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The Sweetheart Murder

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John Sheppard stared at the wall and flicked his tongue back and forth across his teeth, trying to chase off the nasty taste of coffee dregs. It didn't work. His eyes fell on his framed Private Investigator's diploma. Usually, John was pleased to see proof of his accomplishment, swirly ink and all. He was proud of the niche he'd made for himself in this growing Colorado town, but now it hung across from his desk in a dreary, mocking salute to his latest run of bad luck.

These past weeks hadn't left him with pair of plugged nickels to scrape together. Even the calendar mocked him. June, 1936 had every week but the fourth and last crossed off with a big red X. That made one cross for every week since John became the de facto boss of the place.

Business hadn't exactly been booming before his partner's murder but now even those dismal contacts had dried up. Even the streets seemed darker, edgier these days, which was saying some. John tapped his chin in thought. If this wasn't somehow tangled up with Calder Drew, his recently deceased partner, John would eat his hat.

Despite the long hours spent on Calder's case, he had nothing. Every clue turned into a bust and doors closed in his face at every turn. No one was talking but he'd figure it out eventually. For now, lying low seemed the smartest thing to do, at least until the tension on the streets eased. John leaned back and put his booted feet up on the desk. Should he pour himself a shot of whiskey or take a nap? Oh hell, why not do both?

He was still staring at the wall debating it when Cadman poked her head in the door. John would bet his PI license that her firecracker red hair came out of a bottle but he knew better than to say it. He had to admit it suited her personality.

"A client just walked in, and you'd better take this one," she said. "The office rent check bounced. Again. Mr. Woolsey is making noises about tossing us into the alley—he might even mean it this time." She put one hand on her hip and snapped her gum. "Besides, boss, a girl's gotta eat. It's not like I'm doing this job for my health."

He flashed a pained, insincere smile in her direction. "Oh good, you remembered I'm your boss. Sometimes, I wonder if you've forgotten that."

She smiled back, just as insincerely, and whipped out a nail file from a hidden recess deep in the region of her bosom. "Sheppard, you'd be out on the street with nothing but a carpetbag and a tarnished license without me, and you know it."

"Maybe. Fine." John had to give her that. "Give me two minutes then send him in."

"Her." Cadman winked. "She's a tall one, boss. Don't know what her deal is, exactly, but she looks like she could use a hanky. I just can't decide if she wants to cry into it or rip it to shreds. Good luck."

John waved her off. Resigned, he closed the drawer holding the whiskey bottle—his nap and drink both off the table for now. He checked his watch. Three thirty on an afternoon as dry and boring as the rest of the week. At least he had a potential client to break the monotony. Hell, maybe there'd even be a couple of greenbacks in it if things went well. He rubbed a hand over his face, freshly aware that his five o'clock shadow had made its regular three p.m. appearance. Well, at least he had time to make sure nothing was stuck between his teeth.

"Detective Sheppard?"

The question came from the dame standing in the doorway. She looked like she'd wandered in from a fancy afternoon tea. Honey blonde, tall, and striking, he knew she was way out of his league. Pulchritude—he read a description of that once—it suited.

He couldn't see her eyes; the cobweb veil of her hat obscured most of her face. He did make out a firm chin and wide bottom lip, currently tilted down at the corner. His eyes drifted down, taking note of filmy scarf that matched her shoes. One of her heels wobbled and the scarf at her throat drooped, ready to slide off.

John pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her as she walked up to his desk. He stopped himself from rounding his desk and pulling out her chair. He wanted to size her up so he held back and waited to see what she'd do. Instead of acting thrown by his rudeness, she ignored it.

She sat down, made herself comfortable, and crossed her long legs demurely at the ankle. He absolutely wasn't going to focus on how her red lipstick smeared at the corner, looking the way a brutal kiss—a passionate kiss—might leave it. He fiddled with smoothing down his too rumpled tie and didn't think about that at all.

His tie beyond hope, John rubbed his hand through his hair and sucked in his gut. Not that he had much of one. He was too lean by half, but he couldn't stop the manly reflex. The kind of reflex any guy would understand and do the same in front of a looker like this one. Not just a looker. She had moxie. Hell, she could probably pin him to the bed on a good day. If he let her—he pulled on his tie to loosen it. Oh yeah, he'd let her.

John dragged his gaze up to her face and wrestled his professionalism back into a semblance of order. Damn it, he couldn't allow himself to be distracted like this. Not if he planned to take her case. It would be both unethical and complicated. Clearing his throat, he said, "Call me John or Mr. Sheppard. I left detective behind, along with my badge, when I left the force."

"Mr. Sheppard." Her reply was cool and the message clear. Stick to business.

"Tell me what's got your knickers in a knot, sweetheart." Criminy, he could almost hear her eyes roll. Well, at least she wasn't crying. John hated it when dames turned on the waterworks. His chest got all funny feeling and he never knew what to do with his hands. "Let's start out with your name."

"Call me Meredith."

"Okay, Meredith, do you have a last name to go with that?"

"Of course I do, Mr. Sheppard, but whether I tell you depends on if you take my case or not." She lifted her chin. "I have family—a sister—to protect."

This lady was no pushover. He'd been right about the moxie and that sharpened John's interest. That and the legs. Damn. Between her red mouth and her attitude, he was already in big trouble.

"All right, Miss Meredith, why don't we start at the beginning? But first… Hey, Cadman," John yelled out the door. "Bring us some coffee. None of your usual mud either."

"Sure, boss," she snapped back, full of sass as usual. Meanwhile, Meredith sat on the edge of her seat restlessly crossing one leg over the other, wreaking havoc on her already twisted stocking. Why that should make her look so vulnerable John had no idea. Didn't matter—there was nothing he could do but wait patiently for her to work out the nerves.

In John's experience, no one sought out a private dick unless they had something to hide. Meredith's angle shouldn't be hard to figure. So far though, she seemed in genuine need of help. Damn. He was a sucker for a dame in distress.

Her fingers clutched at the handkerchief, nails painted to match her lipstick. She'd come to some decision because suddenly she stood and began to pace. John watched as her dress swayed around her hips.

It clung to her backside in a way that made him want to bite it. Yeah, he was a dog; sue him. The dress looked soft. Silky too. He was no fashion hound but even he could tell the black and white number didn't come from any dime store.

She turned on her heel and pinned him with her gaze. "I need your help, Mr. Sheppard."

John nodded, concerned face firmly in place. "Kill someone?"

"How did you…"

"Wait a minute, you really did kill somebody?"

"No, of course not, but there was an accident. Only, I don't think it was an accident. I think it was murder. I couldn't go to the police and I didn't know where to turn so I ran. Then I saw your sign in the window."

A sharp ring from the phone in the outer office interrupted her tale; three shorts and a long before it stopped. Cadman was no doubt handling it with her usual efficiency. John let it distract him, bemused by it for all of five seconds. Two customers in one day hadn't happened in weeks.

When Cadman didn't buzz his office with a message, he brushed it out of his mind and got back to business. "Miss Meredith, tell me about this sister you want to protect—is she the reason why you came to a gumshoe instead of going to the police?"

Meredith paled, looking truly shaken. She lifted her veil, and for the first time, John got a good look at her eyes. She was something all right. He couldn't very well ask a lady her age, and he knew pancake makeup could hide a lot, but Meredith couldn't be much over twenty. Her cheek, unlike John's, looked as smooth as a boy's.

He really hoped broad shoulders actually existed under that dress and it wasn't just an overworked case of shoulder pads. Elbows on his desk, John put the tips of his fingers together and silently gazed at her over his hands.

If it weren't for Meredith's damn Adam's apple, even he might have been fooled.

"Tell me more," John said, keeping his voice soft and, he hoped, encouraging.

"I'm afraid the police might think I killed my fiancé. But I didn't—I swear I didn't."

She crushed the hanky into a ball in a way that made John want to keep his legs crossed. "We'd gone to an afternoon tea put on by the wife of a local politician. Shortly after we got there, we went out onto the balcony for some privacy. I wanted to break the engagement off. We fought. I was angry but I didn't push him!"

Meredith's mouth pinched tight and her brow furrowed in anger or distress. Maybe both. John wondered if he should offer her a drink. She looked like she needed it, but after a moment, she visibly pulled herself together.

"You fought. Why?" John asked, as gently as he could. "Did you catch him cheating?"

"No. Our relationship wasn't like that. It was—complicated."

"I just bet." John pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's try this again: tell me why you think the police are after you."

She twisted the hanky in her hands until her knuckles turned white. "His name was Harold Maybourne. I arranged our first meeting. I arranged everything, and yes, I know how guilty that makes me look!"

It was like watching a dam burst. Once Meredith started talking, she couldn't seem to stop.

"It all started with a telephone call from Jeannie, my sister. She sounded happy," Meredith said. "The kind of—it's too good to be true—happy. It made me suspicious. I only had to ask couple of questions and I was right; she'd gotten herself involved with a real charmer. At first, I thought he was your run of the mill gold digger. I'm sure you know the type. But when I started checking around, I found out about his criminal record."

"Did your sister know about his record?" John asked.

"Maybe? Probably. You don't know my sister." Meredith shook her head, a tiny, bitter smile on her face. "She's barely eighteen and still hangs on to the illusion that people are fundamentally kind-hearted. I'm certain she had some fantasy of Harry changing his ways for true love."

John made encouraging 'go on' noises. A picture was starting to take shape but he needed more information.

"We both have an inheritance, Mr. Sheppard. Jeannie will come into hers when she's twenty-one or when she marries." Meredith paused and looked at John. "I can pay you. I came into my inheritance three years ago. While I used some for my education, there's ample left."

"Good to know."

"Not that you should overcharge me. Being good for it doesn't make me a patsy. I just thought I should make that clear up front." With a haughty sniff, Meredith resumed her story. "Before this happened, I'd planned a trip to Europe. I wanted to see Rome, Paris, the usual sites. Visit Egypt again. But there was a ridiculous amount of red tape involving my passport so I decided to wait. I'm glad I did."

Meredith put her hands on John's desk, leaning forward to look him straight in the eye. "I didn't tell anyone I changed my mind about going, not even Jeannie. No one even knows I'm still in the country, you see. That's when I knew my plan had to work."

John very carefully kept his eyes on Meredith's face. Mostly. He loosened his shirt collar when she finally stood up and took a step back.

