Hunted – Part I

Status:
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • NC-17
Fandom(s):
Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG1, Spooks

Relationship(s):
John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Jack O'Neill/Daniel Jackson

Warning(s):
  • Character Bashing
  • Death - Minor Character
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Violence - Canon-Level
Genre(s):
  • Action Adventure
  • Alternate Universe
  • Challenge Response
  • Crossover
Word Count:
28,146

Author's Note:
This was my response to the RT challenge 'A Whole New World' in November 2016. The challenge was 50,000 words. Hunted is 90,455. I guess I lost! Massive thanks to Edronhia, my beta and cheerleader, without whom this would never have been finished.

Summary:
Dr. Rodney McKay, Head of Research and Development at the UK’s top secret military research facility at Porton Down, has been kidnapped. MI5 Chief of Section Colonel John Fitz-Sheppard will lead the search for him, with the help of NCIS Senior Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, but it will take all the knowledge and skill of MI5 to keep their scientist alive and safe while the spooks try to discover who is behind the kidnapping and what they really want with Rodney.


Chapter One

Dr. Rodney McKay Ph.D., Ph.D., was having a bad day.  His milk had gone off so he was forced to drink his morning coffee black, which he hated; his dog had been sick on the landing carpet and he’d stepped in it; and a group of masked men had burst into his kitchen and kidnapped him.  Of these three events, the one that most concerned him was his dog being sick. The others were just plain irritating.

Rodney ruminated on this as he lay face down in the back of a van, hands tied behind his back, legs tied together and his head covered with a bag or sack of some sort.  He was sure he was alone in the back of the van although he could hear voices, probably from the front. Being alone was good. It meant he could try to wriggle free of his bonds or at least roll himself over, but after a few minutes of squiggling and squirming he realised that his kidnappers were possibly better than he’d given them credit for being.  His hands were still tied behind his back, he was still on his tummy, and all he’d managed to do was rub his wrists raw. Bloody police procedural TV shows!  Now every Tom, Dick and Harry knows to use plastic ties rather than good old fashioned rope which at least gave the kidnapee a sporting chance to get free.

He sighed heavily and thought about his dog again, although strictly speaking Brian wasn’t his dog, he was John’s dog.  He just looked after the mutt as John claimed it wasn’t fair to keep a dog in central London and Brian would be much happier living in the country with a large garden and fields to run in and Rodney should just shut up because John knew how much he doted on Brian while John was in London.  There was a reason for paw-prints on the bedding and a bowl of water on the floor in the bathroom and surely Rodney wouldn’t have the gall to claim the bowl was there for himself and in any case, the way Brian liked to cuddle up to Rodney on the sofa in an evening was a dead giveaway. Rodney could have defended himself but telling John that cuddling Brian made him feel closer to John when John wasn’t there, wasn’t something he was ready to admit as yet, not even to himself, so he kept his silence and continued to let Brian sleep on the end of his bed and cuddle up with him on the sofa in an evening.

Brian had probably eaten something that disagreed with him, likely a dead animal he’d picked up in the field behind the cottage.  It was just one pile of sick as far as Rodney had seen, as though Brian’s tummy was rejecting something it didn’t like, rather than a number of sicks which were a more likely sign of infection.  Rodney made a mental note to ask Katie, Brian’s daily dog-walker, to watch out for Brian eating dead stuff that might upset his tummy. Garbage-gut, that’s what vets called it when dogs ate crap that made them sick.  It was probably garbage-gut rather than anything more serious, although he would keep a careful eye on Brian who did take great pleasure in being a doggy dustbin especially for anything smelly and/or dead, preferably both.

The van came to a sudden halt and Rodney tensed, wondering what was going to happen.  They hadn’t been driving for long so couldn’t be too far from home, and from inside the van he could hear faint sounds of traffic which indicated a more populated place than the area surrounding the village where he lived.  Possibly Salisbury? That was the closest urban area to him. The van doors opened, the traffic sounds increased, and he was able to hear the chiming of bells marking the hour. Definitely Salisbury. The sound of its clock was unmistakable and Rodney cursed his mind which was giving him details of the clock.  Didn’t it know that they’d been kidnapped and didn’t have time for this? Which caused his mind to laugh at the pun and Rodney moaned in frustration. Sometimes being the cleverest man in the world was downright annoying.

His kidnappers clearly thought he was moaning in pain and as they dragged him out from the van were careful to pull on the ties around his wrists, forcing the plastic to dig deeper into the raw flesh.  Rodney struggled a little but it was mostly for show since he knew he couldn’t break free of his bonds and that he should conserve his energy for a more likely bid for freedom. His mouth though, wasn’t tied and he took advantage of this by cursing his kidnappers, questioning the legitimacy of their birth and generally making a loud noise in the hope of catching someone’s attention, aware that rescue – and the neutralisation of his kidnappers – would be preferable to escape, although he wondered how quickly his absence would be noticed.  He tended to work alone in his lab with occasional visits from Radek and Miko to discuss a project they might be working on, and John wasn’t due down until the weekend although he might manage to come down the following evening if he felt he could cope with Friday night traffic. Didn’t October school half-term begin on Friday? That would make the roads much busier out of London and John might decide to wait until Saturday morning.

A blow to the side of his head stopped both his yelling and his thoughts, and he felt himself being dragged down some concrete stairs and thrown onto a concrete floor.  He lay silent and unmoving for a moment, assessing his situation and wondering what would happen next. He’d been kidnapped for a reason and it was unlikely to be financial.  He was certainly well off, rich by many standards, but was more likely to have been kidnapped for information he could provide. His senior role in the government’s defence programme gave him access to almost all of the research that took place at the Defence Laboratory at Porton Down, to say nothing of his own groundbreaking work in weapons development.  He, along with Radek and Miko Zelenka, were almost certainly top of any list of ‘Scientists Doing Important Work’, at least in terms of weapons technology – both creation of and defence against. Their work, in one form or another, was in use almost every day by British Forces somewhere and some overseas military forces too, although the government were, thankfully, very careful with whom they shared their technology.

Huh.  I might be in more trouble than I thought.

—————

Special Agent Tony DiNozzo was just getting himself comfortable at his desk and waiting for his monitor to warm up when he spotted Dr. Donald Mallard heading towards the bullpen.  The frown on the Medical Examiner’s face was unusual to see and it was clear that something was bothering him. Tony watched him approach Gibbs’ desk and wondered if something had happened.  He’d always thought the pair were old friends but revelations made while Gibbs was recovering from memory loss earlier in the year had shown that Gibbs had kept much of his personal history a secret.  Tony knew this had hurt Ducky: he’d said as much to Tony during the months when they’d all believed Gibbs had retired. Anything was preferable to cold case files on a miserable Friday morning however and maybe Ducky was about to divulge something that would get them all out of the office.  There hadn’t been a new case for a few days and Tony was starting to get cabin fever.

He watched out of the corner of his eye as Ducky spoke to Gibbs, but the frown remained on Ducky’s face as he turned to walk away; if anything it was deeper.  Making up his mind, Tony slipped out from behind his desk and followed the ME down to Autopsy.

Ducky had retired to his rarely used office by the time Tony caught up with him, a further clue that the older man was concerned about something.  Tony knocked gently on the open door and Ducky looked up and smiled at him although it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

‘Anthony, how nice to see you.  Come in and take a seat, and tell me how I may help you.’

Tony smiled at the old fashioned courtesy of his friend.  ‘Actually, I was wondering if I might be able to help you.’

Ducky raised his eyebrows in question and Tony pushed on.

‘I couldn’t help noticing that you seemed worried when you spoke to Gibbs and whatever he said didn’t help.  I just wondered if it was something I could help with. If you are worried about something, I mean, and if you can tell me what it is, I could, you know, maybe help, help you.’  He frowned at his own lack of clarity.

Ducky smiled.  ‘A little confusing, Anthony, but I get the gist.  I’m concerned about my young cousin who would appear to have gone missing.  I shared my fears with Jethro but he thinks I’m over-reacting as Rodney hasn’t been missing for 48 hours as yet.’

Tony raised his own eyebrows at the number of surprising things divulged, not least that Ducky had family other than his elderly mother.

‘You know just when your cousin went missing?’

‘I know he was at work on Wednesday and that no one has seen him since.’

‘And how do you know this?’  Tony felt himself slipping into professional mode.

‘I telephoned his place of work and finally managed to speak with a secretary who told me Dr. McKay left work at 7pm on Wednesday and hasn’t been in since then.  When I asked how long he was likely to be away for, I was told they didn’t give out that sort of information.’

Tony frowned.  ’But, Ducky, how do you know he’s missing and hasn’t just taken a few days off?’

Ducky frowned back.  ‘Because Mother’s birthday was yesterday and Rodney didn’t call her.  He simply wouldn’t forget to call her on her birthday.’

Tony shook his head, trying to clear it.  There was more to this than met the eye, he was certain.  ‘Ducky, he may simply have forgotten her birthday. I know I don’t call any of my relations on their birthdays.  I’m not even sure when most of them are. If your only reason for thinking he’s missing is because he forgot his aunt’s birthday—’

‘Which is just what Jethro said when I asked him for help.  Anthony, I appreciate your concern, but I know my cousin and I am certain he’s gone missing.  If you won’t believe me then please, don’t let me waste your time.’

Tony sighed but remained seated even as Ducky gestured towards the door.  ‘I’m sorry, Ducky. If you say your cousin is missing, you must have a good reason for it.  I’d like to help if I can, so please, tell me the whole story.’

Ducky lowered his arm and looked a little mollified.

‘When he was 11, my cousin Rodney came to live with my mother.  I won’t go into the whole story as it really isn’t relevant, but suffice it to say that Mother, to all intents and purposes, brought Rodney up.  He went away to school of course, but his home was in Scotland with Mother and she and I are his only living relatives. He is in his thirties now, but he has never forgotten to call Mother on her birthday and he isn’t answering either his cell phone or his landline.  I have spoken to a neighbour for whom I have a contact number and who has a key to his house and I asked her to ensure my cousin wasn’t laying injured somewhere. She reported that the house was empty, apart from Rodney’s dog, and his car was still on the drive. He’s not driven anywhere and there is no public transport in the village.  I am absolutely certain that he has gone missing.’

Tony thought for a moment.  ‘Is it possible he’s just not in his office?  Could he be working somewhere else or be in a meeting or something?’

‘Anthony, my cousin is Chief Scientist at the UK’s main military research centre at Porton Down.  If he is on site someone will know where he is, and his car is still on his drive.’

‘Perhaps I could give them a call and see if they’ll tell me anything that might help if I tell them NCIS need to know?’

‘Well, you may certainly try but do not be surprised if they refuse to tell you anything.  Security is obviously extremely tight.’ Ducky stood and straightened his bow tie. ‘I shall go and make a pot of tea whilst you make the call.’

Tony thought for a short time before picking up the telephone.  He needed to be sure just what he wanted to ask and he scribbled a couple of notes on Ducky’s blotter, smiling as he did so.  Ducky was the only person he knew who still used a fountain pen.

————-

Tony awoke and stretched out his legs and back, relishing the luxury and space of his seat.  Beside him, Ducky was chatting to one of the stewards who had been so very attentive to the older man.  Perhaps they saw Ducky as a possible sugar daddy, or even, crap no! His sugar daddy?  Even as he thought this, the steward, wearing a badge that read ‘Shane’ smiled at him.

‘Can I get you some coffee, Mr DiNozzo?  Some breakfast? We’re just over the Irish Sea and will be landing in about an hour’s time.’

‘Just some coffee, thank you.  My body clock isn’t ready for food just yet.’

‘Dr. Mallard?  Anything for you?’ the smiling Shane asked.

‘I’ll have coffee too, please.’

‘Coffee, Ducky?  I thought you only drank tea?’ Tony teased.

‘Have you tasted airline tea, Anthony?  Even in first class, I assure you, only ever ask for coffee.’

‘I’ll take your word for it.  So. Changing the subject, do you know where we need to go when we land?’

‘Oh, I’m sure the car rental agency will be easy to find.’

‘I’m sure it will but I meant once we have the car.  You said your cousin lived in a small village. Do you know how to get there? And will you be comfortable driving on the left?  I’m happy to drive if you want.’

Ducky peered at him over his glasses and Tony felt a little uncomfortable.  How did he do that?  The ability of his friend to make him feel uncomfortable and even downright stupid at times astounded him.  It was far more effective than a Gibbs head slap and a lot less painful. Tony grimaced at himself for mentally wandering off subject and turned his mind back to his colleague.

‘Okay, point taken.  You grew up in England, didn’t you?’

‘I grew up in Scotland,’ Ducky corrected gently.  ‘However, I was at school in England. And yes, I have visited my cousin’s home before.  I brought Mother over for a visit four or five years ago.’

‘Yes, you said your mother brought up your cousin.  How did that happen?’

Ducky paused for a moment before answering.  ‘My cousin was born and brought up in Canada but was offered a place at my old school.  It made sense for him to be in my mother’s charge.’

Tony glanced at his friend.  There was clearly much more to this story, but he accepted Ducky’s reluctance to gossip and was grateful when the still smiling Shane appeared with two cups of coffee and some fresh pastries.  He thought for a moment of the people waking up in economy class, tired and cramped and being offered a slice of rubbery toast and he smiled happily. First class was certainly the best way to travel.

—————

Tony was full of admiration as Ducky negotiated his way out of the airport and onto the motorway.  He kept quiet, not wanting to distract his friend from the busy and unfamiliar roads. For all he had grown up in Britain, he didn’t drive here regularly and he was probably tired and certainly concerned about his cousin.

The call Tony had made to Porton Down had revealed that Dr. McKay was taking some leave due to a family death.  It had happened very suddenly and Dr. McKay had emailed the previous day to explain just before he left for the airport, and no, the lady from HR couldn’t say who had died or when Dr. McKay would be back and could Agent DiNozzo tell her again why NCIS were interested in Dr. McKay?

Tony put the call on speaker-phone so Ducky could listen in after he chased the autopsy gremlin out for a coffee break.  Neither man had spoken as Tony ended the call and they sat in silence for a moment. Finally, Tony took a deep breath. ‘The Director’s been nagging me to take some of my accumulated leave.  I’ll speak to her about taking a couple of weeks off. Will you be able to arrange something?’

Ducky just nodded and Tony realised the man was close to tears.  Even as he’d gone over all the reasons for his certainty his cousin was missing, there was always the possibility that he was wrong.  This was the proof he wasn’t. The email hadn’t been sent from Rodney, or he had been forced to send it.

Tony almost suggested they speak to Gibbs again, given the new information, but the look of irritation on his face when Ducky had raised his initial concerns prevented Tony from speaking.  Gibbs had returned from Mexico a very different man to the one Tony had known for almost five years and this strengthened his resolve. He would go with Ducky, see if his skills as an investigative agent could be of any use and glean any information from Rodney’s house.  What happened after that was uncertain but he would support Ducky to the best of his ability. Ducky had been there for him while Gibbs was AWOL and he was having such difficulties with the other members of the MCRT and with Madam Director. It was now his turn to support his friend.

