Being a bodyguard isn’t exactly the most glamorous of jobs. I mean, sure, there are the tuxedos and the private jets taking you to exotic locations and staying at the cream of the crop resorts when you arrive. Bodyguarding one of the self-proclaimed greatest minds of the century, especially when he had made millions on just the promise of what could turn out to be the most ground-breaking power source the world had ever seen… hundreds of millions of dollars that would turn to billions if it ever went public, definitely came with it’s own set of perks. But there was also the standing around looking ominous when your charge was meeting someone for the first time, and listening to him make small talk about quantum physics, and the tasting of every piece of food and every one of his drinks for citrus as much as the more common poisons and sedatives, and the looming over his shoulder while he played poker.
No, being a bodyguard isn’t glamorous; but, then again, I’m not your typical bodyguard. And Dr. Rodney McKay isn’t exactly your run of the mill, multimillionaire-industrialist-genius.
Leaning over his shoulder, I took in his hand of three jacks. When he discarded his two and four and kept the jacks, I sighed before mumbling in perfectly accented Italian, "You’re winning too much, McKay."
Blue eyes flicked back at me in annoyance before he responded in Russian, "Back off, Sheppard. There’s no such thing as winning too much." He’d chosen Russian on purpose; he knew I struggled with my Cyrillic inflections much more than he ever had and he loved to prove it whenever he had the chance, not that the three native Houstonians sitting around the table would have known the difference.
"There is when it draws too much attention," I countered quietly in Mandarin. My gloating smirk only had him frowning more. The man couldn’t smear his consonant clusters to save his life. Okay, there had been that one time where he had saved his life, not to mention mine, by speaking Mandarin and he’d even managed to capture the subtleties of the Qingdao dialect… although that might have had a lot to do with the fact he was more than a little drunk at the time.
"Is there a problem, Dr. McKay?" one of the oilmen at the table asked at our exchange.
"No," McKay told him pointedly, as if conversing in multiple foreign languages with his bodyguard was as common as peanut butter and jelly on white bread, before challenging, "Why do you ask?"
Rodney was courted by lots of big wigs, but if anyone had reason to fear the scientist, at least on the surface, it was the oil industry. When your research is promising to provide a power source that is not only environmentally friendly but can last for thousands of years… that is, if it doesn’t tear a hole in the fabric of time and space… big oil tends to take notice. This was why they always tried to set up a friendly game of poker whenever they were in town to wine and dine various congressmen, a game where the gentlemen’s wagers ran in the tens of thousands and taking home seven figures at the end of the night wasn’t uncommon. I’m not sure if they considered it a type of bribe, but McKay never saw it as anything more than his rightful spoils as the victor. And the way he reveled in his conquests, you’d think he had won a bare-knuckles, cage-match, fight to the death and not a few hands of seven card stud played in black tie at the Royal Potomic suite of the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton.
Yeah, Rodney knew how to hold his own with men who held more influence over the economy of most of the free world than the Federal Reserve and World Bank combined. Of course, my narrow-eyed glare didn’t hurt either.
"No reason," the man backed off quickly, before carefully studying the cards before him once again.
McKay didn’t even acknowledge his host’s retreat from the conversation, simply turned his attention back to me. As expected, he snapped back in Farsi. "Don’t be a prick." Rodney always resorted to the more guttural languages when he wanted to curse. "Besides, I thought the point was to draw attention to myself."
He was right, of course. Drawing attention to himself was one of McKay’s primary objectives. As a member of a Hybrid Team, that was Rodney’s job−to be the brains to my brawn. He was supposed to use his uber-geek status to gain access to the upper echelon of brainiacs around the globe and see if any of them were up to no good. I was supposed to bring them down when he did find a wayward Einstein and keep Rodney alive while I did it. McKay found us a way in; I found us a way out. On top of that, Rodney was to expose his own weaknesses for all to see so that we could lure in anyone wanting to exploit them, while I made sure no one actually got their world-domination seeking hands on him. Since snarfing pudding cups in his boxers and I’m with Genius t-shirt wasn’t exactly the sort of thing the Chinese government had found a way to use as blackmail material, the agency had decided to create a weakness for Rodney… poker. At first he’d hated the idea, but then he’d ended up really enjoying it. Mainly because he was good at it, damn good. He counted cards without even thinking about it, calculated percentages subconsciously, was surprising adept at bluffing, and had a lucky streak that had nearly broken the bank in Monte Carlo one night.
So, yes, drawing attention to himself was what he was supposed to do. The problem was, he was also supposed to lose more than he won, which drove McKay nuts because he hated to lose at anything. On top of that, over the past several months, I’d been doing everything I could to keep Rodney under the radar because something just wasn’t right within Michael.
Michael was the agency we worked for. Named for the archangel who was said to be the leader of God’s army against the powers of darkness in the universe, Michael took a very Old Testament approach to the evil in the world. An eye for an eye… or a killer death ray, or an assassination attempt, or a plague-like retrovirus… you get the picture. While it was Rodney’s job to find the wrong-doers, it was mine to smite them down. And believe me; I had smote plenty in my time with the agency.
I’d been recruited right out of Stanford. It was either Michael or the Air Force, and Michael offered me not only the chance to learn to fly but freedom from stifling regulations and pesky moral turpitude the military would have burdened me with. I’d worked my way up the ranks from transporter, to field agent, and finally, five years ago, been assigned to a Hybrid Team. McKay and I had been together for four years; he’d gone through eight other agents before being assigned to me. After less than a year with the agency, the physicist had already gained the reputation of being a difficult assignment. Hell, at the time we were teamed together, I was the only agent willing to take him over the standard issue cyanide capsule. But I had been begging for reassignment for months, and, after spending a brutal winter in the Ukraine with Kavanagh, McKay was a goddamn stroll through the daisies… that was, as long as I brought the bug repellant to chase away the bees. The truth was, against all sense or logic, we just sort of meshed. He could give as well as he took and he seemed to respect the fact that I did the same, not to mention that I always kept a spare power bar for him in my inside pocket as a sort of partial bribe to get him to shut the hell up when I’d had enough, and partial emergency snack if his blood sugar fell. On top of that, we had one of the most successful records of any Hybrid Team in the agency.
So when I was approached for reassignment nearly four months earlier, I’d thought it was a little odd. Why break up a winning team? And when I’d asked who was being assigned to McKay in my place, I flat out refused. Acastus Kolya headed up the Genii unit, our cleaners, the guys who came in and removed the evidence when something went south or was just too messy for an agent to take care of without compromising himself or his genius. If that meant cleaning up a few innocent bystanders who had seen something they shouldn’t, then so be it. The last time they’d reassigned a Genii to a Hybrid team, they’d replaced Ronon with Cowan, and, less than two months later, Beckett was dead. There was no way in hell Kolya was getting anywhere near McKay if I had any say about it. An agent’s primary objective wasn’t to protect the scientist; it was to protect the science by whatever means necessary. If that meant there was no way to stop an enemy operative from taking your charge, then you were expected to kill your partner. And if Michael decided the genius had outlived his usefulness or knew so much that he was more of a threat than an asset, he was removed from service…permanently.
When I was told I was going to be reassigned, it was well known that Rodney was close to finishing his power research, which meant the agency would have what they wanted and the physicist would be more valuable to outside organizations than to Michael. I knew that was what was behind the reassignment; I knew this was Michael’s way of giving me a way out of having to do the deed myself. But after four years, there was no way I was just going to standby and let Kolya kill McKay. I couldn’t. Rodney had saved my life as many times as I’d saved his and that was something I couldn’t forget. It was something I didn’t want to forget.
Evidently that moral turpitude had reared its annoying head after all.
I’d figured I had a little time for me to come up with a plan to get Rodney out; until he finished his research, there was no way Michael would assassinate him and there was no reason to worry Rodney with my speculation until that was a real concern. But then a few weeks ago, our time ran out when McKay had smugly told me he had finished his final report and to be ready to pack my bags for Stockholm since he was going to win a goddamn Nobel for sure.
I’d almost dragged his ass out of his mansion, into his fucking Porsche, and driven until we crossed back into his native Canada and vanished into the Great White North. But the thought of spending the rest of my life with Rodney bitching about snow shoes and permafrost while he played Celine Dion CDs all day long squelched that idea. Besides, McKay was already babbling on about his next project and all talk of reassignment had stopped within Michael, so I was starting to think that maybe the agency had decided his new theories were worth the risk.
That was until his martini showed up.
Three olives, no twist, and drier than the Sahara. After four years they still made my jaw clench whenever I had to taste one. But I did, every goddamn one of them, and this time was no different… aside from the way my throat tingled, then constricted within thirty seconds of swallowing the sip. Rodney was sitting with a full house and over seventy-thousand dollars worth of chips piled in the pot in front of him when I placed my hand on his shoulder.
"Fold," I ordered succinctly in English. When he turned puzzled eyes at my use of our native tongue, I reiterated, "Now."
He didn’t question me at all. I liked to think it was because he trusted me implicitly, that his training told him when his agent gave an order, he followed it. I had a feeling it had more to do with the way I’d already broken into a sweat from the toxins coursing through my system.
"Gentlemen, I’m out," he told the table of Texas oil barons. He dropped the cards and stood, ignoring the dealer’s inquiry into whether or not he wanted to cash out. Rodney was up over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and he simply walked away with a distracted flip of his hand. My own hand was gripping into his bicep, and it didn’t let up even after we left the room. I pushed his martini I still held into his hand so I could pull my gun from my shoulder holster and ushered him to the elevator.
"Sheppard?" His worry only grew when I sucked in a wheezing breath and pushed the down button without answering, simply handed him my backup gun from the small of my back and screwed the silencer onto the barrel of the one in my hands. "John?"
"Poison," I managed to choke out, shoving him into the elevator car and pressing several buttons down from the suite where we were. "Your drink."
"Christ!" He held the glass out as if it was a bomb instead of a poisoned cocktail. "Can you tell which one?"
I shook my head, loosening my tie and top buttons to try to help my breathing. When the elevator started down, I placed my hand out to keep from tumbling over from the growing vertigo and found Rodney’s free hand under my elbow to try to keep me on my feet.
"Look, we have the test kit," he reassured, visibly fighting his own panic. "We’ll figure it out and get you the antidote. Okay? Piece of cake. Right?"