"I did try reasoning with her," she continued, "for all the good it did. For a bright girl, Jeannie's ridiculously romantic, and stubborn. I knew I needed to open her eyes. So, I set myself up as a bigger target. Dropped hints that I had money and connections, the kind of shady connections I thought would appeal to a man like Maybourne.

"I used a false name. Changed—" She glanced away from John, and cleared her throat. "I changed my appearance. I set out to deliberately attract Maybourne so that I could prove to my sister he was a two-timing cad."

John attempted a reassuring smile. "Your instincts were right. My partner had a few dealings with Harry and he's bad news. If you don't mind my asking, how close did you get to Maybourne?"

Personally, from everything that John had ever heard about Harry Maybourne, just the thought of Harry's hands on anyone seemed like a crime against nature. Before he got any further with that thought, Cadman walked in with the coffee. She set the tray down on John's desk, lifted a saucy eyebrow, and silently mouthed the words, "Told you."

John's answering glare had about as much effect on her as rain on a duck. "You're a secretary. Don't you have something you have to file?"

Cadman left the office with way too much good humor and John suspected she was laughing at him.

Meredith wasn't waiting on ceremony. She had her coffee poured and busily stirred in two lumps of sugar. John gave it a half moment's thought then pulled out the whiskey bottle. He gave his cup a generous slug and caught Meredith's eye. She nodded and he doctored her mug as well.

The next few minutes passed quietly, but when John saw Meredith's eyes flick over to the clock, he knew it was time to get down to business.

"Think you could tell me your last name now, Miss…?"

"It's McKay." She clutched her coffee cup with both hands, clinging to it like it was worth a million bucks. "You already know most of the story. Jeannie went to Canada for a month. Family business. Thank heavens she's still there and well away from this mess.

"As for Harry, I kept him dangling with promises of what he could get if we got married. I also let him know, in no uncertain terms, what he had no chance of getting without an engagement ring. That was the whole point, you see. I wanted a ring to flash in front of my sister as proof of the kind of greaseball she would have wasted herself on."

Meredith stared down at her fingers. No diamond adorned her ring finger so John had to ask, "Did he propose?"

"Yes. Once I had the ring, I tried to break it off. We argued. God, everyone at the party must have heard us. He threatened me. For a few minutes, I thought he was angry enough to push me off the balcony, so I threw the ring at him."

John didn't like hearing she'd been threatened. It left him feeling like he needed more than a whiskey-laced coffee to hang on to. Throat full of nails, he asked, "What happened next?"

"We were interrupted. One of Harry's henchmen called him away. I don't mind admitting I was relieved to see him go." Meredith knocked back the rest of her coffee. She set the cup back down with a less than steady hand.

"About ten minutes after that," she continued, "I heard screaming. When I looked over the edge of the balcony, I saw Harry lying on the ground. It was awful. There was no one else around and I ran down the stairs to see if he was..." She shook her head. "I haven't dared to return home. I'm certain that's the first place the police will look for me. So I ran. I've been running since. Anyway, when I saw your sign in the window, I felt like I'd finally found someone who could help."

"Miss McKay, you can trust me to do my best to get you out of this jam." John resisted the urge to cover her hand with his own but it was a near thing. "Frankly, this has set-up written all over it."

"You really think so?"

"My guess is someone heard you arguing. Maybe they had a grudge against Harry or maybe they just didn't like his face. I think they wanted to get rid of him and I think they wanted you to take the fall. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?"

John folded his arms across his chest, determined to keep Meredith from getting to him. It worked until she turned her baby blues on him. Fuck.

"It's possible," she continued, "there's a just a small chance, infinitesimal really, that police have another reason to think I did it."

"And that'd be?"

"They found me standing over the body with blood on my hands. No—wait! I know how that sounds, but I was just looking for forensic evidence to prove I couldn't have done it. If I could just see the body and do my own investigation…"

"The coppers aren't going to let you anywhere near it, Miss McKay. Hell's bells, they wouldn't let you even if you weren't a suspect."

"I know that. Those twits couldn't find the murder weapon if you gift wrapped it and left at their door. But I know," she scooted closer, "if you could just get me into the morgue, I can prove my innocence!"

"That's a tall order." John leaned back in his chair. He had to admit he was impressed with Meredith's nerve. She had spunk to go along with the looks and John was growing more curious by the moment to meet the man under the dress.

Once more, the sharp ring of the phone brought their conversation to a halt. Cadman's voice sounded subdued on the other side of the open doorway and that was never a good sign. John already knew which way the wind was blowing when she stepped into his office.

"That was Detective Lorne on the phone," she said. "I'm to tell you to keep your eyes on the lookout for a suspect matching our client's description. He considers her dangerous." She looked at Meredith and shrugged. "Sorry, just relaying the message. You can trust Sheppard. He can get you out of this mess if anyone can."

"Did you tell him she was here?" John asked.

"Of course not, but I don't think that will stop the police from showing up. Boss, there's one more thing. Lorne told me to tell you – stop being a soft touch. Says he's afraid the knight in shining armor act is going to get you killed one of these days."

John shook his head. A wry smile teased at the corner of his mouth. He'd heard it all before. Calder had practically made a song and dance of it. "Relax, Cadman, we're getting out of here. I'm taking Miss McKay someplace safe. If the detective shows up before we can skedaddle out the back, buy us some time."

Lifting an eyebrow, John's smile turned into a full smirk. "As for you, Miss McKay, I know exactly how we can get you out of here."

~*~

Meredith's reaction to John's suggestion was priceless, her mouth dropping into a perfect 'oh' of shock as he revealed his plan. "We're going to dress you up as a man. Soon as you've changed, we'll take a detour out the back door. Trust me, this'll work."

"Well, go ahead." John pointed to a room at the back. "Get out of that dress. You'll find a duffel bag on the shelf in there to put your stuff in, and a suit that should fit in the closet."

Meredith slowly nodded, still looking stunned. "A suit. How…?"

"Answers later." John shooed her in the right direction. "Better hurry." John watched Meredith's head snap up and she stalked into the backroom, her jaw held up in fierce determination—or maybe she was royally pissed off. He'd give it a coin toss for either one.

It was a great plan though. Anyone keeping watch would see a dame walk in the front door and expect her to leave the same way. Some guy moseying out the back shouldn't even draw attention. John hoped. On the other hand, he was sorry to see McKay's feminine deception come to an end. It was the most fun he'd had in years.

It was due to a small amount of luck and a larger amount of laziness that John had the suit here. He'd worn it to his partner's funeral a few weeks ago and never bothered to take it back home. Hell, he hated the shoes anyway with their shiny, fancy leather and the too pointy toes. Someone else might as well get some use out of them.

He recalled the look on Meredith's face when Cadman mentioned Lorne's phone call. Probably he should reassure her on that score. The police didn't worry him. Time with his partner had showed him which palms needed greasing and whose word he could trust. Detective Lorne was as straight and true as an arrow.

No, what bothered John was the location of Harry's murder. This wasn't dirty pool in some dark alley at the dead of night. Whoever the killer was, he'd boldly offed Harry during a social event in broad daylight. The entire gambit sounded like setup to bump Harry off and frame his fiancée.

Pulling a notepad from his pocket, John flipped through its well-used, grimy pages. He found his list of contacts sitting between his bar tab and his math notes, a futile attempt at figuring the odds of Cadman's latest betting pool.

He used his thumb to scrape at the brown spot next to Det. Lorne, Denver PD. John hoped it wasn't dried blood, knowing that it probably was. Their last meeting was at the scene of a crime—his ex-partner's murder.

John had no love for Calder Drew. He'd been a crappy partner and a crappier human being. It hardly surprised him to learn that someone had taken Calder out of the game, permanently. It did, however, stick in his craw that the case remained unsolved. John long suspected a connection to Maybourne's henchmen but he couldn't prove it. Now Harry was dead. Life would be sweet if Meredith's case could shed some light on Drew's murder, but John wasn't holding his breath.

Yeah, Meredith's story had been neat. Almost too neat, and John wasn't buying that she was completely innocent. Hell, maybe their illegal excursion to the morgue would shed some light. John scratched under his chin and wondered if Dr. Beckett would do him a favor. He still had a few friends in this town and Carson Beckett was one of them.

"Psst," Cadman hissed from the doorway. "You alone?"

"Yeah, Meredith is in the other room changing, and taking her sweet time about it. What is it?"

Cadman waved a note in front of him. "You were in the middle of getting an earful so I didn't want to step in. But I wrote everything down, just the way Mr. Svarog said it."

"Mr. Svarog? Never heard of him."

"Me neither, boss. It was a funny thing, he didn't want to talk to you, just wanted me to give you this message." She began reading.

"Mr. Sheppard, if you don't want to end up like your partner, stay away from Miss McKay."

"Is that all?" John asked.

"That's all. Oh, Mr. Svarog had a German accent." She shrugged. "I don't know if that's much help since a third of the people in this town are German. Are you going to tell Lorne about it?"

"Hmm? Not yet." The message told John two things. One: Mr. Svarog clearly didn't know the woman he was warning John away from was actually a guy—that was good. Two: This fella Svarog knew Meredith had stumbled through John's door today, which meant she'd been tailed after all. Fuck. "Cadman, get Dr. Carson Beckett on the line. Find out if he's up to company."

"You're sure about not calling Lorne in on this, boss?" She persisted. "He's a good guy."

"Uh-huh. You seem awfully eager to bring him on board. Got something you want to tell me about the two of you?"

Laura Cadman narrowed her eyes at him and John thought for sure she was going to slug him. Instead, she tossed her head back and threw him a look as she walked out the door. "Maybe, some of us remember how to have fun. You should get out of the office sometime and try it."

"Yeah, well, says you." John winced. That kind of lame retort wouldn't get him any respect from Cadman. "I can hear you snickering, you know."

It just made her laugh harder. Worse, she had a point. He didn't get out and socialize, hadn't for longer than he liked to think about. No family around, none he'd want to see anyway, and friends were slim pickings since his partner's murder. He had a few regular stoolies but they weren't the kind of guys to sit and have a beer with, not if you wanted to walk away with any change in your pocket.