Tony opened his eyes to realise he must have fallen asleep.  They were no longer on the motorway but driving through pretty countryside.

Good morning, Anthony.’  Ducky gave him a quick smile, his attention on the road ahead.  ‘I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to wake you. We’re almost in Laverstock.  It’s only a small village and I was quite surprised Rodney chose a house here when Salisbury is just a short distance away.  Some English villages can be very…very small minded.’

Tony frowned at that.  ‘Why would that matter to your cousin?  I get that he’s a scientist but surely that wouldn’t matter to his neighbours?’

Ducky didn’t reply as he brought the car to a halt in front of a pretty stone built cottage.  There was a drive to the side of the house with two cars parked on it.

‘That’s odd.  The neighbour said Rodney’s car was on the drive but she didn’t mention any other cars.’

Tony reached for his sidearm before realising that he wasn’t carrying it and cursed silently.  He looked around for a weapon of some sort, finally seeing some fallen branches in the front garden, probably brought down by a recent storm.  He got out of the car and quietly closed the door, motioning for Ducky to do the same, and jumped over the low fence searching for a branch that wasn’t too rotten.  He’d just found one he thought wouldn’t break if used to hit someone when he heard a dog bark and a door open. He looked up just in time to see a large hairy dog hurl itself at him, knocking him flat.  As he flailed on the damp grass, he heard a well-spoken voice asking calmly,

‘May I help you gentlemen?’

———

Chapter Two

John watched with interest as Brian hurled himself onto the stranger in the front garden and gave him an exuberant greeting, such as only a large and hairy dog could manage, then he noticed a much older man getting out of the car parked in front of the cottage who seemed rather familiar.  ‘Dr. Mallard?’

Donald Mallard turned sharply as the man on the ground managed to free himself from Brian’s dubious affections and raise his head.

‘John?’

Tony?’

The three men looked between each other, all extremely surprised to discover that, somehow, they each knew the others.  John stepped onto the lawn and offered a hand to pull Tony up from his recumbent position then gestured for the two visitors to enter the cottage, Brian bouncing along behind them, delighted to have new playmates.  John led the men into a bright kitchen, complete with requisite pine table, filled a kettle with water and placed it on the Aga. He leaned back against the stove and surveyed his visitors who were still looking rather shocked.

‘I don’t think we need any introductions, but perhaps an explanation of why we find ourselves here would be helpful?  Dr. Mallard, would you like to begin?’

‘My dear boy, or should I perhaps say Major Fitz-Sheppard?’

‘It’s actually Colonel Fitz-Sheppard, but you always used to call me John.’

‘And I did invite you to call me Donald, if I remember correctly.  I think we last met when Rodney was awarded his Ph.D. from Edinburgh in the mid 90s.’

John nodded.  ‘I had no idea you were coming to visit Rodney.  He didn’t mention it, but then he didn’t mention being out this morning.  And I have no idea why my dear cousin is with you.’

Tony had been turning his head between his friend and his cousin, a frown on his face.  ‘Not that it’s any of your business, but I came to help Ducky—’

‘Ducky?  How rude.  I see some things don’t change.’

‘Ah, John, my dear boy.  My friends and colleagues since school have called me ‘Ducky’ and I have to admit to being very fond of the name now.  My mother, however, always calls me Donald and therefore so did Rodney when he first came to live with her.’

Since Tony was glaring at his cousin, Donald hurriedly continued.  ‘I find it a very curious coincidence that you and Anthony should be related.’

John looked towards Tony, his eyes narrowed.  ‘My father’s sister Eleanor married Tony’s grandfather which makes us second cousins, I believe.  He really does take after his father’s side of the family though.’

‘Still the same snob you were ten years ago I see,’ Tony replied caustically.

John flushed and opened his mouth to reply equally caustically but Donald quickly cut in.

‘I’m sure you boys have much to catch up on, but our immediate problem is Rodney’s whereabouts.’

John looked up sharply.  ‘Do you know where he is?  I was expecting him to be here when I arrived this morning.’

The kettle began to sing and John turned to make tea.

Tony curled his lip.  ‘A singing kettle and a stove.  I guess the stories about Britain being five hours and forty years behind the States is true.’

John ignored him as he busied himself with warming the teapot and spooning loose tea into it.

‘Anthony, that was rude.  Please behave yourself,’ Donald told him sharply and as John opened his mouth to speak, Donald turned to him.  ‘Please remember your manners, John. I know you do have them.’

The two younger men both looked rather sheepish at the reprimand and after a moment’s hesitation John held out his hand.  ‘I’m sorry, Tony. I was rude and I apologise. It’s good to see you again after so long.’

Tony took the outstretched hand and gave it a firm shake, but Donald must have seen a glint in his younger friend’s eye as he growled a warning.

‘Anthony!’

Tony dropped his cousin’s hand and suddenly found something very interesting to look at on the kitchen floor.

John was surprised to find himself examining the kitchen floor too and quickly tried to regain control of the conversation, reminding himself he was a fully grown man and no longer a naughty schoolboy being reprimanded by a master or a prefect.

‘So, Donald.  Why are you and Tony here and what does it have to do with Rodney not being here?’

Donald was silent while he gathered his thoughts.  ‘Rodney missed calling my mother on her birthday two days ago.  I tried to call him, on both his cell and landline, but there was no reply.  I contacted his place of work and they informed me he left work on Wednesday evening and hasn’t been in the office since.  Yesterday, we discovered he had contacted them by email saying he’d had a family bereavement and would be out of the office for a few days.’

‘But I didn’t think Rodney had any family other than yourself and Mrs Mallard.’

‘Indeed he doesn’t, and that, coupled with the fact he missed Mother’s birthday for the first time in over twenty years, led me to believe he’s gone missing, possibly kidnapped.  Anthony agreed to come and help me see what we could find as he hadn’t been missing for 48 hours at that point, apparently the amount of time which must pass before a person may be classified as ‘missing’.’

John glanced over to his cousin.  ‘Are you still in the police force?  How do you know Donald? Do you work with him?’

Tony blinked as the questions were thrown at him.  ‘Okay. So, no, I left the police almost five years ago and joined NCIS.’  He sighed at the puzzled look on his cousin’s face. ‘Why has no-one ever heard of NCIS?  We’re the law enforcement agency of the US Navy. I’m the senior special agent for the Major Case Response Team, and Ducky is our Medical Examiner.’

John’s eyes narrowed.  ‘What’s your role in this?  I can’t see the British Government being terribly pleased with a US agent investigating one of their top scientists.  Do they know you’re here?’

‘I’m not here in an official capacity.  I had some vacation to take and I thought Ducky would appreciate both the company and a trained agent to cast his eye over a possible crime scene.  If the British police want to take over the case, I’m happy to go home and spend some time on a beach.’

John could see that Tony wouldn’t be at all happy to have to leave, but he decided not to call him on it.  His immediate problem was going to be how to begin the investigation into Rodney’s disappearance without giving away his own involvement in one of the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom.  As far as Tony knew he was still a Royal Marine although Donald probably knew he’d left the Corps. He wasn’t sure just how much Rodney had told his cousin and his aunt though so he covered his hesitation by pouring mugs of tea and handing them to his guests.

Tony pulled a face at not being offered coffee, but Brian came forward, tail wagging, hoping for a bowl of tea for himself.  John smiled wryly. Rodney was insistent he didn’t give Brian tit-bits, but the way Brian appeared when food was being prepared or meals eaten was a dead giveaway and John shook his head even as he filled Brian’s bowl.  The mutt had the entire household wrapped around his paw.

Still undecided about what to say to Donald and Tony, John decided to play for time.  ‘I suggest I speak to Rodney’s closest colleague at DSTL and see if he can shed any light on Rodney’s disappearance before we involve the police.’

Tony’s head shot up.  ‘I thought Rodney worked at Porton Down?  That’s what Ducky told me.’

John sighed even as his brain stuttered over the name ‘Ducky’.  He was well versed in the habit of giving and being given a nickname, but calling a gentleman at least thirty years older than one’s self ‘Ducky’ just seemed wrong.  Still, he would try not to fall out with his cousin so he gave Tony a tight smile and explained where Rodney worked.

‘DSTL is the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, which is a part of Porton Down.  That’s actually the name of the whole science park there. Rodney is the Head of Research and Development of the DSTL and his friend Radek is his deputy.’

‘Radek,’ mused Donald.  ‘A chap from one of the old Eastern Bloc countries if I remember rightly?  He married his co-worker I believe?’

John nodded, a little surprised at the depth of Donald’s knowledge about his younger cousin with regards to his co-workers.  ‘Yes, Radek married Miko four or five years ago. Rodney headhunted them both so always takes the credit as their matchmaker.  He’s also Godfather to their daughter Meredith who’s just coming up two.’

Donald smiled at the name of the little girl and John smiled wryly in return, knowing what he was thinking.  Rodney loathed having the first name and used it as an example of how much his parents hated him from birth, yet was inordinately proud that his friends had named their daughter after him.

Tony looked from one to the other of them, clearly noticing the byplay between his friend and his cousin, but John continued.  ‘Radek will know if Rodney’s just gone somewhere and simply lost track of time and missed Mrs Mallard’s birthday.’

‘But what about the email from him saying a relative had died?’ Tony asked.

John pulled a face, annoyed with himself for forgetting the email and annoyed that his cousin hadn’t.  He realised he still held many prejudices against his cousin which stemmed from his father and his aunt disliking Tony’s father and, latterly, their conviction that Anthony DiNozzo Senior was responsible for the death of his wife, Clare.  She began drinking heavily when Tony was around eight and although she didn’t drink while she and Tony spent time with her parents each summer, John remembered hearing the family discuss how ‘poor Clares unhappiness is driving her to drink’; the blame being laid firmly at the feet of her frequently absent husband.

Tony, of course, defended his father without really knowing what he was defending him against and the once close cousins developed increasing animosity towards the other.  Tony’s visits to England ended after his mother passed away when he was only 11 – his father hadn’t wanted him influenced by anyone but himself – and the last time the cousins had seen each other was at the funeral of Tony’s grandparents, John’s aunt and uncle, who were killed together in a car crash.  John had just completed his officer training and was conscious of his very new uniform and equally new rank of Second Lieutenant, with a tendency to look down upon his cousin’s career in the police. That attitude had quickly been knocked out of him in the Royal Marines, quite literally, and he winced now when he remembered it.  Tony had been quite right to call him a snob earlier and John regretted that was his cousin’s memory of him.

Now, however, he simply gave a small smile.  ‘Thanks, Tony. I’d forgotten that. I still think it’s worth calling Radek though.  The DSTL are going to have to know at some point that one of their scientists is missing,’ and he grinned when Tony looked up at him.

‘Peter Ustinov, 1975.’

‘Based on…’

One of Our Aircraft is Missing, 1942, in which Peter Ustinov also appeared.’

‘Full marks to the American!’

The two cousins grinned at each other and just like that, John felt the years roll back and they were two inseparable boys each testing the other’s knowledge of the cinema, much to the disapproval of the Fitz-Sheppard family’s elderly Nanny who was of the opinion that young gentlemen would be corrupted by moving pictures.

Donald coughed to gain their attention and brought them back to the matter at hand.

‘You should make the telephone call while Anthony and I freshen up, then we must find somewhere to stay.  Perhaps the Public House in the village lets rooms?’

‘No, absolutely not,’ John told the older man.  ‘I insist, and Rodney will insist, you both stay here.  We have two spare rooms although one of them is a little small, but there is ample room for you both and fortunately the master has an en-suite so there won’t be too much of a fight over the bathroom.  I’ll show you up, Donald, if Tony will bring your bags in. You must just remember to keep your bedroom doors closed otherwise Brian’ll try to sleep on your bed. Rodney lets him get away with murder.’

—————

Tony did as he was told and trotted out to the car, his mind whirling.  Ducky’s cousin was a friend of his cousin, in fact much more than friends as it was obvious they shared a bedroom.  John hadn’t changed at all except his hair was longer than it had been the last time they’d met.  Longer and spikier. He remembered when they were children their nanny was always trying to get ‘Master John’s’ hair to lie flat, but no matter how much she wet and flattened it, within a couple of minutes it was always sticking up again.

Tony sighed.  They’d had such fun as children, had been so close.  He spent most of his time over at Grantworth Hall when his mother made her annual visit to her family home near York.  The Paddington family pile was just over a mile from the Fitz-Sheppard home, and as there were no other children at Trent House, he’d been dispatched to his cousins who had horses to ride, a lake for swimming as well as tennis courts, but best of all as far as the grown-ups were concerned, the Fitz-Sheppards had the elderly family nanny who’d brought up a couple of generations of young nobility and thought nothing of adding ‘Miss Clare’s boy’ to the mix.  Thus, days were spent playing, swimming and riding, nights were frequently spent under canvas since all little boys love to camp, and summer holidays were long and always gloriously sunny.

Opening the boot of the car, Tony dragged their suitcases out and looked around at what he could see of the village.  A village green? Check. A pond? Check. A pub with a thatched roof? Check. A chocolate box English village in bright October sunshine.  Were those days of boyhood delight really so far away? His cousin was in the cottage behind him and though they were both much older now, were they so different?  The last time they met had been a difficult occasion for everyone: the joint funeral of two people killed way before their time by a drunk driver. Tony had been bitter, his long anticipated career as a professional athlete wrecked by a broken leg earlier in the year and his career as a police officer very much a Plan B.  John had followed the path laid out for him years before: public school, Cambridge, military – although he had bucked family tradition and opted for the Royal Marines rather than a prestigious Army regiment.   He was impeccably dressed in his number 1A dress blues while Tony was wearing a suit he’d had since before University and which wasn’t just tatty but was both too short in the legs and arms and too tight.   John clearly thought Tony couldn’t be bothered to dress smartly for the funeral, but the truth was that he’d struggled to raise the money for his plane ticket, let alone a new suit, since his father had ceased any financial support of him after he left school, indeed it had been years since he’d actually seen his father at that point. Both he and John had over-reacted and words were said, words that hurt both of them and left little chance of reconciliation.  Was he, were they now both being offered an opportunity to reconcile?

Slamming the boot, he picked up the cases and walked briskly back inside.  If this was a second chance he was going to grab it with both hands.

—————

As he entered the hall, Tony could see into the study just to the right of the front door where John was sitting at a desk speaking into a phone.  John looked towards him as he closed the front door quietly and dropped the cases to one side, and beckoned to him. Pressing a button, John put the conversation onto speaker-phone so they could both hear the excited voice on the other end.  Tony struggled to make out all of the words, spoken as they were in broken english with a heavy accent he couldn’t quite place, and after a short while he gave up trying, relying on John to give him a translation afterwards.

