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Fanfiction: Broken Wings, Chapter 8

Note: Apologies to the flist for the multiple postings as I get LJ back into synch with my ff.net and AO3 postings on this fic after the recent LJ downtime and refusal to let me post anything more than a sentence...

For author's note and disclaimer see Chapter 1

 

'I turned into a bug.' It wasn't the first time John had said that particular statement since the story-telling had turned into the discussion over who had won. John was very confident he was the winner. It had taken Mitchell an hour to think of something, and his bug story of IOA delegates and Lucien Alliance experiments getting loose was nowhere near the same league as John's experience.

John slipped his sunglasses into his jacket pocket and took a look around the Sheppard hangar they'd taxied into. He didn't relax until his eyes had skimmed the perimeter and found nothing suspicious. It was a hangar. There was the usual welcoming committee of a couple of old mechanics who had waved them in and pointed at where to park and who were making loving, cooing noises over the beauty of his plane. There was a mess of tools and equipment stowed off to the sides and the walls. Along one wall, there was a series of doors which would undoubtedly lead to an office, lockers, shower rooms and toilets; maybe a small kitchenette.

'The bugs ate people.' Mitchell continued to argue but John noted that his fellow Colonel was doing a perimeter check of his own. Neither of them was as blasé as they were making out over the whole Stan incident.

'Firstly,' John said, 'ewww, and secondly: I turned into a bug.'

'Aw, come on. The bugs almost ate Woolsey!' Mitchell's eyes were twinkling.

'Now, if they had eaten Woolsey or any of the IOA delegates, I might have been willing to give you extra points,' John shot back lightly, grinning at him, 'but even then: I turned into a bug.'

'Fine.' Mitchell abruptly capitulated, throwing his hands up. 'You turned into a bug. You win.'

John let his grin widen.

Mitchell rolled his shoulders and stretched as far as he could in the cramped cockpit. John began the climb out between the seats and stopped as Mitchell tapped his arm.

'Speak of the devil – isn't that Woolsey?' Mitchell pointed to the wall of doors, one of which was open and filled with the familiar form of John's latest expedition leader.

He and Mitchell exchanged a look that said 'oh shit,' because they both knew that Woolsey being there could not be a good thing.

They hustled out of the plane, leaving their bags. They took a moment to confer with the mechanics. John waved away their Mister Sheppards with a terse 'call me John' which resulted in them calling him 'Mister John;' they all agreed Maggie was the best thing ever, and finally he and Mitchell made their way over to Woolsey who was waiting remarkably patiently.

'Gentlemen.' Woolsey greeted them calmly. He was starting to relax his dress code but despite the ambient warmth, he wore pressed grey pants with a button down blue Oxford shirt. His concession to the heat was presumably to have left off the tie. 'Shall we?' He indicated the office behind him.

Fred Billing, the airfield manager was a forty-something former Marine Sergeant who snapped to attention as soon as Mitchell and John entered the room.

'Colonels.' Billing vibrated with the urge to salute. His gaze slid from John, to Mitchell, to Woolsey and back.

John faked a smile and asked to borrow the room.

'Of course, Colonel.' Billing escaped with more haste than grace.

John sat on the edge of Billing's immaculate desk, Mitchell leaned on the wall and Woolsey took the plastic visitor's chair. The first thing Woolsey did was place a small silver object on the desk. John recognised it as a jamming device. They wouldn't be overheard by any electronic means.

Woolsey leaned back in the visitor chair looking surprisingly comfortable and at ease. 'Colonel Carter, Generals O'Neill and Landry, and I have agreed I would be the best to brief you both.'

John was pretty sure he knew what Rodney's reaction to that would have been. His eyes flickered towards Mitchell momentarily and they shared an amused look.

'So, brief.' John waved at Woolsey to get on with it.

'Colonel Carter has gone over the NID information. We're reasonably certain that there was a plot to kidnap Colonel Mitchell on his anticipated honeymoon that was put into motion many months ago.'

Mitchell lurched off the wall and, hands on hips, glared at Woolsey. 'What?'

Woolsey continued unperturbed by Mitchell's reaction. 'Our best guess was that with the cancellation of your wedding and the impromptu vacation with Colonel Sheppard here, the Alliance was prompted into trying to force you into a vulnerable position another way to ensure the success of their original plan.'

Mitchell looked pole-axed. John didn't blame him.

'Colonel Carter believes the most likely suspect wanting to kidnap you is the Lucien Alliance. We know they had an agent installed in the NID intelligence analysis team to ensure that all intelligence related to that plot was conveniently lost before we could be alerted to it.' Woolsey said.

'Stan?' John asked, thinking he didn't think the geeky guy they'd had breakfast with had it in him.

