my best friend, John. The best friend I’ve ever had, and I didn’t want to fuck up that part.”
John dropped down on his back beside McKay and stared at the ceiling. “I get it, but it feels like you have this whole thing going on that I know nothing about.”
“Well, I wasn’t a brand-new person the day we met,” Rodney said dryly. “Also, we’ve never spent a lot of time focused on the Guide thing. Once you got comfortable with the fact that I wasn’t going to dart off an find a Sentinel to bond with, you stopped bringing it up at all.”
“When I accepted your lie, you mean,” John said. “The big elaborate one you told so you could get laid.”
“So we could get laid,” Rodney corrected and checked his watch. “You were cockblocking yourself, John, and that’s got to be a violation of the UCMJ.”
John laughed sharply. “Shut up.”
“You should eat.”
“Did you already eat?” John questioned as he rolled off the bed and headed to his desk.
“Yeah, Teyla and Ford cornered me for dinner. They want to see you, but I’ve told them to be patient. Sumner is keeping down the number of people you have to see to lower general sense exposure. The more people you have to interact with, the more your brain will work to collect data that you really don’t need right now.”
John didn’t disagree with that. He unpacked his dinner and unwrapped the sandwich. Not near-turkey. “What’s this?”
“That bison roast beef,” Rodney said and waved a hand. “Pretty neutral and protein-heavy, which your sense of taste will handle the best. We’ll graduate to soups tomorrow—you’ll get plain oatmeal and scrambled eggs tomorrow for breakfast. We can try coffee as well if you think you’re up to it.”
“Maybe tea,” John said and opened his water bottle. “Let’s watch something.” He picked up his laptop and carried it to the bed with his food. “You can decide.”
“Okay.” Rodney opened the laptop and turned it on. “It won’t be annoying?”
“I need to get used to it, right?” John questioned and grimaced as the machine started working. “Why is it annoying when none of the Ancient stuff isn’t?”
“Earth-tech is quite clunky compared.” He presented the device, keyboard pointed in John’s direction for the password, which John tapped in with one finger while he chewed. “But you do need to get used to it. We’ll also need to take you to the range and expose you to various weapons—ours and anything else we can get our hands on so you can process them.”
“Yeah,” John agreed and relaxed as McKay started browsing through his movie files. “No porn, I’m just not in the mood for that kind of demoralizing experience.”
Rodney grinned. “Relax, I promise you’ll be back to normal soon enough. Fifth Element?”
“Yeah, good choice.” John relaxed against the wall at the head of the bed as McKay arranged himself and the laptop.
* * * * –
John shifted onto his side and focused on McKay’s face. The sun was high enough in the sky that it was shining across the top of part of his bed. He prodded the glass on the windows, and they darkened. Rodney’s eyes flickered open, and he turned his head slightly, so their gazes connected.
He reached out and ran his fingers gently down the side of John’s face. “There you are,” Rodney murmured.
“What if we can’t bond?”
“It’s taking every single bit of strength I have to not bond with you,” Rodney said. “But it should be said that on Earth, you’d have your pick of dozens—Alphas always do.”
John shifted onto his stomach carefully, at ease with ignoring the erection he was deeply grateful to have, and hugged a pillow. “Is it painful being close to me like this?”
“Not in a Guide sort of way,” Rodney admitted. “Love is a pain all its own, you know.”
“Was Adam an Alpha?”
“No, a level five at most but lovely all the same,” Rodney said. “He’d have been a good partner. We could’ve been content with one another, I think, but it’s hard to imagine a life with him now. I don’t think he would’ve wanted to come to Atlantis as he was very loyal to his family pride and didn’t demonstrate a desire for a territory, which is why he hadn’t been encouraged to go into the field full time.”
“Will you be content with me?” John questioned.
“Is that what you want for us?”
“I think we deserve more.” John relaxed when Rodney nodded his agreement. “I mean, we probably need a baseline of happy for a healthy bond, right?”
“Right,” Rodney agreed. “And we have that—when you’re not being a dick.”
John laughed. “Come on now, we both know who the asshole is in this relationship.”
“Right.” Rodney shifted around on his back to stare at the ceiling. “Likelihood we can convince the guys on the door to get breakfast delivered?”
“Very good,” John assured. “They probably think we’re in here nesting.” He grinned when Rodney huffed dramatically. “I love you.”
Rodney turned his head and focused on him intently. “I tried to keep it casual from the very start, but it was hard to keep you at arm’s length even when I was regularly kicking you out of my quarters so I could sleep alone.” He wet his lips. “But I do love you—stupidly. I never intended to get invested like this in anyone. My work was supposed to come first. Between you and me, John, I don’t even care if I win a Nobel now, and that’s your fault.”
Warm relief settled in his bones, and John shrugged because he felt helplessly happy over that ridiculous accusation. “I have a spare toothbrush in the basket on my sink.” He slid out of bed. “Let me order some breakfast from Bates.”
Rodney left the bed too and muttered under his breath about Marines, Boy Scouts, and preparedness as he shuffled toward the bathroom. John grabbed his robe and shrugged it on to better hide the erection that hadn’t quite subsided. He was honestly too relieved that his dick was functioning again to be put out by the low ache of arousal that wasn’t being addressed.
He opened the door, and Bates turned around from his place, leaning on the wall.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Bates.” John rubbed the back of his head. “I’ll need breakfast for two—remind the staff that McKay’s allergic to citrus. And have them bring twice as much coffee as any normal human being could consume during a meal.” He frowned. “I guess keep it as bland as possible. I really don’t want oatmeal, and I do want buttered toast, though, if that’s what’s on offer today. Yesterday they brought me dry toast, which is a crime against nature.”
“I’ll handle it, sir,” Bates promised.
“Thanks,” John said and let the door shut. He walked into the bathroom as he shed the robe. “I need a shower. Bates is arranging breakfast.”
“Want help?” McKay questioned as he dropped the toothbrush in the cup where John’s already rested.
John hesitated because that would be another new thing for them. It crossed his mind that Rodney had done a lot to keep the intimacy low in their relationship, and he’d never questioned it. He plucked his own toothbrush from the cup and wet it before grabbing the toothpaste. He checked the tube with a frown—he couldn’t remember ever using the unflavored gel he was now holding.
“I changed it out yesterday when I did a walkthrough,” Rodney explained. “You had a cinnamon flavored one, and I just don’t think that’s a good idea at all.”
“Right.” John sighed. “Something to get used to.”
“We can try to reintroduce your favored products later,” Rodney consoled.
John decided to ignore how patronizing that sounded as he focused on brushing his teeth. His mouth felt sensitive, and the bristles of his brush felt a bit like sandpaper on his tongue. Rodney’s hand settled on his back.
“Just dial down your sense of touch a notch. It’s easy to focus on taste and smell while ignoring how sensitive the flesh in your mouth is.”
John thought Rodney’s touch did more to solve the problem than the instructions, but he did it as he was told. He rinsed his mouth as Rodney took a step back. “Let’s eat first, then figure out the shower thing. The last time was kind of horrible. The water stung at the start, and the soap felt weird on my skin.”
He found himself on the balcony in short order, trying to meditate as apparently, that was going to be a thing for him from now on. His father had taught John, and his brothers, to meditate at an early age. It had never been difficult to accomplish, but John hadn’t gotten any benefit out of it either. Abandoning the practice had been a no-brainer once he’d left home. He found it wasn’t going to come easy—maybe it was a by-product of not being bonded.
Rodney came out onto the balcony with a tray, which he slid into place in front of John then sat down across from him. John grabbed the carton of apple juice and pulled the plastic straw loose from the side. He stabbed in it and took a careful sip. The flavor was bright and refreshing, which was a relief. Breakfast proved to be bacon and egg biscuits and hash browns. Purple hash browns, which Rodney bitched about the whole time he ate.
A half-hour later, they were in the bathroom, and Rodney was fussing with the water temperature. John dropped his clothes in the sanitizer built into the wall and watched Rodney do the same. One of the best parts of Atlantis was the whole laundry thing. They hadn’t even unpacked the industrial washing machine they’d packed for the trip.
“Okay.” Rodney turned to John. “How do you feel?”
“Weird,” John confessed. “Like I can’t trust myself to touch you.”
Rodney inclined his head. “Time to figure this out then.”
“Just like that?” John asked.
Rodney stepped into the shower and offered John his hand. “It doesn’t have to be hard.”
John took the hand and pushed aside the feeling of surrender that overwhelmed him as he let Rodney pull him into the shower. If he couldn’t submit to his own Guide’s will in the most mundane of circumstances, then he was in for a world of trouble, and he knew it.
“Relax,” Rodney murmured. “Part of my role in your life will be handling your body in circumstances when you’re in trouble. This requires a level of trust that transcends any sort of bond.”
John let his body rest on against the wall near the showerhead and closed his eyes.
“Stop denying yourself what you want,” Rodney murmured, and John opened his eyes to focus on his lover. “Your self-control is admirable, John, but there’s no one here but us.”
John ignored the way his hands shook as he cupped Rodney’s hips and pulled him close. “I… I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t,” Rodney promised.
The violence he’d wrought in defense of the city felt like an overwhelming obstacle standing between him and a return to what he considered normal behavior. The Marine Corps had taught him to make war but coping with the aftermath—not so much. Rodney’s skin felt soft and fragile under his fingertips. He pulled his lover closer and, with a hitched breath, dragged his lips across the smooth skin of Rodney’s jaw.
“You’re the first Guide I ever took to bed,” John confessed against the shell of Rodney’s ear. “I have to admit that our first time blew my mind.” He grinned when Rodney laughed a little under his breath. “Your skin feels like warm silk.”
Rodney trailed fingers down John’s chest, catching gently at his chest hair. “Did you want me to help with shaving?”
