Heart of a Lion 1/3

Title: Heart of a Lion
Author: Keira Marcos
Beta: Chris King
Fandom:  Stargate: Atlantis/The Sentinel
Relationship: Meredith McKay/John Sheppard
Genre:  Romance, Fusion, Rule!63
Warnings:  Explicit sex, explicit language, canon level violence, discussion of medical experimentation
Word Count: 134,170
Summary:  On Earth, Dr. Meredith McKay wakes up from a dead sleep in the worst pain of her life, and in Pegasus, Colonel John Sheppard has just come online as a Sentinel while being fed to a wraith. While he fights for his life, she wades through emotional trauma and political fallout regarding her departure from the SGC so she can bring her Sentinel home.

– – – –

Chapter 1

She really didn’t remember waking up. It was troubling, more so for the fact that she couldn’t hide it from the Sentinel who’d lived in her pocket for nearly three years. Meredith pushed her hand through her hair and took a deep breath as her coffee brewed.

“You okay?”

“You know I’m not,” Meredith murmured and turned to focus on William Bouchard.

They’d met years ago before she’d come online as a Guide, and there’d been some hope, on both of their parts, that they might be compatible. It’d been frustrating and painful to realize it wasn’t even remotely true. They barely managed to act as Conservators to each other, and Meredith figured that was more about stubbornness than anything else. They weren’t right for each other in any single way, but neither were willing to invite a series of strangers into their lives.

“Same?”

She rubbed her sternum and took in a ragged breath. “Yeah, but more now.”

“More pain?” William asked as concern and anger drifted around him.

Meredith focused on him. “He’s not doing it on purpose, William.”

“Ill-intent and lack of damned discipline equal the same thing at this point,” he said roughly and pulled cups from the cabinet. “Any clues on identity or circumstances?”

“American military,” she said and shrugged when he grimaced. “And you don’t have the security clearance for the rest. I’ve sent Owen an email—so he can rectify that. Pack a bag.”

“Where are we heading?” William asked wearily as he picked up the coffee pot and poured for them both.

“Colorado.”

“I hate the cold,” he muttered. “The best part about being your bodyguard/Conservator as I get to live in this fancy-ass house on the beach in Hawaii.”

“I thought it was the half-naked people.”

“That’s a thrilling bonus,” he said as he sat down at the table. “It was worse—the dream.”

“It’s not a dream,” Meredith said and joined him. She wrapped both hands around her cup and met his gaze. “This man—this newly online Sentinel came online while he was being tortured.” She paused when William blanched. “He’s angry, feels betrayed for reasons I don’t fully understand at this point, and he believes himself abandoned. He’s probably been declared MIA at the minimum within the military program he’s assigned to.”

“Can you tell what branch of service?” William questioned.

“Does it matter?” Meredith tilted her head when he made a face. “Seriously?”

“It would tell me a lot about his circumstances, his training, etc. Just tell me what you know.”

“It’s a bit vague in places,” Meredith said and took a deep breath. “He’s wearing black BDUs and standard issue combat boots.” She closed her eyes and focused on the man who’d been moving around in her dreams for nearly three days. “Dark hair, green eyes—he holds his gun like he’s not afraid of it. No rank insignia, but I don’t think he’s enlisted—I can’t explain that except to say that he carries himself like a career officer. If I had a guess, I’d say Marines.”

William sat back in his seat and tapped two fingers on the table gently as he considered that. “You’re saying that the United States Marine Corps lost one of their officers in a combat situation for three fucking days? Where the hell could that be happening? They should have a whole fucking team of Sentinels on the ground trying to find him. Is he black ops?”

“If he’s in the program I think he is—it wouldn’t be without precedent,” Meredith explained. “Let me check to see if Owen has resolved your security clearance issue.”

“Please stop calling the Prime Minister of Canada by his first name, Meredith,” William said. “As a favor to me.” He held up a hand when she started to protest. “I know—you’ve got some kind of ex-fuck-buddy privilege going on, but if we’re going to have to wade into a mess with the American military, it would be great if you’d give our PM the respect he’s due in front of others.”

“I hate this already,” Meredith muttered darkly and stalked off to find her laptop.

She wasn’t all that surprised when he followed her. William dropped down on the sofa across from her desk, tossed his feet onto the granite coffee table they both hated, but kept around for foot propping, and stared.

“What?”

He grinned. “I know this whole thing is pretty traumatic right now, Meredith, but have you considered…the ramifications of this? You’ve found your Sentinel.”

“I haven’t found anything,” she snapped and rubbed her face. “He’s…what if he dies before I can get to him? Why is he alone? Why does he feel betrayed? Who’s hunting him, and why? There are too many uncertainties, and there’s also…some fucking politics involved. My departure from the program I fear he’s in was less than smooth even by my standards. Some of the people on the other end of this situation hate me. One of them tried to send me to fucking Siberia. An online Guide in Siberia without even a Conservator in consideration? Ow—Prime Minister Tremblay had to interfere personally and send an escort to get me! They were just going to throw me on a damn plane because Hammond’s golden girl was jealous of me!”

“I remember the escort part,” William said dryly. “Since you asked if sex were part of my services. I mean—I’m not complaining because I’d wanted to crawl on top of you since we met ten years ago.”

She huffed. “I have to give up having sex with you. This is terrible.”

He laughed. “I can’t say I’m thrilled—you’re great in bed.”

Meredith flushed. “Shut up.” She poked the mouse pad and stared at her overfull inbox. “Nothing from him.”

“Then, it’s time to call Blair Sandburg.”

“Why…” She frowned and focused on him. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that whoever is on the other end of this trip isn’t going to pick a fight with the Alpha Prime Guide of North America just so they can fuck with you. They aren’t going to tell him no or refuse to give him information regarding an online Sentinel in their command. That’s career suicide.” He stretched and stared at her pointedly as he slouched on the sofa. “Jealous?”

“There was a Sentinel in the program who was on the cusp of going dormant due to trauma and grief. He’s a good man—too fucked up emotionally for me to handle, but good. Anyways, the golden girl is a latent Guide, and I could tell she’s been thrown in this Sentinel’s path in the hopes that she’ll come online and they’ll be a match or a good enough match to bond because it would be best for the program. The situation I was called in to consult for was stressful and another potential source of more grief for this man. The life of a very good friend was balanced on the outcome of the situation. Some outside influences were trying to manage the situation, and they tried to use me to their advantage. That asshole had no idea I was an online Guide and saw right through his bullshit. Regardless, I personally informed the President of the United States of his machinations and general evilness, saved the man’s life, and the Sentinel was grateful. Very grateful.”

“And attracted to you.”

“On a surface level, surely,” Meredith said and motioned to her face. “I have this going on, and that works out for me most of the time until they realize I’m actually a…what did that asshole from Normandy call me?”

“A fire breathing dragon demon bitch in a semi-attractive human body,” William provided and grinned when she huffed like she was insulted. “So this Sentinel?”

“Air Force, a colonel at the time.” She picked up his phone and walked around her desk with it. She sat down on the couch and slid into his space. William dropped an arm around her shoulders and inhaled against her hair. “I’m sorry for all the stress this is going to cause you.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he murmured and squeezed gently. “I’m happy for you—truly—and everything will be fine. Did you bang the colonel?”

“Like a drum,” she assured and grinned when he laughed. “When the golden girl found out, she tried to have me sent to Siberia. I don’t think they expected me to try to quit the organization altogether, and the fallout was immense. I made many enemies, and more so when the political body that oversaw the project offered to build me my own lab in the location of my choice. They also bought me this house.” She focused on the phone. “And I have a separate contract—one tailored to keep me specifically happy despite what everyone apparently wanted in Colorado. None of them are allowed to contact me in any fashion unless I do so first. I made that part of the agreement to protect myself because I felt—unsafe. But I lost friends in the process and was cut out of the loop regarding the kind of work that could literally shape the future of mankind.”

“You won a Nobel last year,” William said. “You’re shaping the fuck out of mankind.”

She laughed and focused on the phone. “He’s in so much pain, Will, that it’s hard to concentrate. I don’t know how he’s still functioning. Whatever torture he was experiencing when he came online—it’s magnified in him on some kind of psionic feedback loop. I didn’t know such a thing was possible.”

“And it’s bleeding all over you,” William said grimly. “Asshole.”

“Don’t,” she said gently. “There’s already so much room for resentment between the two of you—don’t add to it by blaming him for something he can’t control. He was shocked and horrified to realize he was online. I don’t think it was ever supposed to happen for him and…”

“If he thought he was dormant, then he wouldn’t have bothered with a single bit of sensory training,” he said. “For fuck’s sake, what a nightmare.”

She scrolled through her address book and found Blair Sandburg’s number. “I have no idea what time it is in Washington.”

“They’re three hours ahead of us,” William said.

“Why do you remember stuff like that?” she asked even as she pressed the call, button.

“I was born and raised in Vancouver. Remember?”

She did remember—there had been a time when she’d invested herself in learning everything she could about William Bouchard. At 22, she’d been enthralled with the handsome, young Sentinel who looked at her like she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. They’d met again briefly after she’d come online, then had quickly parted ways when it was clear they weren’t at all right for each other. Then seven years later, he was back in her life working as her bodyguard. The conservator relationship between them wasn’t official, and she figured no one in the community would approve of it. They were basically using their friends with benefits relationship to ignore the bonding process.

The call connected, so she activated the speaker so she wouldn’t have to press the device to her face.

Meredith, I was preparing to call you.

She frowned and shifted around so she could lay her head in William’s lap. He combed his fingers through her hair. “Sorry?”

You’ve always been a stubborn one,” Blair said.

His tone was moderate and thoughtful—probing. It reminded her of the classes she’d taken from him regarding her Guide gifts. “I thought it was just a nightmare the first time.”

The psionic plane is resonating with his trauma, Meredith,” Blair said. “Fortunately, precious few are being impacted—shaman level and above.”

William stiffened briefly against her, but then relaxed with a small sigh.

“Has Tony called you?”

He told me to tell you that he’s available if you’d prefer a more blunt object going forward,” Blair said dryly. “It would be a favor to me if you did not contact him. He’s about to have his hands full, and I look forward to that show.”

“I think I’m blunt enough for the situation,” Meredith said. “I have to go to Colorado, Blair.”

I assumed as much based on my own interactions with the psionic plane. The feeling of danger…isn’t normal.

“No, and I need William with me, so could you prod everyone to get him the security clearances required?”

Need or want?”

“Does it matter?” Meredith demanded.

You know it does,” Blair replied evenly. “I’m not trying to make things more difficult for you or him, but are you truly prepared to part with each other? Because a lot of people think the two of you are trying to bond through attrition. I’ve had to quell many complaints over the last couple of years—especially since Bouchard has turned down three chances to participate in searches with compatible Guides.”

“Hardly compatible,” William muttered. “Why should I have to…”

Give up Meredith for a less than perfect bond?” Blair supplied.

Meredith turned over to focus on William’s face and found him flushed and looking away from her. She touched his cheek gently, and he met her gaze. “Why should either of us settle, Blair? We aren’t suffering as we are.”

You aren’t thriving, either.”

“I’m literally shaping mankind over here,” Meredith protested and huffed when they both laughed. “I’m going to have my jet prepped, Blair. We’ll fly into Denver within the next 24 hours. I can have a flight chartered for you and Jim—I just need you both with me before I return to the mountain. I had nightmares for months the last time I was anywhere near that whole mess.”

You’ve got a Sentinel who’d make war on a whole country standing between you and whatever those people might have on their agenda this time around, Meredith. It makes a difference—bond or not.” Blair took a deep breath. “William, should I have a Conservator on standby to contain and manage your response to this situation?

“Only if they get in her way,” William said. “I won’t tolerate anyone getting between Meredith and her Sentinel, Blair. They must know that upfront.”

Blair took a ragged breath. “You’re a better man than anyone has the right to expect, William. Jim and I’ll meet you both in Denver. I want to access you both before we go to Colorado Springs. I’ll email our travel plan.”

“Thanks, Blair.” She ended the call and tossed the phone aside. “They think we’re breaking each other’s hearts.”

“I often wondered if we could’ve bonded if we’d fallen in love,” he murmured and rubbed his thumb gently over her bottom lip. “Don’t you?”

“I think the fact that we couldn’t bond prevented us from damaging ourselves that way,” she said and smiled against his fingertips. “You figure out breakfast, and I’ll make travel arrangements. We’ll need to work on your levels—the jet’s comfortable, but six hours on a plane is going to be miserable for you.”

“Maybe you should let me manage myself,” he said gently.

She huffed and sat up. “Maybe you should let me manage you every second I can until I have no other fucking choice.” Meredith tried to leave the couch, but he grabbed her arm and hauled her into his lap. “Will.”

He turned his face against her neck and took a ragged breath. “I want…”

Meredith shuddered against him and turned to slip astride his thighs. She cupped his head and pressed an urgent kiss to his forehead. “It’s okay.”

“It’s really not,” he admitted roughly. “It never has been, and now it feels selfish and destructive. He doesn’t deserve our baggage on top of his utterly miserable onlining experience.”

“Maybe he won’t want me,” she said softly against his skin, and he pulled her closer. “Maybe I’ll be too much for him to handle. Maybe he prefers men. Maybe I’m too smart or too thin or too tall or too bossy or…mouthy.” Her eyes dampened with tears. “Maybe he’s already heard a bunch of horrible bullshit lies about me from that bitch, and he won’t give me a second glance.”

“You’re perfect,” William said and cupped her hips. “Brilliant, strong, beautiful, and so empathically gifted that even mundanes want to get as close as possible. Whoever she is—maybe she was right to be jealous of you because I can’t see any Sentinel turning you away.”

She let her forehead rest against his. “The only one I have ever wanted did exactly that.”

“Not fair, Dr. McKay,” he murmured. “Bond or not, I’d stand with you the rest of my life if it was what was best for you.”

“We could just stay here. I’ll…” She trailed off because she couldn’t complete the line of thought, much less vocalize it. “Fuck.”

“Betraying every instinct you have to make me happy would destroy us,” he said finally. “You’d end up hating me.”

“Shut up.”

“Why are we having this terrible emotional bloodletting when we could be eating breakfast?”

Meredith laughed. “Might as well take care of that now because I have a feeling you’re going to spend your afternoon in a constant state of appalled fury. The briefing is going to blow your mind.”

– – – –

She ended up canceling the jet because Major Paul Davis beamed himself right into her living room. The SGC had whipped into motion as soon as it had become known that she wanted to come to Colorado Springs. The IOA had put a team in the mountain within an hour of the first phone call. Meredith had lingered in the kitchen for several hours with her laptop while William Bouchard was briefed on the Stargate Program, Cheyenne Mountain, and the current state of an intergalactic war that was being fought on two different fronts.

After about two hours, she logged into the SGC email account that Paul had given her access to and watched report after report dropped into her inbox from various sources. Some of the data packets were nearly four years old. Dr. Miko Kusanagi had been preparing one every single month since Meredith had left her job at Area 51. She organized them into different categories—then, when the first one about Atlantis hit, she reorganized and concentrated on Dr. Radek Zelenka’s emails exclusively. Every single email he sent, whether it had an attachment or not, started with ‘Jesus Fucking Christ Meredith!’. After the tenth one, she started saying it with him.

Jesus God Damned Fucking Christ.”

“That’s not very Canadian of you,” Meredith said wryly and glanced up to find William standing in the doorway of the kitchen. “Did you scare Paul away?”

He threw up both hands in frustration and rubbed his head while he was at. “I can’t even!”

“I can’t even either,” she admitted. “I had no idea things had taken such a drastic turn. I guess the IOA really did take my threats about retreating to a Canadian shack and live like a hermit seriously because I’ve not heard a single word about most of this. Have you gotten to the part about Atlantis?”

“Have you gotten to the part where the CO of the military on Atlantis has been MIA for five days?” he asked quietly, and her stomach lurched. “Colonel John Sheppard, United States Marines. The so-called leader of the Atlantis expedition reported he’d been taken and killed off-world. A hostile force in Pegasus sent them footage of him being fed on by a fucking alien called a wraith. I asked Davis to get the man’s personnel file for you. He had to go back to Colorado to have a conversation with a general named O’Neill.” He paused. “Is that the asshole that tried to send you to Siberia?”

“No, he’s the Sentinel I took a ride on,” Meredith said dryly and winced at the sudden burst of laughter from her living room. “Shit.”

“Meredith! Wow, look at the house you made the IOA buy you.”

Daniel Jackson. Meredith took a deep breath and shook her head even as William snagged her hand and yanked her close to him. “Hey.”

“Twenty people just appeared out of thin air and into guard positions around the house,” he said roughly and, with his free hand, pulled his gun.

“Jack!” Meredith snapped. “You just invaded another Sentinel’s territory!”

“I wasn’t…Paul didn’t mention your bodyguard was a Sentinel,” O’Neill protested.

“He wasn’t told,” William responded. “He’s mundane.”

“Right. Look, I can’t travel without a security team, but I’ll push them back as far as I can,” O’Neill said.

“No, it’s fine,” William returned and, with a gentle tug, pulled her into the living room. “Just don’t get too close to her. We’ve had a hellish few days, and frankly, neither one of us adjust well to change.”

Meredith focused on O’Neill. A little older—bonded and clearly Alpha. She raised an eyebrow before focusing on Daniel. “Daniel.”

Jackson took a deep breath. “I ascended a few months after you left—came back a Guide.” He shrugged. “Jack’s Guide, to be specific. I barely managed to stay ascended a week actually because my imperative was so strong that I manifested on my own despite the ancient’s intentions.”

“That must have infuriated Sam Carter.”

Daniel winced, and Jack O’Neill’s gaze dropped to stare at the floor between them. “Yeah, not that it mattered at that point because she’d been posted to Area 51 in the job you left. She was eventually tapped to be the CSO of the Atlantis Expedition.”

“Radek is the Chief Scientist Officer,” Meredith said. “I’ve been reading his reports for hours.”

“Sam was killed during the first year of the expedition—nanite plague. Everyone was instructed not to mention her, and Miko is running a program on your incoming email from Atlantis to make sure that rule is adhered to. The IOA is…very invested in making sure that you’re happy, McKay,” Daniel said. “More so since Oslo. Congrats, by the way. We had a party in your honor—two actually since Atlantis celebrated as well. Miko was practically bursting at the seams with pride.”

Meredith swallowed back guilt because cutting off contact with everyone involved with the Stargate Program was what she’d needed to do to feel safe, and she wouldn’t allow herself to regret it now. William led her to a chair she rarely sat in, but it was several feet away from the sofa where O’Neill had retreated, so she understood what he was doing.

“I didn’t get a chance to apologize,” O’Neill began. “I tried several times over the last four years to get permission to reach out to you. The current US rep for the IOA, Richard Woolsey, said that it would never happen through their organization.”

“You really didn’t have any role in what went down,” Meredith said neutrally. “They were people inside and outside the SGC that were trying to control you, and Carter was picked as the tool to accomplish that. Simmons, Maybourne, and to some extent, George Hammond, were to blame for all of that.”

“Hank Landry at Area 51 played a part as well,” Jack said. “He was forced to retire for his behavior, by the way. When the Burton Foundation found out that you’d been arrested for trying to quit your job…well.”

“You were arrested?” William demanded.

“Detained,” Meredith said. “They were going to put me on a plane to Siberia against my will, and the first step was maintaining physical control of me. What they didn’t expect was for every single Sentinel at Area 51 to lose their shit over it.” She pulled her legs up into the chair and focused on O’Neill. “You’ve got a good balance now.”

“You were right about all of it,” Jack said roughly. “And I do mean all of it. I don’t have the nightmare anymore.”

“Who’s in charge of the SGC?” Meredith questioned.

“I am,” Jack admitted wearily. “An Air Force officer named Cameron Mitchell is my XO—he’s a good man. He’s mundane, but he works well with Sentinels and Guides—intuitive and honorable.”

She watched his hand clench repeatedly on his thigh. “What’s going on, Jack?”

“What do you want, McKay?” Jack questioned softly and focused on her. He took a deep breath. “Because the IOA is turning themselves inside out, the Alpha Primes are coming to Colorado, and you’re demanding access to a dead man’s jacket, and I don’t…I’ve yet to get my head around the fact that Sheppard is dead. The reports I’m getting from Atlantis are conflicted at best.”

“Three days I ago, I started having dreams—nightmares really about being tortured by an alien creature,” Meredith said. “I’ve had several waking visions as well. I can’t tell you exactly what is going on with him without a great deal of effort, but John Sheppard is not dead. He feels abandoned, betrayed, and is existing on the cusp of a full-blown feral spiral. I think he might have as much as a week left before he’s so far gone that he can’t be recovered.”

“Are you…” Jack stood and started to pace. “Of course, you’re sure.” He rubbed his face with a shaking hand as he came to a stop in front of the double doors that led out to the lanai. Jackson crossed the room to his side and pressed a hand against O’Neill’s back. “He came online while a wraith fed on him. I’m not sure there is a worst circumstance possible in the human experience.”

“What does the wraith feed on?” Meredith questioned.

“They eat psionic energy,” Daniel said and took a deep breath. “It must have felt like that thing was trying to tear his soul out of his body.”

“And he’s alive on that planet he was being held hostage on,” O’Neill said.

“He killed an animal an hour ago. He has a fire, so he’s not eating the meat raw, but…civilization is quickly being stripped away.”

“He’s in another galaxy,” Jack said flatly. “How the hell could you possibly know…”

“Jack,” Daniel said. “Meredith is a shaman.” He focused on her. “Are you experiencing a form of soul dualism, or is it more of a physical exchange?”

“I can smell the world he’s on,” Meredith admitted and flushed when O’Neill gaped at her. “I could hardly sleep last night because he was sleeping on the cold, hard ground, and it was deeply uncomfortable. So, not some form of dualism, but more of a psionic exchange. I’ve tried to communicate with him, but he quickly determined that he was having a mental breakdown, so I backed off. I didn’t want to upset his mental balance more than it already is.”

“That’s unbelievable,” Jack admitted.

Meredith held out her bare hand, and he focused on it. She closed her eyes and concentrated on John—he was seated on the ground, braced against a large tree. The psionic energy surging inside her was painful, but she had to prove herself to Jack O’Neill, so she reached down beside John and picked up a fistful of golden brown leaves. When she opened her eyes, she focused on O’Neill and released the leaves. They fell on the floor in front of her, and she averted her gaze at the shock and horror that O’Neill couldn’t disguise.

William knelt and picked up the leaves with a steady hand. “There’s blood. Has he been shot?”

“No, but he’s covered in scrapes, and the feeding wound is bleeding—he pulled some kind of barb out of his chest after he escaped,” Meredith said. “It’s not a lot of blood, but he can’t clean or cover it. The only thing saving him from a severe infection is his Sentinel physiology. He’s in survival mode now, but he’ll crash hard if we don’t get to him soon.”

“How soon can you get us to Pegasus?” William questioned as his fist clenched around the leaves.

Jack stared at him for a long moment. “I’ve been instructed to give Meredith McKay as much cooperation as possible. I can put her on the city of the ancients within the next 30 minutes if that’s what needs to happen.”

“No, but you need to send a team there to take over the situation,” Meredith said. “I need to meet with Blair Sandburg tomorrow in Denver, so if you could arrange that travel within the hour, I’d appreciate it.” She stood. “We need to pack, and William goes everywhere I go. There will be no discussion or arguments brokered on the subject.”

“I’ve read his file already,” O’Neill said and raised an eyebrow when she glared at him. “We couldn’t talk to you, McKay, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to you and your situation. His heavily censored file, it seems, since it didn’t list his online Sentinel status. I needed to know where you were and who you were with if the circumstances on the planet became untenable. We’ve had two foothold situations in the last year alone and nearly lost the planet to a half-ascended Goa’uld. With Carter gone, no one knows more about the Stargate than you.”

“I always knew more,” McKay snapped. “She was too busy in the field to study it, and as much I couldn’t stand her, she was brilliant—I can’t believe the people on Atlantis got her killed. What a fucking waste.”

“She got herself killed,” Daniel said and shrugged when O’Neill glared at him briefly. “Don’t sugarcoat it, Jack. She was reckless and ignored Sumner’s orders during the nanite plague. We lost 22 people during that incident because Sam was so focused on her own idea that she ignored what she was being told about the ATA gene. Regardless, it was no one’s fault, but her own that she’s dead. Unfortunately, she took some talented and brilliant people with her.”

“And that one asshole,” Jack reminded.

“Who?” Meredith asked curiously.

“Peter Kavanagh,” Jackson said. “Jack was inappropriately relieved.”

“As am I,” Meredith admitted. “I should lecture myself severely for it. Tell Miko to stop censoring the data I’m getting from Atlantis—I need to know what we’re walking into.”

 

 

Chapter 2

“I already miss the ocean.”

Meredith looked up from her reading and focused on William, who was staring out the large window at the very picturesque view of snow-capped mountains afforded them. She wasn’t certain who was paying the bill for their penthouse suite in Denver and couldn’t be fucked to care at this point.

