Todd was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
It doesn’t really matter where John Sheppard is. It’s expensive, it’s exclusive, and everyone there is every bit as pretty as he is. He’s sprawled out on a deck chair like a cat in the sun, and he’s pretty sure nobody else is as painfully bored as he is, but everyone else is wallowing in fashionable boredom so hard that he can’t tell for sure.
It’s not that John isn’t, by upbringing, career and inclination, a master at lazily charming impassiveness, and he appreciates that about himself (even if he finds it off-putting in other people). Of all of his signature skills that he most values, it’s the one with with the lowest body count. Still, he wouldn’t object if someone cracked a smile, or dropped a tray, or went into labor, or did anything that would break up the monotony.
So he’s sitting, John is, in this lovely class-struck open-air museum of a place stripping the meat - lazily, because seriously, there are standards - from the leg of something smaller and more fashionable than a chicken, and wishing with a tinge of desperation for something, pretty much anything, to happen to break up the monotony.
I should, he thought, when the stream of water hit him in the face, have specified.
“Teyla,” John called out, with what someone not an initiate to the higher ennui might call exaggerated patience, “would you mind taking out the lone gunman here?”
And it turns out that an appeal to authority is exactly the way to go, because his manicured lioness of a mom only has to raise her eyebrow to send six-year-old Torren off, clutching his water pistol, with an unconvincing look of angelic innocence on his face, clearly determined to lay waste elsewhere, which (since an immediate righteous maternal smiting doesn’t seem to be in the offing), John will totally settle for.
Only Teyla settles down gracefully on the next deck chair next to him then, and put her hand on his arm.
Aw, shit, she’s touching him.
It’s not that he minds Teyla touching him — It’s been years since he got his cootie shot renewed — and he’s not in any way giving way to panic, but let’s look the situation straight in the face, personal space breaches have been known to lead to...
“I am reluctant to ask you to speak of your feelings, John, but I cannot help but notice that you are eating food. Has something happened to disturb you?”
Well, shit, John thought, mapping the exits and calculating his unfavorable odds of escaping. Definitely specifying next time.
“Hey. That’s not fair. I eat. I eat all the time. I just have a very efficient metabolism.”
And... no. Apparently the eyebrow worked just as well on him as it did on the kid. Better, he bet. She’s probably never kicked the kid’s ass for giving her the wrong answer.
“OK, fine. I’m quitting my job. I don’t want to work for Todd anymore.”
“That surprises me, John. I thought that, particularly since your relationship with Todd has deepened into something more personal, you have been satisfied with your circumstances.”
“Yeah, you know, you would think so, but not so much. I was good being his security. I was even OK with being his security with benefits. I’m really not comfortable with being his trophy security. I’m not protecting the man. I’m on permanent vacation, like a house pet in a series of really nice kennels. Besides, since when are you on his side? You think he’s sucking the life out of me.”
Teyla looked troubled.
“It is not, John, that I wish to urge you to stay in a relationship with Todd. I would not voluntarily urinate on Todd if he were on fire. It is just that your life is settled now, and I would prefer for it to stay settled. I was troubled for you when you left the Air Force, and I would not want to see you at such a loss again.”
“I appreciate that, Teyla, but I was willing to leave my career and my chance to fly behind because I wasn’t willing to pretend to be something I’m not. I can give up really boring free vacations.”
And John had a queasy feeling that Teyla wasn’t done talking about it, but someone else broke in first.
“Excuse me. Does this belong to either of you?”
The random stranger holding Torren’s arm was stocky and balding and not pretty at all. He did have clear blue eyes, and broad shoulders, and a quirky slanted mouth, and he practically vibrated with energy, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet.
John kind of missed enthusiasm.
“I don’t breed. That belongs to Teyla.”
Random guy’s - seriously, very blue - eyes lit up a little at that.
“He seems to have gotten his hands on some chocolate. He was in the lobby finger painting the walls with the remains of it. You might want to turn a hose on him. Um. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“That doesn't narrow it down much,” and John lazily gestures hello with the remains of a drumstick. “There are so many people I haven’t met.”
The stranger’s chin goes up, just a bit, and how cute is that?
“Well, perhaps we should meet, then, and reduce that number.”
So, definitely flirting, then, and John’s really, really missed being an asshole.
“I’ll have to think about that. I don’t do math with just anyone.”
Teyla rose. “Torren, I do not believe that we are needed here. Let us go view your artwork.“
The kid managed to squeeze off one last shot as he left - always disarm your prisoner, what was this guy thinking? - nailing his captor with a stream of water in the face, and setting off a very satisfying rant.
“Great. Just perfect. It’s all fun and games until the astrophysicist gets wet. I could get a severe cold, you know. I have a delicate constitution.”
“I guess he was a little unhappy about the hose comment. Who are you?”
“Peter Grodin. Dr. Peter Grodin. And you are?”
“John Sheppard. Major John Sheppard. US Air Force, Retired.”
“And is there someone you’re currently not breeding with, Major Sheppard?”
“Currently, yes there is. I’ve decided to leave him, though.”
“Well. I’m flattered.”
“Don’t take it personally, Doctor. It was always largely a financial transaction, and now the cheap physical thrill is gone. I want to part ways so I can get laid again before I die. What about you?”
“Do I want to get laid again before you die?”
“No. Is there someone in particular you’re not breeding with?”
“Um. There was? But we’re divorced. I mean, we’re still not breeding, but we’re not doing it together any more. Er, failing to. Do it together. Breed, that is. Um. Not that, strictly speaking, I have failed to breed exclusively with women in the past.”
Is he? Blushing. The man is actually blushing. This is the most adorably awkward thing ever.
“Relax, Dr. Grodin. I didn’t ask out of professional interest.”
“Oh, ha very ha, Major. Well, it’s been delightful exchanging sexually charged banter with you, but I’m a very busy man. I’ll go away now and let you enjoy the view.”
Will you look at that. That busy, busy mouth slants down at one corner when he’s not happy. This guy is a human emoticon.
