Dave scrubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand and managed an inarticulate gurgle into his phone.
Heaving himself up in bed, Dave clutched his phone and tried to kick-start his brain.
“You fuck. Did you know?”
“Who the hell…” and then enlightenment dawned like a crash of cymbals. “Is this John?”
“Of course it is,” snapped John.
“Obviously,” agreed Dave, slumping back against the headboard and wearily running a hand through his hair. “Obviously it’s you. I mean who else would be calling to bitch me out at,” he glanced at the dimly illuminated clock, “good god, four-thirty in the morning after five years radio silence. It couldn’t be anybody but you.”
“So did you know?” demanded John, still stuck on his one incomprehensible track, because it was John.
“Did I know what?” Dave asked, voice rising in frustration. Beside him Natalie shifted, her face a wary question. He waved her back to sleep. Putting his hand over the phone speaker, “It’s okay, it’s only John.” Instead of going back to sleep as he’d hoped, her eyes widened and she leaned out of bed grabbing for her robe.
On the other end of the phone John’s wordless growl grew to howl, “What the fuck do you think?”
“John, you haven’t spoken to me in five years. That’s a lot of missed conversations. Make some sense goddamnit.”
“Dave? You really don’t know?”
“No,” Dave yelled back, beyond exasperated. In truth he had no idea if he knew or not, because he had no idea what John was talking about.
Dave still had no idea what was going on, and was suddenly scared.
“John, where are you? Are you somewhere safe? Is someone you know with you?”
“What the fuck? No. Jesus, David. No, I’m not crazy. I guess you really don’t know.”
“Or have a clue what you’re talking about. You’ve always been cryptic and close-mouthed but this is getting ridiculous.”
“You really don’t know.”
All the air punched out Dave’s lungs. “What? No. No you do not get to do this.”
“I saw him this evening Davey.”
“John,” said Dave gently.
“No, not a half glimpse. This was the full on experience. He threatened to shoot me.”
Dave choked. He was maybe a little convinced. That sounded like their baby brother.
“Yeah go on, laugh it up.” John’s tone soured. “They brought him in to extract information from me.”
That was – Dave couldn’t keep up with his own mood, “Did he?” he checked, because even as wildly competitive as John and Mark could be, he couldn’t believe –
“No,” said John. “He got us out of there. But he hated me Davey.”
“And I will be extremely sorry about that sometime after I get over the idea he might be alive.”
“Yeah,” said John, “I guess I don’t care about it that much either. Comparatively. Not if – Alive,” he repeated reverently.
“And about that. Is there anyone there I can talk to. Because – ”
“Fair enough. I’m not sure I’d believe you, except you’re the steady one. Here, talk to Rodney.”
There was a small scuffle and then from a distance John said,
“Rodney, just talk to the man.”
“Fine, fine,” somebody muttered, and then an angry voice said, “What the hell Sheppard Senior, I don’t have time to talk to you. I’m busy here trying to track down Junior before the idiot gets himself shot in the back of the head. What is it about the Sheppard gene pool that turns out morons with the self-preservation instincts of a morbidly depressed lemming.”
“What?” Dave asked, too stunned to really object. Over the phone he heard a bunch of people yelling, “Rodney!” and John said, “McKay!” and there was a solid thump.
“Hey,” said Rodney, “you wanted me to be comforting? You’re the idiots here. Now can I get back to work. The Trust have put a million dollar bounty on Arthur and his boyfriend’s heads. And they don’t particularly care if they’re still attached.”
“What. The. Hell.” demanded Dave. “Somebody better tell me what is happening right now or I am going to call Dad and have you all arrested. Or maybe shot. I haven’t decided that part yet.”
“Mr Sheppard,” the phone had obviously been handed off to a woman, the sort who managed people for a living. Dave did not care to be managed just then.
“Listen lady. You will explain to me what is going on with my brothers, and I’ll consider talking Dad down when he finds out.”
