Reading Time: 197 Minutes
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.
Claire Dubois was honestly one of the most beautiful women Meredith had ever seen. It was kind of difficult to even look at her, which was weird. She was also emoting all over the place—nervous and uncertain about her reception in the Sheppard household. Her fingers were trembling slightly as Meredith took her hand.
She stepped closer and put her free hand on top of Claire’s and met her gaze for a long moment. “This whole family is a hot mess. They use humor to deflect, like to pretend they don’t have emotions, and meet in the kitchen in the middle of the night to emote all over the place like a group of teenagers in the midst of an existential crisis. They drink tea from little paper sachets, have crap taste in coffee, the WiFi signal is terrible, and the only two reasonable people in the house are staff.”
Claire laughed and kissed both of her cheeks. “How’s the wine?”
“Excellent,” Meredith said. “Which was a relief.” She released her hand. “And you don’t have to worry, Claire, you won’t come online outside of extreme circumstances.”
“Like a bigfoot in the garden?” Claire questioned with a laugh. “David told me what you said to him.”
“Exactly like that,” Meredith agreed.
She stepped back and watched as she was greeted individually by everyone else and noted that Patrick lingered the longest—clearly gathering sense data on the woman that his son was in love with. Soon they were seated at the table for dinner.
“David tells me you ran his aunt off in the middle of the first course,” Claire said and raised an eyebrow.
“Did he tell you she’s a homophobic misogynist?” Meredith questioned and got a small nod. “I expect you to be my ally in this—we’re never, ever spending a single full holiday event with that woman until she learns to be civil. Social attrition is the only skill I ever learned from my mother and I could earn a degree in it.”
“I feel like mistakes are being made right in front of me,” John muttered and shared a look with his brother who winced.
“Ah, well, it’s par for the course,” Patrick said casually. “My sister was escorted out of my wedding to Amelia because she couldn’t behave. Jonah refused to let her attend our ceremony on the grounds that Amelia wouldn’t have approved and he’s not wrong. I’m obligated to put up with her due to a promise I made my mother, but I don’t expect any of you to endure her or her nonsense.” Then he focused on Claire. “How do you feel about moving your company to America? I’m not on board with my son moving to France or even spending a half a year there on a regular basis. Additionally, none of my grandchildren will be citizens of France due to their policies regarding their Sentinel/Guide population.”
Claire flushed. “I…I’m…” She exhaled and focused on David.
“Dad.” David stared pointedly. “Could you avoid alienating her until after I’ve got a ring on her hand?”
Patrick picked up his wine, took a sip and shrugged. “Start shopping then.”
“You didn’t prepare me enough for this,” Claire hissed at David and drank deeply from her wine glass.
“You’ll be fine,” Meredith said and grinned. “Just keep track of offenses and make sure the ring more than makes up for them.”
“Are you going to do that?” John questioned. “I don’t think a stone that size would even fit on a ring.”
Meredith grinned and wet her bottom lip with the tip of her tongue. “You can make up for it other ways, then.”
“Jesus Christ,” Patrick muttered.
“I like you best, Meredith,” Claire decided. “Having you for a sister would more than make up for all their mess.” She flicked a hand around the table. “And the kitchen angst parties.” She paused. “But nothing makes up for the bad WiFi.”
“Right,” Meredith agreed. “It’s like we’re not even sitting in a millionaire’s house/mansion/compound.”
“What you’re sitting in is a house built in the 60’s,” Jonah said. “Patrick doesn’t want to get it rewired because of the mess and the number of people who’d have to come in to fix the problem.”
Meredith considered that and focused on Patrick. “You and Jonah can go with John and I to Hawaii in a couple of weeks to handle my house there while David and Matt stay here and oversee the construction. Claire can lounge by the pool being French. Then they can hire a cleaning crew to come in and give the house a once over under your majordomo’s supervision, so it won’t be a disaster when you return.”
“It’s not a bad plan,” Patrick conceded. “Your sister will be moving into your house in Hawaii, correct? I can arrange for security for it while you’re gone.”
“She’s agreed to work for the project and live in the house. I’ve already picked out a school for my niece.” Meredith frowned. “I can’t say I’m not concerned about her. She’s brilliant and very capable in certain circumstances, but a complete ninny in others. Unfortunately, she has enough money that she’ll always be able to hire someone to take care of her. True independence is beyond her. I really hope that her daughter doesn’t…take it as a life lesson, but there’s not much I can do about that as she’s not so bad of a parent that I’ve ever felt the need to sue for custody of the kid.”
“You’d probably end up with custody of them both,” John muttered and shrugged when she glared him. “Just sayin’.”
* * * *
“You like her,” John said as he settled in the bed with Meredith.
“She’s lovely—inside and out,” Meredith said. “Stupidly in love with your brother and certainly willing to uproot her entire life to be with him. Your father caught her off guard with his bluntness. She has a strong sense of self, so that will help. There is a whispy psionic connection between them that I’ve seen before—in latents who managed to match well without coming online.”
“Good match then.”
“Very good,” Meredith agreed and wiggled closer.
“You’re asking for trouble,” John murmured as he ran a hand down her back and cupped her ass.
“I’m asking for dick,” she corrected tartly and he laughed.
“Good thing I came to bed prepared to meet your needs, Guide,” John murmured and eased her onto her back. “Do you always sleep naked? Because you might have to wear clothes on the city.”
“I normally sleep in a long shirt,” Meredith said and shuddered when he rubbed the hard length of his cock against her. She spread her legs wide and arched into the stimulation. “John.”
“I got you,” John murmured as he shifted his hips just enough and pushed into her with a sure, deep stroke. “Is this how you want it?”
“I…” She shuddered as he started to move. “What?”
“Is this how you want it?” John questioned again. “Because you can have it exactly how you want it for as long as you want.”
Her hands dug into his shoulder blades briefly before she released him. “I want on my knees and take off the condom.”
John pulled free from her body and sat back on his heels as he rolled the condom off he’d put on in the bathroom. He tossed it in the trashcan by the bed and watched as Meredith rolled to her knees. John cupped her hips and leaned down to press a soft kiss against the small of her back. The urge to taste her was overwhelming so he spread the cheeks of her ass and licked of the rim of her asshole without even thinking about it.
“Fuck.” Meredith’s back arched and her hand slapped against the wood headboard. “You…wow.”
Since that sounded like approval John did it again then gave in to his own desire to eat her ass because if he were honest it had crossed his mind a dozen times since he’d set eyes on her. He delved into her with his tongue several times, intoxicated by the warm heat of her body and the sweet scent of her sexual arousal, which seemed to hang heavy in the air around them.
“John, I…fuck.” She groaned and buried her face in the pillow.
John took pity on her and lifted away. He rubbed the head of his cock up through her folds then pressed into her cunt slowly until he was buried to the hilt. The hot, wet heat was briefly overwhelming, but he shifted his sense of touch around until it was manageable then he started to move. It took her just a few moments to start rocking back into his thrusts. Her body was eager in his hands and that was such a turn on that he easily let himself get lost in the physical pleasure that was humming between them. He couldn’t tell where his ended and hers began.
She came quickly, her body clenching around him like a fist as she gave in to it, but he could feel her need for more so he didn’t stop. Her skin took on a faint glow as his hands tightened on her hips and slowed his pace in an effort to soothe her. John rubbed her back gently, rolled his hips just so and she shuddered.
“Easy,” he murmured. “You’re not going to start throwing stuff around the room, right?”
“I might pass out,” she admitted breathlessly. “Don’t you dare stop.”
He increased his pace until his hips were smacking lewdly against her ass. It was deliciously, borderline painful, and perfect. The second time she came, her knees went weak so he went with her—pinning her to bed and catching her hands in his as they settled on the mattress. He continued to fuck her, with long full body strokes that left her pliant underneath him and moaning into her pillow. He came despite his intentions and a deep pleasure snaked down his back leaving chilled skin behind.
“We might die doing that,” Meredith complained.
He laughed, but pulled carefully free from her body. “Sorry, I meant to ask you if you wanted me to pull out.”
“Hmmm,” she rolled on to her back and turned to stare at him. “The answer would’ve been no. I mean unless you just want to come on me then, of course, I’m totally game for that.”
He grinned at her. “I’m a lucky man.”
“You’re a filthy man,” Meredith muttered. “I’ve never had anyone do that to me before. Ever.”
“That’s a tragedy because your ass is a modern marvel,” John said. “You’ve never had anal sex?”
“No, but I’m game to try it after that,” Meredith said and huffed. “Because wow. Honestly, you probably could’ve done whatever you wanted to me after…” She flicked a hand.
“Eating out your ass,” John supplied and she blushed furiously, which made him laugh. “If you can’t say it how are you going to ask for it the next time you want it?”
“Shut up, John Patrick Sheppard,” Meredith said crossly and slid out of the bed with a huff. She turned out the lights as she entered the bedroom and John laughed.
* * * *
General Rampart didn’t come to the house alone, but John hadn’t thought he would. He hadn’t expected, however, the man to bring the Secretary of the Navy. Admiral Colin Peacemaker, retired, had been made the SecNav a few months after Henry Hayes became president. John didn’t know a lot about him, but he knew already that his father hated his guts. Admiral Peacemaker wasn’t putting off any hostile vibes, but still his father’s posture was concerning.
Meredith strolled into the room at that moment, took one look at Peacemaker and grimaced. “Colin, how unfortunate to see you.”
John’s mouth dropped open.
“Dr. McKay,” Peacemaker said evenly. “I’m concerned about your relationship with Colonel Sheppard. I’ve told General Rampart that I don’t approve of this situation in the slightest and expect the colonel to agree to a Guide search within the Navy and Marines to see if a better, more appropriate match can be made.”
“No, sir,” John said. “Absolutely not.”
Peacemaker blinked in surprise. “Excuse me? Colonel, you do know who I am, right?”
“Admiral Colin Frankford Peacemaker, retired from the United States Navy eight years ago. Current Secretary of the Navy.”
“And kiss-ass pencil pusher who never served a single day of active combat in his life,” Patrick muttered and raised an eyebrow when Peacemaker glared at him. “He’s also an idiot since he’s picking a fight with a woman who has the authority and permission to call the leaders of both Canada and the United States any time she apparently feels like it.”
“He also doesn’t understand that in no single way does he have the authority to order a Sentinel, bonded or not, to agree to a Guide search,” Meredith said evenly.
“This bond will ruin your career, Colonel Sheppard,” Peacemaker said.
“Is that a threat?” John questioned.
“No, it’s the truth. McKay isn’t an US citizen, and her access to classified materials exceeds any rational or reasonable standard. The current president might be willing to overlook a foreign national working on classified projects, but that doesn’t mean the next one will. You will be sidelined eventually by this woman’s lack of common sense.”
John blew out a surprised breath as he realized that Peacemaker hadn’t been read-in. It had never crossed his mind that members of the president’s cabinet might be in the dark about the Stargate Program. He wondered if any of them were in the know. “Excuse me, sirs.”
He pulled his cellphone out and walked out of the room without another word. Meredith followed him right into the kitchen as he was dialing O’Neill’s number. He waited just a few moments before the call connected.
“John, problem? Heard you’ve got Rampart and Peacemaker in your house.”
“I’m going to make Graves run 10 miles a day for a year for the spying,” John said conversationally and Graves shrugged from the doorway before walking away. “Peacemaker is here demanding that I do a Guide search because McKay is a foreign national and being bonded with her will ruin my career.”
“Oh, that. Wow. I sort of forgot he was bent about her and that whole thing. He met her by accident years ago when he first joined Homeland. He was getting a very shallow tour of Area 51. He left furious and deeply unsatisfied as he assumed, wrongly, that he’d get to see something interesting. But he was a civilian and civilians don’t get read into the program no matter their position without permission from POTUS. He was never on the radar as a potential need-to-know while he served in the Navy. I mean he never came close to being named chief of naval operations. He retired a one-star.”
“My dad hates him.”
“No surprise—Peacemaker’s a desk jockey and he apparently locked heads with your dad a few times over regional security when he worked at Homeland before he became SecNav. Scuttlebutt is that he won’t last long because he’s not a forward thinker and Hayes is fast growing irritated with his inability to adapt. Plus, there have been some complaints about his micromanagement. The Director of NCIS threatened to quit,” O’Neill said. “I would, too, if he was in my face and in my business. Fortunately, he barely knows I exist.”
“I really wish I could say the same,” John admitted roughly. “What do I do?”
“Well, he can’t force you to do a Guide search and he’s not going to do a damn thing to damage your career no matter what he might think. Say no.”
“I did. He was baffled by my refusal and asked me if I knew who he was.”
“I hate people who do that shit,” O’Neill muttered. “Send me a text if it gets out of hand and I’ll call POTUS.”
“Thank you, sir.” He ended the call and pocketed his phone. “For fuck’s sake.”
“Did you want to bail on the meeting?”
“Well, we can’t have much of one with Peacemaker here,” John said roughly. “I figured that Rampart came here so we could have a private conversation about the program and Atlantis.”
“Certainly, but that won’t happen with Peacemaker in the room.”
They returned to the formal living room to find that Rampart had taken a seat and Peacemaker was standing rigidly by the patio doors.
“I apologize for my abrupt departure, sirs, I had to have a conversation with my commanding officer to ask whether or not I should continue this meeting.” Peacemaker’s face darkened. “And I cannot continue this meeting with you Secretary Peacemaker. You don’t have the clearance to discuss the classified project I’m involved in. It would be a violation of national security to answer any question you have about my work, my job, or what my expectations are for my future in the United States Marine Corps. But, please be assured that my career will not suffer at all for having bonded with Dr. McKay.
“And should there come a day when she no longer enjoys a security clearance to work with me then I will resign my commission with no protest whatsoever.”
Peacemaker’s mouth dropped open. “Colonel Sheppard—you are an elite American warfighter and many consider you a peerless asset since you’ve come online as an Alpha Ascendant. General Rampart has been fielding requests to have you transferred into different commands all over the planet. You’d give up a career you’ve clearly worked hard for…for her?”
“You have no idea what it’s like to have a Guide, do you?” John asked and Peacemaker shook his head. “I couldn’t really explain it to you—no matter how much time I invested in it, but be assured that I’d make war to keep her. Resigning my commission wouldn’t phase me in the slightest. I’m the son of a very wealthy man, and I have plenty of options. I’ve always had plenty of options and could work in a variety of positions at Sheppard Industries or frankly a multitude of other defense contractors with no issues whatsoever. I could also go to Canada with Dr. McKay, be given citizenship automatically because I’m her Sentinel and join the Canadian Army. I might be out of uniform less than a week if that were the path we chose.”
“I’d wager less than a day,” Rampart said dryly. “And there would be hell to pay if such a thing happened. The DOD doesn’t like giving up their highly trained assets to other countries—Sentinel or not. Still, for people in the know, I don’t think anyone is going to have a problem with Sheppard and McKay being a package deal.”
“Are you in the know?” Peacemaker demanded.
“Yes,” Rampart said simply. “But only because POTUS authorized it.” He focused on John. “I’d like to stay for my meeting—we brought separate vehicles.”
“I’ll see you out, Mr. Secretary,” Patrick said mildly and got a glare for his trouble.
John frowned as Peacemaker stalked out and unbuttoned the jacket of his service uniform.
“What the hell, Rampart?” Meredith demanded as soon they were alone.
John huffed at her.
“I can talk to him anyway I like, John Sheppard,” Meredith hissed, but glared at Rampart. “Are you trying to stress him out?”
“I wasn’t given a choice here, McKay,” Rampart returned. “I figured it would shake down this way and he’s probably already contacting the president to get a meeting. It’ll get him fired since Hayes is already irritated with him. Peacemaker looks great on paper, but he’s honestly a nightmare in person.”
Rampart unbuttoned his own jacket and shrugged out of it. “I need a drink.”
Meredith frowned at him. “Did you bring a driver?”
“Yes, he’s at the gate house with the guards,” John reported.
“They invited him and I said it was fine as long as he didn’t get too distracted or drink,” Rampart said.
Meredith went to the bar and poured the general some bourbon. She brought it to him then joined John on the sofa. “You had questions?”
“I have a few,” Rampart agreed. “I asked some of them of O’Neill already—probably made an enemy there, but I was furious. Do you have any idea how many Marines have died the Stargate Program?”
“172,” John said and Rampart’s gaze jerked to his. “41 Air Force, 19 civilian. We protect the planet, sir, and it’s an honor.”
“Yeah,” Rampart muttered and stared moodily at his drink. “And those people’s parents don’t have a fucking clue.”
“More often than not, family gets thinly disguised lies or no details at all regarding the death of their loved ones no matter where they die when they serve,” John said. “And you know it. Does it hurt that some of those people died off-world and couldn’t be retrieved? Yes. Would any single one of them have done anything differently—I don’t believe so. I don’t regret a single moment of my service to the SGC because I’m not fighting for anyone’s glory. I’m not fighting to put money in someone’s pocket or to pander to someone’s ego.
“The SGC’s only true mission is to protect Earth. It doesn’t get much better or more important than that, sir.”
Rampart nodded and took sip of his drink. “Elizabeth Weir is in some deep, dark hole that I don’t have the security clearance to visit. I wanted to ask her some questions, but POTUS told me no. They aren’t letting anyone get access to her because of her dealings with the Trust. Hell, they beamed her from the SGC and straight into an underground prison facility that can only be reached with beaming tech unless you’re prepared to dig yourself a forty-foot hole.”
“That’s nightmare fuel,” Meredith admitted. “I can’t imagine being in a facility with no door to the outside world.”
“It’s no less than she deserves,” John said. “I hope Beckett is with her.”
“Well, not in the same cell, but certainly the same facility,” Rampart agreed. “He’s still convinced he did nothing wrong, apparently. O’Neill said they’re getting a psychologist in place to talk to him because he might just be utterly insane or something.”
“Something,” Meredith said. “It was disgusting to be in the same room with him. Mostly he was just proud of himself and confused as to why we were all so concerned with what he’d done. He put on a bit of a show eventually when he realized he was in trouble, but he really has very little going on emotionally beyond pride. It was disturbing.”
“You’re understaffed on the city, that’s Weir’s fault. She protested every single request you made for an increase in personnel. She actually lobbied for less personnel, but O’Neill asked her how she expected to run the city if she cut the military since none of the civilians do a damn thing on that front.”
“Well, they aren’t trained for that kind of thing,” John said. “I wouldn’t trust a single one of them to run a rotation in the mess or even to do guard duty. It’s just safer, sir, if they stay in their labs and try to tear holes in space or try to make dinosaurs or whatever else they might be thinking about at the time.”
“What can I do to make things out there better?” Rampart questioned. “People, equipment, training, etc. Just give me a list and I’ll take care of it.”
“Just like that?”
Rampart’s jaw tightened. “I have three children, Colonel, and one grandchild on the way. I watched the video of you being offered up to that wraith like a sacrifice. If those bastards weren’t already dead, I would be demanding O’Neill let me send a platoon of Marines to Pegasus to hunt them down and kill them. The thought of one of things landing on this planet makes me sick. There are going to be some significant changes regarding the staffing of your mission going forward and the POTUS supports my position.”
His gaze flicked to McKay. “Probably because of your Guide. I’ve heard that Canada is offering up a unit of Rangers—recon, search and rescue, and survivalist training. You’ve already got one out there, and the PM figured you might like a whole set.”
“You mean William Bouchard,” John said. “They reactivated his commission for political reasons.” He glanced toward Meredith as he spoke.
“The Rangers exist as a sub-component of Canada’s military reserves, but the assets you get will all be active duty by the time they reach you. O’Neill has already approved as long as you don’t find any of them personally objectionable. They’ve already been told they’ll have to meet with you in Colorado.”
“What’s Peacemaker’s deal?” Meredith interjected and they both focused on her. “Is this really about me or is it about John and all of those offers you’re turning down on his behalf?”
“It’s the offers,” Rampart said. “And his assumption that Sheppard is turning down ‘active combat’ posts because of you. The mission in Pegasus is listed as a research post in an undisclosed location. From his perspective, we’re wasting Sheppard in a post that is little more than glorified babysitting. Considering what he knows about you, he probably assumes that you’re both working at Area 51.”
“So you did turn down US citizenship?” John asked curiously.
“Yeah, the actual offer happened just a week after that whole thing with the Trust and Siberia happened so my response was vicious,” McKay admitted. “And pointed—I wouldn’t have agreed to such a thing for any single amount of money. Frankly, I never will because of that incident. I don’t trust the politics in the US and I need the comfort of being able to retreat to Canada, if necessary.”
“I get it,” John said. “Keep it on tap. I might need to join the Canadian Army at some point.”
Rampart sighed. “Please don’t let that nightmare happen on my watch.” He drank the rest of his bourbon in one swallow.
* * * *
John found Matt in his own suite, sprawled on a messy bed reading from a tablet. “Hey, kid.”
Matt looked up and frowned at him. “Colonel Davis gave me this thing.”
“Looks familiar,” John said. “Most of the geeks on the city have one glued to their hand or something. I prefer a laptop since I hate trying to write on a tablet. I mean I have one, but I rarely use it unless I’m having to move around the city for inventory or whatever.”
Matt nodded and motioned John in. “How did the meeting go with Rampart? I didn’t feel like putting on a uniform so I figured hiding was better than looking like a disrespectful asshole.”
“Fine after we got rid of the SecNav.” He grinned when Matt’s mouth dropped open. “Yeah, that was a thing. Got any questions about what you’ve been reading?”
“I read about the Genii invasion of the city this morning,” Matt said. “It was a security clusterfuck from top to bottom. I mean I get why it happened—it’s clear that Weir was leveraging you and Sumner against each other and probably did a great job of it until the invasion. You can see a shift of attitude and tone in Sumner’s reports and yours after that.”
“Sumner had some misconceptions about dormant Sentinels going on and he was forced to take me into his command by Weir, which isn’t something normally done to online Sentinels due to instinctual responses and imperatives, but she didn’t give a shit about that kind of thing. I guess I’m lucky she didn’t get me killed with that bullshit. After the invasion, he asked me why I was dormant and how I wasn’t in an institution. I explained everything the best I could—told him about mom and you.
“It was hard to talk about, but it cleared the air between us and from that point forward, Weir lost her ability to use us against each other. Sumner and I both know we were partially at fault for letting the situation get out of hand like that because we were both being assholes. We resented the hell out of each other and could’ve solved all of that with an honest conversation.”
Matt nodded. “Right. Well, I’m glad it worked out, but I really wish you hadn’t saved that bitch during the invasion.”
“You and me both,” John muttered. “I mean it isn’t often that I regret rescuing someone, but I really should’ve let them kill her. Rampart told me they have her in an underground prison.”
“Good.” Matt set aside the tablet. “How’s things going with McKay? You guys spent most of the afternoon in the gym after Rampart left.”
“Okay, I think. She’s hard to impress,” John admitted. “We’ll be going back to Fort Myer for some physical tests to see where my adrenaline response is. Most Sentinels gain some advantages over time—quicker reflexes, strength boost, etc. due to psionic energy investment and use. She said it might take a year or more for that to settle.”
“Probably shouldn’t do that at Fort Myer,” Matt said. “I mean you got a pretty big boost on that front from the second bug out, right?”
John took a deep breath. “Yeah, I did. Shit, I just…I didn’t forget, but I haven’t been thinking about it. It wasn’t pretty and it’s worse knowing that Beckett basically did it on purpose in some way or another. I’ll never be all human again and I don’t know what that means for…well, kids. I guess I need to have that investigated.”
“If it’s a problem and it won’t be weird—I can donate to that cause. I don’t actually want any of my own crotch fruit, so yeah.”
John laughed. “Thanks, I think, and yeah that might be easier to accept on an instinctual front. I’ll talk to Mer about it, but…well, I don’t even know if she wants kids as we haven’t talked about it. I’d be fine without, but I’m game if she wants.”
“Women are spartans, you know. That whole childbirth thing is a straight up nightmare. I delivered a baby about a year ago—we had to evac a group of civilians and she was in labor. I was, unfortunately, a co-pilot on that mission. She cursed me in Italian and English throughout the entire thing. I reminded her twice that I hadn’t actually knocked her up.” He flicked a hand over himself. “Gold star here—that was the first time I’d seen a vagina up and close personal in my life. I never want to see another.”
John snorted. “Oh, god.”
Matt made a face. “She named the kid after me—thank fuck it was a boy. At any rate, they both came out okay and her husband was so relieved he kissed me right on the mouth. Which was a great thank you all things considered. I had to make her promise she’d keep my name out of the article she wrote about the whole thing. If there is anything worse than a reporter, I don’t know what it is.”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” John said wryly and Matt huffed. “Seriously, there’s shit out in the universe that makes anything on Earth seem downright nice.” He checked his watch. “Mer and I are eating in private tonight. I’ll talk to her about the iratus stuff and my physical changes to see if we need moderate anything or if we can pass it off as normal for a Sentinel. Fortunately, Alpha Ascendants are stupidly rare so I can probably get away with a lot.”
The assessment center on the base felt a little more relaxed. John figured that was because General Rampart wasn’t in the place making everyone fear for their lives and careers. The instructor for physical training and testing was not a Sentinel. He shared a look with McKay who looked at ease.
She quirked an eyebrow. “Another Sentinel might make you unnecessarily aggressive.”
John nodded. “Okay.” He focused on the Marine in front of him. “Okay, Major, where do you need me?”
“I was only able to access a heavily redacted copy of your jacket, sir, and your assessment as a Sentinel was, in part, blacked out,” Major Fields said plainly. “I know you came online by surprise in a combat situation…” He trailed off when John shook his head.
“I came online from a presumed trauma-dormant state in a hostage situation while I was being tortured, Major,” John said shortly. “I’ve a few issues with the appearance of a medical setting as a result. My Guide is working with me on that front. I don’t know how many people I killed to escape because I went feral and stayed feral for days. I was eventually retrieved and brought stateside to train.”
The major blew out a surprised breath. “I’m glad you made it back, sir. That’s a hard road to walk.”
“He tested at level six across the board,” Meredith said. “And is an Alpha Ascendant.” She paused when the man looked confused. “He has six advanced senses instead of five—his sixth is empathy. I’m working with him on that and it won’t be part of your assessment. He hasn’t demonstrated any unnecessary aggression or hostility since we bonded and I don’t expect he’ll have any issues today. If he does—I’ll need you to get out of the way and let me handle the situation.”
“Ma’am, with all due respect you can’t weigh more than 130lbs,” Fields said. “You’d be no match for the colonel.”
“I’d cut my own throat before I’d hurt my Guide, Major, no matter my mental state,” John said. “Besides her spirit animal could rip me limb from limb.”
Kepler appeared and rumbled gently as he curled his body briefly against Meredith’s leg.
Fields took a deep breath. “Well, hell, I’ve never even been in the same room with a Lion Guide. Ma’am, it’s an honor, truly.” He focused on John. “Let’s get started, sir. Reflexes first.” He unceremoniously pitched the bright blue Nerf ball at John’s face.
John caught it and raised an eyebrow. “Play baseball in high school, Major?”
Fields grinned. “You’re the first to catch it in over a year, and I started in Little League—worked my way up all the way to a college scholarship. Joined the Corps when I didn’t get the nod for pro.”
Meredith sighed at them, picked up the laptop bag they’d brought and headed for a table near the back of the room. “Keep your shenanigans away from me and my computer—or I’ll mess you both up.”
She sat down at the table and pulled a thermos out of the bag so she could sit and watch her Sentinel indulge in what could only be considered a male bonding exercise. The Burton Foundation nor any of its centers actually did the kind of physical testing that John was currently doing. They didn’t consider such a thing important in the evaluation of a Sentinel, but military and law enforcement regularly did so they could see what their assets were capable of in various situation.
They’d discussed the iratus issue, but Meredith was confident that any changes in his physical responses that were a product of iratus exposure would be masked by his Alpha Ascendant status. Such Sentinels hadn’t been studied in the past nor was there a great deal of information to be had on the ones currently alive on the planet. In the end, whatever the Corps found out about John would end up classified and rarely discussed in order to give him in an advantage in whatever field of play the organization might think they can put him in.
Meredith set up her laptop and opened up a report on the city’s stardrive to read while she drank her coffee. Radek wasn’t certain it could be repaired, but Meredith wanted to spend some time with it. Having the city stranded on the planet wasn’t ideal when the wraith knew exactly where they were. She was going to advocate for a move as soon as she got her feet under her in Pegasus.
“Good morning, may I sit?”
Meredith looked up from her reading and frowned at the man in uniform in front of her. “Who are you?”
“General Kevin Jordan, United States Air Force,” he said pleasantly and unease slid down Meredith’s back like a snake. “I’m sure your Sentinel won’t mind.”