“Aw, Dr. Grodin. Don’t go away mad. This is our last chance to talk before I leave. I’m flying back to New York tonight to throw myself out on the street.”
“You don’t say. Tell you what, Major: I’ll leave an e-mail address with the front desk. Drop me a line when you hit the pavement.”
And watching Grodin stomp away, John made a mental note to definitely remember to get that e-mail address, because, as long as he had orders to enjoy the view, that was one truly magnificent ass.
Turns out I didn’t have to kick myself to the curb.
If it’s of any interest, I find that my evenings are free. Also, my mornings, my afternoons, and my nights. Choose your adventure.
An e-mail from my iPhone. Are you impressed?
On balance, John felt a bit odd about discussing the death of his former employer (and slightly more ex than he was expecting bedmate) with Detective Ford of the NYPD, who reminded him of nothing so much as a puppy with a shoulder holster. Ford was maybe all of 25, an improbable prodigy, all promise and boundless energy and ebullient lack of irony, with a smile like sunshine and a very large gun.
“Are you sure it’s really Todd?”
“We had his personal assistant identify him. Why, Major, did you want to view the body?”
“Not so much any more, thanks. But, you know, Detective Ford, since you brought it up, clear this up for me. It’s been a long time since the body and I were particularly close, and even longer since I’ve guarded it. The body and I haven’t been in the same place for months. I’m sure by now your people have confirmed that I was thousands of miles away when he died.”
“Yes, Major, we did manage that. I think you can assume that anything we could discover by making a phone call to a 24-hour customer service number is known to us at this point.”
“Well, if you know I wasn’t here when he was killed, I’m not sure what you think I can do for you, Detective. I’m definitely not in his will. I can’t even get back into his apartment to get my things. I won’t pretend I liked the man or gave a shit about him, but he was definitely worth more to me alive than dead. None of this is all that difficult to verify, so why am I still here?”
“See, that would be it right there. It’s exactly because you’re a cynical bastard that I want to talk to you, Major. Death has an unfortunate tendency to make people sentimental, and sentimental people have a tendency not to dwell on the less attractive aspects of the dearly departed.”
“If the dearly departed had an attractive aspect which wasn’t strictly financial, Detective, I wasn’t aware of it.”
“There, see? That’s exactly my point. I’ll bet you have a few ideas about who might have wanted your gentleman friend dead, and a few more ideas about why that was. I don’t think you care how any of it makes him look. I’d like you to tell me about that, Major.”
“I’d like to help you, Ford, but it might save time if I tried to tell you who didn’t want him dead. The man was an arms dealer. The shady people he sold to, the shady people he didn’t sell to, and the shady people whose enemies he sold to all had good reasons not to love him, and that’s just the governments and the terrorists and the terrorist governments. When people like Todd’s customers get their hands on weapons, a lot of civilians get hurt. I’m gonna guess some of them wouldn’t have minded watching him die either.”
Ford looked a little disappointed in him. That shouldn’t have hurt, but it did, a little.
“But you protected him.”
“Him and people like him. Yes, Detective, I did. The market that pays best for the skills the Air Force taught me is somewhat specialized.”
“And is that really all you know how to do?”
“Well, I used to think I knew how to be an officer and a gentleman, but they told me I couldn’t do that and be gay at the same time.”
Cops want me at the funeral tomorrow morning. May go. It’ll piss the executors off.
An e-mail from my iPhone. Are you impressed?
Todd didn’t look all that different as a dead man.
It was sort of a shame that only John - not mourning all that much, really, where by “not mourning” he basically meant “thinking idly about fucking some random stranger he met on vacation” - and Teyla - not losing any sleep, thanks, because sleep is important to maintaining the meditative serenity to face the world in a positive and growthful manner, and also, fuck Todd, who was eight kinds of a pig and no loss to the world - and Detective Ford - who had something on his phone which leaked tiny explosive noises past his earbuds - were the only people who troubled themselves to attend the viewing.
At least, they were until the strangers started showing up to view the departed.
The first man through the door had pitted olive skin and a great bulbous nose, with a look on his face that said that he was mentally cataloguing the ways the world might do him an injury and how mighty his vengeance would be. He stood by the coffin, glaring down at the body long enough to give everyone in the room time to be impressed with his intensity - he seemed to assume they would be - and then stalked out, visibly disgusted.
The next visitor was a mountainous bearded bald man, with a look of bored superiority on his massive expanse of face, who barely glanced at the coffin before he made his way to where John was sitting.
“Major Sheppard, I presume?”
“Todd’s actions were ill-considered, Major. Extremely ill-considered indeed.”
John didn’t really have an answer for that, so he didn’t answer it.
At the heels of their leviathan visitor’s departure came a third visitor, creepily pale, with a shock of black hair and what might have been scars running diagonally across his cheeks. He stared at the dearly departed for a moment, and then stuck a knife in him to make sure he was dead.
“You know,” John said to the room at large, “I’m revisiting some assumptions about why Todd didn’t want me to meet his friends.”
After the funeral, when the police were finally done asking John a second round of pointless questions, Peter Grodin was waiting for him outside the precinct, trying for nonchalance and failing to an extent that achieved a sort of huffy inverted grandeur. Yeah, definitely something to be said for enthusiasm.
“Dr. Grodin. How lovely to see you again. And you knew where to find me because?”
“Not exactly one of life’s darkest little mysteries, Major. Obviously, I hacked the GPS on your phone.”
“Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to, Doctor. We’re in New York. If you have a thing for homeless veterans, all you had to do was ride the subway.”
“Charming, Major. I’ll bet whoever you kiss with that mouth deserves better.”
“Whatever, Grodin. Why are you here?”
“Because, Major, I did a little asking about you, and I hear you work for well-funded businessmen. I want you to work for me.”
“Did you now, Doctor. And based on what you heard, which of my valuable services were you interested in hiring me for?”
There’s a new item for the mental list: see how far down that blush goes.
