I woke at one point to find myself squinting against the bright and sterile white of a hospital room. Rodney was in the chair beside my bed, sporting a shiner courtesy of his run in with the fist of the guy who’d tried to kidnap me. Only one blackened eye to my two, but then again, I always was an overachiever.
“Least I’m not lopsided,” I mumbled drowsily.
McKay leaned forward then, frowning in concern. “Oh crap, you’re making even less sense than usual. You really did suffer brain damage. The doctors said that wasn’t likely but what the hell do they know? Dissect a few cadavers and they slap a medical license in your hand.”
“Your eye.” I lifted my hand to point to my own, found it attached to an I.V. and became slightly distracted by the clear tubing.
“Yes, I have an eye.” He spoke as if to a small, simpleton child. “Christ, I really should call a nurse.”
“I have two,” I pointed out thinking that would clear it all up.
“I can see that. I can also see that you’ve regressed to the mathematical prowess of a toddler. I’m going to find a doctor.” He stood to leave in search of one and I tried to reach out a hand for him.
“Rodney, don’t go.” He stopped and seemed torn between staying as I’d requested or going for the medical help that he thought I might need. “Don’t go,” I repeated. “Just a little loopy is all.” My eyes started drifting shut again, suddenly heavier than I could stand to hold open, even though I desperately wanted to keep him in sight.
So many people in my life had left me. Through death, frustration, anger, impatience, whatever, they all seemed to leave in the end.
Except for McKay.
“Don’t leave me,” I asked one more time.
And when I finally shut my eyes, unable to keep them open any longer, he was sitting back down in his chair.
The next time I came around, Ronon was sitting where Rodney had been.
“McKay says he’ll be right back,” he informed me as soon as I had blinked him into view. “He must have told me three times to make sure I told you that if you woke up while he was gone.”
“Duty fulfilled,” I assured him with a grunt, trying to sit up.
“You want a nurse?” he asked, trying his best to adjust the pillow behind my head. I got the feeling Ronon wasn’t exactly a candy-striper wannabe sort of guy.
“Nah, I’m sure they’ll be in to poke and prod soon enough. So where did the illustrious Dr. McKay run off to anyway?”
“The guy that tried to nab you is a few doors down.”
My eyebrows shot up at that news, the act made all the more difficult by the bandage that covered a chunk of my forehead. “Is there an armed guard in the room?”
“Trust me; he’s not going to be a threat to McKay.” His self-satisfied grin told me that chances were good my partner had possibly used a bit of excessive force in restraining the perp.
“I meant to protect the guy from McKay.”
Ronon shook his head with an even wickeder grin. “I think he has other ideas. He’s got Weir down there reading the charges against him in person.”
I couldn’t stop the chuckle that the image of Weir and McKay glowering down the poor slob brought out. “He’ll be selling out his own grandmother before they’re through with him.”
“Well, he sure isn’t selling out anyone else at this point.” Ronon sat back in his seat, ran his fingers through the wave of his short, brown hair, and studied the band of his hat that he held in his hands.
“So, no way to tie him to Kolya?” I asked with little hope.
“Nope. And Kolya himself is conveniently out of town on a business trip.” Brown eyes met mine with an annoyed glint. “And we can’t get a warrant to search his corporate offices or his private residence. Seems there’s a dispute about whether a local judge or a federal one will have to issue it.”
I sighed in frustration. “I guess it pays to have friends in high places.” Ronon was back to studying his hat and I had the distinct impression he was holding something back. “There’s more, isn’t there?”
He nodded before admitting, “Beckett’s gone. And given the condition of his place, he didn’t just go to visit his mother again.”
“Son of a bitch,” I mumbled. “Kolya’s cutting his losses, pulling in his ranks.”
“And that just means you’re not safe. Landry wants you to go to one of the safe houses.”
He didn’t seem too thrilled with the idea and I knew exactly why. If Kolya had enough pull to stop a search warrant, what was to keep him from using his contacts to find out exactly where I was holed up?
“Tell him I’ll do it.”
“Sheppard, I don’t think that’s such a good…”
“I’m not going,” I told him simply. “I want you to track down Lorne and have him find me a place to stay… someplace out in Ballard, maybe.” When he nodded in understanding, I continued on a little quieter. “And then I want you to find me someplace here in town down in Pike Place. Somewhere only you and McKay know about.”
Anyone who knew me would know I’d go to Lorne to do the job I couldn’t, and hopefully they’d follow him first and not think about my brand spanking new partner. And that would let Ronon blend in with the crowds down in Pike Place without someone looking over his shoulder.
They kept me in the hospital overnight for observation. I wasn’t sure what exactly they thought they were going to observe besides me taking aspirin for my headache and fidgeting to get the hell out of there while various uniformed officers stood guard outside my door, but that’s exactly what they got.
