"You'd better watch your partner, Elizabeth," Jack sighs, with a raise of an eyebrow and a look between John and Elizabeth. "I don't want a repeat of the ninety-seven fiasco."
John, by the car door, doesn't quite yell but the indignation in his voice carries over as he steps forward. "It wasn't my fault!"
His eyes fall on John and stay there for a beat, and Jack knows they're all thinking about the should-have-been that permeates the group, the should-have-been that is John and the way that he should've been a cop. Not the kind of cop with an office like Woolsey's - clean, neat, files in one cabinet, teasmaid in the other - but a cop like Jack is a cop.
But John isn't a cop, neither is Elizabeth, and Jack's even more aware of it standing on the precinct's steps. Elizabeth's mouth quirks into a smile before she walks away from Jack to the car.
Standing calmly next to her partner, she puts on her sunglasses. "And John, you think that matters? We have places to be."
"And those places better be in the same state you found them in when you leave- you may not be on my payroll any more, but I still get the paperwork," Jack nods to them, leaning against the comfortingly solid door of the Atlantis City Police Department and looking down on his most destructive and unofficial team.
Jack turns away, putting his hand on the door handle and grinning. They're having their usual fight; who gets to drive. It ends the way it always ends, the way they and everybody else know it's going to end. He doesn't need to see them to know that Elizabeth's rolling her eyes and pulling a coin out of her coat pocket, and John's calling while it's in mid-air. Closing the door behind him, Jack sees John getting into the driver's seat with a smirk.
Must've been tails, Jack thinks, amused. John always calls tails.
If Jack gave a shit about irony, he'd find it deeply amusing that the precinct symbol is reflected in the door of the car they're driving this week. It's a small, silver and circular symbol with a half-formed A beneath it () , emblazoned on the beige, scratched paintwork and reflected by the sun, showing itself for once in Atlantis and already giving Jack a headache.
The sun is shining in Atlantis; he can tell already, it's going to be one of those days.
It's five days later, those places still standing are hollow shells, and John's only just started. When Jack tries to stop him walking out of the door, John does the thing Jack never thought he'd do - he throws both the door and decades back in his face.
"We're not yours, and that wasn't our choice," he growls, refusing to meet Jack's gaze. Jack's never figured out how he does it, electricity in his veins and posture, standing an entire foot apart a curled fist at his waist in the breach. He's at a safe distance, but Jack feels the sweat on his palms. He isn't a grammar freak like some John could name but he can't miss the splinter in that sentence - being on the outside of a 'we' that belongs to John and Elizabeth is sharp and uncomfortable.
"We're not yours," John repeats, raising his chin. "You do what you want; if she's out there, I'll find her."
And Jack understands what's not said in these icy words, which sends a chill all the way down his spine. They're not his. They haven't been in a while, not since the end of their first day partnered together. Detective John Sheppard and Detective Elizabeth Weir haven't belonged to him in a long time. He's almost amused that he's figuring this out now, after all the jokes and the teasing that they worked more like two halves of a whole, instead of two separate but equal pieces. John and Elizabeth belong to each other and John Sheppard is going to take back what's his. If Jack was the praying sort, he would start praying for all those who brought this look into John Sheppard's eyes, but then again, maybe not. He wants them to pay, too.
The door slams and John walks to the car in the sunlight. He puts on the sunglasses by habit on the fourth step down and slams his closed fist against the top of the car when the key sticks.
Jack keeps watching, the way he always does, even though John doesn't care. The man knows his training, knows it because Jack made damn sure of that, but he's finally getting what Jack already knew: for Elizabeth, he'll forget the training.
No going softly, softly now and no aiming for the soft tissue at the thigh. He's not protecting himself; he's the only one looking for her. John Sheppard, more than ever, is not allowed to die. He has things to finish before he does - things nobody will like.
He's stepping out of the car, pouting because Elizabeth won the coin toss for the driving seat, and he can already tell that this is going to be a bad one. John can tell because of where he is, standing on the uneven and litter-strewn sidewalk outside the barely-licensed pharmacy. He doesn't want to be there any more than he wants this particular pusher to have a license to farm out drugs and it still irks that once upon a case, they'd been that close to taking it away.
They walk in and he's surprised to see them. Good for him, John thinks blandly, drawing his gun and pointing it at Lucius Lavin.
Elizabeth rolls her eyes behind Lucius where only John can see and neatly clips the slimeball across the back of his head with the butt of her gun.
As his eyes roll up and they see the whites, John pushes him back into the desk chair.
"What did you do that for?" John asks with only a bit of a pout.
"You weren't actually going to shoot him and it was quicker," Elizabeth answers, putting her gun away again. She sits on the edge of the desk the way he's taken to doing by her kitchen table specifically when she's trying to work. He notes the posture, complete with folded arms, and sends her a crooked grin. She jerks her head at Lucius with a hint of an amused smile. "Make this quick -- he whines."
He's a bottom feeder, a leech and a nuisance. Some world could make practical use of him, but in theirs all he can do is pretend to be one of the big boys and drown in his own inadequacy. He doesn't want to tell them, but he will. He'll talk and they both know it, because Lucius Lavin is a fucking coward who would sell his grandmother out just for a taste of power.
It doesn't take long for him to break. They don't even have to threaten him that much - a fact that disappoints John - before he starts talking.
Elizabeth asks the questions, and not just because John has no patience for them, but because she can get anyone to admit something and they're not even aware they're doing it, as John well knows. It's something he admires. Hell, it's something he's grateful for; it makes interrogations go a hell of a lot faster and thank God for that because after twenty minutes he's ready to shoot most of their suspects.
"So, Lucius, why is Kolya killing these people?" She sits across from Lucius, posture perfect, and crosses her arms again.
"I don't... don't know anything about that," Lucius stammers, "I don't deal with that stuff. Too much gore and guts, I'm not a fan, can't even watch those movies..." he rambles on, the details of which Elizabeth ignores.
"So no clue... at all?"
"Like I said, I don't deal with that stuff."
"Right," Elizabeth pauses and settles her arms on the table, "you deal with addicting people to his drugs. Kids. Much more admirable, Lucius."
John suppresses a smirk. Normal people do sarcasm - what Elizabeth does might be called its elegantly disdainful cousin, but even that's an insult to the hundreds of tones she packs into four words and a tiny movement of an eyebrow.
"I only do my job. Unlike those people, I'm a fan of living." Lucuis is sweating and if it wasn't so pathetic, John would find it amusing.
"And those people aren't?" Elizabeth questions, eyes shining a sharp green.
Lucius snorts, "If they were, they wouldn't overdose."
"What exactly is the new drug you're pushing?" She interrupts his justification of what his "job" does to people.
"What? Huh? I'm not pushing anything new. Nope, not new. Same old stuff. Why? Got word on some new stuff?" His eyes are wild and John has to wonder how much of his own merchandise the man inhales.
Elizabeth grins and John realises she knows something - he can't wait to hear it. "Huh. So it's not Kolya's the new drug," she pauses and looks at the corner of a shelf housing old-style jars that might have once held candy, tapping her fingers slowly on her forearm. Then she turns and smiles softly at Lavin, asking conversationally, "Is it Landon's?"
"Nah, no way. Landon tries to be too upright to deal with this stuff and Kolya would never let him get his hands on it," he spouts out with a smile and expansive wave of his hand before he turns red. John smirks. Elizabeth just got them what they needed and Lucius Lavin might want to start praying Kolya doesn't find out.
There's a tangled web of associations in the they in his thoughts, but it's like the stack of green bottles next to the bin in his apartment and always waiting to go downstairs - he's gotten so used to the clutter that it's just part of the scenery.
As Lucius stutters, trying to take back his confession, John stands and walks behind the man. Elizabeth is already standing, happy with the information they just got, and heading to the door. She turns back and sighs, tilting her head slightly, "Now Lucius, if you're smart - and I'm giving you more credit than you deserve - you won't go to Kolya and tell him about this little visit, will you?"
Lucius shakes his head, "No, nothing. I won't tell him nothing. Cross my heart." Pathetically and like a beaten dog, the bastard is trying to buy their sympathy. John almost feels sorry for the man. Almost, but then Lucius grins up at Elizabeth, like she's his goddamn saviour and says, "You can count on me."
Elizabeth meets his eyes over Lucius' head and gives him a nod. It's the make sure he stays quiet nod.
John smiles thinly and begins to lead Lucius out of the room.
He smacks his head against the door for good measure. The man drops like a sack of potatoes - a sack of potatoes John grunts at and dumps by the desk chair. Neither John or Elizabeth bother to sit him back up when he slumps, hand trailing near the bottom desk drawer, clutching his head. No need for him to be calling the boss, which is the only option they've gone and left him, for a few hours. They're walking to the door and both thinking of the next move, now that this case seems to be dragging in all the players, jesters and jokers, when Elizabeth's hand flies to John's side and pulls his gun.
The fluid movement of one taut arm, one silenced shot and Lavin is down and dead, his hand still awkwardly curved around the heavy end of a gun. They're symbiotic that way and his gun was that crucial millisecond closer, on his left side where she could grab and shoot rather than taking her own from the right.
They freeze in position, bodies making parallel lines with the edges of the door frame and braced with their feet shoulder width apart. John falls into the position at the crack of the gun, even though his gun is in Elizabeth's hand a second before he's reached to pull hers, just in case. Some would call it serendipity or some shit like it - Jack would call it Hammond's training and not an inch less. She holsters the gun again as John pulls out his cell, going straight to Jack's office number to pull on that 'semi-official' status they enjoy.
They stop at the door, both more annoyed that they're losing the hour to sort out the mess than anything else.
"Idiot," John breaks the silence with a nod to Lucius' body.
Elizabeth nods. "He would have had a few hours to get out of the city between calling Kolya and Kolya killing him."
"Which was the plan," John rolls his eyes. "The city's better off without him, but he wasn't supposed to die in the process."
"Jack won't be happy," she answers, eyes on the clock.
"Yeah, well, it was his plan F, not ours," he replies. "At least they already have our prints." And neither looks to dwell upon the instances that have allowed the ACPD their fingerprints - they weren't all on the job.
Elizabeth hears the newcomer before she sees him but that's really nothing new. She raises a delicate eyebrow at John and sighs, leaning back against the desk.
"Well, he couldn't just let us shoot people," John mutters quietly while the footsteps on the sidewalk get closer.
"Yes, but half an hour waiting for these three is cruel and unusual even for Jack," Elizabeth shoots back as John leans on the other end of the desk. Elizabeth bites her lip so she won't grin a second after they both fold their arms across their chests at the click of the door.
"-but oh, no! They couldn't even wait until after lunch to shoot somebody today-"
"Good morning, Rodney," Elizabeth begins, raising her chin and smiling like this is their party and he's the one turning up late without a gift.
"Ugh," the grimacing man in a pale blue shirt with a thick dark green tie replies, eyes not on Elizabeth but on the still-bleeding body of Lucius Lavin on the pharmacy floor.
A bubble of somewhat inappropriate laughter cuts out a few steps behind him and two young blonds step into the shop. With a vicious grin to Rodney, Laura Cadman pulls on a pair of gloves from her belt and lets them make a thoroughly unnecessary thwack! against the inside of her wrists in turn. Jennifer Keller, standing beside her and tying her hair back, shakes her head with a small smile.
"Ballistics are busy," Keller says in an expressionless voice from her position crouched by Lavin's corpse.
Elizabeth turns to John in the full expectation that he's looking at her and is proved right. They look away quickly because it's just like the most boring lectures at the academy- hold eye contact, laugh, bad. Busy, they're both well aware, is Jack's unsubtle attempt at a diplomatic wrist-slap for putting down the mutt they were meant to muzzle. If they'd still been on the precinct's payroll, they'd have been on a lieutenant's walkabout duty for a night. Since they aren't, he'd sent Forensics as was required, but thrown in the volatile combination of Cadman and Rodney to take Lavin's gun back to the precinct, log the shot Elizabeth had fired out of John's and annoy the hell out of them both. It was close as it came to Jack being there and annoyed in person, without going to that kind of effort.
Elizabeth files that away for future reference because it really would irritate Jack in just the right, rendering-him-wordless way in the middle of a debate she wanted to win: Jack, has anyone told you that you're acting just like the hyperactive two-year old Cadman and Rodney's love child never had?
She's called from her thoughts by Rodney's vocal expression of disgust as Keller calmly lifts a ripped piece of dark-stained cloth with pincers and bags it.
"You can't do that in the lab? Really?"
In an effort to get away from the sight of blood, Rodney turns on John. "What happened? You have a runny nose and he just wouldn't give you more strawberry Calpol than you're supposed to get?"
Elizabeth shares an eyeroll with John. "As if that bastard ever thought about limiting what anybody gets," John replies.
"True," Rodney concedes, watching Cadman take out silver tools and kneel by the wall. "Doesn't explain why he suddenly caught a bad case of bullet wound between the eyes."
"Firstly, it wasn't our fault," John starts and Elizabeth bites back a grin. Rodney will never realise it, and it's possibly her favourite thing about the man, but he has the perfect diplomatic technique when it comes to getting information out of John in his ability to irritate the hell out of him. "And secondly, he wasn't just pushing cans of shitty aerosols this time-" John breaks off sharply and nods very slightly as she looks at him.
"Oh, come on!" Rodney's eyebrows come together and his jaw is looking looser than normal. "You can't leave it there."
Elizabeth clears her throat as John answers back. Rodney gives a perfectly adequate smart arse retort, eyes on Elizabeth instead of John as she nods in the direction of the others and then to him. He's an idiot sometimes but he gets it and his questions trail off a few minutes later.
"Done," Keller pronounces. Looking back, Cadman grins and John is trying not to do the same as Rodney shifts from foot to foot, freezing with one hand still in mid-air and frowning when Keller steps within his personal space before holding the bag with the bloodied scrap above his palm. His blue eyes look at the bag like it holds some deadly disease with no cure, but after a look from Keller, he sucks in a breath and gingerly grabs the evidence bag. He swallows and Keller raises an eyebrow. "You are holding the evidence carrier, aren't you?"
"Not for long," Rodney mutters, standing away from the body and next to John. Elizabeth watches, amused, as Rodney tries and fails to shuffle the silver forensics box towards her partner. He's looking at the slug in the bag, dissecting as much as he can before he even gets to the lab, when he blinks and turns to John. "This bullet came from a Glock," Rodney states.
"Yes, I know that." John keeps his eyes on Keller as she starts to determine time of death, not that John and Elizabeth need the liver thermometer to tell them.
"Elizabeth uses a Jericho."
"I know that too, McKay."
"Then how..." Rodney trails off, looking between them and shakes his head, "do I even want to know?"
Next to him John rolls his eyes and Elizabeth stifles a chuckle as John answers, "She was closer to my gun than I was."
"Yeah, I didn't want to know." Rodney looks like he's about to be sick and this time it doesn't have to do with Lavin's dead body, which the EMT's are loading into a body bag. He gives one last look at the body. "It was a clean shot. Kill shot."
John doesn't look at the body, just meets Elizabeth's eyes for a brief second, "Elizabeth's a good shot." The eye contact lasts for a second too long before they're snapped out of the fuzzy, too fast film reel that's playing in both of their minds.
"Captain wants to see you two, by the way," Cadman calls cheerfully over her shoulder while examining the hole left in the wall by Elizabeth's shot, measuring and calling details to Keller.
Elizabeth smiles and straightens her collar with one hand, taking out her phone to check the time with the other. "I'm sure he does."
"Have we got somewhere else to be?"
Elizabeth looks up, seeing John watching while she puts the phone back in her pocket. Sometimes she wishes her partner were just a little bit less observant. "Not anytime soon," she replies with a warm smile.
"I don't even know why I'm here," Rodney interrupts, waving a hand at Cadman and Keller, the latter now crouched over the exit wound. "I was terrible with chalk in kindergarten. You know that game-"
"I'm pretty sure I don't." John's eyes linger on Elizabeth before he turns back to Rodney. "What game?"
"Oh, you know, you draw around your fingers because you can't draw a hand and feel inadequate while Randall Tanner does something with oil pastels that makes the statue of David and Michaelangelo feel ashamed."
Letting out a breath quietly and slowly, without changing expression, Elizabeth leans back against the wall and lets the argument wash over her. She can hear it without hearing it; that statue doesn't have hands; ah, but it did, but that's not the point; then what is the point; well-
"-God, McKay, are you really taking this long to explain that you can't draw for shit? Because I know how to kill you with exploding pancake mix and I'm not afraid to use it."
Elizabeth grins at Cadman, the blond closing the silver box with a business-like demeanor totally at odds with her drawl.
"And I've already taken the photos we need," Keller, quiet until now, adds as Rodney glances between them.
"Thought you had a geek boy toy shop?" Cadman frowns and takes off her gloves "Don't tell me we have to explain digital cameras to you, Rodney."
"We can give you two a ride to the precinct, if you want," the quieter blond puts in as Cadman and Rodney continue to bicker, Rodney explaining at length and high volume that his establishment is a technological emporium, not a 'geek boy toy shop.' The way Keller smiles crookedly as she says it convinces Elizabeth she's asking to be polite and maybe asking to be saved from the others.
"I think we'll pass," John says slowly with a wicked grin as he stands, unfolding from against the wall like a big cat deciding it's time for a stroll.
Elizabeth smiles and says thank you anyway before walking out the door, an hour later than she intended. Her sunglasses are halfway to the bridge of her nose and John's hand is in his pocket for a coin when they notice that Rodney's following them.
Halfway to the bridge of her nose, Elizabeth realises, is the perfect position to glare above.
"A coin," John explains blandly with a hand flat against the top of the car, "has two sides."
"Oh, go ahead," Rodney grins. "I don't want to drive this heap of junk. You'd blame me when things fell off when it's just gravity and decrepitude."
Elizabeth catches the mutter from John while the coin is in mid-air, promising dire fates for Rodney if his comment isn't about the car and only slightly less dire ones if it is. He takes his hand from his palm. "Heads."
She smiles, pushing the sunglasses all the way up and slipping into the driver's seat. She always takes heads.
John is caught between two equally promising options. He can let Rodney stew in the back, shifting uncomfortably and on the edge of demanding petulantly to be filled in on whatever Elizabeth couldn't say in front of Keller, Cadman and the other ACPD personnel. He can also just tell Rodney before the tech genius gets really annoyed, thereby annoying him something rotten.
"It's Kolya," Elizabeth says as John opens his mouth to say the same thing.
Rodney's jaw hangs a little loose. "Are you-"
"Why do you think we're here, Rodney?" John puts in, looking back over his shoulder as Elizabeth slides the car through a light just before it goes to amber, smiling graciously in passing at Cadman, now stuck in traffic.
Rodney squints, looking between them and back at the squad car. "Mitchell and Lorne could handle it."
"Yes," Elizabeth agrees amiably, "And Cameron is always so comprehensive in his reports, isn't he?"
"Lorne's not bad, either," John adds, pulling down the small mirror and running a hand through his hair.
Rodney's slight frown turns into an eyeroll matched by Elizabeth's amused raised eyebrow before he gasps. "Ah, I get it- sneaky, I like it. Can I help?"
"You hate when we ask you to help," John can't help but grin, "always reminding us about the 'grave danger' we put you in."
"I think you even mentioned 'mortal peril' once," Elizabeth chimes in, taking the turn by the diner into the precinct's street only slightly too fast and making the back half of the car drift the corner.
Rodney splutters and John can't imagine why. His flailing for the hand grip by the door suggests Elizabeth's driving is at fault in some respect, though.
"No, what I actually hate-"
John meets Elizabeth's eyes with the same bemused expression, sparing a glance for the finger pointing between the seats and out of the windscreen.
"-is being asked to paw through Jack's desk, because if he catches me I'm never getting rid of Lee and Kavanagh," Rodney says quickly, pulling back his hand and pausing, "You know I don't mind playing characters or lying. I see it as part of developing my performance skills-"
John can't stifle a snort at that and Elizabeth is grinning as she parks the car neatly and quickly between two squad cars in the space marked as theirs by the dark crescent moon shapes etched into the light grey concrete - track marks in the ground, evidence of their eternal impatience to get to the next place they need to be.
"Hold on- wait, wait, wait-" Rodney says as John is about to open the car door. Elizabeth pulls her door shut. "What's new about Kolya killing people?"
"New drug, Rodney," John grins wolfishly.
"Different, but still killing people kind of new drug?" The side of Rodney's mouth twitches, his eyes narrow and he speaks in one breath.
"Something like that," Elizabeth crosses one leg over the other and takes her bag from the glove compartment.
"Imagine actually catching that bastard," Rodney grins, eyes distant before snapping back to John's. "What do you need?"
"Just play along and go with the flow," John replies, stepping out of the car, pulling on his sunglasses and lightly hitting Rodney on the shoulder.
As the other man walks away, stepping like he's got springs wedged in his heels like a kid's sneakers and muttering under his breath - rehearsing lines, John thinks, but there's no real irritation in the thought. The sun's too bright and he can smell the diner food through the nearby open door too clearly for that.
It's another deeply ingrained habit he has no will to change- Elizabeth walks near him, her shoulder almost his height but not quite, shoulder and elbow near him but inches away and bag on her other shoulder, the same way she always walks at his left and his gun is always nearer her hand on his right.
"He's not that bad," she says slowly, head angled to the precinct door still swinging behind Rodney and hand in her bag.
"Nah," John replies, catching and holding open the door, "Besides, if he's ridiculous, what does that make us?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Elizabeth smiles, and he can see her narrowed eyes as she takes off her sunglasses.
"We put on sunglasses to walk from the car to the door," John says with a grin, taking off his own and putting them in the pocket of his jacket.
"Well, that's just good training," she retorts with a laugh that disappears in the precinct lobby.
John lightly puts a hand under her elbow and lowers his voice. "This isn't good."
Elizabeth nods, walking quickly and unerringly to Rodney, standing by the stairs with a taller figure.
"What's wrong?" John asks without preamble.
He swallows an expletive as Junior Detective Evan Lorne glances at Rodney.
"You tell them now, I do it on the stairs, Jack does it in the office," Rodney rattles off with a wave of his hand. "What difference does it make?"
Lorne nods, his hair always that same length- a bit short for a cop, a bit insubordinate if he were military. "It's Kate Heightmeyer." He pauses, looking around the empty lobby before continuing. "We got called out there this morning."
John exhales violently and swears as Elizabeth freezes. As John's fists clench and he turns back to Lorne and Rodney, Elizabeth puts a hand over her mouth briefly and blinks before letting her hand fall back to by her side.
"The psychologist? Homicide?" Elizabeth asks, frowning.
Lorne shakes his head and for the first time, John notices he's pale - very pale. "Looks like suicide, but Mitchell's waiting on the district coroner to confirm."
John notices a movement in the corner of his eye and looks at Elizabeth, whose head is tilted and eyes are focused on Lorne. "Evan?"
He shakes his head and closes his mouth at the sound of footsteps on the shabby, marked steps behind them.
"Mr. Sheppard, Miss Weir," Grodin nods respectfully. It's always Mr. Sheppard and Miss Weir, unless they're in Chuck's bar, and it's always said with the same intonation as 'detective.' From anyone but Grodin it'd be insulting - from him it's just accurate. "The captain's just finished a meeting, whenever you're ready."
John lets out a sigh. "Thanks, Sergeant."
Rodney gives him a sarcastic thumbs up behind Peter Grodin's back and for the first time in the conversation, Lorne's mouth tightens into a smile.
"We'd best be going, then," Elizabeth answers, eyes firmly on Grodin's and then shooting a warning glance at Rodney when he turns.
Elizabeth and John share a look before following the sergeant up the stairs.
They walk into the office and the door clicks closed behind them. The precinct's captain, Jack O'Neill, is standing with his back to the door and blocks some of the sharp rays coming through the half-closed blind, twists and echoes of a greater cloud of smoke still lingering by the cluttered surface. Someday, John thinks, Jack's going to put an ash tray too close to some paper and burn half the pile. Knowing him, though, he'd either take the news with glee or do it on purpose to get out of reports. Elizabeth steps forward first, sitting on the edge of the chair in front of the desk.
John moves his eyes quickly when Jack turns- it's been fifteen years, and Jack would still kick his ass if he thought John was staring at Elizabeth's in a way he didn't like. And no way was the captain believing that John was actually staring at the worn leather on the chair, only a little unnerved that he can remember when it was a deep green and new, not the split, worn green it is now with sections bleached pale by the sun.
"Sorry to keep you waiting."
"No, you're not," John replies, taking the other seat.
"Nah, I'm not," Jack answers, sitting at the desk. "Not about keeping you at Lavin's, anyway."
A shadow crosses Jack's face and Elizabeth turns her head from the sun to him. "Kate Heightmeyer?"
"She killed herself this morning." Jack's trying to keep his emotions in check, but John and Elizabeth can tell he's circling the edge because by now Jack's usually telling them everything they should have done, and giving them the why we don't harass the on-scene officers speech, but today he's just staring at them. He's likely trying to see past today and into tomorrow because he wants answers, answers he's not getting. Jack likes answers, even the messy ones -- sometimes the messy ones are the ones he prefers.
Questions to Jack hold no allure and never have done like they do to Rodney and the others. He prefers concrete answers and suicides are usually nothing but whys or hows. He doesn't have any answers for Kate right now, and John and Elizabeth know that Jack hates that.
"Who's handling it?" John leans forward and takes in how Jack's fingers are curling over the pen in his hands - he doesn't think it was a suicide.
Leaning back in his chair, Jack puts the pen down, the weight of it leaving his hand. "Mitchell and Lorne. They were the first on the scene."
Elizabeth asks the question that they're all thinking, "Do you suspect foul play?"
"There's nothing to corroborate that," Jack smirks. John can already tell where this is going, just as he knows that Mitchell and Lorne have been given speech Number 12 - the "treat every suicide like homicide and until there's a handwritten letter from God himself that this person took their life" speech.
"Yes, but that doesn't mean there wasn't."
"You have a point, Sheppard."
"If you don't think it was a suicide then what do you think it was?" Elizabeth asks straight out. She wants to take the case, she probably remembers the woman better than John does, and if Jack thinks that the suicide isn't a suicide, then Elizabeth will want to know just what it was. Thing is, like John, Jack knows this too. He trained them well.
"Not sure yet. That's why I still have Mitchell and Lorne looking into it."
"But when you do know..."
"You're not on the case, Elizabeth."
"We never are," John points out. From the corner of his eye he can see Elizabeth smile, her lips turning up at the corners, because they might never be on the cases, but they're never far from the outcomes.
Jack stretches his fingers and grips the pen again, "That's right, you never are. Maybe then you can explain to me why I have Lucius Lavin's corpse in my morgue."
John leans back, spreads his fingers across the arm rest and looks at Jack. "Isn't that a question for a room with one way mirrors?"
Next to him, Elizabeth rolls her eyes, much like Jack is doing. Where Jack stops and does what Sara mildly dislikes them for causing- he puts his hand into his jacket pocket for the pack of twenty and a light. Elizabeth raises an eyebrow. "You know something, I think it is. There's also the way that we're so far from the cases but so close to the bullets."
"Firstly, if it were an interrogation, I'd have my gun sitting out on the desk so you know I'm not messing around-" There's a smile playing around the left side of Jack's mouth, "And yes, I know I'd have to clear it off first." Jack points as Elizabeth's eyes stray far enough to the right to see John's arm, but if she actually meets his eyes she'll laugh and he's no better. Jack's tone turns mildly disgusted, "And secondly, don't do that. You know, that thing where you two tag team the smart ass moments."
John beings to reply, but Elizabeth interrupts him because regardless of the fact that they have said smart ass comments at the ready, she's not in the mood today. The images of Lavin's hand pointing a gun at them and his eyes going dead as he slumps to the floor are still dancing in her head, he knows. Like every other cop to go through the academy Elizabeth is a good shot and like every cop taken under Jack O'Neill's wing she's also a flawless shot, but she's never liked to take a life, even when it's a bastard like Lavin. It's the last resort in Elizabeth's head.
"You sent us there, Jack, because we all knew that there was a better chance that Lucius would talk to us than any detective on the force - and he did," Elizabeth pauses, licking her lips. The muscles in her forearms tense, and she continues, "he told us what we needed, what we already suspected - Kolya is back. And things always get messy when Kolya's around. What happened should have been no surprise."
"Especially considering Lavin," John scoffs, disgustedly. "The man was desperate, taking a shot like that. In my opinion it was deserved. And don't tell us you're not glad to get him off the streets, once and for all."
"John, whatever your humble opinion is," Jack stands up, puts both palms on the desk and looks at them, "it doesn't add a handy little tick box on this form that says 'vigilante at work - and that's A-OK.'"
John leans forward and sees Elizabeth sit back, fingers rising a fraction from the arm rest and returning. That means she can see what Jack is choosing not to- John's hands tightening on the arms of his chair. "And that doesn't change the fact that you sent us there and the bastard nearly shot Elizabeth. She has a point- we are always right there with the bullets, even if we're 'not on the case.'" He airquotes because it annoys Jack no end under normal circumstances and John's just a little pissed.
Elizabeth coughs somewhat delicately in the resulting silence and John takes a breath. She's telling him that she was there, yes, and Lavin was aiming at her, yes, but that she's also still right there in the office with them.
John can hear what they should probably say - or Jack should, and that's the trickier part - exactly then. So you want out? ... Yes. But that's right about when he can see that whole tangle of loyalties just well enough to trip over the strands. He doesn't know what he and Elizabeth should want out of in the first place, never mind how to square that against the way that they're comfortable where they are. So nobody says anything, letting the silence take hold of the room again.
Elizabeth then stands, and Jack straightens, their postures matching. "We gave you what you asked for. Lavin is taken care of and we know Kolya is back. Now, can we leave?"
Jack clenches his jaw, his eyes drifting between John and Elizabeth, but sighs and snuffs out his cigarette. "You can leave."
Uncoiling from his chair, John moves to stand next to Elizabeth and together they leave to head to the door. As his hand goes for the knob, he feels more than sees Elizabeth's body turn back to Jack. Her hips brush against his, still tense.
"Jack, about Kate?" Elizabeth asks, because it's what they do. Ask. When they should, when they shouldn't, when they need to and especially when they don't.
John can hear the sigh Jack gives in return, "I'll let Mitchell know he can call you."
"Yeah, don't mention it."
John opens the door, holding it open as Elizabeth steps across the threshold as he follows her out, their eyes meet and he can see it reflected in hers.
"We never do," he smirks, nods goodbye to Jack and closes the door behind him just in time to see Jack light another cigarette. On their way out Grodin nods and lets them know that they'll get their copy of the Lavin report tomorrow, at the latest. He's marking it on his calendar so they both know that the report will be at their office tomorrow the same way as they know the sun comes up in the morning. They thank him briefly, moving towards the elevators.
They meet Cam Mitchell on the stairs on the way out.
"So- Heightmeyer," John asks bluntly after the pleasantries and agreeing when they would get blind drunk together next.
"Suicide," Cam answers after a hesitation.
"Damn," John says softly, looking out of the door and back.
"Yeah," the other man replies with that hint of the Tennessee home boy even Atlantis hadn't beaten out of him. It would be a bad thing on anyone else but on Cam because the soft lit that his voice carries tends to calm everyone who hears it. The worst thing is that the man knows it and knows how to use it when he feels the need. It makes Cam one of the most trusted cops in the precinct and one of the best interrogators in the city. He's up there with Elizabeth, and for much the same slippy reason: he knows how to get the information he wants, and half the time the person he's trying to get it from doesn't even know they've given it to him until it's too late. He's certainly the best the ACPD has.
"Evan didn't seem to take it well," Elizabeth puts in from the side, reaching across and touching the back of Cam's hand.
"He didn't take it well," Cam replies, blinking, shaking his head and pushing a hand through his hair above his left ear. "I think he knew her before she worked here - he was at the Academy couple of years after us, same time she was."
John nods, leaning back on the banister to let a pair of beat cops go ahead down the stair.
"Doesn't help that she threw herself off her roof," Cam finishes in a low voice. Both John and Elizabeth wince, sharing looks. Cam gestures awkwardly to the upper floor - the desk floor.
"Yeah," John nods, voice equally low. "Bet it's quiet up there today."
"Hell yeah," Cam replies, sighing and turning on the stair. "I'd better go write the report before Lorne tries and ends up gettin' carried outta Chuck's for his trouble." Cam nods to Elizabeth, who kisses him on the cheek as they leave, hand near his elbow for a moment before moving away.
Walking out into the sunlight, John lets out an explosive breath. "We didn't know her-"
"Not really," Elizabeth amends, walking a few steps ahead and nodding when he holds up a coin.
"Tails." John gets in the driver's seat. "Guessing we're headed back?"
Elizabeth nods. "There's food at my apartment and the diner's likely full of people trying hard not to be in the precinct. We'll get stuck in there for hours." Clicking her seat belt into place, she smiles and he can almost believe it. She's good, but they've been partners a long time. "Don't worry- turkey sandwiches will still be on the menu tomorrow."
"I know that," he glares just a bit and is determined that he is not defensive. If he's defensive, she'll -
"Unless it's not the turkey sandwiches," comes the smooth, amused voice and he doesn't take his eyes from the road to see her grin.
The joke's been running so long he doesn't remember how it started and doesn't feel the need to reply - just smiles and starts the engine. John can't help it if Vala makes one mean turkey sandwich.
"Funny, Elizabeth." John starts pulling out of the station's parking lot and half turns to Elizabeth, "So the apartments?"
Elizabeth slides down in her seat and slips her sunglasses on, shielding her eyes, "We need to go to the office first. We still need to finish up the files from the Keras case."
"Damn kids," John groans under his breath. Elizabeth's expression doesn't change, but he knows she heard it.
John nods and turns the car towards their small office, knowing they'll probably be stuck there for a couple hours, and wonders if Vala's will deliver.
There's a pause as Elizabeth looks up from her desk, finding John looking at her through the always-open door between the small rooms with a smirk and slightly raised eyebrow. She calmly and firmly sits down the bundle of papers she's just finished and turns.
"When McKay was all 'we should just take the stuff', did the Wraith come in from the left or the right?"
Elizabeth pauses, one hand under her chin and elbow folded onto the desk. It's a battered old thing but they weren't about to spend decent money on furnishing rooms they barely use. "One from the left, two from the right, Rodney ducked out through the back after your first shot but before my third and are you really going to phrase it like that?"
"It's what he said," John shrugs with a grin, looking at the scrap he'd scribbled on seconds before and typing it up. "Stop watching me type."
Elizabeth grins as John keeps his eyes on the screen. "I'm not watching you type."
"Yes," John says between thumped out keystrokes, "you are. I can feel you judging me."
"Well, if you'd keep the heel of your hand near the space bar-"
"-and not hit the keys like I'm playing Space Invaders-" John chimes in, hitting the save button on the report with a grin before turning his seat to face Elizabeth's.
"We wouldn't have this problem," she finishes with a matching smirk.
"My keyboard skills," John can't help but reply as he stands and stretches, "are not a 'problem.'"
Elizabeth, about to reply, pauses as the phone rings. "They are," she answers, amused, and leans across her desk to look at the caller ID, "when I finish my reports an hour faster."
"It's Rodney," John says without moving. "And that means it wouldn't be such a big deal if we just didn't write reports. It's not like anyone ever reads them."
"Aren't you going to answer that?" Elizabeth leans forward on the desk, phone still ringing in the background, purposefully ignoring him. They're doing reports and they're not having the argument - again.
"I suppose," John says slowly after looking at the ceiling with what Elizabeth can only describe as a petulant expression. He picks up the phone. "Hello, Rodney. What say you?" John, putting in the occasional 'hmm' and 'ah', takes a pile of pale blue post-its and a pen with his free hand. "I did answer, though, didn't I?... Yes, I was talking to Elizabeth. It was an important logistical discussion." Elizabeth raises an eyebrow as he rolls his eyes. "Filing. And I'm insulted that you think I don't care about filing." He scribbles something on the pad and pauses again, as Elizabeth smiles and thinks that John cares more about getting out of filing. "All right, I get it. We'll be right over."
"One day," Elizabeth stands, moving around the side of the desk to the coat stand at the same time as John, "you two will break down and admit that you like each other."
"Where's the fun in that?"
She shakes her head - he even looks sincere, and she's not entirely sure that he isn't. "What were you writing?"
John grins and picks it up from the desk as they walk past, putting a hand out behind him as they walk down the stairs. Elizabeth takes the paper and laughs- there, on the happy blue post-it is a doodle of Rodney. More specifically of Rodney in his office, talking on the phone and the word bubble over his head full of Sheppard, blah, blah, blah.... Right behind him is Radek calling him over, a machete in his hands. It's mean, but Elizabeth knows John doesn't really mean it. And that no matter how often Radek threatens Rodney's life in Czech, the man would never actually go through with it.
Rodney's shop, otherwise known as Pegasus Tech and Sound, is sandwiched between a comic book store and a pastry shop. Its windows are bare, save for the few items he has on display and the random flyers his assistant puts up. Whenever they come by both of them know they should be prepared to lose an hour to whatever Rodney will be telling them, even when it's something as simple as yes, your video card is shot, you need to stop spilling things on it. While Elizabeth knows John will never admit it, he actually likes the excuse to look over whatever new gadgets and games Rodney has in stock - especially when Rodney lets him test them.
Pulling into a parking spot near the comic book store, Elizabeth tosses John the change for the meter as they step out.
They walk into the shop to hear Rodney in what appears to be one of his infamous arguments with his sixteen year-old assistant.
"God, I just don't even care."
"Then why are you asking?"
"Fun, McKay. It's fun."
"Now you're talking about something he won't understand," John drawls, lounging against the door frame and watching the blond teen bounce on her heels in agitation.
"It will not be fun," Rodney shoots back in a disgusted tone with a glare towards John. "Besides, we get enough customers. I don't want other people in here, putting things in the wrong order, taking out the wires and putting them back wrong-"
"Heaven help us," Samantha Carter rolls her eyes, picking up a backpack and putting it on, "they might even buy things."
"Exactly! No- wait," Rodney frowns, narrowing his eyes at the shorter, grinning girl. "This does not mean I'm getting a myspace."
"I didn't say you should get a myspace," Sam tosses her hair back over one shoulder with a look of disgust, "I said you should get a livejournal. Believe me, there's a difference."
"John has one of those," Elizabeth nods, standing next to Sam and folding her arms over her chest.
Rodney turns slowly, eyes wide, before scoffing and turning back. "Now I'm convinced-" Sam looks up as he grins- "that it's a terrible idea. Seriously, the masses reading the lonely, slow-walking thoughts that cross his brain?"
"Hey!" John stands, indignant.
Sam, with one last roll of her eyes, nods to Elizabeth and John before leaving.
"If she weren't so cheap, I'd fire her," Rodney mutters and Elizabeth and John share a grin.
"And her vast intelligence has nothing to do with it," Elizabeth takes the seat beside the counter and looks at the spluttering scientist.
"No, it doesn't," Rodney shakes his head and glares. "She's in college at sixteen. That doesn't make her smart. I was in college at fourteen."
"Whatever, McKay," John pulls over another chair and sits by Elizabeth, ducking his head to avoid the highly customised toy train. "Aren't those things meant to be, you know, blue and red and make noises?"
"It's had work done to it," Rodney shrugs, ducking to the side of the desk and picking up a black padded bag. "The exterior was expendable." He throws a brown file onto the desk, a move which would have been effortless and suave had it not lightly hit a tower of precariously stacked toys.
John, moving forward sharply to brace the pile, glared across the desk. "What is this, the leaning tower of puddle jumpers?"
"They're called Gateships," Rodney corrects, holding up a box proudly. "See? They're gateways to adventure!"
"Rodney," Elizabeth interjects with a smile, reaching across the desk to take the report, "they're remote control hovercrafts."
"Which makes 'puddle jumper' technically a more accurate-"
"Which definition of hovercraft did you read?"
Elizabeth feels her hands turn cold flipping the pages of the report. It isn't until she feels a hand shaking her elbow that she realises John had been saying her name.
"Hey, you okay?"
Elizabeth forces herself to smile. "I'm fine. It's just the report. It's... engrossing."
"Uh huh," John frowns slightly.
"Yes, that reminds me, it turns out Lavin was - shock, surprise and all that - dipping into his own stores," Rodney rolls his eyes. "Including something new that came up on the preliminary tox report."
"What?" John asks, sitting forward and eyes snapping to Rodney's.
"Keller doesn't know yet." Rodney looks to Elizabeth and nods to the report. "There should be something in there."
Elizabeth thumbs back to the page she's marked in her mind- the breakdown of chemicals in Lavin's system that had shown up in the pre-autopsy report. "Above average serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels." Elizabeth tilts her head, looking between Rodney and John. "That might indicate some form of dopamine?"
"With everything the bastard was taking-" John shakes his head and shares a look with Rodney. "Full toxicology and autopsy should tell us more."
"Who's Jack got on this?" Elizabeth looked up, pushing her hair behind her ear.
"Teyla and Ford," Rodney pauses, frowning and sitting up straight, "And I would like to make it clear that I am not and never will be a gopher. Teyla gives it to me, now I'm supposed to give it to you? Like a boy for hire- oh, quit your sniggering, Sheppard, I mean like a bike messenger! I'm a tech specialist, not one of Jack's little go-to boys! I shouldn't have to pass sensitive files like notes in a classroom full of prepubescent kids. I already have one teenager working for me -- I don't need any more."
Elizabeth leans on the counter and nods, "Rodney," she pauses, "can you tell Teyla we appreciate her getting this to us so quickly? She didn't have to. Peter was going to send it over tomorrow."
"That reminds me," John sits forward, pointing, "did ballistics pick anything up we should know about?"
"Besides the jokes about you and Elizabeth being joined at the hip getting some evidence to back them up? No, not a thing." Rodney rolls his eyes and tilts his head, "Did you hear a single thing I just said?"
"Not a gopher, we get it," John nods. Elizabeth catches John's eye and returns his grin, "Come on, Elizabeth."
"What, leaving already?" Rodney stands, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
"Well, if we want to call Laura before midnight-" Elizabeth says, smiling politely and turning away.
"For crying out loud, I'll get you the full tox and autopsy," Rodney shakes his head with a hint of a grin. "Even ballistics if that overactive catherine wheel comes up with anything useful," he adds, almost as an afterthought.
Blinking, John asks, "Do you call her that to her face?"
John scoffs, "No wonder she calls you a citrus-fearing Hindenburg."
Rodney almost nods, before he gives a blank look to both John and Elizabeth, "Wait, what? What does she call me?"
"The Hindenburg," Elizabeth repeats.
"You know, full of hot air with a tendency to crash," John finishes, smiling.
Elizabeth, suppressing a grin, nods to John and stands. Moving past the chairs, she smiles back to Rodney over her shoulder. "See you tomorrow, Rodney."
His voice follows them from the shop. "We'll finish this discussion later!"
