- Death-Minor Character
- Science Fiction
– – – –
John Sheppard looked up and found most of the senior staff of the Atlantis Expedition staring at him. Suddenly, he’d deeply regretted leaving Earth. He wished he’d never heard of the Stargate or anything that came with it. The fact is that he’d never really had a choice after the Pentagon had gotten wind of his excellent genetic potential. The Secretary of the Air Force had made it abundantly clear that he’d go to Pegasus or they’d court martial him for what had happened in Afghanistan. He’d called O’Neill had accepted a place on the mission within an hour of that conversation. At least on another planet, he was relatively safe from Leavenworth.
Now he was stuck in another fucking galaxy, and his commanding officer had been reduced to an old man with a failing heart because John hadn’t killed the Wraith Queen fast enough. And if that wasn’t enough of a clusterfuck, Sumner just wasn’t some hardass Marine. He was goddamned Revenant. John had been shocked actually when Sumner had still been alive when he’d reached him, and now he knew why. Being fed on by a wraith wasn’t enough, apparently, to kill a Revenant outright but his body was failing rapidly.
“Do we know who Sumner is anchoring?” Weir asked tightly.
John could tell she was genuinely horrified which surprised him but there were plenty of people who found Revenants an abomination. He’d never really thought about it one way or another. There were only about a thousand Revenants on the planet—eternal spirits that drifted from one mortal body to another. No one knew why or how a Revenant was made. For many generations, it was believed that Revenants were merely a different evolution of humans. Now, thanks to modern science the entire existence of Revenants had been reduced to a genetic quirk—a mutation. A few were born every year on earth, statistically speaking and they could live a very long time in their original body before being forced to either pass on from a physical existence, or they could anchor with another.
He’d read about the soul-blending that took place when a Revenant took a new anchor, but he’d never really thought it might be an option for him. The selection process for anchors was rigorous, to say the least. Revenants were special and blending your whole being with one causes changes for both anchor and spirit. No one wanted to risk the corruption of a Revenant, so anchors had to be good. They had to be free of family entanglements as much as possible. Children were discouraged as such relationships only brought grief to the blended soul eventually.
“You know it’s illegal for such information to be shared without permission. Colonel Sumner hasn’t given that permission and won’t. He’ll only tell the anchor he chooses from among the volunteers.”
Weir’s gaze narrowed. “There are no Revenant volunteers on the expedition, Carson. You know anchor volunteers, once approved, are coddled and protected to further the goals of the Triumvirate.”
“No, it just protects the anchors from undue influence,” John murmured. “As to the other, I volunteer. I can assume that nearly every Marine on this base will volunteer to anchor the Revenant Marshall Sumner carries.” He stood at the shock that drifted over Elizabeth’s face. “Dr. Beckett, I need to address the company. Are there any matters I should address during the discussion about the function of an anchor?”
“Just remind them that a true blending between an anchor and a Revenant is impossible if they have any doubts. Revenants require full, knowledgeable consent. I have a short document on the subject—I’ll see that it is passed around to the whole expedition.”
“That surely isn’t necessary,” Elizabeth protested. “No one has to anchor this thing. It can linger here on the city in its spirit form until we make contact Earth. A Revenant can travel through the gate without a body. The research has proven that so he can just roam around the city or maybe explore the rest of the planet until we make contact.
McKay cleared his throat and John focused on the scientist as Weir flushed bright red. “Dr. Weir, we might not be on Earth, but the rules and regulations regarding the Revenant could not be clearer in the Expedition Charter. Colonel Sumner has the right and the duty to seek a new anchor for his Revenant. And if we do a single thing to prevent or hinder that process—we’ll face a prison term if we return to Earth. Personally, I’ve no interest in going to jail. I have a smart mouth that I can’t keep shut on a bet. Prison wouldn’t be a happy-fun time for me.”
“He shouldn’t even be here,” Weir protested. “I’d have never agreed to Sumner leading the military on the city if I’d known he was a Revenant. They’re parasites, and you know it.”
