Not surprisingly, Acastus Kolya’s primary residence was on the stretch of 14th Avenue in Capitol Hill known as Millionaire’s Row. What was surprising was that the driveway in front of the massive three-story house was exactly where the car Bob and Steve escorted us into ended up parking. The man had balls, I’d give him that. Hopefully his arrogance would work to our advantage, that was if the suits from the other Washington could figure out that he was hiding us in plain sight.
A maid in a crisp black and white uniform took our hats and coats then led us through the house with its marble floor and nose-bleed inspiring high ceilings and out onto a veranda where Kolya sat in a cream-colored suit at a table with a spread of food that could fill the four place settings around it about ten times over.
Standing, he wiped at his mouth with a napkin the same shade as his jacket and greeted cheerfully, “Detective Sheppard, Dr. McKay, welcome. Please forgive me, I missed dinner last night and was starving this morning, so I couldn’t wait for your arrival. I had thought it would take longer for the boys to locate you both. Evidently we were fortunate and you were together at the time.”
“Yeah, lucky us,” I drawled shoving my hands into my pant’s pockets.
“Come, sit, we have much to discuss. It’s such a beautiful morning; I hope you don’t mind dining outside. You can actually see the mountain this morning.” Waving his hands at the seats around the table, he sat again himself, taking a large bite of the cinnamon roll on his plate. “Sora makes the best pastries, the bear claws are to die for.”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Rodney muttered starting to take the seat closest to Kolya until I pulled at his arm and sat myself, leaving the seat next to me for him.
Kolya seemed more amused than offended by the comment, signaling for the maid to serve us our drinks. She started around with a pitcher of bright pink liquid and McKay quickly placed his hand over the top of his glass. “No thank you.”
“Please, Dr. McKay, you must try it. It’s ruby red grapefruit juice, fresh squeezed. I have them shipped in from Texas. I’m sure the Detective has had them before and he can tell you how sweet it is.”
“And I’m sure that I don’t want any,” Rodney reiterated.
Kolya didn’t seem like the kind of man who was told no very often, and he didn’t seem very pleased that McKay was disagreeing with him, especially considering that we weren’t exactly your typical guests in his home. “I’m afraid that I must insist, Doctor. I got the grapefruits especially for Detective Sheppard.”
Rodney’s scowl matched the one on our ‘host’s’ face. “And I’m afraid I’ll stop breathing if I do.”
“He’s allergic,” I explained when Kolya’s irritation turned to curiosity. “And I tend to be a little more… cooperative when Dr. McKay is alive and breathing.”
Picking up on my less than subtle suggestion, Kolya smiled in appreciation. “Well, by all means, Detective, we want you cooperative. Would apple juice be more to your liking, Doctor?”
Kolya wasn’t the only one who picked up on my meaning. Rodney was staring at me, a shade paler than he had been a minute before, understanding completely his role in this whole shitfest now. I hooked my ankle with his under the table and repeated the question. “What do you say, Rodney? You want some apple juice?”
I’d keep him safe. No matter what it took, I’d keep him safe.
He nodded wordlessly before finally managing to mumble, “Yes, apple juice would be fine.”
“Wonderful.” The smile was back, confident and in control, which was exactly what Kolya was at that moment. “Now, please, help yourself to some eggs.” Rodney didn’t move to take the platter and Kolya once again seemed concerned. “Is there a problem, Dr. McKay? Perhaps you would rather have the eggs poached instead of scrambled?”
McKay seemed to snap out of it at that point, or maybe just snap, because he stood and his face took on that expression I’d seen when someone asked him if it were really true that everyone’s finger prints were different. “Is there a problem? Are you fucking kidding me? Is there a problem? You have us hauled here at gunpoint with plans to sell Sheppard to the goddamn Nazis, try to kill me with breakfast beverages, and you have the nerve to ask if there’s a problem?”
“McKay…” I warned, trying to grab his arm and pull him back down to his seat. Bob and Steve, who had taken up positions on either side of the door leading back into the house, each had a hand inside their jacket like tall, pale Napoleons, only their hands were no doubt resting on their gun.
But Rodney shook off my hand. “No, I won’t sit here and pretend to have a civilized meal with a man who is the furthest thing from civilized that I can think of, not to mention in league with the enemy.” Turning his anger on me, he pointed out, “He nearly killed you, Sheppard. You were nearly dead because of him.”
“The car wreck was most unfortunate,” Kolya stated levelly, obviously battling to keep his own anger under control. “I lost two good men in that accident.”
“Yeah, because you had one killed in prison.”