Rolling her eyes as John hums Hot Blooded and unlocks the door to her apartment, Elizabeth is already thinking about what food they're eating and the coffee she'll drink while she makes it. She stops by the first chair next to the cluttered table and watches as John picks up the day's newspaper, his eyes running over the headline and his shoulders stiffening. Elizabeth wonders if her very bones can tense.
She can see from across the room it's been there a while; the left-hand side is curved by the weight of tiny quantities of water, thrown when the drops from the leaking skylight hit the hall floor. They had both left early this morning to go to the office and then Lavin's- except for files and the crinkled magazines they have in the recycling bins, they haven't opened a newspaper today. She moves across the room, setting the bags down on the kitchen table and opens the fridge, grabbing two beers, knowing they'll be needing it tonight.
"What does it say?"
John lets out a curse that sears the air, she can hear him move across the room, feet heavy on the wood floor.
"That's what it says?" Elizabeth sets the water to hissing and boiling in the background.
There's a dull thud as he sits the paper on the table and sits heavily in the soft seat. Two armchairs, two proper table chairs, are all squeezed in around the table at odd angles. Which ones they'll slump into depends how early Jack woke them or how late they've been out.
Elizabeth leans over, body still facing the hob, to read the expected, solitary sentence.
Elizabeth blinks, turning back to the hob and swallowing. "It's succinct," she says over her shoulder, voice laced with irony.
"It's Heightmeyer," John replies, putting a picture on the table and pushing it towards her with his index finger and a grim nod. He takes a long swallow from the beer she hands him. He takes a long swallow from the beer she hands him.
"Forensics declared that a suicide this morning not long after we left," Elizabeth reminds him with a frown, jerking her head towards the internal server page of the ACPD database on the open laptop. They have codes and passes for the main door of the station. They have email accounts that they rarely check, and the station didn't do email when they got out of academy. What they don't have is administrator access to the files database, updated whenever someone sneezes near a crime scene or a corpse. For that, they have Rodney and his well-paid, devious ways.
"It's still her," John asserts, holding up the newspaper. Elizabeth closes her eyes and purses her lips. It should get easier, but it just doesn't. A picture of a small, spread-eagled figure in the sky above a woman, hands pressed to her cheeks in horror. And above that, below the red top title Atlantis City Tribune, the headline: SHE SCREAMED.
Elizabeth hadn't known Kate Heightmeyer and neither had John. One of the best things about their peculiar and 'official' position was that they skipped post-mission psych evaluations. The precinct would gift them free pens and lots of other things, but they weren't paying a psychiatrist thirty dollars an hour to confirm their sanity. That, Jack had informed them, grinning wickedly as if they should be bothered, they could get at Chuck's or Vala's.
Still, running a fingertip across the page and raising her chin, Elizabeth feels a strange kind of glittering fury. Anyone who'd touch someone claimed by the precinct was worthy of the brown folder John has just pulled out and sat next to the newspaper. He raises an eyebrow, questioning, and opens it. Elizabeth nods and he puts the papers inside, closing it over and scribbling 'Heightmeyer, Kate: deceased' on the tab in his miserable chicken-scratch.
"Jack's going to have a conniption, if he hasn't had one already," Elizabeth stares at the picture of Kate, her eyes dead and haunting, and has to look away when John closes the folder.
"I hope he tears that Chaya chick a new one for this. Heightmeyer's family doesn't deserve to have this to have this splashed across the city." John folds the paper in half, and it tells Elizabeth just how annoyed he is that he doesn't just move past the front page and continue to the Sports and Arts & Leisure sections like always, leaving the Business and World News sections to her.
Elizabeth hums, "I don't envy her." She takes the paper from the table, ignoring John's look, and heads back to the kitchen. "I'm making your mom's lasagna tonight - it'll probably last you for the week if you get hungry in the middle of the night."
Smiling softly, Elizabeth begins to pull out what she needs, "Just remember tomorrow you're cooking and I'm expecting to be wowed."
She can hear him chucking, because they both know the only wow recipe John knows is his garlic chicken. She pulls out the ground beef, onion, garlic, basil and tomatoes she'll need to make what's called 'The World's Best Lasagna' in the Sheppard household. She also grabs cheeses she'll need (ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella) as well as Ann Sheppard's secret ingredient: brown sugar. It's their preferred comfort food after a long day and that's exactly what today's been.
The preparation is easy enough, given how often she makes it, and by the time it's in the oven and set to cook for half an hour, John's grabbed the plates and utensils to set a makeshift table around all of the files they'll have to go over tonight. The Keras case is closed, but until Kolya is caught Lucius' case is still unofficially open. Settling next to him, Elizabeth grabs the tox report they got from Rodney. The serotonin levels in Lucius are a problem. Not for him anymore, for obvious reasons, but if it's what the new drug does and Kolya is planning on distributing it in the city, it means trouble for everyone.
"John," she breathes, pensively. He's been reading the same file, as well as with all the others they have lying around about Lucius for the past twenty minutes and has already probably came to the same conclusion. Plus, he'd worked Narcotics and Vice before they'd left and knew the drug world better than she did.
"The serotonin levels?" Elizabeth tries to remember what she can from high school Biology and the Academy, but trusts John's experience more. Give her politicians any day of the week, but damned if she's a chemist.
"They're high, but we knew that." He stands and goes to grab a couple more beer from the kitchen, as well opening the oven and adding extra Parmesan to the top layer of the lasagna. "I think you may have been right thinking dopamine, and I know that can seriously fuck with the head - schizophrenia, depression." John's eyes are bright and distant, focused on a high-rise on the western edge of the city. She knows why they're both prepared to indulge nostalgia today: the precinct is cramping up around itself in the wake of Kate's death, and they're not in it. "I remember from the LSD users I had to deal with my first couple years on the force - it does roughly the same, I think. I don't know about the other stuff in his system. It wouldn't surprise me if the idiot tried every drug he was selling, though."
"Yeah, I thought the same thing." Elizabeth wraps her hand around the beer John sets down in front of her. The condensation sliding over her fingers and onto the wood of the table, she can't help but think about what they know: about Lucius, Kolya, the string of overdoses happening around the city. She knows they're connected but can't find the connecting point, no matter how rationally, how coldly she maps it out. As methods go, it's as much of a long shot as John's - where he relies on kinetic energy to bounce around until he finds or hits something, Elizabeth prefers the thin veneer of logic. It's... irritating, not knowing just how Kolya, Lucius, and the overdoses fit together. She doesn't like it.
"Sorry," she shakes her head, snapping her eyes back to where John is thumbing through the file Teyla had left for them. "Just thinking."
"You do that too much," he smiles, eyes lifting to meet hers before they go back to the report.
Elizabeth smiles back, "I do."
They sit in companionable silence working through the report, adding it to what they already know until Elizabeth hears the oven ding. She tilts her head towards the kitchen, "Food's ready."
Leaning on her forearms on the smooth wood, Elizabeth reaches over and grabs the pen from John's hand to get his attention. He just looks at her, one eyebrow raised in a way that makes her slightly proud.
"I cooked," Elizabeth grins, wryly.
John looks at her, pouting adorably, and matches her grin, but stands anyway. "You're lucky you're cute." As he moves to grab dinner Elizabeth gathers the files and puts them in a pile by one of the empty chairs. She makes a mental note to set a meeting for tomorrow.
The walk upstairs and past his apartment, the last before the roof and the biggest in the building because it falls apart near the edges, wakes him up and clears his head from the beer. He could have taken the creaking, rusty and golden elevator to the top floor but, just the same way that Elizabeth felt the need to cook the World's Most Complicated Lasagna, he wants to walk. That two cold beers each could push him just off kilter tells him just how tightly wound they are over this - the same as looking over to see Elizabeth with one knee held up to her chest and chin braced on it tells him something, too. A tricky part about killing people is something the Academy has no way to simulate; the exhaustion afterwards if you still gave a damn about taking a life, even if Lucius Lavin had been more like a piece of bad Atlantis furniture. After throwing a worn blanket around her shoulders and resolving to check she'd gone to bed on the way to his own, he'd turned the radio over to the classical station she liked at a low volume before leaving.
He's long left her ground floor apartment, but he's only just stopped walking softly when he pushes the rough, rusting bar on the roof door. It makes the kind of unholy screech that convinces him to just oil it, same as it does every time. Then, every time, he gets to thinking about what sent him up there and forgets about broken doors.
There's a siren in the distance as he braces his palms on the rough brick wall that comes up to just above his waist. It runs at that same height all the way around the rooftop and like most things in Atlantis, it's just a gesture towards safety and limits. The thing about the city, John thinks, is that if you really want to kill yourself it'll do nothing but give you another meter to fall.
It reminds him of something Elizabeth once told him, back when they were still raw from leaving and still trying to find their new footing. He'd moved to her building, giving Lorne his room at Cam's while the junior found a place of his own. Deciding who'd get the top floor and who'd be nearer the ground, Elizabeth had told him he was born to be where his thoughts were; close to the stars. He likes that she thinks that of him, even when they both know it's mostly horse-shit. Besides, he's a gent in the oldest sense of the word - Cam Mitchell's mother wouldn't have him over her door any other way - so he offered.
The rooftop overlooks the western quarter of the city. They aren't far from the precinct, and if he cared to look back into the center he'd see it. It's a short, squat building with flaking white paint on the window frames and fluorescent lights that flicker but never go out. He doesn't bother looking back, preferring to look out across the city instead. There's a car streaking across the highway, and another following it. It's something Jack would like to stamp out, and his higher-ups would definitely like him to try harder on it, but John knows there's no way the captain is going to try and break up that party. He won't, partly because Jack understands it more than he'll admit and partly because Atlantis has far bigger problems than kids drag-racing on the empty stretches and flatlands on the edge of the Hebridan desert. If nothing else, there isn't much for them to hit out there.
John regrets leaving behind his beer, but Elizabeth had been smart and only put two each to cool. Neither staying up while another cooled or drinking warm beer had appealed to him and it isn't like Chuck's - standing on the roof doesn't need a beer, not really. He's been with Elizabeth long enough to be okay with her calling his bouts of deep thought brooding. It's a bad habit- he's not really thinking about the case, but thanks to the case, he's not thinking about anything else either.
The whole thing, from the moment they had heard it was Lucius, had the space between his shoulders feeling tight like there was a bull's eye on his back and a sniper in the distance. Now the knowledge that Heightmeyer's death- not a suicide any more, maybe never was - could be connected to whatever had gotten Lucius and Kolya back on their radar worried John more than he was comfortable with. The last time any of the Genii had tried to climb the ranks of the Atlantis criminals in the vacuum the Goa'uld had left behind them, it had been Cowan. He had met his end at the end of Landon Radim's gun, splintering the Genii into two sides; Radim's and Kolya's. In the end it had worked out best for the city, the split factions of the Genii being left to flounder and die, neither side making much in the way of waves in a long time.
The last time Atlantis had heard from any of the Genii factions, it had been Kolya's and John still remembers the remains of the Dagan building. Kolya's always been the greater of two evils, the one not afraid to push his plan as far as he can.
Leaning on the ledge with his forearms crossed over each other on the cool cement, John thinks as the sirens move farther way that if another Genii war really is brewing, he doesn't want himself and Elizabeth in the middle of it. They have no one to lose but each other anymore. The problem is, he also knows that they won't find themselves anywhere but the middle of it.
Behind him the door screeches, reminding him again why he doesn't oil it. Turning, he stretches a smile as Elizabeth's body appears and leans against the door frame. Her hair is still flat on one side from where she buried her head in the couch's armrest and her eyes are blinking back sleep. He wants to make a comment on how she can't sleep when she knows he's 'brooding', but refrains when she steps into the dim light above the roof's door light and he really sees her eyes.
"What is it?" He steps forward, his hand moving to his hip, reaching for the ghost of a gun he always feels there.
She only shifts her hips, pushing off the frame. "We have a call."
Back in the apartment, the call from Cam gives them a surprise - and it's not that it's made from Chuck's, where they can hear the bar's repetitive playlist through the static background under Cam's voice. Apparently nobody had prepared a toxicology report on Kate when her body had been taken to the Coroner's until Lorne had looked over the report, unconvinced that she would have committed suicide. Mitchell had told them that Lorne had been adamant and that he had agreed. Kate, as Cam had known her, had never had a history of anything that would have indicated a reason to throw herself off her apartment building's roof.
Cam and Lorne had waited around until the coroner had done the tests, also sending a sample to Keller to get a second opinion. Both reports had revealed something that neither man had expected.
Lucius' system had been polluted with more drugs than they'd known what to do with- until one solitary set of identical compounds had shown up in Kate's tox report.
Keller had been the one to notice the connection, first thinking that either she or Woolsey, the city coroner, had made an error on the blood test. She had double checked and found similar levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, although Kate's serotonin levels were lower than Lucius'.
Neither John nor Elizabeth knew if it meant anything, but they had both been sure that it meant Cam was having breakfast in the morning at Vala's with them. As Elizabeth hangs up with Cam, her eyes meet John's worriedly. They had been waiting for the other shoe to drop all day after she had shot Lucius between the eyes and now, in the early hours of Wednesday, it has.
Turning off the speakerphone, the harsh and loud beep rings in the silence. John sighs and Elizabeth holds out a hand to pull him to his feet. He nods with a crooked smile before running a hand through his hair and walking to the door. "Eight?"
"Eight," Elizabeth nods, still leaning against the edge of the table.
They could stay up all night talking it through, talking it over and turning it around for inspection, but they know better. Cameron, Elizabeth thinks with a sigh of her own, probably doesn't. But he also has the luxury of being able to do something about it, even if it's only hanging around waiting for lab results. She and John, she thinks as her hand hovers over the light switch, have nothing left to do but sleep.
John doesn't wake up until he's reached Elizabeth's kitchen, which is why once upon a time he held a grudge against Simon. Not, as everyone they knew had either quietly suspected or proclaimed repeatedly, because he was jealous as hell. Back when Simon was with Elizabeth, the other man had always already been there, every morning.
As used to the routine as he is, John lets himself into her kitchen on days when they haven't even agreed to be working, which had occasionally gone less than well in the Simon days. It had sometimes even ended with John explaining patiently why it wasn't a big deal that Elizabeth was just in a shirt, that he'd seen her just in his shirt lots of times, while Elizabeth had given him the look that said: I understand you're trying to help, and I'm trying really hard not to laugh right now.
He would be lying to himself if he didn't admit to having grinned like an especially stupid pup when Elizabeth had told him that he had a key to her apartment and he should use it. He didn't even mind her threat; if she caught him trying to work his death-trap of a coffee machine between the working hours of eight am and two am again, she would boil his hands. Being a lady, she didn't mention the layers of dust on his mugs.
Yet somehow Elizabeth had found it easier to fit in around Nancy in his life. Not around; Elizabeth didn't need to do that. She found her place in his life more compatible with Nancy's, even when he was so briefly a married man. It had helped that she'd liked Nancy a shitload more than he'd ever liked Simon. Elizabeth and Nancy had gone on cafe dates, lunch dates, theatre evenings, to book launches and other things that made him screw his nose up and reach for a beer. The more he looked back on it, the more he had to think that those had been the happiest three years of his life, and those two women had been why. He'd never met women better at coming home from the launch of the New and Lively Translation of More's Utopia to sit on either side of him and ignore the football.
John shakes himself out of the memory as he turns the key in Elizabeth's lock. Nancy's gone, Simon was gone long before and they have a case to get on with. He walks in and knows from the way the smells and objects are arranged that she's up and has been up for at least an hour. The coffee machine is fully warmed up, she's melted butter into her toast and oh, God, she's in one of those moods. It doesn't mean she'll be slow to turn a conversation where they need it to go, or to shout a warning when another bruiser decides to join their current fray, but it does mean he'll be avoiding the bookshop on the way back. And the video place. And praying they aren't showing those BBC series on TV again. Still, he can't deny that he smiles as he thinks it.
Elizabeth nods, continuing to hum under her breath as she fastens the strap of the holster to her hip. John helps himself to coffee, reaching for the sugar and figuring that because it's before eight in the morning, he's entitled to three sugars. After noon, he'll cut back. And if he's at Vala's, he just won't ask how many she slips in.
As the news on the radio starts at eight, Elizabeth switches it off and they head out.
They enter Vala's to be assaulted with the normal sounds and smells of the diner. Chatter, the clinking of utensil on plates, and the heavy wave of coffee and grilled food that makes you hungry even if you only stopped for a refill. As always she's behind the counter, taking and calling out orders, her hair in her usual pony tail and she's wearing her usual white shirt and tight jeans. Vala doesn't enforce a dress code, never has, because like the woman has said herself, she wouldn't want to be caught dead wearing something polyester and green. Her staff tend to agree. And if a health inspector had ever complained about it, Elizabeth hasn't heard of it but then again, it wouldn't surprise Elizabeth if Vala talked her way out of some simple thing like uniform enforcement. The woman could talk the President out of his job, and herself into it.
When Vala sees them, she waves them over, giving a bright smile to each and nodding to where Cameron has already set himself up in a booth.
"Here, darlings," Vala leads them to the booth, pulling out her notepad as she does so. "The usual, I gather?" She turns to John, not so subtly indicating to his perchance to order turkey sandwiches every time they come in. Her lips turn up when John smiles back, a flirtatious edge lingering in their corners.
She gestures them to sit, grabs the coffee pot from one of her passing waitresses, and overturns the sunny yellow coffee mugs each table has, pouring Elizabeth and John each a cup.
"Not today, Vala. Just the coffee." John sits, opening the menu out of habit and then looks back up, "Actually maybe some eggs to keep the coffee company. Sunny-side up, extra bacon."
Vala scribbles his order down with a shake of her head, not entirely surprised, and turns to Elizabeth, "Your usual breakfast then, Elizabeth?" She teases.
"Yes, thank you, Vala." Elizabeth nods as Vala winks at her and makes her way back to the counter almost. Almost.
"Hey, what about me, Princess?" Cam calls after her and Vala turns sharply on her heels, leveling the man with her patented glare. Elizabeth thinks it's worthy of one of her own and has to wonder what Cameron's done to earn it, especially considering how early it is. Vala is usually a very amiable and friendly, if not sometimes over-flirtatious, hostess. It takes a lot to get her angry enough not to serve a customer, more so if it's someone from the precinct since the majority have a tab at the diner that they pay at the beginning of each month. Only a few people can say they "carte blanche" at Vala's and so far that list consists of Jack. Not even she and John can say they have it, but they do get the precinct deal, though usually Elizabeth insists that they pay like everyone else. Vala just scoffs and tells Elizabeth not to worry about it.
"You, Cameron Mitchell, are not getting another coffee from me until you've managed to stop shaking like leaf. Eat your waffles and drink your juice - unless you want me to bring you tea!" That can't be good. Especially if Vala is threatening tea. But Vala's words make Elizabeth take another look at Cam, who hasn't actually said anything to them since they sat down. Now, really looking at him, Elizabeth can see the growing bruises under his eyes and the way his hand can't seem to keep still for longer than a second. Sharing a look with John, Elizabeth delicately raises an eyebrow.
"I'm not that bad!" Cam shouts back as Vala heads behind the counter, presumably to get John and Elizabeth's breakfasts. Turning to them he defends himself again, "I'm not, she's just being a coffee nazi again. I blame Jackson."
Elizabeth can't help but chuckle at the mention of Daniel Jackson and his famed coffee addiction. She reaches over and stills Cam's tapping fingers. Hound Dog, she thinks. Cam looks up and meet her eyes. He looks like he hasn't slept, Elizabeth already can see the glazed look in his weary blue eyes that comes from pulling all nighters. "Maybe so, Cam, but you barely drink more than two cups a day."
"Freak of nature," John puts in.
Elizabeth ignores him, rolling her eyes, and focuses on the exhausted man in front of her. "Cam, have you even slept?"
To his credit Cam doesn't pull the "I'm fine" line on them and just shakes his head, running a hand through short dirty-blonde hair. "Not yet. Me and Lorne spent all night waiting on those tox reports and then all morning with Keller and some of the guys from Narcotics trying to figure what the hell it was that we found on the godforsaken things."
"And?" John leans back in booth, waiting.
"Fucking nothing," Cam curses, resting his head back on the booth, and now Elizabeth knows it's bad - Cam doesn't curse in a lady's presence unless it's absolutely called for and tends to be contrite afterwards. As if he had read her mind his head snaps back up and he apologises. Shrugging the apology off with a smile, Elizabeth covertly pushes her coffee towards Cam. He looks like he needs it and Vala's not looking. Cam smiles back and downs the cup in one go.
"What do you mean, nothing?" John asks. He doesn't like the answer anymore than she does, that there's something out on the streets taking people that they can't identify. Something they can't stop.
"I mean nothing. It doesn't match any combination of drugs out there. Not even a combination of drugs on the street. Keller said she'd send it up her friend up at the DEA, but that might take a few days. Right now we have nothing." He sighs and as Elizabeth is about to say something, Vala comes back and set Elizabeth and John's breakfast in front of them.
"Refill, Elizabeth?" She smirks, glancing at the coffee cup near Cam, but says nothing else about it.
Elizabeth has to press her lips together not to laugh out loud, nodding. "Please, Vala."
As Vala walks away, Elizabeth turns back to John and Cam, who are both clearly amused, and shrugs. "Do you have the new copy of the tox report?"
Cam reaches to where his jacket is laying next to him on the booth and grabs the file from underneath it. "Here - it has all the new information we have. Have you gotten Lavin's full report yet?"
John shakes his head, "No, Grodin is sending it over to the office later today. Anything we should be looking for there?"
"Not that I know of." Cam lifts one arm up and rubs the back of his neck and it's clear that at the moment the man is running on coffee and adrenaline. Elizabeth hopes he has the morning off. "I'm supposed to meet with Teyla, Ford and Lorne later to go over and see if we've missed anything. First, a shower, maybe some sleep. After we're finished here, 'course." He ends with a smile.
Nodding, John is already flipping through the report, letting Elizabeth read over his shoulder. It's Kate's toxicology report but both of them can see it shares a few similarities with Luicus' and neither likes that, or what it might imply, one bit.
Elizabeth then remembers what Cam had told them last night about Even being the one that noticed the missing blood tests and turns back to Cam. "Hey, how is Evan? He didn't sound good yesterday."
How fast Cam's shoulders drop and how his body weight seems to be suddenly bogged down, as if two giant hands are pushing down on him, tells Elizabeth everything about how Evan is and he is dealing with it.
"It wasn't. We went down to Chuck's while we were waiting for Woosely and Keller to redo all the blood tests and I gotta tell you, I half expected to have to drag him out. But I managed to get him home before I came down here to meet you two." With a bleak sigh, Cam fingers the rim of his orange juice. "I mean, I knew he knew her, but this? I think he may have known her better than I thought."
"You think he was sleeping with her?" John leans forward, pushing the report out of the way with his elbow before Elizabeth picks it and beings re-reading it.
Cam lifts his shoulder, an unsure gesture. "If he was, I didn't know about it. Which might mean it was a new thing. I dunno, they could have just been friends. Lorne had to deal with a bunch of therapy after the Degan practically fell on him. I think some psych sessions were required along with the physical therapy."
"Yeah…" John lets the word hang off into the air, because Evan's business was Evan's business and Precinct Rule Number 1 is: Respect your partner. Even if you hate him. He's your partner and it's him that could save your life one day. And when he wants to let you know, he tells you. The middle bit of that was added by Jack after Maybourne, but it still stood to this day. Not everyone on the force is perfect, still, you stick with each other. Thick and thin. It was just the way Jack ran things - maybe in spite of, maybe because of Maybourne or Sumner and '97, but no one was really sure.
John and Elizabeth still live by that. Then again, they have no one else but each other to stick with.
Elizabeth clears her throat and decides to bring the conversation to the reason they were even there: Kate's tox report.
"What did Keller and Woolsey make of this?" Pushing it towards the centre of the wooden table, she taps a finger nail at where the report is listing the levels of epinephrine, norepinephrin, serotonin. All high, like Lucius' except for the serotonin level which Keller had noted was lower than it should be in accordance to the other two compounds. Another note next to all them was Unknown Dopamine Compound?
Cam turns the report towards him, pulling in his lower lip with his teeth, and places both hands on either side of it. "They were confused by it, I'll tell you that much. They both gave me same look when they were explaining to me and Lorne, because expect recreationally there is no reason at all for both Kate and Lucius to be taking what ever the hell is that they were taking."
"The serotonin levels in Lavin were as high as he was," John reminds Cam, "we used to see that shit all the time when we worked Vice on the 'shroom and acid pushers."
Cam nods, recognising John's point, "I remember, but Kate sure as hell didn't seem like any 'shroom or acid taker to me. The woman was… together, you know? Calm, but not in the creepy way most psychiatrists are. Just together." His voice goes quieter as he talks about Kate, mourning her.
John and Elizabeth nod, because, no, they don't really know never having really met the woman, but they trust Cam's opinion. And if he says she wasn't some junkie psychiatrist, then she wasn't.
"Then the question is why she was taking this drug, and if she was doing knowingly." Shifting in his seat, John finishes his coffee, signaling Vala for more. Out of habit, Elizabeth's eyes follow his and fall on the counter where Vala motions that she sees him as she finishes pouring coffee to another man.
"Wait, you think she might've been drugged?" Cam questions, interested in the theory John's thrown out.
John takes the report back, lips pursed, "Normally, I wouldn't, but with the connection to Lucius and now Kolya, we can't rule anything out, can we?"
"You have a point, Sheppard."
But even as John and Cam keep discussing why on earth would Kate and Lucius be taking the same drugs, Elizabeth is still focusing on the man that Vala is just finishing serving coffee, eggs and toast too. Without warning, she stands, grabbing the report and heading over to him. As she moves she can hear John calling her, but she doesn't turn back because she might have just found somebody to give her answers.
"Carson, can I steal a minute?" Greeting him good morning, Elizabeth slides on the stool next to the man.
"Elizabeth!" Carson grins pleasantly at her. "Of course, love. What are you in need of? Has John gotten himself injured again?" Blue eyes narrow both worriedly and slightly amused, because Carson still remembers how he came to meet both she and John. It had been shortly before they had left the force, back when they were just starting to work together. They had been involved in a shoot out with some Wraith and neither had walked away without injury. She had had more than a few scrapes and a bruise that had bloomed down her back from where it had met the hard concrete. John had tackled her, saving her from a bullet that would have most definitely paralysed her. He, though, hadn't been so lucky. After the Wraith had been dealt with and the just-in-time back up had arrived, she had gone to put the call into Jack when she had felt, more than seen, John slump next to her. And she had definitely felt it, because she had been at least one and half steps in front of him when she turned just in time to catch his body weight as he had slumped to the floor. She had held him up for a good five seconds, eyes truly locked for the first time since they met, before they dropped to ground and Elizabeth became aware that her hands at his back were covered in blood. John's blood. The rest is more or less still a haze of senses where Sumner and Bates - the backup - had helped her get John into their car and she had driven him to the hospital not caring to wait for the ambulance, which she passed two minutes before parking by the emergency room's entrance calling for help. Carson had been the one to come out.
It ended up being that John hadn't caught a bullet at all, but in the fall to save her from the bullet he had landed and impaled his back on a broken beer bottle. It had lodged there and during the entire shoot out kept sliding its way in like a piece of bright green shrapnel. In the end John had been fine, with the five inch long piece of glass removed safely, but since then Carson had been their official doctor for all their official and unofficial maladies.
Elizabeth shakes her head, reassuringly. "No. No, not yet- he's doing quite well this week," she amends with a smile and signaling over to where John and Cam are looking over at her, understanding crossing over their faces. Carson, being a doctor over at Atlantis Hospital, and probably dealing with rarer drugs than the ACPD and the Coroner, might have a light to shed on their current confusion. "Though, you might want to enforce some sleep on Cameron over there."
Carson looks over to where Cam is sitting and nods. "Aye, I heard about Kate," he says, sadly.
Elizabeth blinks, "You knew her?"
"Aye, I was her doctor for a spell," he nods, and Elizabeth can't deny she's a bit shocked. Was Kate connected to everyone in this city but them, she wonders.
"Indeed I was." Carson pauses, looking like he was debating revealing more about Kate when he continues, "What can I help you with?"
"I'm sorry, Carson." Elizabeth lays a hand on his shoulder and bites her lips, unsure for a minute whether to continuing asking about Kate, but then she remembers this is a case and it may be this is new information they need.
"I'm sure you've read that it's no longer being ruled a suicide," she starts tentatively, needing to know how much he knows already.
"Yes, and I have to admit I wouldn't have believed that suicide bollocks anyway," he states, his voice sure.
"Why not?" So, he doesn't believe Kate killed herself either…, Elizabeth thinks, Then why did she throw herself off her roof?
"Because if you had known Kate, you would have known that she wasn't the type to take her own life. The lass was a fighter."
Then clicks in her mind and Elizabeth mentally smacks herself for not seeing it earlier. "Carson, was Kate sick? I need to know if she was. It might be important." After she speaks, Elizabeth ventures a glance at John, who was still staring at her, shifting in his seat looking to stand and join her. Covertly she shakes her hand, motioning to him stay back for a while longer while she talks to Carson. She can see John's small nod, letting her know he'll wait for her signal.
"She was, Elizabeth." Carson doesn't notice the exchange, answering her question. "Kate was very sick, though I doubt that many knew. Last I spoke to her she didn't want anybody to know. I can't say if she had changed her mind since I treated her."
There's an ominous undertone to Carson's words, spiking Elizabeth's curiosity. "Can I ask what you were treating her for?"
He gives an imperceptible nod, lowering his voice. "It was months ago, but I was the one to regrettably inform her that she had symptoms for early Parkinson's." He looks away, focusing on his coffee. Elizabeth can tell he still regrets that he couldn't help Kate, his misplaced guilt lingering in his entire face. She reaches out to touch his arm, in what she hopes is support. Still, she needs to ask one more question.
She fingers the report. "Carson, can I ask you to look over something and tell me if anything jumps out at you?"
"Of course," he nods, turning back to face her, his smile sad but genuine. It reminds Elizabeth of what a truly empathic soul Carson is. "What can I help you with?"
"Kate's toxicology report."
Carson's eyes go wide but he agrees, "So I take it you're not buying the suicide story either, are you?"
Only shrugging, Elizabeth hands him the report. "I didn't know her well enough to say anything, but what's in this file connects her to somebody else who definitely wasn't a suicide. And he wasn't exactly what you could call a stand up citizen." She doesn't tell him that she shot Lucius because that, it was only circumstance. The fact the Kate might have been high on something that Lucius had been taking took priority over just how Lucius died - to Elizabeth anyway.
Carson's eyes are so blue as they gaze at her that Elizabeth is sure he's looking through her and steels her spine, shaking the feeling off. "I see." He doesn't say anything else, just takes the report, reading it with the same penetrating stare he was just giving her. He hmms in a couple places, and it's clear that some of what he's reading isn't surprising to him. It makes sense considering that he treated Kate at one point, but then he stops short. He hands the report back to Elizabeth and points to the same high hormones levels that had Kate had shared with Lucius.
"Right here, these hormones," he points to the number by the epinephrine and norepinephrine, "They're both suspiciously high for someone like Kate, but it's the serotonin that sticks out. It's too low. They're all hormones that the brain secretes naturally, of course, and their secretion levels can be effected by many things. Least of which is a chemical or drug to increase them. I've used epinephrine injections on several ODing patients. Especially in recent weeks." Carson explains, "But what worries me here is Kate's serotonin level. Very low."
"Okay, why does that worry you?" Elizabeth looks back over to John and motions him over. He stands, pushing his coffee away from Cam, saying something that makes the other man chuckle and in less than the time it takes Vala to cross her own diner - twenty seconds - John's there, at Elizabeth shoulder nodding hello to Carson.
"What do we have?" He bites out, getting right to point, not really caring about rudeness since she already did the hard job of easing Carson into questioning.
"Nice to see you too, John," Carson smiles, kindly knowing how John can be on a case, points to the numbers on the report, frowning, "Like I was about to tell Elizabeth, here, changes in the serotonin levels in the brain can alter the mood. In fact, the level of serotonin being too low have been connected with depression and suicides."
"Wait, are you saying that this tells us that Kate killed herself?" Wide-eyed, Elizabeth shares a look with John, who looks equally unconvinced and shocked. Her mind goes over what Woolsey had written about the suicide.
"Quite the contrary, actually." Carson points to Keller's note about the dopamine, "This here leads me to believe otherwise. The serotonin by itself might have allowed me to believe that indeed Kate took her life - if I hadn't known her and if I hadn't seen that."
"But what does it mean?" Elizabeth asks.
"Dopamine is used in the treatment of Parkison's. And depending what dopamine receptor agonist she was using it could have had some serious side effects."
John's brow furrows in thought. "Side effects?"
"Several, actually. Including insomnia, fatigue, depression, memory loss, hallucinations, the list can go on. " Carson looks distraught, "After I diagnosed her I wanted to keep treating her, but unfortunately I could not give her much hope. She asked for a specialist and I referred her. If anyone would know why she was taking this combination of drugs it would be him." He grabs a napkin form one of the metal holders nearby and scribbles a name on it.
John takes it, nodding at the name and turns to Elizabeth. There's one last thing they need to know, and John asks. "Carson, why would someone not sick be taking these hormones?" Both of them are thinking of Lucius.
Carson lifts a hand rubbing his chin, "It's very possible that they were taking it recreationally. Together these compounds can be very attractive, increasing energy, giving you quite the high when mixed with other things. Not to mention serotonin again, as it can mimic some of the hallucinogenic drugs out there."
"Right, we guessed that much." Standing, Elizabeth reaches over and curls a hand over Carson shoulder, giving him a soft kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, Carson. We appreciate it." Next to him John nods his thanks as well and together they head back to Cam to say good-bye to him too. They have a place to be. As they walk back, they're almost at the booth and John's already reaching for his wallet, when they hear Carson calling them back again.
"I've just thought of something, you two," He says, rushing over to them. "Another reason for someone to be taking this dopamine receptor, if that is what it is. They could be testing it for someone else."
"Testing it?" Elizabeth raises an eyebrow.
"Yes, much like with all drugs. Animals test, then human tests, but I haven't heard of anything like this, so it's very possible that if someone is testing a drug, it could very well not be legal."
Licking her lips, Elizabeth tilts her head, pensive. With Lucius and Kolya involved they had already guess that much, but the question was why would they be using this specific combination of hormones to make a drug? Blinking out of her inner musings, Elizabeth turns back to Carson and thanks him again. John lets him know that they might need to talk to him later. As Carson moves back towards his stool by the counter, John and Elizabeth head to Cam and tell him what they've just learned, knowing he'll need this information, too. The minute they finish explaining, Cam is on his feet, and with out a doubt heading back down to the precinct - sleep be damned - when Elizabeth puts a hand to his chest, stopping him.
"Cam, call it in. You need to get some sleep."
He gives a small shake of his head and pats her hand, "Sleep, who needs it? This breakfast, some Elvis, and a run at through the Starbucks and I'll be all set." His smile is a little on the manic side, but Elizabeth knows he won't stop. He's too much like John in some ways. She has to roll her eyes.
"Well, then at least take a nap in one of the empty holding cells before you go and call Evan back in." The tone in her voice, one she has to use on John several times a week, leaves no argument and Cam only smiles wider, kissing her cheek.
"You got it, Liz. I hope to God I don't have to call you two later," he smirks, patting John on the shoulder and moving to pay. "Besides," he says, looking back over his shoulder, "do you want me to tell Emmagan I knew stuff about her case and didn't tell her for more than ten minutes?"
"That's your particular death," John stops him, batting Cam's hand away from his wallet, "But now see, I'm hurt, Mitchell. I thought you were over my whole moving out on you." John smirks as he puts down the twenty to pay for breakfast, about five dollars more than it will cost, but five dollars that will keep them on Vala's good side.
Cam snorts, "Man, you have to go and re-open the wound, don't you? Now, I'll see you two later, I'm sure. And Sheppard, don't forget two weekends from now, the game."
The boys, because that's what they've suddenly reverted to, share some sports related words that Elizabeth ignores for the most part and then waves as Cam heads out. They follow him to the door and watch as he slides into his Mustang, blasting Elvis and heading down the road to the ACPD before turning to each other. John waves the napkin that Carson wrote the name of Kate's doctor on. Elizabeth smiles, snatching it out of his hand, feeling only slightly guilty that they didn't give the name to Cam.
"How long do you think until Mitchell gets this name?" John smirks, flipping the coin - tails, he'll drive - making his way toward their car.
Elizabeth shrugs, "Not long, I hope." Admittedly, it was slightly unfair that they didn't share the name that Carson gave to them, but Cam will eventually get to it if he and the others follow the trail from Kate to the name well enough. Elizabeth can justify it by saying they just don't have the resources that the ACPD has, of course that's only true in some ways. But today it counts. She unfolds the napkin, sliding into the passenger seat as John turns the ignition and stares at the name again.
Dr. Niam Asura.
They get to the hospital and like every other building under the purview of the government, John thinks that maybe he should've asked for a hard hat at the front desk. Elizabeth asks politely, in her best professional tone, to speak to Dr. Asura about a matter of 'some urgency and delicacy.' While John reads a magazine informing him that Justin and Britney just might be on the rocks in the lounge upstairs, he hears Elizabeth talking to Asura's secretary. She drops enough hints, mentions enough private medical institutions, that he's convinced she's seen what he's noticed. For a shitty hospital in a rotten area, Asura's door plaque is so shiny he can smell the polish- or he would, if only the door weren't so fresh painted. Delusions of grandeur, this one. Or at least delusions of money. Everybody in Atlantis wants to go somewhere- an ascension of some sort, be it to the richly-carpeted viper pit of a social set his parents ran with or just to have money they didn't earn on the nine til five.
Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth's thinly veiled baiting has said specialist opening his office door sooner rather than later. He shakes hands with Elizabeth in one smooth, fluid motion, motioning towards the office and expressionlessly taking in John's jeans and shirt combo as he follows. They sit in expensive leather chairs in an office that looks like it belongs in another building - one, John thinks sardonically, where the fountains stream chocolate.
"I understand you were treating Kate Heightmeyer," Elizabeth crosses one ankle over the other and jumps in at the deep end.
John suppresses a smirk, watching Niam's expression remain the same but for the light of intelligence flickering on somewhere in his mind; Elizabeth is not in fact a rep for a private hospital and won't in fact be his salvation from the slums of Atlantis. The way she takes the rug out from under Asura convinces John that she doesn't like him.
"And as I'm sure you are aware," Asura tilts his head slightly, "all patient details are confidential."
Elizabeth smiles slightly. "Even dead patients?"
Asura blinks. "Until released by the city coroner, yes. Now, if you'll excuse-"
The doctor half-stands before John interrupts, "But what if we're only looking for information? You know, just, say... a 'what if.'"
Asura sits slowly. "Go on."
"I have a hypothetical patient being treated for a terminal disease, for example..." Elizabeth looks up, tilts her head and smiles slightly, "rapidly declining Parkinson's disease. They've been through all the conventional methods, been referred to a specialist-" Elizabeth breaks off, raises her eyebrows, "that might hypothetically even be yourself. What kind of treatment options does my imaginary patient have?"
John and Elizabeth nod as Asura then gives them what seems to be a sales pitch on the latest treatments.
"And what if my patient were particularly stubborn?" Elizabeth asks, lightly. "What if they weren't content with managing the disease?"
Asura frowns and sits up. "I'm not sure that I can answer your implication, and I think it's time you've told me who you are. As I'm sure you are aware, there is no known cure for -" Asura stops and takes a breath as both Elizabeth and John show their PI badges, standing. "If you are here in search of a story to sell to Miss Chaya Sarathar, I assure you I cannot be of assistance."
Elizabeth stands slowly, calmly folding her arms even though John, also standing, can see that there are clenched fists at the ends of them. Her voice could cut ice. "We're investigating the murder of Kate Heightmeyer."
Asura, slimy cad of a bastard, doesn't blink. "I was under the impression it was suicide."
"And I was under the impression she was your patient," John can't help putting in, frowning, "Aren't you supposed to care?"
"I treated Kate," Asura nods, smiling very slightly and dodging John's question. "She was ... most insistent."
"Insistent enough for you to give her a drug you maybe shouldn't have?" John pushes just a little further.
"I didn't give her anything," Asura snaps back, finally showing some kind of reaction. "Except a name."
John shoots Elizabeth a look. Elizabeth leans two fists on the table. "We're going to need that name."
"It was less a name-"
John rolls his eyes.
"-More a number. A number to call."
"We're going to need that number," Elizabeth, unblinking, unmoving, states coldly.
They walk out of the door with a number on a scrap of paper and John nearly runs into a nurse with her tightly curled hair pulled back, muttering an apology as she knocks timidly on Asura's door. She shakes her head with a quick smile before bowing her head and ducking into the office. John feels a little bad for her - they can't be the only ones to think Niam Asura's biggest proficiency is in being an ass.
Elizabeth stops by the car door as John reaches for the coin always in the smaller pocket of his jeans. He stops, the coin in hand, and looks at Elizabeth. "He lied. So at least we know something."
She nods, smiling crookedly. "We know he knows more than he's telling us- he gave Kate drugs and he knew he shouldn't have. Drugs that might have killed her."
"Rotten son of a bitch probably fake-numbered us, you know," John nods, sitting in the passenger's seat.
"Not something you'll be used to," Elizabeth puts in with a sly smile, looking ahead.
John snorts indelicately, looking at the paper in hand. One nod to Elizabeth, one cell call later, and he's established that the number's bullshit. Folding it in half in a gesture of carefully controlled and channeled fury, preparing to scrunch it into little bits, he sees something unexpected- an address. A printed address, embossed and faded.
Frowning, he holds it up to the light coming through the car windows and bites back a laugh.
"No way is it that easy," John says, looking at Elizabeth and then at the paper.
"What's it say?"
"It's an address of a Wraith front company," he answers. "Their stationary shop down off Hive Square."
Elizabeth bites her lip. "Are you saying the Wraith gave their stealthy illegal pocket doctor company stationary to use in his illegal drug trials?"
"It's possible," John answers, seriously. "What I really want to know is why Asura didn't request headed notepaper with a job title on it."
Elizabeth bites her lip and then laughs before sobering. "It doesn't have to mean anything- it is a stationary shop."
"Might be a complete coincidence," John nods, but neither of them really believe it.
They part ways at the precinct door, John putting a hand familiarly on the side of the car as Elizabeth drives away. They left John's car in the precinct parking lot the week before, and they've been running around in Elizabeth's since. It's a weekly thing, flexible but essential, that Elizabeth has lunch with one or both of her parents. Besides, it only takes one of them to do housekeeping.
With a sigh, he opens the precinct door, runs a hand through his hair and promises himself that if Mitchell still hasn't slept and crosses his path, he won't be angry - he'll just buy him whisky, or whatever else Zelenka has to offer. Cam Mitchell, unknown to most, is a lightweight. One cap of malt and he'll be a goner. But if he sees Mitchell, then Mitchell's got discussions to be having with Jack, or John's doing a good job of putting off the unpleasant.
