Also, because I'm a bit of a longwinded idiot, Part III is longer than LJ will actually allow in a single entry. So Part IIIb is linked to at the end.
It was just as well that Elizabeth was under strict orders not to do anything stupid in the next few days. There was really nothing stupid to be done.
The interrogation team spent the better part of the next twenty-four hours getting everything they could out of Sora. Of course, the job was made immeasurably easier by the fact that Sora actually wanted to divulge all the information she knew. Unfortunately, she had not been entrusted with what exactly the Genii were intending to hit, but she had brought with her a disc. She didn’t have the encryption key to get to any of the data, but she assured them that the phrase written across the CD was one that indicated high-security information in the organization.
John was with the cryptographers in the days that followed Sora’s defection, trying to unlock the CD’s encryption. Elizabeth, on the other hand, went to school.
After the interrogators were finished with Sora, Elizabeth walked into the room where they were keeping her with a pad of paper and a pen. The girl looked up at her in confusion, but Elizabeth explained that she wanted to learn the Genii language. So Sora taught her.
Two days later, Sora was surprised at how much Elizabeth had absorbed, but it was easier for Elizabeth than it looked. She recognized rather swiftly that it was a blended language, not unlike one of a dozen forms of Yiddish. The base languages she already spoke. The only difficulty was mixing them together properly.
On the third day, Sora asked, “Why haven’t you killed me yet?”
Elizabeth’s pen barely paused on the page. She didn’t look up. “Are you talking about me specifically, or the organization?”
She looked up then. “Aside from the fact that my boss would be rather unhappy with me if I killed you, I haven’t because you didn’t kill me.”
“You could have been killed because of me.”
“I got over it.”
Sora shook her head. “That is not the way of the Genii.”
Without thinking about it, Elizabeth rubbed her left knee. “I know. As for the organization, we’re not in the habit of executing turncoats.”
“Even your own?”
“I didn’t say that.” She set her pen down and looked at the girl. “So why did you do it?”
Sora bit her lip. “There was a woman named Teyla who infiltrated our organization. After my father died, she took a huge risk and told me who she was and what she was doing. We both knew that Kolya and Cowen were planning something big. Teyla convinced me to get my hands on that disc and get out.”
Silence fell for a moment as Elizabeth continued conjugating verbs. “I did tell the truth, by the way,” Sora added.
“When I said that everyone among the Genii knows what you did,” she said. “But some of us do admire it.”
“Then why are those people still in the organization?”
“Because it’s almost impossible to get out.”
The World Series – an historic Yankees versus Cubs series – was going into the sixth game when John’s cell phone rang. He’d forgotten to turn it off during this marathon session of decryption, and several of his old colleagues jumped and glared at him. He thought about just turning it off, but to his surprise, the phone’s display said that the caller was his brother. He pushed the talk button on his way out of the room. “David, what’s up?”
“John, have you talked to Faith today?” his brother asked.
“Uh, no,” John replied. He’d called David the morning after he and Elizabeth had been at their house and explained what had happened.
David cursed softly. “She was supposed to call me this evening by six. I’ve been trying for the last three hours to get someone at the house to pick up the phone. She’s not answering her cell phone either.”
John stopped dead in his tracks for half a beat before spinning around and half-jogging toward Caldwell’s office. “David, stay right where you are,” he ordered. “I’m sending someone from the New York office to get you and take you someplace safe.”
“John, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but this can’t be good.”
Twenty minutes later, John had gathered up Elizabeth, Lorne, and Cadman, and they were moving through Hinsdale as covertly as possible. Lorne was about ready to break the door down when John remembered that there was a key under a planter. They let themselves into the house quietly, and John was horrified by what he saw.
There was glass everywhere. In the family room, a sofa had been flipped over, and it looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to the television. Across the hall, the refrigerator doors were standing wide open, many of its contents leaking from broken containers.
