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Sentinels couldn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, but according to the live news coverage Steve McGarrett was certainly giving it his best effort.

“He must drive his Guide crazy,” Evan commented. He sat on the edge of the king-sized hotel bed, elbows on his knees, watching the action unfold on the television.

John, who was reclining on the bed and playing Sudoku on his phone, chuckled. “All Sentinels drive their Guides crazy. Nature of the beast.”

Evan reached back and squeezed John’s ankle. “Looks like he’s gonna be a while. You want to go check out the beach?”

John dropped his phone on the bed with a sigh. “We don’t have time for this. The Trust could be on the move already, and I don’t want to lose their trail.”

“We have to tread carefully here, John,” Evan cautioned. “You can’t go tromping all over the Islands without permission. We don’t want another Cartagena situation.”

“Fucking Cartagena.”

John, due to the nature of his work, often traveled into the territory of high-level Sentinels. A certain amount of diplomacy was called for, but often the situations he was dealing with were extremely time sensitive. He’d pissed off more than one Alpha Sentinel, and if McGarrett didn’t wrap up his Mission: Impossible stunt show soon he’d be added to John’s list.

“He’s really athletic.” Evan said.

John felt a brief flare of jealousy but stomped it down. Sentinels were territorial about more than just land, and he tried to fight those caveman urges when they rose up. He wasn’t quick enough, though, because Evan turned around and smirked at him.

“You are too, you big baby.”

Just for that John tried to push him off the bed with his feet, which turned into a grappling match. Evan easily held his own. He was shorter than John but muscled and not above fighting dirty. This time, though, he let John pin him to the mattress, dimples showing as he grinned.

“See? Very athletic.”

“Such a jerk,” John replied with a grin of his own.

He leaned over and scented along the curve of Evan’s neck. He felt content, and through the bond he could tell that Evan felt the same. They were well matched and John would forever be grateful that he’d found his perfect Guide, because there were never any guarantees.

"You know," Evan said, his voice turning familiarly husky. “There are other things we can do to pass the time.”

John kissed him, slow and languorous, enjoying the taste of his Guide. That, more than anything, helped center him and smooth out the rough edges he had from traveling and having to sit on his hands while he waited for McGarrett. He could feel Evan’s desire like liquid heat just beneath his skin, which ratcheted his own desire up even further.

Not all Sentinel-Guide pairs had a sexual relationship – platonic bonds were uncommon but not unheard of – but John couldn’t imagine not having that extra connection. As a Sentinel he was incredibly tactile and being able to experience every inch of Evan’s body, to claim him and be claimed by him at the same time, made their bond that much stronger.

John worked his hands up under Evan’s shirt, fingers splaying against the warm expanse of his chest. Evan arched up, grinding himself against John. It wasn’t great timing for John’s cell phone to ring, but when he glanced at it and saw who it was he had to answer.

“Duty calls,” Evan sighed.

John rolled off his Guide and scooped up the phone. “Sheppard.”

Colonel Sheppard, it’s Danny Williams. We won’t be able to make the meeting.

“Yeah, I’m watching the news.”

Idiot thinks he’s Spiderman, Williams said dryly. If he doesn’t fall and break his stupid neck, we can rendezvous with you later. I’m having Chin send you a digital copy of all the intel we were able to put together on your missing scientist.

“I appreciate that.”

Keep your phone on, Chin can use your signal to triangulate your location in case we need to find you later.

“Thank you, Detective.”

Williams disconnected the call. Now all they had to do was wait for an email from Chin and they’d be good to go.

“He’s worried,” Evan said.

“Wouldn’t you be?”

They both looked at the television. McGarrett almost had his man, both of them tethered to separate climbing ropes. It wasn’t every day John got to see a fist fight happening on the side of a building. They were certainly putting on quite a show for the bankers inside.

“What do you think it’s like? Having a Guide who’s also your soulmate?”

John shrugged. People liked to say McGarrett had won the life lottery when he crossed paths with Williams, Guide and soulmate all wrapped up in one package. It was incredibly rare, even more so than two soulmates actually meeting in their lifetime. John didn’t see the point of having a soulmate, especially when he had Evan.

The question came up every year at the Sentinel Institute of North America’s banquet, but McGarrett and Williams always dodged it. John suspected having a soulmate wasn’t something that was easily quantifiable.

“Maybe it’s like Sandburg said. Evolution.”

“Maybe,” John replied. He wasn’t convinced, though he’d read the latest missive from SINA about it. Guide Prime Sandburg was postulating that Sentinels and Guides were undergoing an evolution, an upgrade to reflect the changes in the world since primitive times.

“How else do you explain WinterShield?” Evan asked.

“Aren’t you a little old to believe in fairy tales?” John countered.

If WinterShield was real, which they most likely weren’t, they were under the protection of SHIELD and not even Sandburg could get access. Sentinels were normally too territorial to share the same space for an extended period of time, but the two Sentinels that supposedly made up WinterShield were in a relationship. Not only that, they shared a Guide. The whole thing was preposterous.

“Such a cynic.” Evan sighed, but leaned in for another kiss.

The phone dinged. Chin’s email had arrived.

“Let’s see what we've got,” John said.

McGarrett’s task force was good. There were surveillance photos from the airport’s private strip and aerial photos with GPS coordinates of likely places that the Trust could be keeping Dr. McKay.

“What do you think?” John asked after they’d scrolled through all the photos.

Evan took the phone and swiped left a couple of times. “Here. One road in and out, jungle terrain, plenty of isolation.”

What he meant was there wouldn’t be anyone around to hear Dr. McKay scream when they tortured him. John was more than familiar with the tactics employed by the Trust, had seen their handiwork too many times.

Taking McKay to Hawaii was risky, and the SGC investigators hadn’t been sure why the Trust had taken the chance. Normally when the Trust kidnapped someone to get information out of them, they kept it local. Abandoned warehouses and basements were their usual haunts. Doubly chancy to transport McKay to a small island that had a powerful Alpha Sentinel.

John shot off a text to Williams with the GPS coordinates. “Let’s gear up and go.”

On the news McGarrett shot out a window and shoved the other guy through, swinging in right behind him. The show was over.

*o*o*o*

John wasn’t a fan of jungles. Too much undergrowth that could hide traps, too much cover for snipers, too much heavy humidity. He had to dial down touch and amp up hearing and smell to make sure they weren’t ambushed by either Trust agents or wild boar.

“You know what this reminds me of?” Evan asked, his voice low enough to go undetected by human ears.

“If you say Colombia I’m gonna punch you in the face,” John whispered back.

They’d left their rental car a mile or so back on a pull-off and were hiking in to the location noted by Chin’s aerial photos. There were hunting cabins scattered around, some of them little more than tumbledown shacks, and any one of them would’ve made a good headquarters for the Trust agents.

John and Evan were in full tactical gear, carrying non-lethal stunners in addition to their sidearms. Both their faces were smeared with hypo-allergenic, Sentinel-friendly camo face paint.

With his hearing up John knew the cabin they were headed to was occupied, but unless the people inside said something incriminating he had no way of knowing if they were Trust or random criminals or hunters. He turned to Evan to ask if they were close enough for him to get an emotional read, but something else caught his attention.

whup-whup-whup

“Chopper incoming,” John said. He tipped his head to the side and closed his eyes, listening.

This is the Koʻolau Range, which became a national landmark in the early 1970s. It’s a fragment of a shield volcano that dominated the Eastern side of the Island.

John dialed back. “Just a tour.”

Except it wasn’t, because a minute later the chopper was hovering overhead, whipping the trees around, and two men were rappelling down. John fought the urge to step in front of Evan – the man was a seasoned Air Force officer in addition to being a Guide and he didn’t need the protection – and then realized, from the uncomfortable prickling across his skin, that one of the men headed his way was a Sentinel.

“McGarrett,” John and Evan said at the same time.

“Sorry we’re late,” McGarrett said once he touched down.

“I still say we could’ve just taken the car,” Williams grumbled as McGarrett unhooked him from the rappelling line. “You’re such a diva.”

“This was quicker.” McGarrett tugged on the lines and they were pulled back up as the chopper moved away.

“Nice cover, masquerading as a tour.” John hadn’t been on the Islands long but he’d seen helicopter tours advertised all over the place.