This wasn’t the first time I’d taken a bullet for Rodney, literally or figuratively. I’d been poisoned twice before and, both times, McKay had found the antidote in time. But this felt… different. Bad. Really bad. But I nodded, because I couldn’t exactly keep Rodney alive if I was dead, now could I? And not keeping him alive wasn’t an option for me.
The door to the elevator opened one floor down and I used the elbow McKay was holding onto to push him behind me and point the gun into the faces of a yuppie couple that swam sluggishly into view.
"Take the next car." They evidently thought my less than friendly suggestion was a hell of an idea and immediately disappeared down the hallway.
When the door closed again, I realized McKay was pretty much holding me up from behind, and it wasn’t until he handed me his handkerchief that I discovered my nose was bleeding.
As soon as the door opened on the sixth floor, he was pulling me out into the brick-lined hall. If I could have breathed a little better, I would have berated him for not letting me go ahead and make sure everything was clear. But seeing as I could barely walk at this point, I let him lead the way. He found a supply closet, picked the lock in about ten seconds, and, in less time than that, he had us inside, the door relocked, and the test kits out on the floor between the shelves of towels and miniature soaps. I did my best to focus on the door even as I sunk to the tiles beside him. If they had me out of the way, Rodney would be easy pickings, and they had to know I’d be down for the count in a matter of minutes. That meant someone would be coming through that door any time now.
Behind me, I could hear him mumbling at the vials, "Come on, come on, change damn you," as he waited for the colorimetric tubes to change colors and tell him exactly what was in the drink.
The room was going black around the edges, whether from lack of oxygen or the poison itself, I didn’t know, but I did know I wasn’t going to be worth shit soon. "Rodney…" I tried to get him to take my gun, too. Forget the damn antidote, I had a feeling it was too late anyway.
"Excuse me, I’m a little busy trying to save your fucking life here," he snapped back.
The door flew open as it was kicked in and I felt shampoo dripping down on us from above when the assassin shot the supplies over our heads. He hadn’t expected us to be on the floor so he’d aimed high, and that had been his fatal mistake. I had fired before I even saw who it was. The first shot took him in the knee cap, the second in the chest, and, when he was down, I put the bullet in his head that would finish him off.
"Won’t be… the last," I warned, shaking my head to try to regain my eyesight, but only succeeded in making my nausea grow.
"Almost have it," he told me, deep in concentration before groaning in frustration, "Son of a bitch."
Well, hell, that couldn’t be good. I shoved the gun at him again, unable to even remain sitting any longer. My ears were roaring with the sound of my blood throbbing but I thought I felt a needle stick in my thigh.
"Hold on, Sheppard." Rodney’s order was muffled, and so was his exclamation of, "Oh, shit!" as several more shots were fired, several without the benefit of a silencer, so I knew they were from Rodney’s gun, and then I didn’t hear anything.
"John, goddamnit, breathe!" He gave me a rough shake, and I cracked my eyes enough to make him out in the haze, enough to see that crooked mouth angling angrily across his face. "Just start breathing again and I swear I’ll take care of the rest." I looked up to see snow swirling lazily in the air around us. It was kind of pretty, big flakes floating gently to land on Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney hated the snow. He complained about it every winter until the cherry blossoms started blooming, then shifted gears and set in to bitch about his allergies instead of the frigid temperatures. It’s funny; I wasn’t the least bit cold now. In fact, just the opposite. Warm and hazy and how could McKay be pissed off about it snowing when the temperature was so nice?
Another teeth-rattling shake turned my attention back to the grouch in question. "Agent Sheppard, you have a job to do and I expect you to get your act together and do it! So you better fucking breathe!" I pulled in a ragged breath and Rodney’s head dropped with an exhaled breath of his own, but he still fisted the lapel of my tux in a white knuckle grip. "Oh, thank God. Now, do it again."
Doing as I was ordered, the air filled my oxygen deprived lungs as the antidote Rodney had administered finally set to work and opened my airway. It was then that I realized the snow was actually feathers from the extra bedding that had been the victim of the gunfight that had taken place when I went bye-bye for a while. Turning my head, I could discern the shape of the other victim of that exchange lying across the doorway. If they’d only sent one team for us, that meant we were clear. But that was a big if, and one I didn’t believe. Michael was thorough, if nothing else. There might not be another in the hotel, but there was one outside for sure.
"Good, good, that’s… good." He was panting almost as much as me, sitting back on his haunches and finally letting go of my jacket. "Christ." His eyes drifted to the dead bodies in the hallway, one of which he’d killed himself.
A few seconds later the spots stopped swimming in front of my face and I was able to wrap my hand around my gun again. If I could hold it, I could shoot it. And if I could hold McKay together, we might just get out of here after all.
"Fuck… Rodney." I pushed myself up to slump against the shelf, still gulping air. "Not enough… I’m poisoned. You have… to give me… whiplash, too."
It worked. McKay looked back and me and narrowed his eyes. "Ungrateful bastard. Next time I’ll make a snack while you lie asphyxiating on the floor, maybe see if I can find a television and catch the end of the game. I mean, you’re the one who tells me I’m not supposed to dance anyway."
‘The dance’ was Rodney term for what I did. He couldn’t bring himself to call me a murderer, an assassin, even though that’s exactly what I was. Wrap it up in the colorful paper of righteousness and slap a bow of nobility on top, if you like, but in that brown cardboard box underneath is nothing more than the ruthless heart of a killer. But Rodney saw it differently, saw me differently, which was why he never used the less than flattering terms that most would apply to my profession. That fact alone had a lot to do with why I was doing what I was and going against Michael’s orders. It was also why I did my damnedest to keep him clear of the dirty work. I couldn’t always manage that, sometime you took your shots when you had your chance regardless of who was watching, and sometimes you took your shots to keep the person watching alive, and sometimes, like tonight, he’d been the one taking the shots and avoiding words like killer suited me just fine.
"I don’t want you dancing… because you always want to lead… that’s my position."
My sarcastic grin had his annoyance turning to worry. "You’re still bleeding."
I could definitely still taste it, but figured it was residual from the poisoning. "It’ll stop soon enough." When he just frowned more as I swiped the handkerchief across my mouth, I demanded, "Right?"
His deflection of my question was all the answer I needed to know I was pretty much screwed. "Can you walk? We need to get out of here, someplace I can make a secure phone call. Our cells are useless now." He pulled the agency-issued phone from his pocket and threw it against the wall, busting it into pieces. I gave him my own so he could do the same with it. I doubted it would destroy the tracking devices in them, not that they needed them anyway, but it at least gave him a way to blow off a little steam.
I didn’t ask how he knew it was an inside job. Rodney was a card carrying rocket scientist, he had to know why I had really been assigned to him, and he also had to know if I didn’t do the job, others would. That was the problem, there was always someone waiting in the wings to fill out your dance card. I also didn’t ask about the poison again. If the antidote didn’t work, there wasn’t much either of us could do. We were officially rogue; there’d be no returning to the agency for help from Keller or one of the other members of the medical team. If McKay couldn’t figure it out then I was pretty much a goner, but he’d never let me down yet.
"I’m going to get you out of this," I promised him.
He wrapped my arm around his shoulder and heaved me to my feet. "It’s not me I’m really worried about right now."
I may have been on my feet but I wouldn’t go so far as to claim I was standing. But leaning on McKay I was at least mobile. "Take the stairs," I instructed. "We need a car."
The Porsche was in valet. Not that we couldn’t get it on our own, but chances were good that it wouldn’t be safe anyway. Rodney knew this as well as I did. "The theaters; we can cut through the laundry room, around the smokestack and into the garage below the movie theaters." He also knew the layout of the hotel and surrounding complex as well as he knew the geometric functions.
Opening the door to the stairwell, I surveyed the dimly lit steps with my gun held in one hand while my other gripped Rodney’s shoulder as I leaned into him. Satisfied it was clear, I nodded to indicate we should go, only to have my knees buckle before we hit the first step.
"Easy, Sheppard," he coaxed, keeping me from going down with an arm around my waist.
Concentrating, I managed to get my feet back under me and we started down the stairs. Blood was dripping from my nose again and I swiped absently with the back of my gun hand. "How much time?" What we did next depending on how much longer until Rodney was on his own because I was either dead or completely incapacitated by the poison.
"A couple of hours, I think." He steadied me again as we started down from the next landing−only five more to go before we reached the bottom floor. "It was a cocktail of toxins. The antidote I gave you counteracted the most immediate threat but the one I didn’t neutralize will have you bleed out in a matter of hours."
"Can you stop it?"
"I don’t… I’m not sure. I think so, but…" He sighed in frustration and shook his head. "It’s one of ours."
That’s how he’d known it was an inside job. It was a Michael exclusive and antidotes weren’t issued for those because the only reason a member of Michael would be exposed to it was because Michael wanted you dead. "Do you know anyone inside who you can trust? Someone who can get the antidote? Keller, maybe or…"
"John…" He cut me off before I could start trying to think who might be able to help us, and, goddamn, he’d used my first name. He only ever used John when he thought I was going to die, or he was afraid he was going to die, or when he was pissing me off by offering to stay behind and defuse a bomb while I made a run for it. "It’s Carson’s formula."
Now his use of my first name and his initial reaction to identifying the poison made perfect sense, and I mimicked it. "Son of a bitch."
Carson Beckett had been one of our top medical operatives, and, as such, he’d developed one of the most deadly poisons in Michael’s arsenal. It was a rather simple mixture of three toxins, each with a rather simple antidote. The problem was that the antidotes were even more lethal when mixed than the original poison itself. Beckett had been working on the antidote when he’d been removed from service. Evidently Michael preferred not to have a cure for this particular killer. The fact that they had used his own formula to kill him only showed how sublimely ironic Michael could be.
Ronon had stood aside like the agency ordered him to do, Cowan had let the drink through, and Carson had been given a very nice memorial service. The death hit McKay hard. He and Beckett had entered the agency at about the same time and had a very special relationship… in other words, they bugged the living shit out of each other and relished every minute of it and Rodney mourned every minute that he was deprived of that by burying himself in his research. Whereas Rodney simply hunkered down and worked nonstop for two months straight until I literally hauled him bodily out of the lab at his house, Ronon expressed his grief a little differently, and the Genii found themselves cleaning up a mess that was composed of the remains of one of their own. Of course, there was no way to prove Ronon was the one who had killed Cowan, but we knew, all of us Hybrids agents knew… Lorne, Stackhouse, Cadman… we all knew and secretly cheered when he did it. But as much as I was glad Ronon was able to get his revenge, I wasn’t going to settle for secret retribution as my way of telling the Agency to go fuck itself. No, I’d said it loud and proud and, as a result, I only had a few hours left to live.
