Please see first chapter for all disclaimers, the rating, the warnings, etc.
Author's Note: As promised, here is the fourth and final part of Denouement. Thank you so much for all those who have read, reviewed, favorited, and alerted this story. You all give me so much inspiration and make my day every time I see an alert in my box. Thank you all, and I hope you enjoy this final chapter!
Doesn't matter how he got hold of a headset. It's a distraction, so shut it out.
Doesn't matter how he got hold of a headset. It's a distraction, so shut it out.
Moving very, very carefully so no whisper of fabric on fabric, no slightest scraping of equipment or dislodged debris could warn his enemy, Sheppard sank back down onto his stomach, grateful for the concealing girth of the pylon. He propped the life signs detector within easy view and, flat to the floor to present as small a target as possible, eased his P-90 around the edge of the pillar, his right eye to the scope. No targeting laser, he decided, not with all the dust hanging in the air from Kolya's failed booby trap. He rolled his eyes for a quick glance aside and down at the Ancient device; just as quickly returned his attention to his weapon, adjusting his aim fractionally.
There! A flicker of movement within an obscuring shadow, an oddly hunched over shape. "What, Sheppard," the mocking almost-whisper sounded again in his ear, "no last words for me? No pathetic curses, no empty defiance? I know you're not dead yet. Why waste your last moments in unrewarding stoicism? Entertain me for just a little longer—"
The barely-seen form suddenly halted at the same moment the voice ceased. In utter silence, Sheppard squinted into his gun's sights, barely aware of the blood now running down his arm and puddling under his elbow. Something about the dim image seemed wrong somehow, out of kilter; but John didn't take time to try to analyze it. So close, he was so close to having a clear shot—
The merest breath of what might have been a huff of frustration came over his headset. "Weir was such an easy target, I barely had time to enjoy her death at all. I admit I hoped for much better from you. I looked forward to watching you writhing futilely as your life bleeds out of you. But apparently I must forgo that little pleasure."
Unbelievably, the hunched shadow nearly centered in the crosshairs of his scope was withdrawing. Even as a fragment of his mind wondered at his quarry's sudden retreat, Sheppard fired a burst at it in a motion as coldly calculated as it was swift. A sound somewhere between a grunt and a gasp, quickly cut off, exploded over his headset, followed by the echoes of a slithering scramble – and then silence.
Snatching up his LSD, John pushed to his feet, no longer concerned about the noise he made. Still staying low, zigzagging from point to point just in case Kolya was trying to lure him into an ambush, John crossed the final open bit in a rush. Thumbing on his gun's searchlight, he swept it left to right and back again, slightly lower on the next pass; paused as it glistened off the red slickness of blood, a spattered trail that beckoned him onward.
Grim satisfaction oddly tempered by a prickling sense of unease surged through him. What made him back away like that? Ruthlessly stamping down both emotions, he switched off the light and consulted his detector. One dot, fast and erratic, moving back toward the top of the screen, just as he anticipated. . .
. . .Four more completely unexpected ones closing from his rear. Just as he registered their presence, his headset clicked, a rapid pattern that meant friendlies. A fear colder than the frozen-hard hatred consuming him sent him staggering sideways into a wall. Elizabeth! Closing his eyes, he forced himself to refocus, fiercely locking away anything that might distract him from his mission – even his desperate fear for his wife and their unborn baby – to be dealt with later. Ice, he was ice, cold, impervious ice. . . Wrenching upright, he resolutely turned to resume his pursuit.
His headset clicked again: the coded equivalent of the hand signal for Stop! At the same moment, two of the pursuing dots on the LSD broke away from the other pair, narrowing the gap separating them from him fast. Sheppard hesitated a moment longer, eyeing the blood trail, yearning to follow it, to finish this—
But fixated on his goal as he was, he wasn't stupid. He assumed Lorne was the fourth of those rearward dots, the one sending him the click-codes via his headset. That in itself said volumes to him; that, and the fact the major had knowingly violated his orders. It was yet another tally mark on the list that had been inexorably building in the back of his head.
So when he heard running footsteps approaching the head of the ruined staircase behind him, he took another glance at the drying red splatters before turning his back on them, and reached for his headset to send a coded message of his own: Caution. Caution. Then he returned to stand just below the dangling remains of the steps.
The footsteps slowed. A couple of minutes later, Lorne and Ronon halted at the edge of the mezzanine above him. Sheppard consciously declined to say anything, but simply stared upward at the two men, evaluating their expressions in silence.