“Oh, that was a real tour,” Williams said, checking his gear. “They have the selfies to prove it. I’m sure Super Sentinel here gave them plenty to tell their friends back in Podunk, Iowa or wherever they’re from.”

“All part of the job,” McGarrett replied with an unrepentant grin.

John and Evan shared a look. The Alpha Sentinel of Hawaii was perhaps the most recognizable Sentinel in the US, apart from Sentinel Prime Jim Ellison. McGarrett and his task force were constantly on the news thanks to McGarrett’s over-the-top approach to law enforcement. John, like the majority of Sentinels, preferred to keep out of the public eye as much as possible.

“This is your op, Sheppard. I’m just here to provide backup.”

John nodded. He’d already briefed McGarrett and Williams when he made initial contact. All Sentinels were read into the Stargate program because with their enhanced senses they were more likely to stumble on the things that the SGC tried so hard to keep from the general populace. It was the same reason the SGC put so much effort into recruiting Sentinels, even though they couldn’t Gate travel.

“We’re coming up on an inhabited cabin. So far everyone inside has been pretty tight-lipped. Evan, can you get a read?”

One of Evan’s Guide gifts was a strong empathic sense, and not just for really potent emotions like joy or terror; his gift allowed him to get incredibly nuanced emotional reads on almost anyone. He wasn’t a guy you wanted at your poker table.

Evan turned in the direction of the cabin and closed his eyes. He took deep, measured breaths and shook out his arms, letting go of the tension in his muscles. John was familiar with the process and took the opportunity to clock his Guide’s heartbeat, lung sounds, even the rush of blood through his veins. Every sound was reassuringly familiar.

“Half a mile, maybe more,” Evan said. “Northeast. Fear and anger, a thick cloud of it.”

“Sounds like the place,” John agreed. “We should –”

Evan staggered, and John snapped out an arm, steadying him.

“Hey. You okay?” Another quick Sentinel scan didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary, though the pinched look on Evan’s face indicated that he was experiencing some pain. Headache, most likely.

“Fine. I’m fine.” Evan turned and looked at Williams, who had a pretty intense look on his face that John was hard-pressed to decipher. “Let’s go.”

John gave Evan’s shoulder a squeeze before releasing him. He took point, Evan directly on his six and McGarrett and Williams fanning out on either side. As they drew closer to the cabin John heard Dr. McKay mentioned by name, which was further confirmation they were on the right track.

Don’t try anything funny, McKay.

Like what? Flushing myself to freedom?

John looked over at McGarrett, who gave him a nod. He’d heard it too. McKay sounded more annoyed than scared. John had never met the man, though he was one of the SGC’s top minds. According to the dossier the investigators had given John, McKay was a Canadian physicist who worked primarily out of Area 51. The words ‘brilliant’ and ‘genius’ had been bandied about almost as often as ‘abrasive’ and ‘obnoxious’. The headshot photo had shown a man with thinning brown hair, sharp blue eyes, a crooked mouth that turned down on one side, and broad shoulders.

The Trust wanted the information McKay had in his genius brain: schematics, codes, insider information about the SGC. He was a highly prized asset.

When they finally came upon the cabin it looked about how John thought it would: holes in the roof, broken windows, overgrown with vines and creeping plants. There was a door in front, one in the back, and one Trust agent patrolling the yard with an automatic weapon in his hands.

John signaled for everyone to stop just inside the treeline, dropping low to stay out of sight of the agent.

“McKay is definitely inside,” he said for Evan’s benefit. “We need to extract him without getting him killed.”

“I make four men in the house in addition to McKay,” McGarrett added. “All armed.”

John nodded his agreement. “We need to take out the guard first. Then Evan and I will hit the front door while you two hit the back. Quick and quiet so no-one panics and bullets start flying.”

It went against his Sentinel instincts to put Guides in harm’s way, but that was outdated thinking and certainly irrelevant to their current situation. John knew Williams was more than capable of holding his own, as was Evan. Still, he pulled Evan in for a chaste kiss. Just in case.

“Before we go, make sure you –” John was going to remind McGarrett to dial down hearing just in case the bullets did start to fly, but the cabin exploded into a giant ball of flame and the unexpected concussive sound of it drove a shard of sharp pain right through the middle of John’s skull.

He clapped his hands over his ears and curled in on himself, his whole body vibrating with the force of the explosion. His hearing dial dropped all the way down to zero and his head was full of static and his skin was burning, burning, burning…

And then Evan was there, his cool, soothing hands on either side of John’s face, his forehead pressed against John’s. Calm reassurance flooded John’s mind, cleared his head, and he was able to bring his touch dial back down to normal. The burning he’d perceived was just the heat from being so close to a fire; no damage to his skin.

John’s hearing dial was a little trickier to crank back up, but Evan didn’t let go of him until all of his levels were consistent across the board. It was only then that John noticed McGarrett also being tended to by his Guide, though that seemed to involve ranting as well as touching.

“Why the hell were your levels up so high? You knew what we were walking into. I swear, you don’t have the sense God gave a rock.” Williams gestured wildly with one arm but kept his other hand firmly pressed to McGarrett’s chest. “You want to tell me how that cabin blew up? Neither of you sensed anything like a bomb?”

The cabin was still burning, large clouds of smoke almost completely obscuring it. John didn’t want to dial up to listen for any survivors and he didn’t imagine he’d find any if he did. Even the guard who wasn’t in the house had been close enough to get caught up in the explosion.

Except someone was staggering out of the smoke. John and McGarrett were immediately on their feet, weapons out and pointed at the survivor.

“Who the hell are you?” the guy asked wearily. He had one arm wrapped around his ribs and was sporting some pretty impressive bruises beneath the fine layer of soot that coated him from head to toe.

John lowered his gun. “Dr. McKay?”

“My rescue party, I assume? You’re late.” His eyes rolled back in his head and John caught him just before he hit the ground.

McGarrett was on his phone. “Chin, we need backup and medivac, ASAP.”

John looked down at McKay’s slack face. He had questions. So many questions.

*o*o*o*

“How was I supposed to know there were two Sentinels plotting my rescue? Since your special skills don’t involve sending telepathic messages, I had to save myself.”

Dr. McKay sat at the conference room table in the Five-O’s HQ, hands wrapped around a large cup of coffee. He’d spent a night at Queen’s, where his injuries had been assessed as minor.

“How’d you do it?” McGarrett asked.

“Few household chemicals in the proper ratio. Any idiot could do it.”

“And they just let you?”

McKay scowled, which seemed to be his default expression. John had yet to hear him apologize for temporarily incapacitating half his extraction crew. He idly scratched an itchy patch of skin on his palm.

“You know what I find ludicrous? Men who get their jollies beating people up – the same ones who don’t mind a little blood and violence – and then get squeamish about watching another man urinate.”

John bit back a surprised laugh. “So they let you use the bathroom unsupervised.”

“Isn’t that what I just said?”

“Do you have any idea why they brought you to Hawaii?” McGarrett asked.

“I wasn’t exactly privy to their plans, Commander.”

John didn’t get the sense that McKay was lying. He radiated annoyance and impatience. A lot of it.

“How did they capture you?” Williams wanted to know. “Big brain like yours, I’d think the SGC would have an armed guard on you 24/7.”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” McKay snapped. But his skin was flushing pink and his heart rate was speeding up and he stopped making eye contact.

Evan must have felt it too, McKay’s embarrassment, because he leaned over and put his hand on the man’s arm. “Whatever you tell us will stay just between us.”

That was a patently false statement and Evan knew it, but John didn’t correct him. Evan was better suited to building a rapport with McKay, but if he told them anything that would help prevent future kidnappings John would run with that information without hesitation.

“It’s stupid,” McKay muttered. “No, I was stupid. If Kavanagh finds out about it, I’ll be laughed right out of Area 51.”

John didn’t know who Kavanagh was, but the amount of vitriol in McKay’s voice when he said the name told him exactly how the other man felt about him. For one second, there and gone so fast he almost missed it, John wanted to punch the unknown Kavanagh in the face. Evan must’ve felt it too, because he shot a quick, questioning look at John, who merely shrugged.

“I was in Rachel. It’s the closest place to get real food and it’s a pretty dead-end town. Nothing there but the Inn and some camping places.”