“Mr Sheppard, I understand things are very stressful at the moment, but if you give me a few minutes of your time…”
Dave stopped listening to flannel and checked in with Natalie. She pointed at the phone and tilted her head. He made a yap-yap-yap gesture and rolled his eyes.
Natalie nodded and said quietly, “I’ll go wake the kids.”
Dave raised his eyebrows at her.
“Something’s going down,” she said just as quietly, “We’re not staying here. We’re going to your father’s compound in Nevada.”
After half a second’s thought, he nodded his head. The house in Los Angeles was a good place to live but impossible to lock down. He wanted all the family he could get his hands on in as safe a place as possible. Natalie slipped away.
The managing lady finally ran down on the flannel, “Mr Sheppard, are you still there?”
Dave intended to say something viciously sarcastic enough for both his younger brothers but what came out was, “Is he really alive?”
“Yes,” she said easily. “Arthur is definitely alive. As of earlier this evening.”
Dave did not like the qualification. He decided to address the less fraught part of the statement first.
“Oh right. John said his name was Mark. He goes by Arthur now from what I could tell. Darling Arthur.”
“Darling Arthur? Are you sure you met Mark?” Neither of Dave’s brothers, or any of his family really, were darling anything.
“Well his boyfriend seemed to think so.”
“Uh, well, that was just an assumption my part, what with the darling and the shooting people parts. Also the explosions.”
“Ah,” said Dave. “Explosions sound more like Mark.” Reassured, he turned to less important matters. “So please explain to me who exactly The Trust are? And why they interested in John? And Mark?” he took a breath, “that is Arthur.”
“I’m sorry Mr Sheppard but that’s a matter of National Security.”
“If you say so,” said Dave very pleasantly. “But I’m more interested in the fact that it appears to be a matter of my brother’s security. Both my brothers. So you can tell me now, or I can call my father and we can do this the hard way.”
“Mr Sheppard, I don’t think you understand – ”
Dave wasn’t in the mood for any more flannel. “Tell John we’re coming.” And then he hung up the phone. He looked the fading light of the display for a long moment, then dropped it on the bed.
Turning towards the door, he saw Natalie standing there silhouetted by the hall light, red hair gleaming like fire.
“We’re ready,” she said.
Elizabeth stared at the phone. “He hung up on me.” She pretended not to see the spark of humor in John’s eyes and the way Teyla pressed her lips together that meant she was holding back a smile.
“I am sorry Elizabeth,” said Teyla. “That must be most disconcerting for you.”
What was more disconcerting was the feeling that Teyla spent most of her time on Atlantis deliberately not laughing at the weird aliens. Elizabeth decided it would be best if she kept on ignoring that feeling for now.
“He also said to tell John they were coming.”
“Oh cool,” said John. “I was getting bored of hanging around here anyway.”
“John, they’re not just going to let your brother onto a top secret base.”
John stretched luxuriously and flopped back on his bed, hands tucked behind his head.
“You don’t know Dave,” he said, “And if he calls Dad, well…” He shrugged with his whole body, closed his eyes appeared to fall straight into sleep.
“More Sheppards,” said Rodney. “Just what we need.”
“Yes I think so,” said Teyla. Elizabeth had the unnerving feeling she wasn’t being sarcastic. She wondered if she should alert somebody, then decided, fuck it, the bastards had dragged them back from Atlantis and stranded them here.
More importantly the bastards had sent her to Atlantis with John in the first place. And sure they’d all be dead without John, but still John. Let some other poor soul deal with the Sheppard chaos-generating field for once. Elizabeth was more than happy to sit back and watch (and maybe point and laugh, she had to get her kicks somehow).
Patrick Sheppard woke up at the quick double-tap on his door.
“What?” he demanded as he sat up.
“Sir,” said his aide, Norris, when it should Ackerman on duty, which meant the job of waking him had been kicked up the chain, which meant it must be bad news. “Sir, your coffee,” and he carefully handed Patrick the mug handle first. Patrick corrected to, very bad news, and took a sip,
“What is going on?” he asked with deliberate calm.