At Rodney’s challenge, Kolya himself stood, slamming his fist on the table, and that had me on my feet, too. And that had two guns pointed at us from the doorway. “It was never my intention to harm Detective Sheppard. He is too valuable for me to do that. Far, far more valuable than you will ever be, Dr. McKay.”
I pushed Rodney back down into his seat before he could open his mouth and prove just how worthless he really was to Kolya. “Sit down, shut up, and eat some goddamn eggs.” Kolya seemed rather pleased with himself and I leaned across the table and growled, “Anything happens to him, whatever you think I can do, I won’t do. Got it?”
“You’ll do what you’re told, Sheppard, or, I promise you, things will happen. Got it?”
It took every bit of will power I had to keep from diving across the table and strangling him to death with his linen napkin. “If he dies, you die.”
“Who said anything about dying?” Kolya smiled wickedly and I found my stomach flipping over at the threat.
Jesus Christ, they would torture him in front of me if that got them what they wanted. I felt Rodney’s hand on my arm, not pulling me back to my seat, just resting there, and looking back at him I could see a battle of emotions playing on his face. Regret, resolve, apology, fear, and pleading… don’t let them use me like this. He didn’t have to say it out loud but I could hear it as clear as if he had.
From the doorway, someone cleared his throat in order to gain Kolya’s attention and he motioned the thin, younger man forward. “Ladon, I’m glad you’re here. There are some people I’d like you to meet.” When he reached the table, Kolya introduced us. “Detective Sheppard, Dr. McKay, this is my nephew, Ladon Radim. Ladon is acting as my personal assistant, learning the ropes of Genii Industries, as it were.”
With little more than a cursory nod in our direction, the young man turned all his attention to addressing his uncle. “Sir, I’ve made the travel arrangements you requested.”
“You’ll be leaving soon?” I asked hopefully as I retook my seat.
“Not me, Detective, you… and Dr. Beckett and Miss Kusanagi and Dr. Zelenka. You’ll be flying first class. I believe, if you give this a chance, you might find the benefits outweigh your concerns.”
“And what about McKay?” I wasn’t sure if his omission from the list of names was good news or really, really bad news.
“He’ll follow, provided there are no problems with your trip.”
I shook my head vehemently. “No deal. Either we go together or not at all.”
“I vote not at all,” Rodney chimed in with hand raised. “Anyone else?”
“The travel plans will not change,” Kolya told us succinctly. “Your escort is arriving this evening. At that time you will leave with Mr. Kensmore and his men, and Dr. McKay will stay as my guest until we receive word that you have arrived safely and without incident at your destination.”
“I said, no.”
Kolya’s jaw flinched minutely at my refusal, his face darkening more than the storm clouds that had covered the city for the past couple of nights. Ladon looked between his uncle and us, taking a step back from the table and ducking his head when Kolya snapped his fingers and Bob and Steve approached.
“Sheppard?” Bob had Rodney by the arm and dragging him toward the stone railing of the veranda.
“What are you doing?” My demand was answered by Steve twisting my arm behind me and pressing me face down onto the table, the basket of pastries tipping over and the juice Kolya had been so proud of pouring over the side of the table to run in a steady stream onto the stone floor. “Kolya, what are you doing to him?”
Behind me I could hear Rodney asking nervously, “What’s that for? What are you going to do with…? Hey, wait, don’t…”
His scream of pain had me fighting against Steve even harder, at least one plate crashing to the stones, the others rattling as I was slammed back down. “Rodney?” But I couldn’t break free and Rodney screamed again. Twisting my head to meet Kolya’s eyes, I saw him watching me with an amused expression. “Son of a bitch! I’ll…”
“You’ll sit right there and listen as Bob cuts Dr. McKay again, unless you show a little more respect for the situation you have found yourself in.”
“Don’t!” Rodney yelled again behind me and that had me yelling myself.
“Stop it! I’ll go!” Kolya raised his hand and Rodney didn’t scream again. “I’ll go. Just don’t…” Christ, what had I gotten us into? “I’ll go.”
“Yes, Detective, you will.”
Steve released me, shoving me down in my seat when I tried to turn and move to where McKay was being held. Fortunately, it didn’t take long before Rodney was back in his seat beside me, ghostly white, shaking, and cradling his right arm that dripped blood from two parallel cuts across his forearm.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, not to keep it quiet but because that was all my voice was capable of at the moment. “I’m sorry.” Taking a napkin, I wrapped it around the wound.
“Don’t go,” he pleaded. “You can’t go.”