This is the part of the job that John wishes he could change. Not the looks some of the newer recruits give him - because they don't know and he's okay with that; not the roll of eyes that some give him when he flashes his P.I. Badge because he earned that baby, or even the scoffs he gets from Caldwell about not being a real cop anymore; he doesn't mind any of those things, because he knows better. But the fact that he's no longer on the force and that that prevents him from getting to files from the Coroner's office, files he needs, because Jack's closed them off to the public and Woolsey is a stickler for police protocol, yeah, that's the part of the job he wishes he could change.
Being a PI was his choice, his and Elizabeth's after '97, and they're damn good at it, but even though it opened many doors for them - mostly seedy - it closes a few too.
So he's had to make the five mile journey from Coroner Tight-Ass' office to Jack's, after said tight ass wouldn't give him relevant sheets of paper. Stepping out of the elevator he makes his way to Jack's office, nodding to Grodin, who tries to head him off telling him that Captain O'Neill is on the phone. John ignores him and curses that he couldn't get Elizabeth on her cell; Grodin's always nicer to her, but she's at that weekly lunch with her father and she only answers when it's an emergency. How she knows when it's a real emergency or when he just wants to call for calling's sake John's never been able to figure it out, but she didn't answer today. It wouldn't have mattered, John already knew what she would have said.
Go and talk to Jack. Still, it always sounds better coming from her than anybody else.
Walking into the office, John sees that Jack is indeed on the phone. He's cradling his cell on his shoulder and it tips John off that it's probably a personal call. Jack looks up at him, brown eyes dark and serious, but then he blinks and he turns into his cell, his eyes sliding from John and voice warming to whoever is on the phone, but doesn't hang up. Had Elizabeth been here she would have touched John's arm and stood while Jack finished. John's not Elizabeth.
"I need to see the coroner's report on Heightmeyer's suicide and that other death - the kid in the penthouse." He waves the extra copy toxicology report that Keller "mistakenly" made and left on her desk, right where Teyla could pick it up.
Jack looks up and twists his lips in a thin smirk, "Yeah, I see. It was something to look at."
John blinks, unsure of who Jack's talking to at the moment, he continues more carefully. "There's something there, Jack. Me and Elizabeth don't know what it is yet, but it's there."
"What makes you so sure?" Jack leans back in his chair, finger curling under his chin and then he chuckles. John's pretty damn sure he's not being funny, but he's also pretty damn sure that Jack's listening to him.
"Something new we - Keller, found in the tox screen. It's small, but it matches at least one of the overdoses that the city's been getting. We just need to see the other report to compare it with them."
Jack nods, smiling and picks up a pen, scribbling something on his desk calendar. "Sara, I know where the restaurant is, we've been eating there for the past twenty years." John freezes for a millisecond, shocked as hell that Jack hasn't thrown something at him yet. Sara O'Neill is possibly the only person that marks a time as do not, even under pain of death, interrupt - on the phone or anything, really. John doesn't speak again and waits until Jack hangs up.
"No problem, honey. And, no, I won't be late. Again." Then John sees something less than twenty people have probably ever seen; Jack O'Neill smile. "Yeah, I promise." He hangs up and looks up to John. "Well?"
John swallows, hard. "I need…"
"I'll call the Coroner's Office. You'll have full access."
"Okay," John nods, not entirely surprised. He nods in thanks and beings to walk back out, as he hand closes over the door knob, he pauses and looks over his shoulder to Jack. "I'm sorry."
Jack eyes grow serious for beat and nods, "Wasn't your fault." He turns back to his desk, picking up the phone, "I'll make the call now."
John knows a dismissal when he hears one and leaves the office. Outside Grodin looks up at him, "I warned you he was on the phone."
"You did." John hums, because yeah, Grodin did warn him and he never warns unless it's something worth warning about. He looks back at the black words that decorate the plaque on the door - Captain Jonathan O'Neill; ACPD - and tilts his head towards it. "How are they doing, anyway?"
Grodin looks strained for a second, as if he's trying to decide which answer to land upon. "They're doing as well as they can be." John smirks at the vague answer. Jack's personal life is a red letter subject, and not even he and Elizabeth are privy to it all. He waves goodbye to Grodin and takes out his cell to call Elizabeth.
Again, it's her voicemail. He lets her know he's getting the files from the coroner's and leaves the building. He can see Mitchell and Lorne pulling in, their faces grim and right behind them Emmagen and Ford have same faces. He wonders what it's about, but then he sees Keller and knows. Another death. So much for any of them getting sleep.
Grim faced, John gets into his car and starts it up. Ring of Fire begins playing and he drives straight to Woosely's. Again.
He knows he won't be getting any good news.
The Atlantis City coroner's is just like every other building in the city. Classically built and tall, it makes you feel small with the history that you can sense seeping through its pores, but like every other building in the city that history is marred with blood. John still remembers the Wraith raids and the fires. He remembers when the Goa'uld would use it as in-between station for their gun running and drug cartel, stuffing bodies and lockers with the illegal merchandise.
But that was under the old City coroner and the old establishment; the fall of the Goa'uld and the appointment of Richard Woolsey have made it a different place, or more likely, the same place set to rights.
John didn't think he'd ever be comforted by the somewhat anal tidiness of Woolsey's office, but today he is - the same way he'd been comforted by Jack's ever-present aura of clutter and mess. For everything he can't stand about the man, and for all Jack would be insulted by being compared to him, Woolsey does the job and does it well. He's such a straight arrow that John suspects he sleeps in a suit, but it's a good thing, he can't help admitting, that Woolsey's turned down so many bribes that they've stopped offering. On one memorable occasion, he took it and gave it to a charity specialising in getting addicts off of drugs- John still suspects Elizabeth or Jack of pointing out that irony to the coroner.
Doesn't mean he's going to be nice or anything.
"Got the Heightmeyer report for me, Woolsey?"
There's a withering glare over his glasses. "Good afternoon to you, too, Mr. Sheppard. And unless I've to start calling you Detectives all over again, that would be a 'no.'"
John smirks crookedly. "Captain Jack says 'yes.'"
Woolsey rolls his eyes and takes a copy from the desk tray at his left. Crossing the two steps to the desk in the small, clean office, John isn't sure whether he's surprised that the man's already made them a copy and still forces him to go through Jack.
"Tell Captain O'Neill -"
"Yeah?" John looks at Woolsey over the outstretched report, taking it.
Woolsey sighs and seems to give up on whatever he was about to say. "Give him my regards."
John grins. "Always do."
Woolsey mutters something, going back about his work, while John thumbs through the report. He figures that if he wants to ask Woolsey something after he's crossed the threshold of the office, the tight-ass will make him go through Jack's hoops for an answer like a prize little collie dog, so he may as well ask while he's there anyway. Woolsey might just consider Jack's permission a carte blanche while he's in the room. Might.
He skips the bits they already know from medical records and the tox screen: blood type, chem levels, etc.. He skips the bits about Kate's broken bones, ribs and neck, her crushed skull- particularly the part clinically stating that the last happened first, so she wouldn't have felt the others. At least he tries, but he still gets angry at the bastard behind it all and hates that he hopes it really is Kolya- more than one bastard capable of this kind of malice is more than Atlantis needs. Hell, they don't need the one, but John's pretty sure he and Elizabeth will be fixing that one soon.
When he's got control of his temper, he makes a mental note to warn Mitchell before he gets to Woolsey; Lorne doesn't need to see this. Bad enough they were the first on the scene and he's clearly been replaying that in his head ever since - the worst thing about the report's pictures is the clinical, detached accuracy with which the horrific has been quantified.
"Explain something to me, Woolsey."
Woolsey's posture stiffens and he looks up, not moving beyond the look he gives John.
"Please," John adds belatedly, then sighs. "So I can explain it to Mitchell."
He even means it. This bit, at any rate. It depends - John wonders suddenly then pushes back the question of whether they're all going to play the usual cat and mouse, cop and PI game on this one.
"Heightmeyer's serotonin levels are low. Lavin's are high. We're working on the assumption the same drug - and same bastard supplying the dealers - are ultimately responsible for them both," John pauses, then continues, cutting Woolsey's objection off, "or at least, the same bastard sourced drugs for them both."
"Are you asking me exactly how this -" Woolsey holds up a neat little chart that thanks to being a neat little chart with lots of long names and information he wouldn't know what to do with, John had skipped, "-chemical killed Kate Heightmeyer?"
John nods, putting his hands in his pockets and waits.
"See if you can listen all the way through," Woolsey retorts. "Her abnormally, artificially low serotonin level induced a state of massive depression largely beyond her control. In this state, she was more-" Woolsey's voice hesitates and loses its bite, "capable of suicide."
John nods, looking at the report again. "Thanks."
A few minutes later he raises his head to ask about a margin note that makes him frown and finds Woolsey watching him. "What?"
"Nothing," Woolsey shakes his head.
"Oh, come on."
"Well, I was just thinking that you can be surprisingly competent when you make the effort," Woolsey answers, shaking his head again.
"Thanks," John shoots back dryly, sitting the report in front of Woolsey. "What're these numbers?"
"Hmm," Woolsey frowns slightly and turns to the filing cabinet to his left. As he rifles through the top drawer, John fights to stand still. Woolsey's calm, curious way of moving makes John want to strangle him. In a motivating way that instills in him a sense of urgency, but strangle nonetheless. "I seem to have noted file numbers in the margin."
"Where it says 'overdose'?" John says impatiently, jabbing a finger at the margin note.
"Yes, it would appear so," Woolsey remarks over his shoulder, pulling the files clumsily.
John reaches over to take them and Woolsey snaps them shut, glaring over the top. John narrows his eyes and Woolsey shakes his head.
"Might I surmise," Woolsey asks, "that you would like to see these files?"
"Might I assume," John retorts, "that these are all drug overdoses from the same thing that was present in Kate's system?"
The coroner's lips close into a thin line and John sighs, reaching for his cell. It was a threat he didn't mean to go through with, figuring the other man would stop him before Grodin passed him through to a Jack obviously pissed and rolling his eyes on the other end.
John passes the phone to Woolsey and watches the man nod sharply, forgetting he's on the phone, before quickly saying an 'of course, Captain' and hanging up.
"I've to give you a review of the overdose statistics," Woolsey waves at the seat, sighing at what John can only presume is Jack's lack of diplomacy.
John smirks and sits, leaning one elbow on the back of the chair.
The smirk disappears as Woolsey begins stacking up folders from the cabinet into piles on the desk.
"These," the coroner puts a hand on the first pile, "are all the overdoses in the entirety of last year from comparable compounds."
John takes a rough guess at about fifty. "Why so few? Atlantis being what it is..."
"Yes, quite," Woolsey nods, "but listen when I say something, listen right to the end, Sheppard. I said 'from comparable compounds.'"
"And I thought there were none," John responds sharply, sitting up.
"Not in composition," Woolsey smiles slightly, "but in complexity and quality, yes."
"So high-end drug overdoses?" John summarises, frowning at the pile again.
"Exactly. Now, these-" Woolsey puts a hand on a pile of about equal height, "are the overdoses, using the same criteria, from this year."
"These are just the last two and half months?" John feels his eyebrows rise and his fingertips go numb. If the pile keeps going at the same rate, he thinks coldly, Woolsey will be able to use it to prop up the roof.
"And what's the last pile?"
That pile has files of different colours, thicknesses and is just higher than the second. It also has Kate's file in it.
"These are deaths that might be related to the substance but aren't actually overdoses- or we'll never prove it," Woolsey states, looking at John over the tall piles. "It wasn't until Lucius Lavin and Kate Heightmeyer that we really started examining this substance."
What he means, John thinks, is that it wasn't until he had Teyla and Mitchell sleeping outside his door that he had really looked at the substance. He bites that back, though, because giving Woolsey his dues- once he'd been alerted to the trend, he'd done a lot of work in a hurry.
As John is leaving, he hears a delicate cough from the desk and turns.
"I wouldn't-" Woolsey stops and points at the files, "I wouldn't do this if it weren't this serious."
"And if Jack hadn't owned you, just a little bit," John responds with a crooked smile.
"And that," Woolsey nods, rolling his eyes.
John walks out, already scribbling down everything Woolsey just said in a notepad on his way to the car.
John takes the list of files and numbers grudgingly given by Woolsey back to the office along with the sinking feeling that things are both worse and more widespread than they'd ever thought to fear. Mildly annoyed that they didn't think that before, with it being Kolya and all, he slams the files down on the desk and thanks their careful money management - a hangover from those long, strained days after leaving the force - that they can afford to spend time on an unpaid case. Piling the folders on the desk and glaring at the keyboard when it makes a beeping noise he doesn't like or trust, John feels himself slipping into a foul mood. It's not that he doesn't appreciate technology- he's just used to it working effortlessly and doesn't like when it makes its presence known. Just when he's thinking he'd better eat, Cadman shows up, giggling in the doorway while John holds a precariously balanced pile of files stable with one hand and scribbles with the other.
He meets her grin with a glare and then notices what she's waving in the other hand. He doesn't give a damn about the piece of paper in the left- the smell of a turkey sandwich with full fat mayo in a brown paper bag he knows came from Vala's catches his full, undivided attention.
"I was dropping by," Cadman shrugs, walking in while John settles the offending papers and glares at them some more for almost submitting to gravity. "I went by Vala's on the way. She added it to your tab."
"How'd you know I was hungry?"
"You and Mitchell - you never could use sense on a case. Not when it comes to, you know, food, sleep, the little things. Besides," Cadman raises an eyebrow at the way he's already got the sandwich open and half way to his mouth, "I figured you'd eat it even if you'd had lunch."
John nods - he can't deny that one.
"Let me see... What would Elizabeth do here?" Cadman grins and crosses her legs, pulling Elizabeth's desk chair around from her desk and to the side of John's.
"She'd tell me not to talk with my mouth full," John says, with his mouth full. Swallowing, he grins. "Good thing you're not so hung up on manners."
Cadman sticks her tongue out promptly, spinning once on the chair and delicately taking a drink of her coffee in the process.
She snaps her fingers in the lull, sitting up. "That's what I was supposed to tell you." She grins and sets down a thin sheaf of stapled papers, pushing the chair closer to the desk rather than get up.
John leafs through the thin pile. "That's a relief," he deadpans, reading the short, terse statement in Jack's style that declares Lavin's death self-defense.
"And clearly a shock," Cadman grins. "Oh, and don't think you're getting that bullet back. That baby's mine now."
"So, blown anything interesting up lately?" John tosses the report onto Elizabeth's desk. He's not being petty or anything, but not only did she shoot Lavin, she's the one insisting they have a filing system.
Cadman purses her lips, considering the question. "Would you consider jello 'interesting'?"
John sets aside the folder he's glancing over and grins. He's never met anyone quite so suited to explosives and ballistics the way Cadman is. "I really would."
"Beckett's sister's kid's fifth birthday party," Cadman shrugs, grinning, "gave the kiddies goggles and bin bags, made 'em stand behind a chalk line, got them covered in chunks of jello."
"You got invited to Beckett's nephew's birthday party?" John raises his eyebrows.
"It was a favour," Cadman glares mildly and says it in a tone that brooks no argument. "And I owe him- he's patched me up enough."
"Sure," John replies as innocently as he can manage, getting the folder out again.
Cadman rolls her eyes and stands up. "I'll leave you to the bundle of fun," she smirks, gesturing at the desk. "Where's Elizabeth, anyway? No offence, but she's better at the filing thing than you are."
"Lunch with her father," John tries not to screw his face up. It's not that he resents Elizabeth spending time with her parents- it's more that she's not there to help him go through the folders, and he can see the next four hours of his life vanishing into the pile.
"Ah," Cadman says slowly, understanding.
"I'll manage," John says, just a little bit defensively. "It's just... you know. The getting started."
"And Elizabeth would kick your ass into starting," Cadman grins crookedly.
"Pretty much," he glares, shrugging. "Now go blow something up. Preferably not here."
Cadman grins, salutes and closes the door behind her.
It's not that Elizabeth's not there, he thinks. Well, it is, because there are few things he likes less to do than anything with files or filing, and they tend to involve hot coals and bare feet. It's right that she spend some time with her family and he gets that. He does. He just knows Elizabeth likes her family a damn sight better than he likes his own and as much as he hates the mundane side of the job, he'd rather be doing that than going to lunch with most of the people he's related to.
More than that, it's that when Elizabeth isn't here the office feels bigger, emptier and when he looks up and through the open door between their offices and doesn't see her there he can't help but sometimes think - and it really is only sometimes - that she doesn't need to be here. She doesn't have to work cases that usually have more to do with cheating spouses than anything, but she does, because she sticks with him. He knows that should she ever want to go back Jack would welcome her with open arms and motherfucking relief, but she won't. She doesn't because she chose her path and it followed him.
Shaking himself out of thoughts too maudlin for midday, John sighs, looking over to Elizabeth's empty chair. Cadman didn't put it back behind the desk and he smiles. Elizabeth isn't in the room, but he can easily picture her sitting across from him, legs crossed at the knee as she balances three files on her lap and tells him that the filing system is in place to help them find things and not just a handy excuse for him to have a cabinet to kick. Chuckling at the image, he stands and goes to put her chair back behind her desk, grabbing a soda can from the mini fridge they have, since Elizabeth also insists on not keeping alcohol in the office - expect for the scotch that she hides for long nights - and sits back at his desk, laying a hand on the top of the stack of files. Popping the can open, John sighs and pulls the first file, flipping his legal pad to a new page.
With one last glance at the clock by the window, John begins reading. And he's not in any shape, way, or form counting the minutes until Elizabeth comes back.
It's an hour earlier: Elizabeth thinks that John's probably right on time to bitch at Woolsey for a bit and he needs no help with that. She takes off her sunglasses and walks into the familiar restaurant, reminding herself firmly that she needs to keep her temper on a leash.
Sliding into the chair, she looks at the glass in front of her.
"I took the liberty of ordering the Chateau Latour; 2002. An elegant wine for an elegant lady."
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow delicately. She would have ordered the same- as the man opposite probably knows. "Thank you."
He shifts a little uncomfortably in the silence before breaking it. "Would you like to see the menu?"
"No thanks," Elizabeth answers shortly, then forces herself to smile slightly, "I have plans for an early dinner."
"That you made, no doubt, when setting this meeting," comes the answer with a sigh and crooked smile. "No matter. I hear Lavin's no longer a problem. I admit I didn't think you had it in you."
Elizabeth's eyes, lazily focused on the fish tank at the back, snap to across the table. "Don't sound so pleased - he forced my hand."
"Regardless," he picks up a napkin and wipes the corner of his mouth, inclining his head towards her, "the Genii thank you."
Elizabeth rolls her eyes, and Landon Radim only smiles. She prides herself in not throwing the wine at his face to wipe it off.
If the office had a shower Elizabeth would be planning on using it the minute she got in. Sadly for her, it doesn't and it really wouldn't do any good if it did. Her rushing into a shower in the middle of the day after a supposed lunch with her father would only serve to make John curious at best, suspicious at worst, and right now that's the last conversation she wants to have. She's never liked lying to him, but she can't say she hasn't done it before. When she was with Simon it was almost required - at least about certain things, mostly about the on-goings during anniversaries, but that was understandable, it's not like she and Nancy ever shared those details either. Certain things were too close to the line for even them to ignore. The worst thing is that she can't always tell John that she has regrets, too. As for regrets about what; some days the list seems too long, but today she knows she regrets keeping her involvement with Landon from him for so long. Now it's too late, and she'd make plans to tell him, but she or the universe would fuck it up anyway. It's too late to say she didn't mean for it to happen and go on like this, because it has been going on like this for weeks. Sighing, she pushes the door to their office open.
Inside she finds just what she expected to find. John sitting at his desk, feet resting on the extra chair nobody ever sits in because they use her office to hold all the meetings with clients, his as their working room. Pulling her chair up to sit across from his desk, she drops her weight on it like a marathon runner just finishing a cross country trek, the pressure she feels between her shoulderblades heavy and sharp.
"Lunch that bad?" He asks in good humour, and this is the part where Elizabeth feels the guilt pricking at her like pin and needles on her insides. She keeps telling herself it's a blessing he doesn't even suspect, but that only makes her feel even guiltier, because she knows the reason he doesn't even suspect is because he would never expect her to keep something like this from him. He doesn't expect her to lie to him; not like this, not about something that matters. But then she reminds herself exactly why telling him would be such a bad, bad idea and pushes her guilt back.
It's not about keeping her involvement with Landon secret, it's about not giving John an excuse to shoot the other man. So far the excuse works, especially because she's the only one she's convincing.
"Horrible. Lots of useless talking," Elizabeth tells him a truth they can both handle.
"Parents are like that. You don't have to tell me," John smiles, sympathetically.
Thankfully, his answer also gives Elizabeth an excuse to move the conversation away from her lunch. "Speaking of, you should call your mom."
John meets her eyes, seeing what she's really telling him and shakes his head. "She calls when she need to tell me something, I call her when I need to tell her something. I don't need to tell her anything at the moment."
"John…" She drops his name like a three pound weight, inwardly shaking a fist at his stubbornness, but it's not like she's one to talk.
"Elizabeth." He says her name in the same manner and she rolls her eyes. She should drop it, but she has one last thing to say on the subject.
"I'm just saying it would be nice if you made it to not only your mom's birthday this year, but your dad's, too."
John sighs, leaning back on his chair, eyes downcast. "I'll call her. See what's up." It's not a yes, but Elizabeth takes it and so will Ann. The Sheppard men, Elizabeth has learned, are all stubborn. "So, wanna know what I learned from our friendly neighborhood coroner today?" He grins and for a second Elizabeth almost feels sorry for Woolsey, but it passes. It usually does.
"Sure," she pulls her chair closer and takes the file that John hands her. Opening, she runs through everything in the file. Most they already know. Tox screen, the original suicide report, cause of death, the cataloguing of the body, etc. She can't help but cringe a little at the pictures because, God, everything should be at a totally other angle. She looks up. "Was it quick?"
John nods, "They way she hit- she… it was quick."
It takes a nod and a blink, but then she's back. She continues reading, making mental notes of the small but present pieces of new information, eyes narrowing at the numbers in the margin notes. "We knew most of this." She frowns, dropping the report on the turning it so John can see where she points. "These numbers?"
John nods grimly. "Those got my attention, too." He pulls out another set of files, a stack about five inches thick, and drops them on his desk, the sound a happy thud. "Apparently, good old Woolsey has a filing system, too. All those numbers correspond to other case files. Overdoses, with comparable compounds at the root." Grabbing the first on the pile he hands one over to Elizabeth, her eyes wide.
"Comparable compounds?" Elizabeth questions the new information. "I didn't think there were any."
Smiling, John shrugs. "Same thing I said. Apparently there are, just not like we thought. The compositions aren't the same, but the quality is. But wait - it gets better." This time the smile isn't amused at all, but edged. Elizabeth knows she's going to hate whatever John says next.
"Oh?" She watches as he leans down and grabs one last pile. It's coded differently and definitely has more files. "What are those?"
"These-" John pats the pile darkly, "these are deaths that also have those fun comparable compounds but aren't actually overdoses. Kate's file goes in this pile."
The second that last sentence drops from John's lips, Elizabeth feels a cold rush enter body and settle in her stomach. She recognises the feeling right away. Anger. Cold, sharp anger.
John calls out to her and they lock eyes - they both feel it. Not only the anger, which will spur them on, but the need. The need to stop this.
"Elizabeth…" he breathes out, reaching over his desk to brush a strand of hair behind her ear and the action snaps her back to the moment.
"We need to go through these. See we find anything connecting them to Lucius, Asura, or any of Kolya's Genii." She stands, taking half of each stack and moves back towards her office, only pausing to grab her chair. Sitting, she sees John already working and follows his lead.
They've been sitting for hours, trying to make sense of the madness, when Elizabeth's stomach rebels against her and finally gives into the hunger that she's been feeling all afternoon. Loudly. She blushes, looking up through her eyelashes, hoping John hadn't noticed. He's smirking at her, and Elizabeth licks her lip, trying to act nonchalant.
"Hungry, Elizabeth?" He grins, amused.
"Not that much," she shrugs it off, undeterred.
"Really? It sounds like somebody doesn't agree with that," he points his pen to her stomach, waving it in a lazy circle, and like it knows it's being talked about her stomach turns on her again, growling lightly. "Lunch must have really sucked, huh?" John's looking at her, amused, but also curious and that's worrisome, because she doesn't need him asking more questions about lunch. A lunch she shouldn't be having - a lunch she shouldn't be keeping from him.
She feels the heat spread across her cheek and pushes back from John's desk to lean back on her chair, tucking a strand of hair back behind her ears. "It was, I didn't finish. Anyway, we probably should go and recheck Lucius' store again, we might have missed something. He was a drug dealer, after all. He sold to almost every junkie in Interzone, Hive Square, and the Towers, rich or poor; there has to be something we missed yesterday." She waves her hand to files they've been going through, "A good seventy-five percent of these overdoses and deaths happened in those areas. Lucius had to have had a way to keep track of who he sold whatever this drug is to. And if it's not in Midway, it's in his store."
"Sounds like a plan. But first, we're feeding you," John nods and flips open his cell phone, and calls someone, holding one finger up to stop her rambling thoughts. "Hey, Vala?" Elizabeth smiles and shakes her head, resisting a small urge to kiss his cheek. "Yeah, I know… What can I say, I just can't get enough of those babies. Oh, and can you have a chicken wrap ready too? With extra tomatoes… Thanks, Vala." He hangs up, flipping his phone shut.
"How do you feel about making a quick pit stop at a Vala's first?" Still smiling, he stands, stretching his neck and extends his hand to her.
"Seriously, you'll use any excuse to get those sandwiches." She grins back, taking his hand to pull herself up - not that she really needs too, she's hungry, not weak, but she has to admit she likes when John's gentleman side comes - and poking his shoulder playfully. He gives an exaggerated moan, tugging her forward, grabbing her jacket and car keys.
"Hey, this time it's all on you, Miss Growly Stomach."
"Miss Growly Stomach?" Elizabeth flips the coin she always has in her pocket and shows it to him - heads. John pouts.
"Hey, it fits today. Seriously, did you and your dad fight about something? You usually come back with a doggy bag for me." They slide into the car and Elizabeth slips her sunglasses on, avoiding eye contact, and shrugs.
"It was just one of those lunches." She suddenly feels a warm hand on her shoulder, a thumb just grazing where her collar ends, the heat of John's palm seeping through the cotton of her shirt. Turning to John, she tries for a smile not full of lies. "I'm fine, John. Really. Now, are we eating at Vala's or did you get take away?"
John leaves his hand on her shoulder, fingers by her hair, and answers. "Take away. Figured we'd eat on our way to Lavin's - I want to get that over and done with." His hand drops from her shoulder - casually as always. Elizabeth still feels the heat of his hand, comforting and sure.
As they pull up to Lavin's pharmacy, John balls up his napkin and tosses it into the brown bag Vala had given them when they picked up their lunch. His eyes drift to Elizabeth as she parks their car a few blocks down from Lavin's. She's been quiet for the whole ride except for munching on her wrap at stoplights and humming along with the radio; he's suppressing the urge to ask if she's okay. She's been acting downright odd ever since she came back from lunch, but he knows better than to ask right now. When she wants to tell him she will, first he knows she needs to make sense of whatever's bothering her before she comes to him. He just hopes it doesn't take too long for her to get to that point because he's not exactly patient and he knows that the longer she keeps whatever it is to herself, the longer it will eat her up.
The other problem is that if it's something he's going to get pissed about - and pissed about her keeping to herself, like anything involving Elizabeth-health-danger but not including him and combinations thereof - the more pissed he's going to be. But that comes into his head second; they practically live together, and he always goes back to Jack's Rule One about trusting the one you're with.
Still, some days he really thinks they're too similar.
As they start to step out of the car, guns already going into their holsters, John reaches over and touches Elizabeth's shoulder, nodding to the cop car down the street. Lavin's is still a crime scene after all. He nods to the back alley behind the pharmacy. The car is a standard black and white, meaning it's either rookies fresh out of the Academy who will call the station to make sure they're allowed inside (something that by all regards wouldn't be allowed if not for Jack) or they'll be people that know of them, like most at the precinct do, go through the bit where they're slightly in awe of them and then still call to check they have access. It sucks, but for the most part the number of people in the station that let them have carte blanche with a crime scene falls to a very small number. It's one they can count on their combined hands, and it's only because those people actually know them and knew them back in the before, back when they were still on the force. And they thankfully still see them as part of the whole, but as the years pile up, those people grow fewer and fewer and the day Jack retires (and Cameron doesn't get the Captain spot) will be the day they lose their "in". John is only marginally relieved that day will be a long time coming knowing Jack. Right now though, they're covered, and Elizabeth follows his line of sight, turning off the car, and nods.
They quickly and quietly make their way to the back alley. It smells nasty, John notes, same as he notices the narrow path to get to it, the pile of boxes that lines the small corner next to the building, the syringes and remainders of syringes that litter them and the ground, and the large dumpster brimming with garbage bags between Lavin's and the store next to it - a hair salon, he remembers, and with a Thai palace on the other side. Not exactly the best smelling of places.
"This alley smells like rotten eggs," Elizabeth chokes on some air, wrinkling her nose and John has to agree. "It's probably the ammonia from the salon."
"Not to mention the actual rotten eggs," he nudges a take out container out of his way. "We're so not ordering Thai from this place. Ever."
Elizabeth grimaces and nods, "Duly noted."
At the back door he goes to check if it's open, jiggling the handle, and finds it closed. Not disappointed at all he turns to Elizabeth to find that she already has her lock picks out and moves out of the way, covering her, letting her do her thing. Keeping one eye on the alley, he stands as lookout while Elizabeth works and has to admit he really loves it when she gets to do this - picking locks. He likes watching her work, and it's times like this not being on the force anymore is just fine with him.
Ten seconds later Elizabeth is straightening back up and the door's open. They make their way inside.
The whole place looks like it's been ransacked by pros but that doesn't worry them - they were there when the ransacking had been done by Rodney and Cadman as they had been processing the scene. And save from the clean spots in the dust where the ACPD now has the content of the space, it all looks the same as how they left it. John has the annoying realisation that they might need to make another trip to the station, Evidence Lock-up specifically, if they don't find what they're looking for. Not that they're too sure about that at the moment, but, as always, there's the good chance they might not. The reason for this is simple: a lot has changed in the time since Elizabeth shot Lavin and what they're looking for has changed with it. Then, they hadn't known about Kate. Kate hadn't even been in the picture, but now she is and so is whatever experimental drug she had been taking. A drug that had made it all the way to a hospital - John picks up one of the few papers left on the small desk in the back room - and to a drug dealer. Lavin's turned into an ugly little footnote, a position John's happy with the pusher holding in history if he even makes it into the book.
"Did you find anything there?" Elizabeth is looking over in Lavin's small cabinet on the other side of the room, crouching down, flipping through the sparse files that remain in the drawers.
"Nothing except proof that the world's better with Lucius Lavin dead." John's starting to think that they'll need to make a trip to the station after this because so far it looks like all they have is random papers of no consequence. Rolling his eyes disgustedly at the bottles and needles he finds in Lavin's desk drawers, he's about to close the drawer when he feels Elizabeth's hand on his arm. "You see something?"
Elizabeth smiles, leaning over his shoulder. "How deep is that drawer?" She asks.
John cocks an eyebrow at her curiously but answers, wondering where this is going, "About five inches. Why?"
Elizabeth just pulls him slightly back and motions to the drawer, "How deep does that look?"
He tilts his head and then smirks, seeing what Elizabeth has already, "That looks like it holds about ten inches of space."
"Doesn't it, now." Elizabeth moves forward and together they crouch down by the cabinet and pull the drawer in question out.
It sends streamers of dust into the air when it slams onto the desk and John bites back a grin, knowing Elizabeth hates dust in work areas. He wants to point out that Lavin wasn't particularly efficient or professional, but knows she'll just wrinkle her nose in a way that's terrifyingly reminiscent of Mitchell or his mother.
Lavin didn't even take the trouble of hiding the files properly- or of making them actual files. What falls out of the badly concealed secret compartment is an assortment of post its and scraps with overly elaborate, thick handwriting scrawled all over it.
"Damn," Elizabeth says quietly.
John nods, "Bastard was more clever than we thought."
"Still an idiot," Elizabeth tilts her head, lifting a pile of multi-coloured files.
"Oh, yeah," John replies, holding up his randomly grabbed pile and grimacing, seeing another whole set of hours gone that he could be spending doing less boring things like washing his dusty mugs. Or not.
"So if we want to match the sales of the drug to a time frame, see if it matches the increase in overdoses..." Elizabeth starts, sorting the notes by habit into pieces with dates, pieces with names, pieces with money-related information and miscellaneous.
"Or link it to a supplier-" John looks up, adding his to the piles she's starting, hand darting in around hers like two kids trying to get the most popcorn out of a bowl.
"We'll need to find the source and match deliveries to this lot," Elizabeth finishes, letting out a sigh of frustration.
"Sounds about right," John replies, sharing an annoyed look with her and holding her bag open at the edge of the desk.
Elizabeth frowns but waves her hand in assent. "Try to keep it to the back half. I don't want to be carrying little scraps of Lucius for years to come, thank you very much." John sends her a crooked grin and uses his other hand to sweep the scraps into the back of her worn and sensible leather shoulder bag- one he can still remember her wearing the first day they met at the Academy. "Let's see if we can get anything useful from the front- you never know, he might've been idiotic."
"Can only hope," John nods, moving to the front of the shop with her and handing back her bag.
They hear the noises as they check the front counter. John straightens his spine, his body immediately falling into the shadow around him as stealthily as possible and behind him he knows Elizabeth is doing the same. Their hands are hovering over their respective weapons. They don't need to look to know what the other is doing; years of working together has trained their bodies to be instinctively aware of where they are when they reach moments like this and as Elizabeth moves to the other side of the counter, always keeping close to the wall and shadows, John situates himself near the door that connects the front and back room.
They can hear muffled voices from the other side of the door and footsteps getting closer. Here's where they have to be careful. They're not cops, they have guns and they can arrest people, but they're not cops and only peripherally protected by the badge. They can't fuck up. Whoever is on the other side of the door is a question mark, friendly or not, and shooting the wrong person would be so very bad.
John bends himself in the shadow of the door as the footsteps get closer to his spot. The door slams open, but it doesn't hit him - it opens the other way - and he waits until the two figures step through before he raises his gun to their head.
"Now, who might you be?" He lets his eyes drift to Elizabeth's spot in the shadows, where only he can see her - he hopes - and sees her mouth one word: Genii. He stiffens his arm, grasping the butt of his gun with his other hand, steadying it. "Hands up," he orders.
"Who are you?" The bodies in front of him freeze, but smartly don't turn, their hands lifting slowly. John can now see the holsters they have and the marking on their jackets that connects them to the crime group.
"Now, I think I was asking the questions," he pulls back the hammer, the click the only sound in the silent air and over the Genii's shoulders he makes sure Elizabeth is still in position. "Stay still." He steps forward, gun level, when he sees that the one farthest from him begins to make a move. The man freezes. "I say again, who are you and what are you doing here?"
"Fuck you," is their very eloquent answer, coming from the man farthest from John. While John can't see the men's faces, though Elizabeth thankfully can, he can tell that they've just given each other a side glance by the small twitch that occurs in their necks. They're going to fight back, he thinks, and moves slightly because he'll shoot them, there's no doubt about that, but it would be nice to be able to interrogate them, too. They were sent here for a reason and John would like to know what it is.
"Well, isn't that rude," he mocks, moving forward and hitting the man closest to him with the butt of his gun. He adds just enough strength so that the man only manages a soft groan as he drops to the floor. The other man starts to move when John lifts his gun and points it to his chest, smiling.
The Genii goon is glaring at him, his hand curled tightly by his shoulder, and John knows he's just itching to throw a punch. It amuses him, because this lets him know he picked the right one. The other one had been too silent - John likes the talkers, they lose their cool so much faster.
John hears the footstep only half a second before Elizabeth yells out the warning and he's dropping to the ground as a shot is fired from behind him, just missing him by the very real margin of three inches. Rolling away from the open door, to the cover of the counter, he turns his body, arm taut and shoots the third member of the Genii party that crashed their file hunt. He fires two shots out and from the small boom and following grunt he hears, he knows he landed at least one. Scrambling for better cover and position he can see the other man turning, pulling his guns, no doubt looking for his head to empty his bullets into it. His buddy on the floor is stirring; damnit, John really doesn't like to be outnumbered. He doesn't have the best cover at the moment, shifting his body into a crouch, he aims to find two - wait, three, the third goon one is up - guns holding him in the crossfire. He squeezes the trigger at the same time as he hears Elizabeth's shot ring out.
One of the Genii, the talker, turns and catches the bullet in the shoulder, another sails past him, connecting with and shattering against the door frame behind the Genii. John takes the second Elizabeth just bought him and moves to get closer to her position.
Bullets are flying past him, over the counter and hitting the walls behind him as he finally gets close enough to catch Elizabeth's eye. When she sees him she quickly ducks by the wall she's using as cover and they share a nod. As Elizabeth breaths and signals to him, John stands, firing shots as he moves backwards, towards the front door they bypassed before, trying to get out of this mess. Among other things Lavin's premises are useless for, they don't make a good place for flying bullets - all those pretty glass vials. He overturns one of the tall cabinets and leans behind it, listening to the Genii yelling - a fourth voice joining in - and fuck, it's him and Elizabeth against four Genii goons. The day officially sucks.
He lifts his head quickly and can see one of the Genii move forward, using the counter as cover like John did. Besides that, the wall that Elizabeth is using, and his cabinet there isn't much other cover. He flips onto his stomach and glancing his eye over the edge of the cabinet, counts the seconds - two, three, four, five. At five he aims and shoots, managing to catch the Genii in the leg. He hears the groan of pain and moves to lean back against the cabinet, reloading the Glock. Licking his lips he turns half way to face Elizabeth, who shakes her head, telling him it's about to get worse. A bullet flies in the space in between them and shatters the window of the pharmacy.
John stiffens because that was too close, and Elizabeth leans out of her place by the far wall and fires a round, catching one of the goons behind the counter who was shooting at them by the door jam. John can hear him fall, hopefully dead or at least out of the fight, and kneels up, firing at the other three.
John, holding another goon in position by firing whenever he tries to move, sees Elizabeth slide along the wall and use the heavy end of the Jericho against the back of his head, a swift elbow sending him forwards and into the second of the three that are left. Two, now, he thinks as the one Elizabeth just hit falls towards the door, nearly tripping over the one he fell into, who also decides it's time to leave. He lets them go despite the clear shots - they're leaving the scene, and that's the main objective. One more- and he makes it quick because this whole getting shot at thing is getting old.
Elizabeth covers from the front, taking the position he started in behind the door. The last one is behind the counter and they both know it- the scenario goes through John's mind in milliseconds. Elizabeth has ended up the bait, a clear shot at her free and in the rapid glance they share John knows she knows that. The trick, he knows as he pulls his eyes away, is taking the shot about to clear on the goon before he takes his on Elizabeth. She's left the shadows that have been doing a pretty damn good job of hiding her and John grips his gun harder. They're both aiming for the same position, but he has a line of sight she doesn't.
Another rapid glance- this is one he can't afford, but he takes it, and Elizabeth stops.
The same line of sight, the same ill-advised rapid glance; the goon kneels and reaches, one fist holding a gun blindly over the counter. But a blind shot at point blank could be even worse than a well-aimed one, and Elizabeth's wall isn't big enough that John's going to risk it.
One shot to the exposed wrist sends a cheap cufflink flying and blood spraying into the air- enough, along with the wrenched-out scream, to let John know it's largely a flesh wound. The second, taken while the target's hand is curving from the flat counter-top to his body, is straight through the counter and, if John's the shot he thinks he is, should land right where the goon's biggest upper arm muscle is pressed against the hard surface. Another noise says he's right or he at least hit something and there's a rushed, scuffling sound as the goon makes an exit that John and Elizabeth, for all of their hurried steps, can't stop.
They burst out of the front door, crunching over the masses of shattered glass that covers the floor and John has a small moment where he appreciates the irony of how they just did this all backwards, but then he's too busy pushing Elizabeth out of the door and into the faces of the two cops they saw before. The two cops who happen to have their sidearms trained to John and Elizabeth.
Next to him, Elizabeth raises her hands, delicately complying with the words she already knows are coming, a harsh breath escaping her. John knows what that breath means - he's making breakfast tomorrow - and follows suit. He raises his hands, slower and slightly more annoyed than Elizabeth, cocking an eyebrow to the two officers.
"Well, don't you have to say something here?"
"John," Elizabeth warns, using her 'I'm being patient' voice, turning to the two officers. "Aiden, hello."
"Detective Weir." In front of them, Aiden Ford's mouth almost twitches in a smile, his gun lowering a fraction. His partner, who John notices right away is not Teyla, can't hide his shock that Ford might know the two people that just ran out of a building where there was clearly some action going on. "Do I even want to know why mine and Detective Emmagen's crime scene was just destroyed?" He's clearly amused by this, John wants to smack him upside the head, though that could just be the left over adrenaline talking.
"Rylan, go check if there's anybody left in there," Ford orders, still sounding like a rookie, with not enough punch in the order, but John can see he'll outgrow that soon enough.
"Aiden, there isn't," Elizabeth begins lowering her hands slowly, then completely when Ford gives them a small nod. John follows suit as Elizabeth continues, "We were just doing an extra sweep through of the scene when we ran into some unexpected problems. We're fine and thank you for coming to check." She smiles and John suppresses a smirk.
"Yeah, thanks Ford. Nick of time, you showed up, too."
Ford blinks, confused and flattered. "You're welcome, Detective Weir, Sheppard, but I gotta tell you two you really should have let somebody know you were going to be in there. It's still a crime scene." His gun already holstered prepared to let them go, knowing how this partnership between them and the precinct works, when he gets nudged by the rookie next to him.
"Dectective Ford? What are you doing? They broke in." The Rookie sounds scandalised and for a second John feels smug because Ford knows the drill, but then he sees Ford's face. His eyes go serious and he bites his lips for a brief second, looking between them and the junior officer that was helping him keep an eye on Lavin's. John can see the indecision there and spares a glance at Elizabeth. She's looking at Ford too when she feels his gaze and catches his eyes. She already knows Ford's decision and now John knows it, too. He sighs. Damn Ford for being one of the good ones.
He turns to them, determined and blushing. "Detectives, I'm sorry but Rylan here has a point. You two were on the premises without authorization and I'm pretty sure whoever was shooting at you in there didn't have any, either."
"They didn't, but then again we didn't ask. Are you seriously going to take us in?"
"John." Elizabeth rolls her eyes. "It's his job; relax."
John sighs, unamused, but nods as Ford reads them their rights. He half-asses it, but it's not like he and Elizabeth don't know them already. As he leads them to the cop car they had avoided up the block, John nudges Elizabeth, winking.