“You’ve never met my Sentinel and have no idea what he would mind,” Meredith said evenly. “And no, I’m working on delicate and sensitive work. It requires my undivided attention.”
The man’s gaze narrowed. “Surely you have time for a conversation. Pretty lady like you must be bored with all of this.” He flicked a hand. “Are you a scientist? Must be boring.”
“Yes, I bored myself so much I accidentally won a Nobel Prize in Physics,” Meredith said icily and Jordan’s mouth dropped open. “I don’t have time for a conversation and if you make my Sentinel lose his temper—I’m going to ruin whatever he leaves of you. Fuck off.” Her gaze focused on John who hadn’t moved from his place across the room, but he was staring at her intently.
“You’re a very rude young woman,” Jordan said evenly. “I could make things very difficult for you and your Sentinel.”
“Could you?” Meredith asked. “My name is Dr. Meredith Regina McKay and my Sentinel is Colonel John Patrick Sheppard, United States Marine Corps. Feel free to go do whatever you think you can to make difficult for us and I’ll do the same. Out of curiosity, can you call the President of the United State’s private number?” She grinned. “Because I can.”
Jordan glared at her, but inclined his head and walked away.
“You’re a real badass, McKay,” Levi said with a little laugh. He leaned on the wall behind her and crossed his arms.
She gave John a little nod and he went back to what he was doing. “I’ve been pushing off men who want to fuck me since I was 15, Levi. You get really good at it with that kind of practice.”
“That was his deal? Really?”
“Some mundane men really get off on banging Guides—bonded or not,” Meredith explained. “Not all pairs are exclusive for a variety of reasons and platonic bonds are possible, of course, if one is willing to put in the immense amount of work it requires psionically to keep the bond healthy. Sex just makes it easier, most of the time.”
“Something to keep in mind,” Levi said.
She went back to reading and managed to finish her coffee before she finished the report. John had settled into the testing and wasn’t putting off any stress so that was relief. He clearly liked the major doing the testing, which helped.
Graves’ cell rang and he answered it, raised and eyebrow then offered her the phone. “It’s General O’Neill.”
Meredith took the phone and tucked it against her ear. “Jack, is there a problem?”
“A one-star stationed at the Pentagon just accessed your file,” Jack said shortly. “Did you recently meet General Kevin Jordan?”
“About 10 minutes ago. We’re at Fort Myer getting John’s physical assessment done. Jordan approached me and wanted to chat with me,” Meredith reported. “He certainly isn’t going to see much on my official records, Jack.”
“No, but we have your file flagged for access reports. He’s about to get a knot jerked in his dick for poking into business way above his pay grade. Stay clear of him—he’s bad news.”
“What sort of bad news?” Meredith questioned.
“The kind that’ll get him put in prison one day if he doesn’t wise up,” Jack said. “He’s stalled out career-wise due to some poor decisions on his part and the fact that he’s ridden a desk his whole life. Men like him don’t get merit promotions which means he’s hit a glass-ceiling point in his career. If he’s got any common sense, he’ll retire sooner rather than later. He has a history of refusing to work with Sentinels, which has also limited postings.”
“Well, that would’ve certainly kept him out of any sort of combat posting,” Meredith pointed out.
“Fucking coward,” Jack muttered. “At any rate, give him a wide berth and try to keep Sheppard away from him as well. Political messes follow Jordan around like a loyal dog. I don’t see any reason for a Air Force general stationed at the Pentagon to be at Fort Myer.”
“There are a variety of men and women from different branches in the assessment center,” Meredith said. “His being here could be legitimate. He didn’t know my name, Jack. He just saw a woman and a Guide that he wanted to put his dick in.”
“One of those, huh?” Jack questioned. “Right, well, try to keep Sheppard from killing, but if he has to rip the man’s arm off…we can probably make it go away pretty easily.”
“You are a terrible influence,” Meredith told him as she looked up and found John grinning at her. “And he heard all of that so, congrats, you just gave my Sentinel permission to rip a man’s arm off.” She hung up when O’Neill laughed and passed the phone back to Levi.
“Why don’t you have your own phone?” Levi questioned.
“I hate them,” Meredith said. “People think they can just call you whenever they want when you have one and get pissed when you don’t answer. It’s like some kind of technological leash and worse? Worse, people think you’re weird for not caving into the cult-like assumption that you should own one and surrender your free time and autonomy to a device that should be there for just your own convenience!”
Levi raised an eyebrow. “You need help to get down off that soap box, Doc?”
* * * *
“He was definitely interested in you sexually,” John said as soon as they were in the SUV.
“I could feel it, but he was also…” She made a face.
“Challenged by your lack of interest,” John said. “I know—I felt that, too. I don’t consider him a problem, but there are rules that I can use to put him in his place legally if he comes around again or contacts you. There is an entire section in the UMCJ dedicated to Sentinel/Guide interactions, rank, and inappropriate conduct.”
“I could probably get him sanctioned by the Burton Foundation faster than you could get him brought up on charges in front of the Judge Advocate General,” Meredith pointed out. “But it won’t come to that—he’s not the sort to get involved with Stargate Command due to his position of refusing to work with Sentinels. He’s probably never been near a single classified op in his whole career. It probably pisses him off and he vents that frustration by fucking Guides. Or at least, by trying to fuck Guides.”
“That’s just jealousy, though, right?” Levi questioned from the driver’s seat. “Because he’s not a Sentinel?”
“Could be,” Meredith agreed. “Or it could be some weird form of bigotry at play. It doesn’t really matter. Kevin Jordan won’t be a problem.” She relaxed against the seat.
* * * *
As it turned out, Kevin Jordan was a pain in the ass. John really wasn’t worried about the man’s ability to influence his life or career, but his intense interest in Meredith was off-putting and weird. His Guide was gorgeous, but he wasn’t sure that fully accounted for the man’s interest. He watched her frown at the box of blood red roses before plucking the card from it.
“What does it say?” he asked wearily.
“My apologies for any offense I might have caused—Kevin.” She rolled her eyes and tossed the card in the trash. “Frances, would you like these roses?”
Frances shrugged. “Sure, I have an empty vase. Are you certain?”
“I actually hate roses,” Meredith said and closed the box. “So, please take them and do whatever you’d like with them.” She said nothing while Frances picked up the box and took the flowers away, but she huffed once the majordomo was out of the room. “Who the hell sends two dozen roses to a woman they barely know to give a passive-aggressive apology?”
“Someone who got a phone call from someone who outranks him,” John said wryly and shrugged. “I doubt seriously that O’Neill only called you, Mer. He was clearly put out by the attention you were getting from Jordan in the system. The SGC really doesn’t like anyone from the outside poking its people for a variety of reasons. If Jordan started asking questions, he might have ended up in Hammond’s office or worst got a phone call from POTUS.”
Meredith frowned, but went to her computer. “Well, I might as well return the favor.” She sat down on the sofa. “Let’s just see what Kevin Jordan’s got going on.”
“Are you certain he didn’t know who you were?” Patrick questioned from his place across from her.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Meredith said. “I don’t know if he’d approached me if he’d known. Men like him usually prefer to target women they can manipulate and control. But I challenged and insulted him. Then, if John’s right, he got his ass handed to him by more than one person which might only increase his interest or make him hostile.” She started typing.
“Are you hacking the Pentagon?” John asked.
“Of course not,” Meredith said. “I’m just logging in, John.” She rolled her eyes when he stared at her. “Seriously, I do have a very high security clearance. And this laptop is heavily encrypted. The SGC gave it to me.” She paused. “Or I just kept it? I never actually signed it out. Walter handed it to me and I just…didn’t give it back.” She shrugged and focused on her search. “Kevin Woodrow Jordan, United States Air Force, one-star, 20 years. Looks like most of his work as a young man was in logistics, his refusals to work with Sentinels goes back to his 20s. There was an incident with a feral Sentinel on a base where he was stationed. He claimed psychological damage due to the incident and used policies in place for that to avoid working with online Sentinels going forward.
“Divorced, one child—a son whose also in the Air Force. The kid’s stationed at Nellis at the Warfare Center. Rising star, too bad his father is probably going to fuck it up for him,” Meredith said. “Interesting—the kid is going by his mother’s maiden name. Flight school records are excellent. He’s already been flagged by the SGC. Must have an active gene.”
John watched her shift through screens. “Anything else interesting on General Jordan?”
“Lackluster career, promoted on schedule and he’s Above-the-Zone as far as promotion goes. No way he goes above 0-7 with this kind of record.” Meredith shrugged. “No dings for bad behavior, no commendations, no chest candy beyond training and standard service medals. Honestly, he’s profoundly ordinary. He scored the bare minimum ASVAB to be considered for the Air Force, skipped enlistment and went to college. He entered the Air Force with a bachelors in accounting and left training as a second lieutenant.”
“He’s not the sort that would ever be tapped for the SGC,” John said.
“No, he doesn’t appear to have the right personality for it. O’Neill called him a coward,” Meredith said. “They can’t afford to have a single person in that mountain who can’t go all in on defending the gate. It’s basically a doorway to hell.”
“I kind of always seen it as Pandora’s Box,” John said. “We opened it, it was fucked up, and we can’t put the lid back on.”
“I think Ra always planned to return to Earth,” Meredith said. “And if he hadn’t, one of the others would’ve. There were goa’uld already on the planet. Someone would’ve stumbled across Hathor soon enough. Opening the gate did create threats for us, but mostly it just revealed situations that would’ve eventually come down on us. The results would’ve been catastrophic.”
“I’ve heard people say that we’d have been safe if we hadn’t opened the gate,” John pointed out. “It’s a common belief at the Pentagon.”
“It’s a dumb belief rooted in delusion,” Meredith muttered as she stared moodily at her laptop screen. “I hate it.”
“Being pursued merely because of your looks?” John questioned and raised an eyebrow when she made a face at him. “He didn’t know who you were or even really what you were beyond the fact that you were a beautiful, female Guide and his only thought was getting a leg over. You have every right to be insulted by that. I would be insulted. I have been insulted in just that fashion more than once.” He motioned to his face. “It probably wouldn’t surprise you how many superior officers I’ve had over the years who weren’t all that fussed regarding the regs when it came to trying to get in my pants.”
“Did you ever indulge?” Meredith questioned.
“No.” John shook his head. “Doesn’t appeal at all and never did. Because relationships like that are nearly always about physical attraction and no emotional connections. They can’t afford to develop feelings because that makes it even more likely they’ll get caught and punished for banging a junior officer. As for the other direction, I’d never fuck someone under me in the command structure—that’s how discipline problems develop. Moreover, I would consider it a consent issue.”
“Well there goes that idea—I was gonna borrow a uniform and call you Colonel Sheppard and stuff,” Meredith said and laughed when Patrick sighed.
John made a face because he was kind of on board with that, but also not. “Maybe an Air Force uniform instead—the dress blues are hot on women.” He flicked his hand. “You could put your hair up in one of those complicated bun things and wear the whole thing for…well, about five minutes or so.”
Matt snorted. “Shut up, both of you.”
“Oh, or Navy whites,” John said in consideration.
“Please stop planning sex games directly in front of me,” Patrick said and stood. “For fuck’s sake.”
John just grinned as his father left the room then he focused on Matt. “Where are you on the reports?”
“AR-2 and their terrible, no good, bad day with the people of P98-R34 also known as the Space Herpies Planet,” Matt said dryly.
“Like an STD?” Meredith said with a disgusted face.
“No, like the an alien parasite from that movie Ice Pirates,” John said.
“Jesus Christ, Meredith, you’ve never seen Ice Pirates?” John asked, aghast.
* * * *
John tackled her onto the bed and she huffed while she pretended to be mad.
“Say it was great.”
“It was the third dumbest movie I’ve ever fucking seen in my whole entire life,” Meredith retorted.
“What were the other two?” John asked. “Answer carefully, Mer, this could be a deal breaker.”
“Howard the Duck and Batman & Robin.”
“Batman & Robin had a bad script,” John conceded. “Favorite science fiction movie?”
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” She spread her legs and he settled between them. “You?”
“Alien, of course. It doesn’t get better than Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver in her underwear.” He caught her hands and pinned them above her head. “Is that asshole a threat? His emotions were all over the place for me—amused, smug, irritated, shocked. I don’t think he actually got angry at all no matter what he said.”
“Jordan didn’t get genuinely angry because men like him never hear the word no, not even if it’s screamed in their face. I’m not saying he’s a rapist, but he is the sort that would manipulate the shit out of a woman, convince her he wants a relationship, fuck her then act like she’s a needy bitch for calling him afterward.
“As to threat? No, he doesn’t have the professional or social power to be a threat. He likes to think he does, but he doesn’t know a tenth of the shit that really goes down in Washington. He’s a d-list player with no prospects who will be expected to retire inside the next 18 months. It might happen sooner if he makes waves or pisses Hammond off.”
“He tracked you down to send flowers,” John said.
“It’s certainly no secret where your father lives and the assumption that I’m staying here with you isn’t a dumb one,” Meredith said. “That’s the least concerning element of the whole thing. He sent me red roses for an apology. It looks like a romantic overture, which is disturbing.”
“Do you want me to do anything about that or let it ride?”
She smiled at him. “Thanks for asking.”
John considered that and slipped off of her. “Did you expect me to be a caveman about it?”
“Well, you’re an Alpha Sentinel,” Meredith pointed out. “And a man. And a Marine.” She waved a hand. “That’s got a lot of potential for big dick swinging.”
John snorted. “Shut up.”
“Not that I’m mad about the dick because, well, I don’t think I’ve ever had bigger and I’m really pleased to have won the cock lottery. Still, no one would be surprised at all if you got territorial with this asshole about his assumptions or his intrusion. We should probably look into that incident with the feral Sentinel—he might have been the cause of it.”
“Like he crowded an online Guide or something?” John questioned. “Would he have survived it?”
“Eh, probably not. Still, I’d be interested in the circumstances.” She sat up, pushed him down onto his back and slid astride his hips. “Now, let’s discuss your awful taste in movies. I can’t believe you made me watch that crap.”
“The sex scene was pretty hot.”
“It was ridiculous,” she said and rolled her eyes so he laughed. “He wore the sword to bed.”
“Never wanted to get some in the rain?”
“We’d probably get struck by lightening.” She braced herself on his chest and stared at him. “Why are you so pretty? It’s terrible.”
“Genetics,” John said as he cupped her hips. “I also like Starman, Starship Troopers, and The Thing.”
“Terminator and Back to the Future,” Meredith said and sighed. “I like them a lot despite the improbable methods they used for time travel. I mean we know it’s possible—SG1 did it, but the science was shoddy in both of those movies, but I like them anyways. Favorite Star Trek captain?”
“Huh, I’d have figured Kirk. Picard’s my favorite.”
“I liked the exploration of Sisko’s character—his journey, the scope of his life,” John shrugged. “Kirk didn’t get that in the original series or really in the movies. In the series, he was static and something of a womanizer. In the movies, he was barely staying ahead of destruction the whole time one way or another. Though my favorite Star Trek movie is Undiscovered Country.”
“Agreed, it’s the best one.” She slouched down on his chest and propped her chin on one arm. She used her free hand to trail her fingers through his hair. “You’re doing very well, you know. Better than anyone has the right to expect.”
“I feel…safe and in control with you. It’s felt that way since the moment I set eyes on you,” John confessed. “Bonding just made that feeling settle deeper. The moment our hands met in that cave and you curled your fingers against mine—something bloomed inside me that made everything better. That probably sounds crazy.”
“No, it sounds like the beginnings of a primal bond,” Meredith said. “Something that long-term pairings can develop if they are dedicated and profoundly compatible. Jim and Blair have one. Blair said it was like their souls met and became one. Jim believes that they’ll never be apart—that not even death or reincarnation will separate them.”
“What do you think?” John asked quietly.
“I think we’ve met before,” she said. “Maybe more than once. Sometimes I feel like I’ve known you for a thousand years. And I never really bought into that during training. I certainly understand the cycle and that we come and go from this plane as needed. I also know we can move on when our time here on Earth is finished, but the idea that a Sentinel and Guide could come together and bond repeatedly over multiple lifetimes seemed like romantic nonsense until I met you.”
John grinned. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“I like secrets,” she murmured and laughed a little when he rolled them over and buried his face against her neck. “The sex scene in Terminator is hotter than the one in Ice Pirates.”
“Agreed,” John said and lifted his head. “I had a crush on Linda Hamilton for years after watching that movie.”
“I still have a crush on Michael Biehn. I can’t be held accountable for myself if I were to ever meet him.”
“I’d actually pay good money to see you fan girl over someone,” John admitted thoughtfully then kissed her as she laughed. He pressed his cheek briefly against hers and lifted his head. “Is it supposed to be this easy?”
“When it’s right—absolutely,” she said. “And you were worth waiting for.”
John took a deep breath and rolled off of her to stare at the ceiling. “What a thing to tell a man.”
“Worried you’ll fuck it up?” she questioned as she sat up.
“I won’t let you,” she declared and slid off the bed. “Now, I have more work to do since I had to stop to watch that ridiculous movie. You should check on your brother and see what terrible thing he’s currently reading. He feels like an anxious mess.”
“You can feel him from here?” John asked curiously.
“I know the basic emotional state of everyone in the house and in the security house as well,” she said and shrugged when he looked at her in shock. “I’ll be able to keep track of the entire population on Atlantis, too. I mean it’ll be background thing unless someone gets really worked up in some fashion or another. It won’t be stressful or anything—it’s just one of the tools in my skillset designed to help with threat management.”
“Right, okay,” John said and sat up. “Will I do that as well?”
“Maybe not empathically, but you will develop an individual sense impression of every single person on the city. It would allow you to identify an intruder very quickly. You knew immediately when Rampart and his driver arrived, right?”
“Yeah,” John nodded. “Okay, I think I get it. I’m not keeping track of anyone on an emotional front in the house. I didn’t know Matt was upset.”
“The other night when he came home?” Meredith questioned.
“I heard him pacing around in the kitchen and his heart rate was elevated. I could smell his stress before I even entered the kitchen. You know I’ve seen Sentinels in the field using their senses on purpose and it doesn’t…”
“Feel like you would need to?” Meredith questioned. “Alpha’s don’t have many overt signs that they’re engaging their senses. I mean we can do those exercises, if you want. We’ll start working on syncing soon and that will require concentration on your part and an overt use of your senses that you normally won’t have to do.”
“Okay, sounds good. Go read your reports. I’m gonna go find Matt and dig him out of his angstfest.”
He watched her retrieve a bottle of water from the kitchen in the suite and settle in on the sofa to read before went off to find his brother who was in his own rooms. He knocked on the open door and Matt looked up from the computer he was on and frowned.
“What’s up, kid? Meredith said you’re a mess.”
“You blew up two different wraith hives and barely escaped the second one in a dart. Sumner thought you were dead until Dr. Zelenka reported that a dart had crashed on the city. They were really fucking surprised to find you in it when they finally got it open because they expected a wraith.” He huffed. “And the SGC should’ve never left Weir in charge out there after contact was established. Sumner made no bones about it.”
“Which is why he was transferred to a ship and I was put in charge of the military,” John said. “That’s when we knew that she had more influence than O’Neill with the IOA and that we’d have to work around her to get a damn thing accomplished. The investigation is ongoing, but I think we’ll discover that she had the backing of some members of the committee. That’s above my pay grade, but it’ll all shake out eventually one way or another.”
“I don’t know how you can be so calm and casual about this shit,” Matt muttered.
“I can’t afford to lose my temper, Mattie,” John said gently. “Come on now, you read the report on what that bug DNA did to me and now I’ve got some psionic enhancement going as well. I’ve got a lot going senses wise, but physically, well, I worked hard to moderate myself when it first happened so I wouldn’t hurt anyone or anything by accident.”
“Right,” Matt frowned and closed his laptop. “David came home an hour ago. Let’s go tease him about his hot girlfriend.”
“Seems like the thing to do,” John agreed.
A two-man security team escorted them through the Pentagon and straight to the office of General George Hammond. The Office of Homeworld Security was hidden in a maze of offices that was officially called Project Deep Space. John really didn’t know why or how that deep space telemetry thing continued to work. It made him doubt the intelligence of a lot of people.
The moment they passed through a thick security door, the noise from the very populated Pentagon dulled then disappeared as the door was secured behind them. As countermeasures went, they were the best he’d encountered since coming online. Even his father’s house wasn’t as tight as the suite of rooms in the middle of the Pentagon that housed George Hammond and his small staff.
They were taken to Hammond’s office and the door was opened. Randolph Rampart was seated in a chair not far from General Hammond’s desk and General Kevin Jordan was standing near the single window which had thick reflective film spread over it that made looking out of it impossible.
Meredith frowned at Jordan then focused on General Hammond. “George.”
Hammond stood and walked around his desk. “Dr. McKay, I’m pleased to see you again.” He offered her his hand.
Meredith took it and inclined her head. “You’re a little stressed, George, I thought you took this cushy job in DC so you could relax a bit.”
“Comes and goes,” Hammond said cheerfully. “Colonel Sheppard—it’s an honor to finally meet you.”
“The honor is mine, sir,” John said quietly and his gaze flicked to Jordan briefly before he shook the hand Hammond offered. “I’ve heard good things about you since I joined the project.”
“Ah, I’m sure Dr. McKay told you all about the mistakes I made with her,” George said.
“You made up for them,” Meredith said. “Immediately and that’s more than some can ever say.” She glanced at Rampart who looked bored, but was nothing of the kind. The man was on edge and clearly very irritated despite his relaxed posture. “Why is General Jordan in this room, George? I wasn’t aware that he had the security clearance to be involved in this project.”
“He doesn’t,” George said and smiled. “I called him in to have a conversation about his research into you, which I’m sure you found as disconcerting as I did.”
“I was informed that he’d accessed my records here at the Pentagon,” Meredith agreed. “He also sent roses to Patrick Sheppard’s house for me—red ones—which I found to be presumptuous. I did not indicate in any single fashion that I would welcome further contact with him.”
Jordan’s cheeks flushed dull red and for the first time she felt his emotions shift into what could only be called fury. She inclined her head and took John’s hand. As she laced their fingers together, Jordan’s gaze dropped briefly to watch, but then he focused on her face. He put her on edge and made her uncomfortable—much the same way that Frank Simmons had before he’d tried to kill her at Area 51. Jordan wasn’t as dangerous as Simmons, but still there was something unnerving about his interest.
“You deeply resent the fact that you’re not a Sentinel,” Meredith began and Jordan’s eyes widened with shock. “You think you deserve the abilities and the respect more than anyone else you’ve ever met. You think being considered mundane is an insult when really it just means normal. You have normal senses. You have a normal relationship with the psionic plane. You have a normal connection to the planet you live on. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but you find it offensive.
“You like to fuck Guides so you can pretend to be something you’ll never, ever be. You think you’ve fooled one Guide after another into your bed, but you didn’t. The fact is that for the most part, you’re a decent looking man which means at most you were a convenient dick for them. And if one of them stuck around for a while, it was probably out of pity and because the sex was at least adequate.
“Tell me, Kevin, did you succeed in making things difficult for me and my Sentinel because I didn’t have to pander to you and pat your feelings yesterday?”
“I told you were picking a fight you were ill-equipped for,” Rampart muttered as Jordan glared at her.
“Did you call the president to chat about me?” Jordan questioned snidely in return.
“No, but I can,” Meredith said and John pulled his cell from his jacket and offered it.
“You’re free to use my direct line, Dr. McKay,” George said and motioned toward the red phone on his desk. “President Hayes and I had a conversation about you just this morning—he was pleased to hear that you’d bonded.”
“Excuse me,” Jordan said tightly. “Thank you for your time this morning, General Hammond.”
Meredith frowned at Hammond as Jordan left. The door shut quickly and locks snapped into place. “Really?”
“He insisted that his interest in you was both personal and casual. Then he suggested he stay for the meeting to prove that there was no hostility between you and that the interest was mutual.” Hammond shrugged. “You used less curse words that I expected.”
“And you owe me a 20,” Rampart said.
Hammond pulled out his wallet with a put upon sigh. “I think bonding mellowed her out.”
Meredith watched the money exchange hands in silence and shared a look with John as she released his hand. “How much information was Jordan given?”
“He was told that knowledge of you and your work is well above his pay grade and that he has nothing to offer my project. Since this is the second time he’s tried to join the project specifically, he’ll be investigated thoroughly before he’s presented with the option to retire,” Hammond said. “On paper, both the SGC and Homeworld look exactly like the kind of assignments Jordan has spent decades working his way up through. He saw a chance for better advancement since my people are promoted far more often than what would be normal for a non-combat post.”
“If he were at all savvy he’d realize that the project is a front for a very combat-heavy operation,” Rampart interjected. “But he’s not.”
“It’s more to do with the fact that he’s very ego-centric,” Meredith said. “Everything is about him—what he wants, needs, and is going to get is the central focus of every single thought in his head. It’s probably been that way all of his damn life.”
John prodded her gently into a chair and sat when Hammond did. “You had questions for me, sir?”
“Not many,” Hammond allowed. “I could’ve asked them over the phone, but I wanted to see you, Colonel. You went through hell and not for the first time. I can’t make right what was done to you, but I’ve been told you want to speak with Elizabeth Weir.”
“I’d like to ask her some questions,” John said. “Nothing official or important as far as the scope of the mission goes. She allowed Beckett to experiment on me and there came a point when I was no longer valuable enough for her to cultivate as an asset that she decided to see me murdered to gain an alliance that the SGC would’ve never agreed to long-term. The Genii has proven repeatedly that they can’t be trusted. If the wraith ceased to be a problem in Pegasus tomorrow, within a month the Genii would start trying to figure out how to build an empire.
“Was it really about getting rid of evidence? If so, what did Carson Beckett plan to do with his research? Where was it going? Is there already a facility somewhere on this planet full of men and women being experimented on with the same shit they gave me? How much of the physical materials of that research made it back to Earth?”
“I can answer some of that right now,” Hammond said gravely. “There was a research project—it started with clones. They made two, but both died within a week of implantation.”
Meredith exhaled and shifted in her chair, but John put a hand on her arm. “Why haven’t I received the reports on this?”
“We were holding them back until we had a conversation,” Hammond explained. “The people involved in the experiment have been taken into custody and will be charged accordingly. The clone experiment took place at Area 51. There was another facility, owned and operated by the Trust. O’Neill’s people are still dismantling it. One of the surviving scientists swears that all of the participants were volunteers. We can’t ask any of them because they didn’t survive the first drug cocktail which was an infusion of iratus DNA, the ATA gene therapy, and wraith enzyme. There were 10 subjects, all male. We’re still gathering data to identify them. They were preparing for another round and were specifically looking for natural gene carriers because they believed that the colonel’s gene played a role in his survival.”
“Did Weir know about it?” John asked.
“She brought the drugs that Beckett manufactured back to Earth during her last leave,” Hammond said. “She also…” The general sat back in his chair. “She volunteered to have a sexual relationship with the sole purpose of getting pregnant. We found evidence that she’d been offered a million dollars if she could secure a child with your DNA. I’m told that she tried to get that little girl doctor on the city to seduce you.”
“Dr. Keller is 27, but yes,” Meredith said. “It came up and she was so put off by Weir’s behavior that she started to avoid her.”
Hammond nodded. “I’ll make sure she knows she can file a complaint. We can thank God she didn’t agree—there’s no telling where she would’ve ended up. They’d have probably killed her eventually.” He focused on John. “So, while this is deeply uncomfortable, I need to ask if you ever had an intimate relationship with Elizabeth Weir.”
“She tried,” John said roughly. “But it grew harder and harder to respect her after she nearly destroyed Marshall Sumner’s career. For a while there, she grew quite compliant regarding issues that I felt were important so I thought she’d mellowed out, but then she showed up at my door one night and invited herself in. It was clear she was looking for sex, but honestly, sir, it was never going to happen.
“I made that clear to her and she was, in retrospect, infuriated. At the time, I thought she was hurt by the rejection so I tried to be kind about it. But my sense memories of the event don’t jive with that initial impression. She was furious and insulted, but not at all hurt by the rejection.” John shifted in his chair and exhaled sharply. “It’s honestly annoying having to reevaluate conversations I had in the past to see if people were being assholes and I just didn’t notice. I always thought I had good instincts when it came to people.”
“I bet,” Rampart said. “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”
“You did have good instincts, for someone not online,” Meredith said. “Your career in the Corps speaks to that. You’ve advanced very fast for your age and that’s based entirely on your performance as a presumed trauma-dormant Sentinel. Hell, that fact alone should’ve slowed you down, but it didn’t.” She waved a hand. “Is that the scope of Weir’s fucked up behavior or is there something else?”
