Title: Not Just Children
Fandom: The Sentinel/Stargate Atlantis
Pairing: John/Rodney (slash) Jim/Blair, Steven/Michael, Rafe/Lee (preslash)
Summary: Can the battle for Earth be won?
Beta: By my sister Anna, all remaining errors are mine. With apologies.
Not Just Children
“Oh, my God there must be thousands of them,” Rodney exclaimed. “I’ve never seen so many blips in my life.”
They’d raced to the chair room to find Jim hugging his father, surrounded by family and friends. Steven went toward Michael.
Michael gathered him into his arms. “Steven. Are you alright?”
Steven sighed happily as he buried his head into a massive chest. “I’m fine. Can’t have this happy reunion go on to long. We’ve got a battle to win.”
Michael kissed the top of his head. “I know, sweetheart. I know. But do you have time to say ‘hi’ to your Dad? He’s been so worried.”
“Yeah. I’ll always have time for Dad.” Steve pulled away reluctantly. Waving at Daniel, Rafe and Lee as he made his way to his father who was hugging Jim. “Dad.”
William turned. “Steven. Son.”
He was quickly gathered in into warm loving arms. Not that Michael’s hadn’t been loving, they had only been larger. A heck of a lot larger and harder.
Trembling hands cupped his face. “You alright?”
“Fine. I’m fine.”
William pulled him back into his arms. “There were times where I thought I’d never see any of you again.”
“You gotta have faith, Dad.”
“Faith I have. Worry-that’s something I have in excess most times.”
“My God-that screen is almost a solid white blip. There’s almost no dark left,” Rodney whispered in horror. John running his hands over his Sentinel’s back in an effort to calm him. “There’s no way we can win against odds like these. There’s got to be at least a thousand of them to our one.”
Steven pulled away from his Dad slowly. A better reunion would have to wait. “Faith, Rodney. You need faith.”
“How. The Wraith are going to have us for appetizers then go for Earth. There’s no way we can win. No fucking way. And I just got me a Guide and everything.”
John pulled his shaking Sentinel into his arms. “Easy.”
“Easy? How can you say easy?” Rodney met John’s green eyes, his own full of tears. “I don’t want to lose you. Not when we just became Sentinel and Guide. Not after waiting for you for what felt like my whole life.”
John kissed his forehead. “You’re not going to lose me, sweetheart. You’re not.”
“We can’t win,” Rodney whispered softly. “There’s no way. We’ve already lost Earth. Billions of people. The Wraith are going to destroy our world, John.”
“No, they won’t,” Jim replied, cuddling his solemn Guide. “We fight.”
“How? How, Jim?” Rodney whispered softly, he motioned up toward the blasting coming from space. Hitting their shields and echoing through all of Atlantis with a truly ominous sound. “Against that?”
Jim smiled at him. “Faith, Rodney. Have faith.”
“The shields won’t hold out much longer.” Rodney replied. “Home. My cat. My silly sister and niece.” He looked at Jim. “How do we fight against odds we cannot possibly win against?”
Jim’s smile grew brilliant. “Who said the odds are against us?” He looked at Steven. “I’d say they’re pretty much in out favor, don’t you, Steven?”
Steven whose blue eyes were slightly glazed, nodded. “Yeah. Pretty much,” he replied distractedly. “You ready?”
“Almost. I’m going to need you, Stevie.”
“I’m here for you, Watchman.”
Jim nodded. “I know.”
Jim nodded again. “Yeah. Only a little more, well-more,” he looked at his little Guide. “You know what to do?”
Blair met Jim’s eyes, his own wider than usual, but surprisingly holding no fear. “Yups.”
Jim placed him carefully on the floor. “Okay. Get ready. Rafe? Lee? Rodney? John? Come here?” They all stood in front of Jim solemnly. Waiting for whatever the Sentinel wanted of them. “Rafe and Lee, we’ve done this before. I don’t need to tell you what to do. Prepare yourselves. Rodney and John. I don’t have that much time to explain to you what I need from you. To keep our world safe and rid this galaxy of the Wraith, I’m going to draw power from you. From all the Sentinels and Guides on Earth as well. I’m going to channel it into the chair and blast the Wraith out of existence. No one, but no one, threatens my world and my people.”
Rodney shook his head slightly. Jim seemed to be getting fuzzy and not looking at all like a teenager.