Footsteps on the staircase drew his attention away from the jumble of words and he saw Ducky coming down towards them.  Tony motioned for him to join them in the study and as Ducky opened his mouth to speak, he put his finger to his lips and indicated John and the telephone.  Ducky joined them in the very comfortable study and dropped into a wingback chair by the fireplace. They heard John say goodbye and he turned to face them.

‘That was Radek Zelenka.  He said he’s been worried about Rodney for a couple of days but couldn’t find anyone at DSTL who would take him seriously.  Rodney had arranged to babysit for Meredith on Thursday night and didn’t show up, and Radek couldn’t raise him on either his mobile or his landline, and he didn’t reply to any emails.  I told Radek you two had arrived from the States and were concerned and he agrees we have a problem. He’s on his way over, but Miko said we wouldn’t want a toddler in our way, so she’s staying at home.  They only live a few miles away so Radek should be here soon.’

‘I couldn’t make out a word he said,’ Tony admitted.  ‘Where’s he from?’

‘He was born in Prague when it was still part of Czechoslovakia and came to England after the communists left in 1990.  He speaks English fluently but does tend to lose it when he gets excited. He’s a great chap and is about the only person who can keep up with Rodney.’

It was clear John was fond of Rodney’s co-worker, but Tony was a little puzzled.  ‘What do you mean ‘keep up with Rodney’? Is he an exercise freak or something?’

Both John and Ducky laughed and Tony realised he’d said something stupid.

‘Rodney does exercise, but only when I make him,’ John told them with a wry smile.  ‘Rodney is probably the most intelligent person on Earth. He had an IQ of over 200 when he was tested at 17, although he’s refused to take an IQ test since.  Einstein had an IQ of between 160 and 190, and Stephen Hawking is just below that. He really is a genius although I don’t tell him that very often. I don’t want him to get big-headed!’

Ducky threw in his two cents worth.  ‘It was because he was so clever that he came to live with Mother.  His school in Canada couldn’t cope with him and they suggested a boarding school might be better for him but his parents were struggling to find somewhere.  Rodney’s mother and my mother were sisters, and when Mother heard they were struggling to place Rodney, she suggested they send him to her and she’d send him to my old school who obviously would cope with him and also stretch his mind.’

‘We were both King’s Scholars,’ John explained, to Tony’s mystification.  ‘And although Rodney is two years younger, we became friends right from the start.  There were only eight Scholars that year for some reason, so we were all pretty close friends.’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ Tony admitted.  ‘I don’t know where you went to school, Ducky, and what are King’s scholars?  What does that even mean?’

‘My apologies, Anthony.  I thought you were aware I attended Eton College.  Mother sent Rodney there and he thrived, both educationally and socially.’

Eyebrows in his hairline, Tony looked at John.  ‘You went to Eton? Why didn’t I know this?’

John and Donald exchanged glances.  ‘I thought you knew the boys in my family go to Eton,’ John told him.  ‘David was at Eton while you were still visiting us.’

A knock at the front door brought the conversation to a halt as John went to let Radek in and introduce him.  Donald stayed in his comfy armchair close to the fireplace while the other three men settled themselves around the large desk, Brian crawling under the desk to lay his head on John’s feet.

‘Would you like me to light the fire, Donald?’ John asked.  ‘I know it’s much colder here than in Washington, although we don’t usually have snow until well into November, if not December.  The stove is all laid, I just need to put a match to it.’

‘I’m afraid I have become accustomed to the weather in Washington and am finding autumn in England to be a little colder than I’m used to.’

John smiled and, moving Brian from his feet, went to the fireplace to light the stove.  Brian immediately left his position under the desk to lay himself on the rug in front of the stove, settling himself down with a heavy sigh.

‘Well, that’s him settled for the rest of the day,’ John commented, looking wryly at Brian who had put himself as close to the fire as he possibly could without burning himself.  ‘I swear Rodney has corrupted him.’

He settled himself back behind the desk and quickly briefed Radek on the very little they knew about Rodney’s disappearance.  Tony watched him carefully. Some thought was trying to attract his attention but he couldn’t quite work out what or why. John’s briefing was thorough and succinct.  There was no embellishment nor meandering, in fact it was very much like a briefing he himself would have given… And that was the thought that had been jumping up and down and waving at him.  It was exactly as he would have given, but he was an experienced senior federal agent.  John was a soldier, wasn’t he?

—————

John could see the precise moment Tony realised who, or rather what, he was.  Tony’s head shot up and he met John’s eyes head on.  John gave an inward sigh. He wasn’t sure if this would help or hinder them but he pushed on, waiting to see what Tony would say.

Radek was explaining how he’d tried to make the powers-that-be at DSTL understand that Rodney was missing.  An assistant within the Human Resources department kept insisting that Mr McKay was fine and had simply requested some leave due to a personal bereavement and that Mr Zelenka should allow the man time to grieve and stop trying to force him back to work.  She was sure that Mr McKay’s line manager would be angry when he knew Mr Zelenka was trying to get in touch with Mr McKay, as the DSTL had a strict ‘family first’ policy, especially during a family emergency. Radek had tried in vain to make her understand that Dr. McKay had no line manager as he was a member of the executive board, and in any case, had no family in the country to be bereaved.  After almost an hour of getting absolutely nowhere, Radek gave up and tried instead to work out who might have taken Rodney.  Miko had begun to delve into Rodney’s DSTL computer and look at what emails she could, but she didn’t have access to Rodney’s personal laptop.

‘Why didn’t you try to call me?’ John asked after Radek had finished detailing the education – or lack of – parentage, and general uselessness of HR departments and their belief that they were the essential members of the DSTL, the actual scientists coming way down any list they might make.

Radek glared at John, clearly adding him right underneath HR in a list of ‘people who ask the most stupid questions possible’.  ‘I leave more than dozen messages on both mobile and landline. You fail to return single call.’

John ducked his head.  He’d been on an operation until late on Friday night – the reason he hadn’t travelled down to Laverstock that night – and hadn’t looked at his personal mobile which was always left in a locked box on the Grid when he was working on a case.  He’d been so tired after eight solid days of tracking, capturing and then questioning a suspect, he’d simply grabbed his personal belongings, taken a taxi and fallen into bed fully clothed.

‘Ooops?’ he offered.  ‘I’m sorry, Radek. I’ve been so busy I didn’t get chance to look at my phone, and then just fell into bed last night, I was so tired.’

A grunt was the only response Radek made, but John knew him well enough to know he wasn’t angry, just irritated and concerned for his friend so he continued.  ‘We need to establish just when Rodney was taken. I assume he was taken from here as his car is still in the drive, although it’s possible he was kidnapped somewhere else and the car brought back to the cottage.’

‘Are the car keys here?’ Tony asked.  ‘If they’re in their usual place, then yes, I’d agree he was taken from here, but what about the dog?  Wouldn’t he have attacked anyone who tried to hurt or take Rodney?’

‘His keys are in the bowl in the kitchen we use for that sort of stuff and no, I doubt Brian would attack anyone who broke in, in fact he’s more likely to take them around the cottage and show them just where we keep any valuables.’ John told him, a wry smile on his face.  ‘Bearded collies aren’t much use as guard dogs, although Brian could probably round up some sheep for you if you wanted. Probably. Possibly.’

‘Is that what breed he is?’  Donald asked. ‘I wondered what he was.’

‘They were used as sheep dogs, especially in the North.  A couple of our tenant farmers still use them, but Brian didn’t make the cut as a working dog which is how I came to get him.  He might lick someone to death, but the only serious damage he’s likely to cause is if a burglar, or kidnapper in this case, laughed themselves to death or possibly fell over him.  An attack Beardie he isn’t.’

Right on cue, almost as though he knew he was being talked about, Brian rolled himself onto his back and lay, all four paws splayed out and his bits on show to anyone.

‘Rodney calls that his come-and-get-me pose,’ John said shaking his head, his affection for the dog evident in both tone and eyes as they rested on him.  ’Anyway. Keys still in the bowl and car on the drive would indicate Rodney was taken from here, and the absence of a phone call to his Aunt Victoria suggests he was taken either Wednesday night or Thursday morning.’

‘If he was taken on Wednesday night wouldn’t Brian have been starving by the time you arrived this morning?’ Donald asked, his eyes still resting on the dog.  ‘And what about his water bowl? I know Mother’s dogs drink pints of water each day and I remember her having—’

John cut in, sensing Donald was about to launch into one of the rambling reminiscences he remembered from their previous meetings.  ‘We have a dog walker who comes in twice a day to walk Brian and she feeds him after his afternoon walk since Rodney sometimes doesn’t get home until late.  Katie would have kept Brian’s water bowl topped up as well. She’s great with animals although a little dizzy sometimes.’

‘Is it worth asking her if she noticed anything different when she came in on Thursday or Friday?’ Tony asked.  ‘We may be able to narrow the timeframe.’

‘Good thought, Tony.  I’ll give her a quick bell,’  John said, reaching for the phone on the desk.

A quick call to Katie West, the dog walker, revealed that she had found a broken china mug on the kitchen floor when she came in on Thursday morning.  She’d picked it up and mopped up the spilt coffee Brian hadn’t managed to lick up, thinking Brian must have knocked it off the work surface. Furthermore, both the back and front doors had been unlocked, which Katie had put down to Dr. McKay running late for work. When John asked her about the car she admitted she hadn’t really noticed.  Recalling the frequent rants Rodney gave regarding the fluffy headedness of Katie, John wasn’t surprised that she hadn’t thought anything might be wrong when she discovered unlocked doors and the car still in the drive. Since Rodney usually left for his lab around 8am, they were fairly confident that Rodney had been kidnapped between 7am when his alarm went off and 8am when he would normally leave for work.

John now faced something of a dilemma.  He knew the team at MI5 had the technology and expertise to track down the vehicle that might have been used to take Rodney, since there was no way out of the village by road that didn’t go on or cross the main roads which all had traffic cameras on them at some point.  However, if he involved his team, it would almost certainly reveal his occupation and Tony already suspected John wasn’t quite what he seemed. But would revealing his line of work be such a problem? Radek already knew John worked for the security services in some capacity – the close friendship of he and his wife with both John and Rodney had meant a certain amount of disclosure had been necessary to avoid the sheer number and depth of lies required to hide it.  The Zelenkas’ level of security clearance that came with their own positions at DSTL meant they could be told. Tony and Donald both worked within a US federal agency which no doubt gave them a high clearance level themselves, but…

John nodded to himself, his mind made up.  ‘I need to speak to my boss but I’ll call him from the bedroom.  I promise I’ll explain everything after I’ve spoken to him.’

Donald appeared surprised, but Tony gave him a calculating look.  Radek simply waved his hand with a ‘get on with it’ motion and continued tapping away at his laptop, no doubt in contact with his wife who was still delving into Rodney’s work computer.  John cringed inwardly in anticipation of Rodney’s ire when he discovered he’d been hacked by Miko, even if it was in an attempt to save his life: while they might have a plan to track down the kidnappers, they still had no idea why the kidnappers wanted Rodney.

———

Chapter Three

John made his way up to the master bedroom to speak with Harry Pearce, Head of Section D: the branch of MI5 which dealt with threats of terrorism & espionage.  Rodney’s kidnapping was almost certainly one or the other, or possibly even both since John knew Rodney had been working on a top secret weapons project, a project so advanced scientifically that no other country on earth would come even close to being able to reproduce it, which would make it all the more coveted when details were ultimately released.  However, John also knew that the number of people who were even aware of its existence could almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. If Rodney had been kidnapped in relation to the project, someone had been speaking out of turn. John needed to speak to Harry Pearce.

At three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in mid October John knew he’d either find Harry at home watching rugby on the television, or actually at a rugby match if Harlequins were playing at home.  Either way, Harry would not be pleased to have his afternoon’s entertainment interrupted.   As he dialled the number, John thought about what to say. Hi Harry.  Sorry to bother you, but Rodney’s been kidnapped and my cousin, a US federal agent, wants to help find him, and I suspect Rodney’s new, super top secret invention – the one we’re hiding from the rest of the  world – is in danger of being stolen.

Fortunately for John, Harry was at home, but the conversation didn’t last long and John spent most of it – bar the first minute or so when he explained the situation to Harry – listening to his boss letting out a stream of invective until he gave a huge sigh which echoed down the line.

Harry had agreed that their priority was to find Rodney, and if that meant revealing John’s position in MI5, so be it.  He was going to contact the Home Secretary and inform him of Rodney’s suspected kidnapping and would leave it for him to tell the Secretary for Defence if he thought he should.  John, meanwhile, would assemble his team and set them to work, and if he needed any extra hands, Adam Carter and his team would be ready to deploy the moment John called them.

Right.  Enough of that.  You don’t need me to tell you what to do but remember Adam and his team are on first call this weekend if you need them.  I’ll brief the Home Secretary – and won’t that be a fun call to make? He can decide whether or not to let the Secretary for Defence know, since the DSTL comes under his purview.  I’ll see you on the Grid on Monday morning unless you need anything else.

‘Yes, sir.’  John heaved a sigh of his own.  ‘What about blowing my cover?’

Both your cousin and Rodney’s cousin will need to sign the Act regardless so if you need to tell them where you really work, go ahead.  If they both work for an American Agency – and just what the hell is NCIS? – they’ll understand the meaning of confidential. Now the Quins are in the lead so be a good chap and buzz off.

John sat for a moment on the bed to gather his thoughts.  He’d been looking forward to a nice quiet weekend with Rodney as they’d both recently been busy and hadn’t seen each other for a couple of weeks and they’d only spoken on the phone once or twice.  Their careers were important to them both and they’d each agreed to support the other as much as they could, but damn it! John missed Rodney and was beginning to resent the time they spent apart. He sighed again and pushed those thoughts to one side.  Before any decisions on their future could be discussed, he first needed to secure his geek!

He grabbed the laptop sitting on Rodney’s bedside table and trotted down the stairs.  The small group of men were sitting just where he left them, although someone had put a couple more logs in the stove.  He handed the laptop to Radek who took it and raised his eyebrows.

‘It’s Rodney’s personal laptop, well, his favourite.  We know Rodney’s account was used to send the email to the DSTL.  They most likely used his blackberry, since I haven’t been able to find it.  That means—’

‘There will be copy on laptop when it synchronises with Blackberry, but that will not tell us where Rodney is.’  Radek was one step ahead of the rest of the room.

‘But the software that Rodney designed to link his laptop and his Blackberry will be able to tell us where he is,’ John explained.

‘I’ve never heard of that being possible,’ Tony frowned.  ‘Although I can see how it would be useful. Have you come across it, Ducky?’

‘No, Anthony, I haven’t, but remember that we are dealing with the most intelligent man on the planet.  If anyone could have designed such software, it would be Rodney.’

‘And we can just open his PC and we’ll be able to find him?’ Tony asked sceptically.  ‘It just seems a bit too easy.’

’Tony is correct, John.’  Radek was poking at the laptop he’d just been handed. ‘Rodney will have encrypted  programme to prevent anyone from accessing it. Even Miko will have difficulty breaking through protection Rodney has created, and unless you know password, we will first have to break into laptop.’