“Elizabeth Weir, the leader of the Atlantis Expedition, declared John Sheppard KIA an hour after the city received footage of him being fed to a wraith by a group of people called the Genii. His XO, an Air Force officer named Anne Teldy, immediately filed ten different complaints. The last was a request for an official investigation by the IOA into Weir’s mishandling of the entire hostage situation. Major Teldy has accused Weir of getting her CO murdered. Weir, in turn, tried to throw Teldy off the city and accused her of being emotionally compromised. But Teldy is a Sentinel, so that caused a political shitstorm that hasn’t made landfall for Weir, yet.”

“How about we be that storm,” William muttered and turned to face her. “Let’s just go there and get in her face. Get in all of their faces and make them miserable because we both know he’s alive and suffering. Sounds like Teldy needs someone that outranks Elizabeth Weir.”

“That’s not me.”

“It could be you,” William pointed out. “I think we both know that the IOA will give you what you want on this issue considering the implications. All you have to do is actually introduce yourself to that Woolsey guy. Show him who you really are.”

“You don’t like that shaman stuff,” Meredith pointed out.

“Having it be public knowledge would double your threat profile,” he said and sighed. “You know that—female shamans are practically a myth as is, and that’s just the cherry on top of your ridiculously overpowered package. How many Lion Guides are there on the planet right now?”

“23.”

“Right.” He walked across the room and sat down on the coffee table in front of her. “Listen, you need to make sure every single person between you and your Sentinel knows exactly how much a threat you are. You need to come out swinging, Meredith. John Sheppard’s life depends on it.” He leaned back on his hands. “How is he?”

“Calmer—he killed two men an hour ago.” She wet her lips. “With his bare hands. The only weapon he has left is a knife, and he doesn’t want to risk breaking it in an altercation—it would make eating difficult.”

“He’s being reduced to survival mode then,” William surmised. “That’s good in a way.”

“How?” she demanded and put the tablet she’d gotten delivered from the SGC on the couch.

“He’s not focusing on emotional topics that could drive him into a deeper feral drive,” he said. “Base needs are easier to manage—it gives him some bit of control over his circumstances. I wouldn’t have the resources to deal with much more than food and shelter in his place. But he’s more than me.”

“He’s not…”

“Meredith,” William said and inclined his head. “Come on now. Shamans don’t bond with anything less than a level six. He’s an apex Sentinel in every single way, and his XO is suffering more than the loss of her CO. Even as a latent, he must have provided her a great deal of structure and security due to his very nature. Have you read his personnel file?”

“Not yet,” she admitted. “I was…”

He picked up the tablet. “Let’s look together.”

Meredith leaned into him as William got comfortable on the sofa with her and took the tablet from him. “This feels weird—like an invasion of his privacy.”

“Sheppard will have to forgive it,” he murmured. “We need to be prepared across the board so we can help him. You can’t have his back if you don’t know him, and that goes double for me.”

She opened the file and cleared her throat. “Well.”

“Now I’m jealous,” he said wryly. “He’s gorgeous.”

Meredith laughed. “Taller than me, which is great. Master’s in Applied Mathematics, ABD in Aeronautics. Top of his class at Annapolis. Rated to fly…everything in the military-industrial complex plus alien craft—I wonder what a wraith dart looks like.”

“He’s Force Recon.”

She focused on his face because his tone was off. “Is that a problem?”

“It’s…not a bad thing, but there are less than 900 active duty Force Recon Marines at any given time, Meredith. The redacted parts are probably spec-ops behind enemy lines.”

“And by spec-ops, you really mean black ops,” Meredith said.

“Considering what he was tapped to do for the SGC, I would say so. They wouldn’t send anything less than to another galaxy. He’s got a list of commendations from every single CO he’s ever served under—including O’Neill.”

“And Marshall Sumner,” Meredith said. She turned the page on the document. “Looks like that was related to the Genii trying to take the city during the first year of the expedition—John killed upwards of 70 invaders in the course of ten hours. I don’t see how that didn’t make him come online if he was…why didn’t it make him come online?”

“It should’ve,” William admitted. “A lot of military assets come online during direct action like that. I had a kid come online in Iraq—three hundred yards from an IED. He saved his whole unit, but they had to knock him out to get him back to base. You know Marshall Sumner?”

“Yeah,” Meredith murmured. “He took a bullet for me during the altercation at Area 51.”

Altercation,” William repeated. “And that involved someone taking a shot at you? For fuck’s sake, Meredith, tell me exactly what happened. I have to have the clearance for it now. The President of the United States started sending me texts an hour ago.”

She laughed.

“He told me if we needed anything to let his office know personally.”

“For fuck’s sake.” She shifted the tablet around her hands and stared at John Sheppard’s picture. “The transfer to Siberia was a front for an operation run by an organization called the Trust. They were trying to get their hands on Sam Carter for reasons I never bothered to discover, but they weren’t all that fussed when I ended up in their crosshairs. My knowledge of the stargate and the technology of the ancients would certainly further their goals.

“At any rate, they had several people in place at Area 51 to manage the situation—including an Air Force colonel named Frank Simmons. When I refused the assignment and tried to leave, I was detained by General Hank Landry, a career desk jockey, who found me very difficult to deal with because I couldn’t pretend to respect him or his position on the base. He put me off from the very beginning, and being actively disliked by a Guide made others in the Department of Defense treat him differently, so he grew to resent me a lot. When I tried to resign, he saw it as a chance to make me pay for the fact that his career stalled out. Simmons tried to transfer me off the base in Nevada, and it turned into a firefight when a Sentinel responded to my distress at being outright kidnapped.

“Colonel Sumner came to my aid, and when Colonel Simmons tried to kill me—he took the bullet for me. It nearly killed him due to his previous trauma.”

“Previous trauma?” William prodded.

“His Guide was killed off-world during the second year of the program,” Meredith murmured. “He’s never really recovered from that emotionally. I don’t think he’s suicidal, but he’s not afraid to die. He was at Area 51 because he didn’t believe himself ready for fieldwork. I guess that changed since he originally went to Pegasus in charge of the military. He’s currently in command of a BC-304, the Apollo.”

“Why are you hesitating about the trip to Atlantis?” William asked quietly as she turned the page on John’s file. “Is it about meeting him?”

“It’s about protecting him,” Meredith said. “His circumstances aren’t great, but I don’t know that he would be safe on Atlantis right now. I need to know what’s going on there. I need to know what Elizabeth Weir’s motivations are. Is she Trust or just heartless? Did she abandon John off-world on purpose or just out of pure damn incompetence? What will I be bringing him back into? Is there anyone on that whole damn city that I can trust with him in such a vulnerable state?”

“Well, you got me,” he said and relaxed a bit as she leaned into him. “And the army taught me all I need to know about making people regret their dumb life choices.”

She nodded and focused on the tablet. “What if we can’t keep him safe?”

“We will. Let’s get a meeting with Richard Woolsey after Blair and Jim. It’s time to give everyone in the IOA and the at the SGC a world view adjustment. John Sheppard’s life depends on it.”

– – – –

Blair raised an eyebrow at her as he entered the room, his gaze flicking from her to her spirit animal. “Bringing a nuke to a knife fight, I see.”

Meredith curled her hand into Kepler’s mane, and psionic energy shimmered in the air around them both. “I don’t have any intention of playing games with this, Blair. The last time I let the people at the SGC underestimate me, it almost got me killed, and there is too much at stake.”

William came out of the kitchen of the suite with two cups of coffee. He brought her one and focused on Blair. “I have hot water on for tea, and the coffee is Kona. We brought it from home.”

“How are you?” Jim asked roughly as he sat down. “Because you don’t look like a man whose about to give up a woman he’s been living and sleeping with for over three years.”

“With all due respect, Ellison, mind your own damn business,” William said and smiled as he sat down.

“I’ll be in the kitchen minding my own business then,” Jim said mildly. “Tea, Blair?”

“Yes, please.” Blair took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to do with either of you, to be honest. I’m expected to recommend immediate separation. The SGC has several bonded pairs that could go with you to Atlantis, but it’s clear to me that trying to remove William from your space would be a deadly mistake for someone.” He sat down and stared at her. “You can’t have them both, you know.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I could if I wanted to. I have the ability to support two Sentinels in full should the situation require, but William and I know the limits of our relationship despite what anyone thinks on the subject. We’re the best of friends, Blair, but it’s never been the deeply romantic connection many erroneously believe it to be. I told you, years ago, that it wasn’t like that and never would be. We aren’t some tragedy waiting to happen, and William is going to Pegasus with me.”

Ellison returned from the kitchen and gave Blair a cup. “That’s…insane. How do you think Sheppard will respond?”

“If he has a problem with William, then he isn’t my Sentinel,” Meredith said simply. “I’ve never had the psionic plane connect me with a Sentinel on this level, but his circumstances are unique and dangerous, but that can’t be ruled out as a possibility.”

“You don’t think so,” Blair pointed out. “You think he’s your Sentinel—you’re experiencing psionic translocation, which I’ve done once my whole life, and that was when I was almost entirely dead.”

Meredith snorted and shook her head. She released her hold on Kepler’s mane and sat down. “John’s sleeping currently—he found shelter in a shallow cave. The space is elevated, protected from the elements. He’s killed 12 men since we fully connected psionically. I don’t know how many before that, but he’s not unduly impacted by the violence or the act itself. He’s no longer on the cusp of being feral, but I can’t say that I’m influencing that at all. I haven’t tried to communicate with him again since the first time.”

“What happened the first time?”

“He asked me if he was dead,” Meredith said flatly. “Then he asked me if he was ascended, and I knew then that he was part of the SGC. I told him he’d come online as a Sentinel, and he…flipped out. He said that was fucking impossible and that he must be losing his damn mind. I could feel his emotions fracturing, so I backed off and haven’t spoken to him since.”

“We need to have a conversation with his father then,” Blair said. “Patrick Sheppard is the Alpha Sentinel of the South Atlantic region. John is the oldest of his three sons and based on records from the Foundation believed to be trauma-dormant .”

“From what trauma?” Meredith questioned.

“He witnessed his mother’s murder,” Jim said quietly. “John was six at the time. His mother had taken him to run errands with her. She walked into a robbery in a small grocery store not far from their house. She was wearing her youngest in a sling across her chest—when the gunman took aim at her, she turned to shield the baby and took a bullet in the back. The guy ran, and John had to turn his mother’s body over to get to his little brother. He said he was afraid her body would suffocate the baby who was only a few weeks old.”

“Son of a bitch,” William muttered. “Poor kid.”

“She was the daughter of an Alpha pair, their only child born through surrogacy, but was latent and never expected or wanted to come online. Still, she’d given birth to three children with active Sentinel/Guide genetics. The Burton Foundation has watched over her children in some fashion or another since that day. Her husband, Patrick, came online the moment she died. He remained unbonded for more a decade despite the Foundation’s often high-handed machinations.” Blair cleared his throat. “He’s bonded now—settled and content in his role as the Alpha of his region. His Guide is a man named Jonah Dean.”

“As in the son of Marcus Dean out of New York?” Meredith questioned and sighed when Blair nodded. “It just gets better and better. Is Patrick Sheppard aware of his son’s supposed status as KIA?”

“The DOD has yet to inform the family of anything due to Anne Teldy’s accusations,” Ellison said. “I backed her up—to the wall, and I’m willing to go over it. Teldy is a solid Sentinel with great instincts. If she says Elizabeth Weir is a problem, then she’s a fucking problem.”

Meredith nodded. “Come down on the DOD and make them inform Patrick Sheppard that his son is currently missing in action and presumed dead. I’m going to contact Richard Woolsey and let him know exactly what he can do to make his life easier.” She focused on Blair. “Unless you have concerns about us?”

He made a face. “I don’t know how to explain the two of you to anyone. You clearly have an intimate relationship that is both rewarding and healthy, but there’s no territorial jealousy going on, and that happens in long-term Conservator relationships, no matter what the intentions or expectations. I don’t get it.”

“Is it honestly so rare to find two adults having an open and honest relationship built on good communication and respect?” Meredith questioned.

“Yes.” Jim shrugged when they all looked his way. “What? I’d have better luck finding a unicorn on any given day. Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the obviously mature and responsible way you’ve handled your situation. I even get why you both have refused to participate in searches for low-end matches. I wouldn’t want to give up the kind of security you’ve carved out for yourselves for anything less than a perfect match either.”

– – – –

Richard Woolsey couldn’t stop looking at her spirit animal. He’d been unable to keep the horror off his face at the sight of Kepler, and Meredith found that far more amusing than she should. Spirit animals didn’t often show themselves to mundanes, and having an African lion staring at you could be unnerving, even with the blue aura.

“His name is Kepler,” Meredith said, and the older man finally focused on her.

“I wasn’t aware that you were a Lion Guide, Dr. McKay,” Woolsey said. “Though it certainly explains how the Burton Foundation responded to the situation at Area 51.”

“They would’ve responded that way in regards to any online Guide,” Meredith said evenly. “We aren’t classified by our spirit animals within the Foundation at any rate, and precious few have ever seen Kepler. It’s not something I often share as it speaks to my abilities and power in a way that makes me uncomfortable. It also can make others, especially mundanes, react poorly to me. Ugly assumptions can get made very quickly in the face of someone as empathically gifted as I am.

“Had Frank Simmons known how much of a threat I was to him—he’d have probably killed me before anyone was the wiser. He certainly wouldn’t have assumed he could manipulate me into murdering Teal’c while he was stuck in the gate, so someone else would’ve been tapped for that assignment, and the results would’ve been much different.”

“Granted,” Woolsey said and cleared his throat. “General O’Neill and Dr. Sandburg tell me that you’re the best choice to send to Atlantis to help investigate the circumstances, and I don’t know why.”

“Scientifically speaking, I can review the entire expedition to make sure they’re doing exactly what they tell you they’re doing. It’ll be pretty easy, for me, to spot scientific fraud if that is a concern for the IOA, and it honestly should be. I’ve been reading the data coming out of the city, and it doesn’t match up with Dr. Weir’s reports, expectations, or predictions. She’s hiding something, and that needs to be addressed.

“Major Teldy’s complaints have garnered the attention of the Alpha Prime pair, which means we must tread very carefully with the situation regarding Colonel Sheppard’s disappearance off-world. If Jim Ellison isn’t happy with the investigation, he could pull every single Sentinel and Guide from the SGC. He could, in theory, take them entirely out of military service. It would be a voluntary thing, of course, but I don’t think a single Sentinel or Guide currently serving in the US Military would ignore his wishes.”

“Other Alpha Prime pairs across the planet could follow his example if there is a single question regarding Teldy’s treatment,” William interjected. “And that would play heavily in countries involved in the IOA. Elizabeth Weir has kicked a hornet’s nest, Mr. Woolsey, and the ramifications could keep coming for years because she’s not some random, treasonous Air Force general trying to kidnap a Guide. She’s in a position of trusted authority given to her by the IOA. If she did leave a United States Marine in the field to die on purpose—she’s committed gross abuse of power and it could be argued that she’s guilty of treason. It will depend on what kind of enemy the Genii are. If she is trying to cover up her disgusting behavior by abusing a Sentinel and trying to ruin that Sentinel’s career, then she is a reckless and stupid individual who has no business in a position of authority.”

“No matter how it shakes out,” Meredith said when William shrugged at Woolsey’s harsh inhale of breath. “Weir’s a problem, and I’m a solution everyone can agree on. The IOA is going to give me what I want. Jack O’Neill offered to send me across the gate bridge yesterday, and the Burton Foundation trusts me to resolve the situation.”

“You’re unbonded,” Woolsey pointed out. “Are they truly okay with you leaving the planet with just a bodyguard acting as your Conservator in what I’ve been told is an unofficial and unsanctioned situation?”

Meredith blew air out between her lips. “Been talking to the administrator of the Denver Psionics Center, I see. He has a real boner for me and hates that I won’t be in the same room with him.”

“Boner,” Woolsey repeated weakly.

“Yes, he thinks he wants to fuck me,” Meredith said bluntly. “I don’t have any interest in him. He’s part of the reason I have a bodyguard/Conservator to this day. He tried to exert authority over to keep me in Colorado after I was removed from Nevada because he believes we’re compatible. We’re not, and I had to call the Prime Minister of Canada.” She motioned toward William. “He sent in the Mounties.”

Woolsey flushed and shifted his legal pad around in front of him. “Yes, I read your file, Captain Bouchard. Eight years in the Canadian Army then another four with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before you were assigned to Dr. McKay permanently as her personal security. To make things easier at the SGC, I’ve asked the Canadian Army to reinstate your commission. You’ll receive official orders to report to Cheyenne Mountain shortly under General O’Neill’s direct command. This is just…window dressing. We aren’t going to try to keep you or prevent you from doing your duty regarding Dr. McKay’s safety.

“The two of you will travel to Pegasus as an investigative team picked by the IOA to help me resolve matters with the expedition that…are starting to extend far beyond the death of Colonel Sheppard.”

“He’s not dead,” Meredith said, and Woolsey paled. “He was left abandoned on the planet he was tortured on, and he came online as a Sentinel after being fed to a wraith. He feels betrayed and abandoned, Richard, so whatever else you might know about the Atlantis Expedition, know this—someone on that city wants John Sheppard dead.” She checked her watch. “And his father, an Alpha Sentinel in his own right, will be landing in Denver within the next three hours. Paul Davis is briefing him and his Guide en route, but you’ll be expected to explain exactly what the IOA intends to do regarding his son’s circumstances.”

“Why are we telling him anything?” Woolsey demanded, clearly exasperated. “Aren’t the circumstances complicated enough?”

“Because the ramifications of not telling a Sentinel that his son is missing in action and presumed dead are far worse,” William said when Meredith could only stare at the older man in shock. “He’s probably been on edge and out of sorts for days. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t already tried to reach out to John by all the means he has. We’re lucky he hasn’t already started hunting for his son. The only thing worse than messing with a Sentinel’s Guide, Mr. Woolsey, is messing with their children.”

– – – –

“Have you considered giving Carrie a call?” Meredith questioned as she watched traffic moving around them. The drive from Denver to Colorado Springs wasn’t much of one, but she’d wanted to use it to get Will settled.

William made a face at her. “What? No.”

“We’re leaving the planet—anything could happen.”

“And?” he demanded. “How does that translate into calling my ex-wife? I haven’t talked to her since I refused to be a sperm donor for her.” He crossed his arms when she snorted. “Fuck you.”

“Sorry.” Meredith raised a hand even as he glared at her. “Do you still have her listed as your next of kin with the army?”

“No, I called and updated my records—you’re my next of kin at the moment,” he said roughly. “I don’t want to talk about her, Meredith.”

“I feel like you should be past this by now, so…” She raised an eyebrow.

“She dumped me while I was in the hospital recovering from a bullet wound and coming online then six years later demanded I father a child for her since I’d ruined her life and made it hard for her to trust men,” he said. “Plus, she proved my stepmother right, which is still just infuriating. That woman brings up my hasty teenage marriage every single time I see her. I turned 20 four days after the wedding, and who cares what that twat thinks? My father has the worst taste in women.”

“You realize that he married your mother, too, right?”

“Which only proves my point, and if you ask me to call that woman, I’m going to make the driver pull over so I can sit upfront with him,” he warned. “The last time I talked to her, she called me a freak of nature and said I was going to hell because I didn’t have the discipline to ignore coming online as a Sentinel.”

“She’s old,” Meredith said. “And crazy. I would never ask you to speak your birth giver.” She grinned when he slouched down on the couch. “Will.”

“I wish I was entirely gay,” he muttered. “Women are nothing but trouble.”

“Me included?”

“You’re the freaking avatar for trouble.”

Meredith couldn’t help, but laugh. She stretched legs as much as she could in the back seat of an SUV and wondered if she could talk the Marine that O’Neill had sent to pick them into pulling over for coffee.

“Worried?” he questioned.

“About?”

“Patrick Sheppard—the fact that he demanded to go directly to the mountain is telling.”

“Very,” she admitted. “And I don’t blame him. Blair and Jim should’ve been there to meet with him first thing this morning. If he weren’t in control, Blair would’ve already let us know. I can’t say it will be pleasant, and I don’t look forward to meeting him in these circumstances. He’ll be in distress—an Alpha in distress is nothing short of agonizing to be around. He’s been bonded for a long time, so that’ll help. Fortunately, his Guide is much younger than him and was taught modern techniques for empathic management.”

“What if he wants to go to Pegasus with us?”

“He can’t go,” Meredith said. “It could endanger his regional imperative, and I hope someone’s already made that clear to him. There’s a reason why neither Jim Ellison nor Jack O’Neill is considering going to Atlantis at the moment. There’s no established Alpha pair on the city, and that whole galaxy is at war with the wraith. Neither can risk being compelled by an imperative to stay in Pegasus to fight that war.”

“So you’re saying I might have more than one reason that’ll make it difficult to leave Atlantis after you bond with Sheppard,” he said quietly. “Will it impact me, too? I’m not an Alpha, but…”

“But you have strong protective instincts,” Meredith said. “And they’ve often caused you to make decisions that are detrimental to your physical and emotional safety. I’ll do what I can to help you no matter your decision.”

“Sounds ominous.”

“You’re the best friend I have, and I don’t want to give you up,” Meredith admitted and flushed when he smiled at her. “But I also don’t want to create a situation where my Sentinel suffers a situation that makes him anxious and insecure.”

The vehicle glided to a stop, and she looked up. After a few moments, they were allowed through the gates into the mountain. She reached out and took his hand as stiffened. “The mountain has powerful white noise generators—the mountain itself will mute the impact once we get inside the actual complex.”’

“I’ve been in buildings with the Sentinel-focused countermeasures before, but that was intense,” William said.

– – – –

Meredith took a sip of coffee as she watched a team step through the stargate. William was standing beside her, staring intently at the gate. “Don’t you dare zone on me.”

“I’m good,” he promised, but turned away from the gate as the door opened.

Meredith didn’t turn immediately as she could feel Patrick Sheppard’s frustration and anger despite the cool and lovely presence of his Guide. Kepler pressed against her leg, and she looked down as his head rubbed against her hip. He was solid and barely had a hint of psionic energy shimmering around him. She stroked a hand across his broad head and stared into his bright, golden eyes.

“It’s fine,” she murmured and finally turned to look at Patrick Sheppard.

“You’re a Lion Guide,” Patrick said in shock.

“She’s far more than that,” Jonah Dean murmured and slid his hand into Patrick’s.

Meredith took a deep breath. “Shall we sit?”

“General O’Neill tells me that you’re here to deal with the situation on Atlantis. He also tells me that you’re positive that John is not only alive, but online as a Sentinel.” He took a deep breath. “If all of that is true, Dr. McKay, then I’d like to know why the fuck you’re still here and not in Pegasus right now saving my son’s life.”

“He’s wounded, but safe,” Meredith said and sat down at the table. She stared at him until he joined her. “Dr. Sheppard, the psionic plane has connected me with your son and did so the moment he came online. Were you fully briefed concerning the wraith?”

“I saw the video…of that thing feeding on my son,” Patrick said tightly.

“I refused to watch it,” Meredith admitted. “Because I lived it with him—every single second of it.”

Patrick looked at her for a long moment, then focused on William. “She’s your Conservator?”

“I’m her bodyguard,” William said. “Meredith’s opinionated, and it gets her in trouble.”

“Neither of us has a Conservator on record,” Meredith said. “We are deeply incompatible, and it drives people around us crazy.”

Patrick stared for another moment, then nodded. “I drove people crazy at the Foundation before I bonded because I refused to participate in their process.”

“It must have been hard,” William began, “to even think about bringing a stranger into your home and exposing your traumatized child to them.”

“I never expected that John would come online,” Patrick said. “He didn’t speak for a whole year after his mother’s murder…he didn’t sleep well, barely ate, and was hospitalized twice before he settled. When he finally did settle, three different people from the Burton Foundation told me that he was trauma-dormant, and I invested myself in making sure he had the best psychiatric care possible as a result.” He put his hands on the table, and Meredith noted they were shaking. “And not a single damn bit of sense management. He knows little to nothing about being a Sentinel because I protected him from it, to blunt his disappointment. It’s agonizing to imagine his circumstances—on another planet, no medical care, and no training. If he goes into a feral spiral, I’ll lose him.”

“He won’t go into a feral spiral,” Meredith assured. “He’s injured, but nothing that will cause him any sort of permanent injury. He’s angry and feels betrayed. That betrayal is why I’m here gathering data. I need to know everything I can possibly know about John, about Atlantis, and about the people living there before I go.”

“Are you sure he’s…how can you be sure?”

“What do you know about psionic translocation?” Meredith questioned and just smiled a bit at the shock on Patrick’s face. “It’s difficult to make a full connection because of several factors—his disbelief that I’m real being the deciding factor. The Sentinel in him seeks me, but the man is confused, frustrated, furious, and in enough pain that it keeps him alert and focused. He’s vulnerable, so I have to make sure the situation on Atlantis is merely a political concern before I bring him in.”

“Do you know where he is? General O’Neill told me that the people on Atlantis don’t know what planet he was taken to.”

“I don’t know, but I’ll be able to find out once I get my feet under me in Pegasus. If nothing else, I can probably encourage him to leave the planet he’s on and travel to one of my choosing. The expedition has allies, and if he were thinking straight, he’d have already sought one of those groups out.”

“Perhaps,” Jonah began. “You said he feels betrayed—maybe he’s worried he can’t trust anyone. That kind of paranoia could make bringing him in without causing him further harm impossible.”

