- Attempted Rape
- Character Bashing
- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
- Episode Related
Miko Kusanagi was a beautiful woman, and if John had been interested in anyone other than his Guide, she would have pressed all his buttons. Smart, sassy, and very pretty was an appealing mixture. As she laid her laptop down on the table in the Sheppard garden room where they’d all gathered to hear her report, she winked at him almost as though she’d read his mind.
‘I think I’ve found all the information we’re looking for from Bethesda,’ she told them, logging into her computer and connecting to the house internet. ‘Their security is crap.’
The others laughed, and she gave them a cheeky grin.
‘Stop flirting and get on with it,’ Rodney groused, but he smiled back at her despite his words.
‘Landstuhl sent through a report on you after your plane left Germany – which is what I’d expect,’ Miko told John. ‘They needed to inform Bethesda of the condition of you and your team so they could arrange the appropriate treatment. What I didn’t expect was a separate email from one of the medics in Germany to a Lt Commander Roberts at the hospital. He’s one of the military administrators and shouldn’t need to be informed about private medical details, although it appears he sometimes is. I’ve not had time to work out the circumstances in which he is informed, although I can do that later if you want me to. What I can tell you is that a vial of your blood was taken in Germany along with blood from each of your teammates which is why no one thought to question it and why they didn’t prevent your blood from being taken.’
‘They didn’t mention it to me,’ John murmured.
‘They might not have thought it worth mentioning,’ Patrick pointed out. ‘Not if it appeared to be a routine test.’
‘Which it was, to a certain extent,’ Miko admitted. ‘Landstuhl sent through all the results from the whole team, but one of the tests was only run on you and Captain Cadman. They tested your blood for something I’ve never come across before, and both of you tested positive for it.’
‘What is it?’ Rodney demanded. ‘I may know something about it.’
‘A test with just the letters ATA next to it, along with two plus signs on John’s result. Mean anything?’
‘Rodney shook his head. ‘Nothing, but…’ He frowned at her. ‘Is it possible the test was run on all of them, but only John and Laura tested positive?’
‘And they didn’t bother reporting negative results?’ Miko tilted her head to one side. ‘It’s possible, I suppose.’
‘Worth bearing in mind. Go on.”
‘Well, whatever the ATA plus, plus means, it got Commander Roberts excited, and he sent an email to someone called Carson Beckett with a domain name of A N C O U P T dot com.’
‘Never heard of it,’ Rodney said. ‘Do you know where or what it is?’
Miko shook her head. ‘No, I’m still trying to trace who the site’s registered to, but an email came back to Commander Roberts from a Dr Elizabeth Weir under the same domain name asking for the test to be repeated for you at Bethesda. Roberts pointed out how difficult that might be since blood tests on Sentinels and Guides are strictly monitored so it was this Weir woman who suggested you be moved into a part of the hospital where your blood could be tested without any repercussions.’ She looked up at John, and his stomach lurched in anticipation at what she was about to tell him. ‘There’s no easy way to say this, Colonel, but it appears eight vials of blood were taken from you over the week you were, effectively, in isolation. Another was due to be taken when you awoke.’
‘I thought Nurse Ratched was extremely unhappy about that,’ John said and slapped the table top. ‘Bitch!’
‘Steady,’ Rodney said and gripped his hand.
‘Do you have documentary evidence of this, Miss Kusanagi?’ Jim asked, his anger evident on his face.
‘Call me Miko, and yes, I do, although as I acquired it by illegal means I’m not sure it would stand up in court.’
‘It doesn’t need to,’ Jim said grimly.
‘What do you know about this Beckett and Weir, Miko?’ Patrick asked the clenching and unclenching of his fists revealing his own anger.
‘Beckett is a Scot by birth and trained as a medic at the Edinburg Medical School and until January this year was a researcher in a small genetics lab attached to Glasgow University. He’s now a private contractor for the USAF, although I can’t find where he’s actually based at the moment,’ Miko told him. ‘It’s as though he dropped off the map. Elizabeth Weir was a diplomat who also disappeared at the start of the year.’