John took the laptop back from Radek, thought for a moment and then entered a long series of letters and numbers.

‘Gotcha!’  He passed the laptop back to Radek.  ‘Well, you’re in, but I have no idea if you’ll get into his programme.’

Radek concentrated on the laptop while the others else looked on in anticipation.  After a couple of minutes, he looked up and glared at them. ‘Stop staring! It will not make me work faster!’

John and Tony turned away a little sheepishly.

‘How come you could guess Rodney’s password so easily?’  Tony voiced a question which had been puzzling him.

John laughed.  ‘When you’ve been together as long as we have, you know how their mind works.’  He paused for a moment. ‘You did realise that Rodney and I are in a relationship, didn’t you?’

‘The fact you share a bedroom?  Yeah, it was a bit of a clue, dumbass.  But just how long have you been together?’

‘Well, we’ve been friends since I was 13 and Rodney was 11, but we only became a couple when Rodney finished his first Ph.D. in the US.  He came back to the UK to begin his second one and decided to study at Edinburgh University so we would get to see each other occasionally since I was based at Arbroath and…’  He broke off when a stream of invective came forth from Radek, in a mixture of Czech and English. ‘Huh. I take it he did encrypt his programme?’’

Radek simply glared at him.

‘Okay then, I need to make another call.’

Deciding that this conversation could be made in front of the others since his role in MI5 would shortly be an open secret, John quickly called Section D’s resident technical wizard, Colin Wells.

‘Colin?  It’s John.  I need to access a highly encrypted programme on a MacBook Pro.  Can you talk me through it?’

There followed a brief conversation as John was clearly told that no, Colin couldn’t talk him through it, but might be able to break in if he had the laptop in front of him.  Within five minutes, John had arranged for Colin and his associate Malcolm Wynn-Jones to be brought by helicopter to Laverstock and they would also bring Ronon and Teyla: the other two members of John’s team.

————-

‘So, John.  Can I assume you’re not a Marine anymore?’

John sighed.  ‘Firstly, I’m a Royal Marine, and you don’t ever stop being a Royal Marine.  However, I did leave the service and I’m now a senior case officer in Section D.’

‘Section D?  Is that a code name for MI5?’

‘No, it’s the division within MI5 in which I work.  Section D is the counter-terrorism and counter-espionage branch of MI5.  It’s headed by Sir Harry Pearce and I report directly to him.’

‘So you’re his XO?’

‘No, I’m one of his senior case officers.  There are two of us and we both have teams which we lead in the field.’

‘And this Colin and Malcolm?  Are they part of your team?’

‘What is this?  Twenty questions?’

‘Hey!  You’re the one who lied about what he does for a living!’

‘I never lied about what I do.  I haven’t seen you for over ten years and our family isn’t actually known for exchanging Christmas cards.’

By this time Tony and John were both standing and glaring at each other.  ‘I told you I was a federal agent.’

‘So?’

‘So you should have told me you were a spook.’

‘Why?  And technically, I’m not a spook.  That’s a word you Americans use for your CIA operatives.’

Ducky grabbed the fist Tony was about to raise, surprising him.  He hadn’t even seen Ducky move from his chair.

‘Boys!’

The two cousins each glared at the older man.

‘That’s enough.  Anthony, sit over there,’ and Ducky pointed to the armchair by the fire in which he’d been sitting.  ‘John, sit back behind the desk.’

‘But—’  John began to speak, but Ducky interrupted him.

‘Now!’

Tony remembered hearing that Ducky had served in the military and if he’d been asked at the time, he’d have said he believed Ducky served as a medic, but now?  Now he was fairly certain Ducky had been a Drill Sergeant because both he and John sat down as quickly as they could before they even realised what they were doing.  And okay, he’d only been in the Police Force before he became an NCIS agent, but John? John had been a Colonel in the badass Royal Marines and even he sat down as fast as he could.

‘Right, you two.  I’ve let most of the bad tempered sniping between the pair of you go today since you each clearly have issues with the other that have only festered over the years and will no doubt take a long time to heal, but we are here to find and, hopefully, to rescue Rodney, and this is not the time for petty squabbles and rivalries, and it ends now.  Do you both understand?’

‘Yes, sir!’ they chorused from their separate seats and Tony hoped John felt as contrite as he did.

The sound of a helicopter broke the awkward silence which had settled over the study and, with a quick glance towards Ducky, John led them into the front garden.

‘I told them to land on the village green,’ John told them, gaining a little of his usual insouciance as he headed across the road.  The others followed him, and Radek took the opportunity to speak to Tony quietly.

‘Donald is head of your NCIS, no?’

‘Who, Ducky?  No. He’s our medical examiner, our…our…’  Tony remembered a phrase he’d heard Ducky use in the past.  ‘He’s our forensic pathologist.’

Radek’s eyebrows rose as he considered that.  ‘The head of your NCIS is more formidable than this?’

Tony laughed along with Radek, but considered his words while he watched the helicopter disgorge four people and a couple of large holdalls.  Ducky was certainly formidable at times and could certainly hold his own in a fight, as he’d shown on more than one occasion, but was he more formidable than the Director of NCIS?  If the previous director, Tom Morrow, were still in place, Tony would have said a categorical yes, but Director Jennifer Shepherd? No, she couldn’t be called formidable, except perhaps in the looks department, but a formidable character?  No, not at all. She certainly liked to micro-manage, but Tony didn’t see that as a positive trait at all, and as one who had been on the end of her micro-managing, particularly when Gibbs had ‘retired’, he’d had ample opportunity to evaluate it.

The fact was Tony didn’t like Madam Director at all.  She had a habit of interfering instead of allowing her staff to do their jobs and she certainly played favourites; witness her interactions with Ziva in addition to creating a liaison post for her.  She had a habit of flirting with men to gain their attention, then backing off when she got it, but what had concerned him most of all was her recent attempt to persuade him to go undercover on a special case for her.  Normally, this was something Tony enjoyed doing and knew he was good at, but his spidey-senses were tingling in this instance. The director wanted to keep this assignment strictly between the two of them and Tony would have no back-up while he was undercover, other than her cell number.  His first instinct was to discuss it with Gibbs, but their relationship had been strained since he’d returned from Mexico and furthermore the Director had strictly forbidden him from discussing the case with anyone, particularly Gibbs.  This fact alone made Tony very nervous.  Gibbs knew everything and trying to keep a secret from him was simply asking for trouble.

Tony was pulled from his reverie by the introductions John was making to his team and he shook hands with each of them, just giving a smile as John introduced him as ‘my American cousin’.   The entire group moved into the kitchen and Colin and Malcolm took over one end of the large table pulling cables and gadgets out of one of the bags, all the while passing comments to each other in what Tony immediately categorised as ‘geek-speak’.  Radek joined them and began to explain what he and his wife had been able to do. Teyla and Ronon, on the other hand, looked at him with interest. He returned their looks and decided that while Teyla was a slight and beautiful woman, he wouldn’t want to meet her dreadlocked, behemoth of a colleague in a dark alley.

Ronon turned out to be a man of few words, and he concentrated on pulling out a number of fearsome weapons from the holdall he carried.  Tony looked askance at the sheer number and size of the knives Ronon had, some of which quickly disappeared into the dreadlocked hair, while Teyla picked up and checked a couple of pistols.  John simply frowned.

‘Did you have to bring the entire arsenal with you, Chewie?  Did you leave anything for Adam if he needs it?’

‘Adam just encourages him, John.  He was the one who included the MP7’s.’

‘What on earth did Adam think we were going to do that we’d need submachine guns?’

Teyla simply shrugged and rolled her eyes which made Tony laugh and John glare at him.

‘Hey, don’t get mad at me, coz.  I like the way your Adam thinks. Far better in my experience, to have too much firepower than too little,’ and he reached out to take a Beretta for himself.

John clearly felt differently since he grabbed Tony’s wrist before he could touch the pistol closest to him.

‘I don’t think so, Tony.’

Tony pulled his arm back and scowled.  ‘You want me to go in unarmed?’

‘We’re not going in anywhere as yet, but yes, you will be unarmed,’ John told him firmly.

‘What?’

‘Anthony,’ Donald cautioned.  ‘You entered this country as a private US citizen.  You have neither the permission nor the authority to carry a weapon here.  Even with John’s position in MI5, if you shot and wounded someone you would be in serious trouble, as, most likely, would John for permitting you to carry a weapon.’

Unfortunately, what Donald said made sense to Tony, but it didn’t make him any happier with his cousin, and, just for good measure, he glared at them both.

————

Rodney was beginning to get a little concerned.  Although he was locked up in what he thought was a cellar and his watch taken from him, he was certain more than a day had passed and possibly more than two days.  Just when exactly was the cavalry due to arrive? And by cavalry he meant John. John must have realised he was missing and would come to the rescue immediately, wouldn’t he?  Captain Kirk never stayed locked up for long. Spock always came for him before the end of the episode, just as Jim came for Spock when the roles were reversed.

Sadly, Rodney knew real life was very far removed from fiction and there would be no calls of ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ in his lifetime.  Still, what was the point of having a secret agent boyfriend if he wasn’t going to use all the resources at his disposal to find the one he loved.  Liked. The one he liked. The L word had never been mentioned between them and Rodney was certainly not going to be the one to break first. And yet if John wasn’t going to ride over the hill on his gleaming white charger to rescue him, Rodney thought he would have liked to tell John that he loved him before he died.

They tied him to a chair, hands behind his back, and an increasingly angry foreign man in a strongly accented voice demanded details of the project that had taken himself, Radek and Miko over two years to design.  He’d actually been speechless when they first asked, rather than refusing to answer as they thought, as he couldn’t explain using words alone. He needed to use calculations, formulae and strings and strings of code to even touch the surface of it, and faced with a man who struggled to make a whole sentence in english and who had no idea how to send an email on a Blackberry…  There was no way he’d be able to give away his top secret project.

So instead, Rodney thought about John, and about Brian, and about the long summer walks they’d taken and about the cold winters nights in front of the fire they’d spent, and he hoped against hope that John would come for him.

————

Chapter Four

In the end, it had been remarkably straightforward to find where Rodney was being held.  Colin and Malcolm, assisted by Radek – who was fortunately used to playing second fiddle to both Rodney and Miko – were able to break into Rodney’s Blackberry programme since he’d written and installed it on that particular laptop, and they had John on hand to work them through layers and layers of password protected files.  Malcolm admitted that without John’s help they’d never have managed it, and he asked John – encouraged by an eager Colin – if he thought Rodney might help them write a similar programme to use for Section D. John smiled ruefully and said they had to rescue Rodney first, which brought the excited analysts back to earth and cut off their paroxysms of admiration for the missing genius.

Once they had access to the programme they were able to access the inner controls of the remote Blackberry, even with the actual Blackberry turned off.  The kidnappers were clearly aware of Location Reporting and that it wouldn’t work with the device turned off, but using Rodney’s ingenious programme, they were able to determine from where the last call, text or email had been sent.

‘He’s close to the cathedral,’ John told the waiting group.

‘Can you be more precise?’ asked Tony, aware of the number of buildings they might have to search just using ‘close to the cathedral’.

‘Unfortunately not,’ Malcolm answered.  ‘Dr. McKay’s programme is wonderful, but can only give a location within about a hundred yards.’

‘But without a precise location, we’ll have to search possibly dozens of buildings and the kidnappers will be sure to either see or hear us coming,’ Teyla pointed out before Tony could speak.

‘Which is why I’ve had another analyst running through traffic camera footage for a vehicle which entered the village between seven and eight o’clock on Thursday morning and which left soon after,’ John explained.  ‘I’m hoping that might give us a better idea of where Rodney is. I’m just waiting for Ruth to call. I’ve also had her check any internet chatter about DSTL or Rodney on various sites of interest to us.’

’She can do that?’ asked Tony, impressed with the capabilities of John’s team.

’She has very good contacts at GCHQ.  She worked there for about ten years before joining Section D,’ John replied absently, looking over Radek’s shoulder at Rodney’s laptop.  He suddenly laughed. ‘Well, if I’d actually seen the email Rodney sent to DSTL, I’d have known he was being forced to write it.’

Radek was grinning too and Donald walked over to see what was so amusing.  He took one look at the screen and began to laugh.

Tony frowned.  ‘I don’t get the joke.  What’s so funny and why would you know Rodney was forced to write it?’

John pointed to the end of the email but Tony still looked confused.  ‘What? How do you know it’s written by Rodney. It’s signed Meredith.  Isn’t that the name of your daughter, Radek?  Why would he put that?’

Meredith is actually Rodney’s first name,’ John explained.  ‘He hates it, and refuses to use it. Rodney is his middle name – after his maternal grandfather, I believe?’  He looked at Donald for confirmation.

‘Yes.  He died long before Rodney was born, in fact I barely remember him.  Aunt Vera, Rodney’s mother, was well into her forties when she had him.’

’Rodney’s kidnappers would most likely know him as Dr. M.R. McKay,’ John explained.  ‘They wouldn’t think twice about him using his first name in the email, but anyone who knows Rodney would also know he’d never usually sign himself as such and would question it.’

‘But no one at DSLT knew to comment on it?’  Tony rubbed his neck absently.

‘DSTL, and no, clearly no one picked up on that.  I think there’s going to be a long conversation between MI5 and the DSTL security people about what’s happened.  No one questioned the email and no one would listen when Radek tried to tell them he suspected Rodney was in trouble.  It’s not good and it can’t continue.’

‘And we don’t know why Rodney was kidnapped yet,’ Tony reminded them all.

Actually, John thought he knew exactly why Rodney had been kidnapped and from the look Radek gave him it was clear he thought the same, however John was certainly not going to tell a US Federal Agent about Rodney’s top secret work, cousin or not.

Conversation was desultory while they waited for the call from Ruth although Ronon appeared happy enough sharpening the knives he had hidden about him while Donald fondled Brian’s ears and told him what a good boy he was.  Finally, John’s mobile rang and all eyes turned to him as he answered it. Tension was high in the cottage kitchen as the call ended. John surveyed them all for a moment, then smiled.

‘We have a location.  Let’s move out!’

There was a rush towards the door as John was followed by Ronon, Teyla, Tony and, rather surprisingly, Donald.

‘Ducky?’  Tony sounded surprised.  ‘Are you coming too?’

‘We have no way of knowing if Rodney is injured in any way.  If he is, you may need me.’

————

The helicopter and pilot had remained on the village green in case it would be needed when they knew exactly where Rodney was being held.  Tony had wondered if they would take a car as they were headed into the city, but John and his team made straight for the helicopter so Tony and Ducky trotted on behind.  Ducky had grabbed his medical bag from their rental car, surprising Tony as he hadn’t realised Ducky had brought it to the UK with him, but he supposed he was so used to seeing the bag he probably didn’t actually notice it any longer.