Come to think of it neither did Blair. Blair was looking more like a young adult with a wild head of curly hair and the most beautiful pair of blue eyes he’d ever seen. The same for Rafe, Lee and Steven. At least the being adult part. Steven was staring at him, blue eyes twinkling with mischief. If it hadn’t been for that he wouldn’t have even recognized him.
“Cute, aren’t I?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Same smart mouth and everything.”
Steven chuckled. “That’s not about to change. No matter what the age.”
Rodney frowned thought coming to him. “Can you do that, Jim? I mean draw power from Earth. Millions of miles away? In another galaxy?”
“Yes,” The Sentinel replied, his shimmering form solidifying into one of the most beautiful men Rodney had ever seen in his life. He excluded power. It practically oozed out of his pores. It was Jim’s eyes that drew Rodney the most. They were icy and stone cold blue as he surveyed the room.
“Just like that?”
Jim smiled at him. “Just like that. Steven, are you ready?”
Steven knelt in front of his brother. Silently acknowledging the dominance his brother held over everyone in the room. In this Jim ruled. His was the first, middle and last word. Closing his eyes. “Ready.”
“Remember to guard those in your charge well. They will be defenseless as I draw power from them. You and only you are their defense.”
Steven nodded silently as he acknowledged his brother’s words. Acknowledging his responsibility. Smiling at Michael when he came and knelt next to him, taking his hand in his much larger one. “Love you,” he told him softly.
Michael wiggled his eyebrows at him. “I know.”
Steven rolled his eyes. “Perv.”
Smiling at the byplay Jim said. “Rafe, Lee, Rodney and John-take your places.”
Rodney looked around uncertain as what to do. Seeing the others kneeling next to Steven in a half circle around the chair, did the same.
Jim sat in the chair. It came to life. Sparkling and shimmering with a life it’d never shown before. “Blair, Baby.” He called to his Guide who came willingly and, knelt just in front of him. “I love you, with all my heart. I love you.”
Blair nodded. “I know. I love you, too.”
Jim gave him a tiny smile. “I will forever be grateful for that.” He looked out at everyone in the room as they prepared for a battle they could not lose. Rafe was holding on tightly to Lee’s hand. Rodney and John also held hands. All had their eyes tightly closed. The gathering power in the room almost visible.
Jim closed his eyes as he began to harness the life energy of every Sentinel and Guide on Earth and on Atlantis. Some not yet knowing they were to be Sentinel with a beloved Guide by their side.
Or a willing man who’d never had a chance to prove his love for his very own Sentinel because fate had said it was not to be. Willing to give his heart and soul for it to be otherwise. Changed in a blink of an eye. Proven worthy. Gifted as no other had ever been before or would again.
Jim also drew on the love the Guide held for his Sentinel. The need to nurture and keep them safe. Drew on the Sentinel’s devotion and overwhelming love toward their Guide. Leashing it to him tightly. Drawing on Blair’s love for him. Love that would be with him to the end of time and beyond. Drew it all to him.
He sent his senses out to Steven. Using his boundless love for the Sentinel and Guides in his care. When the battle was won, for there could be no other outcome, it would be because of Steven’s love. He was the guiding force in this battle, the ultimate weapon.
Steven as if sensing what Jim was doing opened his eyes and locked them with his brother’s. Giving Jim everything he had in him to give and then some. All the love, all the devotion, all of it Steven gave to him willingly. Never, ever forgetting his duty to protect. No distance to great. Mere feet or millions of miles. It didn’t matter. Earning this day the title he so richly deserved.
Every Sentinel and Guide knew they were safe within the walls of Steven’s love. Millions of miles away, they knew they were protected and truly loved. Able to give their all in a fight they could not lose.
Every Sentinel, every Guide would forever know how deeply committed Steven was to them. What he was willing to do to keep them safe.
Steven nodded at him. Eyes never wavering from the other, Jim smiled and unleashed the power he’d tightly reined, now violently seeking release.
Everyone in the room watched in awe as a powerful blast of blue light shot out of the chair into the sky. Obliterating everything in its path.
William watched, tears streaming down his face as his sons did the impossible once again. They defended Earth and her people. His children. Babies he’d held in his arms late at night, feeding, changing, cuddling.