Kepler chuffed, then yawned dramatically.

Meredith stared at him briefly before focusing on Jonah. “Kepler isn’t above sitting on a Sentinel to get his undivided attention.”

“Nothing like having 500 pounds of psionic lion sitting on you,” William said and made a face. “I haven’t had a drink since.”

Patrick laughed, but it was a reluctant, sad sound that made his Guide shift closer to him. “Bring my son home to me, Dr. McKay. I have a feeling that I won’t be able to keep him on Earth, but I need him with me for a while.”

“I understand,” Meredith said simply. “I can’t make any promises since I know next to nothing about his imperative at this point. But I understand your need and will certainly make sure that John understands as well.”

 

Chapter 3

A cool sense of relief, that felt distinctly non-human, drifted over her mind the moment she set foot on Atlantis. She’d read enough about the city to know that there was something about the city that was not quite what anyone expected. No one directly addressed it any report, but there was a presence on the city that defied conventional definitions of life. Power issues and a corrupted database had been preventing direct communication with the system since the expedition had arrived.

William shifted closer to her, flicked the safety off his weapon and Meredith finally started looking at the faces of the people gathered in the room. Elizabeth Weir had been given exactly one hour of warning that the IOA was sending a team to investigate Anne Teldy’s complaints so she didn’t know how much damage control the woman had done or would try to continue to do.

“Mr. Woolsey.”

Meredith watched Elizabeth Weir stroll down the stairs with a big, fake smile on her face. Rage was pouring off the woman. William moved closer still—so his arm was pressed firmly against her.

“Dr. Weir, this is Dr. Meredith McKay and Captain William Bouchard—the IOA has requested a full review of the circumstances around the kidnapping and murder of Colonel John Sheppard off-world under your leadership. Additionally, an audit of scientific and military operations will be conducted due to a series of very worrisome situations that have come to light during my review of mission reports.”

“My people don’t have time to hold anyone’s hand, Mr. Woolsey,” Weir admonished and crossed her arms.

“Neither of my companions will need their hands held, Dr. Weir. Captain Bouchard is an accomplished officer with the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Dr. McKay should need no introduction—there isn’t a single iota of legitimate science taking place on this city that would be over her head. She has doctorates in astrophysics and engineering. She also wrote the research protocols the Atlantis Expedition is mandated by charter to use exclusively.

“The Burton Foundation has also approved of their investigation into Colonel Sheppard’s death due to their individual accomplishments as Sentinel and Guide. Major Teldy’s formal complaints have been filed, accepted, and deemed worthy of the attention of the Alpha Primes of North America—Dr. Sandburg and Alpha Ellison were pleased that Dr. McKay and Captain Bouchard were able to make time to come here in person to clean up the mess you’ve made.”

Weir’s mouth dropped open. “Major Teldy made this mess, Mr. Woolsey! Her inappropriate attachment to her commanding officer makes her unfit for duty and everyone is ignoring it.”

“You’re not qualified to make such a statement,” Meredith said. “We’ll set up in the conference room. I’d like to speak with Radek Zelenka first then Major Teldy and her Guide will be made available to me.”

“We’ll meet you—”

“No, not you,” Meredith interjected. “I will interview you when I’m ready, Dr. Weir.”

“You can’t interview my people without me,” Weir protested. “They deserve representation.”

“They are entitled to privacy and the right to speak freely during this investigation. Per the charter you all signed, expedition members are only entitled to legal representation if they’re suspected of or charged with a crime. If such a situation develops, the person or persons will be transferred back to Earth for that process. You have a PhD in political science, Dr. Weir, so you aren’t qualified or allowed to give anyone on the expedition legal advice,” William said. “It would be both a conflict of interest and fraud.”

“Conflict of interest…” Weir frowned as she trailed off then she glared at him. “Are you here investigating me?”

“You lost the son of an Alpha Prime Sentinel and the strongest ATA gene carrier to ever be discovered, Dr. Weir. Per your own reports, you’ve yet to even search for a body or reach out to the people who took him to negotiate the return of his remains. You’ve also, per Major Teldy, refused her the right to launch a search effort.”

“He’s dead,” Weir hissed. “And retrieving his remains is a waste of time and resources.”

“What an appalling thing to say,” Woolsey said stiffly. “We expect Dr. Zelenka to be in the conference room within the next twenty minutes. I’ll provide you with a list of interviews we’ll be conducting after speaking with him and Major Teldy. Please let Dr. Beckett know that he will be interviewed at some point this afternoon so he should clear his schedule.”

“Carson is busy…”

“Unless he’s the only medical doctor on this city then he isn’t too busy to speak with us,” Woolsey declared and walked off toward the stairs.

“I have a crush on him,” William muttered as they followed him.

“He’s so straight that I’m afraid he might hurt himself if he had to bend over to pick up something,” Meredith responded lowly.

“I heard that,” Woolsey said coolly as they entered the conference room. “I had an experimental phase in college and I’m open to new experiences.”

Meredith grinned at him. “Richard, don’t tease us.”

“Stop picking on him,” William ordered as he put the bag he was carrying and removed the white noise machine. “Let me check the room for listening devices before you start plotting nefarious things.”

“We were supposed to wait?” Meredith asked. “I started plotting on Earth.”

“Me, too,” Woolsey admitted and shrugged when William sighed.

Meredith watched in silence as William scanned the room for listening devices then set up the white noise generator. “She didn’t expect to be excluded from the meetings.”

The doors opened and Radek Zelenka entered with a tablet and a laptop in hand. “Meredith, thank fuck you’re here!” He sat down and slid the laptop across the table to her. “This is everything I could not send in the databurst because of Weir. You need to talk to Kate Heightmeyer—she thinks Weir had a psychotic break over the wraith feeding video. It was difficult to watch, yes? But we’ve seen worse things, unfortunately. Colonel Sheppard did not respond the way anyone expected, not even the wraith. I’ve studied the footage frame by frame—I think he came online as a Sentinel. I’ve not told anyone.”

“Why do you think that and why didn’t you tell Teldy, at least?”

“She knows as well, I believe, but trust is difficult right now between the civilians and the military. The military blame us for Colonel Sheppard’s loss—we could not find the gate address of the planet he was taken to. Weir ordered us to stop searching the data, but Miko is still looking and barely sleeping as a result. She’s a Guide you see, and part of Colonel Sheppard’s off-world team. She is very upset to have failed him. So upset that she hasn’t realized he’s a Sentinel as far as I can tell.” Radek shifted his tablet around. “Weir is petrified of the wraith and to watch our military leader…fed to one…was a horror like I ever expected to experience.”

“Why hasn’t she tried to get him back then?” Meredith questioned.

“The fact that’s she’s crazier than a shit house rat can’t be overlooked,” Zelenka warned. “Colonel Sheppard and Weir have been in conflict over city management and resources since Colonel Sumner was transferred to the Apollo. Weir thought that John would be easier to manage when, in fact, he has less patience for her shenanigans than Sumner even pretended to have. Over the last six months, General O’Neill has repeatedly sided with Colonel Sheppard. Her power base is being eroded by degrees and she can’t stand that. Her agenda isn’t nefarious, as far as I can tell. She’d just prefer to live in this fantasy world where the ancients are literally gods who will bestow upon her a crown so she can rule over Atlantis in her infinite wisdom because she knows best. But I know next to nothing about her personally. She could be up to anything.”

“I’d prefer a Trust plant with anger issues and a grudge,” Meredith muttered slouched down in her chair. “How am I supposed to advocate spacing a crazy person?”

“I understand that Dr. Beckett is lobbying to capture a wraith for experimentation,” Woolsey said. “A plan that Dr. Weir agrees with, but Colonel Sheppard has repeatedly refused to undertake.”

“Colonel Sheppard considers it a war crime,” Zelenka explained. “He was very vocal about it. My concern is that the IOA will overrule him due to their own fear of the wraith.”

“You’re certain that he’s alive,” William interjected. “Do you have a reason for that, Dr. Zelenka?”

Meredith watched Zelenka adjust his glasses. “The city…would feel different if he were dead. I cannot explain it more than that, but Atlantis would know if John Sheppard were dead and she would mourn him. He’s very much a favored child to her—she anticipates his every single need and when Dr. Weir refused to expand the search for him…”

“Go on,” Meredith encouraged.

“The city started to malfunction in a way that is clearly vindictive and aimed specifically toward Dr. Weir.”

“Should we be worried that the city will kill her?” William questioned.

“It is petty, but not dangerous behavior,” Zelenka assured. “The transporters don’t work properly for her. All of her clothes were destroyed in the cleaning system. She’s having to hand wash the few items she has left for fear of losing them as well. Her tea gets cold very quickly if she sits her cup down. Yesterday, I could’ve sworn ice formed in the cup while it was sitting on this very table.” He sighed. “It should be said that if he is dead then the expedition will not be able to remain on the city. The last time he was off the city for more than a month—systems failed all over the place and the chair refused to respond at all. We would last as little as six months without a strong gene carrier to take his place and I can’t be certain she’d accept another one.”

“Do you believe the city sentient?” Woolsey questioned.

“I believe she is far more than we can understand in the moment,” Radek said evasively. “Perhaps she’s merely a very sophisticated virtual intelligence, but there is a knowing that I cannot define for you. I’m not a gene carrier, but over the last year she has learned to respond to me and others like me. I can activate systems I should not be able to based on my genetics. She is changing and growing—adjusting to her population to a certain degree.”

“She trusts you,” Meredith said. “You mentioned that Miko is on Colonel Sheppard’s gate team—where are the other two members?”

“Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan,” Radek said. “They left the city within hours of Dr. Weir declaring John dead. They refused to accept it and Teyla argued with Dr. Weir. I do not know if they were thrown off the city or if they left of their own freewill. Either way, I believe they are out there searching for him. It’s a small comfort, but it’s frustrating that we can not feed them data to help with their search. Miko has already narrowed down the list by half, but we can’t pass that information to them nor can they share what they’ve learned with us. It’s a very frustrating situation and Colonel Sheppard is the one paying the price for it.”

“Do you believe you could find them with access to the gate?” Meredith questioned. “Teyla Emmagan’s people have a settlement—I read a report about it. Perhaps they’re using that as a base of operations.”

“Elizabeth would not allow me to contact them.”

“Dr. Weir has no say in this,” Richard Woolsey said coolly. “I will accompany you to the gate room. I wish to speak with both Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex as soon as possible. I did not know they’d been removed from the city. They are key witnesses in the kidnapping of Colonel Sheppard.” He stood and Radek’s eyes went wide briefly before he stood as well.

“My interview is over, yes?”

“For now,” Meredith said. “We need to have some very detailed discussions regarding most of the scientific operations on the city. I have to write a report for the IOA regarding Weir’s mismanagement of resources and people. Why they put her in charge of such a large research endeavor I do not know, but it was a stupid decision. She’s in no single way qualified to be in charge of the expedition—she has nothing to bring to the table regarding technical expertise or military experience.”

“Politics are the worst,” Radek said. “She blackmailed someone I think. You should look into that, too.”

William laughed a little. “We will.”

The doors opened of their own accord as Radek approached them and a small wave of affection drifted over Meredith’s mind. Clearly, the city enjoyed doing things for Radek Zelenka. He patted the door panel he passed through with a small smile as he left and Woolsey followed.

Anne Teldy and her Guide, Dr. Alison Porter, entered as Zelenka left and the doors flipped shut with a decisive click.

“Colonel Sheppard is not dead,” Anne said. She fell into parade rest in front of them even as her Guide took a seat. “He came online during the wraith attack. Weir’s a hell beast and I’m going to kill her if she continues to interfere with my ability to find my commanding officer. Dr. Kusanagi is still running data simulations to the find the planet he was taken to. The gate data is complicated, but she expects to have narrowed the list down to ten planets within the next twelve hours.

“When she has that list—I will be sending teams through the gate. And I will be bringing John Sheppard back. Anyone who stands in the way will be killed or maimed for life depending on how much I like them.”

“I love you,” William blurted out and Meredith snorted.

“Anne, please sit,” Meredith said and the major hesitated. “Look at me—invest every sense you have in discerning my intent.” She forced herself not to tense up as Teldy did as she was instructed. “John Sheppard is online. He is an Alpha Sentinel. He is my Sentinel and I will help you kill anyone who prevents us from bringing him home.”

Teldy’s shoulders relaxed by degrees and she closed her eyes briefly. “I…thank fuck. I thought I was going to have destroy my career to get to him. I was willing to do it, but…Alison has worked so hard to get here and she’d face the fallout with me.”

“I don’t care about fallout,” Porter said hotly. “I’ve got plenty of options on Earth! We’d be fine!”

Anne offered her a small smile and finally took a seat as she focused on William. “You’re very soothing to be around—it’s annoying since I don’t normally let unbonded Sentinels get this close to my Guide.”

“Can’t blame you there—she’s gorgeous,” William said mildly and flashed Alison Porter a smile. “I’m open to being taken home and used sexually by you both.”

Anne laughed. “I just bet you are.” She put her hands on the table and took a deep breath. “Elizabeth Weir is calculating, manipulative, and borderline delusional. Most of the civilians think she’s crazy, but she’s not…exactly. She’s obsessed with the ancients, but she’s not alone in that on the city. There are quite a few people who are the cusp of cult-like worship of them due to that ascension crap. I monitor that and report to Dr. Heightmeyer as needed. Those reports are confidential, but I’m sure you can get access if it becomes a matter of city security. At least, you can get access to my reports since it wouldn’t be a violation of doctor/patient confidentiality. Heightmeyer isn’t going to give you a single bit of information unless she believes an individual could become a serious threat for physical violence.”

“We won’t make any attempt to force Kate Heightmeyer into violating her own ethics or oaths,” Meredith assured and the doors opened.

Woolsey returned, straightening his tie. “I had to send Dr. Weir to her office. Make a note that Sergeant Bates was extremely helpful and offered to stand guard over Dr. Zelenka while he works. Very nice man.”

Meredith knew Dean Bates and the very last word she’d use to describe him was nice. She raised an eyebrow and focused on Teldy. “Did Bates get a personality transplant?”

“No, but he did fall in love,” Teldy said wryly. “He’s head over heels for Teyla Emmagan and her departure from the city really upset him. Especially considering…” She took a deep breath. “Teyla is pregnant, but that’s not well-known. I smelled the changes in her body and approached her. She promised to remove herself from the field within the month. I don’t know if Dean knows, but if he does, Weir made an enemy of him for life.”

“She certainly should be on the city to ensure she has the best possible medical care,” Woolsey said. “Is there a doctor on the city experienced with childbirth? Should we acquire an OB/GYN? I’ve not completed my review of the staff due to time constraints.”

“I’m the OB/GYN for the city, Mr. Woolsey,” Alison interjected. “Over half the city’s population is female so I was tapped for the expedition for the second wave and Anne came with me. Weir wasn’t happy about it—she said that Colonel Sheppard didn’t need another officer, but O’Neill was insistent about my placement and my Sentinel goes where I go.”

“Thank you. If you would provide me a comprehensive list of problems you see in the medical services, I would appreciate it,” Woolsey said as he pulled another legal pad out of his briefcase.

“Shouldn’t that come from Dr. Beckett?” Alison questioned.

“You must realize that Dr. Beckett is also being investigated,” Woolsey said and looked up from his writing. “The IOA is deeply concerned about his repeated requests to experiment on a living wraith.”

“Who’d bring a telepathic enemy to the city on purpose?” Anne demanded and made a face. “I told Colonel Sheppard that I didn’t think I’d be able to tolerate a wraith being brought to the city and I couldn’t be trusted to not respond instinctually to the threat. Dr. Weir tried to send us both back to Earth because of my stance, but Colonel Sheppard backed me. He didn’t want one of those things here, either.”

“I’ll work on a report,” Alison said. “There are some issues…with the gene therapy and there was the incident with Colonel Sheppard and the retrovirus. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if proper protocols had been followed when he was bitten and fed on by the iratus bug. Beckett was sloppy with the clean up which isn’t a surprise since he hadn’t practiced actual medicine in years when he was tapped to be the CMO. He’s a medical researcher and it’s clear that he has little to no real experience working with traumatic injuries or emergency situations. He’s done the best he could with that, but that hasn’t been great. Fortunately, he hasn’t killed anyone.”

“Do you have a recommendation for replacing him?” Meredith questioned.

“Dr. Biro has the most experience—she worked at the SGC for six years before signing up for the expedition. She has a great bedside manner and her management skills are on point. I don’t know why she wasn’t chosen as the CMO to begin with,” Alison said. “We have a surgeon on the city that Beckett and Weir are clearly grooming to be his replacement, but she’s ridiculously young, has a terrible bedside manner, and has no real experience to speak of when it comes to management. She’s a rockstar in the surgical theater, but that’s not enough, as far as I’m concerned.”

“The IOA has not been notified that Dr. Beckett is leaving.”

“I suspect he’d like to return to a research role,” Alison said. “It’s his passion and running the infirmary doesn’t give him a lot of time to experiment on sapient beings.”

Meredith made a face. “I read the report on Hoff.”

“Most say it was just a tragedy,” Porter said quietly. “But he was elated by the success no matter how upset he appeared by the deaths of all those that the virus killed. He’d probably release it on the whole galaxy given a chance despite the fact that it would kill millions.”

Woolsey made a note. Meredith figured he was creating a list of people who needed to be returned to Earth and monitored for the rest of their natural lives.

“I need an off-world prison facility,” Woolsey muttered.

“I have some ideas on locations,” Anne said dryly. “Here and in the Milky Way. I’ll send you a list.”

“The gate just activated—incoming wormhole,” William said. “Zelenka has managed to retrieve Ronon Dex, but not Teyla Emmagan. She’s refusing to return to the city while Elizabeth Weir is in charge. She…fears for the safety of her child.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Meredith said and ran her fingers through her hair. “Anne, if you’d retrieve Dex, I’d appreciate it. Put him at ease, as much as you can.”

“Of course,” Teldy stood. “I’m really glad you’re here, Dr. McKay. I’ll start prepping teams for the search. I expect you’ll want to speak with Miko sooner rather than later. She’s sitting on the stairs waiting her turn with her laptop.”

“I can feel her,” Meredith said. “Go ahead and send her in—she can work in here as well she can on the stairs. Will Mr. Dex have an issue speaking in front of her?”

“No, he’s actually very protective of Miko and trusts her a great deal. They’ve been on the same gate team since he joined the expedition. She’s the one that removed the wraith tracker from his back in the field. He refused to let Beckett touch him.” Teldy paused. “He’s actually precariously close to coming online as Sentinel. I wouldn’t be surprised for him to flip right over if the right Guide came along.”

“Good to know.”

The doors opened and a large man entered, with Miko Kusanagi in hand. Meredith noted the gentle, but firm grasp he had on the small woman’s arm.

“She’s not safe out there on the stairs where Weir can harass her,” he said and pulled out a chair for her at the table. “She should stay with you until Weir is gone.”

Meredith stood. “Mr. Dex, it’s a pleasure to meet you even under these terrible circumstances.” She walked around the table and offered him both hands. “I’m Dr. Meredith McKay.”

“You’re different,” Dex said roughly. “A flaminis. I’ve not seen one like you since my world was destroyed by the wraith.”

He took her hands hesitantly—his grip was firm, but not harsh. Meredith was immediately awash with concern, relief, and a deep reverence that left her breathless.

“On earth those like me are called shamans,” Meredith said and she glanced only briefly at Miko when her breath hitched. “You’re worried about John, but I’m here for him—the rest of this is just the mechanism by which we solve this crisis. We know Weir is the problem and she will be dealt with. Your instincts are primed and you could come online very easily, Mr. Dex. Please tread carefully.”

“I’ve had training to prepare for it,” Dex said. “And please call me Ronon if your duties allow for such familiarity. I don’t know how…shamans operate amongst the Tauri.”

“I have no formal duties as I have no pride,” Meredith explained. “I’ve existed outside of the pride system my entire life—first because of my parents then because of my work. This is my Sentinel Conservator, Captain William Bouchard and Mr. Woolsey is here representing the IOA.”

“You’re Sheppard’s Guide,” Ronon said roughly and his gaze settled on William. “Are you going to be a problem for him because I think he’s suffered enough.”

“I’m not a problem,” William said and Meredith focused on him.

She’d been so wrapped up in scanning Ronon Dex that she’d failed to notice a distinct change in William. “Are you okay?”

“I’m…perfect,” he murmured, his gaze intent on Miko Kusanagi, who blushed furiously under his gaze. He turned his head slightly and focused on her. “Mission first.”

Meredith glanced between them and found Miko looking pleased and relieved. “Oh, well, that’s…amazing actually.” She sat down and motioned Ronon to a seat. She put both hands on the table and took a deep breath.

William’s hand settled on hers. “Relax, Meredith.”

She focused on him, feeling wild and uncertain. “I wasn’t prepared for this.”

“I know. It’s fine, I promise.”

“Should I leave?” Miko questioned.

“No,” Meredith said firmly. “Miko, please, stay. It would make him uncomfortable for you to be out of his sight which would only upset the balance of us both.” She focused on Ronon who was focused on William.

“On my world, such meetings were always quite explosive,” Ronon said. “The attraction and desire to bond was said to be overwhelming.”

“Our kind spent generations learning to temper such responses, to ensure consent and to protect body autonomy.” William said. “Sentinels are long past rutting on their Guide in public on Earth, Mr. Dex.”

Ronon grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He pulled a piece of paper from his vest and put it down on the table next to Miko’s laptop. “We’ve searched these worlds from your original list.”

She snatched it up and started to type with one hand, as she read it.

“What have you discovered about the situation with Genii?” Meredith questioned.

“Teyla reached out to their leader, but he refused to speak with her. I offered to go to their homeworld and make him, but she ordered me to not to,” Ronon said. “I agreed to accept her leadership in Sheppard’s absence, so I didn’t go.” He paused. “But if you wanted to give me a team of Marines I might be able to change Teyla’s mind.”

“It’s an option,” Meredith confirmed. “We’ll see how Miko’s search goes first, but I’m not above bombing the shit out of the Genii, and I’ll make that clear to them if required.”

Chapter 4

Anne Teldy hesitated only briefly before she handed Meredith the small field pack. “I…put everything I could in it so it’s kind of heavy, but I figured size was more of an issue than weight. Was I mistaken?”

“It’ll weigh next to nothing on the psionic plane,” Meredith murmured. “It’s the connection itself that will take a toll on me. I’m probably only going to get a single shot at this so giving him everything we can works to his benefit. Radio?”

“Yeah—complete with a location transponder. He’s one of the few people on the city without implanted location device. His failed after the second iratus incident and they weren’t able to find one that would work after that once inside his body. I’ll be able to track him regardless of my sense-situation once you get me on the right planet, but the radio will make him feel better and give him a sense of control. Or it would me.” She cleared her throat. “I’ve never seen or heard of anyone doing what you’re proposing to do.”

“She plucked a fistful of leaves from the ground with John Sheppard’s blood on it and dropped it between her and O’Neill while she was on Earth,” William said. “She can do this, Anne.”

“Psionic translocation is well within in the capabilities of a bonded shaman,” Alison said. “I’m not doubting you, Dr. McKay, but this could be extremely painful for you. Especially in the state that he’s in. He can’t reach back and he reacted badly the first time I saw you, per your own report.”

“He’s calmer,” Meredith said simply. “His senses are settling and I believe he’s accepted what he is. It’ll make this easier, but it’s not going to be easy or painless. I’m prepared for that—John Sheppard is my Sentinel and I need to give him something to make his situation easier. I can do this.” She walked to the table and sat down. “I need to touch everything.”

“Sense grounding?” William questioned. “In his state?”

“If he’s rational enough to know he’s a Sentinel then he understands that he needs a Guide in his current situation. Even if he declines to bond with me in the future—I can do this for him now.” She focused on Miko. “Unless you think you’d be a better choice? He knows you.”

Miko shook her head. “He is my dear friend, but I don’t believe I would offer a single bit of comfort in his situation as a Guide. He told me once that I was too soft for him. John meant it kindly—but it was a startling rejection since straight single men don’t normally tell me no.”

“I bet.” Meredith grinned at her then carefully unzipped the pack. A deceptively thin jacket was rolled up on top. She took it out and put it on so it would carry as much of her scent as it could it in their current circumstances. A med kit was next. She opened it and reviewed the contents.

“I watched Biro pack that personally,” Porter interjected. “Beckett asked us what we were doing once, but Anne distracted him and made him go away.”

“You consider Beckett a threat to John’s life?” Meredith questioned as she touched each piece of the kit—a way of letting John know she trusted the contents. She closed it and focused on Porter when the woman didn’t answer her question immediately. “Dr. Porter?”

“He’s a scientist and shouldn’t be allowed to practice medicine on human beings. He shouldn’t even be allowed any sort of experimentation on any living creature ever again. I don’t trust him which means he’s a threat to our Alpha.” Porter’s hands tightened into fists on the table in front of her. “I’ve never trusted him. He’s not evil per se, but I think he’s normal meter is completely broken.”

“Sociopath?”

“He’s certainly on the scale, but I wouldn’t put him as high on it as I would Elizabeth Weir. He will, however, do exactly what she says without a word of complaint. He enjoys a lot of freedom under Weir’s leadership and will resist any sort of change on that front. After all, she’s currently all in on the experimentation a sapient being. The wraith are a nightmare, but come on…” Alison slouched down in her chair and took a deep breath.