“Anchoring a Revenant is an honor,” McKay said flatly. “They are among the greatest of us to ever live—brilliant, vivid souls who have been given a unique chance to continue to learn and grow.” He turned to Beckett. “I volunteer as well though I assume since the Revenant is currently anchored in a soldier that his preference is a military anchor.”
“You’d share your big brain with another soul?” Weir asked in shock. “You’re the smartest man of your generation, Dr. McKay. I can’t believe you’d let a forsaken soul share your body.”
“The Revenant are not forsaken. I can’t believe you’d even spout that ridiculous religious zealotry. And I would be smarter with a Revenant because I’d gain their experiences and wisdom,” McKay said. “Even a soldier’s memories would enrich who I am in such a way that it would be a gift.”
Weir frowned. “Dr. Beckett, make it clear to that thing in the infirmary that I prefer that it not corrupt what is left of my senior staff. Major Sheppard is now in charge of the military on the city.” She stood and with a firm little nod left the conference room.
“I had no idea she was such a bigot,” John said mildly.
“While I don’t share her harsh opinions regarding the Revenant, Colonel, I’d never volunteer myself,” Beckett said. “I have no interest in sharing my very soul and mind with anyone on that level of intimacy. It’s unthinkable.”
“Just send out the information,” McKay said shortly. “Now the city is on the water, we can relax a little and allow Sumner to make the best decision he can for himself.”
– – – –
Fifteen hours later, John was seated in a chair beside the bed that Sumner was dying in. They’d put him in isolation for his own protection after it was revealed he was a Revenant. Roughly fifteen percent of the people on the city had been absolutely horrified by the circumstances. Some of them had insisted on being transported to the mainland where the Athosians were exploring because they didn’t want to be anywhere near Sumner when the Revenant migrated into a new anchor.
“How are you doing?”
Sumner shook his head. “Not good but you already know that. Beckett told you my heart is failing.”
“Yes, sir,” John said and took a deep breath. “You’ve interviewed quite a few people. None of them looked happy to be dismissed though McKay appeared less upset than the rest.”
“He knew coming in here that anchoring me wouldn’t be the best choice for the Expedition. The men on this mission—I chose them and I brought some of them home with me from Iraq. They’re going to see my new anchor as their leader so in the end I really had two choices—you and Bates.”
“You know Bates pretty well.”
“He’s militantly straight,” Marshall said wryly. “And the thought of fucking another man makes him sick. I don’t think he could handle the memories he’d gain in the anchoring. That’s just one of the many reasons why anchors are carefully vetted. Sexual history has been a stumbling block in the past. Also, our previous anchor was a woman. I don’t think Bates would handle those memories well either—she gave birth twice though she was discouraged from it. Her son is here—on the expedition—so you’ll gain some honest-to-god maternal feelings for the little smart ass when the blending is complete.”
“Aidan Ford,” John guessed. “Hell, I did wonder why he was here. He’s so brand spanking new that I’m surprised he doesn’t squeak.”
“His mother’s name was Sandra, and she was a trauma nurse. She had a brain aneurysm. There is a duality in being an anchor, John, you’ll be both I and we. There are times when his presence in my mind is gentle and thoughtful, but there are other times when our merger is so tight that he thunders around me like a raging storm.”
“How old were you when you were merged?”
“I’d just started at Annapolis, and the Revenant insisted on a military anchor. I was on the volunteer list, but I’d never been vetted. The Revenant accepted the merger before the council completed their evaluation. I can’t say they were happy about that, and they won’t be happy about this but frankly the Revenant I carry rarely gives a fuck what those people think or want. They had plans for him after Sandra, and he refused to do anything they wanted. I’m sure when they find out that we left the planet that there will be hell to pay.”
“Who is he?” John asked quietly.
John wasn’t sure if he was more horrified or shocked. He felt sick, so he lurched to his feet and swallowed back bile. The last thing he wanted to do was throw up. It would be ridiculous. “You have the…Gaius Marius is the oldest Revenant on Earth. He was one of the founding fathers of the Roman Empire.”
Sumner laughed then coughed roughly.