A few hours to make sure I hadn’t just dragged McKay down into the same grave I’d dug for myself.
"Lorne and Zelenka are back in Prague," I told him as we rounded the landing and headed down the final run of stairs. "I tried to make contact last week and couldn’t, but you know their haunts. If we got you over there…"
"If we got us over there," he corrected, and I had to roll my eyes at his confidence that he’d be able to find a way out of this for me. "And there’s no way either of us is going anywhere overseas without paperwork. They’ll make any of our passports as soon as we hit airport security."
"Then we’ll get you new ones."
He snorted at my suggestion, knowing instantly who I was talking about to ask for help. "Do you really think she’ll do it?"
"She owes me," I countered as we finally reached the first floor, taking a second to suck in some air from the effort expended to walk down a few flights of steps. Christ, this wasn’t good if I felt this bad after something that wouldn’t usually raise my pulse rate. "I saved her life once."
"And I think she’s saved yours at least four times."
I shrugged at his observation. "Then what’s one more?" My coughing cut off his exasperated snort and he swallowed visibly, eyes widening in dread when I pulled the handkerchief away from my mouth to see it spattered with red. The expression changed quickly to one I rarely saw on Rodney’s face… blame for himself.
He didn’t want to hear me trying to tell him it was okay, this was par for the course, part of my job description, and I didn’t have any regrets about my decision. Hell, it’s not like he even knew they were gunning for him. But he wasn’t going to let me try to make him feel better with platitudes. Instead, he shook his head and chopped the air with his free hand. "Look, we’re going to find a car, find a secure location, and we’re going to fix this. Got it?"
"First you have to find the laundry room," I reminded, letting the reassurances drop and the delusions reign supreme for the time being.
"Fourth door on the right. Ready?"
I took in the gun in his hand, raised and prepared to do what he had to do. God, I hated it when it came to this. Because if McKay had to step out onto the dance floor, it meant I’d been slacking off on my end of the deal.
"Ready," I assured, pushing away from Rodney so I could stand on my own before pushing the door open and scanning the hallway. Convinced it was clear, I hitched my head for him to follow me. I made it maybe three steps before I was bracing a hand against the wall, fighting the urge to puke.
McKay resumed his position under my arm and gave me a patronizing, "Good try. I thought you might actually make it a whole meter down the hallway there for a second. So, A for effort, Agent Sheppard."
"Are you sure this poison won’t work any faster than a couple of hours," I grumbled, rolling my eyes and regretting it when the entire hotel seemed to tilt off towards my right.
"Sheppard!" The warning call of my name Rodney gritted out had me giving a sharp shake of my head to clear my vision.
"Here," I slurred, feeling my head bounce off his shoulder and fighting to straighten once more.
"Prove it." We were inside the laundry room, and even with my tenuous grasp on consciousness, I could smell the bleach and hear the din of the industrial-sized gas dryers. Through the room and out the back and McKay’d be one step closer to survival. He could be in a car in less than five minutes, out of the parking lot in thirty seconds… if I wasn’t slowing him down.
A few of the laundry staff stopped to watch us, cowering away in surprise as soon as they saw our guns. That was good; that meant no one else with a gun had been through here. When we reached the far side of the room, I was leaning against McKay even more and the pile of down comforters in the large hamper beside the back door were looking a lot more inviting than the short distance we still had to go to reach a car. But all thoughts of curling up in a mountain of freshly laundered blankets disappeared when a scream from one of the women drew my attention to the man behind us firing his gun.
"Down!" I was pulling Rodney to the floor as soon as I saw the Genii agent, but not before he let out a grunt when the bullet hit him. The next successive shots hit only the hamper, sending another blizzard of feathers floating gently around us. I rose up enough to fire back, doubting I’d hit anything given I could barely see anything with my blurred vision and the whiteout of fluff in the air, but it at least had the guy ducking for cover and gave me enough time to demand frantically, "Where are you hit?"
The Genii fired again and I ducked down over McKay as he groaned, "Chest."
Well, thank God for small miracles. "Vest?" Using said chest to push up again, I earned an annoyed "oof" as I fired off the rest of my magazine.
"Yes," he confirmed, wincing from the nonlethal sting of the slug impacting the Kevlar he wore. His attempt to sit up was interrupted by me slumping down over him once again because of the return fire. "Is there just the one guy?"
"As far as I can tell." I slammed another clip home and fired once more. He took advantage of me sitting up again to wiggle out from under me and crawl toward a shelf to grab a spray can while I kept the guy trying to kill us occupied. "What part of down don’t you understand?"
"I was down," he insisted before his eyes widened and he fired at the door behind us that had cracked open.
I slammed my shoulder into the door, tumbling out onto my back to feel the sidewalk beneath me and see the shadow of the Genii agent pressed against the wall. Inside I could hear Rodney firing at the same time I did, his barrage of six shots in contrast to the one headshot I delivered before trying, and failing, to sit up again.
"Sheppard?" Another volley of shots and then I heard the click of his slide locking in place indicating he was empty.
"Out!" I ordered, using everything I had in me to push up once again, firing across his back as he crawled over me while I inadvertently propped the door open with my lower body.
When McKay scrambled to press himself against the wall, doing his best to avoid the dead body, I rolled away and let the door shut. He literally pulled me to my feet with a grunt, using his shoulder to practically pin me to the wall as we both breathed heavily and he started ripping the cover off the security card reader for the backdoor.
I swallowed down bile that had a hint of something more and asked, "You know the way to the garage. Right?"
His eyes narrowed at my question. "Why?"
"I’m staying here to cover you."
"Smash and grab a car. Something common like a Honda…"
He pulled a lighter from his pocket and used the spray can he’d taken from the shelf to create a hand-held flamethrower to fry the electronics in the door lock before answering with a definitive, "No."
"Tell Teyla what happened, she’ll help…"
"They’ll freeze your assets but you know my account number, the one from my inheritance…"
"No, no, and no."
He went silent when the door rattled and wouldn’t open, pressing his body back against me and the wall before the door swung violently outward from being kicked. This was not how this was supposed to work. I was supposed to be covering him, not the other way around, but I couldn’t exactly argue with him when a killer was a foot away ready to shoot us. So, instead I gripped his arm to keep him as still as possible. As soon as the barrel of the gun poked out the doorway, Rodney started to move, but I stilled him with a squeeze of my hand.
Give it time.
The fingers appeared, thick and stubby but wrapped comfortably around the grip and resting easily on the trigger, the gun steady but still pointing straight ahead.
I didn’t release my hold on McKay’s bicep, so I just had to let the trickle of blood from nose drip unhindered onto the shoulder of Rodney’s tuxedo jacket. But it wasn’t quite time.
Neither one of us were breathing, holding in any sound that might give us away, but the blood was pulsing in my head, pounding so loud I was surprised the assassin couldn’t hear it. I felt a shiver run through Rodney as the wrist came into sight and I opened my hands to silently tell Rodney, "Now".
He took a step forward, pivoted, and raised the spray can of stain remover once again, this time spraying into the assassin’s face. The gun fired, even as the man screamed in pain, but I threw myself at his arms to bash him into the open door and his firearm went skittering across the cement of the walkway. Staggering back, I raised my own weapon and delivered two quick shots to his head before dropping to my knees.
McKay was right beside me, keeping me from going all the way down, and I did my best to focus on him. "Rodney," I pleaded in exhaustion. "I did this to save you, not get you killed hauling my ass around. Just go already."
"You’re going to get me killed because you’re wasting time arguing with me. I’m not leaving here without you, so if you want me to find a car and escape you better get up and get moving." When I didn’t budge from where I knelt on the ground, he gave a small shrug as he propped me up a little better. "You know me, Sheppard; I can be a patient man when I put my mind to it. Or do I need to remind you of the six-episode Star Wars marathon you sat through with me?"
"You had strep throat; it’s not like you could’ve made it off the couch if you’d wanted to."
He wasn’t impressed with my argument. "You want me to recite Yoda’s ‘there is no try’ speech for you?"
"God fucking damnit, McKay, you are the most stubborn son of a bitch I have ever met!"
He grinned in pleasure at my observation. "You should be proud. I broke eight other agents within a month of their assignment to me. It’s taken you four years to reach that point."
"Just shut up and reload your gun," I sighed irritably, leaning into him a little more to use him as leverage to try to stand. "We have a damn car to steal."
When we were both reloaded, we made our way through the shadows to the entrance of the parking garage. McKay was dragging me for all intents and purposes, giving me a sharp shake whenever my head dipped to my chest. It was after midnight, so there weren’t a lot of people around since no new movies were starting at this hour, but there were still plenty of cars to choose from in the garage.
"Not the Prius," I instructed as we moved down the first aisle of cars and he stopped by the little car.
"Please," he scoffed. "I bought Jeannie one when I missed her birthday last year. I’ve seen windup toys that accelerate faster than one of these. I offered to buy her anything she wanted and that’s what she chose." He shook his head in amazement, even as he smashed in the window of the Toyota and the alarm started wailing, hopefully drawing anyone still on our trail to the wrong car. That done, he led us to the elevator and down a floor deeper into the underground garage.
I nodded my head approvingly. "Smart."
"Genius," he snorted with a hand flicked toward himself.
"You’re too cool for the second grade," I allowed, before we exited the elevator and Rodney went straight for a Honda Civic… there was a reason they were one of the most popular cars to steal.
One sharp hit with the butt of his Beretta and the driver’s window was shattered and the alarm wailing, only this one he had turned off in a matter of seconds. I leaned against the car scanning the parking garage for anyone else coming after us as he hotwired the car then he shoved me in the back seat before hopping in the driver’s seat and peeling out in reverse.
Bracing myself to keep from rolling into the floorboard, I griped, "Christ, McKay, you might as well have let the guy shoot me back there if you planned to kill me with your driving."
We were still moving backwards as Rodney looked over his shoulder with his right hand on the back of the passenger seat, concentrating intensely as he floored it and warned, "Hold on."