John was giving the pilot instructions where exactly to set down while the others strapped themselves into the back.  John sat next to the pilot and grinned at the rest of his team behind him. Tony noticed that where before John’s eyes had been rather dull, they were now shining with life and it made the whole of his face animated, more like the kid Tony remembered from years back and it raised a hope within him that their former relationship could likewise be revived.

He found himself experiencing mixed emotions of anticipation and apprehension as they prepared to leave, emotions he also realised he had hadn’t felt for some while.  He wondered how long he’d been acting on automatic pilot, how long since he’d actually enjoyed his work, and decided it could even be as far back as before Kate was killed.  The whole atmosphere of NCIS had changed with the arrival of Director Jenny Shepard, especially given her past history with Gibbs and her introduction of a Mossad liaison position on the MCRT which Tony had always thought was a ridiculous thing to do.  Put a foreign agent on the premier NCIS team and furthermore, make sure she has access to the whole agency network. Sure. That was an intelligent move.

After he became acting agent-in-charge when Gibbs had taken himself off to Mexico, Tony began to keep a record of the files which had been accessed by Officer Ziva David, in addition to those she downloaded and he discovered a very high percent of them were files she’d had no reason to even look at, let alone download.  He puzzled long and hard over what to do with this information since Ziva had been given her security clearance level by the Director and, technically, had her authority to access those files. Tony was unable, therefore, to take the matter any further without going over Director Shepard’s head and he was unsure he was ready to do that.

At that point, the helicopter began to descend and John and his team began to check their weapons.  Tony felt oddly naked without his sidearm and even without his usual NCIS baseball cap and vest. He assumed MI5 worked under different rules to those in the US which required police and federal agents to give a warning before they entered private property, or engaged in a firefight.  At the very least, it would be interesting to see how his cousin and his team performed under pressure.

They came in to land in the middle of a rugby pitch, one of the few green areas close to the cathedral not milling with people on a warm, autumnal Saturday afternoon, and before the helicopter was actually on the ground, John and Ronon jumped out, Teyla close behind them.  Tony waited with Ducky until it properly landed then, throwing the ME an apologetic smile, he ran after the other agents. John knew exactly where he was going as he ran directly to an extremely old building on the perimeter of the field and simply kicked the door open. Tony held back, knowing John’s team were used to working with each other and not wanting to get in their way or between their guns and one of the kidnappers.

John headed into the main part of the house while Ronon and Teyla split up, one upstairs and one down into the cellar, although how they knew there was a cellar, Tony had no idea.  He followed John into the kitchen where he found his cousin pointing his gun at three men sitting around a table, playing cards. Thunderous thumps on the staircase told Tony that Ronon was coming back downstairs, and just as he entered the kitchen a shout came from Teyla.  Ronon and John exchanged glances and Ronon gestured towards the door to the cellar with his gun.

‘Go.  I’ll look after our friends.’

John nodded his thanks, and Tony followed him down the uneven steps to a metal door set in a low brick wall.  Tony thought it was a good job Ronon had remained upstairs since he’d have to bend almost double to fit through the doorway which was fastened only with a couple of bolts.  Teyla had them unbolted but had left actually opening the door to John who took a deep breath and stepped forward.

—————

Rodney woke to Brian’s wet nose on his cheek.  Damn mutt wants to go out.  He slowly opened his eyes to be greeted with an enormous lick and an exuberant wagging tail that thudded against the side of the bed.  He groaned and rolled onto his back, then groaned some more as the bruises which littered his body made their presence felt. John immediately sat up in concern.

‘Rodney?  Are you alright?  Where does it hurt?  Should I fetch Donald?’

‘John, stop stressing, I’m fine.  Brian woke me up. He needs to wee.’

The stress etched on his partner’s face eased and he smiled ruefully.  ’Sorry. I’ll let him out. Want a coffee while I’m down there?’

‘Is there any fresh milk?’

‘Ummm…’

‘I’ll have tea then.’

As John clambered out of bed and struggled into a pair of soft cotton trousers, Rodney tried to sit up, but the pain in his wrists hurt too much and he collapsed back onto the pillows with a heart-felt ‘Owww!’

Brian leapt onto the bed, worried by the noises coming from one of his daddies, and that only increased the exclamations of pain coming from Rodney which now included various swear words.  John tried to pull Brian from where he was now standing, licking any bit of Rodney he could reach and clearly thinking the whole thing was a great game.

By the time John managed to get Brian out of the room both Tony and Donald were emerging from their bedrooms, Donald to see if Rodney needed any further pain medication and Tony just to see what was happening.  When John finally got back upstairs, carrying a tray, Rodney was holding court in their bedroom with Donald in an armchair, Tony laying against the pillows next to Rodney, and Brian – now back on the bed – cuddling up to his daddy.

Rodney’s wrists and arms were sporting fresh bandages and he was listening to Tony explain how he and Rodney’s cousin came to be in England.

’Shift yourself!’ John ordered.

‘Make me!’  Tony narrowed his eyes as he regarded his cousin.

‘Boys!’ came the mild admonition from the armchair, and, following a brief scuffle, John settled himself in bed next to Rodney and Tony made a spot for himself on the end of the bed.

‘Any biscuits?’ demanded Rodney.  ‘I’m starving. I didn’t eat for two days and I need feeding up.’

’Tony, go and get the biscuits from the kitchen,’ John told him lazily, kicking his legs to dislodge his cousin.

‘Hey!  I’m a guest here.’

’So?  Go and get the biscuits.  I brought the coffee.’

‘But you forgot the milk.’

‘Didn’t forget it.  Haven’t got any.’

‘Don’t you have milkmen here?  I thought all English villages had milkmen.’

‘No money in it.  Go and get the biscuits, you idle git.’

Rodney leaned back against his pillows, a small smile on his face.  After the horrors of being locked in a cellar, wrists rubbed raw by tight plastic ties and a number of bad knife cuts to his arms, this was all so normal and… nice.

He glanced over to his cousin and his smile grew.  Donald and his mother represented safety and love to Rodney and had done so for many years now.  His birth had been neither planned nor wanted by his parents, and while abortion was legal in Canada if it threatened the life or health of the mother, abortion just because you didn’t want the baby was illegal in 1971.  For the McKays, their aversion to their child was simply compounded when it was discovered the young Meredith had a frighteningly high IQ. The local schools couldn’t cope with the young genius either academically or behaviourally and this led to a mixture of boredom in the classroom and an increasing frustration with the other pupils who mentally, simply couldn’t keep up.  The whole situation erupted when Meredith decided to build a non-working model of a nuclear bomb for his science project when he was 11. Following a visit from the CIA – and Rodney had never understood why they became involved because hey, Canadian? – his school refused to teach him any longer and his parents were faced with actually having to do something for him. A telephone call from his Aunt Victoria came at just the right moment for the whole McKay family, as she offered to have Meredith go to live with her and complete his education in the United Kingdom.

It was a brand new start for Meredith and he fully embraced it.  He decided to change his name and began using his middle name of Rodney, he went to a school where they knew how to deal with genius children – and rather than simply push him academically, they insisted he be involved in all aspects of school life – and he had a home where he knew he was loved and valued.  During his first year at Eton, he wrote to his parents a couple of times but never received a reply and after a long conversation with his aunt and cousin, he decided to put aside his previous life and throw himself wholeheartedly into his new one. He never regretted it.

Having his cousin Donald here now, after he had truly believed he might die, was both comforting and reassuring.  Donald had been a symbol of security and safety for the young Rodney and the adult Rodney was happy to discover he remained so.  He’d cleaned and stitched his wounds the previous night and had been able to administer pain medication which had made a visit to the local hospital unnecessary, much to Rodney’s relief.  John had questioned how Donald had managed to bring both medication and medical equipment through security and customs, but Donald had explained that there were procedures in place in most countries allowing doctors to travel with both drugs and equipment, providing they had the correct paperwork.

A gentle nudge to his shoulder brought Rodney out of his thoughts.

‘Hey, you.’  John smiled at him and Rodney felt a rush of emotion for this man who had rescued him and brought him safely home, who had stayed with him while his injuries were tended, and who had held him close while he fell asleep.  Rodney didn’t have the words to express all of this, so he just smiled and nudged John back.

‘Hey, yourself.’

—————

They spent the rest of Sunday quietly, just John and Rodney, and Donald and Tony.  John spoke briefly to Ronon, who had taken the three men they’d found in the house in Salisbury back to Thames House for questioning and later in the day after he’d spoken with Harry Pearce he went to find his cousin.

He found all three men crashed out in the sitting room.  Donald was browsing the Sunday newspapers which they’d picked up that morning and occasionally read out little bits that interested him.  Rodney was busy with his laptop, but from the way his fingers were moving it was more likely to be a game he was playing rather than high science.  Tony had put himself in charge of keeping the fire fed and was simply gazing into the flames with a concentration rarely seen outside of a chess game between grandmasters.

John sank down on the sofa next to his cousin and nudged him.  ‘’S’up, bro?’

‘Huh?’ Tony turned his head slightly and frowned.  ‘Where’d you pick that up from?’

John just grinned and stretched his legs out, making himself comfortable.  ‘Harry needs me back on the Grid tomorrow. I thought you might all go with me and spend a few days in London.’

‘Why on earth would I want to go to London?’ Rodney asked, still concentrating on his screen but proving he wasn’t sunk in some complicated programming or maths.  He looked up to glare at John. ‘Brian hates London. You know that.’

‘And what’s the ‘Grid’?’ Tony demanded.  ‘And why would Harry want you there instead of at your office?’

John had hoped Rodney would be more amenable after his kidnapping but that clearly wasn’t happening.  ‘I’m not leaving you on your own here, Rodney, not until we know who kidnapped you and why.’

‘That’s not a problem then.’  Tony pushed another log onto the fire, viewed it critically then added a second one at a slightly different angle.  ‘Ducky and I’ll stay here. I’m not back at work for another couple of weeks and I’m sure Ducky’ll be happy to spend some time here.  Between us I’m sure we can look after Rodney and Brian.’ He glanced over to John. ‘And you didn’t say what the Grid is.’

‘It’s the name for our office, I’ve no idea why.’  John shrugged. ‘As far as I know, it’s always been called that.  And I know you could look after Rodney, it’s just… we don’t know who was behind the kidnapping yet and we don’t know why he was kidnapped either.  Not specifically.’

Rodney gave John what he clearly thought was a devastating glare, narrowed eyes and everything.  ‘I don’t need looking after. I’m not some kid.’

‘No,’ John returned the glare to his partner.  ‘You’re just the man who was kidnapped and tortured for three days.’

It was a low blow really, especially as Rodney’s wrists and arms were still bandaged and probably still painful, but John knew Rodney would never admit to needing looking after, even when he did.

‘Just…’  He sighed again and looked over to his lover.  ‘Don’t fight me on this, baby,’ John said softly.  ‘I need to look after you myself, keep my own eye on you.’

Rodney’s face softened and he gave his partner a small, shy smile and nodded his agreement.

‘Then we’ll all go up to London later and I accept your offer to look after Brian,’ John told Tony with a grin.  ‘Maybe you’ll spare the odd moment to check Rodney’s okay as well.’

Donald looked up from his newspaper.  ‘I shall keep an eye on all three of the boys, John, have no fear.’

John nodded gratefully and settled back into the sofa and let himself relax.

They waited until after dinner for the drive up to London, deciding to travel in just one car, and John found his patience sorely tested as Rodney kept running back into the house for bits and pieces he’d forgotten.

‘What!’ he demanded after John had sighed and looked at his watch for the umpteenth time.  ‘I need all this stuff since you won’t let me go back to work in my lab, and Brian needs all his stuff since he doesn’t often stay at your place.’

‘We could call Katie and ask if she’ll look after Brian for a few days if you like?’ John suggested innocently.

As expected there was a howl of protest from Rodney and even Brian appeared to be glaring at him.  ‘Okay, okay, I’m sorry!’ John held his arms up in surrender and backed away from the outraged faces.  ‘But I really would like to get home before midnight.’

Eventually, he had the car loaded and, with Brian in the boot and Rodney and Tony in the back seat, they set off.

‘I thought you’d have had a sportier car than this,’ Tony admitted as he glanced around the range rover.

‘I would, except that Brian gets his hair blown about too much in a soft top,’ John told him, glancing in the rear view mirror to see his cousin.  ‘Rodney doesn’t have that problem though so maybe we could think about it?’

‘Oh ha very ha.’  Rodney poked John in the shoulder a couple of times in retaliation then turned his attention to Tony while John and Donald exchanged grins.

They each settled down for the two hour drive and John kept half an ear on the conversation in the back seat where Rodney and Tony were happily swapping tales of John as a child, cutting in now and then to deny an incident or to defend himself.  Eventually their conversation turned to their own education and John was surprised to hear that after Tony realised his career as a professional athlete was over, he’d begun to educate himself to the needs of his new career in the police force.

‘So you have a second undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice?’ he asked over his shoulder.

‘Mmm.  I studied part-time at Temple University in Philadelphia.  It was originally set up for evening classes and I was lucky that some of the credits from Police Academy counted towards my degree so I finished it in three years instead of four.  I have a master’s degree from Georgetown that I did part time as well.’ Tony sounded a little defensive to John’s ears and he wondered why.

‘You mean you did Police Academy and then worked at the same time as doing evening classes for a degree? Rodney demanded, and John saw the scowl appear on Tony’s face but before he could say anything, Rodney continued.

‘Wow!  I mean… just… wow.  That takes real guts and dedication.  How on earth did you find time for a social life?’

Tony shrugged.  ‘I didn’t, not really, and besides, I didn’t have an awful lot of money to have a social life with.’

‘I thought you were a Trust Fund baby?’ John frowned, glancing in the mirror again.

Tony gave a hollow laugh.  ‘Not so much. After I finished school, Daddy Dearest refused to help me financially and that included access to the trust fund my mother left me.  The lawyers mom had appointed to administer it allowed him to ‘invest’ it for me and surprise, surprise, all the investments failed.’

John made an angry noise, furious at himself for the number of things he’d assumed about his cousin, and furious with Tony’s father for not doing his duty by his son.

‘Why didn’t you…’ he began, but trailed off as he saw his cousin’s face.  No. There was no way Tony would have contacted his English relations with a complaint about his father.  His innate loyalty would have prevented him – indeed did prevent him – from criticising his father, even to those who knew the man was a waste of oxygen.

‘Then I apologise for my appalling behaviour towards you over the last couple of days and in the past.  I made assumptions I shouldn’t have and I’m sorry.’ John took a deep breath. ‘I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t come to us when you were in trouble and needed your family.  That’s on me because I shouldn’t have judged you. I’m sorry.’

Tony simply smiled,

‘It’s fine, John.  We’re fine. I think I’ve got my family back and I have to admit, I’ve missed you guys.  It’d be nice to catch up with David and Uncle Patrick sometime, but you and me? We were always so close and I missed you.’

The beaming smiles from both Rodney and Donald warmed John’s heart as much as the admission from Tony and they exchanged grins before settling down to idle chatter between them all for the rest of the journey until John pulled into the garage of his mews house close to the river in Chelsea.