“That’s the gist. She was paid very well to pass the plans for technology back to Earth whenever she could and directed several experiments on the city to be geared toward weapons development as you’ve already speculated,” Hammond said. “She carried the product of human experimentation back to Earth to further experiment on humans so she’s going to be charged with that.”
“What would they have done with my kid?” John questioned. “Did they suspect I would pass along all of this,” he motioned to himself, “to them?”
“They wanted your ATA gene, specifically,” Hammond said. “It’s the strongest on record. Your brother, Matthew, was tested—he’s ATA positive, but around O’Neill’s level. You’re the only game in town on that front and it’s got people thinking and wondering. For the record, Beckett reported to the Trust that the iratus DNA in your body hasn’t adhered to your genome in such a way that it can be passed down to your offspring.”
“Your body adapted to the alien DNA,” Meredith explained. “As if it were a virus—you’re not contagious, of course. Your immune system ignores it. I’d wager your survival has more to do with your psionic profile than your ATA gene, but the people doing the experiments couldn’t have known you’ve probably slowly, but surely coming online since the first Genii invasion of the city. Beckett and Weir didn’t catch onto that until about six months ago. He has a piece of equipment in the infirmary that measures psionic bleed off. It was in his notes, that he’d discovered that your psionic profile was shifting and changing.”
“Right,” John said. “Maybe I don’t want to talk to her.”
“Because I don’t want to blow again,” John said roughly. “And I feel like I might. How much more obscene can this situation get, Mer? What could she possibly say to me that would make any of this sound reasonable? I don’t even know what I want from her.” He exhaled loudly. “I won’t get what I need from her so I’ll adjust to that and move on.” He focused on Hammond. “That’s for the best, really, because I’d like to avoid going feral again for as long as I possibly can. I can’t expect to avoid it forever due to the work I do, but…it was a nightmare.”
“Damn, son,” Hammond said. “I don’t know how it could’ve been anything less than hell. We’re all just glad you survived and came back to us. Losing people is a reality we have to deal with at the SGC, but we’ve never lost someone because of a traitor. It’s not something I ever want to see.”
John cleared his throat. “You had questions for me, sir?”
“General Rampart has expressed his desire to make some changes regarding your circumstances on the city. He’d like to see the military presence populated with a full battalion of assets. Thoughts?”
She watched John process that. It was a lot of responsibility and it might take him out of the field.
“You’re currently sitting at 147 assets. I’d like to see an increase to around 500 eventually,” Rampart explained. “Infantry, artillery, and logistics. You need a combat engineering unit. I can’t give you any Force Recon, but we can pull spec-ops from the Army and Navy. The DOD has already approved it.”
“A Team of SEALs,” John said. “A unit or two of Army Rangers and I wouldn’t say no to a platoon or two of Green Berets if you can shake them loose. In that vein, I’m going to need at least one more high ranking officer—captain or major. I’m getting a squadron of pilots, as I’m sure you both know, and my brother will be their flight officer. He’s a Lt. Commander in the Navy which means on paper that the project is going to look officer heavy. Canada has offered me a unit of mounties to go along with Captain Bouchard—I thought to have him handle city security as well as search and rescue missions as needed. I should be set for an officer corp, but that doesn’t really take into consideration the way the city operates. We run a 25 hour clock on Atlantis and missions take place around the clock depending on when it’s daylight on whatever planet we might be going to.”
“Do you have anyone in mind?” Hammond questioned.
“I don’t,” John admitted. “But if O’Neill could gather volunteers for conversations, I’d appreciate it. I expect to return to Colorado inside the next couple of weeks. We’ll be going to Hawaii to handle Mer’s house then after that I’d like to return to the mountain and prep whoever you’re going to send my way.”
“We’ll sort all of the assets to Peterson,” Rampart said. “There won’t be room in the mountain for them until it’s time for them to go through the gate. Will that be a problem?” He focused on Meredith. “You haven’t spent a lot of time on a base since you were removed from Groom Lake.”
“I’ll be fine,” Meredith said. “I trust that we won’t be housed in barracks.”
“No, of course, not,” Hammond interjected. “We’ll arrange an apartment off-base for you.”
* * * *
“I could put a lot of effort into keeping you calm if you want to see Elizabeth Weir,” Meredith said as soon as they settled in the SUV.
“No, I don’t…no.” John shook his head and looked out the window while his hand clenched just a little in hers. “It’s not worth the risk and why give her a chance to try to explain herself? Maybe I’ll just write a profane email and ask O’Neill to read it to her.”
“He would,” Meredith allowed and sighed when Levi laughed from the front seat.
“Considering Jordan’s previous interest in the program, do we still believe he had no idea who you were?” John questioned.
“Well, if he knew it wasn’t from my Pentagon file or yours because that would’ve thrown flags as well.”
“I doubt it,” Meredith said. “In his own way, Jordan considers himself a patriot. He’s proud of his career and his service. He’s not the sort to commit treason—it doesn’t fit with the vision he has of himself. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been encouraged to infiltrate Hammond’s command by someone. There are a lot of people in Washington who would maim and/or murder to get read in. They don’t know what’s going on they know enough to be stupidly curious.
“Like I said, it’s a big secret and that means that eventually there will be an event or a leak that we can’t contain and declassification will happen.” She shrugged. “Then we can look forward to public meltdowns, riots, religious protests, and some good old fashioned panic. There is an entire division at the SGC whose job is managing the cover story and preparing for declassification. Here’s hoping they aren’t a bunch of idiots.”
“They probably are a bunch of idiots,” John admitted and watched her huff dramatically. “Maybe you can interrogate them while we’re there.”
“I’m not here to entertain you,” Meredith muttered.
“You could be if you put in some effort,” John retorted and she glared at him. “Just kidding.”
“Sure you were.”
* * * *
Meredith had never really enjoyed katas—she’d done them because William made her—but the process had never provided her with the benefit she’d been told to expect. Still, as she moved through a traditional set of katas with the Sheppard family, it felt weirdly calming and meditative. In fact, it was so relaxing that she was having a hard time analyzing the experience.
Claire Dubois was in the house, sitting just a few feet away watching the process curiously. Her near-permanent latent status meant she’d received little training in France. Jonah had already promised to correct that because it was stupidly dangerous to make such assumptions and not provide training for those considered to be in reserve.
As it turned out, Patrick had taught all three of his sons Eskrima and Judo. She knew John had also picked up Krav Maga in training in the Corps, but he hadn’t said much about those circumstances. Kepler appeared, prowled around them and went to lay near Claire.
“He won’t hurt you,” Meredith murmured.
“He feels safe,” Claire said in agreement. “Protective. Why has he appeared?”
“He always does when I get close to a meditative state, due to how vulnerable it makes me. A spirit animal has multiple purposes—comfort, guidance, protection, etc.”
Meredith allowed herself to drop back down into the exercise and blue light started to surface on her hands. She considered tamping it down, but it would take some effort and ruin the whole thing on the meditation front so she didn’t. As she turned to move into a new movement, she noted that John was also glowing as well. The light shimmering on his skin was kind of distracting so she averted her gaze.
“You’re both glowing,” Matt said. “For fuck’s sake.”
John laughed. “Yeah, that happens.”
Zillah bounded through the wall, tackled Kepler and Claire squeaked. Meredith watched the jaguar gnaw briefly on Kepler’s ear before she stalked over to Claire and rubbed her whole head against the woman’s shoulder and chest.
“Who does this terrible creature belong to?” Claire demanded even as she rubbed Zillah’s head like one might a domestic cat.
“She’s mine,” John said. “Dad and Jonah both have wolf spirits animals.” He inclined his head toward a corner of the room as a pair of wolves appeared. “They’re above such ridiculous behavior or so we’ve always been told.”
Zillah laid down and put her head in Claire’s lap.
“I didn’t know spirit animals would allow this,” she admitted as her cheeks flushed pink.
“You’re family,” John said and returned his attention to the katas even as Claire’s mouth dropped open.
* * * *
“This is stupidly dangerous,” Meredith muttered even as she tightened her legs around John’s waist.
He just laughed against her neck and pressed her against the tile as her cunt clenched on his cock. “I’ve got you.”
“More people die in the bathroom than anywhere else in the their whole house,” Meredith said and her breath caught as he started to move. “Fuck, why are you so good at this? You must have had an epic whore phase. I should be appalled…” She shuddered and arched against him.
“You love it,” John murmured as he nuzzled against her jaw. “You should be pleased to know that I bring a lot of knowledge and experience to this endeavor since you have needs.”
It was easy, too easy, to get lost in the power and strength of his body. It should’ve made her wary, but Meredith was beyond that. Surrendering to his care was as natural as breathing. His hands on her, his mouth tasting her, his cock inside her—every bit of it was exactly what she’d always wanted and needed. She came without any sort of warning and he groaned against her collar bone as her body clenched down on his cock repeatedly.
“You’re such a sweet fuck,” John murmured against her skin. “Can I have your ass?”
“Yes, but not in this shower,” she said with a laugh.
He cupped her ass as he pulled free from her cunt and carefully sat her on her feet. “Awesome.”
Meredith grinned as he hustled her out of the shower, dried them both off haphazardly and prodded her toward the bedroom. In short order, they were on the bed and he was rubbing lubed fingers against the rim of her anus.
“If you treat my ass like a mission, I’m going to fuck you up.”
He grinned at her and pressed a kiss against her hip. John had put her on her side and tucked up behind her. It wasn’t the position she’d expected, but she did appreciate the intimacy it afforded. She relaxed against his chest as he slid one finger in. It wasn’t weird at all and felt strangely good. She didn’t know what to think about that so she pushed the thought aside and focused on the sensations.
“Marines are trained to prepare for all situations,” he murmured against her shoulder. “We take great care with our equipment and treat all missions with the utmost seriousness and respect. Being with you is a privilege and an honor—so I will take care with you always no matter what we do or how we do it.”
He added a second finger and all she could do was groan. She was honestly kind of irritated to have never known that anal could feel so good. Clearly, she’d been robbed.
“Does it feel this good for a man?”
He paused briefly before resuming the gentle glide of his fingers into her body. “I feels great for me—the stretch, the fullness, and the prostate stimulation is fantastic. Some women love it and some hate it. It’s all individual, I guess, because I’ve had male lovers who didn’t want it either way. Those relationships didn’t last long because I enjoy penetration too much to give it up for a long haul.”
He added a third finger and pressed in deep.
“I’m definitely buying a strap-on, then,” her breath hitched and she rocked down against his hand. “Wow.”
“Okay,” he murmured and pulled his fingers free. “Try to stay relaxed.”
She stayed as she was and just took a deep breath as he pressed the head of his cock against her hole. The steady push of his cock into her ass such a shocking pleasure that she did nothing but take it. He groaned softly against her shoulder blade, cupped her hip and started to fuck her. It was a long, slow grind that spun her right into a orgasm within a minute.
John gasped a little against her neck and grazed his teeth across the top of her shoulder. “You’re perfect, Mer. So good. I love being inside you. You take me so well—like we should be one.”
That felt true and amazing, but she wasn’t going to go agreeing with it because he had a big enough ego as it was. She did her best to meet each movement of his body, but the position didn’t give her a lot of room to move, not that he seemed to care. Clearly, he’d expected or even wanted to do all the work since he’d picked the position and she’d agreed without discussion.
He came with a soft, shocked sound that sent a shiver down her spine.
John laughed weakly and wrapped an arm around her to keep her close. “Yeah.”
The flight to Hawaii wasn’t terrible since they used the private plane. They’d ended up dropping Matt off in Nevada, leaving David and Claire in Virginia to deal with construction. Meredith had noted that neither had minded being left behind. She understood it—they certainly needed the alone time to figure themselves out and David no longer had to feel guilty about splitting his time between Claire and John.
The Alpha pair on Oahu met them at the airport, briefly, and welcomed them to their territory. The Alpha Sentinel Prime had given them his personal contact information, wished them a good vacation, and left without much ceremony which they all appreciated. Meredith had known the man for years and he was kind of known for having the briefest meetings possible with anyone. Even the governor of the state rarely got more than a half hour of his time on any given day.
The house was exactly as she’d left it as she’d cancelled the packing team from the SGC after Jeannie had agreed to take the job. There were a series of crates stacked on the lanai that had probably been delivered via the Daedalus. She gave them a tour of the house and the lab located in a large safe room then ordered food because she wasn’t cooking and didn’t know what was in the kitchen. A quick check revealed that the cleaning service had cleared the fridge out which she appreciated.
Once food was ordered, she went in search of John and found him on the beach. She sat down beside him and he caught her hand.
“No, it’s gorgeous. You should keep it—we can retire here.”
“Deal,” she said easily. “But?”
“The house smells like Bouchard,” John said roughly. “I expected that. I didn’t expect it to smell like you, him, and sex.”
“Oh.” She blew out a surprised breath. “Well, yeah, we…hmmm…lived alone so we had sex wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted.”
He laughed. “I’m not mad about it, Mer. You were clear about that previous relationship. I just wasn’t as prepared as I thought I would be able to smell the evidence of it. I thought it would be gone by now.” He waved a hand. “It should be.”
“It could be syncing,” Meredith said. “You’re picking up my emotional impressions or psionc bleed-off and it’s producing the smell for you. Maybe from my memory. Sorry.”
“It probably wouldn’t be an issue if I was an average Sentinel,” John muttered. “I mean, I can’t regret what I am because it saved me, but I have a feeling I’m going to encounter shit like this for the rest of my life. My dad didn’t seem to notice anything and he think he would’ve mentioned it—not to shame you, but to help me manage it.”
“Agreed he would’ve,” Meredith said. “And I have no shame.” She grinned when he laughed.
“You have feelings for him,” John said. “I knew that from the start, but…”
“It was never romantic between us,” Meredith said. “It couldn’t be, really, and maybe that hurt us both in the beginning because we were very comfortable. I hope William and I remain the closest of friends because it would hurt a lot if I lost that in gaining a Sentinel. We did worry that it would go that way eventually. He’s had my back for years, John, and sometimes it’s weird to turn and find him gone.”
“I get it,” John murmured. “And I promise not to get hostile with him. I’m not jealous of that part.”
“But you are jealous?”
“Weirdly,” John admitted. “In a very non-tangible way, that isn’t about sex or friendship. Because I trust you and know you won’t…damage our bond with infidelity.”
“Did your ex-wife cheat?”
“Nancy?” John questioned. “No. She just couldn’t be a Marine’s wife. Nancy thought she understood what it would be like, but then I spent six months overseas and when I came back went directly into some pretty intensive training because I’d been accepted into Force Recon. We were both young and she realized that there really isn’t anything glamorous about being a military wife. She asked for a divorce and we parted ways without much of a fuss. It hurt, but I moved on pretty quickly all things considered. She’s married to a junior senator from Virginia. They have two kids and one of those designer poodle things.” He waved a hand. “It’s name is Bubbles.”
“Did you feel guilty about not being what she wanted?”
“No,” John said. “And I did feel guilty for that. It never once crossed my mind to try to change myself or reshape my dreams to make her happy. I told her what I wanted and what I expected to get for the work I was going to put in to the Marine Corps and that was it. We had a fight before she asked for a divorce when she screamed at me that I could be safe if I took a job with my father. And honestly, being safe hadn’t been on my list since I was a little kid. I told her that—I told her that I hadn’t felt safe since my mother was murdered and didn’t think I ever would again. She looked at me like I’d slapped her.”
“You were right—you are my safe place,” John said roughly and picked up a fist full of sand. He let it fall through his fingers. “And I never expected to have that. I didn’t think I needed it until I had it and now I’d…well, I’m not sure what I’m capable of when it comes to keeping you safe and with me. Every single day it gets a little easier and I feel like at any moment I’m just going to tip over the side and fall utterly in love with you. It’ll ruin me.”
Meredith grinned and nudged him. “I’ve already ruined you.”
“True,” John admitted ruefully and wrapped an arm around her. He inhaled against her hair then kissed her forehead. “I’m not even mad.”
“We’re not having sex on this beach.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest it,” John said in his defense. “I’ve been there and done that. I have no interest in getting sand in the crack of my ass ever again.”
She stared briefly then started to giggle helplessly.
* * * *
The crate for her personal possessions was quite large, so she had room for her clothes, personal laptop, and various other items that she’d collected and wanted with her on the city. She sent Levi Graves to a roastery to buy coffee to fill in the rest of it. It had been tempting to go herself, but she’d given him an extensive list of what she expected him to return with and he probably knew better than to disappoint her.
Patrick and Jonah had vacated the house shortly after breakfast and Meredith didn’t expect to see them again until the dinner hour. Apparently, it had been a little over a decade since either man had really had a vacation and they were taking advantage of their unexpected trip to Hawaii to relax. She hoped they’d packed enough sunscreen for their day excursion, but she hadn’t micromanaged the backpack Jonah had stocked up before they left. No matter how much she wished she had.
She’d requested and received a special case to slide William’s painting in. Honestly, the case probably cost more than he’d spent on the painting itself since he’d purchased it from a stall on the streets of Yokohama. But the sentimental value was immeasurable considering Miko and her spirit animal. The whole thing spoke to a lovely connection through the psionic plane that Meredith found interesting and charming. She hoped that they were coming together as easily as she and John had. They both certainly deserved to make a great match.
She closed the case and carried it into the living room where William’s crate had already been packed. He was something of a minimalist so everything he owned of any personal significance was already in the crate. She as going to fill up his empty spots with coffee, too.
“What’s with the empty room?” John questioned.
“It was my home office, but we had the lab space expanded and moved it over.” She motioned toward the part of the house that held the secure lab. “William suggested we turn it into a home gym and we were considering equipment when…you happened.”
“Will your niece expect a room to be ready for her?” John questioned. “She’s bringing an employee as well, right? You’ve only got two beds, plus the pull out, in this house, Mer.”
Meredith pursed her lips. “I have no idea what to buy. I mean—I’m sure she’ll have toys and things, but based on the packing/moving expense report that was submitted they aren’t bringing any furniture. It’s probably cheaper to buy whatever might be missing here rather than try to ship it.”
“How old is Madison?”
“Okay, so probably a half bed versus a full bed,” John said. “Light wood or white?” He shrugged. “Ask your sister.”
“It might be a nice surprise,” Meredith said pensively. “I’ve never done well with Madison. I mean, I think she likes me, but I’ve never really been a part of her life on any consistent basis because of work. I think she likes William more than me. She’ll probably like you more than me, too.”
“I’m pretty great,” John acknowledged. “Does she play sports or anything?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Meredith said. “I don’t think Jeannie would allow that—head injury and all of that.” She waved a hand.
“She’s smart like you two?” John questioned and Meredith focused on him.
She smiled. “Yeah, she’s brilliant. Maddie will shape mankind herself one day.”
“Is Jeannie…well, as smart as you?”
“It’s all subjective, isn’t it?” Meredith said. “Intelligence is measured by potential and Jeannie was never allowed to explore her potential when it was the most beneficial. She’s a genius certainly, but probably not…” She flushed. “It’s weird to compare myself to anyone, but most especially my sister. Am I smarter? Objectively, yes, I scored higher on every single IQ test we took where she performed her best. She went through this stage where she wanted to prove she was better than me, smarter than me. It was a hurtful situation for a variety of reasons, but more so because she was furious with the results.
“She was deeply invested in proving, at least to herself, that she was the special one. The one that deserved all of our parents time, attention, and pride. Even after I was gone, she was jealous of the investment they made in me. My father probably bitched for years about me and how I ran away. Jeannie will always resent me for it and I can’t change that.”
“Do you resent her?”
“Gawd, of course, I do,” Meredith said. “She’s a burden, John, and even now as I stand here I feel incredibly guilty for the fact that I’m leaving the planet and won’t be here to manage her fucking life from a distance. My parents made a mess of her and she’s never had any single desire to correct herself. She lives in this fantasy world where she thinks her intelligence and her money means she shouldn’t be bothered with the little details of living.
“The only thing she’s ever really worked at as being a mother. I figured she would hire a nanny before she even gave birth, but she didn’t. She also takes care of Madison very well which makes it clear that she could figure out the rest if she were inclined, but she isn’t. She just doesn’t think she should.” Meredith huffed. “I hate it, but there’s nothing I can really do about it because I tried already and I had to give it up or just ignore her for the rest of my life.”
John nodded. “Why don’t you get online find a local store and pick out a bedroom suite you might have liked as a little girl? We can pay to have it delivered.”
Meredith considered that. “I can do that. I need to do a grocery order with the service as well so they’ll have something to eat when they arrive.”
The dynamic between the McKay sisters was problematic and John wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it. His family had always been tight even when separated by long distances. Until Pegasus, he’d rarely gone more than a week without getting at least emails from everyone. But he had prepped them in advance by telling them that he was taking a classified op that would take him off the grid for a year or more before he’d ever stepped through the gate. When a steady connection had been created with Earth, email contact had resumed easily.
He and David had, from time to time, gone through rough patches due to similar temperaments. But there was no resentment between them that he could discern. There was a lot of love and acceptance to be had in his family and John had always taken great comfort in that, especially when he’d been labeled trauma-dormant as a child.
He looked and found Meredith staring at him with a worried expression on her face. “I’m fine.”
“But?” she prodded.
“Your relationship with your sister is…disheartening and I wish I could curse your parents out for it,” John said roughly. “I guess I want to make it better, but there’s no fixing it and that’s frustrating.”
“William tried to fix it,” Meredith told him wryly and John laughed. “He got cursed out twice and made Jeannie cry.” John winced. “Right? She just emoted all over the place and cried on him while she told him what a terrible person she was. He deserved every wretched second of it. I told him to leave it alone—that we have repaired as much of our relationship as I can. I love her, but I don’t like her and she feels the same. We’re just not ever going to be close.”
“Do you wish you could be?”
“I wouldn’t mind being close to a sister, just not the one I got,” Meredith admitted and shrugged. “It is what it is. But thanks for recognizing you can’t fix it.”
“William’s an only child, right?” John questioned.
Meredith grinned. “Yeah, he is.”
John nodded and walked away. “Order the stuff. I’m going to check the house before we bed down for the night. The dads have hotel reservations for tomorrow, by the way. They figured it would best if they weren’t here when Jeannie arrives just in case things are more stressful than expected. Also, they probably want to avoid any fighting.”
“We’re not going to fight,” Meredith said. “We never do that in front of Madison, but yeah, a hotel room would probably be a good idea. I don’t plan to stay here long. It would make things difficult between us. We work better at a distance.”
She winced. “Stop judging me, John Sheppard.”
“I’m not judging you,” John protested and grinned when she huffed. “Okay, maybe, I’m judging you a little, but it would be boring if you were perfect and also I’d never, ever expect to win every single argument.”
“You’re never winning any arguments,” Meredith told him gravely and rolled her eyes as she focused on her laptop screen.
John left her to her shopping and pulled out his phone to check his email. His inbox was overflowing, but he opened the one from Anne Teldy as soon as he saw it. He read through the basic summary of city operations and her assessment of Richard Woolsey, which was favorable. He’d sent her an email about the changes that Rampart had implemented so he was waiting for her opinion on that. Mostly, he wanted to know if she had a wishlist of her own regarding equipment or people. Plus, he wanted to make sure he didn’t end up with some asshole on the city that Anne hated.
He closed that email and marked it unread so he could respond to it once he got to his computer and scrolled through the rest to make sure there was nothing that needed his immediate attention. Due to his status, he didn’t expect there to be anything because no one expected him to be in charge of handling an emergency situation. John closed the email program and slid his phone into the pocket of his jeans.
* * * *
John sipped his coffee as he watched from the kitchen as the delivery men brought in the furniture that Meredith had bought for her niece. She’d gone with a light wood set and the half-bed had a frilly white canopy. The store brought bedding as well, but that had been confiscated by Meredith and taken to the laundry room. His father came to stand beside him and poured himself some coffee.
“She seems agitated,” Patrick observed.
“Well, they’re like oil and water.”
“Would it be easier if we stayed and acted like a buffer?” Jonah questioned as he joined them.
“I don’t think anything would make it better,” John admitted. “They’re different people, but more over they simply don’t trust each other and their parents created that situation. I don’t think it’s fixable, really.”
He sat down his empty cup as the delivery people brought in the last of the furniture and went to sign off on the whole thing. When he finished that and locked the door behind the men, he found his fathers were in the room checking the furniture.
He leaned on the doorway. “Problem?”
“We need to secure the dresser and bookshelf to the wall,” Patrick said. “She’s old enough to climb on both and could be crushed if they fell over on her. The quality is great, but these pieces are heavy. We should check any other freestanding bookshelves in the house as well and the china cabinet in the dining room. They make brackets for it—shouldn’t be hard to find. We lost a boy in our pride because of an accident with a dresser. He was just four.”
“I can handle that, sirs,” Levi said as he came to stand with John. “There’s a tool box in the garage.”
“Thanks,” John said. “We’ll be picking up the family in about five hours so we should go through the house and make sure there’s nothing else in the house that could be a safety risk. She’s six so I don’t know if that means securing chemicals or whatever. Probably shouldn’t take the risk, her mother and the assistant that lives with them might get distracted by the move or unpacking.”
“Kids that age are easy to lose track of,” Patrick said. “And she’ll be excited about the new house and the beach.”
John winced. “Right. I don’t know what to do about that. There are three ways to leave the house and she can certainly open all of the doors. Surely her mother already has a plan?”
“She can swim,” Meredith said in amusement from behind him. “And knows better than to swim alone. They had a pool in their apartment complex—she never tried to go alone. I admit the ocean might be a bigger temptation, but I doubt she’d do more than play in shallows without an adult. I did ask Jeannie to have a conversation about it and she agreed to do it.”
“Dad said we need to secure the dresser and the bookshelf to the wall in case she tries to climb them.”
“Oh.” Meredith exhaled in surprise. “Right, well, then we should probably do the bookshelves in the other two bedrooms, the china cabinet, and the entertainment center in the rec room. She won’t be allowed in the lab so that’s okay. There’s also an equipment cabinet outside on the lanai that should be secured to the house, I guess. It’s heavy. There’s nothing in it currently, but it’s big enough to hold about six surf boards.”
* * * *
Meredith hated airports, but fortunately she’d put Jeannie, Madison, and Elisa Theroux on a chartered flight. She thought it would work best for the kid to not to be on a crowded plane for such a long time. It also meant they were waiting in a small VIP lounge while the three of them passed through customs. The coffee wasn’t terrible so they passed the hour easily enough as far as she was concerned.
The SGC had secured visas for all three of them so she didn’t think they’d have any problems officially entering in the country. Their luggage had already been delivered and Levi had arranged it on a cart before Meredith could make a decision about it. She really appreciated his quick and quiet efficiency.
“What are you thinking?” John questioned.
“I wonder if I should have an assistant on the base,” she said. “Someone to handle—administrative stuff on behalf.”
“Probably,” John said. “It would help with the reorganization at the very least and you should have someone to manage your time so people don’t come at you from 20 different directions every single hour of the day and they probably would without management in place.” He paused. “You can’t have Graves.”
Meredith frowned at him. “I mean, I’d like to take him, but it wouldn’t be good for his career. I should probably seek out a civilian—someone with a degree in management or maybe even human resources so they have skills to deal with the large population of sciences. Also, that would probably help with interpersonal issues that might pop up.” She took a sip of her coffee. “I’ll write something up and send it to the mountain so they can recruit some candidates for it. We’re going to be very busy in Colorado so…”
“Very,” John said. “I’ve evened out.”
“But your father’s presence is very helpful for you and we can’t ask him to spend a month in Colorado just hanging out so you can sleep well,” Meredith said. “Well, we could, but it would be rude and he’d probably do it no matter how inconvenient it would be for him.”
“I agree,” John said. “But surely I need to get used to not having him around sooner rather than later. It might be hard because I do feel safe with him and I needed that when I first returned to home. I guess tonight will be a test of sorts since they’re moving to a hotel.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I feel like a kid.”
“Emotions are what they are,” Meredith said. “You’re certainly entitled to feel safe, John, and if that means we spend several months living in your father’s house then that’s fine. I know you want to return to work as soon as possible, but no one would begrudge you time to adjust no matter how well you’re testing.”
“I feel like I can’t afford that kind of time,” John said quietly.
“The question becomes—is it merely a matter of being in your own territory or are you being pushed?”
“Do you feel pushed?” John questioned.
“Not like that.” She focused on the door as he did and Meredith relaxed just a little as Madison darted in ahead of her sister and Elisa Theroux, Jeannie’s personal assistant.
“Aunt Meredith!” Madison launched herself forward and Meredith caught her. “I flew on a plane, and I’m in another country!”
“Welcome to the United States of America,” Meredith said with a laugh and set the girl down. “Did you like the plane ride?”
“I slept a lot which mama says was for the best,” Meredith reported and hooked her arm around Meredith’s leg as she focused on John. “Who are you?”
