Within the hour, John had marched down to cryptography and found the cipher they’d been overlooking, confirming his assertion of what Kolya’s target was. On top of that, he was claiming to have nuclear devices for the operation. But in the frenzied preparation of the next twenty hours or so, Elizabeth couldn’t help but get the feeling that they were missing something important.
In the middle of a briefing on what they would be doing, Caldwell looked at Malcolm Barrett and asked, “Why isn’t the city postponing the game when we’ve got a credible threat?”
“They’re worried about other potential problems,” said the FBI man. “They’re worried about rioting.”
“Mayor Daley thinks there are going to be riots if he postpones a baseball game?”
“Have you ever been in Wrigleyville after a win, sir?” John asked. “This is Game Seven of the World Series, against the Yankees. I’d bet everything I own that if we told people there was someone planning to blow up the stadium during the seventh inning stretch, that stadium would still be packed.”
“You people are insane.”
“And we wear that as a badge of honor, sir. Besides, Daley’s a Sox fan.”
“Right. Moving on.”
They were going undercover, which wasn’t so hard at a baseball game. Elizabeth got to wear jeans and track shoes for the first time in this operation, and she’d gone for a tight-fitted Yankees shirt under a denim jacket that concealed her gun. John, however, was horrified when he saw her. “Elizabeth,” he said, almost choking on her name, “I said inconspicuous!”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “There are two teams, John.”
“Not in this ballpark.”
As he turned around, she smirked. Across the back of his Cubs jersey was the name Barrett. “At least I’m not dressing up as an FBI agent.”
He looked over his shoulder and glared as they headed down a glassed-in staircase. “Michael Barrett. Catcher.” He shook his head. “Space cadet.”
“Yes, and you smelled like rotten milk when I met you.”
“You were masquerading as a hooker.”
“You know what, from where I was standing, there was really no difference.”
“Sheppard, do I have to remind you that I have a loaded gun with the safety off?”
“Well, you’re wearing a Yankees shirt, so the entire city of Chicago – actually, the whole metro area and northern Illinois, not to mention everyone in the country who hates the Yankees – has my back.”
“Bite me, Farmboy.”
“Don’t tempt me, Sparky.”
Twenty-four hours after Faith and her children had gone missing, John had gone through so many totally disparate moods he could have passed for a pregnant woman. He’d been trying to hide it with flippant remarks all day, but his nerves were just about shot now. As he and Elizabeth rode the Red Line to Wrigley Field, surrounded by others on their way to the game, he could hardly sit still. All he could think of was his sister-in-law and his nephews. He had to get them back.
Thankfully, though, his agitation didn’t set him apart from anyone else on the train. Not like Elizabeth’s wardrobe choice did. She carried herself with enough grace that no one on the train questioned her, but they were mostly sober. It was going to be a completely different story in the ballpark.
But despite everything, John couldn’t help but smile when they walked into the stadium and Elizabeth’s eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. Pictures of Wrigley Field really didn’t do it justice. There was a simple beauty to the place, crowned by a magnificent view of Chicago. John reached for Elizabeth’s hand, almost without thinking about it. “Never been here before?” he asked.
She shook her head as they moved toward their seats, down on the first base line. “How in the world did Caldwell manage to get us these tickets?”
“Probably called in a lot of favors.”
They sat down amid the sea of fans, and Elizabeth said, “I wonder if he bartered off all the department’s furniture or something.”
“It’d be worth it.” John knew that to anyone around them, he’d sound like a diehard fan, but Elizabeth squeezed his hand. She knew his full meaning.
And then the game began.
The innings passed with excruciating slowness. It was a hitter’s game through and through, and by the time fresh pitching was brought in at last, the sun was setting. Elizabeth buttoned up her jacket as the temperature dropped, which had the added benefit of ending most of the comments about her choice of apparel. She’d never been so widely insulted in her life, and she suspected that had John’s attention not been somewhat divided, one particular fan who loudly suggested that his Yankee-loving girlfriend better be amazing in bed would have met John Sheppard’s full wrath.
In the bottom of the sixth, the chatter in their earpieces suddenly filtered down to a single voice. “Citrus Peel, this is Ping-Pong,” said Lorne. “Stadium security just alerted me that a woman is reporting three young boys who are unaccompanied in a women’s bathroom, and the rough descriptions match the boys we’re looking for.”
John had just enough presence of mind to glance at his pager before standing up, to make his sudden exit look somewhat reasonable. Elizabeth followed after him, listening to Rodney’s reply. “I’m getting that report too,” he was saying. “Sparky, Farmboy, it’s not too far from your seats.”
“On our way,” Elizabeth replied as they made their way out.
Once in the concourse, they were about as alone as they could hope to be in such a public place. “So,” John said, “trap?”
“I’d wager my house that it is,” Elizabeth replied. What had been bothering her all day was finally in full relief. “This can’t possibly be about the money. It’s about me.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “Think it’s possible these are some other kids?”