Ignoring him, I turned back to Kolya. “He needs a doctor. These cuts need stitches.”
“Well, then, it’s fortunate that we happen to have one handy.”
“Beckett’s here?” Rodney asked as I wrapped another napkin around his arm, the first already soaked through.
“You’ll see him soon enough. We still have one other guest we’re awaiting.” From inside the house I could hear the click, click, click of high heels on the marble floor. “Ah, here she comes now.”
Teyla stepped into the sunlight, raising one gloved hand to block the brightness, and stopped in her tracks when she saw me and McKay. Kolya stood and moved to greet her. “Teyla, my dear, you look beautiful as always.”
Lowering her hand to smooth her slim skirted dress, she tried her best to smile as Kolya planted a kiss on her cheek. “Acastus, I do not understand…”
“It ends up I won’t be needing your services after all. Ladon was able to locate our two wayward souls on his own.” The nephew dipped his head in recognition of the praise and Teyla just tilted her head in confusion.
“But then why did you ask me to come…?” Her question stopped when she noticed the disarray of the table and the blood seeping through the makeshift bandages I was holding on Rodney’s arm. “Dr. McKay, you are injured.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, Agent Emmagan. It’s nothing too serious.”
Teyla’s façade cracked just the slightest bit before she looked to Kolya in puzzlement. “Acastus, whatever do you mean by…”
“I’m sorry, should it be Special Agent? As a member of the Special Intelligence Service, you probably rank higher than your brethren that work simple kidnappings. Tracking down subversives and potential threats to the American way of life must have its advantages. Unfortunately, those will only work against you here.”
Steve took her small clutch purse, pulling out the gun inside before patting her down and finding another strapped to her thigh. His hand up her skirt earned him a knee to his nose. Straightening her hair that had fallen in her face as a result of the action, she glowered at the bodyguard. “I may be an FBI agent, but I am still a lady.”
Steve dabbed angrily at the blood on his upper lip, but Kolya found the whole thing hilarious. “Oh, Teyla, what ever shall I do without you? The governor is going to be heartbroken you won’t be performing at Athos anymore.”
Taking her by the arm, he started inside the house with her, Ladon quickly catching up to continue going over the schedule. Bob motioned us to our feet with his gun and we soon joined the parade being led out of the house and into two cars. Rodney and Teyla were put in the first car with Bob and another driver, but I was pulled away before I could climb in by Steve who was still sniffling from his busted nose.
“Hey, no,” I argued. “Where are you taking them?” Because the only word that came to mind with Teyla and McKay in one car was expendable. They could simply disappear and Kolya wouldn’t be in any worse shape with his dealer that was coming in.
I was dragged over to join Steve, Kolya and Ladon in the other and I immediately turned to look out the back window, trying to catch a glance of Rodney and Teyla. “Relax, Sheppard,” the businessman told me, signing papers Ladon put in front of him. “As long as you behave yourself, they will be fine.”
“You said we were going to see Beckett,” I reminded him, still looking out the back window.
“Yes, and you will.” And that’s all he said on the matter.
Ladon and Kolya continued to discuss the arrival of their contact. Whether Michael Kensmore was an actual German agent or just a transporter of valuable goods, I didn’t know. Kensmore didn’t sound like a German name, but I figured it was an alias anyway. It’s not like that’s something you advertised in the classified section: Will move your human merchandise and weird-ass glowing doodads for a fair price. I come highly recommended by Hitler.
I kept an eye on the car with Rodney and Teyla. Not that I could have done a fucking thing if it had veered off down another street, but just knowing it was there kept my panic to a low simmer. And when it stopped when we stopped and McKay climbed out with no apparent additions to his still bleeding arm, I actually breathed a sigh of relief and it was then that I realized exactly where we were.
For the third time in as many days, we were back at Club Athos. I couldn’t believe that Kolya was brazen enough to do the exchange in the middle of the evening dinner crowd; the trap door in the back office of the club we were forced down at gunpoint quickly showed I had been right in my assumption. We were being taken to the Underground.
About fifty years prior, most of downtown Seattle had burned to the ground thanks to a tipped over bin of hot glue. Funny how something so simple could change everything. Funny how something like that didn’t seem so funny anymore. When they began rebuilding, the decision was made to raise the street level several stories above the rubble. The entire area tended to flood and gravity fed toilets didn’t work so well during high tide at the original elevation, so downtown literally overcame hell and high water… not to mention shit creek… and currently sat twenty or more feet above the old street level. For years people climbed down ladders to reach storefronts until the city finally condemned them because of a plague scare the year before the World’s Fair. Nothing like a disease-infested city to attract the tourists. And for years after that, the police department had worked to enforce the restrictions, although more than one gin house sprang up down there during prohibition. Evidently Kolya had found another use for the section that sat under his night club.