“I’ll make a point of freeing up some of my valuable time to discuss that with you at some point tomorrow, Major. For right now, we need to worry about getting you a place to sleep indoors, which is why we’re checking you into a hotel room. Chop chop. Let’s go.”
“Not an expensive hotel room, Doctor. I’m not a lady of leisure any more.”
“Major, it never crossed my mind that you were any kind of lady at all.”
“You do realize that VH1 is not called the Travel Channel for a reason, right? I can’t believe you booked me into the YMCA.”
“You asked for something cheap, Major. Unless you want to commute in from Ohio every morning, this is pretty much it.”
This seems to John like a pretty good conversational opportunity to get into the good Doctor’s personal space.
“I’m always in the market for something cheap, Doctor. Are you available?”
“Behave yourself, Major. One of us needs to focus.”
“I don’t know about you, Doctor, but I’m pretty focused right now.”
“Unhand my inseam, Major. I am immune to your crude attempt at seduction.”
“Are you sure about that? Because you appear to be having a localized reaction.”
Grodin’s backing away towards the door, waving his hands like he’s helping to land a plane, with a completely freaked out look on his face.
“Back, you hairy Jezebel. I’m going to go into my own room, conveniently located next door, and see what I can do to bring down the swelling. You stay here and see what you can do about giving your overactive libido the night off.”
Not too much later, in a room down the hall, a rant is picking up steam:
“You know, I encounter a lot of stupidity in the course of my day, and granted that relative to my genius pretty much everyone I encounter is stupid, I have to say that I rarely encounter stupidity as massively moronic as this. I’m trying to keep someone with special operations training from finding out that we’re working together, and the three stooges insist on meeting on the same floor of the same hotel as the room I put him up in.”
“If the stupidity of the world offends you so much, Doctor, I will happily arrange to put you outside its reach.”
“Yes, yes, I’m paralyzed with fear, Kolya. I live in terror of the day you give your legion of followers Pat the Bunny books to read and the cumulative vibrations of their lips moving make the ground give way beneath my feet.”
“I dream of sinking my knife into your flesh, Doctor. Not because I want to accomplish anything of importance, mind you. Just to remove a small distraction, like swatting a tiny bug with an annoying whine.”
Oberoth pounded his fist down onto the desk.
“Enough. While I take some small satisfaction in watching fleshy lesser beings fling themselves at each other as though their petty concerns were of importance, you bore me, and you do not advance my interests. If I were you, Doctor, I would concentrate on being of use to me. You will live slightly longer.”
“Big words, bizarro Klaatu, but I notice you needed me to write you a software upgrade before you could break your ten thousand year streak of ineffectually whining about your parents like a pimply adolescent."
Another voice broke in:
"You know, the irony is, I never asked for any of this."
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Michael, shut up.”
Come to my office tomorrow at ten. We need to discuss your dead boyfriend.
“Thank you for coming to see me, Major Sheppard.”
“I wasn’t under the impression that I had much of an choice, Agent Dex. Are you planning to tell me who you are and why I’m here?”
“Have you ever heard of the IOA?”
“No, but it’s been awhile since I’ve worked for the government. I figure you’re national security. Everybody is these days.”
“Yeah, sorta. But not quite. Look, given your history and the circles you travel in, Major, I’m going to assume for the purposes of this conversation that you already have information that you’re not supposed to have. On that basis, I’m going to explain some things about your situation to you.”
“That would be good.”
Dex is elaborately casual.
“And if you repeat them to anyone, I’m going to make you disappear.”
“Do any of the faces in this picture look familiar?”
John stares for a moment.
“Is that Todd? Wow. I thought he was born older than that.”
“Do you recognize any of the people he’s with?”
“I have no idea who the other three are, but they all came to the viewing for a nice visit with the body.”
“Yeah. I figured. OK, Sheppard, let me introduce you. The man with the face craters is Acastus Kolya. He brokers nuclear weapons for badly-organized militia groups with big dreams. Mount Rushmore to the right of him calls himself Oberoth. He’s a big man in combat robots. The pasty one is Michael Kenmore. He’s mostly a biological weapons guy, although he does like to make things explode. Back in the day, Todd used to work with all of them.
A while back, the four of them pooled their resources to get their hands on some highly specialized stolen weapons. They would have been worth a fortune to the right buyer, Major, but no-one could make them work, and they all lost their stake. Years later, some of those weapons started to show up on the market. The trail led back to Todd. They think he discovered the secret to activating the weapons and kept it for himself. They want that secret, Sheppard.”
“This is all very fascinating, Agent Dex, but clearly most of this took place before I ever met Todd, and I’ve never met the other three. Why are you telling me about it now?”
“I’m telling you about it because we’re pretty sure one of these three men killed your boyfriend, and we think you may be next.”
“Why me? He kept me miles away from his business - continents away, sometimes - and I didn’t walk away with anything but a box of things from my room. I don’t have anything it is they want.”
“They know you don’t have the money, Major. They don’t even think you have the weapons. What they think you have is the secret of making the weapons operate. You were working closely with Todd when the new weapons started to appear on the market, and not too long afterwards you started popping up on vacation in all the best places. They think there’s a connection, Sheppard. To be blunt, the IOA thinks there’s a connection. Those weapons were stolen from us, but we have more. We want ours activated. So do they. Everyone thinks you’re their best lead to doing that.”
“Agent Dex, I would help you if I could, but I don’t know anything. When someone like Todd hires you, you don’t ask them about their business and they don’t tell you. I was in the service. I know how to do that.”
“Well, if you don’t know what the secret is, you better find out quick. We might be willing to believe you, but we’re much nicer than they are. They’ll probably think you just need to be convinced to talk. Figure it out, Sheppard. I’m pretty sure Todd found one of them very convincing.”
Meet me on the west side of Union Square at one, and you can tell me about the mess you’re in and what we need to do to clean it up. Be honoured that I am willing to face the teeming hordes for you.
You’re not cleared to know what phone I’m using.