"Just like the good old days, huh?"
Elizabeth chuckles, "Yeah, just like."
Behind them, John hears the rookie, Rylan, whispers to Ford, "Aren't people supposed to be more bothered when we arrest them?"
He hears Ford's answering laugh, "People are. Not these two." He moves around them and opens the back door to the squad car, letting John and Elizabeth slide in. Inside, John lounges against the door, dropping his head back, letting out a low moan because the adrenaline is leaving his body and he left side is aching from where he slammed into the cabinet.
He sighs, closing his eyes. "At least he didn't handcuff us."
Elizabeth snakes her hand up his neck and scratches the back of his head, and even with his eyes closed he can imagine her smile. "We got lucky."
"Yeah, we did." Is John's answer, opening his eyes and turning to her, "The bag safe?"
Dropping her hand to pat the bag, Elizabeth nods a yes. They both straighten as Ford and Rylan slide in the front and they begin moving. John can hear Ford call the precinct, asking for Detective Emmagen and cringes. Teyla is going to be so pissed at them.
As if she's reading his mind, Elizabeth nudges him, smirking, "You get to tell Teyla we messed up her crime scene."
John groans, "He's so going to make us wait again."
Elizabeth nods back, "Yep."
Three hours later, about two and a half more than it should have taken, John and Elizabeth make their way out of the ACPD. Jack, not surprisingly, had not been exactly happy. Actually, Elizabeth's pretty sure he was on a different planet from Happy. Squeezing the bridge of her nose, she decides she needs an aspirin the size of the ring in the precinct's sign, a beer and some sleep. And maybe in that order, or maybe just in the order of whatever happens to be closest.
She hears John talking about something at a volume just beyond her hearing and figures he won't judge her for not listening this once.
That's when she narrows her eyes and focuses on the origin of the snickering: Cameron Mitchell, leaning casually on the railing that splits the path from the car park.
"What you got to say about it, farm boy?" John throws out across the car park, but Elizabeth can see him grin crookedly by the end of it and feels her own mood lightening just a bit.
"Oh, now that's the insult you use when you've got nothin' else to say for your sorry, arrested ass," Mitchell grins and Elizabeth gives Their Rookie (as she's personally adopted Rylan) an encouraging smile as he walks by. He gives first Mitchell and then John and Elizabeth a look, before walking away with a shaking head and slightly too wide eyes.
Elizabeth smiles as John passes her, his hand brushing her lower back, hearing his low voice in her ear. "He'll live and get over it."
"Shot at two days in a row," Mitchell raises an eyebrow and locks eyes with Elizabeth, "You all right?"
Elizabeth smiles, reassuringly. "I wasn't actually hit, Cameron. I'm fine." She feels John's finger tighten in one of her belt loops, before he lets go and rests his hand on her shoulder. If ten years of the force and the Academy and fifteen years of being a PI hadn't trained her to be calm under fire, she knows she would be shaking like a leaf, but she's been around gunfire too long to freak out over two bullets that never made it to her. Still, she'll never admit it, but knowing John's right there, covering her, next to her, is a calming factor for the simple reason she knows he'll never let anything hurt her if he can't help it. It's hardwired in his system, by their years of partnership and life together; keeping her in one piece. Not safe, because they know nobody ever really is.
"Still, it's never what I call fun times - getting shot at." Cam's genuine concern is exactly that - genuine - and so Elizabeth can't help but feel touched. Cam knows it'll happen again and again until the day they move to a pretty little village, where they'll start watching their tea for poison no doubt, so lets it drop at that.
They walk past the empty car space and Cam can't help but laugh quietly and Elizabeth thinks she knows why- both John and she look at it, sitting there empty and exposing their flamboyant driving style with its tread marks, and glare before walking on.
"Since you're not driving-" Cam starts, suppressing a grin badly.
"Lead on," John grins, "I could use a beer."
Elizabeth feels her mood drop again, pushing open the door first and her eyes falling on Evan by the bar, backlit in the soft light, he looks likes a shadow. She told herself she wasn't going to remember the photos, but looking at Evan, his head lowered by the surprisingly pristine bar and his elbows propping him up, she can't get the angles and the stark light from the coroner's photos out of her mind.
Suddenly the whole thing seems less funny- the last thing she wants is herself, or someone she loves, to be in that kind of brown card bound album and signed off by Woolsey. Evan's posture, his being at Chuck's for the second night running, and the way Cam sighs quietly before putting a hand on his partner's shoulder and taking the seat next to him, reminds her that it can turn from comedy to the other thing in the time it took one of the Genii bullets to go past her.
She sees John's step stutter the way hers did and his expression fall the way she's sure hers did. They share a look and he puts his hands in his pockets as she pulls her unclosed coat tighter around her body. Sitting down on the stool next to Evan, feeling John take the stool next to her and hearing him order, she looks - really looks - at Evan and his three quarter's full beer.
He catches her watching and she doesn't attempt to look away, smiling sadly instead. Evan gestures at the beer, eyes bright blue and bloodshot. "She never liked me drunk."
Elizabeth swallows and feels entirely justified in every bit of righteous anger she's had on the trail of however Kate ended up dead, whether she knew the woman or not. Placing her hand over Evan's closed fist, she nods. "And this is getting too serious for drinking."
Taking in a quick breath, she shares a glance with John. A slightly raised eyebrow - this isn't just our case - and a quick quirk of a smile; we're not getting paid anyway.
"Hey, Mitchell," John switches his eyes to Cam, leaning back to catch the other man's glance and jerking his head in the direction of the pool table. Aiden, it seems, is getting another lesson- don't play Teyla if you want to keep your money. The two men slide off the bar stools and head in the direction of Ford's impending poverty.
Elizabeth sees what Evan chooses not to; John talking quietly and quickly to both Cam and Teyla, telling them the gory details. Evan will get the stripped down, picture-free version later. He's a cop and a good one, but they have plenty of those, and they'll keep it to need to know until he needs to know something else. There is something, however, that he needs to know and Elizabeth's glad John understood that he and Cam should clear off while she tells him.
"Evan," Elizabeth starts hesitantly, taking a quick breath. He catches the difference in her tone and narrows his eyes at her, sitting up properly as if she's tugged a string that runs through his spine. "There's something I need to tell you about Kate."
He frowns, shaking his head as if to clear it.
"She wasn't a drug addict," Elizabeth says quietly, hand still on his.
"No, not that," Evan replies in the mildest of tones, eyes focusing somewhere over her left shoulder but not quite on the silent television. He blinks and those blue eyes snap back to Elizabeth's- she realises exactly then how out of it he's been, because she's forgotten how very there he is when he's fully present. "She was sick, and it was bad."
"Are you asking me or telling me, Evan?" Elizabeth tilts her head, looking at him and letting him take his time with the answer. She shakes her head in the tiniest of movements and John tells Teyla to finish what's left of her game.
"I'm ... telling you," Evan says, nodding with more certainty.
"She told you?" Elizabeth keeps surprise out of her voice and part of her curses the way they're never off duty; she wasn't surprised first at Kate telling Evan, but at Evan not telling them if he'd known.
"Not in so many words." Evan ducks his head with a smile and a long blink, eyes bright and fist clenching tighter when he looks up. "Shit, she was something to see, Elizabeth. All... calm. Together, like Mitchell's always saying. She didn't tell me, but I figured-" Evan sighs and looks away. "I don't know what I figured."
Elizabeth opens her mouth to say something, she doesn't know what, but Evan carries on.
"I figured we had time- you know the way that you figure there's always time? Saying things- stupid things, fixing things," He laughs shakily, looking at the top of the beer and Elizabeth can practically feel the ache in his voice like it's her own. Saying things- like telling truths, even when she knows they'll be liked as much as a phone call late in the second half of a game. For the briefest second, the urge to reach out across the bar and tell John about her 'lunches', her 'conversations' and her mysterious trips seizes her, but like Kate's secrets, the things she's done are past tense and she's left with them to keep. She's jerked from her thoughts by Evan's question, the one he's been storing up his courage and taking quick sips of beer in preparation for asking. "What did she have?"
"Early Parkinson's," Elizabeth says slowly, leaving out the clichè she'd been about to put in with a glance across to John and the others.
He looks up, other hand curling around the beer.
"She fought hard," Elizabeth continues gently, raising her chin, "she did everything in her power to stop this."
"Did that kill her?"
This is one thing Elizabeth can't put down to need to know. "Maybe. ...It's likely." She takes a breath and looks back at Evan's eyes, frozen on hers. "Would you have loved her if she hadn't?"
About to answer, he sighs and lets go of Elizabeth's hand to take a quick drink of his beer as Teyla sits down. Elizabeth knows this is a prime opportunity to find out what he knows about Kate, what they were (because she's not doubting the plural, not any more), but she doesn't take it. Kate mattered and in the mess they've found themselves in, that's enough to be going on with.
Before they start the recap proper for the others, Teyla raises her beer with characteristic bluntness.
"To Kate." Her voice is a balm to their restless feelings of guilt, grief, anger and duty.
They nod, all softly repeating the name as Elizabeth pushes back the idle question of who would do that for Lavin and the knowledge that it wouldn't be her. They raise their bottles, hitting them together in a quiet, clumsy circle of crossing, bumping wrists.
"So what do we know?"
It's fitting, Elizabeth thinks as John starts at their own beginning, that it's Evan that asks.
Fingers clutching the edge of his bedside table, John finds his loud, ringing phone on the fourth ring.
"Beckett, it's seven in morning."
"I know, and I would have called you earlier, but I was a bit busy, lad."
John sits up and sighs, running a hand through his hair and thinking that earlier wasn't quite what he had been thinking. "What's up, doc?"
"I need you and Elizabeth to come to my office, as soon as you can manage." Carson sounds stressed, his voice coming in exhausted over the phone.
"Sure, what's up?" John's already moving out bed, picking up the first shirt he finds and holding it in his hand and rubbing it over his face as he makes his way toward his bathroom.
"I've had a death happen in my OR." Beckett says tiredly, and John blinks.
"No offence, Carson, but-"
"The patient was a forty year old male, in top physical shape - a victim of a mugging, and by all rights his heart should not have given out on my table." There's a heavy pause over the phone before Beckett continues, "Nothing explained why his heart gave out like it did, so of course after I ran some tests. John, I found the same levels and composition of hormones that were in Kate's file."
"Fuck." John breathes out.
"Quite. So, shall I be expecting you and Elizabeth soon?"
John nods, forgetting Beckett can't see him. "Give us thirty minutes." He hangs up with Carson and rubs his hand over his face, pressing the heels into heavily into his eyes. He gives himself one last shake away before heading into the bathroom for a quick shower and to brush his teeth.
After that he doesn't bother stopping by his kitchen, heading immediately downstairs to Elizabeth's. When he reaches her door he doesn't bother to knock, making his way in and into the kitchen where he can already smell the coffee Elizabeth is brewing. He pushes the door to the kitchen open to see Elizabeth leaning by the small island in the middle of the room, reading the paper, coffee in hand. When she hears him come in she looks up, a bright early morning smile for him that fades when she catches the look in his eyes.
"John?" Wary concern is littering her voice and she puts her coffee cup and paper down, crossing the few feet between them to stand in front of him. "What's wrong? Did something happen?" She lays a gentle hand on his arm and he faces her full on. He can hear the small hitch of breath she makes at what she sees in his eyes and she whispers.
Her question confuses him, and he blinks, realising where her thoughts have taken her. He takes a breath, relaxing under her hand. "No, nobody. Not like that. Beckett called," he clarifies.
Elizabeth relaxes, slightly, but she still doesn't move from him. "What did he say?"
"A man died on his operating table this morning. He had traces of the drug in his system and it wasn't an overdose and from what Beckett said, it was heart failure that shouldn't have happened." John drops his shoulder, tension releasing, "He wants us to come in as soon as we can."
Elizabeth gives a sharp nod, stepping back to empty her coffee into the sink and then turns back to him. "Let's go then."
They don't say thing else as they move out of the building and to the car. John doesn't even bother with the coin today, as neither really cares right now, and when he reaches the driver's side first, Elizabeth tosses him the keys and they get on their way.
The Atlantis City Hospital isn't far from their building, if you speak in technical terms and the way John drives; it sits at the half way point between the precinct and Vala's. Their office stands right in between the former two, closer to the diner, not only to keep up appearances that they really don't work for Jack anymore, but because considering the hours they keep it's always good to be near a supply of sandwiches and coffee and Vala hardly ever closes - only the hours between three and six am when she sends everybody to Chuck's, to then open at seven. Elizabeth chose the location, John remembers and as they speed past Vala's, John frowns, thinking of coffee and pancakes.
"I'm sure Carson will have coffee ready for us," Elizabeth acknowledges, the corner of her lip curling upwards.
John nods and turns into the hospital's road, "He better."
As they pull up, John parks the car near the Emergency Room. Beckett is a nationally renowned diagnostician, but he still prefers to work where he feels he can help the most people, instead of the fancy office on one of the higher floors the hospital has for him where there's about five cases a month, because he's just that type of guy. John respects that more than anything else and not just because he's usually one of the ones Beckett is stitching up in the midst of car accidents, broken legs, GSWs, and the myriad of other injuries that pass by the ER on a daily basis. Heading straight for Beckett's office, they give a passing nod to the nurse at the nurse station who just waves them forward. Apparently they were expected.
Beckett's office is small and tidy, but the man really doesn't need too much space to be honest; the personal items are few and far between, just a few pictures of the extended family that John and Elizabeth have been to see on a handful of occasions over the years and a plaque for a fishing trophy. What does take up most of the space in the office stands on the far wall, behind Carson's neat desk, is a large grey file cabinet that holds all his cases. One side of it is littered with drawings by his various nieces, nephews, and a few his younger patients have made. To Beckett a patient is more than just a file - the reason he's the doctor that he is and he'll never give up on them. Even after death, which is, John thinks, the reason he and Elizabeth are here now.
"John, Elizabeth, come in, please." Beckett greets them, a small smile gracing his features. "I'm so sorry for having called you so early, but I figured that you'd want any possible information on your case." He waves them forward and picks up two cups and hands them to them. "I've made some tea, would you care for some?"
"Thank you, Carson."
"Oh, Carson," John is about to politely decline, when he catches Elizabeth's eye, it says take the tea. "Sure, thank -"
Carson smiles, handing Elizabeth her tea. "Oh, it's fine, John. I didn't forget about your aversion to tea. Yours is coffee. From the machine, I'm sorry to say, but with enough sugar you shouldn't notice."
John stretches his mouth into the best grin he can and takes the cup, "Thanks, Carson." He takes a sip and fights not to spit it out - not even Zelenka's gruel tastes this bad, but he bears it, clearing his throat. "So you called us in?"
"That I did." Beckett nods and motions to the two chair in front of his desk. "Please, sit."
They do, watching as Beckett grabs a file and sets it in on the desk before going to his filing cabinet and grabbing two more. He places them down on his desk and then runs a hand through his hair and John can now see just how tired the man is. He shares a look with Elizabeth, both frowning, and waits quietly until Beckett starts.
Sitting gingerly, Beckett stacks the files together in neat piles that he places in the middle of his desk and, catching them in his bright blue eyes, begins. "This morning a man was admitted into the ER. Victim of a stabbing that happened in Athos Plaza- the knife wounds were severe but not fatal and definitely not some that would cause the cardiac arrest the man went into. I did the autopsy and tox screen after, and I found the same chemicals that were present in Kate's file."
"Parkinson's?" Elizabeth leans forward taking the file that Carson extends out to them. Christopher Halling.
"That was the twist, love. No. I couldn't find a trace of it. I ended up determining the cause as untreated cardiac fibrosis."
"Okay, then why call us in when you know what killed him?" John leans back in his chair, dropping one arm over the backrest.
"Do you know what the leading cause of cardiac fibrosis is?" Beckett looks at him, reminding John a bit too much of some of his old instructors in the Academy right before they would have Teyla drop kick him on the mat.
"I don't." John extends warily and straightens in his seat.
"It happens due to an abnormal thickening in the heart valves and it can be triggered when the body secretes large amounts of hydroxytryptamine or serotonin into the the blood, which then can result in the thickening and loss of flexibly in the heart valves eventually, possibly leading to a valvular dysfunction and heart failure. Now I know that Kate's serotonin levels were abnormally low, but these? These are abnormally high, as were the other compounds I found."
Elizabeth tilts her head, "Do you have a theory, Carson?"
"I had another patient die on Monday, were you aware?" Beckett ask his own question, his face becoming increasingly sad and John hates to think it but he hope the other man doesn't cry.
"I'm sorry, we didn't know." Curious, Elizabeth's eyes drop down to the two files that Carson has resting in front of him.
"No apologies needed." The man shakes his head and fingers one of the files, "It was an old patient, actually. Not mine anymore, to tell you the truth. I was called in because of pulmonary hypertension that I had been treating her for, and it was possible that it would be affecting her pregnancy. But again, the common factor here is the serotonin."
"Okay, how is a pregnancy connected here?" John asks.
Beckett shakes his head, "It isn't the pregnancy that's connected. It's the pulmonary hypertension. Perna, that's her name," Beckett pauses and extends the file out to them, which John takes. "She came in a few months ago after having some shortness of breath, and fainting several times in the beginning stages of her pregnancy. We were worried because depending how bad it got it could cause cardiac and neurological problems for both Perna and her child. Then on Monday, same day Kate died, she went into labour. Everything was fine, until she went into respiratory distress caused by the hypertension and again we could not get her heart started back up when the right side began failing."
Elizabeth is at John's shoulder reading Beckett's notes when she looks up, green eyes sharp. "Like Halling. It was the right side of his heart that failed first."
"Aye," Beckett nods, "I didn't do Perna's autopsy myself, but I couldn't find anything wrong with it. Until Halling this morning. The way everything went in that room was too similar. So I ordered a tox screen." He waves to John, motioning for him to flip to the end of Perna's file. John does so, eyes travelling over the words he finds there. He hasn't taken a look Halling's tox screen yet, but Elizabeth has and when he feels the in take of breath by his ears, he knows that the tox screen shows too many similarities. But John sees a similarity too, and this one has nothing to do with the file resting on Elizabeth's lap. Perna's file holds a name typed in neat letter next to the words Attending Nuerologist.
"Why is Asura's name here?" Elizabeth frowns, her chin brushing John's shoulder.
"He was her and the baby's neurologist, lass. We both worked on the case." Beckett blinks, "You don't think he's involved with all this, do you?"
"It's possible, Carson."
Beckett frowns, and John asks about the tox screen, changing the subject swiftly. "But that's not why you called us. You think it's all the same drug that these people are taking?" John cannot believe this many people would do something so stupid as drug themselves for whatever reason and he's sure he's not the only one in the room with the same thought.
Beckett nods, handing John the last file, which John notices is Kate's. "I do, but I don't think that any of them knew they were taking it. I can't speaking for Halling this morning, but Perna and Kate wouldn't have put themselves in this type of danger. Perna was pregnant and Kate... Kate, she was a fighter; the last time I saw her she was determined to fight - and because we caught it early enough she had many years before the symptoms would become truly detrimental." Beckett pauses, exhaling, "Neither would have put their life in danger knowingly in such a way."
"But then how is that possible?" Elizabeth does not like the implication in Beckett's statement anymore than John does, "You think someone was poisoning people?"
"No, so much poisoning lass, but testing. I can't help but think that this all seems like a giant experiment - grabbing healthy subjects and infected subjects and testing them all to see how they react to a new drug. But who would do such a thing to another human being? Or why," Carson sighs out, sorrow coating his voice like a thick syrup.
John can; John can think of a least a handful of people he has come across in the past twenty years of his life that could - would - sink so low to do this to people, but he doesn't say anything. That's the other thing about Carson - his inherent want to believe in the good in people - that's makes him a great doctor, a great healer; unfortunately it also makes him an easy mark.
"Do you think that maybe someone in the hospital could be messing with people's treatments; prescriptions, maybe?"
Beckett looks up at them, startled and shocked that there could be someone in his hospital that could be that callous, and shakes his head in disbelief, "Never. Who would want to do such a thing? Who could do such a thing?"
Elizabeth is one who answers this time, "Unfortunately too many people, Carson. I'm sorry, but it's very possible that you have someone in the hospital working for the Genii." She doesn't mention Kolya, John notices, and then remembers how it was Beckett that had to dig through the Dagan building with teams of paramedics looking for survivors.
"Can you think of anyone who might be connected to the Genii on your payroll?" John wonders, watching as Beckett sinks into his chair heavily.
Beckett snaps his head up and shakes it hard, "No! No, I can't believe anyone on my staff would do such a thing. They wouldn't." Carson says firmly, but John can see the doubt in his eyes.
"We're still going to need a list, Beckett."
"Of everybody on your staff," Elizabeth finishes for him. "And everybody that was on those cases."
They're walking out of the door, down the corridor, through the double doors and coming out near reception, when Elizabeth freezes. As meetings went, the one the day before with Landon had been about as useful as a grenade in a fireworks factory, but that was only if she went on what he'd outright told her and moving towards the reception desk at a deceptively slow pace, she calls herself seven kinds of idiot for doing precisely that. Looks like we might not need Carson's files after all.
"Hello," she says pleasantly, looking at the bundle of files in the blond nurse's arms. "I don't suppose you need any help with those?"
"No, thank you." The nurse shakes her head softly, moving away, blonde curls covering her eyes.
John is looking at her, puzzled and raising his eyebrows. If he made a habit of wearing a watch, Elizabeth thinks wryly, he'd be checking it right now in a no-so-subtle gesture towards doing more important things.
Elizabeth jerks her head to follow the nurse back up the stairs they just came down and John falls into step beside her. "Why are we following the blond?"
"She was outside Asura's office when he lied through his well-maintained teeth," Elizabeth hisses back, keeping a fairly steady but reasonable pace as they go up the flights.
John frowns. "You think she had something to do with it?"
"I think she is it," Elizabeth answers, then bites her lip. This part, she thinks, she could have planned better.
"What's her name?" But maybe it's going to be all right- John's frowning, but not in the confused way. In the way that means he's going through the files in his head, recalling information not considered relevant until now.
"Tyrusen," Elizabeth answers, putting a hand on his wrist and turning as the nurse goes through the double doors and into the next floor. Finding herself just above John's eye level, she hears their combined, slightly heightened breathing in the silent staircase.
She smiles crookedly, realising they're both counting the same count under their breath.
On six, they both nod. A loose strand of her hair catches on John's ear and takes longer to fall back into place as he climbs the stairs beside her.
Pushing open the double doors, they walk into the smaller, quieter and cleaner reception.
"If you're here to see Dr. Asura-"
The receptionist doesn't get a chance to finish.
"We're not," John interrupts. "Is Nurse Tyrusen available?"
He might not understand what she's doing, Elizabeth thinks as she reviews what she knows about the woman they're about to see, but he understands the need to show a united front.
The receptionist nods to a woman coming out of the second room on the right hand side of the corridor.
"What can I help you with?" The blond asks, hair tightly wound in a coil at the back of her head, pressing a clipboard to her chest and standing with neatly-shod feet close together.
"Nurse Tyrusen?" Elizabeth asks with a warm, encouraging smile. It's all nice on the outside, but she's aware her smile might just carry an edge and steps forward out of John's line of sight. "Detective Elizabeth Weir, and Detective John Sheppard."
"Please," the blond shakes her head and shows pearly white teeth, but mainly to John, "call me Sora. Everyone does."
"Can my partner and I have a word?" John asks with an answering smile, flashing a PI badge. "We'll try not to take up too much of your valuable time."
I'll bet, Elizabeth thinks sourly, keeping a smile on her face and walking a few steps forward to Tyrusen. The blond falls into step with her, blinking and ducking her head when John puts a hand at her elbow before letting his hand fall.
"I'll just check the room's clear-" Tyrusen pauses at a darkened doorway, looking back over her shoulder and showing dimples. "Wouldn't like to wake anyone up."
She knocks, waits and enters quietly, the door closing with a click behind her. Elizabeth covertly checks her gun is in place. John leans across the foot between them. "That one? Seriously?"
"John," Elizabeth turns and finds his eyes closer to hers than expected but doesn't blink or move back, "I know this."
It's when Tyrusen opens the door and John's eyes don't move from hers, confused and slightly wider than normal, that Elizabeth realises her phrasing lacked for something- or maybe she said too much.
Nonetheless - or maybe because of it - John follows Nurse Tyrusen into the empty room, with its stark, unmade bed and clinical lights.
Elizabeth smiles across the room. "You've worked for both Dr. Beckett and Dr. Asura, right, Sora?"
The blond blinks, pursing her lips and looking between them. "That's right. I don't understand-"
"You will," Elizabeth interrupts, voice pleasant. John doesn't buy it, raising an eyebrow in her direction. "So you came into contact with both Kate Heightmeyer and Perna Hoffan."
Elizabeth almost admires the way she looks so very downcast and saddened.
"It's strange," Elizabeth muses, "how they were both in and out of hospital for so long."
"Not really," Tyrusen shakes her head, "both had chronic illnesses."
"Like Perna Hoffan's complicated pregnancy? And that needed both neurologists and diagnosticians?"
"It was decided so," Tyrusen replies, glowering slightly. "I'm sure either Dr. Beckett or Dr. Asura could tell you this."
Elizabeth leans on the empty bed, facing the nurse. John's frowning now, and Elizabeth knows exactly why. "I'm sure they could, but they couldn't tell us all about their prescriptions and that's what we really need." Tyrusen tilts her head and picks up the clipboard, hands steady, pupils normal; perfectly calm. Something they've picked up over the years is that the old chestnut about doing nothing wrong and having nothing to be afraid of is complete bullshit - the Dalai Lama himself would sweat in a police interrogation. Well, maybe not, but a painfully nice woman like Sora Tyrusen certainly should, and John knows it as well as she does.
"Their prescriptions?" Wide-eyed Tyrusen is all confused innocence and Elizabeth can't help but think she's good. Really good, because if it wasn't for the fact that Landon had already as much as pointed her out as one of Kolya's people Elizabeth's not sure she would have pegged the small lies in the young woman's body language this fast. John, alerted by the signs Elizabeth knows she's betraying in her own body language, never mind the part where she opened her mouth and shoved her foot right in, is watching the blond carefully.
Elizabeth draws on the times she watched Cam through one-way mirrors at the precinct. "Well, not the ones they picked up from Lavin," she says slowly, shooting a lazy smile towards John and deliberately looking away.
Then the blond, proving that in this case at least nature hadn't been unduly kind to a snake in the grass, uses muscles hidden in a thick nurse's shirt to make her way to the door but finds herself staring down the barrel of John's gun.
"And you seemed so nice," John says with a slight narrowing of his eyes and a tilt of his head. "Sit down. Now."
Tyrusen, glaring daggers at them in turn, sits on the edge of the bed as Elizabeth moves to stand in line with John. He nods, keeping his gun trained on the nurse, and Elizabeth lowers her own.
"Are you really surprised?" Elizabeth asks John, sending him a look.
"Nah," John smiles crookedly, "not exactly Anna Paquin, are you? More... Mandy Moore. You might be that nice, really, but it doesn't make you less annoying."
"And this is the part where you talk me to death?" Tyrusen folds her arms, rolling her eyes.
"No," Elizabeth smiles, "but congratulations on dropping the act. I was beginning to feel a little nauseous."
"Thank you," comes the answer, "can't tell you what a relief it is-"
"To finally say all the terribly mean things I've been thinking for so long," John puts in quickly and sarcastically, shaking the gun slightly in her direction. "Get on with it."
"They wanted to do it," Tyrusen's eyes snap to his and suddenly the pristine blond looks cold, harsh. "They were informed."
"And you just happened to be there each and every time, at the bedsides of the vulnerable and in pain?" Elizabeth raises an eyebrow.
"Something like that," Nurse Tyrusen smiles and raises her chin a little, "Guessed who I answer to yet?"
"Oh, I think that's obvious," John drawls as Elizabeth watches Tyrusen's smile widen slightly.
"Yes, I'd imagine you would," she answers, turning to Elizabeth. "There are some who don't underestimate me."
"Nor your capacity to overhear, I imagine," she shoots back, noting the way the nurse is sitting up straighter and like a coiled spring.
"You're a silly girl caught up in a big game," John warns, not moving the gun he still has trained on her.
"No," Tyrusen retorts, "what I am is rich."
"Kolya must pay well for his guinea pigs," Elizabeth says, again in that nonchalant tone.
"Very," comes the affirmative. "I do nothing but what they ask."
Elizabeth glances to John before looking back at Tyrusen. "And offer."
"And forget to mention the many risks in taking an uncertified drug," John adds.
"It's still their choice," Tyrusen shrugs, as calm as when snuggling her clipboard.
Elizabeth allows herself a single, vicious smile. "And 'uncertified' still means 'illegal.'"
"Such a shame about that," John says lightly as Sora tries to side stepping them, throwing a punch towards Elizabeth's gut. Elizabeth just manages to catch her arms as John grabs hold of the other the other. John passes her unceremoniously to Elizabeth, taking out his cell and stepping out of the room when Elizabeth safely has a restraint on her.
Elizabeth ignores the sharp stab of a heel on her foot, feeling virtuous that her only responses are to pull the plastic tie as tight as it'll go around the blond's wrists and ask, "Who supplies you?"
"Ask whoever told you about me supplying anyone else, because there's not that many who could."
But then John's back in the room, and Elizabeth's telling him Tyrusen's said everything she's going to say that's of any use.
Ten minutes and two shitty coffees later, Teyla Emmagan and Aiden Ford arrive. The plastic tie is exchanged for a set of sturdy, standard issue handcuffs and somewhere in the in-between Tyrusen thinks it's a smart idea to try to get away.
John and Elizabeth don't bother moving, watching as Teyla slips a foot under the blond's ankle and sends the heel of her hand into the would-be escapee's nose. Ford scrambles into place, securing the handcuffs while his knee is in the small of her back.
"Ooh, that's gonna smart," John says with badly disguised pleasure as the receptionist and Asura watch on with horror.
Elizabeth shoots him a grin and follows Teyla and Ford to the stairs.
What she doesn't see is the answering smile slip from John's face as he watches her walk away.
They break into the sunshine, an hour later and with only slightly more information on the case than they'd been about to leave with before.
John can't help watching her through the bottom corner of his sunglasses as they make their way to the car, Elizabeth letting out an explosive breath as the patrol car drives off, taking Sora Tyrusen with it.
"Did Jack get the other car from Lavin's?"
John's hand freezes, the key slotted into the car door lock but not turned. "He sent Ford to take it to the precinct."
"Always looking for excuses to see us," Elizabeth answers with a small smile, looking out of the entrance to the hospital car park. Pursing her lips, she looks across the top of the car. "If you head back to the office, I can grab the car. I'll grab lunch on the way." She sighs and pushes her hair back, what's left of the old fringe she's been growing out for years falling back into her eyes anyway. "John, I need the walk."
John doesn't answer as she slips on her sunglasses, puts her hands in her pockets and spins on her heels away from him. She cuts a figure into the grey, sun-bleached concrete, the ends of her knee-length, open coat lifted in the breeze. John doesn't know why she does what she always squints at him for - shoves her hands into her pockets, fists curled - but he wants to find out.
He has a moment of indecision, watching her walk away. It's not the first time he's considered she might lie to him - he's not an idiot and doesn't think he's got the right to know everything, even when he'd prefer it that way for his sanity - but it's the first time he seriously considers acting to find out if she has. It's the first time he's ever suspected that it's his business. Until it became Elizabeth, he was happy with everything in his life being a shade of grey.
He turns the key in the door, slips into the car and drives before he can think twice. It's one of their trickier chases- he has to go past with a peep of the horn and a wave so she'll think he's gone to the office as per the plan. Luckily, her route won't take her past the office to check that the car stays where he's told her it will.
He gets to the office and makes a cursory trip through to the back room- this is where they have the Younger Model Kit. It's where they keep all the stuff they use, just not on this one, just not right now. Lifting the high-res digital camera and the binoculars, he stops.
John sits the camera down and swears harshly, going over the morning, the times in the past few weeks Elizabeth's said just to let her phone pick up the call rather than for him to pick it up. He'd assumed she was having a thing with her father, or she'd somehow found the time to find a new boyfriend.
He looks at his phone. No missed calls, no messages. Time is seventeen minutes after he left her at the hospital. By Elizabeth's pace, she'd be getting to the precinct in about seven minutes.
Pausing and hitting the doorframe with the broad side of his fist, he takes the camera and binoculars. If he's doing this, he's doing it right. She'll be no less pissed if he shows efficiency than if he half-asses it.
Besides, he thinks with a sour kind of irony, it's about time he saw clearly.
They drive shitty cars, mainly because they have a worrying tendency to get shot at, but they drive cars they can drive fast without bits falling off. John floors it.
He wants to tell himself he's doing this because then, if he's wrong, it never happened. That, however, would be a lie. It would've been true. Until the hospital, he would've just sat her down, asked her outright what the hell's been going on, because she hasn't been all the way in the game for weeks. That was until he overheard what Elizabeth would've chosen him not to hear.
Sora Tyrusen told her to ask whoever told Elizabeth that the blond bitch was involved, and John has a sinking feeling that that's exactly what Elizabeth's on her way to do. It's less sinking, he thinks, slowing down and sitting in an alley three blocks from the precinct door, knowing Elizabeth will have to pass this way regardless thanks to the one-way nightmare of Atlantis roads, and more sharp. He doesn't know what kind of viper pit she's walking into - has been walking into, God knows how often, and for God knows how long, without an inch of cover but a Jericho at her side - but he's going to be there this time. He tries to ignore the rest, the other times he didn't know about, because if he doesn't he'll get too pissed off to do the job.
He watches the car flash by the alley entrance a few minutes later and starts his engine. Keeping a few cars back - there's no chance Elizabeth will mistake the car for someone else's and John wishes he could've borrowed another - he feels his heart start to race on the approach to the junction.
If she goes right to Vala's-
She turns left, and from his line of sight as the car makes the turn, he sees her talking hurriedly into a cell.
He follows off of the main road, onto a smaller, rougher road that leads down into a district where the houses are more spread out and lower, with more chain link fences and angry dogs. He slows and hangs back, letting Elizabeth get to turns just before he speeds up- it's a risky strategy, but the one he's left with in a district most people are too sensible to go through.
She pulls onto a lot with rough gravel and John unceremoniously parks in a driveway two blocks down, slipping from the car and putting on his sunglasses as Elizabeth does. He moves slowly and smoothly into the shadow by the doorway, coming eye to eye with an unamused man in a worn shirt and shorts holding one of those angry dogs on a short leash.
John raises an eyebrow at the dog, which starts to growl, a low rumbling in its stocky, solid looking chest.
He holds up his hands, reaching slowly under his suit jacket for his PI badge and showing it. "Fifty to sit in your yard for an hour," he says flatly.
The man squints. "You gonna get shot at while you're here?"
"Not this time," John answers and hopes he hasn't just lied through his teeth.
"Then that's fine with me," his new host nods, gesturing towards the deck chair by the tree in the corner of the yard. It's striped pink and green, but damn, John thinks as he sinks into it, it's comfy.
Then he reaches into the side-satchel he's brought, takes out the camera and focuses on Elizabeth about one hundred yards down and walking away from her car. His car. Not that that matters. Still, he really hopes they aren't going to have to have to divide the stuff they co-own; he was only married for three years, but that bit still hurts to remember from the irritation of it, and somehow he thinks that divorcing Elizabeth would be a heck of a lot more complicated. And they're not even married.
As she tucks her hair behind her ear in a show of vanity he hadn't expected, he doubts the entire endeavour. What if it is just a boyfriend?
Then she stiffens and raises her chin. Swinging the camera lens to the person striding across the gravel in a neat suit to meet her, John's first thought is that if it is a boyfriend, he just might kill her. Actually, that's his second thought. His first is that he's definitely going to kill him.
Landon Radim. Genii-Landon Radim.
He feels a small thread of pleasure in his gut when she casually slaps him with the back of her hand for attempting to kiss her on the cheek, but it's a small thread that drowns in anger, disgust and sheer confusion.
John, frowning, jerks his head to the man pulling up a deck chair next to his and looks at the dog sitting expectantly at his foot.
"Whew," the man whistles, opening a can and giving it to John, still staring. "And here I thought it was the men who went for the younger models. Your wife?"
"No," John shoots back, sharper than necessary, then looks at the man again. "Thanks for the soda."
There's a whimpering sound and John looks down into the wide eyes of a white bruiser of a dog.
"He wants a chip, boy."
"I don't have any chips."
A bag thuds into his lap.
Jesus Christ in Heaven, John thinks.
Still, he opens the bag as Elizabeth and Landon go into a run down house across the street, letting half fall on the grass.
"Who's is the house?"
"You want my yard and my information?" The man raises an eyebrow.
"Hey, you sat down, old man," John waves a hand at the deck chair.
There's a raised eyebrow.
"You called me 'boy,'" John answers, mouth quirking in a smile.
"And you can call me Janus. But you have a point," the man sighs. "Old Mrs. Radim lives there. Apparently the kid- you know, the one with your not-wife - couldn't persuade her to move out when he made his money."
"Ah," John leans back in the chair. Elizabeth must've told him she needed to see him and now, he thinks, otherwise there's no way Radim is letting a woman as dangerous as Elizabeth into his mother's house. Either that or - and this he dreads to think - he trusts her.
"Why wouldn't she move?" John asks, not really wanting to be drawn into conversation with what could easily be a Genii bodyguard, but asking anyway. They're both being damn idiots. He's sitting shooting the breeze with nothing but an awkwardly placed Glock and a digital fucking camera for protection, and she, he can see through the window, is accepting what looks to be tea and biscuits from Radim's mother.
"People get attached to places, I guess."
John was hoping for more than armchair philosophy.
"Then again, might've something to do with it being Old Man Radim's house- she raised children in there, boy."
It's been a while since anyone called John 'boy' and the eyebrow he raises is entirely reflex.
"Known the youngest boy a while. He's not the bad sort. Not like some this place's given the world."
"Radim, right?" There's a beat and John rolls his eyes, "I know, they're all Radim. But him. Blond. Twenties. Landon."
"Came to all my services," the man puts in with a grin, tone that bit nonchalant.
"So no shooting on your watch?" John blasphemes loudly in his head, then looks at him sidelong as if the old preacher could hear it.
The man of the cloth shakes his head slowly. "Not my watch. Never is, boy. But no shooting."
Seeing Elizabeth stand up inside the little house, Radim standing at the same time, he thanks the man for the soda and the chair, giving him a fifty and dropping the rest of his chips for the dog.
"Go with God, my son," the retired preacher pats the top of the car with a grin and John fights the urge to answer back like a fourteen year old with an attitude problem. Instead, his mother's Sundays kick in.
"Something like that."
Elizabeth turns the knob to John's apartment, opening the door half way and peeking in when she notices him sitting in the chair at the far end of the medium sized living room. The lights are on in the kitchen and it shines through the open door that separates the two rooms, but except for the lamp he's turned on next to the chair there is no other light lighting in the room. It bathes him in a half-light, the shadows creating sharp planes of light and dark across his face. He's nursing a beer in his lap, but she can tell he hasn't drunk more than a sip. Worried, she steps in, dropping the take-out bag from Vala's and sitting on the couch arm closest to him.
"You weren't at the office." She pauses, reaching out a hand to cover his shoulder, nodding towards the bag on the table. Gently, she begins to move her finger towards his neck when he shrugs her off, practically jumping from the chair.
He's stalking the small area between his couch and the window, his fingers are in tight balls by his side, and how he isn't cracking the bones in his hand she doesn't know.
"John?" she repeats.
"How long have you been seeing Landon Radim behind my back?"
Elizabeth suddenly can't breathe right, her neck snapping violently to face him. His face is a shadow, the light not reaching him at all.
"I can explain- it isn't what you think."
She winces but forces herself not to show it, knowing the response that comes next.
"You know I hate clichés and you're walking like one." John lets out a harsh swear word, shoulders tense and posture stiff. This is the John other people see and that unsettles Elizabeth in a way nothing else can.
Elizabeth curls her fists at her sides. "John, try listening."
He looks up and the light catches in his eyes. His posture is like hers; tall, iron and unmoving.
What happens when an immovable object meets an irresistible force? Elizabeth can't help thinking, feeling adrenaline that normally only rushes through her veins in a fight start to flow. Then again, she thinks grimly, most fights are only about her life. This is much more important.
It's a dangerous tone, all velvet patience and hidden edges.
"It started when we heard Kolya was moving at one of the ports," Elizabeth says directly, aiming for as neutral a tone as she can. "We needed allies."
"So you went to Radim."
"He was an accidental and very convenient one."
John swallows and Elizabeth can see a fist form by his side. "And just how convenient, Elizabeth?" It's a hiss and almost a snarl; she can't work with that, she thinks, but then stops the panic because she's angry.
"Are you asking, John, how many times I fucked him?" Elizabeth tilts her head, astonished at how even her voice sounds. "Because if you want to know, you can just ask."
John's fist curls tighter, knuckles white in the light. "And you won't answer until I do?"
"Don't hide behind more questions. Ask me or don't."
He turns, cutting a sharp line in the doorway against the brighter light from the kitchen. "How many times did you fuck him?"
He takes in a sharp breath and exhales it just as quickly. Elizabeth watches his curled fist land on the doorframe and forces herself to stand still and silent.
"But why does it matter?" John closes his eyes and leans his forehead on the doorframe, looking up with dark eyes. "I'm not yours. It'd just be convenient if you didn't die." He looks towards the kitchen as she stands, still frozen, still silent, and smarts at the venom in the soft comment and tries to work out if she imagined his voice cracking, or whether she just hopes she did. "Was it useful, at least?"
"Yes," Elizabeth answers tightly, knowing that now she should leave. She should. She would leave and let out the harsh sobs racking her ribcage from the effort of keeping them back, and he would throw things. But they've never been graceful at leaving and it might break her to leave it exactly like this. They're near the heart of it, finally, fully, and all it took was breaking them. "Sora. I told Jack-"
"You lied to him?"
"I lied to everyone." It's not an apology, nor an admission, but a blunt state of fact. Elizabeth realises in the telling that getting out of this one might mean assassinating her character and John's and seeing the other side alone. "I didn't do this just so you would be spared the effort of disapproving. This is Atlantis."
John, she thinks, is stubborn enough to invoke selective deafness. At least where she's concerned. "What did you tell Jack, Elizabeth?"
"I told him- fuck, John, I told him nothing. I told him something small, because I knew I was giving him a scent. He followed it to Lavin-"
"-just like you meant him to."
"Exactly how I meant him to."
John's eyes are wide and he braces himself on the doorframe like elastic about to snap and spring. "You kill for the Genii now?"
"That was incidental, but you can't tell me you're not glad about it. If I hadn't shot Lucius you would have, and with less incentive than I did. I kill when it's one of them or one of us - the same as we've always done," Elizabeth can't help but snap back. "Did you see the gun point at me?" She raises an eyebrow and straightens, "Did you?"