Ronon dropped to one knee, the hand with his blaster resting across the upthrust other one, returning his stare while looking more than normally grim. But it was Lorne who spoke first. "Colonel," he said, "with apologies for disobeying your orders, sir, but we have vital information you need to know, possibly affecting the outcome of your mission. Information we couldn't pass to you over normal channels."
"Those channels being compromised." Sheppard said it flatly, a statement instead of a question. "Since Kolya has a headset."
"Yessir. And," the major suddenly looked years older than his true age, "a life signs detector."
All John's earlier unease returned in a rush, raising goose bumps all over his body. He remembered the peculiar antics of Kolya's life sign on his detector, how the rogue Genii had abruptly withdrawn at the approach of Lorne and Sheppard's team. It hadn't made sense at the time; and even given this new intel, it still didn't make sense. Aloud, he said, "Even if Kolya did manage to get his hands on a detector, Major, he doesn't have the gene. He couldn't use it." Yet, the thought whispered insistently at the back of his mind, it would explain a lot. But no – his was the only life sign registering, and I didn't see any hostage with him when I had him in my scope. Nevertheless, seeing again with his mind's eye that oddly hunched figure coming toward him through the shadows, an old, dark memory brushed icy tendrils across the edges of his consciousness, subsiding again before he could nail it down.
Almost unnoticed, Teyla and McKay came hurrying to a stop behind Ronon and Lorne. Evidently they'd heard him, because it was McKay who said harshly, "Unless he took the hand along with the detector – which is precisely what he did. He's using Corporal Huff's dead hand to activate the technology." Without seeming to realize what he was doing, the Canadian scientist rubbed at the forearm Kolya had deliberately slashed on their first encounter with him.
Teyla leaned forward over Ronon's shoulder. "John, you're bleeding. Your arm—"
"Later." Sheppard took several deep breaths, steadying himself and melding his fury over this new outrage into his searingly cold determination that Kolya not be permitted any escape again. "Major Lorne – do you and McKay both have life sign detectors?" And when the affirmative answer came, "Good. Two teams, you and Ronon in one, Teyla and McKay in the other. Keep to the click code, but only when absolutely necessary, he's smart enough to figure it out. Flanking action, keep him from breaking to one side or the other, or back to populated areas, but do not engage him, except to keep him from killing again. Everybody clear on that?" He looked from one face to another, and saw reflected in each some of the ice that wholly comprised him. "Then we end this now."
Kolya's blood spoor ran out after fifteen minutes of following it, but by the time it did, his life sign dot was flirting with the upper edge of Sheppard's LSD again. With a detached, almost clinical interest he watched it veer from one side to the other, as the man it represented sought a way to double back just out of the device's range; then, later, to escape the walls of the moving box mercilessly herding him toward his doom.
It took almost six hours for the rogue Genii to make his final mistake: a turn into a winding corridor that gave the appearance of leading back toward the lower levels of the control tower. In actuality, it let into a dead end chamber at the tower's root, purpose unknown. John paused at the entrance to the corridor: briefly wondering if he should wait for the others to catch up with him; ultimately deciding not. Still with that sense of frigid remoteness, he set his P-90 to single shot, and went in.
Kolya was still moving, although much more slowly now. Either he was feeling the effects of blood loss and the long chase; or perhaps he was beginning to suspect his error. Sheppard maintained a deliberate pace, neither hurrying nor dawdling. At the extreme bottom of his detector's screen, the dots representing Lorne and his team appeared; hesitated a moment; followed after at a much swifter pace. Having noted that, he turned his attention forward again.
"Colonel Sheppard! Colonel Sheppard, this is the tower, please respond."
John halted between one step and the next, shocked into immobility by the flustered female voice suddenly speaking breathlessly into his ear. "Colonel, it is urgent that you please respond."
The rage he'd so carefully controlled nearly broke free. Setting his raised foot down with exaggerated care, he slapped his headset on and snapped, "Tower, what is it you don't understand about the meaning of radio silence?!"
"Yes, Colonel." Her voice came back, shaky, sounding very young and frightened. One of the newbie civilian techs, he guessed, though that didn't help calm him any. "But, sir, Ladon Radim is on the radio, he's insisting on speaking to you or Dr. Weir, and, and, sir, I'm sorry, sir, but he isn't accepting that neither one of you is available. . ." Her voice trailed off, leaving him with the unpleasant suspicion of tears being shed.