“Uh,” Norris squirmed in place. “Your son is on the phone, he demanded we wake you immediately.” For a brief half second Patrick had the hope that it might be John. Then Norris continued, “He asked that we give you coffee first.”
Not John then. John would never have the consideration, or tactical approach, to supply coffee to help break bad news. John was all full steam ahead damn the torpedoes we’ll carry the day by main force, it was Dave who considered the angles. The two approaches had been combined for maximum impact in his never to be thought of youngest son because thinking of – it was too much to be born. Especially now when he clearly needed to alert and on point to deal with Dave’s crisis. At least he knew it wasn’t injury or illness in his family, because then it would have been his Security Chief who’d woken him.
“And you have given me coffee, now give me my phone.”
Norris, still looking like he’d rather retire to the safety of a nuclear bunker, gingerly handed over the phone.
“Did you know?” Dave demanded.
“Did I know what? Where are you?” It sounded as if Dave was outside. He could hear the high voices of his grandchildren in the background, and Natalie’s soft voice soothing.
“Natalie and the children are going to the ranch. I told them to double down on security. They might end up referring that to you.”
“And I will tell them to take a running jump. My son tells them to increase security, they increase security.”
“Alright,” Dave sounded mollified. “And you didn’t know, did you? I’m not sure I can handle it if you knew.”
That was disturbing. Dave was the son who handled things.
“Davey, I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but I like to think if it was that important, I would have told you.”
“Yeah, yeah, obviously you’d have told me, us. It’s John being all John-like. He’s got me paranoid too. Of course you’d have told us.”
“John?” Patrick demanded, feeling suddenly woozy. If John was back in contact… Patrick grabbed Norris’s sleeve to get his attention, and put his thumb over the speaker, “I want full scale emergency procedures in place. I want all but the relief team security called in. I want the on-call lawyers and PR in the office within the hour and at least three diversionary scenarios prepped and ready to go by eight.”
Norris was definitely thinking of retiring to a nuclear bunker, but he nodded and retreated from the room without ever turning his back on Patrick. Patrick snorted, he still had it, then turned his attention back to his son,
“Davey? John? truly?” Because even if things had to be dire for John to get back in contact, John had got back in contact.
“It’s worse than that. Or better. I don’t know anymore.”
“David, tell me what’s going on.” He paused, “Is that the helicopter?” Dave despised flying by helicopter. Patrick had never worked out if that was because John flew them, or if John flew them because Dave despised them.
“Yes. I want to get the kids out to the ranch before anyone realizes what’s going on.”
“What is going on?”
“Dad. Damn I wish I could tell you in person. Dad, Mark’s alive.”
Eames looked at Arthur with great caution. He wasn’t sure if the man was about to fly apart, or collapse in on himself into nothing.
“You should go,” said Arthur. “Go to Africa. You can hide there. You’ll be safe there.”
Eames genuinely did not understand Arthur sometimes.
“You should,” Arthur repeated.
“Did you hit your head or something, darling?”
Arthur smiled, his prim little, I’m amused but I shouldn’t be, smile. “You’re crazy.”
“Sure,” said Eames, “you think I’m going to walk away and leave you to deal with a furious, well-connected client and your thrice-damned family, and I’m the crazy one.”
“Definitely,” said Arthur, his smile had softened into the one that was Eames’ alone.
Eames patted him comfortingly on the shoulder. Arthur’d had a hard evening. It wasn’t fair to expect him to be firing on all cylinders.
“So first step,” he said, “Let’s find out more about this Trust and just what they want with your brother. However will manage that?”
“Hmm, sounds like it could be difficult,” said Arthur, all po-faced and mock-earnest, “If only we had the information that was on those computers.”
Eames laughed at the ridiculously grave expression on Arthur’s face, and took the zip drive out of his pocket to wave under his nose. Arthur grinned back at him,
“Well get to work, Mr Eames.”