They weren’t just children. They were more. So much more. He wondered what’d he’d done right in his life to deserve such special children. Everyday with them was a joy. Each and everyone special and unique in their own right.
Jim, a quite, somber little boy. Yet always quick to hug and kiss. Steven, the life of the party. Happy, mischievous. Just as willing to hug and kiss.
Blair, smart, bouncy Blair. The sunshine of his life. Always with a willing smile and a hug. He’d never been happier when it came time to officially make him his son,
Lee, quite and shy. Just as beautiful as his other children. Just as wanted, just as loved. His blue eyes wistfully asking for a hug as if expecting it to be denied. Not yet fully realized it never would.
And then there was Michael able to keep Steven in line with a simple word or gesture. William considered him as much a son as his other boys.
William wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hands. He’d never been prouder of his children as he was at this moment. They weren’t just children, they were ‘his’ much loved children.
Silence. Blessed silence. Rodney opened his eyes slowly. “Is it over?”
Jim nodded. “Yes. There are no more Wraith.”
Rodney frowned. “Anywhere?”
“Anywhere. They are gone.”
“I don’t understand. What did we do?”
Jim smiled at him, pulling Blair up into his arms. “I harnessed all the love the Guide had for his Sentinel and the Sentinel for his Guide and unleashed it on the Wraith.”
“And it was enough?” Rodney asked skeptically.
“More than. The excess fixed these ZPM’s of yours. You have enough power to run all of Atlantis. You can continue your researched unheeded.”
“All by the power of love?”
Steven rose to his feet, stretching. “What, you don’t think love has that kind of power?”
Rodney rose as well. Allowing John to pull him into his arms. “It has no scientific basis.”
“Love can move mountains, Rodney. It can also stop the Wraith.” Steven went to his father, Michael at his side. “Okay, Dad?” he asked softly.
William pulled Steven into his arms. “Yes. You boys continue to amazes me.”
“Cool, aren’t we?”
Steven smiled as Jim walked up to them, an arm around his Guide. “Is Jim not the best Watchman ever?”
William watched Jim blush. “Yes, he is,” he replied, chuckling softly at the look of pleasure and pride on Jim’s face.
“I couldn’t have done it without you. What you did made it all possible,” Jim told Steven.
Steven smiled at his brother, pleased at the complement. “Why, thanks.”
Jim touched his arm. “No, thank you.”
Rodney looking at one of the computer monitors. “The computers are going crazy over the data they’re collecting.” He turned to look at Jim and Steven, now joined by Daniel, Rafe, Michael and Lee. “What did we do?”
Steven rolled his eyes. “Jim already told you.”
“No buts, chalk it up to the power of love overruling the badness of the Wraith.”
“It can’t be that simple. It just can’t,” Rodney insisted.
Jim tilted his head as he contemplated the Sentinel. “It can. Most times the easiest solution is the simplest. Nothing complicated at all. Just pure old fashion love.”
“And Steven’s part in all this?”
“His is the purest form of love of all. The Powers That Be know that Steven would die for his Sentinels and Guides. There is no purer way to show love than to give your life for it.”
Rodney looked at Steven in stunned amazement. “I was wrong wasn’t I?”
“About you liking the Guides better than the Sentinel’s?”
Steven nodded. “Yeah, you were.”
“But you’re always treating the Sentinels like they’re dog poo on the bottom of your shoe.”
Steven smiled at him. “That’s because sometime they are.”
Jim groaned. “You walked right into that one, didn’t you?” he asked Rodney.
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
Steven eyes twinkled merrily. “They get arrogant at times and need to be reminded that even though they are the best of best when it comes to being human. They are just that-human. Sometimes it takes a swift kick in the pants to remind them of that.”
Beckett tapped his earpiece. “What is it, Elisabeth?” He asked as he took off at a run out of the room.
“It’s Ronan. He’d been trapped on the mainland with Teyla. But now coming back through the Gate something happened to him. Hurry, he seems to be in a lot of pain.”
“On my way.”
“The Powers That Be, strike again?” he asked, reverting to his teenage self.
Jim nodded, doing the same, followed by the others. “Yup. Someone on Atlantis is in for a very pleasant surprise,” He replied, picking Blair up in his arms.
“Not Ronan at the moment though, huh?”