“Faith?” John called, his gun in his hands and Elizabeth following closely behind. “Corin? Robbie? Malcolm?”
Cadman was standing in the front entry. “Farmboy,” she called, “there’s blood on the floor in here.”
He looked at Elizabeth apprehensively. “Maybe it’s from me the other night,” she suggested.
“No,” John replied. “Faith’s meticulous. She would have cleaned that up before going back to bed that night.”
“Whatever happened, someone put up one hell of a fight,” said Lorne, looking inside a hall closet.
John glanced around. “Ping-Pong, Shotput, run upstairs and check any place big enough for a four-year-old to be hiding. Closets, bathtubs, under beds, anything. Sparky and I’ll check the rest of the first floor.”
Cadman started to say something, but then Elizabeth put her hand up in the air. Her eyes widened. “I hear a baby crying.”
John and Elizabeth took off to the back of the house, yelling at Cadman and Lorne to get upstairs. Elizabeth rounded a corner and arrived at the room first. By the time John got in there, she’d holstered her gun and was lifting Jamie from her crib. “It’s okay,” she whispered. She was rubbing the baby’s back, but that didn’t seem to be helping to calm Jamie down. “She’s probably hungry.”
John just stood and stared for a moment, not understanding how his sister-in-law and his nephews were nowhere in sight, but his baby niece was in Elizabeth’s arms, unharmed. His partner was also biting her lower lip, so he put his gun away and walked up to her, putting his hand on Jamie’s back. “Jamie,” he said in a singsong voice. She turned her face away from Elizabeth’s chest, and her crying reduced to teary pouting. John held his hands out to her. “Come to me?”
The baby almost twisted out of Elizabeth’s grasp as she reached for John, who took her and kissed her cheek before settling her against his shoulder. Her thumb found its way into her mouth, and her breath was warm against his neck. John glanced at Elizabeth, who nodded. “I’ll check the basement,” she said.
“Be careful,” he replied as she left the nursery.
When Elizabeth had left, he could hear footsteps upstairs, but it was neither the tiptoe nor mad dash of his three nephews. John found himself wandering back out to the front of the house. In the dining room, Corin and Robbie’s homework was still out on the table. Malcolm’s toy train was knocked over in the family room. There were celery sticks and an open jar of peanut butter on the island in the kitchen. They’d just been in the middle of their day.
There was a click on hardwood floor, and John spun around. Elizabeth had come up from the basement. She shook her head, and then he looked to the stairs to the second floor, where Lorne and Cadman were coming down. “Is the baby okay?” Lorne asked.
“As far as we can tell,” Elizabeth replied. “We’ll still have a doctor look her over when we get to headquarters. Did you–”
“No,” said Cadman, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Sheppard. There’s no one else in this house.”
“Well,” he said, “let’s get to work at finding the others.”
They headed out, Lorne thinking to grab the car seat he’d spotted in the closet on their way to the door. They put the baby in the middle of the back seat, Elizabeth and John on either side, and Jamie held on to John’s fingers all the way back to headquarters.
Elizabeth briefed Caldwell on the situation as soon as they got back. When she’d finished her account of what they’d found at David and Faith Sheppard’s house, he sank into his desk chair and shook his head. “I was afraid of this,” he said.
“We had to go somewhere, sir,” Elizabeth replied. “I was losing blood, and John knew he could trust his brother and sister-in-law.”
“We still don’t know where Kolya’s hiding when he’s not hitting major social events. For all we know, he was in the house across the street,” said Caldwell. “You can’t trust anyone, because you don’t know who’s watching. Sheppard should have known that.”
“I’d recommend not saying anything along those lines to him, though,” said Elizabeth. “He’s already beating himself up over this.”
“Yeah, I figured as much.”
A few minutes later, Elizabeth was in the elevator, on her way down to the infirmary sublevel. The elevator stopped at the tenth floor, however, and she pinched the bridge of her nose. She really just wanted to check on John.
