“What do you think?” John asked. He was slumped on a bench in the male officers’ locker room, trying to work up the energy to pull off his boots after they’d accumulated a hundred pounds of mud on a seemingly endless offworld trek.
“Think about what?” Lt. Edison asked.
“Major Lorne. As my new 2IC.” John knew the question was probably better posed to the Marine NCOs, but Edison had been on the first wave, was the next ranking officer after Ford, and John had assumed Edison would take the 2IC gig after the IOA declared Ford MIA, but Edison was a lieutenant and not up for promotion and Lorne was a major with experience as 2IC on an extended offworld operation.
“He’s a solid guy, sir,” Edison said.
“Handles the Marines pretty well,” Lt. Crown added.
John raised his eyebrows. “You think so?” He wasn’t a physically intimidating man himself, tall though he was; he knew he was fairly slender through the shoulders and hips, especially as compared to a big guy like Sgt. Barroso, who’d taken over for Bates as head of security. Lorne was shorter than John by several noticeable inches, but definitely broader across the shoulders and chest, stockier. John hadn’t thought he’d be big enough to really make an impression on the Marines.
“Yeah. He’s got the drill sergeant yell down when he needs it,” Lt. Negley said. He took a deep breath, then barked, in an admirable imitation of Lorne’s easy-going tenor set to a commanding boom, “Move it faster, Marines! My daughter could have had you eating her dust when she was five!”
Crown laughed, slapping his thigh. “That’s it, that’s it exactly! What was that, Corporal? I didn’t hear you! You think this is unfair? My daughter held it together better when she was in diapers!”
“Does Lorne actually have a daughter?” John asked.
Edison shrugged. “I dunno. Whether she’s real or not, the Marines don’t much like being compared to her. Motivates them pretty good. Cadman and some of the others might be irked at constantly being compared to little girls, though.”
With the connection to Earth reestablished and the reassurance that personnel could rotate in and out, the IOA had started fussing more about things like diversity and equality, and Atlantis had had a sudden influx of female personnel. With Elizabeth at the head of the Expedition, no one was going to complain about it, and as long as they did their jobs, John really didn’t care whether they were male, female, or other, but gender politics were a much bigger deal than before.
Having Teyla and Elizabeth and Heightmeyer ranked high in the command structure helped, but with the influx of female personnel had come new Marines, some of them a lot more ooh-rah! than John really liked. He’d never thought Ford’s enthusiasm could be outmatched. He was wrong.
“Right. I’ll have a talk with him about it,” John said. “But I’m glad he’s working out so far.”
The other officers nodded, finished undressing, and padded over to the showers.
John took a deep breath and stared at his mud-caked laces. He just wanted to go back to his quarters and sleep, but if he tracked this much mud across the city, Lt. Rivers, who was in charge of Maintenance, would have his head.
Lorne ambled into the locker room, looking fairly calm, for all that he was covered in a fine dusting of pale blue sand, like the kind in a fish tank.
“Rough mission off-world?” John asked.
Lorne sank down on the bench in front of his locker and slid his boots off with enviable ease. “Not as rough as yours, it looks like, sir.”
John nodded, fingered the knife at his waist and genuinely considered just slicing through the laces.
“Not to be presumptuous, sir, but do you want a hand?”
John was too tired to be embarrassed. “If you don’t think it’s an abuse of power, Major.”
Lorne nudged his boots under the bench with his heels and stood up, crossed the locker room, knelt in front of John. “I’m no Marine, but I’m not afraid of mud. Hazard of fatherhood.”
“Oh, so you do have a daughter?”
Lorne nodded. “Yep.”
John knew Lorne had a generally good record at the SGC, and that after him and Beckett he was a pretty heavy Gene carrier. “That why you didn’t ship out on the first wave?”
“Yes, sir. Couldn’t risk a one-way trip while Cora was still living at home.”
John raised his eyebrows. “She’s not living at home anymore?”
Lorne picked through the muddy knot in the laces of John’s left boot with surprising dexterity. “She’s a freshman at Stanford this year.”
“Stanford? That’s cool. I went to Stanford.” Then John eyed Lorne and did some mental math. “Wait a second. How old is your daughter?”
“But you’re -”
“Thirty-five, sir. Same as you.” Lorne glanced up briefly before he went to work on John’s other boot. “I became a father when I was pretty young. I was sixteen.”
John blinked. “Wow. That is young. Um. You raised her yourself?”
“Well, everyone on the commune helped, till I was done with college. Joined the ROTC in college, and after I got my commission, a lot of fellow officers’ wives were willing to help babysit.”
“Commune?” There was noticeably no mention of a mother.
“Yep. Free Love commune, just outside San Fran.” Lorne finished untying the other knot, and he did seem completely unbothered by the mud on John’s laces. He loosened the laces on one boot, then the other, and stood up.
John toed off his boots with a grateful sigh of relief, then a huff of disgust. His socks were totally caked with mud too.
Lorne smiled wryly. “Yeah, looks like your mission was a lot easier than mine.”
“Just dirtier, I think.” With the boots off, John’s feet were weightless, but his limbs and torso were filled with lead. “I might just sleep here, though. Don’t mind me.”
“Give me a moment, sir, and we can hobble over to the shower together.”
“I draw the line at you undressing me.”
“Wasn’t going to offer, sir. Not unless it was a life-or-death situation.”
John arched an eyebrow. “What kind of life-or-death situations require disrobing?”
“Chemical spills in the lab. Wrong kind spills on you, you strip down and jump in the emergency shower, no questions, no hesitations,” Lorne said.
“You a chemist in your spare time?”
“Ah, no. Geophysics is my thing, sir. But Cora’s a chem major. She takes lab safety very seriously.”
“Speaking of Cora - you might want to ease up on comparing the Marines to her. Comes off kinda - sexist.”
“Oh, no, the Marines know that Cora sets the standard. I made sure she learned all the essentials, growing up. Handling weapons. Unarmed combat. My girl can do a four-minute mile, and she can find her way out of any forest with a compass and the sun or the stars to guide her.” Lorne smiled proudly.
“You said you grew up on a free love commune? A hippie commune.”
“How did you and Cora come from - that?”
“My mother and grandmother respected my parenting wishes,” Lorne said. “I mean, no, they weren’t thrilled I was going to work for The Man, to become a soldier, but they respected my desire to make sure Cora had skills in everything she needed to do to be independent. She’s a great cook and tailor, too.”
John managed to divest himself of his clothes in about three times the time it took Lorne to disrobe, but eventually he was ready to hobble to the shower like an old man, letting Lorne take his weight. It was a good thing none of the Marines were seeing this.
Lorne was very patient about the whole thing - but then he’d raised a kid. He’d probably given her baths and stuff before, right?
“If it’s not too personal,” John said, feeling more lucid, “what happened to Cora’s mother?”
“Ah, well, it’s complicated. I mean, the short version is that she died right after Cora was born, but -”
“I’m so sorry,” John said, remembering his own mother’s death when he was sixteen. He noticed Negley, Crown, and Edison tuning in, listening, even though their showers were almost done.
Lorne shrugged, squirted some shampoo onto his hand, and worked it into a lather in his dark hair. “No, it - so, I was sixteen, and this pair of lesbians moved onto the commune. Amelia and Frankie, really sweet gals. Amelia had had kids before, but times being what they were, she lost them in the divorce when she came out and moved in with Frankie, and she and Frankie wanted another shot at kids, so they asked me to - help out.”
“You mean you jerked off into a cup?” Negley asked.
“You mean you -?” Edison blinked wide eyes, his lashes spiky-wet.
“Yeah.” Lorne shrugged, scrubbing up with soap.
“With both of them?” Crown asked. “At the same time?”
“How?” Edison asked. “I mean, I’ve seen it in pornos, but -”
Lorne huffed. “I was sixteen.”
All of the men made knowing sounds, fondly recalling their own teenage years and the wonder of the adolescent refractory period.
“Went a few rounds with each of them one night, and Amelia was the one who got pregnant.”
“And your parents let you?” Negley asked.
“It was a free love commune,” Lorne said. “As far as the people there were concerned, sixteen was the age of consent. Amelia and Frankie would let me be part of the kid’s life, but I wouldn’t have had to parent full-time like I ended up doing.”
“What happened to Amelia?” John asked. Amelia. That had been his mother’s name.
“Cancer,” Lorne said softly.
John swallowed hard. Just like his own mother.
“She found out while she was pregnant, and she refused the chemo, because it would’ve killed Cora. She lived long enough to give birth, and to see Cora, but a few hours after, she died. And Frankie - she couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t look at Cora and see Amelia in her, and she ran. Amelia and Frankie had agreed to list me on the birth certificate as the father, so after Amelia died and Frankie left, I took Cora home.”
“That’s rough. You were sixteen,” Edison said, sobering.
“Like I said, free love commune. I wasn’t the first teen parent. I was just, you know, the first guy to take full responsibility for my kid.” Lorne shrugged again, then tilted his head back to rinse out his hair.
John just wanted to get all the mud off his body and out of the unmentionable places and go to bed. He’d deal with his hair later.