“Shit,” John snapped and hurried to the tray. He poured water into a small cup and helped the older man sit up enough to drink it. “Don’t laugh, asshole.”
“It’s just—hell Sheppard—I know what I fucking did.”
John huffed and let Sumner relax on the bed. “You’ve led armies of thousands in battles across the planet for hundreds of years. I don’t even…how did you end up in a nurse?”
“I was tired of war,” Sumner said quietly. “I just needed something softer in my life, and I wanted to be part of something beautiful. Sandra said that having a baby would be the most beautiful thing I’d ever do and she was right. I served in two World Wars, and I just couldn’t take it another day so when my anchor finally died—I chose a beautiful young woman who wanted to save lives. I helped her dreams come true and while the council wasn’t pleased with my choice they had no say in it.”
“I can’t tell if I’m talking to Sumner or Marius.”
“Both,” Sumner said. “You’ll understand after the merger. There are a few technicalities. After the merger is complete, you’ll assume the highest rank available to the Revenant between the anchors which means when you leave this room, you’ll be a full bird Colonel.”
“And a Marine?” John asked and really hoped he didn’t sound as horrified as he felt.
“The men on the city will expect it,” Sumner pointed out. “It’ll be honorary, but if you return to Earth, you’ll have to make a choice. O’Neill and Rampart will take care of you on that front, and your choice will be honored. For now, let it slide and let the men think what they want about it.”
“Is Bates going to resent me for this?”
“I told him that three of my previous anchors were gay. He lost all interest in volunteering even if he didn’t admit it aloud,” Sumner said.
“You haven’t asked me about my sexuality,” John pointed.
“If you aren’t at least bisexual I’m going to be only slightly ashamed of how often I’ve jerked off thinking about fucking you since I set eyes on you,” Sumner confided and grinned when John laughed sharply.
“Well, I can look forward to those memories,” John murmured.
“You’ll have a lot to take in,” Sumner admitted. “But Gaius will modulate that for you, and you won’t be left helpless during the process. The merger will be smooth—like an embrace. He’s had a lot of practice. It won’t hurt, there won’t be nightmares, and he won’t inflict his emotional desires on you.”
“What sort of emotional desires?” John questioned.
“He has an immense nerd crush on McKay’s brain,” Marshall explained. “And his ass.”
“Well, that ass is a work of art.”
“Granted,” Sumner agreed. “But he won’t pressure you on that front.”
John considered that. “I have to admit I’m not opposed to indulging his little crush, so we’ll work that out between us.” He paused. “Will you be there?”
“In a way,” Sumner said. “My soul isn’t like his so when I die, I’ll move on to whatever comes next. But my memories and experiences will linger in him and in turn you for the rest of your life. I didn’t investigate your family situation.”
“Father, two brothers,” John said shortly. “Things are strained and have been since my mother died. I haven’t spoken to my father in five years, but I did have a weekend with my brothers in San Francisco before I came to Colorado Springs. There’s just an immense breach there that I’m not sure I can mend. He really doesn’t understand me and maybe he never will.”
“The gay thing,” Sumner questioned.
“Yeah,” John said with a sigh. “Wow.”
“I just told,” John admitted and Sumner laughed. “It’s just I’ve never come close to revealing that to a CO before.”
“I heard that the regulations were changing so you may return to Earth where DADT no longer exists but I have to tell you that as a Revenant, you’ll never be prosecuted for bullshit like that. We’re too valuable in the service for them to alienate one of us with crap charges. Speaking of charges, tell me about the fuck up in Afghanistan. I read the reports—I want to hear it from you.”
“My team was under fire the moment they hit the ground. I was ordered to evac by command, but I knew if I left those people there that they would all die. I pulled my service piece and shot out the radio. Then I aborted the mission and ordered them back on board. I was barely two minutes off the ground when the entire compound blew. The helicopter took some debris, and we crashed about a mile from base. We had two injuries so I carried one of them back to the base and I was immediately arrested for disobeying orders. They had to evac me out because the men in my unit were…unhappy with how I was being treated. I was sorted to Antarctica because, in my efforts to be a disobedient asshole, I’d managed to save the life of a senator’s grandson. That grandson, the one I carried over a mile back to base, raised so much hell from the bed he was put in that they couldn’t court martial me.”