"Why?" I demanded warily, but did as he suggested, thankful that I did when we slammed full force into something. I was assuming it was another car but from where I was laying I couldn’t see anything more than McKay’s pleased expression. Throwing the car into drive, he sped forward before shifting back into reverse again. "Rodney…"
He ignored the way my eyes widened in alarm and once more bashed into the car he was evidently intent on mangling beyond recognition, then shifted into first again and headed up out of the garage with the tires squealing. I managed to sit up enough to see him nearly run down the valet, swerve into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid a cab in ours, then merge onto South Street. I use merge in the broad sense, and I had a feeling the driver of the SUV agreed with me, given the way he slammed on his breaks and laid down on his horn when Rodney nearly ran him off the road doing it.
Dr. Rodney McKay was an accomplished man. He had three PhDs, spoke seven languages fluently and a half dozen more well enough to get by, he’d been the guest of honor at five state dinners on as many continents, could build a nuclear bomb into less than a day and disarm one in less than a minute, was a Level 60 mage in World of Warcraft, and could quote Monty Python’s Holy Grail in its entirety.
But he couldn’t drive worth shit.
The scraping sound in the rear of the car had me a little worried at this point and if I hadn’t been half dead in the back seat, I would have insisted he pull over and let me drive. As it was, I simply noted, "You’ve got a little rattling going on here in your backend, buddy."
"It’ll stop when the bumper fall off," he dismissed, running a red light and executing a bootlegger turn in the middle of the intersection that would have been impressive even for the Duke boys… if that’s what he had meant to do. Seeing as he cursed, hit the gas and continued on, I figured that hadn’t been part of the plan. Although to give credit where credit was due, he was right about the noise stopping when the bumper finally gave up the ghost as he accelerated when he got on the 295 heading north toward the Maryland border.
"Sheppard, you doing okay back there?" He shifted into overdrive and accelerated even more.
"Define okay." All things considered, I’d definitely been better. But the fact that I was lying down and not trying to run or shoot people had the nausea and dizziness down to a level that I wouldn’t call tolerable but was at least allowing me to speak.
"Oh, you know… alive."
"So far, so good," I promised. Not deluding myself that he’d actually be able to find a cure, but if I could stay alive long enough for us to reach Teyla’s, then I could hopefully convince her to get McKay a new passport.
Teyla Emmagan was kind of an enigma in the world we lived in, mainly because she had loyalties to no one and everyone simultaneously. She was a freelancer specializing in paperwork and documents and had contacts in the state departments of practically every country you could name. She had found a niche in which she was so valuable to all the agencies out there that what she offered outweighed the risk of allowing her to provide the same to an enemy. It probably didn’t hurt that she held information on all the top brass around the world, all of it stored someplace that no one could find, and all of it to be dispersed if anything were to ever happen to her. That was another talent of Teyla’s− she could get you anything and make anything disappear.
Teyla lived in, of all places, Defense Heights, Maryland, which at this time of night, was only about twenty-five minutes away from Georgetown. Rodney parked illegally in front of her townhouse, taking out a recycling bin in the process, before opening the back door and trying to help me out.
"I can make it on my own, McKay." And I did, out of the car and to the curb, where I promptly puked. Rodney’s hand landed on my back to steady me while I emptied my stomach contents on a nice suburban lawn. In the street light I could see the color drain from his face until I was afraid he was going to throw up, too. But I doubted his would be red like mine had been.
I ignored it as best I could, wiping at my mouth with my arm before grabbing his. "Help me up."
He did, leading me to the front door and waiting behind me until the light came on in the front room and the door opened a crack. Teyla didn’t look the least bit happy to see me, but the irritation turned to something more like sympathy when she took in my condition and saw McKay standing on her front stoop.
"You could not do it, could you?"
"Four years, Teyla." As if that would explain why I’d gone against orders.
She sighed and shook her head in frustration. "You cannot make attachments in this business, John. You know that."
Placing my hand that still held my gun on the door, I leaned in closer. "If that’s true, then shut the door and we’ll go for help someplace else."
She hesitated, measuring my resolve for a moment, before opening the door to let us in. "Thank you," I told her sincerely as I staggered inside.
Teyla rolled her eyes at my gratitude, moving aside when Rodney followed me in to help me into the living room.
"Teyla, good to see you," he greeted, "You’re looking well."
She crossed her arms across the tank top she wore over her sweats and watched as McKay dropped me heavily onto the couch. "I wish I could say the same about the two of you, Rodney."
"I need your microwave and a phone; a secure line." When she indicated one on the table by the window, Rodney snatched it quickly and dialed.
"What happened? Or do I even want to know?" she asked with a raised eyebrow as McKay finished up punching in a callback number then went into the kitchen.
"Poison," I told her before fighting the urge to gag. "You might want to find a trashcan if you want to save the rug."
She darted into the nearby bathroom to grab one and called back from the small room, "Do you not have the antidote?"
"There is no antidote," I told her when she returned with a plastic cleaning bucket.
Her frown of worry turned to confusion when McKay came out of the kitchen with her microwave and a screwdriver and told us, "Yes, there is an antidote. Carson has it and I’m going to get it."
"Beckett’s dead," I reminded him. I mean, it had been a rough night, but surely he could remember that little detail. "And what the hell are you doing with that microwave?"
"I’m making an EMP generator and no, he’s not. He faked his death."
"What?" I demanded in shock.
"We need an EMP to disable our tags," he explained, "else Carson’s antidote won’t do us much good if we’re incapacitated and they can just come and collect us."
"Not the EMP; Carson!"
Although the nanite tags were a good catch. If we went more than six hours without checking in, the tags in our bloodstream would sedate us and start broadcasting a locator signal. If we went more than twelve hours, they were programmed to kill us. It wasn’t much of a window to execute a rescue or an escape, but Michael didn’t like the enemy getting their hands on their people… or their people going rogue. The good news was that the nanites were autoprogrammed and could only be reprogrammed or reset from a computer or phone connection, so there was no way for them to trigger the tags remotely. The bad news was that if we attempted to implement the reset protocol now, we were toast.
Rodney continued to disassemble the microwave as he spoke. "He developed an antidote for the poison before he let Michael know he had completed it, so Ronon let Cowan take over his assignment because he knew Carson wouldn’t be killed by the poison. Then Carson just sort of… disappeared."
I looked to Teyla, who didn’t seem the least bit surprised. "You knew, too?"
She gave a weak smile and tried to look abashed. Rodney just considered the news with a curious, "Huh," before the phone rang and he started speaking into it without even an introduction. "I need your help. Sheppard’s been poisoned with your special blend." I watched in amazement as McKay answered a series of questions about what he’d already given me and how much as he paced. "Current symptoms? He just started puking blood." Snatching up a pen and paper, Rodney started taking notes, clarifying a few things before telling the person on the other end of the line, "We’re at Teyla Emmagan’s house… Okay, we’ll see you then."
"That wasn’t Carson," I insisted when he hung up the phone. "We went to his funeral. You were a goddamn mess after he died. You visited his mother for Christ’s sake."
"It was Carson and he’s on his way here, only it’s going to take him a few hours so he gave me something to help in the meantime." Waving the paper in his hand, he asked Teyla, "Where are your medical supplies?"
When I puked in the bucket I was holding, Teyla wasted no time showing McKay her medical stash. She returned a minute later with a wet washcloth that she handed over before sitting on the couch where I lay. "You knew when you took this job what they expected of you."
Wiping away the blood, I lay back and covered my eyes with my arm. Even the low lamp light was causing my head to throb. "Yeah, well, knowing and doing are two different things."
"So are living and dying," she pointed out quietly.
I knew that, too, but it didn’t matter. How did I explain that I’d taken a job thinking it was an escape from a family that was great on the outside and mangled on the inside only to find myself working with someone who ended up being just the opposite? How did I make someone understand that somewhere along the line I stopped protecting McKay because I was told to and started doing it because I wanted to? I wanted Rodney alive. I wanted to have someone to play video games with and watch movies with and tinker around in the garage with while throwing back a few beers. I wanted to have someone I could snarl at and bicker with and push his buttons and have him push mine back and know neither of us would take it seriously. I wanted someone who respected my opinion, sought out my advice, and treated me as an equal. I wanted someone who wanted me around as much as I wanted them around, and it ended up that the cosmos had paired me up with McKay.
"Is that why you left Michael?"
Her lips curled the slightest at my question. "I left Michael because it had lost its way and, as a result, so had I. There was a time when I thought our purpose was very clear and the world was very black and white."
"So you think what Michael is doing is wrong?"
"I think right and wrong are a matter of perspective," she clarified. "I think there are those who would consider what you have done tonight wrong and they will do everything in their power to make it right."
"And what do you think?" If I didn’t make it, she was going to be McKay’s only chance of getting out the country and I needed her on my side if Rodney had any probability of living.
"I think you had your reasons for doing it." Resting her hand on mine, she squeezed gently. "And I think they were very good reasons."
Raising my arm from my face, I looked at her hopefully. "Then you’ll help him?"
"I will do what I can," she promised.
"Because, if Carson is alive and you knew it, that means you helped him disappear. Right?"
With a sigh, she shook her head to put off that discussion. "John, I will do what I can, for both of you. But that is all I can tell you for now."
McKay came back in the room with a new syringe and Teyla moved to make room for him. He rolled up my sleeve without making eye contact. "Carson says this will make you sleepy, but it’ll buy us a little time until he can get here." He injected the serum without even waiting for me to give him the okay then started to stand.
I stopped him with a hand on his forearm. "Hey…"
I felt like I should say… something. If the drugs knocked me out, I might not ever wake up again. Going in my sleep was never much of an option in this job, so I actually kind of found the notion of doing just that a little comforting. But if this was it, my last chance to say goodbye, it seemed I should take it. Problem was, I didn’t know how to do it.
Evidently, neither did Rodney. He stared at my hand for a few seconds before finally lifting his eyes to mine. "You knew, didn’t you? You knew that there was a good chance my drink would be poisoned."
"There’s always a good chance your drink would be poisoned, McKay. That’s why I was assigned to you."
"But not that Michael would be the culprit. You knew Michael was going to poison my drink."
"We both knew that was always an option, too," I pointed out, already feeling the sedative effect of the drugs drag my eyelids down.
"And yet you still tested it for me."