‘This is your house?’ Tony asked looking around.

‘Yes.  I live in this small garage,’ John told him and tried to shrink away from the thump dealt to him by his cousin.

Rodney was already out of the car rescuing Brian from the boot, and he led them into the house proper and up the stairs to the main floor.

‘Wow.  This is fantastic,’ Tony said, wandering around the large open plan kitchen and living room.

Donald nodded his agreement as he headed for the book filled wall facing the kitchen.  ‘You have an eclectic taste in reading material,’ he told John as he read the book titles, head tipped on one side.

‘Want some tea, Donald?’ John called from the kitchen.  ‘Coffee for you, Tony? Damn. We forgot to stop for some milk.’

‘I’ll go and get some,’ Rodney offered, but was immediately bombarded by a succession of ’no, you won’t’ from the others.

‘You’re not leaving this house without either Tony or myself,’ John told him.  ‘Now sit down where I can keep an eye on you.’

‘I’ll go and get the milk, shall I?’ Tony asked.  ‘You do have shops that are open on Sundays here, don’t you?’

He disappeared to follow John’s directions while John fussed around Rodney, getting him comfortable and making sure everything was within his reach until Rodney appealed to Donald for rescue and John sulked and retreated to his study to call Harry Pearce and report that they were back in London.

———

Chapter Five

Upon arrival on the Grid on Monday morning John was immediately called into Harry’s office where he also found his fellow Chief of Section, Adam Carter.  John nodded a greeting and sat down in the vacant chair in front of Harry’s desk while Harry pressed a button and the glass in the windows overlooking the rest of the Grid darkened and the door automatically locked.  John raised a questioning eyebrow.

‘Oliver Mace has been snooping around,’ Harry explained.  ‘He says he’s simply paying a courtesy visit but I don’t trust that man as far as I could kick him.’

John agreed whole-heartedly.  He had little to do with the chairman of the influential Joint Intelligence Committee, but what little interaction he had he didn’t like.  Although Mace insisted they were all on the same side, John couldn’t help but feel the only side Mace was on was his own.

He knew Adam agreed with him as they’d had a very frank discussion not long after John joined Section D.  Adam had initially taken John’s appointment as a threat to his own position but quickly realised that wasn’t the case at all.  Finding themselves together on an operation a few weeks later they’d taken the opportunity to lay their cards on the table and found they had similar ideas and principles on a number of issues.  One issue had been Mace, especially as he’d tried to use them against each other, clearly desiring their disunity rather than their co-operation. They quickly rumbled his plan and had turned the tables quite nicely, but forcing Mace to retreat had earned themselves his enmity.  It didn’t help that John was everything Mace wanted to be; a successful officer in an elite force and a member of a wealthy and aristocratic family with an entrée to drawing rooms of Society if he wished.  This was an enmity that would never go away.

‘What’s he after this time?’ asked Adam, aware Mace only inflicted himself on Section D when he was seeking something.

‘I’m not sure,’ Harry admitted.  ‘But I don’t think it’s a coincidence he’s chosen today to pay us a visit.’

John and Adam digested this then exchanged glances.

‘Who actually knows Rodney was kidnapped?’ John asked.

‘Outside of the Grid; Peter West, who flew the helicopter down to Salisbury; your Dr. Mallard and Agent DiNozzo; and the Doctors Zelenka.’

‘You didn’t tell the Home Secretary?’

‘It wouldn’t have helped and may well have hindered you so I took the decision not to tell him.  One of my jobs today or tomorrow will be to pay him a visit and brief him but I’d rather not do that until we have more information on why Rodney was kidnapped.’

‘So if Mace is here because of Rodney, someone has spoken out of turn…’ Adam said slowly.

‘Or Mace has found out another way,’ John finished.

‘Right,’ Harry began, decisively.  ‘John, you take care of questioning the men we have locked in our basement while Adam pays a visit to the DSTL to discuss their security arrangements.  I’m going to do a little digging to see if I can’t discover why Mace has chosen today to pay us a visit. Ruth and the terrible twins are searching for any recent mention of the DSTL or Rodney, either online or in chatter, and Ronon and Teyla are babysitting our guests downstairs.  I understand Ronon has been sharpening his knives just where they can see him while Teyla has been doing a little exercise.’

John laughed.  His team-mates had their own ways of breaking down the resistance of ‘guests’ from whom they wanted information.  Ronon’s knife sharpening was only the first stage. Later stages included juggling the knives and target practice while Teyla’s ‘exercise’ used three foot long wooden fighting sticks she called bantos rods held in each hand and used to both attack and defend against an opponent, or in this case used to perform intricate, slow motion movements that tested both agility and concentration.

As he left Harry’s office John could feel Mace’s eyes following him as he made his way to the security pods at the entrance to the Grid.  He forced himself not to look at the other man aware that Mace hated to be ignored. It might have been petty but John decided he deserved to act a little pettily given the weekend he’d just had.

—————

The basement of Thames House contained a series of small rooms Section D used as cells and interview rooms.  All of them had tiled floors with a drain in the centre that, as far as John was aware, had been used for nothing more nefarious than dirty water although the guests who stayed there didn’t know that.

Each of the three men who were captured from the house in Salisbury where Rodney was found were being held in separate cells and John knew they’d not been allowed to communicate with each other.  Initial shouts from them as John and his team had entered the house had been in english but it didn’t automatically follow that the men were actually english by birth and none of them had spoken since their capture.

John had worked together with Ronon and Teyla for a number of years.  Ronon had been in the Royal Marines with John and had served under him on three tours of duty overseas where John had commanded a small group of RM Intelligence Corps Commandos.  When John was approached by MI5 to join them he retained his commission as a cover and spent a couple of months a year in active service. It was almost like moving into the RM Reserves except to the world at large Major John Fitz-Shepherd had no connection whatsoever with MI5.  This had continued for four years and John had earned his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, but with the new rank had come the realisation that his cover story was no longer valid. It simply wasn’t feasible that an officer of that rank commanded only a small group of men without pertinent questions being asked, so John resigned his commission and seamlessly slipped into place as Chief of Section.  At that point Ronon had asked to join him officially although he’d taken part in a number of operations John had led unofficially.

Teyla had worked in the diplomatic corps for a number of years and had specialised in negotiating trade treaties for the United Kingdom.  Her move to MI5 came about when she grew disillusioned with the self-serving nature of many of the people with whom she worked. Desiring above all to help her country, her long-standing friendship with Ronon led to her application to work with Section D when he himself joined them.  She never regretted her choices although the work she was now doing to help her country was nothing like she’d expected.

The clatter of wood upon wood greeted John as he made his way through the labyrinthine passages beneath Thames House.  As he entered the high security detainment area the sounds became much louder and he saw Ronon and Teyla had become bored of their previous tasks and had begun their sparring practice in full view of the cells containing their guests.  What ‘sparring practice’ actually meant was an intoxicating dance between the two of them each holding a pair of bantos rods and simultaneously defending against and attacking their opponent.

John himself trained with both Teyla and Ronon in the use of the bantos sticks but was no match for either of the two before him.  It did, however, give him an excellent workout, although Rodney always complained at the number of bruises John sported on any given day after partaking in a training session with them.

Usually, watching the diminutive Teyla against the dreadlocked Ronon, with over a foot in height difference between them, was entertaining, but right now he wanted answers from the ashen faced men watching their two guards trying to knock hell out of each other, so he whistled loudly and the pair came to a halt but not before Ronon gave Teyla a hard whack on the thigh.  She glared at him and dire retribution was promised within that glare.

‘’S’up, Boss?’ Ronon asked, throwing his sticks into the air and catching them easily, and John gave his own glare to the unrepentant giant.

‘I think it’s time to have a little chat with our friends here,’ John said quietly and swept his gaze over the prisoners.

Ronon and Teyla’s eyes lit up.

‘Three on one or one each?’ she asked, and John pursed his lips.

‘I think we’ll start with three on one.  We can always split up if we don’t get what we need to start with.  Now, do we have any names yet?’

‘None of them are saying anything,’ Ronon rumbled.

‘No problem.’  John raised his voice a little so the prisoners could hear him.  ‘We’ll call them Huey, Dewey and Louie. Teyla, bring Huey into my office please.’

A short while later ‘Huey’ was handcuffed to an upright chair in an otherwise empty room.  John leaned nonchalantly against the wall, arms and ankles folded while Teyla leaned by the door while Ronon prowled restlessly around the room and Huey clearly had no idea who to keep his eyes on.  Instead, his head twisted frantically from side to side.

‘I want my lawyer,’ he said suddenly.  ‘I know my rights. I want my lawyer.’

So, definitely English, John thought to himself and out-loud, he simply said ‘No.’

This threw their prisoner off kilter.  He obviously hadn’t expected an out-right refusal.

‘But…but…I know my rights and…’

John interrupted him.  ‘The man you kidnapped had the right to be safe in his own home.  Did you respect his rights? Why should I bother to respect yours?’

‘But…but…’

‘I want the name of the man who paid you to kidnap Dr. McKay.’

Huey looked down at the floor, refusing to say anything.

‘One final chance then I’m afraid I’m going to have to let my colleague hurt you.’

Huey’s head shot up in alarm.

‘Hey, you hurt Dr. McKay trying to get information from him.  It’s only fair that we get to hurt you.’

Ronon cracked his knuckles in anticipation and stepped forward.

—————-

As it turned out, it had been almost too easy and Ronon hadn’t had to hurt anyone.  None of the three had ever actually set eyes on the man who’d hired them, but ‘Dewey’ – who turned out to be called Jason Taylor – admitted to being the one who spoke to him and who gave the other two their instructions.  Two junior case officers had searched the house just off the Cathedral Close in Salisbury after Rodney had been rescued but hadn’t found any mobile phones or indeed anything else linking the men to anyone else. They were dispatched to search what Taylor gave as his home address which produced a couple of mobiles, one clearly for personal use with contacts such as ‘Mum’ and ‘Nan’, and John wondered how these women would feel to know their son or grandson was involved in anything as sordid as a kidnapping.  The other phone was a burner phone and had just one number with contact information, but had three other numbers that had been called by Taylor in the last few days.

Colin and Malcolm got to work on the phone numbers, seeing if they could get any information from them, while Ruth concentrated on internet chatter.  James, Taylor, and Smith – Huey, Dewey, and Louie respectively – remained in the cells below Thames House for the time being as neither Harry nor John wanted the police involved as yet.  There was far too much at stake to bring in a large number of people.

Harry, Adam and John met again in the late afternoon.  Adam had returned from his visit to the DSTL absolutely furious – even after a two hour car journey back to Thames House.  He cursed out the security staff, the management and the HR department, and Harry let him get it all out of his system for a couple of minutes before giving a slight cough which stopped Adam in mid curse.  Despite it being far from amusing, John couldn’t help laughing at the expression on his friend’s face.

‘I definitely got the better job then?’

Adam narrowed his eyes while John held his hand up in a sign of surrender.

‘Okay, okay, I’m sorry.  I couldn’t go though.  Some of Rodney’s staff know me as Tom Wilson, a mid grade civil servant in the MOD.  It wouldn’t do for him to go asking questions of their security.’

‘You owe me a drink, probably several,’ he told a grinning John.  ‘How Rodney manages to work there without killing them all is a mystery to me.’

‘Only a very few people are permitted to speak to him.’

Adam’s jaw dropped.  ‘Seriously?’

‘Seriously.  He told the CEO – who incidentally isn’t on the list – that if they wanted him to work for them and not systematically kill everyone in the company, they had to allow him to decide who could and couldn’t speak to him.  It’s why the people in HR probably didn’t recognise his name when Radek spoke to them – although it doesn’t explain why they didn’t know who Radek was. Perhaps they’re all morons, as Rodney claims.  Anyway, Rodney made a list and pinned it to his lab door along with a note saying he couldn’t be held responsible for the lives or well being of anyone not on the list who tried to gain entry to his lab.  After two people who weren’t on the list went in, and came out without any hair – head or eyebrows – the CEO sent a memo round forbidding anyone not on the list from interacting with him. It seems to have done the trick.’

Harry was looking very thoughtful.  ‘Any chance Rodney could get hold of some more of whatever he used on them?  I could use it to stop Mace from treating us like his corner shop.’

‘Wouldn’t work,’ John told him.  ‘Mace is as bald as a coot anyway.  I’ll see if he can come up with anything else though.  He likes a challenge.’

‘Anyway, ‘ Adam continued.  ‘It’s no surprise to me no-one noticed Rodney was missing except Radek.  There’s pretty much no security there at all. They appear to depend on the main gate to Porton Down itself to prevent any non-desirables from entering, but the site’s well over 5,000 acres.  When I pointed this out I was told that there is a fence all around although when I looked at it myself in places it was four feet high rabbit wire that Ronon could probably just step over. In Rodney’s building there’s no permanent security.  The gatehouse people have a schedule of driving around the base and checking to see no-one’s wandering round with masks or bags over their shoulders saying ‘SWAG’, but apart from that, nothing

‘I thought the place was guarded by the army,’ Harry said with a frown.  ‘This is the country’s top secret defence facility, for fuck’s sake!’

‘Maybe at one time, but it’s a private security firm now and they weren’t at all happy with the questions I was asking, and the HR department wasn’t much better.  They all clearly believe that they’re the reason the DSTL is there. They talk about ‘the scientists’’ and he used his fingers to make quote marks, ‘as if they’re only there to make their jobs more difficult.’

‘Which is pretty much what Radek said to me last week,’ John murmured.

‘Yeah?  Well, I don’t blame him.  When I pointed out that Rodney had signed his name as ‘Meredith’ rather than Rodney, they looked at me gone out.  One of the HR managers – a real battle-axe of a woman – told me the scientists were not permitted to be familiar with ‘her gels’, and I swear to God, she said ‘scientists’ just like she might have said ‘perverts’.

‘Anyway, we need to have someone do some serious training down there on basic procedures and security.  If it wasn’t for the fact that some of the scientists who work for Rodney might be in serious danger, I’d suggest the security company who’s guarding the place at present be kicked off site, but even poor security is better than no security at all.’

‘Harry, could you get anyone from the army down there immediately?’ John asked.

‘Hmm.  I doubt it, not without giving away information we’d rather not divulge at the moment.  Why? Have you got an idea?’

‘I could probably get a couple of platoons of bootnecks down there tomorrow if I can read their CO into Rodney’s project.’

‘Does it have a name?’ questioned Adam thoughtfully, and when John and Harry looked at him in surprise, he continued.  ‘Rodney’s project. It’s always just called Rodney’s project. Does it have a proper name like ‘Manhattan Project’?’

John and Harry continued to stare at him, then John shook his head and turned back to Harry.  ‘So. Anyway. Where was I?’

‘Reading in a Royal Marine commanding officer,’ Harry told him.  ‘Yes, as long as you can vouch for whoever he sends down to Wiltshire with the Royals.  There is no official list of who can and can’t know about ‘The Project’,’ and he glared at Adam who grinned back unrepentant.  ‘We only know because of your relationship with Rodney, otherwise we’d be in the dark as to why Rodney was kidnapped.’