I sent McKay to pack a bag for me so that I wouldn’t have to go back to my apartment when I was released, and when he returned to drop it off, he offered to drive me to my new place. I turned him down. In fact I told him he should steer clear of me for a while. I might as well have had a flashing target on my back and the last thing I wanted was for him or anyone else to get caught in any crossfire that was intended for me. Besides, if I took the trolley, it would be less direct, harder for someone in a car to trail me without me noticing. And if I changed lines enough times, anyone on foot would either get lost in the crowd or become apparent before I reached my new digs.
“Yeah, sure, I understand,” he agreed morosely and I promised I’d check in at set times so he and Ronon would know that I was okay.
So I was a little surprised when he showed up at my door after midnight the next night, dripping wet. “I need to borrow your gun.”
I pulled him in from the hall, checking quickly to see if anyone had followed him, before demanding. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I just told you. I need to borrow your gun.”
“I heard you, McKay, I’m just a little confused as to why you would need to do something like that.”
“Because I want to learn to shoot it.”
“Now?” I asked in total shock.
“Yes, now. Why not now?”
“For one thing, it’s raining.”
“Look, you’ve been on me for years to learn to shoot and now I want to learn to shoot.” He threw his arms wide in irritation. “Are you going to show me how or not?”
There was something going on here, something he wasn’t telling me and I knew he wouldn’t. He’d been shaken up pretty bad by what had happened and I supposed if anything would push a person into wanting to protect himself, witnessing a kidnapping would be it.
Waving a hand at my bathrobe, I told him, “Let me get dressed and we’ll go.”
I drove his car to the outskirts of town, to an area I’d used for target practice occasionally. It was out near the Boeing plant and I’d come out to the area now and again on a day off and watched the planes take off and land. There was just something fascinating to me about the idea of flying, and while I’d never actually done it, someday I planned to, if only to take a commercial flight down to San Francisco and turn right around and fly back. But tonight the skies were empty except for the ever-present rain clouds that were dumping a steady downpour on us as we stood in the headlights of the car and Rodney tugged at my shoulder holster he was wearing.
“Here,” I offered, stepping in front of him and adjusted the straps. “You need to let it out a little bit.”
I reached around him, my hands inside his jacket, stepping in close so that I could run both of them up between his shoulder blades and reach the clasp. McKay froze at the touch, blue eyes behind the rain spattered glasses darting momentarily to mine before looking away just a quickly, and I was suddenly struck with how warm he was in contrast to my night-cooled hands and how nice it felt to have him here like this with my arms around him, his body so warm and close to my own, his mouth just a dip of my head from mine…
Steering clear of where that train of thought was leading me, I quickly finished up and stepped back with reluctance. “There,” I assessed my work. “That’s better.”
He nodded wordlessly and pulled the service revolver free, pointing it at the bottle we’d set up several paces away. Rodney licked his lips nervously before asking, “Like this?”
I moved back to lean against the hood of the car, pulling the collar of my trench coat up around my neck. “Yeah, just like that. Now squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it, else you’ll pull yourself off target.”
With another nod, he took a deep breath and fired. The bullet hit the stump almost a foot below the bottle.
“Did you close your eyes?”
“Yeah… maybe. Shit, I don’t know.”
“Rodney, just calm down. You can’t be afraid of the gun. You know how it works; it’s just a mechanism. You can respect it but don’t be afraid of it.”
“Okay.” But he didn’t sound too convinced.
“Try again,” I instructed patiently, “and this time keep your eyes open.”
He fired again, this time hitting off to the left. “I kept my eyes open,” he insisted.
“Good. That’s good.”
“But I still missed.” Two shots off and he was already frustrated that he wasn’t Hopalong Cassidy.
“McKay, you’re just feeling out the gun, finding your range. Everyone shoots a little differently. The key is to know how you shoot so you can adjust to it.”
He finished off the shots in the chamber without hitting a thing then he turned to look at me in confusion. “Now what?”
“Reload,” I instructed him with a grin.
He did as he was told, water running off his hat as he tipped his head to do it. “This is hopeless, Sheppard.”
“Considering that you’re shooting in a downpour and can barely see the target, I’m not sure why you’re surprised by your results. We can wait and do this another time, Rodney. What’s the rush in learning tonight?”
“You,” he told me, lifting the gun and firing off several shots in quick succession.
“Me?” I asked in surprise. “What does you being able to shoot have to do with me?”
Four more shots rang out before he admitted, “I don’t want to be a liability to you.”
“McKay, you’re not a liability to me. Shit, you’re…” the best damn thing that had ever come along in my life. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly something I could say, should say. But Rodney took my pause as an opportunity to empty his gun again.