He glares, but to his credit, he takes the time to remember. "It could have been either of us." He shakes his head. "What else?"
"What else do you need to know, John?" Elizabeth can't keep the anger from her voice this time. "What wine we drank? Restaurants? And how long - exactly - have you been following me?"
John glances at the clock and back, voice sharp, "Seven hours. Not even, because I saw everything I needed to see in the first two."
"Sora Tyrusen," Elizabeth says weakly, voice quiet.
"No," John shoots back. "You, Elizabeth. You got sloppy."
"Because I thought I'd been played!"
That stops him. "I'd say that's pretty obvious by now-"
"Well, John, it's not," Elizabeth interrupts. "I went out to the slums to drag information out of Landon. Specifically, whether those were his goons at Lavin's, and how he knew about Tyrusen."
"Yeah, and tea and biscuits, that's a new type of torture, I'm sure," John bites back.
"What is your problem, John?" Elizabeth comes the closest to shouting she's come in the whole mess, "And just fucking well say it."
"You lied," John shouts back, finally losing it, peeling away from the door frame and moving into the middle of the room. "You went into that entire fucking mess, you didn't think I'd worry, and you lied to me every single day with a fucking smile and you just didn't fucking think."
She raises her chin in the intervening foot of space between their eyes, locked like it'll be the death of them to back down this time, turning that stubbornness they're famed for against the other. This time, though, it's John who surrenders, shaking his head and looking away in a way that makes Elizabeth want to bend in two over a new wound.
"You know what, Elizabeth?"
She clutches her other hand behind her back.
"I get the need to get answers. What I'm trying hard to wrap my head around is why you didn't trust me."
"Fifteen years," Elizabeth says after a hesitation. Looking at him, she feels how the waves of anger and tension roll off his body in dark waves.
"Fuck that. You still treated me like a dog you had to muzzle." There's no self-pity or anger in it; just pain, and just that's enough. She'd thought he wouldn't see the thought in her head, but that's a flaw in her logic. He's had seven hours to bounce those thoughts around, use that overly-strategic mind and follow all the reasons she would lie - of course he'd come to the part where she didn't want him killing a potential ally. Suddenly she wishes he'd seen the thought in her head, the other one, the one that still thinks she has to look after him because it's now she realises he does that for her unflinchingly, faithfully, and not because he thinks she needs it. She winces, can't think of 'loyalty' because the way he's said she treats him like he needs a leash cuts to the quick.
"Fifteen years," Elizabeth repeats, voice thin and quiet even in her own years, "and nothing much is different, it seems."
They hear the words they've glossed over and joked about and thrown around like a game all over again; the reason they aren't cops anymore, and the secret, guilt-ridden and dark reason Elizabeth walked out not long after he did. It wasn't the whole reason, but it had enough of a presence in her mind and gut to be part of it. Too much of a part for her to make peace with it in fifteen years.
He'd made a mistake and it was a bad one. Every cop makes them, but her mistake was tearing him to shreds for it. She'd gone to bat for him against the higher ups, against Jack and ultimately stepped away when he did, but it couldn't take back what she said to him once upon a bloody sidewalk.
"You're still trying to control everything." And she knows he's remembering her pushing him against the rain-slicked wall of the building telling him - no, it had been shouting - to get a grip and fucking focus.
"Fuck, John, that's not fair. It wasn't - it isn't like that."
"Isn't it? We've been dancing around this for more than a damn decade and now that we're finally acknowledging it you want to just dismiss it?" He's stopped pacing, resting his hands over the back of the couch and his fingers are still curled white over the edge.
"No, but that has nothing to do with what happened today, John. Fifteen years ago was fifteen years ago and we both made our choices. Today, these last few weeks - they have nothing to do with that." She moves farther from him, going to the side of the room, because she can't be too close to him right now. It isn't that she's scared of him. She doesn't think she ever really could be, but she can't deal with all this right now.
The faith she and John have in one another is as natural as breathing, and she used to think the trust was too. But right now they're choking on it and she's starting to think it's all her fault.
"Of course it does, Elizabeth. Because whether you admit it or not the reason you came with me then and the reason you didn't tell me about Radim now is the same."
"Oh," Elizabeth bites out, because, really, how fucking dare he, "and what is that?"
"You're afraid if you're not around to reel me in I'll fly off the handle and get people killed again." He's standing ramrod straight and his eyes are flashing a molten hazel, but she can see it, lurking in the corners of his posture and shadow. The shame he still carries.
"God, John, you couldn't be more wrong about that if you tried." She breathes, but the tightness between her shoulder blades grows heavier. "That wasn't why I left when you did."
"Not all of it," John amends for her, voice absent-minded but eyes snapping to hers. Elizabeth freezes, thinking of Evan Lorne carefully processing what he'd seen of Kate, knowing John has the same ability and swallowing at the thought of him bearing the same internal depository of Things About Elizabeth to call on at will. It's the attention, the careful, quiet attention to detail, and being the object of a look like that. "Isn't that how you deal with it?"
She can't answer that, and she can't hold his eyes.
Not for a minute.
"You don't know how I deal with it."
And there it is. John doesn't know - not really. She knows how he deals with it, the aftermath of that night. It includes a beer, the roof, and burying himself in a case. But he's never seen how she deals with it, and she's never let him, because he doesn't need her guilt on top of his. It's why she lives downstairs.
"You never let me know." He shoots back, irritated. "Fuck, Elizabeth, some days I don't think we ever left that sidewalk. We're still here in separate apartments, living one life, and fuck! Why couldn't you just trust me with this!"
"Because John," Elizabeth says. Despite the history, despite the revelations they already knew, she can't hold it back, "You would have shot him!" Lifting her hands, she clutches at her shoulders for fear of throwing a pillow at John and his stubbornness and she's not five anymore.
"You lied because you wanted to protect fucking Landon Radim? He's Genii, Elizabeth, the worst syndicated crime movement since those fucking snakes and you wanted to protect him?" He shouts back, stepping closer to her and defiantly she meets his step. It's the world's least mature reaction- a mix of chicken and poker. You bluff, I raise and here we stand, still on square one.
"NO! I wanted to get Kolya!" They haven't shouted like this in ages and Elizabeth can already feel the headache she's going to have in the morning. "You can't deny it, John. But if I hadn't been getting information from Landon we wouldn't be this close to finally catching that bastard. Like you wouldn't have done anything to finally put him behind bars after all this time."
"We would have found another way. And one that didn't involving you risking your life!" He's standing in front of her, vibrating with anger and the air around them is charged.
"That could have taken months, John, years - years more than it already has. I found us a quick solution."
"One that had you whore yourself out for it."
Then they freeze, their bodies stopping movement as if someone has hit the pause button for the evening. They're at the point of 'whore' and 'fuck you', Elizabeth thinks in a disconnected way that denies her hands are shaking and they won't stop. Not only is this unprecedented, a new low, but she's driven them into this alley and there's no way back. Then the stray thought curls in her mind that if she didn't love him so much, she'd hate him right now and she freezes all over again.
John speaks, quietly, the moment too fragile. "Elizabeth, one of us needs to leave the apartment right now or we're both going to do or say something we'll regret."
She blinks and focuses on his eyes, still burning and angry, feeling her chest constrict painfully. She can't say anything, all her words too dangerous, but she manages to nod and swallow. She starts towards the door, thinking that for once she'd rather be in her own apartment far away from all of this when John brushes past her and grabs his coat.
"What are you doing?" She hears her voice, but it all sounds detached.
John shrugs the coat on, the lapels sticking up hideously - something she normally fixes - and moves towards the door. "I can't be here right now, Elizabeth. I can't..." he trails off, turning his head, and for a millisecond their eyes clash. The stare is weighty and she feels it in her bones, and hears the words he can't say.
I can't be around you right now.
Not just her, but anything reminding him of her, including one half of their shared apartments. The distinction, despite being marked by floors and stares and the lift, is artificial. The distinction between their lives and what they are, she thinks, is artificial. The nod she gives is stiff and automatic and John is out of the door before she even finishes it.
She considers following. She doesn't, but thinking of the how and the why and the what keeps her safely where she is. What keeps her there is that last attempt at preservation - they've slammed together, grazed and cut, gotten burnt by the friction and now they'll collapse in separate heaps. The way they've reached critical mass and decided not to destruct is what keeps her collected, neatly under her own skin.
He'll be hard pushed to find somewhere in the city where he can outrun her, Elizabeth thinks clinically, standing in the dark apartment because he turned off the light on the way out. She knows because she knows it would take an hour's drive and the blank flats of the desert before she could get beyond him. She has few memories - and they're hazy, back when her hair was longer and Jack's was brown - of the city that don't include or reference John. It would be an understatement from anyone else, but the truth is that they don't know how to live in Atlantis without the other.
She doesn't, can't, move for a full five minutes, waiting until she can hear one of their cars speed away. She rushes down to her apartment, slamming the door behind her and within minutes, the world is a blur made by her tears.
He's already on his second beer when he feels the hand clasp around his shoulder. It comes a second before the, "Hey, Sheppard," reaches his ears in Mitchell's friendly voice.
"Mitchell." He acknowledges, turning with a nod.
It takes two seconds for his friend to take in his face, and lets out a low whistle. "Shit, Sheppard, you look like you were hung out to dry in the middle of a summer storm."
John snorts, still amused by Mitchell's random comparisons but he can't crack the smile that is expected. There's a pressure in chest and it's pulling him two ways. Down towards the stool he's sitting on and out towards their building. John can handle his alcohol just fine, but with every beer he just wants to head home again and face Elizabeth. The irony is that when he looks into her eyes, all he can see is a betrayal he hates that he can understand.
"So what brings you here tonight, Mitchell?" John turns fully in his stool as Cam leans over the bar, three fingers up, signaling to Chuck.
He jerks his finger over his shoulder, towards one of the far tables, and John follows the motion. At the end point of the invisible line Mitchell pointed out is Lorne, sitting in the corner, his face still housing the pale parlour that he's had the last two days. Right now, John doesn't think they look too dissimilar if Mitchell's reaction to him was anything to go by.
"He hasn't been sleeping, the only way to get him to get some rest is-"
"By plying him with beers." John interrupts, smirking at Mitchell's shrug.
"If I remember, you're the one that taught me the method."
"Emergencies only." John takes another glance at Lorne and remembers the shit that's come up in the last few days, dropping his head and downing his beer, "Maybe this week counts."
Mitchell nods, dropping a twenty as Chuck sets three glasses down in front of him. "Yeah, I think so." Cam nods, brightening briefly as he turns to Chuck, "Chuck, my man, put the drinks here on Shep's tab for the night. And send a pitcher over to the table."
John's blinks at Cam, bemused, "What?" Mitchell is up to something, John can practically feel it and, God, right now he needs the distraction so much he doesn't even care.
"You're joining and paying. I've been picking up the tab for two nights, you get this one. You look like you need the pitcher more than you think." He hands John one of the three beers and John gets just how long Cam's had this in his head. "Plus, you can afford it. Come on." Mitchell starts walking back and John stands, giving Chuck a nod to tell him it's okay to put the drinks on his tab before he follows.
John wakes up feeling like a Mack truck had run over his head and then reversed and done it again. As he blinks awake he has the thought that he has to be dreaming, or at least be in some sort of nightmare, because there was Cameron Mitchell, jogging along on his home treadmill and whistling. Fucking hell, it has to be a nightmare or he's time-traveled back to sixteen years ago. Groaning, he rolls over and buries his face into the couch cushions, the stray thought that Mitchell finally upgraded from that brown monstrosity hurting his head like he was trying to sit through one of Elizabeth's German films.
"You up there, Shep?" Mitchell's voice is twice as loud as normal, his accent sounding thicker to John's ears and worst of all: cheerful. Mitchell, John thinks, is graced by God because despite being a lightweight for the hard stuff the man has not met a hangover in his life. John kinda hates him a little right now, burying his head deeper into the cushions and moving an arm to present Mitchell with a one finger 'good morning' wave.
He can hear Mitchell chuckling and the treadmill slowing down, his voice wrapping around the last lyrics of 'Walking on Sunshine' and John starts reaching for his gun. He turns, squinting, his finger brushing across the edge of the wooden table when he hears:
"Don't, Sheppard - with his luck, the bullet will just bounce off of that fucking machine and hit one of us."
Sitting slightly up, leaning against the couch arm, John stares at a half-awake Lorne, who looks like he fell asleep on Mitchell's armchair. "Lorne?"
"Morning," he mumbles, sliding down under the blanket Mitchell must have draped on him, eyes closing again.
"Morning," John moans out, arm over his head. He stays there for the next few minutes, trying to filter all the too loud noises and static in his brain, half listening as Mitchell finishes his morning jog and starts moving around the apartment. He can handle it until the radio comes on: it's in the kitchen, John can tell from the distance the sound is travelling to reach him, and it still sounds too fucking loud.
"God damnit, Mitchell, what the hell are you doing?" He grits out, while Lorne just seems to groan.
"Making you two grouches breakfast." Mitchell shuffles back to the living room, tapping John's arms - a signal to lower them.
John does, glaring for all his worth. "What?"
"Here," Mitchell hand over a cup that looks, well, like something John never wants to identify, mostly because it looks green.
"What the hell is that?" John chokes a little.
Mitchell, the bastard, just grins, "Come on Sheppard, you remember. It's the Never Fails Mitchell's Clan Hangover Cure. Finish this and trust me, you'll feel a million times better." He literally then puts the drink in John's hand with an order to finish it before heading over to Lorne to the same. John eyes the drink, remembering the only other time he's had to drink this concoction and sends up a prayer. This is going to be disgusting. With a breath he tries to down the vile mix, grimacing as the thick shake-like drink slides down his throat. Across the room he can hear Lorne choke down the drink, gag and then there he goes, heading to Mitchell's bathroom.
Lifting himself from the couch, he follows Mitchell to the kitchen, "Sometimes you're a real bastard, Mitchell."
"Come on," Cam pushes John forward, rolling his eyes. "Let's get some fat and grease into you, soak up all that alcohol."
All of sudden John finds it hard to swallow for a second, but then he smells the eggs, bacon, and toast that is buttered to hell, and his mouth waters.
"Smells good," he mutters as he drops into one of the chairs and takes the orange juice Mitchell sets down.
"You're welcome, now eat."
Just as he's shoveling a forkful of eggs in his mouth, Lorne emerges, looking more awake, but greener than when he woke up. He sets the now empty cup of Cam's hangover cure on the counter, taking a chair across from John.
"Jesus, what is that shit?" Lorne drops his head into a cradle he makes with his arms, waving a thanks when Cam places a coffee mug in front of him.
John eyes the coffee, reaching over and stealing it while Mitchell's turned around facing the stove, "Don't ask, you'll just throw up again."
Lorne groans and Mitchell comes back to the table with two more plates in hand. "Here you are, partner. I guarantee you'll feel better after you've had some of this." Lorne lift his eyes in disbelief at Mitchell and drops his head back down to his arms, muttering some choice words that make John almost snort out the pilfered coffee.
"Evan, that's just mean," Mitchell laughs, non-plussed.
"Deal with it," comes from the arms.
"Man and you thought I was a pain in the ass, Mitchell," John chuckles and then realises that's still a bad idea. "Speaking of, got any aspirin?" He asks.
Cam nods and stand going to the same cabinet he still keeps the First Aid kit in with all the medicine, home remedies and doctor's prescriptions, grabbing a beautiful and big bottle of aspirin. He takes out six, three each for John and Lorne, and drops them on their out stretched hands - John finds it amusing how Lorne never lift his head through the whole ordeal - and the water glasses follow them, but John's dry swallow gains a look.
"So," Mitchell stretches out in his chair, shirt lifting a bit as he absentmindedly scratches, "are you going to phone Elizabeth and let her know you're alive? She's five on the speed dial."
John doesn't understand why but he suddenly wants to throw his bacon at Mitchell. "Don't," he warns.
Cam shrugs, leaning back and drinking from his '#1 Uncle' coffee mug, "I'm just saying from what you said last night, yeah, she kinda fucked up, but it's Elizabeth and really, how long can you two live without each other? A day? Two?"
"Seriously, Mitchell, not now." John looks up from his plate, meeting Mitchell's cool blue eyes.
Shaking his head, the other man leans forward, "Look, John, can I just give a teeny piece of advice here?"
John tenses, because no, Mitchell, you can't. "Sure, but I can tell you right now where you can stick your advice—"
"God, please, no," comes from where Lorne lifts his head and stares at them. "Please, I don't need imagery," he says before he promptly drops his head again.
Both John and Cam stare at the third man for a beat before turning back to each other. Mitchell raises an eyebrow, the one John can compare to Elizabeth's 'listen, and don't mock Rodney', which means Mitchell wants to help. John sighs.
"I didn't know breakfast came with clichés, Cameron." They're both using full names, letting each other know they mean what they're saying behind the banter and hangovers.
"Well they do, so suck it up." Mitchell drops his utensil and exhales, "Look, you two, are bound to fuck up sometimes. This time it was just Lizzie's turn and she did it well." Cameron then pauses and smiles, "After all, why do you think you've manage to stick together for so long? 'Cuz it's not because you're an easy man to live with, John. But she's the first person you're thinking of, and that means something. Make the call already." He then reaches over and pats John's shoulder, smiling. "Also, don't wallow all day. It's un-manly and just sad, man."
John nods and snorts, "This coming from the man who tucked me and his partner in and made us breakfast."
Mitchell scoffs, "Shut it, Sheppard, you know you miss Casa de Mitchell."
John smirks, finishing his food. He really doesn't actually miss it; what he's missing right now is breakfast at Elizabeth's. Quiet and just the two of them, but maybe now, he thinks Casa de Mitchell might be what he needs.
The double doors make a satisfyingly syncopated series of thuds on the uneven precinct floor as Elizabeth walks into the long corridor. At the end of it sits Midway in its uninspiring entirety, but she's not here for carefully cataloged evidence.
The engineer sits up sharply among a whole table of piled up bits, pieces and shards of technology that Elizabeth assumes will one day either be an invention of a truly revolutionary scale or will be completely useless and amusing only to one John Sheppard.
She leans on the door frame and raises an eyebrow. "We're going for a drive."
Rodney swallows and runs a hand through unkempt hair. "It's eight in the morning, Elizabeth."
"Eight-thirty," she says slowly, with a lazy smile. "That makes it better. I'm quite surprised to find you here at all."
"Jack made me. We've been neglecting our filing duties for 'playtime' and 'tinkering', and unfiled evidence has been breeding like little rabbits in the back." Rodney snaps, "Were you planning on sitting in between the hard drives, waiting to pounce?"
"Something like that," Elizabeth nods innocently, thinking it's possibly time to change tack. She has to get Rodney out of there and soon, because damned if she's trying to chase down these leads in a team of one, with no back up (Rodney would whine, but he'd shoot and use that long-held and often forgotten badge if it really came to it), and what scant chemical knowledge she has. Sitting on the desk carefully, she smiles somewhat consolingly. "I'll let your unnecessarily aggressive reaction go if you let me buy you a coffee."
Rodney squints. "Oh, no. Not a chance."
"What?" Elizabeth asks, as innocuously as she can. "Rodney, there's no downside."
"Exactly," he points and grins, "which means you want me to do something and it's eight AM and I've already been subjected to hard work so I don't think-"
He stops, looking at the jacket unceremoniously dumped in his lap and the door swinging in her wake.
"Oh, fuck," Rodney mutters, diving gracelessly from behind the desk to catch up.
Rolling up the window and taking the coffees given by the young assistant at Vala's, Rodney groans. Vala doesn't have a drive-thru window. That, she'd said imperiously, was why the city had sidewalks and one front door was quite enough.
"The door isn't locked," Elizabeth keeps her eyes on the road as she says it, but her mouth twitches at the corners. Truth be told, she's relieved, but as stubborn as it makes her, she'll take that to the grave.
"Oh yes it is," Rodney rolls his eyes and puts her coffee in the worn little cup holder between the seats. "It's locked sure as if you'd chained it. What on Earth and how far beyond it do you think I'd have to run if Sheppard found out I'd let you go a-galivanting after Kolya on your own? When you sort out whatever angst-ridden, flicky-haired shit you've thrown at each other, anyway."
Elizabeth carefully keeps her expression neutral, surprised again and not unpleasantly by the men in her life. She keeps plausible deniability by conspicuously not answering.
"So where we going, and should I call Sam to ask her to take the afternoon shift?" Rodney asks, surprisingly cheerful about the whole thing. That double shot of espresso given by Vala while he waited on the coffees, the dregs of the latest container, must be kicking in, Elizabeth thinks.
"Might be an idea," she answers with a warm smile.
He nods, sighing and getting out his phone. "Remind me half-way through that I'm doing this for Kolya. Kol-ya." He frowns, "Well, not for Kolya. Nevermind."
Elizabeth bites back a grin. "How do you know she'll be awake?"
He raises an eyebrow, putting the phone to his ear after hitting four on his speed-dial. "She's been up, ran more miles than I walk in a week, eaten -" he screws his nose up, "-something that looks like it was served up by Kavanagh the day after I beat him in a college assignment by three points and checked livejournal by now, trust me."
"Hello, Rodney," comes the crisp, polite and shockingly cheery voice on the line, just within Elizabeth's hearing. "How can I improve your life just by being in it today?"
Rodney rolls his eyes.
"Kol-ya," Elizabeth says slowly, quietly and with a wide grin as Sam quizzes him relentlessly on why he can't take the afternoon shift, and is he going to get shot at, before switching in the same breath to and what do you think about this-
This is Elizabeth's cue to switch off, hearing the bite go mostly out of Rodney's voice as they start talking electronics- specifically the ones in Sam's morning seminar, which it seems she's walking to as they talk.
As he hangs up, Rodney opens his mouth but stops and glares towards Elizabeth's phone, which chooses that moment to interrupt him.
"Sheppard?" He asks, sounding only somewhat hopeful.
Elizabeth shoots him a glare - not up for discussion, not at any point - and shakes her head. "Carson."
"Well, that can't be good," Rodney frowns and Elizabeth nods as she picks it up.
A five minute phone call later, in which Elizabeth knows she gains less wrinkle free years, as deep as her frown is by the end of it, and they're speeding.
"This isn't the direction of the hospital, Elizabeth," Rodney puts in a few moments after the cell is snapped shut and tossed onto the dashboard.
"We'll get to that," Elizabeth replies, shooting him a grim smile. "Just a few errands to run first." She purses her lips and looks ahead, "Did you bring your standard issue? If you haven't, I've a spare in the back."
Rodney groans and puts his head on the dashboard.
Elizabeth looks at Rodney sidelong, reading the thoughts flashing through his mind. She thinks they might fall into two categories; fear and regret. Fear of Elizabeth behind a wheel and regret for the entire endeavour, seeing how far they've gone in the forty minutes since they left the front of Vala's, and the obviously shady character of the run down area she's driven them to.
"Where are we?" Rodney hisses, ducking and seeming more off-balance than he should thanks to the gun at his hip.
"Rodney," Elizabeth explains patiently, eyes on the small door almost hidden in the shadow of the warehouse, "you don't need to whisper until we leave the car."
"Oh." Rodney sits up. "I knew that."
Elizabeth can't help shooting him a grin. "We're at one of Kolya's new storage facilities. He's rented the back two rooms from a perfectly respectable company." She grins again and Rodney sends her a look.
"What does this perfectly respectable company make, Elizabeth?"
"You'll love this." She tosses him a small container and all whispering is forgotten when he laughs.
"I'm so mocking Sheppard for the next century," he grins a little dreamily, "Kolya picked the worst place to hide from you, John Sheppard - amongst the hair gel." Rodney's eyes snap to hers. "How do you know about this?"
Elizabeth snorts in a somewhat unladylike manner that Cadman would be proud of and then shakes off the beat where she remembers why it's Rodney in the passenger seat. "Contacts," she answers with a crooked smile.
Rodney lets it drop, fiddling with the gun he's not used to wearing.
"Here," Elizabeth hands him a zipped black bag about the size of a camera case.
The engineer frowns in her direction. "What's the Younger Model Kit got to do with this one?"
"It's the tag and track system Sam ordered in and customised for us - new in the last fortnight, haven't had a chance to use it," Elizabeth explains.
"Replace the one you used on the Project Acturus case?" Rodney looks up, unzipping the bag and mouth opening into a small 'o' as he lifts the equipment. "You and John are so not getting the discount anymore, not if you can afford toys like this."
"Do I need to mention why we needed to replace it?" Elizabeth raises an eyebrow. "Again?"
"Nope," Rodney shakes his head and answers cheerfully, "If you do, though, get the fraction right."
"Go on," Elizabeth remarks after a beat of silence, noting the slightly torn look on Rodney's face.
"She did a good job," Rodney mutters, rolling his eyes.
Elizabeth lifts the binoculars to watch as a Genii guard nods to another, swapping places at the door. "Can you use it? I need to track a crate, about the size of a small suitcase. Think my kind of packing, not John's."
Rodney tilts his head, lifting this little dial and that little box with an antenna. "I can use it."
"Good," Elizabeth nods with a tight smile, "Let's get to the part where we whisper, then."
Rodney nods and follows her from the car ten strides and says lightly, "Should we really be walking quite so jauntily across a big, empty space?"
"Faster," Elizabeth replies in a perfectly normal tone, "And if we don't look worthy of suspicion, their eyes just slide over us."
Rodney nods. "It's not that I wasn't taught this stuff, you know."
"I know," Elizabeth smiles, "and I do appreciate it, Rodney." The smile fades as they get close to the wall.
"You're just saying that because we're about to get to the bit where I'm likely to get shot," Rodney hisses, pressing his back to the wall next to her.
"Yes," Elizabeth replies, looking from side to side and past the guard who failed to notice them as anything to be worried about. "We go in through the hair gel stock. We come back out that way. We tag the crate and go; Kolya can't even know someone's been in there."
With a quick, comprehensive look to their blind side, Rodney nods and follows Elizabeth into the warehouse.
It's against the grain and Elizabeth knows it took her time measured in cases to get used to it, but the best way to be inconspicuous is to be shameless. She walks through the doorway and strides through the reception area- it's a massive, anonymous warehouse facility. She could be, and to them is, a representative of any one of twenty companies and organisations holding stock there. So long as she has her key, they don't care. Rodney follows as they walk between the rows of stock in the main area, the things in transit between the locked rooms and the waiting trucks at the main door.
The rooms Kolya is subletting from the hair products company are towards the back of the complex and Elizabeth nods to Rodney, nearing the smaller, more secure door.
"I'm always the look-out," he grumbles softly, taking a position two feet from the corner and catching Elizabeth's neat little silver compact anyway.
"You don't know how to pick locks," Elizabeth quietly replies with a smile, eyes on the ceiling while she feels for the tumblers with the thin strips of metal.
"I do know how to hack the code, though," Rodney answers with a slight frown. "You didn't mention the door had a code lock."
"Because-" Elizabeth pauses, pursing her lips as the tumblers fall into place, "I already have the code, and happen to know the office is empty for the next two hours."
As she keys it in, she feels Rodney's eyes on her for a beat too long.
"Come on," she hisses, nodding her head towards the door she's holding an inch open. Rodney snaps the compact shut and hands it to her as he passes her, opening the door all the way.
"Must be a good contact," Rodney's eyes stare into hers, but then he's walked on in. Elizabeth takes a breath and follows.
The moment's passed because Rodney's turned business, walking calmly into the office at the back, just off of the room with brightly coloured boxes, when Elizabeth nods.
Elizabeth slips into the empty chair at the desk, shuffling papers on the desk before sitting them down exactly where they'd been.
"Elizabeth," Rodney appears at the door, eyes wide, "we're good to go, but which one do I tag?"
Which one? Elizabeth thinks, perplexed by the plural. Landon hadn't mentioned a plural. One case, one shipment.
Landon, Elizabeth thinks, staring at the rows of neat black cases along the walls of the medium sized room, clearly doesn't know as much as he thinks he does.
The point is proved when they freeze, hearing the sound of a door close in the outer room of the rented unit.
"Thought it was empty," Rodney hisses, letting Elizabeth's momentum and hand on his arm carry them into positions by the door to the office.
"Yes," Elizabeth replies in the same tone, "so did I."
There's a cheerful whistling and they hear through the crack in the door as the phone rings in the small office.
"Good afternoon, Garnet's Barnet, how can I help you?"
Elizabeth and Rodney, crouched below the window, look at each other and away again. Elizabeth feels the shaking in Rodney's shoulders.
"Yes, well, I actually only came in to pick up some time sheets-" There's a pause. "But of course I can take your order now, ma'am."
Ten minutes later, and a hair salon with postcode M6H-491 has placed an order for twelve crates of super-sleek straightening serum, five crates of special colour-preserving shampoo and some blond lightning spray and apparently, they aren't too polite about it.
"Imperious bitch," the man in the next room mutters after thudding down the phone.
They hear a shuffling of papers and the sound of the door closing again.
Rodney lets out a long breath and takes the offered hand. Pulling him to his feet with a wince for her own knees, Elizabeth turns back to the rows of cases.
"They must be shipping more than one crate," she looks at Rodney.
"Are they locked?" Rodney asks, curious and pulling down a case.
"Why?" Elizabeth asks, checking, and sitting her case on the large flat table in the centre of the room.
"Be nice to finally see this stuff," Rodney shrugs, squinting at the lock on the case he's taken down. "Damn. I could hotwire the electronic lock, but there's no way they won't know about it."
"We can't steal a sample," Elizabeth intones flatly.
"But it'd be so useful-"
"We tag four cases," Elizabeth breaks in, "One on each wall and one on that smaller rack by the door. It's the best we can do." She purses her lips, "And if you can find any loose samples-"
Rodney grins and sets about tapping the desk for hollow compartments.
Stepping out of Mitchell's apartment building, John slips his sunglasses on and curses at the rare March sun that's gleaming over the city. He can hear Lorne and Mitchell coming up behind him and turns, running a hand through the wet spikes of his unruly hair.
"How did we get here last night anyway?" He asks, taking the thermos Lorne extends, swallowing a mouthful of coffee.
"I drove us." Cam motions to the Mustang, going to open the door. "And let me tell you, I almost decided to bring that hunk of junk you call a car, Sheppard. Thankfully you can stomach your booze."
John rolls his eyes, "Don't call Elizabeth's car a hunk of junk." As soon as the words are out he grimaces at the knowing looks that both men throw him and clears his throat, "So I take it the car is still at Chuck's."
Mitchell grins, but lets the tease drop, "Probably. Come on - we'll stop by the station for some of Zelenka's brew and I'll take you to pick it up."
"Sounds like a plan." John starts heading for the passenger seat, because unlike Elizabeth's car he doesn't have priority here, but then blinks when he sees that Lorne's taking the passenger side. Wrinkling his mouth he's poised to argue the seating arrangements, but then realises he really can't be bothered and crawls into the back seat, deciding it's not so bad when he stretches out.
"Hey, Mitchell?" John leans against the seat, "Do you think Rodney's in today? I need him to find something for me."
Mitchell lifts his sunglasses and meets John's eyes in the rear view mirror, "Probably, I think the Captain has him doing some ridiculous amount of evidence cataloguing that's been piling up."
"Oh, he must be loving that," John snorts.
In front of him, Lorne leans back and groans, turning to Mitchell, "Fuck, Mitchell. We have a debrief with the Captain, don't we?"
"Anything interesting?" John asks, passing the thermos back to the front, curious.
Lorne nods, "We're discussing about seeing if we can get a fix on one of Kolya's warehouses. The Captain says that someone on Vice might have a lead, we're going to see about checking that out."
John hmmms, filing the information for later use and to see if anyone on Vice owes him a favour.
When they pull up to the station, John fixes his glasses as the glint of the precinct's sign reflects the sun, threatening to burn his retinas. Heading up the steps, they pass by Cadman, Stackhouse and some other uniforms; the former giving all three of them a wide grin, the latter of the group eyeing them. It's odd, John thinks, how in some moments he feels like he never left and then there are others when it's all too obvious the badge he holds is not for the ACPD. John waves to Cadman and continues up the stairs and inside. At the elevators up he breaks off from Lorne and Mitchell, moving towards the Evidence Lock Up and Forensics, otherwise known as Midway, while the other two continue up to the second floor where Jack's office resides.
The double doors swing open as John pushes them and he stretches his neck calling out, "McKay! Get out from under your microscope, I need to talk to you."
It's not McKay who answers. "I'm sorry, Sheppard, but Rodney is not here at the moment," Zelenka says, standing up from behind his corner tablet that is overrun with files and evidence bags.
Frowning, John greets the shorter man, "Hey Radek, Rodney isn't around?"
"I'm afraid not. Miss Weir came by earlier, requiring his help. Were you not aware?" Radek looks confused and it frustrates John; does everybody think he and Elizabeth are attached at the hip and constantly checking in with other? A small voice in his head lets him know it was probably best not to go down that road and starts listening to what Radek is saying.
"Uh, no, me and Elizabeth haven't talked yet." John fiddles with his jacket's cuffs, "Do you know when they're coming back?"
Radek only shook his head, "You're welcome to wait here, of course, until they do."
John almost says no, but then thinks it's just as well. Except for the fact that he now knows where Elizabeth's been getting her information, he really doesn't have any new leads on the case at the moment, and he's not sure that if he tracks down Radim he'll refrain from shooting him - which, his rational side reminds him, would be a bad thing. For the case, at any rate. Plus, his head is killing him and Zelenka's not quite coffee, not quite jet fuel is in the room with him, and just maybe Jack will let him have a talk with their only other suspect in custody - Sora. With those thoughts running in his head, John sighs, "Yeah, thanks Radek. You don't think I can steal some coffee from you while I wait?" John lifts his glasses, giving a friendly smile.
Radek is no idiot and sees right through him, but only grins enigmatically. "Of course, Sheppard, help yourself."
"Thanks," John nods, heading over and pouring himself a glass. On his way he nods 'good morning' to the other two forensic scientists that the precinct has, Lee and Kavanagh. He only gets a smile back from Lee. Kavanagh must still be mad about the super-glue on the keyboards.
"Morning, Detective Sheppard," Lee greets offering a box of Krispy Kremes to John, "some breakfast?"
John suddenly has a massive love for Bill Lee. "Sure," he says and grabs one of the glazed treats and settles at Rodney's desk. "So gang, anything interesting you've got for me on the Lavin case?" At once Zelenka and Lee start rattling off information about drugs, chemical compositions, ballistics and John sits back letting it all filter in his brain, waiting for Elizabeth and Rodney.
Zelenka and Lee are in the middle of discussing the best way to find out the trajectory of a bullet, when the doors open again. John straightens, checking his reflection in Rodney's computer screen when he notices it's not Elizabeth and Rodney, but Teyla and Ford. Dropping his shoulders, he lifts his hand in a wave, "Ford, Teyla."
"Sheppard," Ford makes his way over to John, a wide smile stretching as he approaches "I hope you're still not mad about the whole arrest thing." He pulls out of the many stools that litter Midway and joins John.
Teyla strides over at a more leisurely pace, an enigmatic curl of her lips gracing her face as she nods hello. "John, it is nice to you; especially when you are not responsible adding new bullet holes to one of my crime scenes."
John smiles, shaking a finger at Teyla's smirk, "Hey, not all those bullet holes were my fault."
Teyla takes a seat in a chair that Lee offers her. "That is true, John. And where is Elizabeth?"
John takes a breath, because this is Teyla and she's Elizabeth's friend, his too, and okay, maybe he can admit that they're usually one or two phone calls away. That and the fact that nobody but Mitchell and Lorne knows they had a fight, is why John doesn't glare at the questions.
"She stole Rodney for something. I'm waiting," he replies, happy that Teyla doesn't question why he's not with them. Teyla always knows more than she lets on and she's already probably figured something is up.
She nods, crossing her legs. "Hmm, I see. By the way, John, I'd like to say that I have forgiven you for the pharmacy the other day. Despite yours and Elizabeth's methods being less than conventional, you did push the investigation forward. The Tyrusen arrest also helped."
John ducks his head, mostly to hide his smile and shrugs, "Well, you know how me and Elizabeth hate being on your bad side. It's almost worse than being on Vala's."
"Almost?" One brown eyebrow is raised, amused.
"Well, she feeds us."
Teyla chuckles, "That she does." John watches as she leans back, her eyes roaming the room, seeing how Ford is deep in discussion with Zelenka before settling back on him, her voice lowered. "I am sure whatever is occurring with Elizabeth can be resolved as soon as you speak with each other."
John swallows thickly, but he has to ask. "Have you spoken with her today?"
Teyla shakes her head. "I have not, but I know your face when you two fight, as rare as it is."
Here John has to roll his eyes. "It's not that rare, Teyla. We fight all the time."
"There is a difference between a minor argument and a true fight, John." Smiling like she knows something he doesn't, Teyla pats his hand, "Next time you talk try and listen to each other."
"Sounds like a plan," he sighs and can't help wonder when that will be. He looks at his watch and wonders where the hell Elizabeth and Rodney are.
The whole operation, including the much more perilous business of getting out of the building unsuspected, takes twenty minutes. Rodney, still unhappy because the Genii aren't clichéd or inefficient enough to leave little bags of their top secret new drug lying around or in hidden compartments of an old desk, slumps in the passenger seat all through the drive to the hospital. Either he's sulking, Elizabeth thinks, or he's decided to blank out the way she drives. With Rodney, there's a good chance it's both.
She pulls into the hospital parking lot, taking the same space as the day before. The receptionist is the same as the one the day before, blankly glancing at them before buzzing up to Carson's office. "Doctor Beckett, Detectives Weir and Sheppard are back."
Elizabeth takes a long blink and suppresses the urge to sigh. Rodney leans over and taps in front of the phone. "Actually, it's McKay. And it's doctor. It'd be doctor twice, because of the two degrees, but who'd really say 'doctor doctor'-"
As the receptionist looks at Rodney expressionless, mouth slightly open, Elizabeth can't blame her. She grabs Rodney's elbow and shares a slightly rueful look with the receptionist, clearly not on Coffee Number Right just yet. "Come on, Doctor Doctor McKay- work to get on with."
They knock and the Scottish doctor tells them to come on in, it should be open.
"So, Elizabeth," Carson looks up with an eyebrow raised, "I hear you're keeping questionable company."
Elizabeth feels her eyebrows click together and she freezes on the spot. She would never have figured Carson to drag her across coals and nor, she thinks coldly, is it any of his business to do so.
"I really hope you don't mean me, Carson," Rodney says from his position hovering by the doorway.
"Of course I do, Rodney," comes the answer as the doctor stands and goes to the kettle in the corner. Carson grins over his shoulder, "No electrical burns today? Laura not blown anything up near your tail bone of late?"
Elizabeth lets out a breath and takes the tea. Carson throws her a momentary glance and Elizabeth knows he's picked up on her being tenser than she should be. Still, she didn't come for a heart-to-heart on the mess that is her and John's relationship at the moment, and she certainly doesn't need it from Rodney and Carson.
"Not recently," Rodney replies sourly, taking his coffee and Elizabeth sees a sly smile form behind the cup. "She's been too busy using her special powers for the entertainment of young children. Ones related to you."
There's a glare and Elizabeth is both thankful to Rodney - again - and amused that it's at this exact juncture Carson decides to get to business.
He looks up from the file he's opened. "Where's John? This isn't such a pretty story I want to tell it twice."
"Indisposed," Elizabeth answers with a slightly forced edge of a smile.
"Ah," Carson says, turning back to the file. If he wants to assume John's doing unspeakable things to do with the case, Elizabeth thinks, she'll happily let him.
As Rodney shifts in the seat next to her, Elizabeth fixes him with a precise glare. It says, you will play along, or you will never taste lasagna again.
"Here it is," Carson breaks the silence and Rodney's eyes snap back to the file on the desk. "I don't really need the file to tell you, but I just thought himself -" Carson nods to Rodney, "-might like the numbers."
Rodney glares, but it doesn't stop him peering at the file.
"I had a patient-" Carson sighs and Elizabeth looks up. The usually bubbly doctor suddenly looks older, somehow. "It was a favour, Elizabeth. I left that kind of treatment behind a long time ago. It's been floating around my head since Kate, but I only put the pieces together this morning." He looks her in the eye apologetically, "It might be nothing and I hope to God I'm wrong as wrong can be, but -"
Elizabeth sits forward and nods. "We'll take whatever you can give us, Carson, and be grateful for it."
"Kate wasn't the first patient of mine to think that just managing the symptoms of early onset Parkinson's wasn't enough," Carson states bluntly, "But she was a damn sight more graceful about it." Looking away, he sighs. "She was saved- as far as she was - by not being a doctor. This patient- that patient -" Carson nods to the file, "he was every bit as stubborn and nothing like as good as Kate. He also knew his way around a lab."
Rodney, leafing through the thick file, looks up. "Looks like he swallowed one, never mind knew his way around it."
"And in a way, I don't blame him for it," Carson admits with a hint of a smile that quickly vanishes. "We tried levodopa in conjunction with all the drugs it could be put with - the most common way of managing Parkinson's. We tried the stronger COMTs - another family of drug - the more recently approved and expensive ones, everything we could, even surgery no other doctor would have signed off on."
"Sounds like you got pretty involved in the case," Elizabeth frowns slightly as Carson nods.
"I did," the doctor nods, "to the extent that I performed one of the only cerebral transplantation procedures attempted in the continental United States." Looking at her blank expression, Carson purses his lips and explains, "It's highly experimental. This hospital - like many others - won't even offer it. Dopamine-producing cells-" Carson looks to check they're still with him before continuing, "are injected directly into the brain. It's a complex and delicate operation."
Rodney frowns. "That's not why the hospital won't do it routinely, and you know it."
Carson smiles tightly, "Aye, I do at that." He looks to Elizabeth, "It's stem-cell and embryo research, lass. Beyond the sheer expense, it's such a political, religious and ethical minefield that I can't blame the administrator for steering clear."
"Did it work?" Elizabeth asks somewhat gracelessly, and catches Carson's wry smile, the one that says he's diagnosing too much time with John as responsible.
"The cells didn't take- died off like the others native to the brain," he answers. "With more research and refinement- but that's not what you're here to hear."
"So, this patient," Elizabeth sits up and crosses one ankle over the other.
"Hated to see a brain like that go to waste. God, what a mind," the doctor replies, smiling sadly. "Most Parkinson's sufferers don't feel it too badly for a long time. There's no cure, but it's ... It can be dealt with. It can be dealt with in so very many ways, but Michael Kenmore had the unfortunate combination of a particularly aggressive, early case of the disease, an obstinate will and a brilliant mind."
"How does this connect to Kate?" Rodney asks with none of his usual humour and Elizabeth looks between the two men, both of whom knew the dead woman better than she did.