The sound of a cough snapped him out of those thoughts and John found himself staring at a young man in his early twenties. Lanky build, broad shoulders, damn, if he didn't fit John's suit just fine. Sandy blond hair curled in a soft wave around his ears as he nervously brushed his long bangs out of his eyes. Dressed in John's black funeral suit, he looked awkward and embarrassed.

"You knew, didn't you? How long?" McKay asked.

"Quite a while." John motioned to his neck. "Your scarf slipped. No dame I know has an Adam's apple like that."

"Oh no." His hand flew to his throat and his shoulders sagged. Still, he recovered from his dismay quicker than John gave him credit. With a quirk of his mouth, the former Miss McKay straightened up to his full height and his blue eyes snapped in defiance. "I suppose you're going to want an explanation. Of course you are. Nature of the job and all that."

"We covered that. You did it for your sister… unless you have another reason?"

"No! No other reason." He stepped forward and held out his hand. "It's useless now for you to call me Meredith any longer. Please, call me Rodney."

John took Rodney's hand, making note of his firm grasp. This guy wasn't going to be a pushover—dressed as a man or as a woman. Good. "Don't worry about it, Rodney. Meredith would've fooled most people. Hell, you could've fooled me but I knew what to look for. Last year, I had a case that took me down by Lady Sophie's establishment on 54th Street. You could say this wasn't my first rodeo."

"Well?" Rodney walked up to him and slowly turned in a circle. "Do I pass muster?"

"You look good. Wait. You missed a spot." John wiped off the corner of Rodney's mouth with his thumb. The last smear of lipstick transferred to his skin and he stared down at the red streak, his throat going dry. God, he wasn't prepared this. If Meredith made for a striking woman, then Rodney, dressed in John's suit, with his pouty mouth and long eyelashes looked like pure jailbait.

"One more thing." John passed Rodney his fedora. "Tuck some of that hair under this hat and check it out in the mirror. We can get you a trim later, once we know you're safe."

While Rodney was out of the room, curiosity got the better of him and John looked in the clothes bag. Fancy heels, dress, hat, scarf, and a pair of falsies—all there. But he couldn't help noticing what wasn't there. Loosening his collar, he did his best to squelch thoughts of what it must look like. A garter belt and stockings flush against Rodney's pale skin, covered by borrowed trousers. John's trousers.

Grown up, hardened private eyes did not whimper. He was going to have to keep telling himself that. He closed the bag and looked up to see Rodney standing there.

"Mr. Sheppard, can I go back to my place?" Rodney asked. "It should be safe now, right? Now there's no more Meredith, I mean."

"Sure," John agreed. "I'm curious about the place anyway." Let Rodney take his comment at face value. He was nervous enough as it was. He didn't need to know John had just become his self-appointed bodyguard.

"What? You're coming?"

"You came to me for help. I'm helping." John paused to check his Colt. Satisfied, he eased it into his shoulder holster. When he looked up, Rodney was staring at the revolver, eyebrows drawn into a scowl.

"Is that really necessary?"

"It's just a little extra precaution, Rodney. We can't be certain 'Miss Meredith' wasn't followed back to your place."

"That implies that I was being watched." He snapped his fingers in John's face, a rapid staccato of motion as his eyes grew rounder. "You think Harry's murder was premeditated!"

Damn. John sighed. Rodney twigged onto that likelihood sooner than he'd hoped. "As I said, I'm just being careful." He kept his voice low and reassuring. McKay was skittish enough as it was. He didn't need to know that John suspected having a murderer on the loose was the least of their troubles.

~*~

Svarog studied his reflection in the mirror. He inhabited quite a fine specimen if he said so himself. He liked this Aryan look: the blond hair, blue eyes, and lean height suited him. He flexed his arm. By this planet's years, he was a male in his prime. He did abhor the deplorable lack of decoration in his host's wardrobe. Drab on drab with the occasional black or red accent was hardly fitting for a System Lord.

He stroked a hand through his sun-blond hair. Pity it was so short, but he could correct that in time. For now, it was best to continue to blend in. Svarog's white, toothy grin smiled back at him in the mirror. Picking through his host's memories, he knew this country stood on the brink of war. Making it work to his advantage was merely a matter of timing.

The leader of the Reich, a colorless and unimaginative little human, had managed, with his pathetic sputterings, to entice an entire country to follow him. Convinced them, in fact, that Nazi Germany represented a superior culture with a destiny to dominate lesser races. This line of thinking, Svarog understood. Of course, he would have simply sent his Jaffa in to enslave them all.

They did have something in common. They both sought devices of unusual power. Svarog turned to check his profile in the mirror. Yes—quite appealing. He smiled. Ah, there was one other thing he had in common with the little German: ruthless ambition. Svarog looked forward to the day Hitler learned how narrow his ambitions truly were. Why defeat cities when there were entire planets to conquer and rule?

But for now, he exercised patience. Once the Nazi German controlled the world, Svarog would control the ruler. Hitler would find out quickly who was his god and master. With a small sigh, Svarog did have to admit one regret: he would have to give up this host body for one far less appealing.

~*~

John, none too delicately, kept one hand on Rodney's shoulder, leading him out the back door of his office. If Rodney found his grip too firm, he didn't complain. Instead, he stayed close, moving with the unconscious grace of someone unfamiliar with the harsher realities of life. John, however, kept his other hand close to his revolver.

He hustled Rodney into the back seat of his car. "Keep your head down. The longer we can keep your identity a secret the better." John slid into the driver's side, his expertise at the wheel taking over. He wound the car smoothly around the city streets, as familiar to him as the back of his hand. Any tail would have their work cut out for them.

"Where are we going?" Rodney sat up, clearly uneasy. "This isn't the way to my house."

"We're taking a little detour. Relax, McKay, I've got a plan."

The building John pulled up to looked like a dozen others in town. A large, white, four story house, it came complete with a front porch and lace curtains hanging in the windows. Homey. Everything had the appearance of being above board but then again, discretion was the name of the game. The last thing the 54th Street neighborhood wanted was the wrong kind of attention, which meant everyone turned a blind eye to Lady's Sophie's establishment.

A blind eye was exactly what he and Rodney needed right now.

"C'mon, McKay, I'll buy you dinner."

"Thank goodness, I'm starving." Rodney jumped out of the car and stretched. "Oof. Thanks to you, Sheppard, I've got more kinks than a pretzel. Where are we, anyway?"

"Eat first, questions later." John thrust the duffel bag into Rodney's arms. "Trust me, you'll fit right in."

John didn't expect to see Lady Sophie and didn't, but he received a warm welcome anyway. In no time at all, they were seated at a table for two with a French press full of hot coffee and a plate of roast beef sandwiches.

John watched, bemused, as Rodney put almost an entire half of a sandwich in his mouth.

"Ooh g'd th' is a'ma'ng."

"I thought you'd like it." John cut his thick sandwich in half before biting into it. He wouldn't make much of a protector if he choked to death on his food no matter how amazing it was. Which reminded him: "You might want to swallow some of that before you try talking again."

John waited until Rodney stopped chewing long enough to come up for air and notice their surroundings.

"Um, John? Aren't there an awful lot of women here? There's hardly any men."

"Hmmm."

"Rather robust women at that." Rodney pointed with his knife. "That one in the blue gingham has forearms like a stevedore."

Coughing into his napkin, John said, "Easy on the play-by-play, Rodney. No one here expects or wants to be singled out. It could be bad for your health."

"I get that we're hiding out, Sheppard. I'm not stupid, But why here and what was up with the amorous welcome? You still have lipstick on your cheek, by the way."

"That's just Priscilla Grodin's way. She's English, I think, but—ah—embraces the French way of kissing both cheeks."

"Obviously. At least with you." Rodney's eyes sparkled in glee. "That was a very enthusiastic greeting."

"She's just grateful. I helped them out of a bad spot. Someone tried to put the squeeze on them. I did a little investigating and found enough evidence to put the blackmailer in the clink for a good, long time.

"Be on your best behavior because we're taking advantage of that gratitude right now." Watching for Rodney's reaction, John added, "We'll be spending the next few nights here so you might as well get comfortable."

John had always heard the expression dumbfounded and now he knew the word looked exactly like the expression on McKay's face. With a quiet chuckle, he waved Priscilla over. "Miss Grodin, I think Rodney and I are ready to see our room now, if you don't mind."

"Jenny is waiting at the foot of the stairs. She'll show you up." Priscilla placed her broad, rugged palm over her chest. "Gracious, it breaks my heart I can't escort you myself but we have visitors arriving soon. Germans. Nazis, I think. Always so pleasant—on the surface. I'm sure you understand why I wish to oversee this particular visit in person."

"Crap," John said, frowning. "Those are exactly the people we need to avoid."

Priscilla tsked. "You know how I feel about judging a book by its cover, Mr. Sheppard. Perhaps they are not spies, and it is merely inconvenient timing." She patted John's cheek. "In any case, don't worry. These walls have ears when needed. Gretchen and Monique both speak excellent German. If my guests say anything of interest, I promise to pass it on." With a mischievous look, she added, "Perhaps, if you have something to do, the best time is now, while we have them distracted, yes?"

"I like how you think, Priscilla." John stood, encouraging Rodney to do the same. "It just so happens we do have an errand we need to run."

~*~

"The coast is clear." John flipped up the collar of his trench coat, hoping to blend in with the shadows.

"I can't believe I'm breaking into my own house," Rodney whispered back.

"You have a key so technically we're not breaking in."

"No, I suppose not, other than the fact we're sneaking in under the cover of darkness, and instead of using the main driveway, we rolled up to the back entrance with the car's headlights off."

"Shh." John pulled his revolver from its holster. "Let me go in first."

Rodney dogged at his heels before John had a chance to give the all clear. "McKay!"

"What?"

"Never mind." John pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Just pull the blinds and keep the lights down." His gut instinct was screaming at him. Somewhere in this house, there was a piece of evidence they needed to find.

"Sheppard, over here." Rodney pushed on a wide beveled doorway that folded back silently. "Dad's office."

John hadn't been happy about Rodney tagging along, but he had to admit, it did expedite matters. "Good. Check the desk."

While Rodney shifted through a stack of papers, John checked out the rest of the room. A set of mahogany shelves full of assorted statuary caught his eye. "Are these Egyptian artifacts legit?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes. Dad's an amateur collector. They're the real deal. Not very valuable though, not compared to the stuff they found in King Tut's tomb."