“That’s cool, though,” Crown said. “You did a good job with her.”
Lorne laughed. “You’ve never met her.”
“Yeah, but if everything you say about her is true, sir -”
“Oh, it is, and more.” Lorne sighed. “You know the best thing about being on Atlantis? It’s sexist as hell, but now that I have my own bathroom with my quarters, I don’t have to dodge bras hanging in the shower to dry.”
“I had sisters, sir,” Crown said. “And that’s really irritating.”
“The hooks snag in your hair, right?” Lorne asked, and Crown nodded.
Growing up, Dave had always wanted a little sister.
What Dave didn’t know, what Patrick Sheppard thought John didn’t know, was that they’d almost had a little sister. Their mother had cheated on their father, run off with someone else, and gotten pregnant, and then she’d been diagnosed with cancer. She’d died and taken her baby with her.
At the time, John hadn’t understood it at all, because he knew his mother had loved him and his brother, but she’d left them with their father. Their father had been so hurt at the betrayal, and in divorcing their mother and enlisting an army of attorneys to make sure she never had custody or contact with them, he’d punished his sons as much as his ex-wife.
“Was it weird, sir?” Negley asked. “Raising a girl all by yourself?”
Lorne nodded vigorously. He shut off the water and snagged his towel, used it to rub down his body and scrub at his hair before he wrapped it around his waist. Negley, Crown, and Edison followed suit.
“You have no idea. I thought I was prepared, growing up with my grandma and mom and sister, but those were different times, and they still shielded me from a lot of girl stuff. One time when I was posted in Korea, I was coming off of a long recon mission, and Cora was bawling her eyes out in the bathroom because she got her period for the first time. I thought she was dying. There was blood everywhere and she was crying so hard she couldn’t talk - I don’t know who was more embarrassed, her or me after I called the base medics.”
Negley, Edison, and John made faces.
Lorne laughed. “Yeah. Raising a teenage girl has really taken the shine off of the feminine mystique, let me tell you.”
“Having sisters nearly killed it for me,” Crown said. “I just tell myself that no woman I’ve ever dated has been nearly as gross as my sisters.” He wrinkled his nose.
Negley and Edison laughed, and the three of them ambled back to the lockers.
John shut off his water and groped for his towel.
Lorne handed it to him. “You okay, sir?” he asked in a low voice. “You gonna make it?”
“Yep. Just need a moment. Being on the wrong side of thirty sucks.”
“I heard it was a long trek,” Lorne said sympathetically. “And don’t feel bad. I have it on good authority that Ronon is getting a Swedish massage from Dr. Ambrose after what he went through.”
“A Swedish massage?”
“More like taking shameful advantage of Dr. Ambrose admiring his physique.”
“Dunno if it’s shameful. I’d get one if I could.” John toweled himself off and then straightened up, followed Lorne back to the lockers. The three lieutenants were already gone. Lorne had some clean boxer briefs, sweats, and a faded USAF t-shirt in his locker, which he pulled on quickly.
“Do the female Marines know all about Cora?” John asked. “About how she’s your high standard?”
Lorne said, softly, “I think they know better than any of us how much harder they have to work before we see that they’ve met our standards and then some, hm?”
John realized he’d heard nothing in Lorne’s recounting of his life on the commune and with Cora about a father; his mother and grandmother had helped raise Cora while he was in school. “Is that her?” he asked. “That picture in your locker.”
Lorne, who was shaking the sand out of his boots, paused. “Oh, this picture?” He tugged it off of the door, handed it over. “Yeah, that’s daddy’s little girl.”
Daddy’s little girl was a young woman. Cora Lorne had her father’s high cheekbones and dimpled smile, but her hair was much darker, and her eyes were a different color - hazel, from the looks of them. John studied her, glanced up at Lorne. He could see where Cora took after her father, could guess where she took after her mother.
“Is she very tall?” John asked, handing the photo back.
“Taller than me, at least. Amelia was taller than me, than I am even now.” Lorne tacked the photo back to his locker door.
“My mother’s name was Amelia.”
“Was, sir? If it’s not too -”
“She died when I was sixteen.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”
“Cancer, too, coincidentally. Her child didn’t make it. My brother always wanted a baby sister.”
“I have an older sister,” Lorne said. “I don’t think I’d have minded a younger sister, but my father took his own life shortly before I was born.”
So much death in his family. John winced. “I’m sorry.”
Lorne shrugged. “Life kills us all in the end, right?”
“That it does.”
Lorne closed his locker and tucked his boots under one arm. He was wearing his running sneakers. “You got it from here?”
John nodded. “Yeah.”
“All right. Good night, sir.”
“And to you, Major.” The shower had eased a lot of the ache in John’s limbs, but he was feeling a little raw, besides. He hadn’t thought about his mother so much since -
Since Nancy had told him about their child, the one she’d been carrying, the one who hadn’t survived.
Lorne had been surprisingly open about his family, his past. John knew Ford had been raised by his grandparents, an only child, his best friend and near-sister a girl cousin who’d also been an only child. John knew nothing about Rodney’s family. The man could’ve been born out from under a rock. Teyla had lost her parents in a Wraith culling. And Ronon - he was still an utter mystery. John was pretty sure he could predict the man in battle at this point, but beyond that -
Had Ronon had children, back on Sateda? He was basically a kid now, and he’d been on the run for seven years, so he’d been a kid when he first became a Runner, but Lorne was proof that age was no guarantee of when parenthood began.
It was difficult to imagine Lorne, the poster boy for Air Force excellence second only to Cameron Mitchell, as a hippie-dippy free-wheeling teenager who’d have a crazy threesome with a pair of women.
John knew that plenty of people who’d known him growing up wouldn’t have been able to imagine him a member of any branch of service, given his attitude toward authority as a teenager.
It was easier to see Lorne being responsible enough to raise a pretty, badass, and intelligent daughter as a single father. He was like three people packed into one - gate team leader, administrator, and logistics officer.
John heaved himself to his feet, opened his locker, and found a spare uniform to change into. He was on stand-down for the next twelve hours, but he had to look respectable on his way back to his quarters.
As he tumbled onto his bed, too tired to even crawl under the covers, he thought that if he had had a little sister, she’d have looked like Cora Lorne, dimpled smile and dark hair and hazel eyes and pointed ears and all.
John nodded. “He was telling me about her the other day. She’s a freshman at Stanford. Chem major.”
Rodney hummed thoughtfully. “Does she have the Gene?”
“How would I know? And how would Lorne, for that matter?”
“It’s the Gene. It’s genetic.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Distinct possibility. O’Neill was the first generation where the Gene was viable. Apparently it gets stronger in newer generations. They suspected his son had it, but there wasn’t enough evidence to justify exhuming the kid’s body.”
John knew the Gene was genetic (it was, after all, a gene), but he’d never thought of anyone else in his family having it, like Dave or his kids or - his own. Rodney’s blithe mention of O’Neill’s kid’s body made John flinch. He hadn’t known O’Neill had a son.
Radek said, peevishly, “The Air Force is not going to force a little girl to take a blood test. Child labor is still illegal in your country, no?”
“Didn’t you hear John? She’s not a little girl. She’s in college. A legal adult. We could just - ask her if she’s interested in the program. Hey, Maxwell, how would you like to train a chemist from scratch?”
Maxwell lifted her head. She’d been peering intently at a printout from an instrument. “What kind of chemist, Rodney? A biochemist, an analyst, an organic chemist, an inorganic chemist, a materials scientist, a chemical engineer, a polymer chemist, a geochemist, a surface chemist, as mass spectrometrist, a spectroscopist, a natural product synthesist, a proteomics specialist, a chemometrics expert, a petrochemist, a nuclear chemist, a -”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Yes, fine. Point taken. What kind of chemist does Lorne’s daughter want to be?” he asked John.
“How am I supposed to know?” John asked. “She’s a freshman. And she’s Lorne’s daughter. Ask him.”
Radek, whose brow was furrowed, said, “Is Lorne’s daughter some kind of prodigy?”
“Naw.” Edison, who was Gene on Deck for the scientists today, was waving a hand at the device Radek was studying. “She’s eighteen.”
Radek turned his gaze skyward the way he did when he was doing mental calculations. “But Major Lorne is only -”
“There was a pair of lesbians, when he was sixteen,” Edison said, and Radek’s expression went thoughtful. Then he chuckled.
“Lorne? Really?” Rodney frowned. “But he’s so -”
“As entertaining as this prurient inquiry into Major Lorne’s personal life has been,” Maxwell said sharply, and John was reminded that for all she had silky long hair and a heart-shaped face and big blue eyes, she was a chemist who could make a bomb out of seemingly anything, “some of us have work to do.”
Radek immediately ducked his head and typed faster. Edison shrugged and furrowed his brow some more, hand extended over the Ancient device.
“The SGC trains some kids fresh out of grad school, for post-docs,” Rodney said. “And I know the Academy has created a ‘deep space telemetry’ track for candidates, to give them the anthropology and linguistics and negotiation skills they need to be first-contact gate team leaders. Why couldn’t we start training scientists from scratch? Think about it - you’d get them when they’re young, eighteen, nineteen. They’d be easier to train up, get gate-rated. New dogs, new tricks.”