They walked into the Gate room to find Ronan on the floor moaning. Covering his ears with his hands. “Oh, Goddess. Oh, Goddess. Hurts. Hurts.”
“What is it, laddie? What hurts?”
“Everything. Everything. My skin burns, my ears are rings something fierce. My eyes hurt. The lights are to bright.”
“I don’t know. He’d been acting strange on the mainland. He suddenly fell to his knees and stared off into the distance. Hallen, Jinto and I tried everything we could think of, but we couldn’t bring him out of it. Then suddenly on his own he became aware once again. I thought to take him to the infirmary to make sure all was well with him and then this.”
Suddenly Ronan popped to his feet with an agility that shouldn’t have been possible for some one of his size, surprising everyone into taking a step back or get trampled. “Something smells really good.”
Major Lorne coming down the stairs gasped as Ronan came running toward him. “Oh, shit.” He replied panicking. Looking around for someone to hide in back off. He squealed in a decidedly unmanly way when he was taken into arms that felt like bands of steel. “I didn’t do it. I swear I didn’t do whatever it is. Please don’t kill me,” he begged closing his eyes tightly as he waited for the end. Hoping it was painless and quick. “Please don’t kill me.”
“You smell good,” Ronan replied to Lorne panic. Well that and to tighten his arms around him even more.
“Can’t breathe, help,” Lorne wheezed, helplessly. Hands beating weakly at a muscled back, he was sure didn’t even feeling his manly attempts to free himself.
Steven rolled his eyes. “Fucking Sentinels. All the same. Earth. Pegasus Galaxy. Doesn’t matter. They’re all the fucking same.” He went up to Ronan and punched him in the arm and got a warning growl for his troubles.
In anyone else it would have sent them scrambling for the nearest desk to hide under. It did raise a few eyebrows of alarm in the room. Especially from William.
Steven shook his head and sighed heavily. Giving Ronon another punch in the arm. Harder this time. “Release your Guide-now.”
“Ow!” Ronon complained, but only tightened his hold. “No. Mine.”
“Yeah, he is, but he’s starting to turn blue. I suggest very highly you release him before I have to seriously hurt you.”
Ronon reluctantly let Lorne go. “Mine?” he asked forlornly, sadly.
Steven nodded. “Yours. Give him a minute to get some color back into his face. You need to be a little gentler. You could have squashed the stuffing out of him.”
Ronon looked at the floor remorsefully his blue eyes filling with tears. “Sorry.”
“Don’t tell me, tell him,” Steven replied, motioning with his head toward the man bent low wheezing in an attempt to get air into his starved lungs.
Ronon knelt in front of Lorne, who when he noticed took a step back in alarm. Making the Satedan moan softly in loss. “I’m sorry,” he whispered softly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Don’t run from me.”
“Why’d you attack me?”
“I…don’t know. You smelled good. And I did not attack you,” Ronan replied defensively. “I would die before I would ever willingly hurt you.”
Evan Lorne, Major in the USAF drew his eyebrows together. “Huh?” he asked stupidly. He’d later blame his lack of a proper response on the fact he’d had the air squished out of him by a really, really strong Satedan.
“You smelled good. And you made my head stop hurting and my ears not to ring and my eyes not hurt anymore and my skin not to itch.”
“I did that by smelling good? I’ll give you a bar of my Ivory Soap if you promise not to squash me any more.”
“Can I hold you some more instead? I’d like that more.”
“No,” Lorne replied, taking another step back. “Damn, what a weird day today has been. Had the weirdest dream-that I was helping stop the Wraith by showing how much I would love to have a Sentinel of my very own. Thought I was dreaming standing up. Now this.” His eyebrows suddenly rose to almost disappear into his hairline. “Wait a second…”
Steven chuckled. “The penny drops.”
Lorne looked at Ronon who was now looking at him in a way that could only be described as wistful. Then at the others in the room who were quietly contemplating him. “Can’t be. I was tested. I haven’t got what it takes to be a Guide. And I hang around Ronon all the time. He’s never show me the slightest bit of interest beside as an occassional sparing partner.”
Jim came up to them, Blair in his arms. “Things change.”
“But…Ronon isn’t a Sentinel. I’m not a Guide.”
“Are now,” Steven replied, watching as Ronon edged closer to the Major. Lorne without realizing what he was doing, pulled the Satedan to him. Smiling unconsciously when Ronon buried his face against his stomach and began to purr.