John picked up an Anubis figurine for closer inspection. "It's cracked."

"I expect most of them are. The good stuff goes to the National Museum but Dad is good friends with the curator, Marcus Brody. Every now and again, Marcus sends Dad stuff. I wouldn't care for getting a box of broken junk myself, but the old man likes putting puzzles together."

John carefully put the figure down and picked up a marble vase.

Rodney nodded at the vase in John's hands. "That one's a canopic jar."

"I knew that," John said. "It was part of the 1928 Langford dig at Giza."

Startled, Rodney nearly dropped the pile of papers he was searching through. "How in blue blazes did you know that?"

"I read." John coughed into his fist. "And… that's what it says on the label." As he stared at the alabaster jar, a shiver ran down his spine. It might be just fancy pottery but his gut didn't think so.

"Probably held someone's liver once," Rodney gleefully pointed out. "Honestly, Sheppard, relax. Nothing is going to jump out of it and bite you."

"Yeah, good." He set the jar down carefully and wiped his hands on his pants. "Have you found anything yet?"

"Maybe? There's some stuff here about Dr. Jones, the occult, and the Nazis." He waved a dismissive hand at John. "Occupy yourself for a few minutes while I organize this mess."

"Just toss it all in a box and we'll sort through it someplace safe." John said. "I've got an uneasy feeling that we're running out of time."

"Yes, yes, I'm working on it, Sheppard. Just give me a few minutes to make sure we aren't leaving something vital behind. Be helpful and find me something to put all this in."

Rodney worked through the pile of documents quicker than John could have managed. He didn't like it, but he'd have to cool his heels long enough to let Rodney work. "Fine. Look, I remember seeing a closet in the foyer. I'll be right back."

He got an absentminded nod from Rodney for his trouble but that was okay. John moved silently down the hall until he came to the closet. Bingo. There sat a suitcase, ready and waiting for someone's overnight travel. John shook his head. Only the rich. He didn't own enough socks to get through the week, let alone shirts.

He dumped the contents and headed back. When he tossed it on the desk next to Rodney, all he got for his trouble was a grunt. "You're welcome. Are you almost done?"

"One more minute, Sheppard. Can't you just guard the door or something?"

With an impatient huff, John checked his gun one more time. He'd just finished an inventory of the ammo he was carrying when his gaze fell on a framed certificate. He took it down from the wall and added it to Rodney's growing pile. "Hey, put in this too." He passed Rodney the canopic jar.

"What do you want this thing for?" Rodney asked.

"I've got a feeling."

"You've got a feeling. Dandy." Rodney shut the suitcase with a snap. "Okay, I'm ready. What now?"

"Now," John answered, "we go look at a body."

~*~

"Carson, thanks for giving us a gander at the body," John said. "I know it's outside the usual procedure."

"Since when have you stuck to the usual procedure?" Carson reached out and shook John's hand. "It's good to see you again, John, and to meet your friend, Rodney McKay. 'Tis a pity we couldn't meet under kinder circumstances." Beckett poured himself a finger of whiskey and held up the bottle, offering John and Rodney a drink.

John gave the bottle a brief look and shook his head. "Not right now, Doc." He tilted his head toward Rodney. "Maybe later."

"Aye," Carson agreed, "perhaps it's better you do this on an empty stomach." Swallowing his drink in one gulp, he set down the glass and pulled out the tray holding Harry's body.

"Steady, Doc."

"I'm fine, John." He held out his hand. "See? Steady as a rock." He pulled back the sheet covering the victim's face. Other than the pallor of death, there wasn't much to see.

"There was so much blood, before," Rodney said, "I thought it would be easy to identify the wound but I don't see a mark on him."

John's shoulders tensed when Rodney turned to him and asked, "You know what killed him, don't you?"

"I know he died the same way as my partner." John looked imploringly at Carson.

Carson gently pulled the sheet over the body. "I'll just tuck this unfortunate fellow away and then we'll go to my office where's it's a tad more comfy and have a chat."

In contrast to the stark and coldly pristine morgue, Carson's office was full of homey clutter. A colorful braided rug covered most of the floor, its worn spots a testament to its years of service. A large, roll-top, oak desk dominated one wall. Papers spilled out of its nooks and its surface held a permanent mug ring. In comparison, the filing cabinet next to it looked barely used.

Carson busied himself with removing several test tubes and covered jars from his worktable and settling them back on the shelf. "Sorry. We're hurting for space and I had to turn part of my office into a lab for my research. I'll just move some of this so we have a place to sit. Grab up a chair and make yourself comfy."

"What kind of research?" Rodney sniffed at a test tube and immediately thrust it out at arm's length. "That's foul. It's already making my eyes water."

Carson took it out of his hand and placed it carefully in its rack beside others of its kind. Each had degrees of various liquids. "You shouldn't go sniffing around like that. You don't know what kind of effects it might have."

"Oh please, if it were something dangerous, you'd hardly leave it just lying around," Rodney said, peering over Carson's shoulder, trying to read the labels. "It's the most interesting thing you've got in this place."

"Well, if you must know, I'm studying different forms of cryptobiosis. What I suppose you'd call suspended animation. Nematodes, brine shrimp, those are just examples—"

"—Good god," John interrupted. "Why?"

Rodney quirked a thumb in John's direction. "I'm with him. This sounds plain creepy. Please tell me you're not trying to reanimate anyone here."

"I'm trying to find a medium for a dry vaccine, if you must know. That's if it can be done at all."

Picking up another jar, Rodney said, "Ah, eliminate the need for refrigeration and get some of those nasty germs to remote places to fight off other nasty germs."

"I hope to, yes," Carson nodded, "though I'm not sure I'd put it that way."

It sounds noble enough. I've seen what smallpox can do, but I'm not sure I'd call this science."

"Thank you for the vote of confidence, Rodney. Now put that with the others, young man, before you wreak total havoc with my experiment. These all contain a suspension medium of varying sorts and all carefully documented. I assure you it's quite scientific.

"I don't doubt that it's important, Doc," John said, "but it doesn't help our current predicament. We have a murderer to find."

"True. Make yourself at home, then." Carson shooed John and Rodney toward a small square table that sported the remains of afternoon tea. "I can put a fresh pot on, if it's tea you want, but after I tell you what I found, you may want something a mite stronger."

John flipped his chair around and straddled it backward, crossing his arms over the top edge. "I already know what you found. Tell McKay."

"Rodney, I'm glad to see you can sit in a chair like a decent sort and not like some cowboy." Carson raised an eyebrow in John's direction.

"Heard it before," John said. "Just get down to business, Doc, and never mind how I sit."

The air seemed to deflate out of Carson. "I've no idea what sort of weapon killed Mr. Drew or Mr. Maybourne," he said, with a slow shake of his head. "I've never seen anything to cause this kind of damage but the cause of death is a match. I judge they died quickly, but for a few moments, they must have been in excruciating pain."

Rodney leaned forward in his chair, nearly tipping it off its legs. "Dr. Beckett, what happened to them?"

"Their brains melted, son. Whatever weapon the murderer used, it caused their brains to come running out their ears and nose in a slogging wet goo. Never seen anything like it before and I hope I never see anything like it again."

"So, if I find the weapon, I find the murderer, that about size it up?" John asked.

"I bloody well hope so," Carson answered. "I'd hate to think there's more than one weapon out there that can do this kind of damage."

"Oh god, the murderer was probably still there when I was kneeling by Harry's body." With dawning realization, Rodney's gaze darted to John. "That could have been me."

With a slow nod, John privately agreed as he tried not to think about Rodney's body lying on a cold slab, his brains melted like butter in August. "Carson? I think we'll take that drink now."

~*~

Their empty glasses sat in a circle in the center of the table. Carson put the bottle away after pointing out that John was driving. The day the doc turned into such a prissy ass, John had no idea, but he didn't seem to take too kindly to John's opinion. Oops, he probably shouldn't have said that out loud. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what was the alcohol content in that stuff, anyway?

"Thanks for all your help." John stood to leave, grasping the table edge for support. "Do me a favor, Carson, if the stiffs give you any more clues about weapon that killed 'em, let me know."

"We can come back, right?" Rodney asked.

The question cleared John's mind like a dose of ice water. Why in hell would Rodney want to come back? They'd done what they came to do: they'd seen the bodies and talked to Carson. Now he had the proof he needed that the murders were connected.

John shot Rodney a look and received a shrug in response. "We still have all those papers to go through," Rodney reminded him. "We mind find something that will lead us back here."

"Yeah. Good thinking. Speaking of—" John plucked his fedora out of Rodney's hands and settled it on his own head. "Time to go."

The drive back was uneventful. Quiet. Rodney, who sat in the front this time, elbowed John in the ribs, and in sotto voice said, "But not too quiet. Aw c'mon, Sheppard, lighten up. I know you were thinking it."

Biting back a smile, John turned to scold the cocky little shit for making light of a dangerous situation. Instead, he caught sight of the expression on Rodney's face. Beneath the teasing, his eyes were dark with worry.

"Pie." John grunted. He pulled the car over at the first diner he saw. "We need pie. And coffee, lots of it."

"Sure. Pie's always good," Rodney agreed. He was already halfway out the car door when John reminded him to be careful. "Yes, I know. There's a murderer on the loose, but if you're so worried, why are we stopping?"

"There's a public telephone here. I'm going to get on the horn and see if it's safe for us to go back."

Getting Priscilla on the phone took time. John wasn't about to ask why she kept him on hold for a good ten minutes. His imagination could come with plenty of things on its own.

Rodney was toying with the last of his à la mode as John slid into the booth across from him. Looking up, he asked, "Is it safe?"

"The Nazi goons are gone. But I think your cover may be blown. She said they were flashing photographs of Meredith and asking a bunch of questions. They got pretty pissed about it when no one recognized her."

"Hmmm," Rodney scowled. "Since Meredith has never been there, that was a colossal waste of their time."

"Yeah, well, it seems they thought they could rough up a couple of the ladies to force some answers out of them." John grinned. "They discovered more than one cupcake had a mean right hook. The way Priscilla tells it, they left limping, bruised, and like dogs with their tails between their legs. I don't think they'll be back in a hurry."

Feeling relaxed for the first time all day, John stretched his arms over the back seat of the booth and leaned back. Tilting his head, he watched Rodney through the shutter of his eyelashes.