It wasn’t a bad proposition, especially since the SGC was already grooming military personnel for the program.
“Have you taken it up with Weir?” John asked.
“I will.” Rodney swept out of the lab.
John followed him, because he could sense just how this would turn into a disaster.
Rodney ignored him and continued addressing Elizabeth. “She’s eighteen, she’s a legal adult, and if she has the Gene, she’d be perfect.”
Elizabeth glanced at Lorne, whose expression was unreadable but who was practically vibrating with fury, then at Rodney, whose eyes were alight with excitement.
“Even if she doesn’t have the Gene,” Rodney said, “Beckett’s gene therapy is more likely to take for her, because there’s a Gene-carrier in her family. I mean, apart from her being at the beginning of her scientific training, she’s perfect - she has combat skills and is physically fit. She’s practically gate-rated already.”
Lorne cleared his throat. “Dr. Weir, I’m sure the science personnel on base have enough to do without having to worry about taking on a student. As bright as my daughter is, she’s only a college freshman, and the cost of training her would far outweigh any productivity she’d have till she’s finished with her education.”
“On the contrary,” Rodney said. “We could teach her real science, instead of having to undo years of bad habits and false knowledge that they’re still propagating in universities because they don’t know what we know.”
“I refuse to let my daughter be subject to the dangers of this program,” Lorne said flatly.
John had thought he was going to say subject to Rodney McKay. It was kind of implied in the fury in his gaze.
“And yet you’re subject to the dangers of this program all the time,” Rodney pointed out.
“I chose this for myself. This kind of danger is inherent in serving in the armed forces,” Lorne said, which on some level was true, but in other ways was so not. There were no space aliens in the recruitment brochures. “For my daughter, science will be safe. On Atlantis, science isn’t safe. The casualty rates among the scientists in the first year of the expedition -”
“I know all about their casualty rates,” Rodney snapped, and John knew he was thinking of Gall and Abrams. “Your daughter is an adult. She has the right to choose for herself whether or not she faces the inherent risks of being on the cutting edge of science.”
“No one is prepared for what this program is like,” Lorne said. “All the explanations in the world -”
“The same can be said for any experience,” Rodney snapped.
Lorne’s hands curled into fists. “She’s my little girl.”
“Not so little, from what I hear. Taller than you, right?” Rodney asked.
All the color drained out of Lorne’s face. He turned to Elizabeth. “Permission to be excused, ma’am? I need to go shoot something.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Go.”
Lorne’s hand was on his sidearm before he made it out the door.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Elizabeth said, “Rodney, your idea certainly has merit, and I’m willing to consider it, but perhaps we’d best start with someone other than Cora Lorne.”
He was just as confused as everyone else when the newest personnel beamed down from the Daedalus and one of them launched herself at Major Lorne with a joyful cry of Daddy!
Lorne, in full tac gear, was standing in the gate room just after returning from an off-world mission, and he staggered under her weight.
“Cora? What -?”
“You know that fancy internship I told you about in my emails?” The young woman stepped back, beaming, and she had Lorne’s dimpled smile.
Lorne nodded, looking dazed.
“Surprise! Here I am! I can’t believe you’ve been doing this since you made captain! This is so cool!” She swatted him on the arm. “All those times you told me there was no such thing as aliens - you’re such a good liar! How awesome is this? We’re in another galaxy, together!”
And then Lorne took in Cora’s outfit - one of the gray Atlantis uniforms with blue science patches and said, “McKay. Where is he?”
John stepped up, caught his shoulder. “Major, you’ve just come off a long day. I’ve come off of - a very long day. Why don’t you let, er, Cadet Lorne settle into her quarters, and then we can have a chat with Dr. Weir and Dr. McKay later?”
“Sir,” Lorne said tightly. “Of course.”
Cora was almost as tall as John. She beamed at him. “Hi! You must be Colonel Sheppard. Daddy’s told me so much about you. I’m Cora Lorne!” She offered her hand.
John shook it politely. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Cora. Welcome to Atlantis. I am indeed Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard.”
Dr. Maxwell stepped into the gate room, wearing an expression of longsuffering. “Miss Lorne, I’m Dr. Dia Maxwell. I’ll show you and the rest of the science personnel where our living quarters are, give you the dime tour of the habitable areas of the city.”
“I’m living in the science wing with the other scientists. Isn’t that so cool? See you later, Daddy.” Cora pressed a kiss to Lorne’s cheek, fluttered her fingers, and bounced after Maxwell. Some of the other scientists peeled away from the cluster of beam downs and followed.
John watched her go. “Did someone give her coffee right before she beamed down?”
Lorne scrubbed a hand over his face. “No. That’s just - Cora. She’s not allowed to have caffeine. It makes her sleepy.” He straightened up, faced the newest contingent of Marines who’d just watched a pretty girl call him ‘Daddy’. They were wearing expressions ranging from amusement to derisive smirks.
John felt kind of bad for them. Only kind of.
Lorne’s command boom filled the entire gate room, and they snapped to attention. Then he handed them off to Sgt. Barroso to get settled in and strode away, hand on the grip of his sidearm. He was probably headed for the shooting gallery. Again.
Lorne was standing in the corner, hands clasped behind his back, a muscle in his jaw twitching. Rodney had his arms crossed over his chest and looked very defensive.
“Elizabeth?” John asked.
“We’re facing a pretty serious problem, Colonel Sheppard,” Elizabeth said. “I did authorize Dr. McKay’s starting a pilot program to have young scientists trained for the SGC and, more specifically, for the Atlantis Expedition. I did not, however, authorize his bringing one of the undergraduate students here, and I certainly didn’t authorize his contacting Cora Lorne. Unfortunately, what’s done is done. Miss Lorne is here, and she’s been read into the program, and according to Dr. Zelenka, she’s an even stronger Gene-carrier than her father.”
Rodney looked pleased with himself for one second before Lorne shot him a venomous look.
“Major Lorne is understandably upset that Dr. McKay went behind his back,” Elizabeth continued. “We need some way to resolve this so Dr. McKay and Major Lorne can work together peaceably.”
John noted her use of everyone’s titles, considered carefully. “Of course, Miss Lorne will be restricted to base. No gate travel for her, because she’s an intern, not an actual member of the expedition. I know I’m not the chief science officer, but I am the military commander, and I am responsible for the safety of everyone on base. As for Dr. McKay and Major Lorne - perhaps some sort of mediation session with Dr. Heightmeyer would best serve to repair their working relationship.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Excellent. I’ll have Dr. Heightmeyer contact the both of you. Get in to see her as soon as possible. And all interns will be restricted to base pending further action from the IOA. Major Lorne, Colonel Sheppard, you’re dismissed. Dr. McKay, Dr. Maxwell, we need to speak further.”
John nodded and left the office. Lorne followed him out. As soon as the door closed behind him, all the tension drained out of him, and he looked - miserable. Exhausted.
“Major?” John asked.
“He doesn’t understand everything I had to do, everything I did, to keep her safe, to keep her protected, to -” Lorne bit his lip, fell silent. “I’d better get some food. I’m more rational when I’m not hungry.”
“Dinner sounds good,” John agreed. They headed for the transporter and the mess hall together.
When they arrived, the scene that greeted them was straight out of any father’s nightmare. Cora was sitting at a table with a tray of food and surrounded by a dozen young, strapping, admiring Marines, all of whom were male. She was talking animatedly, hands waving, eyes bright.
Lorne went from exhausted to downright homicidal in a flash. He was across the mess hall and at Cora’s side before John could blink, and John scrambled to catch up to him before Atlantis lost an entire platoon of Marines.
“ - And then I broke his arm, folded him in half, and shoved him under the nearest car. I was so scared, I was totally bawling my eyes out when I called Daddy,” Cora said, and John came up short.
One of the Marines nodded earnestly. “How did you break his arm?”
“You know, it was such a blur, I don’t really remember, but apparently the police reviewed the footage from the parking lot camera with Daddy, and I managed a flying arm bar,” Cora said. “It’s one of Daddy’s favorite moves. He made sure I could do it without thinking. Right, Daddy?” She beamed up at Lorne.
All of his anger melted away. “Right, pumpkin.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “What do you say you let these hungry Marines get back to their food? You can sit with me and Colonel Sheppard.”
The Marines eyed Lorne with a mixture of wariness and respect. Cora scooped up her tray and followed John and Lorne over to the table in the corner where Ronon and Teyla were sitting and eating.
“You’re Teyla, right?” Cora plopped down and set her tray on the table. “Daddy’s told me all about you. Says you can totally kick his ass. You should teach me your moves.”
Teyla cast an amused look at Lorne, who blushed faintly. “Has he? Well, I am always glad to share my knowledge of physical combat.”
John lifted his chin at Lorne. “Let’s go get some food, Major.”
They trudged to the chow line together.
Lorne shrugged. “It’s what she’s always called me.”