"He took risks and gambled his remaining health for some unrealistic-" Carson cuts off, his voice growing strained and tense. He takes a breath before continuing. "I'm sorry. It's hard to be objective," He looks at Elizabeth, who nods encouragingly. "I diagnosed Michael, you see. And he was always more than a patient- he was another doctor, another scientist, and there were times it felt like his disease was another project." His expression clouds over and he takes the file from Rodney and gives it to Elizabeth. "I'm scared that's exactly what's it's become. I remember when we worked on his pallidotomy-"
Rodney glances at an equally unfamilliar Elizabeth. "You aren't saying he operated on himself, are you, Carson?"
"In a way, I am," the doctor shifts in his seat. "The patient is awake during surgery, and guides the surgeon to the area through responses to small pulses of electricity. Results tend to be near-instant."
"That's just freaky," Rodney's eyes are wide, and Elizabeth has to agree with the sentiment. It's one thing to be awake - and kept that way, slaps and all - when you've been shot or fallen back onto broken glass or any of the other, more serious, injuries in her and John's time. It's entirely another to be awake, calm and considered in an operating theatre, telling the surgeon to prod left or right like it's a massage.
"And Kenmore was typically this involved in his treatment?" Elizabeth asks, tilting her head.
"He was a doctor himself, and a chemical specialist," Carson shrugs, the movement tired and slow like he hasn't had a decent night's sleep since the events in question and Elizabeth can empathise more than she'd like. "It was a damn sight easier to keep him informed and involved than to keep him out and treat him like an idiot. That was when he was stable."
Elizabeth takes a sharp breath. "In what way did he become unstable?"
"Mood, largely," Carson replies, fingering the cup of tea long gone cold. "He was mucking around with his dopamine and serotonin levels so much- and I suspect now, more than I prescribed and more than he told me - that he couldn't not change his emotional responses. It was about then I started ... well, it was a mistake, but one I couldn't help making, Elizabeth. I started involving him less in his treatment, because his judgment - not his mind, and that's important - was impaired. In the end, he rejected all official treatment. I'm worried that as little regard as he had for his own safety-"
"He's got that for others now," Elizabeth nods. "And Kolya's got a filthy habit of preying on the desperate and the dying."
"And of making people desperate and dying," Rodney adds in and Elizabeth has to tilt her head in agreement. The combination of Kolya and the man Carson's just sketched for them chills her to the bone and she suddenly wants to be driving, looking, running or just doing something to bring it to an end and now. This, she thinks with a sour irony, must be how it feels to work by John's methods. But thoughts of John send her back to something, anything else.
"Kenmore," Elizabeth nods grimly to Carson. "How do we find him?"
It's just striking eleven, or so the bells of one of the few churches in Atlantis tell them, almost drowned out by the car radio and the eleven o'clock news, when they reach the address Carson had given them. It'd come laden with more of the same warnings- it was a last known work address, but Elizabeth had decided to proceed with lowered expectations anyway. If nothing else, this they did on their own- independent of Landon and independent of the precinct. Well, except Rodney. But that barely counted, considering he split his time between the precinct and freelancing anyway.
The alley is red brick on both sides, the building square like it'd been built in the old industrial days, before the city planners had remembered that Atlantis preferred to soar and went back to building thin spires with impressive iron work.
They look at each other and Elizabeth raises an eyebrow.
"I was look out last time," Rodney protests in a hiss, looking at the corrugated steel door.
"Yes," Elizabeth answers, "And it's that or point your gun."
Rodney decides manual labour is the less evil of the two variants on hard work, pushing the door open from the left with a very quiet and muttered 'Kol-ya' as Elizabeth stands in the centre, gun pointed straight ahead. The way is clear and she nods.
They make their way into the building, walking slowly and carefully through the grey spaces between abandoned desks. For all she loves her independence, padding through the disused former factory, there's a hum in her veins that isn't quite right. This could be it; the end, the source, the reason they've been chasing. And it's no use, she tells herself firmly, to be thinking of it as less than that- and less than that because she's with Rodney, not John.
And more than the missing footsteps, felt, known and safely by her side at all other points, it's not over because unless the cosmos is really not on her side, they're just here for a scientist. And it's not over until it's Kolya.
Still, it's stupid to be walking into what could be a heavily fortified lab and they both know it. Elizabeth fingers the phone in her pocket- a quick phone call, or even a text message to let someone know where they are, what they're doing - but her thoughts stop at Beckett. Carson knows, and that means someone knows, and that means that if she and Rodney die or are taken right there, right then, someone knows where to start.
But they're approaching the light in the small room at the back and it's time she got her head in the game.
The figure at the desk is tall, bent across a desk too short and murmuring a near-silent monologue of words that Elizabeth doesn't need to hear clearly to know she doesn't understand it.
"Stand up - slowly."
Her voice is calm, with a tension running through and under it that makes Rodney swallow, his own gun trained slightly uncertainly on the figure at the desk.
"Is there a gun trained at my back?"
The man doesn't move, hand steadily hovering between a calculator and a pencil pot.
"Two," Rodney puts in, voice hiccuping on the rise at the end.
"Then I should stand."
The figure straightens slowly and the only thing Elizabeth can think that he reminds her of is a carving made of stone, uncurling from a larger rock. She gets the impression from the way he moves that he isn't just complying with her order, that he moves with such slow deliberation as a matter of course, and speaks with the sound of two rocks being grated against each other deep under the earth as a matter of habit.
"Michael Kenmore?" Elizabeth raises her chin.
In the harsh light of the small, window-less room, she can see that the man is mid-fifties with long, straggly hair gone grey. His face is wrinkled and pale, eyes wide and red from - she thinks - too many years staring at screens and papers.
Rodney shoots Elizabeth a look.
He raises an eyebrow. "Do you expect me to admit to being who you ask when you ask waving a gun?"
"Two," Rodney puts in, sounding mildly insulted, "and this one's pointing." To illustrate, he jabs it a little in the man's direction, an act which looks to Elizabeth suspiciously like waving.
"You appear less than stationary, nervous little man."
Elizabeth, amused in spite of herself, keeps her gun steady. "What can we call you?"
He looks at her, inclining his head towards the darkened, unused building. "Not Kenmore. I am possessed of more courtesy towards my minions."
Rodney scoffs, still aiming his gun, "Ha! I don't see any minions, and you definitely don't have a cleaner for that dust-bunny factory out there."
The man's eyes switch to Elizabeth with a significant, weighted look that perfectly matches his tone. "Exactly."
It's not that he's being obvious, but the pieces fall into place for Elizabeth and she nods. She doesn't lower her gun. If the building and the accent are anything to go by, the man is still Wraith and that's still a reason to be wary. She is, however, certain that he isn't Kenmore. This is an arena beyond her usual logic, working on and risking it all on a gut instinct she can't quantify.
"When was he last here?"
"Before my tenancy."
"I think," Rodney's voice interjects contemplatively, "I'll call you 'Todd.'"
There's no answer but a raised eyebrow in his direction.
"What did he do here?" Elizabeth asks, back to the subject at hand.
'Todd' looks her up and down. "You obviously cannot understand the research we do here."
"Oh, using chemical-based research to reverse imbalances in brain chemistry with an eye to integrating gene therapy," Rodney purses his lips and scoffs the insult off. "Maybe even using stem cell research as a platform."
The Wraith scientist blinks very slowly. "I am somewhat less ambitious."
"Realistic, you mean," Rodney grins. "I mean, come on. All he's made is a really bad version of Tylenol with added dopamine alterations."
"I am sorry you think you're right," Todd throws a glance in Rodney's direction before looking back to Elizabeth. "Kenmore was a genius. Demented, but a genius nonetheless. You are right to be apprehensive."
"What do you do here?" Elizabeth asks, inclining her head towards the papers strewn across the desk.
He doesn't answer.
"What's wrong?" Rodney puts in, "They got your name at the top? I'm telling you, I'll look anyway-"
Todd rolls his eyes. "I work in anti-depressives."
Both Elizabeth and Todd look at Rodney. "What? That was lying, right there. This guy makes the happy pills?"
"I make many things. And what I make does not appear to be your most pressing concern."
"Kenmore," Elizabeth says firmly, shooting Rodney a look. "What did he do?"
"What he does now, I expect."
"That is less than helpful," Rodney rolls his eyes and shakes his gun a little. "If I threaten to shoot you, will you be helpful?"
"No," Todd answers, "But I am inclined to speak to you in any case."
"Oh, and why is that?"
Todd's fists clench at his sides. "I'm not speaking to you out of duty. I'm speaking to you because I want you to leave me alone and let me get back to my work." There is a pause in which anyone less rigidly under their own control, Elizabeth thinks, would have sighed. "What matters is not what he does - I do not believe that changes, nor his aim. What matters is who deigns to call himself Michael Kenmore's master."
Rodney frowns and tilts his head. "So he worked for the Wraith?"
"Hence the Wraith building," Elizabeth nods, eyes flickering to Rodney and back to Todd.
"And now he doesn't," Rodney finishes. "Since when?"
"I have had the use of this building for many months," Todd replies blandly. "And I believe it to have been out of use for many years before that."
"Doesn't mean much, could've moved," Rodney says with a shrug.
Elizabeth narrows her eyes. "But why now?" She's not sure if she's asking the other men or herself. "And why at the same time?"
"We can match the dates later," Rodney nods, giving an unsubtle and significant look towards the disinterested man still standing in front of their guns.
"At-" Todd rolls his eyes when they both look to him and hesitates. "At the same time as what?"
Rodney sighs. "There's a new drug. We're on the case."
"How unexpected," Todd raises an eyebrow and says in a dead pan tone. "Who is funding Kenmore?"
A quick glance confirms that Rodney's thinking the same thing: maybe Kenmore's head was once in a more stable place to be running his own op, because from what Carson had said, he isn't capable now. Elizabeth looks back to Todd, shifting between her feet slightly. "We're trying to find that out."
There's an unconvinced 'hmmph.'
"Look for the young. Or those ambitious enough to forget to be wise," Todd answers, turning his back to them and sitting at his desk again. As he lifts the pencil he'd been reaching for as they came in, he finishes, "and do not underestimate the desperate."
Elizabeth, standing stock still, lowers her gun to her side but keeps it loosely in her hand. She can't trust this Wraith showing her his back farther than she can throw him (and he's taller than John), but she murmurs a quiet but firm 'thanks.'
Rodney backs out of the room wordlessly, stopping at the door with a sigh and a roll of his eyes, seemingly directed inwards. "You might-"
The hand writing on the paper at the table pauses.
"We think the money is filthy - Kolya's dirt in particular."
Elizabeth, raising an eyebrow at Rodney, turns back. "And the people who know that are dead or cops. You're not a cop."
"Close the door on the way out," comes the answer from the table and the pencil continues across the page.
"That was not a word and if it had been, I doubt it would have been polite."
John glares up at Teyla. "Working diligently, I presume?"
John glances at the screen and back up. Teyla raises an eyebrow and tilts the laptop screen back so that she can see it, albeit in an upside-down way. She purses her lips and seems to be holding back an amused smile.
"This, John Sheppard, is solitaire."
John drops a black jack onto a red queen and looks up again. "Yeah. And I'm really close to messing with McKay's high score."
Teyla sighs, rolls her eyes and tilts the screen back up before leaning a hand on the desk. "I assume you are purposefully ignoring or in fact wallowing in the irony of playing a game called 'solitaire' at this particular moment in time."
"Hey!" John retorts, insulted.
"I could be Dr. McKay," Teyla answers mildly, a veiled threat in her voice.
John narrows his eyes. "You could. It'd be weird, though. And McKay in your shirts is something no one needs to see." As Teyla's eyebrows click together, John holds up his hands. "What can I do? And will you make me move?"
"Please God," comes a soft voice from the corner.
John glares in Kavanagh's direction. "I'm not doing anything!"
"No," comes the answer from the man, who turns around in his seat awkwardly, "But you type like an elephant. On amphetamines. In tap shoes. And just so you know, you can use the mouse for solitaire instead of tapping ten times for each and every move."
"I knew that," John shoots back quickly. "And fine. I'll leave. Only because I'm hungry and you're annoying." He looks at Lee, "Not you. You gave me food and you're not annoying. You I like."
Lee grins and shoots a smug grin at Kavanagh, who rolls his eyes and turns back to his desk.
"John, you have not asked where we are going," Teyla reminds him, amused.
John makes flapping motions with his hands in the direction of the door. "Away. That's enough, apparently." He pauses at the door, looking between a quietly humming Zelenka listening to folk music through earphones and Teyla. "Will there be coffee? Tell me there'll be coffee."
"Yes, there will be coffee. And donuts," Teyla holds the door open and John wonders for the umpteenth time where she gets her patience from.
"Great," John replies with a grin, a wince and a hand to his still-throbbing head.
Ten minutes later, they're outside Vala's and Ford's pouting in the back but knows better than to say it. For one thing, John's a crucial few inches taller and so 'needs the extra leg room' of the front seat.
When it's suggested John grab the donuts, he looks at the sun beating on the concrete outside and hisses, throwing a ten to Ford and telling him to get the donuts. He adds another ten and adds coffees to the order, with an extra shot of expresso for him.
"Yeah, I know, could've added it to the tab," John nods, leaning his head back in the chair. "Didn't want to confuse Ford about whose to put it on."
"You did not want to explain the tab system, you mean," Teyla remarks, eyes on the distant junction.
"That too," John's mouth twitches in a quick grin. "So where are we going?"
"We have a lead on Kolya," Teyla tosses an open spiral bound notepad into his lap, an address written in her neat handwriting at the top of the page. "We thought a stakeout might be in order. He is rumored to be using it as a base."
John momentarily forgets about how hungover he is, how pissed he feels at Elizabeth - less and less, more and more pissy about it, more and more shit about it - and about the intervening years since last he saw the bastard.
"Wonder if he's losing his hair yet."
Teyla, watching him and his clenching fists carefully, sees through the joke and is about to say something no doubt insightful and wise when Ford cheerfully opens the door, overburdened with donuts and coffee.
Rodney is oddly quiet as they pull the larger door closed on the dark factory.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth asks, pausing by the car door.
He puts a hand on the top of the car and looks across at her. "Did you see what was on the desk, the papers?"
"Pharmaceutical licensing forms," Elizabeth nods. As Rodney nods back, they're both thinking about what the stacks of that specific paperwork meant: one of the half-decent ones, or the ones willing to make gestures towards playing by the rules. Rare in a city like theirs.
"I hope he leaves," Rodney says quietly, bending and tugging on the car door.
Elizabeth makes a noise of agreement and reaches for the handle on her side, instinct kicking in to make her throw herself three steps back - missing the bullet aimed at her side, seeing Rodney crouched behind a bin and fumbling for his gun. She can't blame him for dropping it when it's either yank his hand back in time or lose the wrist to a well-aimed shot. She puts one foot in front of the other in a very deliberate way, one that puts her an easy jump through the window of the car.
They've been fighting Rodney on getting new ones for years- specifically, fighting him on the notion of getting cars that are new. This, she thinks with rue, isn't an old car, despite over seventy thousand miles on the clock. They've had it for seven months. It's the eighth car to sacrifice itself for a case in fifteen years and the latest reason that they buy them in cheap.
That and the fact that they can drive anything.
Elizabeth decides it's time the Genii learned that - her mother always did want her to be teacher instead of a cop.
The engine crackles and hisses to life, she floors the accelerator and spins. When she's done the one-eighty, there's a shitload of smoke in the air from the tyres and the passenger door is next to the bin Rodney's been hiding behind.
He scrambles into it, calling her seven kinds of crazy at high volume and high pitch.
"Four different kinds of violations that I don't need to know about, not to mention we're in a pedestrian alley- and I was hoping to get through the day without getting shot at- and it's lunch again!"
Elizabeth briefly mourns the back tyres before doing another one-eighty in the narrow alley, one hand on the wheel and headlights shattering on the wall as she forces the last of the turn.
He throws himself forward, elbows on thighs and hands clasped at the back of his neck. Elizabeth lets her arm drop across his clasped hands and shoots out her own passenger window, then shoots where the bullets marked for them are coming from.
In the few seconds of silence that follow, she drives like John- pedal down, smash the objects in the way, and careening out onto the main road. Or that was the plan.
Rodney sits up in the silence and sees where she's aiming. "Elizabeth, that's a narrow exit-"
"You trust me to thread a needle for you," Elizabeth cuts in quickly, pulling slightly to the left to avoid sending a trash can into their side.
"Not the same-"
"You'd let me shoot an apple off of your head-"
Rodney shoots her a wide-eyed look and mumbles 'not exactly!' before throwing himself forward of his own free will.
Elizabeth puts the safety on the gun with her thumb and drops it into the glove compartment, slamming her now free palm onto the steering wheel. She doesn't bother to tell Rodney to hold on - he can't hold on any tighter than he is already. Ten metres from the exit she slows a little, aims a few degrees to the left, remembers that this is why they got cars with paintwork they actively hated and waits. Two metres and she slams her foot down heavily, the front left wheel hits the over-turned trash can and then runs along the wall. Rodney's shoulder slams hers, her head hits the other raw window frame and she sees stars- but more than that, she sees the wide, well lit avenue of the main street as the car thuds back onto level ground.
"You can look up," she says, amused and ignoring the looks passersby are giving the bullet-ridden, window-less beige car.
"I don't think you hit any of them back there," Rodney tilts his head. "I didn't hear screams of pain or anguish or ow, ow, my leg."
Elizabeth grins. "It doesn't matter- the point was to get out. I don't need more paperwork."
Rodney leans out of the window and then back in. "You got that anyway- hell is Sheppard helping with car insurance. You know he hates car shopping."
Frowning slightly, Elizabeth drives with one hand and turns on the radio with the other before smiling. "He won't mind- the radio still works."
"God knows how many bullets and scratches and you're worried about the radio?" Rodney's eyebrows vanish into his head as Elizabeth tunes the dial to the classical station she likes.
"Eight cars, two new sets of tyres on this one alone, windows replaced more times than I can count," Elizabeth ticks off, catching the smell of food on the breeze blowing in through the jagged, broken windows and realising she's hungry, "but that radio's never once needed replacing on his cars. He's taken to thinking it's lucky." She smiles softly, blowing away a strand of hair tugged loose in the fight and thrown across her face in the breeze.
Rodney narrows his eyes, looking at her and Elizabeth can practically hear the thought behind the smirk. For once, he doesn't say it. She might attribute it to having just saved his life, but it's more likely he wants to go to her apartment and be cooked for. To be fair, she thinks, he's a friend and does possess something like tact every now and again. And he's not the only one.
"I'm hungry," Rodney puts in after a hesitation and Elizabeth can't help but grin.
"I can cook."
There's a hesitation and she tilts her head.
"Watch the-" He stops as if realising that telling Elizabeth to watch the road isn't going to get him anywhere and runs his hand through his hair. "Elizabeth, we need to talk to Jack. Now. Not just for the obvious reasons. If you don't, and I'm a badge running about the city with a PI and he doesn't know-"
Elizabeth sighs and nods. She should have known - had known - it would come to this. Eventually. She'd gotten really good at not thinking about it, though. Three names sit on the list in her mind of People Not to Know About Landon: John. Jack. John again.
"I need to go by the office first-" She keeps going quickly, seeing Rodney about to protest. "I need the case files. Jack might even read these ones."
Half an hour later, an hour after Teyla convinced him to leave, they settle in opposite the address. They're in a shitty little car that John couldn't name if he tried but, as Teyla points out when he mentions the suspension sucking like a bad thing, it's so small it could likely be parked easily enough in a crowded bread bin.
It doesn't have air conditioning, though, and that swiftly becomes an issue when the sun's right overhead. And they can't even open the windows, because they can't turn off the portable police radio, and they can't risk a goon catching a stray line of precinct chatter.
Teyla tosses John a bottle of water from the glove compartment.
"Hey, this is cold," John says after taking a gulp and passing it back to Ford. "How'd you do that?"
"Frozen," Ford answers. "It melts through the day."
"Huh," John replies, taking another drink.
Teyla is looking at him, again amused, in a way that suggests he might be dodging the issue.
"So what did you and the wife argue about?" Ford puts in with the same good-natured cheer. "Anytime I've known a guy to sleep on a friend's couch drunk as a skunk, it's been the wife."
John shares a look with Teyla, who only smiles.
"Elizabeth's not my wife-"
"Live with her?"
"For all practical purposes."
John glares at Teyla this time, because that's a detail he would have chosen not to share.
"Fine, you don't want to talk about it," Ford says, shrugging and holding his hands up in the back. "Want a donut?"
"Yes, thank you," John answers after a moment of hesitation. "Got any chocolate? Sprinkles on top?"
Blowing out a breath, Elizabeth looks over at Rodney, who just gives her a stare as if to say not my mess anymore, I give up, and shakes his head before heading to the sanctuary Midway is. Elizabeth steels herself, fiddling with the leather strap of her bag, and makes her way up to Jack's office. As the elevator doors slide open and she steps out, she suddenly feels like she's walking down the same hall, except ten years ago and instead of going to tell Jack that she had been using the lesser of two evils as her source for all things Kolya, that she's heading to tell him that she's quitting and going with John. She can already imagine the look. It probably hasn't changed much.
Pausing by Peter's desk, she asks if Jack's available, taking a seat and waiting patiently until Peter tells her she can go in. Jack's just hanging up as he waves her to take a seat.
"Okay, that's good, Emmagan is already there… yeah, she's ready to move if anything happens. Well, as nice that is to hear, you can't handle everything yourself. Okay, sure - I expect a report later." He drops the phone and leans back in his chairs, "I take it you've got news for me." He sounds too smug and if she didn't know better she'd think he already knew about her involvement with Landon. Actually, it wouldn't surprise her if he knew, except she was careful about that bit.
"I've been meeting with Landon Radim." Elizabeth doesn't mean to blurt it out as fast as she does, but part of her still thinks of Jack as her captain, as her superior, and she feels a heat spread across the back of her neck.
It's the way Jack's eyes narrow that confirms to her he really hadn't known, "Damnit, Elizabeth." He stands, hands flat on his desk, brown eyes boring into her own green ones, "How long?"
Elizabeth rolls her shoulder back, prepared to defend herself, "A few weeks; not long after we started to suspect Kolya might be back in the city."
"And was Sheppard—" he breaks off, shifting his body, his hands moving to his waist. The way he looks at her tells her he's already answered his own questions and she can see his neck and shoulder tensing even more, "of course he didn't know. He wouldn't have been looking like a kicked puppy this morning in Midway if he had." He shakes his head and Elizabeth knows he's disappointed.
She can't help it, but her entire body stands to attention when she hears about John. "John was here today?" She asks, wondering just how long she missed him by. She's been looking at her phone at intervals ever since she woke up this morning feeling like ten tonnes of crap and puffy eyes.
Jack peers at her over his shoulder while lighting his cigarette, a knowing look covering the tanned lines of his face. "This morning; he dropped by to see McKay. He didn't know you'd already hijacked his geek. Spent almost the rest of the morning there with the Midway Boys; until Ford, Emmagan and even Mitchell dropped in to kick him into action. Whatever you fought about, which now I'm guessing was good ol' Radim, you depressed the shit out of him."
"Elizabeth," he sighs, walking and taking the seat next to her, "I don't like to get involved in the personal lives of my people all the much, and damn, you don't even work for me anymore, but you and Sheppard, well, there's a reason you don't work for me anymore, isn't there? You left with him when you didn't have to, Elizabeth. There was a reason for that."
Elizabeth crosses her arms, sighing, "Because what happened wasn't fair to him."
"And you didn't want to have another partner but him," Jack finishes, the words striking Elizabeth at her core and the truth behind them preventing her from arguing back.
"He's a good cop, Jack." She's aware she's using the present tense, because it's true, she and John might no longer hold the badge, but they're good cops. Always have been.
"That he is, and so are you. And you know I hate that I can't have you on my team anymore, but Elizabeth, now you two are a team. You share a life, and if you don't want to stop being what you are, you two are going to have to pop the fucking bubble you're living in. You can't keep trying to act like the partners you were back then because it's different." For a second, Elizabeth can see Jack drift away to all those years back, taking a sidelong glance to the few pictures on his desk, before turning back to her. "You're different. And the decisions can be different. Don't walk away, Elizabeth." Jack pats her shoulder, telling her he's done and moves behind the desk again, telling her it's back to business. Elizabeth takes a breath, processing Jack's words.
Don't walk away. Elizabeth inwardly shakes her head; Jack is wrong, because she'll never walk away from John. Not willingly, not ever.
"Now, you need to tell me what you learned from Radim." Jack sits back on his chair and turns to a new sheet on the yellow legal pad, pulling off the cap from the pen with his teeth. She nods and grabs the files from her bag, gently placing them on Jack's desk.
"Here's all the files we have on the case so far." Elizabeth waits for him to settle her and look at her, his brown eyes dark, and she speaks. "Including information I got from Landon."
Jack looks at the stack, "Okay, Elizabeth, now I need to know everything that's not in those files."
She stares at the stack, at all the information she and John have gathered and put neatly into folders to make it all fit. It's quite the size, now that it includes the files she's filled hurriedly, writing down the obviously significant, the details, the insignificant because she knows better than to disregard anything thanks to the man opposite, and all while meetings with Landon were fresh in her mind. She looks at Jack, "Okay." Because even then there's so much more than the nice printed sheets of papers and catalogued pictures that they can't file into neat folders and that's where the case really is.
He'd forgotten how good at being quiet Teyla, never normally a loud woman, could be. He's discovering how bad at it Ford can be, though, despite not striking him as the chatty type. John figures it's the sugar, the coffee or both.
"So, you know this is my first proper stakeout? Not in a patrol car, I mean? Not watching for speeding drivers, either," Ford leans forward and says to John.
"Yeah," John replies, looking at the box next to the junior and wanting to die - they've run out of donuts.
"Is it always, you know, this boring?"
He can't help grinning. "Yeah, kid, it pretty much is."
Ford sits back with a sigh.
Five minutes later, after an extended monologue by Ford on why the strawberry donuts are infinitely and generally superior to all other donuts - a mix of nerves and what's definitely a sugar-high - Teyla tosses a bottle of water to the younger officer and orders him to drink.
It takes twenty minutes of silence after that before John caves in.
"She was just- really, really stupid. Elizabeth doesn't do stupid."
Teyla, with the barest hint of a well-concealed smile, nods. "I assume this involved putting herself in undo danger? I know little else that would effect you in quite such a manner."
"She did," John replies sourly, "She really fucking did. And she lied about it. To me- lied."
"And you two-"
"Still not married," John grits out.
Ford sits back, nodding.
"Would you have reacted well, had she told you her plans first?" Teyla asks, still watching the building opposite and doing the job like they're supposed to.
"No," John retorts, "But I'd still have covered her if she'd been stubborn about it. She's my partner."
"Hmm," Teyla nods.
"What?" John asks suspiciously.
"John, you-" Teyla pauses, focusing on the distant entrance and motioning for him to pick up the binoculars. "Do you see the man walking into the building now, paused by the guard?"
"Tall guy, dreadlocks," John watches on the man in question, noting the gun holsters below his shoulders and the way the guard looked at his shoes.
"Yes," Teyla replies, and John passes the binoculars to an eagerly leaning forward Ford. "Kolya's bodyguard," she explains. "If Dex is here, Kolya certainly is."
"Unless Kolya's using him as a runner again- heard he does that, sends him ahead to check the place out," Ford puts in.
Teyla inclines his head and John wants to say that he can read a file, too. But it's petty and his headache talking, so he doesn't. Time passes in odd amounts- one man's walk from car to the door can take an age, but half-hours slip by in small talk he doesn't take in. He checks his phone more often than he ought, but he can't seem to help it, even though every call but one will only bring bad news.
He tells himself stubbornly that that one call he's thinking about is 'oh, Sheppard, let me tell you about Kolya's recent and gruesome death.'
He had told it to Ford, but forgotten it in his bones. Stakeouts, generally and objectively speaking, suck. He'd forgotten it mainly because, as he thinks over the years and the days and the lunches taken in the front seat of a car, the seat decided by the coin toss- because the last time he'd suffered a boring as hell stakeout, it'd been without Elizabeth. Not always riveting, not always full of laughing his head off, just never dull.
That, he admits with painful honesty, letting the thoughts form into solid, actual words for the first time and leaning his head forward on the dashboard under the new weight of them, is because time spent with Elizabeth never is dull. Not even when it should be, by all the rules. There's another rule that he realises he's been breaking for a while, realises it then because it falls into his awareness the same way as the last clue in a case always does: he went and fell in love with her, maybe ten years or days ago, but it happened. It should, he thinks, be accompanied by fireworks, seventy-six trombones and a small parade, but now that it's right there and in front of him, something born of them both because if she hadn't stayed with him he wouldn't have had the chance to trip over his mind and do something like develop feelings for his partner, it feels less like a revelation and more like finally letting out a long-held breath. And, he thinks ruefully, something born of them both means it's as stubborn as a rotten-tempered limpet.
Teyla, he notes, snapping out of whatever he's fallen into, is looking at him oddly.
He feels his mouth quirk at one side, almost against his will, almost out of the ridiculous feeling that bubbles up under his still-painful throat, and looks at Teyla. "Yeah, I get it."
"It is hardly new, John," she answers, raising an eyebrow, looking to the back in the mirror and seeing what he sees- Ford asleep in the corner.
He rolls his eyes, but he's grinning. "Not a word to Rodney. You hear me, Teyla? Not a goddamned word. He's been waiting a decade to say 'I told you so.'"
"If you pick up your phone," Teyla's eyes acquire a bit more steel than usual, "I will leave mine where it is."
He reaches into the glove compartment and picks it up when a knock on the window causes Teyla and John to snap their heads to the left. Rolling down the window - electric windows in a precinct car? As if - he squints.
Carson raises both eyebrows and nods significantly at the square foot next to him.
John opens the door and slips from the car to the doctor. "What're you doing over here, doc?" He freezes in place, fingering the phone in his pocket. "Elizabeth-"
"-is alive and well as far as I know, but you, my boy, wouldn't be for much longer if it weren't for an oath of mine," Beckett jabs a finger into his upper arm. "That phone of yours, do you need Rodney to show you the 'on' switch? I've been trying to reach you for hours!"
"But-" John frowns and flips open the phone, before his mouth forms a small 'o'. "This alley-"
"No signal?" Beckett waves it off, with only a mild look of contempt in his direction. "Say goodbye to your friends, John. There's things you need to hear, and since I haven't heard back from Elizabeth, I think you might need to hear them in a hurry."
John glares, "I have a headache, not a regression to childhood."
"Aye, and I know a headache caught at Chuck's with the aid of a few pints when I see it," comes the answer with a barely suppressed smile. "Get a move on."
John pulls up to the square building, taking in the surrounding area with careful eyes. Turning the car off, he checks his gun, sliding out and slipping his sunglasses off. He makes his way out and across the street to the building. Gun out, he double checks the street before going to push the steel door open with a small grunt. Inside he sees the empty grey walls and rows of desks, and no Rodney and Elizabeth. With a sigh, he's about to head out when he hears a door slamming at the back and tightens his grip on the Glock, moving towards the sound. He sticks close to the wall, gun at his side, when he reaches the corner. He can hear the footstep get closer and mentally counts the seconds until the other person is at the corner and John turns to face them, gun up.
The man he has at gun pointed at is tall, with a wrinkled face and long hair hanging limply by his shoulders, but what intrigues John is that the man is not shocked at all. He's looking at John with disinterested disdain, eyeing him and giving an exasperated sigh, shifting the box in his arms.
"If you don't mind, I'd prefer if you lowered your weapon. I am tired of having them pointed at me, especially if you're not even going to follow through."
John blinks, but doesn't lower his gun. "Trust me, give me reason, and I'll follow through."
The man looks at him, and John swears his lips twitch in an almost smile, "Yes, something tells me you would. Your friends didn't seem the type."
"My friends?" An eyebrow goes up and John follows the man's movement as he tries to side step him, "Just who else has been here today?"
The Wraith looks bored and rolls his eyes, "The annoying man and the less annoying woman. They came here pointing their guns, asking, frankly, tedious questions."
John bites back the smirk growing on his lips at the description of Rodney and Elizabeth, because Rodney's is almost perfect. "And what did you tell them?"
"They called me Todd, an interesting choice." The man takes a breath, as if this whole moment is taking a toll on his soul, "Then I answered their questions, of course; I wanted them out of my office. And now, thanks to them, I have to move premises." With an annoyed grunt he moves past John and John shadows his movement with his gun. "Who are you?"
"I'd like to know your answers," John says, falling into step with the Wraith's movement.
"I never would have guessed," 'Todd' smirks. "Name?"
"Sheppard. I'd like those answers now." John moves in front, holding the gun to the man's head.
Todd rolls his eyes, moving the box in this arms, "They asked if I was Kenmore. I told them I wasn't—" he then cuts off John's question, "And I'm not, I have no reason to lie about my identity."
"Was that everything they asked?" John questions and resists the urge to shoot the man - Todd - when he rolls his eyes again.
"If they only asked one question, they're not very good detectives. Though, I'm still not positive the man was," he scoffs, making John wonder what Rodney did or said, before putting his focus back on what Todd is saying, "They asked how long it had been since Kenmore worked here; I told them. They asked what I did here; they guess semi-accurately. Then they asked what Kenmore had done, and I answered that too. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to move my supplies; your friends, besides asking many questions, also managed to shoot up my alley, severely damaging the inconspicuous environment I prefer for my work."
"I'm sure," John scoffs, when he processes 'Todd' words, "There was a shooting?"
The tall man shrugs, "I heard guns and gunfire. I'm fairly sure that yes, there was a shooting."
"And why are you so calm there, Todd?" John can hear the sarcasm in his voice, his voice growing dark at the edges; he's never been a fan of Elizabeth in a shoot out alone. Yes, he acknowledges, she was with Rodney, who despite many personality issues can handle a weapon when needed, but she was still without him and that's what he doesn't like.
"They weren't going after me, Sheppard." Todd moves towards the door, stopping short as John gets in way. "I answered your questions; the alley is accessible by that door," he points, motioning back to the entrance, "I'm leaving."
John tries to think of a reason to stop the man, any reason at all, but there's not - at least not today - so he waves his hand, eyes hard, "You can leave."
As 'Todd' moves out, he stops the slice of space John left open in door, a wrinkled, scarred face, shadowed in half light and smirks, "I wouldn't worry about your friends, Sheppard, the cars left pretty quickly after the shots." He steps out of the factory, and John is frozen on his spot for a full minute.
Cars. Todd said cars. And he knows that Elizabeth is using his, and Rodney's is in the ACPD's parking lot, which means only one thing. Whoever was shooting at Rodney and Elizabeth had been following them. Fuck.
John rushes out, heading straight for Elizabeth's car, flipping his cell phone open and punching speed dial one, pressing the phone to his ear. When the line is picked up on the second ring and he hears Elizabeth's careful 'John?', he literally sags against the open's driver's door and drops his head.
"John, is everything okay?" Her voice sounds nervous, happy, and worried - he knows the feeling. "John?"
"I'm at the Wraith building," he breathes out, relief coating his voice.
"What are you doing there?"
"Carson came and found me during my stakeout with Teyla and filled me in on what he had told you and Rodney. He told me about Kenmore and gave me the address, I headed over as soon as I could. Your friend Todd here filled me in on the rest, including about what sounded like a shoot out." John explains, opening the door and settling in the driver's seat, dropping his head back on the headrest.
"We're fine, the car's a little worse of the wear, but nothing out of the usual." She pauses, and John can imagine her licking her lips, thinking. "Teyla let you in on her stakeout?" he can hear Elizabeth's smile over the phone line, "did you have fun?"
John chuckles, running a hand over his face, "I'm not that bad; I'm better than Ford at any rate. The kid can't sit still."
"He'll learn, John," her voice soft; he can imagine her leaning forward on her desk, her fist curled under her chin. It's a nice image to carry around, he thinks.
"He will," he acknowledges and they stay on the phone for the few seconds not talking, just there, listening.
They start at the same time and laugh at the same time until John tells Elizabeth to go first.
"John, we need to talk. Really talk, and hopefully not yell this time," she extends, careful and sure.
He nods, understanding how much they really need to now. It's the first time they've spoken all day and he's realising how that pressure he's had in chest all day is dissipating each minute they're longer on the phone. Then realising she can't see him nod he says, "Yeah, sounds like a good idea. And Elizabeth?"
"About last night and what I said—what I called you, I'm sorry. You know I don't think that." The words are harder to say than he expected, crawling out of his throat unsure and unused.
"I know, I'm sorry about some of the things we said last night, too." She sounds as nervous as he does, though he can't understand why. "Look, I'm at my apartment right now, I'm going to get started on dinner and hopefully we won't throw dishes when we talk tonight." She jokes, making John's lips twist because the joke is horrible and she must be nervous - her jokes are usually better.
"You know for some people that's a form of foreplay," he says and then chokes a little, closing his eyes seeing how his words could be interpreted, "Not that I… that we'll… Um, that's not how I meant it."
She laughs and his shoulders release the tension he's been holding, "I know what you meant, John. So, pasta good? I'm feeling lazy tonight."
"Pasta sounds good," he smiles and puts the key in the ignition. "I'll be there soon."
"I'll see you for dinner then," he hears her say right before they hang up and John starts the car. The radio turns on automatically-- it's one of Elizabeth's stations. For once he doesn't change the station and pulls out, heading home.
"I'll see you for dinner then," Elizabeth says and hangs up, leaving her with a small and nervous smile on her face. Nervous. She doesn't understand why she's nervous, it's not like she and John haven't had dinner together before; hell, she thinks, they even have a tentative schedule about who cooks when and what their best dishes are, but for some reason she feels nervous today. It doesn't feel like one of their normal dinners where they argue about how long the pot needs to simmer or how rare they want their meat; it feels decidedly more complicated than that and she's only making penne. Shaking herself out of her thoughts, Elizabeth reaches of the white wine that goes into the sauce, pausing as her fingers curl around the neck of the bottle - it feels like a date. The thought literally make her stumble into the counter, hip hitting the wood hard, and she has to set the wine down.
Elizabeth swallows. It's not like she hasn't entertained the thought of dating John before. In the early days, back when they were so green they'd laugh at themselves now, and then random moments throughout the years after subsequent break ups when she would curl up on his couch and eat pizza as he planned to maim whoever the jerk was then. Though after Simon she hadn't thought about it if she's honest. She did have to stop him from going over and trying to kick Simon's ass, but she never entertained the thought of dating John. Now, with the perspective of the years, it probably had to do with the fact that Nancy had been right there next to her as she convinced John not to bother to make Simon cry and that more chocolate and more wine from the kitchen would be a better use of energy.
But there's no Simon anymore, and no Nancy; there's not even any random possibilities of a "someone", it's only she and John, and it's been like that for a while. Her smile grows without her prompting it.
With a decisive nod, she leaves the wine where it is and opens another cupboard. Her hand hovers over the candles and she smirks, might as well do it big. John's going to laugh, she realises, probably mentioning something about how she didn't have to do all that for him - he goes for the joke, always. It's going to shock the hell out of him when she's serious, not taking the bait. A small side of her is looking forward to that, too. The way his eyes will probably go wide, the hazel growing bright and then darker, when he gets that yes, they're not stopping in the easy spots anymore.
She's grinning at the thought when she hears the glass shatter.
Immediately Elizabeth turns away from the sound, dropping to the floor, because she hears the buzz of the bullet flying past her before it hits the cupboard, the impact splintering the wood. She looks up, eyes darting back and forth, seeing the hole in the window and the cupboard and realises the trajectory might have killed her had she not moved fast enough. The next second she crawls on floor, reaching for the gun John makes her keep in the emergency drawer, and as her fingers curl around the butt of the gun, she can hear her door being broken down and the sounds of at least two men rushing in.
Scrambling to get up and head towards the back of the apartment, towards her bedroom, Elizabeth holds out her gun and peeks out of the kitchen door when she hears guns firing again. She flattens herself against the small area of wall behind the refrigerator door, swinging it open, and watches as it is riddled with bullet hole as it swings on its hinges. They have semi automatics, damnit. She takes a breath, thinking about how many shots she has in her gun, and moves.
She knows she can't rely on John for back up, and she pushes the thought away, pressing her shoulder to the wall, eyes on the kitchen door before rushing out. When she had glanced before she had seen two men, near the couch and she's sure there's a third - sniper - outside. She can't think about the coming bullets, only the ones she is firing from her gun. Her body is moving, her brain taking in the scene, and she can see as the men spilt from their stances trying to avoid her bullets' paths. And right now, honestly, Elizabeth doesn't care if they do, she just needs to get the fuck out. Not for the first time she's glad that her apartment is on the ground floor, as it's less of a drop out of her bedroom window to the ground and to her car. She needs to get there first.
Crouching behind her the leather chair her mother bought for her, Elizabeth winces as the candle sticks on the small cabinet in front of her get shot. Part of the chair is ripped apart and Elizabeth can hear them reloading as she moves forward, ripping the cabinets open, her hand blindly looking for the extra clips she keeps there. The glass bowl she got for Christmas last year shatters over her head and she cringes as a small rain of shards falls on her. She barely feels them as they nick her, too busy stuffing the clips into her pockets. She can hear the men move forward and does the first thing that comes to her mind: she tips the chair over when she hears them close enough, standing at the same time.
As the first man - Genii, she recognises him - stumbles into the chair, she fires a round into him, watching as the bullets hit his chest and shoulder, sending him falling into the other man. Elizabeth can't care as she makes a run for her room.
The third man comes out of nowhere - which, later she'll realise, is a lie and he came from her sliding glass door that leads to the small garden she has - and body slams her into the wall. Elizabeth grunts as her shoulder blade hits the wall and then brings her knee up and connects with enough of the man's groin that he staggers back.
Her fist, curled around her gun, then makes contact with the man's face and she pushes him back. He slams against the opposite wall and Elizabeth starts moving again, feeling her body hit her floor two feet into her run. She can feel the hand gripping her ankle and she twists her body, gun pointing straight into the man's face.
"I'd let go, now." She grits out, her entire body still feeling the shock of hitting the ground so fast. He man smirks, dragging her forward and Elizabeth slams her other foot into the side of his face. "I said, let go." Her finger pulls her hammer back, eyes green steel.
He laughs and she slams her foot against his head, harder. She has a kill shot, a perfect one, and fuck, she curses at herself, she should take it, but she can't make herself and when the hand around her ankle tightens, pulling her, she fires. And misses the perfect spot between the eyes. She can hear the man yelling in pain as the bullet rips through his neck and shoulder and her ankle is free.
She's shuffling backwards, her gun hand still up, looking for enough distance to get up and run again. Her room is less than ten feet away and she knows she can make it. Shifting to her knees, she's almost in a runner's stance, her shoulder hurting like hell, when fire rips through her leg and she stumbles forward, falling to the floor again. Elizabeth knows what a bullet wound feels like, she's had one before, and, fuck, it still hurts like hell. Still trying to make it up and towards the door down the hall, she doesn't because of the arms pushing her legs down and crawling up her body. She's turns to see the same Genii, blood blanketing the left side of his neck and running down his arm, trying to hold her down. Groaning, she pushes up and away when she see the other Genii coming up behind him. He's point his gun straight to her head.