'No,' Woolsey admitted, 'a woman who began working there almost a year ago. Agent Barrett has debriefed Stanley Kymbol and, combined with Colonel Carter's background check, we're assured that Kymbol was a stooge. The young woman, on the other hand, has a false id and Kymbol has admitted that she befriended him some months back, and that she was the one who encouraged him to follow you to Jacksonville.'

'She was playing him.' Mitchell bit out.

John figured Mitchell felt as bad for Stan as he did. His mind leaped ahead. 'Let me guess who didn't turn up for work today.'

'She's disappeared.' Woolsey confirmed.

'Fantastic.' Mitchell whirled and paced away to the window overlooking the airstrip, a hand at the back of his head.

'Kymbol has also confirmed though that she was the one who brought the coincidence of the Trust and Alliance messages to his attention. We believe that she created one or altered one to make it look like the two organisations could be in collusion. We're tracking down the original sources just to be certain.' Woolsey added.

'Finally, some good news.' John murmured.

Mitchell snorted.

'I'm afraid that's it.' Woolsey said almost apologetically. His gaze shifted to Mitchell. 'We've taken the liberty of placing your ex-fiancée under protective surveillance and Miss Mal Doran is visiting with your parents for a while with Teyla.'

John frowned a little at the mention of Teyla.

Woolsey smiled understandingly. 'I believe Teyla regards it as an opportunity to learn more about Earth culture.'

Mitchell breathed out and nodded sharply. 'That's good of them.'

'Which leaves us with the question of what to do with you.'

John's head snapped up but Woolsey's attention had returned to Mitchell. John got why: it was Mitchell who was the target.

Mitchell turned to look at Woolsey. The easy going guy who John was just joking about bugs with was gone; the serious Colonel stood in his place.

'I'm being recalled?' Mitchell asked bluntly.

It wasn't unexpected, the thought that they could be had been lurking in John's head ever since breakfast and Stan, but John had hoped not. He was almost overwhelmed by the rush of disappointment that followed the idea that they might have to abandon their holiday – because if Mitchell was grounded then so was John. And John was suddenly aware of how much he needed the vacation; Mitchell's easy company, the flying, the freedom from his responsibilities. He tried to hide his reaction, staring down at the floor and rubbing the back of his own neck lightly.

Woolsey rested his elbows on the thin arms of his chair and steepled his fingers. 'While that would be the prudent thing to do, Colonel Carter was keen for you to have options.'

John was mildly amused. He was struck again by the differences between Woolsey's leadership style and Sam's. In the weeks following Sam's recall and Woolsey's appointment, practically every decision Woolsey had made had been followed with the same moment of comparison. It wasn't that John didn't like or appreciate that Woolsey was a good guy underneath the bureaucratic bluster; it was just that Woolsey would never be John's first choice for leader of the expedition. Neither was Sam truthfully. Unfortunately John's actual first choice, Elizabeth, was dead. He ignored the usual nudge of guilt that accompanied the thought.

'So what were the options?' John asked impatiently.

Woolsey sighed. 'Option one is to bring you both in. Option two is to take you officially off-grid; you continue your vacation via military bases and accommodation with flight plans logged via the SGC. Option three is for you to continue with your current vacation plan but to change your current flight plan every few days to make it less predictable where you may be going. Option four is option three with the addition of Ronon and Teal'c joining you.' He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a small box. 'I brought these in case option two, three or four appeal.'

John took the box and opened it. Two familiar earpieces were revealed and John lifted one up to show Mitchell.

'The Odyssey is in orbit.' Woolsey said dryly. 'If there's any trouble, you could request an immediate beam-out although obviously we would prefer you to keep the exposure limited rather than using that facility in the middle of a crowded area.'

John dropped the earpiece back in the box, another thought occurring to him. 'Can Atlantis keep tabs on our bio-signatures with the long range sensors?'

Woolsey smiled. 'Doctor McKay had the same thought; he was working on it when I left.'

'So, if we stay out in the open, just change up our plans every few days, we should be relatively safe from being abducted without anyone knowing about it.' John mused out loud, trying not to sound too hopeful.

'And we have back-up if anyone tries to abduct me.' Mitchell added, pointing at the box.

They looked at each other and the decision was made in a heartbeat.

'I thought that's what your decision would be.' Woolsey sounded amused. 'Are you certain you don't want to reconsider adding two more to your party?'

John gave that serious thought because Ronon and Teal'c were both good to have around in a crisis; strong, fierce and, most importantly, silent. But he wasn't the one who had initiated the vacation and he couldn't help remembering that Mitchell hadn't asked for a member of his own team to accompany him. John figured Mitchell was still less than comfortable with the idea of having others along since he was frowning.

'Why don't we see how the next couple of days goes?' John suggested casually, crossing his arms over his chest. 'See if the Alliance tries again? They may give up now they've been rumbled.'

Woolsey looked sceptical and John couldn't really blame him, but Mitchell nodded with gratitude in his eyes.