The catacombs were well lit, if a little closed in, and I fell back so I could walk beside McKay, who got a little on edge when he was in a place like this. “How’re you doing?” I asked quietly.
“How the fuck do you think I’m doing?” he hissed back. “What if this is where they plan to keep me, Sheppard? While you’re flying off to Europe, I’m going to be rotting down here with the walls closing in on me while my arm turns gangrenous.”
“Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen. I’m going to get us out of this.”
Hopeful blue eyes regarded me from behind the smudged lenses. “How? Do you have a plan?”
“Not yet,” I begrudged, “but I’m working on it.”
Now the eyes rolled toward the timber and mortar work that made up the ceilings of the walkways. And if it hadn’t been for the armed men leading us on and the partially charred remnants of a fifty year old hat shop we were passing, it would be like any other day when we were working on your typical case and I’d told him one of my theories on what had happened.
After about a block, Kolya turned and led us into a larger dead-end area that had been cleared and set up as a makeshift laboratory. Beckett was there, as was the young Japanese woman I had only seen before on a missing poster, and they both watched our entrance with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation. Zelenka was intently studying a thin wire frame that was enclosing a grey oval stone.
“Any progress on what the new devices do, Dr. Zelenka?”
“It is remarkable,” he started excitedly. “With assistance of Dr. Beckett, it appears to be…” Finally looking up, Radek did his best to cover his recognition of us. “Uhm, it appears to be medical device.”
“Really? How convenient. It seems we’re in need of just such an instrument for Dr. McKay.”
Carson perked up from where he sat at Kolya’s news and I saw a purpling bruise on the side of his face. His umbrella must not have been enough to hold off the attack that had brought him here. “Is Dr. McKay injured?”
“Yes, it seems he had a mishap with a knife at breakfast.”
Beckett came forward then, taking Rodney’s arm and peeling away the napkin bandages. “A mishap?” the Scott demanded, outraged when he saw the two raw cuts. “These appear to be rather intentional to me.” I fought to control the rising anger that was competing with the rising bile in my throat. Rodney pointedly didn’t look at it, but still paled with a fine sheen of sweat.
“A mishap,” Kolya reconfirmed. “One we wouldn’t want to happen to your blessed mother while you’re away.”
Now it was the physician who paled and I took a possessive step closer to McKay even though the threat wasn’t directed at me. Radek pushed his glasses up, steeling his courage before he came forward with the device in hand.
“Perhaps, Dr. Beckett, this would be good opportunity to show how this works.”
In other words, a good opportunity to show how cooperative he could be.
“Yes, yes, of course. Thank you, Radek.” He took the mechanism, holding it over Rodney’s arm and closing his eyes in concentration. As soon as the stone started glowing, Rodney pulled his arm away.
“Is it going to hurt?”
Beckett cracked his eyes and gave a weak smile. “Honestly, lad, I haven’t a clue.”
I was standing so close, my chest pressed against McKay’s back and I nodded my head as I placed my hands on Rodney’s shoulders. “Go ahead, Doc, give it a try.”
With a nod of his own, Beckett closed his eyes again and the light grew and spread and enveloped Rodney’s arm. McKay sucked in a breath at the sensation, and I could feel his muscles tense, but he didn’t seem to be in pain as his arm glowed a pale blue. After a minute, Carson opened his eyes and the illumination went out.
“There, that should do it.” He seemed a little wobbly on his feet from the exertion but he studied the results as closely as the rest of us. “I’m sorry, ‘tis all so new to me I wasn’t able to prevent the scars, but it is healed and they will fade some with time.”
Where the two large gashes had been previously, there was new, pink skin instead. Rodney turned his arm and I reached out and touched it hesitantly. “Holy shit,” the newly healed man exclaimed.
I couldn’t stop my smile as I ran a finger over the scars, which were a vast improvement over the weeping blood of a few moments before. “I can’t believe it.”
“You see, Detective, the possibilities are rather incredible if you give it half a chance.” Kolya’s sly smile had mine disappearing. “Excellent work! Our clients will be quite pleased with the results.”
Ladon checked his watch and observed, “Speaking of our clients, Mr. Kensmore should be arriving shortly to inspect the merchandise. I should go upstairs to meet him.”
“Good. I’ll be up in a minute,” Kolya advised him.
