Somewhere, my brain was trying to think sixty dozen inappropriate things at once, like "How old is he this year?" and "I wonder if he was in the boardroom when it happened," and "I wonder what the last movie he saw was?" but those were far away and faint. Right here, right now, my mind was a blank. I looked at Colonel Carter, her face all screwed up with command-level sympathy, and then at Ronon, one angled brow pulled up and back, and thought, You have no idea. No idea at all. I could tell by looking: both of them liked their fathers, missed them. Grieved, or would grieve, them.
"I'll schedule a walkthrough to the Mountain for you as soon as you're ready. Tonight? Tomorrow morning? The funeral is on Friday."
Huh. That was pretty fast. "Tonight," I said. "I'll have to pick up a suit Earthside." She nodded, and turned away.
Well, at least I was already at my quarters. Ronon nodded to me, and strode away, much to my relief. He was seeing Keller a lot recently; she'd keep him amused until I got back.
I stuffed clothes and my dopp kit into my bag, wondering at my firm sense that I had to go, had to be there for this funeral. I hadn't been back to the family - god, in years. Certainly not since Nancy came to her senses and divorced me.
Fortunately, Rodney interrupted me before I could spiral down into that hellhole again. I'd miss him, I would really miss him, but I was glad not to inflict my family on him.
Inflict him on my family? More than happy. Rodney doesn't tolerate either lies or secrets, and plays his power games with cabers instead of stilletos. But leaving him behind, even though I knew he was needed, left a hole in me. I'd been under fire - hell, I'd had a Wraith attached to my chest - and did not feel as much in danger as I did getting ready to go back to the Nashville house.
So it was a real relief when Ronon showed up to watch my back.
The really nice thing about a base the size of Cheyenne is that when you say you need a suit, full mourning, perfectly tailored and now, they have someone on call to bring you something and alter it to fit. And the really nice thing about living in a combat zone with no need for US currency is that I didn't have to touch a dime of my mom's money to afford it or the outfits Ronon chose.
I'd never had, or wanted, access to any of my dad's money. And I refused to honor him with my uniform and medals: he'd never wanted me to go into the Air Force, and I would be munched by Marilyn Manson before I listened to a single individual gush about how proud he must have been of me.
So we were kitted out without leaving the Mountain, and were able to fit in a full night's sleep - a solid seven hours, no alarms or anything - in beds that were made long enough for human soldiers, and even for a super-sized Satedan like Ronon. Frankly, I expected nightmares, but the solid sense of miles of rock around me did the same thing that Atlantis' briny air did: convinced my body I was safe from anything truly dangerous. So we were able to beam out the next morning, Cheyenne to the Apollo to Nashville, and pick up a nice funereal beemer to sail down the curving country roads the forty-two miles it took to get to what my dad had intended to be our ancestral home. I was briefly glad to have Ronon and not Rodney: Ronon doesn't care how fast I drive. Or don't.
Ronon is ... Ronon is kind of a balm to my existence. He watched me for a while, decided he knew enough about me, decided that was good enough for him, and has never ever asked me to be anything or anyone other than that. I didn't have to be a good enough soldier - or bad enough not to draw dangerous attention. I didn't have to be diplomatic, or rude enough not to be tapped for an inappropriate duty. I didn't have to hide my brains or try to keep up, either. It makes it easier to talk to him, not having to prove or protect myself. And easier not to talk to him, when all I wanted to do was to try to figure out what the hell was going on in my head.
Because there was still this great silence in my head. And behind it, somewhere, moved something huge. Something dangerous. Something that I very much hoped would not break free at the funeral.
I had carefully not had any breakfast except a cracker or three, and no coffee, either. And my stomach, blessedly empty, thanked me as I closed the car door in the driveway that swooped between the marshy ornamental pond and the scrupulously raked paddocks, just one car in a line of what seemed like dozens. My dad would be so proud.
Ronon stepped out of the car, surveyed the house, the grounds, and all the people, and arched an eyebrow at me.
“Hell of a home you got here, Sheppard.”
“Ronon,” I said, fervently, “You have no idea.”