“Apparently he was still raising hell when we left Earth,” Sumner admitted. “When you transferred to Peterson, O’Neill got a phone call from that Senator because he was furious that a goddamned hero was being shuffled around into dead-end assignments because he did the right thing.”
“I could’ve gotten them all killed,” John said. “If I’d gone back to base as ordered and argued with our CO over the situation I wouldn’t have been able to return for them. We could’ve all died in the helicopter crash. Anything could’ve happened.”
“General Dailey implied that your motivations were personal and that you were engaging in an inappropriate relationship with Captain Teldy,” Sumner said. “Is that true?”
John shook his head. “Anne Teldy is an excellent officer, and I went away without complaint to save her career. There was nothing romantic going on there for either of us. If anything, the rumors about her affection for me was more like a beard for us both because I’m not even bisexual despite the fact that I was once married to a woman.”
“O’Neill liked what he saw of her record, so I imagine she’s being recruited for the program,” Sumner said. “Take care of Aidan is much as you can. His mother loved him so much.”
“You said she had two babies.”
“A girl, she died in her sleep when she was eight months old.” Sumner took a deep breath. “It hurts a lot—even second-hand to think about that beautiful little baby.”
“Does he know that you anchor the Revenant his mother carried?”
“No, he doesn’t, and he shouldn’t be told. In all honesty, I should’ve left him on Earth, but when I met him again, I couldn’t part with him. Considering the situation, you’re going to want to field-promote Bates to at least Captain. Aidan doesn’t have the experience to act as your CO, and he knows it. He’s worried as fuck that he’ll disappoint everyone. There is no need to add the pressure of interacting with his mother’s Revenant.”
“How old was Aidan when Sandra died?”
“So you have memories of being his mother,” John said roughly. “Wow. Is body dysphoria problem? Do you ever feel like you’re in the wrong body? Are there gender issues to worry about?”
“No, not at all. Gaius is adept at adjusting emotionally and mentally to his new anchor. Your sexuality and personality will be dominant. You’ll just have memories of the literally thousands of experiences he’s had. Which honestly hasn’t been a fantastic time for me which is why I vetoed Bates pretty much immediately.”
“Gaius’ past is riddled with different kinds of trauma,” Marshall admitted. “Rape—in two different anchors one of whom was male. The memories are indistinct but terrible. You’ll carry them. It’s part of who he is—the fabric of his soul experience.”
“I understand,” John said and took a deep breath. “I…is there anything you want to do before it’s too late? Is there a message or letter you’d like to see delivered at home?”
“No, I’m good,” Marshall said. “I didn’t leave anyone behind. You’ll learn that carrying a Revenant requires a different kind of sacrifice. Gaius learned that with Sandra. It was difficult to walk away from his boy when she died, but he didn’t have any sort of standing as a parent, and I was just a kid of eighteen myself at the time.”
“Is Gaius Marius male or female?”
“Both, neither,” Sumner answered. “He is a summation of a two thousand years of experience. The first life was male, so those pronouns are appropriate when you discuss him in the third person. You’ll find out quickly enough that we is more comfortable than he. The merger will make you very protective of his spirit. We don’t know what it will do to you regarding your ATA genetics. As far as I know, a Revenant has never anchored with someone with Ancient genetics. So be careful and don’t get yourself killed, Sheppard. There is no one else on the city that could handle Gaius in a healthy way.” He coughed and waved John off when he reached for water. “You’ll have issues with Weir.”
“I was surprised by her and the fact that she didn’t know you were Revenant.”
“O’Neill told me that when she was briefly in charge of the SGC that she tried to fire four Revenants working in the Mountain and was infuriated that she couldn’t get rid of them without cause. She tried to tell the Pentagon that they were a security threat. She made sure those people knew that they were not welcome at the Outpost nor were they allowed on the mission. The Pentagon wanted me out here, so they removed the parts of my jacket that revealed my Revenant background.