“You were nearly kidnapped,” he informed me needlessly as he reloaded once again. “You were nearly kidnapped and all I could do was yell for Ronon to help. If he hadn’t been there…” He shook his head and took aim once more.
But I moved up behind him, reached around and placed my hand over his on the gun. “Rodney…”
I felt the shudder than ran through him when my hand closed around his and when he lowered his arm, I maintained my grip on him. Easing back into my chest, he confessed quietly, “I would have lost you. I would have lost you forever, and then what would I have done?”
Reaching around with my other arm, I took the gun before wrapping my arms tightly around his chest. “You wouldn’t have lost me,” I told him without a doubt in my mind, resting my chin on his shoulder and leaning my head against his. “I’d just keep turning up like a bad penny. You should know that by now.”
“Promise?” He craned his neck back, the icy tip of his nose running along my cheekbone, the brush of his lips along my jaw.
I turned to meet him, tasting the cool rain on his skin, the warmth of his mouth on mine, the slide of his tongue along my bottom lip then running along my own. He twisted his body around in my arms, leaning into me further as he slid his hands into the small of my back, the kiss deepening and earning a moan that reverberated deep in his chest. My hat tumbled from my head and I pulled back only to have him lean toward me and pull me right back in and I decided to hell with the hat, the rain, the gun lessons, the kidnap attempt, the hell with everything except kissing Rodney McKay.
Eventually even McKay needed to breathe and I took the opportunity to suggest, “We should get out of these wet clothes. How about we head back to my place?”
“My apartment’s closer,” he offered sucking lightly at my bottom lip.
I returned the favor, ending with a nip. “Will your cat make room for me on the bed?”
“Good point,” he conceded. “Your place it is.”
We made it as far as the car.
Four years seemed to be more than enough foreplay for the both of us and it wasn’t long before I was staring dazedly at the streaks of rain running down the windshield with what I could only imagine was a goofy as hell grin on my face. Rodney straightened from his own bemused slump and started zipping up again.
“Well, I can honestly say, when I asked if I could fire your gun, I never expected that to be the result.”
I chortled in sated happiness, fastening my own pants before rolling my head along the seatback to watch McKay realign his tie. “So… are we still going back to my place?”
His hands stilled mid-adjustment and he fixed me with a dumbfounded gaze. “Oh, hell, yes.”
My smile just grew as I turned the key and started back to my hideout.
* * * *
The apartment Ronon had found for me was a studio on the fourth floor. During the day, the hallways were filled with kids running from one apartment to the other, mothers chasing after them, fathers trudging home with lunch pails, their faces smeared with the grime of a day on the docks. But at two AM, it was quiet, the stairwell empty, so that I could stop on the second floor landing, press McKay against the wall, and kiss him in the flicker of an emergency exit light on the verge of shorting out.
When I thought I was going to short circuit myself, Rodney pushed at my chest, murmuring even as he sought out my lips again, “Room. Now. Go.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, pressing against him, feeling him pressing into my thigh in return. “Room.”
“Jesus,” he hissed against my neck, nipping and sucking as his hands gripped at my hips. And, yeah, we really needed to get in my apartment.
With a massive amount of willpower, I pulled away, took his hand and practically ran up the remaining flights of steps. Fumbling for my keys in my pocket, I fought to concentrate on unlocking the door as Rodney nuzzled at the back of my neck. Finally, I got it open, yanked Rodney inside and pushed him up against the door even as I locked the deadbolt.
“Clothes. Off. Now.”
A fucking genius and I’d reduced him to monosyllabic demands. The thought that I could do that had me grinning mischievously as I removed his hat and hung it on the hooks by the door, then took his glasses from his face with care and placed them on the entry table. But the smile softened when I could finally look in his eyes in a way that I so rarely had seen them in the past– unshaded, unshielded, wide open and willing, wanting, needing, giving. And it was more than his kiss when he lunged forward that took my breath away.
My own hat was tossed haphazardly behind McKay and next our trench coats landed, heavy and sodden, in puddles of their own making on the floor. My mouth never left his as our jackets dropped in our wake, the coarse feel of wool replaced by smooth cotton as I untucked his shirt and started working my way up the buttons while Rodney did the same to mine. I had to stop when I reached the top, the smooth slide of silk whispering through my fingers as I unslipped his tie. And then there was the touch of bare skin under my fingertips as I pushed the shirt off his shoulders, tipping my head to kiss the exposed flesh as I ran my hands up his stomach and chest to push the undershirt up and over his head.
I pulled back, lifted my arms, and allowed Rodney to remove my own, and was rewarded with a slow play of fingers down to my belt buckle. I was already working on Rodney’s, leather tugging against the restraints of the loops, buttons opening and soon I was toeing off my shoes so I could step out of my own trousers that had dropped, pooling around my ankles. The boxers weren’t far behind and finally all that was left was skin… lots and lots of skin.