Meredith nodded. She closed the first aid kit and sat it aside. Teldy had included a full change of clothes, a whole package of Sentinel-friendly sanitization wipes, and a small bottle of lotion.

“Just stuff I’d want,” Anne admitted. “The idea of being filthy like he must be because of his environment is…well, it would be driving me nuts.”

“He probably hasn’t noticed,” William said. “He’ll be grateful for the supplies, but his onlining wasn’t urban. It makes a difference.”

“I came online gradually,” Anne admitted. “I went to a Burton Foundation facility a full week before it was complete. I came online in a clean, environmentally sealed room.”

“Good,” William murmured. “I came online in a combat situation—a two-day hike from the nearest base. Most of my team died in the fight and the two I dragged home with me were severely injured. I smelled nothing, but blood and death for weeks afterward. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Right now, Colonel Sheppard’s senses are saturated with the odors of death and wraith. If anything is driving him crazy it’s that.”

Meredith considered that and shrugged out of the jacket. “Mr. Woolsey, I’m about to take off my shirt—is that a problem for you?” He blinked slowly and shook his head. “Great.” She jerked the T-shirt free of the BDUs she’d been bullied into wearing before they’d departed Earth and pulled the shirt over her head then put John’s jacket back on.

“Nice bra,” Alison said. “I brought my own collection from Earth to avoid getting military issue which is not recommended.”

“Military issue is normally more concerned with smashing the breast tissue down than providing any sort of real support,” Meredith said. “I’ve worn one once and never will again.”

The canteen was full, but Teldy had also provided an ultraviolet light for water purification. The bottom of the pack had four MREs lining it. She put everything back then shrugged out of the jacket so she could roll it back up and put it on top. Meredith glanced toward Woolsey as she picked up her T-shirt and noted the man was staring studiously in the opposite direction of her. She shared a smile with Alison as she pulled the shirt back into place.

“You can look now, Richard.” She zipped up the pack and shifted it around in her hands so that the front pocket was available to her. It had a gun shape bulge. “What sort of weapon did you give him?”

“Standard issue for the expedition is a 9m Sig Sauer. Colonel Sheppard prefers the Colt M45A1—I’ve modified his new one with a Sentinel-safe sound suppression system. I included two clips and two boxes of ammo under the MREs. The jacket has a bullet-proof lining of Tollan design—standard issue for the expedition and he prefers it over the heavy leather version.”

Meredith nodded and took a deep breath.

William stood. “What kind of security can you activate on these doors, Major?”

“There are privacy protocols that will lock the doors and prevent anyone, but a powerful gene carrier from entering,” Anne said and stood. “Which means the only person, that we know of, in Pegasus who could open is Colonel Sheppard. Should I activate it?”

“It would prevent me from killing whoever tried to enter the room,” William said mildly. “Meredith is about to open herself up empathically in a way that will make her deeply vulnerable to both psionic and physical threats. She’s been on lock down since she arrived—we can’t predict how anyone on the city will react to a shaman flinging up the doors mentally.” He focused on Woolsey. “Under no circumstances should you move from that chair while she does this.”

“Understood.”

Meredith stood from the table and took the pack with her. She walked to the back of the room to give William as much room as he would need between her and an intruder and sat down. She pressed her back against the wall and hauled the pack into her lap. She focused on him. “I’m going to have to let you go, William.”

“I know,” he said lowly. “I’m fine.”

“You liar,” she murmured. “Just try to stay calm. You could start building a sense profile for Miko. It’ll keep your senses occupied.”

Too occupied,” William said shortly. “Don’t worry about me. I’ve got this.”

The conservator connection she’d built over the years with William was tenuous at best and required daily maintenance. It was one reason why others in their community found the relationship frustrating and confounding. She’d been told more than once that her ability to build such a connection with a Sentinel so fundamentally wrong for her demonstrated an unreasonable amount of ability.

The ability to be a shaman wasn’t rare in modern society, but a great many didn’t bother with the training required to open the full measure of their gifts. Meredith had never hesitated to educate herself no matter the situation so she’d delved into shamanism shortly after she came online as a Guide. She made herself ignore William’s intake of breath as she severed their connection. Knowing it was coming and accepting it was coming was no comfort at all as the knowing of William Bouchard she’d found comfort in for years slowly faded away.

She focused on Ronon Dex who was standing as far from her as he could. “Mr. Dex, did you and Teyla Emmagan voluntarily leave the city?”

“Dr. Weir told us we were not welcome to stay if we were unwilling to accept her decision regarding Sheppard,” Dex said roughly. “Even if I believed him dead, leaving his body with the enemy made no sense and I told her so. She grew extremely agitated and said that retrieving his body was not and would not ever be a priority for the expedition.”

Meredith considered that then focused on Porter. “We need to know why Weir is so invested in his body not being returned to Earth.”

“Then we need to relieve Carson Beckett from duty—all of his patients will immediately fall under Dr. Biro’s purview, thus preserving doctor/patient confidentiality. If Beckett kept any sort of records, we need to secure them before either he or Weir suspect there’s going to be a change in power. Dr. Keller, the woman Weir’s grooming to replace Beckett, should not be given any sort of access either, just in case. I don’t know how much of the Kool-Aid she drank. Dr. Chase Harris is a Guide and he gives Weir and Beckett a wide berth. He’ll be able to back Biro up regarding patients and the like—he’s solid.” Porter sighed and crossed her arms.

“Start working on that Richard—between the two of us we have all the power we need to make those changes,” Meredith focused on him as she spoke, “And be prepared to arrest Weir to contain her. She’s probably going to lose her shit.”

“I’m intolerant of drama,” Woolsey said stiffly. “It will not go well for her if she throws a tantrum. She’s already demonstrated a distinct lack of professionalism over my wish to contact Mr. Dex and Ms. Emmagan.”

“It’s going to get worse,” Alison cautioned. “The best course of action will be immediate containment—everything else can be addressed later. She’s going to be obstructive and deeply uncooperative.”

“After Dr. McKay handles her psionic…business, we’ll start working with the problems on the city that will interfere with the rescue of Colonel Sheppard. He is our priority going forward and will remain the main focus of our efforts until he is safe on Earth.”

“On Earth?” Teldy demanded. “You can’t just take our Alpha…” She trailed off when Meredith cleared her throat.

“John needs more care than Atlantis can provide,” Meredith said and clenched her hands on the field pack. “I’ll bring him back, Anne, if that’s what he wants.”

Teldy’s jaw tightened and she nodded. “Right. I get it. He never thought he’d come online…ever. He told me once that he envied me and my abilities. I wonder what he thinks now?”

“Let’s find out,” Meredith said gently and closed her eyes.

The psionic plane had always treated her gently, as if she were a favored child. She’d worried, at first, that meditation would be difficult for her. Calming and clearing her mind had never come easy when she’d been latent. But within days of coming online, everything had settled into place and her path as a shaman had been embarrassingly easy. She didn’t make a habit of interacting with the plane in front of anyone outside of William because it made many uncomfortable.

Cool air drifted over her face and she opened her eyes to a dark, damp space.

“I’m glad you came back.”

Meredith turned and found John Sheppard standing not far from the entrance of the cave. It was day on the planet. A small fire pit lay between them, but there was no fire. She focused on him and watched him press against the stone wall. He slid downward and sat with a ragged breath.

“How are you, John?”

“Tired.” He cleared his throat. “Who are you?”

Meredith put the pack down and his gaze flicked to it once. “I’m Dr. Meredith McKay. You may have heard of me.”

He snorted. “Yeah…you could say that. Jesus. You won the Nobel Prize for physics last year. The geeks on the city had a three-day party in your honor. You used to work for the SGC. I heard there was a…SNAFU at Area 51 and the Burton Foundation came down on the program like a bunker buster. Carter wasn’t even allowed to say your name in front of Zelenka. The one and only time she did, he flew into such a rage I thought I was going to have put him in the wraith cage. He told her that she wasn’t worthy of saying your name, ever. He also blamed her for you not being with us here in Pegasus. He said you’d have kept more of us alive than she’d been able to do.”

“Maybe,” Meredith said. “There’s no telling at all how that would’ve shaken out. I doubt Dr. Weir would’ve approved my going on the expedition due to my unbonded status.”

“How are you doing this?” he asked wearily. He glanced toward the pack which was glowing with psionic energy. “I’ve been around a lot of Guides in my life, but never one like you.”

“I’m a shaman,” she said. “Can I come closer?”

“I don’t know—can you?” He raised an eyebrow. “Where are you?”

“On Atlantis.”

He grimaced. “They left me for dead.”

“Not all of them,” Meredith assured. “Miko is working on a program to figure out what planet the Genii took you to. Ronon and Teyla left the city because Weir wouldn’t let them search for you—dead or alive. Weir thinks you’re dead and she desperately doesn’t want your body recovered. Do you know why?”

“I think…” John took a deep breath. “I’ve been dormant since my mother was murdered in front of me. There were a couple of incidents that messed with my DNA. After the second one, I noticed I started having problems with allergies. I reported to the infirmary about it and Beckett started testing. There were injections—at the time I believed him when he said they were allergy shots. I had to get them regularly. I was due to get another when I was kidnapped.”

“Was he trying to force you online or prevent you from coming online?” Meredith questioned as she squatted down in front of him.

“Teldy’s online so I don’t know why Weir would have a problem with another online Sentinel,” John said. “Unless she was worried that it would strengthen my position as military leader. I know she’s not been happy with my decisions. I think she thought I’d be a soft target without Sumner in play.”

“So you think if Beckett was experimenting on you—he was doing it under Weir’s direction.”

“Beckett doesn’t take a piss without Weir’s permission,” John muttered. “She’s been manipulating the shit out of him since before we left Earth. Sumner wanted him removed from the expedition entirely, but Weir bullied her way through the IOA to keep him. That’s why I got promoted and Sumner was shunted to the Apollo.”

“I’ve not gotten through all the reports,” Meredith said and sank to her knees. “You’re so much better—I’ve been worried.”

“Things calmed down a few hours ago,” John admitted. “I felt like I could breathe again and my spirit animal showed up.” He paused. “Again. I think she came once before, but I wasn’t in the right place to deal with it.”

“I came through Midway Station to the city a few hours ago,” Meredith said. “Do you have any idea where you are?”

“Dense forest around the gate,” John reported. “Moderate climate. Warm during the day and cool at night. It’s probably early fall on the planet or I’m in a temperate region of the planet. I was unconscious so I can’t be sure if I was moved around to more than one planet. I’ve killed the wraith they had prisoner here and most of the Genii forces including their commander. They’ve a four man team on the gate with automatic weapons—our weapons actually so that’s pretty infuriating.”

“Are you injured?”

“I have a feeding wound and some fractured ribs that I’m doing my best to ignore.”

“Did the wraith succeed in feeding on you?” Meredith questioned.

“No, it was surprised and the Genii were horrified. It hurt like hell.”

“They sent a video of it to the expedition,” Meredith reported. “And Weir declared you KIA after they refused to negotiate your release.”

“She’s been looking for a reason to get rid of me since I refused to bring a wraith back to the city. Beckett was disappointed and Weir is very invested in keeping him happy for some reason.”

“He’s fast becoming the only ally she has on the city,” Meredith murmured. “I have to go John, but I’m coming for you so you just have to stay safe until I can figure out where you are. Anne put together the pack.”

“It’s going to stay?” John asked in confusion. “Seriously? You can do that?”

Meredith laughed. “I won’t be able to do it again so please keep track of it.”

“I guess you can explain how you did it later?” John asked wearily.

“It’s called psionic translocation and I’ll explain to you.” She reached out and he immediately did the same.

She laced their fingers together.

“You feel almost real,” John admitted. “It’s confusing—there’s no smell, no body heat. How can I trust this?”

“You know I’m real,” Meredith said gently. “You felt me the moment you came online—there was so much pain and shock in that moment. But you got loose…”

“And it was like I entered the eye of a hurricane,” John said. “Everything was calmer, quieter, and easier. For a few moments, I felt fucking invincible.” He stared at their hands. “That was you.”

“That was us,” Meredith corrected. “Together, John, we are a primal force.”

John nodded. “That explains my spirit animal.”

“I’m a Lion Guide,” Meredith said. “What’s your spirit animal?”

“Jaguar—solid black. She likes to hide in the shadows so all I see are her eyes. I’ve been calling her Zillah. I don’t think she minds.”

“Mine’s named Kepler—he might show up to keep you company. Don’t be surprised or freaked out—he’s a big guy.”

“Lion, you said.”

“African Lion on the large end of the scale,” Meredith said. She reluctantly let go of his hand. “I have to…release this connection. My blood pressure is getting out of hand and my Conservator is stressed out over it.”

“Don’t hurt yourself trying to talk to me,” John ordered sharply.

“Making this connection was worth a bit of discomfort,” Meredith responded evenly. “And don’t boss me around, Sheppard. You’re hell and gone from having earned that privilege.”

His gaze narrowed. “I have a feeling that you’re going to be a real problem for me.”

The psionic plane shifted around them and the cave faded away.

“Meredith.” William’s tone was stern, but it had an edge of pleading that she found alarming. She opened her eyes found him kneeling on the ground in front of her. He cupped her head with both hands. “There you are.”

“Sorry,” she said as he released her. “I’m okay.”

“You’re not,” he said. “Your heart rate is elevated and stress is pouring off you both physically and psionically.” He stood and rubbed his head in a gesture of frustration before offering her hand. “Do you think you can stand?”

“I think so,” Meredith said and took the hand. He helped her up, but released her almost immediately. The physical separation kind of hurt, but she understood. She looked around the room and focused on Alison Porter’s pale face. “Are you okay?”

“No.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve never been in the presence of an unshielded shaman before. I don’t know how you…”

“Function,” Teldy said flatly and shook her head. “Or how you contain that in your unbonded state.”

“I wouldn’t have been given more than I can handle,” Meredith said simply. “Unlock the doors—I need to speak with Miko, again, and we need to interview Carson Beckett. While we’re doing that, Alyssa Biro will take command of the infirmary.”

“The best way to accomplish that is to bring Weir in first and arrest her after the fact,” Woolsey said. “I’ll take command of the expedition through emergency protocols provided by the IOA within the charter. No one will have the legal authority to question it.”

“Radek Zelenka would be next in line for the civilians and he’s not going to complain,” Teldy said. “He’s not interested in being charge of the expedition nor he’s particularly interested in being the CSO, but Weir refused to replace him after we established contact with Earth.”

“Is she punishing him or is this about control?” Meredith questioned.

“It’s probably both,” Alison interjected.

“She’s not a good leader,” Ronon said roughly and Meredith focused on him. “Weir’s selfish and unconcerned with the safety of her own assets. Her decision to abandon Sheppard off-world rather than deal with the threat of the Genii and the wraith speaks to that. Her fear of the wraith cripples her—mentally. On my world, such a person would not be trusted with any sort of leadership role.”

“Is it really about the wraith?” Meredith questioned.

“They’re nightmare,” Alison said. “You’ve never been face to face with one, Dr. McKay. It’s hard to explain.”

“Yes, she has,” William interjected. “She connected with Sheppard the moment the wraith started tried to feed on him. She saw the whole damn thing, felt it with him.”

“Jesus Christ,” Teldy muttered. “That had to suck.”

Meredith laughed a little. “Yeah, I mean—it was certainly startling. I knew nothing about the Atlantis expedition or the wraith at the time. I received tech for study through the IOA, but they never told me where it was coming from since I made it clear I wanted no information regarding SGC operations.”

“Can I ask why?” Alison questioned. “I know you had a difficult time at Area 51, but why the information embargo?”

Meredith focused on the table between them, fingers clenching. “I walked away from work that I genuinely loved, Dr. Porter. I didn’t need to be reminded daily what I had to give up because of Carter’s jealousy and the Trust’s greed.”

“Your work certainly didn’t suffer,” Alison pointed out. “You won a Nobel.”

Meredith grimaced. “It was a goal once, but at the time it felt like a consolation prize when it actually happened. Shaping mankind pales in comparison to actual goddamned space exploration—different worlds and now a different galaxy. I let Sam Carter and the Trust take that from me. I hate it.” She rubbed her arms. “I could’ve been here the whole time—I could’ve met John years ago. But we’re strangers instead, brought together by psionic compatibility and nothing else. It feels like I’ve been punished for…” She trailed off.

“Being wanted by Jack O’Neill,” William supplied.

“That was a trivial matter in the end,” Meredith murmured. “We weren’t compatible. It was never going anywhere despite the mutual sexual attraction.” She looked around. “It seems like Carter paid a price as well. She’d have never been tapped to be the CSO of this operation if she hadn’t been removed from the mountain and sent to Area 51 to do my job.”

“No, the position would’ve certainly been yours,” Woolsey said. “In fact, the IOA considered asking you to change your mind more than once during the planning of the expedition. Ultimately, it was decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of you quitting entirely if you responded negatively to the offer. Carter wasn’t our first or even second choice. She was what we were left with and several people were keen to get her off the planet for an indefinite period of time.”

The doors opened and Miko entered. She sat down and opened her laptop.

“John’s on a world with a dense forest around the gate,” Meredith said. “Temperate climate or he got lucky to be kidnapped during a mild season on the planet.”

“I have four desert planets on the list,” Miko said. “That brings the potentials down to seven.” Her shoulders relaxed. “We can work with that.”

“He has a radio now,” Teldy said. “We can open the gates and try to make contact with him.”

“He said the Genii have a team on the gate, but the gun we gave him should make the difference on that front,” Meredith said. “They were armed with automatic weapons from Earth.”

Miko glanced from Teldy to Meredith. “Psionic translocation?”

“Yeah,” Meredith admitted.

“Did it hurt?”

“I’ve never been stabbed in the chest, but I think a comparison could be made,” she admitted and Miko just nodded.

Weir entered the room at that point and the doors snapped shut. The woman jerked briefly, glanced at the doors then focused on Woolsey. “I don’t know what you were told, Mr. Woolsey, but your behavior has been out of line since you arrived. I’m in charge of the city and I’ve locked down the gate. No more unauthorized dial-outs will be allowed.”

Woolsey tilted his head as he focused on her. His gaze narrowed and straightened his already straight tie. “You don’t have the ability or the authority to prevent me from using the stargate, Dr. Weir. Sit. I have questions.”

“I don’t have time to answer any of your inane questions,” she said. “All three of you are going to be sent back to Earth within the next ten minutes. I have a security team outside of this room to escort you to the gateroom. Midway Station is already been notified of your impending return.”

Teldy sighed and activated her radio. “Bates, are you outside the conference room?”

Meredith watched emotions flick over the Sentinel’s face.

“Right, I appreciate you escorting her to the conference room. I have the situation under control. Retrieve Dr. Beckett from the infirmary and have him on standby for interview. Do not allow him any computer access. Cuff him if he refuses to come peacefully.” Teldy deactivated her radio and inclined her head toward Woolsey who nodded.

“Sit, Dr. Weir,” Woolsey ordered and pointed to a chair. “I have three questions.”

Weir glared, but sat. “Three.”

“Yes.” Woolsey sat and Meredith leaned against the wall because she wasn’t in the mood getting any closer to Weir than she had to. “First, at what point did you decide that I’m not your direct superior within the IOA?”

“I…” She took a deep breath. “This is my city.”

Woolsey’s gaze narrowed. “A job on this expedition does not in any single way equal ownership of the city of Atlantis, Dr. Weir. You don’t own the structure nor do you own a single person on it as such a thing would be illegal.” He opened his leather binder, picked up his pen, and made a note. “My second question involves the abduction and attempted murder of Colonel John Sheppard—did you facilitate it or was just a happy coincidence?”

“What? You can’t be…” Weir flushed and sat back in her chair.

“At least you’re not so far gone that you think you could lie in current company,” Woolsey said. “I reviewed the reports of everyone involved in the situation and the prevailing fact is this—not a single person could figure out how exactly the Genii knew where Colonel Sheppard and the rest of his team would be. Perhaps they could’ve set up operations on a half dozen planets in the hopes of catching a break, but that seems extremely unlikely.”

“Colonel Sheppard had two aliens on his team,” Weir pointed out.

“Two aliens who have been vetted thoroughly by Major Teldy,” Woolsey said. “I’ve read her extensive reports on both Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex—she deemed them both so loyal to Colonel Sheppard that either would be willing to die for him. That kind of loyalty must be frustrating for someone like you to witness.” He made another note. “One final question, did you know that sometime during the second iratus incident that John Sheppard transitioned from a trauma-dormant psionic state to a latent Sentinel state?”

“No.”

“You fucking liar,” Teldy hissed and lunged up from her seat.

William, who’d chosen to stick close to his fellow Sentinel, snatched her by the arm and jerked her back from the table. “Easy, Major. You can’t help your Alpha if you’re knocked unconscious due to a feral episode.”

“She aided the enemy,” Anne said lowly. “She betrayed Colonel Sheppard and Earth.”

“We need allies in Pegasus,” Weir said hotly. “What’s one man in the face of a permanent alliance with the biggest human faction fighting against the wraith? He killed dozens of their people and they wanted justice!”

“You dumb, crazy bitch,” Alison said wearily.

 

 

Chapter 5

Meredith had met Carson Beckett at Area 51, years ago, when the IOA had brought the doctor into the program to work on the asgard’s cloning situation. He hadn’t thrown off any deeply disturbing vibes for her so she’d ignored him. Perhaps, that had been a mistake as she knew little to nothing about the man personally. Curiously, she focused on Miko Kusanagi as Beckett entered the room. The other Guide immediately threw out a distinct aura of disgust and displeasure. William shifted in his chair and Meredith put a hand on his arm. He stilled, but didn’t relax.

She knew that he was laboring under an immense burden as he tried to balance the excitement of finding his Guide and doing the duty he’d sworn to her. She wished she could just toss the man in Miko’s lap and walk away. It would’ve been the best solution for all three of them, but there was John to consider. She looked toward Miko again and the woman offered her a small, genuine smile. At least, there was no resentment to be had.

Once, years ago, she’d hoped to have a friendship with Miko. That had been destroyed by her own abrupt departure from Area 51 and the SGC just three months after Miko had joined them. Meredith had been part of the vetting process when the IOA had opened up the research opportunities at Area 51 to member countries. There had been hundreds of potentials and Miko had been one of only 30 people recruited from that process. She’d looked forward to working with her on many projects—projects that had continued without her once she’d left. It was deeply annoying.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Dr. McKay.”

“Is it?” Meredith questioned and focused on Beckett. The man offered her a wide smile that was so insincere that her stomach actually cramped.

“Of course, the city could use a mind like yours. You really have no equal in your chosen field or any other you take an interest in. The SGC must be thrilled that you’ve decided to forgive them for what happened at Area 51.”

“I will never forgive those involved in that mess,” Meredith said evenly. “I was nearly murdered, Dr. Beckett.” She turned to Woolsey. “Richard?”

“Yes,” Woolsey began and cleared his throat. “I’m ready. Dr. Beckett, I have three questions.”

William’s knee knocked against hers and tendril of amusement drifted over his psionic profile. It was hard not to laugh in response. They were both fast becoming enamored with Richard Woolsey’s three-question model.

“I’ll do my best to answer them,” Beckett said. “As long as they don’t violate doctor/patient confidentially. I know that Elizabeth has been taken into custody, but she has rights.”

Woolsey’s eyebrow twitched. “When did you realize that John Sheppard had transitioned into a latent Sentinel state?”

“I…don’t know what you’re talking about,” Beckett said slowly.

Meredith wondered if he thought speaking carefully would prevent them from recognizing his lies.

“Lying is a waste of time,” William said and tapped his fingers gently on the table. “I could suss out a liar within minutes before I came online and I’ve been a Sentinel for damn near a decade.”

Beckett flushed. “I can’t discuss Colonel Sheppard’s medical history—even if he’s dead.”

“He’s not dead,” Meredith said and watched the color drain from the doctor’s face. “John tells me he was due an injection for his so-called allergies before he went on the mission where he was kidnapped. I checked his email—you sent him a reminder of that appointment the morning of this mission. He responded and told you that he’d make sure he got it during his post-mission physical.” She leaned forward. “As we speak, Dr. Biro is searching for your personal lab for the drug you’ve been giving John Sheppard. She told us that you’ve been producing the medicinal compound personally. It won’t take her long to figure out what you’ve been using to subdue John’s Sentinel gifts with. I gave her a complete list of drugs that could be used to do it. Such suppression drugs are illegal on an international level unless administered by the Burton Foundation in a therapeutic setting.”

Beckett stared at her for a moment. “We’re not on Earth.”

“I bet your pardon?” Woolsey interjected.

“We’re not on Earth,” Beckett repeated and focused on Woolsey’s outraged face. “I’ve done nothing illegal.”

“Using that argument, I could shoot you in the face and proclaim myself innocent of your cold blooded murder,” Meredith snapped and Beckett focused on her. “And we’d both be wrong.” She paused. “In the expedition charter that you signed, Dr. Beckett, it explicitly states that any settlement, colony, or installation the expedition inhabited became the official territory of the United States the moment Elizabeth Weir declared it the expedition’s home base which she did, legally, within hours of stepping through the gate. That declaration was in the first data burst the SGC received from Atlantis.”