“So they didn’t think you needed protecting,” Williams surmised. He had his arms crossed and his feet propped up on one of the other chairs. “The SGC is paying those guys too much.”

McKay took a big swallow of his coffee, sighing just a little like he really enjoyed it. Cop coffee was usually pretty bad unless there was a Sentinel on staff; their sensitive palettes couldn’t handle the normal sludge.

“You had lunch?” Evan prompted.

McKay shook his head. “I didn’t even get inside. There was this kid in the parking lot, looking under the cars. He was…uh…look, it’s stupid. He told me he lost his cat and I offered to help him look because I like cats, which in no way is a reflection of my masculinity, thank you very much, and while I was in a vulnerable position someone stabbed me with a needle and that’s all I remember.”

John bit back a grin. Genius scientist brought down by his love of furry little kitties? That was funny. But it was also troubling, and everyone else in the room knew it too.

“They knew you’d help look for a lost cat,” McGarrett said. “They were waiting for you, so they knew you were coming. Do you go to Rachel regularly?”

McKay shook his head. “Hardly ever. The food in the commissary is fine most of the time. But people were talking about burgers, real ones and not those frozen patties we get, and I just decided to go.”

John exchanged a look with McGarrett, who mouthed mole. The problem was bigger than they’d thought. Someone tipped off the Trust about McKay’s impromptu trip to town, and the Trust had already been there waiting for that call to have put something together so quickly.

“I have to call the General,” John said. “They need to lock this down immediately.”

He reached for his cell phone, but the itching on his palm suddenly reached a maddening level, and no amount of sensory adjustment made it stop.

“John?” Evan was at his side in an instant. “What’s wrong?”

“What the fuck is this?” McKay asked at the same moment, staring at the palm of his own hand.

“Hey, stop that.” Evan wrapped his hand around John’s, stopping him from scratching; he’d drawn a little blood.

Shock came through the bond, slapping at John, and then Evan shut it down, closed himself off, and John couldn’t catch his breath.

“Oh, shit,” he heard Williams say, but all of John’s focus was on his Guide.

“John?” Evan asked, and he sounded confused, and there was hurt bleeding out of his eyes.

John looked at his palm, saw a mark where there’d never been one, the lines of it crisp and colored several shades darker than his own skin tone. It was a Stargate.

“Is this a fucking soulmark?” McKay snapped angrily. “As if this day couldn’t get any worse, for fuck’s sake!”

A soulmark. John looked at Evan, who stared back at him with something like sorrow on his face, and felt the ground shift under his feet.

*o*o*o*

John and Evan had been moved from their Sentinel-friendly hotel room to a bonding suite at the local Sentinel-Guide Center. McGarrett and Williams had moved McKay into a safe house and were dealing directly with the SGC on the matter of the Trust mole inside their organization.

It was all background noise to John. As soon as they’d gotten into the bonding suite he’d all but attacked Evan, desperate to show his Guide that he still wanted him, still needed him. He didn’t need a fucking soulmate.

They writhed together, conflicting emotions flooding through the bond and driving them higher, pushing them harder.

“You’re mine,” Evan repeated over and over. “Only mine.”

John wanted that to be true, but he could feel the change. Even though he was nowhere near them, McKay was a third presence in the room, inside John’s mind. Like he was trying to find a way to fill a spot that had never been open. He was a psychic termite, eating away at John’s defenses and burrowing in under his skin.

Afterwards, as John and Evan lay tangled up together, sweaty and sexually sated but still no closer to figuring out what was happening, John stared at the soulmark on his palm.

“He’s your perfect match,” Evan said softly. His head was pillowed on John’s shoulder, his arm wrapped tightly around John’s torso. “That’s what all the literature says.”

“The literature is wrong.” John closed his hand into a fist. “You’re my perfect match. Always have been.”

“It’s never happened before. A Sentinel having both a Guide and a soulmate.”

“Great. You know I love being a trailblazer.”

John’s attempt at humor fell flat. He liked staying under the radar, liked the way his life was going, but now everything was going to change. SINA was going to call him in, the SGC was going to demand answers, hell, he’d probably be on the goddamned news, which was the last thing in the world he wanted.

“Part of you has already accepted him,” Evan murmured. “I can feel it. The Sentinel side of you has accepted responsibility for his safety, his happiness. Just the same as you did for me.”

“Can you also sense that my feelings for you haven’t changed?” John pressed a kiss to Evan’s sweaty forehead. “What we are is still the same as it has been.”

“We’ll change, too.” Evan sounded so certain about it, like it was a foregone conclusion.

John rolled on top of him and kissed him, fiercely. Being born with the Sentinel gene and the ATA gene had dictated most of his life decisions. He wasn’t about to let one more genetic, metaphysical anomaly tell him what to do or who to love.

“No. We won’t,” he vowed.

“Show me,” Evan pleaded.

John took him apart, piece by piece, until Evan was mindlessly begging, and then put them both back together again, hoping his love and determination were strong enough to fill in the cracks McKay had unwittingly created.

*o*o*o*

“Are you insane?” McKay stomped around the Five-0 conference room. “I have very important work to get back to!”

“Until we ferret out the mole or moles who gave you up to the Trust, you’re safer here,” General O’Neill said.

The General had arrived early that morning by private plane, swapping out his uniform for civvies. It was a little jarring to see his CO in a bright yellow Aloha shirt and board shorts, but John was trying to work past that.

“Sir, I would like to request that Evan and I head back stateside immediately. This is my investigation.”

“Request denied, Colonel,” O’Neill said pleasantly. “Have you tried these malasadas? They’re really good.”

“Sir –”

“Sheppard, I called in special Sentinel investigators, unaffiliated with the SGC, to conduct interviews at Area 51. I have confidence that they’ll get the job done. In the meantime, you and your Guide should take advantage of having a couple days R&R.”

“Can’t I sign a waiver or something?” McKay asked. “My simulations –”

“Colonel Carter is overseeing your work,” O’Neill said.

“Oh. Well, I suppose she can do an adequate job.”

“I’ll be sure to relay your overwhelming confidence. Now, about the other matter.”

John sighed. He just wanted everything to go back to normal. He reached for Evan through the bond and felt calming reassurance. The man himself was sitting quietly at the table, hands folded as he waited for whatever pronouncement the General had to make.

“I don’t need the distraction of a soulmate,” McKay said. “So how do we turn this off?”

The only saving grace of the whole situation was that McKay seemed just as disinclined as John to have the complication of a soulmate.

“I’ve got people looking into it,” O’Neill said vaguely. “For the time being, everyone in this room is to stand down. No contact with anyone on the mainland until we get this Trust thing sorted out. Just…have some fun.”

The General was taking his own advice, because he’d gotten McGarrett’s teammate Chin to set up a deep-sea fishing excursion for him before he headed back to Colorado Springs. He took the rest of the malasadas with him.

“Great. Now what?” John hated being benched. And he especially didn’t like the calming energy Evan was sending his way because that meant he was going to say something John wouldn’t like.

“I think you two should spend some time together,” Evan said, proving John right.

McKay stared. “What? Him and me?”

“Evan –”

“John, we can’t wait for the SGC to sort this out for us. You and Dr. McKay are soulmates, that’s an undisputed fact. And maybe if you spend time with each other you can figure out the mechanics of it.”

The way his face flushed made John angry. His Guide was expecting him to fuck McKay on the basis of matching soulmarks alone, as if he’d have so little consideration for his partner.

“Get that thought right out of your head,” John snapped at him. “It’s not happening.”

“It’s the only way we’ll know,” Evan said softly. “And I have to know.”

Damn stubborn Guide. He got up from the table and kissed John, one hand gently cradling his face.

“Do it for me.”

“I hate you,” John whispered.

“No you don’t.” Evan looked into his eyes, his affection a bright beacon, and then the bond between them muted down to almost nothing. He was giving John privacy.

Evan slipped out and John heard Williams just on the other side of the door promising to take good care of his Guide.

John and McKay were left alone in uncomfortable silence. Every time John looked at him and saw the bruises on his face, he wanted to punch someone. So he tried not to look.

“Do you surf?” John asked, breaking the silence. McKay pulled a face.

“No. And I don’t like to swim or be out in the sun. Do you know how much solar radiation our bodies absorb on a regular day? Out here it’s amplified, and I don’t have my specially formulated sun block.”