She considered this and then nodded. “I should go in there and check.”
The silence that followed Weir’s statement was so long that Steven Caldwell wondered if someone’s microphone had shorted. Then, in a low and rather stunned voice, John said, “Elizabeth, they’re after you.”
“I know.” In a slightly lighter tone, she added. “It’s not like you can walk into the women’s washroom and make sure they’re the right kids.”
The fact that Sheppard was standing there discussing the next move instead of making it was enough to make Steven believe that there was something very different under the words of this conversation. And then Sheppard brought it to the surface.
“I’ve put my own family at risk in this mission. I can’t risk you this recklessly.”
Then suddenly Cadman’s voice filled the surveillance room. “Sparky, this is Shotput,” she said. “I’m about two minutes away from your location. It’s less of a risk if I check it out.”
“She’s right,” Lorne put in.
“Listen,” said Sheppard, “Corin – the oldest might not trust you right away. Tell him I sent you, and that what I’m most afraid of is clowns.”
“Farmboy, Sparky, head to the nearest souvenir stand,” Cadman replied. “I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
“Clowns?” Elizabeth said as they headed toward the rendezvous location.
“It’s a long story,” John replied.
“I figured I’d be at the top of that list,” she remarked, opening her jacket again. She’d probably need access to her gun soon.
“Trust me, you’re a close second,” he said. “If you show up at the Halloween party in a clown costume, I may just kill myself.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Their repartee was cut short as Cadman’s voice filled their earpieces. “Hi,” she was saying. “Are you Corin Sheppard?”
Then Elizabeth heard the voice of a young boy. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Laura,” Cadman replied. “I’m a friend of your Uncle John. He’s waiting outside for you.”
“My mom says I’m not supposed to trust strangers.”
“I figured as much.”
“Tell him, Shotput,” John muttered. Elizabeth shot him a look.
“Do you know what a password is, Corin?” Cadman asked.
“It’s how you can tell if a person’s supposed to be into something,” said the boy. “Mom has one on the TV to block out the bad channels.”
“Sometimes you can use a password to tell if someone’s telling the truth too,” Cadman replied. “He told me to tell you that what he’s most afraid of is clowns.”
Judging from the long silence, the kid wasn’t buying it too easily. “Tell me something else,” he said. “Lots of people are scared of clowns.”
John looked at the floor and said, “I got him a model Blackhawk for his birthday last month. We assembled it together.”
“Your birthday was last month,” Cadman reiterated. “He gave you a model helicopter and helped you put it together.”
Corin still sounded rather skeptical, but he said, “Can I see him?”
“He’s waiting for you just down the way. I can take you to him, but you need to stay with me until we get to him,” she replied. “Can you do that?”
One or more of the boys must have nodded, because Cadman directed the youngest one to hold her hand, and Elizabeth heard the creak of the bathroom door. John let out a sigh of relief, and within a couple minutes, Cadman turned a corner with three boys in tow.
The boys ran as soon as they spotted the two agents, and in a huge lapse of professionalism, John lifted the middle one from the ground while the others practically clung to him. In the year since she’d met him, Elizabeth had yet to see her partner show this much emotion, nor let his guard slip so far.
As Cadman caught up to the boys, John set the kid back on his feet and squatted down to the children’s level. “Robbie, Malcolm, Corin, you guys okay?”
“Where’s Jamie?” the smallest one asked.
“She’s safe, Malcolm, don’t worry about her,” John replied. “Corin, you hanging in there?”
The oldest nodded. “Can we go home?”
“Not quite yet,” said John. “We need to find your mom. Is there any chance you know where she is?”
“We were with her,” said Corin. “Then they brought us up to that bathroom and told us to wait for a woman to get us.”
Elizabeth saw John wince slightly; it had been a trap. This was just further proof that the Genii were far more interested in getting her than in getting even with the country at large. So far they’d yet to get a report from Barrett’s agents searching the grounds with bomb-sniffing dogs, so it was pretty likely that the bomb threat had been yet another piece of the puzzle to lure her into their grasp.
“Corin,” John said, “do you think you can tell us where your mom is? Where the bad guys are?”
The boy nodded. “I think so.”
Corin’s directions, while rather muddled, led them past the park’s security into depths of the stadium rarely seen by the public. Cadman stayed behind with the boys, but Elizabeth and John were soon joined by Lorne, Jonas, and Barrett. They proceeded deep into the building, into a massive equipment room, filled with riding lawn mowers and a multitude of other large pieces of machinery used to keep the grounds well-manicured. There was no natural light source in the room, so they left the doors standing open.
“Doesn’t look like there’s anyone in here,” Lorne whispered.
“Yeah, but there’s a lot of hiding places,” John replied. He signaled to the others, who all had weapons drawn, to separate down the aisles and search.