She looked up to see Jack O’Neill stepping into the elevator. “You look like hell, Elizabeth,” he said. “You should go home.”
“You’re one to talk,” she replied. “I don’t even know why you’re still in this state.”
“Because you asked me to help out on this case,” said Jack. “Are you and Sheppard having problems?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You seem pissed,” he said. “And with everything I’ve heard about you and Sheppard, I figured I’d get the obvious question out of the way.”
Elizabeth let out a long breath. “No, John and I aren’t having problems,” she replied. “And I’m not sleeping with him either.”
The elevator came to a stop and the door opened. “Could have fooled me,” Jack said and stepped off, leaving Elizabeth alone for the rest of her descent. She had to force herself not to be overly irritated at Jack. He didn’t know what had happened.
She came into the infirmary and could immediately see John’s silhouette through a window in a small observation room. Doctor Beckett approached her almost immediately. “Doctor,” she said, “how’s the baby doing?”
“You were right,” he said. “She was hungry. I have no idea how long the wee thing was all alone.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “And John?”
“I almost pity the people who did this,” said the doctor. “Agent Sheppard doesn’t seem disposed to show mercy.”
“Would you?” she asked. “I should talk to him.”
“Yes, you should.”
Elizabeth nodded and headed back to the observation room. As she approached, John turned to face the door. The baby was snuggled against his chest as he held a bottle, and her fingers had wrapped around his thumb. Elizabeth was reluctant to intrude, but John heard the clicking of her heels on the tile floor and looked up at her. She stood in the doorway and said, “I talked to Caldwell. Someone from the New York office called. Your brother’s scared half to death, but he’s safe.”
John nodded slowly, looking back to the child in his arms. “Do we have any leads?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Sora’s doing what she can, but Kolya’s not in the habit of staying in one place for very long. And with her defection, we can be pretty sure he’s not in any of the hiding places Sora knows of.”
“I just keep thinking about the blood on the floor in the house,” he quietly replied. “Just imagining what’s going on.”
“Hey,” she interrupted. “You shouldn’t be thinking like that.”
“It’s all I can think about, Elizabeth,” he said. “That, and what kind of cruelty it’d take to leave a baby like that.”
“Maybe they didn’t, John,” she replied. “Maybe they just didn’t know. Your sister-in-law is smart enough to know we’d figure out she was missing. She would know that we’d search the house and find Jamie.”
“Elizabeth, would you stop trying to find a silver lining in all this?” he snapped. “There isn’t one.”
“This is how I survive,” she said. “I’ve been in this business longer than you. You can’t give up hope.”
“Maybe that works for you, but this is my family!” John turned away. “You can’t imagine what this is like, Elizabeth.”
“Yes, I can.”
She spoke so quietly that he looked at her again, seeming startled. “What do you think Atlantis is to me, John, if not my family?” she asked. “I’ve been a field agent for almost ten years. I’ve been working with some of these people since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Every time one of my friends goes on assignment, I have to remind myself that I may not ever see them again, because occasionally. . . Occasionally that’s what happens.”
“Elizabeth. . .”
“These people are brothers and sisters to me, John,” she continued. “And do you think I don’t worry about you when we’re out on a mission? I’m worried about you most of all, because I–”
When she stopped, a look of quiet cognizance flashed through his eyes. “Because you what?” he asked.
There was no way out of answering it. When she looked back on the conversation in later days, Elizabeth suspected that the words would have come out of her mouth whether she wanted them to or not.
“Because I care about you, John,” she said. “I care about you a great deal.”
When he made no immediate reply, she turned around and left the infirmary as quickly as her dignity would allow.
John tried not to panic as Elizabeth fled from him. He tried not to panic about what she’d actually said, too, but one thing at a time would suffice. Fortunately, a nurse stopped by after a few moments and said that Beckett wanted to run one more test on Jamie, so John gave her to the nurse and headed out of the infirmary.