I shrugged my shoulders, letting my eyes drift shut. "Eh, it’s part of the job."
"So is letting the drink get passed you when they tell you to."
"Then they should consider this my two week notice," I mumbled, my tongue feeling incredibly thick and slow, much like my brain at the moment.
"I think you gave notice for both of us," he snorted.
"Two for one package deal." By now I felt like I was floating a few feet off the sofa and I tightened my grip on his arm to keep from banging into the ceiling. That wouldn’t do, now would it? Save myself from poisoning only to die in a freak ceiling fan accident?
My drunken laugh at that thought had him patting my hand. "Get some rest, Sheppard. Carson will be here soon."
I tried to tell him to watch the doors, but my mouth wouldn’t work, so I concentrated on that for a while and then I couldn’t remember why I was trying to get my mouth to work anyway because the thought was lost in the cotton that had evidently filled my head.
At one point I roused enough to see McKay aligning a contraption to point at me. He had it sitting on the coffee table and it looked like a fifth grade science project gone bad. "Hey, you might want to close your eyes again," he suggested and I did just that, lulled back into sleep by the whir of his homemade EMP charging up.
When I woke next it was to Rodney yelling, "Jesus, he’s throwing up again. Help me get him on his side."
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything except heave what felt like battery acid out of me and let the two of them manhandle me onto my side. My hand flailed out and impacted with someone… Teyla, given the female yelp I heard in response… and a strong hand clamped onto my wrist to restrain it. Instinct had me fighting it, even as I continued to retch.
"Sheppard, take it easy. We’re trying to help here."
Teyla’s cool hand brushed across the back of my neck as she added her reassurances. "John, it is Rodney and Teyla. You are safe."
Safe but dying. I wasn’t sure that was much of an improvement, but I stopped struggling against them, gasping for breath when my stomach finally stopped revolting against me and rolling back to rest exhaustedly against someone.
"Carson?" I managed form the name, doing my best to focus on the two faces swaying above me as I shivered from the cold sweats, finally closing my eyes to keep the sea sickness at bay.
"Soon," Rodney promised with a twinge of his own desperation. "He should be here real soon. So just… just hold on for a little bit longer. Okay?"
"Trying." And I was; I really was. Because when you got right down to it, I would have died to keep McKay alive, but I sure the hell would have preferred to avoid that outcome if at all possible. Unfortunately I wasn’t sure that was really an option considering I couldn’t stop trembling.
A hand ran briskly up and down my arm in an attempt to warm me even as a blanket was draped over my quaking body. "Well, keep it up."
I nodded wordlessly confirming that was the plan, settling my head back down and fighting the lingering nausea. A damp cloth was dabbed across my face with a gentle touch and Teyla began to hum softly beside me and I gratefully let the sound of her voice lull me back under.
From then on, I wasn’t sure what was real and what was a dream. Voices were floating around me. Voices I knew, one I never thought I’d hear again, at times calm then panicked. Hands holding me down, soothing me, fighting me. My heart racing, beating out of my chest, like I was running full out, my lungs burning, like that day on the Mall.
I’d only lost McKay once. In the four years we’d been working together, the bad guys had only had him away from me once. And even though I had him back in less than ten minutes, it was the longest ten minutes of my life. They had grabbed him on the Mall, in broad daylight, as we were looking for a place to sit and eat the sandwiches we’d bought from a cart during a break from a series of congressional meetings he’d been attending. We’d been behind closed doors all day, and I figured the fresh air would do us both good. Jumping across the table and throttling a senator wasn’t exactly looked upon favorably, and that’s just what Rodney seemed like he was going to do. So when a lunch break was called, we’d left the Capitol Building and headed down toward the museum-lined, green grass that was covered with as many tourists as Beltway insiders.
McKay was alternating between complaining about the distinguished idiot from Idaho he’d been dealing with and remarking that there was a Jasper John’s retrospective at the National Gallery and we should go check it out, when a jogger ran into me. By the time we untangled, Rodney wasn’t standing there anymore. I managed to catch a flash of him being shoved limply into a car that pulled off from the curb. Limp because he was unconscious, I had told myself, not dead. Definitely not dead. Because why would they take him if he was already dead? But it left me to decide if I’d take out the jogger and hope we could get him to talk in time or take a gamble and pursue the getaway car on foot.
I chose running after the car.
Traffic was thick, always was around the Mall, which was the only reason I had a chance in hell of catching them. I’d pulled my gun even as I hurdled over a low chain lining the sidewalk, legs pumping as fast as they would carry me, jacket and tie fluttering out behind me. I dodged a bike courier, slid across the hood of a limo, pushed through a group of school kids heading into the National History Museum to see the car turning right at the intersection a block ahead. I nearly took out two nuns as I sprinted around the block from the opposite end in an attempt to cut them off. I almost had them at the light, but it turned green, the car cut off a cab and turned another corner and I thought I’d lost them. But I ran harder, pushed a little more speed from my legs and caught them when they were slowed behind a city bus two lanes over. Still, I’d pushed myself to the point that I thought my chest was going to explode by the time I’d run up the back of a cab to leap on top of the car where Rodney was being held and put a bullet between the eyes of the driver then did the same to the man in the backseat with McKay.
When I’d opened the back door to the car and checked Rodney’s pulse, his eyes had fluttered open and a goofy grin had spread across his face. "Hey, where’d y’go?" No accusation, no blame, just idle curiosity thanks to the drugs he’d been given. But, the thing was, even when he’d sobered up, he’d never blamed me then either.
It was a big difference from the expression on his face when I opened my eyes again to see him hovering above me. There was a shit load of accusation there, not to mention a threatening glare, as if daring me to try it again. Problem was, I had no clue what I’d done in the first place.
"Carson, he’s moving!"
Beckett appeared over McKay’s shoulder, giving it a pat, before assuring him, "It’s okay, Rodney. I believe the convulsions are behind us. He’s just waking up." The physician gave Rodney a gentle shove to move him out of the way and get in close enough to shine a pen light in my eyes. When I winced away from the tiny beam, he apologized. "Sorry, but that’s actually a good sign. A very good sign."
"Doc," I managed to croak. My throat felt raw with the lingering taste of blood in my mouth and it was taking pretty much every ounce of energy I had to keep my eyes open and speak. "I’m a little surprised to see you… you know… alive."
He leaned in closer and checked my I.V. as he mumbled, "After last night, lad, I can honestly say the same about you." Behind him, Rodney’s expression darkened and Carson spoke a little louder. "But your prognosis looks very promising now. We’ll get some more fluids in you, let you rest a bit more, and try some liquids by mouth this evening if you continue to do as well as you are now."
"This is good?" I’d never felt so crappy in my entire life.
He smiled at me and patted my chest. "This is splendid. You’re a very lucky man, Agent Sheppard; you survived Rodney’s first aid."
McKay frowned harder and when he didn’t come back with an insult of his own, it confirmed how exhausted he looked. "Need to move," I warned, my eyes already betraying me and sliding shut again. "Need a secure location…"
"Ronon and Teyla have taken care of that," Carson told me. "You just concentrate on recuperating and leave the rest to us."
Teyla and Ronon were there to watch over us. Not me, but it would have to do for now seeing as all I would be capable of doing to any Genii who showed up was deafening them with my snoring and disgust them with a puddle of pillow drool.
By the rosy glow of sunlight in the room, it was nearing sunset when I woke the next time. Ronon was sitting in the chair by the window of the room I was in, idly flipping his knife as he surveyed the front of the building that was definitely not Teyla’s townhouse. The sound of sirens and the steady thud of an overworked car speaker on the street a few floors below let me know we definitely weren’t in the suburbs anymore.
"Where are we?" I asked, trying to orient myself to the new surroundings. I was in a bed and not on a couch in a very nondescript room… bed, nightstand, chair, table, pale walls, no artwork or decorations.
"One of Teyla’s safe houses," Ronon informed me. "We moved you while you were out last night. Beckett wasn’t too happy about it but it wouldn’t have done a lot of good for him to save you with the antidote just to have the Genii finish you with a bullet."
"So, evidently, I was the only one who didn’t know Carson had faked his death," I accused lightly.
The big guy shrugged. "It was need to know, and you didn’t need to know yet."
"But McKay did?" I tried to push up and sit and groaned at the way the room spun. Every muscle ached, my head throbbed, and my stomach still felt like it was going to turn on me at any second.
"You might not want to do that," he warned a little too late.
I gave him a sarcastic smirk for his effort. "Don’t change the subject. You and Beckett pulled my scientist into your little scheme and didn’t tell me. Anything that involves McKay I need to know."
"McKay didn’t know anything about Carson being alive until a few months ago."
His defense didn’t impress me. "Then why didn’t he tell me about it when he did find out?"
"Rodney’s his own man. What he does or doesn’t tell you is his business." With a quick flourish, the blade disappeared into his coat.
"His own man," I snorted. "He’s a scientist on a Hybrid team. You know what that means as well as I do. He gave up being his own man when I was assigned to him."
"And you should know nothing is what it seems when you work for Michael."
He was right, of course, about working for Michael, but I had thought that concept didn’t apply to McKay. I mean, we shared a house for Christ’s sake. Granted it was three stories, two wings, and I could have gone days without seeing him if I didn’t want to. Rodney had initially bitched to high heaven about the fact that I was expected to be around to watch him twenty-four/seven, insisting that he had no need for a nanny with a gun. But it didn’t matter; orders were orders. I’d tried to write it off to him as the same setup as Magnum had at Robin’s Nest and all that had earned me were some smart ass comments about me being free to fulfill my homoerotic fantasies of growing a mustache and wearing short shorts at any address but his. But eventually we’d settled into a companionable routine like roommates eventually do, and, damn it, roommates told each other stuff. Hybrid teams definitely told each other stuff. And Rodney hadn’t told me jack shit about Carson for months now. Which begged the question, what else hadn’t he told me?
"Where is Dr. Independent anyway?"
Ronon hitched a head full of dredlocks pulled back with a leather cord toward the door. "Sleeping… finally. Beckett had to threaten to sedate him then he cut off his supply of coffee and that pretty much sealed the deal."
Rodney spent most of his life running on adrenaline and caffeine. I was sure he’d had his fair share of both since we’d left that poker game the night before. If you cut off his supply line to either of those, he was dragging; both and he was comatose.