About halfway down the center, Elizabeth stopped suddenly and grabbed John’s sleeve, looking around at the floor. John nudged her and frowned. She tapped her ear and gestured at the other end of the room. John hurried in that direction. Behind a crate, he found his sister-in-law, bound up and a frightened look in her eyes.
Elizabeth was coming up behind him as he pulled the gag out of Faith’s mouth. “Faith?” She seemed to be having trouble focusing on him, and he cradled her face. “Faith, look at me.”
“John,” Elizabeth said, squatting down next to him. “John, look at her eyes. . . I think she’s been drugged.”
“Damn it,” he said, “why didn’t Corin mention that?”
“Could be something fast-acting,” Elizabeth replied. “Or maybe the drug didn’t kick in until after the boys were separated from her. We don’t know when exactly that happened.”
John turned his attention back to his sister-in-law. “Faith,” he said, “you have to–”
“John?” she suddenly said, her voice trembling. “John, you shouldn’t – it’s too dangerous. It’s. . .” Her head rolled to one side, but suddenly she struggled against the ropes binding her hands and looked at John with a terrified expression. “John, my boys–”
“It’s okay, Faith,” he said, trying to calm her. “The boys are safe. So’s the baby.”
“Have to get to them,” she babbled. “Have to get out of this.”
“Faith,” John began.
Elizabeth looked away and said, “Citrus Peel, Sparky. We have the hostage, but she’s been drugged.”
“Copy that,” said McKay. “There’s a medical team on site. We can get her to a doctor in no time.”
Faith was no longer paying attention to them, but crying softly. “I guess we should untie her,” said John.
Elizabeth shrugged. “I don’t think she’d be able to walk anyway.”
John shook his head just a little, and then carefully kissed Faith’s forehead. But as he was about to untie her wrists, a voice all too familiar said, “What a touching reunion. I almost hate to interrupt.”
Elizabeth didn’t need to turn around to know that Acastus Kolya was in the storage room. She’d know that voice anywhere in the world. She stood, drawing her gun from her shoulder holster and turned in the direction of his voice. “Well, well, well,” he continued. “Agent Weir, you’re looking better than ever.”
“Too bad I can’t say the same for you,” she replied. Five others had appeared from behind equipment, and suddenly everyone in the room, except for Faith, had a gun on someone else. “Though you were never that attractive,” Elizabeth added.
“I’m glad to see that your knee healed enough for you to get back into field work,” he said. “I assure you, the men who damaged you were dealt with appropriately.”
She glanced at two of the Genii men for a moment. “Promoted, I see.” In her earpiece she could hear McKay directing backup to come around to another entrance. She had to stall to give them enough time to surround them.
Kolya shrugged. “We still have our differences, then.”
“Did we ever have similarities?”
“We did, once,” he said, starting to wander around the room. Elizabeth tracked his movements, as did John, always keeping their distance from Kolya the same. “We once wanted a corrupt power removed.”
“You didn’t want the Soviets removed,” said Elizabeth. “You wanted to replace them with your own special brand of corruption.”
He chuckled. “And what brand would that be?”
“Torture,” she replied. “Terrorism.” She shook her head. “Not that different from the Soviets, really. You’re just missing Lenin’s pretty words to justify the cruelty.”
“You are an odd woman, Elizabeth Weir,” he said. “You’ve never known what’s good for you.”
“I know. It drives my mother crazy.”
He came up to Faith Sheppard, who was now alone, on the floor between the Genii and Atlantis personnel. “She’s been a good hostage,” Kolya commented. “I wasn’t sure your partner would care enough to drag you into it so much. And her children are charming.
“You see, Weir, what you call torture, I call resourcefulness. What you call terror, I call survival.”
“You’re nothing more than a coward, Kolya,” said John.
“That, Agent Sheppard, remains to be seen.”
Elizabeth was starting to wonder if the others in the room were planning on chiming in at any point in this confrontation. Impatiently, she puffed a breath upward to get hair off her forehead. “Give me one good reason not to kill you,” she said.
Kolya focused on Elizabeth again and raised his right hand. He held a large grey device in his palm. “What you might have learned, Agent Sheppard, had you gotten so far as to untie your sister-in-law’s hands,” he said, “is that there is C4 strapped to her, under her shirt. She’s my failsafe in this operation. If I drop this, a deadman switch is triggered and we all go, not too long before the bomb in the stadium detonates.” He lowered his hand. “The ransom, if you please.”
“There is no bomb,” Elizabeth answered.
John looked at her, seeming confused, while Kolya laughed. “Is this on some kind of path toward enlightenment, Weir?” he asked. “If you say there is no bomb, will it no longer exist?”
She could only pray that this bluff would work. She just had to hold out long enough for Rodney’s backup to arrive. “Do you think I haven’t been keeping track of your organization in the last fifteen years?” she asked. “You must be a bigger fool than I was giving you credit for. No one’s seriously considered you a threat in a decade and a half because people don’t generally feel threatened by groups that can’t afford bread.” She started walking closer, slowly. “There is no bomb. You couldn’t put together enough nuclear material for a mushroom cloud the size of an actual mushroom. You knew Sora was going to defect, and that disc was just a ruse.”