‘Disappeared?’ Blair repeated. ‘How can she be ‘disappeared’ if you’ve got recent emails to and from her?’
‘Neither she nor Beckett have been seen since the start of the year, and Weir doesn’t even appear to have been home since 21st January. Her fiancé, Simon Wallace reported her missing to the police in New York on the 25th January, but withdrew the report the following day saying he’d made a mistake and she’d turned up. His personal emails tell a different story, though. He’s still sending a couple of emails to a different email account for her that haven’t even been opened – except by me, of course.’ She grinned at the men.
‘Did someone warn him off, then?’ Patrick asked.
‘Sounds like it,’ John replied. ‘Why would she drop her fiancé like that, though. I mean, it looks as though she’s perfectly well from the other emails. There’s nothing to suggest she’s being held captive, for example. She and Beckett have just…dropped off the face of the earth.’
Jim, Blair & Rodney exchanged glances, and John narrowed his eyes.
‘What is it?’ John asked Rodney. ‘Or can’t you tell me?’
‘I can’t tell you,’ Rodney sighed. ‘Honestly, it’d be dangerous for all of us. Look how Dr Weir appears to have vanished. That could happen to any one of us as well.’
‘Except she hasn’t vanished,’ John pointed out. ‘She’s just not returning the emails to her fiancé.’
‘No one has seen her,’ Miko pointed out. ‘She was working at the UN at the start of January, then on the 21st she failed to turn up for work and hasn’t been seen since.’
‘I have no ideas,’ Rodney admitted. ‘Let’s go back to John’s blood tests. What do we know there, Miko?’
‘I searched around for the letters ATA++, and then for just ATA but haven’t come up with anything,’ she admitted. ‘Whatever it is, it must be a straightforward test since the blood they took from the Colonel at Bethesda appears simply to have been handed off to someone for testing, although I haven’t found out who as yet. I’m inclined to think it was this Dr Beckett, but I can’t work out exactly where he is.’
‘What was his email address again?’ Rodney asked, pulling out a pen and sheet of paper. ‘Spell it out for me.’
Miko told him, and he stared at the letters for a few moments. ‘No,’ he admitted at length. ‘I can’t make anything of them.’
‘Is there anything else we should know about, Miko?’ Patrick asked. ‘No? Then I suggest we leave it at that.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Radek and Peter should be here soon. Thank you for what you’ve managed to find out, Miko. We all appreciate it.’
‘No problem, sir. Just call me if there’s anywhere or anyone else you want me to hack.’ She grinned at him cheerfully and began to pack her computer away.
‘I’m going to lie down for a few minutes,’ John announced and flinched as the others stared at him.
‘You’re volunteering to have a rest?’ Rodney demanded. ‘Are you ill?’
John reached out and slapped the back of his head lightly. ‘I’m tired, not ill. Leave me alone!’
Rodney watched as his Sentinel limped out of the room. ‘He’s more concerned about the blood tests than he’s letting on.’
‘He can hear every word you’re saying,’ John called back down the hallway.
‘Go to bed, Sheppard,’ Rodney shouted back. ‘And stop listening to a private conversation!’
‘We need to get you set up with a few white noise machines,’ Blair told Patrick. ‘I meant to mention it before, but I kept forgetting. They won’t stop John from hearing you if he wants to, but it’ll make it more difficult and warn him you’re having a conversation you want to keep private. I’ll give you an address.’
Patrick and Blair wandered out of the garden room chatting to each other, but Rodney put his hand on Miko’s arm when she made to leave.
‘No, hold on a moment, Miko. I..we’ve got something to ask you.’ He pointed between himself and Jim, and she nodded and reseated herself.
‘This is something Jim and I spoke about between ourselves earlier today. We want…that is, I know it’s dangerous but…’ Rodney sighed, trying to decide how to word it.