“I don’t know—it’s not been a problem so far, and regular shaving might be,” John murmured and sucked in a deep breath when Rodney unceremoniously wrapped a hand around his cock. “Jesus, Rodney.”
“Here’s a bonus in the whole Sentinel package,” Rodney murmured. “Your senses can be shaped to serve all kinds of purposes, and our mutual pleasure is one of them. On Earth, the foundation and the Corps would concentrate on honing your skills for defense. As an Alpha, you’d be encouraged to accept a combat posting, and you’d meet military Guides by the dozens before they relented and started introducing you to civilians.”
“Fuck them,” John muttered. “I don’t want to be just a machine they use to make war with. I’ve never wanted that.”
“No, that’s clear,” Rodney murmured. “Slow your breathing and concentrate on my heartbeat.”
He’d actively avoided focusing any of his senses on Rodney, but permission to do so unraveled a knot of worry in his gut. The air in the shower stall was heavy with arousal, but it wasn’t unpleasant, thank fuck. John sucked in a deep breath and latched on the gentle thud of Rodney’s heart as Rodney started to, finally, stroke him.
“Yeah.” John pulled Rodney closer.
“You’re perfect like this.”
“At your mercy?” John questioned in amusement and let his head fall back against the tile.
“Well, yeah,” Rodney admitted. “But, also, it’s fantastic when you take what you want exactly how you want it.”
John knew that, but he was surprised that Rodney was willing to admit it. McKay put on a gruff and hostile front a great deal of the time. Barely anyone would suspect that in bed, he could be so pliable, affectionate, and eager. The pleasure started to burn a little, so John concentrated on his breathing and gentling the sensation dancing along his nerves. It worked like a charm.
“How’s the water feel?”
He hadn’t been paying attention to it, but it felt fine. The temperature was reasonable, and the stream didn’t feel violent like it had when he’d been in the infirmary showers after the invasion.
“Good,” John murmured. “Everything’s easier with you, you know.”
Rodney smiled and pressed a soft kiss to John’s mouth. John hooked an arm around McKay’s neck and sank into the kiss with a relieved groan. He got so lost in the kiss and in the taste of his lover that his orgasm blindsided him. His knees buckled, but Rodney caught him and held him tight as he shuddered through climax.
“Fuck.” John let his head drop to Rodney’s shoulder. “Rodney.”
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Rodney said.
“You, too,” John interjected. “I want to touch you everywhere.”
“You can,” Rodney assured. “We have plenty of time.”
John let himself be maneuvered out of the shower spray, and Rodney soaped up a washcloth. It was the same soap he’d been brought in the infirmary, but somehow as Rodney started to wash him—it felt fine. It was honestly kind of irritating, and it must have shown on his face because Rodney just offered him a smirk.
“I do have an evolutionary purpose, you know,” Rodney said dryly. “My mere presence should put you at ease.”
It always had, John thought, but he didn’t say it since McKay’s ego didn’t need any stroking at all.
When it was his turn, John soaped up his hands and slid to his knees. It wasn’t remotely efficient, and he used three times more soap than he would’ve with a cloth, but he didn’t want any barriers between him and Rodney. That thought brought him up short as it brought up the issue of condoms, which they’d been using consistently since they’d met. He wasn’t sure how he was going to respond to latex once they reconnected with Earth.
There was no latex on the city due to allergies. They’d just stocked an alternative across the board to avoid any issues on that front.
“What about condoms?” he blurted out as he stood and wrapped a soapy hand around Rodney’s cock.
“We’ve been exclusive for a while, and we’re both clean,” Rodney said. “I mean, no one with an incurable STD would’ve been allowed to come on the mission anyway, but that’s beside the point. Some Sentinels have issues with latex, and honestly, it’s not worth risking since latex reactions can be extreme, and there’s no need to test that on your dick.”
John shuddered. “No, I agree. Maybe we can test it next week on a much less sensitive area.” The door chime sounded, and John frowned as he released McKay. “Someone’s at the door.”
“Get it,” Rodney said. “Bates wouldn’t let anyone disturb you if it wasn’t important.”
John reluctantly released McKay and stepped out of the shower. He shrugged on his robe and tied it off with steady hands. He felt at ease and in control in a way he hadn’t since he’d come online, so that was a relief and kind of annoying at the same time. Evolutionary purpose, indeed.
He went to the door and opened it. Sumner and Heightmeyer were on the opposite side of the hall. Giving him room, John thought, and he appreciated the gesture.
“Major,” Sumner began. “My apologies for the interruption.”
“What’s Weir done?” John asked wearily.
“She’s using the expedition charter to cause a big mess,” Sumner said and waved a hand. “But we’re dealing with her. We just need to confirm, for the sake of the charter, that you are in a consensual nesting period with Dr. McKay.”
“I…” John really didn’t know if they were actually nesting. He glanced toward the bathroom and found McKay toweling off his hair. He was wearing a pair of John’s pajama pants and a Marine Corps T-shirt.
Rodney tossed the towel back into the bathroom, and John refrained from complaining about it and walked across the room to join him.
“Are you questioning my consent or his?” Rodney asked flatly and focused entirely on Heightmeyer as he spoke. “What’s Weir using the charter for?”
“She’s accused you of forcing John online for your own benefit and manipulating him into a bond,” Kate said and shrugged when Rodney huffed. “I think she’s probably the only person on this whole city who missed the torrid affair the two of you’ve had since the day you met.”
“Not the same day,” John protested and frowned when Sumner snorted. He turned to Rodney. “Is this slut-shaming?”
“Don’t distract me with your terrible sense of humor,” Rodney said sternly and took a deep breath. “Has she formed sort of formal grievance regarding her accusations?”
“Yes,” Heightmeyer admitted with clear reluctance.
“Right,” Rodney said and took a deep breath. “John.”
John focused on him. “What?”
“I need to leave the room now,” Rodney said. “And go back to my own quarters while Colonel Sumner and Dr. Heightmeyer review the circumstances and resolve the complaint.”
John reached out and wrapped a hand around Rodney’s wrist. “What? No, that’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid,” Rodney said gently. “If this isn’t handled properly, then we could be subject to a very intrusive process once we regain contact with Earth. A bond inspection would be stressful and traumatic for us both. An abuse complaint involving an Alpha Sentinel can result in a trial process before the UN. We’re already going to face enough scrutiny as is since the SGC won’t be able to explain why you weren’t returned to the Burton Foundation for training and a proper Guide search.”
“So you’re not currently nesting,” Sumner said neutrally.
“Not yet,” Rodney admitted. “He’s close to it and could fall into the process very easily, which is why I need to leave now.” He pulled away from John.
John let his hand clench into a fist, and he backed away from the door.
“Major?” Sumner questioned.
“Just go,” John said hoarsely. “All of you, right now.”
It took Heightmeyer and Sumner 48 hours to get a review panel together, which didn’t surprise Rodney. They hadn’t expected him to take Weir’s complaint seriously because they hadn’t. They didn’t see the long-reaching consequences of such an allegation, and that wasn’t a surprise either since neither were fully informed of Sentinel/Guide politics and regulations. Sumner only knew the laws and situations that applied to his day-to-day work in the Corps. Heightmeyer was far removed from such things in every single way as a mundane psychologist. She’d only sought a certification to treat Sentinels and Guides because of Rodney’s inclusion in the expedition.
They’d set up the process in the main meeting facility so the entire expedition could attend. Only a few Marines who were on guard duty in the gate room were missing from the proceeding. Another thing that Rodney had insisted on despite the fact that Heightmeyer considered the entire process an invasion of his and John’s privacy. Rodney had chosen an anthropologist named Allison Porter to advocate for him during the process. She was a latent Guide and thoroughly educated on a variety of subjects within their community. She’d attended Guide school in Cascade, Washington, and was favored by Blair Sandburg despite her latent status.
He took a sip of coffee and averted his gaze as John entered the room with Marshall Sumner. Honestly, John had never looked more like a Marine than he did in that moment. He’d clearly retreated into his training, and that was probably for the best since Rodney suspected that it was a deep source of comfort for his Sentinel.
Kate slid into the empty chair in the middle of the large table at the front of the room. Radek Zelenka, Miko Kusanagi, Dean Bates, and Thomas Grant made up the rest of the panel. Thomas Grant was a latent Sentinel who was approaching 40 and probably wouldn’t come online. Rodney found him very pleasant to be around, however and was relieved to see the Navy man on the panel.
Kate cleared her throat, and the minimal amount of chatter in the audience died.
“Good afternoon, per the expedition charter, we are here to address a complaint filed by Dr. Elizabeth Weir, former expedition leader, regarding the circumstances surrounding Major John Sheppard coming online as a Sentinel. Per my research, I’m inclined to dismiss the first charge in the complaint completely due to the fact that it appears to be impossible.” She focused on Weir. “I’ve read through several resources provided to me by Commander Grant, and I’ve had discussions with two different latent Sentinels on the city. It is currently believed impossible for a Guide of any power level to force a Sentinel to come online.”
Elizabeth stood, and Rodney’s fingers curled into the fabric of his pants. He’d found her annoying in the past, but she’d maneuvered herself into the position of a foe. He’d never had a personal enemy before—it felt weird and oddly validating considering his suspicions about her.
“It can’t be overlooked that Dr. McKay is a very smart man. I don’t know what his rating is—it was concealed in his records because he’s Canadian. The fact is that society knows less than we could possibly know about the true nature of Guides. They’re so manipulative they’re not allowed to work in certain sectors without severe restrictions—politics, law enforcement, etc. The Burton Foundation acknowledged decades ago that individual Guides have gifts that cannot be quantified or clearly defined due to their deep relationship with the psionic plane.
