Title: Dangerous Evolutions
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: The Vanguard
Series Order: 5
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG1
Relationship: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Jack O’Neill/Daniel Jackson
Genre: Time Travel, Romance, First Time, Alternate Universe
Warnings: Canon Level Violence, Temporary Character Death, Discussion-Cheating (not within my pairings)
Word Count: 11,622
Summary: John faces unexpected changes in his career due to the actions of others, and Oma makes a play Jack didn’t see coming.
December 2, 1996
Coming face to face with Teal’c some six months before he expected to get the opportunity left Jack wrong-footed. He barely prevented Sam from shooting the jaffa on sight. He regretted bringing her on the mission and certainly would’ve brought McKay if he could’ve predicted the meeting. Teal’c and the two jaffa with him stood silent and observant in front of the gate.
Jack took a deep breath as Daniel took a step forward. He started to reach out for his lover to prevent whatever he had in mind.
“I’m Dr. Daniel Jackson of Terra,” Daniel said and held out both hands in what Jack hoped was a universal gesture of please don’t shoot me.
Teal’c inclined his head. “I am Teal’c of Chulak. I’ve heard others speak of you, Daniel Jackson.”
“Good things, I hope,” Daniel said and smiled.
One of the jaffa behind Teal’c lowered their headpiece, revealing Bra’tac. “She said you take foolish risks, Daniel Jackson.”
“She?” Daniel questioned and glanced toward Jack.
He shrugged because Oma hadn’t mentioned going to talk with the jaffa, but it wasn’t like she posted a schedule.
“Powerful forces move in this galaxy, beyond our sight,” Teal’c said gravely and focused on Jack. “You are Colonel Jack O’Neill.”
“Yes.” Jack let his hands rest casually on his weapon and tilted his head toward the rest of his team. “Sergeant Raymond Brown and Captain Sam Carter.”
“Master Bra’tac and Master Gerak accompany me,” Teal’c said. “We are all former first primes—leaders of jaffa armies on behalf of the goa’uld. Gerak once served the goa’uld Montu, Bra’tac served Apophis as First Prime before I took on that role.”
“Former.” Jack considered that and was relieved by Oma’s overt shenanigans.
“A special one came to us, spoke of Ra’s defeat and of the man who led that rebellion on Abydos,” Gerak said. “This knowledge spurned in us the desire to be free—a path our kind have taken and failed more than once. Your success, Jack O’Neill, against the strongest and most powerful of the goa’uld, woke a fire in our hearts. We would join with you in your fight against the goa’uld. We seek to be free.”
“And by special one, you mean an ascended one,” Daniel said, and Carter scoffed.
Despite the information culled from Heliopolis, Carter had been steadfast in her disbelief of ancient, powerful races on higher planes of existence or just out and about in the galaxy. Jack honestly couldn’t wait for her to meet Thor.
Oma shimmered into place between the two groups, Jack didn’t know which version it was, and maybe it didn’t matter. If the Oma 2.0 wanted a distraction, then 1.0 was certainly in the right place to provide one.
“I am Oma Desala,” she said and stepped toward Daniel. “I’ve been watching you for a very long time, Daniel Jackson.” She cupped his face with both hands, and Carter lifted her weapon.
Jack held out a hand, and she lowered the gun. Oddly, he appreciated that she was prepared to defend Daniel against an immensely powerful being.
“I…how long?” Daniel questioned.
Oma smiled. “Since you were a boy—I’ve led you all the way here. I’m sorry I could not prevent your parents’ accident. We are not allowed to physically interfere in the lives of the living. But I’ve made sure you were exposed to all the knowledge you needed throughout your life so that your path to the stargate was as smooth as possible.” She released him. “And here you stand—on the cusp of the most important moment in the history of the tau’ri and the jaffa. The alliance born here will see this galaxy set free.”
“You gave him information about aliens and the stargate…the pyramids,” Carter speculated.
“No, I merely guided him to the resources and experiences that would allow his brilliant mind to make the connections necessary to protect Terra—the world my kind chose as their home so many millions of years ago,” she said as she focused on Carter then she frowned and returned her attention to Daniel. “I should’ve spent more time making sure you were surrounded by those who have open minds and kind hearts, Daniel. I’m sorry.”
Definitely 2.0, Jack thought wryly.
“I’m working on her,” Daniel said and shrugged. “Thanks for the introduction.”
Oma offered him a grin, patted his cheek, and shimmered away.
Daniel took a deep breath and focused on Jack. “Colonel?”
“How about we take a break and have some lunch?” Jack questioned.
He got three raised eyebrows from the jaffa, which was so amusing and normal that he laughed.
* * * *
Daniel Jackson had a plan for Teal’c’s arrival at the SGC. Rodney had approved of it and had helped draft the protocols to deal with and protect the rights of off-world allies. Daniel had counted on all of those procedures that had been approved by the newly created head of Homeworld Security without any sort of backup. Rodney was convinced that the fluffy-haired scientist was a die-hard idealist on top of everything else. General West could do a lot in his position to protect Teal’c and other allies that came through the gate, but there were powers in play that would see aliens, even aliens of human origin, as a potential resource.
So, while Daniel had been skipping along doing his thing, Rodney quietly and efficiently ruined lives left, right, and center. There were people all over the planet huddled in corners staring in horror at the remnants of their lives with no single clue what they’d done to deserve it. The first lesson Rodney learned in Pegasus was not to leave an enemy behind you to stab you in the back. He knew Jack had a hit list of his own, but Rodney had a lot of freedom and skills at his advantage that the Air Force colonel didn’t.
His biggest ongoing target was Frank Simmons, for many reasons. The man was a problem from start to finish, equal in rank to O’Neill and oddly very connected in a way that didn’t mesh with his background or military career. It wasn’t hard to find the backdoor deals and the money. It also wasn’t hard to steal the money, which he dropped in an off-shore account under one of his aliases. Having a few nest eggs spread out around the world was to the program’s advantage, and it would make dealing with the Trust or whatever organization that came their way much easier.
But the problem was that he had a plan in place to deal with Simmons before Teal’c ever stepped foot on the planet, which should’ve been months in the making. It was now just a matter of hours. Carter and Jackson had returned through the gate to brief Hammond on the alliance that O’Neill had struck with the Free Jaffa movement. O’Neill and Brown had gone to the world the jaffa was using for their home base. Teal’c would be returning to Earth as an ambassador and liaison.
Carter was subdued and oddly dejected. Rodney figured it was probably his job to get to the bottom of it. Not that he had time to pat her feelings, he should be on the computer ruining Frank Simmons so completely that the man was left entirely catatonic in the aftermath. And yet, he was in the elevator heading for Carter’s private lab, where she was apparently sitting at her desk fiddling with the construction of a naquadah generator. A worthy project, surely, as everyone on the team was tasked with constructing at least one a month.
He worked his way through the maze of halls and offices to her lab. The door was open. “What’s up with you? Six different people suggested I check on you. You’re still in your field uniform.”