“Yeah. This is gonna be a great time.” John narrowly stopped himself from banging his head against the wall. And then he heard McKay’s stomach rumble. “You want to get something to eat?”

“Yes, I probably should. I have hypoglycemia and it’s not good if my blood sugar gets too low.”

McKay sounded unnecessarily defensive. As John followed him out of the conference room he wondered if Evan was right. Should he get to know McKay better, in a strictly platonic fashion? The guy was super prickly and came off as abrasive, but John suspected there was a lot more going on under the surface. Just the fact that he was able to get himself free from the Trust agents was pretty damned impressive.

There had to be some reason the universe threw them together, right?

*o*o*o*

John learned a lot about McKay over lunch, first and foremost that he liked to eat. The man had a frankly disturbing relationship with food – the sounds he made when he tasted something he liked were almost pornographic – and having to watch him talk and eat at the same time was a little gross.

He learned that McKay had a disappointing younger sister who’d decided to raise a family instead of pursuing a career in science. He learned that McKay was fluent in French because he had French-Canadian relatives. He learned that McKay built a non-working model of a nuclear bomb in grade school and it was only non-working because he couldn’t get his hands on any plutonium, and that was more than a little disturbing.

John could infer a lot from nuances in speech and physiology, thanks to his enhanced senses. And from everything McKay didn’t say, John learned that the man had next to no friends, next to no personal life, and a very negative self-image about anything not related to his intellect.

The Sentinel in John wanted to wrap McKay up and hide him away from everyone who’d ever hurt him. And that was surely a long list. But, more importantly, the longer he was around McKay the more John realized that he didn’t have the urge to get to know the guy in the biblical sense. There was no sexual attraction.

John probed at the bond he shared with Evan, worrying at it like a sore tooth, but it was still muted. It was frustrating not to have access to his Guide.

“So what are you doing for the SGC?” John asked when there was a lull in McKay’s monologue.

“Why do you want to know?” McKay asked suspiciously.

“It’s not like I don’t have clearance.” Not that John paid much attention to the science going on at Cheyenne Mountain or Area 51 or Los Alamos, unless it was related to something that actually interested him, like the Sentinel-friendly private plane he piloted on his missions.

“If you must know, I’m the foremost expert in Ancient tech and language at the SGC.”

That, at least, was something John knew about. He had the ATA gene, like many Sentinels did, and an unusually strong expression of it, but because he was a Sentinel he’d been spared light switch duty.

“The Atlantis project, right?”

It must’ve been a prestigious assignment, judging by the way McKay was preening. John didn’t know that much about it, beyond the general sense of frustration that he picked up on when he was under the Mountain. Especially from Dr. Jackson, who often prowled through the halls at odd hours muttering to himself.

“We’ve made great strides, thanks to me.”

“All but finding the actual city,” John said with a smirk.

That wiped the smugness off McKay’s face. “When we find it, and we will, it’ll be my contribution that gets us there.”

John had to admire the man’s confidence. And there must be something to the soulmate thing after all because instead of finding McKay annoyingly supercilious, John was merely amused.

“I’m sure –” he started to say, and then his bond with Evan flared briefly to life, conveying anger and a warning of danger before dropping out completely. John had a hard time catching his breath. He could feel the bond between them, but it was a hollow, empty thing. He couldn’t sense his Guide at all.

“Sheppard?”

“Trouble,” John rasped out before his conscious mind was overtaken by the panicked, single-minded Sentinel whose only goal was save the Guide.

*o*o*o*

The Sentinel flowed through the crowded sidewalks like river water around stones, senses cataloguing and discarding hundreds of impressions of the people he passed. His Guide-bond was still mute and empty, the wrongness of it making his chest ache and panic flutter at the back of his mind.

Find the Guide. Save the Guide. Destroy the enemy.

He moved easily around obstacles, barely taking the time to recognize them as bistro tables and mailboxes and people. None smelled of his Guide and were therefore unimportant.

But there was something else, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. A scent that kept coming back to him (oatmeal soap). A familiar steady tha-thump tha-thump (heartbeat). And then a hand on his arm, the touch making the Soul-bond explode in a shower of light and strength and almost overwhelming emotions.

The Sentinel wrapped himself in the Soul-bond like a warm blanket, taking comfort from it, letting it calm the panic. His Guide was counting on him. He needed to be calm. Needed to focus. He was…he was…

“Sheppard! What the hell is going on?”

John blinked and shook his head. “McKay?”

“Yes, McKay! Are you…Was that a Sentinel thing?”

McKay had his hand wrapped around John’s wrist and in turn John was wrapped around the man like an octopus. He flushed and quickly disentangled himself.

“We have to get to Five-0,” John said. He twisted his arm in McKay’s grasp until they were holding hands, and then he dragged McKay along with him. He was riding on instinct, certain that losing physical contact with McKay would send him back into a feral state.

The fact that John had been pulled out by someone who wasn’t a Guide of any variety should have been impossible.

“Will you kindly stop dragging me like a recalcitrant toddler and tell me what’s going on?” McKay tried to pull his hand away, but John tightened his grip.

“Yes, it’s a Sentinel thing. And if I let go of you I might go feral again and I won’t be able to help Evan that way.”

“Evan? What’s wrong with Evan?” To his credit, McKay kept moving. He matched his stride to John’s.

“Something happened. Something bad. I just hope he was still at Five-0 when it went down. If he’s not it’ll be harder to track him down.”

“Do you think it’s the Trust?” McKay asked, and John could sense the fear and guilt in that question.

“Maybe. It’d be awfully coincidental for it to be a random strike against McGarrett’s team.”

How many of the damned agents were on the island? McKay had blown up five of them at the cabin. What the hell did he have that they wanted so badly?

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” McKay said grimly.

John didn’t stop moving until ʻIolani Palace came into view. “Don’t let go,” he whispered to McKay, who solemnly nodded.

He stretched out his hearing, listening for familiar voices in and around the vicinity of Five-0 HQ, and piggybacked sight to help him narrow in on the right location.

…barricaded himself in the interrogation room, someone said. See if you can hack into their system, find out where they stashed McKay.

John homed in on the right block of windows and spotted two men in suits. He’d bet his life they were Trust agents. The bond might be unresponsive, but if Evan was still alive John would be able to hear his heartbeat. He carefully filtered everything out, teetering on the edge of a zone as he threw all his focus into that one sense.

There! John was swamped in relief when he heard evidence that his Guide was still amongst the living. He pulled back and heard two other heartbeats in the room with Evan, one just as slow but steady and the other racing.

“I think they took out Williams and Evan somehow,” John whispered. He throttled back to normal and looked at McKay. “McGarrett’s gone feral.”

“Took out?” McKay’s face went white as a sheet.

“They’re still alive,” John said. “But knocked out somehow. I can’t sense Evan at all through our bond.”

But, he realized, he could feel McKay. The man was radiating fear and guilt and anger. John looked down at their joined hands, which were also the hands bearing the Soulmark.

“We need a way inside.”

McKay immediately pulled out his cell phone. “I’m going to need both hands for this,” he said apologetically.

John nodded and let go of McKay. He slid his hand up McKay’s arm and over his shoulder to gently cup the back of his neck. “This okay?”

“Uh, yeah. Yes. Fine.”

While McKay’s thumbs flew over the touchscreen, John took stock of his companion. Even with the power of the bond between them he didn’t feel the need to have sex with McKay. There was possessiveness, yes, but it was purely platonic. If John were reading things right through the bond, McKay was feeling nervous. John wasn’t picking up any feelings of lust or desire, just nerves and a low-level hum of pleasure. From being touched, if the way he leaned into John’s hand was any indication. That was interesting.

“Okay. I’ve got the blueprints. Don’t ask me how.”

“Don’t care,” John said. He looked over McKay’s shoulder as sections were magnified with the swipe of a finger.

“Here.” McKay held the phone so John could see it better. “Back stairway to this office here, then you drop down into the interrogation room from the ceiling like Bruce Willis.”

“You’re the John McClane in this scenario.” John gave the back of Rodney’s neck a reassuring squeeze. “A Sentinel dropping in on another Sentinel, one who’s feral, is a disaster in the making. But as long as you can show you’re not a threat he won’t hurt you.”

“Me?” McKay squeaked. “Have you seen McGarrett? He could snap me like a twig!”