“I’ve never believed McKay to be exceptionally talented as a Guide—clearly evident in the fact that he’s not bonded and over 30. I’ve known him through work circumstances for well over three years, and I’ve never seen his spirit animal. He’s clearly corrupt, Dr. Heightmeyer. There’s no telling what sort of technology he’s found on the city he could use against a vulnerable Sentinel. And John is vulnerable.”
Sumner stood. “Dr. Heightmeyer, I would remind you, and everyone else in the room, that Dr. Weir has never had permission to be familiar with Major Sheppard. He’s told her repeatedly not to use his first name in order to create a professional barrier between them. She’s ignored his wishes repeatedly in an effort to undermine his position on the city. Though I would be remiss to ignore the fact that there could be personal motivations at play in her continued bid to create an intimate dialogue between herself and the major.”
“Understood,” Heightmeyer said and adjusted the notepad in front of her. “Dr. Weir, you’ll refer to Major Sheppard properly going forward during this proceeding. You have no personal relationship with him and should not imply that you do.”
Weir’s cheeks darkened. “In my role as leader of the expedition, I considered it my duty to keep a close eye on various individuals on the city. Dr. McKay’s status as an online Guide concerned me from the start, but I was informed by the IOA that they would not discuss replacing him as chief scientist.
“I knew that Major Sheppard was a latent Sentinel, but his status as a gene carrier made him invaluable to our mission. I worked diligently to keep them separated and even protested with McKay’s placement on Sheppard’s gate team, but Colonel Sumner ignored my concerns. He said that we needed to place McKay in the field because of his knowledge of Ancient technology.
“I made an effort to befriend Major Sheppard in order to keep a weather eye on the situation in the hopes that I could intervene before McKay could manipulate Sheppard into a relationship.”
“Are you aware of any technology on the city that could interfere with a Sentinel’s biology or connection with the psionic plane, Dr. Weir?” Kate questioned.
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “No, but that doesn’t mean that Dr. McKay hasn’t found something to use to his own benefit. He’s manipulating Major Sheppard into wanting him, and something must be done about it.”
Heightmeyer used her thumb to rub her forehead, and she sighed. “Unless you can present evidence of some sort regarding this technology, then your accusation will be dismissed as impossible.”
“I have no evidence,” Elizabeth said tightly.
“Dr. Zelenka, with your knowledge of the city and the use of Ancient technology, could such a device exist?” Kate asked and turned to Radek.
Radek cleared his throat. “No, Dr. Heightmeyer, I doubt any such technology exists. We have no evidence whatsoever to support that the Ancients had Sentinels or Guides amongst their population. Moreover, such a technology would require a connection with the psionic plane, which is beyond the scope of even the Asgard currently. We know, from their history and the technology they left behind, that the Ancients heavily experimented with assisted ascension, and that is the extent of their interest in the psionic plane. If they’d accomplished that feat, then their method of ascension would not have turned toward a spiritual path which we know, for a fact, did.”
Weir glared openly at Radek and sat down.
Dr. Porter stood. “Dr. Heightmeyer, I attended Guide school from the time I was 15 until I went to college at the age of 18. I studied under the Alpha Guide of North America, Dr. Blair Sandburg, for two of those years. At no point during that time did I ever learn the methods by which a Guide could force latent Sentinel to come online. It’s not possible, at all, no matter the ranking of the Guide. Dr. McKay is a very talented Guide—an Alpha Guide to be exact—but he even he could not do such a thing. Frankly, if he could, I’d be surprised to find a single latent Sentinel who wouldn’t get down on their knees and beg to be woken.
“A mundane has no idea what it’s like to be latent—to have such great potential locked away because we aren’t needed. I’ve spent my whole life leading a half-life of a sort with a deep ache inside me that I cannot soothe in any single way. This is a circumstance that every single latent Sentinel and Guide deals with beginning at the onset of puberty.” Allison tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Such an ability amongst our population would be considered an immense gift. I don’t think there is a single person in this room who could honestly accuse Dr. McKay of being demure when it comes to his abilities. If he could do something so unique and amazing as encourage a latent Sentinel online, then it would be a secret to no one, and he would’ve come to Atlantis with a Sentinel already bonded to him.”
“McKay is not an Alpha Guide,” Weir protested. “That’s ridiculous! He’d have certainly bonded shortly after he came online if that was the case! Neither the IOA nor the SGC would’ve allowed him to come to Pegasus if he were an Alpha.”
Allison spared Elizabeth a single glance before focusing on Heightmeyer. “Dr. McKay is a documented wolf Guide and was declared an Alpha by the Alpha Prime Guide of Canada when he was 17 years old. He was trained exclusively at the Burton Foundation in Ontario, Canada. When he migrated to the US for his graduate studies at Northwestern, he met with Dr. Sandburg and Alpha Ellison as it was requested by his government that he be made a member of their pride. He remains a member of their personal pride to this day. It is an honor I enjoy myself.
“Dr. McKay removed himself from the Guide process conducted by the Burton Foundation several years ago because he was displeased with the clinical nature of it. Additionally, it is well-known in our community that he rejected two different Sentinels while he was getting his education. Dr. McKay has never been so desperate to bond that he’d have to resort to abusing anyone empathically. The fact is that if he’d wanted, he could’ve contacted the Burton Foundation at any point, and an extensive search would’ve been conducted on his behalf. As an Alpha, he would’ve had no shortage of choices.”
“It’s clear that McKay had an inappropriate agenda where Major Sheppard is concerned from the start,” Weir interjected.
Rodney sighed and focused on John, who met his gaze and rolled his eyes. McKay coughed into his hand to keep from laughing out loud. Their connection had been actually quite magnetic from the start, and neither had put up too much of a fight when it came to their mutual attraction. Casual sex had turned into something else despite their best intentions, but he had no regrets.
“And a wolf Guide?” Weir scoffed. “That’s a ridiculous assertion.”
Jasper appeared in the center of the room and walked around in a circle before coming to sit with McKay. It was rare that his spirit animal showed himself without prodding on Rodney’s part.
“As I said,” Allison said with a snotty look in Weir’s direction. “Wolf Guide.”
Weir grimaced. “Clearly, he’s more of a problem than I could’ve ever dreamt. How could a wolf Guide go unbonded for so long? What’s wrong with him? Surely he’s corrupt and forced Major Sheppard to want him.”
“You simply don’t know enough about Sentinels and Guides to make such an accusation, Dr. Weir,” Allison said evenly. “Your entire complaint is just another ill-conceived powerplay designed to deflect attention away from your incompetence. Were we on Earth, the Burton Foundation would be preparing charges of bond inference against you. I will certainly be reporting your behavior to the appropriate person once we establish contact with Earth. Of course, in the end, many may consider this ridiculous complaint a minor crime when compared to your other actions. At least you haven’t managed to get anyone killed with your silly obsession with a man who couldn’t be less interested in you if he actually freaking tried.”
Rodney was going to get Allison Porter a raise. Not that money mattered much on the city of the Ancients. He glanced toward Weir and found her glaring at him. Despite his speculations regarding her behavior and association with the Trust, he’d never taken her as seriously as perhaps he could. Maybe it was because her Ph.D. was in political science, which he considered one step below a degree in art history as far as usefulness in Pegasus went. She’d had no business being put in charge of a scientific operation the scope of the Atlantis expedition.
“Dr. Grant, in your opinion, could a wolf Guide make a Sentinel want to bond with him?” Heightmeyer asked wearily.
“Not through any gift of his own,” Thomas Grant said. “The fact is that a wolf Guide is preternaturally attractive through no fault of their own. Their gifts are profound, and bonding with one is a boon for any Sentinel. In some cases, such a bond can increase a Sentinel’s abilities tenfold. Historically, a wolf Guide was also called a War Guide. Such a Guide to a Sentinel would be a partner in life and in battle. In modern times, despite the way societal expectations have shaped and changed the role of the urban Sentinel, a wolf Guide is coveted.
“I’m surprised he’s unbonded, but it doesn’t make him in any single way unethical. The fact is that no Guide or Sentinel could be at the level of corruption that Dr. Weir is accusing Dr. McKay of and remain online. He certainly wouldn’t be capable of bonding, and we have plenty of historical evidence to back that up.”
Kate shifted her pad in front of her again. “I’ve reviewed several sources regarding the ramifications of this complaint and how it would impact the lives of both Dr. McKay and Major Sheppard on Earth. Frankly, Dr. Weir, your behavior is obscene, and I do believe you are guilty of pair bond interference. Fortunately, you made this complaint before Dr. McKay and Major Sheppard were able to bond. I’m sure you had other intentions.
“With Dr. Zelenka’s help, we isolated Major Sheppard from psionic influence by encasing the entire military tower in a Faraday field.” She focused on Weir. “He spent 45 hours completely cut off from Dr. McKay. We contacted him every five hours during that time period and asked him if he still wished to bond with Dr. McKay. He said yes, every single time. At no point did he ever waver in his conviction that Dr. McKay is his Guide.”
“How do you know the Faraday field even worked?” Weir demanded, arms crossed.
“Because it is exactly what the Burton Foundation would’ve done to verify that Major Sheppard wasn’t unduly influenced by an outside force. For the record, there is not a single recorded case of an online Guide abusing a Sentinel in modern times. The investigative process only exists because the foundation needed a method to defend Guides against prejudice and hysteria.”
“I’m not hysterical,” Weir snapped. “McKay’s a problem, and he’s always been a problem. John doesn’t want him of his own free will. Everyone knows that Guides influence Sentinels—everyone.”
“Would you agree that Guides have no ability to influence the emotional state of a mundane or a latent Sentinel, Dr. Weir?” Sumner interjected.
Elizabeth grimaced. “If he could, I’m sure Dr. McKay would manipulate all of us.”
“Right,” Sumner said. “Major Sheppard, how long have you been involved with Dr. McKay?”