"Did he eat? If we have to make a fast break from here, the last thing we need is him falling out because of his blood sugar."
Brown eyes rolled at my question. "Sheppard, we’ve got it under control. Right now you’re the one who couldn’t walk to the front door, much less fight your way out. Leave McKay to me and Teyla and you get some more sleep."
"Big talk for an agent who’s still watching the back of his scientist who died over a year ago."
His lips quirked at my barb. "What can I say? Old habits die hard."
"Evidently so do Scottish physicians," I grumped, but settled back down in the bed, pulled the covers back over my shoulder and drifted back to sleep.
Teyla sitting next to me woke me after the sun had gone down. The I.V. was gone and she held a bowl in her hands. "Carson believes you should be able eat something now."
"Really?" I asked warily.
"Not to fear; it is simply Jell-O," she told me with a grin. "I prepared orange so Rodney would not try to steal it."
I gripped the bowl but my hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t hold the spoon. She took them back and fed me a bite. The cold gelatin actually felt good on my throat and I gave her a small grimace that she had to feed me like a child. "Sorry."
"There is nothing to apologize for. Carson was almost as incapacitated during his recovery and he did not reach nearly the state that you did. The tremors are an aftereffect of the antidote, but they should pass by morning."
"You took care of Carson during his recovery?"
"Ronon helped when he could, but we could not risk him bringing Michael to Carson’s location by drawing too much attention to himself."
"Not until you could make Carson disappear," I expanded on what she was saying and swallowed another bite.
"I had to find the best… fit for him. And then convince the other party that it was in their best interest to take Carson."
"What other party?" I pushed. "Will they take us, too? If not, can you find someone else? Hell, someone out there has to need an egomaniacal genius."
She raised a hand to silence me. "John, I am not at liberty to reveal information about my sources. You know that."
"Look, I know you still blame me for Athos, but McKay hadn’t even been recruited by Michael when that went down."
She flinched minutely at the name of the village. It had been years ago when we were both field agents. Michael had received intel that the small farming village was actually a cover for more nefarious weapons production. I was leading the strike team and never questions the orders, never doubted the intel, and as a result, we had destroyed every living thing in the village. When no weapons were found, I’d also lead the team who went after the person who had fed us false information, but that hadn’t been enough for Teyla. There was never enough vengeance to wash away the guilt she felt. It wasn’t long after the incident in Athos that she asked to be transferred out of the field and over a couple of years she’d managed to gradually separate herself completely from Michael and become an independent operative.
"I do not blame you any more than I blame myself for that tragedy," she told me with a shake of her head. "And it will not keep me from helping you. If nothing else, it strengthens my resolve in helping you leave Michael. But you must do it on my terms and those of the people who would be willing to help you."
With a disgruntled nod I took another bite and let the subject drop. "Where’s McKay?"
"He is still resting," she assured with a small smile… that I didn’t buy for one second. If the flicker of her eyes away from mine hadn’t given her away, the suggestion that Rodney was still supposedly sleeping would have confirmed the lie. Either McKay was drugged out of his mind or he was gone, and I had a feeling it was the latter.
"Teyla?" If there was a hint of a threat in the way I said her name, then so be it. "Where’s McKay?"
"He is safe…" she started, but I pushed the covers back and slung my legs over the side of the bed, gripping the edge of the mattress to ride out the dizziness. "John, he is with Ronon at a very secure location. I promise you…"
Pushing to my feet, I used the nightstand to brace myself. "Twenty-four hours ago Michael was trying to kill him and you just let him leave? What the fuck were you thinking?"
She tugged at my arm to try to get me back in bed. "John, this is madness. You can barely stand…"
I yanked my arm away and staggered toward the door, noticing for the first time I was wearing nothing more than my boxers. I stopped and looked around the room. "Where the hell are my pants?"
"Covered with blood, like the rest of your clothes and most of mine," McKay accused, as if I had intentionally bloodied them.
I looked back at the door to see him standing there holding shopping bags with Ronon right behind him. Beckett pushed passed both of them with an irritated expression.
"Agent Sheppard, I did not come out of hiding to save your life only to have you waste all my hard work by ignoring my orders of bed rest." He was already ushering me back toward the bed, which I sunk into gratefully… but I didn’t let McKay know that.
"You went shopping? The Genii are probably scouring the city for us right now and you went shopping?"
Raising his arms wide, he let the bags in his hand fall to the ground. "Yes, because I had this wacky notion that wearing street clothes might help us blend in better than blood stained tuxedos. And unless Michael has started staking out the DC area Targets, I think we might be okay."
Leaning my head back against the headboard, I ignored Carson checking my blood pressure and kept berating McKay. "You think we might be okay? You think? Because I don’t think you were thinking at all. You could have let Teyla or Ronon go buy us some clothes, you son of a bitch! You didn’t have to go." When his eyes dropped to his shoes, something clicked. "Unless you went somewhere else besides the store."
The four people in the room with me looking uncomfortably from one to the other proved I was right. Rodney waved his hand toward the door. "Could you guys give us a minute?"
When the others left, he took a step forward and started talking before I could lay into him for being an absolute moron when it came to keeping himself alive. "Look, here’s the deal. I know I’ve kept a few things from you lately…"
"Like Carson being alive?"
He ignored me and powered forward, hands forming his argument as much as his words. "… but I have my reasons. Some very good reasons, actually, and I think you’ll agree when you learn them..." He scratched absently at his shoulder before speaking again when I opened my mouth again. "But right now I can’t tell you. Okay? I can’t. So you’re just going to have to go against your instincts and show a little trust."
"I can trust," I grumped defensively, crossing my arms across my chest.
He barked a loud, "Ha!"
My frown deepened at the sound. "I can."
"Sheppard, you pulled a gun on a girl scout who came to the house trying to sell us cookies."
"She climbed the gate! No one needs a badge so badly that they’re willing to scale a security gate."
His arms followed his eyes up toward the ceiling. "She was ten!"
"Well… I trust… you," I admitted in a reluctant funk. I did trust him, and sometimes that scared me more than what an enemy operative could do to me.
"I know," he told me in a mumble, studying his shoes again. "Which is what has made this whole thing so shitty."
With a sigh I ran my hand through my hair, feeling the need for a shower but not feeling like passing out on the tiles to get one. "Can you at least tell me... have you found a way out?"
"Maybe," he prevaricated.
I nodded, knowing that was the best I was going to get. "Just try to keep the dancing to a minimum without me. Okay?"
His lips curved crookedly. "I never wanted to dance with nobody but you, Sheppard."
I nodded again in silent agreement with his sentiment before moving away from the touchy feely conversation this could turn into and, instead, indicated the bags. "So what did you buy me?"
He was already dressed in some of his new clothes—a dark blue, long-sleeve t-shirt under a deep, olive green short-sleeve one over khakis with a simple sweatshirt jacket he’d already tossed aside onto a chair when he came in. It was very… civilian and, he was right, it would blend in easily with the tourist crowds around town. Mine would, too. There was the mandatory toiletries, socks, and underwear, several pairs of dark jeans and the typical dark colors of my own casual wardrobe—black Henley, charcoal, mock turtleneck pullover, a navy blue long-sleeve t-shirt and cotton jacket to match, and another black leather jacket. Hell, he’d even picked me up some sweats and a pair of running shoes.
"For when you’re able to run again," he’d explained. "You know, without falling over when you stand up."
"Did you pick up some for yourself?" I asked with a raised eyebrow. Me, I loved to run, that was when I wasn’t running down cars full of kidnappers. I loved to push myself that little bit more, open up and let the world fall away for that last little sprint at the end of a long run. McKay, not so much. He ran if his life depended on it and there was only so many times I could claim a swarm of killer bees was on our ass whenever I was able to drag him out for a jog.
He snapped fingers with a look of fake disappointment. "I knew I forgot something."
"Don’t forget to keep your eyes open if you go out again. Ronon’s good, and so is Teyla, but they don’t know you like I do and you don’t know their style, so if something happens you need to be extra alert."
"I have a meeting set up day after tomorrow. They want to meet you, too. If you feel up to it, I want you to come with me."
"I’ll be there," I told him without a doubt and without asking him who we were meeting. He asked me to trust him, and that’s exactly what I planned to do. I quirked my head. "I’m eating jell-o now, aren’t I? By then I’ll be ready to stop for a steak before hand."
He snorted. "Let’s stick with Jell-o for the time being, Sheppard."
I wasn’t eating Porterhouses by the time Rodney and I left two days later for the metro station that would take us to the Lincoln Memorial, but I could at least walk without keeling over in agony. Still, when we entered the train car, I didn’t argue when McKay sat then looked up at me and hitched his head toward the seat beside him. It was a twenty-five minute metro ride from Anacostia to George Washington University, and then about a three quarter of a mile walk to the memorial from there. At that point I was more than ready to sink to the steps that led up to the chamber with the massive statue of our sixteenth president. Hell, if someone as great as Abraham Lincoln could sit, I didn’t see why I couldn’t do the same. But that didn’t mean I was any less aware of our surroundings.
"So, if this works out, it could mean the end of your Bruce Wayne days," I pointed out. "You going to miss it?"
"Eh," he shrugged. "I did it once, I can do it again. How about you? Going to miss mooching off of me?"
"I did it once, I can do it again," I grinned. "Although I am going to miss the hell out of the home theater system and built in keg."
It was early spring and there was still a chill in the air after dark, so the number of tourist in the area was minimal even though it wasn’t yet eight at night. I pulled my jacket closer around me and tried not to shiver; loss of blood tended to that to me.
Rodney gave a disappointed shake of his head. "I should have remembered what a light weight you are and bought you a warmer coat."
"I’m fine," I dismissed. "Besides, you’re the one who’s one step from hibernation with the first frost of the season."
"Which is why I only want missions in the southern hemisphere in the winter, and yet it seems like they only send us places in Eastern Europe in January. I’m starting to suspect they do it on purpose."
I kept the thought that he was probably right and it was because he did demand assignments in Puerto Viarta and Hawaii as soon as the leaves started turning and instead gave a small chuckle. "Hey, Rodney, do you remember that mission in Berlin?"
"I remember thinking I was never going to stop the bleeding," he grumped.