Carter looked up. “Do you think…” She took a deep breath. “When you were a little kid—what was your dream?”
“I wanted to play piano professionally,” Rodney said and leaned on the wall next to her desk as her mouth dropped open. “I had a wretched hell beast of a teacher who told me I was technically perfect but that I lacked passion. I was ten. Who has passion at ten? At any rate, I stopped playing, refused to take more lessons, and retreated into science where it was safe.” He paused. “What about you?”
“I wanted…” She took a deep breath. “To save the world—I didn’t know how, of course. But I thought I was given this gift of intelligence for a reason and that I was meant for great things. I’ve worked under that assumption since the first IQ test. I thought when I was brought into Project Giza that I had found that purpose—that singular thing that was meant to be mine.”
Rodney hummed under his breath. “So, you didn’t make room for others in this vision?”
She flushed. “I’ve never needed anyone when it came to my work. I graduated at the top of my class at the academy, breezed through my master’s in engineering, and wrote my dissertation for physics while I was working at the Pentagon. My intelligence has made my career path in the Air Force a cakewalk. I’m a talented pilot, I’ve served in combat in that role, and no one questioned it. My big brain trumped my gender.” Sam huffed. “Daniel Jackson is the most frustrating person I’ve ever met in my life.”
Sam shot him a look. “I understand you. Your work makes sense to me. Even your intuitive leaps are easy for me to follow and see.” She slouched back in her seat and stopped pretending to work on the generator. “I’ve never been in a command where I wasn’t the go-to scientific asset.”
“You shot yourself in the foot on the CSO role, you know,” Rodney pointed out.
“Oh, I know,” she admitted roughly. “Did you hear about the ascended woman? The ancient that’s been guiding Daniel Jackson his whole life?”
“Hammond’s office hasn’t released the report, and Jackson is setting up quarters for our new jaffa liaison, so we haven’t touched base,” Rodney admitted. “But we knew there were ancients running around on a higher plane of existence. It was pretty clear in the data we got from Heliopolis at the very start. Plus, Catherine and Ernest have been submitting reports on the data they’re working on for the program. We’ve got several leads on finding the nox and the asgard. Ernest thinks we might find the nox relatively easily.”
“I’m an atheist.”
“So am I,” Rodney said mildly. “And thank fuck for that; I don’t look forward to meeting the alien who was pretending to be the devil in our mythology.”
Sam’s eyes went wide, and she shuddered. “Oh. Ugh. I hadn’t even thought about that.”
“Right?” Rodney laughed. “I don’t consider the ascended a form of god. They’re just a humanoid evolution, and it’s probably an evolution that we could also accomplish.”
She made a face. “I’ll take a pass on ritual suicide, thanks.” Sam rubbed her face with both hands. “What did she see in him that she didn’t see in you? In me? In Zelenka? In Miko? What is it about Daniel Jackson that is so damned special, McKay?”
Rodney considered that and found he had no real answer. “I don’t think either of us are in a position to understand the mental workings of a being so enlightened that she shed her mortal body and became part of the universe.”
Carter blinked. “I…is that how you view ascension?”
“What else could it be?” Rodney questioned. “The ancients freed their soul or life energy from their body, and they exist in an immortal fashion on a higher plane of existence. I can’t and won’t consider them gods, but they’re certainly working on a level beyond my comprehension. Maybe she sees something of her kind in him, or maybe he is a descendant of their kind. There could be some quirk in his physiology that has left him open to her influence. We haven’t figured out where to look for those genetics, but we do know the ancients bred with humans on Earth. Moreover, we aren’t in a position to question her guidance of Daniel Jackson.”
“He didn’t appear to be disturbed by her at all,” Carter said. “She put her hands on him, and the colonel allowed it. I was surprised as he’s normally very protective of Jackson.”
“O’Neill had to know he had no method of actually fighting an ascended being,” Rodney pointed out. “The man doesn’t strike me as the sort to start a fight he can’t win.”
“No, he’s very pragmatic in the field…and doesn’t have any sort of ego issues I’ve come to expect of male officers of his rank,” Carter said. “Which was startling to discover. I’ve spent my whole career fighting to be respected because I don’t have a dick.”
“Well, you could buy one,” Rodney pointed out and smirked when she gaped at him. “You’ve gotta work on that face of yours. You can’t keep shit to yourself. I don’t know how you’ve accomplished the rank you have with it.”
She flushed. “As I said, I’ve worked hard for my career, but my degrees and intelligence proceed me into most rooms. Frankly, in some assignments, I only had to show up to be the most accomplished person in the room. I’ve never had to work to impress someone until I met Colonel O’Neill.”
“And it didn’t help that he’s clearly enamored with Daniel Jackson and his work,” Rodney pointed out.
“I heard he asked his wife for a divorce within weeks of meeting Jackson,” Carter confided.
“Oh, well, that’s not true at all,” Rodney said. “The divorce was in process before Jackson was recruited. Still, I can see the attraction.”
She made a face. “Seriously? How? I mean, Jackson is handsome and fit, but he’s a soft scientist, McKay.”
Rodney laughed. “Yeah, he’s soft. Across the board, right? It’s clear O’Neill’s had a hard path in his career—certainly some kind of special forces work.” She nodded. “And Jackson is brilliant, a bright star. He’s eager to learn, keen for adventure, and finds genuine goddamned delight in exploring the galaxy. That would be very attractive to some people. I mean—I think he’s annoying as fuck when he’s excited and speaking languages I can’t understand.”
“I’ve dug myself a pretty deep hole here,” Carter murmured. “I don’t know how to get out of it.” She cleared her throat. “Dinner?”
“Oh.” Rodney blew out a breath. “Hmmm, I’m not…I have a boyfriend.” Which was very weird to say, and he kind of felt immature for it. Still, nothing else really fit.
“You’re gay?” She raised an eyebrow. “I heard you were dating a woman at Area 51.”
“I’m bisexual,” Rodney said and shrugged. “But I reconnected with someone I met when I was young—the one that got away, so to speak, and I’m not interested in fucking that up for anything.”
“That’s charming,” Carter admitted. “Is he local?”
“Not yet, but we met again because of a project he’s working on that is adjacent to the SGC. I think he’ll be brought here at some point next year. Either way, I’m not interested in messing up, but I’m not opposed to dinner. I just didn’t want to…make you think something else was on offer since you asked me out once before.”
“I look forward to seeing you moon after him then,” Carter said and started to say more, but her lab door swung open.
“I’m…at a complete loss as to what to do,” Jackson admitted as he walked into the room. “And you never stay in your own office, McKay.”
“I have stuff to do all over this mountain, Daniel,” Rodney said tartly. “What do you need?”
“This jaffa guy that Jack is bringing home,” Daniel began and waved his hands. “His man-crush is outrageous, by the way. Regardless, this guy is like 6’3, and the only room we have in a secure area has a full-size bed in it. He’s gonna hang off it in every direction. Which has to be bad diplomacy. That’s bad diplomacy, right, McKay?”