John studied him. “You really are a father, aren’t you?”
“Have been for the past eighteen years. Always will be, sir.”
“What’s it like?” John remembered the look on Nancy’s face when he’d returned from his first semester at OTS, twenty-two and on top of the world, and she’d told him about their almost son.
“Terrifying. Exhilarating. Frustrating. Amazing.” Lorne sighed. “Holding her in my arms for the first time and knowing she was mine for the rest of my life, that it was my job to take care of her, make sure she had a good life? Most terrifying moment ever. And I almost got eaten by an angry Unas one time. Nothing I ever do - for the Air Force, for the SGC, for Atlantis - will compare to that girl sitting over there, talking Teyla’s ear off and probably telling her really embarrassing stories about me.”
John glanced over at Cora, who was again talking animatedly and waving her hands - even Ronon was laughing - and wondered, for the millionth time, what it would have felt like, to hold his own son in his arms. Would that boy, like Cora, have had his eyes?
“How mad are you at Rodney?” John asked.
“I don’t have words for it, sir.”
“Don’t kill him. We need him.”
“I know that, sir. That solar system he destroyed? It was uninhabited. Cora is my entire world. More than my world - she’s my universe. If anything happens to her -”
“Nothing will, Major.”
“This is Pegasus, sir.”
Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
“That it is, Major.”
But the soldiers and the scientists of the Atlantis Expedition will do the impossible to make it right.
Cora was Lorne’s own.
And she was definitely Lorne’s. She went running every morning with his team, and according to various Marines, she put in at least half an hour in the base weight room every day. She sparred with Teyla and even Ronon. She had a desk set aside for her in the lab, so she could work on her correspondence homework from Stanford (Rodney was already grumbling about gen ed requirements and how stupid they were) but also be Gene on Deck in case anyone needed an Ancient device initiated. When she was done with her regular allotment of homework (four hours a day, five days a week) she followed Maxwell around the lab, helping her with experiments and being tutored in the ways of chemistry. When she wasn’t in the lab with Maxwell, she was running around base with Laura Cadman. She’d taken a real shine to Lieutenant Cadman, an explosives expert and decorated Marine and former Secret Service Agent.
Cora was seemingly everywhere all at once, with her bubbly enthusiasm and dimpled smile, and yet she never fell behind on her coursework. Maxwell praised her quickness in understanding advanced chemistry principles, and Radek had good things to say about her mathematical skills. Rodney was very pleased with himself, because the science department was thriving with Cora in the lab, having constant access to her very strong Gene.
A more insecure man than John would have felt less special, with the way the scientists gushed about how devices lit up when Cora so much as sneezed at them.
Cora did manage to curb her enthusiasm when it came to interacting with Lorne during work hours. Instead of bounding up to him and kissing him on the cheek and calling him Daddy, she nodded at him respectfully in the hallway and called him Major, and he responded with a wry smile and a Miss Lorne, which made Cora absurdly pleased.
John wasn’t sure what had gone on between Rodney and Lorne in their mediation session with Dr. Heightmeyer, but Lorne was polite and calm every time he interacted with Rodney, so John was pretty sure things were fine, but then Rodney started complaining about, well, everything. His boots got ruined on a mission, and when he requisitioned a new pair the quartermaster gave him a pair one size too small, and after Rodney pointed this out, he was given the right size but two left boots, and so the quartermaster had to order a pair in Rodney’s size from Earth, and when they arrived, they came with pink laces.
Rodney complained even more than usual during an offworld trek, and John might have written it off as him being even more grouchy, only he noticed Rodney was walking funny, and when he asked if Rodney was injured, Rodney informed him, peevishly and loudly, that there had been a mishap in laundry and all his underwear had been ruined in a batch of whites, and once again, the quartermaster had given him replacements that were too small, and -
And that was all John wanted to hear about Rodney’s woes, thanks. The man made mountains out of molehills when it came to missing the comforts of Earth.
But then brownies disappeared from the mess a week after the Daedalus made its usual shipment, and while Rodney kicked up a huge fuss, John was starting to suspect something was wrong.
He knew exactly what was wrong when he spotted Cora in the lab, nibbling delicately on a square of brownie while she worked on a history essay.
No wonder Lorne was able to be so polite and calm with Rodney. Given that Lorne had stormed off to the shooting gallery and put no less than a thousand rounds through his sidearm when he found out what Rodney was planning and then had done with Cora, John should have known that one mediation session with Heightmeyer wasn’t enough.
Cora was oblivious to all of the drama surrounding her presence on Atlantis. Even though she was an intern, she was also a teenage girl, and Atlantis was her college, and she wanted to have the best college experience ever. She and some of the other scientists - and Cadman and whichever female military personnel were so inclined - formed their own ‘sorority’, Alpha Tau Lambda. They had movie and nailpolish nights in the common rooms, group sleepovers (complete, or so John heard, with pillow fights), and spa days, thanks to Dr. Ambrose’s expertise.
Given that the Marines got up to all kinds of shenanigans amongst themselves, John looked the other way when the ladies went on a boot raid against an entire shift of Marines and stole every single one of their left boots so none of them had a complete pair of boots when they woke and went to report for duty. (To up the ante, Cora and the scientists devised a fiendishly difficult scavenger hunt for the Marines to locate their missing boots, and some of the Marines revealed, in their desperation to get their boots back before John called a uniform muster, some high-level math and science skills hidden behind the ooh-rah and pumping iron.)
John was ready to intervene between Rodney and Lorne when Rodney started grumbling that his favorite coffee blend had run out, but then he spotted Rodney down a side corridor, gaze downcast, fluttering his hands nervously and talking to Lorne, and he knew things would sort themselves out. Sure enough, there were brownies to be had with dinner the next night.
John continued to keep an eye on Cora, though. He wasn’t sure what he’d have done, if Rodney had gone behind his back and brought his child to Atlantis. It might have been different, with a son, one who was older and a soldier -
And then it happened. What John had been afraid of ever since Cora arrived on Atlantis. What Lorne had probably been afraid of ever since Cora had drawn her first breath. No one said a word about it to John or Lorne, or even Heightmeyer or Elizabeth, but Heightmeyer and Elizabeth’s grim expressions when John happened upon them in Ops meant they’d heard. John was pretty sure Rodney didn’t know, but Dr. Maxwell did. Cadman and the rest of Cora’s sorority did, because they followed her all around the base, seemingly a cheerful gaggle of women but in truth a security detail, a human wall.
One of the Marines had tried to get fresh with Cora. John wasn’t sure how aggressive he’d been, how far he’d gotten, and he wasn’t sure who.
Until two days later, when there was a brawl in the military living quarters atrium over some allegedly stolen video games, and one of the corporals got his arm broken, his nose broken, and lost several teeth, and Cora’s security detail backed off.
Lorne issued stiff punishments for everyone involved, his expression unreadable as he paced the ranks of Marines, his voice booming through the atrium.
John spoke to Dr. Beckett and arranged for the injured corporal to return to Earth to convalesce. He sent an email to General Landry and made sure the corporal didn’t return to Atlantis.
It felt fitting, when General Landry reported that the boy had been shipped out to Antarctica, on permanent latrine duty.
Because Cora never reported anything, there wasn’t much further to be done, but John kept tabs on the corporal and was pleased when, six months after his time in Antarctica, he separated from service.
John didn’t ask what, if anything, Lorne had done to the corporal, but he could guess, a couple of months after that, when the corporal was busted into Leavenworth for a heavy NDA violation.
It was only after John received that report that Lorne finally seemed to relax. Where he’d check on Cora seemingly a dozen times a day - talking requisitions in the lab with Zelenka while Cora was initiating devices; discussing C4 supplies with Cadman while Cora was there for an explosives tutorial; checking on a Marine doing physical therapy at the gym while Cora was doing leg day; bringing new candles for Teyla while Cora sat with her at supper - he backed off, left her to her own devices, let her spend time with her new friends, though he was always available when she wanted to spend time with him.
She was always invited to his Team Nights, which mostly involved action movies or poker.
John wondered what they did together, just the two of them, until one day he stumbled across them, lounging on chaises on a balcony overlooking the west pier, both of them with sketchbooks across their knees. Cora was creating an admirable rendition of the city stretched out below her. Lorne was sketching Cora, her smile, the wonder on her face, the stray strands of hair escaping from her messy bun. Lorne was very, very good.
John, who’d been going walkabout, because he liked to do that sometimes, to see how the city was running, backed away from the balcony as quietly as possible so as not to interrupt them. Cora was chattering about something Cadman had taught her involving explosives and gummy bears. Lorne was humming and nodding in all the right places. John was sure he was listening - the man listened to seemingly everything - but he said nothing. The expression on his face was -
John hadn’t seen it in a long time. Not since he was sixteen, before his mother died. She’d looked at Dave like that. Quiet. Pleased. Happy. At peace.
He turned away before he invaded their privacy further.
She didn’t always give him a lingering hug - sometimes it was a quick side-hug while Lorne was issuing orders to his team. But other times Lorne tugged her close and held her tightly and closed his eyes, and John wondered what it would have been like, to be able to hug Nancy goodbye like that.