“This is my Sentinel, Colonel John Sheppard,” Meredith said.
“What happened to Uncle William?” Madison demanded with a frown.
“He found a Guide of his own,” Meredith said as she brushed her fingers through the girl’s hair. “He’s very happy, but he promised to send you an email soon.”
“Okay,” Madison decided and offered John her hand. “I’m Madison Ada McKay. I used to be Madison Ada Miller, but my sperm donor is a jerk so we changed our names!”
John took her hand gently. “It’s an honor to meet you Madison Ada McKay. You can call me John, if you like.”
“Aunt Meredith, if I call him Uncle John do I have to give up Uncle William?”
“Of course not,” Meredith said and focused on her sister who was staring at John. “John, this is my sister Jeannie McKay and her assistant, Elisa Theroux.” She flicked a hand toward John. “My Sentinel, Colonel John Sheppard and his aide-de-camp Lt. Levi Graves. They’re both in the United States Marine Corps, but are currently off-duty.”
“It’s nice to meet you both—I can’t shake hands with either of you due to your perfumes,” John said. “My apologies.”
“Oh,” Jeannie said with a flush. “I’m sorry—I didn’t consider it.” She folded her hands together. “William didn’t have a problem with it.”
“John’s newly online so we’re still figuring out what will hurt him and what won’t,” Meredith explained before focusing on Madison. “I’ve gotten you a present.”
“What sort of present?” Madison asked, gaze narrowed in a fair imitation of Meredith.
“You’ll just have to wait until we get to the house.”
“What’s an aide-de-camp?” Madison questioned.
“It’s like an assistant,” Meredith said. “But a military one.”
* * * *
Dinner had been a deeply awkward experience, and John didn’t even know what to make of it. Madison was a delight and had loved her new bedroom furniture, but it was obvious that Jeannie and Meredith were forcing themselves to be as polite as possible because of the kid. Elisa Theroux was lovely, but quiet in the face of the McKay sisters and John didn’t blame her.
The house had settled down quickly after the meal because of the exhaustion that comes with traveling so John found himself lingering on the lanai long after everyone else had gone to bed.
“Is everything okay, sir?”
John glanced over his shoulder. “It’s fine, Graves. Just some general adjustment.”
Graves came to stand with him. “Want me to walk the perimeter?”
“No need,” John murmured. “Everything is as it should be. I didn’t ask last night, but how’s the pull out couch?”
“Better than a cot in barracks,” Levi said and yawned.
“You can go back to bed,” John said.
“If you’re sure.”
“I am,” he assured, but then turned his head slightly as the sound of footsteps. “The kid’s up. I’ll handle it.”
“Sure,” Levi said and shuffled off back to the sleeper sofa in the rec room.
John found Madison in the kitchen. “Hey, kiddo, something wrong?”
“Can I have some water?”
He went to get a class then paused. “Do you usually get water at night?”
“Mama keeps a glass for me on the counter at our old apartment, but there’s no glass here. I usually get it from the fridge.” She pointed toward the water dispenser.
John retrieved a small glass and handed it to her. “I’m sure your mom just forgot in the excitement of the move.”
“She was tired,” Madison agreed as she got a bit of ice then water. “It’s pretty here. I think we’ll like it. The ocean is cool. Maybe I can swim tomorrow.”
“Only with an adult,” John cautioned.
“It would be dangerous. Mama said always with an adult and I agreed.” She finished her water, poured the ice into the sink, and put the glass on the counter. “I might come back for more—if that’s okay.”
“It’s fine, this is your home now,” John said.
She nodded. “It’s nicer than the apartment. I can play outside without going to the park which is nice. Mama says I’ll be going to a school that Aunt Meredith picked out so it’ll be great.”
“Oh yeah?” John asked and leaned on the counter.
“Aunt Meredith’s brilliant so I’m sure it’s the best school on the whole island,” Madison declared. “She won a Nobel Prize, you know.”
“I did know,” John agreed.
“Miss Elisa says that Aunt Meredith is one of the smartest people on the planet—not just one of the smartest women and I should always correct people when they say it because people try to diminish Aunt Meredith by implying she’s just a smart woman instead of a smart person.” Madison bounced a little. “She says it’s okay to be proud of her even if Mama doesn’t talk about it.”
“Miss Elisa is a smart lady, too,” John said and Madison nodded. “It’s late so you should probably go back to bed.”
“We should have pancakes for breakfast,” Madison said. “At home we had a board on the fridge so I could ask for stuff. There’s no board here.”
“I’m sure that Miss Elisa will put up a board when she has time,” John said. “If I get up before you, I’ll let her know you want pancakes for breakfast.”
“Okay, thanks, Uncle John,” she trotted off then, took a quick detour by the bathroom then returned to bed.
Levi came into the kitchen, put a bright yellow post-it on the fridge, and walked away yawning. John laughed a little and resisted the urge to put the kid’s glass in the dishwasher. He did stop to check the post-it note.
ET – Madison wants pancakes for breakfast – LG
He returned to bed and slipped in beside Meredith. She turned and curled against up him. “Trouble sleeping.”
“Yeah,” he admitted because there was no need to pretend otherwise. “I think it’s more about the strange house than the lack of my father. It was a little weird not hearing heartbeat, but I adjusted.” He rubbed her back and inhaled against her hair.
The scent of her filling up his senses allowed him to relax. He felt like a co-dependent mess so he wasn’t going to admit it. Though, he had a feeling that he didn’t need to tell Meredith a damn thing about himself, which he should’ve found annoying, but couldn’t.
“You’re good with kids. Do you want one?”
“I’m not opposed,” John said. “But the circumstances on Atlantis would have to change pretty drastically for me to be okay with having a family on the city. It’s dangerous as hell right now—I’d probably be downright savage if I had a child to protect.”
“Maybe that’s exactly what Pegasus needs,” Meredith murmured. “A bunch of savage Sentinels who hunt wraith like a hobby.”
John laughed a little. “Maybe so.” He kissed the top of her head and tried to relax his muscles one by one. “The kid might actually be the problem. This house doesn’t feel secure enough for her to live in it.”
“We have a security system on the lab, but we could have one installed on the whole of the house tomorrow before we leave,” Meredith said. “I can’t fence off the ocean if that’s your concern.”
“It’s not. She said she wouldn’t go into the water alone and she meant it,” John said. “I trust that. I don’t think she’s the sort to let her curiosity override her common sense.”
“I’ll call a security company in the morning. Your father mentioned he’d manage that if I wanted. Frankly, living with a Sentinel meant I didn’t need to worry about security. The lab must be locked down due to it’s classified nature, but the rest of the house…eh. No one ever came close to the property at any rate. The house sits on a 20 acre plot so we don’t have any close neighbors.”
“Well, William Bouchard won’t be here in the future to dissuade people from breaking into this very wealthy looking house,” John muttered.
“Right.” Meredith sat up with a sigh. “Now I have to research security companies on the fucking island. I think there’s one run by a Sentinel.” She scooted out of the bed and because John agreed, and wanted input, he followed.
By the time they made a selection, the sun was coming up and Elisa Theroux was in the kitchen making pancakes.
John called his fathers and invited them to breakfast since he knew that Patrick wanted to meet Jeannie McKay and her daughter. They were now, peripherally, a part of his father’s family pride. He didn’t know who was going to explain that and realized, as the doorbell rang, that he should’ve asked Meredith about it.
Meredith went to get the door even as Madison came bounding into the room and crawled up on a barstool beside him.
“Good morning, Uncle John! You told Miss Elisa about the pancakes.”
“Lt. Graves left her a note in case I forgot,” John said. “That was for the best. We’re having bacon and eggs, too.”
“I love bacon.” Madison bounced. “Miss Elisa, you’re the best.”
“Bacon makes the world go around,” Elisa said from the stove.
Meredith entered the kitchen with his fathers as Jeannie poured herself a cup of coffee. “Jeannie, Madison, Elisa—this is Dr. Patrick Sheppard, Alpha Sentinel Prime and his Guide, Dr. Jonah Dean. Patrick is the Alpha Sentinel Prime of Appalachia which is a territory in the southern United States. He’s also John’s father. Because of my bond with John, all three of you are pride-adjacent which means that even though you don’t live in his territory, he will be instinctually invested in making sure you’re safe.”
Madison hopped down off her stool and went right to his father. “Hi, Uncle William didn’t come with extra family. I’m glad Uncle John does—I’ve got two uncles which is great, but I have zero grandpas which is not great. So, I’m thinking since mama sleeps with Miss Elisa and Miss Elisa doesn’t have parents who like her that I’m never getting grandparents at all so I’m just gonna claim you two.” She smiled winningly.
John shared a look with Meredith, who looked shocked and deeply amused at the same time.
“Sounds perfect,” Patrick said. “I’ve always wanted a granddaughter from Canada, specifically. I hear very special little girls come from Canada.”
Madison nodded. “It’s the maple syrup.”
Meredith laughed, and the rest followed suit.
* * * *
“I cannot believe your daughter outed you,” Meredith said in amusement as she sipped her wine.
Jeannie flushed and huffed dramatically. “I didn’t think she’d noticed.”
“How long has this been going on?” Meredith questioned.
“A year or so,” Jeannie said. “It just happened—I didn’t set out to seduce someone who worked for me. Though she hasn’t worked for me since we went to bed together. I mean, we share money and stuff, but she’s not my assistant anymore. We’re considering getting married.” She frowned at her. “Is it a problem? Because it’d better not be.”
Meredith huffed. “I’ve slept with women, Jeannie.” Her sister’s mouth dropped open. “And men, of course, and multiples at the same time because who turns down a threesome?” She shrugged. “I like sex—when I was younger it was the one way I could distract myself from the crap my gifts expose me to.” She leaned on the railing of the deck. “It’s a little hinky that you slept with an employee, but whatever as long as it was what you both wanted.”
“We’re happy,” Jeannie said.
Meredith figured that was true. Neither were putting off any emotions that said otherwise and they clearly were very comfortable together despite the embarrassment of being outed by a six-year-old. “Why do her parents hate her?”
“Because she’s a lesbian and they threw a fit about it when she was a teenager. They disowned her, but then they came back around a few years ago when they heard she job where she made a lot of money. They disowned her again when she refused to buy them a new house. I imagine they’ll be even worse when they find out about the whole getting married thing and they’ll try again. I want another baby.”
Meredith nodded. “There are some good sperm banks available. Make sure you get one with stringent privacy policies and use a lawyer to broker the deal, just in case. You don’t want a donor finding out about the kid and your money. It’ll turn into a nightmare.”
“Right.” Jeannie said and focused on her wine. “You wouldn’t be upset with me for having another baby?”
“I wasn’t upset about Madison,” Meredith pointed out. “I was upset about your circumstances and that asshole you were married to. He’d have robbed you blind if he could’ve, and you’d have allowed it. I won’t be turning the management of your trust fund over to Elisa, so don’t ask.”
“I wouldn’t,” Jeannie protested. “And she doesn’t want it. We’ve already talked about it. The arrangement and the stipend is more than enough. I bank over half of it every month anyways. Elisa thinks we’ll spend more on groceries here, but that’s fine. She said she’d work up a budget and if things get tight she’d send it to you for review. You’re leaving your SUV for me, right? We stored my car.”
“Yeah, of course, I’ve already added the two of you to the insurance,” Meredith said. “We’d planned on leaving today, but the security firm can’t install the system until tomorrow so John doesn’t want to leave the house until it’s ready.”
“Is that a Sentinel thing?” Jeannie questioned. “William clearly didn’t see the need for a security system outside of the lab.”
“William doesn’t know I’m leaving you in it by yourself,” Meredith pointed out. “If we were going to live here, I doubt a security system would’ve ever crossed John’s mind. If you’d rather we didn’t spend the night—I can move to a hotel.”
“I’m not going to kick you out of your own house, Meredith,” Jeannie snapped and took a deep breath as she focused on the ocean in front of them. “I don’t remember a time when we didn’t fight.”
“Well, our father believed that growth through competition was the only legitimate sort of progress a human being could make. Fear of losing, he would say, was the real root of all invention.”
“Can you see yourself ever forgiving him for pushing you so hard?”
“The last thing our father said to me was that if I were a man he’d beat me to death. He’d forced his way into my apartment at MIT to bitch and moan about not receiving payment on a project for a private think thank because my agreement with them expired and I refused to renew it. They lost the rights to my work and stopped paying him. He was furious and hateful. My neighbors called the cops. Maybe he would’ve hit me, if they hadn’t. I don’t know. So, no, Jeannie, I’m never going to forgive him.
“And I don’t forgive her either—because she was weak and greedy and foolish. Had she any kind of backbone we’d have both been better off.”
“Both of us or just me?” Jeannie questioned bitterly.
“Both of us,” Meredith said evenly. “I didn’t get to have a childhood, Jeannie. I skipped high school entirely. I didn’t go on a date until I was 22. I didn’t get a license to drive a car until I moved here with William and he was appalled to learn I’d never been taught to drive. I weaponized my Guide gifts to keep people at bay, made a hobby out of alienating people to avoid making friends or even civil acquaintances. I can’t even tell you the details of where they led me, but it almost got me killed because I was arrogant and had narrowed my focus down so much that I stopped paying attention to the people around me.
“I grew up too soon and maybe you barely grew up at all.” She sighed when Jeannie huffed. “I don’t mean that to be an insult. Mom wanted you to be helpless and dependent on her and she did because I ran away as fast as I could. She made damn sure she’d never lose you. Now we’re both here—living this life that neither of them would’ve wanted for us or allowed us to have if they’d had a single choice in the matter.”
Madison came out of the French doors at that point and grasped the railing next to her. “Uncle John said I should come out here and be adorable to distract you both.”
Jeannie laughed abruptly, and took a ragged breath. “Did he?”
“That’s what he said and he’s a colonel so I figure he knows what to do. Lt. Graves said that Uncle John is the boss of him and a bunch of other people. Being the boss is important. Aunt Meredith, are you the boss of anyone?”
“I’m waiting on a new contract. So, currently, just your mother,” Meredith said and laughed when Jeannie huffed dramatically. “And you.”
“I don’t mind since you’re so smart,” Madison declared. “Lt. Graves said he’d go swimming with me if you said it was okay, Mama. Is it okay?”
Jeannie looked toward Meredith with a raised eyebrow.
“He’ll keep her safe—he’s done that and more for me in the past,” Meredith said. “He was my security in a…war zone, once.”
“I’d probably stroke out if I knew the details of your work,” Jeannie muttered, but focused on Madison. “You have to wear sunscreen and your new life vest. No arguments.”
“The whole building is used to house assets for the SGC,” Levi explained as he turned on the lights. “This apartment is the only free one in the building at the moment because it’s kept empty for General Hammond, but he confirmed that he doesn’t see any need to come to Colorado in the next few months and if he does, he’s happy to stay in a place with room service.”
“I wouldn’t turn down room service either,” Meredith said, but set her laptop case on the dining room table she encountered as they moved through the place. “Is there a second bedroom for you?”
“Yes, ma’am, the apartment covers the entire floor of the building and has three bedrooms, each with an en suite. We figured it would be best in case Dr. Sheppard and Dr. Dean needed to join you here.” He flushed when John glanced his way. “It’s a concern, right?”
“Yeah,” John admitted wearily. “That isn’t written in a report, right?”
“No, sir, just a conversation with General O’Neill,” Levi assured. “He wants to make sure you’re given everything you need to get ready to return Pegasus on the time table you’ve set for yourself. He didn’t expect you to be in such good shape even after a month so he’ll be surprised to see you tomorrow.” He checked his watch. “If you don’t need me tonight, I’ll bunk down on base. I wanted to make sure your office space is ready for you tomorrow. We have meetings most of the day at Peterson and a few at Cheyenne in the late afternoon.”
“We’ll be fine on our own,” John said. “You said the kitchen was stocked?”
“Sergeant Harriman took care of it personally so I’m confident everything is exactly as Dr. McKay ordered, but I can check if you’re concerned.”
“No, if he took care of it personally then everything should be fine,” John said. “Thank you and have a good evening.”
“I’ll see you at 0600, sir,” Levi said and gave Meredith a nod before leaving. John followed and locked the door behind him.
“Well, this is weird.”
“What?” John questioned as he turned to watch her meander into the kitchen area. He appreciated the open concept of the apartment as it allowed him to take in the entire space with a glance.
“We’re alone,” she said in amusement. “Utterly alone for the first time since we met, really. Even on Atlantis, we were sort of surrounded by people. Your family gave us plenty of space, sure, but we shared the house with them. I wanted to ask, but didn’t want your father to hear. Why does David live at home?”
“He moved out, briefly, in his 20s, but it drove Dad crazy,” John said. “But also, it made David really uncomfortable. The house is big enough that sometimes they can go days without seeing each other due to schedules, but…” He shrugged. “It apparently wasn’t worth the stress for either of them.”
“We didn’t meet your father’s pride while we were there.”
“He offered, but I declined,” John admitted. “I’m not really part of his pride, but we both worried that an official introduction might shift the dynamics of the group. Apparently, David does that enough since he is a member, despite his latent status, and…he and Dad’s official Beta tangle up sometimes over how to handle situations both in the pride and regionally. Dad often takes David’s advice more seriously than any other.”
Meredith pursed her lips. “Well, that does more to explain the house thing than anything else. His instincts run pretty high for a latent, but maybe that has more to do with being the only son at home. You said, as a joke, that he took one for the team and went to work for SI. Maybe he’s taking one for the team in more than one way.”
“Watching Dad’s back because we lost Mom,” John said quietly. “Yeah, there’s that, too. But David’s always played the part of…sentry. So, it was surprising to me when I found out he’d been told he was part of the reserve population. He was relieved because he wanted to go to law school and didn’t want territorial drives interfering with that. He wasn’t sure about leaving home at all, but he finished undergrad and came home by the time Matt was ready to go to Annapolis. He commuted to Charlottesville for law school.”
He dropped down on the couch and watched her for a moment as she pulled all of her things out of her back and started setting up her laptop. She plugged the device in to charge since it was dead from the trip.
“Come here and sit on my lap.”
“I’m not your toy, John Sheppard,” Meredith told him and sent him a baleful look. “And stop looking at me like that!”
“Like that,” Meredith said and waved a hand at him. “Like I’m food.”
“I’m not hungry for food,” he told her and grinned when she huffed. “We’re not going to have a lot of time on our hands starting tomorrow. Long days, coming home exhausted, and too tired to eat much less anything else.”
She turned to glare at him. “If you’re saying you expect to under perform during whole evaluation phase at Peterson, I’m going to fuck you up.”
He grinned at her. “I shouldn’t find you threatening me attractive, right?”
“You shouldn’t,” Meredith said. “And honestly, it’s appalling that you’re amused by it.”
John relaxed back on the couch, spread his legs, and shrugged. “I guess I could handle myself.”
She turned to stare at him so he unbuckled his belt and pulled it free from his jeans. John dropped the belt on the sofa beside him and she blew air out between her lips.
“You think you’re being cute.”
“Self-care is important,” John said and her gaze narrowed on him so he unbuttoned his jeans.
“You’re just gonna…whip it out, right here?” She turned and focused entirely on him.
“You think I won’t?”
“I’m not daring you,” she told him evenly, but he noted her cheeks were flushed and she wet her bottom lip.
“I don’t need to be dared,” John told her seriously. “I’ve been taking care of myself for years.”
“Is that how you ended up banging Dr. Candy? Got tired of your own hand?” She arched an eyebrow.
“Come, now, Dr. McKay,” John threw both his arms across the back of the sofa and quirked an eyebrow. “You don’t think I’ve ever had a problem getting laid when I wanted to, right?”
“This sort of arrogance is ugly,” Meredith told him.
“I have seen me,” he told her wryly and reached for his zipper.
“If you unzip those jeans…” She put her hands on her hips as he laughed. “I’ve got work, John.”
“I can put you to work,” he assured her.
“That is a wretched, terrible, no good, disgusting line.” She walked over to him and slid astride his lap. “As your Guide, I’m prepared to accept your terribleness, but as your woman I expect better.”
He cupped her hips and pulled her deep into his lap. “It’s been a while since I’ve had someone in my life I could claim like that. It’s pretty great, and a little startling. I didn’t really expect I’d have anything permanent for as long as I was with the SGC. It seemed out of reach.”
Meredith wiggled a little against his erection. “Were you all talk or am I getting laid?”
“You are definitely getting laid,” John said, hitched forward, and urged her to wrap her legs around his waist. “Let’s try out that bed.”
“Not the couch?”
“It’s not leather so…” John laughed. “Probably not a good idea.” He crawled onto the bed and put her down.
Meredith spread her legs as she relaxed on the bed and hitched her hips up when he unfastened her slacks. Shoes, socks, pants, and panties all got thrown out of the way. She’d have laughed at his eagerness, but she was too busy pulling her sweater and bra off so she had no room to be amused. John pulled his shirt over his head and flicked it in the direction the rest of their clothing had gone. He unzipped his jeans, and worked his cock free.
“How can you be hot like this?” she demanded as he leaned forward, braced both hands on either side of her head.
“You have terrible judgment,” he murmured as he kissed her the skin between her breasts and brushed his lips over one hard nipple. He clenched his teeth briefly and she arched under him with a soft, shocked groan. “And the worst taste in men. Fortunately, for you, I’m willing to overlook these flaws.”
Her hands clenched briefly against the back of his head as he sucked her other breast and she trembled against him. “That’s very chivalrous of you, Colonel.”
John used one hand to cup her hip and shifted her under him then released her. He ran his fingers over the soft flesh of her cunt and dipped his fingers into the slick, wet heat of her hole.
“The Corps made sure I didn’t get released into the world until I was the best version of myself—an officer and a gentleman,” he murmured as he guided his cock into her.
Meredith laughed briefly, but it turned into a groan as the rough material of his jeans rubbed against her thighs. The friction combined with the thick drag of his cock inside of her was shockingly good. She really loved getting fucked and John did it with an astounding amount of skill. It was honestly difficult to even get genuinely irritated with a man who brought a 100% to every single thing he did. His mouth settled on hers and she got lost in their mutual pleasure until she was coming and he followed suit with a harsh groan.
“It’s terrible how good this is,” John murmured and he kissed her again. “You are a distraction.” He pulled free of her body as she laughed softly, rubbed the skin of her inner thighs gently. “I hope this doesn’t bruise. Sorry.”
“I liked it more than I should’ve,” Meredith admitted as he rolled onto his back beside her. “Though I can’t believe you wore your boots to bed.”
“I can’t believe that was probably the part you liked the most,” John retorted and laughed when she poked him in the side.
He left the bed, stopped to shed the rest of his clothes in their pile by the bed and walked into the bathroom naked. Meredith considered staying exactly where she was, but then the asshole turned on the shower which was too much of a temptation so she rolled out of the bed and joined him.
* * * *
Levi Graves arrived bright and early, exactly as he threatened. Meredith found the whole thing terrible, but she just let herself be hustled into an SUV while she clutched both thermoses of coffee that John had allowed her. Once on the base, she knew that she could demand coffee from any number of people and get it. She also really hoped that John didn’t expect her to share with him. She sent him a baleful look and as if he knew exactly what she was thinking, he grinned at her.
“Shut up,” she muttered and turned to stare out the window as Levi spoke with gate security about their arrival.
Their first set of meetings had actually been moved to Cheyenne Mountain so she was at least going to be familiar with the landscape even if she did have to deal with Jack O’Neill’s stupid face. She didn’t know the current chief scientist in the mountain and wondered how the vacuum Sam Carter had left behind had been filled—both with her initial transfer to Area 51 then with her trip to Pegasus.
“Who’s the CSO for the SGC?” Meredith questioned.
“I hesitate to say, Doc,” Graves said as he parked the SUV. “It’s gonna make you…hmmm…mad.”
Meredith blew out a breath. “What? Did they clone Sam Carter or something?”
“Oh, no, not that,” Graves said and waved a hand. “Yet.”
“But it’s not much better,” Graves continued. “It’s Nicholas Rush.”
“Son of a bitch,” Meredith muttered. “Under no circumstances is that asshole allowed to be alone with me.”
“I value my life more than that,” Levi said. “I’ve already set up an admin for you for the four hours we’ll be here just in case we have to go in separate directions at some point. Currently, you and the colonel are scheduled to be in all the same meetings. After lunch, we’ll head to Peterson for evaluations. I can have lunch ordered and delivered. There’s no need to risk an allergic reaction and I don’t think the mess is specifically set up to warn for that. Speaking of, I sent Major Teldy an email about that situation and she assured me that all precautions would be taken. They already have a system in place to warn for nuts so adding citrus won’t be an issue. I did send them a list of citrus fruits and products because some are kind of obscure.”
“Thanks,” Meredith murmured.
“Has Rush crowded you? Made you uncomfortable?” John questioned. “Because I don’t like him, but he’s never been a problem with women as far as I know.”
“He knows better than to be an overt problem,” Meredith said. “Have you been around him since you came online?”
“Because he’s an emotional oil slick,” Meredith said and made a face. “He’s never said a single thing to me I could complain about officially, but Rush is subjectively awful to be around. He’s brilliant and innovative as a scientist. I think he had the potential to make some deeply selfish decisions at one time, but his wife’s unexpected death broke him.”
“How did she die?” John questioned.
“Car accident—she was upset, driving home from a doctor’s appointment,” Levi said when Meredith hesitated. “It happened before he joined the SGC. I’ve heard rumors, but never anything that I would state as fact.”
“It was cancer,” Meredith said reluctantly. “I don’t know what kind, but he tried to sue the doctor for giving her such news, when she didn’t have anyone with her to drive her home. I don’t know the outcome. Regardless, it was a callous choice on the doctor’s part and they never should’ve let her leave their office in such a terrible state.”
“It must have been difficult for him to lose his wife,” John said. “I didn’t know he was a widower.”
“He loved her,” Meredith said. “Love of his life kind of love. I met him a few months after her death for the first time when he was recruited by the SGC. He came to Area 51 with Carter for a tour, but he clearly was put off by the fact that I was in charge of research on the stargate. I think he expected to take that over, but he wasn’t tapped for that specifically. It was just the most interesting project on the deck and he believed his dick gave him seniority. I’ll be adding a clause to my contract with the IOA that Rush is not to be considered my superior in any single way and that he won’t have a voice or oversight regarding the science done on Atlantis.”
“If they disagree?”
Meredith shrugged. “I’ll go to Atlantis as your Guide and do private research. I don’t have to work, John. I have plenty of money and so do you.”
He laughed. “Yeah, okay. I look forward to you putting that out there as an option.”
* * * *
Meredith had settled in at the conference table to add to her edits regarding the contract that the IOA had sent her to sign. She’d made wholesale changes to the document regarding pay, personal expectations, professional duties, and intellectual property rights. John wondered how many people they had lined up to deal with her when it came to that situation and figured whatever the number was they didn’t have enough.
She looked up. “Sure, I’m all set. Who’s up first?”
“Colonel Charles Kawalsky, current XO of the mountain, has been prepping candidates for Colonel Sheppard,” Levi reported. “He has three on tap that he believes will meet the demands of Atlantis to act as third in command. There is a fourth that O’Neill put on the list without Kawalsky’s input, but the colonel didn’t seen perturbed by that. Captain Laura Cadman is up first.”
John took a seat and opened up the leather folio Levi had given him. He’d already reviewed the files for the three women and one man he’d be interviewing. The only one that was familiar was Evan Lorne and John would admit, at least privately, that he was very tempted by getting another Sentinel on board his team, but on paper all of the officers that had volunteered and vetted looked great.
Shortly, Laura Cadman was admitted into the room and Graves pulled the door shut behind her. John glanced over her uniform, took in the Air Force service uniform with a nod and motioned to the chair across from him.
“Sit, Captain.” John shifted the files around so he could write on a legal pad if needed. “You are listed as a latent Sentinel. Are you considered part of the reserve population?” John felt a swift little jet of resentment waft off the younger woman, but she tamped it down quickly. He appreciate the control, but not the resentment.
“Reserve, sir,” Cadman said stiffly.
“Problem?” John questioned as he sat back to stare at her pointedly.
“Most wouldn’t ask such a question of a latent Sentinel,” she said. “It just caught me off guard.”
“And pissed you off,” John said. “One of my younger brother’s is considered in reserve by the Burton Foundation so I don’t consider it a flaw. Dr. McKay has explained to me how the whole thing works. Apparently, if you ever encounter a Big Foot, you should expect to come online immediately.”
Cadman’s eyes widened briefly and her mouth quirked briefly. “A Big Foot, specifically?”
“I’m of the opinion that encountering a Big Foot might cause a mundane to come online as a Sentinel,” John said and shrugged when the younger woman laughed abruptly, but then focused on the file he had open. “Combat engineering and demolitions. You volunteered for the second wave to Atlantis. There’s no notation as to why you weren’t included.”
