Title: Crossing Paths
Pairing: John/Rodney, (Jim/Blair)
Date written: January 2006
Length: ~3,000 words
Summary: Dr. Beckett figures out where the O'Neill and Sheppard family trees intersect.
Notes: This is sort of an outtake from my Criss-Cross series. I'm not sure whether I want it to be an "official" part of the series or not, or exactly where it would fit in if so. In case you don't know that series and don't want to read many kilowords of backstory, here's a
As soon as John stepped into the infirmary, he could hear the voices coming from the doctor's office. One of them was definitely Dr. Beckett; the Scottish accent was unmistakable. He thought the other was Captain O'Neill, but he wasn't certain because he'd never heard the other man yelling before. In fact, he'd never seen O'Neill actually angry. Impatient and sarcastic, yes; tense and anxious, a time or two; but not angry enough to shout the way he was doing right now.
"Yeah? And what about my privacy, huh?" O'Neill was yelling. "Ever hear of doctor-patient confidentiality before?"
John felt even more embarrassed about overhearing and was about to leave quietly, but a nurse came up, looking slightly pinched around the eyes. "Do you need something?" she asked.
" . . . every bit as much right to know as you have!" Beckett snapped on the other side of the closed door.
"Um." John glanced at the office. "Dr. Beckett sent me an email asking me to stop by today. It sounded like it was . . . important?" He winced at a thump that might have been a fist on a desk. "I can come back later, if that would be . . ."
"No, no, I think he's been waiting for you," said the nurse. "I'll just tell him you're here, all right?"
She knocked sharply on the office door and then opened it, interrupting the argument. "Sheppard is my patient too, you know. I've got to think of -- yes, what is it, Margot?"
"Mr. Sheppard is here now, Doctor," she said brightly. "Would you like him to wait?"
"Oh. Yes. Bring him in here, please."
"Doc!" O'Neill leaned forward across Beckett's desk, murmuring at the man urgently.
John waited for the nurse to relay the message, ambled slowly, lingered in the doorway, but O'Neill was still hissing at the doctor as he arrived. "Morning, Dr. Beckett," he said loudly. "You asked me to stop by?"
O'Neill rocked back on his heels, still glaring at Beckett. The doctor frowned, but nodded agreement to whatever O'Neill had been telling him. "Yes, please come in, Mr. Sheppard," Beckett said punctiliously. "We were just discussing, er . . ." He looked like a man trying to figure out how to break bad news, and that was never good coming from a doctor. John's stomach clenched.
"Maybe you didn't know this," said O'Neill off-handedly, "but Dr. Beckett's specialty is genetics. Or it was, before coming out here and turning into an ER doc."
"Aye, trauma surgeon, pathologist, and entomologist, to name a few of the hats I've been wearing lately." Beckett seemed to be calming down.
O'Neill winced. "I thought we weren't going to mention bugs."
"Right. So." Beckett smiled falsely at John. "As you know, I've been doing some tests on your ATA gene. It's the strongest we've found, aside from Captain O'Neill's."
"Yeah?" John swallowed. Was he carrying some horrible genetic disease? Rodney, he thought, would have a fit.
"In the process of studying, er, your genes and the Captain's, I made a discovery --"
"Which I'm going to tell you about," said O'Neill firmly.
So it must be something that affected O'Neill as well. But General O'Neill, back on Earth, was older than John, wasn't he? He must be in his fifties, at least, and no one had said anything about degenerative diseases. So it couldn't be that bad -- could it?
"Yes," Beckett agreed. "Exactly. D'ye want to use my office?" he asked O'Neill.
"No. Let's take a walk," O'Neill suggested, glancing to John for agreement.
"Right. I'd appreciate it if ye'd come back here afterward, Mr. Sheppard. I have a few more tests to run."
John just nodded, his mouth dry. He was getting pretty tired of blood draws, but so far he'd accepted them in a spirit of scientific inquiry. If it was about writing his death certificate in advance, he wasn't going to be quite so cooperative.
O'Neill jerked his head at the doorway, and John preceded him out of the infirmary to the nearest transporter.
"South pier's nice, this time of day," said O'Neill, pressing the node.