Dave spotted us and came over, grimly proud to have gotten me home and out of uniform. I briefly introduced Ronon to him, and of course he took it the wrong way. "Civilian contractor," his ass, I could see it written all over him. He was probably wondering why I didn't just come out and say "mercenary" or even "oath-sworn Afghani bodyguard." There was a reason my dear father settled us on a plantation in Tennessee, and central location had nothing to do with it. I was glad all over again that Teyla was off-world when the news came; my brother had picked up all of my father's racial biases, and neither had ever gotten any of the grace that true southerners used to cope with it.
But he left us to go socialize with more of the dignitaries that had come to see my father, community pillar that he was, well-buried, and it was my turn to encounter the casket. I buttoned my jacket up and went.
Closed. This was one corpse I didn't have to stare in the face, though I'd imagine that it was in deference to Tennessee warmth rather than to my battle-scarred sensibilities. It didn't matter.
Liar! John Sheppard, you just calm your imagination right the hell down!
Didn't imagine it, dad.
How dare you sully your mother's memory with a - an outrageous claim like that?
Wasn't trying to sully it, dad. Just thought you wanted an answer. But that was a secret you never wanted to know.
You ...! But I cut it off, not able to tolerate hearing that last accusation, not even inside my own head. I tapped on the casket in farewell, and went to find Ronon.
I was glad Ronon could eat, and even though he didn't know the funeral habits here, I could tell the caterers were glad someone appreciated their work. I found him over near the paddocks, which were completely empty today. They were too well-kept for the horses to be sold off, and too well-kept for them to be here; I figured one of the hands had taken them up into the pasture a good four miles away to have a run and not be heard. Before he had a chance to ask me about them, though, Nancy showed up.
We spent a few minutes in small talk; she had in fact married what's his name, and he apparently made her happy, which was the important thing. I was glad, really. Not only did I not have to kick his ass, I also wouldn't have to explain to General Landry how it was that I got an offworlder arrested along with me. But she thought she had to explain herself, damn it.
"You know, your dad was always very good to me." Yeah. Yeah, he was, the old bastard.
"Well, in his mind," I replied, "marrying you was probably the best thing I ever did." And if I had had the sense God gave a goose, and the moral courage of your basic polecat, I would never have courted you, never have married you, never have put you in a position where you had to feel you failed. Because I can't get married. And the old bastard knew it, knew I was too broken to make a decent husband, and he thought you could fix it just by being beautiful and smart. Damn him.
But Nancy took that the wrong way, took it as a reflection on her, and the only decent thing I'd learned about communication during our brief marriage was that saying "That's not the way I meant it" never worked. So she went off in pain, and I took Ronon and went off to get a drink.
This, of course, did not work out well.
This little dark-haired woman came up and spoke to me by name, introducing herself as Ava Dixon - who I'd never heard of ever - and then spoke to Ronon.
I asked, "Do I know you?" and she slams me with a right hook:
"No, we've never met, but you knew the man I used to work for – Henry Wallace."
At this point I'd learned to hide my reactions when necessary, so I shrugged and answered, "Doesn't ring a bell."
She lowered her voice and said, "Look, I realise you have to keep up appearances in public, but I don't have time to play games. Henry Wallace was the man who kidnapped your colleague, Doctor Rodney McKay, and forced him to work on a highly illegal research project involving alien technology ..."
Which was when I grabbed her and asked just who the hell she was. But she wanted to talk somewhere else, which was absolutely fine by me.
So I took this threat to security clearances - Christ, Wallace should never have had one if this is the kind of shit his people thought nothing of pulling - and went to take her off of my family's property and away from all the flap-eared people with the money to indulge their curiosity and not enough sense to refrain and, of course, ran into Dave on our way to the car. I sent Ronon ahead with her, and went to speak with him. Damn it, the wake was going to last another four, maybe six hours, and the funeral tomorrow morning. Not fair that he had to deal with it himself, alone, again -
"John," he said, "I was thinking that we should probably ..."
I cut him off. No time to get into a deep conversation now. "Uh, look, something came up. I've gotta go."
"It's Dad's wake," he said incredulously; well, I didn't really believe it myself. I'd had every expectation that for four solid days the only thing I would have to deal with was corporate America in full smarm.
"I know," I bit out, "but this is work-related."