“But I still have my hostage, and I’m perfectly willing to kill us all if I don’t get what the Genii deserve,” Kolya said, his voice infuriatingly even. By then Elizabeth was only a few feet away from them. “Hand over the money, and I’ll let everyone live.”
“Barrett,” Elizabeth ordered, “bring the money.”
The FBI agent stepped forth and slung a bag off his shoulder, his eyes never leaving his own target. “You hand over the prisoner,” he said as he handed the bag over to Elizabeth, “and we’ll hand over the rest of the money.”
With his left hand, Kolya reached for the bag as soon as Elizabeth took it. Then, in the blink of an eye, he’d yanked her forward, thrown the bag down, and knocked her gun aside. She tried to kick him away, but he’d spun her around to face everyone else before she could get one foot off the ground. He had one arm wrapped around her, the detonator pressed against her waist, and she heard the ring of a knife drawn.
Suddenly the tension in the room was near its breaking point, though the only sound Elizabeth could hear as she quickly took in the new scenario was Kolya’s breath against her ear. John was in the forefront of the Atlantis operatives as she struggled against her captor. Lorne had two guns drawn, aimed at men a wide distance apart. Barrett had his sidearm trained on one man’s temple, while his opponent’s gun was aimed right at the FBI man’s chest. But Elizabeth stopped looking around when she felt the chill of a blade against her neck. She stiffened, and Kolya started to drag her back.
“I’m taking Agent Weir as collateral,” he said. “You have two days to produce the rest of what you owe.”
“And if we don’t?” Lorne asked.
“Then she comes back to the country in a box. The long, wooden type,” Kolya replied. “If you manage partial payment, she comes back in pieces, until your pathetic excuse for a government has paid its debt in full.”
Kolya kicked the money bag to the man just a couple feet away, the one who was aiming at John. John didn’t look away from Elizabeth, though, and she quickly darted her eyes down to her left wrist, hoping he would understand. She flexed her hand as far back as she could, and a spring in the sheath on her wrist silently released a small knife into her hand. Just barely, John nodded in acknowledgment.
“Do you really think you’re getting out of here alive with her?” he asked. “You’re not going anywhere. I will shoot you if you don’t let her go.”
“And risk setting off the bomb, or hurting Agent Weir?” Kolya asked.
Elizabeth made eye contact with John and just barely shook her head. Then he looked back at Kolya and said, “I’m not aiming at her.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man next to them bend over to pick up the bag, and she made her move. She plunged her knife into the hand that was precariously close to her neck, and Kolya dropped his blade. In a single, fluid motion, she wrenched herself around enough to kick back at the man still picking up the money. He stumbled away as Kolya began to lose his grip on her, and Elizabeth desperately grabbed his hand with both of hers, holding the deadman switch in place.
Around them, all hell broke loose.
A bullet whizzed over her head and struck Kolya’s shoulder, propelling them both into the wall behind them. Elizabeth turned her head to see John with his gun still aimed at them. The concrete room was like a bunker, and the sounds of gunshots were deafening. As she stood up straighter, she saw two Genii men down, and Lorne hitting the ground.
The man she’d kicked got his balance back after a few seconds and took aim at her. With both hands still clinging to the deadman switch, she kicked him once again, hitting him just as he fired and sending his shot wild. Then a final shot was fired, and her assailant fell forward. Behind him was Jonas, and behind Jonas a door opened. The cavalry – Jack O’Neill and a small crew – had arrived just in time to clean up the mess. Her ears ringing, Elizabeth exhaled for what felt like the first time since Kolya had grabbed her.
Bleeding, Kolya sank to the floor and nearly pulled Elizabeth down with him, but she managed to stay upright. Across the room, Lorne was moving a little, though his motion seemed pained. Jonas holstered his gun and hurried over to Faith, getting right to work at disabling the C4 strapped to her back. In the meantime, Elizabeth cracked open the detonator in Kolya’s hand and disconnected a yellow wire.
The men Rodney had sent in weren’t medics, but they were acting the part anyway, pulling two Genii bodies out of the way and seeing to the wounded. A bulletproof vest had saved Lorne’s life, but Elizabeth knew from experience that getting shot while wearing one of those still packed quite a punch. He’d be in pain for a few hours at least. Jonas was helping steady Faith, and Barrett came up to Elizabeth to put Kolya under arrest at last. There was nothing more for her to do there that wouldn’t put her in the way of others doing their jobs.
“Sparky,” Jack called from Lorne’s side. Elizabeth looked up and followed his gesture, and saw John lying on the ground.
“John!” she cried, running to him. Her moment of panic subsided as he sat up, but there was blood on his leg.
“Thank you for deflecting that shot in my direction,” he said, his jaw tight.
“John, I’m so sorry,” she replied.