“He won’t.”

“And where will you be while I’m surprising a deadly, SEAL-trained Sentinel in a locked room?”

“If I can keep from going feral again myself, I’m gonna pay a visit to our uninvited guests.”

“This is a terrible plan.”

“It’s your plan,” John pointed out.

“What? No, it isn’t! And I’m not taking the blame when everything goes wrong and you end up dead.”

“Duly noted.”

“Have I mentioned I hate you?”

“I’m crushed. Let’s go.”

McKay sighed but he let John grab his hand and drag him away.

*o*o*o*

This is ridiculous! How did I let you talk me into this? Do you have any idea what the underside of these ceiling panels look like? I wish I had a hazmat suit. I hope you’re as miserable as I am right now, you Sentinel asshole. Just so you know, if I fall out of here and crack my head open, that’ll put scientific advancement back at least a decade if not more.

McKay’s voice was as effective as his touch in keeping John grounded, which was good because the continued absence of Evan across the bond was starting to make him shaky. All the chatter would serve the additional purpose of giving McGarrett plenty of advanced warning of McKay’s arrival. Sneaking up on a feral Sentinel was always a bad idea.

To give McKay a little bit of an edge, John had given him one of Evan’s t-shirts. He always kept a couple with him – they were sealed in plastic bags in the rental car – and with Evan’s scent all over it McGarrett would hopefully think of McKay as a Guide. Or at least Guide-adjacent.

I can’t believe you got out of crawling through the ceiling. That’s so unfair. If I contract a flesh-eating bacteria because of this I’m holding you responsible.

John was operating on gut instinct, which had served him well enough in the past. Presumably the Trust agents weren’t aware that John and Evan were on the Island, or they wouldn’t have made such a bold attack on Five-0. If not for the soulmate thing messing things up, there would have been every reason to believe that the SGC would collect McKay and head back to Colorado Springs at the first opportunity.

The element of surprise was on his side.

While McKay had headed around the back of the building to gain access via the maintenance entrance, which would keep him out of sight of the agents, John had broken into McGarrett’s car. The trunk had yielded a veritable treasure trove of supplies and weapons, several of which John had helped himself to.

He’d gone in the back way too, only he went all the way to the roof. John had his own Die Hard stunt in mind, which was a bit more dangerous than crawling around on dirty ceiling panels. The climbing rope was tied off, the Glock was loaded and ready, and now John just needed to wait for the right moment.

You hear something? one of the Trust agents asked.

Probably someone in another office. Don’t worry about it.

Well, hurry up.

John nodded. Almost there. And then sunlight glinted off the windows of the building across the street and his sight opened up too far, too fast, the dancing prism on the glass filling his entire field of vision, and it was beautiful, each color so vivid, he could almost –

Here goes nothing, McKay said, and John snapped out of his zone.

He scrubbed a hand over his face and shook himself out. Soon he’d have Evan secured and then he could get himself centered and stabilized. Until then he needed to keep his shit together.

Don’t kill me, McGarrett. I’m coming in.

A warning growl was the only reply McKay got, and the only signal John needed to get moving. He gave the rope one last tug to make sure it was secured and then lowered himself over the side of the Palace. John was no stranger to rappelling, and he did it quickly, feet against the side and then launching himself out into space while he let the rope out. When he reached Five-0’s window he used all the strength in his legs to push himself out and, in a move reminiscent of McGarrett’s own recent adventures, shot out the glass before swinging back through the window feet-first.

John hit the release on the rope as soon as he cleared the window and went into a tuck and roll as the agents opened fire, their surprise giving him the few precious seconds he needed to take cover behind one of the gray-painted pillars. He locked down hearing to slightly less than normal human levels, which meant no more listening in on McKay. All he could do there was hope for the best.

“It’s all over, guys!” he called out. “Colonel Sheppard, SGC!”

John could hear the men cursing. Best-case scenario, they surrendered and John could take them into custody. Colonel Carter would undoubtedly be very interested in whatever device they’d used to knock out Evan and Williams. There was more anti-Sentinel ordnance than anti-Guide out in the world, probably because it was easier to subdue a Guide with more normal means. Worst-case scenario, John had to kill them and hope to find the device to send back to Carter. Which was really only worst-case for the agents.

“We’re coming out!” one of the agents called back.

John used the reflection in the internal office windows to track the agent as he stepped out from cover, arms up and weapon still in his hand.

“Drop it!”

The agent dropped the gun and kicked it away. If John had been on top of his game he’d have heard the second agent moving around to flank him, but he noticed it almost too late.

John broke cover himself, but not before the agent got off a shot that dug a burning furrow along the outside of John’s arm and sent him rolling. Fuck, that hurt! He throttled back on the pain, but it was too late. Both agents were standing over him, weapons drawn and smug expressions on their equally bland faces.

“Sheppard. I should’ve known you’d be here. It’ll be a pleasure to –”

“Stop!” a voice shouted.

Both agents dropped like marionettes who’d had their strings cut. At the same time John’s bond with Evan flooded back to life, strong and bright, and John let himself flop back against the floor in relief.

His Guide was next to him in an instant, assessing his injury and touching him with sure, steady hands. John grinned up at him.

“Hey.”

“Shut up,” Evan said. He leaned over and kissed John, and everything else just kind of floated away.

*o*o*o*

The Sentinel suite at the Hilton boasted every amenity a Sentinel-Guide pair could want, including an oversized walk-in shower with dual shower heads. John had opted to go back to the hotel instead of the Sentinel-Guide Center after he got patched up; he wanted more privacy.

John moved the washcloth over Evan’s shoulders, the soapy lather running down his spine and over the crack of his ass. He washed each arm thoroughly, getting between Evan’s fingers and into his armpits while Evan braced himself against the tile wall of the shower.

There was nothing sexual about John washing his Guide. Instead, it was a way to reaffirm their connection, and wash away the events of the last few hours. The ritual soothed John, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to take care of Evan in a way he couldn’t while they were out in the field.

“That feels so good,” Evan moaned.

John pressed a kiss between his shoulder blades and worked the washcloth down, getting the small of Evan’s back and each firm globe of his ass. He washed each leg with the same attention he’d paid Evan’s arms, and got between the toes.

Without being asked, Evan turned around so John could get the front. John worked his way up, washing gently behind Evan’s balls and up the length of his semi-hard cock. By the time John got to Evan’s neck, his Guide was pliant and radiating a heavy amount of pleased contentment.

They kissed, the water spraying down on both of them, and John tossed the washcloth aside. He ran his hands over Evan’s skin, slick and smooth and warm, and breathed in the clean, soapy smell of him.

Evan reached between them and wrapped his hand around John’s cock. “You want to do this here or in bed?”

“Here now, bed later,” John said, bending down to nibble at Evan’s neck.

“I like how you think.”

“And I like how you fuck.”

Evan’s heartrate sped up with those words and John grinned. He knew most people assumed that a Sentinel-Guide relationship meant that the Sentinel was dominant in all things, but it wasn’t true. He liked being fucked as much as Evan did, and sometimes he actually needed it, needed to be filled by his Guide, claimed by him.

Because Evan was the most organized and prepared man on the planet, there was already lube in the shower (and scattered around the hotel room at key points). He gave John’s cock a few quick, short strokes and kissed him again, slowly and deeply because neither of them was in any hurry.

When they came up for air Evan moved John so he was directly under the spray from one of the showerheads. John faced the wall and lowered his head, letting the water hit the back of his neck and his shoulders. It was almost as good as an actual massage. He spread his legs and rested his forehead against the warm tile, eyes closed. And waited.

Evan took his time. He checked John’s bandage first to make sure the waterproof covering was doing its job. Then he made good use of the lube, prepping John slowly and thoroughly, stretching him and nudging his fingers against John’s prostate often enough to keep him on edge.

By the time Evan replaced his fingers with his cock John was begging for it, his legs shaking with the power of his desire. He bent over further, thrusting his ass at Evan.

“I need your cock in me now.”

“God, yes,” Evan replied. He lined himself up and grabbed hold of John’s hips, breaching him slowly. “So tight for me, John. Always so tight for me.”