John just managed to cut off a reflexive 'Yes, sir,' and changed it to a casual "Sure," instead.
It really was a lovely day -- sunny and warm but not too hot, perfect weather for a floating city just bordering the tropics. O'Neill led them out to the terraced edge and stared across the lapping water at the southeast pier. "You know, we got this artifical harbor here, we should do something with it," he mused.
"I heard some of the eggheads joking about setting up a water park," John said, playing along. "But I guess everyone's too busy."
"Yeah, it's a lot of work just staying alive around here."
"Too bad there's that wave break over there." John pointed. "Otherwise, the slope up to the pier here might be gradual enough to give us some breakers."
"Ya think?" O'Neill studied the angles. "You've tried Ellison's surfboard, right?"
John had had enough. "So what's this all about?"
O'Neill rubbed the back of his neck and grimaced. "I'm really bad at talking about this stuff, so you'll just have to bear with me."
"You could have let Beckett do the talking for you," John pointed out. "Sounds like that's what he wanted."
"Yeah, but . . . well, no, I couldn't. Look, I gotta give you some background first. You know, uh . . . I guess you've heard about me? Where I came from?"
"That you're, um, a gift from the Asgard stork?"
O'Neill chuckled humorlessly. "That's one way of putting it. Or you could just say clone. It's not a dirty word."
"We're just not used to applying it to people," John mused, wondering where this was all going. Maybe the clone thing meant the genetic disease would turn out differently for Captain O'Neill than General O'Neill?
"Yeah, well, what can ya do?" O'Neill wandered a little to one side so he could lean on a parapet. (Or maybe a bollard, except that it was a weird place for either of those. Maybe it was a wave break for storms? Or maybe it had some bizarre function that only Blair Sandburg would be able to guess. Or maybe it was just a thing for leaning and sitting on.) "I'm less than four years old, literally."
John snorted. "Pretty precocious, there."
"But ask me my birthdate and I'll say 1954 without thinking about it. I'm not even four, but I remember living a damn full life. I was married, I had a kid." He looked away at the water, swallowing hard. "Kid died, I got divorced, I retired, was reinstated -- twice! -- saved the world a few times . . . then one day I woke up and I looked like a teenager and everyone treated me like one. And the man I -- the man I thought I was could hardly even stand to look at me."
"Put like that, I can see why you joined this expedition."
"Well, yeah. Partly I missed the excitement. Partly I was dying to get out of school -- y'know, high school's even worse the second time around? Can you believe that? But a lot of it was just getting away from the real O'Neill, and getting to act like myself again. Everybody knows the story here, and they've seen weirder shit with their breakfast cereal. Or whatever that was in the mess this morning."
"It might have been cloned from something," John admitted.
"Anyway. Maybe it's been bad for me, being out here, because I keep forgetting I'm just a copy. I keep thinking of myself as the original Jack O'Neill, just de-aged."
John frowned. "You're not just a copy. You have your own life, and you're making your own history with it." From what he'd heard, everyone in this city owed their lives to O'Neill -- this O'Neill -- several times over. He shouldn't be thinking of himself as second-rate.
O'Neill just waved a hand. "I didn't come out here for a pep talk. I'm just saying . . . hell, I don't even know what I'm saying." He rubbed his eyes. "I never wanted -- no, scratch that. Colonel O'Neill never wanted another kid. It was too . . . God, when Charlie died . . ." He paused a long time. "It was like having my heart ripped out of my chest. My life ended there, for the first time. I thought about ending it for real. Then I got a second life at the SGC -- and a third, for me, in Atlantis. It's more than any man should ask for. But here I am, I have a whole 'nother lifetime to go, I don't have to waste it. I could have a family. A whole pack of kids, if I can stay alive long enough."
John looked out at the water, trying to picture it. He'd never thought seriously about children for himself, but if it turned out he had some hereditary disease and couldn't or shouldn't ever have kids, that would be different.
"I don't think I could," O'Neill went on. "I don't think I could . . . commit myself like that again, give my heart like that again. Charlie . . . I loved him. He was my life, I thought he was my future. But I never really told him that. I never spent enough time with him. I was always . . . going places, doing things . . . I didn't pay attention." O'Neill scrubbed a hand over his face again. "Fine. Enough background about me. What about you?"