He shook his head. “It’s just a graze. And better this than a bullet in your head. But can I stop having to take bullets meant for you? Can you just stop getting shot at so much?”
She laughed nervously. “I’d like that.”
“And remind me never to play poker with you,” he said. “That was one hell of a bluff.”
“I just had to stall long enough for these guys to get here.” She glanced at his leg. “Are you in a lot of pain?”
He shook his head. “No, not really.”
After a half a moment’s frenzied deliberation, Elizabeth grabbed his face and kissed him. It took him a heartbeat to respond, but when he did, she didn’t regret following her instinct.
When she pulled away, he looked at her oddly. It seemed like all activity in the room had ceased, and all eyes were on them. “You okay there, Sparky?” John asked.
Narrowing her eyes in annoyance, she slapped his arm. “Hey, I took a bullet for you,” he complained.
“Well, if you hadn’t been trying to be such a hero–”
He cut her off with another kiss.
When Carson Beckett and his team came onto the concourse, he spotted Laura down the way, surrounded by a group of Atlantis operatives, all undercover, and with the three boys. The smallest one was sitting on her lap. Carson ran up to them. “Laura, you all right?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I’ve been up here with my own personal entourage of bodyguards. Besides, Corin said he’d protect me from the bad guys if they tried to hurt me.”
Inside the stadium, the crowd started going crazy, and Carson surmised that something good had happened. He’d never had much interest in this particular sport. The middle kid, on Laura’s left, jumped up and down. “Can we go in and watch the game?” he asked.
“No, Robbie,” she said, with the air of one who had already answered that question a hundred times. “We’re waiting for Uncle John, remember?”
“Oh, right,” he said. “I forgot.”
Carson smiled at Laura sympathetically. “How are you keeping the public out of here?” he asked.
She nodded toward the nearest ramp into the stadium, where three men stood blocking the entrance. “FBI’s telling people there’s been some kind of fuel spilled back here. They’re not letting anyone through.”
Carson nodded, and then turned his attention away, flipping his radio on. “Sparky,” he said, “this is Hawkeye. What’s your status?”
“We’re on our way up to you,” she said. “We’ve got three in need of medical attention, but they’re up and walking. Arriving at the rendezvous point in under a minute.” Elizabeth paused. “Shotput, make sure you keep the boys from running up to Farmboy or their mother. Neither of them is really in good shape.”
And the group came around the corner just as Laura got a good grip on the younger two Sheppard boys. They were an odd sight – ten of the healthiest people Beckett had ever treated, limping their way down the wide corridor. Doctor Sheppard was walking on his own, but kept looking over his shoulder at Jonas, who was helping the woman who had to be John’s sister-in-law. Elizabeth, surprisingly enough, had one arm wrapped around Agent Lorne’s waist.
Carson let Laura handle the boys while he ran up to the group, waving his medical team in with him. “Agent Weir,” he said, “what have we got here?”
“Mrs. Sheppard has been drugged,” Elizabeth replied. “She doesn’t seem to be badly impaired physically, but it’s like she’s overdosed on ecstasy or something.”
“All right, we’ll get her back to the infirmary as quickly as we can,” said Carson. He gestured two medics to help her to one of the nearby ambulances, and he turned his attention to the others again. “Sheppard, Lorne, what seems to be the trouble?”
Elizabeth answered for them both. “Sheppard has a graze on his leg. We wrapped it, but it probably needs to be disinfected,” she explained. “Agent Lorne, on the other hand, should be very grateful for his body armor.”
“Why?” Laura asked, behind Carson. “Marcus, what happened?”
“You know how you’re always telling me not to do anything stupid?” the man asked, in a labored tone.
“Yes. . .”
“Yeah, didn’t get out of the way of a bullet.” He started to lean forward, as though his knees would no longer support his weight. “Liz, I think I need to sit down.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Elizabeth said. “Jack, help me.”
Carson came up as Jack helped steady Lorne and finally saw the hole ripped in the front of the man’s shirt. “Shot in the chest – son, you’re lucky to be alive, let alone conscious!” he exclaimed. “How far away was the person who shot you?”
“I don’t really know,” Lorne replied. “It’s all kind of a blur.”
Two of the medics had wheeled a gurney over by then, and Carson guided him down to it. “Well,” he said, examining the dent in the vest, “it didn’t penetrate the armor, but there’s all kinds of possibilities of internal damage.” He looked up at the medics. “Get him out to the ambulance. I want X-rays on his chest as soon as you get back to the infirmary.”
He looked over his shoulder at Laura, who was standing now, though she had a child’s hand in each of her own, with the oldest Sheppard child standing not far from her. Carson gave her a small smile. “Go with him in the ambulance, Laura,” he said. “I’ll take the kids back myself.”
“Thank you,” she mouthed, before instructing the children to stick with Carson and running after the medics and her partner.
“So,” Carson said, looking back to Sheppard, “you’re still standing, so what do you need me for?”