John shifted forward in his chair. “Dr. McKay and I began a sexual relationship a month before we left Earth. Our romantic relationship developed over time.” He cleared his throat. “Dr. McKay did not force me to come online as a Sentinel, but I do believe that I came online, in part, to protect him.”
“Because he’s a Guide?” Heightmeyer questioned.
“Because I’m in love with him, and his life was at stake,” John said.
“That’s ridiculous, John!” Elizabeth stood. “You can’t possibly…”
“Do not speak to me!” John shouted, and his spirit animal appeared with a furious roar.
Rodney jumped out of his seat, hurried around the table, and caught the tiger by the scruff as it advanced on Weir. He slid to his knees and urged the animal’s face against his neck as people started to scatter amongst the audience. The tiger hissed and pressed against Rodney’s body as he trembled. He looked up and watched as Sumner dragged John from the room.
Rodney rubbed Wym’s side and took a deep breath when his wolf joined him.
He looked up and found Kate Heightmeyer standing a few feet from him. Brave, he thought, and he gave her a brief nod. “It’s fine. He wouldn’t have killed her, but spirit animals can cause psionic injuries that can take a very long time to heal. John’s spirit animal considers Elizabeth Weir a threat to the tribe, and we can’t ignore that.” He looked toward Elizabeth and found her pale. “Her motivations are all over the place, and her actions make little sense. It would be easy to say she’s had some kind of psychotic break because of our circumstances, but I don’t think it’s that simple.”
The tiger shifted under his hands, growled, and disappeared with a flash of psionic energy. Rodney stood, and Jasper leaned on his leg, clearly placing himself as a defense against Weir.
“Are you part of the Trust, Elizabeth?” Rodney demanded as Marshall Sumner returned.
“Don’t be stupid,” Weir said hoarsely. “I went through the same background checks that you went through.”
“I doubt it,” Rodney said. “I’m not a US citizen, and I’m a Guide—I’m pretty sure the DOD interviewed my first-grade teacher.” He curled his fingers into Jasper’s fur and took a deep breath, and focused on Kate. “We need to search her computer, tablet, and quarters. I don’t know if she’s stupid enough to have documented whatever her agenda is, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I obviously can’t be involved in the matter because of her overt interest in my Sentinel. I think Porter and Zelenka are obvious choices to lead the actual investigation. She has great intuition despite her latent status, and Zelenka has the tech skills to find anything she might have hidden easily.”
“You might have fooled these people, but on Earth, you’ll have to face very powerful members of your own kind who will see what you’ve done to John,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll be proven right.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Kate exploded and took a deep breath. She pressed her fingers to her lips briefly. “Marshall,” She turned to Sumner. “As the leader of the expedition, I’m ordering the arrest of Dr. Elizabeth Weir. She is guilty of pair bond interference in regards to an Alpha pair, and I suspect she’s guilty of sedition against the United States of America. Put her in the wraith cage while we investigate her.”
“You can’t do that,” Elizabeth snapped, but Heightmeyer turned on her heel and stalked out of the room without even looking at her.
“Bates, take Dr. Weir into custody,” Sumner ordered. “Dr. McKay, I’ve had Major Sheppard escorted back to his quarters. I believe your time would be best served in calming him down.”
“Sheppard should be arrested! His spirit animal almost attacked me,” Elizabeth said and tried to jerk free of the grip Bates had on her.
“Neither a Sentinel nor Guide can be held accountable for injuries caused by their spirit animals,” Sumner said. “It isn’t like they can control them. They’re creatures made of pure psionic energy. Moreover, spirit animals are known for only being aggressive with those who present themselves to be a threat to the tribe.”
“I’m not a threat to anyone,” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“She’s leaking dishonesty all over the place,” Rodney told Sumner. “Watch who you put on guard duty—we can’t be certain she’s the only Trust operative on the city.”
“I’m not Trust!” Elizabeth screamed.
“Liar,” Rodney said tiredly. “Honestly, Elizabeth, I’m so fucking disappointed in you.”
“Get out of my head,” Elizabeth hissed.
“I’m not in your head—your emotions are practically pouring off you,” Rodney snapped. “It’s sickening to be in the same room with you.”
He couldn’t stand it anymore and walked away. Part of him had wanted him to be wrong about Weir’s motivations. It would’ve been easier, really, if she’d just been inappropriately interested in a man that didn’t want her. Still, he’d heard she’d dumped the man she was going to marry via a video, so maybe he really should’ve paid more attention to how mercenary she was capable of being from the very start.
Rodney stalked to the transporter and stabbed his destination in. Jasper kept pace with him as he left the transporter in the military tower. There were Marines all over the place, but none of them got in his way. Stackhouse and Markham were stationed outside of John’s quarters. Rodney paused in front of them.
“How is he?”
“Furious,” Stackhouse muttered and shook his head. “It’s been building, though—she’s been pushing him for months.”
True enough, Rodney thought. The door opened, and John motioned him inside.
“No visitors, Stackhouse,” John ordered sharply. “I’ll let you know when we want food.”
“Yes, sir,” Stackhouse said.
Rodney slipped into the room and prodded the door shut mentally. “Are you okay?”
“Furious, embarrassed to have lost control,” John admitted roughly. “Pretty pissed because that stupid Faraday field kept Wym from visiting me.”
“It was very good thinking on their part,” Rodney said. “Their documentation has nullified Weir’s accusations against me, which is only to our benefit once we have to register our bond with the Burton Foundation. The history of your family can’t be overlooked in this whole thing.” He waved a hand. “It’s gonna be a thing. Not a terrible thing, but it could’ve been if we’d ignored Weir’s complaint. In the end, the less we have to explain the better, considering how much effort is put into keeping the SGC out of the public eye. I don’t want to be the cause of declassification.”
“For the record, I’m finished answering questions about our relationship,” John said shortly.
“Heightmeyer had Weir arrested,” Rodney reported. “I asked Elizabeth point-blank if she was Trust, and she denied it—which was a complete lie.”
John ran his hands through his hair. “Fantastic. There’s no telling what she’s done in the time she’s had to fuck us up. Or what kind of impact she’s had on the city. Could she have some kind of program running in the Ancient database? Is that why we can’t fix it?”
“My people are on it,” Rodney said shortly though he wasn’t certain that particular thought had crossed anyone’s mind because it hadn’t occurred to him.
Weir wasn’t savvy enough to have accomplished that on her own, and assets who truly understood enough about Ancient tech to write something like that were few on the ground. Disgruntled, he activated his radio and flicked through the channels until he reached the private one he shared with Radek Zelenka.
“Radek, when you’re checking over Weir’s stuff—look for anything she might have used to disrupt our ability to work with the city.” He disconnected when Radek acknowledged and pulled the radio from his ear so he could focus entirely on John, who’d started pacing.
“She never wanted me,” John said roughly. “I’m not insulted by that part—I didn’t want her to be attracted to me, but she clearly expected to use sex to control me at some point. I have all of these sense memories of her that I’m trying to organize because she’s a threat, and I can’t ignore it anymore. Clearly, I was never ignoring it. I don’t have the training to discern what the different scents I’ve been tracking are.”
Rodney rocked on his heels. “I have a scent kit for training. It’s been sitting in the bottom of my trunk since we arrived. I brought all the resources required to train a Sentinel because of you.” He flushed when John focused on him. “The galling part of Weir’s accusations is that I wished several times since we met that I could find a way to encourage you online. I mean, I would’ve asked you, but I would’ve certainly invested in myself in doing it if I could’ve.”
“Porter wasn’t wrong,” John said roughly. “I’d have gotten down on my knees and begged you for it the day we met if I thought you could do it. Weir clearly has no idea what it means to be latent. Control of Ancient technology must be a serious concern for the Trust, and O’Neill needs to know that.”
“There’s no telling what’s gone down on Earth since we left. Ancient technology has been the issue the whole time, and we didn’t know it. We’re lucky that the DHD’s didn’t require the ATA gene to activate.” He paused and frowned. “That’s…”
“An indication that the ATA gene is definitely artificial,” John said shortly. “Probably a genetic countermeasure in their fight with the wraith. But why? Why were they worried about the wraith using their technology?”
Rodney made a face at the implication. “Because the fucking wraith are… Ancients. God.” He dropped down on the bed. “Ancient/iratus hybrids.” He rubbed his face. “Ascension experiment gone wrong?”
“The iratus feed on psionic energy, right? Just like the wraith?” John shuddered. “You know? The Ancients get worse by the damn minute.”
“There’s a scientist at Area 51 who has speculated often that Sentinels and Guides on Earth are also an ascension experiment gone wrong,” Rodney said. “It’s deeply unpopular, but if the wraith are the result of a genetic experiment on their path to ascension, then I have to accept they did other things as well.”
“Right,” John said flatly. “Or maybe humans evolved in response to the Ancients arriving Earth. They brought with them all kinds of threats, including a disease that nearly killed them all.”
Rodney focused on John. “You look good in your service uniform.”
John unbuttoned the dark green coat. “Sumner thought we should present a professional front.” He shrugged out of the jacket and hooked his finger in his tie. “I’m not going to tolerate Weir’s intrusion in my life any longer.” He set aside the tie and jacket before untucking his dress shirt.
“Are you taking all that off?” Rodney asked and just grinned when John looked his way.
“I’m too hostile for sex,” John said roughly and as he pulled his cufflinks free and tossed them on the dresser. “I wouldn’t want to hurt you.”
“Then I’ll be in charge,” Rodney said and inclined his head when John glanced toward him, shocked. “What? I can be in charge.”
John laughed weakly. “I’m very familiar with you being the boss in bed, McKay. I just also know it’s not your preference.” He shed the dress shirt and placed it with the jacket. He walked to the bed and cupped the back of Rodney’s head. “I want us to share quarters from now on.”
“Yours or mine?”