“How is this possible?” he asked, gently caressing Ronon’s braids. The Satedan moaned softly in pleasure.
“The Powers That Be rewarded you for all the help you gave with Rodney. Giving you what your heart desire most. Finding you truly worthy, they gifted you.”
Lorne chuckled softly as Ronan began nuzzling his nose into his uniform looking for skin. It tickled. “Does that mean if my hearts desired a million dollars, I’d get it?”
“Hmm, no. Doesn’t work that way. Sorry.” Steven replied, watching as the Major’s face took on a brilliant, happy glow. “You don’t seem to be to upset by it.”
Lorne looked down at Ronon who now had his shirt open and was contentedly nuzzling his bellybutton. “I could never be upset by something I’ve wanted my whole life. Something I dreamed about. I do have one concern though.”
Steven smiled when he noticed that Ronon was gently kneading Lorne’s thighs with his hands. “What?”
“Ronon could very easily turn me into red paste without thinking about it. Frankly, I don’t want to be red paste.”
“Hmm, yeah-that could cause a problem. Is that freaking you out?” Steven asked, pointing out that Ronon was slowly opening Lorne’s shirt and sniffing at the exposed flesh with such obvious contentment it brought smiles to everyone in the room.
Lorne looked down again. “Na-I like it. But damn, he’s big. He’d gonna hurt me. Shh-I don’t mind a little pain, versus not having a Sentinel.” He replied at the sound of hurt Ronon made. “I’ll take pain. Oh-God-my own Sentinel,” he said with wonder. “My very own, Sentinel.”
“Barely beats getting a puppy, huh?” Steven chuckled at the sounds of outrage coming from the Sentinels in the room, “What?” he asked, innocently.
Lorne smiled down at Ronon, affectionately. “Yeah. It’s just that he’s so…hmm…large.”
“He’s going need some training on how to handle a Guide.”
Lorne was gently caressing Ronon’s braids. They looked course, but they were really soft. “He won’t hurt me,” he replied confidently. “I know he won’t.”
“I’m not willing to take that chance. We’ll stay until the after the bonding. Make sure that everything is okay.”
Ronon rose from the floor and quickly gathered Lorne to him. “Mine.”
“Ow! Ronon, don’t,” Lorne gasped softly.
“Release him,” Steven hissed angrily. “I told you-you won’t be allowed to hurt the Guide.”
Ronon glared at him. “No,” he replied, defiantly. “Never.”
“Don’t test me on this, Ronon. You can’t win,” Steven warned.
“What are you going to do? A mere child.”
Ronon was about to toss Lorne over his shoulder and take his Guide out of the Gate room. Stopped by Steven’s voice.
“I’m not a mere anything and you’re pushing it, Sentinel. Release him. Or I swear to God or whatever Deity you believe in hell will freeze over before I let you touch him again.”
“That’s not in dispute. But you will not be allowed to hurt him. Not now, not ever. Release him. Prove to me that you deserve him.”
Ronon’s blue eyes filled with tears as he let go of Lorne. Who gingerly stepped back a few feet. “I would never hurt him. He’s my Guide. He’s mine.”
“You’re not thinking straight, right now-so you might. I can’t let that happen.”
Ronon reached for Lorne, his hands trembling violently. Sighing unhappily when his Guide flinched. “I…” he turned to looked at the people gathered in the room. Many he knew, but there were some unfamiliar faces. “I would never hurt him. Not ever. I need him to live.”
“Yeah, you do. But he’s not a squeeze toy.”
“I know that,” Ronon replied angrily.
Steven tilted his head as he contemplated the very large, very muscular male. He could put Michael to shame. He turned to look at his beloved, who was watching him in turn. He winked at him receiving a happy smile in return.
Turning back to Ronan, Steven said. “Do you? You’ve already hurt him twice. Jim scan Lorne, how badly hurt is he?”
The young Sentinel sent his senses into the newly made Guide. “Nothing broken. Bruised ribs and he’s going to be black and blue for awhile.”
Steven looked at Ronon. No condemnation on his face. “What did you just tell me?”
“I won’t allow you to bond until you learn control. The Sentinel cannot live without the Guide. You kill him, your kill yourself.”