“He’d need queen size based on length since a king is no longer than a full,” Carter interjected, and they both focused on her. “My last boyfriend was over six feet. I had a king-sized bed and switched to a California king, which is as long as a queen and as wide as a king. We’d never get a California king into a room here, so…a queen. And your best bet for scoring one of those is the quartermaster.”
Daniel paused, stared at her for a moment, slowly nodded, and trotted right back out of the office. “Thanks, Carter!”
“He’s like a puppy,” Sam muttered. “A fluffy, bright-eyed puppy. With his sweet face and flimsy so-called science.” She looked at Rodney. “I’m a cat person.”
“Shut up, McKay!” She huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “And take me to dinner. I won’t try to get in your pants.”
“It’s just I’m a cat person, too.”
“I’ve met your cat,” Carter said. “Miko had Lovelace in her lab while you were gone.” She paused. “Sorry about that whole thing—I was just….”
“Flailing around like a jealous idiot?” Rodney supplied and raised an eyebrow when she huffed. “Look, I don’t blow sunshine up anyone’s ass. You aren’t going to be an exception, and you’ve got a lot of ground to recover around here. Let’s go find Miko and Radek—we’ll get steaks and wine and cheesecake.”
“That sounds like a perfect plan.” She paused as she stood. “Should we ask Jackson?”
“Sure, but he’s probably going to wait on O’Neill to come back. ‘Cause his own man-crush is equally outrageous.”
* * * *
December 10, 1996
John drained his water bottle and started to stretch as he cooled down from his run. He checked his watch as he was due for a study group at the library at 6pm. He had an hour and a half before that. A car pulled up in his driveway—dark, government issue—and a man in uniform got out. He watched the man approach, taking note of the rank.
“I live in a gated community, Colonel.”
“I took note of it, Captain,” the man said evenly. He stepped up onto the porch as John continued to stretch. “Colonel Mark Kennedy.”
John considered that. The name was vaguely familiar, but he wasn’t sure from where. He wasn’t on the list of problems that O’Neill had given him or the list of targets that McKay had provided, either.
“How can I help you, Colonel?” John questioned. “Has my assignment been changed?”
“I tried to change it,” the man said and leaned on John’s porch railing. “And got a face full of General William West for my trouble. I work with NID.”
“What does the NID want with me?” John questioned.
“You’re currently pursuing an educational path that is attractive to the NID, and you’re in an intimate relationship with a highly coveted government asset that has repeatedly refused to work with us.”
John took a deep breath. “With all due respect, Colonel, I’m going to ask you to leave my private party. I have no interest in working with or for the NID.”
“Your jacket tells us you’re a patriot, Captain. Your loyalty to your country and genuine heroics in the field make you an ideal asset for the NID. We’re defending the country from every direction. I don’t think there is a higher calling.”
John leaned into a deep stretch. “I get it, and it’s not personal, but there is nothing the NID could offer me that will take me off the path that General West has in mind for me.” He stood then and focused on Kennedy. “And McKay’s off-limits to you and yours.”
“Are you sure about that, Captain?” Kennedy questioned.
“I will leave nothing but bone and ash of you and anyone else who comes near Rodney McKay,” John said evenly, and Kennedy paled. “And you can take that as the goddamned gospel, Colonel.” He propped his foot up on the railing and started a new stretch.
“Threatening a superior officer could ruin your life.”
“I’m not worried,” John said easily and smiled, which seemed to startle Kennedy. “At this point, you’re probably starting to wonder who has more power in this situation—your boss or General West. I think you’ll probably find out before you can return to Washington.”
“Your father has been making waves in the DOD lately. He clearly wants government work. I could make those contracts go away.”
“Sure, try it,” John said in agreement. “I wouldn’t make an enemy out of my father, but if you want to grab that tiger by the tail…you go right ahead.”
Kennedy glared at him and left without another word. John pulled out his keys and unlocked his front door as the man’s car left his driveway. He grabbed his cellphone from the bag he’d already packed for class, worked through the security protocols, and called McKay. It was answered in just a few moments.
“Give me a minute,” Rodney said, and John remained silent as he listened to the other man’s breathing. “Unscheduled call equals a problem.”
“Colonel Mark Kennedy, Air Force, and NID, just showed up on my porch and tried a hard sell recruitment complete with threats,” John said shortly.
“West and the Secretary of the Air Force are working to remove Air Force personnel from the NID as we speak,” Rodney said. “It became a serious problem before. I wondered where Kennedy was because we expected him to show up to question Teal’c. In fact, as far as we know, the NID hasn’t even made a token effort to figure out what the SGC is, and the first time around—they were all up in it from the very start. West has done a lot to keep the program under the radar.”
“Kennedy had expectations,” John said roughly. “I didn’t meet them, and he apparently tried to go around West. He believes he’ll get away with it.”
“If he’s done anything shady for the NID, he’s going to end up in prison,” Rodney retorted. “The whole organization is undergoing a classified audit during the separation from the Air Force. The assets that are clear of corruption will be folded into either Homeworld Security. Kennedy just lost that opportunity—which could’ve honestly made his career. The thing is, he isn’t, or at least he wasn’t a problem before.”
“How did that happen? Homeworld Security didn’t exist for years the first time around.”
“O’Neill recommended it to Hammond, who passed along that suggestion to the POTUS. It came together within in days. West was tapped to run it—probably due to his previous work with Project Giza and Hammond’s influence. At any rate, Kennedy’s career is probably ruined.”
John sighed. “Maybe he can be reformed.”
“West isn’t going to give that fucker the time of day if he came to Ohio of his own volition,” Rodney said shortly. “If he was under orders, then he might get a pass, but he’ll probably get transferred to a dead-end job depending on how useful he looks. Take a moment to log in and file a report with as much detail as you can remember to submit to West. I doubt he was specifically ordered to threaten you.”
“Yeah,” John said and looked around his house. “I’ll need to check for surveillance devices. He managed to bypass the gatehouse without my permission, which means they could’ve been in my house, and I wouldn’t know it. He mentioned you, specifically, and implied that I could be used to recruit you to the NID, and he threatened to make trouble for my dad.”
“They’ve tried a few times over the years, especially after I stopped working for the CIA, but the NID has put me off from the very start. I’ll do a deep dive. I’ve been focused on Frank Simmons since Teal’c’s arrival since we know he is a direct threat to the man’s life.”
John glanced around his house, frowned, and took a deep breath. He couldn’t say what he wanted to say because he wasn’t sure if his house was secure, and that really pissed him off. “Can you…” He huffed and rubbed his face.
“I’ll hack the NID and see if they have an operation in place to watch you or anyone in your family. Anyone involved in the operation will be dealt with. West isn’t going to tolerate the NID’s interference in the program. He hasn’t been read in on the full situation, but he’s already learned enough to know that the SGC is going to be the only real defense this planet has against a wholesale alien invasion. Teal’c has confirmed that Apophis and Baal both have Earth on their radar for invasion. Apophis has been considering it for five years, so even before the Abydos mission it was a looming threat.”