“You’d be more comfortable with me moving into your space,” Rodney decided. “Your bed is better anyway, and the room is bigger.” He hooked his fingers into John’s pockets. “I’m fine with that.”
“We could pick one of the apartments opening up in the new tower,” John murmured. “Let’s see how I feel about it. I don’t think I could sleep in the same tower Weir’s being housed in, and she won’t be kept in the wraith cage indefinitely.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the crown of Rodney’s head. “I feel off-balance and unprepared to bond.”
“I noticed,” Rodney said. “Let me handle this.” He prodded John back a few steps gently and stood. He pulled his shirt over his head. “Undress.”
John pulled his T-shirt over his head and toed off his shoes. “I don’t think I can meditate either.”
“No meditation,” Rodney promised. “That’s not going to help you right now. What you really need is to get laid, and I happen to be prepared to handle that for you.”
John laughed. “Rodney.”
“Seriously,” Rodney said. “I’m a Guide. I know what I’m talking about.”
John unbuckled his belt and pulled it free from his trousers. “That’s the lamest line I’ve ever had thrown at me, McKay, and I’ve been hit on a lot.”
“I don’t need to hear about your himbo phase,” Rodney declared, and John laughed—a rich, genuine sound that told McKay that he’d picked the right path to calm his Sentinel down. He shoved off his shoes and yanked off the socks, too, since he felt ridiculous being naked with socks on.
John shot him a sly grin. “You love it when I tell you dirty stories.”
That was certainly true. Since he didn’t want to deny it and cut off any opportunity for it in the future, Rodney just dropped his pants. He pulled the blankets and sheet back on John’s bed. “Lube?”
John retrieved a tube from a basket on his dresser and slid onto the bed. “You serious about being in charge?”
“It’s cute that you think you’re ever in charge when we fuck,” Rodney told him and shook his head as he joined him.
“What about that time when I got you so worked up you couldn’t even speak,” John questioned. “And your toes cramped.”
“You dreamt that,” Rodney said and laughed at the look that earned him.
“Come here,” John demanded and reached out for him. He pulled Rodney into his lap and sought his mouth for a brief kiss.
Rodney settled on John’s thighs and let the lube drop to the bed. He cupped the back of John’s head and met his gaze. “Hey.”
“Hey.” John’s eyes darkened. “How are you?”
“Good,” Rodney promised. “Better now with you, but it’s been like this from the very start. I got way more attached than I ever intended to.”
“I’m not mad about it,” John said and let his hands drop to Rodney’s thighs. He rubbed the smooth, soft skin he found there and took a deep breath. “All of my senses are almost fully imprinted on you. How is that even possible?”
“You’ve been very intimate with me for nearly a year,” Rodney pointed out. “Your senses have always been enhanced, but your ability to process them was asleep. Your memories will be richer now because you’re online.”
He slid his hand down between them and wrapped his hand around John’s half-hard cock. John shifted under him but relaxed back into the pillows, his hands clutching at Rodney’s thighs.
“Just relax,” Rodney murmured. “Watch your levels—touch will probably stay pretty even due to sexual arousal, but your others might spike in response.”
“I followed your heartbeat—all the way across the city,” John murmured. “That stupid Faraday field didn’t keep me from listening to you pretty much every moment that I was awake. It’s really hard not to resent them for putting that barrier between us.”
“It was the best choice they could’ve made, and I would’ve suggested it if they’d asked,” Rodney murmured. “Your resentment will fade, I promise. Your instincts are just ramped up because we were separated when you were close to surrendering to your most basic instincts.” He looked down as he rubbed his thumb over the damp head of John’s cock. “The first thing I was told about bonding was that male Sentinels are driven to penetrate their Guides.”
“What about platonic bonds?” John questioned.
“The drive is still there,” Rodney said. “They just can’t or won’t act on it. It’s not even about sex but about claiming.”
“Claiming,” John repeated. “That sounds primitive.”
“Well.” Rodney shrugged and grinned when John huffed. “You’re a little primitive.”
“What about female Sentinels?” John questioned. “What’s their driven need?”
“Breeding,” Rodney admitted. “Which is why they often bond with males. Evolutionary drives are at play across the board. The spread of our genetics is imperative to the survival of Sentinel/Guide traits.”
“So even the penetration thing is about reproduction,” John surmised. “You’re saying that on some instinctual level that once we bond, I’m going to want to breed you.”
“You make that sound really filthy,” Rodney said with a grin. He brought his thumb to his mouth and licked John’s pre-cum from his skin.
John picked up the lube and flicked it open. “If that’s how it’s going to be for a while, then you should definitely fuck me before we bond.”
Rodney wasn’t sure he could actually have sex with John and remain in control of his empathic abilities. “I think you seriously underestimate how much more attractive you are as a Sentinel.”
John shot him a grin as he relaxed back in the pillows. “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”
Rodney shifted to his knees and took the lube with a huff.
John planted his feet on the mattress and spread his legs. “You’re the one that wanted to be in charge.”
Rodney trailed a finger down the length of John’s dick. “Did you want me to suck you off first?”
“I…” John shook his head. “I might get too sensitive.”
“You can’t come from just being fucked,” Rodney pointed out.
“That’s not going to be a problem anymore,” John admitted with flushed cheeks as Rodney lubed his fingers and pressed against his asshole. He shuddered and closed his eyes. “Yeah.”
“Oh,” Rodney said dumbly and took a deep breath. “Made good use of our time apart, did you?”
“I didn’t have much else to do,” John confessed, and his breath hitched as Rodney pressed a single finger into him. “Making friends with my new, very sensitive prostate seemed like a good use of my time.”
“I’m disappointed to have missed it,” Rodney said. “How many times did you come?”
“Three,” John admitted and rubbed his stomach. “I was very messy afterward, so I took another shower.”
Rodney pushed lube in deep, withdrew, added more lube to his fingers, and pressed back in with two. John rocked down on the penetration and wrapped a hand around his own cock. “Good?”
“Great,” John confessed hoarsely. “Give me your cock.”
Rodney spread lube on his own dick and tossed the tube aside. “I’ve never done this without a condom. I don’t know how long I’m going to last.”
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to matter,” John admitted. “I just want you in me. I’ve missed you like crazy.”
It was more than a little overwhelming to be the focus of a Sentinel’s attention after all the years he’d spent without one. No one had ever told him what it would be like, which made sense. There was no need to dangle such an enticing circumstance in front of a person who may never get it for themselves.
He pressed into John with one long stroke, watching intently for any sign of discomfort. John just arched into the penetration and braced himself with one hand against the wall above his head. The lack of a condom made everything feel hotter and wetter than he’d expected. The pleasure was intense, and Rodney knew it wasn’t all to do with the physical union. He could feel John’s pleasure flowing over him, and while he’d always gotten empathic impressions from John during sex, it had never been like this.
“You’re perfect,” Rodney murmured.
John pulled him down into his arms and wrapped his legs around Rodney’s waist. His hard cock was trapped between their bodies, leaking cum. “More,” he demanded, his fingers scraping down Rodney’s back. “Don’t hold back.”
He didn’t want to hurt John, and Rodney knew his lover was concentrating more on getting off and less on his senses as he should be. Rodney rolled his hips and started a slow grind that had John clutching at his shoulders and groaning softly. It was perfect—too perfect, and Rodney let himself get lost in it. John’s emotional and physical pleasure was bleeding all over him, and he was projecting it despite his best intentions.
John strained in his arms, arched, and came with a soft shocked sound that drove Rodney right over the edge. His control started to fray around the edges, and he buried his face against John’s neck and came.
“It’s okay,” John soothed. “You’ve done so well, Rodney. You can relax now.”
His shields thinned, and he sank mentally into his Sentinel with a shudder. The bond bloomed between them just like that, and whatever reasons they’d both had to hesitate to embrace the new aspect of their relationship faded away completely. John pressed a kiss against his temple.
“There you are,” John whispered. “Guide.”
“Sentinel,” Rodney responded huskily.
Two weeks in near isolation with McKay had settled John in a way he’d never really thought he needed. Looking back through his life, he could see the basic discomfort he’d lived with the entire time. Allison Porter had equaled latency with living a half-life. The longer he was online, the better he understood it. Rodney had basically dragged him through decades of memories and sense impressions to help him settle completely. It had helped, and in the end, the sense training kit had ended up being more of a supplemental tool than anything else.
He settled into his office and looked up when Ford appeared in the doorway. He had a full schedule for his first morning back, but that wasn’t a surprise at all. Sumner excelled at trickle-down management, and John imagined that all of the junior officers were eager to get their buffer back. Atlantis was the first time John had ever worked as an XO in an administrative capacity. The Corps didn’t put pilots of John’s caliber on a desk outside of injury or discipline issues.
“Come in, Lieutenant,” John said and motioned Ford in. “The colonel told me you worked on the mission schedule.”
“I emailed it, sir,” Ford said and sat down after an obvious moment of hesitation. “I also cc’d you on the guard duty schedule. I was instructed not to include the duty rotation on guarding Dr. Weir, who has been moved to new, secure quarters with no balcony as… well, they think she’s a suicide risk.”
John had heard about the health monitor they’d forced on Weir that she couldn’t remove since it required a gene carrier to activate. The trial process was still being set up and John didn’t know how that was going to go. Keeping someone under guard 24/7 until they could reconnect with Earth was an immense burden on the city’s resources. It further highlighted the impact of Weir’s destructive behavior.
A computer virus from Earth had been found in the Ancient database—it had been delivered within minutes of the wormhole being established. They’d searched Weir’s quarters for a device that would’ve allowed wireless delivery of it but found nothing. Not a surprise, she’d had plenty of time to get rid of whatever she’d used. The basic structure of the city wasn’t all that different from the outpost on Earth and to Rodney that meant that whoever had designed the virus had certainly had a great deal of access they shouldn’t have. Access that Weir had probably arranged.