And I thought dames had a lot of layers to work through.
But in comparison to the slow burn of the past four years, the leisurely trail of clothes that led from the front door to the bed seemed to have come off in a heated blur. And the weight of Rodney settling on top of me as I climbed on the bed and tugged him in with me seemed an eternity in the making. Our skin was still damp, a little cool to the touch, but it just made the friction that much more satisfying as I wrapped my arms and legs around him and soaked in the spreading warmth.
His own hands slid under me, thrusting, lifting me in tighter, closer, and if I could have somehow melted and melded into him, it didn’t seem like it still could have been close enough. There was hot breath at my neck, his tongue flicking then sucking at my ear, and I groaned against his shoulder, hands clawing into the spread of his back.
“John?” he panted, burying his face against the crook of neck and collarbone. “John?” This time a little more desperate, a little closer to the edge.
I ran my fingers up into his hair, kissed blindly at his temple and jaw. “I’m here, Rodney,” I promised. “I’m right here with you.” And I was, the knot of pleasure at the base of my spine tightening until it was about to snap even as he stiffened with a groan in my arms, tremors racing through the muscles under my hands. “I’m right… Oh, Christ… McKay!”
I held tight, riding out the quakes that rocked through my own body, slowly easing my grip as the shudders shortened and I lay gasping for air. Rodney didn’t move from where he lay draped on top of me, which just made it harder to breathe, but seeing how I wasn’t letting go of him, it’s not like I really wanted him to be anyplace except right where he was. In fact, if he took up permanent residence right there, I could die a happy man… a blissful, sexually fulfilled, happy man.
Finally lifting his head, Rodney stared down on me with an amazed glint in his eyes and a smile I’d only seen previously when he’d had a few too many whiskey shots. “That was… good.”
Evidently his brain still wasn’t firing on all cylinders. “Good? Good??? Yeah, and King Kong was just a monkey with a weight problem.”
The punch-drunk smile spread and he kissed me, slow and sloppy and so far beyond good that I doubted Webster’s had a word to describe it. “I may have understated myself.”
“Was it at least good enough for you to stay for a while?”
I hoped like hell that this wasn’t a fluke, a work out a little anxiety and go back to the way things had been for the past several years. If it was, so be it. I’d take it. I’d take Rodney anyway I could get him. But I wanted more, I wanted all of it. I wanted McKay like a kid wants a Red Rider at Christmas time. I think I’d wanted him since he first made it known that I wasn’t just another cop to him, that there was something special about me. I’d just never let myself believe that there was anything worth finding that was special in John Sheppard. And now that I’d seen it staring back at me in baby blues hovering a fraction of an inch above my face, I didn’t want to let it go.
“I’ve never had it so good in my life,” he confessed with a slow play of lips along my jaw. “Just try getting rid of me.”
Rodney fell asleep a few hours later with his arm thrown across my chest and his head nestled on the same pillow as mine while I ran fingertips slowly along the length between his wrist and elbow. I laid there and watched him sleep, just watched him. Corny, I know. But every time I closed my eyes I found them drifting open again as if I needed to convince myself that I really hadn’t just dreamed this whole night up.
As some point I must have dozed off, too, because I woke to the sound of a baby crying in the next apartment. Sitting up, I looked out the window above the bed, seeing the early-morning fishmongers already working their way through the streets, making deliveries to restaurants in the area from the market a few blocks over, the sanitation workers emptying trashcans in the alleys, and sunlight angling through the clouds of the previous night. Rodney was oblivious to the sounds, sleeping with his mouth slightly open, arms wrapped around the pillow as the rising sun cast a pink tint across his broad shoulders, all the way down to where the sheets were gathered at the small of his back. I traced the outline of his shoulder blade, followed it to the dip that ran the length of his spine, and let my hand disappear under the sheets to come to rest on one firm ass cheek. He shivered at the touch, stretching without opening his eyes, a crooked smile cutting lazily across his face as he reached for me.
And for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t regret the coming dawn.
* * * *
It was nearly ten in the morning when a banging at my door had me sitting bolt upright in bed. McKay let out a confused, “What?” as he did the same, and I was already wrapping my hand around my gun.
“Hide in the bathroom,” I warned. “There’s a window in there that leads to the fire escape. If you hear anything that’s not right, you go, and don’t look back. Do you understand me?”
“Sheppard, I’m not leaving you and if you think I am then…”
I silenced him with a quick kiss. “Go. If it doesn’t look right I’ll be right behind you and we’ll go together.”
He nodded then, climbing out of bed and grabbing some clothes from the floor as the banging started up again. “Hello? You in there?” It was a female voice but that didn’t mean it was a friendly one.