'One more thing,' Woolsey said, evidently they'd been working together for long enough for Woolsey to anticipate John's next question would be were-they-done, 'Colonel Carter also looked into the matter of the Trust and your company.'

'And?' John asked tersely, tensing up so fast he could feel the snap in his muscles.

'Your father was definitely aware of the Trust. We're aware that there are two Trust operatives in senior management positions. As Kymbol indicated to you, we believe the terms of your father's will are designed to mitigate against the possibility of the Trust gaining control of the company through your brother in some way. Obviously, apart from the usual blackmail and brainwashing, there is the possibility of a Goa'uld implantation.'

'He has my proxy.' Strangely, Woolsey's dry lawyer-ish style calmed John. There was a gut clench of hurt but it wasn't as though John didn't know deep down that his inheritance was another attempt at control rather than a belated expression of some pride or paternal love. 'Hell, Dave has my power of attorney over the inheritance. He could sell my shares to himself at any time.'

'And had the Trust moved to take advantage of that before now, they might have gotten away it. As a lawyer, I would advise leaving him the proxy but ending the power of attorney. It will offer you both some protection in the circumstances.' Woolsey noted in the same dry tone. He glanced at his watch. 'Major Davis should be finished briefing with your brother by now.'

John nodded unhappily.

Woolsey stood. 'Well, if you're both certain about remaining on vacation…'

Mitchell's eyebrows rose steadily up his forehead at the teasing tone.

John simply rolled his eyes and smiled. 'Thanks for coming, Richard.'

Woolsey picked up his briefcase, left the jamming device, and was on his way with manly handshakes all round. John walked over to Mitchell and watched Woolsey get into a waiting Air Force car which pulled away immediately. Both of them squinted to see if they could detect when Woolsey got beamed away but the car was out of sight before there was a tell-tale flash.

There was a sharp knock at the door and John moved swiftly to pick up the jamming device and pocket it as he called for whoever it was to enter.

Billing poked his head around the door and smiled apologetically. He held aloft his cell phone. 'Mister Sheppard is on the phone for you.'

Mitchell patted his shoulder. 'I'll take care of the bags.' He left before John could say anything.

John took the cell and Billing retreated, leaving John alone in the strangely tidy office. He lifted the phone to his ear. 'Hey.'

'Is this real?' Dave asked bluntly. 'Because if this is one of your elaborate practical jokes…'

'No joke.' John snapped out. He took a breath and told himself not to be hurt by the lack of trust. Their relationship was a work in progress and he could hear the panic under Dave's ice. His brother was scared; he needed to cut him some slack. He took another deep breath and walked back over to the window, needing to see the sky. 'I promise on Mom's grave; no joke.'

Dave breathed out heavily enough for the sound to travel across the connection. 'Shit.'

It was as good a summary of the situation as anything else, John thought, wearily.

'Dad really was an asshole, wasn't he?' Dave continued. 'I'm sorry, John.'

Something cracked in John; that his brother had stopped defending their father's actions; had accepted that there was no gift of paternal love and acceptance in John's inheritance suddenly seemed devastating to John for a moment. Tears threatened and John closed his eyes, resting his forehead on the smooth cool windowpane.

'And I fell for it, didn't I?' Dave said bitterly. 'I wouldn't let you out of your inheritance and kept you tied to the company just as he knew I would. And I can't even regret it because if I'd done what you'd wanted I'd had made myself a target for these Trust guys! He didn't tell me what these guys were capable of! He made it sound like they were the usual business sharks! How could he not tell me how dangerous they were when Heather and the kids are at risk and…' he stopped abruptly.

The moments ticked by long enough that John wondered if Dave was still on the other end of the phone.

'I have to protect my wife and kids.' Dave said eventually.

John nodded before he realised that Dave couldn't see him.

'I have to keep you tied to the company and you're going to stay tied, aren't you, now you know there's a possibility we're in danger.' Dave continued. 'I'm sorry.' He laughed but there was no humour in it and John winced. 'And there I go again saying sorry, as though that's going to make up for Dad counting on you saving me again.'

John straightened, confused. 'What do you mean by that?'

There was a pregnant pause.

'You saved me instead of Mom. It was my fault she died. If I hadn't been in the car…'

The words slapped into John painfully and his hand was rubbing away at his brow as though he could erase them. They'd never talked about their Mom's death; never talked about John saving Dave's life that day or their father's reaction.

'Dave…' John didn't know how to begin. 'It's…that's…' he tried to regain his breath, 'Dave, it's not…it was never your fault.' It was John's. He hadn't been fast enough, smart enough.

'John,' Dave sighed heavily, 'I know you blamed me.'

The accusation was almost a relief and John embraced the anger it sparked enthusiastically. 'I never blamed you!' He denied vehemently.