In the end, he had stopped the bleeding. We’d been in the old Kreuzberg district of Berlin to meet a contact who had information about an explosive being developed by a chemical manufacturer in the city. It was a crapfest of a night from the beginning, mainly due to the rain. It was one of those cold, miserable downpours where you’re sure it should be snowing but it just won’t because Mother Nature seems to know it makes you so much more miserable when its hard, steady, fall soaks through to freeze your bones. On top of that, our informant was almost an hour late and ended up being followed by someone who didn’t want him to give up his insider information and he was shot before he could say, ‘Guten abend’. That’s when I’d taken a bullet in the leg trying to cover McKay. Rodney had hauled my ass into the nearest public place he could find, both of us dripping wet, my own puddles of rainwater tinted dark red, and he’d promptly locked us in the restroom.
"You not only stopped the bleeding, you managed to deliver the keynote address at the International Meeting of King High Geeks the next day."
"It was the meeting of the International Association of Mathematical Physicists, and it was a brilliant speech, and would have been an amazing presentation if not for the fact that I had a busted nose and two black eyes."
His irritation had me grinning even more. "Hey, it’s not my fault you got into a fight with a drag queen with a killer right hook."
Yeah, Rodney had locked us in the bathroom, which had only managed to piss off the local clientele who felt we were hogging one of the most popular rooms in the establishments. And when McKay decided to plead our case to a guy in a platinum blonde bouffant who was stuffed so tightly into an evening gown it reminded me of a red-sequined knockwurst, he’d ended up punched in the nose for his effort. Like I said, Rodney loved to curse in the more guttural languages, and evidently Lili Von Shtupp didn’t care for the names the irate scientist was yelling in a spray of spittle over the beat of house music in the club.
"Yes, it was your fault," Rodney accused with a poke at my chest. "If you hadn’t ended up shot and threatening to bleed out on me, we never would have ended up in a bathroom stall with a bunch of Divine wannabes banging on the door. These things are always your fault, Sheppard. Always."
I gave a shrug. "If you’d just made a few happy noises like I suggested, they would have left us alone."
"Sheppard, there was no way I was going to moan, Reiten hart an mir, ihnen massiv hengst, sie, at the top of my lungs."
With a small laugh I told him, "Well, I sure the hell wasn’t going to yell it. After all, I’m the massive stud and any riding would have been done by me."
God, I loved pushing McKay’s buttons. I knew I’d done exactly that when he stood from the step and insisted, "You’re a massive pain in the ass is what you are, Agent."
When a middle-aged couple slowed and then took a wide berth around us as they came down the stairs, I motioned for him to sit again. "All right, all right, maybe that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. But cut me some slack, I was delirious from blood loss." And despite that small setback, it was some of the funniest shit I’d ever seen in my life. That was the thing about working with McKay; even in the most dire straits, we had a blast. The fun alone had been worth every bullet wound, every poisoning, every everything. "And you can’t blame all the shit that’s happened to us on me. I mean, is this mess my fault?"
Taking a deep breath, Rodney sank down beside me again, propped his arms on his knees, and dropped his head. "You’d be surprised how much it actually is because of you."
"Rodney," I started gently, "if you’ll just tell me what the hell…"
But I went silent, standing abruptly with my gun drawn and scanning the area, when McKay grabbed at this neck and pulled away a small barb. "Oh, this is so not good."
"What is it?" I demanded, yanking him to his feet while still looking for whoever shot the barb. "Rodney, what the fuck is it?"
"Sheppard, you need to get away from me. Really far away from me." He pulled away and started down the stairs.
"The hell I do." I caught up with him easily enough, keeping pace even when he broke into a slow jog and looked around as if for someplace to hide. He was heading toward the Vietnam Memorial, the black V cutting smoothly into the landscape, and I grabbed his arm to stop him as he started down the walkway that was illuminated from the inset lighting in the path. "Now tell me what the…"
I cut short my order for more information when a dark figure jumped down from above the wall to land easily about twenty feet ahead of us. His black coat hung below his knees, a dark contrast to the white spire of the Washington Memorial rising in the distance behind him. Kolya. Son of a bitch, the Genii had found us.
Stepping in front of McKay, I ordered in a tense voice, "Run, Rodney." Leveling my gun on the man who was already holding one on me, I could still sense McKay behind me. "Goddammit, I said run!"
"Sorry, John, I can’t do that."
Glancing back, I saw Rodney had his gun drawn, too… only he was pointing it at me.
"Rodney?" I asked quietly in confusion. What the fuck? Seriously, what the fuck?
He gave a sad shake of his head. "I told you, you needed to get away from me."
I really didn’t care about Kolya anymore, but I still held my gun on him. Although the small arrogant smile on his pock-marked face showed how unconcerned he was by that. "Not that we’ll turn down this little present, Dr. McKay, but you were supposed to deliver Beckett."
"I told you I needed more time," McKay insisted, gun still trained on me, although I could see it shake slightly. "Carson’s careful. He’s managed to avoid Michael for over a year now. What makes you think he’ll just come out because I ask him to? Or that Ronon would let him, for that matter?"
"Because he made contact with you, Doctor. Therefore, he trusts you or he needs you. Either way, you can use it to bring him in."
My brow furrowed as I started putting the pieces together. "You’re working with the Genii to bring in Beckett? But this is Carson we’re talking about, Rodney. He’s your friend..."
"Shut up, Sheppard," he snapped at me. "You weren’t supposed to be part of this."
"He’s telling the truth, there, Agent Sheppard," Kolya informed me. "He did everything he could to keep you out of the middle. He even asked to have you reassigned because he knew you’d never go for the plan. But when you refused the reassignment, and Dr. McKay kept dragging his feet on bringing Beckett in, we pushed his hand by using the poison on you, figuring he’d have to call the good doctor for the antidote if he had any chance of saving you."
I looked back at McKay, who licked his lips as he shifted his feet nervously, but still held his sidearm in a steady grip. "You should have taken the reassignment, Sheppard. I had it all worked out but you wouldn’t do it and now here we are."
"I couldn’t take the reassignment, not after what happened to Carson. I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen to you."
I’d been willing to sacrifice everything to keep Rodney safe, keep him alive. And now he was standing here with a gun pointed at me, ready to turn over Carson to the Genii, and I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d misjudged him so damn badly. After four years I thought I knew him better than anyone and, as a result of that self delusion, I had two guns on me, three if the shadow off to my right was Kolya’s partner, and I was seriously starting to doubt I’d be able to walk away from here tonight.
"I’m sorry, John," he repeated. "I didn’t want it to go down like this."
"Heartbreaking isn’t it? When a friend stabs you in the back… or shoots you, as the case may be." Kolya tilted his head with an expression of mock sympathy. "Although, as much of a sentimentalist as I am, we’re really running out of time here, as you are probably more than aware, Dr. McKay. So I really need for you to tell me the address where Beckett is hiding."
Not only Beckett, but Ronon and Teyla. Christ, Rodney was going to sell us all down the river. But why? There had to be a reason why he would be willing to do this. What he said next clued me in a little more.
"Look, just give me the reagent to counteract the accelerant and I’ll take you there myself."
"Mmmm, I don’t think so, Dr. McKay." Kolya reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a mechanism that looked a lot like a gun in its own right, only with a tube over the barrel and a jar holding a yellow liquid coming down in front of the trigger. "But give me the address and I’ll remove the device right now. Oh, and just to make sure you don’t double cross me, if the address doesn’t pan out, we’ll be paying your sister and her family a visit next."
They were threatening not only Rodney personally, but his sister, as well. And I risked a glance back at Rodney to see he was still holding his gun on me, but his eyes were on the device in Kolya’s hand and a small curve was tugging at the corner of his mouth. It was the same expression I’d seen when he had just finished a complicated calculation he’d been working on for two days, or when he was about to call check mate, or when he caught hearts on both the turn and the river to make a backdoor flush. It was an expression that said, your ass is mine.
"I’m sorry, John." Only this time he said it in that perfectly inflected Russian of his.
"McKay?" I asked hesitantly, slipping effortlessly into Mandarin and our old habit of conversing in different languages. "What are you doing?"
An old habit just like Rodney bluffing when he held a royal flush.
"Filling out my dance card," he told me in French, shifted his gun from me to Kolya, and proceeded to empty his clip as he took a step forward with every shot.
I pivoted and started to fire at the shape I suspected was the second agent, only he wasn’t there anymore. The bullet whizzing by me let me know after all those bullets Rodney had fired, Kolya wasn’t dead. Wounded, by the way he was firing wide and staggering backward, but not dead. But before I could take the bastard down once and for all, we were surrounded by military. And where the fuck had they come from? I’ll admit I may not have been at my peak performance, but I should have been able to hear a goddamn platoon advancing on us.
"Weapons down!" P90s were on me and McKay, as well as Kolya. "Show your hands! On your knees! Now!"
I did as I was told, dropping my handgun then myself with my hands behind my head. Rodney let his gun fall as he darted past me to where they had Kolya facedown on the ground.
"McKay!" I hissed. It would be typical of Rodney to end up dead for not following a pretty straight forward command.
"Don’t worry, they’re with me," he informed me as he scooped Kolya’s device from the ground. "Chop, chop." He snapped fingers irritably at me and I eyed the man wearing civilian clothing and a baseball cap who seemed to be in charge. When he gave a subtle hitch of his head, I scrambled after McKay.
"Now will you tell me what the fuck is going on?" I grumbled when I reached him.
"I will as soon as you get the bomb out of me," he promised, pushing the device he’d retrieved into my hand.
He had already shed his jacket and pulled his shirt up to expose his back and shoulders. "They imbedded an explosive device in me to make sure I did what they wanted. It’s between my right shoulder blade and spine."
"Jesus," I sighed when I ran my fingers over the area he had indicated and felt the lump beneath his skin. "How? When?"
"Take the extractor and align it over the bomb," he instructed and I did what he told me as he filled me in one what had happened. "Carson made contact about four months ago. Told me about how he’d faked his death, how he was working for a new organization now, one that specializes in alien technology. Can you believe that?"
"Considering that I’m about to take a bomb out of your back with a glorified bug vacuum, nothing surprises me anymore, Rodney." Then something dawned at me. "Why didn’t the EMP disable the bomb as well as the nanite tags?"
"It’s a chemical trigger; the EMP wouldn’t have any effect on it. Which is why you need to make sure the tube is covering the bomb completely; if it’s exposed to air or anything but this specific device’s chemical neutralizer that’s in the holding bottle, it will detonate."