‘Rodney used to work for a top secret government programme,’ Jim said quietly. ‘Top, top secret. The sort of secret that makes someone disappear if they find out too much about it without their permission.’
‘And you want me to try and hack it?’ Miko asked, her eyes gleaming.
‘No!’ Rodney said quickly. ‘It’s far too dangerous. I can give you a few names of people who work there, or at least used to, who might have and use private email accounts. Would you be willing to do that?’
‘I’m happy to try and hack the programme itself,’ Miko replied. ‘I love a challenge. I’ve hacked the DOD and the Pentagon before. I know you know about that.’
‘I didn’t know about the Pentagon although I suspected it,’ Rodney admitted. ‘And, no, don’t hack the…programme. It’s far too dangerous. Outside of SI, they have the best scientists in the world working there.’
‘They’d be no match for me,’ Miko boasted.
‘If you try and I find out, I’ll tan your ass,’ Jim promised, a serious expression on his face. ‘Don’t think I wouldn’t.’
Eyes wide Miko nodded. ‘Yessir. I promise not to.’
‘Good. And I will find out if you do,’ he warned her, his lips twitching at her vigorous nods.
‘Thank you, Miko, now buzz off for a while,’ Rodney ordered. ‘I’ll give you the list later; then you have to memorise it and then burn it, clear?’
‘Clear, Dr McKay,’ Miko promised earnestly, and she grabbed her laptop bag and hurried out.
‘Do you think she’ll stay away from the programme?’ Jim asked Rodney quietly.
‘With you threatening to tan her ass? I can guarantee she’ll stay away,’ Rodney told him. ‘Would you really do it, though?’
Jim nodded, his face very serious. ‘You and I know how dangerous it could be. I had to impress on her somehow to keep her away from hacking the programme because they would find out.’
‘I know.’ Rodney nodded and sighed. ‘Do you think it’s them who arranged for John’s blood to be stolen?’
He nodded again. ‘I wish I didn’t. They’re a dangerous set of people and far too much on the ball not to spot someone trying to break into their systems. Do you know who’s in charge now? Is it still General Hammond?’
‘He was promoted to have oversight of the whole programme but the day to day running is down to General Jack O’Neill.’
‘General O’Neill? He was promoted?’
‘Was promoted after you left in 2002. Carter was sent to Siberia in your place and demoted to Captain.’
‘She wouldn’t be happy about that.’
‘Indeed not. I suspect she’s connected to the anonymous letters somehow even if she’s not sending them herself, which as my friend in the Pentagon told me, isn’t her MO at all. I doubt very much she’s involved in the blood tests, though. For a start, she didn’t return to the US until the 22nd March, and John’s blood was first taken on the 17th. The dates simply don’t add up.’
‘I agree. In any case, she’s an astrophysicist and an engineer, and I doubt she has an interest in genetics. I know I don’t and she and I have similar backgrounds.’
‘I thought she had just the one PhD, though?’ Jim asked.
‘She does unless she’s picked up another one while in Siberia. I meant in regards to her scientific interests. We’re both heavily interested and involved in engineering of one sort or another.’
‘I thought the work which you and Radek were nominated for was in zero point energy? Blair tried to explain it to me, but he lost me as soon as he mentioned quantum mechanics, and Lorenzo something or other.’
Rodney laughed. ‘A Lorentz invariant perhaps? It’s—’
Jim held up his hands to stop Rodney from continuing. ‘I don’t know and have no desire to know, thank you very much. I’ll leave the sciency stuff to those who know more than me, like yourself. I’m too long in the tooth to try and learn new stuff.’
‘Come on, old man,’ Rodney said with a smile. ‘Let’s go and see if Radek and Peter have arrived yet.’
Dinner was a pleasant affair. Both Radek Zelenka and Peter Grodin were easy company John decided and made a good foil for his more excitable Guide. With Jim, and particularly Blair, at the table as well it meant for an entertaining evening. By mutual consent, they all left worries about blood tests, anonymous letters, and hacking government agencies out of the conversation, and concentrated on lighter subjects although John couldn’t help the knot of anxiety in his stomach.