Dave was pissed off, just like Nancy used to get. "Oh. Oh. What is it, top secret, national security, that sort of thing?" Like I'd leave for anything else.
"You know, this is so typical," he started, and I couldn't take it anymore.
"If you've got something to say, just say it." Bad son, bad husband, bad brother, why do I bother ever showing up if I'm just going to leave without warning. But then he blindsided me.
"Look, there's just one thing I wanna know. What's your level of expectation here?"
I couldn't make out what he meant. Hugs all around? A permanent invitation for Easter?
"I mean, are you gonna challenge the will?"
A wave of ... I don't know, of rage, of incomprehension, of adrenaline maybe, passed through me, and I could not speak.
Dave went on, "I have no idea what it says, of course, but I think I can guess."
I gathered my brain enough to say, "That's what you wanna talk about? You wanna talk about money?"
"That's why you're here, isn't it?" Dave sneered. "You've been gone a long time, John. It's not such a stretch."
I was trembling with fury. "You've got nothing to worry about," I informed him, and turned away.
"Hey," Dave called after me. "If I've got the wrong impression of you, it's not my fault. You're the one who left, remember? I stayed. I looked after Dad; I ran the business while you were off doing God knows what."
Looked after dad, huh? Sounds like the old bastard had some health difficulties after he threw me out.
"I'm assuming," I said carefully, "that's what Dad wanted."
"No. No, it's not, John. Dad regretted what happened between you two right up to the end." He turned on his heel, and after a moment, I gathered myself together enough to leave.
I had a sinking feeling the entire time Dixon was speaking; fuck that, not really a sinking feeling, more like my Closet of Nightmares was slowly creaking open. I started hearing things in layers.
I mean, God! Nanites on Earth - Jeannie's kidnapping, Rodney's close brush with death - not one of my finer hours, there, and these assholes were getting ready to repeat everything.
And then, a Replicator on. Earth. With all the hell we were going through with them in Pegasus, and losing Elizabeth to them, also another failure on my part, and here we went again.
And then she was talking about trusting her boss, Poole, like a "father." My gorge started to rise.
But Poole really was a "father" to his Replicator, and the God-damned idiot asked him to shut himself off; kill himself. Created him; put him in a situation where no one could possibly interact with him but Poole and maybe Dixon; and then tried to destroy him.
Because you assume your parents know what they're doing, right? If you know they love you, and they only want what's best for you, if you don't understand what's happening, all you have to do is wait until they explain it.
Only sometimes they can love you and only want what's best for you and still need to do stuff that puts you, them, and the rest of the world at risk.
I'd thought I'd had it bad.
God, how much worse would it be to be the Replicator and watch your parent try to turn you off? Whatever my mom did, at least she didn't try to kill me to fix it.
Poor bastard. We were going to have to kill it ... okay, him, damn it, but I was blaming Poole. And I couldn't wait to explain this to him.
That thing, that thing in the back of my head that had been scaring me, started to come closer. I throttled it back again, kept control, and took the next steps. The logical steps. The appropriate steps. And when we went to get Poole, we had proper authorization, proper preparation, and proper backup.
Landry gave me a squad of Marines, who absolutely refused to allow me to lead them into the building. They went in, locked it down, and then escorted me to where they had found Poole.
He didn't seem to notice he'd been captured and handcuffed.
"Colonel Sheppard – and Ronon, of course. How did you find me?" Smug bastard. And who the hell gave him permission to use my teammate’s first name?
"We had a little help," I told him, but he got a little excitable when Dixon came in, and tried to tell her he'd had the situation under control.
I pulled his attention back to the facts. "Your little science project got two of your own men killed – and he's still on the loose. I don't think you have control of anything."
"He killed in self-defense!" the idiot claimed. "If he's not threatened again, he won't harm anyone."
Right. What planet are we on, again?
"Well, that's because we're gonna find him," I explained carefully, "and we're gonna neutralize him." I activated the first beacon and gave it to Ava. "And you are gonna help." I plunked the second beacon into Poole's shirt pocket."Apollo, we're ready."
And we took that slimeball into custody.