“Yeah,” I called back, pulling on a pair of pants to buy Rodney a little more time. “Just a minute.”
They were my pants, but from the way the sleeves of the shirt I’d snatched from the floor came up well above my wrists, I realized I was wearing McKay’s. I started rolling them up to cover the mistake, even as I looked through the peephole. “What is it?” I asked the distorted face of the middle-aged woman who was peering curiously back at me.
“You have a phone call. Someone named Dex?”
Shit. I’d missed my check-in. Opening the door, I thanked the woman and headed down the hall to where the floor phone was located. “Ronon, shit, I’m sorry. I must have fallen asleep…”
“McKay’s missing,” he said without preamble. “He left the lab early and no one’s seen him since.”
Scrubbing my face with a wince, I told him. “Oh, no, it’s okay. Christ, I thought he let you know where he was going. He’s with me. He came by last night pretty shook up and he just slept here… in the chair. I didn’t have the heart to kick him out.” My stomach twisted at the lie, but for now, that’s just the way it was going to have to be.
“Goddammit, Sheppard, he could have been followed.”
“I know, I checked when he got here, it seemed to be clear.”
Ronon let out a sound, something between a growl and a resigned sigh. “Well, you better bring him with you for our lunch date.”
“Lunch date?” I asked in confusion.
“Teyla made contact. She’s set up a meeting with Zelenka.”
“Where?” Finally we could have some answers.
“Club Athos. Oh, and Sheppard, you should know… the guy that tried to kidnap you, he’s dead.”
“How?” I didn’t need to ask why; anyone that could finger someone like Acastus Kolya rarely lived long enough to make it to trial.
“Knifed in the cafeteria in city lockup.”
“Does McKay know?” No use worrying him more than he already was, I figured. But I should have known nothing stayed from him for long.
“That’s why he left the lab last night.”
My lips curled in realization that the same thoughts must have run through Rodney’s head last night when he decided to come see me. “Thanks, Ronon… for everything. I’m sure this wasn’t exactly what you had in mind when you transferred from Omaha.”
“Eh, all in a day’s work,” he dismissed before adding, “Except for McKay. But he’s not the kind of thing you can really prepare a guy for in a briefing.” When I chuckled he told me, “See you in an hour, Sheppard.” And then he hung up and I went to tell Rodney we had an appointment.
* * * *
Club Athos was a completely different world during the day. There were no bouncers, no tuxedos, no sparkling crystal and silverware glistening in the low lights. It was simply the waitstaff setting up for the evening, the kitchen preparing the dinner menu, and us. Even Teyla seemed a little less spectacular in the daytime. Still graceful and beautiful, but with her hair pulled back in a simple twist and wearing wide-legged black pants and a blouse with a ruffled trim; she didn’t seem the ethereal being who had graced Earth with her presence as she did when she was in the spotlight.
If she was still wearing the necklace, she had it hidden away, which was just fine by me. I had no desire to be reminded of what I was or why Kolya wanted me so badly. But even without the glowing charm, there was no way to hide from it.
“You are Detective Sheppard?” the small man with the thick accent, thin hair, brown suit, and bowtie asked as I sat at the table where he and Teyla were waiting for us. When I nodded hesitantly, he smiled in excitement. “Mr. Kolya, he has told me how strong the gene is in you. It is phenomenal.”
“Why does he care?” I demanded. Rodney’s knee bumped reassuringly against mine at the defensive tone he heard.
“Because we have never met anyone who has this much potential to operate the devices.”
“What devices?” Now it was McKay who was on the defense. “I keep hearing about these wondrous machines and have yet to see anything besides a glorified nightlight on a chain. What do these damn things do that is so important that Kolya is kidnapping people off the street?”
“They can heal a mortal wound, make a man impervious to bullets, hide a transport full of men, move items from one place to another instantaneously, shoot rays as hot as the sun.” Zelenka’s eyes dropped in what I could only determine was shame. “They could guarantee victory in the war.”
“The war in Europe?” Ronon shook his head in confusion. “Why does Kolya care about that?”
“Because, the Third Reich is paying him a great deal of money to deliver these devices from dealers here in United States and Asia to Germany. And they are paying him even more if he can deliver people who can operate them.”
“The Nazis?” I looked from Zelenka to Teyla in disbelief. “Kolya’s a goddamn Nazi?”
“I had suspected,” Teyla confessed, “but until Dr. Zelenka arrived, I could not confirm that was truly the case.”
“And I suppose you’re Hitler’s fucking Minister of Glowing Thingamabobs?”
At my accusation, Zelenka blinked rapidly. “No, no, no. I am not a member of Nazi party.”
“Of course not; you just work for them.”
“Detective, you do not understand. I am as much a… dupe, yes? as you are. I was forced into service when they invaded Czechoslovakia. I am little more than spoils of war to the conquering army.”