‘Blair and I would quite like to have a drive over to the Shenandoah National Park and have a look at the Blue Mountains,’ Jim told the party. ‘It’s somewhere neither of us has ever been before.’
‘We can sort out a car for you, sir,’ David told him. ‘I wouldn’t mind a drive out there myself. Maybe do a little hiking. I spend far too much time behind my desk these days.’
Jim nodded while John was sporting a look of frustration. ‘It’s one of my favourite areas,’ he grumbled. ‘It’s years since I’ve had the chance to do some decent walking in the mountains, but my leg just isn’t ready for that kind of exercise.’
‘And I have no interest whatsoever in spending a day tramping up a hill only to tramp back down the other side,’ Rodney added acerbically.
‘A little exercise would do you good, Rodney,’ Radek commented. ‘Too much resting and too many protein bars are having their effect, my friend.’
Rodney narrowed his eyes. ‘Are you saying I’m getting fat, you four-eyed pigeon-loving freak?’
John reached over and slapped the back of Rodney’s head while the others, including Radek, laughed. ‘Don’t encourage him, any of you.’
Rubbing the back of his head, although John knew the slap hadn’t hurt him, Rodney frowned at his Sentinel.
‘I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to do that.’
‘And I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to verbally abuse your staff.’
Rodney’s lips twitched. ‘That’s not abuse. You should hear us when we really get going.’
‘Yes,’ Miko nodded. ‘You should hear them then. They each give as good as they get. It’s like working in a war zone sometimes. Perhaps I could borrow your body armour, Colonel.’
John laughed, which he suspected was the point of the turn the conversation had suddenly taken, and he felt as if he could relax a little with his friends and family for just one night.
It was no particular surprise when John discovered he was going to be joined by Jim, Blair and Rodney in addition to his father for his appointment. Irritated but not surprised. He didn’t complain about it although he was sure Blair know how he felt given the grin on his face.
‘Asshole’ he murmured quietly as he leaned past Blair to reach the butter dish, which made Blair grin even more and Jim to give him a stern look.
‘I can hear you, John. Don’t call my Guide an asshole.’
‘John!’ his father admonished, just as John knew he would.
‘How do I explain my rapidly healing leg to Dr Francis?’ he asked, deciding a change of subject was a good plan. ‘I assume you don’t want me to mention that Rodney’s a Shaman.’
‘Dr Francis will probably be able to guess,’ Blair admitted. ‘He deals with a lot of Sentinels and Guides, and while he may never have come across a Shaman himself, he’ll know well enough what their abilities are. He won’t say anything to anyone else about it, though, so you needn’t worry.’
‘Does he work for the S&G Council?’ John asked curiously.
Blair tilted his head. ‘Not exactly, but he has worked with us for several years. What he doesn’t do is have to report to any of the heads of the military services. Patient confidentiality is frequently an unknown commodity between service personnel and their medics. For a Sentinel or Guide, it’s very different. Their first allegiance Is to the S&G Council, or, to be more accurate, Jim and myself. The Chiefs of Staff don’t like it but have to put up with it.’
‘So to answer your original question,’ Jim said, with a glare at his Guide who ignored him and bit into a slice of toast, humming in pleasure, ‘Dr Francis knows you’ve bonded so will accept the advanced healing as part of that. He’ll know Rodney’s a Shaman, but he won’t make notes about it anywhere they might be seen by a mundane.’
‘Not even if they hacked the Bethesda systems like Miko did?’
Blair laughed. ‘Especially if someone does that. At our request, Dr Francis keeps paper notes about Sentinels and Guides in a locked safe. It doesn’t make it impossible for anyone to break in and read them, but it makes it a challenging proposition. It’s the best we can with regards to confidentiality and, so far, it’s worked.’