What it would have felt like, to hold his own child like that.
John knew, if he’d had a child of his own, he wouldn’t be on Atlantis. He’d be back on Earth, driving the kid to school, listening to him talk about his friends, teaching him to play guitar and love Star Wars and -
And then Dr. Lindsey returned from a regular offworld visit to a primitive planet where she was teaching agricultural skills with a worrying report: she’d lost contact with Lorne and his team, and Lorne had last ordered her to request backup.
John rounded up his team for SAR, and he issued strict orders to Major Kersey to lock down Lindsey’s report until AR-1 returned.
“I mean it,” John said, gaze locked on Kersey’s. “Not one word of this gets beyond this Control room and senior command, understand? Or what happened to Corporal Dunning will look like a walk in the park.”
Kersey nodded. “Yes, sir.”
John signaled to Chuck to dial up the gate, and then he headed through with Teyla, Rodney, and Ronon on his heels, Lindsey fretting over Rodney’s shoulder.
John’s mind spun with possibilities. Lorne had radioed in to Lindsey, told her he and his team were under fire. He’d followed protocol, done the right thing, sent Lindsey to the gate to dial Atlantis for back-up. Backup had arrived.
Lindsey led them through the village to a house that had recently been on fire. The spinning in John’s mind only sped up as he, Teyla, and Ronon, picked through the debris. John didn’t think when he kicked aside some charred timber, found a body. Not his first rodeo. Not his first burned body. And then the familiar glint.
No. Not dog togs, not -
Lorne’s dog tags.
John hustled everyone back to the gate, including a sobbing Lindsey. He ordered Marines to escort her straight to Heightmeyer and made a beeline for Elizabeth’s office to make his report. She ordered medical teams back to the planet to retrieve the bodies.
John held out Lorne’s dog tags.
“Someone has to tell Cora,” Elizabeth said.
Ordinarily protocol dictated that John wrote a letter, sent it to a fallen soldier’s next of kin, and someone stateside delivered it.
“Not till we’ve confirmed it,” John said. “Beckett still needs to run DNA tests -”
“This is Atlantis. She’ll find out.”
“I ordered Major Kersey -”
“She’s Lorne’s daughter.”
John bit his lip.
Elizabeth reached for the dog tags. “Do you want me to do it?”
This moment was one John had never prepared for, in Officer Training. He knew how to write the letters, the right thing to say, but -
“Hey, Colonel Sheppard?”
John spun around. Cora stood in the doorway of Elizabeth’s office.
“Miss Lorne.” He closed his fist around the dog tags reflexively.
Cora noticed the motion, and her eyes went wide. “If this is a bad time -”
Chuck called from Ops, “Unscheduled offworld activation.”
Elizabeth caught John’s gaze.
“Go,” he said. “I’ve got this.” That might have been a lie, but this was his job. His responsibility. His duty. He owed at least this much to Lorne.
Elizabeth nodded and headed over to Chuck’s console.
“Hey, Colonel,” Cora said, “I was wondering if you’d teach me to fly a jumper sometime? Rodney says you taught him how. I know Daddy’s a fine pilot, but when he was teaching me to drive -” She wrinkled her nose.
A lump lodged in John’s throat. “Of course, I’d be more than willing.”
Cora beamed at him. “Thanks, sir! Now, to break the news to Daddy. Any suggestions?”
John swallowed hard. “Miss Lorne, have a seat.”
Cora attempted to sober her expression, but she was vibrating with excitement. She perched on the edge of one of Elizabeth’s guest chairs and gazed up at him, eyes bright and earnest. “What’s up, Colonel?”
John sat down opposite her, because he felt like he was looming, and she didn’t deserve to be scared, any more scared than she was about to be. “Cora,” he said, “AR-3 was escorting Dr. Lindsey for a regular offworld mission -”
“The fishing and farming mission, right? Lindsey said it was pretty peaceful. I’m trying to convince Daddy to let me go with her sometime so I can meet some aliens besides Ronon and Teyla.”
John wet his lips. His pulse roared in his ears. “AR-3 came under fire, and Major Lorne ordered Lindsey back to the gate to call for back-up. My team and I responded immediately, but - we were too late.” He held out the dog tags. “I’m sorry. He - he saved Dr. Lindsey. Died a hero.”
The words, which John had written so many times, sounded horribly trite when actually spoken aloud.
Cora stared at the dog tags, her expression blank, that same blank that had been on Lorne’s face when he first heard about Rodney’s plan to bring her to Atlantis.
Her eyes filled with tears, and she reached out, hand shaking, to pick up the dog tags. She cradled them carefully in her palm, traced a finger over her father’s name.
And then she collapsed in on herself, sobbing.
John didn’t know what to do. Should he let her have some privacy? Should he radio for Cadman and Maxwell? Maybe take her to Heightmeyer? No, Heightmeyer was dealing with Lindsey.
John was no father, had no idea how to comfort a child.
But he’d once been a child, confronted with news of his mother’s death. He remembered standing in the foyer with his brother by his side, listening to his father, stone-faced, deliver the news. He remembered the world shifting under his feet, his body going numb.
He remembered Dave reacting just as Cora had.
He remembered that for days afterward, Dave wouldn’t leave his side, even though he was twelve and almost a teenager - he clung to John, terrified that John, like their mother, was going to disappear. John hadn’t had it in him to care about being a dignified Sheppard Man then, and he’d slung an arm around Dave and held him tight and didn’t let go till Dave could finally step away on his own.
John pulled Cora into her arms and held her tight, tight. She clung to him, sobbing and keening, and John let her.
Elizabeth appeared in the doorway, expression grim. John glanced up at her, shook his head minutely. She tapped her radio, a signal for him to call her as soon as he was done with Cora, and he nodded.
When Cora finally pulled back, her eyes were wide and her face was flushed and damp. “What happened? Did it hurt?”
John couldn’t lie to her. Burning was an awful way to go. He tried to find words, failed. She was a bright girl. She caught the implication immediately.
She started crying again.
John eased her to her feet. “Let’s get you back to your quarters. Unless you want to go see Dr. Beckett for, um, a sedative or something?”
She shook her head, trembling in his arms, and John squeezed her tightly.
“Come on,” he said, and nudged her out of Elizabeth’s office, guided her over to the transporter. Once they reached the science residential quarters, he was lost, and Cora lifted her head to give him directions between sniffles.
Her quarters were - bright. A vibrantly-colored comforter on her bed, definitely not Atlantis issue. Posters of bands John had never heard of tacked to the walls. The entire wall above her bed covered with photographs of her family, of home. Cora, in a graduation cap and gown, with Lorne beside her in full dress blues. The other women must have been his mother, grandmother, and sister. A couple of kids - boy and girl, niece and nephew? The Golden Gate Bridge. Cora in a prom dress while Lorne pinned a corsage on her. Cora and friends, beaming at the camera.
There were pictures from all over the world - Lorne’s postings before the SGC.
Pictures of Cora as a little girl and Lorne, looking far too young to be a father.
Cora curled up on the bed, buried her face in her pillow.
John hovered uselessly for a second, turned to go.
“Can you hand me that picture of my mom?” Cora pointed to the little box serving as her nightstand. On it were several framed photos - of Lorne in his dress blues for his promotion to Major, his mother and grandmother and sister, and -
Teenaged Lorne, standing between two women, one of whom had curly dark blonde hair, the other who -
He picked up the photo with shaking hands, held it out to Cora.
She accepted it, cradled it to her chest and curled around it, sniffling and hiccupping.
“Which -” John’s voice choked. “Which one of them is your mom?”
Cora tapped the other woman, the one with dark hair and hazel eyes and sharp, delicate ears. “Her. Amelia Monroe.” Cora smoothed a finger over Lorne’s face. “I’m older now than Daddy was when I was born. He was so grown up. Grandma and Nan and Aunt Tally helped take care of me, but I always knew he was my daddy, my parent. I can be a grown-up now. I’ll be all right. Right, Colonel?”
John stared down at that photograph, shocky and numb. “Yeah, Cora. You’ll be all right. You - you have your family, still, too. And you have - Atlantis. If you want to stay.”
Cora sniffled. “I should go back to Earth. It’s what Daddy would have wanted. He never wanted me here, with all this danger. Didn’t want something to happen to me if I went offworld, or if there was a foothold situation. I can still help the SGC, right? From Earth?”
“If you want to.”
“I want to. Now that I know - I think Daddy would be proud of me. If I carried on his work.” Cora blinked up at John. “Think I could join the ROTC? Or maybe go to the Academy? I’d make a good airman, right? A good pilot. Bet I could fly. Daddy always loved to fly.”
John wanted to ask what she knew about her mother, what, if anything, Lorne had known, had told her, but - no. This wasn’t about him. This was about her. “Maybe you should wait a little bit, before you make that kind of decision.”
Cora nodded. “That’s what Daddy would have said.” Her eyes watered again, and her chin quivered. “Would have.”