John panted, embracing the stretch and burn, embracing Evan with his whole body. In his Guide’s steady hands, he could lose himself in every sensation and not have to worry about zoning out. His pleasure spiraled ever upwards, especially after Evan started slowly thrusting, the drag of his cock setting John’s skin ablaze.

They set up a rhythm, Evan slowly rocking into John and John rocking back to meet him. John could feel every drop of water on his skin, could smell the organic soap and Evan’s scent beneath that, could hear Evan’s breathy moans and pounding heart. Between them the bond pulsed with life and love and the absolute rightness of them being together.

“I love you, John,” Evan said, and John’s orgasm broke without warning.

Evan held him through it, keeping up his slow and steady thrusting even as John shook to pieces. Only when it was over did he start fucking John in earnest, chasing his own release until he spilled inside John, his fingers leaving bruises John would be able to feel in the morning.

When Evan pulled out, John turned and kissed him, and they both sank to the shower floor.

“I love you, too. And I don’t want to fuck McKay.”

Evan snorted. “Yeah. I get that.”

“I hope you do. No more trying to pimp me out.”

Evan nuzzled John’s ear. “Promise.”

They stayed in the shower another few minutes and then gave the king-sized bed a run for its money.

*o*o*o*

“Our flight out of Pearl leaves at sixteen hundred hours,” O’Neill said. He was wearing a different Aloha shirt today. “I’ll be waiting on the tarmac with our new friends. Don’t be late.”

They were all back at Five-0 HQ after being on mandatory Sentinel-Guide stand-down. McGarrett and Williams had undoubtedly needed to reconnect the same way John and Evan did. McGarrett certainly had a smug sort of glow about him.

“What about the device, sir?” Evan asked.

“No need to worry about that, Major. It’s in my custody until I can pass it off to Carter and her minions.”

Williams had dubbed it an Empathy Bomb, and McKay, after giving it a cursory once-over, said he thought it might be Goa’uld tech at least in part. Carter would sort it out, and her people would find a way to counteract it.

McKay had negated the effects of it just by touching Evan after he’d dropped from the ceiling in the sealed interrogation room. They’d unanimously decided not to share that little tidbit of information with SINA, otherwise they’d mercilessly hound the SGC for access to McKay for testing purposes.

Evan and John were keeping another secret, too, this one from everyone else in the room. After McKay had touched him and brought him out of his Guide coma, Evan had gotten a soulmark too. The same as John and Rodney’s but much, much fainter. Neither one of them was sure what that meant.

“Our guests have been secured for transport,” O’Neill continued. “May I assume you three will have worked out your situation by then?”

John, Evan and McKay all looked at each other, and the General sighed.

“We’re working on it, sir,” John said.

“Work faster. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a tuna. Gentlemen.”

John knew that when they met O’Neill at Pearl he’d be in uniform, not a crease out of place. They were borrowing some MPs to help transport the Trust agents back to the mainland, where they’d be picked up by SGC personnel. John was fairly certain those men would never see the light of day again.

“Use the room for as long as you need,” Williams said, tugging McGarrett up and out of his chair. “We’ll drive you over to Pearl when you’re ready. And by ‘we’ I mean Steve, because he’s a control freak who won’t let me drive my own car.”

“Thanks,” John said. “For everything.”

He didn’t shake hands with McGarrett because that type of thing tended to turn into a competition between Sentinels. Instead they nodded at each other.

“You ever get in a bind, you know who to call.”

Williams poked his Sentinel in the shoulder. “As if you don’t get into enough trouble here? We don’t need to take this show on the road, thank you very much.”

“They bicker like an old married couple,” Evan said as McGarrett and Williams departed the conference room. “It’s cute.”

He had his sketchbook in his lap, idly drawing. Evan was one hell of an artist, though he didn’t get to indulge in it much. He had a little art studio in their house in Colorado Springs, but they didn’t spend a lot of time there.

“So now what?” McKay asked. “Can we just forget this soulmate thing happened and go back to our lives?”

“There has to be a reason for it,” Evan said. “You pulled John out of a feral state, and me from that bomb-induced coma. That should’ve been impossible on both counts.”

John nodded his agreement. “We were meant to be together.”

He was getting a read of nerves and fear off McKay, which was odd considering all they’d already been through together. John slanted a look at Evan, who seemed focused on his art but was actually taking stock of McKay’s emotions as well.

“Why don’t you want a soulmate?” Evan asked. “And don’t say because you don’t have time for one.”

McKay looked flustered. “You don’t know what I was going to say, and don’t pretend you do. I know enough about Guides to know you can’t read minds. And furthermore, I don’t –”

John reached out to the soulbond and sent calming reassurance through it, and McKay glared at him.

“Are you trying to put some whammy on me? I’m not interested in a threesome, or even a twosome, so you can see how this whole situation is untenable.”

“Newsflash, McKay. I have no interest in having sex with you.”

“Me neither,” Evan said. “No offense.”

McKay looked between the two of them, suspicious and confused. “Why? What’s wrong with me?”

“You’re high maintenance,” John replied. “I can tell you’re relieved. Is it the sex you don’t like? Or just us?”

“Can’t be us,” Evan said. “We’re incredibly likeable. Ask anyone.”

“D’Agostino doesn’t like you,” John pointed out.

“D’Agostino was raised by wolves. He doesn’t count.”

“You two are idiots,” McKay said. But John could feel just a little affection riding along with those words.

“You’re John’s soulmate, Dr. McKay. You can trust him. And me. We won’t judge you.”

McKay flushed and looked down at his hands. “It’s disgusting,” he mumbled.

“What’s disgusting?” John asked, though he was pretty sure he knew what McKay was talking about.

“Sex, obviously. Aren’t you paying attention?” McKay huffed out a breath. “The human mouth alone is home to over six billion bacteria. Billion! There are fifty bacteria per square inch on a toilet seat, and if that doesn’t terrify you nothing will. Bad enough to worry about my own exposure, but what about yours, Major? Or John’s? Do you tuck your dick inside the seat when sit down to take a shit? And then you expect someone to put that in their mouth later?”

John was aware that his mouth was hanging open, but he couldn’t seem to close it. Or get the image of a dirty cock out of his head.

Evan set his sketchbook on the table and leaned forward. “You have a sexual aversion?”

“I have an aversion to disease,” McKay snapped. “Do you know how many sexually-transmitted diseases there are?”

John held up his hand. “I don’t need to know that, thanks.”

Evan laughed. “The universe works in mysterious ways. You’re the perfect soulmate for us, Dr. McKay. And us for you.”

“Us? What us?”

Whoops. John looked at Evan and raised an eyebrow. Evan shrugged. Well, it wasn’t like he could hide it forever. People would notice if he started wearing gloves for no good reason.

“Show him,” John said.

Evan stretched out his arm and turned his hand palm side up. Rodney stared down at the shadowy soulmark there with wide eyes.

“Both of you?”

“Seems that way.”

“And you don’t think I’m weird?”

“No weirder than the rest of us.”

“Oh.”

There was a flood of emotion through the soulbond, and John wondered if Evan was able to sense any of it since his bond with McKay wasn’t as strong. Surprise, joy, relief…intensity?

Rodney reached out and grabbed the sketchbook. “What is this?”

“The soulmark,” Evan said. “I like to draw.”

“No, I mean, what is this? This Stargate isn’t right. You didn’t draw it right.”

John craned his neck to get a better look. At first glance it looked like the Gate at the Mountain, with the chevrons and address symbols. But now that McKay had mentioned it, there were subtle differences.

“This looks more digital,” McKay said, and there was a level of excitement growing in him that John didn’t understand. “The chevrons are larger. And…oh. Oh! Of course! Look! Eight symbols are lit up on here! Eight! Do you know what this means? I’ll tell you what this means.”

McKay was practically quivering with excitement, and the hair on the back of John’s neck was standing up.

“It means we found the way to Atlantis!”

*o*o*o*

Evan was sending an unnecessary amount of smug amusement through the bond and John sent back a mental middle finger. They didn’t dare exchange the actual words in a room full of Sentinels who’d hear them no matter how subvocal they pitched their voices.

“Thank you, Captain Rogers. We appreciate your team’s thoroughness.”

Captain-fucking-America, big as life and twice as chiseled, nodded and took his seat. Turned out the fairy tales were true: Rogers and his Sentinel BFF were having a seemingly impossible romantic relationship. The mostly-silent Barnes hadn’t offered anything to the report, just sat and watched, his metal arm stretched out on the back of the chair of the man sitting between him and Rogers. Sam Wilson, their shared Guide.