When Poole refused to help us track the Replicator, Dixon agreed to help work on it with Dr. Lee, who is a smart enough guy if you don’t already know Rodney. I figured the two of them, plus Lee’s minions, ought to be able to deal with it regardless of Poole’s posturing; after all, he was only a contractor. Might have been as full of himself as his stunt argued, but I knew where the real cream was.
Waiting for the geeks to do their thing, I ran into Bates, who was looking really good in civvies; healed up tremendously from our battle with the Wraith, and a hell of a lot more relaxed. He seemed to be working for the IOA these days, doing the job he’d held on Atlantis for Mother Earth. They needed him here, and he’d already seen the worst that could happen. He provided the team for me when Lee and Dixon came through.
Poole … not really that helpful, even though he came along. One thing about the geeks, if they’ve lost track of the consequences of their work to other people, they’re capable of being truly, truly stupid.
Even Rodney. Even my mom … though, to be fair, that only ever affected me, and I never got actually hurt.
Once we had his position nailed down to within a few blocks, we scattered in teams of two, meaning to corral him and then attack all at once. Poole still – I mean, I never knew anyone’s denial was that deep, to have no more understanding of the situation than he did, even though it’d been explained to him. He still thought we didn’t have to “damage” him. Bates took him along, and Ronon and I went off together. Ronon knew that I wasn’t a hundred percent, which, you know – good that he could allow for it.
Would’ve been better if Bates had allowed for Poole’s psychosis: the motherfucker hit him with a two-by-four just as we spotted the Replicator! But hey: Darwin was right. By the time we got into the warehouse, Poole was dead, killed by his own offspring, his own weakness of thought. Just like we told him.
If that was all the Replicator'd done, I would’ve called it pretty much a draw. But he killed one of Bates’ men on his way out, which meant all bets were off; and he figured out a way to fritz Dr. Lee’s map. Ronon and I went to flush him out to the waiting troops.
Well, we flushed him, all right: straight into the river, damnit. At least we got to damage him first, so he’d have to take some steps for repair. But this was worrying, very worrying: Poole shouldn’t have been that determined. Not so determined that he got himself killed.
Talking it over with Dr. Lee, Bates, and Ronon clarified my thinking: the Replicator must have been commissioned. By someone in the military – someone high enough up to know the possibilities, but not high enough up to know better. Someone that Homeland Security might have their eyes on.
Someone that Nancy might be able to find.
She was upset, of course; just like I’d done with Dave, here I was asking her for more than was reasonable. I was asking for her to risk her career, for something I only suspected, and I couldn’t tell her why. She always wanted to know why; I think that’s why she worked her way so far up in Homeland Security in the first place. She just had no idea the real answers were in Homeworld Security; and I had no right to tell her.
But she came through for me, and just in time, as well: Dr. Lee had discovered that sweet, ethical, concerned Ava Dixon was a Replicator herself. Built to a different template, and less likely to kill immediately – which we discovered when we went to retrieve her, and found our guy unconscious but not dead – but still as able to mask her pattern as the guy-form.
Nancy’s info gave us a clue as to where our damaged guy might go, and Dr. Lee came up with the perfect way to destroy him, so … back to another warehouse, this time in Virginia.
I should’ve remembered how God-damned fast they are; even though we had the drop on him, he was still able to take out two of Bates’ men permanently, damnit, knocked Ronon out and got me before I could get him. It was very nearly T3: Rise of the Machines until Dixon showed up and turned it into T2: Judgment Day. He finally took her out, but not until she’d bought Ronon and me enough time to get back on our feet. Ronon distracted him, I got the beacon on him, and Apollo sent him into Low Earth Orbit, a very very hot place indeed.
I love teamwork.
We were able to work out a decent situation for the Dixon Replicator afterward. She couldn’t be left free – hello, Replicator – but she had been the only real reason we’d known about the problem in the first place, and the only reason we were able to solve it in the second. Dr. Lee was able to design her a very nice VR to be uploaded into before her nanites were deactivated, and I checked it out myself. Almost as good as Rodney would have done.
As far as prisons go, an entire living world isn't all that bad. Not compared with a death sentence.
I sent Ronon on home, because I knew I needed to talk to Dave properly.