It was impossible to miss the way Rodney's eyes wandered up the length of John's torso. The longer he looked, the deeper his fair skin flushed with heat. John felt some heat of his own as his body reacted to Rodney's appreciative gaze. He leaned forward, resting his hand on the table, close enough to touch Rodney's hand with a turn of his wrist. He waited for Rodney to accept his subtle invitation.

Unfortunately, the attention seemed to startle him instead. Rodney dropped his gaze quickly, caught like a kid pocketing penny candy. Interestingly enough, he didn't draw his hand away. Not until he needed to reach for a folder, tossing it down on the table in front of John.

"I wanted to show you this." He flipped the folder open and pointed. "I think this explains Harry's interest in first my sister and then in me, um, Meredith."

"Not just the legs, then? Pity. Those were great legs."

"Har-har, very amusing. Stop before my ribs start to hurt."

"You're just miffed because Harry was more interested in your brain than your looks."

Rodney tossed a crumpled napkin across the table at him. "Gee, thanks for your investigative expertise, Mr. Private Dick. Remind me again why I'm paying you?"

"Okay, okay." John held up his hands in peace. "Why don't you explain to me what you think you've found."

Rodney spread out the papers. John saw several drawings and handwritten notes, including a postcard from Giza, Egypt with a message on the back, and a couple pages torn from an encyclopedia.

Picking up one of the drawings, John asked, "What do you make of all this?"

"Every piece of this information has something to do with ancient artifacts, and that," Rodney shook his finger at John, "is how my family ties into it."

"I already figured the Egyptian angle."

"Really?"

John wasn't particularly flattered at how surprised Rodney sounded but he let it pass. "Everyone knows Hitler has an interest in acquiring items of an occult nature. Rumors have been flying for weeks that he's offering a reward to anyone that can bring him—I guess you'd call it—supernatural artifacts.

"Your father had a bunch of Egyptian artifacts in his office. And," John drawled, "since the Pharaohs were trying to rule from the afterlife, it's not exactly a hard connection to make, McKay."

"Oh."

"And then there's your connection to Dr. Jones." John was on a roll now. "First, through your father and his connection with Dr. Brody, and then through you."

"Me!" Rodney squeaked.

"I saw your certificate from Marshall College hanging on the wall, Rodney."

"Pffft, that thing. It was just a summer program, something to do until I could begin real academics. It was a phase. Okay, fine—the chance to get to know Dr. Jones was a huge incentive. And possibly, I might have had some romantic notion that a field trip to ancient Egypt would yield some astounding discovery by yours truly.

"Honestly, though, the whole thing was a waste of my time." Rodney cradled his head in his hands. "My father, for some reason, seemed inordinately proud of me and my hot, dusty, scorpion-ridden adventure. He brags about it every chance he gets, probably because it's the only time we had an interest in common. He framed that damn certificate and hung it up in his office for everyone to see."

"He's your father. Seems to me that he should be proud of you." John raised his eyebrows. "Unless you only went to Egypt to try and get your hands on Dr. Jones' famous bullwhip?"

Rodney's face turned pink and he snapped his mouth shut so fast John wondered if he hurt his jaw. Beating back a grin, John decided he'd better drag the conversation back on track.

"I think I can understand Harry's involvement. The schmuck probably saw an easy way to make a quick buck. Flirt with a pretty gal, find out what she knows about occult artifacts, and then what?" John paused.

"He'd sell the information to the highest bidder," Rodney said, nodding in agreement.

"Well, that's certainly got Harry's MO all over it. Even his engagement to Meredith fits, if he thought he could get something out of it. I think we can assume he had some connection with the Nazis. Harry's not the sort to lose any sleep over selling out his country. "

"But I don't know what it is they think I know," Rodney said, obviously troubled.

"There's that, and I'll be hanged if I can figure out my partner's connection or why he was murdered the same way. That little mystery just plain sticks in my craw." John idly poked a finger at the pictures. Some of them looked familiar in the way the stuff they brought out of King Tut's tomb looked familiar. "Rodney, what's this big, round thing?"

"Those look like the cover stones from the Langford dig. I couldn't find a picture of whatever it was they covered. Your guess is as good as mine."

"Hm." John pushed them to the side and focused his attention on the hand drawn sketches. "Did you see any of this stuff on your field trip?"

"Nothing like that." Rodney lifted the drawing, exposing the back. He startled when John grabbed his wrist. "What!"

"Look at the back." John pulled his glasses out of his pocket. He hated wearing them, but in this case, he needed the close look at the finer detail. The drawing was of a kneeling man; mouth distorted as he clutched at his head.

A Horus figure stood with his arm stretched over the man and beams of light, drawn like a child's picture of the sun, emanated from a jeweled device he worn on his hand.

Rodney met his gaze across the table. "So, that's what the murder weapon looks like. I swear I never saw anything like that. You've got to believe me."

John folded his glasses up and carefully put them back in his pocket. "I believe you when you say you didn't see any brain-melting hand jewelry, Rodney. But you did see something and it's something these goons want badly enough to kill for." He leaned forward, elbows on the table, his voice deceptively mild. "I'd better not find out you're been deliberately misleading me or I'm dumping your ass and this entire mess onto Detective Lorne's lap."

~*~

Priscilla, bless her, had generously put them up in one of the few rooms with a private connecting bath and a big, four-poster bed. Rodney kept casting long side-glances at him as they unpacked, but John didn't feel like talking. It didn't matter how much Rodney argued the case, John would never agree to his plan to dress as Meredith and use himself as bait.

At least they had some breathing space before anyone showed up asking questions again. John scowled. The idea that the murderer was out there, flashing photographs of Meredith and asking questions, ramped up his nerves. He'd never get to sleep this way. Hell, the night was still early. Maybe he could do something about that.

He put the razor down and wiped the last of the shaving cream from his face. Now, all he had to do was talk Rodney into going downstairs with him. They could do a little socializing with the ladies, have a drink or two, and relax. And maybe he could get Rodney to unwind and forget his cockamamie plan. If John were really lucky, he could sell Rodney on the idea that sharing a bed could come with a bonus. Coming being the operative word. Shit, that was lame. He'd have to come up with a better line.

With a whistle, he stepped into their bedroom and all those cozy feelings went flying out the window. "What the fuck do you think you're doing, McKay!"

Damn it all to hell. Rodney was wearing the dress. He turned from the mirror to face John, lipstick in hand. "I know you don't like the idea, but it's Meredith they want. I thought I could draw them out if I dressed…"

"No." John gritted out, temper in shreds. "You don't make yourself bait. You don't put yourself in unnecessary danger."

"I'm not going to. Look, I know how to play the role." Rodney glared. "This will work and you know it."

"No, I don't know it."

Rodney threw his hands up in the air. "It's a brilliant plan, I'm doing it, and I don't need your permission!"

"As long as I'm taking your money you do! And I'm saying this is a stupid idea!"

"Stupid? You've got some nerve." Rodney's face flushed in anger and his hands curled into fists.

"You wanna hit me, McKay? Is that the way it is?" John tapped at his freshly shaved chin, goading Rodney. "Go ahead, now's your chance."

Five seconds later, John was cradling his tender chin in his hand. "Ow."

"Oh shit." Moving closer, Rodney touched John's face. "I didn't break anything, did I?"

"No. I'm good," John murmured softly. Rodney stood so close John could smell his skin, could lose himself in those blue eyes. Want curled in his belly so hot and fierce he thought he might die on the spot. "Rodney…"

Suddenly, Rodney's mouth was on his. With a groan, John fell into it. He reached out, his hands finding Rodney's face, and holding on. The idea that Rodney might pull away, might end this, was unbearable.

"Sheppard," Rodney gasped against his mouth.

"John, call me John."

"John." Rodney's breathless moan went straight to John's cock. Gripping Rodney's arms, he guided them to the bed. No easy task because Rodney had torn John's shirt open and was busy pressing kisses down the length of his chest.

"Bed, Rodney."

Rodney stopped kissing him long enough to look up. His mouth was kiss swollen, his hair a tangled mess, and he blinked up at John with eyes dazed with lust. Just the sight of him made John rock hard.

His hands felt clumsy with need but he managed to get his shoes and pants off. Meanwhile, Rodney was busy fumbling with his dress.

"Here, let me." John eased the dress over Rodney's head and then the petticoat, leaving him faced with a bra. Not his first. He sat on the bed, and pulled Rodney over to stand between his legs, back to him. He settled his hands on Rodney's hips, holding him still. He felt Rodney tremble as he undid the bra with his teeth.

"Oh my god, did you just –?""

"Hmm." John stroked down the long length of Rodney's back and slid his fingers between the garter belt and Rodney's skin. "Leave these on."

"Oh, fuck."

"Exactly what I was thinking," John said. Mouthing one shoulder, he slid his hands around to Rodney's erect cock. "Very nice. Why don't you show me what you can do with it?" And, with that, John tumbled the two of them onto the bed. Legs tangled, John rolled on top of Rodney so that he could kiss every inch of him.

He knew Rodney's fingernails were leaving marks in his ass. Didn't care. He'd finally gotten Rodney down to his stockings and garter belt with no argument that they were staying on—for now. Yeah. He pushed Rodney's thighs open wider and with a rude thrust nestled into that sweet spot where his dick could ride the tight, silk ridge of Rodney's stocking.

Heat pooled in John's belly as he stared down at Rodney, but he didn't whimper. Probably. Not out loud at least. "You shaved."

Rodney squirmed under him. "When I wear panties, it feels better. And it keeps the garter belt from catching and pulling."

John's brain was still caught on when I wear panties. "You—" Jesus, his voice sounded like he'd been chewing gravel. "—you aren't wearing panties."

"I don't always."

"Fuck. I need to…" This time, John couldn't deny his whimper. He ran his fingers over Rodney's shaft. With no hair as a distraction and framed by black silk, it rose to meet him, plump and stiff. He brushed his thumb gently over the slit, and watched in fascination as moisture beaded up.

Rodney had stopped squirming. He was staring up at him with wide blue eyes and holding his breath, waiting. "Please."

John didn't keep him hanging. He took Rodney's shaft firmly in hand, bent his head, and put his mouth to work. His entire focus turned to chasing down the taste of Rodney. John slipped a thumb under the garter belt, using the rest of his hand to hold Rodney's hips still. Rodney was trying to keep from thrusting up; John could feel it in the way he shivered beneath him.