‘Although pretty much everyone would have been in the dark about Rodney’s kidnapping,’ John pointed out.  ‘I have to think the kidnappers didn’t know anything about my relationship with him. They could have held him for days, even weeks, and no-one would have raised an eyebrow.’

‘Except for Dr. Zelenka,’ Adam added.

‘But would he have got anyone to listen to him?’ John demanded.  ‘Not from what you’ve said about the security, or lack of, at Porton Down.’

’No, I agree, but what’s your plan?  The security firm aren’t going to let them inside the Porton Down complex – although I didn’t get to speak to any senior management today.  None of them were on site although most of the directors and their departments are based in Wiltshire. Having a couple of platoons of, what did you call them, John?  Bootnecks? Having a few Bootnecks down there won’t be much use, because even if we got permission from the CEO to allow them on site we’d be faced with the same problem of having to explain why we think some scientists are at risk, ‘Adam finished with a sigh.

‘Wow.  I thought you were going to talk forever!’ John teased.

‘Fuck you!’ Adam said good naturedly.

’So what’s your idea, John?’ Harry asked, bringing the discussion back on topic.

‘We put a few platoons of bootnecks – that’s Royal Marines Commandos to you, Adam – on exercise around Porton Down.  It’s all MOD land around there so that won’t be a problem. Let them take a few vehicles and they can pretty much guard the weaker parts of the perimeter fence from a short distance, at least enough to see if anyone tries to get in who shouldn’t.  At the same time, post a couple of Royals with the Zelenkas. They might not like it but it’s the only way we can keep them safe at the moment. I doubt the lab technicians are at risk but we can give them security as well if Rodney thinks they need it.  Our job will be to find the people behind all of this. Once we’ve got them locked up or neutralised, we can have a good look at having proper security down there, both at the DSTL and in the scientists homes.’

‘Wow, I thought you were going to talk for ever,’ teased Adam.

‘And I’ll give you the same reply: fuck you!’

Harry shook his head in resignation.

—————

By the time John left Thames House that evening he was exhausted.  The meeting with Harry and Adam had gone on far longer than he’d expected and he’d then had to make calls to his former Commando Unit and sweet-talk their CO into an exercise in Wiltshire.  Lieutenant-Colonel Cameron Mitchell had served with John and the pair remained good friends, despite rarely seeing each other. Mitchell had recently been given his promotion and with it, command of 45 Commando, based in Arbroath in Scotland.

Aware he was speaking on an open line, John gave the barest details possible to his friend but Mitchell understood the unspoken request: send a large group of fit armed men down to play soldiers on Porton Down and make sure no undesirables get into the site they most definitely were not guarding.  ‘Got your back’ was not just a phrase to Royal Marines, it was a whole ethos.

That sorted, John stuck his head around Harry’s office door again.

‘Got a minute?’

‘Always.’

John sat back down in the same chair he’d occupied earlier.

‘Hypothetically, could we second a member of a foreign intelligence agency?’

‘Hypothetically?’ Harry repeated.

‘Hypothetically.’

‘Well, first of all we would have to decide just why we needed to second someone from a foreign intelligence agency.’

‘Hypothetically.’

Harry glared at John

‘Sorry, Harry,’ John said, totally unrepentant.  ‘Let’s say he was the one person in a position to guard an important asset, like a scientist, but because he had no authority in the country they were in, he was unable to carry a weapon of any sorts.’

‘You want me to arm your cousin.’

‘Hypo…’ John stopped as Harry’s glare intensified.  ‘Yes.’

‘If he’s a foreign citizen, I don’t see how we could do it without permission from his own government.’

John thought for a moment.  ‘Tony’s mother was English. Is it possible he has dual nationality?’

‘I’m no expert on this, but I think only if his mother had registered him here before he was 18.’

‘Is there any way of finding that out?’

‘If Tony doesn’t know, his father might know.  You said his mother died before he was 18?’

‘Mmm.  When he was 11.  His father stopped him visiting us after then and Tony hasn’t spoken to him for years.  He won’t want to now.’

‘Would any other members of your family know?’

‘Dad might.  I can ask him later.  So, hypothetically, if he has dual nationality, you could second him to MI5 and give him permission to carry a weapon?’

‘Even with dual nationality, I think I’d still need to speak with someone in the US, and then we’d get into having to explain why and so on and so on.  I understand why you want this, John, and I will look into it, but I can’t promise anything.’

‘Thanks, Harry.  I know you’ll do your best.’

————

Brian hurled himself at John as soon as he stepped through the door to the living area on the first floor, being a mews house the ground floor containing just the hall, small bath room, and garage.

‘Wow, what a greeting.  Why don’t you greet me like that?’ John asked Rodney, stooping to pet the excited dog.  Rodney simply glared at him.

‘He’s not happy because he’s not been able to go off the lead,’ Tony informed John.

‘You wouldn’t let Rodney off the lead?  I know I told you to look after him, but I didn’t mean… uffff!’

A cushion in his face courtesy of Rodney silenced him.

‘So, have you been a good boy?’

‘Do you want to get laid ever again?’ Rodney demanded.

‘Hey!  I was talking to Brian.’

‘No, you weren’t, you git.’

‘I might have been.’

A second cushion flew towards him and he caught it, grinning.

‘What’s for dinner?’

‘How should I know?  What? You think because you’ve been at work and we haven’t, one of us should have cooked dinner for you?’

‘He didn’t get his nap today, did he?’ John asked Tony and Donald, which just led to a flying tackle and both John and Rodney collapsing onto the sofa, Brian bouncing around, barking loudly and generally joining in the mayhem.

‘Hey, watch your arms!’  John pulled Rodney down into his lap and held his hands gently.  Rodney buried his face in John’s neck and cuddled into him, while John stroked his head just as he stroked Brian.  He was a little shocked, since Rodney wasn’t the cuddly sort of person, but it was clear now that he needed John’s reassurance.

‘Has everything been okay?’ he asked the other two men.

‘I think Rodney’s suffering a little from a form of PTSD.’  Donald spoke for the first time, voice low and gentle. ‘Don’t worry, John, I expect it’ll pass fairly quickly, but I suspect he’ll be a little clingy for a while.’

‘Don’t talk about me as if I wasn’t here,’ a muffled voice said from the region of John’s shoulder.  ‘I can hear you.’

‘It’s okay, baby,’ John murmured to him.  ‘Remember when I came back from my first tour in Bosnia?  I was a newly minted captain and 2IC of a group of around 125 Royals and I’d tried so hard to keep stoic in front of them, despite the things we saw, until one of the Colour Sergeants took me to one side and told me I wasn’t being stoic, I was being stupid, and the men would respect me more if I showed I was flesh and blood, just like them.  So I threw up on his boots and we all laughed.’ He paused for a few seconds, clearly back in the moment. ‘I came home and cried in your arms and you just held me and you told me you couldn’t make it all right, because no-one could do that, but you could make me feel better. And you did.’

There was silence after he finished speaking as each of the four men considered times in their lives when nothing could make the situation all right, but sometimes, just sometimes, there was someone who could make them feel a little better.

John had always intended they would eat out that night, despite what he’d said to Rodney about preparing dinner, but no-one felt like making the effort, so they ordered an Indian take-away and crashed in John’s large living room.  Rodney stayed as close to John as he could, drawing comfort from his partner, which suited John just fine. There had been a subtle change in their relationship they’d not had chance to discuss as yet but both were aware of it. John had planned to speak with his father but was quite content to leave that for the following day, recognising that Rodney needed him more, and although conversation flowed easily between the four of them, John was aware that Rodney was quieter than he usually would have been.  He didn’t comment on it, just held the younger man that little bit tighter against him while Brian cuddled into Rodney’s other side.

———

Chapter Six

John decided to let Rodney sleep on the following morning.  Brian had woken him early, before his alarm was due to go off, so he switched it off and crept out of his bedroom, taking his clothes with him.  Tony was already up and had the coffee machine on although John put the kettle on to boil as he preferred tea in the morning.

‘What sort of passport do you have?’ John asked his cousin as he waited for the tea to brew.

‘Umm.  A blue one?’

‘Idiot.  No, do you have dual nationality?’

‘Should I have?’

‘Tony!  This is important.  I’m trying to get you authorised to carry a weapon so you’re more use to Rodney, but we can’t just go around giving them out because we know someone.’

‘Okay, sorry.  I don’t know if I have dual nationality.  How would I find out?’

‘Did your dad give you papers regarding nationality?’

Tony gave his cousin a pointed glare.

‘Okay, point taken.  Aunt Clare would have had to register you before she died, so I’ll phone my father and see if he possibly knows.’

‘Can I speak to him when you call?’

May you speak with him!’

Tony laughed.  This was an old joke within the family.  His grandmother, John’s Aunt Eleanor, had spent all one summer drilling this rule into the boys’ heads, David as well as John and Tony.  For Tony, it was just another sign that things were getting back to how they used to be between them.

John made the call and was pleased to discover his father did know that Tony had been registered and as the family thought Tony knew, hadn’t bothered mentioning it.

‘I have the papers in my safe,’ Patrick Fitz-Sheppard told his son.  ‘Do you want me to send them to you?’

‘Could you scan them in please, Dad, and email them to me?  We’ll collect the originals when we come up.’

‘You’re coming up?  When?’

‘I’m not sure yet.  We have a few things to sort out here but I’ll phone you as soon as I can.  Now here, Tony wants a word.’

Tony took the phone and looked a little apprehensive.  ‘Hi, Uncle Patrick.’

John slipped out of the room as Tony began to explain the past few years to his uncle.

———-

Checking his email on arrival on the Grid, John was pleased to see his father had already emailed a copy of the registration documents.  He forwarded the email to Harry and went to see if Ruth or the terrible twins had discovered anything to help them identify who ordered Rodney’s kidnapping.

Ronon was sitting on Colin’s desk chatting to the two analysts when John walked over to their part of the Grid.  John gave him a pointed look.

‘Any particular reason you’re here?’

Ronon had the grace to look a little abashed.

‘No, boss.’

‘All reports up to date?’ and as Ronon nodded his head, John continued.  ‘Including the one about the search you did at Taylor’s address?’

The guilty look on his subordinate’s face gave him the answer he expected.

‘So…’

‘So, boss?’

‘So, why are you still here and not at your desk?’

John shook his head as Ronon got quickly to his feet and disappeared from view.  Ronon had made an excellent Royal Marine in all ways but one: he hatred paperwork.  And while the officers carried most of the burden of paperwork, NCO’s did have a certain amount to do, but Ronon would do anything to avoid doing his.  He’d run laps of the base, do extra PT – until those senior to him realised that he actually enjoyed doing PT – and take extra duty rather than complete a single form and that had held back promotion for him.  Ronon, however, didn’t particularly care about promotion, or lack of it. He loved being a Royal Marine, loved the corps and loved what he did – except for paperwork.

John was the only commander Ronon had served under who managed to get him to do it.  After observing Ronon’s attempts to avoid any and all forms of administration, John sat him down and made a few things clear which boiled down to no paperwork, no fun things to do.  If Ronon didn’t file the reports he was required to file, he’d sit out every exercise, every training session, every mission. Faced with this, Ronon, very grudgingly, began to file his paperwork.  It was never more than the bare minimum, but it was there. John had half expected to earn the undying enmity of the man, but instead gained his undying loyalty, to the point that when John left the Corps, Ronon asked to join him and John had agreed – but only if his paperwork was kept up to date, otherwise, he’d be out on his ear.

Malcolm and Colin grinned as John shook his head over Ronon.  Every single person on the Grid knew of Ronon’s kryptonite and most were willing to help the big man where they could.  John let this go since he was only interested in the paperwork being done, and in any case, it would have been hypocritical for him to complain since he himself hated paperwork.  He knew, however, that it needed to be done and he simply buckled down and did it as soon as he could, recalling the mantra of his old nanny: ‘the sooner it’s done, the sooner you can go out and play’.  All that had really changed was the sort of play. Back then it had been climbing trees or playing tennis, now it was more likely to be fast cars and the shooting range, but he’d never forgotten the lesson.

Now, he grinned back at the terrible twins.  ‘Found anything?’

‘We think so, we’re just waiting for Ruth to confirm one or two things and we should have what you need.  Give us half an hour or so?’ Malcolm offered while Colin nodded in agreement.

Having a few minutes to kill, John wandered over to Harry’s office and knocked on the open door.

‘Got a minute?’

‘For anything in particular?’

‘I was wondering what happened with Oliver Mace yesterday.  I forgot to ask last night.’

‘Come in and shut the door,’ Harry ordered, and when John was settled he continued.  ‘Mace denied his visit being anything other than a courtesy call, and although I called him on it, he refused to be drawn.  He stayed for about half an hour after you left but didn’t do or say anything to make me suspicious.’

‘So you believe him?’

Harry gave John a look.

‘Did I say that?’

‘No, but—’

‘But nothing.  I said I didn’t trust him as far as I could kick him and I don’t.  I’m ninety nine percent certain he was here for something in particular – papers, something he might overhear, I don’t know.  I’m also ninety nine percent certain he didn’t get what he was looking for.’

‘So, now…?’

‘Now, we wait for him to make another move.  If he thinks it’s something he can get from here, he’ll either come back himself or he’ll send someone else, probably with an equally poor motive for their visit.  All we can do is wait.’

John rolled his eyes but remained silent.

‘Now, about your cousin. ‘It’s been decided that we’ll take him on secondment to Section D.’

‘How did you swing that?’

‘I spoke to Paul Gifford, Head of the NCIS field office in London who I’ve met a couple of times.  I explained that Mr DiNozzo was here to sort out some family matters which had become entangled in an operation we were pursuing.  He offered to approach the US Secretary of the Navy and ask for Mr DiNozzo to be transferred to his office until the situation with his family in the UK could be resolved.  I threw in the Paddington and Grantworth names and, in the interests of co-operation, their ‘SecNav’ – as I understand they call him – agreed to the transfer without asking any further questions.  Paul is in the process of transferring Mr DiNozzo to Section D and I called your cousin a short while ago to explain the situation.’

‘Why all the complication?  Wouldn’t it have been easier to just call Tony’s office?’

‘Have you spoken to him about why he came over here with Dr. Mallard?’

‘Well…no.  I haven’t had time…’

‘Then I suggest the pair of you need to have a long conversation.  Your cousin has his reasons for accompanying Dr. Mallard and it’s up to him to discuss them with you.  All that matters is that Mr DiNozzo will shortly be officially seconded to Section D and under your command.  The paperwork is being completed and he will come into Thames House with you tomorrow morning to pick up his credentials and a weapon—’

‘But what about Rodney?  I don’t want him left alone.’