“Very funny,” said Sheppard. “Elizabeth, think we’ve got time to catch the end of the game?”
She glared at him like he was twelve years old. “You’re bleeding, and you want to stay for the game?” He shrugged, and she shook her head, coming up to him to give him support as she guided him away from the cheering crowds. “You people are out of your minds, you know.”
By the time the Cubs won the World Series, all was quiet at Atlantis headquarters once again. Elizabeth and John were seated on an examination table not far from Faith, who was fast asleep under the influence of a sedative, and Cadman was a few feet away. Lorne was across the room, also asleep. Carson’s examination of him had revealed a punctured lung, but the man was lucky to have escaped far more serious possibilities, having been shot at such close range.
The three agents chatted about the weather, of all things, to fill the silence of the room, until Beckett came in and laid his hand on Cadman’s shoulder. “He’s been hurt worse than this, love,” he said, quietly. “No need to be worried.”
“Who says I’m worried?” she asked.
“This is me, Laura,” he replied. “I can tell.”
Elizabeth glanced at John, whose eyes were fixed on some unknown point. She’d long since taken off her jacket, but now that the room had fewer occupants than when they first entered it, she was starting to feel cold. While Beckett and Cadman continued to chat privately, Elizabeth leaned against John. He stiffened for a heartbeat, but then shifted, setting his arm around her and pulling her to his side. “Cold?”
“This is why I wear long sleeves all the time.” He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “You, on the other hand. . .”
“No comments about my wardrobe, please,” she replied. “I’ve had enough of that tonight.”
He chuckled softly. “Okay.”
“Director Caldwell was asking for you,” Carson was saying then to Cadman. “Why don’t you run up and see what he wants?”
The woman nodded and headed out of the room, and the doctor turned his attention to Elizabeth and John, hands in the pockets of his white jacket. “Well, aren’t you two cozy,” he commented.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes, but John stated quite calmly, “She was cold.”
“Uh huh. And Laura’s like the little sister I never had. But that’s not the point,” Beckett replied. “Elizabeth, do you remember the Bolivia incident about ten years ago?”
She nodded, while John started rubbing her arm. “I met Agent Barrett on that trip, actually,” she said. “Bolivia’s not one of my favorite countries.”
“I can imagine,” said Carson. “That was the mission where you were drugged. We’ve found traces of the same drug in Mrs. Sheppard’s blood work. Her system’s already started breaking it down, but, well, you remember what that was like.”
“What do you mean?” John asked, alarmed.
“Remember how hung over we were after the Martinique mission?” Elizabeth asked in reply.
“Multiply it by ten.”
Elizabeth lifted her head to see him frowning. “Yeah, but you can’t hold your liquor,” he said.
“I beg your pardon.”
“Whether either of you can hold your liquor is not the question,” Carson said. “My point is, this is not going to be pleasant for her when she wakes up.”
“I’ll call my brother in a little while and let him know,” said John. “He’ll probably want to get back here as soon as possible anyway.”
“That’s a good thought.” Carson pulled up a stool. “Agent Weir, I need you to disentangle yourself from my patient here,” he said. “I want to take one more look at his leg before I let anyone go home for the night.”
Elizabeth slid away from John obediently, knowing better than to mess with Beckett on medical matters. John, whether by personality quirk or just less time in the field, had not yet learned that lesson. “Doc,” he said, “can’t we assume that a graze isn’t going to kill me overnight?”
“No such thing as too careful, John,” said Carson.
“Oh, I think there is.” John looked at Elizabeth as he spoke, as the doctor was focused on the injury anyway. “When I was a kid, I hated pulling my teeth out. Just hated it. I didn’t want to rip them out, so I’d just worry with them until they came out. But there was one that wouldn’t come out, and the adult tooth started coming in before my baby tooth had fallen out. All because I wouldn’t take care of it all in one shot.”
Elizabeth raised a brow, amused by his logic. “And?”
“And my dad offered me ten bucks to pull it out, so he wouldn’t have to take me to the dentist to have it removed.”
“What did you do?” Beckett asked.
“I was six, and Dad was giving me ten dollars. I yanked the tooth out right in front of him. Hurt like hell, and grossed him out.”
Elizabeth smiled, shaking her head.
Across the way, the doors opened, and Caldwell came in with Director Hammond. “Sheppard, Weir, you were supposed to report to my office,” Caldwell said. But then he saw John’s leg and added, “Aha.”
“Sorry, sir,” said Elizabeth.
The two men – and Elizabeth had to suppress a smirk as she noted the parallels in hairstyle – came up to the examination table. “That’s Mrs. Sheppard, I presume?” Hammond said, nodding toward the sleeping woman.
“Yes, sir, that’s my sister-in-law,” John replied. “The doc seems to think she’ll be all right.”
“That’s good to know,” Hammond said.
“Sir,” said Elizabeth, “what’s the situation?”