“Additionally, there are sixteen pages detailing the responsibilities of the members of the expedition regarding the adherence to international laws set forth by the UN regarding such things as rape, murder, and human experimentation,” Woolsey said. “Suppressing a Sentinel without their consent is a gross abuse of power and it is classified by the Hague as human experimentation. Unfortunately, for you, the secret nature of the Stargate Program means that you will not be asked to answer for your crimes before the International Criminal Court. The IOA has an internal court process, and I’m currently drafting a proposal for an off-world prison facility.” He made a note on his notepad.

Meredith wondered what he was writing and considered trying to peek. As if William read her mind, his knee knocked gently against hers again so she slouched down in her chair.

“My second question—is regards to your proposed experiment on a living wraith,” Woolsey continued. “What’s your end game with this project?”

“I want to cure the wraith.”

“You want to cure…what exactly?” Meredith questioned in confusion. “They’re a hybrid species, correct? Alteran and iratus? What’s to cure?”

“I believe I can suppress the iratus traits,” Beckett explained. “It would render them almost entirely human and docile since the genetic suppression would act as a form of psionic castration. They wouldn’t remember their lives as wraith, at all.”

“Permanent suppression?”

“It wouldn’t be permanent within my current experimental models. If it works, I’d have develop a far-reaching solution.”

“A biological weapon,” William said in a subdued voice. “A contagion, perhaps, that’s easily transmitted.”

“Yes, we’d seed worlds—favored feeding grounds. The virus itself would be harmless to humans, but the wraith would carry it back to their hives. We might even be able to infiltrate hives ourselves to release it,” Beckett explained.

“What happens when it mutates?” Meredith asked. “A virus doesn’t stay static—it grows and changes with its environment. Of course, it wouldn’t effect them all equally—some would be slower to change or won’t change at all. It might kill most of them outright due to the suppression of just over half of their genetic make-up. Of course, if they transitioned during spaceflight they’d be stranded on ships they wouldn’t be able to operate with no food supply so they’d starve to death…unless they resorted to cannibalism. Even then, most if not all of them would die.”

“That’s a very pessimistic way of looking at it, lass,” Beckett said. “The IOA wants this work done—they want a solution to the wraith problem. They aren’t going to care about what I may or may not have done to John Sheppard. He had iratus genetic markers and after the brush with the wraith retrovirus…well, I needed a test subject and Elizabeth suggested that Colonel Sheppard was the best choice for a small proof of concept trial. The fact that it might have also suppressed his Sentinel gifts as a side-effect of my work is neither here nor there.”

Meredith wanted to throw up.

Woolsey’s pen snapped in his hand. The man carefully set the pieces on the table and pulled another from the internal pocket of his suit jacket. He pulled the cap off and placed it very precisely on the table next to his legal pad at what Meredith could see was a perfect 90° angle. The man’s OCD was a thing of mathematical beauty.

“Dr. Beckett, have you conducted any other unsanctioned medical experiments on the city?” Woolsey asked in a clipped tone.

“I’ve done nothing unsanctioned,” Beckett protested. “Dr. Weir approved every single one of my experiments—from the ATA gene research forward.”

Woolsey pulled a radio out of his pocket, put it in his ear, and activated it. “Sergeant Bates, please retrieve Dr. Beckett from this room before Dr. McKay shoots him in the face. Neither Captain Bouchard nor myself are inclined to stop her.”

Meredith slouched down in her chair as the doors flipped open. Bates, and another Marine she hadn’t met, hurried in and hauled Beckett out of the room. “That sheep fucking bastard.”

Miko huffed and stood. She walked to the back of the room and started pouring coffee into the cups. “I can’t…believe…” The doors shut abruptly. “I’ve never trusted him. I left Area 51 and went to work in the mountain to avoid him. I almost said no to coming out here when I found out he was the CMO. I only agreed to come because of Anne and Alison. I use Alison is my doctor of record—for everything, but then most of the female civilians prefer her or Dr. Biro.”

“Has he ever done anything explicit to make you mistrust him—I mean before this was all revealed,” William questioned.

Miko shook her head. “My spirit animal hates him, but Fūjin isn’t all that fond of mundanes getting in his space and Dr. Beckett doesn’t respect the space of any spirit animal he comes across. I watched him walk right through one in Nevada once—the Sentinel had to be restrained and I noted from that point forward that his spirit animal only ever appeared in her solid state in public. If he’d done such a thing to Fūjin, I’d have filed so many complaints that Beckett would’ve been lucky to keep his medical license. The Marine was discouraged from complaining about it, from what I was told.”’

“The Japanese god of the wind,” William said.

Miko focused on him and smiled. “Yes, most people don’t get it.” A leopard appeared at her side and rubbed his head against her hip.

Meredith glanced between them. “You have that painting in your bedroom at home—with the red-skinned demon wearing a leopard skin.”

“Yeah, I bought it years ago…” William admitted. “About a year after I came online actually. The artist didn’t want to sell it to me at first, but relented when I basically swore a blood oath that I’d never disrespect it. He said selling a portrait of a Shinto god to a white man went against his better judgment.”

Meredith got up when she realized that Miko wasn’t distributing the coffee anytime soon and retrieved cups for herself and Woolsey. “That’s disgustingly charming, actually.”

Miko blushed and picked up the two remaining cups. “My apologies.”

“Don’t mind her—she’s extraordinarily pleased for us,” William assured her. “But she’s also an asshole so…” He shrugged. “And my best friend.”

“I always figured I’d end up with a package deal if I bonded after the age of 30,” Miko said wryly. “Most Sentinels of in our age group would have a bit of baggage—I just didn’t suspect it would come in the form of a vicious Nobel Laureate who’s taller and smarter than me.”

“William is an equal opportunity player across the board,” Meredith said in amusement. “His ex-wife is shorter than you and dumber.” She paused. “Much dumber.”

William groaned. “Meredith, please.”

“I mean she left him because he came online—so super dumb. She missed out on years of excellent dick.”

Woolsey exhaled noisily.

“But he did refuse to be her sperm donor so that’s one box you can check off—no dumb step-children,” Meredith grinned when William lowered his head to the table and sat down with her coffee. “Talk to me about the planet list.”

“We’re down to five,” Miko said. “I’m not sure I can narrow the list any further and there’s no need to put off dialing any of them now that he has a radio.” She paused. “Unless you’re concerned about his safety? Do you think Beckett and Weir have…compatriots who might act on their behalf to get rid of the evidence? We’ll need people we trust on both sides of the stargate during the rescue operation to prevent technical problems.”

“Do you think we have anything to worry about on that front?” Meredith questioned. “Is there anyone on the city, besides Beckett and Weir, that you would hesitate to be alone with? Does anyone make you the slightest bit nervous?”

“Not as a Guide,” Miko said. “But there are several men on the city who have made their sexual interest in me known in an aggressive fashion. Only one of them ever tried anything—he palmed my ass once when we were entering a transporter together. I broke his nose and cracked three of his ribs.” She shrugged at their shock. “My father taught me to defend myself starting at a very young age—it was part of my familial Guide training. I did not attend any sort of formal Sentinel/Guide school until I was 15. I have the equivalent of a black belt in aikido, but I would say my father’s fighting style was more a mixed martial art as far as technique and style go. I kick box with Alison sometimes as that’s her favorite method of exercise.”

“This man was allowed to stay on the city after sexually assaulting you?” Woolsey asked stiffly as he made another note.

“Yes, and I was forced to see Dr. Heightmeyer for my hostility issues weekly for six months as punishment for my over reaction to his romantic interest,” Miko said. “As far as I know, it was never reported to the SGC. I tried to file a complaint about the whole thing, but Weir pulled it from the data burst and called me immature for not letting the matter rest.” She took a sip of coffee. “Dr. Scott Bradley—mechanical engineer. After the incident, Dr. Zelenka put him on a third shift rotation and ordered him to never, ever come near me again. He also, privately, offered to help me get rid of Bradley’s body if I was inclined toward such behavior.”

“Radek was always my go-to for body disposal,” Meredith confided. “He was honestly the best partner to be had at Area 51 for such shenanigans.”

Alyssa Biro rushed in that point and the doors flipped shut with a decisive click. “I’ve…that bastard…” She sat down heavily next to Miko and put a tablet on the table in front of her. “I know it’s not my turn, yet, but this can’t wait.”

“What’s going on, Dr. Biro?” Meredith questioned.

“That son of a bitch, Carson Beckett, identified the genetic markers in the human genome that facilitate a psionic connection. It’s groundbreaking work and will help the Burton Foundation identify Sentinels and Guides much easier going forward. They’ll be thrilled with the discovery, but he used this information to experiment on Colonel Sheppard.” She picked up her tablet and started to flick it with her hand. “About 10 days after he managed to half-ass cure the Colonel in regards to the…bug-out…he started mapping Sheppard’s genome. At first, it was clearly an investigation into figuring out how much damage the retrovirus John was exposed to did.

“But the angle of the research began to shift rapidly, and he started to actively experiment on the colonel—gene therapies, psionic suppression, and on four different occasions he re-exposed Sheppard to the retrovirus that turned him into a big…bug.” Biro wet her lips. “He made an off-hand comment in his notes six weeks ago about Dr. Weir’s demand that Colonel Sheppard be prevented from coming online as a Sentinel as long as possible, but she definitely preferred a permanent solution. His own goals were no less horrific—he was using Colonel Sheppard to determine how much suppression was required to quell the iratus DNA that’s been incorporated into his body and…”

“Go on,” Meredith encouraged quietly.

“He continued his work on the Hoffan drug,” Alyssa blurted out. “He refined it and gave it to Colonel Sheppard in his desire and I quote to ‘make the colonel wraith-proof’. Absolutely none of this was done with Colonel Sheppard’s approval or knowledge.” She shifted to another screen on the tablet. “Based on blood work and his own records, I can say without a single doubt that Beckett has been successful in blocking Colonel Sheppard’s connection the psionic plane for eight weeks with a single, weekly injection. He kept a tight schedule which means Colonel Sheppard probably started to come online the day after he was kidnapped.”

She put the tablet down and placed trembling hands on top of it. “I realize that Dr. Weir has been arrested because it was discovered that she aided and abetted the Genii in the kidnapping of Colonel John Sheppard. Based on the evidence gathered, Mr. Woolsey, I believe she should also be charged with facilitating the murder of a Sentinel.”

“John’s not dead,” Meredith said. “He’s free of the Genii, online, and we’re very close to bringing him home.”

Alyssa Biro burst into tears. Miko scooted across the two chairs that separated the two women and pulled her into a hug.

– – – –

Meredith watched from the balcony as Teyla Emmagan stepped through the stargate. Getting the woman to return had taken a personal radio call from Dean Bates where the man had sworn on his own life that she’d be safe on the city. Both Dean and Ronon Dex were waiting right in front of the gate for her, a precaution and a gesture that Meredith hoped put the Athosian woman at ease.

Teyla looked up immediately and focused on her. Meredith endured the long-distance inspection without moving. Anne Teldy had made it clear that while Teyla was not a Guide, and had no potential to become one, she was empathically sensitive and telepathically gifted because of wraith experimentation. The woman had used the gifts to fend off a wraith hive on behalf of the city twice since they’d come to Pegasus. Elizabeth Weir was an idiot for making an enemy of her.

Meredith inclined her head toward the conference room and Teyla nodded as she released her hold on Bates. She walked back into the room—they’d gathered trusted assets to have a conversation about John’s return to the city. By the time she’d fixed a new coffee, Teyla was standing just inside the conference room.

“Dean tells me that you’re…not quite like Dr. Kusanagi,” Teyla said. “But he said I should ask you about the difference. Sentinels and Guides are little more than myth to most of the people of Pegasus. Sateda kept their own population a secret and now they are lost to us because of the culling. I’ve also been told that John is a Sentinel…” She took a deep breath. “How do you know?”

“Will you sit?” Meredith questioned. “We’d like to close the doors for this conversation. Sergeant Bates can stay with you, if that would help.”

“Yes, that would help.”

The doors slid shut as Bates stepped in.

“I’m a shaman. Mr. Dex called me a flaminis. Shamans are rare on Earth—so rare, in fact, that most people never even meet one. We are, in modern times, conduits for psionic energy. It is a natural process for us.” She sat down at the table and paused as Teyla followed suit. “But taking on the mantel of shaman is spiritual and psionic burden.”

“Why did you take the journey?” Teyla questioned.

She’d been asked that question dozens of times in her life, but she’d always deflected. It was a deeply personal thing, but it was clear that deflection wouldn’t serve her in creating trust with Teyla Emmagan. She knew, from reading John’s mission reports, that he trusted and respected the Athosian woman a great deal. Creating a hostile relationship with people important to her Sentinel wasn’t any sort of reasonable choice.

“I was the first latent Sentinel or Guide in my family in generations. I remained latent until I was an adult, as a result I had little to no information about the new direction my life was taking. I admit, I ignored my latent status entirely unless it served me. I didn’t believe I would ever come online so I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t fantasize about it or develop any sort of expectations regarding it. I guess that was good because I wasn’t disappointed with the results of onlining experience.

“I met my spirit animal the same day I came online. Some of our kind can wait weeks for the first manifestation. I felt like he was waiting just out of sight my entire life. He is a fierce and immense presence in the back of my mind—no matter my state. That first month, as I rearranged everything in my life so that I could dedicate myself to training as a Guide, he was rarely far from me. Sentinels and Guides on Earth are defined and categorized by a numeric system built on sensitivity and strength.

“I tested at level six which is the highest possible rating in the current system. Once that distinction was made—everyone started to move around me in ways I found frustrating. I hated the loss of control and I felt as if the people that were supposed to be helping me were more interested in making decisions for me. I couldn’t tolerate it. My own parents hadn’t tried to make any decisions for me in years at that point. My frustration started to bleed out all over everyone around me—including the ones managing my care.

“On the third day, a man came into my isolation suite and stared at me for nearly ten minutes in complete silence. If I hadn’t known who he was the moment I set eyes on him, I’d have been petrified. He was immensely powerful and his gaze felt…piercing. No one had ever looked at me that way, as if I had no secrets and never would. His name was Blair Sandburg.” Meredith focused on her coffee cup. “He’s the Alpha Guide Prime of United States from a legal perspective, but spiritually he anchors an entire continent which is North America.”

“I visited Earth last year,” Teyla said. “Dean showed me a map of your world. I understand the geography you speak of.”

Meredith nodded. “Throughout the world, such individuals as he exist—shamans whose mere existence provide a psionic balance. There are political powers on the planet who wished they could control such distinctions as prime and alpha, but that’s impossible. I hope it always remains so because it prevents mundanes from manipulating our leadership hierarchy to serve themselves.”

“And you’re one of those people,” Teyla said.

“Yes, but I have no tribe nor do I participate in the modulation of psionic energy on Earth not even on an involuntary basis. It’s been one of the most confounding parts of my experience as a Guide. No one could figure out why I came online with such gifts and a powerful spirit animal if it wasn’t to deepen the psionics on Earth.”

“You’re for us,” Teyla said. “Will your influence spread out from this world? Alison told me once that the psionic plane has no ending and no beginning and that it touches it every single thing in the universe.”

“If I stay here in Pegasus that is exactly what will happen,” Meredith said. “I can’t say for certain that is my path, but I’m not opposed to it.”

“What…” Teyla cleared her throat. “What could be done to help you make that choice?”

“Nothing,” Meredith admitted. “It’s not as if I’ve ever had a single choice really in my path.” She paused. “Well, I could’ve ignored my potential, but that’s never been an option for me. I’ve made the most of every gift given to me in my life—intellectually and psionically. When I learned the full measure of my potential as a Guide, it was never a question as to what I would do. I demanded Blair Sandburg’s attention as a teacher—he was the only one I would accept. It caused problems for us both, as he’s not from the same country I am and my government wanted to control who taught me. I’ve never tolerated that bullshit so I put that subject to rest immediately.”

“What is your spirit animal?” Bates asked roughly.

“African lion,” Meredith murmured and just shrugged when the man paled. “Though I don’t make a habit of advertising that. Most assume that I’m a Wolf Guide if they know my shaman status and that’s for the best. There are those who would seek to manipulate me and my circumstances for their own gain. Unfortunately, that’s always been a factor in the choices I make and in the things I reveal about myself.”

“Why are you here?” Bates questioned. “I grew up in a pride, Dr. McKay. My parents are Sentinel/Guide. Shamans don’t just…do what you’re doing. Lion Guides are made for war.”

She offered him a smile. “You don’t think I’m made for war, Dean?”

“I was at Area 51 when you picked up Marshall Sumner’s gun and killed two Trust agents without even blinking,” Dean said. “It would be the most told story in the entire SGC if we hadn’t been ordered to never speak of you and your departure from the program. I’ve never seen a civilian react like that in a live fire situation.”

“She’s a crack shot,” William said. “It’s honestly kind of horrifying considering her temper. I keep my guns locked up when I’m not wearing them.”

Dean nodded like that was sensible.

“The very moment that John Sheppard was fed on by a wraith—I woke from a dead sleep on Earth experiencing the most agonizing pain I’ve ever known in my life. His senses blew wide open as he came online and I had no refuge from it. It was clear, pretty much immediately, that he was feral. I didn’t know where he was, who he was, or how I could help him. I continued to have visions and nightmares related to him for the next few days. He was feral for at least two of those days and killed a lot. I don’t know how many people the Genii have thrown at him, but he’s not been taking prisoners.

“Through a process called psionic translocation I’ve been able to have two conversations with him—the first resulted in me contacting the SGC. It eventually brought me here. In the second conversation, I was able to use the same process not only to speak to him, but to give him a small pack of supplies put together by Major Teldy.”

Teyla stared for a moment then focused on Teldy who gave a sharp nod. “I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I am grateful that John’s circumstances have been improved. Do you know where he is? If it is not safe for him to come to Atlantis then he can go to New Athos. My people will protect him. They know he was kidnapped and that the search is on-going.”

“Colonel Sheppard is not going to risk bringing an enemy down on your people,” Bates said. “If he’s being hunted by the Genii on that planet then he can’t risk visiting any allied world. They’d follow him right through and innocents could be hurt. The gate on Atlantis is the only one that allows for a shield due to design changes made by the ancients when they built it. He’s hunting, and won’t move on from where he is until he’s done hunting unless we interfere.”

Teyla nodded and rubbed her face. “Does he have any idea about his location then?”

“He’s provided some data,” Meredith said. “And Miko has included it in her own search. As of an hour ago, she’d narrowed the search down to four planets. We’re preparing teams for search and rescue. We asked you to return to the city because he expects you to be here. As a member of his team, the Sentinel in him will consider you an important part of his tribe. If you were not here upon his return, it could make him distrust you on an instinctual level.”

“Then I thank you very much for asking me to return,” Teyla said quietly. “It would be painful if John were to…lose faith in me.”

“Additionally, we wanted to make sure you had the best possible medical care for your current situation. You’ve saved the city and expedition twice—we owe you a great deal.” Meredith’s gaze flicked briefly toward Bates who didn’t look remotely concerned.

“Dean is aware of my pregnancy,” Teyla said. “I informed him of the birth control failure as soon as I realized.”

“What sort of failure?” Meredith questioned. “I realize that’s a very personal question, but there are concerns regarding Dr. Beckett’s actions and ethics. He’s been placed in custody and will be returned to Earth shortly.”

“What would…” Dean frowned.

“She has wraith genetics and you have Sentinel/Guide genetics even if you aren’t latent yourself,” Meredith said flatly. “A child of such a union would make for a very interesting test subject.”

“That son of a bitch,” Dean hissed and started to shove back from the table, but Teyla’s hand clamped down on his wrist. “Let me…”

“No,” she said firmly. “If you attack him—they’ll take you back to Earth and I may never see you again. You promised you’d be a good father to our child if I continued the pregnancy.”

“Dr. Beckett and Dr. Weir will be transferred back to Earth shortly,” Woolsey interjected. “Dr. Zelenka and Dr. Biro are overseeing that process with Captain Bouchard as we speak.”

“Who is Captain Bouchard?” Teyla questioned.

“My Sentinel Conservator,” Meredith said. “And bodyguard. I have a foul mouth that gets me in trouble. He’s also a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—a role the IOA is using for leverage in this situation as it takes the people in Cheyenne Mountain out of the equation. Everyone in the mountain is under investigation as well due to what we’ve uncovered and what we suspected to find before we ever left Earth. You’ll meet him shortly.”

“Are you John’s Guide?” Teyla questioned.

“I think…so, yes, but we can’t be certain until we meet physically. Psionically we are very compatible, but he might find me physically…undesirable and that wouldn’t be a situation I could tolerate as a Guide due to my primal nature.”

“You’re ten-kinds of his type all wrapped up in a bow,” Teldy said wryly and grinned when Bates laughed. She started to say more, but inclined her head suddenly and jerked up from her seat. “Incoming wormhole—Colonel Sheppard is the only asset we have off-world right now.”

 

 

Chapter 6

“Atlantis, this is Colonel Sheppard—I need Major Teldy.”

Meredith’s hand curled around the railing as relief seemed to heave like a ocean through the city. Maybe the intelligence governing the city really hadn’t believed the conversations she’d surely been observing.

“This is Teldy, sir,” Anne said and cleared her throat. “If you’ll provide your secondary identification code—we’ll open the shield.”

“Negative,” John said shortly. “I’ve 22…” The sharp report of weapon’s fire sounded through the gate room. “I have 21 enemy combatants on the ground, I’m on the cusp of another feral combat drive, most of my senses are numb, and I’m down to 14 rounds. I’m on a planet the Genii called the Hunter’s Outpost. Ronon, is that familiar to you at all?”

Ronon activated his radio. “Yes, I know the address.”

“Great—bring me a P90, more ammo, and the Sentinel that came from Earth. Teldy—keep my city safe and don’t let McKay out of your sight under any circumstances,” John said and there was another shot fired. “20.”

“Understood, Colonel,” Anne said and motioned to Ronon who trotted up the stairs to where a younger man was sitting at the DHD. “The Sentinel’s name is Captain William Bouchard—Canadian Army and RCMP. He’s Dr. McKay’s Sentinel Conservator.”

“I don’t give a fuck who he is right now. I need his senses—I want every single one of these motherfuckers dead before I leave this godforsaken planet.” The gate closed abruptly.

Anne Teldy unclipped the P90 from her vest and passed it to Ronon who was heading for the gate even as it dialed. Meredith’s grip tightened on the railing as William left her side without a word and went down the central staircase. She watched a Marine pull off his own tac vest for William, who put it on and clipped the gun he was given with no apparent difficulty. She wondered about his military service off and on since they’d went to Hawaii, but she’d never asked about it directly and all she really knew was that he’d come online while in combat. He didn’t like to talk about it.

Ronon accepted a thigh holster which he tossed over his shoulder as the gate connected as he activated his radio. “Sheppard, I’m coming.” He motioned to Bates without a word and the Marine pulled a combat knife and sheath out of his boot. “And Bates just gave up his favorite knife to the cause.”

William glanced up briefly and met her gaze before he stepped through the gate. It snapped off and she started to tremble. Miko appeared at her side and put one small hand over hers. Meredith turned her hand over and laced their fingers together—seeking comfort in the only person on the city who understood exactly what she was feeling.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Miko asked. “For bringing my Sentinel to me? I’d never met him otherwise—my country doesn’t share data with the Burton Foundation. What are the odds that I’ve ever met a Canadian Mountie, if not for you?”

“Still, to have him so close, but…thank you for that. You both had ever right to focus entirely on each other the moment you met. No one would’ve said otherwise.”

“John’s…important to me in a way I can’t explain,” Miko said. “There was a part of me that wondered…when I found out he was trauma-dormant because of his mother’s murder…”

“You wondered if he was your Sentinel,” Meredith finished. “You’d probably be a good fit for him.”

“But not perfect.” Miko cleared her throat. “And he needs that for the task ahead of him. You’ll never succeed in keeping him on Earth considering how he came online.”

“I’d never try,” Meredith said. “I understood his imperative before I stepped through the gate. I knew the choice I was making.” She paused. “It helps that Carter isn’t here. I realize she was just a tool in a bigger plot that was controlled by those outside the SGC, but her weakness was appalling.”

“She had no hope of ever coming online as a Guide,” Miko murmured. “She was emotionally absent—nearly all of the time. What little empathy she had was actively suppressed by her intellectual curiosity. She didn’t have room for anything else really and became embittered after O’Neill’s rejection.”

“It was bad?” Meredith questioned.

“It was vicious,” Miko corrected. “He was furious with her for the part she played in endangering your life. He demanded her permanent removal from his personal space and Hammond sent her to Area 51. The one time I saw them in the room together—he radiated fury the entire time. I doubt he’s forgiven her even in death. I think, before Daniel Jackson ascended and came back a Guide, that Jack O’Neill might have felt like you were the best shot he’d ever have at bonding and Carter ruined it for him.”

“Well.” Meredith took a deep breath. “It wouldn’t have been a healthy bond. But he’s honorable, strong, and fantastic in bed so it certainly wouldn’t have been a sacrifice on my part to at least try.”

Miko laughed a little. “He is a great fuck.” She shook her head. “Daniel Jackson is, too. They tucked me up between them for an entire week before the expedition left Earth.” She fanned her face. “Wow.”