The west side of Union Square is big, and it’s busy, and there are a lot of places to wait.
In the north of the park, there’s a farmer’s market, where flat-eyed minions from the Food Network are facing down nesting yuppies with double-wide jogging strollers over the heirloom rutabagas (one of the food blogs at the Voice had a post last week about the restaurant some trustafarian opened in a former traffic kiosk on the Bowery. His menu features root vegetables that taste like earwax. The small supply of mangelwurzel has been gone for hours).
In the improbable vicinity of the Temperance fountain (which is directly across from a wine store, a brew pub, and a few restaurants with popular bars), there’s a guy sawing away at stadium rock on an electric violin. He knows the bridge from Zeppelin’s Black Dog really, really well. He’s played it three times in the past ten minutes.
Near the Gandhi statue (of course near the Gandhi statue), there’s a young woman with an acoustic guitar who appears to think she’s Judy Collins. She’s currently pointing a firehose of high-pitched vibrato at The Circle Game.
John’s wondering idly if the traffic on 14th Street is moving quickly enough to kill him if he threw himself under a cross-town bus when Grodin finally shows up.
“It takes a brave man to deliberately expose a man with combat training to street theater, Doctor.”
“Oh, very impressive, Major. Consider me duly terrified by the ominous slatelike flatness of your affect. Come along, killer. We’ll find some sinister place in Greenwich Village and I’ll buy you lunch.”
“You’ve moved on to the History Channel for your travel information there, Doctor? Allow me to welcome you to scenic downtown Manhattan, which, in the years since the fifties ended, has become one of the most expensive suburbs in the United States. The only thing you need to be worried about around here these days is the size of the check.”
And there’s a flash of something that looks like insecurity for a moment, but then up goes the chin.
“OK, fine. I’ll buy you some truffled Kraft dinner at the fake coffee shop across the street.”
“Way to keep it real there, Doc.”
Grodin’s a surprisingly good lunch companion, with strong opinions about Star Trek (TOS), Star Wars (which there are three of, dammit, possibly two and a half, but definitely not more), and, of course, Back to the Future, which for the purposes of this conversation has just become John Sheppard’s favorite movie.
They haven’t discussed John’s situation yet, or the terms of his possible employment, but he’s feeling pretty good about the situation when he excuses himself to head off to the little Major’s room. He should have known better.
I always, John thought, resignedly, get in trouble with my dick out.
At the next urinal, Acastus Kolya... and, OK, not looking down until this is over. There are things that man was not meant to see, and whether this asshole is pockmarked all the way to the ground is really, seriously, no doubt at all one of them. Because of reasons. And, also, ew.
Up at eye level, Kolya was doing his best to be as menacing as John figured the guy could manage while he was trying not to piss on his own feet.
“You have something that I want, Major Sheppard.”
“Actually, Mr. Kolya, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that in the men’s room.”
“I see that you know who I am, Major. Then you know that I’m not a man you want to make angry.”
“Funny you should bring that up, Kolya, because I was just thinking that I would really enjoy making you angry. I think it would be a lot of fun to watch. You’re totally rocking the whole brutish air of dull-witted menace thing. Unfortunately, I have other plans right now. So, hate to catch your B-list Bond villain act and run, but I have someone waiting back at my table for me.”
“Funny you should mention that, Major. I was just thinking that I know your companion.”
“I’m sure he knows a lot of people, Kolya.”
“Oh, so do I, Sheppard. For instance, I also know Peter Grodin.”
Back at the table, John gets hit with the chin tip, the slanted mouth, and a slight hunch of the shoulders. John can’t believe the brass-balled nerve of - whoever this guy is - to look hurt.
“So, you were in the bathroom for longer than I expected, Major. I was expecting a busperson by any minute to dust me.”
“I bumped into someone.”
“Anyone you know?”
“Well, he told me his name.”
“And I said you weren’t a lady.”
“And now I’d really like you to tell me yours.”
...says his name is Beckett. He says he worked with Todd and his partners on the weapons they stole. He says he never got paid, so he wants to get his hands on the working technology.
He says a lot of things. I want to know how much of it is true.
An e-mail from my iPhone. Are you impressed?
“Now that you’re Dr. Beckett, are you currently not breeding with anyone specific?”
“Mind above the waist, Sheppard.”
Meet me at Les Halles, 11 pm.
“So, as lovely as it is to see you, Agent Dex, I’ll admit I’m a little curious about why you wanted me to meet you in a tourist restaurant in the middle of nowhere at this ridiculous hour of the evening.”
“I like the fries.”
“You know, Dex, I’m a big fan of fries myself, and under different circumstances I would be really happy that we know that about each other now. Unfortunately, just now I’m stuck on the why am I sitting in a tourist restaurant in the middle of nowhere at the ass end of the evening thing.”
“Whatever. I wanted to talk to you about your Dr. Beckett.”
“What about him?”
“Carson Beckett was the tech expert for your boyfriend’s arms deal.”
“Yeah, he told me that, remember?”
“Carson Beckett is dead, Major.”
Damn. That shouldn’t hurt.
“And when did that happen?”
“About five years ago.”
“OK. I can see how this could be a problem.”
“You gonna eat those?”
So, how much does this suck. Bastard looks adorably clueless even when he’s half asleep and bitchy and in the throes of caffeine withdrawal and I know he’s lying to me.
“You know, Major, I was sure I mentioned that I was in the room next door to you.”
“You did, Doctor. I remember it distinctly.”
“Well, I’ll admit, Major, I’m a little curious, then, about what on earth possessed you to insist that I meet you in a tourist restaurant on the other side of town at this god-awful hour of the morning for breakfast.”
“I like the fries.”
“Ah. Well, clearly. I only have to look at your waiflike frame to plumb the extent to which your life choices are driven by your passion for deep-fried carbohydrate forms.’”
“I believe you may be suggesting that I’m being less than frank with you, Doctor.”
“Perish the thought, Major, but perhaps a suspicion of that has crossed my mind.”