“They’ll add it to your jacket upon your return—including all of the Revenant’s previous military service as far back as they can, so get used to it now before you have to deal with their crap on Earth. They’ll use you up if you let them because his military experience, your ATA gene, and skills as a pilot will make you a peerless military asset but you have rights, and you’ll need to use every single one of them to keep them from putting you places no one deserves to be. Sometimes they’re reckless with us in a way that they’d never admit in public because…”
“An anchor can be replaced,” John said flatly. “I get it. I’ve heard it said, but I’ve never believed that bullshit. Don’t they have any clue what kind of trauma dying must do to a Revenant?”
“Most Revenants avoid it—by leaving their anchor before the death occurs,” Sumner admitted as he took a ragged breath. “Okay, kid, it’s time. If you can’t do it, we understand. He can go for decades without an anchor even if it’s not his preference.”
“No, I’m game.”
John laced his fingers with Marshall Sumner’s and glanced just once at the observation deck above the isolation room they’d set up. Beckett, McKay, and Weir were all there—watching and waiting for Marshall Sumner to die. Weir’s disapproval practically radiated around her. She wasn’t the first person he’d ever met such opinions about Revenants, but he had to admit, at least privately, that he was profoundly disappointed in her. He hadn’t noticed their arrival, and that was infuriating. He dismissed them from his thoughts and focused on Sumner. The man’s eyes were glowing a gentle blue, and John realized that Gaius was unmooring. It was heartbreaking, and briefly, Marshall’s fingers tightened with his.
The spirit rose up between them, a misty blue shimmer of light, and John just nodded. Gaius Marius flowed him toward and slid into his body. It was warm, and there was a fleeting, shocking pleasure as the spirit settled. His vision blurred and the emotional hurt that he’d felt edging into his mind bloomed.
He cleared his throat. “All of you—get out.” John turned to stare at the observation room. “Now.”
McKay gave him a nod and prodded both Beckett and Weir out of the room.
John focused on Marshall. The older man looked weaker, and his eyes were dull. “Marshall.”
“Got you a pretty one this time,” Sumner whispered.
“I had a pretty one last time, too,” John said. He leaned forward slightly and cupped the back of Sumner’s head. “It was my honor all of these years to be with you, Marshall. I’ll have you with me always, but it won’t be the same.”
“We carry on because that is our purpose.” John leaned in and pressed a soft, chaste kiss to Sumner’s mouth. “Be at peace, my friend.”
“Gaius,” Sumner murmured, and his body went lax.
John let his head rest briefly on Sumner’s shoulder then he stood. He carefully tucked his hand under the covers, used fingers to gently close his friend’s eyes, and drew the sheet over a face that had been his own for decades. Slowly, he walked away from the body but stopped by the door and braced against the wall. Finally, he turned and just slid down the wall to sit there, his hands buried in his face.
“Fuck.” He rubbed roughly at his eyes to keep tears from falling. “Goddamn it.” John let his head fall back against the wall sharply. Gaius was drifting in the back of his mind now—hurt and furious over the loss of the anchor he’d had for fifteen years.
The door opened, and suddenly McKay was squatted down beside him. “Carson said that the monitors…” He sighed. “Are you okay?”
“I’ve got a grieving Revenant running around my head,” John said flatly. “How much did the three of you hear?”
“We arrived just in time for Sumner to tell you that the Pentagon conspired against Weir. His heart monitor was going haywire, so Beckett figured it was about time for him to let go. I tried to prevent them from watching but when they wouldn’t listen—I came too to make sure Weir kept her mouth shut.” He cleared his throat. “And I’m sorry that we saw what we did see.”
“I guess I’m not. I want Weir to know she doesn’t have any allies on this point on Earth,” John muttered. “What’s going on out there?”
“She’s furious that you accepted but is relieved that Sumner didn’t pick me but like I said, I figured he’d pick a military and you were the obvious choice due to your rank.”
“If she weren’t a bigot he might have picked her,” John admitted roughly. “When he first met her—he admired her strength and drive. But it didn’t take long for him to discover that she was vehemently opposed to the very existence of Revenants.” He scrunched up his nose. “My head’s full of shit I didn’t do, McKay. This is an utter mindfuck.”