John’s stomach tightened at the thought of what had happened the first time around and the fact that he’d been utterly ignorant of it. “Well, we need to do something about asshole sooner rather than later.” He paused. “Do I need to worry about my computer being compromised?”
“No—it won’t even turn on if they’ve messed with it. I programmed it to wipe itself if it was infiltrated physically or digitally. I’m going to have a secure laptop delivered to your house in three days.”
“How are things going over there?” John asked and sat down on the stairs.
“Fine, better. Carter got an ancient-shaped intervention that gave her an explanation she can rationalize regarding Daniel’s work product. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think he’ll ever trust her, but things are no longer hostile. O’Neill still isn’t giving her an inch, and it’s clear she’ll never have his personal confidence. That’s taken the wind out of her sails in a lot of ways. I think she’ll retreat from fieldwork sooner rather than later outside of special circumstances. As a result, I’m having to actively search for scientific field assets. Carter is in a class of her own, or at least she was the first time around. It’s a frustrating mess, but I’m not sure what could’ve been done differently.”
“Did you ever find out why they are arguing when they returned from the first mission?” John questioned.
“Oh, that.” Rodney huffed, and John grinned. “Daniel was pissed that O’Neill left the jaffa weapons with the people and taught them how to use them. They were convinced to bury their gate, but Jack said they couldn’t depend on a buried gate to protect them since someone could come in a ship. Which was accurate, but I think Daniel just wanted to preserve as much of the Abydonian culture as he could and leave them safe after everything was said and done. Also, apparently, Jack got super jealous over the once-wife and was kind of rude to her, which Daniel took exception to that since he obviously still cares about the woman even if a relationship would be impossible for many reasons.”
John understood the jealousy. “I get it.”
“Which part?” Rodney asked.
Since the man’s tone was curious more than irritated, John decided to be entirely honest instead of providing a half-assed but safe answer. “It’s hard to love someone so much that you’d give up everything for them. It’s harder to wonder if that love is truly returned in the same fashion. It doesn’t help that they aren’t really on the same level, if you know what I mean.”
“You mean that Jack has memories that Daniel doesn’t—about their relationship.”
“Are you worried that you and I aren’t in the same place emotionally?”
“If you hadn’t torn my heart out in an email, maybe I would,” John said roughly. “And if they’d ever had that kind of moment, well….”
“It stands to reason that only Jack remembers it,” Rodney supplied. “Why are we discussing their love life?”
“Hell, if I know,” John admitted. “I guess I just needed to talk about something ordinary after having that jackass trying to intimidate me on my own front porch. It was hard to take him seriously, though.”
“Well, considering what you’ve had in your face over the years…a desk jockey with very little combat experience wasn’t ever going to be much of a threat.” Rodney sighed. “I don’t like you getting this kind of attention, and it’s my fault for visiting.”
“It’s her fault for drawing attention to your travel,” John pointed out. “And I can handle myself. They have no idea what they’d be fucking with.”
“Can I ask a question? It…could bring up some bad memories.”
“Shoot,” John said and braced himself for something horrible because McKay didn’t normally warn before he asked questions.
“Your Oma-induced physical changes—do they remind you of how you were after the Iratus incident?”
John made a face as he considered it, flexed his free hand, and stared at his unmarred skin. After the retrovirus bug out, he’d had a few scars from the scale detachment and from where he’d clawed himself. “No, it’s different. Less wild. What do you plan to do about him?”
“You mean Carson?” Rodney questioned.
“He’s one ethical problem after another. There are plenty of people who could the work he did without the reckless assholery,” Rodney said. “Carson is in Great Britain currently working for a cancer research think tank. He’s best left there. I’ve already put him on a list that Hammond has of people who are never to get anywhere near the program. He was originally brought into the project through the IOA.” He hummed under his breath. “The real cool part of everything so far is that Teal’c has brought al’kesh here. O’Neill used it on a private, undocumented mission to steal the Egyptian DHD from the Russians. He’s pretty pleased with himself. They also lifted the gate and broken DHD from Antarctica. Both are being stored in the deepest levels of the mountain under an immense amount of security. Not that either could be removed without notice, but still.”
“That’s great,” John murmured. “The longer we can keep all of that under wraps, the better. What about the big future problem?”
“Yeah,” John said and frowned. He checked his watch; he was going to miss his study group because he had to search his fucking house for listening devices.
“She’s currently working for the UN in the diplomatic corps. I’ve put a few things in place to keep her completely out of the circles she needs to be in to get near the SGC. I’ve already done a deep background check, and right now her biggest offense is taking money from defense contractors in return for political favors ranging from preferential treatment in the contract process to backdoor deals that may lead to the black market arms. I turned that stuff over to the DOJ, so we’ll see how it goes. Even now, she’s got a lot of pull that I can’t get a handle on, but I’ll figure it out and take care of her. She certainly won’t get anywhere near you again.”
“Well, I wasn’t the one that….”
“She might have gotten me killed, but she destroyed you by degrees,” Rodney interjected. “Maybe I got off easy in comparison.”
“It was your worst nightmare,” John hissed and winced when Rodney took a deep breath.
“I don’t remember it, John.”
John pinched the bridge of his nose and blinked back unexpected tears. He didn’t think he was so emotional the first time around at twenty-six. With a huff, he stood and went, and search of the scanner Rodney had left him to check for bugs. He flipped it on and let it survey the room. McKay had built the device inside the casing of a scientific calculator; it was kind of amusing and felt sort of like some kind of James Bond thing.
“I remember it,” he finally said. “Every single wretched minute of it.”
“Which is why I’m going to eventually ruin her life,” Rodney muttered. “Find anything?”
“Not yet,” John said. The scanner had a ten-foot range, so he moved around the living room slowly, watching the small screen for a signal. “Maybe it was just a regular sort of recruitment thing.”
“They probably didn’t expect a rejection considering your current education objectives. Higher-ups in the NID might even think you chose that degree to get their attention when combined with your father’s moves. Check the rest of the house. I have to go back to the meeting I was in.” He paused. “You have some time off for Christmas, right?”
“I have my last exam on the sixteenth, and I’ll be flying home. I plan to fly back on January second.” John moved into the kitchen. “Can you come home?” He paused. “Well, to my dad’s house.”
“You know it’s okay to call it your home,” Rodney pointed out. “I know it wasn’t for a long time, but things are different now, right?”
“Yeah, I’m trying,” John said roughly.
“I can fly in on the twenty-second and stay until the first,” Rodney said. “The mission schedule is entirely clear for that period of time, and we’re going down to a minimum crew. A shield has been installed on the stargate.”
“Okay, well, send me the details, and I’ll pick you up at the airport. There’s no point in hiding at this point,” John said shortly. “Stay safe.” He paused. “Maybe stay in the mountain while things shake out in Washington.”
“I can take care of myself, you know.”
“I love you,” John murmured. “I just need you to be safe, Rodney.”