Meredith grinned. “That’s filthy. Tell me all about it.”

“Yes, tell us all about it,” Teldy said dryly as she joined them at the railing. “Alison’s been considering asking Jackson to be our baby daddy.”

“He’d make attractive children.” Teyla Emmagan slid into place beside Miko. “Though you’re welcome to ask Dean as well. He says he’d like at least four and I have no intention of birthing four children myself.” She sighed when Meredith couldn’t help, but laugh. “The man is a ridiculous asshole.” She cleared her throat. “Does the distraction help at all?”

“No,” Miko said shortly before Meredith could. “It’s agonizing for more than one reason. It’s not natural, for our kind, to be so close to our perfect match and not bond.”

“How do you know when it’s perfect?” Teyla asked.

“It’s…” Alison trailed off. “I participated in many searches before I met Anne. I prefer women so the whole process was off-putting because I was being thrown genetically compatible matches left, right, and center, but they were all male. Several expressed interest in bonding with me, but were put off when I made it clear that it would be a platonic bond because I’m a lesbian. The Center told me that my sexual preference wouldn’t matter once I bonded—that nature would provide an emotionally and mentally healthy path for me and my Sentinel.

“They told me that plenty of men who believed themselves entirely straight went onto to create deeply intimate bonds with male Sentinels. They always say that sex isn’t a requirement in the bond, but what they don’t really speak to the potential shallowness of platonic bonds. You have to work hard on the psionic plane to create a healthy bond if you aren’t shoring it up with sex on the physical plane. Creating psionic links, physical imprints…etc. It’s just a lengthy and potentially frustrating process that leave some pairs living with half of what they should have. Maybe that’s societal pressure or maybe it’s about emotional trauma before they ever get near a potential bond mate.

“Still, the moment I set eyes on Anne—I was so damn relieved I almost fainted.” Alison glanced toward her Sentinel and grinned. “She was a little less relieved.”

“Why?” Meredith questioned. “You won the Guide lottery.” She motioned toward Alison.

“Alison is the only woman I’ve been with—sexually or romantically,” Teldy admitted. “There were some feelings along the way, but my parents are conservative and religious. They were appalled when I came online and my father told me pointedly that I’d better bring home a male Guide and I’d be better prepared to marry him in the church. He ordered me to leave the Marines, as well. I thought I’d joined up for the educational opportunities, but I realized after coming online that it was more to it. I didn’t even know I was latent. My parents and basically my whole family on both sides have used religious exemptions to avoid being tested for Sentinel/Guide traits for generations.”

“So you didn’t bring home a male Guide,” Miko murmured. “It must have been difficult.”

“I didn’t bring home a Guide at all,” Anne said. “I wasn’t going to give anyone in my family a chance to berate or mistreat Alison. I called them and told them I bonded with a woman and that the only way I’d leave the Corps was in a box. My father disowned me and my mother followed his lead. My brother came online five years ago—they tried to send him to one of those underground suppression camps. He told me that our father said that the leader of the camp would—beat the Sentinel and the gay out of him so that his soul would be safe.”

“Son of a bitch,” Meredith muttered. “Is he okay?”

“Fine,” Teldy said. “He and his female Guide are working with the DOJ as part of a task force dedicated to finding and legally eradicating suppression and conversion camps. He figures once he finishes in the US, he’ll join the UN’s version of the committee and take his efforts worldwide. They have a daughter—my parents have never met their only grandchild because of their ridiculous bigotry.”

“That seems so contrary to the acceptance and forward thinking I’ve experienced with the expedition,” Teyla said pensively and her hand dropped to her stomach which demonstrated no evidence of pregnancy.

“There are elements in every culture—existing on the fringes that use fear and, sometimes, religion, to control others and that’s what it boils down to,” Meredith said. “We’d have to bring in an anthropologist to really dig deep into the topic.” She focused on the stargate and frowned at it. “Which I’m deeply opposed to, on principal. Needless to say, no matter how valuable Sentinels and Guides have proven to be in the 300 years since our kind started to emerge en masse on Earth, some cling to outdated belief systems and terrible interpretations of their own religious texts to validate themselves. Most everyone would like to think we’re better than that, but humans are fucked up on a deeply fundamental level.”

“Do you have a religion?” Teyla asked curiously. “John told me, once, that he did not believe in any god and that the stargate program had removed every single bit of doubt he’d had on the subject.”

“I believe in an intelligent, higher power,” Meredith said. “Not a god, per se, but there is an influence on the psionic plane that I cannot…fully explain. I’ve never felt as if it were an entity of some sort or a presence that could offer any sort of traditional communication, but there is a guidance for a lack of a better word on the psionic plane. I’ve never felt inclined to define it further as I get exactly what I need from it without giving it a name or shape.”

Zillah appeared and started to pace around in front of the gate much to the alarm of a good portion of the gate room. Meredith left the railing and immediately trotted down the stairs as people started to scramble away.

“Relax!” Everyone stopped moving as she came to stand in front of the jaguar. “And get used to the sight of her immediately—this is Colonel Sheppard’s spirit animal. Her name is Zillah.”

“How could you possibly know…”

Meredith turned to stare at the young woman and she trailed off mid-sentence. Kepler shimmered into place between her and the stranger. “Who are you?”

The younger woman tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear as she gaze flicked from one spirit animal to another. “Dr. Jennifer Keller.”

“How I know is none of your business,” Meredith said and watched the woman’s cheeks flush. “It is enough, Dr. Keller, for you to know that Zillah is protected by a host of international laws that apply to our current circumstances due to the expedition charter. In fact, she has more rights than you do in that document due to her protected status. Spirit animals answer to a higher authority than any that exist or could be created on Earth. She will come and go as she wishes so everyone needs to get comfortable now to avoid stressing Colonel Sheppard out when he returns to the city.”

“As Colonel Sheppard’s doctor…”

“No.” Meredith inclined her head. “You are not Colonel Sheppard’s doctor of record. He has been transferred to the care of Dr. Alyssa Biro.”

“With Dr. Beckett in custody, for whatever made up reason, I’m the temporary CMO,” Keller said. “I’m his second, Dr. McKay, and all senior staff fall under my purview.”

Woolsey cleared his throat. “Dr. Beckett has been arrested for several serious crimes and will be returned to Earth for trial with Dr. Weir. As the new leader of the expedition, decided by the IOA before I left Earth, I’ve made Alyssa Biro the Chief Medical Officer. If you have questions regarding your patient load or your position going forward, Dr. Keller, you can make an appointment.” He paused. “Provided you still have a job on the city after I’ve finished my review of the medical services.”

“Why…I’ve done nothing wrong,” Keller protested.

“We shall see,” Woolsey said stiffly and looked around the room. “I realize everyone is excited regarding the return of Colonel Sheppard to the city—especially after Dr. Weir’s unfortunate and disgusting behavior regarding his disappearance, but I believe it would be best if we all returned to our posts.

“Colonel Sheppard has come online as a Sentinel in a very stressful situation and there is no need for us to add to that by hovering about to watch him come back through the gate.” He paused. “In person, please feel free to tap into security feeds from your stations—I know it must be an intense relief to you all to know that we have not lost a much liked and, frankly, irreplaceable member of the expedition.”

Zillah came to stand next to Woolsey and hissed at several Marines who were hesitating. Meredith barely refrained from laughing as they saluted and trotted off.

Teldy appeared at her side. “Once she’s formally introduced to the company, she’ll enjoy the rank of brigadier general. It is the policy of the Marine Corps to assign spirit animals a level of rank above their Sentinel or Guide as if she were a working dog in the service.”

Meredith nodded. She understood the practice, but had rarely been exposed to it. She’d never seen Jack O’Neill’s wolf—not even after she banged him. She focused on Zillah and found the big cat staring at her. She raised an eyebrow at her and the spirit animal chuffed in irritation.

“I’m not going to let you boss me around either,” she told the cat. “You should go back to him and let him know I don’t need watching over like a child.”

“She appears to be far more solid than other spirit animals I’ve seen in the past,” Keller said and Meredith turned to find that the woman had not left the gate room. “What does it mean?”

“Nothing you should concern yourself with,” Meredith said and glared at her when Keller started to speak again. “This is Sentinel/Guide business, Dr. Keller, and beyond your purview. Mr. Woolsey, since Dr. Keller appears to be off-duty, perhaps we can interview her now while I wait for Colonel Sheppard to finish killing all the Genii he wishes to kill before he returns to the city.”

“I’m happy to answer any questions about my work.”

Meredith was only mildly surprised the doctor didn’t flounce her way up the stairs. Maybe she was being unfair. She turned to Miko and her fellow Guide flicked her hair over her shoulder and rolled her eyes like a teenager so she felt a thousand times better about her own line of thought. She turned her attention back to Zillah and found that the spirit animal had chosen to lounge in the middle of the gate room. Meredith made a face and the big cat yawned then licked her mouth.

“Do not eat any of these people,” Meredith told her sternly and grinned at the squeaks that earned her. “Really, Lt. Campbell, Sergeant Harriman would’ve never fallen for that.”

He huffed. “We’re Canadians, Dr. McKay. We’re the nice ones.”

“My father is from France,” Meredith said cheerfully as she headed up the stairs. “Which means I don’t have to abide by that whole ridiculous and inaccurate stereotype.”

“No, but you apparently dug deep into the other one,” Alison muttered as they entered the conference room.

Meredith dropped down in her chair and focused on Jennifer Keller. “Mr. Woolsey has three questions for you, Dr. Keller.”

Mr. Woolsey uncapped his pen. “Yes, and I caution you against lying to me, Dr. Keller. I’m short on patience.”

“I have nothing to hide,” Keller said and smiled at them. She glanced briefly toward Teldy as the doors flipped shut, but then focused on Woolsey.

Meredith let her shields thin out of curiosity and focused entirely on the doctor. There was nothing overtly hostile about Jennifer Keller, but her cheerful demeanor was a construct. It was an interesting situation.

Woolsey opened up his leather binder. “Were you aware that Dr. Beckett was using Colonel Sheppard to experiment with suppression drugs with the intention of creating a chemical weapon to use on the wraith?”

“What?” Keller paled. “No! Carson would never do that. He’s working on a retrovirus and I know that he has a side project related to refining the Hoffan virus that Dr. Weir was excited about, but he’d never experiment on Colonel Sheppard that would be…” She took a deep breath. “That doesn’t make any sense at all. What purpose would that serve? Colonel Sheppard has a strong ATA gene, but his genome is far too human to be a viable analog for…” She trailed off and clearly drifted into thought.

Woolsey started to speak, but Meredith put her hand on his arm. She shook her head when he looked her way.

Keller inclined her head and started to tap her finger gently on the table. “The ATA gene is artificial. The ancients created it to lock their technology down as a counter measure against the wraith. The wraith were…far more ancient than they were a iratus, at first, so locking down their technology to protect it and themselves made a lot of sense. You can’t fault them for the war counter measure.

“The wraith genome today is roughly 75% iratus due to how they bred in the beginning. There were too few of them so there was a lot of inbreeding and the iratus traits are dominant which was a design feature not a flaw. The ancients wanted to explore the psionic plane and the iratus feed on psionic energy. It was, in their minds, a valid avenue of exploration. But then, as a people, they appeared to have very few ethical boundaries when it came to experimentation.

“The wraith only have one haplogroup because they call descend from the first queen. She was lab created by the ancients in an ascension experiment. I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the database—the historical data and journals have fared the best when it comes to being searchable, but most of the people on the city avoid it. They don’t consider it very valuable. I think that’s based on Dr. Carter’s bias and nothing changed after her death.”

Anne Teldy put a glass of water down in front of the Keller and it was immediately picked up.

Keller drank deeply from the glass. “So, if Dr. Beckett was experimenting on the colonel it was based entirely on the iratus exposure.” She put the glass down. “It must have been exciting for him when the second exposure happened. I was brought to the city to study the wraith and the genetic drift of their species. Dr. Beckett wanted me to isolate the iratus DNA in the wraith so he could figure…he said it was a longevity study, but looking back on it…” She trailed off again and her eyes darkened.

“I couldn’t figure out why I was chosen to come out here for the project. I was originally brought in the SGC as a trauma surgeon, but that left me with some down time so I started working in the genetic lab in the mountain. It’s my second doctorate. I studied it because I couldn’t get anyone to insure me to practice medicine after I graduated medical school. They said I was too young and I have to think gender played a role as well. The only insurance company that agreed to assessment at the time—the man reviewing my application wanted to know why I’d gone to college at 12 when I was such a pretty little girl. He said I wasted my good years studying. And asked me if I missed going to prom.”

“Asshole,” Miko muttered.

“At any rate,” Jennifer said and cleared her throat. “It’s not what I was hired for, but I got bored waiting for someone to get shot. Which is also another thing—I have a terrible bedside manner and say things off the cuff that I shouldn’t and Dr. Frasier said I shouldn’t interact much with the patients as a result.”

“When you came to Atlantis—were you aware that were you being groomed to take Dr. Beckett’s place?” Woolsey questioned.

“I was told that none of the other doctors on staff wanted the responsibility and more than one told me they didn’t want to have to interact with Weir a lot because they don’t like her. I didn’t think I was qualified by Dr. Beckett assured me he would give me all the training I would need before he returned to a research role. Dr. Weir was preparing to give him an entire team to study the wraith and the retrovirus.

“He fully expected to get his hands on several live wraith for experimentation. I questioned the legality of that, but he told me not to worry about it. Of course, then Colonel Sheppard refused to participate in the whole thing and Major Teldy made it clear she’d kill any wraith that managed to put a foot on the city, which I appreciated like mad because I don’t want to ever be near a wraith.”

“Dr. Weir was heavily involved in Dr. Beckett’s research regarding Colonel Sheppard. If I told you that they were both aware that he’d entered a latent Sentinel state after the second iratus incident, what would you say?” Woolsey shifted his pad then made a note.

Keller frowned and focused on the table. Her fingers started to move again. The taps were rapid for a few long moments, but then she was still. “Well, suppressing the iratus DNA left behind…I’ve been given samples of Colonel Sheppard’s blood so I could work that problem. He knew about that—even asked me questions about how the research was going. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to work fast enough and he’d get pushy, but he was just curious about the process and how it worked. In retrospect, I don’t think Dr. Beckett appreciated his interest, but I always answered all of Colonel Sheppard’s questions because the research was about him and he deserved answers.

“I knew Beckett was experimenting with suppression drugs, but I wasn’t aware that Colonel Sheppard was a latent Sentinel. No one ever mentioned it to me and all of the data from Beckett’s experiments looked like tests performed on blood and tissue samples.

“In theory, using a suppression drug would’ve been a good vector for delivering the iratus stem cells Dr. Beckett used to bring Colonel Sheppard back after he turned into a great big bug, but that wouldn’t have been the ethical choice, even in the short term, for a latent Sentinel or Guide. It could’ve created issues…physically and psychologically until it wore off.” Keller started tapping again.

Teldy rubbed her face with both hands and Meredith noted they were trembling. “Colonel Sheppard screamed for hours after he was dosed with that so-called cure. He hallucinated and tried to tear his way out of the wraith cage. I was so fucking relieved when he passed out from exhaustion. When he woke, two days later, he was coherent and starting to shed the blue skin cells. He’d also managed to break his own damn arm. I never questioned it—no one did, as far as I know.”

“He didn’t have a lot of privacy around that event due to the nature of it,” Alison said. “I guess we were just trying to ignore it as much as possible for his own sake.”

“To his detriment,” Keller said. “When I read the reports about that—I was relieved to have not been here which made me feel selfish and immature. I was grateful that I managed to not say that in front of anyone.” She started tapping again. “I have a strong ATA gene—another reason why Weir said I should take Carson’s place as CMO. But once, she made this terribly weird comment that she played off like a joke…about Colonel Sheppard and me making an ancient baby.”

Meredith’s mouth dropped open and she glanced toward Teyla who looked confused. “She encouraged you to pursue Colonel Sheppard romantically?”

“Sexually,” Jennifer clarified. “She laughed it off and said I wouldn’t be expected to put up with his emotional baggage.” Her cheeks flushed. “She said she’d heard he was great in bed so I could at least have some fun out of it as well. The next day, she apologize for her drunk ramblings and hoped I wasn’t offended. Except, she barely took a sip of her wine the whole meal. I guess she figured I wasn’t observant enough to notice—a lot of people think I’m too smart to function. Maybe she thought because of my lack of social…intelligence that she could manipulate me, but my mother taught me how to read people. I never agreed to have dinner with her in private again.”

“Are you on the spectrum?” Meredith questioned.

“My official diagnosis is High-Functioning Asperger’s. I’ve a lot of great coping mechanisms and tools. My mother made sure I could maneuver my way through social stuff with little difficulty. I’ve learned not to say everything I think, and I studied body language extensively as a teenager to help with that. I make mistakes and sometimes I find people deeply frustrating—when they say one thing and clearly mean another. Little white lies, my father called them. He said they were harmless, but I’ve never agreed. I need to be able to trust the things people say.” She frowned and looked away from them. “I’d have never participated in the human experimentation or research regarding chemical warfare.”

“Frankly, they’d have never trusted you with the meat of it,” Meredith said. “You clearly find dishonesty difficult to process and as a result, you’re probably a terrible liar.”

“Yeah, but my daddy told me to never worry about that—he said lying is a waste of time and I’m smart enough to figure out how to make my way in the world without it.” She flushed. “But I don’t make friends easily and maybe I would if I could lie a little.”

“No.” Teyla reached out and took the younger woman’s hand. “You’re fine just the way you are, Jennifer. Do not seek to learn such a thing—it would add no value to your life. Who wants a friend that needs to be lied to?”

“I’d rather be punched in the face than lied to,” Woolsey said.

Meredith leaned forward a bit and stared at the younger woman. “Dr. Keller, will you have any issues working under Dr. Biro?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Jennifer said. “I like her—she can be abrupt at times and maybe she enjoys dissecting wraith a bit too much, but everyone needs a hobby. I didn’t look forward to the job or the administrative duties, but Dr. Weir made it clear I really didn’t have a choice if I wanted to stay on the city and I do want to stay. It’s nice here and no one is intentionally mean to me.”

“Were people intentionally mean to you in Cheyenne Mountain?” Teldy asked with a frown.

“Just…” Jennifer shrugged. “Some people don’t like smart women.”

“Some men don’t like smart women,” Woolsey corrected. “You needn’t attempt to be diplomatic for my sake, Dr. Keller. If you give me a list of male employees in the mountain who need sensitivity training—I will see them all enrolled in a six-month course.”

“Well, it’s true that there are men who have a problem with women who are more intelligent than them…men aren’t always the worst offenders,” Keller said. “There are plenty of women out there, Mr. Woolsey, who see nothing, but competition when they look at other women. Intelligence, looks, education—all of that comes in play. My mother says that’s just mating politics and I shouldn’t pay them any attention, but it’s hard when all you want is respect and all you’re getting are snide comments about your looks or whatever. I stopped wearing make-up in the SGC, despite how much I like it, because of comments.

“I overheard one nurse asking a female Marine if she thought I’d earned my degrees on my back.” Jennifer flushed. “I had to call my mom and ask her what she meant. I didn’t…get it.” She looked down at her hands. “Mom says she sheltered me too much. She went to college with me—attended all of my classes and we had an apartment off campus.”

“My parents hired a nanny for me,” Meredith said. “That nanny ended up getting a doctorate in engineering herself since she was with me for every single class for my first set of degrees—I just suggested she enroll. Eventually, the Canadian government paid her tuition plus a salary to keep me out of trouble.”

“That’s nice,” Jennifer said. “I would’ve liked that better, I think. I love my mom, but having someone to do homework with would’ve been nice. Do you know where she is now?”

“Based on the posted schedule, Dr. Simpson should be in lab six,” Meredith said and just shrugged at the looks that earned her. “She’s only six years older than me, but that was enough as far as my parents were concerned and to be honest, they rarely ever read the status reports they were sent. I found a whole box of them when I packed up their house after their deaths—most of the letters hadn’t been opened. I recruited Helen Simpson to the program when I was at Area 51.”

She shifted in her chair as Kepler appeared near her and nudged her arm with his nose. She turned to him and cupped his face with one hand. “Soon then.”

Kepler purred and rubbed his face against her hand.

Meredith stood. “Major Teldy, we’ll need you to clear the gate room of nonessential personnel. I can’t guarantee how much control he’ll have once he steps through the gate. The fact that the stress of the situation has made his some of his senses numb is a concern in itself.”

“Agreed,” Teldy said and winced. “I’ve only gone numb once—I was shot. Everything shut down eventually which was for the best considering, but still a nightmare to remember.”

“How much time do we have, Dr. McKay?” Woolsey questioned. “Because it crosses my mind that it would be best if both Weir and Beckett were not on the city when he returns.”

“About a half hour, I think,” Meredith said as she stared intently at Kepler’s face. “So hurry. He’s in a combat drive—not feral, but he will be intolerant of obstacles or questions. I’ll go to the isolation room Biro is setting up and wait for him there. He won’t want to go to the infirmary at all so this is the best way to get him into a safe place—sense wise.”

– – – –

The moment he stepped onto the city, she felt everything around her shift yet again. Meredith wondered if John Sheppard had any idea at all regarding the city’s overt attachment to him. Zillah trotted into the isolation room through a wall and stalked across the room to where Meredith sat, pressed against the wall. The jaguar stared intently at her face with jade green eyes then chuffed gently before walking away.

The door opened with the swish that ancient tech was known for and he appeared. No weapons, she thought, and wondered who’d taken them from him.

He focused on her. “That asshole you brought with you wouldn’t let me step through the gate with my gun.”

“William’s got this whole reasonable and rational thing going on that is genuinely appalling on a daily basis,” Meredith said and Sheppard huffed little under his breath as the door shut then locked behind him. “You’ll get used to him.”

“I’m not sharing,” John said shortly.

She lifted one eyebrow. “What if I said you had no choice?”

“I’d make him as miserable as I possibly could until he ran away from us both in horror.”

She laughed. “Fortunately, for William, he’s found himself a match in Miko Kusanagi. So, while he’s not going to go away—he’s not going to be in your face all the time either.”

John walked across the room and sank to his knees in front of her. “You’re…the SGC sent us video of you accepting the Nobel Prize. I don’t know why I didn’t recognize you. I’d been hearing about you since I started with the program, but it wasn’t until I saw that footage of you speaking that I actually started to resent Carter as much as most of the expedition did. Radek said you probably won it because you were bored, but Miko said you put your back into to get one over on Carter.”

“I won’t deny either accusation,” Meredith admitted and wet her lips. “Still numb?”

“All I have left is sight and hearing. I lost taste sometime the last ten minutes, but I don’t know when—once smell was gone I could barely taste anything anyway.” He ran one hand through his hair. “Touch is…bizarre. I can feel my body well enough to move and walk, but it feels distant and weird—like I’m not really in my body. I thought, at first, I was going into sensory prolapse.”

“If you were in prolapse, you’d be emotionally numb as well,” Meredith said. She shifted to her knees and carefully cupped his face. His eyes fluttered shut and he shuddered. “The first thing we should do is get you in the shower.”

“Okay.”

“And after we get you evened out, I’d like to take you back to Earth.”

“What? No.” He jerked free of her hands. “I can’t leave Atlantis.”

“John.” She caught both of his arms. “It’s not permanent, I promise. But you need my undivided attention, which honestly you’re not going to get on the city of the ancients. It’s taken a lot of damn will power on my part not to trot off to a lab every time Woolsey’s back is turned.” She grinned when he frowned at her. “Science has been my best friend since I was eight-years-old. Regardless, I also promised your father that I would bring you home—he’s worried sick.”

“They told my dad?” John questioned.

“They told your father that Weir had declared you KIA,” Meredith said flatly. “But he already knew that wasn’t true because he was also briefed about me and my visions of you. He can’t come here, to you, as it would endanger his own imperative. No Alpha Sentinel is going to set foot on this city until you’ve established yourself and you can’t do that until you’ve been trained.”

“Training that can’t happen here,” John said dully and relaxed in her hold. “I…it feels wrong to leave.”

“You won’t be gone long—if you work hard I can probably have you field read in four weeks. No one will like it, of course, but what you want is more important than what the Burton Foundation wants. Blair Sandburg is in Colorado waiting for us to return so he’ll be on hand to help as well and he’ll keep the politics to a minimum since I have a history of being overtly hostile when I don’t get my way.” She stood and pulled him with her. “I retrieved some clothes for you—let’s get you cleaned up and I’ll help you work your senses back into a normal range.”

“You’re going to shower with me?” John questioned and glanced her over.

“Is that a problem?” Meredith questioned.

“I wouldn’t want to hurt you,” he said roughly. “I don’t feel safe…”

“How do you feel?”

“Wild.”

She patted his chest. “Relax, John, if you get out of hand—I’ll put you out like a light.”

Kepler appeared then and shouldered between them with a growl.

 

 

Chapter 7

“Relax.”

“I’m…” John trailed off and braced himself against the wall with one arm as she gently washed his back. “My ribs stopped hurting hours ago.”