When his nephew had left, I shifted my attention from Rodney’s arm to our prison keeper. “Inspect the merchandise, huh? Is he going to check our teeth? Have us take a once around the corral?”
“A simple demonstration of your talents is all that will be necessary, Sheppard. Which is why you’ll be staying here with Dr. Zelenka and the others; use the time to familiarize yourself with the operations of some of these contraptions.”
And for the first time, I thought, maybe, I saw an opportunity for a way out of this. “And what if I don’t have this special skill you seem to think that I do? Then what?”
“Then you and Dr. McKay are of no more use to me.” His tone held the unspoken threat of how useless we’d become. But if we were lucky, one of the devices he had down here was a weapon that could be put to our advantage. “Now, if you will excuse me, I think I’ll retire to my office until Michael arrives. Dr. Zelenka, please assist Detective Sheppard while I’m gone.”
With a silent nod at Kolya’s retreating back, Radek motioned a hand toward the table. “Detective, if you will please follow me.”
Bob and Steve trailed after their boss, stopping at the end of the corridor that led to the laboratory area. As soon as they were out of earshot, I asked Beckett, “Are you all right?”
“Aye,” he confirmed. “At least as well as can be expected given the circumstances. And Miko is well, if a little shook up.”
“Miss Emmagan,” Zelenka whispered to Teyla, “What has happened?”
“It is complicated, but my true identity was discovered. Unfortunately, Acastus was able to locate Detective Sheppard and Dr. McKay before we could put our plan into action.”
“So no help will be coming?” Miko had joined our little huddle around the lab bench and looked forlornly between us. Evidently Zelenka had been privy to Teyla’s plan and had shared it with the others.
I met Teyla’s eyes, thinking that we might get lucky. But she shook her head. “I am sorry. We were not expecting to reveal Detective Sheppard’s whereabouts until later today. No one will be looking for us for several hours.”
“And even then they won’t know where to look,” I pointed out. “No, if we’re going to get out of this, we have to do it ourselves.” Picking up one of the devices, I turned it curiously. “So which of these shoots the beams of fire?”
“The one in the laboratory in Munich,” Zelenka informed me with an abashed quirk of his lips.
“Okay, then which one of these can we use as a weapon?” Rodney asked, quickly catching onto what I was trying to do.
“They are all defensive in nature,” Radek told us.
“Anything can be used as a weapon,” Rodney argued, taking the device from my hand and studying it. “You just have to know how to spin it. Now, I have no desire to sit in this rat-infested prison looking forward to the day I finally get to be shipped to the Fatherland and wait to be tortured whenever Sheppard gets a stubborn streak. So, tell me what these things do.”
I had a feeling McKay was being a little optimistic if he ever thought he’d make it to Germany. Why send him when they could just keep him here and threaten to do things? Why keep him alive for that matter when they could just tell me he was? No, I had a sinking feeling that if they sent me to Germany I’d never see Rodney again. And for me, that just wasn’t an option I was willing to entertain.
But nearly an hour later, McKay shook his head. “I can’t see how to use any of these against them.”
I deactivated the scanner; the blips indicating our life signs disappeared along with the strange sensation of connection as I placed it on the table. Rodney picked it up and of course it remained completely inert, which just seemed to annoy him. Never mind that I was about to become a pawn for a maniacal dictator because of the gene, if it meant someone could do something he couldn’t, it pissed McKay the hell off.
“And how the hell did Hitler find these things anyway?” Rodney demanded, shoving the device back in my hands.
“He is fascinated by the occult, by the potential of the supernatural, and he has scoured the globe for artifacts that can give him an advantage in battle,” Radek explained. “Persia, Africa, the Orient, he has searched far and wide to find them. And as you can see, he has been successful.”
Frowning, I studied the screen of the detector. There were new blips, three of them, heading our way.
“Heads up,” I warned the others, “We’ve got company.”
Kolya, Ladon, and a tall man with sandy hair and a slow smile entered the laboratory. “Michael, I’d like you to meet, Miss Miko Kusanagi, Dr. Carson Beckett, and Detective John Sheppard. You’ll be spending a great deal of time with them over the next several days.”
The courier gave us a quick once over before telling Kolya, “I’ll need proof. Before I pay, I need proof they can do what you say they can.”
“Of course,” Kolya acknowledged with a smile. “I would expect nothing less. Dr. Beckett, if you would, please.”