“I was sidelined when Major Teldy joined the pool,” Cadman said. “Rank and her online status gave her priority on the mission.”
“And you suspect the same thing to happen here today,” John surmised.
“It came down this morning that O’Neill put Major Lorne on the list and he bonded last week. So I suspect, yes, that he will be given more consideration. It is what it is.” She shrugged, but there was another surge of resentment, which put John off.
“It must be frustrating,” Meredith said and Cadman focused on her. “Especially when Colonel Sheppard was considered trauma-dormant, that you were being passed over, yet again, for advancement in the SGC. You had no room for complaint when Anne Teldy was chosen—she has more experience and more rank than you do. Whoever did your assessment at the Burton Foundation did you a disservice, Captain Cadman. You’re not part of the reserve population.”
“Are you implying that I’m dormant, ma’am,” Cadman demanded and took a deep breath. “Pardon me.” She pressed her hand to her chest. “I…”
“You’re not dormant. You’re precariously close to coming online,” Meredith said. “And it’s making Colonel Sheppard uncomfortable due to your emotional instability. You’ve clearly not have had enough training as a Sentinel for us to risk taking you to Pegasus. You should go to Denver and admit yourself voluntarily to the Psionics Center there. You’ll need the safety of a facility to manage your onlining experience then there will be a training and assessment period. If the colonel brings more staff to Atlantis next year—you should volunteer again.”
Cadman flushed, but stood. “My apologies, sir. I meant no insult.”
“It’s clear you had no idea and I didn’t realize what was going on either.” He focused on Meredith. “Matt doesn’t feel like this.”
“Matt is probably one of the most extensively trained latent Sentinels I’ve ever met,” Meredith said. “Your fathers made sure he was ready for when it happened to him, plus he also had training courses with the Navy due to his pilot status.”
John nodded. “Dismissed, Captain, and you should volunteer again, but I would insist that you be bonded. We don’t have the resources to manage anyone unbonded on the city on a long-term basis.’
Cadman nodded. “Thank you, sir, Dr. McKay.” She gave her a quick nod and exited.
“I thought she was having a negative reaction to me,” John admitted.
“She was,” Meredith said. “But it was more instinctual than built on personal bias. I would expect latent Sentinels to resent you for coming online when they have not especially considering your history. It’s not specific to you, but to your status. To many, you stand in a place of privilege.”
“To people like Kevin Jordan.”
“Yes, but he would be almost content to be latent because that would be enough to soothe his ego,” Meredith said. “And that’s his entire problem. He’s an ego driven asshole.” She shifted her laptop a bit. “Do I need to focus more on buffering you from people’s emotions?”
“No, I’d prefer to know how people feel about me moving around in my environment. I think it’s a skill I’ve got because I need it,” John said and closed Cadman’s file. “I wasn’t going to pick her because she resents me. Was that wrong?”
“No, it wasn’t,” Meredith assured. “No matter the cause, the resentment is real, but it’ll probably disappear once she comes online.”
“If she’s low rated—then the problem would persist due to psionic discomfort,” Meredith reminded.
“Oh, that,” John made a face. “Is it likely?”
“Unsure, I can’t gauge that kind of thing in latents. I can get a pretty good gasp on people’s abilities if they’re online.” She shrugged. “There’s no indicators in genetics either. It’s a component in our development that’s entirely based on psionic connections and the depth of those connections isn’t something we can control.”
There was a quick knock on the door and Levi opened it. “Captain Jennifer Haley, sir.”
John watched the young woman enter and felt a twinge of something from Meredith that he couldn’t readily identify. He focused briefly on her, but she was reading on her laptop and didn’t look up.
“Take a seat, Captain. I understand you were just recently promoted.”
“Yes, sir,” Haley said and sat down.
She folded her hands in front of her on the table. The body language was interesting considering how much overt hostility she was putting off. It wasn’t the same as the experience he’d had with Cadman and it didn’t feel personally directed at him.
“You have a masters in physics. Coming to Atlantis would make your next steps in regard to gaining a Ph.D. more challenging. Based on your assessments and academic records, I don’t think you’d have a problem meeting that challenge. That being said, you indicated in your email that you’d like to be seconded to the science department.” John closed her folder and focused on her. “Which isn’t going to be possible. I need an officer on the roster to work for me.”
“Colonel Carter utilized both civilian and military scientists while she was in charge,” Haley said plainly. “Has Dr. Zelenka made a different decision?”
“Not that I’m aware of and I’m unsure on the policy of the next CSO,” John said easily. “That being said I’m not here to recruit assets for the science department. If you want to come to Atlantis as a scientist then you will have to get on that list.”
“I’m on that list, sir, but I’ve been told to wait more than two years.”
“So you were hoping to do an end-around regarding the list by coming out in the chain of command, but then dedicate your time and energy to research and writing your dissertation?” John questioned and raised an eyebrow as her cheeks flushed.
“Is dead,” John said. “It is a regretful, but whatever decisions she made or promises that she made to you no longer apply. You’ll have to wait to join the expedition as a scientific asset.”
Her mouth pressed into a thin line and her gaze flicked toward McKay. “Who will be the next CSO?”
“The IOA has offered that position to Dr. McKay. She hasn’t made a decision as of yet since she’s still reviewing their offer.”
“Then your Guide made this decision for you before I came into the room,” Hailey said stiffly. “I see.”
“Dr. McKay doesn’t make professional decisions for me, Captain Hailey. It was noted in your file that you have a problem following the chain of command when you assume yourself smarter than a superior officer.” John relaxed in his seat and stared pointedly at her. “You aren’t, by the way.”
“I’m not what, sir?” Hailey questioned.
“Smarter than me,” he told her evenly. “I don’t doubt your brilliance. Colonel Carter left extensive notes regarding your intelligence and potential. That being said, it’s never wise to assume you’re the smartest or most knowledgable person to enter any room. Mer, do you have a problem with Captain Hailey?”
“I’ve never met her,” Meredith said dryly and poured herself some more coffee. “I read her Master’s thesis—interesting, thoughtful, and well-developed. That alone would’ve put her on the short list to go to Atlantis if she were a civilian. Radek hasn’t picked up any more military scientific assets because he has issues with the ones he has being pulled into the field repeatedly. Probably a circumstance we can avoid in the future due to the increase in military personnel. She has a problem with me, however. Apparently, she’s one of a few who blame me specifically for Sam Carter’s career derailment.
“She doesn’t have enough rank to know the circumstances, of course, unless Carter spoke out of turn which I hope is not the case as it would infuriate General O’Neill.”
John watched Hailey’s cheeks darken and the younger woman averted her eyes. “I see.”
“I…” Hailey took a deep breath.
The door opened and Jack O’Neill entered. Hailey lurched to her feet. “Sir.”
“Hailey,” the general began, but then pinched the bridge of his nose. “Are you the only one that Carter spoke with regarding Dr. McKay’s departure from the SGC?”
“As far as I know,” Hailey averted her gaze. “I…she was my mentor, sir, and she devastated by the transfer to Area 51. She didn’t do anything wrong…”
“She nearly got the foremost authority on the stargate murdered!” O’Neill snapped and Daniel Jackson trotted into the room and grabbed his wrist tightly. “Relax, Daniel, I’m not going to hurt this little girl.”
“I’m 26, sir,” Hailey protested.
O’Neill shared a look with John because he knew the young woman’s age, but she looked all of 19. He really hoped she shed that baby face sooner rather than later. She kind of reminded him of Keller.
“And that was McKay’s own fault—she had some kind of Guide meltdown. Everyone knows that. She nearly got Colonel Sumner killed!”
“Well, shit,” Meredith muttered and shot up out of her seat just short of the door on Levi’s side of the room opening. “Marshall.” She put a hand on the man’s chest. “Nice to see you.”
“McKay,” Sumner glared at her.
“With all due respect, Sumner, stop glaring at my Guide,” John said. “And honestly, why the hell are you in my meeting? Sirs?”
“Because someone didn’t turn on the Sentinel countermeasures,” Meredith said pointedly and frowned at Levi who flushed and looked down at his boots. “And she’s probably been broadcasting her hostile reaction to me since she heard I entered the mountain and bonded with you, John.” She pushed Sumner back another few steps. “Marshall acted as my security at Area 51 until he was shot by a rogue NID agent working for the Trust and he clearly still has a territorial response in regards to my circumstances.” She focused on Hailey as she spoke. “He took a bullet for me and nearly bled out before I could get him help.”
Sumner gently prodded her hand away. “Stop touching me, McKay, before Sheppard loses his mind.”
“I’m not a caveman,” John said. “And I’m not worried.”
“He’s also got an immense ego problem,” Meredith retorted, but she remained focused on Hailey. “Sam Carter damaged a lot of people, Captain Hailey, with her ambitions and her lack of personal ethics. She was planted in the SGC to seduce and control Jack O’Neill, but she was never going to come online because of her actions. Her genetic potential was entirely destroyed by the choices she made. You don’t understand that because you’re mundane and I don’t expect you to. You are a very smart young woman, but you have a lot of learning still left to do and you won’t be doing it on Atlantis under my supervision.
“You don’t respect me and I will not tolerate that in my department. The fact is that I plan to replace at least 25% of the people on Atlantis so that two-year wait list is probably going to go down to literal months inside the next year. As the military expands, so will the sciences to meet the demands of field exploration and research. I will never make any demands or decisions regarding Colonel Sheppard’s command, but be aware that if you come to Atlantis as a military asset that you will not be welcome in my department.” She paused. “Currently.”
“Currently?” Hailey asked, eyes wet with tears.
John huffed a little under his breath. “If you cry—you’re never coming to Atlantis.”
Hailey inhaled and swallowed hard. “I’m trying not to.”
“It’s all I can ask for, I guess,” John muttered and sat back down. “For fuck’s sake.”
“You need to revaluate yourself, your former mentor, and the relationship you thought you had with her,” Meredith said plainly. “If she valued you as an asset, Captain, she’d have taken you to Pegasus with her.”
“She said the IOA declined to send me,” Hailey said.
“No, you were taken off the list by Colonel Carter, personally,” Sumner responded. “I asked her about it because I had to replace you on my roster. She said you didn’t have the temperament for a prolonged off-world assignment. Carter had her choices across the board and overruled me several times. The only time the IOA told her no was when she tried to prevent Sheppard from joining the expedition. She said that she should be my XO and they were not amused by the assumption on her part that she could be CSO and XO of the expedition. His gene status made him more important than anyone else, regardless.”
“May I be excused, sir?” Hailey questioned as she focused on John. “Please.”
“Dismissed, Captain,” John said and exhaled noisily as she left as swiftly as she could. The door shut behind her and all three Sentinels winced at the same.
“Ugly crying?” Meredith questioned.
“Ugly crying,” John confirmed when Sumner shrugged and O’Neill scowled. “And now the whole mountain will assume I made a little girl cry when clearly it was your fault, Mer.”
“It was Sam Carter’s fault,” Meredith hissed. “And probably Marshall.” She poked Sumner in the chest. “Honestly, what the hell? Your levels are fucking mess! And you have a rash on your neck! I ought to kick your ass!”
“Don’t threaten him, Mer,” John said. “That does make me uncomfortable.”
She turned to stare at him for a moment then blushed furiously as O’Neill snorted.
“Still does that, huh?” Jack shook his head. “It really shouldn’t be hot.”
“Shut up, Jack!” Meredith took a deep breath and rubbed her face. “And I don’t care about making that young woman cry. If she can’t handle me like this then she most certainly couldn’t handle me on the job and it’s best that she know that now rather than learn it later in Pegasus when she has to wait weeks to tuck tail and run back to Earth.” She focused on Jack. “Send her to a psychologist, for fuck’s sake, before you lose an asset that is currently the only viable replacement for Sam Carter you have.”
“You don’t consider yourself that?” Sumner questioned and raised an eyebrow she frowned at him.
“Carter and I were worlds apart. We brought different things to the table, across the board and it had nothing to do with academic knowledge. She was peerless in the scope of her job and her place in this program so no, I don’t consider myself her replacement. She certainly feared I could take her place and maybe on a different world a version of me did, but it would’ve changed everything about this mission going forward.” She waved a hand. “There’s a whole damn branch of science dedicated to that shit.”
John watched her frown deeply at Sumner then stalk off back to her chair. Then focused on Levi. “Come in and shut the door, Graves.”
Graves did so and cleared his throat before looking down at his boots. “My apologies, sir, it didn’t occur to me that I need to worry about any other Sentinel in the mountain.”
“I’ve been your central focus for months,” John said wryly. “That’s not the concern—why did you put the two nos up front and center for me?”
“To get them out of the way, sir. I don’t think Captain Cadman is a complete no, but she was stiff and uncomfortable. Since I know her to be latent, I figured getting her situation cleared off the deck would reduce her stress. Captain Hailey shouldn’t have been on the list—everyone knows her ambition, but Colonel Kawalsky has a soft spot for her because of his previous working relationship with Colonel Carter.” Graves shifted into parade rest as he spoke. “Captain Vega and Major Lorne appear at ease in the waiting area so making them wait didn’t cause additional stress. As their stress will directly impact your empathic state…letting Hailey and Cadman get further twisted up didn’t seem the best course of action.”
“All of Kawalsky’s picks are female,” John noted. “Does that reflect a personal bias on his part of some sort?”
“15 volunteers sir and only five were male, including Major Lorne. Colonel Kawalsky made the best choices on paper for you with no overt bias that I could discern. It’s female heavy for a variety of reasons.”
“And they are,” John prodded with a glance toward Sumner who was smirking at him.
“Major Teldy, I’m sure was the the tipping point for most of them. There was concern, from female officers in the mountain, that you would vehemently protest a female XO in a combat zone. As far as I know, she’s the highest ranking female officer in the Marine Corps in theater—Sentinel or mundane—right now. You left her in charge in your place and it’s known that you protested the idea of sending another officer to the city to take over during your leave.
“Atlantis offers a great deal of opportunities for field leadership experience and that equals advancement. In some cases, it equals rapid advancement. And finally, sir,” Graves shrugged. “I mean, you’ve seen yourself.”
Meredith snorted. “He was just telling me that last night, Levi.”
John offered her a grin and O’Neil sighed as he left the room with his Guide in tow. He focused on Sumner. “Are you going to stick around for this?”
“I’ve seen enough for the moment,” Sumner said. “No matter how pretty you are. Stay out of trouble, McKay. If you make a mess and send him off the rails, I’ll probably go with him.” He waved a hand as he left.
“You should take your ass to Denver and set up a Guide search!” Meredith called after him.
“That’s the pot calling the kettle stubborn,” Sumner muttered as he shut the door.
They took a 20 minute break so when the door opened for the next review, John looked up and Charles Kawalsky stuck his head in.
“Do I owe you an apology?”
John quirked an eyebrow at him. “What do you think?”
“I think I spent a whole week getting rid of the ones who wanted to get in your pants and deserve a medal for it.”
“Is that why only one dude made the cut?” Meredith questioned with a laugh. “Men are so transparent.”
“And I didn’t even add him to the list,” Kawalsky said cheerfully, but then sobered. “But on a for real note, I did get another volunteer this morning that would be a decent fit for your command style and Teldy probably wouldn’t murder him.”
“It’s not actually my fault that fraternization rules are more lax for online Sentinels,” John pointed out. “And I’m bonded. And my Guide can build a nuclear weapon in about a half hour.”
Meredith huffed. “It actually took an entire hour to even get missile casing retooled for the payload and it was just a dirty bomb since I was short on time!” She flushed when John turned to stare at her in horror. “What?”
“I was joking,” John said hotly. “You built a dirty bomb? Who the fuck let you build a dirty bomb? Was it O’Neill?”
“It was George Hammond,” Meredith said. “And I built it to prevent Apophis from invading this planet and saved SG1 in the process though I hadn’t met them at the time and didn’t meet them until nearly a year later.” She waved a hand. “It was fine.”
“It was great,” Kawalsky said. “McKay’s always been a goddamned rockstar. Drove Sam nuts.” He smiled briefly when Meredith huffed. “But hell, look at you, Doc—you were always gonna drive her nuts. I’ll give the file to Graves in case you need it, Sheppard.” He pulled the door shut with a laugh.
“I thought Papi Grande died in a ship crash full of replicators.”
“Eventually,” Meredith agreed and grinned. “Papi Grande? Seriously? I adore you.”
“He was just a bit much, ya know?” John said and shrugged when she laughed. “Total drama god.”
The door opened again and he gave Graves a quick nod.
“Captain Vega, sir.”
Alicia Vega had rocketed through the ranks before she’d hit the SGC and had proven to be a real brawler in the field. John figured that O’Neill wouldn’t be pleased to part with her, but she was already a yes in his mind. He pointed the younger woman toward the chair in front of him.
“Sir,” Vega said crisply and slid into the chair easily.
“You served with Major Teldy on a field team before she was transferred to Atlantis.”
“Yes, sir,” Vega said. “It was an honor.”
John tilted his head as he studied her. Vega exuded a calm that was deeply soothing and he didn’t know what to make of it. He was getting little else—her emotional landscape was startlingly neutral and her scent profile seemed to be strangely muted.
“I’m psi-null, sir,” Vega said. “So if I’m putting you off, I apologize.”
“You aren’t,” John said. “If anything—you’re very pleasant to be around on the psionic front. I’m sure Major Teldy told you as much.”
“Yes, sir, but she’s not an Alpha Ascendant. I didn’t know how your sixth sense would respond to my state. I believe I would be an asset to your operation on Atlantis as long as you don’t have a negative reaction to the void I probably represent in your senses.”
“You aren’t a void,” John said, but he focused on Meredith.
“A psi-null is someone who has zero sensitivity to the psionic plane,” Meredith explained. “Historically, based on Burton’s studies, we believe that they exist to provide a neutral ground within tribes for both Sentinels and Guides. They can also act as a secondary defense.”
“A secondary defense?”
“There are circumstances where a Sentinel might become incapacitated,” Meredith allowed. “Sensory overload, extreme physical injury, and in your case emotional trauma. Psi-nulls have, in the past, acted in the defense of a downed Sentinel or Guide. I’d imagine you have over a dozen such individuals already on Atlantis.” She paused. “Marcus Stackhouse is psi-null. Is he still out there?”
“No, he works for Homeworld now,” John said with a frown. “It was hard to adjust to that change actually. It felt like he left a hole.”
“He did,” Meredith assured.
John nodded and focused on Vega who was staring at him clear-eyed and focused. “I’m allergic to criers.”
“I haven’t cried since the Twins won the World Series, sir.” She paused. “I was 13. My dad cried, too.”
“It’s not a bad reason to cry,” John acknowledged and stared at her for a moment. “Get with Graves and sort yourself to Peterson to help with evals.”
“I’m in?” she questioned.
“You’re in,” John said. “Send in Major Lorne on your way out.”
John frowned as Lorne entered. “Where’s…your Guide?”
“Daniel Jackson kidnapped him, sir,” Lorne said. “We just…emerged from our bonding period and Jackson wasn’t on the base when Jonas came through the gate.”
“Jonas Quinn?” Meredith questioned. “Interesting.” She stared at Lorne and the Air Force man stayed still under her inspection. “And lovely—you’re well-matched if your current ease is any indication of your bond. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Dr. McKay,” Lorne murmured. “He…came through the gate unexpectedly. He said he had a vision of me while he was on his homeworld and felt compelled to come here.”
“Nature provides, as Blair is fond of saying,” Meredith said. “I haven’t met Jonas Quinn, but…” She trailed off because O’Neill’s door opened and a man was prodded through it.
“Sorry!” Jackson called out even as as O’Neill shut the door with a rueful shake of his head.
The man blushed and John laughed even as he focused on McKay, who had paled. He lurched to his feet.
She put a trembling hand on the table even as John cupped her head. “I’m fine.”
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” John hissed and barely refrained from glaring at the stranger as a result.
“Not a ghost, but surely a face I’ve seen a thousand times.” She smiled and stood. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Jonas.”
“Meredith.” Quinn said and took the hands she offered. “You’re glowing.”
“She does that,” John said roughly.
“We haven’t anyone like you on Langaria in over a thousand years,” Quinn said. “I’m honored.”
“You’ve not walked the path,” Meredith said with a frown. “A personal choice?”
“A lack of resources,” Quinn said. “Dr. Sandburg offered to train me, but Daniel Jackson returned from being ascended and despite his very best efforts to hide it—it was clear I made him deeply uncomfortable so I returned to my homeworld.” He glanced toward Evan. “And now I’ve returned to Earth for Evan. The moment I started to dream of him—I realized he had come online, finally. I knew he was my Sentinel the first time I met him, but I suspected he might remain latent permanently.”
“Sticking around would’ve probably helped that whole process along, you know,” Meredith pointed out dryly.
“Maybe, but would that have been fair?” Jonas questioned. “And it certainly wouldn’t have been great for Jackson who saw me as an intruder no matter how much he wished he didn’t.”
“Will you go to Blair now?”
“I was hoping to walk the path with you,” Quinn said. “You’ve been prodding me toward that path since I came online—in dreams and what I can only describe as visions.”
Meredith turned and focused on John, finally. He decided not to hold it against her since she clearly had a full blown Guide-crush and who could blame her? Jonas Quinn felt like a dream come true to be around and it was crazy, but John kind of wanted to hold his hand, too.
“You’re both really lucky that Lorne came so highly recommended that Kawalsky almost cancelled all the other meetings,” John said wryly and motioned to the table. “Sit, if you feel like you can let go of him?”
Meredith frowned, but did it. “Don’t be mean, John. You want to hold his hand, too.’
“I do,” John admitted. “Which is weird since I’ve not wanted to touch a single Guide but you since I came online.” He focused on Lorne. “Not that I would. I just want to, weirdly.”
“It’s a shaman thing,” Meredith said. “He’s untrained so he’s just throwing off all of these feel good vibes. He’s also untethered, like me, and without any sort of training that can cause issues like that. Nothing terrible mind you, but certainly distracting. We’ll work on it.”
John considered that and focused on Lorne. “I’ve sent Vega to Peterson to help Graves start the eval process this afternoon. Due to issues with the Trust in the past regarding, McKay, I will be meeting with every single asset I bring back to Pegasus with me. I’d like you to and Quinn to go to Atlantis and join Teldy’s efforts in investigating the problems on Atlantis.”
“Today?” Lorne questioned.
“Within the next 24 unless you have some pressing issues that you need to handle personally,” John said. “That’ll give you time to do whatever shopping you need and prep for the trip. I’ll have a conversation with Teldy pending and I’ll discuss your arrival. Have you worked with Teldy in the past?”
“Yes, sir, we’ve participated in several search and rescue operations through the years while at the SGC and we were both at Area 51 before that. I was there the day she met her Guide. She’s a great officer. She’s three months ahead of me in rank and we’ve never had problems working together no matter our circumstances.” Lorne shifted. “I’d been told you only planned to take one more officer.”
“My brother Matt is at Groom Lake qualifying for the X-302,” John explained. “He’s a Lt. Commander in the Navy. He’ll be flight officer and based on time in rank, he’ll be under you in the command structure. We run a 25-hour schedule on Atlantis and three shifts. There will be plenty of work to go around. You and Major Teldy will be splitting off-world duty on first contact missions as well. I’ll be relegating myself and my team to ancient technology collection and recovery. The more officers we have on the deck to support us in and out of the field, the better.
“Pegasus is a war zone and no single day is the same.” John frowned and shifted the folders in front of him. “But Atlantis is my city and the people of Pegasus are mine to protect. I will give the wraith the fight the ancients couldn’t be bothered to and I will see the end of them.”
“You see the whole galaxy as your territory?” Lorne questioned in shock.
“Every single goddamned planet,” John said evenly.
* * * *
O’Neill inclined his head as he watched a team walk through the gate. “Not from you.”
“From McKay then?”
“Even Daniel was surprised by how warmly she reacted to Jonas Quinn,” Jack said. “And frankly a little jealous. That whole shaman thing she’s got going on has always been an issue of one sort or another. I knew the moment I found out about it that was I not the Sentinel for her. God knows I wanted to be—in the worst possible way. There was a time when I would’ve done anything to have her and it hurt like hell that she didn’t feel the same. I could’ve fallen in love with her and I hadn’t thought that was possible for me again after the shitstorm that ended my marriage.”
“I didn’t know you were previously married,” John said. “People really don’t discuss anything about you or your life before you were stationed at the SGC.”
“I came online because of my son,” Jack said. “I’d just come home and there was this…even now I can’t explain to you what those moments felt like. I was talking to Sara, my ex-wife, in the front yard and I asked her about Charlie. She said he was running around somewhere. It was like ice slid down my back. I barely made it into the house in time. I lunged for him just as he picked up the gun and it went off, but the round went into me instead of him.” He touched his arm, rubbed it briefly. “She blamed me for the accident—said the gun wouldn’t have gone off if I hadn’t gone feral on my own child.”
“Son of a bitch,” John muttered.
“I briefly lost all of my parental rights,” Jack said. “And it threw me into a depression that left me suicidal because I bought into her hysteria. It’s why I took the Abydos mission. I didn’t think my son was safe around me so I took that mission and I hoped I’d die because I’d already thought about eating my own gun, but I couldn’t make myself do it. I figured—hell, if I get myself killed—it’ll be fine and he’ll be safe.”
“And?” John focused on O’Neill because the word briefly was still tumbling around in his brain.
“I came home, retired my commission, and surrendered myself to the care of the Burton Foundation in full. Three months into my seclusion, my son came online. He’s at John’s Hopkins now, just started medical school with his Guide. Once he came online, the Burton Foundation was able to get access to him. He’d gone to get that gun that day because he kept hearing a man’s voice in the house at night and he wanted to protect his mom.”
“She was cheating,” John said.
“She was…not cheating physically, but she admitted to having what she called an emotional affair with a neighbor who’s wife was also often gone due to serving. They would talk at all hours of the night after their children went to bed.”
“So you regained custody?”
“I did,” Jack murmured. “But it was a hard road for us both because his mother had convinced him I was furious with him because of what turned out to be little more than a flesh wound. He was also afraid of me because he continued to be fed that feral narrative for over a year. Eventually, the Burton Foundation determined that seeing her was psychologically abusive to him and she was barred from contacting him until he turned 18.”
“And she called the very day he turned 18.”
“She tried,” Jack said. “But Charlie had worked through all of his memories of that day and the events afterward. He knew she lied to try to keep him and punish me. He had detailed memories of the talks she had with the neighbor. They sat on my own damn back porch and planned their divorces. He wanted no part of her as a result. Sara loves him and I regret that her guilt drove her to do something so ultimately damaging to us all, but I’m glad that I was able to regain his trust.” He cleared his throat. “At any rate, Charlie and his Guide, Ester, are at John’s Hopkins studying to be doctors and generally being awesome. They met in undergrad and she came online a few weeks after meeting him. He brought her home—all sweet and pleased like he couldn’t believe his luck. He wants to be a heart surgeon and she wants to be an OB/GYN.” He frowned at John. “I don’t know why I told you all of this.”
“Meredith says that my empathic state will make other Sentinels respond very well to me or very poorly. The lower rated a Sentinel is, the worse it will be,” John said and shrugged. “Which is one reason why I didn’t meet my father’s pride at home. Large regional based prides like his have a variety of members on the rating front.”
“Which is why Graves put the level four and above qualification on Sentinels joining your mission in Pegasus?” the general questioned. “I asked Daniel about it and he suggested we ask McKay.”
“It’s why,” John agreed. “Apparently, I put off Guide-vibes.” He flicked a hand. “And I do that glowing thing when I meditate.”
“Like you weren’t attractive enough,” O’Neill muttered and John felt his face heat.
“Pretty junior officers have always been a weakness for me,” Jack admitted wryly. “I kept my hands to myself unless explicitly invited. Fortunately, I bonded and now I don’t have to worry so much about some fit 20-something airman offering to sit on my lap to make me feel better when I have a bad day.”
“Worry?” John questioned and laughed when O’Neill just grinned. “Still, you won’t go running around confessing your deep dark secrets to everyone.” He paused. “I hope. I mean if I’ve accidentally broken you—I’m pretty sure Meredith can fix it.”
“Nothing’s fixing what’s wrong with Jack O’Neill,” Meredith said wryly from the doorway of the meeting room and they both turned to look at her. “John, Graves is back to pick us up unless you want to stay and listen to O’Neill pretend to complain about all the ass he got because he was an unbonded Sentinel for years.”
Jack laughed. “I’ll get Lorne and Quinn through the gate when they’re ready. It’s about time for the Atlantis dial in. Walter is waiting for you and Major Teldy was notified that she should be on hand for a conversation.”
“Thank you, sir.”