Oh, well, the damage was done now. And the timing, he acknowledged reluctantly, could have been much worse. "Put him through, tower," he said, resuming his forward course. Then a moment later, with acid politeness, "I'm a little busy right now, Radim, so if you could make this quick—"
"Then Kolya did make it through to Atlantis." A gusty sigh blew over the radio link. "Colonel, I want you to know the Genii government extends its fullest sympathy to you for whatever harm this renegade has caused. And, furthermore, I want to make known to you that Acastus Kolya is now officially under sentence of death for his crimes against both Atlantis and the Genii – said sentence to be carried out immediately upon his return to us."
Laughter exploded into John's ear; and by his exclamation, into Radim's as well. Incredibly, Kolya's life sign dot began moving toward Sheppard's position, just as with a rush, his team and Major Lorne rounded a corner and closed up to him. They automatically flanked him, watching him with angry, anxious eyes. "Ah, Ladon, my old – associate—" Kolya sounded completely unconcerned. "The word 'renegade' on your lips has such sweet irony. Tell me, how immediately is 'immediately'? Do you mean as soon as your cherished allies escort me through the Ancestral Ring? Or do you mean as soon as I've had a chance to recover from my injuries? Because surely there is no honor in executing a wounded man—"
A growl deep in Ronon's throat drew Sheppard's attention to his left, before a muttered profanity made him glance at McKay. Very calmly, he glanced at his LSD one more time; as expected, they were very close to Kolya now. Switching the device off, he slipped it into a pocket on his tac vest.
They rounded a corner, and he was there, leaning against the wall halfway to the next bend. "Or do you prefer to take the coward's way out, and leave the dirty work to Sheppard and his lackeys?" Kolya's lips turned up slightly in an insolent smile.
"You are a traitor to the Genii people, and it is our prerogative to mete out the punishment you have earned by betraying us," Radim said stiffly. "Accordingly, Colonel Sheppard, I must insist that Kolya be returned to us for the execution of his sentence."
John glanced left and then right, silently ordering the others to stay where they were. Still moving without haste, he took three steps forward, his P-90 raised and ready. Watching him, Kolya carefully straightened away from the wall and slowly extended his arms. Objects clattered to the floor from either hand, but he did not allow his attention to flicker away from his target for the slightest instant.
"Oh, Sheppard, now really," Kolya said, "do you really expect me to believe you'd shoot an unarmed man? An injured, unarmed man?" His eyes moved beyond John and back to his face again.
"My wife was unarmed when you shot her," John said pointedly, and had the satisfaction of seeing Kolya's jaw drop in shock, even as the realization of his imminent death grew in his eyes. "And for your information, you didn't even get that right. Elizabeth is still alive."
"And about that execution, Radim— You're not going to have worry about it."
Sheppard pulled the trigger.
There was a weight on her lower abdomen, just below her navel; another, more prickly one, pinned her right arm. Though she couldn't be sure why, Elizabeth had a feeling, as she slowly drifted into consciousness of her surroundings, that both had been there for quite some time.
There was something familiar about them, too. She struggled to analyze the sensations, realized she knew that prickliness: it was John's hair. Which meant he was probably laying with his hand on her stomach again, though she'd told him and told him it was way too early for even her to feel their baby moving—
And suddenly, she was remembering gunfire. Remembering screams, pain, a suffocating fear for the child inside her as she fell, a crushing weight on top of her—
Elizabeth jerked into wakefulness with a gasp that was half a sob. The baby, the baby, she couldn't lose her and John's baby, how would she ever be able to face him if she did—
Hands were holding her face, strong, long hands: She knew them, too. "John," she tried to say. "Oh, John—"
"Sh, sh, it's all right." His voice soothing her, his arms carefully gathering her against the muscular leanness of his body. "'Lizabeth, sweetheart, it's all right, you're all right, the baby is all right. . . Honey, believe me, it's okay, everything is okay. Sh, sh, sh, it's okay."
It got through to her finally, his insistent repeating of their code phrase, that she'd once half-jokingly called the motto of their house; got through the muddled nightmare images clogging her brain. She rested quietly in his embrace, till another chunk of memory exploded out of the dark. "John, it was Kolya," and the name started her shaking again, but she had to warn him, "Kolya is here, and he—"
His lips brushed hers, quieting her again. "I know, love, I know. But we're safe from him, now. He'll never hurt us again. Never ever."
Elizabeth heard something besides reassurance in his voice; an implacable note under the tenderness. Though it disturbed her slightly, she put it aside for the moment, lacking the strength or the will to pursue it. Besides, John wouldn't lie to her.
"It's okay," he was whispering to her again, a hypnotic rhythm. "Go back to sleep, my love, my life. You're safe, the baby is fine, it's okay."
Cradled in the arms of her husband, feeling safe and protected and loved, Elizabeth Weir Sheppard yielded to his urging, and slept.