The thing that I’d been slapped in the face with, when Dr. Lee found out about Dixon, was that Poole hadn’t only done it to his guy-Replicator. He had not fucked over only one machine-person: he’d done it to two. Hell, if we hadn’t found out in time, he might have done it to lots.
The Replicators in Pegasus were maddest because the Ancients had made them as tools and abandoned them. Poole, trying to make warbots the same way, had committed the same crime.
My mother had pretty much made me a tool. My mistake, up to now, was to assume she’d only done it to me. I needed to find out the truth.
I needed to find out if Dave had been a tool for her, too.
Dave let me into his stone castle of a home, past some fake torches I swear gave me flashbacks, and took me into his … really, the only word is den. His actual office, I knew, would have a big wooden desk in it to go with the rest of the house, and it was perfectly obvious that no children ever came in here.
He offered me a whiskey, and asked, "So where's Ronon?"
"He went back to base," I answered, sipping the good stuff. I looked at the mellow gold in my glass and wondered what we could do with the still to get our liquor less toxic and more like this. "We had a pretty rough mission, and I wanted him to have a chance to check in with his girlfriend."
Dave snorted, and I looked at him. "Pretty generous of you," he said.
"I don't ask my people to be celibate," I said slowly, puzzled, "and she's not in his chain of command. What generous?"
"You ..." and he stopped. "He's not your boyfriend?" I felt my eyes pop in astonishment.
"Noooo," I said. "Like I told you, he's a civilian contractor. He's part of my team, and under my direct command, so I wouldn't be his boyfriend anyway. And since when do I have boyfriends?"
Dave had this strange ironic smile on his face. "Since forever, John; I know you've never trusted us with it, but Dad and I have known you were gay since you were a teenager."
"Huh." I looked at that statement. Turned it around. Tried it sideways. Still didn't make any sense. I had another drink. "Well, that's more than I know. I've only ever fucked women, my entire life." I drew a deep breath. More accurate than he knew.
"Dad thought Nancy was your last chance at a normal life," Dave said.
"Which is just like him, and just what I thought he thought," I said, annoyed. "He never thought that being married to me might not be what was best for her, even if I'm not gay. I'm," I forced out, "damaged, Dave. I can't have relationships." It was only because I'd thought about it a lot that I could even say this; but having Teyla Emmagen take responsibility for you makes you do things you never thought you could.
Dave frowned. "What do you mean, 'damaged'?" His face flicked over my body, and I grimaced at him.
"Not like that, Hoofster." He protested faintly, but I barreled over him. "I mean ... because of ... Mom." I swallowed, and he frowned.
"You mean because you found her in the bathtub? That wasn't your fault, Johnny; you couldn't have stopped her from committing suicide." I slid down a little more in his chair, trying not to freeze solid before we finished this, and took another gulp of whiskey.
"Did Dad ever tell you why she killed herself?" Swirls of red in the bubbles; her beautiful face slack and peaceful ... I thrust the memory out of my head.
"Something about an affair?" Dave said slowly. I could tell he was getting worried now. "Someone ... like a gardener, or a stable hand, or someone ... I just remember that, that Dad wasn't so much mad about her cheating, as about who it was with."
My entire skull felt like a chunk of dirty ice.
"That's because it was me."
Everything slowed down like it does for me in combat, so I can see each motion individually. If I could do that in training, Teyla and Ronon wouldn't kick my ass so hard; but it comes through for me in live-or-die times. Dave's face flowed from frowning to gut-shot shock. His hand started to relax.
"I was ... committing incest with Mom from the earliest I can remember to the day she killed herself." I tried to get rid of the lump in my throat, and watched, helpless, as Dave's glass slipped out of his hand onto the red and gold of his carpet. "She realized I had some beard starting, and said she couldn't do this anymore, and kissed me and went off to take a bath. I didn't - I swear I didn't know she was gonna do that, Davey, I went in to take her her glass of wine like I always did, and I found her there ..."
Dave had started to gag, and reached hastily for his trashcan. I kept my eyes on my glass, and tried not to listen to him losing everything. We weren't done yet.
When it looked like he was slowing down a tad, I went and got him a wet towel from his private powder room. Somewhere, that weird spot in my brain went grinning through the conversation with him: It's not a powder room, John, jeez, get it right. It's a private toilet!
