“You really don’t have to come,” Dave said. The girls were in bed, and all the adults were in the drawing room, having nightcaps before bed. Most of the men - perhaps with the exception of Lorne, who was seemingly a night owl by nature - had overcome their jet lag.
John smiled. “Hey, I’m technically an equal shareholder with you. I mean, yes, generally you have proxy power to vote for me and whatnot, but I like the looks on their faces, when I show up at the office. It makes them nervous.”
Dave attempted to look disapproving and failed. Kathy laughed. She knew that he didn’t get along with everyone on the Board of Directors, and sometimes he liked to needle them. It was something he and John had in common that she’d never realized before.
“If you really want to,” Dave said finally.
John nodded. “I do. I even brought my nicest suit.”
Ronon said, “I’m coming too.”
Kathy raised her eyebrows. “You don’t find it boring?” At John’s incredulous expression, Kathy rolled her eyebrows. “I find it boring.”
“Last time, I got this amazing hot chocolate,” Ronon said. “Chocolate’s hard to come by out where we’re posted. Hot chocolate is even rarer.”
Kathy smiled knowingly. “Ah, yes. Young Jonathan’s skills are strange and varied and infinitely useful. You could just ask him for the recipe.”
“Ronon’s not allowed to cook,” Lorne said quickly.
Ronon glared at him. “I took care of myself for seven years.”
“And the only person who had to eat what you made during those seven years was you,” Lorne responded smoothly.
Ronon grunted. “True.”
“But if you give Lorne the recipe,” Rodney said, “I bet he could make it.”
“Atlantis has a thriving black market I’m not supposed to know about,” John said, “and Lorne is its Warren Buffett.”
Lorne ducked his head, expression demure. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
“I’d like to come along and check out your R&D department, if I may.” Rodney smiled. “I’m always interested in renewable energy. As remote as we are, sometimes I’m cut off from the cutting-edge developments.”
“Of course,” Dave said. “Lorne, you’re welcome to come along too, unless you’d rather stay here and sleep?”
“Actually, I will come along. I also brought my nicest suit, just in case of some special occasion.”
Kathy nodded. “Then it’s decided. Annual Shareholder Meeting it is.”
The next morning, Kathy chose one of Dave’s finest suits, perfectly tailored to his trim figure, and a tie that made his blue eyes even bluer. She selected a sleek dark dress suit for herself, and then she headed down to breakfast. Anna and Clara were already wearing their uniforms and ready for school, courtesy of Maria.
“Mama,” Clara said, “you look so pretty!”
Kathy kissed both girls hello. “Thank you,” she said. “Daddy’s big meeting is today.”
“Are all the grown-ups going?” Anna asked. “Can we go? I want to see Mister Jonathan.”
“You have to go to school,” Dave said, and both girls cooed about how handsome he looked.
“Can we come to the office after?” Anna asked.
“If the meeting isn’t done, then yes,” Dave said, and kissed both his daughters good morning as well. “I’ll talk to Pablo.” Pablo was the driver.
Kathy and Dave had just sat down to breakfast when John and his friends arrived. Despite wearing a conservative dark suit and tie, John still looked a little disheveled and rakish, probably because of his hair, but he was handsome. Good looks ran in the Sheppard family, Kathy knew. She was surprised at how good Rodney looked in his suit, also dark, but he was wearing a deep purple shirt and tie. It was a bold color choice, one she wouldn’t have expected of a conservative, absent-minded scientist like Rodney, but apparently he knew how to clean up. Ronon looked surprisingly at ease in his suit - gray, three-piece, with a blue button-down shirt and no tie. It was fashionable and formal without making him look stuffy. Anna and Clara applauded when they saw him, and he paused, smiled shyly. Lorne brought up the rear. He was also wearing a suit, light gray with a black shirt and tie. The contrast was startling, but Kathy liked it.
“Why can’t we get dressed up and come too?” Anna asked.