In the control room, Meredith leaned on a wall and listened to John have a conversation with Anne Teldy about the city, John’s status and training, and what was on their agendas for the day in silence. She could hear the relief in Teldy’s voice, but the whole conversation eased John in a way she hadn’t realized he’d needed. His territorial imperative was a concern, but more so she figured that they were going to have a hard time keeping him on the planet fairly soon. The fact that he’d decided to send Lorne straight through the gate spoke to that.
After the connection died and Walter finished transferring a databurst to a drive for her, they left the mountain and headed for Peterson Air Force base. Meredith didn’t know what kind of reception they’d receive or what Graves had been up to since they’d landed in Colorado. She knew that many of the men and women stationed in the mountain lived on Peterson in base housing so there was a tight relationship between the two installations.
* * * *
“We’ve set up something similar to the circumstances you had during the first expedition prep, sir,” Graves explained. “No civilians, so far, so barracks have worked out well. 76 out of the 150 assets being sorted our way have arrived. General Rampart, with permission from SECNAV, ordered a platoon of SEALs out of Little Creek our way 48 hours ago. They arrived in the 1900 last night. The ranking officer for the platoon is a mustang—Lt. Declan Frost and he is seconded by his Guide, Ensign Sean Taylor. They met and bonded after SEAL training. Outside of Vega and myself, they are the only officers in the building. We have taken over officer quarters and they received private quarters as mandated by their Sentinel/Guide assessment requirements . The final assets are spec-ops from the Marine Corps and will be here tomorrow afternoon. In the end the Pentagon has authorized – 16 SEALs, 72 Army Rangers and 46 Marine SpecOps. I’m told that Canada is sending some of their Rangers, but we don’t have a number yet—Vega thinks probably a whole squad which equals 16.”
“Any problems so far?”
“Frost made a list and emailed it first thing this morning. Guards on duty reported that he prowled all four floors of the building and confiscated contraband in two different locations. Three of the men he flagged—he requested official drug testing for.”
“And the contraband?” John questioned.
“Marijuana, high-dose caffeine pills, and a box of Cuban cigars.”
“On everything, but the Cubans,” Levi said. “They were in an unmarked and unclaimed crate. Frost did check them to make sure that they haven’t been tampered with in any fashion.”
“Send them to Rampart,” John said and shrugged when Levi laughed. “He seems like the type and if he’s not—he’ll pass them around Washington in whatever fashion serves the Corps best.”
“How many has Frost marked as a no-go and are replacements being pulled from the list?”
“Six and yes, sir, replacements are en route. The pilots from Nevada are also on their way. Your brother qualified yesterday—broke records, pissed people off and genuinely proved he deserved to jump the top of the list. He flew the X-302, a Jumper, and apparently got dared to take up the wraith dart they have for study.”
John made a face. “They let my little brother fly the wraith dart?”
“He apparently owned it, sir.” Levi smiled even as John glared at him. “I wasn’t there. I mean, not that it would’ve mattered since I couldn’t have stopped it.”
“Right,” John said slowly. “Let Frost know I’m ready for him.”
“He’s already on stand-by, sir. Captain Vega’s is working through the materials that Major Teldy sent for the briefing phase once you’ve done your review. I was told you have a new databurst from the city. Should we expect more information from her?”
“Unsure, Meredith hasn’t broken it down, yet,” John said. “Assembly in one hour.”
She’d spent most of her working life around military types of one sort or another. William was the disciplined sort, having come from the army and going directly into another very rigid work environment. But, still, there was something interesting about the way John moved through the building and the way people made way for him. He kept her hand throughout the trip, unconcerned about how it might look to anyone which was also an interesting situation to ponder.
He clearly didn’t buy into that whole show no sort of humanity to the people who served under you thing. She’d witnessed that go down repeatedly at Area 51 and in other places throughout her life with officers of his rank. The office space had two large empty tables in it so Meredith let John put her at the one that made him the most comfortable and set herself up while he and Graves had a conversation about service records.
Captain Vega entered at some point, put a thermos coffee down near her and walked away before Meredith could thank her. She poured herself a cup and sat back to watch Graves and Vega move around John in the mostly empty room. He’d put her near the back of the room, away from the single window and the desk he was using. Graves had put a few chairs down in front of John’s work space. As temporary spaces went, she’d certainly been in worse.
“Are you cold?” John questioned and focused on her. “I can get a space heater brought in.”
“I wouldn’t say no,” she admitted. “I’m certainly not used to the climate.”
“Well, Hawaii plus your low BMI…” Graves said and shrugged.
She glared at him. “I’d better not get a lecture about putting meat on my bones, Levi.”
“Hey, nah,” Levi said. “Since when does body shaming do a thing? Besides, you’re only a little underweight for your height. I’ll go find you a heater.”
She huffed and drank more coffee.
“Who gave you a lecture about your weight?” John questioned.
“You mean the most recent?” Meredith questioned. “Or would you like a list?” She shrugged when he frowned at her. “People think they have the right to tell you—when you’re too thin or too big by their personal standard. I’m about five pounds underweight, but my sister acts like it’s 20 or something. Regardless, yeah, I’ve gotten lectures, snide comments, and some asshole at Area 51 once ordered me to eat a sandwich and asked me if I had an eating disorder.” She flicked a hand. “Hank Landry—we had a history of disagreements before everything went to shit. He’s old-fashioned, believes that respect equals obedience, and found me very irritating.”
“I’m glad he was gone before I got involved,” John said and sat down. “Let’s get started—I want Frost and his Guide first.”
John watched Meredith settle back down in her work and just gave Graves a nod when he returned with a space heater for her. Declan Frost and Sean Taylor entered together—the chemistry was the first thing he noticed. They moved around each other with a great deal of awareness of one another. He pointed them toward the chairs in front of him.
“Since you’ve had the basic brief and you’ve signed the NDAs, I can at this point tell you that you’ll both be a part of the Stargate Program going forward unless you specifically request to be assigned elsewhere. Normally, the door goes one way with the SGC for obvious reasons. It’s a career-long commitment for most and as a Sentinel, the moment you step into that mountain you’ll never be the same.”
Frost nodded. “It’s why I haven’t, right? It’s why we’ve all been corralled here?”
“There isn’t room in the mountain for this kind of thing,” John said. “If you go to Atlantis, you’ll come to the mountain the day of departure and go through the gate within an hour. I’ll be staggering a resupply and the deployment over a series of dial-outs so our people on the other side can keep things moving smoothly.”
“What do you need, from us, Colonel, to make your decision?” Taylor questioned. “Our service records speak for themselves.”
“On paper, you’re both a dream come true,” John acknowledged, but he focused on Frost. “Tell me why you went for OTS so late in your career?”
“I bonded with Sean,” Frost said simply. “I needed more authority over our circumstances in the field. It was deeply uncomfortable to return to duty with him and not give the orders during direct-action. I don’t have a problem with authority, sir, but on an instinctual level it was a deeply uncomfortable experience. OTS hadn’t been on my radar until I met him. He was brought onto my team and the moment I saw him, I really regretted the fact that I hadn’t done a Guide search in several years.”
John nodded. “How long did you hide your online status, Ensign Taylor?”
“I came online a few weeks before I was due to go to Coronado. No one batted an eyelash when I applied as a latent Guide, but I worried that I’d be deferred or outright denied if they knew I was online. I grew up in a large, nurturing pride so I’d been trained in advance. I didn’t report my change in status until after I completed the first phase. Since reporting such a change isn’t required, no action was taken against me, but I could tell I pissed some people off.
“Coming out of BUD/S as an online Guide gave me a wide field of options, but I was moved around a lot—it took my second transfer to realize they were trying to find me a Sentinel,” Sean said wryly. “So I went to my CO and just asked to meet all the active duty unbonded Sentinels in the Teams and it was set up in a day. I met all 22 of them, but there was only one choice to make.”
“You have a degree in combat engineering,” John said. “I’ve had that on my wish list for over a year so that’s the reason your platoon was pulled specifically for my mission.”
Taylor blinked in surprise. “Oh.”
“You thought it was about Frost?”
“It normally is,” Taylor said. “Declan’s a level five Sentinel. I recently finished my master’s in combat engineering and was considering a Ph.D. I can do a lot of the work on my own. I was getting ready to start setting up some distance learning classes for the coursework from Annapolis.”
“I can help with that.” Meredith quirked an eyebrow as they all three turned to stare at her. “If that’s something you’d like, Ensign.”
Taylor blew out a breath and laughed a little. “Who turns down the chance to learn from a Nobel laureate?”
“Someone who’s met me,” Meredith said wryly and grinned when John laughed. “There are programs in the SGC to help you through the required course work and we can also set a committee for you that will be approved by Annapolis. Set all of that of up with them, list me as your advisor, and give them whatever details they need. Levi can get you the contact information you’ll be allowed to give them. If they need me to come on board as adjunct faculty or something—let me know. It shouldn’t be a problem. I already have credentials for the Army War College and Naval Postgraduate School from when we did committee work at Area 51. If you’re prefer a civilian program—there are options for MIT and CalTech.” She refocused her attention on her laptop.
John watched the younger man process the whole thing and he turned back to him a little pale faced. “She’s a lot, I know. Wait until she starts glowing.”
Taylor smiled briefly. “Shamans do that.”
John gestured to himself. “So do Alpha Ascendants, apparently.”
Frost cleared his throat and John focused on him. “That’s true, sir? I’ve heard said here and there on the base since we arrived.”
“It’s true and no kind of secret,” John said and sat back in his chair. “I came online in a feral combat drive on another planet in Pegasus being tortured via wraith-feeding. There’s video footage of it and it’ll be part of the full briefing you’ll get over the next few days. Atlantis is a strictly volunteer posting and I won’t accept a yes answer from anyone in this building until they can make a fully informed decision.”
Frost nodded. “I understand. I mean my answer is already yes and I don’t see anything changing my mind. Aliens that suck the life out of people is the single biggest threat I can think of, and I want in on that fight.”
“They smell like death,” John said. “Human death specifically. Their hives are organic and smell like rotting plants. I can’t get that smell out of my nose whenever I think about them. I could do without the disgusting sense recall thing.”
“The smell of our own wounds will always be worse, sir,” Declan said and John forcefully did not allow his mind to wander toward a memory of that.
“You’ve had a bit of time to wander the place. We’ve already started processing the first list you made. Thoughts, impressions?”
“You’ve got an adrenaline junkie or four,” Declan acknowledged. “Not always a problem, but something to look out for especially in theater. The first list I made was concerning legal issues—prosecutable crimes. Do you want something different going forward?”
“Prosecutable crimes would always be on the list,” John said. “I can’t have anyone in Pegasus who thinks the UCMJ is a guideline. You and I both know that in a war zone, things can get loose and some of the rules start to feel unfair or even like a punishment. But discipline keeps us all alive and that goes double in Pegasus.
“On the personality front, the SGC has a zero tolerance for racism, sexism, or any sort of phobia related to species, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Either expressing or merely having such opinions in a way that is evident is grounds for immediate removal from the program. Everyone should’ve been screened for that kind of mindset before the short brief. I’m stunned that mandatory drug testing wasn’t part of that screening process as well.”
“Eh.” Meredith was shrugging when he looked her direction.
“I mean it’s just marijuana,” Meredith said. “Which should be on the list of approved methods to treat PTSD, stress, anxiety, inflammation and chronic pain. It is no less or more addictive than alcohol. It’s only illegal, in the US, because of big tobacco and, really, if anything should be illegal it’s the commercial production of tobacco. I mean public smoking has been illegal for 40 years because of Sentinels and the only reason it’s still such a big industry, despite the whole cancer thing, is because it was included in the Personal Freedoms Campaign in the 60s. In some countries, tobacco is illegal and marijuana is not. I’m not saying it should be smoked—because it has some of the same dangerous chemicals as tobacco. But there are plenty of alternative methods of using marijuana that are a benefit.”
John stared at her. “It’s illegal.”
“Says the man sending the Commandant of the Marine Corps contraband Cuban cigars,” Meredith said and lifted an eyebrow when he huffed.
She squinted at him briefly then concentrated on the laptop. “Whatever.”
“Is this a shaman thing?” he questioned.
“I’ve never taken a spirit walk with Mary Jane if that’s your question,” Meredith said with a delighted grin. “I don’t need to, but I’ve heard it can help those who are a little less connected to the psionic plane which is why it is legal in certain controlled circumstances on Burton Foundation properties around the world.” She wet her lips. “And it’s also why I have a license to purchase, possess, and use it within the confines of my role as a shaman.”
“You don’t actually have any right now, right?” John questioned because he didn’t know what to do with that.
She laughed and Sean Taylor laughed with her. “No, but I would be interested to know if the people who had are Guides, latent or otherwise, because there is a case to be made that exceptions could be made for them legally.”
Declan shook his head when John focused on him. “It wasn’t consumable and most Guides use it in that fashion if the need it for one reason or another. Online Guides, who aren’t bonded, can have anxiety disorders because of their empathy and there are clauses in the UCMJ that allows for that use in limited circumstances. If I’d found pot brownies, I might have been inclined to investigate the circumstances before adding them to a list of problems.”
John nodded. “I’ll update myself on the limited purposes. I’d like to meet with every single person we’re taking back to Pegasus—even if the contact is limited because I don’t want to bring problems back with me.”
The city physically shuddered the moment he set foot on her. They’d spent most of the morning sending supplies and people through the gate. He’d decided that they’d come last so he could supervise all of his people and the supplies as they left Earth. John reached out and Meredith’s hand slid into his, their fingers lacing together easily. His gaze drifted around the room—settling briefly on his brother who gave him a sharp nod before he focused on Anne Teldy.
Teldy and Lorne had sent four military and two civilians back to Earth for investigation. John didn’t know the results of that and probably wouldn’t for months. Meredith was sure one of the civilians was a Trust plant and the other had turned out to be a homophobe who said something ugly to Jonas Quinn within minutes of meeting him.
“Colonel Sheppard.” Richard Woolsey stepped forward. “Welcome back to Atlantis.”
John stepped forward and offered Woolsey his free hand then did something no one else had bothered to do as the older man shook his hand. “Mr. Woolsey, are you a member of the organization known to the SGC as the Trust?”
Woolsey blinked in surprise even as everyone around them stilled and turned to stare in shock. “No, Colonel, I’m not.”
“Have you ever been approached by a member of the Trust for recruitment?”
“Once, but Homeland was never able to confirm it,” Woolsey said.
“What do you think of this mission’s mandate?”
“Seeking the complete eradication of the wraith is genocide,” Woolsey said simply. “But there appears to be no other course of action—since there is no humane way to feed them.”
John released his hand and nodded. “I have some reorganization to do on the military front so I’d like to keep gate missions suspended for another two weeks at the minimum unless there is an emergency situation that requires our attention.”
“I’ve left the schedule for you to plan, Colonel,” Woolsey said and stepped back. “I understand you have back to back meetings for the rest of the afternoon. I’d like an hour of your time tomorrow. You can have Lt. Graves contact me with options.”
* * * *
Meredith paused in the doorway of her new office. In the end, because she’d been so wrapped up in John, she’d left the hiring of an assistant to Daniel Jackson, of all people. She still wasn’t sure about that, but he’d seemed sincerely interested in making sure she got exactly what she needed.
The young man turned from the place where he was writing on a large white board that took up the entire wall. “Dr. McKay.” He capped his marker. “My apologies for not coming to the gateroom for your arrival, but I erred on the side of caution as I figured many on the city would want to be there for the return of the colonel.” He held out a hand as he crossed to her. “Andre Morgan. You can call me Andre, if you’re comfortable with that. I’m latent Guide, but I’ve been labeled in reserve if that is an important distinction for you. I’ve had a full briefing regarding your needs as a shaman from Dr. Blair Sandburg. He felt it was important that I know what I was getting into since prolonged exposure to you might cause shifts in my relationship with the psionic plane.”
Meredith studied him as she took his hand. “It’s fine—the room was already crowded and I didn’t need an escort. I signed a contract this morning, but I don’t know if the news has reached everyone on the city.”
“It has,” Andre assured. “But from what I can gather—no one expected a different outcome. Dr. Zelenka went on vacation this morning, his first in three years. He’s on the city, but doesn’t want to be bothered unless the whole thing is about to explode.”
“I didn’t have time to read the email Dr. Jackson sent me about you,” Meredith admitted. “So all I know is your name.”
“Ah,” Andre said and nodded. “Well, that’s fine, Dr. McKay. I arrived on the city four days ago and I’ve spent my time preparing your office space—which included unpacking and setting up the personal office you had sent to the SGC from your house in Hawaii. Speaking of, I’ve had several email exchanges with your sister’s life manager and they’ve settled in the house with no issues.
“I have a BA in anthropology, an associates degree in history, and a BS in business management. I recently finished my master’s in human resources.”
“Professional student?” Meredith questioned with a quirked eyebrow.
Andre grinned. “Sugar daddy who enjoyed funding the education of his favorite boy. We parted last year by mutual agreement and I was working for the state of Colorado when I met Dr. Jackson. He was trying to talk me into getting a Ph.D., but honestly I’ve educated myself out. Maybe I’ll feel differently later, but for now, I just want to be somewhere interesting doing interesting things.
“He contacted me a couple of weeks back and asked me if I wanted to have the adventure of a lifetime. I agreed to go through the whole process with the Pentagon. If you decide you hate me, I’ll be folded into the SGC or at Homeland in some fashion or another.”
“He swore on his favorite coffee maker that you’d be perfect,” Meredith said. “So if you aren’t perfect, you’ll have to go back to Earth to steal it and all of his coffee supplies to earn yourself a probation period.”
Andre laughed. “I’ve been working on an organizational chart.” He motioned toward the whiteboard. “It’s a hot mess due to the previous project administrator’s interference. I’ve heard some rumors about her since my arrival, but I don’t know what her actual job performance was.”
“Her main goals appeared to be treason and espionage for a domestic terrorist organization,” Meredith said and let her gaze work over the work he’d done. “You’ve split social science into a separate department?”
“No, Dr. Weir did that,” Andre said. “Considering the scope of the science being done on the city—it would lighten your workload significantly on the administration front of you kept something of that idea. I don’t know enough about what these departments do on a practical front to make suggestions so this is just the current lay out.”
“And your thoughts?”
“It’s flat, low on accountability, and the beginnings of a personal fiefdom,” Andre explained. “Weir clearly had a far reaching agenda and she used a variety of techniques to keep the people under her from forming genuine work-groups.”
“So they didn’t share data and get a good handle on what she might be up to,” Meredith said and shrugged out of her jacket. “Okay, I need coffee and we’ll go over the list of people I’ve already marked for extensive interviews regarding their work product. Some will certainly be going home. I’ll probably have to go back to Earth within the next six months for a recruitment phase of my own.”
“That promises to be a nightmare,” Andre said. “People would probably straight up murder to get into a project run by a Nobel Prize winner.”
Meredith flushed. “Right. I guess that is a concern. I’ve worked privately since before that happened. What have you heard on that front?”
“Some people are happy,” Andre said. “A few a furious that there is clearly going to be a reorganization. Most don’t know a damn thing as to why Weir was removed from the city. I’ve heard some conversations about someone named Beckett, but mostly they’re speculating about the reasons for his removal. The most popular theory was that he was suppressing Colonel Sheppard’s abilities as a Sentinel.”
“True and not even the worst of it,” Meredith said. “Did you unpack my coffee maker?”
“Yes, and your personal coffee supply. I did have to put that under lock and key. I was assigned a small weapon’s locker from Captain Bouchard. I didn’t know if you’d come straight to the lab so I didn’t want to waste it if you chose to stay with Colonel Sheppard during his adjustment to returning to the city.”
She picked up a dry erase marker and uncapped it. “Let’s label all the problem areas first then we’ll set up an interview schedule. I take my coffee black like a proper human being.”
He laughed. “I prefer tea myself.”
“Well, look at that—you already earned yourself a demerit,” Meredith said and he walked away laughing. “If you get ten, Daniel Jackson’s ridiculous espresso machine is mine.”
* * * *
John settled at the long table in a conference room he’d never had a cause to use before. The military occupied two towers on Atlantis—one was living quarters and the other office space, classrooms, their shooting range, and gym. At the top of the tower was John’s office and a conference room that had been set aside for officer business. They hadn’t used the office space at all when Sumner had been the CO and Anne preferred to have meetings during her morning run so they’d often taken that run together.
Now, his command was lousy with officers—far more than regulations would allow in any other circumstances. On paper, the Atlantis Expedition would certainly look like a waste of resources, but field teams needed the leadership that could only come from experience and rank. He stayed seated as they filed in and got settled at the table with him.
“First order of business,” John said and focused on Aiden Ford. “Lt. Ford, I received your email yesterday afternoon and didn’t have a lot of time to make calls so I passed a request to O’Neill’s office and they are working to find you a posting close to the facility your grandmother is on Earth. But it was pointed out to me early this morning that she’s only 30 miles away from the Naval War College and if you’d like to take the opportunity to further your education and be close to your grandmother in her final months then that is an option for you as well.
“No matter your choice, you can step through the gate this afternoon with the rest of the transfers back to Earth. You’ll be welcome to return to Atlantis whenever you want.”
Ford nodded. “Thank you, sir. I’m the only family she has so I’d like to be with her as much as possible.” He took a deep breath. “The doctors only give her six months, but if I went into the Naval War College, I’d want to take my master’s in combat engineering. It’s always been on my agenda.”
John nodded. “Then I’ll see you in two years, but keep in touch and if you encounter problems or if someone gets too curious about all the blacked out parts of your jacket—contact the SGC immediately.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Dismissed and good luck. If you need help with your grandmother’s arrangements or her estate, let us know. I’ll send Anne back to Earth so she can be the boss of you up close and personal again.”
“Be assured, I’ll always be the boss of him,” Teldy said wryly and offered Ford a smile. “But, do reach out if you need help and we really do mean that.”
“Thank you, sir, ma’am.” Ford gave them both a nod and left the room.
John opened up his laptop as the doors slid shut then focused on Teldy. “Okay, talk to me.”
Teldy made a face. “The civilians are a hot mess and I think McKay probably needs personal security. I took her administrative assistant to the range last night and he qualified for a 9mm and he’s been assigned one. The two we’ve removed already were extremely hostile regarding the idea that she’d be coming to the city. Zelenka told me in advance of my tour through the sciences that they were going to be problem. He’s also given me a list of people we should take a really thorough look at. I’ve been doing it casually as I can to avoid stressing anyone out. I’ve been reporting behavioral issues and problems to Mr. Woolsey who is using Dr. Heightmeyer and Dr. Grant to weed out the general crazy from the specific crazy.”
John nodded. “How’s Dr. Grant working out?”
“Great,” Teldy said. “He’s requested and received space for a chapel and that’s been received positively by even the non-religious. He’s honestly deeply pleasant to be around and is psi-null. He retired from the navy at the rank of commander. There is a clause in his contract that would allow for his reactivation if it were required due to extreme circumstances on the city. He’s also been issued a weapon and I’ve put his office on the same floor as Dr. McKay’s in Science Tower 1.”
“And the four Marines you removed from the city?” John questioned. “I didn’t receive any specific data on them from you or O’Neill.”
“All four were stationed at Area 51 when McKay was nearly killed by the Trust,” Teldy said and shared a glance with Bouchard. “We went through the records of every single person on the city to make sure there weren’t more. It’s just best if no one from that project be in McKay’s space, Colonel. It would stress her out and more importantly, not a single one of those motherfuckers came to her defense or Sumner’s. The only reason they weren’t court-martialed for it was that Frank Simmons had the rank to order them to leave the vicinity and they did before the shooting started.”
“So they hid behind a shady order,” John said. “How many?”
“There were 20 Marines, including Sumner, assigned to that facility for security. Four were killed during the altercation and the rest followed Simmons’ orders. She’d have been taken by the Trust if she hadn’t picked up Sumner’s weapon and wounded Simmons and killed the two so-called rogue NID agents he had with him. She also kept Sumner alive until help arrived.”
“With the shirt off her own back,” Lorne said. “At least that’s what I heard.”
“It’s what I heard as well,” Graves admitted. “Apparently, she was also covered in his blood. It was a horror-show sort of scene. Her, six bodies, and Marshall Sumner bleeding out all over her. Then it only got worse because Landry tried to blame her and arrest her…” He waved a hand. “If I’d been there I’d probably be in Leavenworth because I can’t say I wouldn’t have put a bullet in that asshole.”
“She had a lot of political capital to burn that day,” John said. “And she favors you so no, I doubt you’d have gotten court-martialed for defending her.” He returned his attention to Anne. “Anything else?”
She quirked an eyebrow. “Have you seen her new personal assistant?”
“No…” John trailed off. “Problem?”
“Only that he’s criminally hot,” Lorne interjected and John shook his head as they all laughed. “He’s a latent Guide, physically fit, intelligent, gorgeous, kickboxes as a hobby, and doesn’t appear to be willing to take anyone’s shit. I think she’ll need that when the work flow settles down. From what I’ve been able to gather—Weir made it so difficult to manage the sciences that she was running Radek Zelenka into the ground. We’d have probably lost him entirely inside the next year to a position on Earth. I’ve asked Dr. Biro to give him a physical because none of the civilians have had one over two years. That’s on the agenda for the infirmary, but Zelenka has high blood pressure, which we think is stress related, but Biro will confirm.”
John nodded. “Okay, keep an eye on that situation. He’s mission essential. Any other issues that you didn’t report to the SGC?”
Teldy shook her head. “I’ve been weeding out problems since I arrived, sir, as you know. The review of crossover with the Area 51 was done at Captain Bouchard’s suggestion since Dr. McKay has some trauma attached to that event. Interestingly enough, all four of the men in question were second-wave and didn’t come to Atlantis until Colonel Sumner was reassigned to the Apollo.”
“I can’t see how he would’ve tolerated them,” John admitted. “I also don’t like the way that was apparently handled by JAG.”
“That boils down to classified circumstances,” Teldy said. “It isn’t the first time or the last time the SGC has covered up a crime to keep the program a secret. Homeworld Security has an obscene reach due to their mandate and I can’t say it won’t come back to bite us all at one point or another.”
“Meredith said that declassification could happen at any point,” John said. “And that big secrets like the SGC can’t be contained long-term. It’s why they’ve left O’Neill in charge at Cheyenne.”
“So they can say they’ve always had an Alpha Sentinel guarding the gate,” Teldy said and nodded. “It would put many at ease despite the fact that it’s window dressing. It isn’t like we’re immortal superheroes or something.”
“I’m pretty badass,” Frost interjected and grinned when Teldy looked his way. “Ma’am.”
“Oh, I’ve read all about you, Lt. Frost,” Teldy said dryly.
John focused on his brother who was doodling on the legal pad in front of him. “Matt?”
Matt looked up and frowned. “Sorry.” He straightened up in his seat and cleared his throat. “I underestimated how weird it would be.”
“Having me as your CO or the whole ATA thing?” John questioned.
“Both,” he admitted and flushed when Teldy laughed. “It’s hard to concentrate and I’m itching like crazy.”
John’s stomach tightened and he shared a look with Teldy who’d leaned forward in her chair. “Hell, kid, the ATA gene isn’t making you itch.”
Teldy focused on her tablet. “We have 19 online Guides on the city, sir, and only seven of them are military.”
“Odds that one of them is for him?”
“Pretty high,” Teldy said. “He must have already met them. Physical or psionic interaction when a very compatible Guide would be enough for the commander. Allison said he felt close.”
“Meredith said the same,” John admitted and exhaled to calm himself down. “Who have you had contact with since you arrived this morning, Matt?”
“The pilots I brought with me—all mundane,” Matt began and frowned. “A really hot doctor in the infirmary who scanned me with a device and sent me on my way…I was moved into a big room with all the new assets while we waited to get quarters assignments, then I was pulled into this meeting by Major Teldy.”
John looked at Teldy who had started to shift through the screens on her tablet. “Who did his infirmary scan?”
“Both shifts were brought on duty to handle the influx of new people,” Teldy said. “I’m looking for the commander’s entry…ah. Dr. Harris. Online Guide, level five, US citizen.” She winced. “He was made a ward of the Burton Foundation the very day he came online, sir.”
“Which means his parents tried to deny him training,” John said. “Right? That’s what that means? How old was he?”
“Yeah, that’s usually what it means. It can also mean that the foundation feared he would be abused in some fashion by his parents—financial gain being the most common when it comes to an underage Guide at that level. He was 15.” She sat the tablet down and focused on Matt who was scratching his neck. “Stop that before you make yourself bleed.”
Matt dropped his hand immediately, but then made a face. “Wow, you’ve got a lot…of authority.”
Teldy grinned. “It comes with the package—I’m a level six, but I don’t have the whole alpha thing going on.”