“You know—there is a limited number of times I’m going to allow myself to be emotionally blackmailed into doing what you want,” Rodney declared huffily.
“I guess I can always move onto sexual manipulation when being the love of my life is no longer enough for you to take care,” John said wryly and laughed when Rodney’s breath hitched.
“I remember that whole period of our lives when you were emotionally unavailable fondly,” Rodney muttered.
“You dirty liar,” John said in amusement.
* * * *
December 12, 1996
Rodney dropped into a chair in front of George Hammond’s desk. O’Neill was already seated, and Daniel meandered in behind him and shut the door.
“The problem is that Captain Sheppard is an isolated target,” Hammond said as soon as Daniel sat down. “He’s living in a private residency, and because he’s attending AFIT, he’s not subject to any sort of schedule that we can actively monitor. His instructors might not even notice if he doesn’t show up for class.”
“Eh.” Rodney shifted in his seat when Hammond focused on him. “He’s made a point of class participation, and he’s cultivated a peer group to study and work with while on campus. John excels at that sort of thing—infiltrating a group and making connections as needed to accomplish his goals. The NID wouldn’t be the only organization looking his way if that was well-known.”
“Agreed,” O’Neill said. “Sheppard was something of a dark horse in the program the first time around. No one knew what to expect from him, and it worked to his advantage time and time again. He was very successful off-world and has great instincts. But I also agree that he’s in a vulnerable position, but I don’t know how to fix it. Taking him out of AFIT now would actually be detrimental to his career.”
“Unless we move him to another facility,” Hammond said. “How do you think he’d do if he were transferred into the Marine Corps?”’
Rodney barely kept his mouth from falling open completely. “I…what?” He glanced toward O’Neill, who looked thoughtful.
“He’d have no issues meeting the physical requirements. Sheppard has the combat experience, education, and commendations would certainly appeal to the corps,” O’Neill said. “He would adjust quickly, and experience beyond his age will give him the discipline required. You want to send him to Monterey.”
“I think we need to do our best to hide John Sheppard while preparing him for the career path that serves the program. Having him disappear into the Marine Corps would be a move no one would expect. The NID has strictly used officers from the Air Force for their operations, and none of the ones assigned to that duty station would have the reach required to figure out where Sheppard disappeared to if we changed his branch of service,” Hammond said. “I’ve had a talk with William West, and he spoke with the POTUS. It can happen as soon as tomorrow.”
“Does John get any sort of say in this?” Rodney questioned roughly. “Because he’s been in the Air Force since he was eighteen years old, and for him, that equals seventeen years of service. He’s sacrificed a lot for the program and will certainly lose more to it before everything is said and done. Having his career rearranged out from underneath him would be disrespectful.”
“Sheppard will do what is required for the mission,” O’Neill said pointedly, and McKay glared at him. “Don’t give me that look.”
“Would he lose rank?” Rodney questioned. “Or have to go to boot camp?”
“He’ll keep his rank, but General Paul, the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, might ask him to go to their version of OTS,” Hammond explained. “Paul hasn’t been read in regarding the stargate yet, but he’ll smooth the way for Sheppard because this is going to come directly from the POTUS.” He shifted a folder around in front of him. “Sheppard’s at the top of his class at AFIT, scored well on the GRE, will have the letters of recommendation required so the transfer academically wouldn’t be much of an issue beyond the unusual circumstances. The degree path wouldn’t change as the Naval Postgraduate School offers a doctorate of philosophy in security studies—he’d be able to further specialize in international security, which would be a better degree overall than one AFIT is offering.”
“He’s already started working on his dissertation,” Rodney said. “The premise is done, but no one has seen it since he couldn’t submit it until after he finished his course work. His advisor, however, was excited by the topic and the work he’d discussed with them. But he’s waiting on a more in-depth discussion before he writes his proposal.”
“Relax, McKay, we aren’t trying to ruin the man’s career,” O’Neill said. “A lot is riding on John Sheppard and his ability to lead an expedition to Pegasus when the day comes.”
Rodney made a face at him.
“We’ll ask him,” Hammond finally said, and Rodney relaxed. “Are you always like this?”
“Yes,” Daniel interjected. “He’s always exactly like this.”
“You can expect to get cursed completely out a later date, Daniel,” Rodney muttered and crossed his arms when Hammond laughed. “I think I still resent you all for sending me to Siberia.”
“We’ll get you some therapy,” Daniel said. “And sorry. I mean, sort of.” He shrugged when Rodney huffed. “I always wondered why you didn’t just say no and fuck off back to Canada.”
Rodney made a face and shrugged. “Well, I did get paid ten million dollars to spend six months in Siberia. So…eh. I might go again if the opportunity were to present itself. I like to make money.”
“Ten million dollars,” Jack repeated. “Are you serious?”
“They offered me three times that to stay for a whole year,” Rodney said and stood. “But there comes a point, in that kind of environment, where you start to worry about your dick freezing off.” He waved a hand when Jack shuddered. “I’m gonna go ruin lives and do background checks on everyone John has contact with at AFIT.”
“That’s a lot of people,” Daniel warned.
“I’ve already made a program—I just have to drop in the names,” Rodney said and left, pulling out his cellphone as he walked. He checked the time and realized that John would be in class. He’d have to text.
MRM: As a head’s up, Hammond is about to arrange your transfer into the Marine Corps and into the Naval Postgraduate School to hide you from the NID. He said he was going to ASK but I feel like you’re not going to get any choice at all.
He entered the elevator, irritated with Sam Carter all over again. Rodney knew he’d have to set it aside because that was what would serve the mission, but it was galling that her behavior had put a target on John’s back, and he wasn’t there to have his six. His phone vibrated gently as he entered his office.
JS: That kind of transfer across branches is rare and hard to come by as an officer, especially during a PhD tour.
MRM: It’s going to come straight from POTUS.
JS: I really hope that part is a fucking secret. I don’t need that kind of influence following me.
MRM: So, you aren’t opposed? Seriously?
JS: My grandfather was a Marine. I wanted to follow in his footsteps but my dad didn’t want me in the Corps. I chose the Air Force as a compromise because I could fly. I won’t have a problem with the PFT or the CFT. I can handle going through OTS again if required. Do you know if boot camp is going to be on the table?
MRM: Hammond said no to the boot camp. PFT/CFT??
JS: Physical Fitness Test—it’s a semi-annual evaluation. I had to oversee them as part of my command on the mission. The other is a Combat Fitness Test which I won’t have a problem with either. I’ll be fine McKay.
Rodney frowned and made a note to look up both of those tests. He didn’t know if the Corps did live-fire exercises in testing their personnel. John’s circumstances felt precarious. He sat down at his desk, opened up the laptop, and went to work. There was really only one way he could have John’s back at a distance.
“Are you doing something criminal with permission?”
He looked up and found Miko sticking her head in his office. “If I am?”
“I wish to participate with my whole entire heart,” she said sincerely.