Meanwhile, I had to find out: was he appalled because it'd happened to me, or because it hadn't only happened to him?
When he finished wiping his face, I handed him the fresh glass of whiskey I'd poured him. I didn't bother about the carpet and the spill; that's what housekeeping services get paid the big bucks for. He gulped it - which he knew better than, and coughed through - and I refilled his glass.
"Dad asked me, when I went to tell him," I said, sitting myself back down. It seemed a little easier now. "He asked if I found a note - which, no, or if she'd told me anything - which, okay. Since she was dead now, I didn't have to keep it a secret any more. So I told him. And he knocked me across the room and told me not to lie about my own mother like that, she was dead for Christ's sake." His face, purple and swollen, flashed across my mind with the enraged echoes and the remembered sensation of pain, and of my own anger.
Dave pressed the towel back to his mouth. The fumes from the evaporating whiskey on the floor stung my eyes and the back of my throat, and the foul trashcan, still here because you never know, made me gag a bit in sympathy.
"Did you know that, when a boy has sex with a woman, there's no physical evidence at all? He didn't believe me for ... oh, it must have been two, three weeks. And then, for some reason, he did. And then he accused me of being a fornicating seductive mother fucker. And then he sent me to McCallie so he wouldn't have to see my face."
Dave's face was white.
"Direct quotes, by the way." I looked away from him, down at my glass, and drained it.
"And, see, this thing about me being gay? I just don't buy it. Three of the art teachers, and one of the English teachers, all dragged me to bed while I was there. All female. I've never had a single guy, teacher, student, or military, ever come on to me. And you'd think, if I was, that someone would have."
He didn't answer. Didn't look at me; when I glanced over at him, he was looking at the floor. I got up, helped myself to some more whiskey, and dragged that disgusting trashcan out the door and down the hall a ways - you never know, one of us might need the potty.
After a while, Dave dropped the towel and had another gulp of whiskey. Then he held his glass in his two hands, and stared at it.
He thought for a minute or two more.
"You were twelve when Mom died. I was ten."
He looked up at me, my little brother, two full fucking inches taller than me. But life has never been fair.
Then his face changed and he put his glass down, and shook his head, looking fierce.
"No, John, listen: you were twelve when it stopped! How old were you when it started?"
I shrugged. "I have no idea. I don't remember a time when it wasn't happening."
He looked dumbfounded.
"John, you were a baby! A little kid! Don't you understand?"
Now what was he fussing about? I shook my head, puzzled.
"You were raped, John, you were molested! That was not your fault! And you were raped again at school! Didn't Dad ever get you counseling?"
"No," I said deliberately, backing up in my chair, "And I've never willingly gone to counseling either. What - nobody raped me, Dave, nobody ever used force on me or ever hurt me. Mom loved me, she was just messed up!"
Dave was straightening in his own chair, setting his mouth and looking generally contrary which, face it, is the default setting for the Sheppard men.
"Tell me this, John Sheppard" - and hadn't I just said so? - "Have you ever in your life tried to get a woman into bed?"
"No," I said sarcastically. "I don't have to. Women try to get me into bed. No, really, Davey, I chase, I chase women!"
"Listen to yourself, Johnny! Ever - did you ask Nancy to marry you, or did she ask you?"
Huh. I stared at him.
"She ... asked me."
"And the women you've chased, think about it, think about it: was it because they were too hot to pass up, or were you trying to keep them away from somebody?"
I inhaled, and the image of Rodney and Norina, Rodney and Allina - God, Rodney and Katie! crossed my mind. But - wait!
"There was one, her name was Chaya ..." but as I thought about it, I knew: the Ancient she was called to the Ancient in my blood, just as it called to Atlantis. And what we had couldn't really be called ... sex. Dave, watching my face, nodded.
"See, even there: something else entirely. John, Dad never told me a thing about this. Never. I had no idea."
I looked at him, intense: "Did Mom - or for that matter, did Dad or anyone else - ever lay a hand on you?" Dave was already shaking his head.
"No, no, and no. I lost my virginity with Penny Cornett from church when I was 17 and she was 18, and I didn't even know adults did that with kids until I was ... oh, I dunno, 24? 25? and someone in the billing department at the plant had the police come arrest her husband."