Ronon’s eyes took on a look, John recognized and it had always sent a chill down his spine. Angry, cold-he hadn’t seen it since the end of Ronon’s Runner days.
“I could take him and there’s no way you could stop me,” the Satedan hissed menacingly.
Steven stared at him calmly. “You sure.”
Ronon took a step toward Lorne watching Steven carefully. “Yes.”
Before he could reach for his Guide he was sent flying across the Gate room. Landing painfully against the steps leading to the control room.
Steven came up to him. “I did warn you,” he told him calmly, patiently.
“Ow! What did you hit me with? A building?” Ronon asked, rubbing his sore arm.
The other Sentinels in the room looked at each other in shock. First Ronon was reaching for his Guide, next thing they knew he was flying though the air. A silently, yet audible. “Oh-oh.” Went through them as they realized exactly what Steven was capable of when it came to protecting his charges.
Steven chuckled softly. “Yes, you could say that. No one, but no one hurts the Guide. Not on my watch. Not ever. Having a Guide is an honor. A privilege, the Sentinel needs to earn. You don’t take what they are always more than willing to freely give.”
“But Lorne is afraid of me,” Ronon whispered softly as he sat up.
“Well, you hurt him with your enthusiasm.”
“He smells so good. I’ve never smelled anything so good.”
Steven sat down next to him. “I can imagine.”
“I just wanted more.”
“And you decided to just take it?”
Ronon looked at Steven uncomfortably. “I don’t know how to do it any other way. It is how I survived.”
“You need to learn a different way. Go back to before you became a Runner.” At Ronon’s startled look. “Rodney told us all about you. You had a wife, a home.”
“Would you ever approach you’re wife the way you did Lorne?”
“No,” Ronon replied reluctantly.
“Ronon, look at me.” When he did. “The Guide will willingly give you his heart and soul. It’s not something you take by force.”
The Satedan looked over at Lorne who was quietly contemplating him. “You will?”
Lorne nodded. “Yeah. I’ve always wanted a Sentinel.” He went to kneel in front of Ronon. Wincing as it hurt his ribs.
Ronon fisted his hands tightly to keep himself from reaching for him. “You would want me?” he looked pleadingly into the eyes staring down at him.
Lorne smiled at his tentatively. “Yeah. I want you more than you’ll ever know.”
“But you’re afraid of me?” Ronon asked heartbrokenly.
Lorne sighed softly. “Yeah. Right now I am.”
Ronon released his fist, reaching out with hands that were shaking uncontrollable. “I can be gentle. You have nothing to fear. Not from me.” He touched the side of Lorne’s face. It was allowed. The only response Lorne gave was a closing of his eyes. “I won’t hurt you. I swear it. I need you. Please. Please don’t turn me away. I’ll die without you.”
Lorne opened his eyes. Moving his face into the trembling touch of the Runner. “I won’t.”
Ronon carefully raised his other hand and cupped Lorne’s face. Moving closer until he was resting his forehead against that of his Guide. He breathed in the calming scent Lorne was releasing. Honey and lemon. Reminding him of home. Reminding him of a love long ago lost.
“Oh, Goddess,” he replied shakily. “I don’t know what is happening to me.”
“The Powers That Be activated the gene in you that makes you a Sentinel. You relied on it when you were a Runner to a great extent. But not completely. Something in your past made you push it away. To deny what and who you are,” Jim replied, kneeling next to Steven. Blair in his arms. “Something I know a lot about,” he added ruefully. “You can’t deny it any more. You won’t be allowed to.”
The little Guide’s big blue eyes got even bigger as they looked at Ronon. “Wow! You berry, berry big.”
Ronan looked at him, still resting his forehead against his Guide. “Hello, little man,” he replied chuckling softly.
Blair turned to Jim. “See-I ‘s a little man, not a baby.”
“Yeah, I see,” Jim replied, smiling. He looked over at Steven. “So, we’ll be staying on Atlantis for awhile?”
Steven nodded. “Yeah. Ronan is going to need some help adjusting and I wanna keep an eye on Rodney and John for bit. Make sure they’re adjusting as well.”
“Atlantis is beautiful.”
Steven nodded. “Yeah it is.” He smiled when he noticed Ronan gently, carefully gathering his Guide into his arms. Pulling him close with a happy sigh. “Yeah, it really is.”