“The FBI is questioning Kolya and his men,” Caldwell replied. “We’ve turned over most of the investigation to them, though it’s likely that you, Weir, will have to testify in the matter. Mrs. Sheppard and her oldest son probably will need to testify on the kidnapping charges as well, but we’ll see if they can manage that in depositions rather than court appearances. But with Sora’s testimony against Kolya and his henchmen, this should be one of the quickest and easiest prosecutions in this organization’s history.”
“I suppose what I don’t understand,” Hammond remarked, “is how Kolya knew the Series was going to go to seven games.”
“Believe me, sir, that’s piqued the interest of many,” Caldwell replied. “I can’t imagine the odds that he just guessed it.”
“Well, if you take a fifty-fifty chance on each of the games, the probability of a Game Seven is one-point-five-six percent,” John rattled off. “But sports probabilities are a little more complex than that.”
“Yes, because we’re talking about the Cubs and the Yankees,” Elizabeth replied. “I don’t think a simple fifty-fifty fits.”
“Since when are you a statistician?” John asked.
“Since when are you a sports expert?”
Caldwell probably would have stopped the bickering, but Hammond chuckled at them. “The senior partners wanted me to relay to you that they feel this was a job remarkably well done by both of you,” he said. “And under extraordinary circumstances, given the personal entanglements that it presented for you both.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Elizabeth, smiling a little. He really had no idea about the level of personal entanglements involved.
“Excuse me, Director Hammond,” Carson interrupted. “Agent Sheppard, you’re good to go. Thank you for sitting still this time.”
“Always a pleasure, Doc.” John looked at Elizabeth. “But I think I’m probably going to call David and then stick around here for a while. Might be good for Faith to have a familar face when she wakes up.”
Beckett gestured to the jeans John had been wearing during the mission, now torn and a bit bloody. “Want me to dispose of that?”
“No thanks,” John replied. “This’ll go in my collection of clothes ruined because of Elizabeth Weir.”
“How many times do I have to apologize about that tuxedo, John?”
“Weir, Sheppard,” Hammond interrupted, “again, good work.”
“Take the rest of the week off, will you?” said Caldwell, and the two men headed off.
John left to make his phone call, and Elizabeth was about to get to a bed somewhere when Carson stopped her. “Wait just a minute,” the doctor said. “Elizabeth, you’re bleeding.”
“Where?” She looked down at herself, and saw red blooming on the bandage on her left arm. “Oh, crap.”
Carson had it unwrapped a minute later and had confirmed his suspicions. “You pulled your stitches out, love,” he said. “Didn’t I tell you not to do anything stupid?”
She sighed. “Carson, we both knew that wasn’t going to be enough.”
Once inside the pristine elevator and on their way up to the fifteenth floor, Hammond said, quite casually, “So what are you going to do about those two?”
Caldwell took a moment before answering. “As long as it doesn’t get in the way of their jobs,” he said, carefully, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir.”
The next day, John drove to the airport and brought his brother to Atlantis headquarters. David was allowed to see very little of the place, though Director Caldwell was kind enough to come down to the infirmary and explain the bare minimum of what had happened to his family. Elizabeth brought baby Jamie down from the guest quarters, as Faith had woken up and was more or less coherent, but when she came in, she found John trying his best to ignore his brother and sister-in-law. Elizabeth could see that it was quickly heading into the realm of hopelessly sappy and followed suit.
John scratched the back of his head. “Feels a little voyeuristic, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“We could always make out, just for form’s sake,” Elizabeth suggested.
“You know, I wouldn’t want to give my brother a heart attack,” John replied. “It’s been so long since I had a girlfriend that he might just pass out from the shock if he saw me making out with a gorgeous brunette.”
And in the forty-eight hours that followed the Cubs’ miraculous victory over the Yankees, it snowed, almost non-stop. By the time Faith was released from the infirmary, fifteen inches of snow had blanketed the city. The snow plows came out and cleared the streets, and it was business as usual. It was, Elizabeth decided, not unlike Kolya’s threat of nuclear weapons. The threat had caused an enormous inconvenience, but after all was said and done, the city’s pulse was still strong. Everyone who had been involved in the Genii operation could exhale at last.
John and Elizabeth ended up bringing David and his family back to their quiet neighborhood. The block was lined with an armada of cars, and David asked, sounding alarmed, “John, what’s going on?”
“Relax,” said the younger of the brothers. “The Genii kind of trashed your house, so I called some friends in to help in the cleanup effort. Our boss gave us a few days off.”
Within the hour, David and John had taken the kids to play in the park down the street, along with a few of the less mechanically inclined among the agents who had come at John’s request. Faith, on the other hand, took charge of the cleanup effort, though she was still obviously shaken over the events of the last few days. She pulled out paint and various tools, and set everyone to work at putting her house back in order.