“Maybe I just wanted to be somewhere public with the eminent Doctor Beckett.”
“That’s... somewhat confusing, but flattering of you, Major.”
“Which kind of sucks, since from what I’ve heard, Carson Beckett is dead.”
“Well. You have been busy, Major.”
“You’ve been pretty busy yourself, Doctor. Especially for a corpse.”
“So, yes, yes, true. I’m pretty sure Carson Beckett is dead.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Carson was my brother. My name is Sam. ”
“Seriously? Your parents named you Samuel Beckett?”
“I had a less-than-comfortable childhood.”
...says his name is Samuel Beckett (this is not a joke, or anyway, not one of mine). He says that after Carson Beckett disappeared, he hooked up with our arms dealing friends - and then me - to see if he could uncover what happened to his brother.
So. I feel as if I sense a pattern developing here. Any of this story true?
An e-mail from my iPhone. Are you impressed?
Any plans John might have been tentatively forming to try to fail at reproductive sex with this version of his weird little tendresse were derailed by the discovery of the physical person of the late Acastus Kolya. While they were at breakfast, Kolya, whose ability to add an note of general unpleasantness to any given situation was apparently powerful enough to survive his death, was found underwater in the scientist possibly known as Beckett’s bathtub.
It was all very trying, and Beckett clearly thought Detective Ford was being annoyingly dense about the whole thing.
“OK, look, Detective. We’ve been over this. Kolya, who I have a slight business relationship with, cornered the Major here in a restaurant bathroom while we were at lunch yesterday, and tried to menace him for some ambiguous reason. The Major told Kolya to go fuck himself. Now, jump ahead to an obscene hour of this morning, and for some reason best known to himself the Major is dragging me past a few miles of perfectly adequate restaurants to look upon the eggs when they are scrambled in yet another of the fine tarted-up midtown diners your fair city affords to the weary traveller. Presumably, while I was out somebody killed Kolya, although he could have already been dead and just not in my bathtub yet. Seriously, Detective, I don’t have all that much else to contribute to your store of knowledge here.”
Ford looks as if he’d very much like Beckett to join Kolya in the bathtub right about now.
“So, Major, you and whichever Doctor Beckett this currently is” (this elicits a gargled indignant noise, which both Ford and Sheppard ignore) “were eating breakfast on the other side of town when the man who threatened your life was killed?”
“Yes, Detective, we were. The waiters will no doubt remember my charming companion burning through a small ocean of coffee. I’m even more certain they’ll remember him having the vapors like a victorian maiden facing a trouser bulge when I tried to order orange juice.”
“Suck it up, Beckett, if that’s still your name. You need more details, Ford? The doctor was hit with a freakish attack of nationalism when he saw canadian maple syrup on the menu and ordered the french toast. I ordered bacon and eggs, and then a side order of frites because I decided that the home fries weren’t fried enough. There were toast and muffins involved. The waiter brought us a pot of jam after being threatened with a lawsuit over the marmelade. Is that enough for you? I have a credit card receipt, if it helps. ”
By this time, Ford is visibly wondering if there’s room in the bathtub for both of them.
“Dr. Beckett, did you return to your own room before you left for breakfast?”
“I didn’t have to return to it, Detective. I was already in it. I spent the night chastely inviolate in my own bed, in my own room, in the marked absence of Major Sheppard, with whom I am not, in any case, despite his best efforts, having sex. There was, at that time, no dead body in the bathtub.”
“Major, is that your story too?”
“My story almost certainly wouldn’t have been framed in the form of far too much information about my sex life, but the facts are basically correct.”
“OK, then. I buy it.”
“You’re both intelligent men, Doctor. If you invented an alibi for yourselves, it wouldn’t be as ridiculous as this one.”
John’s number wasn’t listed, and he didn’t give it out, and he had unknown numbers blocked, so his phone really shouldn’t have rung with a call from an unknown number. At this point, John wasn’t terribly surprised.
“My name is Michael Kenmore, Major Sheppard. I believe we attended the same funeral recently.”
“I know who you are, Mr. Kenmore. You stabbed the corpse. That’s a memorable introduction.”
“Well, Major, I think we need to get to know each other better.”
“I’m not sure I’m following your reasoning here, Mr. Kenmore. Why would I want to do that?”
“We know a number of people in common, Major - Todd, of course, and Acastus Kolya, and your friend Doctor Beckett. Unfortunately, people of our mutual acquaintance seem to be meeting unfortunate ends these days. I thought perhaps we should touch base and see what we could do to stop the attrition.”
“Still not seeing it, Kenmore. By my count, the only mutual acquaintance we have left is Dr. Beckett, and he’s sitting right here across from me looking remarkably healthy.”
“I believe you may be forgetting my young companion here, Major. He’s about six, he says his name is Torren John, and he’s asking about his mommy. Apparently her name is Teyla. He says you know her, Major. And I think you and I need to have a conversation about what you can do for me so that nothing happens to make her unhappy.”
A few minutes, and a brief phone call to a friend, later, and Sheppard and Beckett are presenting themselves at the door to the room Michael Kenmore is staying in (Oberoth’s is across the hall).
The room looks as if a cyclone hit it. On the bed, near the window, surrounded by chaos and the remains of a great deal of room service, is Torren, watching the Simpsons at great volume in what appears to be complete comfort. Kenmore, on the other hand, is looking even paler than usual, and from the look on Oberoth’s face, the human race hasn’t got much of a shot at a future if he has anything to say about it.
“Uncle John!” Torren says, brightly. “Can we go now? The fish face guy told the guy who smells like a blender motor we were almost done here.”
Kenmore is definitely developing a facial tic.
“So,” John said brightly, because he really is that much of an asshole, “how much are you offering us to take him off your hands?”
Kenmore’s practically growling. “I’m tired of being lied to, Major. We have had Todd’s possessions thoroughly searched, and there was nothing among them that in any way affected our weapons. The only things in his home we haven’t searched are the things that were packed and sent to you. The activation technology must be among those things, Major, and we want them. If you want your young friend to stay healthy, you will give them to us.”