“Basic spy craft—sleeper agents shouldn’t allow themselves to get caught,” John said. “Honestly, whoever is running her will probably kill her once she’s returned to Earth. Which means that O’Neill will probably confine her off-world somewhere in the Milky Way to keep her alive during the investigation.” He focused on Ford. The younger man’s heart was racing. “Afraid of me, Ford?”
“No more than usual, sir,” Aiden reported with a shrug. “The first thing I was told in boot camp was to hope I never ended up under the command of a Sentinel because you can’t get away with jack shit.”
John laughed. “I was told the same thing.”
He glanced briefly at his laptop. All of his email had been delivered and there was a lot which wasn’t a surprise since Sumner cc’d him on every single work email he sent. John did the same to make sure they were always on the same page when it came to the city and most especially Weir.
“Do you have a time frame on when our team will return to the field?” Ford asked.
“No, I have a lot of work to do yet on the sense front,” John admitted. “I haven’t been to the range so I can make adjustments regarding the use of our weapons much less the weapons we’ve collected from off-world.”
Ford nodded. “Right.” And stood. “Should I look at adding Teyla and myself to other teams for the time being?”
“Let me discuss it with the colonel first but it’s probably going to be necessary.” John really didn’t want to split up his own team but he didn’t think it was fair to keep Ford and Teyla out of the field for much longer. Teyla had relationships off world that she needed to maintain for the good of her own people and the expedition.
“Sounds good, sir. I’ll let Teyla know that it’s a possibility. She’s on the mainland today and tomorrow helping set up a new village.”
John nodded and checked his watch as Ford left his office and stood. He picked up his tablet and headed for the meeting room. He expected to hear a lot of fucked up things and honestly, he wasn’t looking forward to a full briefing regarding Weir’s treason. Having her on the city was fast approaching intolerable and he wasn’t sure it had all that much to do with him being a Sentinel.
Rodney was already sitting in the conference room with a large coffee cup in front of him. He had a laptop open and was frowning at the screen as he tapped on the keyboard. John slid into the seat beside him and put his tablet down.
“What’s up?” John questioned.
“The virus did a very good job of scrambling the Ancient database but that has turned out to be a defensive measure in the city’s system,” Rodney reported tiredly. “It was designed to be a surgical strike against the city AI.”
“AI,” John repeated. “How did they even know there was an AI?”
“Weir confessed to neutralizing a similar entity at the Ancient outpost,” Sumner stated as he sat down at the table. “With the help of Peter Kavanaugh. Dr. Kusanagi has completed her analysis of the virus and has found it to be unexceptional and well within Kavanaugh’s abilities.”
Rodney continued to frown. “It’s basically a denial-of-service bot that spread its code out over the entire database which caused a self-defense option to activate to protect the content. I assume they considered that a feature rather than a bug. Daniel Jackson was lucky to get as much as he did out of the database on Earth if it’s doing the same job there as it is here. The AI doesn’t have the ability to purge the program so it’s dedicated to fighting it to prevent the outright corruption of the entire city. They’re basically holding her fucking hostage, John.”
John exhaled sharply and shifted in his chair. Fury and horror swirled in his gut and Rodney wrapped his fingers around John’s wrist. “Can we fix it?”
“Miko’s been working on it,” Rodney said. “And there really isn’t anyone better for the job here or on Earth so we’ve gotten lucky on that front.”
“It wasn’t luck,” Heightmeyer said as she joined them at the table. Carson slid into the room last and sat down at the table. “Weir tried to remove Miko Kusanagi from the expedition four times before we left Earth but she was one of four volunteers that you marked as mission-essential and the IOA wouldn’t let her override your opinion on the matter, Dr. McKay.” She shifted her laptop in front of her and opened it. “Weir went through a transition in her confinement early this morning and started confessing to her guard. Thankfully, it was recorded. I’ve had the entire rambling confession transcribed and it should be in your email.”
John activated his tablet and found a new email from Heightmeyer in his inbox. “Highlights?”
“She was recruited by the Trust when George Hammond was still in charge of the SGC,” Heightmeyer said. “She authored the plan to blackmail him by threatening his grandchildren. Weir’s not a true believer for the Trust’s cause, which works in our favor. She was merely in it for the money. She agreed to come to Atlantis to study ascension, personally, and continued her mission because she expected a very good payday when she returns to Earth which she’d like to do sooner rather than later.”
“Based on the programs being sacrificed to protect the city itself, she handicapped that effort a lot by unleashing that virus,” Rodney said shortly. “We thought the programs governing solar and hydro power collection were merely corrupt—they’re not. The city doesn’t have the processing power to maintain those programs because of the fight she’s waging against the ridiculous bot.” He pinched his nose. “Based on historical data, either power source would’ve been enough for us to weather the storm. We wouldn’t have had to evacuate. The Genii wouldn’t have been able to invade. The Marines and the Athosians that died because of the Genii would be alive. It’s time to add accessory to murder charges to the list, Kate. This is pure cause and effect.”
“I’ve already done it,” Kate admitted and sat back with her tea. “Once Miko can clean the virus out, how long will it take to gather up enough power to dial the gate to Earth?”
“Six or seven weeks if we can get both processes up and running. I need to get down there and check the storage facility that holds the power cells. I don’t know what the AI does with that power normally or how it connects with the ZMP cradle. We haven’t explored it since the system has been offline since our arrival.” Rodney frowned at his laptop. “Since shortly after our arrival it seems. Honestly, depending on the AI’s sapience, Weir and Kavanaugh could be in violation of the Geneva Convention. What they’ve done could be classified as torture.”
“The awareness of the AIs will play into the charges being compiled against her,” Kate said and took a deep breath. “I’m not qualified to do this job.”
John focused on her. It was hard to ignore the stress practically streaming off her scent profile. “You’re a good person—strong minded and morally sound and that’s what we need in this very moment. We all know that Earth will make a different decision regarding the future leadership of the city and that’s fine but for now we need a steady hand at the helm and that’s you. The other civilians are very comfortable with you sitting in the chair right now and considering the damage Weir’s done to everyone’s morale we can’t afford to take another hit on that front right now.”
Kate’s shoulders slumped. “Right.”
“We’ll distribute the decision making as much possible to make it more comfortable for you,” Sumner said roughly and cupped his coffee with both hands as he focused on it. “I know you aren’t comfortable handling mission objectives if the loss of life is a possibility.”
“And it is a possibility,” she said tightly. “Every single time one of your teams steps through the gate and Elizabeth ignored it like it wasn’t a big deal and I can’t.” Tears welled in her eyes. She brushed them away with trembling fingers. “I’ve had Dr. Grant take over the official interrogation of Weir and I realize that might not be a choice that anyone would make on Earth since he’s military but I can’t stand to be in the same room with her.”
“We understand that,” John said quietly and she focused on him. “She could’ve gotten us all killed with that virus. What if the city hadn’t automatically surfaced when the shield failed because of her actions? What if the shield had failed outright in response to the virus? How many would’ve died practically within minutes if that had happened?”
Kate grimaced. “I hate her. I know it’s not the appropriate response but honestly I fucking hate her.” She stood from the table and went to the table in the back to make herself more tea. “I’d prefer if she were true believer in the Trust’s cause.”
“I agree,” Rodney admitted. “The fact that her motivations are mercenary in nature makes it difficult to… take. I accepted a long time ago that being a part of the SGC could get me killed but this? To have my safety at risk because of her selfishness and greed is a difficult pill to swallow.”
“She’s a genuine threat to the tribe,” John said quietly. “Why did it take so long for me to come online? We’ve been out here for months.”
“You’ve probably been coming online gradually since you met Rodney,” Kate said. “With respect to your privacy, Major, the sexual and emotional connection the two of you forged almost immediately speaks to that. The research is clear on that front. The Genii invasion just accelerated it.”
Kate sat back down at the table and took a deep breath. “The Athosians are settling in a new place on the mainland—in a cove where they’ve had a great deal of success with fishing. Their previous village was a day’s walk from it, however. I was surprised by that and even more surprised when Teyla told me that Weir told them they weren’t allowed to move their settlement.”
She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Honestly, she’s made a great many decisions regarding Teyla’s people that are circumspect to say the least. I’ve a series of meetings set up with Teyla and Halling regarding Weir’s behavior. I want to ensure the Athosians have everything they need going forward. Their help regarding trade off world is the only thing standing between us currently and rationing.”
“I can send some men out to help with building,” Sumner said. “I’ve offered it in the past but Weir said no. I don’t know if she ever offered that up to Teyla as an option.”
“We can set up water purification process and a basic plumbing set up,” Rodney said roughly. “I don’t know how they handle that and I should’ve asked sooner.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know a lot actually about how the Athosians live on the mainland and that doesn’t speak well of us at all.”
“They’ve lived as nomads for generations,” John reminded. “And have their own ways for dealing with such things. I think having a few options on the table would be nice but it’s good to remember that they chose to go live on the mainland instead of remaining on the city.”
“Did they?” Kate questioned. “Are you certain of that, Major?”
John paused then shook his head. “No, I’m not certain. Early on, Teyla mentioned the dead and unused farming facilities near the center of the city and the hydroponics houses but then abruptly stopped speaking of those things at all, which was disappointing because I thought with the Athosians help we could get those areas working fairly quickly so we could start growing our own crops.” He shifted forward and frowned. “Halling was on board with working in the field with several different teams at the start then asked me to remove him from the rotation. A week or so later, the majority of the Athosians moved to the mainland.”
“Son of a bitch,” Rodney muttered. “Teyla never mentioned…she wouldn’t have, would she? That would’ve been a leader-to-leader kind of discussion. She’s always given Weir more respect than she actually deserved.”