Lifting his head, John licked his lips. "Go ahead, fuck my mouth." He'd barely gotten the words out when Rodney grabbed him by the hair and tugged. With a low, animal-sounding groan, he pulled John's head back down and held him there, grinding his cock up against John's face.

"Yeah, just like that, show me how much you like it."

"You son-of-a bitch," Rodney said hotly.

John dragged his chin across the tender skin of Rodney's shaved balls until he could get one in his mouth. He suckled at it gently, listening with satisfaction to Rodney's hitching breath. Rodney's thighs fell all the way open, and taking it for the invitation it was, John turned to give his other ball equal attention.

With a final gentle kiss, John looked up. Rodney looked wrecked. He gripped the bed sheets in both hands, digging his fingers into the linens so tightly John wondered why they hadn't ripped yet. Suddenly, John couldn't bear to see Rodney's reddened lip where he'd bitten it. It felt like miles away and he had to kiss it, now.

Kissing Rodney, knowing Rodney could taste himself in John's mouth was almost enough to set John off like a rocket. Easing back is what he should do, but making that happen seemed impossible. Damn it, he was nearly thirty, control shouldn't have been an issue. It was, oh god, it was.

"Rodney." He breathed the words against Rodney's mouth. "I need…"

"I've got you." With gentle pressure, his hands cradling John's hipbones, Rodney pushed John back until he straddled the ridge of the garter belt. "Relax. This is going to work. You'll like it, promise."

John nodded, more than willing to go along. Hell, he was already liking it, fine and dandy. He wriggled his ass and suddenly realized Rodney's plan. When he leaned forward, he could feel the thin strap of the fabric belt rub against his balls. He closed his eyes, letting a shudder of want run through him. "Rodney… I don't think I can…"

"Hang on, just a little longer. I just need to adjust—" Rodney's plan became clear when his dick bumped up against John's backside.

"Oh hell!" He braced himself on Rodney's shoulders, panting. His own cock rubbed erratically over Rodney's belly, leaving trails of precome while Rodney's cock rode the crack of John's ass. The motion was wet, sloppy, and completely lacked finesse, and just maybe, John could hold on another two minutes.

Rodney's hand came up and gripped his cock. John bit his lip and whimpered. Screw two minutes; he was coming right—now!

Spine limp as a dishrag, he stared down at the wet mess he'd made. He felt loose all over, and Rodney's cock riding his crack felt fantastic. "Don't stop." John dragged his fingers through mess on Rodney's belly and stuck his fingers in his mouth.

"You're not playing fair," Rodney gritted thought his teeth.

In answer, John put two fingers back in his mouth, looked at Rodney through his eyelashes, and sucked hard. Rodney shuddered under him, nearly tossing John off his comfy perch, and leaving John's ass and back wet with come.

"The stockings are a loss. You owe me," Rodney groused, dragging John's head down to rest on his shoulder.

"Uh-huh. And worth every penny."

~*~

John woke up feeling mighty fine. He stretched, yawned, and reached over to find the other side of the bed empty. Damn it, there went his chances of a morning cuddle and everything else that could lead to. Now where the heck was Rodney?

Not very far away, as it turned out. John could hear him making noises in the bathroom through the half-opened door. There was the sound of running water and—whistling. John preened. Oh, yeah, the old man still had it.

"I left you some coffee, and toast on the table," Rodney said. He stepped into the room, wiping the last of the shaving cream off his face. "Should still be hot."

"Trust me, it's still hot." Grinning, John lifted the percolator and gave it a shake. It was still warm but it didn't seem to have much coffee left in it despite Rodney's claim. He poured what there was, looked up, and swallowed hard. "Where'd you get the silk skivvies?"

Rodney lifted his chin and fingered one lacy edge of his tap pants. "Priscilla took pity on me. There's ones for you too if you want them. She brought up plain cotton boxers figuring that might be more your style.

"Hmm." John sipped at his coffee while admiring the view. "Should I ask where they came from?"

"I wouldn't. Oh, hey!" Rodney's eyes lit up. "I've been going over the papers and think I found a connection between the murders. If I'm right –" He stopped short. "I'm going to need some pants on for this."

To John's disappointment, Rodney meant it and he had his trousers on in nothing flat. Following his lead, John was just finished with buckling his own belt when he heard a knock.

"Who is it?" John asked through the door.

"Detective Lorne."

Shit. How the hell—John motioned for Rodney to hide in the bathroom.

"I know you're in there, Sheppard. Don't make me bust this door down."

"If you know I'm here then you know it's too late to rescue my virginity." John could hear Lorne stifle a laugh on the other side of the door.

"Oh for heaven's sake. Just let me in, Sheppard." But this time Lorne's tone was more amused than demanding.

Double-checking that Rodney was indeed out of sight, John let him in.

Detective Lorne kept his sandy hair regulation trim and his compact, muscled body in fighting condition. John had a few inches on him but that was about it. Leaning against the door, he waved in the direction of the table. "Come in." Shit. Both coffee mugs sat in plain view and Lorne honed in on them like a hound after a rabbit.

Twirling one of the heavy, stoneware mugs in his hands, Lorne raised an eyebrow. "Oh, relax, Sheppard, I know you have company. Why don't you tell Miss Meredith McKay she can come out of the bathroom now?"

Rodney must have overheard. He stepped into the room with an aggrieved sigh. "Hello, Detective. Excuse me." He bustled over to the table and began to sort through the papers scattered there.

"Lorne, meet Rodney McKay. I'm afraid Meredith isn't here."

"Meredith isn't…" Lorne took in the scene around him—the messy bedding, the dress crumpled on the floor. One heeled shoe peeked out from under the bed and silk stockings were still tied to two of the bedposts. He turned his head turned slowly and faced John. "This makes so much more sense now."

"Are you going to arrest me, Detective?" Rodney asked.

"What? No. Believe it or not, I'm here to help." Lorne stared down at the pages spread on the table, pulling one over for a closer look.

"How did you find us?" John asked.

"Laura Cadman." Lorne cleared his throat. "I owe her dinner and a dozen roses but at least I still have the shirt on my back. Stop making that face, John. She was worried about you and just trying to help."

He nodded in Rodney's direction. "We've had a tail on Meredith since the murder at Lady Elizabeth's afternoon tea."

"You mean you were there, watching?" Rodney asked, looking shocked.

"Actually, we'd gotten word of a possible hit on her husband, Senator Simon Wallace." Lorne grimaced. "It hurts me to admit it. We bungled the job. No one anticipated the hit on Harry Maybourne in his stead."

Tapping at his notebook with a pencil stub, Lorne cast a long look at Rodney. "Mr. McKay, I'm surprised to see you still in the country. We were under the impression that your entire family had left the country for vacation." He held up his hand. "Calm down. The police force isn't spying on you. We know because your father asked us to keep an eye on his property while he was away. Miss Meredith gave us all quite a surprise when she showed up."

Unable to sit still, John began pacing the room. The answers were at his fingertips. He could almost feel the connections coming together. He stopped and snapped his fingers at Rodney. "You. You said you couldn't leave the country because of a tangled mess of red tape."

Rodney nodded. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Calder Drew knew Senator Wallace and he knew Harry Maybourne. I think he found out something. Something shady. Something those two cooked up and it got him killed."

Lorne coughed. "No offense to your old partner, Sheppard, but none of these men were exactly choir boys." He flipped through the pages of his notebook, tunelessly humming under his breath. "Here it is. It seems our senator is under suspicion for falsifying documents, illegal betting, and graft. No proof of course."

Rodney turned to face him, and John could practically hear the gears turning. "Your partner—that Drew fellow—he got the senator to put the kibosh on my trip overseas! But—but why would he do that?"

Pieces of the puzzle flew into place. John's thoughts raced ahead of Rodney's epiphany, but he knew Rodney's guess was right. "Calder, that sneaky son of a bitch. All this time, he was trying to protect you!"

"By stopping me from going overseas—"

"—And keep you from walking straight into the hands of the Nazis—"

"—Where they could kidnap me—or worse!" Rodney's face paled and he collapsed back in his chair. He looked up at John helplessly. "How—how much worse could they have planned?"

"God, Rodney, I don't know." John raked his hands through his hair. "It all fits. Calder must have found out about their plans to snatch you. He bribed, blackmailed, or threatened Wallace for help."

Lorne jumped into the conversation. "Threat, probably. Somehow, we got wind of it. Likely someone reported it as a probable assassination attempt, and that's why we sent a detail to protect Wallace."

John's knees felt weak and he made a grab for his chair. He sat for long minutes drawing air into his lungs. "If it hadn't been for Calder… he saved your life, Rodney. The man was a bastard and a rat fink to most but—"

Rodney gravely finished the sentence for him. "—but your partner did the right thing at the end."

John nodded. "He stayed true to his personal code of honor, and then someone killed him for it."

"The same person that killed Maybourne. Once we find that murder weapon, we've found our killer." Lorne glanced up at John. "What? You two aren't the only ones to talk to Dr. Beckett. Or did you forget my shiny badge says police detective for a reason?"

"Rodney, are you okay?" John asked. "You're as white as Mother Murphy's laundry."

"I—I just realized I could be dead or worse and someone I don't even know saved me. Why?"

"Two someones," John said. "First Calder, and then Harry. Granted, it was Harry's greed that saved you, double-crossing his killer the way he did, trying to keep the information for himself, but it amounts to the same thing."

Lorne spoke up. "Three. Don't discount yourself. Your disguise as Miss Meredith covered your tracks better than anything else could have."

"But I wasn't trying to," Rodney protested. "I just wanted to help my sister."

"And it worked. Hell, I came here this morning expecting to find her here not, uh…" Lorne's eyes shifted between John, Rodney, and the unmade bed. "Let's just say, you pulled quite the surprise on me, and my entire department. What the hell are you grinning at, Sheppard?"

"Cadman. She knew all about Rodney's disguise and yet she neglected to mention it to you. The look on your face…" John's smirk grew wider. "Damn, she deserves a raise."

~*~

Svarog's lip curled in distain. The opulent luxury of his apartment suited him, with its wide gilt framed mirrors, and gold-colored drapes. Pity the effect was spoiled by the squirrelly little man currently making an annoyance of himself.

