Spoilers: For S2 "Lockdown".
A/N: Thanks to Fanwoman for the betareading. This story will be in five parts - parts two and three will be up later this coming week for certain and the last two the week after hopefully.
Nothing was right. How could it be? Barricaded in the basement office he shared with his colleagues, the piles of handy furniture against the door were a vague reassurance against the insanity that had descended upon NTAC, but physical safety was not his only concern. He didn't feel right, either. The only consolation was he knew why, if not exactly how or who was causing the signal. And he knew who would be fixing it, if anyone could. Him.
Despite having tied them up an hour ago, Brady and PJ were sitting still. Their calm was odd, considering how they must have felt, hyped up just the same as he was. The advantages of being resident geeks, rather than field agents, meant they were without standard issue firearms. Due to their relatively docile natures, coupled with their intellect, they'd managed to retain relative control of themselves and not kill each other. Thankfully, he'd been able to take advantage of the suspiciousness they harboured, and it had been fairly easy to trick them into the situation he'd engineered. Brady was shooting him daggered looks, he was sure, but it was really the least of his worries right now.
There had to be a way to counter the signal, but it was so hard to concentrate on anything. Marco set down his marker and used his palms to massage his temples, though it didn't really do any good. This wasn't your garden-variety headache. In fact, it wasn't even a headache, but it did your head in, regardless. All he wanted was some relief from the cloud that had settled over his mind – he wanted to be able to think clearly, but his thoughts were jumbled, coherency escaping him more and more as the minutes passed.
He was getting closer to a solution - he could feel it - but at the same time, getting there was becoming exponentially harder. It was a constant struggle to keep his brain on track, and he wasn't sure when his capacity to resist would give out. Everyone had a breaking point. He didn't like his being tested like that – not when failure could result in casualties or even fatalities. Also, Diana was relying on him. It irked him that she'd take for granted that he'd do what she wanted, but deeper down he knew why – she trusted him, needed him to help her and Maia out of this. That was what kept him going, working harder, trying to go against the current of his adrenaline-addled anatomy.
In addition to his job, he worked on problems for Diana. This was both; he just needed to keep reminding himself of that. It was his job and his pleasure as well. He was, however, disturbed at just how much of him was thinking of the pleasure he might gain for doing this, but he couldn't stop the ideas from forming. Of course, he was doing it for her, but the difficulty was he couldn't let his mind wander to thinking about her because then it would be over. It was like knowing there was a carrot on a stick as incentive but not being able to see it. He shouldn't have needed any incentive, but it was working. Perhaps it was more precise to consider it was getting him working in general so he wasn't going to question his motives. Besides which, the state he was in meant almost everything he did or thought was suspect; the only way to endure this was to appeal to simple desires and run with it, to go on instinct and be glad he was no where near her to act on any of those desires. He'd already jumped down her throat twice on the phone. As much as he hated to be putting extra pressure on her at a time like this, the words had slipped out, spoken with a spiteful vehemence that was quite unlike him. She was in trouble, and he tried to focus on that, though he knew he was rapidly failing in that task.
Thump. Thump. THUMP.
He jumped at the noise, turning to see the hastily made barricade scatter across the floor. Only a few, low level items blocked the door off, offering hardly any protection from the intrusion. A mostly unintelligible yet clearly angry bellow emanated through the crack of the door, and Marco decided the only sensible way to deal with this was to comply. He wanted to confront them, tell them to go away and let him do his job – he was practically itching to do so - but he knew whoever it was would be armed. There was no arguing with bullets.
He set down his marker and scrambled for the cable cutters on a nearby desk but was interrupted by the fervent bellow of those outside, who weren't so happy at being kept waiting.
"Open the door. IMMEDIATELY!"
So he pocketed the tool and promptly cleared the remaining things out of the door's berth and took a breath before opening it as calmly as he could manage, then taking a few steps backwards to put distance between himself and the visitors. He was faced by two sturdy men, part of the newly introduced NSA team. There faces were impassive as they studied him for a second, but they still looked tense and sweaty, making him certain no one had escaped the effects of the signal.
"This the theory room?" one of them asked blandly.
He doubted lying was going to get him anywhere...
"Yeah," he replied simply, waiting for their agenda to come to the forefront before he gave up any additional information.
"You're the head honcho, right? The best guy they've got?"
He opted for safe modesty, in case denial or too enthusiastic agreement got him in trouble somehow.
"Then you're with us," said the still nameless NSA agent, indicating with a hand movement over his shoulder that they were to move out. It didn't sound like there was room for negotiation, but he wasn't about to give up so lightly. He was the best hope for resolving the escalating crisis they found themselves in – and he couldn't deny he wanted to rebel on some level, however unhealthy an option that could ultimately prove to be. Even as delayed as it apparently was, compared to everyone else in the building, he was really starting to lose control.
"Well, I'm a little busy here," he said, not being able to suppress the sarcasm laced in the response. The two grunts were unfazed.
"You're going to resolve the situation," was the gruff and very stiffly delivered reply. The agents' patience was definitely being tried. Marco was severely tempted to correct him. Despite his own inclination to be unreasonable, he didn't think any amount of reasoning would persuade one of these guys, and it wouldn't be long before any attempt to do so was likely to get his ass kicked or worse. He glanced back at Brady and decided there was only one course of action that had much of a chance; he'd go with the NSA guys. He'd do what they wanted - within reason and ability - and hope to God that his two colleagues managed to settle their differences long enough to work on the solution back here.
"Okay, I just need to...to check on my colleagues. Make sure they're secure, not able to cause any fuss while I'm gone." He smiled as broadly as possible. The painfully fake grin was the best he could do, as he resisted the extremely unwise urge to take them on alone.
The two NSA agents eyed up Brady and PJ but said nothing, and didn't move to stop him from walking over to the chairs where the other theory room guys where restrained. Marco made as if to check on the cables tied around their hands, first looking over PJ's and putting on a show of tightening them before moving around to Brady. Standing to the side of Brady gave him the perfect opportunity to access his left pocket without the agents seeing him do so. They eyed him up every few moments, but the short lapses in their attention because of their agitation allowed him to slip the wire cutters out as he pretend to check Brady's hands. He whispered to Brady as he handed the tool to him, placing it into his hands at the same time as he "secured" the cables more tightly.
"If anything happens to me, you and PJ need to concentrate on the counter signal. Check the calculations on the board. I'm nearly there; we just need more time to -"
The drawl of one of the agents disturbed him as he asked testily, "You done yet?"
Marco's senses stirred at the aggravated tone, but he ignored it.
"I'm nearly done. I need to check their feet, too."
The agent stared at him for a second, almost doubtfully, it seemed, but he let it go with just a comment and a displeased scowl.
"Make it quick"
Despite managing to ignore the wish to do something about the demands placed on him, it took a moment for Marco to compose himself. Whispering lower than before, he continued, keeping it as brief as he could.
"Try out the rest of the possible frequencies. There aren't that many left."
A feeling of overwhelming hopelessness settled on him as he contemplated the possibility of none of the frequencies working or of none of them living long enough to test them. He tried to overcome the flash of doubt, praying Brady hadn't seen any indication of the fear on his face as he'd finished fiddling with the cables around his feet.
He wanted to leave them with hope, an expression of his faith, no matter that he was the cause of their incarceration. "You guys can do it. I know you can." He tightened PJ's feet so the agents didn't become more suspicious. There was no need to tell his friends that they had to finish his work, nor what was riding on their success; he could see they were fully aware by the look in their eyes. Standing, Marco turned and made his way to the door, trying desperately not to look back and give the game away.