Lancaster had been moody and distant after they sent the message through his biomonitor, so Sheppard had done his best to give him some space, but he’d been alone for nearly twenty minutes until he found him in the captain’s quarters–Lieutenant Pressman’s quarters, that was. Lancaster was pouring over a PADD while sitting on the bed in the tiny room. The bed was made in regulation Starfleet fashion, and nothing else about the space made Sheppard think it belonged to an extremist.
“A manifesto against Federation shipbuilding, citing the Synth revolt. It’s pretty poorly written,” Lancaster said, before tossing the PADD aside and resting his head in his hands. Sheppard knew something was up when his husband didn’t bother to even look up at him.
“No Marx, huh?” he asked, putting an arm around him as he sat down. Lancaster didn’t flinch, but he didn’t relax, either. That was normally a surefire sign that he was having trouble shutting his mind down. “Look at me.”
Lancaster complied, sullenly. “This is a major fuck-up. I should have done a better job of determining the nature of the accident before we boarded,” he said.
“The hull was ionized, they were leaking drive plasma, and there could have been fires onboard. You acted with the information you had. Whoever came up with these clearly had this all planned out,” Sheppard replied, pointing to his own biomonitor.
“That’s just the thing. Pressman did this with just his two Tarl accomplices, or that’s at least what his confession says. As a freighter ‘captain’ he had access to the flight plans for every ship on the Epsilon Indi route including ours, so he knew he’d be able to get a ride directly to the Arcturus. He slapped biomolecular adhesive on standard biomonitors and linked them to the distress beacon. He goes to great pains to explain how easy this whole plot was, even,” Lancaster replied. “I shouldn’t take a tactical beating from a lieutenant so wet behind the ears he’s practically underwater.”
“I think Evandrion is the one who took the beating, actually, and he’s a pretty tough customer. You and Ohala got a message out. Someone is going to see it.”
Lancaster sighed. “We don’t know that anyone was monitoring those signals other than Pressman himself, really,” he added, flinging himself back on the bed. “It’s logical that he’d be relaying our info to the Arcturus to keep up whatever ruse he’s got going on to keep half of Starfleet from jumping in to blow him out of the sky, but he’s also unhinged, deranged…”
“You’ve got to breathe, babe,” Sheppard insisted.
Lancaster exhaled through his nose, causing his chest to fall until he was completely still for a few moments, before he took a breath in. Sheppard had never seen him looking so miserable.
“We’re alive right now. We’re not tied up. We might have got a message through, and as far as we know, the idea that some psychopath with a red button can fry us remotely was a lie.”
“This is not what we signed up for. We’re not even to the ship, yet, and we’re already in a crisis. I hoped leaving the Romulan border behind would mean something like a normal exploratory mission,” the captain said.
“Well, we’re Starfleet, so unexpected is part of the job.”
Lancaster shot up. “Unexpected shouldn’t mean having to put my husband into harm’s way.”
The he said that turned Sheppard’s stomach in knots; he felt like some sort of ancillary character in the grand epic that was the life of Captain Michael Lancaster. A footnote. He scoffed and shook his head. “Is that how you think of me? Just as your husband?”
“That was not meant to emasculate you or imply ownership, Luca,” Lancaster replied, crossing his arms. “You know what I meant.”
“Yeah, that you’re the hero captain and I’m some damsel in distress. I’m a Starfleet officer, too, you know. I’m not just your love interest or sidekick or whatever other secondary thing you want to imagine in your life, Michael. Don’t say that we didn’t sign up for this, because it’s exactly what we signed up for,” Sheppard said, not raising his voice but speaking with uncharacteristic directness. “I love you, and I know you love me, too, but I refuse to let you wallow in self-pity because you had to see me in danger. Not until we’re out of this, anyway. And I refuse to let you think of anything other than what I am: a Starfleet medical officer.”
Lancaster blanched, the color draining from his face as he listened to Sheppard speak. It would be uncharacteristic of him to simply admit a verbal misstep, but Sheppard could see the wheels behind his husband’s eyes turning as he tried to think of an adequate response.
“I never want you to feel secondary. I’m sorry,” he managed, modulation in his voice suggesting that he was working very hard to keep an even tone. “This is going to be tough. Assuming we get out of this, anyway.”
Sheppard nodded. “Well, you don’t. Not usually. You’ve sacrificed a lot to be with me, and I know that. But… as much as I want us to be the first thing we think about…,” he said, gesturing between the two of them. “… the game changes when we’re on duty. It has to. You can’t let this scare you from letting me do my job. Or ordering me to do my job.”
The two of them reached for each other’s hands at the same time. “You’re right, of course. I’m going to say this now, though, and nothing you can say can stop me: if it ever comes down to it, I’m choosing you over me,” Lancaster said with a sincerity that knocked Sheppard off balance.
Both of them had danced around saying that for as long as they’d been together, but neither of them had ever fully said it out loud. Sheppard had the more outwardly protective personality, so he was caught off-guard not to be the first one to make that combination of a promise and threat, but Lancaster’s blue eyes shone with an intensity that left him momentarily stunned. He’d alluded to it earlier about coming after him, but that sounded like peanuts compared to what he’d just said.
“You shouldn’t say things like that, Michael.”
“You are my Achilles’ Heel, Shep. Plain and simple.”
“You mean your Patroklos,” Sheppard teased, not able to resist a mythology-based zing at his entirely-too-erudite husband’s expense. “Off me, and you lose your mind and burn the whole world down in rage.”
Lancaster nodded, smiling slightly at him. “Except add to that that I’m not going to be sulking in my tent while I let something happen to you. I’m going to do everything I can to keep you safe, because you can’t tell me that for one goddamn minute you wouldn’t do exactly the same thing if our positions were reversed. If it were Captain Sheppard and Doctor Lancaster? I dare you to say otherwise, Shep,” he insisted, growing more confident as he kept speaking.
“Gosh, you’re pretty when you’re mad,” Sheppard said, watching the way Lancaster’s nostrils flared in response to that statement. That usually meant one of two things. His partner lunged for him, but Sheppard’s greater height and muscle mass allowed him to easily pin him down on the bed they were sitting on, arms both above his head. “I’d kill for you. Do awful things if it meant keeping you safe, especially if all I had to do is walk in front of a phaser for you. Any day of the week.”
“Does that make us strong or weak?”
“I think it means we’re two of the few people in the universe who’ve truly found our mates. It’s like something out of Plato,” Sheppard said, letting him up. “A little counseling to work through this might not be out of the question, either. But considering that neither of us are willing to take an assignment without the other, I guess we’re stuck with that minor tragic flaw.”
“Probably best not to go on away missions together, anyway,” Lancaster noted, just before the ship rumbled under them. There was the clear feeling of the ship’s engines powering up and then the stars outside the viewport stretched and then started streaming past. “We just went to warp.”