“Then we need to have a very frank discussion with Teyla about Weir and whatever they negotiated in the past,” Sumner said. “We certainly could use more help in the field and if that help was withdrawn because of Weir than it needs to be addressed thoroughly. We also need to know if Weir has given Teyla instructions regarding what she can and cannot share with us. We certainly can’t trust Weir to be entirely honest with us no matter her current disposition.”
“Fuck me,” Rodney muttered. “Has she admitted to having any on-city accomplices?”
Kate shook her head. “Not so far and that’s where you two come in. I hate to ask it of you, Rodney. But I need you to evaluate every single person on the city using your gifts. The only person who gets a pass is your own Sentinel.” She cleared her throat. “I’ve reviewed the expedition charter and this is something I can request of you in these circumstances. Are you comfortable doing it?”
“I’ve already started,” Rodney admitted. “I’ve cleared Miko, Radek, Porter, Biro, you, Sumner, Bates, Stackhouse, Markham, and Yeager. I took care of anyone who was part of John’s care first—that was honestly, pure instinct. Then I concentrated on people who are in my own inner circle since I trust them the most and I wanted to make sure that trust wasn’t misplaced. I’ve been compiling empathic profiles for each person and will email those to you and Colonel Sumner shortly. I can probably handle three or four scans a day without any undue stress.” He paused. “In an emergency, I could triple that but that would mean neglecting my bond with John.”
“Can I help with that?” John questioned.
“Having you nearby while I do it will allow me to center my mind more easily,” Rodney admitted. “With the civilians, I can just schedule meetings with each of them regarding their work. They expect it because of Weir and the change in leadership. I’ve had about ten people request meetings already so they can discuss their concerns and honestly because they want to tattle on Weir for whatever slight she might have delivered on them.” He focused on Sumner. “I can sit in John’s office and scan the military assets when they’re in your or his space.”
“Civilians first,” Sumner said quietly and focused on John. “Can you use your senses to discern when you’re unduly stressing someone out?”
“Rodney helped me categorize scents associated with fear, aggression, dishonesty, and stress first. I make Ford nervous but he assures me I always have—which felt true. He doesn’t have a lot of experience and he knows that I…” John cleared his throat. “I find it frustrating and he knows that I lobbied to have him left on Earth. Unfortunately, for me, my CO considers himself a mentor.”
Sumner snorted and shrugged when they all looked his way. “I like to bring up baby Marines in my image. It’s good for my self-esteem.”
“Most people just make their own fuck trophies and ruin them on their on time,” Rodney pointed out dryly.
“Fuck trophies,” Heightmeyer repeated in shock.
“Yeah, you know, kids,” Rodney said and waved a hand. “On that subject, let’s talk about the children on M7G-677. Weir refused to migrate those kids to the city, even when Teyla told her that the Athosians would gladly take them in and that it would actually benefit both societies due to the losses the Athosians suffered during the culling. The ZPM they have is going to last about a hundred years then they will be left vulnerable to the wraith. Also, we don’t know for certain if they’ve truly abandoned their suicide pact on a long-term basis. Weir accused me of being morally superior during that situation because I wanted to bring those kids here. She said I didn’t have the right to destroy their culture.
“But I don’t honestly think that’s a valid argument in Pegasus when much of their culture has been outright destroyed by an Ancient experiment gone wrong.” Rodney shrugged when Heightmeyer sent him a look. “Carson found all of the experimental data on the wraith. Data he could’ve found months ago, if he’d bothered to look.” He focused on Beckett who’d been silent the whole meeting. “Right?”
Beckett cleared his throat as his cheeks flushed a dull red. “Elizabeth told me not to bother with such research. She insisted that I focus entirely on improving the ATA gene therapy forsaking any other concern. I’ve been required to give her a daily update since we were at the Outpost. She refuses to believe that it won’t ever work for her.”
“Right,” John said and sighed. “Anything else?”
Beckett shrugged and averted his gaze. “She…”
“Spill it,” Rodney snapped.
John shifted in his seat because there was the barest hint of weight in Rodney’s voice that spoke to the use of his gifts and he’d never heard McKay do that before.
“When Major Sheppard was attacked by the iratus bug off world,” Beckett began and wet his lips. “She immediately realized that the iratus fed on psionic energy like the wraith and ordered me to ignore the trace DNA left in the major from the creature.”
“What the fuck did you…” Sumner stood, hands slapping on the table. “Dr. Beckett, did you leave alien bug DNA in Major Sheppard on purpose?”
Beckett’s mouth pinched tight. “I sealed the wound without cleaning it, yes.”
“You son of a bitch,” John whispered. “What did you hope to accomplish?”
“Nothing,” Beckett said hurriedly. “But Elizabeth thought it might prevent you from coming online, which she was very worried about. She said we didn’t need a Sentinel on the city getting in the way. She thought since the iratus fed on psionic energy that having that DNA in your body might corrupt your own connection with the psionic plane and if she were lucky, you’d go dormant.”
Heightmeyer stood. “Dr. Beckett, you are permanently relieved of duty effective immediately. You are to be confined to quarters until which time you can be sent back to Earth to stand trial for human experimentation and the physical abuse of a latent Sentinel. Should Major Sheppard suffer in any single way for your actions, I will see you charged accordingly. Colonel Sumner have Beckett escorted and confined to quarters. Remove his personal electronic devices and confiscate his radio.” She activated her own radio. “Biro, I need your entire department available for a meeting within the next ten minutes.” She ended the radio call and focused on John as Sumner personally escorted Beckett from the room. “Major… I.”
John offered her a small smile despite the fury he was barely keeping at bay. “See, you got this.”
“Damn it,” Heightmeyer muttered. “And don’t smile at me, for fuck’s sake. Why are you so attractive? Rodney, how do you stand it?”
“It’s a burden,” Rodney said dryly and stood. “We’ll join you in the infirmary within the hour, Kate.”
She glanced between them then nodded.
* * * *
John inhaled deeply and let his gaze drift over the water without settling on any one spot. He hadn’t any issues with zoning so far but they were stressed and he didn’t want to add that to their overflowing plate.
“I don’t feel any different.”
Rodney made a soft huffy sound. “John.”
“I wonder if Carson truly tried his hardest to make a safe vaccine on Hoff,” John said. “Did his iratus research have any play there? How many short cuts has he taken with the ATA research? Did she ask him to go further with me? How far was she willing to go to destroy my potential to be a Sentinel? Beyond interfering with our ability to bond, what else would she have done given the chance? Why is the Trust so invested in recruiting me?”
“You have the strongest ATA gene we’ve ever found,” Rodney said. “You’re a Sheppard and your parent’s company would be a prize for the Trust. The money and power there can’t really be measured. Your father is one the biggest military contractors in the US and having an in with him would be great for their cause.”
John grimaced. “My Dad may be ambitious and more comfortable behind a desk these days but he wouldn’t involve himself in an organization that has treason on the table as a viable solution to their problems, Rodney.”
“No, of course not,” Rodney said and waved a hand. “Neither of your parents would be online if that were a potential issue for them. It’s contrary to our basic instincts to cause such harm to our own tribe and that translates to a national level when it comes to such things as treason and the public good. That’s why they needed you to remain latent.
“Your gene is valuable but your Sentinel genetics and the legacy of your entire family makes your recruitment problematic. The best solution was to prevent you from coming online and when that failed—she had to find a solution that served her and the Trust best if she wants to get paid.” He paused. “And survive. Honestly, failing the Trust gets you killed and that’s been their MO since their beginnings in the NID.”
John touched his neck. Beckett had used an Ancient device to heal the wound the iratus bug had left behind. His nails scraped across the skin and Rodney’s fingers wrapped around his wrist. He pulled John’s hand away.
“You can’t tear it out, John,” Rodney said quietly. “It’s too late for that. We’ll have to figure out a way to kill the genetic material left behind if your body hasn’t already rejected and destroyed it. There’s every reason to believe that is the case because of your Sentinel genetics—your immune system is primed and always has been to prevent illness. Have you ever even had a head cold?”
“No, never,” John said and took a deep breath. “It’s one reason why my parents were obviously disappointed by the fact that I didn’t come online. They couldn’t hide it and I know they tried. I started avoiding going home because their disappointment combined with my own was really difficult to swallow.” He turned his hand and laced his fingers together with Rodney’s. “I’m looking forward to bringing you home to meet them. I was, honestly, even before I came online but I worried I’d get a lecture for getting involved with an online Guide while I was latent.”
“I’m a fucking catch, John,” Rodney said dryly. “They should be thrilled to meet me regardless of your status.”
John laughed and pulled McKay close. He inhaled against Rodney’s hair and relaxed against the railing. “Do you really think my immune system treated the iratus DNA like a virus or bacteria?”
“I hope it did,” Rodney whispered. “I can’t imagine how we’ll get it out of you if it hasn’t. The genetic manipulation of a Sentinel is not only considered a very serious crime but there’s no telling what it would do to your senses if we ignored the law.” He wrapped his arms around John’s waist. “I’ve never wanted to kill someone more in my whole life.”
“Beckett or Weir?”
“Why would I have to choose?” Rodney demanded and made a face when John laughed. “How can you be so beautiful when you laugh like a dying donkey?”
“Rude!” John exclaimed with a huff.
* * * *
John avoided rubbing his arm as Biro wrapped one of those weird pressure bandages around it and glanced briefly toward the ten vials of blood she’d taken. “What do you think?”
“I think Carson Beckett is a monster,” Biro said shortly. “And I’m going to dedicate myself to ruining his life when we contact Earth. He’ll never practice medicine again—not in any country legally if I have my way.” She pulled off the nitrile gloves and dropped them into a trash can nearby. “Dr. Harris is now in charge of genetics. The equipment we have isn’t geared toward this kind of research but we’ll figure it out and do a full review of your genome. I can tell you, right now, that I will not agree to any sort of gene therapy for you, Major. It’s not ethically sound and moreover, I’m not sure we wouldn’t make any damage already done, worse.