“You’re not in Czechoslovakia now,” Ronon pointed out.
“No, but my family is.”
The implication of that statement hit me like a city bus. I literally felt the air being forced from my lungs. This wasn’t just a ruthless businessman I was dealing with; it was one of the strongest military forces in the world. They would do whatever it took to get what they wanted. They weren’t going to stop at anything, even using loved ones as collateral. And if they ever found out about Rodney, about what he really meant to me…
My hand locked on his arm before I ever even knew it had done so and I stood, pulling him along with me, much to his own surprise. “Sheppard, what the hell are you doing?”
My abrupt rise to my feet had Ronon standing, as well, gun in hand, as he looked to me for a sign of what I expected him to do.
“We’re leaving,” I stated succinctly. And I wasn’t limiting it to the club. We could be out of the city within a matter of hours. Pack a few bags, grab McKay’s fucking cat, and just go. As far away as we could get and we’d be safe. I could keep Rodney safe and they’d never be able to use him against me and I’d never have to think about glowing crystals and Nazis and what they’d do to Rodney to make me use them ever again.
“John, where will you go?” Teyla asked calmly, seemingly unconcerned with the gun pointed at her. Zelenka seemed to be trying to slide out of his seat and under the table. “They will find you. Kolya has connections almost everywhere. And where he does not, the Germans do.”
McKay snapped his fingers in thought. “My sister up in Canada. She and her husband are Communists. I’m sure they’d be willing to help. Of course, they’re vegetarians, but I could skip a few steaks if it meant you’d be safe.”
“You will not be able to hide,” Teyla reiterated. “Not without help.”
“And you know someone who can?” My question held a note of disbelief but the woman just nodded her head and motioned for someone to come forward out of the back room.
“Please, Detective Dex, put your gun away. They are friends.”
When Ronon slowly lowered his gun, two men approached, and my partner’s eyes narrowed dangerously as his lip curled into a snarl. So I wasn’t really all that surprised when he grabbed the tie of the nearest man once he was within arms reach, twirled a nearby steak knife as he used it to pin the neckwear to the table, before taking up a second and holding it the man’s throat.
The second man had his gun to Ronon’s head demanding that he drop his weapon at almost the same time as the first spoke up. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Easy, Slick. We’re not going to hurt anybody.”
“Then why the hell have you been tailing Sheppard?”
And that’s when I realized who the two must be. “These are the men from the car. The one’s that took off right before I was blindsided.”
“Yeah, we’ve been tailing you, trying to protect you,” the man on the table justified.
“Well, you sure did a pretty fucking piss poor job of it,” Rodney snapped from behind my shoulder.
The one with the gun still on Ronon explained, “We couldn’t blow our cover. We’ve been on this case too long to have it go down the crapper now. But if we’d been there during the kidnapping attempt, we would have intervened.”
“Case? You’re cops?” This just kept getting stranger and stranger and if they were cops why the hell didn’t I know about it?
“Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the one with the gun told us, reaching in and pulling out a badge. “I’m Special Agent Caldwell, this is Special Agent Sumner. And we’ve been trying to nail Kolya for over two years now.”
Ronon’s eyes flicked to the badge and with a grunt of wary acceptance, he straightened and pulled the knife from Sumner’s tie. “That’s one hell of a grip you’ve got there, son.” The agent rubbed at his neck with an appreciative roll of his head. “If you ever feel like playing with the big boys, we could use a few men like you.”
“Thanks, but I’ll stick to my current beat.” His grin was more predatory than appreciative.
“Suit yourself, but you boys have found yourselves in the deep end of the swimming pool. You’re in way over your heads here.”
G-men. They thought they were God’s gift to law enforcement when in reality they were a bureaucratic nightmare and the only thing worse than their red tape was their arrogance. And just like I tended to do any time they came around, I felt my back stiffen.
“We’re doing just fine.”
Caldwell sat on the edge of the table and shrugged casually. “You’re going to find yourself eating wienerschnitzel in Berlin, helping Hitler march into the Oval Office if you aren’t careful.”
“Germany isn’t interested in the United States,” I argued. “We’re not a threat to them.”
Sumner tipped his head toward Zelenka, who was doing his best to simply disappear from sight. “And Czechoslovakia was? Don’t fool yourself, Detective. Hitler’s building an arsenal, he’s trying his damnedest to build an army, and I’m not talking foot soldiers and Lugers here. If he gets his hands on you, Sheppard, if he finds your weakness, make no mistake, you will give him an advantage over anything the world can throw at him.”
“Then I’ll make sure he doesn’t get his hands on me.” I gave McKay a shove toward the front door and Ronon fell into step behind us.
“We can offer you protection,” Caldwell called out. “All of you.”