John blinked. "Me?"
"Yeah, all I know about you is what you told us when Elizabeth took you on. Everyone else here has a dossier and medical records enough to fill up a CD-ROM apiece. Except the Athosians, of course. It drives Beckett nuts not having complete files."
"Oh." John had given the nurses what seemed to him like a pretty comprehensive medical history, but he knew it was spotty compared to his Air Force records. And it might not be very pertinent to this genetic thing O'Neill was supposedly working his way around to explaining. "Well, I never actually knew my real father. My biological father. He died in Vietnam a little before I was born."
O'Neill frowned. "So this was Sheppard, Senior?"
"No, his name was Michael Zwerdling. Mom changed my name as well as hers when she re-married." He grimaced. "Can't say I'm sorry not to get saddled with Zwerdling. Anyway, Mom married Mark Sheppard when I was about a year and a half old, and he was my father as far as I was concerned. Not genetically, but . . . " John shrugged.
"Did he make an okay father?" O'Neill asked, staring at the horizon. Still thinking about the family thing, John supposed.
"I guess. He and Mom were really into saving the world. Feed the starving, help the poor, teach the ignorant, all that."
"God, you and Sandburg," O'Neill muttered.
"Oh, his mother was some flaky hippie activist type, too. Ellison has stories you wouldn't believe."
John stared. "Wait. You mean Blair's mother is Naomi Sandburg? She's famous! Well, in certain circles. That I haven't been in touch with for over a decade . . ." John wondered if he had ever played with Sandburg when they were little. They must have been near the same age. But although he vaguely remembered his parents talking about Naomi Sandburg, he wasn't sure if he'd ever met the woman.
"Forget Sandburg's parents. What about yours?"
"Oh, they went all over the world trying to help people. I grew up in Mali, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Tibet, Guatemala. When I was thirteen, Mom died from an infection and Dad decided it was too unhealthy living in the jungle. He took me back to the States and got a job with an ecological outfit. He tried to save money for me to go to college, but it was tough getting a decent salary without compromising his principles." John sighed. "I thought he'd be glad when I got a scholarship for the Academy, but he thought I was caving to the military-industrial juggernaut."
"You just wanted to fly," said O'Neill, watching the clouds.
"Anything, anywhere. Dad couldn't understand it, though. He didn't throw me out or anything, but after a while, we just stopped writing each other. I haven't heard from him in a few years. I don't have any other family that I know of."
"Hmm," said O'Neill.
John waited a little, then prodded: "So, if Beckett wants to trace my relatives to try to find more people with the ATA gene, I can't really help him. I don't know anything about Michael Zwerdling's family, and my mother's parents disowned her."
"Jenny," said O'Neill.
"Your mother's name was Jenny, right?"
"Yeah. How did you . . . oh." The penny dropped. "You know something about my family? Are you and I related?" John whuffed out a breath in relief. "That's why we both have the ATA gene!"
"Yeah, something like that." O'Neill swallowed.
"Well, that's a relief. I thought you were going to tell me I was doomed to die a hideously painful death before I reach fifty, or something."
O'Neill just looked at him.
"What?" John asked.
O'Neill's mouth twisted. "Hello, Pegasus galaxy? Dangerous expedition millions of light-years from home? You're probably doomed to die a hideous death before you reach forty."
"Yeah, well . . . at least I might be able to do something to prevent that," John said lamely.
"So how are we related, anyway? Is it on my mother's side?" John figured that would explain how O'Neill knew his mother's name.
"Okay, here it is." O'Neill took a deep breath. "Eight years ago, I -- well, Colonel Jack O'Neill -- accidentally went back in time to 1969, got in trouble with the Man, got help from a couple of counter-culture hippie types named Jenny and Michael, and maybe -- okay, definitely -- got a little too friendly with them. With Jenny. And then went back to 1998 and forgot about it."
John stared, a chill of realization making its way down his shoulders.
"And while he was checking out our genes, Beckett found out that you and I are really, really closely related."
John opened his mouth, then shut it.
"You look like her, you know. Your mom. She was, um . . . when I knew her, she was a lot younger than you are now."