John kissed both girls hello. “Because,” he said, “you have to go to school.”
Anna narrowed her eyes at him. “You think the same way as Daddy.”
“Well, we are brothers,” John said, and Kathy’s heart lifted when Dave smiled.
Breakfast was a brisk affair, because the girls had to get to school and Dave liked to get to the office early. Usually while the Annual Shareholders meeting was going on, Kathy met with the other wives and they discussed workplace issues, like the firing of the assistants and hiring of the new assistants. Kathy knew Jonathan was an excellent assistant for Dave, but a surprising number of other young men had persisted in the ranks as well, and Kathy wanted to see what that was about. Maria and Pablo bustled the girls out the door to school - but not without goodbye kisses - and then John offered to follow Dave in the rental car.
Dave led the entire group up to his office using the executive elevator, instead of swinging by the front desk and getting them security badges and the like. Kathy pushed open the door to Dave’s office, where Jonathan was laying out the Wall Street Journal and a cup of coffee on Dave’s desk.
He straightened up and smiled at her politely. “Good morning, Mrs. Sheppard. Shall I fix you a beverage while you wait for the shareholder meeting to start? Will you be sitting in, or convening an HR conference?”
An HR conference. Was that what the staff was calling it?
“Lane and Tyson are in charge of arrangements for the HR conference, if you’d like me to summon one of them,” Jonathan said, misreading her pause.
“Jonathan, good morning!” Dave strolled into the office, John and the rest on his heels. “I trust you remember my brother, John, and his friend, Ronon.”
“Colonel Sheppard, Mr. Dex.” Jonathan inclined his head politely. He was always so polite, had manners that bordered on old-fashioned. Kathy wondered where he’d learned them. Dave said Jonathan rarely mentioned his family; he suspected Jonathan’s parents were dead.
“This time John also brought a couple more friends, Dr. Rodney McKay, and Major Lorne, who are interested in observing the annual shareholder meeting,” Dave said. “I’m sorry, Lorne, I can’t remember your first name.”
“Evan,” Jonathan breathed, like a prayer.
Dave blinked. Rodney paused mid-wave, confused, but then recognition lit in his eyes. Lorne was staring at Jonathan like he’d seen a ghost.
“You two know each other?” Kathy asked.
Jonathan cleared his throat. “When I worked for General O’Neill at the Pentagon,” he said, “I met many officers under his command. Major Lorne was one of them.”
Rodney narrowed his eyes. “You worked for O’Neill?”
“I was one of his aides,” Jonathan said.
“You’re a civilian.” Rodney prowled closer, looking Jonathan up and down. Kathy was alarmed at the aggression in his tone.
“Medical discharge.” Jonathan swallowed hard. “You know how Uncle Jack is. He mouths off, someone brings a gun to a fist-fight, I do my best to protect him, and I’m Lieutenant Jonathan Evans, retired.”
“Uncle Jack?” Rodney echoed.
Ronon nodded. “I can see it. He looks like O’Neill. Just younger.”
Kathy laughed, hoping to dispel the tension in the office. “Of course you remember Lorne’s first name. It’s almost the same as your last name.”
Amusement crossed John’s face. “That’s convenient.”
Dave sat behind his desk, sipped at his coffee, glanced at the newspaper. “Anything I should know about today, Jonathan?”
“Ambassador Shen and Dr. Ambrose will be present for part of the shareholder meeting,” Jonathan said.
Dave raised his eyebrows. “What for?”
“I’m not sure, sir,” Jonathan said. “It’s at Mr. Moreland’s request.”
Kathy pursed her lips. Alex Moreland was senior to Dave in experience on the board but a lesser shareholder.
“What do you think it’s for?” Dave pressed.
Jonathan swallowed hard. “I really have no idea, sir.”
Ronon said, “Can I get some more of that hot chocolate?”
John laughed. “Way to think with your stomach, Chewie. Jonathan, would you bring coffee for everyone? Hot chocolate for Ronon, of course.”