“I really beg to differ,” Frost muttered and just smiled when Teldy sighed.
There was a sharp knock on the doors and John prodded them open with a mental command and Meredith walked in with an attractive younger man directly behind her. She frowned at Matt.
“I didn’t do anything,” Matt protested. “I was just sitting here and maybe I flirted with a the hot doctor, but geez, he’s hot like fire Meredith and I wanted to crawl right into his lap.”
“In his defense, Dr. Harris is very attractive,” Sean Taylor interjected.
Meredith rolled her eyes. “Have you been given quarters?”
“Yes,” Matt said and glanced toward John.
“Well, come with me then,” Meredith waved impatiently. “He can’t be on duty like this, John.”
“Agreed,” John said wearily. “What are you going to do with him?”
“He’s about to become Guide candy, John,” Meredith said tartly and Sean Taylor laughed. “And there are least 19 online Guides on the city and more might come online in response to you. You’re clearly pride building and that kind of psionic event will have consequences.”
“I’m confined to quarters then?” Matt questioned as he stood and started to scratch his hand.
“Well, we need to get you out of those clothes—I thought I told you to start washing your things in the Sentinel-friendly detergent.”
Matt made a face. “I did, but…”
“He apparently likes his clothes to be Snuggle soft,” Teldy tattled.
Meredith huffed. “For fuck’s sake, here’s hoping you didn’t use that shit on your boxers.”
The fresh horror on Matt’s face made John snort. “Oh, kid, seriously. Go take off everything and get in the shower.”
“I’ll have to get him some of your clothes, John,” Meredith said as she grabbed Matt’s arm and stopped him from scratching. “This is my assistant Andre Morgan, Matt. Andre take the commander to his assigned quarters and don’t let anyone touch him. Help him get undressed and in a shower while I rummage through John’s clothes.”
Frost stood and Taylor stood with him. “With your permission, sir, we can help with escort?”
“Permission granted,” John said and focused on Bouchard who was staring at Meredith. He watched them exchange a head nod and she prodded Matt out of the room. “How are you doing, William?”
“Amazing,” Bouchard blurted out immediately and flushed when John grinned. “I mean, I’m well, sir.”
“Dr. Kusanagi is one of the best people on the city,” John said. “And was a member of my field team. I’ll miss her snarky and unreasonable demands in the field, but don’t tell her that. She once made Ronon carry her for a whole mile because she kept stepping on these bugs and they would sort of…scream.”
“I hate that planet,” Teldy muttered.
John studied Bouchard. “You seem…settled, content.”
“It must suck to be an Alpha Ascendant,” William said. “You get it from every direction.”
“I think it could’ve potentially driven me insane,” John agreed. “But Meredith has helped me make sense of it all and I have these psionic pockets that I can tuck my senses in, even the empathic one. It’s hard to explain.”
“She taught me the pocket system,” William said. “But I only ever manage to tuck one sense at a time. Still, it’s helpful and it’s prevented sensory spikes since I learned to do it.”
John nodded and focused on Alicia Vega. “You were right. It’s like you’re a storm shelter or something. I don’t know whether to be fascinated or appalled, but I kind of want to make you stand in front of me.”
Vega grinned even as Teldy and Bouchard laughed. “It’s okay, sir, you’ll get used to it. And I can act as a buffer any time you need it. It’s my role in the tribe, so to speak. I almost went into the Sentinel medicine, but I didn’t have the finances to pull off medical school.”
Frost and Taylor returned and John shut the doors behind them.
“Some curiosity, but nothing more,” Frost reported. “Civilians and military alike gave Dr. McKay all the space she wanted. Sean did a scan of Andre Morgan and found no ill intent, but I’m sure Dr. McKay has already done that as well. We felt safe leaving your brother in his care and Commander Sheppard…stripped bare assed the moment he could.”
John sighed. “Should I apologize for that?”
“No, sir,” Taylor said with a bright-eyed grin. “No apologies necessary.”
“The SGC heavily recruited from the Army when it comes to training pilots to fly the X-302,” John said. “Mostly because of the high number of high-ranking NCOs that are trained to fly helicopters. Enlisted personnel are easier to move around in the military than highly trained officers. My brother is the only officer in the squadron that O’Neill supplied—the rest are warrant officers so we’ll want to evaluate them for work on the city when they aren’t training or on missions.
“Major Lorne—operations and training will be your main focus going forward. That’s going to include the organization of on and off-planet war games. Captain Vega, you’ll be Lorne’s second. Captain Bouchard—city security. Lt. Frost and Ensign Taylor will be under your direct command for that, along with the Rangers Canada sent us. I don’t have any MPs currently on the city, but if we add them they’ll fall under your command as well. I don’t expect to get any.
“Dr. McKay has reviewed all of the military personnel on the city and will be providing us with a list of scientific and engineering projects we can assign people to.”
Teldy blinked in surprise. “Seriously?”
“Not allowing military assistance in the science department was the first rule that she dumped when she was reviewing procedures. Once everything is reorganized we’ll be exploring continuing education classes.” John shifted his laptop a bit and finally opened up his email so everything could download. Despite weekly databursts, he knew it would be a lot. “She believes that Weir kept us out of the labs because she depended on the naivety of the scientists when it came to experiments and research that could be weaponized. The SGC did confirm that Weir brought research back to Earth and gave it to the Trust.”
“Like what?” Teldy questioned.
“Like tech that could make distributing a biological weapon over an entire city child’s play,” John said. “The investigation is moving fast on Earth because of that kind of speculation. We know in the past the Trust has found ways to hit targets off world with devastating results. Here’s hoping they haven’t done it again or if they’ve managed to build themselves a ship and leave Earth entirely for missions against people they consider personal enemies.”
“What about on-world targets?” Frost questioned.
“The Trust situates themselves as a pro-Earth organization,” Teldy explained. “If there are members who’d use that tech against our own people, they’re keeping that close to the vest. The big financial backers for the organization have always appeared more interested in making as much money as they can with the tech they steal. There have been some scientific advancements from several companies over the last decade that had no overt alien influence, but that the SGC feels were definitely inspired by alien tech—specifically the Asgard.”
“Where did you put Matt?” John questioned as he glanced toward his laptop, saw a 100 plus emails waiting for him and closed it with a sigh.
“He’s next door to you,” Teldy repeated. “I figured it was best once I read his file.”
“Something put you off?” John questioned and raised an eyebrow.
“No, but he’s the one…” She trailed off. “Hell, sir, he’s the one you had to pull your dead mother’s body off and I think that matters a hell of a lot. Maybe more to you than him, but I figured you’d sleep better if he was as close to you as possible so I put him in the apartment next to yours. It’s a one bedroom, but more than enough for him and a Guide, if he bonds. But speaking of that, I did complete your move into a two-bedroom apartment on the 8th floor of our residential tower. Mr. Morgan set up an at-home office space for Dr. McKay in the second bedroom with her personal things from Earth.”
“Speaking of things from Earth,” John murmured and turned toward Bouchard. “Did your painting arrive safely?”
“Yes, sir,” Bouchard shifted in his seat and shook his head. “The case she put it in cost 10 times what I actually paid for it.”
“It’s priceless, to you, right?” John questioned.
“Yes, it always has been,” William admitted. “I’d have given the artist every single penny I had to have it and I don’t even like art.”
* * * *
John leaned on the doorway leading into the office space that Dr. Chase Harris had occupied since his arrival during the second wave of the expedition. He had vague memories of Carson Beckett being put off by the arrival of Harris specifically, but he hadn’t put much effort into finding out why.
“You don’t use your Guide gifts to check out the emotional landscapes of others.”
Harris looked up and focused on him. “No, I don’t. As a medical doctor, I’m legally and ethically bound by a series of oaths that makes such behavior problematic. There are certain clinical circumstances that would allow it, but I’ve not worked in circumstances where it would be required since coming to the SGC. Before I was recruited, I worked as an ER doctor in Chicago. I sometimes used my gifts to assess people when they explained how they were injured—children, suspected domestic battery. I’m a mandated reporter so, of course, every injured child I treated was a potential abuse case as far as my ethical duty was concerned. Physical abuse is rare in urban environments due to the large population of Sentinels, but it does happen.”
John nodded. “My brother is coming online, Dr. Harris.”
Harris’ gaze widened. “I…see. Does he need medical assistance?”
John inclined his head as he considered the alarm radiating off the Guide in front of him. “Have you ever participated in a search?”
“I’ve had several matches,” Harris said stiffly and averted his gaze. “The last was practically ideal, but I had to reject the Sentinel in question because of his…” He took a deep breath. “His wife was part of the process and he allowed her to lay down a list of boundaries and restrictions that would’ve fast become abusive. I told her as such and they were both highly offended by my rejection. She said I should feel lucky to have such a great match with her husband because he was an amazing person. I highly doubt he was since he tolerated her crap, but she was objectively awful and I couldn’t imagine…”
He waved a hand. “Having that kind of stress in my life. Plus, he was of the opinion that I would leave my job and join him in his career as a paramedic. When I pointed out that with his education he could have easily gone back to school to become a nurse or a physician’s assistant so he could join me in private practice—he was deeply offended. In the end, it was the most unproductive hour of my entire life and I left it furious. He tried to call me a week later because none of his other matches were all that great. I refused the call and had to involve the foundation to get the contact to stop.”
“Sounds horrible. They wanted a platonic bond?”
“I could’ve handled a platonic bond,” Chase muttered. “No, they expected me to share their bed and she said that I wouldn’t be allowed to touch my own Sentinel without her direct supervision.”
John barely kept his mouth from dropping open. “Excuse me?”
Harris shrugged. “People are weird, Colonel.” He leaned against his desk. “His ethics as a Sentinel were above reproach. I’m sure he’s serving his pride and the tribe honorably, but personally he sucked and so did his wife. I wasn’t interested in being their toy. I’ve had a few other matches with men—internalized homophobia is a real problem in our age group due to the way the Burton Foundation handled same-sex pairings in our parent’s generation. There are 19 unbonded Guides on the city and all, but one is female. Will you be introducing her, first?”
John laughed a little and shook his head. “My brother is gay, Dr. Harris, and since he’s only met you since he arrived on the city, Dr. McKay blames you for his current condition. Also, he claims to have flirted with you during his intake so I’m going to have to investigate that. His game must be awful if you didn’t even notice.”
Harris’ cheeks flushed. “I learned early on my career to ignore that kind of thing from patients. It rarely even registers any more, which is for the best considering the ethics of that situation. I’m open to meeting with him if that’s what you’re asking. Dr. Biro can run tests to determine compatibility and he should meet as many on the city that meet the standard as he can. If there isn’t a very good match then he should go back to Earth for a search. Does he have the required training?”
“Yes, but he’ll have a practical adjustment. Meredith doesn’t think he’ll have to return to Earth for any reason, but if he does, it will happen so please don’t think I’m trying to manage my workflow by tossing my baby brother in your lap.”
“Not many would mind,” Harris said with a wry grin. “He’s beautiful.”
“Inside and out,” John said. “He’s also spoiled rotten so if things work out the way Meredith thinks they will…I’d like to apologize on behalf of my family for the hot mess of a Navy pilot that is about to be your lifelong problem.” He waved a hand. “She said he’ll probably complete the process within the next 24 hours. I have him on lockdown to avoid any shenanigans. You’ll probably get an email from McKay or Allison Porter when he’s ready to start the process. I suspect it will be done in a very controlled manner to prevent anyone from saying there was anything improper about it.”
“She got some grief on Earth about your situation?”
“We didn’t bond until we were on Earth and in my father’s house, but there were a few people who believed they had the right to have an opinion about the whole thing. She’s polarizing for more than one reason and doesn’t tolerate anyone’s bullshit. She fired the director of the Center for Psionics in Alexandria and…it stuck.”
Harris snorted. “I just bet it did. I’ve heard rumors about the female shaman for years. I had expectations and she’s met them across the board. After you left the city, we read about the psionic translocation from the mission report that Major Teldy filed. Eventually, I’d like to speak with Dr. McKay about her individual medical needs. I am the doctor of record for most of the registered Guides on the city, but she can make a different choice if she wishes.”
“She won’t have a problem making herself clear if she has an issue,” John said.
* * * *
“How are you?”
Meredith smiled. “Everything is…more than I expected it would be.” She paused and focused on William. “Your levels are great—better than they ever were in Hawaii. You’re practically radiating contentment so I don’t need to ask how the bonding went.” She smiled. “But you can tell me if you wish.”
“I thought I would miss you more than I have,” William said and his cheeks flushed. “That sounds horrible because I did miss you, but there’s no gaping hole in my senses that I expected to always linger after you were gone.”
“That’s normal,” Meredith said and laughed when he sent her a dirty look. “It is even with longterm conservatory relationships—your instincts make room for the right connection and Miko is certainly that for you. It must have felt like you’d come home.”
“Yeah, exactly,” William admitted. “I even confessed to all the sulking we did with each other about not being compatible.”
Meredith grinned. “We did some epic sulking, but the sex made up for it.” She took a sip of coffee. “Do you think you’ll have an issue working with John?”
“None,” William said. “He’s compelling in the most terrible way as an Alpha. I can see why Anne Teldy was prepared to destroy her entire career to retrieve him. She said he’s felt like that since she came to the city and it’d never made sense to her because she’d been briefed about his dormancy before she’d accepted the mission. We haven’t heard much about what happened to Beckett and Weir.”
“They’re in an isolated prison facility,” Meredith said. “I’m not sure it’s on planet as I’ve heard that the SGC found several underground facilities off-world that they took from the goa’uld over the years. Regardless, they’re still being interrogated and will likely never see the light of day again. I’m not even sure declassification would change their circumstances and that’s probably for the best. They each represent unique and disturbing security threats.”
“I’ve been reading mission reports from the SGC for hours every single damn day,” William said. “There are a fuckton of disturbing security threats, Meredith.”
“Some larger than others,” she said in agreement. “The barbarians have been at the gate for years—sometimes I think about the life the people of Egypt spared us when they defied Ra and buried the gate. I wouldn’t exist as I do today, if they hadn’t. I wonder if our kind would’ve survived his planetary occupation at all. Considering how few there are of us in the galaxy in large due to the goa’uld, I would say no.”
“I see that bonding hasn’t helped that whole fatalism thing you’ve always had going on,” William muttered.
“Well, my parents installed that button.” Meredith shrugged and took a deep breath. “Madison was disappointed not to see you when she came to Hawaii. Jeannie is banging her life manager, like that’s appropriate?”
“Well, that’s been going on for a while,” William said mildly. “You were just willfully ignoring it.”
Meredith huffed. “I haven’t even attempted to brush up against my sister’s psionic profile since she got married, William. She’s a fucked up mess and made me want to get drunk and you know I don’t do that.” She ran her hands through her fingers. “But I did take a peak at Elisa—it’s love for her so I hope Jeannie isn’t using her.”
“But you aren’t certain?”
“We both took lessons from our childhood that will keep us fucked up for life,” Meredith pointed out. “Co-dependency is the least of Jeannie’s issues. She feels entitled to be taken care of, you know, and deeply resents the fact that I refused to take our parent’s place in her life. She also blames me for her marriage to Caleb Miller, but you’ve heard her say that more than once.”
“Well, it’s easier to blame you than to accept responsibility for her own decisions,” William pointed out reasonably.
“I’m to tell you both that getting broody out here is going to lead to both of you sleeping the couch,” John said dryly from the double doors that led the balcony they were on. “Separate couches.”
Meredith turned and laughed as he leaned on the doorway. “Finish checking out Dr. Harris?”
“I think so,” John said mildly. “He’s mostly curious, cautiously excited, and oddly prepared for rejection, but I don’t get that because he’s very attractive.”
“He’s been online for 12 years,” Miko reported as she came to stand beside John. She had a pair of wine glasses in hand. She slipped past John and offered one to Meredith. “He’s probably been through hundreds of searches due to his rating and previous location. Chicago is a Sentinel mecca of sorts because the previous national prime pair lived and retired there.”
Meredith took a sip. “Oh, nice…what is this?”
“Athosian, low alcohol content,” Miko said. “Teyla brought us a bottle as a bonding gift so I assume you’ll get one, too. One of us should probably go calm his brother down. Would it come better from me?”
“The lecture?” Meredith questioned and laughed. “Probably—you have a tender heart and I think I almost made him cry on Earth.”
“How agitated is he?” William questioned and tilted his head. “He’s got all of his privacy filters active so I’m getting nothing.”
“He’s climbing the walls,” John said. “And when I checked on him—he’d graduated to wearing a pair of sweatpants. Fortunately, we got all of his clothes washed, so his life is Snuggle free which oddly left him genuinely bereft for nearly ten minutes.” He made a face. “I’ve never liked that stuff and I don’t know when he even developed a fondness for it since we grew up in a household with none of that shit in it.”
“A little bit of rebellion, maybe,” Meredith said. “When he got out on his own he probably went a little crazy trying out products he couldn’t because he grew up with an Alpha Sentinel. But no matter how much he’d probably prefer a gentle hand, right now, it should be me. I can take him down for the rest of the night if he needs help going to sleep. The only problem is that he’s probably going to wake up online.”
“Is that really problem?” John questioned. “Is a gradual process really all that much better than coming online all at once?” He focused on William.
“I wouldn’t know, sir,” William said. “I came online in Iraq. It was like getting punched in the…whole body.”
John laughed abruptly. “Yeah, apt description.”
“The first thing I’m going to do in the morning is write a really long email to Jonah about you,” Meredith said and Matt sent her a wounded look before he walked across the room and joined her on the floor on the meditation area that had been set up for him. “Because I know he taught you better than this.”
“He did,” Matt admitted and settled on the mat. “I have no excuse, I know, but this isn’t how I expected to spend my first night on the city of the freaking ancients. I had plans, Meredith.”
“Sex plans?” She asked in amusement and he huffed dramatically. “You’d have certainly been spoiled for choice. John went to visit Dr. Harris to give him a head’s up regarding your onlining. We did a review of security footage and you didn’t come near any of the other unbonded Guides so if you’re responding to him then…well.”
“What else could it be?”
“Your brother, the circumstances…” She flicked her hand. “Now focus on me, I’m going to build you a psionic shelter so you can sleep tonight. It will help everything calm down and your desire for isolation will decrease to the point that you’ll stop using all the privacy filters the city has on your apartment.”
“It was a relief to realize I could do it,” Matt said. “I don’t want to turn them off.”
“You will find, quickly, that this kind of isolation will be infuriating,” Meredith said. “It’s contrary to your instincts and your own imperative to isolate from your pride. You’ll also find an immense amount of comfort in the beat of your Alpha’s heart.”
“John.” Matt’s shoulders relaxed. “I always found him comforting, you know? It was hard when he left home, but I tried not to complain too much about it because it wasn’t fair to him. I mean David didn’t want him to leave home either and threw a fit about it so I figured one of us in a meltdown was more than enough.”
Meredith leaned back on her hands and studied Matt. “Talk to me about your decision to come out here.”
“The last time we talked about this—you were really mean to me,” Matt pointed out.
“I know, but your brother’s comfort is always going to come first for me and he was horrified by what you wanted. He still isn’t all that comfortable with it and I’m not sure…what it will take for him to be truly at ease with you being at risk. A part of him is relieved that you’re here because he feels like he can manage threats against you more easily than he’s been able to do in years. But he also wishes you’d gone into a less dangerous career no matter how hypocritical that is.”
“And that’s about the day that mom died,” Matt said quietly.
“Partially,” Meredith murmured. “But also because you’re the baby of the family and protecting you has felt like his job since you were born. That’s pure instinct on his part and really has nothing to do with you as an individual or your mother’s murder.” She watched him digest her words. “You’ll discover over the next few weeks that the Sentinel in you has always been awake—a thousand memories will be fresh and vivid in your mind as a result. You will realize, in retrospect, that people have lied to you, desired you, hated you, loved you, feared you…it’ll run the spectrum due to your age and experiences.
“Some of it will be varying degrees of traumatizing because it will make you question the motives of people you know and those you used to think you knew well. You might feel the desire to reach out to people in your past—in anger or with apologies. Don’t give into those feelings.”
“But what if I hurt someone by accident or something?” Matt questioned.
“If they wanted you to address their hurt, they would’ve confronted you with it,” Meredith said. “Most people honestly just want to go off and lick their wounds in private, Matt. Besides, it’ll probably mostly be sex partners who wanted more than you honestly ever had on offer. You don’t strike me as the type to lie to get laid.”
“No, I’ve always been pretty up front about that stuff,” Matt said and flushed. “I mean—I had no choice really due to Dad’s position and the money. I got hit on a lot when I was younger by girls until it became well-known on a local level that I was gay. I was half afraid my father was going to have to put out a PSA.”
Meredith snorted. “That’s the kind of thing you’d have never lived down.” She stared at him, taking in the calm he was easily laying over the storm that brewed under his skin. “Do you have any desire to seek Dr. Harris at this time?”
“You mean as a Sentinel?”
“I wouldn’t say no to his company on any level at this point,” Matt admitted. “But it’s not something I’m having to push against. Why?”
“It makes sense that you’ve flipped over because of a powerful and compatible Guide has crossed paths with you,” Meredith said. “It’s one of the most common reasons for someone on the cusp to start the process. It’s natural, gradual, and generally painless.” She quirked an eyebrow. “Provided you’re not deeply attached to Snuggle.”
Matt frowned her. “It makes my clothes soft and smell nice.”
She grinned. “You’re ridiculous and should start the bonding process with an apology.”
“If it isn’t Chase Harris bringing me online then what?” Matt questioned.
“I don’t know,” Meredith said simply. “And it’s best to pay attention to your instincts as you settle and let me know if you have any visions or dreams that have a prophetic edge.”
Matt made a face. “How the hell will I know if a dream is prophetic?”
“They’ll feel true and real in a way no dream ever has,” Meredith said. “You’ll wake up with the urge to act, to move, and to see as much of your territory as you possibly can. You might want to investigate the security circumstances around you—walk the perimeter, verify your brother’s location, etc. Don’t ignore those impulses as it will just make you stressed out.”
“I can leave the apartment?”
“You aren’t being confined, Matthew,” Meredith said with a huff. “I’m sorry that wasn’t clear at the start. We’ve isolated you for to allow your senses to settle without the stress of being exposed to a lot of new people plus 19 very eager Guides that certainly know someone has come online even if they aren’t sure who it is. I don’t have to tell you how attractive you’d be them.”
“Because of John and Dad,” Matt said sourly.
“Well, you’re beautiful,” Meredith said and quirked an eyebrow when he flushed. “With an outstanding career. Military Guides are going to find you especially compelling because of your rank and the privilege that comes with it.”
“And a civilian Guide might be put off by it,” Matt said. “Is Dr. Harris?”
“Civilians in the SGC aren’t like others you might encounter—most of them have had training and field experience. Dr. Harris has been with the SGC for two years and came to Pegasus as soon as a place opened up for him. There isn’t a single Guide in the SGC who isn’t prepared to match with a military Sentinel. Many go out of their way to work in military environments as it increases their chances of making a natural match.”
“Are natural matches better?”
“No,” Meredith said. “It can feel romantic and something like destiny, but in the end, it doesn’t matter how you meet your Guide.”
“You’re far more relaxing now than you were,” Matt admitted. “It was irritating when you first came to the house with John on Earth.”
“I was an intruder of sorts and hadn’t bonded with John when I first entered your father’s house.”
“Why?” Matt questioned. “Why wait at all? I mean you and John are a really good match. That must have been clear before you even met considering the circumstances.”
“Consent is important,” Meredith said. “And John needed the comfort of being your father’s territory to regain his emotional balance. Specifically, I felt he needed to go home due to the trauma and betrayal he suffered and he agreed so quickly that I knew it was necessary. One of the founding principles of the Sentinel/Guide relationship is the responsibility we have to and for one another. Let’s build you a place to sleep and tomorrow we’ll start working on building you a foundation. Dr. Kusanagi has also agreed to help—she’s bonded to my former Conservator.”
“Captain Bouchard. I met him briefly. John seemed comfortable with him so that was surprising.”
“A healthy bond doesn’t really allow for that kind of jealousy,” Meredith said. “And there are no power games to play on Atlantis. Absolutely no Sentinel on the city is a position to stand as an additional Alpha.”
“Teldy’s pretty badass,” Matt said wryly.
“True,” Meredith agreed. “Her command presence is a mixture of rank, Sentinel ability, and her loyalty to John. Major Teldy invested in her place as John’s XO and, in turn, his Beta before he came online even if she didn’t realize it.”
“I see.” Matt nodded. “And where will I fit in?”
“John is protective of you and always will be. You can expect every single Sentinel in his command to respond in kind,” Meredith said. “As for your position in the pride itself—time will tell.”
* * * *
Meredith exited the bathroom as she dried her hair. John was sprawled across the large bed, naked and relaxed. He turned his head and focused on her.
“Thanks for helping Matt. He’s sleeping now—no overt sensory issues that I can discern. It was a relief when he stopped using all of those filters,” John said and took a deep breath. “Is it wrong that I wish I’d left him on Earth?”
“But it’s not right either,” John admitted. “At least, not right for him. His instinctual responses are no less than important than my own.” He made a face and turned to stare at the ceiling again. “I want him to be safe, but I know coddling him would be a mistake. Dad didn’t let anyone do that to any of us growing up. I mean he was never cruel or unreasonable, but he taught us that personal strength would see us through almost anything. It was Jonah who made us, including Dad, see that asking for help was just as important as trying to push through. Matt took that more to heart than the rest of us—perhaps because of his age.”
“Too bad no one taught him to leave the Snuggle alone,” Meredith said wryly. “I think he’s swathed head-to-toe in rash crème.”
John snorted. “Your new, entirely too attractive, assistant helped him shower and apply that crème by the way.”
“Andre has a soothing presence and isn’t close to coming online,” Meredith said. “He was far more suited to the task than anyone else. If not him, then it would’ve had to be me.” She grinned when John sent her a look. “Matt’s genuinely befuddled by your attraction to me. I think he figured you’d end up with a man after your marriage fell apart.”
“He’s had some pretty harsh experiences with women,” John said. “Girls in high school who took his homosexuality personally or as a challenge definitely made life difficult. It only got worse when he was older. Money, social position, and his looks made him a prime target for a variety of reasons for both sexes, but he never felt like he could handle them the same and would try to let women down easily. Then he would get accused of leading them on or whatever. I used to get long ranty emails about it all the time.”
Meredith sat down on the bed and picked up the brush she’d left behind on the bedside table then unwrapped the towel holding her damp hair. “No one is great at rejection—it’s awful really across the board when someone gets really invested in you and you don’t realize it until they’re putting themselves out there in the most revealing fashion and you have a choice between being brutally honest and lying until you can figure out a better solution. I quickly learned to be brutally honest.”
John sat up and shifted around to scoot up behind her. “Let me.”
She offered him the brush and he took it. “You’re far more at ease than I expected you to be. I thought you’d prowl the entire city.”
John hesitated briefly then started to draw the brush through her hair gently. “I don’t need to.”
“I know every bit of the city,” John said. “Due to my gene status, I’ve always been given a series of reports through mental communication. Population count, power consumption, gate activity, perimeter monitoring, etc. When the Genii invaded during the first year of the expedition, my reach deepened within the system, but I didn’t report it to anyone because it freaked me out. I no longer need to sit in the control chair to interact with the city’s central computer. In fact, I’m sure the only reason I’d need to sit in the chair is to actually pilot the city.”
“That’s not…you’ve not mentioned it at all.” She frowned as she considered the information and her own impressions regarding the city. “The city is certainly sentient and I don’t think it would take much to prove her sapient as well.”
“I think so, but I’ve never put that in a report or discussed it with anyone. I felt like it would be a very bad idea of the IOA to get an inkling that Atlantis is more than an advanced piece of machinery. We know the tech is partially organic, but the make-up of Atlantis is nothing like the other ancient technology we’ve encountered here or in the Milky Way. I don’t know what that means for the construction of Atlantis which is clearly the oldest intact piece of technology we’ve ever come across. I’ve seen a partially buried city on another planet that was designed similarly to Atlantis and it required the ATA gene to use, but it didn’t feel like the city at at all.”
“Her overt attachment to you has been documented,” Meredith said. “And it’s a concern for the IOA and the SGC. Zelenka reported that he believed the city would fail to support the expedition within a year of your loss when Weir declared you MIA. They started scrambling, immediately, to find a gene carrier that could take your place. Not a single one, not even O’Neill, met the standard regarding gene strength.”
“Weir knew that,” John said. “It was discussed during the first debrief with Earth when we reestablished contact and she used it as her reasoning for keeping me on the city as the military leader.”