Carson frowned, but picked up the small cube on the table. This was the device he had told us about, the one that lit and hovered when you thought about it. When I had used it, however, it had lit, hovered, and generated a magnetic field that Rodney was convinced would act as a portable power source. Beckett, however, wasn’t strong enough to do more that have it levitate above his hand, but that was enough to have Michael smiling. Next it was Miko’s turn, and when she had passed the test, it moved to me.
Taking the cube, I held it in my hand, closed my eyes and thought about how much I didn’t want it to respond. And the cube remained motionless and dull. “Sorry,” I shrugged. “I don’t think it’s going to work for me. I guess you were wrong about me having the ability to work these things.”
Michael frowned at Kolya. “This is the one you wanted double for?”
“I assure you, he’s well worth the extra fee… when he’s not being stubborn.”
“Stubborn doesn’t do me a lot of good,” the transporter argued.
“Stubborn can be fixed,” Kolya insisted right back.
“I told you, Kolya, I tried. I tried them all and none of them responded.”
“Maybe you just didn’t try hard enough,” he challenged, pulling his gun, and firing straight into Rodney’s chest.
I screamed… something. Maybe not even a real word, maybe just an inarticulate sound, because nothing seemed real anymore. There was no goddamn way that was Rodney, staggering back two steps before his knees folded under him and he was facedown on the floor. There was no way the exit wound had ripped through the back of his blue suit jacket to leave a ragged, darkening hole. And there was no way that was really his blood pooling on the floor.
I was on my knees beside him, rolling him over, calling his name even as I placed my hand over the spreading red on his shirt. “Rodney, Rodney, Rodney… look at me, look at me… okay?” Blue eyes tracked to mine, his mouth silently trying to form my name. “Stay with me, okay? Don’t… don’t leave me. You have to stay. You have to…” And his eyes were dimming before my very own and there wasn’t a fucking thing I could do to stop it. “Rodney!”
Behind me I could hear Beckett begging, “Let me go! Let me use the device! I can save him!”
“Only one person can save him now. Isn’t that right, Detective Sheppard?”
“Give it to me,” I croaked out, my hand reaching for the device Beckett had used to heal his arm while the other refused to let go of McKay. “Give it to me!”
Radek snapped out of his shock and pressed it into my hand and the stone blazed to life so strongly at my touch that I actually had to squint against the brightness. But I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do with it. I could feel it wanting to heal, asking me what it needed to do, and I turned my pleading toward Kolya. “I don’t know how to use it.”
“You better learn pretty quickly, Detective,” was all he told me.
“Concentrate, lad.” Carson’s calm voice cut through the sheer terror that had overtaken me. “Have it find the damage and repair it. It will do most of the work, just guide it.”
Doing as he directed, I felt the room tilt as I realized I was following the entry of the bullet. Bones were shattered, they need to be fixed. And just like that, they started mending. His lung was collapsing, it needed to be repaired. Blood, too much blood, something’s bleeding, make it stop. Flesh torn, make it better, make him whole. Don’t let him die. That’s all I could think─ do whatever you have to do, just don’t let him die.
It felt like an eternity that I worked on him, my shoulders aching as if I’d been holding the device over Rodney’s chest for hours; the room seemed to spin and Carson’s encouraging words started to sound muffled, but when I finally opened my eyes again, everyone was still standing right where they had been when Kolya fired the gun he was still holding, and I found myself slumping over onto the stone floor in sheer exhaustion next to McKay.
They finally released Beckett so that he could check us both. I was blinking, trying to bring him into focus as he bent over me. “Did it work? Is he alive?”
Reaching out and checking for Rodney’s pulse, Carson smiled in encouragement. “Aye, Detective. You did fine.”
I placed the stone in the physician’s hand. “Check him, make sure.” And then I rolled to my side, pillowing my head on my arm so I could see for myself that Rodney was really okay. Beckett ran the device over Rodney, from his expression I could tell he was fine-tuning some work I had done. At one point the eyes that I had watched life seep from as quickly as blood opened, and when I reached out to touch his jaw, they turned to look at me.
“Hey,” he mumbled weakly, a small smile angling up on one side.
“Hey,” I exhaled thickly in return as his eyes drifted shut once again. I moved closer, resting my forehead on his shoulder, even as I draped my arm gently across his chest that just a few moments before had had a hole in it. A hole. A fucking, goddamn hole. God, I was so damn tired, I could sleep for a week if my mind would ever be able to let go of that image.
“Excellent work, Sheppard,” Kolya commended from somewhere above me, and I honestly didn’t fucking care, because Rodney was alive. He was alive, despite that arrogant piece of shit. And if it was the last thing I ever did in my life, I was going to make sure Acastus Kolya paid dearly for what he had almost taken from me.