Maybe Santa was real, too.

WinterShield had ferreted out the mole in the SGC, which had turned out to be several moles including the much-maligned Dr. Kavanagh. John was pretty sure they were sharing the same deep, dark hole as the Trust agents they’d nabbed back in Hawaii.

“Dr. McKay?” Colonel Carter gestured in his direction.

McKay stood up, jostling John in his haste, data pad in his hand and a supercilious expression on his face. He was in his element for the first time since John had met him, and the soulbond was overflowing with confidence.

“As we all know, Sentinels can’t Gate travel.”

Hobbes snorted, arms crossed. “Do we know that? Or is it just a convenient cover story to keep our boys from the real action?”

“If you’d read the report, you’d know it’s true,” McKay said. “The only two Sentinels that ever tried Gate travel came out the other side gibbering and drooling, and died within twenty-four hours of the trip.”

“Pass,” said Hobbes’ Sentinel. Darien Fawkes was possibly the one man on the planet with crazier hair than John’s. He and his platonic Guide were sitting across the conference room table, next to WinterShield.

Fawkes and Hobbes had been working for a government entity even shadier than the SGC. Due to some third-party experimentation, Fawkes could add invisibility to his list of Sentinel skills, thanks to some gland they’d stuck in his head. He’d come to the SGC because they’d promised to stop the thing from glitching and get Fawkes off the regular injections he needed to have to keep from going crazy.

Who knew there could be weirder things than aliens?

“Can you cut to the chase? I have a flight to catch.”

John shifted in his seat and Evan put a steadying hand on his leg. It was difficult enough being in a room full of Sentinels and fighting the constant urge to challenge them, but Mary was dangerously close to disrespecting his soulmate. It was lucky for her Evan was sitting between them.

“Which one are you?” Rodney asked, not at all intimidated. “The Marshal? If you stop interrupting I can get through this quicker, how about that?”

Evan ducked his head, hiding a grin. John waited to see what Mary would do, and if he’d have to intervene, but her Guide wrapped an arm around her shoulders and she sat back in her chair.

“As I was saying, Sentinels can’t Gate travel because even with their senses at the lowest baseline they’re too sensitive to the process of passing through the wormhole.”

“Being broken down to our core elements and reassembled on the other side? Pretty traumatic even without the heightened senses.”

If there was any Sentinel/Guide pair that could beat out WinterShield in terms of fame within the community, it was the one sitting at the far end of the table. The children of Prime Sentinel Ellison and Prime Guide Sandburg. Like their parents, they were a platonic pairing, which was even less common than a female Sentinel. Maggie and Jamie were often treated as Sentinel/Guide royalty, warranted or not.

“Jamie’s right,” Maggie said. “That would be horrible.”

She had one hand hanging down to pet the dog she and her Guide had brought with them. They worked for the Forestry department out in Washington state and the dog was some special breed that was trained in Search and Rescue.

“Be like going through a cheese grater,” Mary said.

“There’s a lovely image,” her Guide Marshall replied, making a face.

“This is not Circle Time!” McKay snapped. “And we are not in preschool! Let me finish my presentation and then you can all go back to your stupid jobs.”

“Calm down, buddy,” John said. He reached out and wrapped his hand around McKay’s wrist, which had the desired effect of stopping a bigger rant before it could get started.

John was aware that he had a lot of eyes on him, but he didn’t snatch his hand back. They’d been keeping the soulmate thing on the down low but he was sure there was a lot of speculation about McKay’s role, especially now. They were clearly more than just colleagues.

“My apologies, Dr. McKay,” Jamie said. A warm wave of calm flowed up from his end of the table and everyone visibly relaxed. “Please continue.”

“Right. Um, thank you.” McKay gave himself a little shake and John let go of his wrist. “The answer to the problem of getting Sentinels through the Gate seemed to be stasis. With their entire bodies shut down they wouldn’t be exposed to the effects of the wormhole.”

“Who’d be stupid enough to test that theory out?” Sam muttered to Barnes.

“My money’s on Sheppard,” Barnes murmured back. He nodded at John, who nodded back.

He and Evan had had a huge fight about that one, and even McKay had tried to get someone else to do it. John couldn’t even explain why he’d felt compelled to do something so dangerous, something that could’ve caused Evan immeasurable pain. Maybe it was the dreams he’d been having since that damn soulmark had taken up residence in the middle of his palm. Maybe he just wanted a chance to walk on an alien planet.

Or maybe he knew McKay would be going through the Gate and couldn’t bear the thought of him going alone.

“Is it a good time to ask a question?” Mary asked, sprawling forward on the table. “Because I have a question.”

“Technically you just asked a question,” Marshall replied.

Mary flashed him a sour look.

“What?” Rodney snapped.

“I don’t know much about all this alien crap and wormholes, but stasis? I mean, I read some of the reports. Don’t you kinda need the Sentinel on their feet and working as soon as they get on the other side of that thing? That seems pretty stupid. I thought you were supposed to be a super genius.”

“Watch your tone, WITSEC,” John said, standing up so fast he knocked his chair over. “Dr. McKay is one of the smartest men on the planet and if there’s a solution to the problem you can bet your ass he’ll figure it out.”

Mary was on her feet in flash, eyes gleaming and a predatory grin on her face. “Now things are getting interesting.”

It was the tipping point for suppressed urges and suddenly the whole room was full of tweaked-out Sentinels giving off aggressive pheromones, looking to show who was the strongest, the best, the alpha of their small group.

John felt the adrenaline pumping as he side-stepped Evan and got in Mary’s face. She was still showing her teeth, her muscles tense as she prepared to get physical.

“What’s he to you?” she asked John. “Side piece? Fuck toy?”

Marshall put his hand on her shoulders but she shrugged him off. Evan should’ve been trying to do the same for John but instead there was anger coming through the bond, and John remembered that his Guide shared a soulmark with his Soulmate, too.

“He’s my fucking soulmate,” John snarled.

“Stand down!” Sam shouted. “All of you!”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Sheppard? Have you lost your mind?”

“Show ‘em what you can do, Fawkes!”

“This isn’t our fight, guys. Come on. Bucky, don’t –”

John and Mary circled each other and he did a full Sentinel scan, looking for weaknesses. She’d been trained by the Marshal Service, but he knew it was no match for the military training he’d undergone. He wouldn’t put it past her to fight dirty, though.

“What’s the matter, flyboy? Scared a girl’s gonna kick your ass?” Mary taunted.

“Since when are you a girl?” John countered.

They didn’t stop moving, neither one wanting to be the first to break and attack.

“I need MPs down here ASAP with stun weapons!”

“You wanna go? I’ll have you know Bobby Hobbes is a highly-trained killing machine!”

“Two against one? That’s hardly fair. For you.”

“Kiska. Up.”

Mary started to make her move, John could read it in the shift of her muscles, the change in her breath. And then Maggie’s dog was up on the conference table barking. The shrill, staccato noise went right through John’s skull and he backed off, hands over his ears.

The heightened energy in the room immediately dampened, as if a wet blanket had been thrown over everything. Which, psychically speaking, it probably had.

“Kiska,” Jamie said, and the dog obediently stopped barking and hopped off the table. “Everyone sit down.”

John dropped down in his chair and the others followed. Jamie was the only one still on his feet, hands braced on the table as he glowered at everyone. Maggie sat beside him looking far more contrite than a powerful Sentinel normally would.

“I know it’s hard for you to all be in the same room, but let’s keep our heads. The sooner we let Dr. McKay finish his presentation, the sooner we can go.”

“Thank you, Guide Sandburg,” Sam said. She’d already called to cancel the MPs. “Dr. McKay?”

McKay was still glaring at John, annoyance and confusion coming through the bond, but he picked up exactly where he’d left off.

“Obviously,” he said with a pointed look at Mary. “Putting a Sentinel into full stasis isn’t the best solution to the Gate travel problem. Which is why my team has been working in conjunction with Drs. Beckett and Fullman on a technological advancement that will solve this problem.”

He hadn’t even talked to John about this new marvel, though he’d been working on it for weeks. During that time John had learned that he didn’t need to be in proximity to McKay, not like he did with Evan. As long as he could tell that McKay was safe through the bond all was good. Which was helpful because when the man got invested in a project he barely took the time to sleep or eat.