“They’ll start hurting again,” Meredith cautioned. “Evolution made you for war, no matter your training, and that is offering you a unique kind of protection right now. But you’re going to come down quickly—partially because of me, but also because of how long this has been going on. I’m going to need to let one of the medical doctors on the city examine you.”

“No.”

Meredith paused, but then gently turned him to face her. “Hey.” She stroked her hands down his face, short nails gently scraping gently against his stubble to garner his full attention. “I don’t have the skills necessary to check you for injuries. You’ll need scans and the feeding wound…” She trailed off and focused on the wound. It was more bruise than laceration, but there was angry gash. “We can’t allow you to get an infection.”

“Beckett is not touching me,” John told her flatly.

“Beckett is on Earth,” Meredith assured. “Alyssa Biro is the new CMO. I’d never ask you tolerate his presence.” She hesitated as she used the soaped cloth to clean his neck. “This might sting a little.”

“I can handle it,” John said. “And honestly, I’m still kind of numb which is the only reason why I’m not freaked out about the impotence issue I currently have. I mean…I’ve never been naked with a woman like this and not gotten hard so it’s fucking with me a little on a mental level, but I get why it’s happening.”

She grinned. “There’s nothing wrong with your dick, I promise.”

“You’re beautiful,” John said and lifted his hand briefly, but then let it fall away. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine, you can touch me,” Meredith soothed and she started to clean the wound. “This soap is medical grade. It’s the only Sentinel safe soap on the city—remind me to buy Anne some better stuff. I can’t believe she’s suffering with this crap.”

John laughed a little. “She handles supplies so she could’ve certainly ordered something different, if she preferred.”

“She strikes me as the type to just accept what she’s given as long as it doesn’t cause her sense-issues,” Meredith said and paused when John’s breath hitched. “Hurt?”

“A little sting, but not as much as it probably should,” John admitted. “Are my senses damaged by what happened?”

“No, the numbness is nature’s way of protecting you. The physical and psionic assault that brought you online was deeply traumatic, John. I wasn’t the only Guide on Earth to feel it.”

“Did it hurt you?” John questioned and finally let one hand settle on her hip. “I’m sorry.”

She didn’t want to lie to him, but she wasn’t sure he could handle the truth of it. Disgruntled, she took a deep breath. “I felt you being fed on, but I didn’t know what it was. I thought, at first, I was having a heart attack and William lost his mind for a bit until we figured out it was a psionic event. Other shamans, on Earth, were exposed to your emotional trauma.” She looked up and found him staring at her in horror. His fingers flexed against her skin anxiously. “You had no control over any of that, John. No one is upset with you.”

He pulled her closer and slid his hand up her back. “The other Sentinel…”

“William?” Meredith questioned. “William Bouchard, Canadian Army and RCMP. He’s been seconded to the SGC and he’s probably in the midst of an intense bonding session with Miko Kusanagi so I really hope you can tolerate him otherwise they’ll both go back to Earth.”

“He took my gun,” John muttered, but then tangled his fingers into her hair. “You smell like him.”

“We’ve lived together for three years, had sex often,” Meredith said and raised an eyebrow when he huffed. “He’s my very best friend, you know, so you’re not allowed to be physically hostile with him. William is a strong and honorable, John. Any Alpha would welcome him in a pride and you need Sentinels like him and Teldy to fight the war you’ve claimed.”

“He’s loyal to you,” John said roughly. “And that is probably enough for the moment.” He took a deep breath. “Also, if I’m going to Earth, Anne needs someone invested to watch her back. I’d never want Miko to leave before she was ready. She loves Atlantis and the work she does here.”

“Can you smell anything else?” Meredith questioned.

“Coffee, ink…” He frowned. “Why do you smell like ink?”

“Mr. Woolsey broke an ink pen during the interviews. I cleaned up the mess while we were sorting Weir and Beckett back to Earth. I didn’t trust myself to be in the room near them, to be honest, so I was left with busy work.”

He pulled her a little closer and Meredith took a deep breath as her breasts brushed against his chest. Her nipples hardened completely.

“You’re aroused.”

“I love sex and you’re hot as hell,” Meredith said sourly. “Also, I haven’t gotten laid in like eight whole days which is terrible and completely out of line.”

John lifted an eyebrow. “Did you have Bouchard on some kind of schedule?”

She laughed. “Shut up.”

“I’m just…saying that if there’s some kind of schedule I should adhere to that I need to know about it.” He grinned when she rolled her eyes and he was so stupidly attractive in that moment that she could hardly stand it.

“You’re a lot better off than I thought you’d be,” Meredith said and rested against his chest, the soapy cloth still clutched in her hand.

“I felt like I was going lose it then everything calmed down again, like it did when I killed the wraith and escaped.” John inhaled sharply. “The water is starting hurt a little.”

“Let’s work on touch then,” Meredith murmured and moved back a bit so she could run her free hand over his chest. “Concentrate on my hand and focus on what it should feel like. When’s the last time someone really touched you? What do you remember about that encounter?”

John flushed. “I…”

“Sexy stories are even better,” Meredith assured and grinned when he laughed a little.

“I got a hand job a few weeks ago,” John admitted. “I was at the SGC for a review, but that probably isn’t the best choice to make since that was another man. The last woman was about a year ago—I don’t really remember anything specific about it. It was fine, I guess, but…” He shrugged. “That’s terrible, right?”

“I wouldn’t want to be told I was just fine in bed, so I hope you kept that opinion to yourself,” Meredith told him.

“I don’t think I should confess to how deep my assholery goes before we bond.”

“Oh, John.” Meredith stared at him.

“She tried to date me.” John made a face.

“How dare she,” Meredith said as gravely as she could and grinned when he made a face at her. “Trying to actually date a hot ass Marine who’d already banged her.”

“I already like you more than I probably should,” John told her. “That never works out for me. I adored my ex-wife on sight and she asked for a divorce 18 months into the marriage.”

“Marriage to a career military man can be difficult—a wife doesn’t get the same consideration that a Guide gets. I’ll go wherever you go for the rest of your career and she didn’t have that option.”

“Are you okay with that?” John questioned. “Your departure from the SGC is infamous.”

“Do you think you could leave Atlantis behind?” Meredith watched him process the question. She already knew the answer, but making him define it in a concrete way was important to his imperative.

“No.” He took a deep breath. “So what do we have to do to make you comfortable on Atlantis?”

“Well, Woolsey will take care of that,” Meredith assured. “And it helps that Carter isn’t here. I couldn’t have tolerated working out here with her on the city. I regret her death, at least for the sake of the program, but that would’ve been a deal breaker.”

“I don’t want to talk about her,” John said roughly. “But the distraction helped…the water doesn’t hurt anymore. Was that your intention?”

“Reminding you of a neutral or a pleasurable experience in relation to your senses can help you establish a baseline. Your senses have always been hypersensitive, you just didn’t have the right brain chemistry to notice.” Meredith took a deep breath. “Your olfactory nerves will be a problem off and on over the next day or so as you adjust. Powerful odors will numb those nerves, even in mundanes, in cases of extreme saturation which you’re going to experience due to spikes.”

“I get it.” He frowned. “Sort of. I don’t know a lot about any of it because I thought I was dormant.”

“I know.” Meredith shifted just a little as his half-hard cock brushed against her thigh. “Touch is fully back online, I see.”

He flushed. “Yeah.”

“You think you want to come right now,” Meredith said conversationally. “But you don’t. We need to work on your ability to moderate various physical sensations before you have an orgasm or it will be terrible.”

He cupped her hip again and rubbed his thumb along the edge of her pelvic bone. “Then it would be great if you let me finish this shower by myself. I’m not going to get this to go away with you being in here with me naked.”

“Okay.” She frowned. “Be careful of your ribs until we know how bad it is.”

– – – –

Meredith pulled her hair up into a bun as she left the bathing area and looked around the isolation room. She went to the intercom and activated it.

“Teldy?”

The window covering slid up between the two panes of glass. “Dr. McKay, is everything okay?”

“Tell Biro he’ll be ready for a physical in the next 15 minutes. The feeding wound is small and more of a bruise than anything else. I’ll handle his pain modulation so let her know not to bring any sort of drug into the room. He’s going to be leery of needles and medical personnel for sometime because of Beckett.”

“I sent Biro to take a decon shower,” Teldy said. “She was wearing a light fragrance—something the colonel will be familiar with, but I wasn’t sure if it would be too much once you started setting up his baseline.”

“Good call,” Meredith said and rubbed her arms. “Turn the heat up a little in here—he’ll catch a chill easy right now.”

“The city will adjust the room’s environmental stats to fit my needs,” John said as he came to her side rubbing his hair with a small blue towel. He was wearing the pair of pajama pants she’d collected him for him and socks, but nothing else. “Major, report.”

“Sir.” Teldy shifted into parade rest. “There are no teams off-world. Dr. Weir and Dr. Beckett have both been taken back to Earth due to the investigation into your kidnapping. Markham and Jenkins are currently in the infirmary due to injury during training exercises. Tension has been running high since you were taken and I’ve been putting the company through its paces to keep tempers in check. It’s worked for the most part. Mr. Woolsey, the new expedition leader, has ordered light duty for all departments due to psychological stress.

“There is another investigative team coming from Earth to help Woolsey and Captain Bouchard audit city operations to see what damage Weir did and how much of her reports back the IOA are complete fiction.”

“Based on what I read, about half,” Meredith said and shrugged when they both looked her way. “She painted a very rosy picture out here. That’s why you’ve regularly been denied more personnel, more weapons, and the X-302 squadron you requested six different times since Sumner was transferred to the Apollo.”

“Fantastic,” John muttered, but focused on Teldy. “Is Bouchard a problem?”

“No, sir, not in the least,” Teldy assured. “I’ve slotted him into the company as 3rd in command currently and he’s nesting with Miko. I suspect that will take at least a week or more. Everyone has responded positively to him—he’s personable and exudes a great deal of calm. Even Zelenka likes him and you know he hates everyone. So, I’d like to keep him if that’s possible at all.”

“Yeah, okay.” John dropped the towel on a desk near the window. “Get me a tablet and put all research data that has to do with me and Carson’s experimentation on it. Have Keller prepare any supplemental research I need to understand what he did and put that on the tablet as well. I want this in hand before I return to Earth for training. I don’t care what anyone has to say about it or the investigation. I’m entitled to a copy of everything.”

“Dr. McKay has already ordered that, sir. Biro and Keller are working together to make sure you have what you need to get a complete picture of what they did, how they did it, and what their long-term goal was with the research. You should know that they were experimenting with the iratus DNA and the retrovirus. Suppressing you as a Sentinel was secondary, but in Weir’s mind it was a thrilling bonus. She asked Beckett if there was a way of making it permanent as soon as he reported the situation.”

John exhaled sharply. “Contact the SGC and tell O’Neill that if either one of them are in the mountain when I get there—he won’t be able to stop me from killing them.”

“I think he knows that better than most, sir, but I’ll pass the message along.” Teldy looked him over, appeared to focus briefly on the feeding scar, and exhaled sharply. “I’ll be on this entry for the next five hours then Bates will take my place with Teyla. After that it will be Dex and Zelenka. The doc insisted on taking a turn and agreed to sign a weapon out of the armory, if required. We’ll rotate in shifts of six hours until you leave for Earth.”

“Thanks, Anne,” John said roughly. “Also, I’m starving.”

“Alison is in the mess gathering some food,” Anne reported. “She wanted to oversee it to make sure McKay’s allergy was taken into consideration.”

“Allergy?” John questioned and turned to stare at her. “To what and how bad?”

“Citrus and fatal,” Meredith said. “But it’s just ingestion so contact or air particles aren’t a problem, at present. I can’t say that won’t change, but I haven’t been exposed in years.” She focused on Teldy. “How do you know about it?”

“I received a full briefing on you, Dr. McKay,” Teldy said. “General O’Neill dialed into the city twice through Midway for that conversation. He left no question as to how you were to be treated during your stay with us and made it clear if you came to harm in any single way that there would be hell to pay.”

Meredith grimaced. “Sorry.”

“No, ma’am,” Teldy said. “You have nothing to apologize for. After the way you were treated in Area 51…frankly, I wish I’d been there to help you kill those guys. Colonel Sumner has never shied away from telling anyone that you saved his life that day, in more than one way.”

“Still, O’Neill shouldn’t be threatening to ruin people’s lives over it.”

“We know we’re not getting another chance to make this right with you,” Teldy said. “The IOA knows it, too. If something goes wrong this time—you’ll leave altogether and there are some who realize exactly how much that would hurt the program. Carter never got it, that was clear, but she had a very narrow focus. I know you’re the reason we have the gate bridge. It was your concept start to finish. You even designed Midway Station.”

“They told me I was building a permanent road to the asgard homeworld,” Meredith muttered. “The assholes.” She waved a hand. “My choice, of course, but it’s all deeply annoying not to have known about this from the start. They didn’t even tell me about the outpost on Earth.”

Biro arrived in that moment, hair still wet from a shower with a duffle bag.

“Come in Alyssa.” Meredith crossed her arms. “We’ve had a shower and cleaned up the single open wound he has. It has some psionic energy attached to it that I’ll have to deal with, but I wanted you to handle your end first.” She gave Teldy a nod and the woman lowered the privacy shield over the window.

John sat down on the hospital bed they’d set up in the isolation room. It was one of the larger ones—big enough to share in the right circumstances. He glanced toward McKay, but then forced himself to focus on Alyssa Biro as she entered the room. She looked freshly showered and he appreciated the care.

“Hey.”

Biro put the kit she’d brought with her on the bed and focused on him. “John.”

“Sorry.”

She huffed. “It’s hardly your fault we’re surrounded by corrupt fuckers.” She unzipped the bag. “How do you feel?”

“Hungry, a little tired, a lot furious…” He trailed off when she presented a medical scanner. He reached out and activated it. “Beckett never liked you.”

She glanced at him, startled. “What?”

“He didn’t like you,” John repeated. “Why?”

“I’m a lesbian,” Biro said and shrugged.

“He never struck me as homophobic.” John frowned because that made him more furious and he really didn’t think he had room for more ire.

“No, I wouldn’t say he’s homophobic,” Biro said as she focused on the scanner. “Bruised ribs—two very new healed fractures. There were small so not a surprise—psionic energy is known for healing minor stuff if a Sentinel has a strong Guide and you’re a lucky one on that front. Beckett didn’t make time for women he couldn’t fuck.”

John blinked in surprise. “What?”

Biro grinned at him and shared a look with McKay that John found utterly baffling. “Beckett didn’t think there was any value in being friends or even friendly with a woman he couldn’t put his dick in.”

“Gross,” John muttered and leaned back on his hands. “So he hit on you?”

“At Area 51 years ago,” Biro confirmed. “And rolled his eyes when I told him I was gay. One of the first things I did when I joined the expedition was sit down every single woman picked for medical and explain to them, in detail, that Carson Beckett was an unrepentant womanizer. Only one of the nurses ignored me. She came crying to me three weeks after we got here because he’d screwed her a few times then told her to fuck off. She went back to Earth as soon as she could. Maybe I’ll invite her back—she’s a great nurse.” She focused on the device again. “Headache?”

“The start of one.”

“Let me know if it doesn’t get better after you eat,” Alyssa said and pulled a tablet out of the bag. “The feeding wound—it’s different than what I’ve seen in the past.”

“He couldn’t feed on me,” John said roughly. “And the…barb thing that he had in his hand broke off when he reacted to that. He screamed. It was clearly overwhelming, but I didn’t try to figure out why. He’d destroyed his feeding hand, which could certainly be enough to send a wraith over the edge. He was so distraught that I broke his neck without any sort of struggle. The Genii weren’t much better to be honest.”

“They certainly didn’t get what they expected,” Biro said. “We know next to nothing about how the wraith respond to psychological stress. Beckett did give you the Hoffan drug about a month ago. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t kill you and if it did, he figured he could claim you had an unnoticed exposure off world.”

“I don’t think it’s healthy to be this mad,” John said faintly as his processed that. “How the hell could we not know he was a complete psycho? I thought the SGC had a Sentinel/Guide pair vet the entire expedition.” He focused on McKay.

Meredith made a face. “The thing is that most people exhibit a little sociopathology and it can be hard to determine if it’s a problem without extensive study. It doesn’t take much to present on the scale—habitual liars rate high psionically even if they aren’t likely to turn into serial killing maniacs or in Carson Beckett’s case, a mass murderer. And whoever vetted him probably recognized that he was a womanizer.”

“Right.”

“And frankly, being a sociopath isn’t automatically a deal breaker. Plenty of sociopaths live normal lives where they never harm another person and do their best to adhere to social norms. They can learn to appear and act normal enough that no one really gives them a second look. Early intervention is key, of course, in teaching them how to cope with their mental disorder. It’s clear no one ever bothered to notice that Carson Beckett was a monster when he could’ve been helped.”

“Are you saying he’s not responsible for his behavior?” Biro frowned at her.

“No, of course not. He’s exhibited no signs of psychosis and his ability to manipulate others speaks to high order thinking and planning. It could be argued that Weir had some kind of mental break down, but Beckett is a different animal. His treatment of women only highlights that—objectification on that level is horrifying. That’s straight up Charles Manson territory.”

“Wow.” John blew out a surprised breath and focused on Biro. Her hands were shaking. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“It’s really not,” she said shortly. “I worked with that monster every single day and had no clue. I trusted the SGC’s vetting process and dismissed his sexual shenanigans as a character flaw. It was enough, for me, that he didn’t get pushy and try to circumvent consent. In fact, a few months back I overheard him giving another civilian a lecture about trying to seduce a drunk woman. I don’t know who the woman was, but apparently Beckett separated them at the Christmas party.”

“Well…” John trailed off when both women focused on him. “A drunk woman wouldn’t be much of a challenge for a man like Beckett. I doubt he cared about the consent, but more about the other man’s lack of…sportsmanship.” They both huffed at him. “I don’t feel that way!”

“I know,” Biro said. “You’d get laid all the time on this city if you weren’t more interested in making friends.” She rolled her eyes when he laughed. “You’re the worst bisexual ever, actually. Your looks plus a foolish amount of heroics should mean your bed is never empty.”

“My favorite person on the whole city is a lesbian,” John told her solemnly and grinned she sighed dramatically. “Besides, the pool isn’t that big and I can’t check out someone’s ass without them getting some serious expectations that involve engagement rings.”

Biro turned to Meredith. “He banged one of the physical therapists and she got completely wrapped around the axle. Heightmeyer had to do an intervention because she damn near stalked him and kept sending him emails full of heart emojis.”

“Hey, what happened to doctor/patient confidentiality?” John demanded.

“The whole city knows,” Biro said. “You should’ve seen her when Weir announced that you’d be killed off-world. I had to sedate that foolish woman. She tried to come in here, by the way, and I told her if she came near you that McKay would probably kill her.”

“What’s this dumb woman’s name?” Meredith demanded.

John really didn’t want to say as it would only highlight his own stupidity.

“Dr. Cadence Worth,” Biro said in amusement. “But she insists that everyone call her Dr. Candy.”

McKay scoffed.

“Right?” Biro shook her head and made a few entries on the tablet then focused on the ancient scanner again. “Blood pressure is fine, glucose a little low, respiration normal, temperature normal.” She paused and frowned. “Your oxygen saturation is above normal.” She focused on McKay. “108 mmHg.”

“His psionic levels are elevated due to repeated feral episodes. I think he went over at least four times since he was kidnapped.” She paused when Biro blanched. “Considering oxygen’s role in energy production—his body worked overtime to keep him functional which is part of his base imperative. He’s coming down slowly, but I don’t expect him to completely level out for another 24 hours. I know in mundanes that an elevated oxygen saturation can lead to cell damage, but that wouldn’t be a concern for John.”

“How close to a feral spiral did I come?” John questioned and both women focused on him.

“You didn’t,” Meredith said.

“Because of the connection I forced on you?” John questioned. He felt guilty as hell about what McKay had experienced because of him. A sheltered academic should never have a single damn clue what a wraith feeding felt like.

“I’m a shaman, John,” Meredith said. “And a Lion Guide—you couldn’t force any sort of psionic connection between us and I could have severed the nascent bond we did form the instant you came online easily while I was on Earth. The fact is that I responded in an instinctive manner the moment you came online—I wasn’t the only one, either. As I said, every single shaman on Earth felt you emerge and I imagine every single one of them, bonded or not, attempted to soothe you in their own way through the psionic energy that connects us all. And because I was the most compatible, I was allowed to take on the connection you needed.”

“Right. A shaman.” John took a deep breath. “I met one of those once—when I was a little kid. He came to Virginia to speak with my about my mother’s death because my maternal grandfathers insisted. He was the one that told everyone that I probably would never come online and should be considered dormant.” He paused and frowned. “He told me it would take something extraordinary for me to come online as a Sentinel and that I shouldn’t allow myself to hope for it, so I didn’t.”

“For him extraordinary would’ve been on par with a global natural disaster,” Meredith said. “And not human experimentation and near-execution at the hands of an alien. Who was it?”

“Jack Kelso.” John watched her process that. “My father was already presenting as an Alpha without a Guide and his wife had been murdered. The foundation was invested in getting him all the help he needed to avoid him going completely off the rails. I didn’t realize it was a big deal until I was an adult.”

“It might be a problem,” Meredith admitted. “Kelso’s word was law when he was the Alpha Prime Guide of United States. There will be questions that we can’t answer due to the classified nature of the program. Some of it Blair can make go away, but that won’t stop people from questioning you in the future if they know about your initial diagnosis from Kelso. They’ll want to know what the circumstances were and being told it’s classified will just make some even more curious.”

“Why do you think I went from dormant to latent?” John questioned as Biro retreated to her tablet to make more notes. “Did the retrovirus wake something up in me?”

“The retrovirus attacked your humanity,” Meredith said quietly. “It was the most pronounced and overt threat to your existence to ever happen. You weren’t just at risk of dying physically, but also spiritually due to the way you were being actively kept from the influence of the psionic plane.”

“Spiritually,” John repeated. “You mean my soul? You believe that?”

“The souls of our kind have two paths after death—reincarnation and a deeply spiritual journey that leads to the transition into a spirit animal.” Kepler appeared at her side and pressed against her leg. “Kepler is the avatar of a long dead Sentinel—one who chose to commune with the universe rather than be born again. I don’t know how many lives he lived before he moved on or what made him move on at all. During the final leg of my journey as a shaman he spoke to me—spoke of his last life and the children he’d fathered. I’m the fifth Guide he’s traveled with, but the first shaman.”

John didn’t know what to do with that information. He glanced toward Biro and found her staring at McKay in shock. “You okay, Alyssa?”

She cleared her throat. “Yes, of course. I’ve never just never heard of anything like that before. Mundanes don’t get access to any sort of lore—not even when I took a full year of classes in medical school regarding the care of Sentinels and Guides.”

“Well, you can’t really do much for us spiritually,” Meredith said easily. “And we don’t discuss it much outside of our own circles due to how established religions treat such topics. It’s just best left unsaid because the last time it was widely discussed, Guides got burned at the stake.”

“That wouldn’t happen today,” Biro protested.

“Ten years ago, the UN had to come down on four different countries who were attempting to develop psionic control collars,” Meredith said dryly. “They had to threaten several of those countries with sanctions so severe that it would’ve destroyed their economies for decades. Trust me, Dr. Biro, there are plenty of people who find Sentinels useful and Guides problematic. If they could have functional, healthy Sentinels without us many would certainly be pleased. We provide too much oversight and no one has hope of influencing a Sentinel to do something their Guide doesn’t like.”

“Still…” Biro made a face.

“They were still burning witches in the 1700s,” John interjected and they both focused on him. “Innocent people just suspected of witchcraft who had no gifts at all, or who were actually empathically sensitive. Turning on Guides during the emergence was just par for that course.”

“Right, humans suck. Unfortunately, so do most aliens.” Biro tucked the tablet and the scanner back into the bag then pulled out a small pen-shaped healing device. “Let’s clean up the wound and heal that. The smell of an open wound can’t be pleasant.”

“It’s not great.” John allowed himself to be maneuvered onto his back and relaxed on the bed as Meredith walked around the side and picked up his hand. “I can handle this.”

“We can’t risk traditional pain relief for several reasons,” Meredith said and her skin took on a faint glow. “We’ll have to do some testing to see where your sensitivities are and there are psychological issues at play as well considering Beckett’s fucked up experimentation. Plus, you could lose your shit at the sight of a needle.”

John wasn’t sure, actually, so he agreed it wasn’t worth the risk. He wouldn’t want to risk hurting either one of them in the midst of a feral response. The psionic energy drifting on her skin was fascinating. “I’ve never seen a Guide do this.”

“It’s not within the skillset of most Guides,” Meredith murmured and the energy darkened, casting her beautiful face in a ethereal light. “Most Guides can learn pain management through nerve manipulation, but using psionic energy to deflect physical trauma is another matter altogether.”

“Which is easier for you?” John asked curiously and pushed the smell of antiseptic aside as Biro started to clean the wound.

“They’re about equal and there are circumstances where I wouldn’t put myself on display like this. That being said, I’d rather deflect than suppress in our current circumstances. I think you’ve been suppressed and managed enough for the time being.” She focused on Biro. “How’s that device work?”

“I have no idea,” Alyssa admitted. “It only works on John and it activates on its own when directed at injury. Beckett found it vexing and refused to use it. In retrospect, he probably was afraid it might interfere in his work.”