“And how,” Sheppard said, “do I know that you don’t already have them?”
Beckett nodded. “That’s a very good question, gentlemen. Both of you have a real financial incentive to find whatever Todd’s secret was, and neither of you has any good reason to tell the other if you’d found it. Hell, your other partner was searching for it, and now he’s dead. If either of you was responsible for that, you’d want the other looking at Sheppard, not at you.”
Oberoth and Kenmore stared at each other, and not in a particularly friendly way.
“And how” Oberoth said, in his best I know the answer, I just want to see if you fools do voice, “do you suggest we address that possibility, Major?”
“I suggest that you two search our rooms, and we’ll search yours. Remember, Beckett wants your technology too. If anyone finds something, they’ll have someone with them who has no reason to keep it quiet.”
Surprisingly, as it turns out, that was Oberoth’s plan too. He disappeared into Beckett’s room, while Kenmore went into John’s.
John closed the door, locked it, sent a quick text to Teyla, and pulled out a deck of cards. “C’mon, Beckett. Let the kid show you how to play poker.”
Torren and Beckett were sitting on the bed, engrossed in trashtalking each other over a fierce game of five-card draw, when John heard the scream he was waiting for coming from down the hall. Seconds later, he could just make out the sound of a body hitting the pavement.
“Wrap it up, kid.” he said to Torren. “Your mom is waiting for us in my room.”
“You know, though,” Beckett said, “it’s possible that whatever it is, it’s with your stuff and you just don’t recognize it. Todd might have hidden it among your things so no-one would find it.”
John rolled his eyes. “Pretty sure if there was advanced secret technology in my stuff, I would know about it, Beckett.”
Beckett, who was not nearly as easy to steamroll with strategic Heathering when matters of reason were involved, glared right back.
“Look, Major. You have no way of proving a negative in this situation. You don’t know what we’re looking for, so you don’t know that you don’t have it. In any case, do you have something better to do?”
That was clearly a rhetorical question, though, since as soon as he realized what he’d said, he retreated to the opposite side of the bed and said “Keep your pants zipped, Major, and let’s take a look at your worldly goods together.”
John stared. Beckett turned, who knew this was even possible, a slightly deeper shade of red.
“Very adult, Major,” he said, waving a hand at the small case of things from his room Todd’s lawyers had sent John. “All I’m saying is that if all it takes to make this go away is to open up your package...”
John stared some more. Beckett’s face started to shade to purple at the edges.
“Cardboard box. Let’s open the cardboard box with your possessions in it, Major, and if in the Kirkly world you inhabit that constitutes an innuendo, I don’t want to know.”
John held out as long as he could, but it was no use, and soon he was doubled over, emitting a noise like a drunken muppet.
“OK, fine.” Beckett snapped, pulling something from his pocket that opened to look uncomfortably sharp and turning to cut the packing tape with it. “See if I expend any further effort on saving your stupid hair. Er. Life.”
Turns out there wasn’t anything in the stuff the lawyers shipped to him that made any sense as a defense secret (although Beckett maintained that John had no way of knowing that there might not have been, so he was still right).
They unpacked clothes, John’s Johnny Cash poster (I dare you to say something, John’s posture said, and Beckett apparently didn’t dare), a DVD with “Hail Mary Game” written on it in Sharpie (“Football?”, Beckett said, and Sheppard answered pointedly “and ferris wheels,” and Beckett didn’t dare again) and what was, except for the first dozen or so pages, a completely virginal copy of War and Peace (“I. Have. A. Schedule.”). That was it, except for the turtle-shaped jade paperweight Todd had randomly given John when he admired the way the light shone through it.
Carson Beckett never had a brother.
OK, now, John is well and truly annoyed.
He took off running down the Hudson River Greenway, heading downtown, the rhythm of his feet pounding on the pavement calming his mind until he could start to think clearly again. Miles later, he came to himself in Battery Park, and saw the cattle pen that marked the entrance to the Ellis Island ferry. He bought a loaner phone at a local Duane Reade, ditched his phone in the water, and filed through the cattle pen security lines that led onto the boat. He was staring out over the harbor (totally not brooding, in case anyone was wondering) when his phone rang. He didn't even look at the screen when he answered.
“Doctor Beckett,” he said. “How lovely to hear from you.”
“Dammit, Sheppard, you disappeared, and your GPS puts you somewhere underwater in the harbor. If I hadn’t chipped your shoes while you were sleeping, I’d think you were dead right now. Where the hell are you?” a familiar voice barked.
“I’m not sure why you expect me to share that with you,“ Sheppard said, “since we apparently have never been introduced.”
There’s a silence at the other end of the phone, and Sheppard’s picturing his nameless companion’s face, and he feels a vicious satisfaction that he’s sure it looks stricken right now.
“Sheppard,” whoever it is says, “I wanted to tell you.”
“That’s great.” Sheppard gritted out. “I’m really pleased to hear that if you had a choice, you wouldn’t have played me like a trout. Oh, no, wait. I have no reason to believe that you didn’t have a choice. You played me anyway.”
A long pause.
“Look Sheppard. I’m not supposed to do this - in fact, I’m probably going to lose millions of dollars in government contracts for doing this - but I’m going to tell you the truth.”
“Oh, awesome. See, now that you’ve said that out loud, I feel much more confident that you’re an honest sort of person than I did the last three times you told me who you are and lied.”
“OK, you know what? Shut the fuck up, Sheppard. I’m trying my goddamndest to be responsible with you, and deal with the problems that come from the fact that these weapons are out there and we don’t know how they work, and being sensitive to your fucking feelings, and...”
“Oh. No. You. Did. Not.”
“I told you to shut the fuck up, Sheppard, and I meant it. Look, I couldn’t tell you any of this, but I will, because honestly, you probably know more than we do at this point, and we need to know what you know. Seriously, Sheppard, you have no idea what we’re facing, and you’re holding the secret to keeping us safe.”