He looked around and saw Elizabeth a few yards down the corridor, leaning against the wall. “Elizabeth,” he said, not knowing what else to say.
She turned her head. “I’m sorry, John,” she said. “I crossed the line.”
“No,” he replied. “I don’t think you understand what’s happening, but you didn’t cross the line.”
“I need you to be on your game.” Elizabeth pushed herself off the wall and walked toward him slowly. “I need you to be focused. I can’t have you out for revenge.”
When she was close enough, he deliberately touched her arm, right where she’d been shot a few days earlier. She winced. “Same goes for you.”
“Maybe Caldwell was right,” she replied. “Maybe he should have pulled us both from this operation.”
John shook his head, removing his hand from her arm. But then they reached for each other, fingers intertwining, and he found that Elizabeth’s hand was cold. “Elizabeth,” he began, not knowing where to go, “I–”
But then the elevator door opened down the hall, and Marcus Lorne stepped out into John’s peripheral vision. “Sheppard,” he called. “You’ve got a phone call.”
Elizabeth pulled her fingers out of his grasp, and they started walking. “From who?” he asked.
“Whom,” Elizabeth said under her breath.
Lorne shook his head. “You’re not going to believe this.”
John and Elizabeth hurried up to the fifteenth floor as quickly as they could and found the communications center in a frenzy. People were already huddled around tracing equipment, and Director Caldwell was pacing up and down the aisles. When the two entered, however, Walter Harriman jumped up with a phone in hand. “Agent Sheppard,” he said, “we’ve got the call patched into the speaker system, but you’ll only be able to talk with him in this receiver.”
“Got it.” John took the phone in his hand and announced, “This is Agent Sheppard.”
“Agent Sheppard,” said the man on the other end, his lightly accented English filling the room, “I am Acastus Kolya, supreme commander of the Genii armed forces.”
“Then that makes you a terrorist ringleader,” John replied. “Congratulations.”
Kolya laughed. “You sound as though you’ve been talking to Agent Weir. Don’t you know by now that she can’t be trusted?”
John looked at his partner, brow raised. “Yeah, she’s quite the compulsive liar. What do you want?”
“Turn on the baseball game.”
John gestured to Harriman, who picked up a remote control and switched the massive projection television over to the game, where the Cubs were leaving the field in defeat. “It was a good game,” Kolya continued. “I wish you could have been there.”
“I do too,” said John, “but it turns out you kidnapped a woman and three small children, so I’ve been busy.”
“And I’ve been enjoying myself.” Just then, the camera panned across seats right behind first base, and there was Acastus Kolya. Immediately everyone in the room turned to a computer or a telephone, except for John and Elizabeth, who just stared at the screen.
“Looking a little worse for wear,” John remarked.
“Here’s the deal, Sheppard,” he said. “You’re not going to call the FBI or the Chicago police in to arrest me. You’re not going to track me, and you’re certainly not going to try to set up a sting at my hotel.”
“And why wouldn’t I do all that?” John asked.
“Because I have your sister-in-law and your nephews. This is a shot across the bow, Agent Sheppard,” Kolya replied. “Your government reneged on a deal fifteen years ago. We’re here to collect.”
“That’s an awfully long time to wait.”
“We’ve had our lean times, but we have patience,” said Kolya. “The U. S. government owes the Genii 1.7 billion dollars.” Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open. “And before Agent Weir tries to correct me, you should explain to her the concept of interest.”
John started pacing. “The American government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists,” he said, “and neither does this organization.”
“Nevertheless, you will be coming to the baseball game tomorrow night,” Kolya continued. “Get me the money, and my guests will be returned to you unharmed.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you’ll have the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians on your hands.” With that, Kolya hung up.
John was across the room from Elizabeth by that point, and he stared at her over the computers between them. “Damn it,” he finally said.
“What?” she asked.
“He’s going to blow up Wrigley Field.”