John patted her shoulder carefully. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Cora shook her head. “No, Colonel Sheppard. Thank you.” And then her gaze hardened. “You’ll find who did this, won’t you?”
John couldn’t make any promises, but he said, “I will. We will.”
Cora nodded again and closed her eyes, curled tighter around the photograph of her parents.
“Radio if you need anything,” John said, and he headed for the door.
He made it out of her room and down the hall and into the nearest bathroom before he threw up.
His radio crackled, and Elizabeth’s voice was a blessed distraction.
“John, I need to speak to you. It’s about the Genii.”
Elizabeth played it safe, told Cowen about Ladon’s plan. But she played it smart, agreed to send John and a team to the planet where Ladon’s base was to raid it for the ZPM.
John was focused on the problem of Ladon and the Genii, was absolutely not thinking about Cora and Lorne -
Until Elizabeth radioed him with news. The bodies in the infirmary weren’t Lorne and his men - DNA tests didn’t match. The physiology of the bodies was consistent with prolonged exposure to nuclear radiation. Cancer victims. Most of them hadn’t had long to live anyway. They were Genii.
Which meant Lorne and his team might be alive.
Someone had kidnapped Lorne and his team and subdued them enough to take their weapons, uniforms, and dog tags and make it look like they’d died. Someone who’d also had access to dying Genii to take their places.
John thought of that storm the year before, and all those Genii soldiers who’d walked through their Stargate and into the gate shield on Atlantis, thought of Sora Tyrus and her desire for vengeance, thought of Acastus Kolya and Ladon Radim and their fanaticism, and he had a good idea who took Lorne.
John didn’t want to get Cora’s hopes up that Lorne’s team could be recovered, but Elizabeth was right, it was Atlantis. She would find out.
John wasn’t sure he could look that girl in the eye, knowing who she was, and he had to go off-world for the base raid anyway. Since Teyla and Ronon were in charge of the investigation into Lorne’s team, it would make more sense for one of them to break the news to her. John suggested Teyla do it for both Cora and Dr. Lindsey, with Elizabeth and Heightmeyer there to guide her efforts.
John suited up in tac gear and assembled at the gate with his raid team. Chuck dialed the gate, and John deliberately did not wonder what it would be like, if Cora hugged him too before he left.
And of course it was a double-cross. Of course Ladon and Cowen were working together, and once again, Cowen was trying to take what he wanted: the jumpers. And the C4.
Elizabeth would be furious. Elizabeth would do the right thing. She’d make sure Cowen never even saw a jumper control crystal.
Cowen was stupid, though. None of the Genii had the Gene. And John and Rodney alone couldn’t fly ten jumpers.
But Ladon commented that he’d been working on a gene therapy of his own, had been gathering samples, and John’s first panicked thoughts went to Rodney.
Then the Genii guards opened the cell, and there they were - Lorne and his men. All of whom were Gene-carriers, natural or otherwise.
“You come to rescue us?” Lorne asked.
John said, “Till a minute ago I didn’t even know you were alive, so -”
Lorne’s eyes went wide. “What did they do? Does everyone on Atlantis think we’re dead? Does Cora -?”
“Once we figured out you might still be alive, someone told Cora,” John said, keeping his voice as steady as possible, because Lorne was alive. John wanted to shake him. What did Lorne know about Amelia, about her other family, her real family?
No. Now was not the time. Now was the time to talk fast, to get his men back to Atlantis alive, every single one of them, so John listened, and he was careful. When Cowen dragged him back out of the cell to try to use him as leverage against Atlantis and Elizabeth, John heard Elizabeth’s gambit - and message. The Genii sent to Atlantis, the ones who were dying? They could be saved. One of them was Ladon’s sister. And John saw the look on Ladon’s face when Cowen blithely said he didn’t care about them. John knew the power of family, how it could sway even the most loyal, committed men.
So when Ladon took John back to the cell and asked if Beckett really could cure the sick Genii (his sister, he meant), John took Elizabeth’s gambit and ran with it.
Yes. Carson Beckett was the best doctor in two galaxies (he was a geneticist, not a GP, not a surgeon, not an oncologist, not by training, but maybe all of those things by dint of two years in Pegasus). Those Genii could be treated and cured, and other Genii still suffering could also receive help.
And somehow it was enough.
Ladon, who’d fully been prepared to let John and all his men get incinerated in a nuclear blast, let them go. Killed Cowen’s men. Got John’s back to Atlantis.
And left Cowen to die.
John barely had time to process the enormity of what had just happened, how close Pegasus had brought him to death yet again, when Cora flung herself at Lorne with a cry of Daddy! She clung to him, laughing and sobbing all at once, and Lorne held her tightly, face buried in her hair, and didn’t make a sound, but John could see the fine tremors shaking his entire body.
Ladon blinked, surprised, and then focused on Elizabeth, demanded to see his sister.
All in all, it was a successful day. The Genii had new leadership, Atlantis had an even stronger alliance with the Genii, and none of John’s men and women had been lost in the crossfire. The Genii billing the whole affair as a bloodless coup was ridiculous - Ladon had set off a nuclear bomb on some of his own people, even if it wasn’t on Genii soil - but politics had always made John a little bit crazy.
Still. People survived. Everyone had done their jobs well.
John could rest, assured in his people’s continued safety for one more night. After his chat with Elizabeth, he headed back to his quarters. A shower and sleep sounded perfect.
John glanced up. He’d just settled in at his desk in the command office to write his AAR, cup of coffee to hand.
Lorne stood in the doorway. As John’s 2IC, their duties on base supplemented and complemented each other, so for the two of them to be in one place meant there was either a boring staff meeting to attend or a disaster on hand.
“Cora said you were kind, when you broke the news to her.” Lorne’s gaze was solemn, his tone subdued. “I appreciate it very much. Granted, I’m glad the news turned out to be wrong, but -”
“Have a seat, Major.”
Ostensibly, John and Lorne shared an office, but neither man was in it very often, and when Lorne sank into the chair opposite John, he looked hesitant, like a child in the principal’s office.
“I know Rodney put you in a very difficult position when he did what he did with Cora,” John said, “and all things being equal, you’ve handled it well. Better than I would have, were it my child.”
“Do you have children, sir?” Lorne asked.
“I almost did. Once.”
Lorne caught the implication immediately. “I’m sorry, sir.”
John wasn’t going to minimize what had happened, how losing the baby had destroyed his marriage, but he wasn’t going to go into detail, either. “Sometimes bad things happen. Like Cora’s mother dying.”
John reached into his desk. “How much did you know about Cora’s mother? You mentioned that she and Frankie invited you to, er, help, because she’d had children before.”
Lorne sat back, expression contemplative. “Well, she never talked about them much. I think it hurt her, because she wasn’t allowed to see them. She and Frankie spent a fortune in legal fees, but apparently her ex had a lot more money and better lawyers. It was one of the reasons they asked me to, you know, help. No money left for fertility treatments. Why?” This wasn’t the kind of conversation usually had between CO and 2IC.
John slid a photograph across the desk. “This is the last photograph ever taken of me, my mother, and my brother, before my parents divorced.”
Lorne handled the photograph carefully. “I - thank you, sir. I know you’re not one to talk about your feelings lightly.”
“I’m not, Major.”
Lorne looked up, surprised at the sharpness in John’s tone.
Lorne peered at the photo. Realization crossed his face. He looked up at John, then down at the photo, then up again. “Sir? Is this -?”
“Amelia Monroe Sheppard,” John said, “was my mother.”
Lorne handed the photograph back, still careful, but snatched his hands away as soon as John had a firm hold of it. “I - she never said. Never said your names. I didn’t even know if her children were boys or girls. I didn’t even really know how old she was.”
“How old did you think she was?” John demanded.
“I - even back then, on a liberal hippie commune, it wasn’t polite to ask a lady her age. I thought she was maybe thirty? And that her kids were, you know, little.”
“Like I said, my mother died when I was sixteen.”
Lorne pressed his hand to his mouth. “I’m sorry, sir. I - what do you want me to say?”
John scrubbed a hand over his face. “I - I don’t know.”
“Do - does Cora know? Did you tell her?”
“No. I - I always wanted a little sister, you know.” John peered through his fingers at Lorne, who looked a little shell-shocked. “My father - he said my mother had cheated on him. I always assumed it was with a man.”
“The assumption most people would make,” Lorne said carefully.
“When she died - my father said it was cancer. Said she’d been pregnant, too. Said the baby hadn’t survived.” John squeezed his eyes shut. “He wouldn’t even let us go to her funeral.”
Lorne said nothing.
John opened his eyes. “I don’t know if my father lied to us about the baby or -”
“Frankie might have lied to him,” Lorne said. “I remember she - she’d packed up some of Amelia’s things. To send home to her kids. And she got into a screaming match on the phone with their father. I was there, because there were a couple of things Amelia had made, for Cora.”
“This is so fucked up,” John said. He stood up. “I need a drink.”
Lorne looked shifty for a second. “Alcohol’s not allowed on base, but I could -”
John tapped his radio. “Major Kersey, you and Major Dorsey are in charge. Major Lorne and I need to do some jumper training. We’ll radio when we get back.”