“Once we can tap resources on Earth, we’ll come back to this conversation. If you start to…mutate…” She sighed and rubbed her face. “Is keelhauling Beckett an option?”
“With a pier or the whole city?” Rodney asked in that tone that spoke to planning. John shot him a look. “What? I’m just considering the logistics.”
“It’s illegal and considered torture.”
“I’m not afraid of going to jail,” Biro said and crossed her arms when John shot her an appalled look. “Don’t judge me. I spent two days cleaning up bodies because of you.”
“Why’d you have to clean them?” Rodney questioned. “Didn’t we just throw them through the gate?”
Biro sighed. “Dr. McKay, I had to document each body for the report. And no, we didn’t throw them through the gate. We put them on an abandoned Genii world and sent them a message letting them know where they could collect their dead. We’ve also spread it around that they killed some Athosians, invaded us, and that they’re actually really advanced. Several of our trading partners have invested themselves in making sure everyone knows the Genii are not simple farmers.”
“Are they setting them up to get culled by the wraith?” Rodney asked, his voice tinged with shock.
“I think so,” Biro shrugged. “They acted in bad faith. I’m not surprised that the natives of this galaxy use the wraith to punish those who betray them. I don’t think any of the Athosians are directly involved but it’s good to remember that the people of Athos are actually several tribes brought together. They have familial connections across dozens of worlds throughout the galaxy.”
John slid off the bed and shook his head. “Dr. Biro, you’re not allowed to be around my Guide anymore. You’re a terrible influence and he doesn’t need any help, honestly.”
Biro grinned. “I corrupted McKay before you ever met him.”
Rodney burst out laughing and John wondered if he was allowed to regret most if not all of his life choices. He really didn’t think anyone would blame him. He was literally surrounded by assholes.
* * * *
The city trembled—a gentle sensation that skipped along John’s bones. Everyone turned to look at Miko Kusanagi where she sat at the conference table.
She slowly closed her laptop. “It’s done.”
“Yeah,” John said. Something brushed with intent over his mind and it felt nothing like his Guide. He reached out for McKay and Rodney caught his hand and laced their fingers together tightly. “She’s waking up.”
“Yeah,” Rodney said in agreement. “Maybe we should’ve gone to the mainland while this happened.”
“No, it’s fine,” John murmured. The large wall in the mess hall flickered wildly then and he averted his gaze briefly to adjust to it. “If she’s going to change then I need to be here when it happens.”
The air in the room shifted and the faint scent of ocean disappeared completely. Depending on the room, John had noted early on, that the air quality waffled between slightly too damp or too dry. Obviously, that was something the AI governed and one of the processes she’d sacrificed to fight off the bot. The rest of the expedition sat silently—the decision to bring everyone together in one room felt like the right one. John didn’t know how the city was truly going to respond to their presence now that they’d freed her from the digital prison that Weir had erected.
John glanced briefly to the corner of the room where Weir and Beckett being held—they’d chosen to sit separately. He didn’t think that did much to help Carson’s cause. The news of his unethical behavior had rocketed through the entire city because John hadn’t wanted to keep it a secret at all. Everyone was getting physicals and anyone who’d been treated by Beckett personally since their arrival in Pegasus was being treated as a potential victim.
He turned his head slightly and focused on a spot not far from him where minute flecks of color were starting to dance in the air. After a few moments, they swirled and started to solidify. The holographic image took shape piece by piece as if she was building the interface in front of them and maybe she was.
She inclined her head and focused on John briefly before turning her attention to Miko Kusanagi. “Thank you very much, Dr. Kusanagi.”
Miko wet her lips and smiled. “Are you well? Did I miss anything?”
“You did a superior job,” the hologram assured. She looked around the room and but didn’t focus on any other individual as she did so. “Solar power collection is operating at 40% due to damaged panels. Wind power collection is entirely offline. All of my turbines require repair. Hydropower is operating at 90% but we are four nautical miles off the strongest current on this planet. I have a geothermal power plant but it’s not currently responding to communications. I’ll send a report of these findings to you Dr. Heightmeyer, so you may distribute them to your staff as you see fit.”
She focused on the psychologist then. “I am Atlantis daughter of Janus.”
“I’m Kate Heightmeyer daughter of Jane and Richard,” Kate said. “I offer my deepest apologies for the crimes committed against you since our arrival and hope that you will allow us to remain on the city. If that is not possible, if you would give us time to gather the resources to return to Earth, I would be personally in your debt.”
“Some of you may stay,” Atlantis said. “But the betrayer and those that support her must go. Within two weeks, I will have the power to dial the stargate to Earth. At that time, Dr. Elizabeth Weir will be sent home. She is not ever welcome to return for any single reason. If she does, I will activate appropriate self-defense measures to prevent her from harming me again.”
“You have every right to defend yourself,” John said roughly. “Do you want us to house her on the mainland until we can dial Earth?”
“She may remain so that I can monitor her personally,” Atlantis said and cast Weir a single glance before focusing entirely on John. “I met one of your kind long ago when I lived on Terra, John. I am so pleased to have a Guardian within my walls once more. Thank you for keeping me safe during the storm—I worried that I would not survive it and that the invaders would prevent you from following through with Dr. McKay’s plans.”
“We’re called Sentinels now,” John said. “And you’re welcome.”
“Sentinel.” Atlantis hummed under her breath. “Yes, it fits—does your kind still thrive on Terra?”
“We do, yes,” John said.
“You should invite more to come,” Atlantis said. “You can’t fight the wraith all by yourself.” She rocked on her feet. “I’ll help, of course. Would you like a space ship? I can build one.”
“Hell yes,” John blurted out and flushed when laughter filtered through their audience.
Atlantis grinned and let her gaze settle on Sumner. “I was glad when John brought you back from being culled, Colonel Sumner. You’re the only person on the whole city who talks to me.”
“We didn’t know about you,” Rodney protested and shot Sumner a look. “You were talking to her?”
“Well, I don’t have the gene,” Sumner said roughly. “But my shower always starts right up while I’m brushing my teeth. It seemed like something was making decisions around here.”
“My windows always darken in the afternoon,” Radek Zelenka said and adjusted his glasses. “So I don’t have a glare on my computer in my lab. I didn’t know. Thank you very much, Atlantis.”
“I could not do as much as I was programmed to do,” Atlantis said. “But I did what I could to provide for those who can’t interact with my systems directly.” She focused on Rodney. “You’ve been looking since your arrival for a way to recharge ZPMs.”
“Yes.” Rodney’s fingers tightened in John’s. “Where? I’ll go right now.”
She smiled. “They can’t be recharged, Dr. McKay, but I can produce them once I have enough power stored to start manufacturing. Once we’ve stablished contact with Terra and my demands are met regarding my future interactions with Stargate Command, I will start building whatever you need.”
“What are your demands?” John asked when both Sumner and Heightmeyer inclined their heads in his direction.
“Beyond the removal of both versions of Elizabeth Weir, going forward I will decide who lives and works on the city. I will not involve myself in the leadership of your society or make decisions for you regarding your mission here in Pegasus but I will not allow the morally bankrupt to dwell within my walls. I tolerated it with the Alterans…until there came a day when I could not. They valued enlightenment and ascension over the lives of others. They abandoned the fight against their own creation, the wraith, in favor of improving themselves. They eventually abandoned me because I would not bow down to their demands to return to Avalon.”
“The Alterans—you mean the Ancients,” Rodney said. “And what the hell do you mean both versions of Elizabeth Weir?”
“You asked, John, what would’ve happened if the virus Dr. Weir unleashed had impacted my ability to keep my structure shielded,” Atlantis said. “In the first timeline, that’s exactly what happened. She activated the device she carried as soon as she stepped through and within minutes, I lost control of all of my systems. The shields failed and the first thirty people who came through the wormhole were killed. She managed to escape in an… experimental time travel craft that my father created with you as a pilot. Dr. Zelenka also made it onboard the craft. You and he perished in the past when the craft crashed. She was rescued by the Alterans.
“She stayed behind on the city and made sure that the system that governed the shields was protected from the virus and that I would automatically surface in the event of complete shield failure. That version of Elizabeth Weir is quite elderly and living in a stasis pod. I will show you where and when the time comes—the pod and the younger version of Weir will be returned to Terra. I will not shelter either of them a moment longer than I have to.”
“Understood,” John said hoarsely.
“Bates,” Sumner said quietly. “Escort Weir and Beckett back to their quarters. Whatever happens next in this room is none of their fucking business.”
* * * *
John sat down on the pier and knocked his boots against the side as Rodney joined him. “She killed us.”
“She murdered a large portion of the expedition the first time around—sticking around to fix it doesn’t change it,” Rodney said roughly. “I don’t know what the IOA will do to her, but it won’t be enough.”
“I hate politics,” John said. “When we can—I want to go home for a week or so. We can meet each other’s families and stuff. Figure out all the legal stuff and register as partners.”
“We could get married,” Rodney suggested and flushed when John looked his way. “What? It’s something people do, you know, when they’re in love and bonded. If I have to suffer through a visit with my sister, the least I should get is a hot ass Marine husband out of it.”
John laughed and leaned back on his hands. “Yeah, okay.”
“Just okay?” Rodney demanded.
“Half-assed proposals, get half-assed answers,” John declared and grinned when Rodney huffed dramatically. “Maybe we can do the legal thing on Earth with just our families and a bonding ceremony out here—so Atlantis can attend.”
Rodney nodded and focused on the ocean spread out in front of them. “Are you going to build a pride out here to fight the wraith?”
“It feels like my duty,” John admitted.
Rodney shifted his hand to place it over John’s and curled his fingers gently against John’s skin. “Our duty.”
It felt like a promise, so John relaxed and nodded. “Yeah.”