“Oh, that’s just awesome, asshole. And I believe you why?”
Beckett drew a deep breath at the other end of the phone.
“You don’t believe me. But maybe you’re willing to give me the benefit of the doubt because out of everyone involved in this mess, I’m the only person who’s ever suggested to you that you care about doing the right thing.”
“And your name is?”
“Sam. Dr. Sam Carter.”
There was a long silence after that, which Beckett or Carter or whoever that was at the other end of the phone, surprisingly, didn’t interrupt.
“OK.” Sheppard said, reluctantly. “Where do I meet you so you can convince me that we’re on the same side?”
Beckett exhaled. “Seems like a shame to let a perfectly good hotel room go to waste, doesn’t it?”
It took hours to walk back to Harlem, and Sheppard spent them thinking. It sucks not to be able to trust your instincts, but something was telling him that the guy with the blue eyes, whatever his name actually is, is one of the good guys, and he is too. There’s a part of him that cares a lot about duty and honor and country and protecting civilians. His country managed to convince him that his taste in bed partners disqualified him for all of that, but that little piece of him apparently held on, and he really, really wants to be right about this.
He managed to hold on to (what he generally liked to dismiss as) his rosy illusions until he walked out of the elevator and saw that the door to his room was open.
Lying on the floor by the bed was Oberoth. Well, at least part of Oberoth. His face, and a small amount of the back of his head, and his forearm (with attached hand) were lying on the floor in the midst of a huge pile of what appeared to be whatever the metal equivalent of sawdust is. Next to the hand, there was something written in the dust, as though someone had tried to spell
B E C K F
John darted past the body, grabbed something off the bed, whirled around and bolted out the door. Down the hall, he heard the elevator door open, and - Carter’s? - voice shouting “John” as he disappeared into the stairwell.
After a few minutes of testing, John got a few bars from a spot behind the dumpster in the downtown side of the train station he ducked into.
Dex? This is Sheppard. I know who killed them all. He’s calling himself Carter these days, but it was Beckett. My phone is dying, and I’m underground so you can’t get back to me, but I’ll meet you in the collonade of the federal courthouse, by the Brooklyn Bridge, at nine tonight.
Sheppard, you have to come back. You don’t know what you’re doing.
You’re not cleared to know what phone I’m using.
Sheppard, seriously, you’re scaring me.
You’re not cleared to know what phone I’m using.
Sheppard, I don’t want you to die. Answer the damn phone.
You’re not cleared to know what phone I’m using.
x Thirty five other messages...
At this point, Sheppard would be severely pissed off if he was feeling anything, which, honestly, he really isn’t. He’s been hiding for hours behind the fence of a construction site under the bridge waiting for the sun to go down. Inside, he’s yelling at himself - loudly - for being stupid enough to expect anything different.
Awesome, Sheppard, the litany ran, just awesome. Nothing gets by you, unless someone throws a sexually repressed geek in your path and gets him to talk to you about science fiction. Then you get all dewy-eyed and want to trust. You don’t know better? Of course you do. You just didn’t want to. Fool. Idiot. Moron. Patsy. Designated victim...
He had time to repeat that more than a few times while he waited for the sun to go down.
Finally, it was after eight, and Major Idiot (and the fact that his inner voice is clearly twelve should have been a hint about how safe it was to listen to it) came cautiously out of hiding and headed for the courthouse.
He wasn’t there for long before he saw Dex’ outline silhoutted among the pillars. He was heading for it, when he heard (Grodin’s, shit, Beckett’s, dammit, Carter’s) voice yell “Major. Stop.”
He ducked behind a pillar. “You know, I don’t think that’s a very good idea at this point, whoever you are. I have a counteroffer. Why don’t you go fuck yourself, I’ll give Todd’s little toy to Agent Dex here, and we’ll all go back to living our lives, although unlike yours, mine will be outside of prison.”
“Sheppard! For the love of God, who I don’t even believe in, listen to me. You don’t understand. That man is Carson Beckett.”
“Oh, hey. Sure he is. Anyone could look at the man and tell immediately he’s been dead for...”
Only then John did look, and Dex’s posture had changed. He was hugging his torso as if he could keep himself safe within the circle of his own arms, and vibrating like a bowstring, and his voice, when he called out “Come here, Major” - his voice sounded like a thousand broken spiral steps into the bowels of hell.
John ducked behind a pillar. “Dex?” he called out, and his voice wasn’t shaking, it really wasn’t, but this was a different kind of instinct than he followed in choosing playmates. This was the instinct that he heard right before he should have been dead, the one that he listened to and didn’t die, and that instinct wasn’t sure anymore who the heroes and the villains here were.
Dex’s voice, not Dex’s voice, Beckett’s voice, came to him from behind a pillar, high pitched and creepy and wrong, and all the more horrible for having a lilting scottish brogue that was the last thing nightmares heard before they fell into their restless slumbers.
“They left me there to die, Major. They had the weapons, but the alien creatures who were chasing us had me, and they knew I was alive but they left me, Major, do you understand? I have the gene, Major, the gene the weapons builders tied the weapons to, and they left me, Major, left me to be eaten by the enemy they were running from. I was just a gene, Major, and they could find another one eventually, so they left me for their enemies...”
John’s mouth opened and closed, and nothing came out.
“And I spent five years running from aliens, Major, five years with a transmitter in my back, so the fucking insect bastards could hunt me down for sport when they got bored -- with nothing to stop the pain and no food and no-one willing to help me because they were afraid that the creatures that were hunting me would kill them instead. The four of them were willing to risk their lives for the weapons, and for the money they could get, but they weren’t willing to risk their lives for me, Major, and they deserved to die for that.”
Sheppard was frozen, couldn’t answer, didn’t know what he would have said if his mouth had started to work. Beckett was beyond noticing, and he kept talking.