McKay pulled something out of his pocket. It was small, about the size and shape of a dime, and had a tiny blue light in the center of it.

“This device, which we’re calling a Wormhole Sensory Suppressor – WSS for short – works much the same way that the suppression drugs do, only it’s far more temporary.” He held it up to his temple. “It gets surgically fitted here and once activated is always on. It reacts to the unique signature of an active wormhole. As soon as the Sentinel is in proximity it goes into suppression mode, essentially shutting down the heightened senses. Once the Sentinel makes it to the other side, the WSS immediately powers down and the Sentinel has full access to their senses.”

“I know what this is,” Fawkes said, slouching back in his seat. “You’re looking for guinea pigs. I know I said it before, but hard pass. I already have too many things in my head that don’t belong there.”

McKay slipped the WSS back in his pocket. “Yes, we need test subjects. We’ve run extensive simulations and done some testing with rats, but we need an actual Sentinel.”

“You’re not coming anywhere near my brain with that,” Mary said. She got out of her chair. “If that’s all, we’re heading back to Albuquerque. I have real people with real problems that I need to deal with.”

She bumped against John’s chair on her way past, but this time Evan put a restraining hand on his arm. Mary’s exit prompted the others, too.

“Call us when you have something that doesn’t involve brain surgery,” Hobbes said. “Let’s go, Fawkes.”

WinterShield was next. “We can’t,” Rogers said apologetically. Like Fawkes, he and Barnes had already been the subjects of experiments, some voluntary but most not. John could hardly blame them for turning McKay down.

That left them with Jamie and Maggie, who were having an intense conversation without any words at all.

“You want to do it, don’t you?” Evan asked. “I thought McGarrett was bad, but you’re even worse.”

“I want to go to Atlantis,” John said.

Evan looked down at his own palm and the faint soulmark there. “Yeah. Me too. But the risk is so high.”

“I’ll do it,” Maggie said. Everyone left at the table looked down at her in surprise.

“Really?” McKay asked. “I mean, that’s great! Dr. Fullman can give you a rundown of the procedure, including the risks.”

“I’m in too,” John said.

“Oh. Uh…well, you know, we don’t –”

“I’m in,” John repeated.

Sam stood up and clapped her hands. “Sentinel Ellison, Guide Sandburg, let me show you where you’ll be staying.”

“I hate you,” Evan murmured.

“No, you don’t,” John replied. He hoped his agreeing to the procedure wouldn’t change that.

*o*o*o*

John was in a strange room. The ceilings were high, and there were stained glass windows surrounding a Stargate on three sides. Everything was tinted in blue. He was in the Spirit Plane, which was usually a jungle thick with verdant scents and animal noises. Here the only sound was a pleasant hum in the back of his mind, and the only thing he smelled was sea water.

“Hello?”

The only time he ever got pulled into the Spirit Plane unwillingly was when one of the Old Ones needed to bestow some advice, or if he was having some sort of existential Sentinel crisis. But he was alone in the empty room. Or almost alone.

A shrill cry alerted John to the presence of his spirit animal. The Harrier was perched on top of the Gate, wings flapping. John grinned up at him.

“Hey, buddy. Long time no see.”

Something heavy dropped across John’s shoulder, startling him, until he saw it was an elephant’s trunk. If the elephant was there, so was Evan.

“John? Did you bring us here?”

John reached for Evan, twining their fingers together. “I don’t even know where here is,” he said.

Evan’s elephant wandered around the Gate Room, trunk swinging. They didn’t often see their spirit animals, and rarely outside of the Spirit Plane, so John held out his arm and waited for the Harrier to fly over to him. The hawk felt real, from the bite of his talons against John’s skin to the weight of him on John’s arm.

“This is Atlantis.”

John shared an incredulous look with Evan, before turning to gape at McKay. “What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.”

“Why is everything blue? Is the atmosphere filtering out the other wavelengths of light?”

“You’re in the spirit plane,” Evan explained. “Which should only be accessible by Sentinels and Guides.”

“Huh.” McKay’s eyes widened when he saw the elephant. “Are you sure this isn’t a dream? Because I have a lot of weird dreams.”

The Harrier lifted off of John’s arm and made one lap around the room before lighting on McKay’s shoulder.

“Gah! Get this thing off me! Do you have any idea the kinds of diseases birds carry?”

“It’s my spirit guide, McKay. He’s not diseased.”

Evan let go of John’s hand so he could go to his elephant and wrap his arms around her trunk. “I don’t understand any of this.”

“I think it’s a sign,” John said. As soon as the words left his mouth he felt, with absolute certainty, that they were true. “We’re meant to go to Atlantis. McKay’s device will work.”

“Of course it’ll work,” McKay sputtered. “I’m a genius, you know. This thing won’t peck me in the eye, will it? I need both eyes for the work I do.”

John clucked his tongue at the hawk, which returned to its roost on the Gate. “Why do you want to go to Atlantis?” he asked McKay.

“It’s the Ancient city, Sheppard. There’s no telling what scientific advancements we’ll find there. Not just to defeat the Goa’uld and the Ori, but to further humanity. We could fight disease, end wars, unite people around the concept of space travel.”

John grinned. “You’re a Trekkie, aren’t you?”

“I fail to see the relevance of that.”

John didn’t think about it, just reached out and slung his arm around McKay’s shoulders. McKay stiffened up at first, but then all the tension went out of him.

“You like being touched,” Evan said. “But you don’t like sex.”

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive,” McKay replied defensively. He went to pull away but John didn’t let go. “It’s not weird to want a little companionship.”

“No. It isn’t.” And John understood. McKay was touch-starved. With his abrasive personality and aversion to sex, it would be easy to keep people at arm’s length. John wasn’t going to make it easy. “Your soulmate is a touchy-feely Sentinel, McKay. You’ll get all the touching you can stand.”

Evan snorted, his amusement and affection flowing through the bond. “See? What did I say? We’re all perfect for each other.”

John held his hand out to Evan, who kissed his elephant on her trunk before joining them. Evan embraced McKay from the other side so that he was sandwiched between John and his Guide.

“Why do you want to go to Atlantis?” John asked again.

“That’s where I belong,” McKay whispered. He tentatively put an arm around each of them. “I don’t know how I know that, I just do.”

“Then let’s go.”

Six Weeks Later

John stood out on the balcony, leaning against the railing and breathing in the fresh, salty air. There was nothing to see but the endless expanse of ocean, nothing to mar the untouched beauty of the planet they were calling Lantea. No pollution, no airplanes flying overhead, no traffic noise. It was a Sentinel’s paradise, except for the soul-sucking space vampires they’d stumbled across.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Evan said. He was standing next to John, hands wrapped around the railing as he contemplated the sky.

“Just thinking how perfect this place is.”

Rodney, standing on the other side of John, huffed out a laugh. “I’d hardly call it perfect.”

“You’re not a Sentinel,” John pointed out. “I’ve never breathed such clean air. It’s amazing.”

The WSS had worked like a charm, which meant John was free to Gate travel. He even had his own team: Evan, of course, plus Rodney and a young Marine named Ford. They’d start going out on missions in the next couple of days, start establishing relationships with Pegasus locals.

Maggie and Jamie had come on the expedition as well, their skills living and working in the great outdoors as big a boon as Maggie being a Sentinel. They had their own team, too, with a Marine named Stackhouse and a weedy botanist named Parrish. They’d be focused more on cataloguing the flora and fauna of the galaxy and finding edible greens and alternatives to things like coffee beans.

Dealing with their parents had been a nightmare – Sentinel Prime Ellison had wanted to know everything about the expedition down to the smallest detail – but in the end Maggie and Jamie had convinced their fathers to let them go. They wanted to make their own way and John could respect that.

Rodney leaned against John, a warm and familiar weight. “I guess it’s not so bad.”

“Could be worse,” Evan said. “We could be back in Colombia.”

John laughed and reeled Evan in for a kiss.

“You two are idiots,” Rodney complained, but the soul bond was warm with affection.

It was improbable, a bonded Sentinel and Guide having a shared soulmate. It shouldn’t have worked. But then, John had never done things the easy way. Some things were just meant to be.