"You have got to be shitting me," said John. He thought he had gotten past the looks-twenty-five, really-four, acts-fifty-five thing, but he was finding out he hadn't, not really.
"Luke, I am your father." O'Neill tried on a smile, then put it away. "Sorry."
"You can't be . . . I mean . . . shit. This is too weird."
"Tell me about it."
"You're not even four years old! How the hell can you be my father?"
"Sheppa-- John. I'm sorry I wasn't there while you were growing up --"
"Oh, no." John paced away in a circle. "You are not pulling that one on me. I'm not some fatherless orphan that needs to be rescued off the streets." He wasn't bothered by the thought of a father he'd never met; he grew up with that knowledge. But the thought of a father he'd never met wanting to interfere in his life now just made him angry.
"I never said --"
"I had a father! A perfectly good father. He took care of me and tried to teach me -- and okay, so maybe he was upset when I went into the Air Force, but --"
"Hey, I'm proud."
John froze, ambushed by the way those words struck right through him.
"I couldn't imagine better. A damn good pilot. An Air Force major."
"Dishonorably discharged," John growled.
"Yep, for disobeying a direct order. A chip right off the old block."
John turned and glared. "I don't want another father."
O'Neill sighed. "Yeah, and like I was saying, I'm not ready for another son, either. But I wouldn't mind having a brother."
"Well, technically speaking, General O'Neill is your father. Implanted memories aside, I'm O'Neill's . . . progeny, too. So that would make me more like your brother than your father."
In spite of his anger and confusion, John felt a smile tugging at his lips. "Huh. I always wanted a little brother."
"Hey! Not so much with the little!"
John was grinning, now. He adopted a sweet-little-old-lady voice. "And here's a picture of little Jackie at the age of three and three-quarters . . ."
"You --!" O'Neill grabbed, John dodged, and they had a brief chase around the parapet-bollard-thing that ended with John pinned in an armlock. "Who's little now?"
"Okay, okay, my not-so-little, sort-of-but-not-exactly younger brother. Good enough?"
O'Neill released his arm. "You need to be sparring with the Marines more."
"Teyla has a workout that'll get you in shape in no time."
"I know, Jack!" John glanced aside to see how the name went down.
"Well. Good. John."
They started heading back up the pier toward the center of the city. Then John paused and frowned. "Hey. Just because you're . . . family, don't get any ideas about passing judgment on my life, okay?"
Jack raised both hands. "None of my business. You're welcome to McKay, if you can handle him. But you know, if you ever need help hiding the body . . ."
John shook his head in amusement, looking ahead to the transporter alcove. "Speak of the devil."
"What did Beckett call you in for?" Rodney demanded, storming toward them. "Is it serious? Oh my god, are you going to come down with some awful terminal disease?"
John glanced over at Jack. "Rodney. Hello, Pegasus galaxy? I'm probably doomed to die a hideous death anyway."
Rodney went pale. "Oh no, it really is serious!"
John relented and patted his shoulder. "No, it's not. Beckett just figured out something about where my family tree crosses O'Neill's, that's all."
Rodney's eyes flickered between them. "What, you mean you're . . . cousins?"
"Something like that," said Jack.
"It's complicated," John said. "But it's nothing to worry about. Don't you have work at the lab?"
"Well, it's lunchtime, and you didn't come to get me, and Blair said you were heading for the infirmary to talk to Beckett, and then the sensors showed you way out here, and I thought maybe you were planning to do something, you know . . . drastic!"
"Like throwing myself in the calm, lukewarm ocean, right," said John.
"Well I didn't know you were out here having a genealogy tête-à-tête!"
Jack was shaking his head and drifting away, leaving John to deal with Rodney. Just as the other man reached the transporter, John called out, "Hey, Jack!"
O'Neill looked back.
"We should get together and compose an email. You know, to send the General next time we get the wormhole open."
Slowly, an evil grin spread over Jack's face. "Yeah. Let's do that."
Rodney looked from O'Neill, disappearing into the transporter, back to John. "Are you and he, uh . . ." He trailed off uncertainly. They had never promised to be exclusive.
"Eww, Rodney, please!" John took Rodney's arm and conducted him into the alcove. "That would be incest!"