Lorne gazed at him with wide eyes. “Sir -”
“Meet me in the jumper bay in fifteen minutes, Lorne, with all the booze you can carry.”
“Is that an order, sir?”
“It’s a request. From one man to another.”
Lorne studied him for a long time, then nodded. “All right. Meet you there.” He hopped to his feet and hurried out the door, already on the radio to Cora, canceling their movie plans for later that night.
Fifteen minutes later, John had emptied his mini fridge of all the beer, including Rodney’s precious Molsons, and had shoved all the cans and bottles into a backpack. He was in the jumper bay doing preflight checks on his favorite Jumper - Number One, also known as Johnson (the Marines had named it that, not John) - when Lorne arrived.
Lorne had two rucksacks with him, complete with sleeping bags and probably other overnight gear. He was also towing a rolling cooler behind him.
“Athosian wine?” John asked.
“My daughter’s a chemist. They have a still. It’s - almost vodka, really.”
John raised his eyebrows. “You taught your daughter how to make vodka? She’s eighteen!”
“Are you asking as my CO or -?”
“Like I said, one man to another. You can call me John, you know.”
“Well then, John, Cadman, Maxwell, and Zelenka taught her how to make vodka. And you should probably call me Evan.” He secured his gear in the back half of the jumper and then slid into the co-pilot seat. “What’s the plan?”
“We are going to go to the mainland,” John said, “and get really, really drunk. And then maybe we can figure out what to do from there.”
“All right. What do we need to figure out? Other than whether to tell Cora.”
“And whether to tell anyone else on base, and whether I should tell my brother, and whether I should confront my father, and whether to tell your family that Cora has more family, and also whether or not I should teach Cora to fly a jumper.”
Lorne’s eyes went wide. “What? No!”
“She asked me to teach her,” John said. “Made some insinuations about when you taught her how to drive.”
“She doesn’t have a driver’s license,” Lorne said.
“Because you were a lame teacher?”
“It got suspended because she drove like a maniac. She’s a speed demon!”
“Well, I always did like things that went fast,” John said. “Must be in the genes.” Then he realized what he’d just said, and his stomach did a funny flip-flop.
Lorne turned a fascinating shade of green. “We have to get really, really, really drunk.”
“What, John? You know John and Evan are the same name? In different languages.”
“Like - John is English, and Evan is Welsh.”
“Is your family Welsh?”
“Not that I know of. Lorne is a Scottish last name, actually.”
“Huh. Sheppard’s an Irish name. Or maybe English. Think it’s a - a celtic thing? Being a Gene-carrier. O’Neill. Beckett. Sheppard. Lorne.”
“That’d be kinda cool. Maybe that’s why it took for Rodney. McKay.”
“You might be onto something there. You should tell Beckett about it.”
“Anyway, I was thinking. When I see my dad, I’m gonna insult the size of his penis. Apparently he wasn’t man enough for my mom.”
“And yet a sixteen-year-old me was. Ow, hey!”
“Dude. You slept with my mom.”
“I didn’t know she was your mom at the time. I didn’t even know you!”
“She was someone’s mom. You knew that.”
“Well, yeah, and also I was helping her become a mom. Again.”
“You know, that was really nice of you, all things considered. How do I rate, that a pair of hot lesbians never asked me for a charity threesome?”
“Your mom was a very beautiful - ow! Ow! I’m sorry!”
“I have to do it. On principal.”
“You know, I have never made a your mom joke around you, not once.”
“That’s because you’re a square.”
“A square who grew up on a hippie commune and got to have a threesome with hot lesbians. Okay, ow, I’ll stop!”
“I always wanted a little sister.”
“My little brother was annoying. I thought a sister would be cooler. And I could threaten to kill her boyfriends.”
“I can let you in on that action, if you want. It’s pretty awesome. The looks on their faces while I’m cleaning my P-90 and interrogating them are the best.”
“So - Corporal Dunning -”
“That was child’s play.”
“I’m glad I’m never on your bad side.”
“You might make it over there if you keep hitting me. Hey, so, does this make me your step-dad? Ouch!”
“I wouldn’t keep hitting you if you didn’t keep saying stupid things.”
“It was a legit question.”
“You’re the same age as me, so no. Nothing about our circumstances makes you my step-dad.”
“About Corporal Dunning - Cora was the one who knocked out his teeth.”
“Beckett thought he lost his teeth in that brawl, but he didn’t. That was Cora, defending herself.”
“Why didn’t she report it? I mean - who knows how many other women he did it too.”
“She trusted me to take care of it.”
“And take care of it you did. Leavenworth. For life.”
“He’s lucky they didn’t execute him for treason.”
“Yeah, I’ll stop hitting you, because fuck if I ever end up on your bad side.”
“Naw, you never will. We’re family now. Like it or not, we’re family.”
“Shit. We are. What am I gonna tell Dave?”
“My little brother.”
“Oh. I dunno. He’s your brother.”
“And Cora’s, too.”
“Let’s start small, with Cora. She might have some good ideas about how to handle stuff. She’s a smart kid. Smarter than me. Musta got a lot of her smarts from - from your side of the family. You’re, like, a math prodigy, right?”
“Who told you that?”
“Your mom. Ow!”
“Just for that, I’m going to teach Cora how to fly a jumper.”
“All right. You do that. Don’t come crying to me when she breaks you.”
“She won’t break me.”
“There’s a reason parents get other people to teach their children to drive.”
“My mom taught me how to drive.”
“A drag queen named Charmaine Supreme taught me how to drive.”
“Wow, you really did grow up on a hippie commune.”
“You have no idea. Hey. How did you figure it out?”
“When I went to give Cora the news about your untimely demise, she cried, so I walked her back to her quarters, and she curled up on the bed, and she asked me to hand her a picture of her mom, and I saw - your haircut was atrocious, by the way.”
“Hello, hippie commune. I’m lucky my hair was as short as it was.”
“Did Cora have lots and lots of cowlicks? When she was a baby?”
“No. She was born pretty bald.”
“I must have been the unlucky one, then. Dave’s hair was always perfect.”
“How drunk are we, John?”
“Think we’re drunk enough?”
“You did say we had to get really, really, really drunk. That’s, like, two more levels of drunk.”
“Right. Let’s break out the almost-vodka. Rodney’s taste in beer is shit, by the way.”
“He’s Canadian. He doesn’t know any better.”
“For a Canadian he sucks at being polite.”
“I think we’re really, really drunk.”
“What was it like? My mother’s funeral.”
“It was beautiful.”
“Don’t tell me you’re gonna cry.”
“I’m not that drunk yet. You want me to tell this story or not?”
“Or so help me I will turn this car around.”
“We’re really, really, really drunk.”
“You know I almost had a son?”
“Cora would’ve been an aunt. Is an aunt already, actually. Dave has kids. Two little girls.”
“Baby didn’t make it.”
“Made it far enough for you to know it was going to be a son, though.”
“And his mother?”
“My wife, at the time. Divorced now.”
“Had it all planned out. Was gonna teach him to play guitar and love Star Wars. I’d drive him to school, and we’d be best friends, and he’d tell all his friends how cool I am, and -”
“He’d have been twelve, by now.”
“You could teach Cora how to play the guitar. She always wanted to learn, but I don’t have a musical bone in my body.”
“You think she’d like that?”
“I think she’d love it.”
“You - you think she’d love me?”
“And now you’re really, really, really, really drunk. Time to cut you off, John.”
“You can’t just run off like that. Not even Elizabeth knew where you were. I had to hack into the jumper’s subspace signal to get a location on you and - John, are you hung over?”
Lorne winced. “Shh. Not so loud.”
Rodney spun to glare at him. “Did you do this? Did you enable this? What kind of officer are you, allowing John to -”
“Was there a terrible emergency while we were gone?” John asked. “Did anyone get hurt? Did anything very important get broken by one of the military personnel? Because if either of those things happened, I should have been notified. I had my radio the entire time.”
Rodney’s mouth turned down at the corner. “We ran out of coffee in the lab.”
John rolled his eyes.
Lorne said, “On it, sir.”
And then Cora appeared. “Hi, Daddy!” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
As he was wearing jeans and a shirt, he was technically off-duty. “Hey, pumpkin.”
And then Cora pulled back. “Holy cannoli, are you hung over?”
“Just a bit.”
Cora sighed. “Daddy, is this about me asking Colonel Sheppard to teach me how to fly a jumper? Because a jumper handles very differently from a car, and -”
Lorne put his hands on her shoulders, cutting her off before she could gather a lot of steam. She’d been spending way too much time around Rodney. “I’m sure you have marshaled many logical arguments for why you should be allowed to pilot a puddle jumper even though you don’t have a valid driver’s license, but right now, there’s something else we need to talk about. You, me, and John.”
“John?” Rodney echoed.
Cora’s eyes went wide. “Daddy, you didn’t, say you didn’t -”
“Didn’t what?” Rodney asked.
Lorne’s eyes went wide. “No! No, of course not, that would be terribly unprofessional and -” He shuddered. “Ew.”