Patrick cleared his throat. ‘It’s almost time to leave, gentlemen. Grab anything you want to take and meet in the hall in five minutes.’
The others nodded, and the party dispersed though John remained at the table with his father, a look of concern on his face.
‘John?’ Patrick asked. ‘Is everything alright?’
John gave him an even look. ‘I’ve come online as a high-level Sentinel at the age of 34 and bonded with a Shaman, and we’re expected to become the senior S&G pair of North America. Someone has stolen gallons of my blood for god knows what and, oh, I’ve got bullet holes in my arm and thigh. Do you think everything’s alright?’
Patrick couldn’t help the laughter which bubbled out of him at the expression on his youngest son’s face. ‘No, it’s not, son. It’s really, not.’
It was only to be expected that the five men who entered the foyer of the Bethesda Hospital would attract attention. They each had striking looks, downright handsome some might say, and Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg were both well-known figures to the country as a whole.
John couldn’t help the smirk which formed on his lips as he watched the hospital staff almost fall over themselves in their eagerness to help the group, and the grin Blair gave him in the lift suggested he found it equally amusing.
‘I like to make an entrance,’ he whispered to John, then yelped at the headship his partner gave him.
‘Behave yourself!’ Jim told him, his stern face twitching with suppressed laughter.
‘Boys!’ Patrick Sheppard exclaimed, shaking his head, and John laughed out loud at the shocked expression on Jim’s face at being referred to as a boy by someone just a few years his senior.
The group seated themselves in a small lounge area close to the consulting rooms of the hospital medics and John frowned at them.
‘I’m going in to see Dr Francis on my own; I hope you all realise.’
‘I’m going in with you,’ Rodney said sharply.
‘No, you’re not.’
‘John, I’m your Guide, and I’m helping you to heal. Dr Francis will probably want to ask me a few questions, and besides, I’m not sure you should be anywhere in this place on your own.’
‘He’s right, John,’ Patrick told him. ‘And he’s also your partner. It’s his job to be with you for hospital appointments. You’d want the same if the tables were reversed.’
‘I…’ John began, then subsided. ‘Okay, fair enough. Only Rodney, mind. I don’t want you three with me. Not to see Dr Francis.’
‘You do remember I’ll be able to hear everything he says, don’t you?’ Jim reminded him, and John nodded.
‘That’s different. I don’t need my dad to hold my hand when I see the scary doctor. You can all come in with me when I meet with Janet Fraiser. Her I don’t mind intimidating.’
This made the others laugh, and they were still chuckling when Dr Francis joined them.
‘Well, you’re certainly looking better then you were two weeks ago,’ Francis told John, smiling at him, then he glanced around the group. ‘And you have back-up with you. Am I so scary?’
The others began to laugh again while John glared at them. ‘Ignore them, doc. They’re all idiots.’ He got to his feet, pulling Rodney with him, and they left his father and friends still laughing.
‘So how’ve you been, John?’ Francis asked as he sat down and pulled a brown folder towards himself.
‘Fine, thanks, doc. This is my Guide, Dr Rodney McKay, by the way.’
Rodney nodded to him but didn’t offer his hand while Dr Francis looked astonished.
‘You met your Guide in the two weeks since you left here?’
‘I met him the day you discharged me’ John admitted, a smile on his lips. ‘Rodney’s my father’s director of R&D.’
‘I’m very pleased to meet you, Dr McKay, and I congratulate you both on your bonding.’ He nodded at Rodney then turned his focus back on John. ‘I hope you realise that I’ll keep any information about you and your Guide strictly confidential, John.’
John nodded. ‘Jim Ellison explained it to me, but I’m happy to hear you confirm it. As you’ll see when you examine my leg, it’s…healing nicely.’
John Francis’ eyebrows almost disappeared into his hairline. ‘I see,’ he said slowly. ‘Then slip your slacks off behind the screen and jump onto the couch, and I’ll have a look at you.’