Dad never said a word. Molested? It was hard to wrap my mind around ...
Dave said, urgently, "Try it this way, John. You got civilians around where you're stationed?" I breathed out a laugh, and nodded. We're overrun with them. "So some mom comes to you and says one of your soldiers slept with her 10-year-old daughter -" The rest of his words were lost to me in a red roaring rage. One of my men? I would rip him arm from leg and kick him down the pier and THEN tell Teyla ...
Dave was shaking me.
"John! John, calm down! It isn't real!" I realized we were both on our feet, and, showing him my hands, slowly sat down again. He refilled my glass and gave it to me.
"Drink that, John ... go on, you're not nearly drunk enough for this conversation. Neither am I. You finish that and hang on ..." I sipped my way through, stunned to find I was shaking with reaction, while Dave put in a call - to his housekeeping staff, by the sound of it, getting a room ready for me.
Housekeeping staff. God. Last time I'd used that phrase with intent, I'd been getting ready to graduate from McCallie - no, I lied. I'd been at the Hilton outside Cheyenne Mountain.
Dave hung up.
"You're staying here tonight. Farrell will come get your bag in a moment." He folded his lips together - yeah, another thing I didn't miss from my dad's house: guarding your tongue from the servants' ears. Dave turned to his bookshelf, which I'd been ignoring. "You read this yet?" He handed me a sturdy hardcover - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - and we discussed it until Farrell was long gone, at which point he told me to keep it, and closed the door. It slid shut with the comforting finality of a Puddlejumper.
"God, all that time," Dave said, shaking his head. "All that time, Dad letting me think you'd had a fight with him over you being gay, and that's why you were gone. He really - did he really say all that?"
I was about to get snarky about him not believing me when he went on. "And he never - John, did he ever apologize to you? Try to get you help? Reach out at all?"
I shook my head. Once I was gone to McCallie, we hadn't talked at all, not really. He'd had his secretary write me letters about who would be supervising me for vacations, and at which house, and there had been presents - again from his secretary - on the occasions of my graduations and commissioning, but that had been it until the party for Dave making Vice President. To which I'd been invited because I was stationed back on American soil.
At which I'd met Nancy.
I looked at Dave. He stared back, his understanding of our history shifting as I watched. Hell, mine was shifting, too. His face turned determined.
I backed up. I like to have a bit more room when I'm fighting someone bigger than me.
"Listen to me, John."
"You got amputated when you were just a kid. You scarred over, you dealt, you have all kinds of coping mechanisms, but it doesn't change the fact that you got your whole sexuality chopped off when you were too young to know about it."
I set my lips, fighting between hearing him out and denying everything he was saying. I sure didn't like where it was going.
"You have got to get some information, and you have got to get some outside help. I bet there are all kinds of things going on with you that you have no idea are related to this. And John."
My back would have been stiff if I hadn't had so much fine whiskey in me.
"I believe you are gay. Which, given that you know nothing about it, means that you are basically virgin. And given that you are career military - fine jab in the stomach to Dad, there, too, by the way - it means that you have a hard road in front of you. But it's nothing you have to deal with any time soon."
I was basically panting, now, but there was no escape and no place to escape to. And part of me - a really really big part of me - thought Dave was making sense.
"Will you let me help? Get you some info - get you some names, maybe, of people -" I shook my head.
"You forget I'm Air Force, I'm on a remote base. A classified remote base."
"Okay, then, let me find out who can deal with all that. John, I have connections, and we both have money. Lots of money. That can open all kinds of doors."
I was shaking my head again. "I don't want to touch a dime of Dad's money. Not one single scummy copper penny ..."
"Then let me spend it for you!" he cried. "John, please!"
My head was beginning to hurt, and I rubbed the back of it. I blinked at him; he was starting to blur around the edges.
"Okay," he said, his voice starting to reverberate. "We'll talk about it tomorrow afternoon. Here."
Suddenly he was beside me, with water and ibuprofen, and the next thing I knew he was dragging me off to bed.
I never slept in the Nashville house. But I slept like a rock in Dave's.
If home is family – original or chosen – then Ronon was right. It was a hell of a home I had here.