Ah yes, he referred to himself as a 'political officer', as if that carried some imagined significance. Finding him boring as well as annoying, Svarog dismissed him with a sharp gesture. Instead of leaving, he puffed his chest up like a junla bird. Fool. Svarog's eyes flashed gold. The human ignored him, oblivious to the danger he was in. Patience gone, Svarog stepped forward, clasped one hand around the human's neck and lifted him off his feet.

He squeezed, not hard enough to kill but hard enough to leave the ignorant pest struggling for breath, with tears streaming from his eyes. Suddenly tired of playing, he dropped the human to the floor and watched coldly, as kowtowing and mewling, the human annoyance backed out of the room on his knees.

No doubt, the 'political officer' was even now scurrying to type up his report. Svarog would expect nothing less. No Goa'uld survived and prospered without spies. In this, the blossoming Reich was no different.

Unfortunately, his own human spies were proving to be unreliable and disappointingly strong-willed. They were nothing like his devout First Prime. Svarog lamented that he had no prim'tah at his disposal. Implanting the Nazis with larval symbiotes would be one of the first things he would do once he regained his power. Yes, he would create a new Aryan Jaffa, and they would be unstoppable.

His thoughts turned to the two humans who had failed him and his eyes flashed in cold fury. How dare they betray him? First, the human Calder Drew interfered with his plans to capture Rodney McKay in Europe. Instead, Svarog found it necessary to travel to the United States to complete his goal.

Once here, he had needed to secure reliable contacts and devise a new plan. It delayed everything. If he could not pry the information from McKay, he would have to drag the young human back to Egypt with him. It was a messy complication.

At least he'd derived satisfaction from killing Calder. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the other one. When Maybourne revealed his plan to keep Meredith for himself, Svarog, overtaken by rage, had killed him on the spot.

Yes, destroying Maybourne held a momentary satisfaction, but he'd regretted it later, losing both valuable contacts and funding with the human's death. Worse, the female, his one link to finding Rodney, had slipped away in the confusion.

His careful plans were falling apart. Even the ribbon device had failed him. It stopped working and he had no idea why. No matter. Once he found the female, he would put his hands around her throat and squeeze the answers out of her.

Maybourne, the insolent human, had asked him once why he was so interested in Rodney McKay. Fortunately for him, he'd picked a day when it suited Svarog to indulge him with an answer.

Not that he had told Maybourne everything, of course. Not of his capture and certainly not of the ages he had spent held prisoner in a marble jar. Coiled in his true, snake-like form, he had slept dreamlessly until his jar, amongst others, was unearthed. Nor did he mention how, when curious hands broke the seal, he'd finally woken.

He roused from sleep and quickly took over his first human host in this new age. Entering the host was ridiculously simple. The fool had stood staring at Svarog in surprise. It took mere seconds to lunge into the human's open mouth and gain control.

Svarog had taken many hosts in the ensuring years. Not from boredom or displeasure but because they brought him closer to his goal. His kind had built the pyramids at Giza. They used the chappa'ai to conquer worlds. But now, millennia later, his way home lay buried under tons of sand, lost to him.

Thoughts turning, his anger bled away as he considered the next phase of his plan. He still needed the Goa'uld sarcophagus. With the power of endless healing at Svarog's command, he could easily gain control of the Nazi movement.

Better still, he could rule and keep his current, far more appealing host. Persuasive argument was on his side, after all. He merely had to point out that a thousand-year Reich meant little if its ruler could not live a thousand years. Yes, Hitler would not be able to resist its temptation and would come to him, begging, and willing to trade anything to use it.

He stroked his chin in thought. The sarcophagus may be lost to him, for now, but he had every reason to believe Rodney McKay knew exactly where to find it.

~*~

"How did he find us?" Rodney asked.

"Don't know." John grabbed up their things and shoved them into the suitcase while Rodney scooped his research papers off the table. He carefully wrapped the canopic jar in an undershirt despite the rush to leave. He tucked it in securely with a few other items they might need.

"Why are you bringing that along?" Rodney gulped down the last of the cold coffee with one hand, while papers and files tucked under his other arm threatened to spill to the floor.

"This jar? I've got a funny feeling about it." John shut the suitcase and checked that the latches were secure. He looked up to see Rodney staring at him and sighed. "I don't know, all right? Could be the way it sat on the shelf. It wasn't lined up as neatly as the rest of the stuff, like maybe someone handled it a lot." He shrugged. "My gut tells me it's important and that's all I'm saying."

"Sheppard," Lorne said, dragging John's attention back to the fore. He held the phone receiver in his hand, dialing as he spoke. "I'm calling for backup. You get McKay out of here. Take him to Beckett's. I'll send on over some of my guys for protection."

"You do that. And send over anyone that knows how to keep brains from melting while you're at it."

"Funny, Sheppard. Now grab McKay and vamoose!"

John touched Rodney on the arm and stopped him before he could walk through the door. "Let me go first." He held his Colt at the ready. "Stay behind me."

Rodney looked pale but seemed to be holding it together, although John couldn't help note, he was doing better before he'd made the crack about brain melting. "Lorne," he called softly over his shoulder, "if you get a chance, thank Grodin for the warning." He cleared his throat. "And if things go south, well, let her know we appre—."

Rodney poked him hard in the ribs. "I am not going to die, and neither are you, so shut it."

Keeping the grin off his face, John led Rodney down the back stairs and out of the building.

Damn, this couldn't happen at a worse time of day. It was broad daylight and the sun hung straight overhead. They didn't even have a shadow to hide out in. Worried, John turned to Rodney. "We'll have to make a dash for the car and hope the goons are looking the other way."

"You know these streets, John. Even if it's not dark, can't you lose a tail?" Rodney asked.

"With enough of a head start, sure. It's not shaking a tail that worries me. It's the gunfire."

Rodney clammed up and didn't make a peep after that, shutting the car door quietly enough to make a librarian smile. So far so good. John began to think they were in the clear—right up until he heard Rodney's quiet, "Oh no."

"Hang on." John stomped on the gas pedal as a car came swerving around the corner, hot on their tail. The good news—it was only one car. The bad news—the sleek, grey roadster had enough power under its hood to race John's car into the ground and then back over it again for good measure. And it was gaining.

"Are we screwed?" Rodney asked. "Because it looks like we're really, really screwed."

"We might be a little screwed," John said. "Well, I'll be damned, look at that."

Rodney twisted in his seat to see the same sight that John saw in the rearview mirror. Cadman was pulling out of a side street driving her cherry red Buick on an intercept course. She boldly cut between John's black sedan and the silver demon chasing them. She yanked the steering wheel, pulling her car across the center of the street, and slammed on the brakes.

John could clearly see Lorne sitting beside her, one hand clutching the dashboard in a death-grip, and the other pointing his firearm at their pursuer. The silver car came to a screeching halt.

"Oh thank God," Rodney said. "Why are you still driving? They caught the bad guys."

"Delayed them, if we're lucky. Cadman bought us some time. I'm not wasting it. Hang on." John gunned the engine, tires squealing, and took a sharp left turn.

"Wait!" Rodney squealed. "Are you crazy? That's not a road—that's an alley!"

"Trust me." John barreled through the alleyway, barely slowing down. He could hear Rodney cussing under his breath next to him. Not that he could blame him—not with just a hand span of space between the car and brick walls on either side.

They were safe. There wasn't another car in sight and Rodney was getting some color back in his face. John had made two more detours as a precaution, albeit more sedately, but they'd arrived. He was more relieved than he cared to admit when Carson met them at the door and waved them in.

"Where's our protection?" Rodney asked. "Detective Lorne said he was sending people."

"Aye, I expect they'll be here shortly. Settle down and tell me what's going on." Carson shot a questioning glance at John. "Detective Lorne was a mite succinct on the phone. He said to expect you, and some of his men, but he hung up before I could ask any questions."

"We're on the lam, Doc," John said.

"Ah, this has something to do with the murders, I'm guessing."

"It does." John laid the suitcase on the table and pulled out the jar. He motioned for Rodney to take the papers. "You don't need to haul it all out, Rodney, but Carson here needs to see the drawing of that brain-melting gizmo."

As Carson studied the drawing, John watched the doc's eyebrows rise higher by the second. "This is real?" Carson asked.

John nodded. "It sure looks it. At least, it's the best explanation we've got. Are you feeling all right? You're looking a little pale there. If it makes you feel any better, Doc, Detective Lorne had the same reaction when we showed it to him."

"Hey!" Rodney stood in front of the window, pointing at something that had him excited. "Look! There's a patrol car pulling up. It must be our protection. It's about time they showed up."

"Oh for pity's sake, cut Lorne some slack." John got up to join Rodney at the window. "He didn't have to help us, you know. He could have just arrested you for suspicion—crap. We've got trouble."

"What's wrong?" Carson asked.

"Well," John drawled, "two men just got out of the patrol car and the one wearing the steel bracelets is Lorne."

~*~

"You may as well cooperate with me, Dr. Beckett, and let us in," Sergeant Markham called out. He raised his arm over Lorne's head. The sun glinted off the gold device he wore on his outstretched hand. "I believe you know what the ribbon device on my hand can do. Or do you prefer I demonstrate?"

"No! Don't!" Carson hurried to unlock the door.

Rodney whispered to John, "He's wearing a police uniform."

"Yeah. It's one of the local coppers, Sergeant Markham. Used to follow Lorne around like a puppy when he first started on the force. I sure never took him for a killer."

"I don't get it," Rodney persisted. "I was sure the murderer was a Nazi. You know, one of those tall, good-looking, blond types. This guy looks like a baby-faced Irishman. What is he, twelve?"

"Uh-huh." John opened the suitcase, made an untidy pile of the clothing, and then set the entire thing behind his chair. "Hush, they're coming."

Lorne looked pale and sported a bruise the size of a baseball on his temple. It didn't surprise John; Lorne wasn't the kind of guy to go down without a fight. They exchanged a look and John knew if he could come up with a plan, Lorne would back him on it.

Using the threat of the ribbon device, Markham waved Lorne over to join John and Rodney. "I know you're carrying, Mr. Sheppard. Put your gun down on the floor and kick it over to the corner."

John did as he was told but his mouth got the better of him. "One of your men is our killer, Lorne? You care to explain that?"