‘Not sure if I’m up to jumping, not yet,’ John told him as he moved across the office to the private area and toed off his shoes.
Francis appeared around the screen. ‘Dr McKay, if you’ll come and put your hand on John while I examine him, I’d appreciate it. It might be a little uncomfortable for him.’
‘Which is medic-speak for it’s going to hurt,’ Rodney translated. ‘Okay.’
John stretched himself out on the examination couch carefully and gripped Rodney’s hand. Dr Francis ran his fingers over the healing wound and moved John’s leg from side to side.
‘It’s healing very well. Too well to be honest. Dr McKay—’
‘I’m a Shaman,’ Rodney told him quietly. ‘I’ve been helping John since he got home and we bonded.’
‘It’s remarkable. I’ve read about it, of course, but I’ve never actually witnessed it myself. I wish you were able to help some of my other patients, Dr McKay. By the way—’
‘I’m an Astrophysicist,’ Rodney admitted. ‘Not a medical doctor.’
‘Which explains why you’re Director of R&D. I did wonder.’
‘And, as you probably know, I can’t help any other people with actual healing. Only my Sentinel. I can help with the suppression of pain receptors in other people though, as can many Guides.’
Francis nodded. ‘We have a couple of Guides working at the hospital, but, obviously, we can’t use them on Sentinels.’
‘Why is that?’ John asked. ‘I meant to ask Rodney or Blair but kept forgetting.’
Francis laughed. ‘You really meant it when you said you knew nothing about being a Sentinel.
John flushed. ‘Shut up!’
‘It’s for a couple of reasons,’ Rodney told him, his crooked lips twitching. ‘For a start, it’s extremely intimate for an unbonded Sentinel and Guide, as the Guide gets into the mind of the subject. Secondly, it can cause a link between the Guide and the subject which isn’t a problem between a Guide and a mundane, but a Sentinel has to be able to fully bond with his or her Guide, and a link to another Guide would be…’ He sighed. ‘Think about wearing a pair of someone else’s underpants, even if they are clean.’
John pulled a face while Francis laughed.
‘That’s a good analogy, Dr McKay. I must remember that.’
The examination continued, and Francis proved to be very satisfied with John’s healing progress on both his leg and his arm.
‘Your arm is almost fully healed. Your leg would probably benefit from another couple of sessions with Dr McKay, but you’re not going to require anywhere close to the amount of therapy I originally thought you would. Maybe one or two sessions so we can assess your amount of movement. We might get away with just one.’ He laughed at the expression of relief on John’s face.
‘I hate physical therapy,’ John admitted.
‘Have you had to have it often?’
‘A couple of times. I’ve had my share of injuries.’
‘Then be extra grateful to your Guide that you won’t need much at all any more.’ Francis grinned at the kiss John blew to Rodney. ‘I’d like to see you once more before I fully discharge you, but if you continue the way you have been, you’ll be back on duty in a month’s time.’
John nodded but didn’t say anything.
‘What’s the problem?’ Francis asked. ‘I know there’s something, so spill, John.’
‘I don’t know what I’ll be doing next,’ John admitted with a glance towards Rodney.
Francis nodded understandingly and gestured towards John’s pants. ‘You can get dressed now. May I have a word, Dr McKay? And I’d like you to try not to listen, John.’
John frowned at him and reached for his slacks while Rodney followed the medic back to the desk.
‘I don’t suppose a Recon Marine and an Astrophysicist have an awful lot in common,’ Francis said neutrally.
‘Not much,’ Rodney admitted. ‘It’s going to be a problem for us. Do you have any suggestions to make?’
‘Not about that. What I wanted to say was under normal circumstances I’d recommend Colonel Sheppard for several sessions of counselling on top of the physical therapy, given what he and his team went through while they were held hostage.’
Rodney looked surprised. ‘I hadn’t considered that.’