"I wouldn't move, Detective Weir." He grunts out, and kicks his partner out of his way. The man rolls away and leans against her wall.
She doesn't move, because she's not an idiot and meets the man's eyes. He wants to kill her, but he won't. She doesn't understand why and moans out in pain when he steps on her wound. He bends down and grins viciously at her, "You're very lucky we were not ordered to kill you." He says before his gun connects with her face and everything goes black.
John wouldn't bother, normally, but he does this time. The building is silent and he can't help but be grateful- no one's around to see him slump against the side of the elevator, catching his breath.
Leaving his apartment door swinging open a foot, he goes straight into his bedroom - sparse with blank walls but for a Johnny Cash poster - and quickly strips off the shirt he's in, and that he's been in all day. A quick wash later and he's shrugging on a black sleeveless tshirt, opening the closet doors and staring between two shirts that are the first he lifts and the ones he's actually looking for. One's black with thin stripes, the other black. He looks back at the bed, where the discarded shirt lies and contrasts against the clean, pale linen - being black.
He grunts a swear word and promises himself he'll buy colours if dates with Elizabeth are going to be a habit. He narrows his eyes and frowns in the direction of his reflection, then looks at the dusty products on the dresser.
He's been in the building ten minutes and not seen Elizabeth and that's long enough- John leaves, drawing the line at cologne and (more) hair wax.
The elevator, he decides, is not fast enough.
It rattles and shudders, shaking slightly from side to side as it descends through the middle of the building.
They've only been apart twenty hours, maybe less, but John's pretty sure that if the silence and warmth between them when she opens the door isn't too fragile, he'll be content to grab her on sight out of sheer relief.
The elevator takes forever and a day to settle, eventually stopping after overshooting the floor by a foot and grinding back up into place.
John's hands freeze at his sides as the door slides open, interlocking, thin strips of metal coming apart with a creak that cuts through the silence of the hall. He stills, slipping from the elevator and frowning, pushing his back against the corner two doors from Elizabeth's door without a second thought.
If he's wrong, it means three things; his gut's lost its spider-sense, he can no longer identify burning furniture and no one saw him dodging non-existent enemies. Thanking his lucky stars he always carries a gun (there's no telling how quickly they might be called away), he takes it out and approaches slowly on silent steps.
In the hallway outside the door, in the shirt that's her favourite and not his, he turns cold.
Kicking open the door and calling out so she won't shoot him if she's there, he takes an instant scan of the room, sees no bad guys and drops behind the nearest cover- an upturned chair he recognises. When the upholstery isn't shredded by bullets aimed at him, he turns and looks over the edge carefully.
Realising there's no one to shoot, he thumbs the safety and drops the gun, standing upright in the centre of the doorway. Blood races from his brain and while he's pulling his cell from his pocket with shaking hands, he starts turning over the toppled furniture with the other, swearing when it's hot from the small fires sporadically around the flat; from the kitchen, where there's a pot still on the hob.
Bullets, friction and objects falling in and out of the naked blue flame, he thinks, but then he stops thinking because he's hit speed dial one.
He stands, frozen and still, in the middle of the chaos and listens. Turning as though his body is the needle of a compass, he faces the direction of the faint ringing of Elizabeth's phone. John lifts a piece of wood from the door, winces at the splinters, then at the contents of the small table by the side of the couch, before finding the small phone and hanging up on himself.
It's only after dismantling the piles of debris that he accepts the obvious; Elizabeth is not there. At first, he lifts piece by piece and gently, but by the end he's in such a hurry, breathing too quickly and seeing too much red.
He next checks through everything, again, for any loose bullets or files Elizabeth might have left. He carefully closes the drawer where she's grabbed the spare magazine and gun, running a thumb along the clean side of a line in the rug. It's the silhouette of a fallen body, sketched in by the outline of blood around where the right hand side lay. Standing upright to his tallest height, forcing himself to keep breathing both in and out, he carefully analyses the shape of the body sketched in blood, but it's too indistinct to say if it's Elizabeth's or not - no matter how long he stares at it.
There are no bodies. More blood puddles- no bodies.
He tries hard not to think about it, clenching his fist tightly around the phone and hands shaking as he dials the precinct number. It's not too hard- his thoughts are clashing and banging together like cymbals that shimmer on and on, and all he needs to do is float between the layers of noise.
John speed dials Jack's office - speed dial 4 - his body vibrating, dark waves of energy rolling down his back, coiling like snakes on his lower back. He doesn't bother with pleasantries as he hears Jack's, "Sheppard," come in tensely through the line.
"They took her!"
When Jack answers, his voice is harsh and strained like barbed wire. "I know. We're going to get her back."
"I'm going to get her back." John points unnecessarily to himself, the muscles on his arms strained, the flimsy cell phone material cracking under his grip.
"Sheppard, don't do what I think you're planning," Jack warns and John could give less of a shit. He's already making a mental list of what he needs and who he needs to get it from.
"They took her from her apartment, Jack. The place where she's supposed to be safe." John fingers the shattered glass on the counter top, "She was waiting for me."
"I know, Sheppard." Jack sounds distracted and not as worried as John thought he should be - he doesn't like it - he and Elizabeth may not be part of the force, but fuck, Jack treats them like they're still on the payroll, why the fuck does he sound so damn nonchalant.
"What do you know, Jack?" he growls out, "Do you know where she is?"
"Give me twenty-four hours, Sheppard, I'll find for you her location." He pauses, and John can hear some movement, shuffling of papers, "Don't do anything tonight."
John considers Jack's order, which he doesn't have to take, "Ten hours."
"Damnit, Sheppard." Jack breathes harshly through the phone line, but doesn't disagree with John.
"Keep your phone with you." It's the last thing Jack says before he hangs up on John, leaving him cursing into the dead dial tone.
He has the urge to throw his phone into the Elizabeth's kitchen wall, but knows he can't. He settles with throwing the penne.
She comes to slowly, feeling a tightness in her jaw and the mother of all headaches wrapped around her skull. Trying to lift her hand to touch her forehead, Elizabeth has a moment of panic when she can't seem to move her hands more than a couple inches from her back where they seem to be stuck. She startles, eyes snapping open and body tensing in the chair she's handcuffed to and realises she can't scream or speak - there's a long, wound up piece of cloth in her mouth. As the last memories she had before everything went dark filter back into her brain Elizabeth relaxes, because as she revisits the soreness in her body and the events that have lead her to be here in this surprisingly ornate room, she knows where she is. And who must have her.
The door she's facing opens and a small group of men enter, none surprised to see her awake. In the group, she spots Kolya instantly, his tall frame covered in his Genii uniform, scarred face alight with the victory of having her there. The other men she doesn't quite recognise; half just appear to be more Genii, but two stick out - two very different men that right away Elizabeth can see carry themselves like they know a secret. The first is a pale, lean man, with shortly cropped blond hair and a shiny leather-like face. He has a scar, she notices, running diagonally across one cheek, and thin lips that are twisted into a smug sideways smile. The other man is his polar opposite; tall isn't even a word she thinks can accurately describe him as he towers over most of the room. His dreadlocks halo his head like a lion's mane and she can already count at least five tattoos covering what she sees of his arms. Where the other man looks to be carved out of the coldest marble, it's edges biting and unforgiving, this man would have been carved out of the finest wood, strong and stable.
He meets her eyes for the briefest of seconds and Elizabeth sees something familiar in them, but she can't place it.
The moment is lost when Kolya sets into her view, smiling like he's won the lottery.
"Detective Weir, so nice to see you again."
Elizabeth steadies her jaw, glaring at him.
Kolya just keeps on smiling, bringing another chair to set in front of her, staring into her eyes. They keep the starting contest up, until she feels the world tip and then she's wincing at the pain in her back as she connects with the floor. Kolya's staring down at her, and while she'll never admit it, she thinks she's about to die when he pulls out his gun.
"Kolya," she hears, a smooth and deadly voice, that she knows has to belong to the blonde man. Kenmore, her mind guesses. From above her she watches as Kolya reels in the tension and holsters his gun, like a solider obeying an order he doesn't want to. She files the information away for later, closing her eyes in relief, not acknowledging the footsteps until she feels someone grip the chair again. She opens her eyes to see the quiet, mountain of a man who had caught her eye as he lifts the chair back up into sitting position. When he smiles and winks at her Elizabeth does an internal double take, shocked and at the same time seeing a possible ally here.
"You're very lucky you're more useful to us alive, Weir, than you are dead." Kolya stares at her before turning to the man who just lifted her up, "Dex, take her away and don't take your eyes off her. Like her partner, she's very apt at getting out of sticky situations."
At the mention of John, Elizabeth smiles around her gag, her eyes a lighting with relief. Dex grabs her shoulders and lifts her up less harshly than she expected him to, but she never takes her eyes off of Kolya and the man that must be Kenmore. Kenmore, who she suspects pulls more strings here than Kolya even thinks, step forward.
"Why so happy, Detective Weir?" His eyes, ice blue, study her and his lifts his hand to lower her gag; that's when Elizabeth notices the tremor in his hand, which he keeps curling into a fist to hide. Kenmore, definitely.
"My partner," she spares a quick glance at Kolya, "he's going to tear this building apart and you won't be able to stop him."
Kenmore smiles and it literally sends shivers down Elizabeth's spine. "I'm looking forward to it." He nods, not bothering to replace the gag and Elizabeth feels herself really worry about what Kenmore and Kolya have planned. She's then tugged forward, stumbling over her first few steps as Dex shoves her out of the room, looking over her shoulder to where Kenmore and Kolya standing. They look like twin pillars of destruction.
It's so early that Grodin hasn't come in from the suburbs, in all probability stuck in traffic, so John swings open the door and walks in.
"Someday, that's going to be really annoying," Jack says from behind the desk, exactly where John expects him to be.
"I thought that day had come and gone," John tosses back, putting one hand on the back of each of the chairs in front of the desk.
"And I thought I said twenty-four hours." Jack looks up and raises an eyebrow.
"You didn't say no to ten," John shrugs. "And that came and went two hours ago. Where is she?"
"There's still no box on that form that says vigilante, John."
His fingers tightening around the tops of the chairs, he leans forward slightly, and he tries to control the temper building from the tension running through his very veins. He could blame the strong coffees and the way he only slept three hours the night before, tossing, turning and missing something that never had been a constant or even beside him. Too smart to stay properly awake, too worried to be properly asleep.
"And you still put us on this case - back when we went for Lavin."
Jack sighs and tosses a file on the desk- the file, John bets, that he scoured the apartment for in the hours between Jack hanging up and leaving her apartment, carefully closing over the ruined door.
"Come back in half an hour and blame that on me, detective," Jack waves a hand towards the door. "I think Grodin's desk is free and his kid's playing football at ten, so he won't be coming in anytime soon."
Half an hour later - he knows better than to disobey the captain when he's handing him information he and Elizabeth were too busy shouting to share - he walks back in. Jack rolls his eyes and sits the phone back in the cradle. This time John paces, his patience worn down to the shiny, raw bone of it.
"So she lied to you and me first," John spits, pacing in the office, "and now I know everything about exactly why I should go and rescue her lying ass, so -"
"You can finish shouting at each other?" Jack interjects from behind the desk. He has a laptop, somewhere, but he likes the mystique of piles of brown folders. "Or were you switching to French mime anytime soon? Have to tell ya, I wouldn't complain, especially while I look real interested in this report."
John shoots him a glare and continues to pace in erratic circles.
"So she lied," Jack rolls his eyes, "You're private detectives. It's what you do for a living, John."
"Yeah, and I'm over it," John shoots back with a shake of his head.
"Are you hell. It's worse because she did it to you, not to some peroxide blond with a seventy-year old husband? Tough shit," Jack flicks rolled up post-it notes into the bin, a perfect show of calm when he sits within a foot of the deskphone, waiting on the decision whether to act on Elizabeth's information. "And now you want to go and shoot everybody in some building pretty damn dead to get her back. Congratulations, John, you finally found out how low you're willing to sink for each other."
Something in the phrasing, something in his deliberate especially caustic tone; John turns to look at the window beyond Jack's shoulder before turning sharply to leave the office. He does it so quietly, so immediately, that Jack has to look up to see his absence and lets out an 'oh, shit' that John hears as the second door, the one next to Peter's desk, closes with a click. He doesn't need to hear what follows- quick, assured footsteps as Jack follows him.
When Jack tries to stop him walking out of the door, John does the thing he never thought he'd do - he throws both the door and the decades back in Jack's face.
"We're not yours, and that wasn't our choice," he growls, refusing to meet Jack's gaze and holding the door in place between them, feeling muscles clench in his arm and his fist turn to iron around the door's edge. His fist clenches at his waist, he forces himself to stand still and not close the gap between he and Jack with that same fist and Jack freezes, eyes snapping up to Jack's as what he's saying really sinks in. This case is the splinter- not between the precinct and them, but between their version of reality and what it really is. He's suddenly seeing with eyes unclouded, and everything is too sharp, too bright, too hard to deny.
"We're not yours," John repeats, raising his chin. "You do what you want; if she's out there, I'll find her."
Jack takes two more steps to follow, letting his hand fall to his pocket and standing on the top step in front of the slamming precinct door. John ignores him, walking to the car in the sunlight. He puts on the sunglasses by habit on the fourth step down and slams his closed fist against the top of the car when the key sticks.
He sees Teyla and Mitchell walking towards the precinct, walking towards him, but he puts the key in the lock with a sharp twist and gets in the car.
Jack's still watching, but Jack's always watching and right now John doesn't care. He knows all of his training, knows it well, but he finally knows that for Elizabeth, he'll forget it.
No going softly, softly now and no aiming for the soft tissue at the thigh. He's not protecting himself; he's the only one looking for her. John Sheppard, more than ever, is not allowed to die. He has things to finish before he does - things nobody will like.
He still can't believe it. Elizabeth is taken - she's not with him - and he has to fucking wait. He knows why Jack is doing this; it's not because he's being a bastard, even though he fucking is, but because John knows Jack cares about Elizabeth too. Before everything went to shit, he had been grooming her to take over. Everybody had known it. Unfortunately that had been part of the reason when she decided to be so good to John and leave with him that not that many of the higher ups rallied with Jack's crusade to keep her on. They hadn't wanted her running their precinct and John knows that's still a sore spot between Jack and the Commissioner. Of course, now Mitchell seems to be looking to step into Jack's scuffed shoes nicely, so he guesses that ultimately Jack won that battle.
As he walks back into Elizabeth's battered apartment, he sets down the two duffel bags he's been busy filling on the floor that's still covered in glass, his boots crunching as he moves. Elizabeth would have a fit to see her apartment that way, but she's not here and he can't be bothered. Her coffee table had been upturned last night when he had arrived, so he turns it back over right now and settles on the battered couch, leaning over and opening the bags. He hadn't been able to sleep that much after he hung up with Jack. Spending most of the night stuck between wanting to hurt someone and wanting to shoot someone, the only productive things he managed to do were clean his gun and punch a wall.
Now, grabbing the first shot gun he pulls out of the bag, he begins the process all over again. Cleaning his guns and the new ones he picked up from various characters that all owe him, he makes sure to be thorough and take his time. Jack's getting the information John needs to get Elizabeth back and he needs to make sure all his guns work.
He's laying the guns out flat, largest to smallest, right to left, when he hears the door creak on it's hinges. He doesn't think as he lifts the 9mm in his hand, but doesn't thumb the safety off either. As the two figures step through the threshold they stare at him for a second, separate set of eyes worried, and he sighs.
Cameron holds the door open as Teyla walks in, both their eyes taking in the scene. No one's been by yet, mostly because they know him and probably just heard from Jack. Cameron whistles, foot kicking a fallen candlestick and Teyla neatly side steps the broken glass, taking a seat next to him.
"John," she lays a hand on his wrist, still the curled fist he keeps making.
"Jack filled you guys in, I take it." John shifts from Teyla's touch, not wanting comfort or friendship right now, and picks up the .38.
He can see Teyla share a look with Cameron over his shoulder, and he doesn't really give a shit about what they're silently communicating to each other.
"He did, Sheppard," Cameron moves toward the bullet shredded chair and sets it up right. "Look you know we're here. For whatever you need, all you have to do is ask."
John sighs, knowing they would, "You can't this time. Cameron, Teyla- this isn't one of the times I can work with you guys." He stands, pacing the area in front of the coffee table.
"Sheppard," Cameron moves to Teyla's side of the couch and at her nod continue, "you think we care? This is Elizabeth; you know we'd do anything."
John levels both them with a glare, "Anything will get you fired this time. I can't let you guys do that. Elizabeth wouldn't."
Teyla stands and crosses the room, coming right up in front of him, her brown eyes cataloguing ever line on his face, and gives him a brief nod, "You do what you must to bring Elizabeth back, and know that should you need us…"
John nods, "I know." He steps back and looks at both of them, "Thanks for the offer."
Mitchell nods back, falling into step with Teyla as they head out — neither should know what he's officially up to — his hand ghosting the small of her back. At the threshold, Teyla turns to Cameron and tells him something John can't hear, before bowing her head in good-bye and stepping out.
"You should talk to Vala, John," are Teyla's last words before her slim frame leaves his sight.
John meets Cameron's eyes, questioning, curious when Cameron rubs his hand across the back of his neck; he put a hand into his jeans pocket and held out a scrap of paper with a single line of numbers on it and a name. He meets his eyes with a warning in them. "I give you this, you're going to wreak hell on this town until you get her back, man."
"Nothing but a piece of paper, Sheppard."
John nods and takes the note.
T.C. Murray and a number are the only things written on it.
John picks impatiently at the placemat, at Vala's when a plate is deposited in front of him. Looking up he sees Vala; she's not smiling at all but her eyes are soft, and when she slides into the chair across from his and pushes the turkey sandwich to him with the command to eat, he realises that he's hungry. He takes a french fry and pops in his mouth before he gives her a small nod of thanks. Vala smiles easily and he's suddenly taut because Vala is quiet, still. Not quiet or still in the sense she is not speaking or moving, because even in the rare moments when she shuts up, the woman is always humming with barely contained energy. This is a different quiet, a stillness that comes from the past that no one really talks about, but they all know is there. A stillness he is intimately familiar with because like her, he fights it every day. This is the quiet steadiness of a fighter, a warrior, and not one she lets out often.
"Vala," he breathes, but does not ask anything. She already knows what he's after.
"Eat your sandwich, John." She pats his hand and her eyes normally bright blue grey, today house darkness in their corners. "For all of your ... maverick tendencies, you and Elizabeth were always cops at heart. You'll get down and dirty like the rest of us; you more than Elizabeth. Why? I don't know, and honestly I don't want to know, because you, John Sheppard, I can see it in your eyes. You haven't crossed that line, not yet, one day... maybe... I don't know. But Elizabeth stops it and that's something."
"Vala," he repeats, his voice harder this time, but Vala doesn't flinch. He's not surprised.
"You haven't crossed that line yet, John, but I did, a long time ago and I've been clawing my way back since then. I don't want to see you do the same." She sighs and then pulls out her notepad and scribbles on it. "I don't know who has her, but here." She hands him a paper and he stiffens at the name above the address, Landon Radim. "If anyone has his ear and eyes out for Kolya, it would be him."
"How do you have this?" His head snaps up at Vala, because goddamn, how does the woman have the fucking home address of the underground faction leader of the Genii fighting for Kolya's power? But just as quickly a question is answered about how Elizabeth managed to get to Radim, too. If he wasn't so grateful, he'd be very angry at Vala right now.
"You hang around the Goa'uld for as long as I did, and you pick up a few things, learn a few tricks and meet some interesting people." Her voice is light and cheerful as she stands, but her eyes are still dark opals. Vala doesn't say anything more as she walks away from him and begins chatting with Keller, cracking jokes with the doctor and completely shifting from what he just saw, but John knows he owes her. Big fucking time.
He stands and heads out the door, leaving a generous tip and the sandwich untouched.
John didn't take the files Elizabeth had left with Jack, partly because Jack was guarding them as sure as a Doberman and a gate, partly because he'd memorised what he needed to know. Sometimes, he thinks, it's nice that people think he's stupid, but he doesn't entertain the notion that Jack's ever made that mistake.
Sitting in the chair at the end of the dining table in the dark, ornate room because the drapes are still drawn over the wide windows, John sits quiet and still. There's a noise, a door opening, and the lights - warm and many from the decorative chandelier above - click on.
The man is familiar from a distance as he wraps a hand protectively around the small child's shoulders; blond, lean, with hair just too long and sharp bone-structure. He's as generic as John's Ikea bookcase, but John knows he'd be an idiot to consider him less than dangerous.
"Mr. Sheppard," Landon Radim raises an eyebrow, voice light, but John can see his eyes darken as he makes his way from the end of the table to by the door. "I wasn't aware you would be arriving so early."
John smiles with a vicious edge, hearing what's implied in the too polite voice - Radim knew he'd be coming sometime.
John forces a smile. Radim hasn't shot him, his own gun is in easy reach if he has ideas towards it, and the kid can't be more than five. There's things he'll do for Elizabeth, but he's being mindful after Vala drew all his lines in neon strip lights.
"Your dad and I need to talk about some business," he hesitates, faking it utterly. "I'm sorry, what's your name?"
"I'm Cal, sir." The boy smiles and John can see the muscles in Radim's forearm, braced around his son, tighten almost imperceptively.
"I'm John," he leans down and nods. "It's nice to meet you."
Radim cuts in, eyes wider and darker than before. "Cal, run along and play. Now."
They keep their eyes locked on the other's as the blond boy runs from the room, humming under his breath.
The second the door closes, John's gun is out and trained on the Genii faction leader. He's impressed despite himself- by the time his gun is aiming between Landon Radim's eyes, he's on the end of the younger man's gun.
"Polite kid," John tilts his head, looking at him down the long edge of the gun. "Been a while since anyone called me 'sir.'"
"He's a good kid," Radim replies, calm and collected. John thinks that damn, that's how you get to be a faction leader at just shy of twenty-five. Doesn't mean he won't shoot him; John's life is Elizabeth's right now, and her half means more than his own. "My security teams, on the other hand, will be reprimanded somewhat."
"Ah, don't blame them," John can't help smirking. "It's not their fault I'm good."
"I assume you're not actually here to shoot me," Radim raises an eyebrow over the barrel of his gun.
"I wouldn't bet on it," John raises his chin and feels that same tightness in his chest as before, expression losing all humour. "Elizabeth had some shitty idea that you were going to go straight and mean it."
"'Had?'" Radim's head jerks- a small movement, the kick of it in its sudden, violent nature. "When- and who?"
"You haven't asked if she's really dead and how could it possibly be true," John deadpans, gritting it out in a voice that promises violence.
Radim's mouth curls into a sour smile that quickly vanishes. "I know better than most about this city taking the best. And Elizabeth hardly lived a safe life."
John hears a noise in the corridor and nods towards it. "Any chance of your wife interrupting?"
"It's the maid," Radim narrows his eyes at him, "And I expect you know the reason."
He does, and the comment was a low blow that John should be ashamed of- same way as he knew Cal Radim's name before he asked it; Elizabeth's file detailed the shoot out in which the young wife of Landon Radim was killed for the first time. An internal Genii matter, the viciousness with which Landon had dealt with those who'd killed her had cemented his position in Atlantis. John had wondered, reading the file, why Radim would choose Elizabeth to hear that particular long-held secret. Probably had some deluded and mildly fucked up idea that they were meeting for dates.
"I do, at that," John acknowledges with what approaches a snarl. "And Elizabeth isn't dead." His hand tightens around the gun.
He raises both eyebrows. "How do you know that?"
"They went to a lot of effort to take her, even stood her shooting their men. No bodies left behind."
Radim looks at him and takes a breath. "Elizabeth and I enjoyed a cordial, if necessary, relationship." He raises both hands, sits the gun on the table and turns his back to pour a glass from the decanter.
John lets out a breath, sitting down at the table and keeping his hand loosely on top of his gun.
"They might have killed her," Radim sits the glass in front of him, taking the seat opposite. He looks at him above the rim of it. "She's good, but she's human."
"You don't believe that more than I do," John replies, taking a quick sip of the Scotch and wincing at the burn on his throat.
"No," Radim shoots back. "I believe Kolya has her."
"Because," the tone, silky and dangerous, is back in John's voice, "of information you gave her."
"Information she asked for because, Detective Sheppard, she's not an idiot or a teenager." The glass slams on the table. "I want Kolya dead. You two might be too polite to say it-"
"Elizabeth," John raises a hand, "I'm not."
"Whatever," Radim waves that off, "'Brought to justice' is not enough, and I'll say it if you won't."
"And you weren't afraid to use Elizabeth to do it," John leans forward, hand resting on the gun again in the dark room.
"No," comes the blunt, honest answer. "But I doubt she thought of me in any other way."
"You've got that one right, buddy," John lifts the gun and points it.
Radim raises an eyebrow, hand stilling around his glass. "Now what?"
"Now you tell me exactly what you told Elizabeth that wasn't written in any file, and that was urgent enough to have Kolya's men beating down her door," John pauses, frowning at the man as another thought occurs to him, "Or even what the bastard might think you'd have told her."
"Well, I was getting to that." Radim looks at him and reaches for the pen and paper by the side by the phone at John's nod. "I'm honestly surprised you found this place."
"I have connections," John considers not saying what he could, but figures the man needs the incentive to be honest. And the knowledge that John could- likely wouldn't - but could destroy his entire family. "I would have asked at your mother's, but I couldn't point a gun with a preacher across the road and all."
"Met Janus, did you?" comes the response - too quickly, too calmly.
"He gave me soda," John tosses off, watching as Radim tosses him a small piece of paper. "What's on it?"
It's small but has two addresses, a time and Monday's date on it in freakishly neat handwriting.
"They won't kill her until Monday- there's a shipment leaving then, and a missing semi-official cop will have your bureaucracy in knots, am I right?"
John narrows his eyes at the younger man again, both jerking glances at the sound of Cal's voice, giggling and happy, in the garden beyond the covered windows.
"A dead semi-official cop, on the other hand-"
John nods. "They'll fall on him like a ton of bricks." He tilts his head at Radim, "Do I have to put a gun to your head to walk out of here?"
"You're welcome and no, so long as you never come back," Radim says, sighing. "I don't want to see Elizabeth killed and my own hands are tied, even if you are a bastard." He hesitates.
"What else do you know?" John asks slowly, deliberately, putting away the gun.
"We're on the same page. You should talk to your captain about his page. If nothing else, just-" Radim blinks slowly and quirks his mouth in a smile that vanishes, "go in screaming you're precinct. You won't be alone for long."
John feels his eyebrows creeping towards his hairline. "There's Vice in Kolya's operation and he doesn't know about it? More than that, you do?"
Radim opens the door with a significant look at the still visible gun. "You go out the back, before any associates of mine can get a look at you. Say goodbye to Cal like you're a nice man because I'll be watching, and get the hell out of my house."
John bites back a grin for the first time in the day. He still doesn't trust him, still thinks Elizabeth's talking shit about him going straight, but he has to admit the boy has style. And a crush on Elizabeth that he won't approve of even on a snowy day in Hell, but he can't blame him for that.
Getting ready to pull out of Radim's John hears his cell phone ring, grabbing it out of his pocket he stares at Jack's name on the screen for a couple seconds before sinking into his seat and flipping it open.
"Sheppard, I have her location." Jack says what he knows is the only thing that won't have John hanging up on him, and John doesn't. He grips his phone tighter and drops his head on the wheel, exhaling.
"Where?" he asks, quick and sharp, keys already in the ignition ready to meet Jack wherever he wants.
"Back room at Chuck's as soon as you can," Jack orders and John's already flooring it, turning the corners of Radim's nice suburban streets sharply.
The trips should take roughly twenty minutes, counting time taken for stop lights and traffic; John turns into the street that houses Chuck's bar in ten. He parks roughly in front of the bar, forgoing the front entrance, heading to the left side of the building towards the alley that will take him straight to the bar's backroom. Chuck's isn't only just the precinct's preferred bar, because of its convenient location and reasonable prices. Chuck's is the "precinct's bar" because when anyone needs it, it's there for whatever they need it for. It's why Jack has a tab there that has nothing to do with alcohol.
He knocks twice warning whoever is inside, as is customs, and turns the knob of the paint chipped door; finding it open, he heads in - ready to face Jack about Elizabeth's location. Inside he sees Jack sitting at Chuck's small desk against the wall; Chuck's there and nods to him, then heads out of the second door in the room, back out towards the bar. When he leaves he doesn't leave John along with Jack, because the door closes behind the thin man and John's eyes fall to the other occupant of the room.
Standing lazily against the wall, dreadlocks pulled back, John's eyes take in the form of Dex. Kolya's bodyguard. His body reacts to his presence even as Jack yells out the order to stop, and in the same second both he and Dex have their respective guns aimed at each other. In the back of his mind, John recognises that Jack's ordering them both to put their guns down and that Dex, for his size, moved impressively quickly at John's reaction.
"God dammit, you two!" Jack yells, "Put those things down."
Neither of them does and John feels more than sees Jack stand and walk in between them. He rolls his eyes, an explosive breath leaving him, "Are you two idiots? Put the guns down." He turns and levels John with the Captain's gaze. "Sheppard."
"He's Kolya's bodyguard." John's jaw clenches with the words, his gun still trained on Dex.
"And you don't think I know that." Jack sounds exasperated and looks over his shoulder to Dex, "Ronon, gun down, please."
From behind Jack, Dex narrows his eyes at John, "He pulled his piece first."
Jack appears to take a cleansing breath, "Because like you, Sheppard here can be a little too impulsive for his own good." He closes his hand over the barrel of John's gun, knowing John wouldn't shoot him, "Sheppard, I'd like to introduce you to Ronon Dex, Vice, and my undercover officer in Kolya's operation. Now, will you put the gun down?"
John studies Dex for few more seconds, acknowledging that with what he's heard so far today, this is all making sense and even Landon confirmed that Kolya had a mole in his operation. So it really shouldn't shock him that Jack's the one that's been heading the operation all along. Lowering his gun and holstering it, John's shock dissipates, and then turns to anger.
"You had someone in Kolya's operation and you never told us!?" He stalks the room, glaring at both men, "Elizabeth-"
"Elizabeth was dealing with Landon Radim on her own terms; terms, I'll remind you, that I didn't even know about. Had she told me, I would have worked something out, but she didn't, so deal with it Sheppard because now's not the time." Jack stands, ramrod straight in the middle of Chuck's backroom, stopping John's argument for the moment.
"Now, Ronon here is one of the best guys I have on Vice. He's been in Kolya's operation for a while now and he's risking his cover to help you, so right now, Sheppard? Not the time to lose your cool, got it?"
John nods, leaning against the wall opposite Dex, mimicking his earlier stance. "Yeah, I got it. What you do got, Errand Boy?"
"I'm no one's errand boy, Flyboy." Dex literally growls and stalks forward, only stopped by Jack's tut-tut, and goes back to leaning against his own wall.
John smirks, "Oh, I just might like you yet. What do you have for me?"
To his credit, Dex doesn't answer John straight away, first looking Jack waiting for orders from his Captain, like a good soldier, John thinks. At Jack's nod, Dex uncrosses his arms, meeting John's eyes.
"She's alive." At Dex's words, John feels his lungs finally take in what feels like the first breath of air since he entered Elizabeth's apartment last night. "Like I was telling O'Neill, Kolya and Kenmore have a shipment coming in and they're going to use her for leverage until it arrives. We have time, but if you want to get her out, you need a plan; you can't barrel in there like some action movie without a plan. Kolya has a small army and Kenmore, the man is smart and installed a security system that would make most hackers cry," Dex explains.
"I can handle that." John says, no doubt in his voice. "I just need to know where she is."
Dex just looks at him, saying nothing for a few seconds before licking his lips and uncurling from the wall. He passes by Jack and picks up the file that Jack had been flipping through when John had entered the room. "It's a mansion in Interzone, by the bluffs. I can get you in tomorrow night, if you can be ready by then."
John looks between Jack and Dex, "I'm ready now."
At John's words Jack scoffs, taking the file from Dex, "Like hell you are. You're waiting until tomorrow when Ronon can get you in. Ronon, you sure?"
"Okay, then. Tomorrow. You can go now."
Dex nods to Jack, sparing John one last look and heads out of the room via the back door, his frame carving a shadow in the doorway as he steps out into the rainy afternoon, the door swinging shut behind him.
John turns to Jack, "Who else knows about Dex besides me?"
Jack tears his eyes away from the door, facing John. "No one, but you, and well, Chuck, but that's an occupational hazard." Jack shrugs, a fake smile dancing on his lips, before they thin. "And I'd appreciate if you kept it that way. The kid's risking a lot, I don't need his cover compromised."
John nods, understanding and remembering what it was like being undercover in Vice, and heads out understanding the undertone in Jack's last words. Don't involve any more people than you need to.
As the rain grows heavy, John, walking out of Chuck's, sits in the car and takes out his phone - there's plenty of numbers in his phone under odd-looking names, and this one's under 'Mitchell's basketball buddy.' The call connects in two rings.
He starts, blinking. "Yeah."
"I require six hours."
John frowns, watching as other cars pass by the junction at the end of the street. "TC Murray?"
"Oh, right." John purses his lips and hesitates. "You know where my apartment is?"
"So I'll -"
"Six hours, John Sheppard. Do not act in my absence."
Which is the polite way of saying 'don't do anything stupid.' John stares at the phone, now that Murray's hung up on him, and starts the engine.
Six hours. He's not sure what's going to kill him first, the next set of hours he's to put off shooting everything between he and Elizabeth, or the next time someone tells him not to be an idiot.
He pushes the pedal down, hard. Driving fast won't get him anywhere, and it doesn't really make him feel better, but he does it anyway.
"But you are not officially police," Kenmore squints and turns his head to her.
Kolya takes a breath and nods. "She isn't, but that won't stop them coming after her - or us, if she's dead."
Elizabeth looks between them, waiting for it.
"Then why are we keeping her alive?" Kenmore asks Kolya above her head. "They will not know if you kill her."
"Kenmore, I'm not so stupid as to think they don't have eyes in my operation," Kolya answers, both men still ignoring Elizabeth's presence. She fights hard to keep her gaze still, not to let her eyes flicker to the silent figure of Dex by the wall, recently switched back in from his break. "Maybe not near the figures or the shipping plans, but eyes that can see if we kill a well-known cop like her. They will not mobilise while she's alive- they're more likely to talk each other to death first. The Commissioner is an idiot."
Kenmore seems to mull that over and nods.
"Besides," Kolya grins viciously, "We have more pressing matters. Like the first shipment in our venture."
Elizabeth keeps her eyes trained on the floor, doing as best she can not to call attention to herself.
"Yes," Kenmore nods and she hears an undertone of anticipation in it. "Monday's shipment will need to be altered; if Detective Weir knows enough for you to send your men, it is certain others do. Better to alter plans than to attempt to catch all those who know."
"We can alter the route to the pick up, but the pick up's set," Kolya shakes his head. "There's no changing it or else the Ori will never deal with us again. Not after coming all the way out to Atlantis."
Kenmore raises an eyebrow delicately. "There will likely be violence at the handover."
"That," Kolya looks at him, "is thankfully not your concern, doctor."
"Very correct," Kenmore's mouth twists into a mild approximation of a smile.
Kenmore's attention switches to her sharply. "Detective, should we now ask you what you know? Or even how my good friend Beckett is faring?"
Elizabeth glares, eyes drifting to her now slightly mended thigh.
"I wouldn't get too close, doctor," Kolya puts in with a harsh look in her direction. "I've dealt with this one before."
"But aren't you interested, Detective, in the whole story? Isn't that what drives you vicious, ruthless detecting people?"
Elizabeth doesn't dignify that with a response.
When Kenmore takes it as an affirmation Yes, Please, with a side order of Tell Me Everything!, she rolls her eyes and lets her head fall back against the wall. His words are filled with a self righteousness that makes Elizabeth wish she were dealing just with Kolya. The man at least knows and accepts his role as thug while Kenmore sees himself as an avatar for this drug he's designed, expounding on about how perfect is it. It's chemical composition acting like snake in the grass waiting to strike. It seems to heal, it gives the ultimate high, he says, it looks like a mircale if you want it to, until it turns on you, unless you have the precise combination, he continues, of chemicals. It's a chameleon drug he's made, and it will only do as he says.
"You do know," she interjects in the very short space in which Kenmore isn't talking, "that you are a living, breathing cliché and that my partner will kill you very dead for it."
"Oh, your partner. This mysterious partner," Kenmore tilts his head and appears amused. "I should likely to meet this one on whom you depend."
"Take off the cuffs," Elizabeth shoots back brightly with a smile, wiggling her fingers, "I'll show you 'dependent.'" John, she thinks, would like that one.
As Kenmore begins again, this time talking about the difficulty in refining the drug, she sees Dex's muscles twitch and catches Kolya turning to the side a little. She hears him remark aside to Dex, "He's monologuing again."
It's a sign of how bad things have gotten, she can't help thinking, when she catches Kolya's eye by accident in the act of rolling them and sees empathy there.
It's nearing ten and John hates that he has to wait for Dex's go ahead to go and get Elizabeth back, but he can admit that's it would be better to a have a plan that mostly doesn't rely on blind luck. He checks his watch for about the hundredth time today, when he hears a heavy knock at the door.
He looks up, wondering if it's Mitchell again, and heads over, keeping a gun by his side. He opens the door to face the biggest man he's ever seen and considering he just met Ronon Dex today, that's saying a lot. The man only looks at him, brown eyes calculating, tilting his head towards John.
"John Sheppard." It is not a question.
"Yes?" John recognises the deep baritone almost right away. "T.C. Murray?"
"You've been expecting me." Again, it's not a question and John nods.
"Yeah, come on in." Moving out of the way, letting the hulk of man through.
Murray enters the room, taking in the destruction of the apartment that John has yet to clean up. "Is this where the abduction occurred?"
This time it is a question, but John guesses that Murray already knows the answer. "Yeah, it was here."
Murray nods, dropping the giant bag he had been carrying like it was a feather. It makes a loud thud on the floor and Murray turns towards John, "We should begin."
John motions to the couch and the copy of the files that Jack had messengered over in the afternoon, both men settling on the couch, splitting the files between them.
Finally, John thinks with only the barest release of tension. All the sun had gotten him worried that his city had forgotten what it was meant to do, but with the rain lightly hitting the car as they approached the mansion on the edge of town, it seems to have come back to itself.
Is it time? He'd asked Murray, guns cleaner than they'd ever been. He could've spent the day - enforced rest, enforced waiting until Dex could be in position - fixing Elizabeth's apartment. Apart from being a needless waste of energy, and tiring muscles he needed to be limber and willing for this, he hadn't been able foot in the place.
He couldn't wait and witness what might be happening to her, not all at once. Seeing the mess of their home would've sent him to the car, to the address they're now approaching, Murray, Jack, Dex and everyone else be damned.
He'd held on, waiting on the brief phone call from Dex to Murray- both using prepaid anonymous phones - and he'd made it. Not gone off the reservation, despite all the times he'd been tempted. He'd done the hardest part of getting her back, as far as his methods went. This, with the running, the shooting, the defense and offense, he could handle.
Is it time? He'd asked Murray, sitting rooted in that deep seated stillness, only his eyes moving to watch the larger man hang up. His voice had slipped softly from him, a quiet request in stark contrast to the mode he was slipping into, where he moves only as fast as required but never slower and hits every shot squarely where he aims it.
The car - they've switched to his, the one Elizabeth got shot up in the alley outside the Wraith building because it's already all but busted and it only needs to get them there - slows and creaks on approach to the building, brakes not appreciating the rain. But that's not new, because they never really did. The trees and hedges hide its approach, along with the thick, slow moving rain tugged near horizontal by the wind.
As they turn the last corner, park quietly as they can in an unseen corner and get ready to jump through all the fire-ringed hoops Dex's told them will be waiting, John looks once to the side, to Murray, before they exit the car.
Is it time?
It was about time, but Elizabeth doesn't know that as she stretches her legs, the burning in her right thigh less but still sharp, across the empty room Kolya had Dex deposit her in. Her hands are still handcuffed, and now attached to a pipe in the wall of the small room she's in. She's pretty sure she hasn't been in Kolya's headquarters for more than a day if the small food and bathroom breaks that Dex comes in the room for are anything to go by. Behind her back, she keeps trying to find something along the wall — a splinter or broken nail — to possibly help her break out of the cuffs, but she keeps coming up short, finding nothing, and drops her head back against the wall, annoyed.
John, she thinks, should be coming soon, because she's getting tired of playing the good little hostage and despite the fine furnishings she had seen in the room where she had woken up, apparently Kolya and Kenmore aren't accommodating beyond that.
Hearing footsteps reach the door on the other side of the small room, Elizabeth tucks her legs back in into an Indian style position, rolling her shoulders back, setting her chin high. When the door opens and she sees that it's Dex again, she fights her instincts to relax a little in the younger man's presence, reminding herself that he works for Kolya and Kenmore, but he's been perfectly nice, never being overly rough, unless one of the two of the former men have been in the room. Besides that Dex has made sure she's been fed and as comfortable as one can be while being held hostage by two men trying to revive the drug cartel in Atlantis.
Right now, Dex seems different from the previous times he's entered the room. His wide shoulders are tenser and his brown eyes are trying to hide an anxiousness that both worries and intrigues Elizabeth. As he crouches by her, he uncuffs one arm, securing the other cuff around the pipe, and motions to the tray of food he bought.
He stands, like before, and meets her eyes. "Eat. You'll need the energy." It's all he says as he moves out the room like before, but he looks back before the door shuts behind him and Elizabeth slowly begins eating.
She doesn't quite understand what he meant, but she knows she should take his advice. Everything in his movements, and everything in her bones is telling her something is going happen soon.
They've vaulted a few of those hoops, going around hedges to stay in blindspots of cameras and giving a quick hit to the heads of the guards in the way. Getting to a small side window, they prepare to drop less than effortlessly into the basement. It chafes at John to strip off the gun shop he's wearing because it takes a full three minutes, and the same for Murray, but he knows better than to try to get through the small basement window and get stuck on the butt of a gun. They bag the guns, although John carries a .38 as he drops into the basement first, turning and sighting on anything that moves. Nothing does but cobwebs shining in the breeze. He turns back and nods to Murray, tugging the back of guns through, arming himself again and ditching the bag in the corner as Murray reattaches his pet P90. Then, they're setting up the insurance.
"Only if necessary."
John grimly rolls out the last line to connect the final explosive to the final trigger, thinking that he's usually the one preaching careful consideration when it comes to blowing shit up. A hangover from the Dagan building and all the images, sounds and nightmares the name carries - it's obvious Cadman wasn't in the ACPD then, because no one could love explosives after that.
A hand grabs his wrist- Murray. "John Sheppard, I think this is sufficient."