“Like you did the Kusanagi girl?” I turned back and challenged. “Or the Scott? If that’s the type of protection you’re offering, then I say, no thanks.”
Zelenka was shaking his head. “Can you protect my family? No, I think not.” He stood to leave, as well. “Please, I must go or I will be missed. I have a meeting with Mr. Kolya in an hour.”
“He’s here in town?”
Rodney’s surprised question had him nodding. “Yes, we are expecting a shipment from Singapore tonight and a courier will arrive tomorrow evening to move goods to Germany.”
Goods. That meant glowing devices and at least two people. And that meant I had a decision to make. Because I could do whatever it took to save those two people and risk becoming a third in the process, or I could walk away, run actually, and keep running, and keep McKay with me.
Rodney looked to me expectantly, knowing what I was wrestling with. “Sheppard, you promised,” he reminded me, his voice a little hoarse.
I had promised. I’d promised he wouldn’t lose me. And here I was considering walking right into the snare I’d been trying to avoid. Sumner and Caldwell were looking at me, too. That’s when I understood that their offer of protection had a caveat. We’ll help you if you help us. An inside man would make sure the bust went as planned and no one slipped away.
“We can protect all of you,” Sumner repeated meaningfully, his eyes drifting to McKay before coming back to mine. “What do you say, Detective?”
These son’s of bitches were almost as bad as Kolya, both of them would use Rodney against me if they could, both dangling his life like a carrot for a stubborn mule. Well, they had no fucking clue how stubborn I could be.
“Like I said, thanks, but no thanks.” And with that, I turned and walked deliberately out the door.
* * * *
I convinced Rodney to go to the lab, at least for a few hours. No one would be fool enough to try to nab someone out of the middle of a police station, plus Ronon would be hanging over his shoulder the entire time. I went back to the room in Pike Place and cleaned my revolver and found myself thinking back to the headless body that had started us down this path that we were on in the first place.
Three men were dead already because of this mess. The first killed by someone just trying to save his sister, protect his family. I had little doubt, if it had been me in a similar circumstance, I would have done the same… or worse. The kid claimed that he hadn’t planned to kill Frasier. Me? I couldn’t be sure I would have demonstrated the same restraint going into the situation. But I was in a unique position in that I could do something to keep it from happening in the first place. I could make the deal, with both sides, and keep Rodney out of it entirely. He wouldn’t be happy, but he would be safe, and in the end that’s all that mattered. And if things went as planned, if we managed to take down Kolya and stop the Nazis from getting their hands on any more of those weapons, then all the better. And if they didn’t go as planned… well, there were other ways to keep someone from using me and I’d just been proven a liar to McKay.
So, I made my check-in call to Rodney. Told him it would probably be best if he stayed clear of me for a few days, at least until the exchange between Kolya and his German contact took place. And then we’d make plans to hit the road.
Then I made the call to Teyla.
I met her and the feds at the same place I’d taken McKay shooting the night before, this time the clouds were scattered, the air dry, and the sun was just setting. The bottle we had set up was still standing on the stump, whole and unshattered, just like I hoped to keep Rodney.
“So, are we clear on how this will go down?” Sumner asked me after we’d discussed the plan.
Looking up, I watched a plane shining silver in the glow of the last remnants of sunlight fly overhead in a final descent to the airfield at the plant. “It’s a Stratoliner,” I told them. “It’s going to change the way the world looks at flying. It’s pressurized so when they run into trouble, the pilot can just rise above it.”
I sure the hell wished I could do the same thing.
“Didn’t one of those crash on Rainier last year?”
Caldwell’s question had me frowning. “Every great accomplishment has it’s setbacks to overcome. Just make sure you don’t crash and burn on this one.”
“I will tell Acastus where you are staying tomorrow afternoon,” Teyla assured me.
And when they came for me, as I knew Kolya would, the plan was to have the feds follow me to the exchange location. They did this all the time, they promised, were experts at switching off with other agents so no one became suspicious that they were being followed. They’d find me, no problem.
“And Dr. McKay will be in protective custody before she even makes the call.”
I nodded with a sigh at Caldwell’s guarantee. “He won’t be cooperative,” I warned them. “And he’s good with locks, so be careful or he’ll slip out on you. And he yells… a lot.”
“We’ll give the guards cotton to plug their ears,” Sumner told me with a grin. “Relax, Sheppard, I think we can handle an unarmed criminologist.”
“And when it’s over?” I asked, making sure they didn’t plan to use something against either one of us.
“You two will be free to go.”
It was full on nighttime by the time I was back at my tiny apartment. I didn’t bother turning on the lights, just let the dark settle in around me as I sat on my bed and stared out the window. There was a car parked across the street. Occasionally I could pick out movement and I figured it was someone who worked for Sumner and Caldwell. If it was one of Kolya’s men they would have been up here by now. I hadn’t told the G-men where I was staying but they could probably tap Teyla’s line and find out easily enough. If it was them, then all the better. If they were here now, then they would be here when the time came and that just made me feel a little better about ever seeing Rodney again.