'You couldn't look at me!' Dave shot back furiously. 'You hardly spoke to me! Don't tell me you didn't blame me!'

'I was eleven years old and blaming myself for not saving her, Dave.' John interrupted angrily, not caring about what he was saying; what he was revealing. 'What the hell did you want from me?'

The painful silence was almost unbearable.

John tried to force the memories out of his head; the feelings out of the way; to focus on the mission – the problem. 'Look, we need to…' he gestured at the window helplessly, unsure how he finished that sentence.

'Do you have someone else who could act as your proxy and power of attorney?' Dave asked sharply.

'You keep the proxy,' John said firmly. 'You need to retain it otherwise they'll use that to usurp your position.'

'What about the power of attorney?' Dave pressed.

John thought. He would suggest Nancy but he didn't want to place her in danger either. He caught sight of Mitchell loading their rental car through the window. The other man was based on Earth; he was military and aware of the Trust. He was certain Mitchell would agree to take on the power of attorney. 'I'll ask Mitchell.'

'I'll get one of our company attorneys to your apartment within the hour.' Dave agreed.

'Thank you.' John said politely. 'What about your security?'

'I'll be increasing security, of course. Major Davis has offered some suggestions.' Dave informed him crisply.

John rubbed his eyes tiredly. 'Good.'

'Are you…' Dave paused momentarily, 'will you still be attending the board meeting?'

'I said I would, didn't I?' John said tersely.

'OK. So I'll meet you in San Francisco as discussed to arrange the details?' Dave replied.

'Yeah.' John wanted to end the call; wanted to forget everything that had said.

'John…' Dave sighed, 'it was never your fault either.' He hung up before John could reply.

For a second, John had to fight the urge to hurl the cell phone against a wall. But it wasn't his and he ended up tossing it fairly gently back onto the desk. He paced back and forth before he yanked out his own phone and stabbed at the on button, barely waiting for it to confirm it had a signal before hitting the speed dial he'd programmed.

'Tell me you've got the sensors working on picking up our bio-signatures.' He growled as soon as his call was answered.

'Hello to you too,' Rodney replied snappily, 'and no, not yet. There are adjustments, sensitive adjustments that have to be made before they'll scan wider than the city or just outside of it.'

'How long?'

'How long?' Rodney repeated, sounding outraged. 'Why do you always asked me that? You're going to be asking me to pluck a number from mid-air next, aren't you? Because that would just be typical of you and…'

John considered that he might have gone insane because Rodney's rant was calming him down. It must be a Pavlovian thing, John thought. Because when they're in danger and John's blood was rushing hot, Rodney's predilection for ranting meant John had to cool down; he had to be the sane one telling Rodney to focus and get the job done so Rodney could save their asses. John slumped against the desk and decided freaking-out because his subconscious had turned Rodney and his rants into the adult equivalent of a security blanket could wait for another day.

'John?'

The slightly panicked use of his name yanked John back to the present. 'I'm here.'

'That's debatable.' Rodney remarked but it was without his usual bite. 'Uh, are you OK? You seem kind of…'

'I'm…' John's throat closed up on the lie. He wasn't OK. He was pissed. He was sad. He was half a dozen emotions he couldn't even identify and all of them were making it difficult for him to breathe. He let out a long breath and closed his eyes. 'My Dad was an asshole.' The blunt truth of saying it out loud made him feel better.

'Whose wasn't?' Rodney said. 'We should get together and compare notes one night when you're back. We can get disgustingly drunk on that stuff you like to call beer.'

John found himself laughing and, maybe it was a touch hysterical but he'd take it. 'You bring the beer then.'

'When do I have time to buy beer?' Rodney shot back. He paused. 'Woolsey said you said no to Ronon and Teal'c?'

'We'll be OK.' John said, avoiding the truth that it wasn't truly his decision to make, and there was a very large part of him which wouldn't have minded having them tag along. 'I'd feel better if you could get the sensors working and could keep track of where we are.'

'Huh.' Rodney said. 'Me too. You know if you give me the plane registration…'

'Then you'd know where the plane is, Rodney; not us.'

'That's…actually a good point.'

John laughed again and he opened his eyes. 'Oh, hey; the bug story worked like a dream.'

'Hah!' Rodney had never been shy about gloating. 'Gold! Didn't I tell you?'

John glanced out of the window again and saw Mitchell lounging against their rental. There was nothing impatient about his stance but John felt guilty for leaving him out there alone. 'Gotta go.'

'Check in again tomorrow?' Rodney said with a touch of wistful hopefulness that John couldn't bring himself to squash like he usually would in the normal rhythm of their snarking.

'Tomorrow, Rodney.' John disconnected the call, rubbed his hand over his face and took a deep breath, burying his conversation with Dave, the revelations of guilt and blame, somewhere inside of himself. He'd deal with it when he was alone.

Chapter 9

 

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