Well, that answered my question as to why he didn’t have Carson remove it surgically. I adjusted the tube slightly and demanded, "When the fuck did they put this in you?"
"The night I met Carson. The program he works for needs a power source. They think mine will allow them to travel to a different galaxy and if they decide they want mine, it would have been a way out of Michael. But the Genii picked me up before I made it back home. When you have it aligned, pull the trigger and hold it steady. Whatever you do, don’t break the seal it’s going to form with my skin."
"What’s it going to do?" I asked in dread, having a pretty good idea.
"It’s going to inject a serum into the bomb that will pretty much have it burrow its way out of me." He leaned forward to brace himself against the wall.
"Won’t that hurt?"
"Oh, hell, yes. Normally this would be done under local anesthesia, but seeing as that barb I was shot with contained an accelerant for the chemical trigger in the bomb, we don’t really have time for that. In fact, we really don’t have time for this conversation."
"Right." I grimaced and pulled the trigger.
McKay slammed a fist against the black granite when the needle injected into his back. He ground his teeth against a grunt of pain and my grimace only grew when I could see the muscle in his back distending and quivering as the explosive worked its way to the surface. I decided we could both use a distraction right about now. "How did you meet Carson without me knowing you’d left the house?"
"Drugged… your… beer."
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad about how painful the extraction was for him. "You son of a bitch! You drugged me? You fucking drugged me? I should…"
"Can we… talk about… this later?" He actually did cry out then as the quarter-sized bomb pushed its way through his skin and was sucked up and into the bottle of neutralizing liquid in the small holding chamber.
Rodney crumpled to his knees and I dropped with him, afraid to remove the extraction device from his back. He was slumping against the wall, breathing hard, as I pulled the device away tentatively to take in Rodney’s mangled back and demanded of one of the armed men around us, "I need a first aid kit."
He handed over the field dressing from his tac vest and I gently sat down the device with the bomb as I pressed the bandage against the wound. When Rodney sucked in a ragged breath, I tried to sooth, "Easy, McKay. It’s all over."
He cracked his eyes to look back at me. "I couldn’t tell you, Sheppard. I wanted to; I was going to the night I met with Carson."
"It’s okay, Rodney; I understand. They threatened you and now they’ve threatened Jeannie…"
"Jeannie’s safe." Lines of pain were etching deep around his eyes that he had once again closed. "Remember when you said you couldn’t contact Lorne and Radek in Prague? It’s because they weren’t in Prague. They were taking Jeannie and her family underground. You were the one who wasn’t safe. The night Kolya and his team picked me up, I thought I’d convinced them that you didn’t know anything about Carson being alive. But they implanted the bomb, and they had the house, the car, hell, everything, bugged. If I’d said anything to you, they would have killed you, and I couldn’t let that happen." He gave a bitter snort. "Not that I was able to keep them from trying in the end, but I did everything I could thing of to try to keep that from happening. I even asked them to reassign you so you’d be safe. But you wouldn’t take the new assignment." He gave a small laugh. "Stubborn bastard. All you had to do was stand aside, but you wouldn’t do it."
"I thought they were going to take you out like they did Beckett," I told him. "And why didn’t you just go with Carson’s new outfit? If they play with alien technology, surely they could have figured out how to get the bomb out of you."
"I wouldn’t go with them until they agreed to take you, too."
I blinked at his confession, taking a second to figure out exactly what I could say to something like that. "Why the hell would you do something as stupid as that? I could have disappeared. I know how to live on the run and take care of myself. If you had a way out, you should have taken it."
Blues eyes took me in. "Would you have done that to me if the table had been turned? Just abandoned me to fend for myself?" When I didn’t answer, because we both knew I wouldn’t even consider something like that, he shook his head. "I couldn’t leave you in the lurch like that. I wouldn’t do that to you, Sheppard. After everything you’ve done to make sure I was safe over the years, I had to do the same for you."
I exhaled and shook my head in disbelief. "McKay, you are some piece of work."
He gave me an exhausted smile. "Too cool for the second grade, remember?"
"And you have the nerve to call me a stubborn bastard?"
A new voice joined us then. "I’d have to say it’s a toss up between who wins that prize." It belonged to the man dressed in street clothes, hair under the baseball cap showing more gray than the sandy blonde it had been in younger years. With hands stuffed into the pockets of his jacket, he looked from McKay to me. "It’s a good thing I’ve worked with my fair share of stubborn bastards in the past."
Rodney sat up straighter and the man raised his eyebrows, "You were late for our meeting, Dr. McKay."
Fingers fluttered toward the bandage I still held to his back. "Sorry, we… hit traffic."
Looking over to where his men were restraining Kolya and the second Genii agent, the man lifted his chin when he turned his attention back to us. "Ah, yes, Beltway traffic. It can be a real pain in the ass… or, in your case, somewhere a little higher."
"So, are we in?" McKay asked abruptly.
"Doctor, I personally think you’re more trouble than you’re worth. But Carter seems to think your little zero point doohickey is the only way we can get the gate to dial to Atlantis. And Daniel will never speak to me again if I pass up a chance to find the City of the Ancients. Now, as tempting as that might be, it just means he’d spend more time talking to Teal’c and the last thing I need is a Jaffa in a bad mood."
Atlantis? City of the Ancients? Jaffa? I had no clue what the hell he was talking about but it didn’t matter as long as they were willing to take us in.
"So, are we in?" Rodney repeated impatiently.
The man gave a tip of his head. "Yes, McKay, you are in."
"What about Sheppard? You know the deal; both of us or neither of us."
"Don’t listen to him," I insisted. "If you want him, he’s yours, with no strings attached."
"I’m the one making the deal here, not you," McKay snapped. "So stay out of it."
The man in the cap stepped a little closer and squatted down beside us. "You know, normally, I really don’t like attached strings. They tend to get all tangled up and cause a whole heck of a lot of trouble. But in your case, Sheppard, I’m willing to make an exception. Because the SGC needs McKay for his power source, but I think we need you to control McKay. I get the feeling you’re not only going to need some strings for the job, but probably some heavy duty nylon rope and duct tape… maybe even some shackles." Glancing over at Rodney, he clarified, "That means he’s in, too."
I hadn’t realized how relieved I was that we both had somewhere to go until he actually said the words. "Thanks," I told him with genuine gratitude.
Rodney piped in with an eager, "You won’t regret it."
"Oh, I don’t know. You’d be surprised at how much I really do end up regretting in this line of work." He looked casually around the grounds. "Having to explain to the President why there was a shootout in front of the Lincoln Memorial so that we could get a glorified battery is sure to rank way up there on my list."
When one of his men walked up behind him, he stood again. "General, the area is secure. We’re ready to go anytime you are."
Tapping at this earpiece, he spoke. "Daedalus, this is O’Neill. Prepare to beam the team plus two." He listened to the response, nodding to himself, before giving us a grin. "Gentlemen, welcome to the Department of Homeworld Security." O’Neill glanced at his watch. "Your orientation begins…now."
The memorials faded away in a golden shimmer of light and, the next thing we knew, McKay and I were staring out a massive window looking down on the planet we’d been standing on a few seconds before.
"Rodney," I asked in disbelief, "is that what I think it is?"
"Holy shit, Sheppard! We’re in orbit!" His giddy laugh was quickly joined by my own.
"I’ll tell you one thing, McKay, it sure beats the hell out of the home theater system."
"General O’Neill, welcome aboard." The greeting came from a balding man in a flight jumpsuit who was making his way from the command chair on the deck of the ship we were on. As he came closer, I could make out the name Caldwell on his chest.
"Thank you, Colonel. Have our other passengers joined us, yet?"
"No, Sir, we were just about to collect them."
"Well, then, let’s hop to it. The more the merrier, as they say."
McKay and I ignored the exchange, completely mesmerized by the view of Earth floating below us. We were on a spaceship. A goddamn spaceship! If this wasn’t safely out of Michael’s reach, then no place ever would be.
But a few seconds later, Carson’s voice brought us out of our daze. "Rodney, your back! Have you gone daft? What were you thinking removing the device in the field like that?" Ronon and Teyla were there, too, and none of them seemed particularly surprised by the view. Once we got settled in here, I was going to have to have a chat with those two about holding out on me.
"Oh, I don’t know, Carson," Rodney barked back as I helped him to his feet, still holding the dressing in place. "Maybe about living for the next five minutes?"
Beckett moved in and peeled back the bandage and tsked at what he saw. "Barbaric contraption. Why would anyone create such a thing?"
"The same reason you created your poison," McKay told him with simple surety.
It was then that Carson and I both understood Rodney had been a victim of his own invention. That realization was enough to have the physician stop his complaints about the explosive device. "Come along. Let’s get you to the infirmary and see what I can do to repair the damage that’s been done."
They started toward the door that led off the bridge and I noticed Ronon didn’t immediately follow. He evidently trusted these people with Beckett, so I took it as a good sign that I could trust them with McKay.
McKay’s eyes flicked over his shoulder to where he knew I’d be. Like Ronon had said, old habits died hard, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get out of the habit of watching Rodney’s back… although sucking bombs out of it was definitely something I could do without.
Through the lingering pain showing on his face, he gave me a small grin. "I think we may be hanging up our dancing shoes, Sheppard."
I’d never wanted Rodney to have to dance in the first place, but it was the nature of the business. You couldn’t do what we did without getting in the groove now and again. As much as I would have kept him off the dance floor if that had been a possibility, I’d have been fooling myself if I really thought I could have avoided it.
I considered what he said with a small shrug. "Maybe we’ll just learn a few new moves."
The truth was, I’m not sure I ever really wanted to dance myself. But I’d found out early on that I was good at it, I excelled at it, and it’s hard to turn away from a calling like that. But all these years with Rodney had shown I was also good at something else as well as being good for someone else, and in the long run, that had ended up being good for me.
If that meant giving up the style of dancing I had learned working for Michael, then so be it. After all, Dr. Rodney McKay was no longer a multimillionaire-industrialist-genius, so maybe that meant he no longer needed a bodyguard in the traditional sense. But Rodney and I were adaptable, to say the least. And as long as our new employer let me keep McKay as my dancing partner, I was good… hell, I was great.
And if Rodney could finagle a few trips to Vegas into our new assignment, I had no doubt we’d have that home theater system back in no time.