“It’s not your fault, Major, that you have the same gene I do. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll bet you didn’t even knowingly turn anything on for them. I’ll bet you were just in the same room as Todd’s stash when something started to vibrate or glow, and you were his secret weapon after that. The man with the gene that lit the world up. That was me, once, you know, Major? I was never very good at it, but that’s why they kept me around, because I could do that. Only it wasn’t enough for them. Thing is, Major, I have all the time in the world now. I think, given time, my sad little second-rate gene will be more than enough.”
It was odd, John thought randomly, that it could be this silent in such a busy city.
“I warn you, Major. You’re out of time. Either you come into the open, or...” and a shot rang out, and a bullet hit one of the columns near him, chipping a piece of stone off to go flying off into the night.
“Major,” the guy he thought was Beckett said, very quietly. “Do you have the jade turtle?”
“Are you serious?” John hissed, and a bullet hit a pillar a little closer to where he was hiding. “There’s a crazy dead guy shooting at me, and you want to talk about my desk accessories?”
Not-Beckett’s voice took on an edge that made John think it was a good idea to listen to it, and said “Think On, John.”
Which John would have argued about, just on basic principle, but then actual Beckett stepped out from behind a pillar a few yards away and pointed his gun directly at the center of John’s chest, and John thought, because he didn’t have time to do anything else, ‘On.”
After the bullet hit the green glow from the jade turtle (“Personal shield, Sheppard.” “Seriously, whoever you are, you don’t get to name anything”), it was all over but the shouting, most of which came from not-Beckett.
Actual Beckett, who looked almost relieved when that the whole thing was over, was taken into custody by a large dreadlocked man (“Major, may I introduce IOA Special Agent Ronon Dex?” and shit, not-Beckett was never, ever going to let John live this down) and was whisked away in an unmarked ziti-shaped Winnebago-thing that left far more quietly than it should have.
“We,” John said to not-Beckett, in the cab heading back towards the hotel, “are going to have a nice long talk in the morning.”
Then he fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.
In the morning, John, who had had enough excitement for one lifetime, played possum in what looked like a hospital room, while agents filed in and out, and learned a few interesting things: like that Sam Carter was, in fact, a very female genius astrophysicist, and that his own very male genius astrophysicist, one agent reported to another gleefully, was named Meredith.
At some point, though, not-Beckett (Meredith!) came back to the room, and John put on a great show of waking up, in time to snatch not-Beckett’s (Meredith’s!) bagel away from him and insist that he accompany John back to the offices of the IOA to turn over the jade turtle, which no-one was able to pry out of his hand the night before.
They invited themselves into Agent Dex’ office (which, as it turns out, was a different room, on a different floor than the one John had visited) and tried to hand the turtle over to him. Dex didn’t want to take it. It wasn’t his area, he said, and it was what his life was worth to try to take custody of “ancient” technology when their house expert, one Rodney McKay, was still breathing. Not-Beckett (Meredith!) looked pissed, and walked out, muttering something about talking to John later, and John was off to Rodney McKay’s office.
Which contained Rodney McKay’s desk, behind which sat Rodney McKay’s desk chair, in which sat Rodney McKay - Meredith Rodney McKay - who not only wasn’t Beckett, but, it seemed, was someone completely different, someone who was responsible for alien technology, and for using alien technology against a completely different set of aliens, which were just one of the sets of aliens the IOA was either friends with or defending earth from, and John was going to need some time to sort this out.
What he was pretty sure he got was that McKay worked for the government.
“So,” John said, “where does the IOA stand on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”
McKay looked disgusted.
“Personally, as far upwind as I can get. The IOA is an international body, and I’m from Canada, which has had civilized laws about that sort of thing for years.”
“And,” John purred, as he rounded the desk, turtle in hand, and settled into McKay’s lap, “is there somebody Dr. McKay is not breeding with?”
“Yes, Major,” McKay said, with a tinge of regret in his voice, “I’m pretty sure there is.”
“And if he would just hand over the damn personal shield, we could do something about it.”
And John, as he leaned in for a kiss, thought that sounded like a very good idea.
They had very little quiet time after that, what with the debriefing, and the job offer for John from the IOA, and the puddlejumpers (which were not gate ships but puddlejumpers, whatever McKay had to say about it, and which John loved with a pure, holy, chivalric passion). So it didn’t come up until weeks later, when they were sitting on the porch of their honeymoon cabin in Canada (Jeannie found it for them. Jeannie was really awesome, although John was willing to concede that she might be slightly more awesome if she wasn’t completely sure you wouldn’t kill her).
McKay got a far away look on his face, and said
“Carson’s confessed to pretty much everything, poor bastard. It’s going to take a team of therapists years to put him back together, if it’s even possible.”
John winced in sympathy.
“Funny thing is,” McKay said, “he insists he didn’t kill Kolya. He says he wanted to, but Kolya was already in the tub when he got to the hotel. The lead voodoo doctor on his treatment team says he may be telling the truth.”
“Hm.” John said, noncommittally, nuzzling a spot under his brand new husband’s jaw.
“You know it wasn’t me, right?”
“Hm?” John said, working on a different spot.
Rodney grabbed his face between his hands and looked him directly in the eyes. “I said, John, it wasn’t me. You can trust me. I may have lied to you about a lot of things, but I’m not lying about that.”
“I know you aren’t,” John said, and McKay’s eyes lit up.
And before he leaned in for a kiss, John looked, for a moment, into the light in those blue, blue eyes, and remembered. Remembered hearing a noise in the next room as he left for breakfast, and surprising Kolya in McKay’s hotel room with a long, wicked knife in his hand. Remembered how John (who wasn't nearly as dumb as he wanted people to think he was, and who had, actually, discovered a long time ago how the personal shield worked) held Kolya's head under the water in the bathtub and watched the light go out of his eyes. Remembered how Kolya’s long, wicked knife bounced off the shield until it stopped.
John didn’t think Rodney was going to ask, and taking everything into consideration, John thought maybe this was the last thing in his life he wasn’t going to tell.