As lunchtime neared, almost everyone had a roller or brush, but Elizabeth set hers down and made her way to the kitchen, where Faith was getting out a variety of foods for lunch. Elizabeth paused in the doorway, flexing her knee and wincing. Faith looked up from the refrigerator and frowned. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“My knee’s acting up,” Elizabeth replied. “It’s the change in weather.”
“And chasing crazy men claiming to have nuclear weapons?”
“Possibly. May I have some ice for it?”
“Certainly.” Within a matter of minutes Faith had maneuvered her to a bar stool at the island and handed her a bag of ice and a hand towel. “How’s the painting going?”
“This is the most artistic I’ve ever seen some of these guys,” said Elizabeth. “Radek’s in your living room painting clouds on the ceiling.”
“Really?” Faith replied. “I’ll have to see this. Are you sure you guys aren’t some organization of stealth decorators?”
Elizabeth laughed. “I’m pretty sure we’re not.”
“That’s a shame.”
As Faith continued getting food out, Elizabeth extended her leg and brought it back. Her knee was still a little sore, but she’d started icing it early enough that it was unlikely to get very bad this time. She drummed her fingers against the granite countertop and said, “Faith, I’d like to apologize for my part in what happened here. It was never – you were never supposed to get involved at all.”
The other woman gave her a patient, kind smile. “I have four children, Elizabeth,” she replied. “If my life has taught me nothing else, I’ve learned that things never go as they’re supposed to. My family is safe. You’ve nothing to apologize for.” She paused long enough to wrench a jar open. “Though I don’t think I’ll want to sleep alone for a while.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have to, unless David’s as infuriating as John can be from time to time.”
“Worse,” Faith replied. “He’s older. Had more practice.”
“So what is it with you and John, anyway?” Faith asked, surveying the veritable feast laid out on the island. “And don’t act like it’s nothing. I saw you two last night, and I have a pretty good idea that I nearly walked in on something the night you were shot.”
Elizabeth set her ice bag aside and smiled, shaking her head. “I honestly don’t know.”
Faith grinned. “Isn’t that a wonderful feeling?”
As Elizabeth stood, people started filing into the kitchen. Malcolm, the youngest of the Sheppard boys, came up to her and tugged at her arm until she finally hefted him up from the floor. It seemed he’d inherited his uncle’s method of persuasion – sheer persistence. Then David came up next to his wife and said, “Can I have everyone’s attention?”
The room quieted down a bit, and Elizabeth leaned against the island. The kid was heavier than she’d expected. “I’d like to thank everyone here,” he began
“You can start by not making a big speech,” John interrupted.
Over the ensuing laughter, David called, “Everyone can get in line in front of John!”
Malcolm squirmed, and Elizabeth let him down to the ground. A few moments later, she felt someone quite bigger tugging at her sleeve, and she followed John out of the kitchen while everyone else gathered around to get lunch. “Are you okay?” he asked, as soon as they were a little distance down the hall.
She nodded. “I’m fine. My knee was starting to bother me a little.”
“I figured that was it,” he replied. He was acting a little nervous. “Your arm’s okay too?”
She smiled just a little. “What do you really want to ask me, John?”
He shook his head as if in disbelief. “I was just wondering. . . Do you think the home store would have a problem if you came over to my place for dinner tonight?”
It was a line she had vowed never to cross again with a coworker, but now that she was faced with it – and with the adorable, earnest expression on John’s boyish face – she felt all her resolve crumbling. She’d never really been able to say no to the man, but that wouldn’t stop her from giving him a little grief first. She feigned the most innocent expression she could manage and asked, “Did they have a problem with that night in Martinique, when we got plastered and made love on the beach?”
“When we what?” he almost yelled.
It took every ounce of self-control in her body to keep from giggling. “For such a talented spy, you are so very gullible, Farmboy.”
Before that could fully sink in, Elizabeth took off running toward the back door, even though she wasn’t wearing a coat and knew she had no chance of outrunning him. He was yelling her call sign as they sprinted through the house. Once outside, John tackled her into a snowdrift, and she yelped as she hit the snow.
“John!” she shrieked. “John, let me go! It’s freezing.”
“Not until I’ve punished you,” he replied, pinning her down with practically his entire body.
“I’ve learned my lesson,” she said. “Promise.”
“I may be gullible, but I’m not an idiot, Elizabeth.”
She glanced back at the house. “John, there are people watching at the back door.”
He smiled deviously. “Maybe this’ll teach them not to pry.”
And he kissed her until she forgot that she was cold.
As a final note, thank you to everyone who's read and reviewed. I had a terrific time writing this story, and I'm glad people have enjoyed it too.
yadre, athenaktt, aj and sache8 put up with quite a lot of babbling as I wrote this one, and hatcheter and bluebanrigh both did awesome beta jobs, even if bluebanrigh did squeal every time Lorne appeared. And finally, I'll extend my thanks to the Chicago White Sox, whose performance in the playoffs this year inspired a good chunk of this story, and to all the fandoms from which I shamelessly stole.