“Tell me what you need.”
“I need to take Marshall’s body to the mainland. He’d like to be cremated. We’ll hold a memorial on the city for anyone who wants to attend, but his funeral will be private,” John murmured. “If anyone complains remind them that he’s my previous anchor and no one has the right to interfere in our wishes.”
“No one is going to gainsay your choices in this matter, you’re his next of kin. The laws on that are very clear. It’s funny, you know that Weir never realized just how important all of that Revenant language in the charter is.”
“She believed the expedition was Revenant free,” John said and frowned. “She’s going to be a problem.”
“If you’re asking me if I have your back, the answer is yes,” McKay said as he stood and offered John his hand. “It’s my job to support her professionally, but if she crosses the line and lets her personal opinions interfere in decision making, I won’t come down on her side.”
“I’m not trying to stage a coup here, you know,” John said. “I have no interest in leading the expedition and joining with a Revenant hasn’t changed that in the slightest. That being said, they picked Sumner as the military leader because his Revenant did have the skill required to run the whole show if necessary.”
“Care to tell me who you’re carting around in that crazy-haired head of yours?”
“I’d prefer that you not tell anyone else,” John said roughly as they left the isolation room.
“I like keeping secrets,” Rodney admitted. “Especially special ones that I can lord the knowledge of over other people when I don’t like them.”
Sheppard grinned, he couldn’t help it. “Gaius Marius.”
McKay stopped moving and turned to stare at him. “Are you fucking with me?”
“Not yet, but I’m not at all opposed. Gaius is a hundred and ten percent on board with it, too. He thinks your ass is a modern marvel.” John smiled cheerfully as McKay’s dropped open.
– – – –
Hours after the memorial, Bates and Ford helped him load Sumner into the back of a jumper. Neither man had a lot to say, so John let the situation ride. He had too much going on his head to process what was happening with them. He did wonder what Ford thought about the whole thing since he hadn’t been a volunteer and had refused to speak at the memorial. John had enough memories, now, of Ford to know that the kid had pretty much worshiped Sumner. Maybe he blamed John for not getting there in time, or maybe he resented the fact that he hadn’t known Sumner was a Revenant. He just wasn’t sure, but he figured he’d have time to figure out later.
Building the pyre was oddly soothing—he had dozens of such memories though most of them were from the distant past. The last four anchors had been buried traditionally. John had touched briefly on Sandra Ford’s life before he’d pushed it away. Gaius had tucked all of it aside without any complaint or ire and for that John was grateful. He knew why children were discouraged, but he also knew how Gaius had been healed by that experience with Sandra, so while he didn’t resent the memories, he couldn’t embrace them the way Sumner had.
The Athosian’s temporary hunting village was just a mile from where he landed so he wasn’t all that surprised when a group of them appeared after he’d lit the pyre. He’d stopped to tell them what he’d be doing and where he would go but he didn’t begrudge them the choice to monitor from a distance in case he were to lose control of the situation. He’d picked a pretty isolated section of beach for it, so he sat down on the sand and ignored them.
He fed the fire for hours, and when there was nothing left but ash and bone shards, he gathered it all up and gave the remnants to the ocean. Deep inside him, Gaius calmed with each passing hour. John figured that the Revenant was accustomed to such grief and had learned to handle it over the years. He certainly wasn’t a help—he was still furious over the senseless death of his mother and it had been sixteen years.
John used a shovel to break up the pyre so the tide could carry the water away then tossed it in the jumper. He dropped back down on the sand to stare at the ocean. The longer he sat there, the more he resented letting the people on Earth bully him onto the expedition. But in the end, he’d done it protect the unit he’d left behind in Afghanistan. If they’d court martialed him, then Teldy and Holland would’ve probably been on the chopping block, too. In the back of his mind, Gaius swelled with feelings of retribution and a small smile slipped across John’s mouth because if his Roman passenger wanted to a little revenge, he wasn’t the sort to deny him.