“John isn’t the only natural gene carrier on the city.”

“No, but he’s her favorite,” Alyssa said wryly. “I think she might have made this thing for him actually. It appeared on Carson’s desk from out of nowhere when he was bitten by the iratus bug. She wouldn’t let him leave his office until he picked it up. It would be a favor, to us all, Dr. McKay if you could figure out how to communicate with her. Carter never considered it a priority, probably due to her poor experiences with artificial intelligences.”

“And Zelenka?”

“Overworked and micromanaged by Weir,” John murmured and Meredith focused on him. The blue light drifting on her skin was strangely comforting and kind of sexy. “Do you do this whole light show during sex?” He grinned when she laughed. “Because it’s not a deal breaker.”

“I can,” Meredith said and rolled her eyes.

 

 

Chapter 8

His father was waiting at the bottom of the ramp when John stepped through the gate. It was such a relief that he went weak in the knees. Meredith caught his arm and steadied him as the gate behind them shut off.

“John?”

“I’m fine,” he said hoarsely.

“You’re a terrible liar,” McKay complained. “How does that even work in the field? You probably spend half your time in off-world prisons.”

John grinned at her because he had been taken hostage a lot in his career with the SGC.

He dropped their bags the moment he could, and latched onto his dad like a child and held on. Patrick cupped the back of his head and took a deep breath. His father’s relief enveloped him and John let himself settle in that emotion, gratefully.

“Hey.”

Patrick laughed as patted his back. “Hey back.”

John released him reluctantly, but was immediately drawn into his adopted-father’s embrace and that was such a comfort that tears welled. He blinked them away quickly and took a deep breath against Jonah’s hair.

“You’re a mess,” Jonah murmured as he cupped his head gently. “But far better off than I could’ve ever hoped for. I’m so sorry, John.”

“You did nothing wrong…”

“I’ve known you since you were 16 and I didn’t once sit down with you to teach you a single thing about being a Sentinel. I took your diagnosis, which was already 10 years old when we met, at face value and never questioned your dad about it. I should’ve. Trauma shifts and changes in the mind of a potential Sentinel and no one took that into consideration as you grew up, joined the military, and proceeded to find one fight after another to throw yourself at.” Jonah released him with a sigh. “And look at you now—having come online due to torture as an Alpha Sentinel.”

 “It’s okay.” John scratched his hand as he stepped back. Meredith separated his hands and inspected his skin.

“Stress rash,” she said and frowned at him.

“I meditated,” John protested. “You were there.”

“I think you were faking,” Meredith admitted and turned to his father’s Guide. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Dr. Dean. I hope your stay in the mountain has been uneventful.”

“Well, they brought those two assholes through the gate,” Jonah said. “Fortunately, we removed all the Sentinels from the mountain before that happened, so they were safely transferred to some off-site prison. O’Neill said something about them keeping some guy named Simmons company for the time being.

“Several members of the IOA are here. They want to speak with John personally regarding the charges against Beckett and Weir. And that asshole from the Denver Psionics Center is pissy because you and Bouchard didn’t come in for assessment upon your arrival.”

“I don’t owe that man the time of day,” Meredith said. “And I’m more than willing to tell him that. I should’ve put him in his place years ago.”

“Is he the one that has a boner for you?” John asked. “We should go visit him.”

Meredith shot him a look. “They aren’t going to issue you a weapon, you know. You’re officially off-duty until you’re declared field ready.”

“I have enough privately owned ordnance and weapons on this planet to lay siege to a small country,” John said. “Not that I would—I’m just saying I could.” He focused on his father. “Can we just go home? I think I’d do better in your territory.”

Patrick stared at him for a moment and John tried not fidget under the inspection. He really didn’t remember a time when his father couldn’t look straight into him. It had been unnerving as a child and downright frustrating as a teenager. It was impossible to have a secret from a Sentinel parent.

“We have everything ready for you, John,” Patrick said. “David was in Europe on business, but flew home when I got the first…bullshit report about your circumstances. He landed in Virginia a few hours after I got here.”

“And Matt?” John questioned.

“On his way home,” Patrick said. “He’s stationed on a aircraft carrier, and by the time we reached him we were able to report for certain that you’d been recovered.” He inclined his head toward the large window in the back of the room. “O’Neill has the IOA corralled in the conference room. There are four members here—US, France, China, and Great Britain.”

“Carl Strom, Jean LaPierre, Shen Xiaoyi, and Russel Chapman,” Meredith supplied.

“Are they a problem?” John asked and focused on her.

“They’re greedy, self-absorbed, and prone to histrionics when forced to make a decision. The whole of the IOA likes problems to either solve themselves or disappear. Most of them would like to bury the stargate and forget it ever existed, but they’re not stupid enough to assume that would actually keep aliens from coming here to take us over or kill us all. That being said—no, none of them will be a problem for you unless they want to become a problem for me.” She focused on the window as she spoke and one of them watching actually flinched. “And we call agree, Dr. Strom, that it would be a very bad idea of any of you to be a problem for me. Can’t we?”

John watched one of the men give her a nod.

“Let’s get this over with,” John said, reluctantly amused by the fact that she said all of that knowing that they were being listened to. He wondered what she’d have said if the conversation were private.

His dad and Jonah left them at the conference door with the promise that they would see to their travel. John had let them take their bags though he didn’t really want to part with his. It felt weird to let his stuff go. Maybe it was because he’d had nothing on the planet—he’d have to work on that. He wouldn’t want to start hoarding weird shit as a coping mechanism.

In the conference room, he sat down because he was exhausted. Meredith took a seat next to him and stared pointedly at O’Neill as he did the largely unnecessary introductions.

“Don’t look at me like that, McKay. I can’t control these people. They wouldn’t be in my mountain stressing everyone out, if I could,” O’Neill said wearily. “I had to put Dr. Lee on leave because he had a panic attack over them inspecting his lab.”

“You let Bill Lee have his own lab?” Meredith questioned. “Seriously? You know he has the uncanny ability to make technology blow up, right? Even stuff that doesn’t have a power source of any sort as been known to spontaneously catch on fire in his hands. Several people at Area 51 want to study him.”

“We noticed,” Jack assured. “It’s part of his charm.”

“Sure,” Meredith said though she clearly didn’t agree with that.

“Can we get this over with?” John questioned. “I apologize for being rude, but I’m tired, uncomfortable, and everything smells terrible.”

“You were breathing filtered air exclusively on Atlantis,” Meredith explained. “We’ll work on it, but for now just focus most of your senses on me.” She took his hand.

“The two of you have bonded, then?” Strom questioned.

Meredith frowned at him. “That is none of your business, Dr. Strom.”

“Dr. McKay,” Strom began and took a deep breath. “If you’re going to stay in Pegasus on Atlantis, we need to know. There will be some rearrangement of positions on the city and we need to know how long Colonel Sheppard will be off-duty so O’Neill can make adjustments as needed for the military personnel.”

“I’ve left Anne Teldy in charge in my place,” John said and focused on O’Neill. “It would make deeply uncomfortable if you placed someone else on the city—even someone I know. I could probably tolerate Sumner, but he’s happy on the Apollo and doesn’t deserve to be taken off his ship for no good reason. We’ve cleared the mission schedule for new exploration for the next six weeks and the only off-world trips will be to reaffirm trade agreements. I expect to be back on Atlantis before our six week plan expires.”

“And Captain Bouchard?” O’Neill questioned.

“He’s acting as Anne’s XO and she’s pleased with that,” John said. “Also, he’s bonded with Dr. Miko Kusanagi so he’ll be staying in Pegasus until she’s ready to do whatever else she has on her bucket list. I think her last item is colonizing Mars, so just a head’s up.”

Jack nodded. “She already told me—I told the President if we didn’t fund it she’d get private funding and make us pay through the nose to visit.”

“Sounds about right,” John agreed. “I thought we were here to discuss Beckett and Weir?”

“Dr. Beckett is a citizen of the UK,” Russel Chapman stated. “We’d like him returned to us as he’s a very valuable scientific asset.”

John’s gaze narrowed. “Do you know what a Retribution Hunt is, Mr. Chapman?”

Chapman paled. “Yes…I’m familiar with it.”

“If I told the International Committee for Sentinel and Guide Affairs what Carson Beckett did to me—I’d be granted the right to hunt and kill him for his crimes against me. He experimented on me, injected alien DNA into my body repeatedly, tested a biological weapon on me, and suppressed my gifts as a Sentinel on purpose. He was working toward permanent suppression at Elizabeth Weir’s request.

“I don’t care if he’s a valuable asset—he’s a fucking monster and he would’ve committed mass murder in Pegasus if given a chance. Perhaps that doesn’t mean anything to you because those human beings aren’t from Earth. Maybe you don’t care how many men, women, and children he would’ve murdered along the way if it meant the end of the wraith, but I care. He’s a threat and if he’s not utterly neutralized—I will find him and rip him limb from limb.” He paused as Chapman’s mouth clenched shut. “Are we clear?”

“Yes, Colonel,” Chapman said.

“I trust, Colonel Sheppard, that your opinion of Dr. Weir goes along those same lines,” James Coolidge interjected and John focused on him.

“She aided and abetted the enemy in Pegasus, Mr. Coolidge. She’s guilty of treason plus she knew and approved of all of Beckett’s research. She’s also, apparently, guilty of fraud as she hasn’t submitted an accurate report to the IOA ever, as far as Mr. Woolsey has been able to discern since his arrival on this city. I suspect he will be editing and refuting her claims for the next year.”

“Yes, we heard,” Strom said. “Xiaoyi, you had questioned for Colonel Sheppard?”

“I did, thank you, Dr. Strom.” She offered John a pretty smile and John’s gut tightened. The woman reeked of greed and that was seriously off-putting. Meredith shifted closer to him. “My country is concerned by Dr. Beckett’s research, Colonel Sheppard, but we are also intrigued by his apparent success in making fundamental changes to your genetic make-up without any overt changes in your appearance. We have the data, but we don’t have samples of the iratus and wraith DNA he worked with for his experiments. We’ve also been told that all of the samples on the city were destroyed when the genetics lab was cleansed by Dr. Biro. An operation the IOA did not approve of, by the way.”

“Mr. Woolsey didn’t disagree with that choice,” Meredith interjected. “He understood that the contents of the lab were too dangerous to keep in any single way. Carson’s experiments were profane and his long-term goals were a war crime.”

“I won’t capture a wraith or an iratus to be brought to Earth for research,” John said flatly.

“You could be ordered to do it,” Xiaoyi pointed out.

“I could be court-martialed for refusing to do it, too,” John said evenly. “It’ll be an interesting trial to say the least—I wonder how the Judge Advocate General will feel about a United States Marine being court-martialed for refusing to capture a sapient alien for experimentation in a Chinese lab.”

Her cheeks flushed and she glanced toward O’Neill, who quirked an eyebrow.

“They’d have to court-martial me, too,” Jack said. “Because I certainly won’t be ordering John to do anything of the sort. We know, already, that he’s probably the only person a live who could capture a living iratus for study so that’s not going to ever happen. As to a wraith, well, one could be captured, but I’d shoot it the moment he stepped through the gate. There is no fucking way I’d let one of those things live on Earth for even a day. No Sentinel could tolerate that—you’d have to staff the entire site with mundanes only and invest millions in hiding and protecting the facility from your own Sentinel/Guide population because the thing would drive them nuts.”

“My government would settle for a blood sample,” Xiaoyi said smoothly.

“No.” John shifted in the chair slightly.

“It’s a small thing—one you’ve done hundreds of times during the course of your career,” she said. “Just a few tubes of blood isn’t a lot to ask of anyone, Colonel Sheppard.”

“The answer remains no and if someone tries to force it—I’ll be in front of the International Committee requesting and receiving the right to avenge myself.” John leaned forward. “I’ll start with you.”

Her eyes widened as she sat back abruptly in her chair. Fear replaced greed and John didn’t feel guilty at all. “That’s not…”

“I am not your road to a super soldier,” John snapped and started to stand.

Meredith’s hand clamped down his even as Kepler appeared with a throaty growl that caught everyone’s attention. John watched his Guide’s spirit animal move around the room in a slow, lazy circle before sitting down beside her and putting his big head in her lap.

“You’re a Lion Guide?” Strom rubbed his face with both hands. “The shaman—you’re the female shaman no one mentions by name? The one with no psionic tether for Earth.” He raised a hand when Xiaoyi started to speak. “Stop, Shen, you and I both we are in way above our pay grade. China’s already learned the hard way that you cannot control a shaman. They’re gifted beyond our comprehension for a reason. How many of your Sentinels and Guides died when your government executed a shaman for not agreeing with their policies?”

Shen flushed. “Just over 2200 bonded pairs and over 5000 unbonded Sentinels died due to the psionic dissonance his unjustified execution caused. We don’t know how many unbonded Guides we lost as they weren’t part of the forced registration policy we had at the time. Those that did not die, went dormant in droves. Even today, Sentinels and Guides are exceedingly rare amongst my people. We’ve learned from that mistake, Dr. Strom. It changed our entire government—we went from a communist regime to a democracy in 43 years because of that…terrible situation. My government will not cross or cause damage to another shaman for any reason.” She looked from Kepler to Meredith. “Are you the female shaman the International Committee announced ten years ago, but refused to identify?”

“Yes.”

“Is your psionic tether in Pegasus?” she questioned.

“Yes,” McKay admitted.

Shen Xiaoyi took a deep breath. “My apologies, Dr. McKay, if I’ve caused any offense today. Congratulations on finding your Sentinel—you’ve clearly waited a long time for him. China no longer has an interests in this meeting or any other matter involving Atlantis going forward.”

John realized he really didn’t know what it meant to be a shaman and that he needed to learn a lot going forward. The representative from France, Jean LaPierre, was staring at Meredith intently. It made him wish he’d kept his gun.

“Do you have a question, Jean?” Meredith asked.

LaPierre wet his lips and shifted in his chair. “You know I don’t approve, Dr. McKay. You’re a valuable scientific asset and with Dr. Carter’s death, we must consider the technological advancements at risk if you go to Pegasus and do not return.”

“There’s no point in having an argument about it,” Meredith said. “John’s territory is Atlantis which means we’re going back as soon as I get him properly settled and ready to work in the field.”

“You haven’t bonded with him—obviously—a different decision could be made,” LaPierre said. “You have thousands of potential matches within the Burton Foundation’s records and could possibly have more if you allowed the search to open up to Europe and Asia.”

John’s stomach lurched at the thought that she would leave or that another Sentinel had any sort of claim on her. Bouchard was bad enough, even if he wasn’t an asshole, but… Her hand clenched briefly in his and he focused on her.

“It’s fine.”

“Thousands?” He turned to look at her.

“I’ve met 10 of them—the only ones that had a compatibility rating over 90%. It was as low as I could go considering my gifts. William’s actually the best percentage match I ever had in the system we are utterly unsuited. I would’ve destroyed him psionically within a year if we could’ve formed a bond and we couldn’t.”

“But why so many?”

“Because, in theory, a Lion Guide should be able to bond with practically any Sentinel. We’re made for war and such a distinction means, in the past, that my kind had to be prepared to bond any Sentinel available and sometimes even more than one. One of the most famous Lion Guides in history had two concurrent bonds which he maintained for three decades.” She focused on LaPierre. “You continue to be a greedy, inappropriate bastard, Jean. I told you four years ago that I want no part of your agenda nor am I interested in living in France. I don’t even want to visit.”

“What agenda?” O’Neill questioned.

“France has a breeding program of sorts,” Meredith said when LaPierre kept his mouth shut. “Nothing official, mind you, because that would be illegal. But they do they fund surrogacy program in their efforts to create strong Sentinels and Guides. They encourage their Alpha pairs to birth or to father as many children as possible. Their current prime pair has 23 biological children between them—all through surrogates. The French government pays them an astronomical amount of money in maintenance to take care of those children. They have a full staff for it. I was asked to carry a child for them two years ago—a child I would have to hand over immediately upon birth and would never be allowed to see again unless I was prepared to migrate. But I still wouldn’t have any parental rights.”

LaPierre flushed. “It is a standard practice in your community, Dr. McKay. France supports our Sentinel and Guide population to the fullest measure.”

“Sure,” Meredith said. “Does it cross your mind at all that you’ve not had a single shaman born amongst your population in a hundred years?” His mouth dropped open. “Mundanes, like you, think that my kind can be boiled down to something so ordinary and simple as genetics when it couldn’t be further from the truth. The psionic plane does not care about your ambition or your greed, but it does understand the psychological pressure and grief your social engineering causes.”

“So you won’t be dissuaded from bonding with this American? What does your PM think of this?”

Meredith turned to O’Neill. “Jack, can I borrow your phone?”

O’Neill pulled a cell from his pocket and slid it across the table to her. Meredith quickly dialed a phone number and put the call on speaker. It rang twice.

“O’Neill? Has something happened to McKay?”

“I’m fine, Owen,” Meredith said. “Can you please confirm your identity for the room—I have you on speaker.”

“My name is Owen Harold Tremblay and I’m the Prime Minister of Canada,” the voice said. “Who is in the room with you, Meredith?”

“Jack O’Neill, Carl Strom, Russel Chapman, Shen Xiaoyi, Jean LaPierre, James Coolidge and Colonel John Patrick Sheppard,” Meredith reported. “Jean LaPierre would like to know what you think of the fact that John Sheppard is my Sentinel.”

“I’m pleased for you. Is there some political issue regarding your Canadian citizenship? I can speak with President Hayes directly about any concerns you have. Your security clearance for the SGC is current, of course, and I can’t imagine that Colonel Sheppard is involved in any operations you can’t be privy to. How are you, Colonel Sheppard? I haven’t received a report on your physical condition since your recovery from the field.”

“I’m fine, sir,” John said. “Thank you for your concern.” He shared a look with General O’Neill who looked only mildly interested in the situation.

“Mr. LaPierre continues to try to get me to come to France and breed for them,” Meredith said. “He doesn’t think I should be allowed to bond with a man in the US military.”

“LaPierre—I made it clear to Prime Minister Garnier, when he was elected, and to you personally three years ago, that Meredith McKay is none of your business,” Owen said. “Do I need to contact Garnier and have that conversation again?”

LaPierre’s face pinched in displeasure. “No, sir, of course not. I just expressed my concern regarding Dr. McKay’s choices in this situation—she’s clearly in a very emotional place and isn’t capable of making a rational decision.”

“She rationally decided a decade ago that she didn’t want to be a brood mare,” Owen snapped. “O’Neill, that meeting is over. I want him out of her face immediately. LaPierre, tell Garnier that there will be a formal response to this ridiculous and abusive situation.”

O’Neill stood. “Of course, Prime Minister.”

“But…” LaPierre started.

O’Neill held up a hand. “Owen Tremblay is also the Alpha Sentinel Prime of Canada, Mr. LaPierre. Dr. McKay is officially a member of his pride and he’s made it clear that this discussion is over for her.” He turned to McKay. “You can go, Dr. McKay. John’s parents are downstairs—we have a team ready to escort you to Denver.”

John stood and pulled Meredith from the chair gently. She slid the phone back to O’Neill with the still active call. He kept her hand in his as they left the room and didn’t say a word until they were in the elevator.

“You’re a badass,” John said in amusement. “It’s great.”

Meredith blushed and laughed. “Shut up.”

“Can you attend all of my IOA meetings in the future?” John questioned. “Because they didn’t even try to blame me for my own kidnapping and that’s normally how that goes.”

“Yeah, I’ll attend all of those meetings,” McKay muttered and shook her head when he laughed under his breath.

They processed out of the mountain and into the garage where his dads had a rented SUV. It didn’t surprise John that his father had secured his own vehicle—control had always been important to him. He settled into the back seat with Meredith and closed his eyes as soon as they were in motion.

“Talk to me, John,” Patrick said.

“I can’t believe you’re letting someone else drive,” John said and laughed when his father huffed in offense. “You never let anyone drive you. We had to take driving lessons from a professional because it drove you nuts to try to teach us and you said Jonah would go to easy on us.”

“I did go easy on you,” Jonah admitted with a laugh as he maneuvered the SUV through traffic. “Your dad’s been having sensory spikes since he was briefed on your circumstances so he’s not allowed to drive right now.”

“I’m fine, John,” Patrick said. “My response is reasonable and not without precedent. I tend to have sense issues during emotionally difficult situations. Dr. Sandburg and Jim Ellison are in Denver at the Psionics Center to manage the situation. Oliver Cohn is threatening to file a complaint with the International Committee.”

“A complaint about what?” Meredith demanded. “I don’t think the committee cares that I don’t want to fuck some guy from Denver, Colorado.”

“He’s using your relationship with Bouchard to question your judgment regarding your potential ability to bond with any Sentinel. He says that John deserves a full Guide search and shouldn’t be saddled with a…” Jonah trailed off.

“A self-involved and selfish Guide who refuses to bond,” Meredith supplied. “That’s what he said the last time I declined to appear for a search in Denver. He’s requested that I attend over 20 different events in the last two years alone despite the fact that my records on file with the Burton Foundation make it clear that I won’t meet any potential Sentinels who are under 90% compatibility. The highest percentage he ever offered was 77%. He told me I had unreasonably high standards.”

“What was his own compatibility?”

“94%—he’s one of the ones I met and rejected when I first came online. Oliver Cohn is an alpha and a potential prime—he could take Jim Ellison’s place in the future if he bonds with a powerful Guide. He’s gone through a series of conservators over the last decade because he’s refused to conduct another Guide search as he’s repeatedly told anyone that will listen that I’m his Guide. I almost refused to join the SGC because of it’s proximity to Denver. He didn’t know I was regularly in the state until the incident in Nevada went down and I was evacuated to Peterson.” Meredith ran a hand through her hair. “He’s not corrupt—just stubborn and invested in me due to internalized homophobia. He was raised by a religious nutjob and had to be removed from his parents as a teenager due to their psychological abuse.” She waved a hand. “Maybe he thinks his father will love him if he brings home a woman. I don’t know, but I know he’s not a match for me in any single way, and I knew it the moment I set eyes on him.”

“What’s your spirit animal, John?” Patrick asked.

John hesitated and Meredith nudged him. “A black jaguar.”

“Of course it is,” Patrick said with a sigh. “For fuck’s sake.”

“Is it really all that big of a deal?” John questioned.

“Not as rare as a Lion Guide, but less than a 100 Sentinels on Earth have presented with a jaguar spirit animal,” Jonah said quietly. “And every single one of them is a prime.”

“John’s not a prime,” Meredith said quietly.

“I’m not?” John questioned and focused on her.

“John, tell me how your father feels right now,” Meredith said gently.

“He’s…relieved, a little worried, stressed out…also he feels guilty. I figure the guilt is about his phone since he keeps pulling it out of his pocket, but not using it. He probably wants to check his messages or the business email, but thinks he shouldn’t.”

Jonah pulled the SUV over on the side of the highway abruptly and turned to stare at John as shock and horror drifted around him.

“What?” John questioned as his father unbuckled his seat belt and turned completely around in his seat.

“You’re an Alpha Ascendant,” Patrick said quietly. “John.”

“What’s that?” John questioned. “Is something wrong with me?”

“No, nothing is wrong with you,” Meredith said firmly. “I didn’t know for certain and I wasn’t sure I should ask you to define your abilities on Atlantis. I want to trust the people you trust, but that’s a work in progress. An Alpha Ascendant is a Sentinel with six advanced senses—the most common sixth is empathy though there is an Ascendant in South America who can communicate with the dead. Jim Ellison is on the cusp of being an Ascendant, but childhood trauma largely suppresses the ability. He’s reported seeing several ghosts over the last 20 years, but never on a consistent basis. He shies away from being labeled an Ascendant and Blair shields him from it.”

John nodded. “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s go meet with the asshole in Denver, so we can go home.”

Part 2

 

Keira Marcos

In my spare time, I write fanfiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on the Internet. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a 40ish "domestic engineer" but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

5 Comments:

  1. Ohhhhh Yay for weekend reading!!!!! My weekend is now going to be completely awesome because of this I just know it

  2. Thank You! Chores can wait!

  3. So, I have real anxiety issues and if I‘m not working or reading I feel like my heart‘s crawling out of my skin … and if the stories not written good enough it only helps marginally. I‘ve read until the end of chapter 6 (and know and love all of your stories) and feel like I‘m in an entire different world, that takes me away from all of my „problems“.
    So, thanks from the deapest parts of my heart and all the love, kaetzchen.

  4. I imagine how John felt, alone and wounded, betrayed, fighting for his life, and having Meredith appear like a gorgeous, cranky angel with a backpack of ammo and handiwipes, and my heart literally swoons. Thanks.

  5. “You’re the freaking avatar for trouble.”

    Love. This. Line.

    Also, I have to say a big thank you for putting Jennifer Keller on the Spectrum. I have a nephew who’s on the Spectrum, so it’s completely awesome to see a character on the Spectrum portrayed as something other than damaged or fragile. Even though my nephew will likely never see this story, it’s heartening to see a positive portrayal of a person on the Spectrum in one of your stories and have it be just another facet of the character. I remember reading this on Rough Trade and having a big grin on my face while doing it.

    Looking forward to reading the rest, but I just had to stop and comment here. Thank you!

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