He motioned her forward, and she slid into the office with a laptop already tucked under her arm and a large thermos in her other hand. She put the thermos down on the desk.
“I brought coffee.”
“This is why you are my favorite,” Rodney told her and reached for the thermos.
* * * *
December 17, 1996
General Franklin Paul had served with both John’s maternal grandfather and his own father. John hadn’t seen the older man in more than a decade when the general had shown up for his mother’s funeral. John didn’t like to think about his mom’s death and the damage it had done to their family.
“You remind me of your mother,” General Paul said and sat back in his chair as John stood in front of his desk. “Take a seat, John.” He picked up an ink pen and tapped it gently on the desk. “You’ve got a lot of powerful people maneuvering around you, leveraging the kind of authority that is startling and mildly horrifying.”
“Yes, sir,” John said. “I apologize if you’ve had undue pressure put on you politically. I didn’t know this was going to go down until after you’d already been contacted. There are a lot of situations in play that I can’t speak to, but if I’d known this was the direction things were heading, I would’ve at least requested they not shove presidential authority down your throat. Since I don’t make a habit of leveraging my personal relationships with anyone to get ahead, I didn’t tell my current CO that you are my mother’s godfather.”
“I had reason to call your father recently,” Franklin said. “He’s been pushing into government contracts and manipulating policy regarding DADT. So, I was curious as to his plans, and now you’re sitting here in front of me being headhunted by the most dangerous and corrupt agency in the US government.” His pen tapped gently on the desk. “Patrick has no idea of your real circumstances.”
“He knows I’ve been moving toward a special operations posting,” John said neutrally. “And he knows that I’m pursuing my Ph.D.”
“But he doesn’t know that whatever you’re up to is so dangerous that I’ve been asked to hide you from an organization that is currently falling apart in a way that is going to ruin careers and lives. I’ve never liked the NID’s mandate or the reach the agency has into military operations. Their interest in you is easy to suss out—I’m honestly surprised they haven’t tried before considering your father’s company and the money.” He paused. “Though until recently, the rumor was that you and your father were essentially estranged.”
“We had a rough couple of years,” John admitted. “He didn’t know how to detach, and I didn’t know how to make him understand that he was smothering me. We’re working through those issues as much as we can.”
“The circumstances surrounding your transfer into the Marine Corps have been classified at the highest level in the DOD. You’ve been officially assigned to Cheyenne Mountain with a furlough to continue your prereqs at NPS. Your classwork at AFIT is excellent, so thank you for that. If you were giving less than 100%, it would’ve made things difficult to explain. You’ll have to take the Combat Fitness Test, but I’m prepared to accept the officer training you’ve already received due to time constraints. I expect you to get up to speed on your duties and responsibilities as an officer in the Marine Corps. You won’t lose rank or time in rank. It is the preference of the POTUS that you refrain from discussing your service in the Air Force until told otherwise. Your records are classified and will remain so indefinitely.”
John nodded. “Should I apologize that the Corps is being used like witness protection?”
General Paul shook his head. “No, not at all. I’d have offered you this if I’d known about your situation. Your mama would be worried sick about you, John.”
John flushed and looked down at his hands. “I try to take care with myself, sir.”
“I know you do,” the older man said. “Still, I know she never wanted you to serve at all. She saw what it did to her father and what it did to your own. Amelia wanted to keep her boys close and safe. I heard Matthew is in California going to school.”
“He’s pursuing engineering,” John said. “And he’s really happy with his classes so far.”
“Well, Patrick is going to be deeply unhappy with this situation,” Paul said. “I don’t recommend you keep the transfer a secret from him. You’ll want to see the base quartermaster before you leave this afternoon. Are you prepared to take the CFT now?”
“Yes, sir,” John said. “I don’t anticipate any problems with passing it. I would like to review all the written material for Officer Candidate School for the Corps just to be sure I have all of my bases covered.”
“I don’t think you’ll have issues with the CFT either but take some time to review the requirements and make sure you can excel during the test. It will be to your benefit,” Paul said. “You can take it in California, and good luck with your father. I suspect he’s going to be a real problem for you.”
“It’s difficult because I can’t tell him much if anything regarding the circumstances,” John said. “I’m not authorized to tell him even what you know.”
“He’s not going to be graceful about that,” Paul said wryly.
* * * *
The last thing the quartermaster had given him was a new set of dog tags. The female Marine had handled the entire appointment efficiently—verifying sizes and answering his questions without any sort of overt judgment. Now he was standing with a new set of dog tags. He rubbed his thumb over the metal, already adorned with noise guards.
“Sir? Is the information wrong?”
“No, Sergeant Vann,” John said and cleared his throat. “I just….” He flushed and shook his head and put the tags in the pocket of the black BDUs he was wearing. “It’s nothing. Change can be hard, that’s all.”
“The ability to adapt is what sets us apart, sir.”
He focused on her and found her dark eyes sparkling with amusement. “Marines or humans?”
“Marines. Regular humans only adapt when absolutely required.”
John laughed. “Thank you for your help today.” He knew she knew next to nothing about his circumstances or his transfer. In fact, most of the Marines he’d work with going forward would never know about his prior service in the Air Force unless he told them, and that wasn’t on the table currently.
“You must have been in a difficult situation…to have lost your tags.” Her mouth was firm as he looked over her face.
“Difficult is merely a matter of perspective,” John said easily as he picked up the duffle and the suit bag. “Some people find genuine contentment in the kind of chaos that would drive most insane.”
“It’s just…I prepared your medals.”
“Ah,” John said and cleared his throat as he considered the first time he got held hostage by an enemy. It sort of paled in comparison to what the Genii did to him, and he honestly barely remembered it. “The POW thing was two years ago, Sergeant. I’m not going to have a meltdown in the middle of your very orderly office. I don’t even have nightmares about that week anymore.”
Her shoulders relaxed. “A week isn’t….” She frowned and exhaled noisily. “I started to say bad. But I know even an hour in enemy hands can be the end of you. Why did I even think that?”
“Minimizing trauma in ourselves and others is part of that whole adaption thing, I’m afraid. Thank you for making this such a painless process.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
* * * *
The drive from Henderson Hall didn’t give him a lot of room to consider how to have the conversation he was going to have with his father. Patrick Sheppard didn’t respond well to non-answers and thrived on information. He couldn’t tell him much in the scheme of things. He felt like an old man as he sat down across from his dad at the kitchen table.
“You look like you have something to tell me I don’t want to hear,” Patrick said.
“Yeah.” John nodded. “What do you know about the NID?”
He watched his father hesitate, and John’s stomach tightened with worry.
“I crossed paths with a few of their assets shortly before I retired my commission,” Patrick said and grimaced. “The mandate of the agency has always been ambiguous to me. I’d rather you not be involved with them. Why?”
“They tried to recruit me while I was in Ohio—I’ve reached trifecta status, apparently. They see a use for me on my own, they want in with you, and they specifically want Rodney. They’ve been trying to recruit him for years. Their attention came my direction at a very delicate time due to my future assignment. The scrutiny was determined to be dangerous considering the level of outright corruption suspected in the organization.” John paused when his father’s eyes went wide. “They tried to blackmail me, right out of the gate.”