“You are to be commended, Acastus,” Kensmore was saying. “My associates will be very pleased with the work you have done here. We’ll be ready to depart at six this evening.”
I wasn’t sure exactly what time it was, but that meant my time with Rodney was down to a matter of hours, and that thought had me squeezing his shoulder tightly. He was alive, I reminded myself. Alive. And by God, I would keep him that way.
“Federal Agents! Drop your weapons! We have you surrounded!”
I recognized the voice. Sumner. And then another one, even more familiar– Ronon. “Come out with your hands where we can see them!”
My first thought of thank God quickly went out the nonexistent windows when Kolya’s hand closed over my arm and yanked me up to a sit. “Activate it. Now.”
He pushed a metal cylinder into my hand, another Pegasus device as Teyla had called it, one I had never seen before, one he must have had hidden on his person. And this one seemed to be asking me, where do you want to go? I knew it would take us out of here if I told it to. It would take us out of here and allow Kolya to escape if I just made it work. In the corridor I could hear gunfire. Steve and Bob would be taking a last stand. It wouldn’t take long before the cavalry overtook them and was here in the lab and then we’d be safe.
But Kolya once again pointed the gun at McKay where he lay on the ground even more drained than I was. “Do it or there won’t be any bringing him back from this one.”
Rodney struggled to sit up, ignoring the gun when he saw the look of resigned determination on my face. “Sheppard? What are you doing?”
Help would be here soon, and then Rodney would be safe. And if I could keep Kolya from fucking shooting him again by going with him, then that was an exchange I was willing to make. Maybe Kolya would still find a way to send me to Germany, maybe that couldn’t be avoided. But without McKay to dangle over my head, there wasn’t a hell of a lot they could do to make me help them. And if they finally decided I wasn’t worth the trouble to keep alive? Well, at least they couldn’t use me to take over the damn world.
“Where?” I asked Kolya, refusing to meet McKay’s eyes. Beyond him I could see Teyla delivering a swift punch to Michael and pinning him to the ground. It looked like his return trip had just been canceled.
“About five hundred feet farther down the tunnels there’s a hatch to the surface. Take us there.”
McKay was bracing himself with one arm, his shirt front still bright red, ignoring the gunfire that had Beckett and Zelenka cowering behind the lab bench. He’d be safe. When I was out of here, he’d be safe. I gave him a small smile as I activated the device. “So long, Rodney.”
The room shimmered around us and I could hear Rodney yelling, “Sheppard, come back here! Sheppard!”
And then Kolya and I were in another section of the underground, the sound of gunfire echoing off the walls finally coming to an end after a few more shots, and the rescue party yelling to have hands where they could see them. Pulling me to my feet, Kolya took the device back and motioned toward the ladder with his gun. “After you, Detective.”
I started up the ladder, trying my best to ignore the way my head swam now that I was back on my feet again. “Where are we going, Kolya? You have to know there’s no way to get out of this now.” I pushed the hatch open, warm sunlight making me shield my eyes after being in the tunnels for so long. “It’s kind of hard to avoid an arrest warrant when you have a federal agent who can finger you with kidnapping, attempted murder and espionage. You’re not an idiot. An asshole, sure; but not an idiot.”
“I still have travel arrangements out of the country for tonight,” he gloated as he climbed out of the manhole behind me. “I can deliver you in person just as easily as I can have you shipped.”
“They’ll have every train station, airport and border crossing closed off before you can even hail a cab.”
“You’re forgetting, Detective, we still have this.” He opened his jacket to show me the transport device I had used to bring us here.
“And you’re forgetting that you don’t have anything to threaten me with to make me your errand boy anymore.”
“You do realize you don’t need both hands to operate the devices. Or your kneecaps. Or your eyesight, for that matter.”
“And if I still refuse? Then what?”
“Then I won’t be any worse off than when I started. Because I still do have something you find important, Sheppard. I have your life, and it’s mine for the taking.”
There was a gunshot, and for a second I thought that he’d finally gotten sick and tired of my lip and decided he would be just as happy to run for cover empty handed; I had a few seconds to ponder just when the pain was going to register that I’d been shot. But then the gun Kolya had been holding on me fell limply from his hand to the alley floor, and he followed almost immediately.
That’s when I saw Rodney standing at the mouth of the opening to the underground, pointing a gun of his own, smoke still drifting lazily from the barrel. “It’s not yours anymore,” he told the dying body at my feet, before his knees wobbled and he sat hard on the pavement himself.