“She thought she could control you.” Meredith tilted her head a little as he separated her hair and started to braid it. “And every experiment she agreed to let Beckett conduct on you was done to further that goal.”
“And when she realized she couldn’t maintain that indefinitely, she tried to have me killed,” John said. “It’s disconcerting to look back on my interactions with her and see all of her duplicity and…the other stuff.”
She offered him a little hair band and he tied off the braid. “What other stuff?”
“I have impressions of her that are conflicting—overt flirting combined with sexual desire and anger. She wanted me, but she also sort of hated me. I’m really glad I never had sex with her because I think I’d be disgusted in retrospect.”
“Were you ever tempted to take her to bed?”
“No, there was the chain of command to consider and fucking the leader of the expedition just seemed like a stupid idea.”
She put the brush on the bedside table then turned toward him. He hummed under his breath as she pressed him down on the bed and slid astride his hips. His hands curled into the soft material of her robe.
“How many people on the city have you fucked?”
John quirked an eyebrow. “A few here and there—no military, obviously…well.”
“Well what?” Meredith questioned as she braced herself on his chest.
“After Sumner was reassigned to the Apollo, he came to Pegasus twice. The second trip, he was pretty stressed out and I beamed up to talk to him about it. I figured it was Weir related because he’d made it clear that he didn’t want to come out here at all and we’d been told that the Daedalus was going to be handling any missions out here. Regardless, he was bent out of shape. We shared a couple of beers and…had sex.”
“Was it great? I heard he was a boss in bed.”
“Total boss,” John agreed. “As to your question, I’d have to look at a least of civilians currently on the city because I haven’t checked since the SGC started moving people around in response to Weir’s removal. Dr. Worth is probably still here. Dr. Grodin, he’s in linguistics and pretty attached to the city as a gene carrier himself. I had what could only be termed a heated affair with Kate Heightmeyer, but we broke it off due to an alien thing.” He paused. “An alien parasite essentially invaded and started killing people in dreams. We managed to get rid of it, but the last person to be infested was Kate and it used me to terrorize her. I think the only reason it didn’t drive her to commit suicide like it had several others is that she knew me better than most. She knew the real me wouldn’t hurt her.
“But the experience made being around me difficult for a while. By the time she was over it, she was involved with someone else that she felt could lead to something serious so…” He shrugged. “Also, I’ve slept with my whole team—at the same time.”
“Alien sex ritual?” Meredith questioned with a laugh.
“Gah, we never get that lucky,” John muttered. “Ritual wine that we tested before consumption. It wasn’t even alcoholic, but it did lower inhibitions. We all woke up hours later in the same yurt, naked and I was just relieved to see that we’d managed to use all the condoms in the ‘here’s hoping for a sex ritual kit’.” He paused. “A whole box of 12.”
Meredith laughed. “John.”
“I know.” He huffed. “I apologized to Miko and Teyla a half dozen times before they both told me to stop because I was making them feel bad about themselves.”
“You didn’t apologize to Ronon?” Meredith questioned.
“I tried once, but he told me to shut up and asked me if I wanted to spar.” He untied her robe. “We put that planet on the no-go list for obvious reasons.”
She shrugged out of the robe and tossed it off the bed as he ran his hands up her sides and cupped her breasts. Her breath hitched as he thumbed over her nipples. His emotions were rich and intoxicating as they drifted over her. There was a sweet love blooming between them despite the intense and often raw sexual attraction. He sat up and cupped her ass as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I could’ve never pictured myself here like this with someone like you,” John murmured as he stroked her back. “Is a bond supposed to be like this?”
“Despite what the Burton Foundation would have the general public believe, a psionic bond is individual and built on the work put into it. They set out decades ago to create a mythology around the bonding process to protect our kind,” Meredith said. “The narrative is deeply romantic and it speaks to such things as fate and eternal partnership because it serves us for mundanes to see our bonds as precious.”
“So not every Sentinel has this?” John questioned and Meredith shifted against him as a sadness drifted over his psionic profile.
“In a healthy bond, Sentinels and Guides give each other exactly what is needed,” Meredith said and ran her fingers through his hair. “What would comfort you—might make another Sentinel deeply uncomfortable. In fact, many would find our bond appalling. Thanks to the empathy loop we’ve created—we really don’t have any secrets from one another. You’ll never have another private erection again.”
John laughed. “That should probably concern me, but it doesn’t.” He nuzzled her neck and took a deep breath against her skin. “Privacy is an illusion, right?”
“To some,” Meredith acknowledged. “But between us, we can have as much privacy as we’d like—psionic ability and technology guarantee that. We have a purpose in the greater universe and with that comes some privilege.”
“I know my imperative is a lot to take in,” John said and took a deep breath. “Most people on Earth think my territory is confined to the city. Should I have corrected that assumption repeatedly?”
“No,” Meredith said. “Had you asked him—your father would’ve told you that despite his role as a regional Alpha Prime that he feels a deep responsibility to the entire planet since he was read-in. I suspect he’ll start picking up contracts to work directly with the SGC inside the next year. Every single Sentinel who knows about the stargate has had a shift in their priorities even if they won’t admit it. I think Jim and Blair will probably move to Denver which will cause a shift into the entire political structure for the US. You have a lot of latents on the city—Matt won’t be the only one to come online.”
“Can I control my influence over them?”
“Not in the least,” Meredith said with a laugh.
He rolled them over and leaned over her as she continued to laugh. “You’re a terrible person. I should probably start therapy to deal with this.”
“Just don’t pick the one you banged,” Meredith advised and groaned when John filled her with one full-bodied thrust. “Fuck.”
He set a hard, relentless pace that left her damn-near speechless and she wasn’t entirely sure it was by accident. Meredith would complain, but she didn’t want to distract him from fucking her since it was her favorite thing ever. He all but dragged her straight into an orgasm so hard it almost hurt. She clung to him in a fashion she’d passionately deny forever as the pleasure of his own orgasm fell on her like a ton of bricks.
“That’s got to be against the law,” John said roughly even as he sought her mouth for a soft kiss.
* * * *
“How do you feel, John?”
John focused on Teyla who’d slid into place in front of him at the conference table. “New.” He relaxed as she smiled. “Everything is better. Have you heard anything about the Genii off-world?”
“Just that there has been a change in leadership,” Teyla said. “I don’t have a name, but I did pass along a message from Mr. Woolsey making it clear that the Tauri have no interest in further contact with the Genii. He was clear that they are considered enemies and that there is no coming back from what was done to you.”
“Do you expect a response?”
“Yes, but Mr. Woolsey has given me a series of statements to relay to whatever they might say. The Genii are terrorists in his mind and he’ll not entertain any sort of relationship with them going forward.”
The doors to the conference opened and Woolsey entered along with Meredith and Anne Teldy. John shifted slightly in his chair as Meredith sat down beside him. Woolsey took a seat and placed several legal pads down in front of him and removed the cap from his pen. There was something soothing about the man’s presence that wasn’t exactly like being in the same room as Captain Vega, but it was close.
“Are you psi-null, Mr. Woolsey?” John questioned with a glance toward Meredith.
“No, Colonel, but I have invested a great deal of time into exerting as much control as I can over my mind and emotions,” Woolsey said and focused on him. “I’ve worked in politics and diplomacy most of my adult life so learning to contain myself only worked in my benefit in circumstances when those on the other side of the table often had psionic abilities they could use against me. I learned at a very young age that Sentinels and Guides alike are really no different from everyone else despite their abilities.
“I also learned that the idea of tribe is individual and that precious few of your kind consider all of humanity their tribe.”
“If we did, war on Earth would be impossible,” John pointed out. “Though I may come to wish it were different—I don’t consider anyone on Earth part of my tribe.”
Woolsey inclined his head. “Yes, that’s something many within the IOA and the SGC itself have come to realize—it’s disconcerting to say the least. You aren’t the first Sentinel to come online on a different planet, but you are the first to be uninterested in staying on Earth for any length of time.”
“I don’t feel necessary on Earth,” John said. “I would defend the planet, as I have in the past, but it’s not part of my imperative. Meredith assures me I don’t need to be concerned about that.”
“Your instincts are what they are, Colonel,” Woolsey said. “It would be abusive to attempt to reshape them merely to comfort others. The IOA would like to know how many Sentinels on the city will make you comfortable with your mission?”
“I have no clue,” John admitted. “Nature will provide, right?”
Woolsey considered that, glanced briefly at Meredith, but then nodded. “Dr. McKay, I’ve been told to expect some changes in the science department as far as personnel goes.”
“We’ll need to reorganize because Dr. Weir kept the organizational structure flat and compartmentalized to further her own goals. I can see why Radek is so stressed out—he had all the responsibility, the knowledge to understand how dangerous the city is, but absolutely no power to control anything outside of emergencies. We’ll find that nearly every single lab emergency on the city since our arrival in Pegasus boils down to the fact that Weir didn’t understand the science being done on the city, didn’t care to understand, and collateral damage meant absolutely nothing to her. I can’t put a number on how many people she actually got killed over the last three years.” Meredith ran her hands through her hair and took a deep breath.
“And you’ll need more people?”
“More people, different people,” Meredith said and shrugged. “I have Mr. Morgan setting up interviews starting this afternoon with Information Systems since that is one department that is distressingly…” She trailed off. “Fucked up.”
Woolsey’s eyes widened briefly. “Could you clarify?”
“We’re three years into this mission and the ancient database hasn’t even had a basic defrag,” Meredith said hotly. “There has been no attempt at organization at all.”
“The IOA was told after the first year that the database was a lost cause,” Woolsey said and started to make notes.
“One of the first things Weir did when she arrived in Pegasus was transfer Miko Kusanagi, one of the best computer programmers alive into engineering. Granted, Dr. Kusanagi does have a Ph.D in mechanical engineering, but that was a side interest at best throughout her career. She built the supercomputer that currently runs every single data system at the SGC. Once she was transferred out of Information Systems, her admin access was removed entirely by the current head of that department—a man named Mike Branton.
“Branton set up a series of servers for the expedition to use, wrote a report declaring the ancient database ‘corrupted beyond repair’ and never touched it again. He’s not allowed a single person to investigate the database since and based on a brief review of server logs attempted to download the data several times to an external hard drive. The action failed every single time. Six months ago, he attempted and failed to delete it entirely. After that action, his access was removed from the city’s system by an unknown user.”
“An unknown user?” Woolsey questioned.
“I can’t prove it, yet, but I’m fairly certain the city itself removed his access to the ancient systems because she considers him a threat. I locked Information Systems down last night before I went to bed, disabled everything, but basic email access to the network across the board, and I’ve notified Dr. Kusanagi that I’m going to need her to do a full audit of the server farm and the ancient database. I expect that project to take months. In the mean time, we’ve the equipment coming to build a supercomputer on the city to handle the burden of my research into ZPM technology. I don’t know that I can trust Branton’s system so we’re currently moving to isolate the email server from the intranet.”
“Do you think he’s Trust?” Woolsey questioned. “We finished new security checks on everyone out here before you returned and removed several people. He wasn’t on the long list for additional questions.”
“I think he’s loyal to Elizabeth Weir,” Meredith said. “And that means he’s a problem whether he’s Trust or not. He followed her orders without complaint.”
“They were lovers,” John interjected and made a face. “I have memories of him smelling like her—repeatedly.” He paused when Woolsey looked confused. “Smelling like sex, Mr. Woolsey.”
Richard flushed and shook his head. “Honestly, Colonel, I’d wish such a gift on no one.”
John laughed and focused on Teyla. “What do you think?”
“Dr. Branton has been subdued since Elizabeth was removed from the city. I haven’t noticed any conflicts with his co-workers and he didn’t appear to be nervous during the evaluations that Captain Bouchard and Anne conducted.”
“Agreed,” Anne said. “I took his behavior to be a reflection of personal disappointment. There are many on the city who feel that Dr. Weir betrayed us all when she betrayed the colonel. But there is fear mixed in as well for many of them.”
“Because if she’d do that to someone the IOA and the SGC value a great deal then what might have she done to the rest of us?” Woolsey questioned. “It crossed my mind. I’m sure many in the SGC wonder if she passed information along that will endanger their lives or their families.”
“She was so brazen she didn’t consider the consequences of declaring a Sentinel’s son MIA in an event she arranged,” Meredith said. “It never even crossed her mind to be concerned about it. Maybe that’s arrogance or maybe it’s insanity. I don’t know. Did she think she’d come back to Earth and getting away with such a deception?”
“Oh, I expected she intended to stay on this city—empire building until she felt she had enough power and influence to escape any sort of punishment,” Woolsey said. “Her interrogations were very enlightening, Dr. McKay. She also fully expects to ascend while in custody.”
Meredith laughed and John found her amusement a relief. She slumped down in her chair and practically giggled with such abandon that even Woolsey was smiling at her by the time she sobered up and wiped tears in her face.
“You don’t think she can ascend, obviously,” John said.
“I imagine some ancient could come along and force it,” Meredith said. “If she were interesting enough, but she isn’t. She has a narrow mind that doesn’t allow for that kind of enlightenment, John. No one like her could ever achieve such a state by themselves. She’s too rooted in selfish desires. Do you think someone willing to let go of their material body gives a damn about money?”
“Ah.” John considered that. “She has to be willing to let go of everything.”
“It’s a deeply personal sacrifice,” Meredith agreed. “A communion of sorts with the universe that precious few human beings in the modern age could achieve without help. Daniel Jackson wrote a whole paper on it and I read it because I was sick and real science was making my head hurt.”
Teldy snorted, but schooled her expression when John looked her way.
“I should ask him if he’s updated that since he did his own dance with ascension,” Meredith said thoughtfully. “Not because I care, but because I might get sick again and it was really good at putting me to sleep.” She focused on Teyla. “Do you have any personal experiences with Dr. Branton, Ms. Emmagan?”
“Please, Dr. McKay, call me Teyla.” She cupped her tea in both hands as Meredith nodded. “I have spoken with him in passing. Had you asked me for my opinion of him before you revealed his machinations regarding the ancient database—I would’ve told you that he was little more than…background noise for the expedition.” She flushed. “Which I know sounds inappropriate to say about a person.”
“No, I get it,” Meredith said. “He didn’t contribute to the society dynamic on the city and that must be a grave sin in your culture.”
“He did not appear to earn the resources he used,” Teyla said carefully. “And that is not tolerated of able bodied adults amongst my people. I’ve not expresses such thoughts often as I realize things are very different on Earth and contributions are weighed differently. But even as a scientist, he seemed to be more hinderance than help. Miko found him very frustrating and more so because she does not believe he was qualified to take her place when Dr. Weir moved her into engineering to help Radek with the city.
“I’m sure Miko will not be the only one to be relieved by Dr. Branton’s removal from the city.”
Meredith nodded, but returned her attention to John. “Sex partners or lovers?”
John made a face. “Is there really a difference?” He glanced toward Teldy who was studiously attempting to avoid his gaze.
Meredith laughed. “With my apologies, to everyone in this room, I need to give John a sense-lesson that cannot wait.”
Teldy inclined her head in agreement and Teyla’s mouth quirked briefly before she nodded. John felt like they’d both just agreed to something that he was totally missing.
He focused on Meredith when she took his hand.
“Focus your senses on Teyla—all of them—both in the present and in your memories.”
John glanced only briefly at Teyla, who just smiled at him. “I…Mer…that’s a pretty invasive thing to do to a friend.”
“I know, but knowing this information about Branton is important,” Meredith said. “Intellectually, you know that Teyla and Sergeant Bates have a relationship. What does your senses tell you about that relationship?”
“Mutually desired,” John murmured and his eyes closed as he left himself drift over the memories. “At first, both found the attraction difficult and irritating. Emotional attachment came first for him not long after they started to smell like one another. Some jealousy early on, but it didn’t last long. They were both worried about the birth control failure even before Carson’s experimentation was revealed.”
“Okay, think about Anne and Allison.”
“The only difference that I can discern in my memories of them is the beat of their hearts,” John said roughly. “They are unique on the physical sense front in the present, but the same in memory. Empathically, I know next to nothing about Allison Porter.”
“Then her Sentinel is doing her job,” Meredith said. “Anne provides a near perfect psionic shield to defend Allison’s mind as that is the Sentinel’s purpose in the bond. Now think about Dr. Weir and Dr. Branton. When we first started talking about them—you said they were lovers. Is that statement accurate or a generalization?”
John didn’t like thinking about Elizabeth Weir because it made him furious and sharing such emotions with Meredith was uncomfortable. “Her emotional landscape is bizarrely contrary to her physical state and his is absent.”
“Absent like Mr. Woolsey or absent like Alicia Vega?” Meredith prodded gently.
“Vega,” John said. “I would say, based on behavior, that he wanted her more than she wanted him and she felt no more for him than she did anyone else on the city. So, no, not lovers and not even passionate sex partners from her perspective. She saw him as a chore.”
“Ugh,” Teldy said.
“Right?” John opened his eyes and focused on her. “Sorry to everyone…for ya know…keeping track of you like that with my primitive brain structures.”
“One of the first things I was told about living with a Sentinel is that privacy has no meaning on your world,” Teyla said. “Colonel Sumner did not…sugarcoat the truth of that situation. I valued his honesty and I adjusted quickly to living under the ever vigilant protection he offered, John. I trust you and it brings me great ease to know that my son will be safe here on the city with the pride you are forming.”
“In prides, children are precious,” Meredith said. “On Earth, when a Sentinel commits feral homicide is it nearly always at the defense of a child. Crimes against children as a result, are very rare. After Sentinels and Guides started to emerge en masse, parenthood became a privilege versus a right as a Sentinel will not hesitate to protect a child from even their own parents. Most often, especially from their parents.” She released John’s hand as she stood. “So, Weir was using sex to control Branton. He wanted her—perhaps desperately—and he was conveniently psi-null.”
“Not so conveniently,” Woolsey said as he shifted a stack of folders around and started to thumb through his legal pad. “He was recruited specifically to the SGC and to the Atlantis mission by Dr. Weir. She forced his background check through the Pentagon through the use of favors because he almost didn’t finish the process before the leave-date for the expedition. She tried to do the same thing with her fiancé, a man named Dr. Simon Wallace.
“He came to Atlantis during the second wave.” Woolsey focused on John. “Is he a problem?”
“Not professionally,” John said conversationally. “But I did give him the shovel talk about six months ago when I found out he was having a relationship with someone important to me. He’s a sociologist and works in the field with a great success rate regarding trade agreements. Elizabeth, in retrospect, was surprised by his arrival and irritated when he had no interest in resuming their relationship.”
“That’s because she dumped him with a video message after she left the planet,” Anne said wryly and shrugged when John’s dropped mouth opened. “I know. Dick move.”
Woolsey snorted, but straightened in his chair when they all looked his way in shock.
* * * *
John wrapped one hand around the railing in front of him as a gentle thrum of alarm drifted over his skin. Below him, Miko Kusanagi the strongest gene carrier besides him on the city, turned to meet his gaze. The city rarely got upset and the last time he’d felt her respond in such a way had been the night of the storm that almost seen her destroyed.
“Something’s wrong,” Teldy said as she appeared at his side.
“Yes.” John took a deep breath and looked across the space to Woolsey’s office where Meredith was seated. He watched her turn in her seat and stand up slowly—her confusion drifted between them due to their bond.
“Your heart rate is elevated,” Teldy said.
John’s gaze dropped to the gateroom in time to watch Frost, Lorne, and Bouchard enter the gateroom from the central corridor. They all three focused on him as Meredith came to stand between him and Teldy.
“What’s going on?” Meredith questioned as everyone in the gateroom stopped moving. “Is something coming through the gate?”
“The city is afraid,” John murmured and she took a ragged breath. “She keeps throwing the same four security reports at me—I normally get them once an hour unless I prod her for an update. We’ve never had a proper connection, either due to my gene or because she doesn’t have enough power.”
“Have you felt this before?” Meredith questioned.
“The night of the storm, when the Genii invaded and almost prevented us from launching the shield. She was nearly destroyed. She’s also frustrated because she can’t communicate fully with us.”
“Saying I’ll work on it won’t do us a damn bit of good right now,” Meredith said and her skin started to glow.
John ignored the way people reacted as her glow increased and flowed over his skin.
“Jesus Christ,” Teldy muttered.
“Brace yourself,” Meredith snapped. “John.”
John shuddered against the empathic weight that started to press down on him and he didn’t have time to protest, at all, before a different sort of connection bloomed between him and the city. Meredith had created a psionic tether between the two of them and the city. He hadn’t asked her how she’d create a tether in Pegasus after failing to create one on Earth and now he knew. She dragged him into it with her with startling ease and all he had left to give her was his trust so he relaxed.
The connection deepened and he started to get mental images of himself moving through the city—during the storm, laughing at one of Marshall Sumner’s stupid jokes, working out with Teyla, running with Ronon, arguing with Elizabeth Weir over city security, making love with Kate Heightmeyer, and finally touching on the live wire that was his relationship with Meredith.
The angry voice knocked him free of the near meditative state and Atlantis cried out shrilly in the back of his mind at the loss. She clearly hadn’t finished telling him what she wanted him to know. He released Meredith’s hand as he caught sight of Dr. Michael Branton on the gateroom floor. The older man threw off his expedition jacket to reveal vest full C4.
“Don’t come near me!” He held up his fist. “It’s armed! If I let go—we all die!”
John stopped moving half-way down the stairs and glared briefly at Meredith as she latched onto his wrist. He focused on Branton. “You have my attention, Dr. Branton.”
“Tell your ridiculous pride of freaks to come down here so I can see them!” He pointed across the room. “All of you stand over there!”
John gave a nod as he moved down the stairs and walked to the place Branton had pointed to. Bouchard was the last one to join him as he’d walked through the control center and snagged Miko as he walked.
“I’m wearing enough C4 to destroy this tower!” He glared at John. “Right?”
“Yes, Dr. Branton, it appears you’re wearing upwards of 50 pounds of C4 which would destabilize this tower. It would probably fall into the residential tower and the destruction could be catastrophic.”
“Good. Then you agree, I’m in charge.”
“You’re in charge,” John said. “We all agree. What do you want?”
“You’re going to dial Earth and tell them to send Elizabeth back to the city,” Branton said. “And we’re going to leave in a jumper. I already have one ready to go.”
“The SGC doesn’t have custody of Dr. Weir,” John said. “I’m not even sure where the Pentagon has her imprisoned, but it could take a day or more to get her back to the stargate if there isn’t a ship in orbit.”
“It’s happening now, you bastard!” Branton shouted. “I don’t want to hear any bullshit excuses. That fucker O’Neill has her in the mountain—there’s no way he’s let her leave. She’s too valuable to the program. So don’t fuck with me!”
“Did you want me to dial personally?” John questioned.
“McKay should do it,” Branton decided. “She’s the goddamned genius around here.” He pointed toward the DHD. “Get over there, bitch, and dial.”
Meredith raised her eyebrow at him, but let go of John’s wrist. She walked across the gateroom and gently prodded Chuck Campbell out of his seat. John watched her sit down and look over the DHD.
“Dial!” Branton shouted.
Meredith glared at him. “I’ve never done this before, you dumb bastard. In fact, I’ve never dialed a gate personally, at all.”
“You’re supposedly smart, figure it out.”
A shift in the psionic energy moving around him caught John’s attention and he looked away from Meredith just in time to watch Matt then Ronon climb over the railing and onto the balcony behind Branton. They moved so quickly no one had time to react to their arrival before they were both on Branton. Ronon clamped both hands around the deadman’s switch and Matt caught the doctor up in a sleeper hold that left Branton’s feet dangling.
“Who the fuck…” Branton wheezed and tried to use his free hand to get free.
“Missed one of the freaks, asshole,” Matt said icily in his ear. “Vega!”
Alicia Vega climbed over the railing at that point, hitched off her backpack and trotted over. “Let’s see what he’s got going on.”
“Insanity,” Meredith retorted. “And he’s rude.”
“You owe my sister-in-law an apology, Dr. Branton,” Matt said. “Supposedly? Really? She won a Nobel fucking Prize.”
“The brother?” Branton huffed. “You’re supposed to be sick from gate travel.” He started to wiggle again. “I guess it’s true—bastards always have brothers.”
“Did you just half-ass quote Romancing the Stone?” Alicia Vega demanded and jerked back when Branton tried to kick her.
“Good movie,” Ronon said.
“I liked the sequel better,” Meredith said and shrugged at the looks she got. “Well, I did.”
“I can’t disarm this,” Vega said quietly and took a step back. “He fucked up the construction—the deadman’s switch is wired into trigger improperly and he’s molded it into the package. If I try to pull it out, there’s a real possibility it will respond as if he’s released the trigger.”
John cleared his throat and everyone focused on him. “Chuck, dial the gate. Wraith homeworld.”
“No, wait! Wait! I’ll take it off,” Branton said and started to squirm in earnest.
“That’s not a risk we can take, Dr. Branton,” Woolsey said coolly.
“You can’t just give me to the wraith!” Branton shouted.
“Don’t worry, Dr. Branton, you won’t see a single wraith,” John said evenly as the gate started to dial. “It’s a space gate.”
Branton’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fainted.
“Got him?” John questioned.
“Got him,” Matt assured as the wormhole established. “Mr. Dex, we’ll move to your right—get him into position and we’ll shove his body through first to make sure the bomb is off the city before you release his hand. Sound good?”
“Yeah,” Ronon agreed.
John watched tensely as they walked to the gate together and pushed Mike Branton through the event horizon as planned. The moment Ronon release his hand, the gate shield shimmered into place, then the gate shut off.
He turned to Meredith who was standing near Chuck. “The sequel sucked.”
“You have the worst taste in movies,” she exclaimed. “Everyone knows that Jewel of the Nile is better. It’s more romantic and everything.”
“How is that? Are you serious?”
“Well,” Woolsey said. “He did go rescue her from an evil madman after their fight and since they’d lived together for a while he was very familiar with her flaws and loved her in anyway.” He straightened his sleeve when John gaped at him. “The first movie is more about lust, is it not?”
“See!” Meredith said and put her hands on her hips. “For fuck’s sake, John, you’re really lucky you’re so pretty.” She clapped her hands together. “Okay, everyone please feel free to go else where to have your stress-related freak outs! Civilians, disperse.” She flicked a hand. “Matthew, you need you a medical evaluation. Let’s go.”
“Oh, come on, Meredith. I don’t want to go to…” He trailed off and John watched his brother’s gaze settle on Dr. Chase Harris. “Well, I guess a trip to the infirmary wouldn’t be totally out of the question.” Harris offered him a grin.
“For fuck’s sake,” John muttered.
* * * *
John was sprawled on the balcony that jutted off the living room of their apartment, trailing his fingers along the floor gently, psionic energy sparkling gently in the wake of his every movement.
He focused on her. “How’s Matt?”
“You didn’t keep an ear on?”
“I trusted you could handle it and I…needed a little bit of a break.”
“Because you had your brother kill a man?”
John shook his head. “That part didn’t bother me or him as far as I can tell.”
“No, he’s perfectly okay with it,” Meredith agreed. She sat down next to him and folded her legs into the lotus position. “Biro did some testing. It won’t surprise you to know that Chase Harris is a perfect match for Matt. At one time, I would’ve considered it a bit of luck, but I think you brought a little bit of Chase Harris back to Earth with you and the Sentinel in Matt responded.”
“Like Bouchard and the painting,” John murmured. “The psionic plane was pushing him along the path that would lead him to Miko even then.”
“Even then,” Meredith agreed.
“I’m glad for Matt,” John murmured. “I know the comfort he’ll have in his Guide’s embrace—it’s like nothing I ever expected or knew to want.” He focused on her. “I didn’t know I was lonely until we met.”
“How do you feel?” Meredith questioned.
“About the tether?” John asked. “I knew you would tether yourself in Pegasus. I just didn’t expect it would be to the actual city. I figured there was a planet out there—waiting for us to find that would eventually be Atlantis’ is new home. Because we all know the city can’t stay here.”
“No, certainly not,” Meredith said. “I meant about your tether.”
“I can’t begin to thank you enough,” John murmured and took a deep breath. “It was exactly what I needed to fully claim the city and Pegasus as my territory. You’re a gift beyond any measure, Mer.” He sat up, cupped her face gently, and pressed a soft kiss against her mouth. “Your lovely mind and your sweet, fierce heart are such a comfort to me.”
“I love you,” she admitted and flushed. “But you know that.”
“It’s hard to miss,” John said. “I think I fell in love with you the moment you held your hand out to me in that cave. You saved me, stood with me as I was remade by circumstances beyond anyone’s control, and I can’t imagine my life without you.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll be with you—as I always have been.”
John laid back down and pulled gently until she joined him. “I wonder what it will be like.”
“To love for eternity,” John murmured as he pulled her close. “To burn like the stars.”
“We’ll find out,” Meredith assured.