“And the results?”
“I’ve been transferred into the Marine Corps, and I’ll be heading to California in January. I didn’t have a lot of choices, really, because the security of the program I’m a part of meant that I’ve basically had to take one for the team.”
“Not exactly a sacrifice on your part,” Patrick pointed out sourly. “You always wanted it. I take it you met with Franklin? How is he?”
“Concerned,” John admitted. “Not about me, exactly. He doesn’t think I’ll have any issues functioning in the Corps. But he’s worried about the NID’s interest in me and has classified everything about my transfer. At this point, precious few people can access my records in either branch of service.”
“Is this an overreaction?” Patrick questioned. “The NID is problematic….”
“They aren’t above murder to get what they want,” John said, and he watched his father’s eyes darken with fury. “They’ve infiltrated several areas of government and the Air Force. They have resources that defy their official budget, and it’s suspected they might have some private funding.”
“That sounds like the makings of sedition,” his father snapped and stood from the table. He walked over to the fridge, pulled out two beers, and opened them.
John accepted the beer.
“I assume there’s more that you can’t say.”
“And protecting this program you want to join is worth the cost? Have you lost rank?”
“No,” John said. “I expected to lose time at least in rank but didn’t. I haven’t had to make any changes in my education goals; I won’t have to go to boot camp or officer school. The biggest hurdle is a combat fitness test.”
“That won’t be a problem for you based on what I’ve seen.” He took a long drink from his beer. “I don’t like this.”
“I know you don’t.”
“I’m trying to figure out what you and McKay could be involved in that would be so important. I’ve been hearing rumors about an unknown operator moving around in the background. I was warned to clean my own house, so to speak, and to make sure my books were accurate. Three different tech companies are in the midst of investigations from the IRS and the SEC. Senators on both sides of the aisle have abruptly resigned. Then there’s the issue with InterOps.”
InterOps was a government contractor entirely staffed by former military. He’d worked with them later in his career when he’d been in Afghanistan for the second time. Nothing stood out about them in his memory. Like most government contractors, their personnel had been a mixture of good and bad. Theft and corruption was hit and mess with organizations that got paid to work in war zones.
“What about them?”
“They’ve been decimated essentially,” Patrick said. “They were hacked and wiped out financially to the tune of several hundred million dollars. Their data was mined and passed around to various government agencies. Their CEO was arrested by the FBI two days ago. And the CFO is wanted for questioning, but currently missing.”
“Missing and presumed dead or missing because he ran his ass off?”
“She ran,” Patrick said. “Maybe she saw it coming, but either way, someone made a big move and destroyed the biggest government contractor in the US. Considering the timing, I’m concerned that it might have something to do with you and the NID.”
“I’ve not heard anything,” John said honestly. “But I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you much if I did.” He was skirting an edge with the information about the NID, but he didn’t want his relationship with his father to completely fall apart.
“Are you safer in the Corps?”
“I think someone would have a very difficult time getting around Franklin Paul,” John said easily. “And he certainly can’t be bought.”
“And the chances of you ending up in a war zone again?” Patrick questioned.
“About the same as they were before.” He shrugged when his father scowled at him. “My skillset won’t be used any differently in the Corps, Dad. But I don’t see myself going overseas any time soon. The mission I expect to join is geared toward intelligence gathering and security.”
Patrick frowned. “And a change of branches isn’t going to impact that assignment?”
“It’s already a multi-branch mission. The only personnel I’ve not seen attached to the mission is Navy, and even that will probably be an option going forward.” John cleared his throat. “The last few days have been stressful, but I think I did well on my exams. I need…” He closed his eyes, and his father’s hand settled gently on his arm.
“John, you’re shaking,” Patrick said gently. He stood and moved around the table until he was seated beside next to John. “Talk to me.”
“I feel like I’m going to make a choice you can’t tolerate, and everything will be too hard,” John admitted. “I think…maybe it would’ve been easier if I’d never come home at all and just let everything fade away.” He sucked in a deep breath as his father’s hand tightened slightly on his arm. “But that feels immature and ridiculous.”
Patrick wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pressed a quick kiss against his temple. John’s breath hitched because he hadn’t been in such a position with his father since he was a boy.
“I love you,” Patrick whispered against his hair. “And I regret every single moment of hurt I’ve ever caused you. I wish, desperately, that I could take away whatever memory you have of me that makes you distrust me. I see so much of your mother in you, John, and after she died, it was both a comfort and a source of hurt. I’m so fucking sorry that I couldn’t keep that pain to myself.”
“I see it, too,” John admitted hoarsely and turned to bury his face against his father’s shoulder. “After she died, looking in the mirror was awful.”
“Jesus Christ, is the world going to end?”
John lifted his head and cleared his throat as he focused on David, who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen. “Nah, just an existential crisis.”
David stared at him for a long moment, took a deep breath as he shed his jacket, and dropped it over the back of a chair. “Well, I guess I need a beer, too.”
“John’s been transferred into the Marine Corps,” Patrick said and stood. “Via presidential authority.”
“I didn’t tell you that part,” John protested.
“How the hell else could it have happened basically overnight?” Patrick demanded roughly and pulled a beer for David out of the fridge. “Seriously?”
John made a face, pulled out his phone, and sent McKay a text briefly confirming that he’d met with General Paul and signed all the paperwork required for his transfer.
“Rodney’s irritated over the politics surrounding the transfer,” John admitted. “And he’s probably cursed out my commanding officer and the XO for the mission several times already. Fortunately, neither of them seem all that irritated regarding his temper or his complete lack of respect for their authority.” He put his phone down and picked up the beer. “When’s Mattie coming home?”
“I sent the jet to get him,” his father murmured. “He’s dropping a friend off in Dallas, then he’ll come here. So, probably about six hours from now. I’ll get an update from the pilot if things change.”
“Let’s order pizza,” John suggested.
“You wanted to join the Marines when you were young,” David pointed out. “So why are you upset about the transfer?”
“The circumstances aren’t ideal,” Patrick said quietly. “We need to start giving every single person at SI a thorough look. I want to expand background and financial checks.” He paused. “So, we’re going to hire a black hat.”
David grimaced. “Dad, no. Come on.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer this time,” Patrick snapped, and David blinked in surprise. “Something ugly is happening around us—lives are being destroyed, companies ruined, and I suspect there will be a body or two before everything is said and done. Your brother just got transferred into the Marine Corps by the fucking President of the United States, David. If you’d asked me if that was a possibility yesterday, I would’ve told you we’d have better luck finding a goddamned unicorn in the backyard.”
“You don’t have to argue,” John said when David started to speak. “You already have the kind of asset you want contracted to work for you.” They both focused on him. “Rodney could probably give you some kind of program to do what you want as far as background checks go. If you’re clearing the decks looking for some sort of industrial or other espionage, he’d be more than happy to help you. In fact, he might have already decided to do it and will ask you about it when he gets here.” He paused. “When did InterOps get…their rude awakening?”