‘I can’t do that, however, given the pair of you are so newly bonded. It wouldn’t be good for either of you if John were to discuss what happened without you present as it’s likely to bring the trauma he suffered to the fore of his mind and might make nightmares a possibility. He will, however, need to discuss it with someone. I’d normally ask if there was anyone close to either of you he would be able to speak to, but you have the Alpha Prime Sentinel and Guide sitting waiting for you both outside this office.’
‘So you think John should discuss what happened with Jim or Blair?’
‘I do. It’ll help him come to terms with both the captivity and the torture he and his team suffered.’
Rodney nodded. ‘I’ll do my best, but he’s a stubborn bastard.’
Francis laughed. ‘All Recon Marines are. I’ve treated enough of them to be certain about that.’
John appeared from behind the screen limping, his left shoe in his hands. ‘I heard that,’ he told them with a frown. ‘And it’s entirely untrue. I also can’t tie my left shoelace.’ He thrust his foot towards a grinning Rodney and glared at him while John Francis laughed and laughed.
John and Rodney came out of Dr Francis’ office with John still scowling, and Rodney still grinning but halted when they saw a Navy Corpsman standing at attention by Jim, Blair, and Patrick, his eyes moving nervously from side to side as though assessing how to make his exit. When he caught sight of John, he stood even straighter.
‘Colonel Sheppard, sir. I need to ask you to come with me to meet with Major Fraiser, but she asked that you come alone, sir.’
‘Not gonna happen,’ John told him, leaning against the wall where the others were sitting. ‘I’ll come, but my family comes with me.’
‘I’m afraid that’s not possible, sir.’
The question appeared to floor the young man. ‘I…my orders…’
‘Give me a good reason for leaving my family here, and I’ll think about it.’ John ignored his father’s mutterings. ‘I’ll still have my Guide with me, though. I won’t be parted from him.’
‘I…Major Fraiser said you were to come alone, sir.’
John didn’t speak but just watched the Corpsman until he shuffled uneasily.
‘I’ll…I’ll go and speak to Major Fraiser, shall I?’
John inclined his head then grinned as the young man scurried off.
Blair gave a delighted laugh. ‘I want one to play with, Jim. Can I have a soldier of my very own?’
Jim glared at John. ‘Now look what you’ve done.’
‘It never gets old, Blair,’ John told him, grinning.
Rodney huffed and went to pour himself a cup of coffee, holding up the jug in a silent offer to the others.
‘I’ll have a cup, please,’ Blair said, holding out a cup he’d clearly already used earlier.
Rodney frowned at him. ‘How much coffee have you had today?’
‘Not enough. Fill the cup, squirt.’
‘Squirt?’ John asked, raising an eyebrow. ‘Do I want to know?’
A pink flush rose up Rodney’s cheeks. ‘It’s what he called me when I first went to stay with them.’
‘He was this short, curly-haired kid and quite adorable.’
‘I was fourteen years old!’
John grinned at the pair of them. ‘How did you come to live with Jim and Blair, Rodney? You’ve not told me that bit.’
‘The CIA was pressuring him,’ Jim said dryly. ‘They wanted him to work for them, and he had no one else to look out for him. Blair knew one of Rodney’s professors at Northwestern who also knew Rodney was a high-level Guide, even though the Canadians don’t have a rating system like ours.’
‘Dr Franklin gave me a call and explained the situation to us,’ Blair continued. ‘He was afraid they’d manage to persuade Rodney one way or another, and since he was all alone in Chicago and had already gone into anaphylactic shock once when lemon juice was, for some inexplicable reason, discovered in the lab he was working in.’
‘Anaphylactic shock?’ John repeated aghast. ‘I had no idea your allergies were so serious, Rodney!’
Rodney flushed. ‘Well, they are. I’m extremely cautious around food and food preparation areas but, so I was told after the event, they found lemon juice inside the latex gloves we wore in the lab.’
‘Inside the gloves? How could it possibly…Oh.’ The penny finally dropped for John.