“Ronon hates coffee,” Lorne said softly.
“In fact, why don’t you take Lorne with you, to help carry everything back? It’ll give you two a chance to catch up on some Pentagon gossip, anyway.” John smiled. “And Dave can educate me in the ways of shareholder meetings. Briefing time, little brother.”
Kathy watched Jonathan’s hands go white-knuckled for a second, but then he nodded. “Of course, Colonel Sheppard. Major Lorne, if you don’t mind?”
“I don’t.” Lorne followed Jonathan to the door.
John plopped himself in the chair opposite Dave’s desk, and Rodney and Ronon arrayed themselves behind him. John said, “Lay it on me.”
Kathy was worried about Jonathan, how tense he’d looked when he saw Lorne, so she ducked out the door after them, headed for the little staff kitchen. The door was closed. Kathy paused and listened for conversation - they could have been discussing something top secret from the Pentagon - but there were no words. And no sounds of Jonathan making coffee, either. Jonathan seemed to find the staff kitchen comforting, rattled around it like it was home. Were they even in the kitchen?
Kathy eased the door open, mindful of not hitting anyone on the other side - and froze.
Jonathan had Lorne pinned up against the refrigerator and was kissing him over and over again. Lorne was kissing him back, smoothing his hands over Jonathan’s hair, his neck, his back, his hips, like he couldn’t believe Jonathan was real. Lorne’s hands trembled, and Jonathan leaned down, pressed soft kisses to Lorne’s fluttering eyelids, and Kathy realized Lorne was crying, tears slipping down his face.
“Ssh, no, it’s okay,” Jonathan whispered. He was taller than Lorne, was curled over him protectively, but that was madness, because Lorne was almost twice Jonathan’s age, was the same age as John.
“I swore,” Lorne breathed, “that if I saw you again, I’d love you harder, hold you longer -”
And suddenly Kathy had suspicions about why Jonathan, apparently nephew to a powerful military general at the Pentagon, had been separated from service.
“I’m here.” Jonathan stroked Lorne’s face, wiped away his tears. “I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re both alive.”
“When I saw that video, I -” Lorne sucked in a shuddering breath.
What video? Kathy wondered.
“I knew no one would tell you where I was,” Jonathan said. “But I had to tell you - and I got that picture you gave to the Old Guy -”
Lorne sobbed and buried his face against Jonathan’s neck. Jonathan held him, shushed him. “Hey, hey. Calm down. You have to get it together, soldier. I need you to have Sheppard’s six, all right? It’s going down today, and it might get hairy, so -”
Lorne clutched Jonathan tightly, but his trembling subsided. “Yes, sir.”
Jonathan laughed brokenly. “It’s been so long since I’ve heard anyone say that.”
Lorne pulled back a fraction, took several deep breaths. “Is it strange, having to say it yourself?”
“I just pretend I’m a cadet all over again.”
“What’s going down today?” Lorne asked.
Jonathan shook his head. “No time to explain. But you’ll know it when it happens. Treat it like - like another day in Pegasus.”
Lorne nodded. He reached up, curved his hand under Jonathan’s jaw. “Stars, I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too. Now, you’d better get cleaned up, and you’d better help me with this coffee and hot chocolate, pronto.” Jonathan stepped back, and Lorne went over to the sink, splashed cold water on his face. “You know how Sheppard and McKay take their coffee?”
Lorne dried his face on a tea towel, and he managed to look like he hadn’t been crying. “Of course I do. You’ll have to give me your hot chocolate recipe, by the way. For Ronon.”
“Because he hates coffee.” Jonathan nodded.
Kathy ducked back, let the door fall shut silently behind her. Something was happening today, something involving Jonathan and Lorne. Did it involve John too? Was that why he’d come home and brought his friends with him? Had everything been a lie? Kathy was sure that whatever it was, it involved Alex Moreland.
She hurried back to Dave’s office.