I kicked the gun from Kolya’s hand then stepped over him without a look back, dropping to my knees in front of Rodney and wrapping my arms around him in relief. His chin came to rest on my shoulder and he exhaled in his own relief and exhaustion. “I kept my eyes open, just like you told me to.”
Evidently he was willing to cross his self-imposed line after all.
“How did you find us?” I asked in amazement.
“Well, if people would just learn to lock their secret underground hatches…”
I laughed out loud at his mumbled response, just holding him tighter as he wrapped his arms around me in return. But then I had the answer to my original question when Beckett peeked his head out of the hole, looking slightly winded, with the detector in his hand. “Detective Sheppard? Dr. McKay? Are you two okay?”
At the sound of the physician’s voice, McKay straightened, although he was still swaying as he demanded, “So long, Rodney? So long? After everything we’ve been through and that’s all you can come up with? It’s not exactly the most poetic of goodbyes. Is that the John Sheppard attempt at Shakespeare? Forget parting is such sweet sorrow. Who needs that when you can have parting is such a pain in the ass. So long? So fucking long? Did that machine sizzle your brain? Are you just going to lose a couple billion brain cells every time you use one? Because if that’s the case, then I might have something to say about your use of them from now on because I’m not sure you can afford to… do it… again. Sheppard?”
I had chosen to ignore the rant, taking the time instead to unfasten the buttons on his shirt, slide my hand into the opening, and do my best to pretend that it wasn’t still damp with his own blood. My thumb ran across a puckered scar no bigger than a dime, the only remnant of how close I’d come to not being all right ever again. “Given the option, I couldn’t afford not to use it.”
Rodney closed his hand over mine, his anger giving way to a soft reassuring smile. And I decided right then and there I was going to take him home, burn that fucking blood stained shirt, scrub every spot of it from his skin, and then take him to bed and do things to him… good things… until neither one of us could remember our names, much less this goddamn day.
From the manhole, Beckett asked once again, “Detective, is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I told Carson with a smile of my own. “Everything’s pretty fucking great.”
* * * *
“Ladon Radim,” Caldwell explained as to how they had managed to track us down once we had returned to the laboratory area.
“Kolya’s nephew,” I stated in return. “We met.”
“He was also evidently Kolya’s heir and was ready to step out of the shadows and into limelight,” the agent continued. “With Kolya dead or locked away in federal prison, he would take the reigns of his uncle’s corporate empire.”
“Well, so much for familial bonds,” I drawled. Rodney and I were sitting side by side on a bench, neither of us really capable of much more than slumping exhaustedly as the team of federal agents gathered their evidence.
“So how long has he been helping you?” McKay asked, watching the agents gathering data with a disapproving eye at their technique.
“He made first contact about an hour ago. Actually, he contacted Detective Dex and he was the one who called us in.”
Ronon shrugged when my eyebrows rose that he would actually cooperate with the men he had threatened to slice and dice the day before. “I couldn’t make the deal he was asking for. They could.”
“What deal?” Rodney demanded.
“To keep this whole thing under wraps so that his business ventures wouldn’t be tarnished in a scandal with Kolya.” Sumner waved a hand at the room. “It’s not like we could let this get out to the public anyway. As far as anyone will know, Acastus Kolya was killed by a mugger on his way to his beloved Club Athos.”
Turning my frown to Teyla, I confessed, “What I don’t understand is why you kept feeding me information about Kolya when you were already on the case?”
“I am sorry, John. We had hoped that with police pressure on him, Acastus would try something rash and reveal himself. I had no idea you would figure into the case so intimately or I never would have endangered you or Dr. McKay the way I did.”
“So what happens to all the devices?” Rodney asked as he watched one of the agents pack away the healing unit.
“We’re establishing a special program to study them ourselves and maybe find a way to use them against the Nazis and keep them from using the ones they already have against us.” Sumner hitched his head toward Radek, who was hovering nervously around the agents handling the mechanisms. “Dr. Zelenka has agreed to oversee the research.”
Teyla placed a hand on my shoulder and gave me a small smile. “We could most definitely use your assistance, as well, Detective.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you could,” I snorted, pretty much having had my fill of glowing blue stones and hovering cubes. Besides, I had my place, my purpose, my someone, and he wasn’t something I was going to give up for government service.
“What do you say, Sheppard?” Caldwell pressed for an answer. “You up for a trip to New Mexico?”
I started to once again tell them thanks, but no thanks for their offer, but before I could even open my mouth, McKay sat up with an eagerly raised finger. “Is that where they’re working on the secret atom bomb?”
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