John looks up, seeing at the sheer amount of wires and packets. It's enough, he thinks. No more than that. C4 wired right into the heart of the building, right into the central supporting wall. Leverage and a last resort.
"And only if Elizabeth and Dex are secure," he nods.
Murray nods, eyes on his for a beat longer than they should be and John knows the man's clocked his own personal Plan F. If everything goes to shit, like it's done so many times before, John's got his lines and his levels and just like Jack said, he knows how low he'll sink. This time, that's right through the floor and by the devil's merry left hand. If the unthinkable's happened or happens, like he forced himself to consider during an hour or five of not sleeping, and there's nothing left to rescue in the building, then this becomes the time that Kolya doesn't walk, crawl or limp away, no matter the cost to one ex-cop with too many dead friends.
Unlike Jack, and it says how the precinct knows him more than any other little thing he's betrayed, he doesn't think Murray would get in his way.
That done, they take the side stairs up to the main house and slip back outside. Too many guards on the inside, too many bits in the goddamned mansion, and they want a door near the back.
John looks to Murray, who inclines his head and moves past him. They round the corner and Murray expressionlessly slams the hard, fat end of the P90 into the temple of a Genii guard. John uses his elbow, and from the dull thud of the second guard hitting the cobbled porch, it works just as well.
He tilts his head and looks closely at Murray's gun in the moment while the man picks the lock with a surprising delicacy and John covers their six. "I thought that was a P90."
"It was," Murray replies. Turning, one hand holding the door handle and one lifting the P90 to John's sight, he continues, "The availability of shells for my preferred ammunition became problematic during the war. I chose instead to customise it. We should continue."
John nods and takes one last look at their six, turning quickly to the front to cover the open doorway that Murray reveals. This time, there is something to shoot as well as to hurt, and it's a good thing they're using silencers.
When she's dragged into the room, Dex's hand rough against her back, she knows whatever had the tension coiling around the man shoulder has started. She sees Kolya and Kenmore on two separate sides of the room, the former hunched over his desk, a radio clutched tightly in his hand, the latter standing by one of the large bay window looking out into the night, trough which she can hear fat raindrops hitting the glass.
Dex drops her in a chair right across from Kolya, and then recuffs her to sides of the chair, ensuring she can't move without taking the chair with her. Across from her, Kolya is shouting into his radio, calling for his men, some which aren't answering, and she feels a tight ball of hope grow in her chest.
"Genii, come in!" Kolya calls out on the radio, getting nothing but static, and then stares at her. Just like her he's thinking about John and doubles his efforts to reach his men.
From the window, Kenmore sighs, one trembling having departing from where it had laid flat against the wall and into his pocket, where he pulls out a bottle of pills, uncapping it carefully before swallowing the pills directly from the bottle. Elizabeth follows the movement of his hand, still trembling slightly, as he curls in it in jacket pockets and turns towards Kolya.
"You're being paranoid, Kolya." Kenmore sighs, "If you haven't noticed, it's raining."
"Trust me, Kenmore, these radios wouldn't stop working because of a little water." Kolya bites out and Elizabeth can tell he's worried. She holds back a grin. Only John can cause this much annoyance in a person by just being himself.
John and Murray follow the wall they've just wired on the next level up past old kitchens, old bathrooms, old portrait galleries and new armories. He acknowledges that Dex steered them right - they haven't met a guard on the inside of this floor yet. Whatever reason Kolya had to take the place, John thinks with his feet running almost silently behind Murray's and at almost the exact same pace and stride length, it wasn't because he appreciated the culture.
They reach the expected junction and slow to a stop, John and Murray looking at each other.
"You clear on the plan?"
There's a Look. Elizabeth, he thinks, would like this one.
"Okay, you're clear on the plan."
He puts a hand briefly on Murray's upper arm in passing and sees the man incline his head. "Goodbye, John Sheppard."
"Thank you - from us both," John nods, pausing for one second before running. Murray runs in the opposite direction, and it's not long before the sounds of things - likely human skulls - being hit off solid walls reaches him, echoing down the plush carpeted hall.
As he keeps moving in the shadows that cover the old mansion's hallways, John brings up his mental map of where Dex had told him that Kolya and Kenmore would probably have Elizabeth in. Two hallways down he tenses, feeling as a group of Genii rushes closer to him. With his back pressed against the wall, he brings up his gun to his shoulder and thumbs the other one by his side. He can practically hear the haggard breaths of the Genii when he hears a loud crash, followed by the burst of gunfire and grins. The Genii pause a good four feet from him before yelling into their radios and heading the direction of the commotion - towards Murray. John waits until their footsteps are soft enough that they won't see them when he turns the corner.
He pauses, silently thanking Murray for taking the brunt of the Genii right now as he rushes down the winding halls to find Elizabeth.
The sound comes from the other side of the mansion, but due to the monitors Kolya has set up in the room and the radios he and Dex wear, Elizabeth can hear what's going on pretty well.
It sounds like stun grenade, followed by the sound of several Genii groaning and screaming; shots quickly follow and there's the sound of more screaming, of bullets hitting their targets, and more glass breaking. Elizabeth can't help but straighten in her seat, her shoulder tensing at the sound of each bullet and each scream she hears. She closes her eyes, pushing back the ice cold fear she's housing for John at the moment and the sorrow she feels for the Genii involved as their screams fill the radio static.
Kolya is yelling orders, but she's not listening to them, her ears trained on the sounds of what seems like a small battle happening on the other side of the mansion. She strains to hear anything that tells her how John's doing, part of her knowing it's in vain, part of her with the ridiculous hope that their connection will let her know if he's okay. As Kolya orders more men to that side of the mansion and she hears the crackle of a radio stuttering out, she knows she won't hear anything.
"Maybe we should kill her now," From behind her she feels Kenmore slide up from where he's been sitting in the arm chair, disinterestedly looking at the monitors, watching as the Monitor 5, according to the tape below it, goes black.
Elizabeth turns her attention to Kolya, almost sure that he'll agree by the way he's glaring at her before looking up to met Kenmore's eyes.
"Not yet, she might still be useful." Kolya turns to Dex, motioning to her, "Still, I don't want to take any chances. Dex, grab Detective Weir here, we're moving to the upstairs room."
Elizabeth watches as Dex uncurls from the wall and walks towards her; there's something in the way he's been looking at her all night, though really, if she thinks about it, it was there when he first met her. It's not care, and it's not worry, but something in between. Awareness. He had kept his brown eyes on her, following her every move, but more importantly the moves of anyone who gets close to her, like a self appointed bodyguard. It makes Elizabeth wonder just why he's here, with the Genii. As he crouches down to un-cuff from the chair, he keeps one large hand tight around her wrist, preventing her from moving it. He's a pro, Elizabeth has to acknowledge; he knows the pressure points, but he isn't cruel, like his lion like presence leads you to believe.
He pulls her into a standing position as he moves her hands and this time doesn't cuff them behind her back, cuffing them tightly in front. He catches her eyes and Elizabeth sees the quick warning flash through them right before he covers her mouth with a gag. Fighting to not react, Elizabeth stands unmoving as Dex finishes his job and begins to lead her forward and out to where Kolya wants to move her.
"Dex," Kolya calls back, crossing the threshold, eyes on Elizabeth.
"Yes?" Behind her, Dex answers, a low rumble that Elizabeth hasn't heard until now.
"Have your weapon ready," Kolya takes a step towards Elizabeth, never taking his eyes off her, "we might have to alter the plan after all."
Elizabeth doesn't see Dex nod, but she hears him un-holster his gun, and feels the cold metal press against her back. Dex gives her a soft push, with his the hand he has clasped on his shoulder, not the gun hand, a small reassurance to Elizabeth, and along with Kolya and Kenmore they head out of the room and up the mansion's classical steps.
As they move, Elizabeth realises the gun fire hasn't stopped.
John's finally gotten to the area the Dex had told them where he'd be with Elizabeth to find the whole area suspiciously devoid of any guards. Still he's cautious as he approaches the last corner, his gun steady at his side. From across the mansion the sounds have muffled and lessened as Murray plays cat and mouse with the Genii, looking to buy John time.
He rushes the last hallway, taking out the Genii that appears at the end of it, quickly reaching into his jacket and changing the magazine of his gun. Pulling the sawed-off shot gun from the holster on his back, to give him leverage in the restricted area he's approaching he moves to the room that Dex had said would be housing Elizabeth. It's on the right of the main hall of the mansion, near the stairs, which only provide John with minimal cover should it turn nasty. As he gets closer he can see more Genii, which means more Genii can see him, a fact that is proven by the round of bullets flying his way.
Pressing his body tightly against the wall, he opens of the many doors available to him in the hallway, using it for cover, as he fires the shotgun to take out the Genii shooting at him. He hits the man straight in the stomach, a fatal wound if the man's not wearing Kevlar, but John doesn't check as he continues forward, heading to the ground control room.
He doesn't have to look inside to know it's empty; had Kolya still been keeping Elizabeth there, he would have had more than the two Genii that John just took out in the area.
This means they moved. John curses, his eyes falling to the stairs.
He goes up.
Dex is a wall behind Elizabeth as he guides her through the dark, winding hallways of her current prison to wherever Kolya and Kenmore are taking her to. The Genii following them disperse at intervals as they move up and forward, going down separate halls, guns out, looking for John and whoever is with him. Elizabeth meanwhile, has been separately cataloguing all the possible exits and escape routes she can take. It was very stupid of Kolya and Kenmore to let her see their set up.
They reach a set of double doors with a keypad next to it and Elizabeth feels Dex's hand on her shoulder, stopping her. She spares a look over her shoulder to see if she can pick something more from the man, but he's staring straight ahead, expressionless. She gets half pushed, half ushered inside while Kolya is ordering the last of his men to guard the perimeter.
As Kolya goes to close the door, he meets Dex's eyes, something passing between the two men that Elizabeth doesn't pick up on. Whatever it is, it has Dex nodding and stiffening, reaching for her gag. He bends his head slightly and grins, mouthing one word as behind them Kolya is looking at his monitors and Kenmore is checking his cell phone.
Elizabeth blinks and the final piece falls together. Undercover. She returns an acknowledging look and licks her lips.
"I told you he was going to kill you." She grins, eyes flitting to the door.
"I think you've failed to notice that we are, in fact, not dead, Detective Weir." Kenmore stuffs his cell phone in his jacket, replacing it with a bottle of pills he opens and pours a fair amount in his hand, again.
"Yet," Elizabeth corrects as Kenmore chases his pills down with a drink from the small bar they have in the room. She turns to Kolya, "You should know better, Kolya."
Kolya tilts his head towards her, "What about exactly, Weir? Sheppard? Don't worry I do, that's why I have all my guards mobilising to take him out. One man can't stop all my guards. No matter how good or determined he is."
Elizabeth twists her lips, eyebrow raised, "I meant Kenmore. Working with a drug addict Kolya? I have to admit, I expected better of you. But I find it interesting how focused you are on John. You wouldn't be nervous, would you?"
She can feel Kenmore's eyes bore into her as Kolya's jaw clenches. "You know nothing about me, Weir." Kenmore's voice is laced with venom and ice, and Elizabeth holds back a smile. He walks to the desk that Kolya is leaning on, setting his drink down, eyes flashing. "You know of my illness, I'm sure. Beckett was always so eager to help, I'm sure he told you everything he knew. My illness, I can admit, is a curse, but a curse I have harnessed and soon will find a cure for. Until that day, I am happy occupying my time gathering funding for my test runs as they were."
Elizabeth can't help but feel disgusted at Kenmore's words, "By handing them to everyone you can? That's despicable. Half the people you're selling too aren't even sick, just addicts that don't know any better."
Kenmore just shrugs, advancing on her, a feral smile on his face."Every experiment has variables. It's important to see how my creation affects all people. Ill or not."
"Why?" She shakes her head, shocked to see such dismissal in the man.
"Because, Detective, once I find the right combination of compounds I'll free myself from all these pills. Until then, it pays. All these test runs allow me to know what affects who and how." Kenmore's grin is bordering deranged and sends shivers up Elizabeth's spine, "I plan to erase all forms of sickness one day, and you can't tell me people won't pay for that."
Elizabeth glares at the pale man, taking a step forward. "So in the end it's all about money, like always. You're insane," she spits out, turning back to Kolya, "Like I said, I expected better from you, Kolya. You used to have principles."
Kolya smirks, shutting the radio he had been using off, "Principles are useless without funding. Now, it appears from what my Genii are telling me, your partner didn't come alone, Weir." He opens the door, ordering the guarding Genii to the lower levels; then he turns back to Elizabeth. "Don't worry, we'll take care of both of them soon enough." He steps up to Dex, who never ended up leaving the room, about to issue an order.
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow, looking at the man standing a head taller than the well-suited Genii leader.
A moment later, the butt of his gun connects with Kolya's head and she spins quickly, using her still cuffed hands to hit Kenmore across the face hard enough to disorient him before taking a fistful of his hair and slamming his face against the table.
As he drops to the floor, she turns to Dex. "Where's John?"
Dex smirks, amused, and Elizabeth thinks she really likes the younger man, "He's trying to blow a hole in this building to find you."
"How sweet," Elizabeth says, but the smile is genuine and she bends to take Kolya's gun, as he's still wearing it.
"You two have a weird sense of romance." He quickly un-cuffs her, hoisting his gun against his shoulder and nodding to the door, "This way."
Elizabeth nods and follows, but pauses as she takes a look at Kolya and Kenmore. "We need to restrain them first."
A couple minutes later, Elizabeth and Ronon leave the room, Kolya and Kenmore handcuffed together to one of the chairs. They rush the hallways as if the devil is on their heels, Dex filing her in on what Plan A was and how they've skipped right over to Plan C now.
Dex moves like a panther, all instinct as he takes out Genii before they even see them, tossing her an extra gun and clips when Kolya's runs out of ammo before she even asks, and then sliding on the floor near the intersection with the stairs, signaling her to keep back as Genii rush past them. She kneels behind him, catching her breath, her leg burning like a mother, and makes the mental note that maybe she needs to take up gym time with Teyla again and get checked by Carson when all this is over. He is motioning to her to stay quiet with closed fist brought up by his shoulder, waiting to move again, when the world shakes.
He's halfway to where he, Murray and Dex had planned to rendezvous if Dex and Elizabeth hadn't been in the room that Dex had singled out when the explosion shakes the mansion and John stumbles into a wall. He can hear the wood and marble collapsing on top of each other, can feel the entire foundation shake and tilt, and right away he knows what has happened, and how fucked they are.
Pressing the button on his radio, he contacts Murray, "Murray?"
"It was not I, Sheppard. Genii must have found the explosives in the basement." Murray confirms John's suspicions, because it hadn't been time for that particular surprise yet.
"Fuck it," John curses, continuing to move, the floor shaking under his feet. He had figured as much - Murray didn't seem the type to change the plan mid, well, plan.
"Indeed." Murray's deep voice resonates through the radio and he hears the crackle of static as Murray begins to move again.
"The other explosives?" John crouches next to a wall covered in shadows, regrouping.
"It only appears the it was the ones in the basement that were triggered. The building's stability is greatly compromised." Murray says over the radio, when the static gets worse and he hears words like 'walls collapsing' and 'access blocked' and runs like he hasn't in years. His feet are pounding on the floor and obstacles melt out of his path because he's taking them like hurdles. This, he thinks, in the haze of passing, crumbling walls, is not the plan. His second one is, some idiot Genii must have pressed the button marked 'do not push!', and he feels very angry with Kolya's men.
This is a mess, a stupid fucking mess, and Elizabeth's in the middle of it. Their carefully plotted paths and ETAs and tactics have just been stripped down to what's Plan D for the desperate or Plan F for Fucked.
Dex and Murray will keep them back as long as they can, and John, leaping over a fallen pillar and under a closing door before another pillar falls behind to block it off, seals himself in with the danger, in with the bad guys and in with Elizabeth.
The shake the mansion went through had thrown Elizabeth and Ronon into the wall, both of them reaching out and steadying themselves against it, when it happened.
Elizabeth now watches as Dex pulls himself to his full height, dark eyes looking up and down the hall they stood in. He holds his gun tightly in his hand, glancing over at Elizabeth, where she can see he is clearly worried. Behind them Elizabeth can hear things still falling.
"Call me Ronon," he offers offhandedly, reaching into his leather jacket and pulling out a small radio, slipping the ear piece in his ear.
Elizabeth blinks, before letting the corner of her lips curl quietly amused, "Okay, Ronon, what's going on, now?"
He doesn't answer her straight away, still seeming to fiddle with the radio, when he curses at the static he's receiving, "What just shook this ugly ass mansion was not supposed to happen until much later."
"And when was it supposed to happen?" Elizabeth asks, taking the extra clips Dex — Ronon — hands over to her.
"Later, when Sheppard had you in his sights and we were on our way of here." Ronon curses again, the radio still not working, and gives a dark look to Elizabeth. "We're going have to move, quickly - quicker than before, to the rendezvous point. This place is collapsing."
"Okay, I'm ready." Mentally, Elizabeth is cursing the fact she actually enables John's action movie addiction, because, fuck, she can hear things falling apart all around her.
Ronon nods, and signals to the left, "Now!"
They begin rushing down the hall again, when they reach a junction in the floor-plans and an angry group of Genii. She sees them first, yelling a warning, but Ronon is front of her, and just as the warning escapes her lips, he has one hand pushing her back behind a wall.
A myriad of bullets slice through the air by the corner of the wall and Elizabeth closes her eyes at the sound of them shattering the various windows they hit, the glass shards flying out like crystallised rain. She can feel Dex's large body half to her side, a small comfort in the moment as the Genii keep shooting.
"We need to get out of here." She cranes her head up to look at him, and sees as he turns his head towards the corner that's doing it's job to keep the out of the line of fire and nods.
"This is what we're going to do." Ronon turns to her, detailing his plan, and Elizabeth has to swallow before answering.
"Are you crazy, you're going to get us killed." She peers around Ronon's body to see the small group of Genii still standing their guard, yelling at them to come out.
"We'll never know if we don't try." Ronon smiles, and Elizabeth can't help but notice how young he really is (probably not that much older that Ford, the voice in the back of her mind tells her).
Elizabeth takes a breath and checks her gun, "I swear, I'm spending too much time with Cameron and John."
Ronon smile grows bigger, and tosses her an extra magazine clips, "You're ballsy, Detective Weir."
"Elizabeth," she smiles.
"Remember, head up and to the left; the back stairway is where we want to be, so follow it down. Most of the guards won't be looking that way."
She nods and bites her lip, "Ronon, thank you."
He says nothing and gives her the count off. On three, they move. Ronon's in front, his powerful, long legs carrying him faster than Elizabeth's. He turns the corner, using the high-caliber hand gun to take off the right side of the closest Genii's face, pushing the fallen man back to one of his comrades, firing the second shot right after. Behind him, Elizabeth fires her gun, catching the man to the left as she moves towards the stairway like Ronon had said. She looks over to Ronon, still firing rapid shots covering him as he keeps taking out Genii, distracting them from her. Bullets fly into the cheap pillars and send as much blood into the air as plaster dust.
The Genii think there's only two of them and that they've gotten them trapped; the Genii are idiots, Elizabeth thinks. She breathes, turning and catching Ronon's eyes one last time as she reaches the stairs, sending one last thank you. The Genii rushing down doesn't even see her as she fires a perfect shot that sends him tumbling down. As she rushes up, she picks up the gun the Genii had strapped to his back and at the top she settles on the ground quickly, lining up the shot in the rifle. Two seconds later, the Genii aiming for Ronon is down and she can hear him urging her to get a move on, as he moves toward the stairs.
Elizabeth does so she sees he's rushing up to where she is, running to the left like he said, when she hears the blast and following crash. She looks back and sees the stairway has collapses and Ronon is not on at the edge. Rushing back, she carefully peer over the edge, eyes growing wide as she sees Ronon's body crashed out on floor in hole below her, covering in dust and plaster and wood.
She calls out for him, her body reacting on instinct and going to move down to help him, when she hears the gunfire and throws herself backwards on the floor, moving back. She makes it the farthest wall she can and closes her eyes for one brief second, hearing the shouting of the remaining Genii, the other sounds of gunfire, before taking a breath, slamming her fist into her tired thighs and standing, breaking out into a run to where Ronon told her to go.
John just barely rolls out of the way of the falling debris, watching as a flight of stairs collapses in front of his eyes. He sees a body fall, the large frame hitting the ground with heavy bang that has John wincing. When he recognises the body as that of Ronon Dex he rushes forward, paying no mind to the Genii that were chasing him begin firing again, drowning out John's yell for the fallen man.
He has minimal cover at the moment, the most available to him an overturned hall table that he crouches behind and grabs on of the flash bombs he has clipped to his tac vest. He needs to get moving, but first, Dex; he's not leaving the man there, if he's still alive. Calling for a hail mary, John rises from behind the table and throws the M84 stun grenade towards the Genii, crouching down, hand over ears. When he hears it go off, he knows he has to be fast and rushes back towards Dex's form. Keeping low to the ground he presses his fingers to Dex's neck, confirming heartbeat, and slaps the man awake.
Disoriented, Dex's eyes snap open, groaning, hand automatically reaching out to punch John when John manages to catch it.
"Woah, there. Dex, it's Sheppard."
Dex blinks again for a couple seconds, "Sheppard, I was just with… fuck," he trails off, shaking his head, leaving John to him into a sitting position.
"Walk and talk, Dex, we need to be getting out of here. Now." John pulls the other man forward, seeing as some of the Genii are regaining their bearings.
The man moves as John pulls him down the corridor, covering their six as the Genii start mobilising again. Before the turn the corner, he throws his other grenade. That one makes a nice, satisfactory booming sound.
They're not even thirty feet from where John was when Ronon pushes him in into wall.
"What the fuck, Dex?" John looks into the man's wild eyes.
"Weir, she was with me!" Ronon sounds desperate and John freezes, because, he knew that. It had been the plan, Dex was going to bring her to John out before it all went to shit and by all accounts she should be with him now.
His brain starts to review the scene, but he didn't see her. She hadn't fallen along with Dex, she hadn't been the rubble. With wide eyes, he turns on Dex.
"What happened?! Where is she now?" He feels his entire body vibrating, on edge, as if his molecules were struggling to stay together at an atomic level - everything in him pulsating unable to stabilise itself.
Dex shakes his head, dreadlocks free and shaking around his head, his temple bleeding, "We were up stairs, and ran into a group of Genii; they were blocking the back stairs. We rushed them, I told her to climb and try to get the stairs from that floor. I was right behind her when the stairway collapsed."
"Was she okay?" John covers Dex's shoulder with his hand, restraining himself from shaking the man.
Dex nods, "She made it up fine. She should be on her way to the back now."
John breathes; he can feel his whole body releasing built up tension at those words, but until he can see Elizabeth in front of him he knows he'll still be feeling the pressure in his chest, like a weight that pulls him below water. His laugh is drier and coated with dry tears as he clasps Dex's arms.
"Okay, okay." He takes inventory of his and Dex's injuries and weapons, standing to his full height. They're both worse for the wear, but he didn't just fall through an entire level of a house; he licks his lips and clicks his radio, "Murray, you read?"
It takes a couple minutes, but Murray's deep voice filters through the radio, "I am here, Sheppard."
"Okay, good, I have Elizabeth's position, but Dex just fell through the roof. I'm on the second floor by the collapsed stairs; you think you can get here?" Everything in John needs to get moving toward Elizabeth, but he doesn't want to leave Dex injured in this maze.
In front of him Dex grunts, "I'm fine." Hoisting his gun back towards his shoulder he goes to move, but he drops back to the wall disoriented. On the radio Murray gives his affirmative that's he's on his way.
"He'll be here." John thanks Murray, scoffing at Dex, looking behind him. He knows he should wait until Murray gets here so all three can move together, but he's practically bouncing out of his skin.
Dex's hand reaches out and grabs his shoulder, "Go, I'll be fine." He grins, lifting his gun again, checking his clips. "I can handle whoever comes my way."
John's already rushing down the hall, nodding his thanks, moving toward Elizabeth.
Elizabeth has never hated a house more than she does this one. She doesn't stop moving, her legs pumping as they try to find the back stairs of this maze. She gets to the end of a hallway that ends in a T-junction, looking down both passage ways, hands on her knees as she takes deep breaths. Cursing the architect, she sees it: there down at left junction she can see the stair's banister just at the end of the hall, when she feels a compression wave slide past her and in front of her a window now has a neat bullet hole whose surrounding cracks spiral out in a neat spider-web.
"You're coming with me, Detective." Kolya sneers from behind her. "I'd appreciate it if you dropped your gun."
"Kolya…" For a second Elizabeth can't pull air into her body, everything in her frozen.
"Gun, and take the clip out before you drop it." Kolya orders.
Her gun is held tightly in her right hand, but at the moment it's a little more than dead weight. She's good; if she turned she could hit Kolya square in the chest, but she can admit she's not fast enough -- before she even spun around he'd have a round in her shoulder. She's lost the leverage in this battle. Still, she stares at the reflection in the window, the dark night turning the glass into a mirror of apparent black liquid, trying to see just where Kolya's standing behind her - there's always plan B. She brings the gun up, removing the clip from the magazine and then dropping the gun and clip to the floor.
"You and Dex should have killed us, Weir. Leaving us alive means leaving someone for my Genii to wake up." She can hear Kolya's footsteps as he approaches until he's right behind her, the barrel of his gun pressed at her neck.
"Move." He orders, kicking the two items on the floor away from them. "Now."
"Where are you taking me?" Elizabeth asks, moving down the hall to the left - she can appreciate the irony.
"You have, Detective, have proven to be more of an annoyance than I thought. Unfortunately for you this also means that keeping you hostage has become more lucrative for me. Can't you just imagine what they'd give me for you?" She can hear him grinning and wonder just how soon she will be able to slap him. "Open the door," he says, pushing her to the door about five feet from the stairway.
"You'll never get the chance, Kolya. You'll be done by the end of the night." Elizabeth grips the door knob, wrapping her fingers around it, pushing the door open, getting the distance she needs to pull her elbow back, connecting with Kolya's solar plexus.
At least, almost.
Kolya neatly grabs her arm and twists it, slamming her into the door.
"Now, Weir, you wouldn't be trying to escape now would you?" His voice curls around her ears, repulsing her.
She can feel blood sliding down her cheek, mixing with her sweat, the trail it leaves behind as it drops off when it reaches the line of jaw looking like a tear stain - but she hasn't cried. She won't. She's not planning to. She bites down on her inner cheek hard as a long forgotten quote drifts through her minds; love isn't brain, child, it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to work it's will. Her mouth filling with the familiar coppery tang, she can taste it, she's bitten it hard enough that the inside bruise will match the outside one.
As Kolya pushes her up the small stair way that resides behind the door, she never stops feeling the gun at her back and his hand twisting roughly, her skin feeling like it's going to separate from her. He pulls and shoves her out onto the soaking rooftop and Elizabeth is drenched almost two seconds later; the blood in her mouth mixes with her saliva and shethinks of John. Kolya is screaming over her shoulder into his radio and rain, but she's stopped listening.
She's thinking of John and just John; John and the fact he's somewhere below her feet—
She can hear his voice.
Her eyes snap to the radio in Kolya's hand and she realises her mistake when she sees Kolya smile. He pushes her out farther along the roof, gun point straight at her chest. The dangerous, coiled and erratic anger in his movement doesn't carry into his voice; that is a cold, vicious snake that slides down her throat to lie as a dead weight in her stomach. His eyes are sharp and bright, like those of a child discovering that pulling a wing from a buzzing insect can't make it scream.
"I'm going to tell John Sheppard that I'm going to kill you," he says lightly, grinning. "I won't actually do so, but if he doesn't stop his assault in my property, that might change."
Part of her is wondering if he really thinks he's buying himself more time. Part of her is wondering just exactly how John will react, and it's the part curled like a clenched fist around her beating heart; they've been in a lot of situations, but they've never thought the other dead.
"You can't believe that's going to work, do you?" She wraps her arms around her middle, trying to fend of the shiver from the rain.
"You'd be surprised what people do when they think somebody they love is in danger." Kolya reaches for his radio and Elizabeth steps forward.
"You're desperate," she whispers in the rain, "I can see it in your eyes; you know this won't work. Hell, you have us cornered on the roof of your crumbling headquarters because John has left you anywhere to hide, Kolya." She takes another step, "You have nowhere to go, Kolya. You and Kenmore have nowhere to turn."
Kolya shocks her then and fires and misses. He misses, because he knows better than to kill her now and all it does is reinforce Elizabeth theory.
He is desperate, "But Kenmore isn't here, is he?" She can barely feel her fingers now, as the cold starts seeping through her clothes and skin more fully, but she only presses her lips together, in knowledge. "He's gone, am I right?"
Kolya curses, "The fucker, he was gone before my Genii found me." He's angry now, his hands are shaking in the rain more than before, and Elizabeth curls her fingers tighter in her shirt.
"Kenmore is a smart man. I know all about him, he's a leech, takes what he need and goes. He got what he needed from you, Kolya, and left you with nothing." Elizabeth swallows, straightening her shoulders, feet apart, "you should have known better. Now you only got me and soon you won't even have that."
Kolya scoffs, "And what does that me—"
He never finishes his sentence because Elizabeth pulls what she's sure is the stupidest move she's pulled all night, but it's was her only way out. She whips out her hand, grabbing at Kolya's wrist to twist his arm violently, and mentally thanks Teyla for the lessons as his body bends away from her.
Kolya moves too, his fist reaching out, but her leg is quicker and she slams her knee into his face.
John hears the gunshot halfway to the back stairs and pushes his legs harder. By the time he reaches and climbs them, he stares into an empty hallway with a broken window towards the end. Cursing, he's moving forward when he sees the door — roof access, he remembers from the floor-plan Dex gave — and sprints up.
The rain has been steadily falling since his and Murray's arrival God knows how long ago, and he's only been half aware that it's almost a full on storm by now. Stepping out into the rain, he blinks back the water that gathers quickly on his face while he stares at the scene in front of him.
She's standing, soaked to the bone, her hair plastered to her neck, point a gun at Kolya's fallen figure. John can tell right away that's she's breathing heavily, her shoulders are heaving rapidly, and he doesn't waste another second before moving towards her.
"Elizabeth." His voice sounds too hoarse in the rain and while he can see her shoulder drop as he speaks, she doesn't move. Not an inch.
When he reaches her side, he looks between her and Kolya. On the ground, Kolya appears to be alive, his nose already bruising and probably broken; next to him he can see the bruise and cut on Elizabeth's cheek, and remembering the blood at the apartment reminds him she probably has one more serious injury. He doesn't even blink when he pulls his gun on the fallen man.
Somehow it's this move that snaps Elizabeth out of whatever haze she's in.
"John, don't." It's the first time he's hears her voice since their call over twenty-fucking-four hours ago and he looks from Kolya to her.
"Elizabeth," He lowers his gun even though she still hasn't, because Kolya doesn't matter as long as he has her back.
"It's just like that night, isn't it, John? You, me and who pulls the trigger." Her voice is broken by the rain, but he can see green fire in her eyes.
"It's different, Elizabeth; this time it isn't mercy." John slides next to her, shoulder touching shoulder, and they both look at Kolya, who glares up at them.
"Shoot me, you asses," he growls at them and John feels his entire body itch for the trigger.
"Don't give us an excuse, Kolya." John lifts his gun again, matching Elizabeth's stance, "Because I would gladly take it."
Kolya laughs, laughs, "You're both too good, too clean cut—" he breathes heavily, the rain mixed with his blood creating rivets down his chin. "You'll let them arrest me and I'll get out, I always do. And next time, I'll kill you both. Weir, first—"
Kolya doesn't get to finish because John pulls the trigger of his gun and next to him Elizabeth is doing the same.
They both shoot twice. Four bullets are lodged into Kolya's chest and as the man's kneeling body falls heavily on the wet rooftop, John and Elizabeth turn to each other.
John can see the tears that Elizabeth hasn't and won't shed in her eyes and slips his arm around her waist, curling his body around hers. He brings his gun free hand up to cup her chin softly and leans his forehead against hers, watching as Elizabeth closes her eyes. He doesn't bother with stupid questions like is she okay; she isn't, he can feel it. Neither of them are, so why he presses his lips almost chastely against hers he can't explain except he's been waiting two day and ten years to do so and now is a good a time as any.
When he pulls back, he catches her eyes and sees the worried shock there, and the curious want. The latter relieves him, the former doesn't let the following words surprise him.
"That was so not the time to do that, John." Elizabeth's voice is trembling and he's not smug enough to think it's because of him now.
John shrugs, "I blame the rain."
Elizabeth laughs, brightly and fucking tired, resting her head his shoulder, every second longer they stand on the rooftop, the raindrops and the storm soak them through, but they don't move. The crumbling structure and the thought of hypothermia is something they are both aware of but don't move to avoid or prevent. Then, snapping them out of the small moment of comfort, the blinking red and blue lights of the police sirens that are slicking closer in the haze of rain. John drops his shoulder, feeling the tension finally dissipating and faces Elizabeth, who is looking at him as cold and wet as him and begins to pull her towards the building again.
"The cavalry has arrived." He says and together they look at each other and at Kolya again.
"They always do." Without another glance backwards, they move off the roof.
They made it through the throng of cops that had gathered downstairs, over running the lawn while the SWAT team wrangled the remaining Genii that still littered the premises. Elizabeth had floated through it all, detached, never more than two feet away from John as Mitchell had rushed up and hugged her, covering them both with blankets and, as Teyla gently pulled her away from his grip and asked her if she was up to going to the station for question. She had answered yes, while John had answered no, and she barely remembers the argument when Jack had cut through the scene, standing in front of them.
The night and the rain had made his eyes look black and he didn't smile when his hands slipped into his pockets, not hugging them. "Kolya's dead," had been what he said and she and John had stiffened.
She remembers his frame in the rain, the leather bomber jacket he wore, glistening with blue and red water drops and answered, "It was me."
Jack had looked at them, already knowing what happened, and nodded, the smirk twisting at the corner of his lips, elegiac, "I see." He turned from them giving a look to Cameron and Teyla, "they can come in tomorrow, we have Ronon and T.C to fill our night." With one last look and nod he walked away to where the two previous men stood, looking impervious to the rain.
Elizabeth remembers following Jack's figure to the two of them, John trailing her every step, until she had stood in front of the two hulking frames and on impulse and gratitude had given a hug to both. Their thanks are muddled with John slipping an arm around and telling her that Cameron would give them a ride, but she remembers their smiles.
Everything after that was a swirl of being checked over by Keller, rain, streetlights, John's arms, night sky and cold.
Their building still stood tall and steady when Cameron had pulled up, his goodnight had been quiet as he drove away at John's reassurance and they had passed her apartment without a thought. Everything felt like it was on automatic and when John has motioned her into a hot shower, she hadn't argued.
Now, everything was different. The water had shaken her out of her daze and Elizabeth stands in the middle of John's bedroom in a towel. John's in the living room, and quickly she knows she needs to get out there. Going to his closet she finds a t-shirt and slips it on, moving out of the room and making a stop in the laundry room where she keeps some extra clothes for emergencies. Her pyjama pants are worn and comfortable, and loose enough not to irritate the new bandage that Keller had wrapped around her thigh. The bullet had been mostly a flesh wound, but everything in that thigh now feels tight, stretched over like a rubber band ready to snap, thankfully Keller had assured her she was in no danger.
Making her way to the living room she isn't shocked at the sight. He's stalking the small area between his couch and the window and she's surprised he hasn't punched a hole in something. She can feel waves of anger and tension roll of his body in dark waves. His fingers are curled in tight balls at his side and how he isn't cracking the bones in his hands, she doesn't know. She wants to step forward, but something roots her to the spot and then pulls her to the kitchen. Her body is reacting like it does, like it has done, to all the other aftermaths of all the other messes they found themselves in, even though she knows this one is different. But she can't stop her body and with one last look at him, she steps into his kitchen and goes to the fridge, like she's done before, picking out the two beers by their long and cold necks with one hand. She shakes her head at her actions and makes the mental note to remind him to go grocery shopping, heading back out to the living room.
He's stopped pacing, resting his hands over the back of the couch, his fingers still curled, knuckles white over the edge.
Elizabeth has seen John in every state possible - from the teasing playful side that comes when the job isn't tearing him apart, the gentle, reassuring side that slips his hand around her waist and pulls her into his side, to the moments the quiet rage that simmers on low in every step he takes on a bad day - Elizabeth knows John better than she knows her herself (the same applies vice versa) and seeing this John, when the rage is threatening to make him boil over and robs him of any movement for his own fear of lashing out, she knows she can't stop it. She wouldn't anyway; she knows him too well think it can be stopped, but she's learned she can taper it off until it needs to be accessed.
Stepping over to him she presses the cool chill of the bottles to his arm, making him look her way as she places them on the end table by the couch, before she steps into his space and rests her hand on the back of his neck. His head drops and she can hear his shuddering breath, "Elizabeth". She can see the tension dropping the smallest fraction of an inch, but more importantly she can feel the dark bubbling of hate in him lessen, not to be used here, and then she's in his arms pressed between him and the couch. John's fingers are digging into her hips and his forehead is hot against her shoulder, his breath brushing against her clavicle and with every stroke of her hand at the nap of his neck, she knows he's coming back to her.
"John, I'm okay. I'm here." Everything is settling down inside him, allowing her to rest more comfortably against the back of the couch, his weight heavy on her front.
He sighs into her neck, the arm around his waist pulling her closer, tighter against him, letting Elizabeth feel just how tired and scared he has been the last two days. Gently, she palms each side of his face and brings it up to meet his eyes; the hazel is burning tired and dark, and the intensity has her pressing her lips together before speaking. "We should get some sleep." She leans her upper body back, putting some space between their bodies, swallowing.
He doesn't stop staring at her, loosening the arm around her waist, but not letting go. "Your apartment's a mess. I didn't clean up."
She laughs quietly, because she has to, stroking a thumb across a bruise on his chin, "It's okay, I'll sleep here."
John blinks, and for a second Elizabeth thinks he's going retreat back into being the tense joker he can be, when he smiles, tired but happy, reaching a hand up to twine with one of hers, and kisses her again, softly like on the roof, and pulls her to the bedroom.
At the threshold, Elizabeth pulls on his hand like a child tugging their best friend towards the park when they don't want to go, biting her lip, "We're just sleeping tonight." She nervously points out, because this is John and okay, she's thought about it, but not like this, after all that's happened this week and with conversations still dangling like hooks over their head.
John looks at her over his shoulder, seeming almost affronted, "Of course we are, Elizabeth," he grins, the twitch at the corner lustful, "I'm planning to woo you."
Elizabeth smiles, nodding, sliding past him towards the bed and pulls the covers back, "Well, come on then."
They slip into the bed easily, as sleeping platonically together isn't altogether new, but the feeling behind John's arm around her waist and Elizabeth's leg over his is. She can feel the night growing darker around her, them, and closes her eyes. Sleep comes faster than she expected, her exhausted body giving in to exhaustion, John's snores lulling her.
It's Wednesday morning and it hasn't stopped raining since Sunday night, except for the few snatches of sun Atlantis steals, and John's shoulder aches like motherfucker, the muscles raw and still aching, when he slams the filing cabinet closed with a curse. Across the room he hears Elizabeth snort a laugh and he turns to glare. It's not fair, he thinks, that she gets honest to God, Carson prescribed pain killers for her flesh wound, when he can only have the over the counter stuff.
"It's not funny, Elizabeth. It hurts," he pouts, walking over, cringing at his sore, knotted, back muscles when he sits at the corner of her desk.
"I'm sorry, did the cabinet hurt you again?" She turns to him, leaning on her hand, and twists her lip in mock sympathy. It makes her look insanely hot, John thinks, then grins that he doesn't have to censor himself when those thoughts creep up anymore.
"You know, from that mocking, one would think you're not grateful that I practically blew up a building for you." He pouts, again, which makes her smile — the point. Her smile has been growing a bit more in brightness each day since Sunday night, and soon, he hopes, he might not even have to force it out, coaxing like you would do to do a stubborn friend after a break up.
Elizabeth leans up, wincing at her own sore muscles, her lips smiling against the side of his mouth, "You know I'm grateful; after all, a building? That means you must really, really like me. If it had been a car it only means you sorta like me."
John doesn't know how she does it, but that too — insanely hot. He follows the lean of her body as she leans back in her chair, smirking.
"Damn straight." He's sliding a hand into her hair when the door swings open bringing in the cool air from the rain.
They both snap their head to the door, stiffening at Jack's wet figure shaking a hand through his hair at the threshold, dripping water on their floor.
"So," he gives them a stare, "can I come in?" The rain making his grey hair darker, creating the illusion of a younger, happier Jack, unlike in sunlight where you can every line and crease in the man, the shadows harsher than in the dusty rain.
John almost wants to say no, because, hello, interruption, and yeah, he's still slightly ticked at Jack, but Elizabeth grins up at their old boss, and stands for a hug. John watches, noticing how more gentler Jack's being even with his normal amount of awkwardness. She motions Jack to a chair that he waves off.
"I'm not gonna be here long, just wanted to check in and let you two know that I've officially closed the file on Kolya and what happened at the old mansion."
John nods, "And, what does it say?"
Jack smiles, "Just what happened: we got a tip on Kolya moving his shipment thanks to an undercover officer and we were able to move in and detain him before it could happen." He pauses meeting their gazes, "During the assault Kolya was taken down and his partner Kenmore disappeared. The shipment was stopped. End of story in my book."
Next to John, Elizabeth lifts a hand to the bruise on her cheek, shaking her thoughts away, "And us?"
"Collaborating with the ACPD, like always, right?" Jack smirks, smug.
Elizabeth licks her lips, nodding, "Yeah, like always."
"Yeah," Jack gives John one last nod, remembering their talk, "Well, that's my cue. Remember to invite me for the wedding." He salutes with a grin, reaching for the knob.
"We're not getting married." John protests, pointing a finger at Jack.
"Might wanna tell Mitchell that; he's taking bets on the wedding date." Jack looks over his shoulder, shocking John when he winks at Elizabeth, "I mean, you blew up a building, Sheppard."
"Almost blew up a building." He points out, a little too loudly if Elizabeth's laugh is anything to go by.
"Schematics," are Jack's last words, as he leaves the office just like he came, quiet, with the door swinging behind him to let the cool air from the rain mix with the air inside, and his body blends into the rain as he makes his way to his car across the street.
Turning to Elizabeth, who is reining her laughter back, John narrows his eyes, "don't."
Elizabeth does fake innocence well, he thinks as she gives him the 'who me?' look, sitting back down, "You mean like say— told ya so?" John groans. "You like me!"
Groaning, John rolls his eyes, ignoring Elizabeth's laughter and not giving her benefit of the doubt, as it's not like she's wrong, and lowers himself into his chair. As soon as he does, the phone rings and across the office Elizabeth's head snaps up.