‘Exactly,’ Jim said, his face showing a vestige of the anger he must have felt upon first hearing about the situation. ‘There was no possibility it got in there naturally. Someone was trying to scare Rodney. Dr Franklin suspected the CIA although they denied it, of course. And since Rodney wasn’t actually killed by it, or have any lasting injuries, the whole thing was swept under the carpet.’
‘I might not have actually died, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant,’ Rodney argued. ‘I probably would have agreed to work for them if only to prevent it from happening again.’
‘Dr Franklin called Jim and me to ask us to step in both to be there as a safety net for him and to prevent his skills from being abused and, almost certainly, misused,’ Blair added.
‘And they took one look at me and decided to keep me,’ finished Rodney with a scowl. ‘It’s ancient history now, John.’
‘Maybe to you, but I want to know all about your misspent past,’ John told him, ruffling Rodney’s hair and making him slap at John’s hands. ‘It’s all come together in the man you are now.’
Patrick cleared his throat in warning as the young Corpsman returned, still looking worried.
‘Major Fraiser says she wants to see you alone, Colonel Sheppard.’
John pushed himself away from the wall. ‘Not happening.’ He snagged Rodney’s hand and glanced at the three seated men. ‘Come on, everyone. Let’s go home. I’m ready for a nap.’
The others got to their feet, gathered their belongings and moved towards the hospital entrance. John turned back to the Navy Corpsman who was shifting from foot to foot, a frightened look in his eyes. John almost felt sorry for him, then reminded himself of the eight vials of blood taken without his permission and his resolve strengthened.
‘Tell Dr Fraiser she sees me with my family or not at all.’ He nodded to the Corpsman, and he and Rodney went to join their family.
‘You know they won’t give up as easily as that,’ Rodney muttered to him.
‘I do know, but I’ll only meet this woman on my terms. It’s as simple as that.’
Rodney wasn’t mollified, and his lips thinned as he pressed them together.
John sighed and wondered if his life would ever be normal.
As soon as Rodney turned his phone back on, once they were in the car, it began to ring.
‘Now what!’ Rodney muttered as he answered it. ‘Radek? I told you John had a hospital appointment this morning.’
I remember but has been attack on SI central server this morning.
You heard. Miko made sure attacker couldn’t get past firewall, but I thought to inform you was important.
Rodney used his hand to cover his phone. ‘Radek’s English is for shit when he’s stressed or excited.’ Rodney explained to John in a low voice, aware he could hear both sides of the conversation.
‘Do you need me to come in?’ Rodney spoke into his phone
No, no. Is fine. Is just for information.
‘Okay. Well, if you want me, I’ll be at Ferry House for the rest of the day. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.’
Fine. Speak later.
‘Problem?’ Patrick asked.
‘Someone tried to hack into our server this morning,’ Rodney told him with a sigh. ‘Seriously, can’t we ever just have a quiet day?’
‘Should I be worried?’ Patrick asked again.
‘No, not at all. They didn’t get in and nor are they likely to get in. Sheppard Industries is probably the most secure network in the country, maybe the world. A hacker’s more likely to get into Fort Knox than into our system. The only reason we don’t market the security we’ve created for it is that we don’t want anyone to see exactly what we have. That’s probably the only way we’d ever be hacked – by someone who knows the network.’
‘Dad, you do pay your geeks well, don’t you?’ John asked, not entirely jokingly. ‘You really don’t want to have any disgruntled employees.’
‘We change the system every time someone with high-level access leaves the company,’ Rodney told him. ‘Not that many people leave. SI is a good company to work for.’
‘What? Even with you as their boss?’ Blair demanded, his lips twitching.
Rodney opened his mouth to reply, but John slipped his hand over it. ‘Don’t give him the satisfaction, Rodney. And don’t make Jim cross. He’s got a steely look in his eyes.’
This made them all laugh and also defused the building tension, just as John hoped it would. He did squeeze his Guide’s hand, though, and hoped Rodney would understand he wanted to discuss this further once they got home.