“It started three days ago,” Patrick said.
“So, the day after the NID tried to recruit me,” John said quietly, and he watched his father’s mouth drop open. “As I said, Rodney won’t have a problem helping you shake off any problems at SI.”
* * * *
December 22, 1996
John pressed Rodney against the closed door the moment they entered his suite and buried his face against the other man’s neck. “I’ve missed you so much.”
Rodney’s fingers trailed over his head and huffed dramatically. “You’ve cut your hair again. It’s all Marine and shit.”
John laughed. “I’ve gotta look the part, Rodney.” He lifted his head and pressed a soft kiss against his lover’s mouth. “Suddenly, I wish I’d picked out an apartment here so I could have you all to myself.”
“I have a lot of work to do while I’m here,” Rodney admitted. “I’ve set up some programs to crawl all over your father’s company and the employees. We need to make sure there are no vulnerabilities going forward in SI for the sake of the program.”
“I get it,” John said reluctantly and stepped back a little. He kept his hands firmly on Rodney’s hips. “But you need a break as well, you know? I know you’re working a lot of overtime in the mountain. The mission is important, and we have a lot of threats looming, but please take some time to relax, okay?”
“Yeah, I know,” Rodney said and pulled him in for another soft, sweet kiss.
“I do have a question.”
“I probably have an answer,” Rodney said and grinned when John laughed.
“Ah.” Rodney nodded. “Turns out they were running a shadow organization inside the NID and have been for a decade. They’ve been funneling money into the agency to fund operations that were outright criminal and bordering on sedition. I believe, but can’t prove, that they were the origin of the Trust the first time around. We’ve rooted them out and took all of their money. It’ll be used to supplement the funding for the SGC. In fact, all of the money we’ve stolen has been put into place to help the mission. Which I know is shady as fuck, but I don’t care. There were times, in the past, when the US government cut funding to punish individuals in the program, and it got people killed.”
John pulled Rodney toward the couch, and they sat down together. “What happened with Kennedy?”
“He’s been transferred out of DC and into a dead-end job that is going to put him above the zone inside the next two years. His career in the Air Force is basically over because he did come at you of his own volition. He planned that entire operation, and he was behind the active recruitment effort of several scientific assets, including me. He was clearly an issue the first time around, and we’ve neutralized him without killing him so far.”
“If he leaves the Air Force, controlling him will be difficult,” John said. “I’m not sure making it impossible for him to advance is the best idea. Separating him from the NID and putting him very far from the SGC is good, but maybe management should be geared toward giving him a personal goal that will completely distract him.”
“Well, we don’t want him to gain more rank, John,” Rodney pointed out. “His career path was a straight shot toward general before he got involved with the NID. He’s had a very impressive run, has advanced quickly through the ranks and has the education to go far. Plus, he’s got more combat experience than I thought.”
“You want to punish him for getting in my face and threatening me,” John said plainly, and Rodney flushed. “And I get it. I also realize that O’Neill and Hammond are giving you free rein to protect the program in this fashion, but just…make sure you aren’t creating bigger enemies that we’ll have to deal with later on.”
Rodney scrunched up his nose. “He also threatened your dad, and that made me really mad. Patrick’s kind of a dick, so I don’t know why I like him so much.”
“A lot of people think I’m practically a carbon copy of my father,” John pointed out wryly, and Rodney huffed. “Just sayin’.”
“All three of you resemble him, but you least of all physically.”
John hummed under his breath and stood. He offered Rodney his hand. “Let me show you something.”
Rodney gamely took his hand, and John kept it as they left the suite and walked down the hall to a room with a beautiful grand piano in it.
“I really should explore this giant not-plantation house,” Rodney said and let go of John’s hand. He walked over to the piano and ran a hand gently along the glossy mahogany surface. “This is gorgeous.”
“It’s my mom’s,” John said and titled his head toward a large framed picture on the wall.
Rodney focused on it. “How old were you guys?”
“David was about twelve, so I was ten, and Mattie was three,” John stared at the family portrait for a few moments and took a deep breath. “Her name was Amelia.”
“Amelia Jamison Sheppard,” Rodney said. “Yeah, I know. I read her dissertation a few weeks back. She was a brilliant woman.” He studied the picture. “And beautiful. You look a lot like her. Same eyes, same mouth….” He sighed. “It must have been hard to face yourself in the mirror after she died.”
“For years, yeah,” John admitted. “I hated the reminder. But, eventually, looking into my own eyes stopped hurting and started to feel like I was carrying a part of her with me.”
“Well, you all do,” Rodney pointed out. “And I’m not talking about genetics. It’s easy to see her influence on all of you—intellectually and emotionally. For good and bad, we carry the actions of our parents on us throughout our lives. You were lucky to have such an amazing woman walk with you for as long as she did. I wish you’d had more time.”
“Me, too,” John said and cleared his throat as he blinked back tears. He turned and found that Rodney had gone back to the piano. “You play, right?”
“Play for me?”
“I…” Rodney took a deep breath. “It wouldn’t upset the rest of them? Has anyone played it since her death?”
“Just the man I have come in to tune it twice a year,” Patrick said from the doorway. “And no, Rodney, it wouldn’t upset us. I mean, you already made Mattie cry, but that’s beside the point.”
“I’m not crying,” Matt protested from the hallway. “It was just…nice…what he said about Mom. Shut up, all of you.”
John laughed as Rodney slid onto the bench. He joined him because he really couldn’t help himself and watched as he gently lifted the fallboard to reveal the keys. He relaxed as Rodney started to play.
“It’s always relaxed my mind,” Rodney murmured. “The Goldberg Variations were originally written for harpsichord. Did you know that?”
“I didn’t,” John said and let his hands rest on the back of the bench as he slouched a little.
“There’s something amazing about playing a piece of music written in the 1700s,” Rodney admitted. “Music is timeless in that way—moving with us forward.”
“Can you play it all from memory?” John questioned.
“This is a little rough, but yeah.”
It didn’t sound rough at all. It had been years since he’d heard the variations, but Rodney’s hands were moving over the keyboard confidently and with a great deal of skill. John noted that Rodney was relaxing more and more as he played. He leaned briefly against the other man and smiled when Rodney glanced his way just briefly. As the music drifted gently over him, he let his own stress just drift away.
Whatever was coming could wait, he thought and glanced around the room. Both of his brothers and his father had come fully into the room and were sitting with them. David had a laptop, and Mattie had a book. His father was nursing a tumbler of amber liquid—probably bourbon as that was his favorite.
In the future he’d left behind, such a scene would’ve never happened. John felt a momentary pang of loss, but it passed quickly because living in that awful future mentally wasn’t healthy, and he knew it. He didn’t think everything would be perfect going forward, but he felt fortunate to live in a gentle moment that was full of acceptance and love for the first time in a very long time.
Series Page: The Vanguard