"No, he's not." Lorne drew a shaky breath. "Our killer is—was—a Nazi spy, just like we thought. We had him cuffed and ready to take downtown. It was the damnedest thing I ever saw. Our suspect broke out of the cuffs, grabbed Sgt. Markham before we could contain him, then he—he kissed him. Laid a lip-lock right on the Sergeant's mouth, and try as hard as I could, I couldn't pry him off.

"As soon as he finished, our German stooge collapsed like a puppet with his wires cut. Blow me hard if he didn't fall into Cadman's arms and start crying like a baby. But by then, Markham here, he'd changed. If I believed in evil spirits—" Lorne shook his head sharply. "—anyway, he forced me into my own hand at gunpoint and brought us here. I know it sounds unbelievable, but that's what happened."

Markham sneered. "I was forced to exchange my host for this inferior one. However, this human told me exactly where to find you. Oh, don't look so betrayed, Mr. Sheppard, he really had no choice." He laughed, sharp and bitter, just before his eyes turned gold. "You will refer to me as Svarog and will come to understand that I am your new god."

The voice came from Markham's mouth but sounded nothing like the scrappy Irishman. Deep in timbre and heavy with cruelty, it resonated painfully against John's ear bone.

"Ah, Rodney McKay, we finally meet." Svarog said, his voice taking on Markham's Gaelic lilt from earlier. "I've gone to considerable trouble to find you."

"What do you want?" Rodney folded his arms across his chest and glared. "I have no intention of helping you, whatever it is."

"You know where the sarcophagus is and you will tell me!" Svarog raised his gun, pointing it at Rodney's chest.

"Killing me is your brilliant plan? That's going to make it slightly difficult to get any information from me, don't you think? Or did you bother to think at all? Besides, I have no idea where your precious sarcophagus is."

Svarog growled, making the short hairs on John's neck stand up on end. "Rodney," John warned, "don't agitate the crazy, possessed murderer."

"You know where it is!" With a low growl, Svarog stepped closer to Rodney. "You were at the encampment in Giza with Dr. Jones. Don't try to deny it; my spies saw you there."

"So what? A lot of people were at the dig. Why aren't you harassing them?"

"Do not play the innocent with me, Rodney McKay," Svarog snarled. "My spies were watching everyone, and you are the only one that disappeared for several hours. They know you never left the site; ergo, you found something. Something important—something fascinating. Something that you kept secret from Dr. Jones. Trust me, if you had told him anything, my people would have known.

"And then there are communiqués between Dr. Jones' dear friend and your father. He mentions you and your investigative prowess in many of them. Oh, yes," Svarog hissed, holding the hand device above Rodney's forehead, "you know the location of what I seek—and you will tell me!"

Rodney reared back, John tensed, and Svarog screamed. The hand device sparked and blue electricity danced over it and up Svarog's arm. Svarog threw the device from his hand, screaming in frustration, but his burns were already healing.

Distracted, his eyes only on Rodney, he batted out the sparks burning his clothes. He never noticed John slipping behind him, reaching for the sawed-off shotgun, or the noise the suitcase made as it slid to the floor. However, he noticed it plenty when John laid the cold double barrel against the back of his neck.

"It's over, Markham, Svarog, whoever the hell you are," John said, cold as ice. "Now, move away from McKay."

Lornse held up his cuffed hands and cleared his throat. "Could someone…?"

"Carson, get the key out of this asshole's pocket and let Lorne loose." John tightened his hold on the shotgun, gut churning as Svarog turned to face him. He didn't like the speculative look the creature wore on Markham's face. Not at all. They had him, four against one. Why wasn't he afraid?

Suddenly, with inhuman strength, Svarog wrenched the shotgun from John's hands. He grabbed John by the front of his shirt, and with a heave, sent him flying across the room.

Cornered, Rodney had nowhere to run. Svarog threw his head back and laughed. "One kiss, a simple sweetheart's kiss," Svarog's oily voice crooned, "and everything you know, everything you are, Rodney McKay, will be mine—forever."

John wasn't laughing; he was moving. By the grace of a god that wasn't this one, he'd landed within inches of his own Colt. "Not gonna happen, you bastard," he muttered as he grabbed up his weapon. He took precious seconds to steady his aim—he couldn't risk shooting Rodney—and fired.

The shot only seemed to anger Svarog. He turned and snarled at John. Like the stuff of nightmares, Markham's mouth opened and John could see a snake emerging, rearing its head, and hissing.

"Got you, you foul bugger!" Carson yelled. Everyone stared in disbelief as Carson triumphantly held the wriggling Svarog aloft in one hand. "Not so high and mighty now, are you, Mr. Svarog. Why, you're nothing more than an overgrown worm." Looking up, he noticed the stares. "None of you need look so surprised. 'Twas hardly a caber toss. Bit like hogtying a ewe, if you must know. Just a bit of grab and pull."

"Holy hell. That thing was in Markham?" Lorne knelt next to the collapsed sergeant and checked his pulse. "He's alive, but he could use your help, Doc."

"I'm a little occupied at the moment, but I've got an idea. Rodney, go into my lab and bring me the two test tubes on the end of the shelf. One'll be holding green liquid and the other a milky concoction. Be careful and hurry."

John edged closer to the snake writhing in Carson's hand. "You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you, Doc?"

"Quite possibly. Rodney said you brought an intact, original canopic jar with you. We're going to need it."

~*~

"Will the epoxy hold?" Lorne asked. He cast a worried look at Markham. The plucky young Irishman sat with both hands wrapped around a mug of tea like his life depended on it. At least he had color back in his face.

"Better than cement, or I should say marble in this case," Rodney assured him. "Now that thing is contained, what are you going to do with it, Carson?"

"I still say you should let me shoot its damn head off," John offered for the third time. "What the hell do you want to save it for anyway?"

"Did you not see what it could do? It's a bloody organic healing machine." Carson held up his hand. "Let me finish. I know we don't have the capability to understand it now, but one day we'll be able to unlock the secrets in its molecular biology. Not to put too fine a point on it, but just think of the advantage for our troops."

"The Army wants it. You've been reporting the results of your research to the military all along." It was an easy leap for John to make, and judging from Carson's face, he'd nailed it. "You already called them, didn't you? Fuck. When will they be here?"

"Of course I told them. It would be unpatriotic not to." Carson shook his finger at John. "You can't keep something like this a secret. It's too big, too dangerous. Until we can deal with it safely, this foul beastie needs to be locked away where no one can find it. We can't do that on our own and you know it. As for when, I called as soon as I was sure the suspension solution worked. I expect someone from the Army will be along them any minute now."

Rodney snorted. "More military secrets, just what we need. Sure, they'll lock it away. They'll probably crate it and stick it in a huge warehouse with a thousand other crates just like it. I certainly feel much safer."

"Looks like you've got everything under control, Doc," Lorne said. "Since we've captured our murderer, more or less, I'm going to drop the sergeant off at home, then get back to the precinct." He pinched the bridge of his nose and a small sigh escaped him. "This report is going to take some damn creative writing or they'll all think I'm crazy."

John clapped his hand down on Lorne's shoulder. "I've seen some of your reports. If anyone can do it, you can. Rodney and I will walk you out. It's been a hell of a couple of days."

"Fine. Get along with the lot of you then." Carson waved them out the door. "And don't think any of you are fooling anyone. You just don't want to be here when the Army starts asking questions!"

~*~

John tossed one bare leg over Rodney's naked thigh, effectively pinning him to the bed. "I'll say it again, there was no way we were going to get stuck answering questions for hours when we could be here—" He thrust forward, rubbing his cock against Rodney's hip. "—doing this."

Rodney arched under him, muttering a soft curse.

John leaned down. "That sounded like yes, more," he husked in Rodney's ear. "Is that what you want?"

"Yes, you bastard." Rodney tossed his head back. "Don't stop. I need—"

"Oh, I know exactly what you need." Rolling his hips, he kept at a slow, tantalizing pace, riding Rodney to the edge. The heavy, full rise of Rodney's cock rubbed hot against John's skin and he almost gave into it. Almost. But he had a plan. He just had to hang on.

"Please, please, oh god, I need to come. I need… let me… John …please," Rodney begged.

Thank god, finally. John pinned Rodney's arms over his head. Leaning close to his ear, he whispered, "What did you see, Rodney? Maybe you didn't see what Svarog was looking for, but you saw something. Tell me."

"Now? You want—" Rodney gasped. "Fuck. Letters maybe, symbols anyway. That's all I saw, I swear. Not—not an alphabet. It couldn't be. There were only eight glyphs."

"You stayed and studied them for hours? What are you not telling me?" John began trailing kisses along Rodney's sternum. Peaked, rosy nipples distracted him and he wondered which he should suck first. Oh right, he had a plan. "What was that?"

"Ahhh, I, memorized them, yes. Tried to figure it out. Wanted to impress—god, do that again."

Finally letting Rodney's nipple pop out of his mouth—a man could only resist temptation so long—John asked, "You wanted to impress Dr. Jones. But what took you so long it made the Nazis suspicious?"

Rodney whined and twisted in the bed sheets. "This is so embarrassing. I slipped. Hit my head. When I came to, it was hours later. I couldn't admit that, so I never said anything about the symbols either. Now, can I please come?"

"Well, when you put it that way." John's grin turned predatory. Done teasing, he gripped Rodney's cock, taking a moment to relish the deep groan of satisfaction. He nudged Rodney's legs apart, making room for himself. Taking his own cock in hand, he snugged them together, skin to skin, pulse to pulse, moving together with Rodney's groans of pleasure in his ears.

"I'm gonna…"

"That's the idea, let it go. I'll catch you," John promised. It didn't take an Einstein to know that once Rodney came, John would tumble over the edge with him. He tightened his grip. It only took seconds after that and John collapsed gratefully down on top of Rodney.

Clean up or cuddle? John mused. Not bad choices to have to make after the kind of day they'd had. Rodney's arms came up around him, drawing him close, and making the decision for him.

"You realize, don't you, all of this happened because you hit your head?"

"It was an accident." Rodney huffed in his ear. "Hell, you can't imagine I wanted to put my brain at risk?"

"Never change, Rodney, never change. Unless…" John asked hopefully, "you wanted to be Meredith for an evening? I could be okay with that."

"Depends. Are you buying the stockings?"

~*~