Rodney narrowed his eyes. “Hey, Major Stuck Up, plenty of alien women - and I’m sure many men - have found John -”
“Stop right there, Rodney, before you make the both of us throw up.” John pressed a hand to his gut.
“I didn’t think you were homophobic.”
“I’m not,” John said sharply, and Lorne winced. “Just - I need to have a serious talk with Evan and Cora, and maybe after that, a talk with you and Elizabeth and the rest of the team.”
Lorne tapped his radio, summoned one of the quartermaster’s corporals to fetch their gear.
“Let’s do this in Cora’s room,” he said to John. “It’s neutral territory.”
“You mean -?”
“Your mom is also John’s mom,” Evan said.
“So we’re -”
“Half-siblings,” John said.
Cora blinked. “Wow. How is this possible?”
“Small world,” John said. “I - you - have a brother. His name is Dave. He’s four years younger than me. He’s married with two kids, Anna and Clara.”
Cora looked between John and Evan. “This is why you went and got so drunk, huh?”
“You’re my half-sister,” John said, “and Evan is the same age as me, and also one of my subordinates, and -” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “It was either drinking or a fist-fight. To dispel the weirdness.”
“We’re family. I - I have siblings. That’s really cool.” And then Cora reached out, looped an arm around John’s neck, and dragged him in for a hug.
“Cora,” Evan said, alarmed, but John reached out and hugged her back.
“You’re my big brother!” Cora pulled back and beamed, bounced on the edge of her bed. “This is going to be so cool. You’ll totally side with me when Daddy wants to be stuffy and boring, right?”
“Cora, he’s still my commanding officer,” Evan said. “And also he’s more likely to side with me when I make a decision that’s for your own safety.”
Cora pouted for a moment. But then she lit up again. “You’ll still teach me how to pilot a jumper, won’t you?”
John nodded. “Yes. That is one of the things we discussed while we were out on - jumper training.”
“Grandma’s going to be really excited,” Cora said. She blinked up at John. “We can tell our families, right?”
“I was hoping to tell my brother,” John admitted. “He - he always wanted a little sister.”
“We’ll probably have to tell Dr. Weir and your team. Maybe Dr. Beckett, too. Can I tell Laura and Dia?” Cora blinked wide eyes up at John.
It took him a moment to figure out who she meant. “Yes, if you like.”
“But maybe not the other Marines,” Evan said quickly.
Cora laughed. “Oh man, that would be such a disaster. All the ‘your mom’ jokes.”
John winced. “Yeah. And that’s why we’re not going to tell them.”
Evan eyed Cora. “What made you think I took John offworld to get him drunk and seduce him?”
“Come on, Daddy, I’m not blind,” Cora said. “Don’t you remember, when you were working with that archaeologist, what was his name, Jonas? You had a super huge crush on him. You were always taking him out to get food and hanging out with him and talking about him all the time -”
Evan looked aggrieved. “Cora, Jonas was an alien. From another planet. The only way he could go off-base was with one of the SGC’s personnel escorting him. It took a while for his team to warm up to him, and I figured I could teach him about Earth till they did. Plus watching him eat strange food for the first time was a lot of fun.”
“Oh. Oh! Well, that suddenly makes more sense. Like, his obsession with The Weather Channel.” Cora gazed at Evan earnestly. “You know, it’s okay if you’re, gay. Or bi. Or whatever.”
John cleared his throat. “I’m right here, you know.”
Cora looked confused. “What?”
Evan scrubbed a hand over his face. “Don’t ask, don’t tell, pumpkin.”
“But John doesn’t mind personally, right? Seeing how his mom -”
John jumped to his feet. “Okay. So - we tell senior command. That makes sense. And - we tell our families.”
Evan looked amused at John’s discomfort. “I’ll schedule a briefing with senior command. In the meantime, though, I need a shower and then a really heavy breakfast.”
“Me too,” John said.
Cora leaned in and kissed Evan on the cheek. “That’ll teach you to get hungover, Daddy.”
“That’s right. And you should never, ever follow my poor example.” Evan smiled and kissed her back.
And then Cora kissed John on the cheek as well, shyly. John was startled, but pleased. So he slung an arm around her shoulders and ruffled her hair, like he’d done for Dave a thousand times, and then he and Evan headed for their own quarters.
“Before you say anything,” Rodney said, “I want you to know that I am very supportive of - of -”
Evan held up a hand. “Stop right there, Doc. I know what you’re going to say, and as well-intended as it is, it might just make Colonel Sheppard lose his breakfast, so -”
“Is everything all right, John?” Elizabeth asked, concern in her gaze.
Teyla was smiling gently. Ronon’s expression was unreadable, as was Heightmeyer’s. Was it John’s imagination, or did Carson look...pleased?
“It’s come to my attention that -” John cut himself off, shook his head. “We’ve recently discovered -”
Cora rolled her eyes. “What he’s trying to say is that he’s my older half-brother.”
Heightmeyer raised her eyebrows. “Pardon?”
“That’s right,” Cora said. “Same mom, different dads. Obviously.”
Amusement lit on Ronon’s face. “You mean Major Lorne - and John’s mother -”
John held up a hand. “Yes. Okay? Yes. It was after my parents divorced.”
Rodney raised his eyebrows at Evan. “But - you and John are the same age.”
“I didn’t know how old she was, all right?” Evan muttered.
“That explains why your Gene is so strong,” Carson said.
“So you two are not romantically involved?” Teyla asked.
“Ew, no.” John shuddered.
Rodney was confused. “You said you weren’t homophobic. And I thought you said Lorne and a couple of lesbians -”
“I’m not homophobic, and one of those lesbians was my mother,” John said flatly.
“Well, this adds a new dimension to your relationship dynamics,” Heightmeyer said. “Do any of you want to visit me? And talk about it?”
“I’ve done enough talking for a lifetime,” John said, “and I still have other people I need to tell. We just - thought we would let you know. Because it will change some things between us. And also - also I want Cora and Evan listed as my next-of-kin. Makes more sense than my brother, who’s not read in.”
Ronon tilted his head thoughtfully. “I can see it. Like, if you and Lorne had a daughter together, she’d look like Cora.”
Cora beamed, pleased.
“We’d like to keep this private, for now, for obvious reasons,” Evan said, “the least of which is the Marines and their endless ‘your mom’ jokes.”
Elizabeth winced. “Right.”
“Obviously I’m going to tell Laura and Dia,” Cora added.
“I am pleased for you,” Teyla said, “that your families have grown.”
“Colonel, if you’d like to fill out that paperwork, that can be arranged,” Carson said. “You can accompany me to the infirmary.”
Rodney said, “Does this mean Lorne’s your step-father?”
John punched Evan in the shoulder.
“We’ve done it before,” John pointed out.
“Usually when Colonel Sheppard’s team needs SAR,” Evan added.
John resisted the urge to punch him in the shoulder. He flashed Elizabeth a winsome smile instead, but she’d raised her eyebrows at Evan’s comment, looked like she was giving his point of view a lot of weight. “Think of it this way - with both of us out there at the same time, nothing can go wrong.”
Evan ducked his chin. “Now you’ve gone and jinxed us, sir.”
“We have Ronon. The guy’s practically got his PhD in Wraith Hunting. You game or what, Major?”
“Whatever you order, sir,” Evan said wryly.
Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest, lips purse thoughtfully. “Go. Bring back a Wraith for Carson to study. And be safe.”
They’d nodded and practically dashed from her office to the ready room, radioing for their teams as they went.
Now they were assembling in the gate room. Evan always checked his men’s vests like some kind of overbearing mother - or a very protective father. He handed Rodney an extra power bar while he was at it.
Rodney blinked, surprised, but accepted it with a grateful nod and managed to jam it into one of his already bulging pockets.
John turned and caught Chuck’s eye, gestured for him to dial up the gate.
The teams assembled in the gate room turned when Cora came trotting down the steps. She stepped toward Evan, hands clasped behind her back, the picture of respect.
He smiled and kissed her on the cheek, pulled her into a hug. “Love you, baby,” he murmured.
She hugged him back, and it was kind of hilarious, how she was taller than him. Evan had told John that she was, but somehow John had never actually noticed it before - maybe because Cora was slender and graceful and Evan was broad, solid.
And then Cora was pulling John into a hug, brief but tight, and something in his throat tightened.
“Come back safe,” she whispered. “All of you.”
“Promise,” he said, even though promises were dangerous, were weights on glass hearts.
She smiled at him, and she had the same eyes as him, the same eyes as their mother. Then she turned and spoke to Teyla, and they pressed their foreheads together. Cora kissed Rodney on the cheek, which made him blush and stammer. Ronon gave her a high five, looking a bit hesitant at the gesture.
Elizabeth, watching from the balcony above, said, “Godspeed and good hunting.”
The last chevron locked, and the wormhole initiated. John led his team through the gate first, but he paused at the event horizon, glanced back, and saw some of his family - team, kith, and kin - waiting for him. Then he marched forward into time and space, and he took the rest of his family with him.