I’d checked in a good forty-five minutes before and it would be time to check in again soon. And until then, I planned to just sit there and not think about the way the sheets were twisted at the foot of the bed and why and how much I wanted to be doing that same thing tonight because it might be the last time I ever did.
The knock at the door had me gripping the gun in my hand tighter until I heard, “Sheppard, open the door.”
Rodney was standing in the hall, doing his best to keep from shifting uncomfortably and seemingly waiting for me to demand just what the hell he thought he was doing there. “I hope you don’t mind, I thought I’d drop by and see how you were doing.” His chin rose, arrogant as all get out, as though daring me to challenge him for doing exactly what I’d told him not to do.
“What the hell took you so long, McKay?” I twisted his tie around my hand and pulled him through the door. “I’ve been waiting for you forever.”
* * * *
My studio didn’t have a shower, just a claw-footed tub that was probably older than I was. Hell, it didn’t even have hot water. But a few pots of boiling water heated up in the kitchenette and mixed in a tub of cold water made for a nice soak. It was a pain in the ass, but it was worth it, especially when I had Rodney leaning back against me while I washed him clean of the remnants of our last encounter in the bedroom.
“So I guess I was right.” He spoke around a yawn, head tilted back so he could rest his cheek against my neck.
Dipping the washcloth back in the water, I soaped it and washed gentle circles on his exposed throat and under his chin. “About what exactly?”
“About the U.S. going to war against Germany. It sounds like it’s just a matter of time.”
I snorted, rinsing off the soap with another pass of the cloth, watching the tiny bubbles slide their way down pink skin to float on top of milky water. “I think I may be at war with Germany before the rest of the country is.”
“Fine, I’ll make you an honorary Canadian and you’ll be grandfathered into our war declaration.” He sighed contentedly when I moved to scrub his chest.
“Really?” I grinned. “I’d rate citizenship in your beloved motherland?”
“No, I’ll share a bed with you but not a country.”
I kissed him soundly, running the washcloth along the length of one of his arms that he’d draped on the side of the tub. “Well, as long as you have your priorities firmly in place.”
“My priority is exactly where he should be, wrapped firmly around me.” He kissed my neck and I moved to the other arm.
“I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else.”
“Not even if it meant serving God and country?”
“As an honorary Canadian, I would think giving you a nude sponge bath would meet both criteria.”
“Mmmmmmm, I think you might be right.” He slipped down a little further in the water, the action sending part of our bath sloshing out onto the floor. After a long moment of silence while I scrubbed down his shoulders, he finally spoke again. “Promise me you won’t get yourself killed tomorrow.” I froze mid-wipe, trying to decide if he was just guessing or he knew what I had planned. “You’ve never lied to me before, Sheppard, so I want you to promise me you won’t do anything stupid and reckless and end up dead as a result.”
“Rodney…” I started, but he cut me off.
“Either promise me or we pack our bags and leave town tonight.”
Folding my arms around him, I kissed at the back of his jaw before pressing my face against his damp skin. “I promise.”
His hands came up to grip my arms and he sighed, “I was afraid of that.”
We stayed that way for a long time, the water slowly cooling as the soft kisses gradually heated, and eventually even more of the water was being sloshed out of the tub.
The next morning we were both up early. I wanted him out of the apartment before anything happened. We were still hours away from the time Teyla would tip off Kolya to my whereabouts, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I dressed when he did, walked him to the door, promised I’d call as soon as everything was taken care of, gave him a long, lingering kiss, and unbolted the door… only to have it kicked in before I could turn the knob to open it.
We both ended up on the floor as a result, and I was half-crawling, half-climbing to my feet, trying to reach my gun that still sat on the bedside table. My hand closed around the grip and I turned to point it at our assailants, only to find Steve with a gun pressed to Rodney’s temple.
“Detective Sheppard, Mr. Kolya would like to invite you and Dr. McKay to breakfast.”
Rodney’s eyes were wide, his glasses sitting askew, as he tried his best to remain stock-still.
Lowering my gun in hopes that Steve would do the same, it was quickly taken from me by Bob, who stepped into the room behind his partner. “I could eat. How about you, McKay?”
He licked nervously at his lips, clearing his throat to keep from squeaking like a frightened child. He was scared as shit, and he wasn’t the only one. “Sure, you know me, always hungry.”
Bob pushed me toward the other two and I didn’t complain, beside Rodney was exactly where I wanted to be. Now, if I could only convince Kolya to let me stay that way, I might manage to keep my promise to McKay and not do anything rash after all.
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