‘Ronon and Teyla can go and stay with Rodney and Dr. Mallard while Mr DiNozzo comes in.  Incidentally, did you know Rodney’s cousin is a former member of the SAS and—’

‘Donald?  SAS? No! How—’

‘He did his National Service in the Army and they offered him a commission when his time was up.  He served for twelve years and did three years of that in the SAS. He also worked for us for a few years in the 80s.’

John was silent in astonishment.

‘His service with us never actually ended.  He went to the US to work with the FBI for a couple of years as their Pathologist and then appears to have moved to NCIS, but technically, he never stopped working for MI5.’

‘But…How?’  John tried to work out just what that meant.  ‘Was he spying for us?’

‘No, I don’t think so.  It could simply be an administrative error and his final paperwork was never processed.  We certainly haven’t been paying him for the last twenty years. I’ve got someone looking into it and I’ll let you know what they find.  I’d also like to have a word with Rodney.’

John frowned.  ‘Rodney’s still not fully recovered from the kidnapping.  Donald suspects he might have a mild case of PTSD so I don’t want him interrogated.  He made a full report on what happened and I filed it myself.’

‘Don’t worry, John.  I just want to ask a few more details about the DSTL before I go and speak to the Home Secretary.’

‘Does he know about any of this?’  John waved a hand.

‘Not yet.  As I said, I want to have answers to at least some of his questions before I see him and—’

Harry was interrupted by a knock at his door and his frown was replaced with a smile as Ruth poked her head around it.

‘Come in, Ruth.  John, I’ll talk to y—’

‘Actually, Harry, John needs to stay.  We’ve got some information about the kidnapping I need to share.’

————

Jack O’Neill was having a bad day.  His choice of morning paper had sold out by the time he got to the tube station, the trains were all delayed for some reason which made him late, and his office phone was already ringing when he finally got there.

He sighed and snatched it up.

‘O’Neill.’

‘Jack?  Is everything alright?  You sound a little put out.’

‘General Hammond?  No I’m fine, the tubes were all held up this morning and…  Well, you know what it’s like. Can I help you? Isn’t it like, 4.30am in DC?’

‘Tell me about it!  I needed to talk to you and I couldn’t reach you on your cell.’

Jack cringed.  He hated cell phones, hated how they made him available to anyone, whatever the time of day or night, and he tended to leave his turned off.  He usually relied on Carter, his deputy head of station, to tell him anything she thought he needed to know but she’d just had a few days of leave, although she would be returning the following day.

‘Yeah, sorry about that, sir.  Reception’s terrible in the London Underground.’

‘Hmm.  I received a phone call last night that had me a little worried and I hoped you might be able to ease my mind.’

‘If I can, sir.’  Jack held the phone under his chin as he struggled to get his coat off.  He was on his own in the office until his colleague arrived. Danny had refused to enter the office without a decent coffee inside him, which Jack clearly understood to be a complaint directed at himself since he’d forgotten to buy fresh milk the previous day.

He dropped the phone, swore, dropped his coat onto the floor and then had to scrabble for the phone since the coat had – of course – fallen on top of the phone.  By the time he was sitting down with the phone once more in his hand, he was exhausted.

‘Sorry, General, I missed all that, would you start again, please?’

There was a short silence on the other end of the phone and Jack cringed again, picturing the annoyed expression on his boss’s face – an expression he was very familiar with, both when he was still in the US Air Force and subsequently in the CIA.

‘Jack!  Do I have your attention now?’

‘Yessir!’

Jack heard the General give a deep sigh but recognised it as a ‘mildly exasperated’ rather than an angry sigh

‘Good.  I got a phone call last night from a cousin in London regarding a brewing situation and a name came up which caused them a little disquiet.  He thought you might like to go and meet him for coffee in that little place just down the road.’

‘Okaaay, General.  I think I got that.’

‘Good.  You’ll take care of it then?’

‘Yessir.  Shall I call later?’

‘That would be good.’

‘Right, sir, yes, sir, thank you, sir.’

Jack!’

‘Bye, General.’

Jack frowned.  He’d never get used to this spy shit, no matter how many years he spent in it.  Damn it, he’d enjoyed the Air Force, even enjoyed the wet work he’d done, although he hadn’t enjoyed not being able to be with his preferred partner.  Moving to the CIA when his CO had been offered the post of Director had seemed the smart thing to do. It meant he and Danny could stop sneaking around and he was away from a backwards looking service who cared more about who a man slept with than how well he was trained.  It did, however, have its downsides, the main one being Politics – and in his mind, Jack always spelt it with a capital letter!

He’d naively believed that the CIA operated outside of politics but that belief was extremely short-lived once he became a part of their machine.  George Hammond, however, wanted him to take control of the London Station, and although the CIA employed a large number of people in the US Embassy there, Jack had requested that his own office, and that of his deputy, be moved out from the Embassy and into a less confining place.  The main work of the analysts, information gatherers, IT experts and so on remained in Grosvenor Square, but Jack was able to move into a small suite of offices in an unassuming city building and do his own work from under the eyes of…well, pretty much anyone. His partner, Daniel Jackson, an academic with a degree in Social Science and who spoke several languages, proved to be an extremely efficient analyst of the truck load of documents that arrived each day from the main CIA office, and Jack immediately put him on the payroll.  Both he and Daniel worked very comfortably with the Station 2IC, Samantha Carter, so all in all, it proved to be quite a sweet set-up for each of them.

Pulling his thoughts away from ‘why the hell am I in this game’ to ‘George was giving me a message there’, Jack picked up, then pulled on his coat again, ready to go and visit ‘the little place down the road’ when the door opened and Danny came in carrying a tray of coffees.

‘You do know it’s just the two of us today, don’t you?’  Jack eyed the four large cups balanced in the cardboard tray.

‘Yes.  Sam’s not due back until tomorrow.  Why?’

‘Four coffees, Danny?’

‘Um, yeah?’

Jack sighed, pointed to himself and Daniel and held up two fingers.  ‘Two people, four coffees. See anything wrong with this?’

‘No, Jack.  What I do see wrong is the lack of a decent coffee machine in this office.  I just thought I’d save time by not having to send you out for refills later.’

Jack considered that.  He’d naively thought – something he felt he did far too often – that being the Chief of Station – and he’d checked his payslip, it did say Chief on there – meant he got underlings to fetch and carry for him.  Sadly, he’d been wrong, and as he did like sleeping in his bed and not on the couch, he was big enough to admit this.

‘Good thought, Danny.  It does save time, although you have an extra one to drink as I have to go out.’

‘Out where?  And also, why?’

‘Well, I think I’m going to meet Harry Pearce in the coffee shop down the road—’

‘You hate the coffee there.’

‘Daniel.’

‘Jack.’

Daniel!’

Jack!’

Jack sighed again.  When did my life become a three ring circus?

‘See you later, Space Monkey.  Be good.’

————

Harry Pearce was already seated when Jack entered the small and steamy coffee shop.  He slid into a seat opposite Harry who appeared to be enjoying a cup of what Jack had described to Daniel as ‘sludge’.  Well, there was no accounting for taste.

‘Harry.’

‘Jack.’

Jack wondered if he should say ‘Harry’ again as he did with Daniel, but decided not to.  Harry Pearce had been shocked to first meet Jack a couple of years earlier, since Jack apparently didn’t conform to the usual norm of a CIA operative.  Jack had asked, honestly interested, what the norm was but had never been given a response. Still, he and Harry got on together for the most part, and Jack believed it was to his advantage that a senior spook of a foreign agency was disconcerted by him.  This, after all, was why George Hammond had brought him in.

Harry was now studying him thoughtfully, making Jack want to squirm or check his face for dirt.

‘A surprising name has come up in relation to a small matter we’re dealing with,’ Harry finally said.

Jack thought about this and tried to translate what was actually being said.  A small matter certainly meant something huge and if MI5 were admitting to being surprised it probably meant beyond shocked.  He really hated the doublespeak that was used between spooks on opposite sides. He got that some things were better left unsaid and sometimes not said at all, he really did, but surely it would be better to be more upfront about ‘stuff’?  They were, after all, supposed to be on the same side. He decided to take a chance on being frank.

‘Harry, I hate the coffee here, it tastes like watered down crap and believe me, I’ve tasted some awful stuff trying to pass itself off as coffee over the years.  Let’s take a walk and talk properly.’

Harry raised an eyebrow but nodded and stood, leaving his coffee on the table.

They strolled down the street, one of the quieter ones in the City, looking like nothing more than a couple of business types taking a breath of air.  Jack broke the silence after a couple of minutes.

‘I joined the CIA because my old CO asked me to when he became the Director.  I’ve done some intelligence work in the past and visited a few countries who’ll have no record of me ever being there, so I’m not totally green, but I do hate politics.  I hate having to remember who I’m supposed to be nice to and who I can afford to piss off. I’m not good at diplomacy. In the Air Force, if someone pissed me off I could court martial or just plain shoot them.  There was no answering back and orders were obeyed. Now? Now I’m in a different world with different rules and I don’t always know those rules, or the rules can sometimes get changed.

‘I trust you.  I like what I know about you and I trust you.  Hopefully, you can trust me ‘cause we’re on the same side, most of the time at least.  So, can we drop the codes and the doublespeak and all that crap and just talk? You and me?’

Harry pushed his hands deep into his pockets and continued to walk.  Finally, he spoke. ‘I’m willing to agree for the most part, but only between the two of us and there will always be some things that cannot be said or discussed.’

Jack breathed a sigh of relief.  He could work with that and did agree that some things would, by their very nature, need to remain private.

‘Great.  Now, you were saying back there.  You have a name you need help with?’

‘I can’t discuss how or why the name came up, not at the moment, but we’ve discovered a person of interest to us and we’re keen to speak to him.’

‘The name?’ Jack asked.  ‘I’ll probably have to do some research but I’ll make sure it’s done by my analyst and not at the Embassy.’

‘Acasta Kolya.  He’s a US citizen, but from what we’ve been able to discover he went to the US as a refugee from Kosovo about seven years ago and was granted US citizenship four years ago, in 2002.’

‘And what do you want to know?’

‘Anything you can tell us about him, especially where he works and who he works for.’

Jack looked a little puzzled.  ‘Aren’t those details needed for a visa?  Don’t you already have them?’

Harry sighed.  ‘We have an agreement with the US where we allow entry to certain categories of people without the need to apply for a visa before travel.  We issue a visitor visas at immigration after asking a few basic questions.’

Jack’s jaw dropped slightly.  ‘Are you serious? You let pretty much anyone in?’

Harry scowled a little at that.  ‘We rely on a person’s inherent honesty.’

‘Yeah.  And how’s that working out for you?’

‘I agree it’s a stupid system but it’s the one we’ve got.  Will you help us?’

‘I’ll see what we can do,’ promised Jack.

————

When Jack got back to his office, he found his partner had finished all four large cups of coffee.  Swell.  He’ll be bouncing off the walls all day!  Daniel was now busily working through the pile of documents that arrived each day, working them into a single report containing the salient points which he thought Jack needed to know.  Jack was honest enough to admit that the bulk of the work of Chief of Station was carried by Danny but when he’d cautiously suggested that Daniel became Chief, or even Deputy, he was quickly shot down.  Daniel declared he enjoyed the analyst role and admitted he was good at it but he wanted no part of the spying game itself. Jack was welcome to the title of Chief and all the garbage that went with it.

Jack gave a brief rundown of his conversation with Harry, secure in the knowledge that his office was free from any spy tech, audio or visual, having a useful little gadget he’d ‘acquired’ from his days in the military.  It was Danny’s job each morning to sweep the office for any bugs and Jack wasn’t sure if he should be pleased or angry that each week revealed a couple of devices placed there by his own side. After a long and, at times, rather loud debate, he and his two colleagues had agreed to install a little spy technology of their own.  Happily, Samantha Carter was a closet geek who enjoyed spending her free time researching and creating little bits of wizardry that they were able to utilise in their own office.

Not everyone had been pleased at the appointment of either George Hammond as Director or Jack O’Neill as London Station Chief, and both knew their enemies were simply waiting for the opportunity to trip them up.  Fortunately for their country, both George and Jack had a streak of loyalty to their home nation a mile wide and refused to give in, although both knew that the years were taking their toll and that at some point they’d have to retire.  Both hoped, however, to have good and honest people to slip into their shoes when they did finally go, although both equally knew good and honest were dying virtues in the era in which they lived. Still, they had to try their best.

’So, see what you can find out about this Kolya guy,’ Jack concluded.  ‘And also see if anyone’s mentioned his name in any reports at all. It’s not a common name and should stand out.’

‘And if he’s changed his name or’s using a pseudonym?’

‘Then I’ll have to tell Harry we got nothing.’

Jack busied himself with the never-ending paperwork he swore multiplied on his desk, while Daniel researched what he could.  They broke for a quick lunch but worked steadily through the day. As the clock approached 4.30pm, Daniel stretched his arms and glanced over at his partner.

‘Got a minute, Jack?’

‘Always for you,’ came the reply.

There’s something a little…odd here.’

‘Odd?  How odd?’

Silently, Daniel dropped a single sheet of paper on Jack’s desk.

‘This odd.’

Jack read the report in front of him, eyebrows moving closer the further his eyes travelled down the paper.  Finally he set it down and looked up at Daniel. ‘This is what you got from just a name?’

‘It helped that we knew roughly when he came to the US and where he came from.’

‘I need to speak to Harry Pearce first thing tomorrow.’

‘I think on this occasion we both need to speak to Harry Pearce.  And at Harry’s office.’

‘I agree.’

———

Chapter Seven

Tony had spent much of his day busily making fresh pasta.  The only good thing his father had ever done after the death of his mother, as far as Tony was concerned, was to allow him to spend time with his paternal grandmother who had taught him to cook and had left him her family recipe book when she died.  Both John and Rodney were reasonable cooks but they all agreed Tony was gifted.

‘You can stay forever if you’re willing to cook like that every night,’ John told his cousin, sitting back and sipping the last of the Amarone Tony had managed to find.

Tony laughed.  ‘It’s just pasta and tomato sauce.’

Rodney was busy wiping his plate with a piece of bread.  ‘What we’ve just eaten is far more than just pasta and sauce.  And the wine’s not bad, either.’

‘Rodney, the wine Anthony provided is one of the very best Italy produces,’ Donald said seriously.  ‘Calling it ‘not bad’ is akin to saying vintage champagne is cheap fizz.’

‘Since I’m not keen on champagne the vintage stuff could be cheap fizz for all I care.  I just—’

‘Why don’t I make some coffee and we can all relax,’ John hurriedly interrupted, recognising the mutinous scowl on Rodney’s face and keen to avoid an upset to the pleasant evening.

The diversion worked and they were all soon settled in the living room, cup of coffee apiece, with Rodney flanked by John and Brian.

John looked across to his cousin.  ‘Harry mentioned something about you having reasons for being away from NCIS when he and I spoke yesterday.  Can you tell us a bit more?’ John was careful to make his tone of voice light, giving Tony the option of not telling the group, but Tony simply glanced at Donald and sighed.

‘I don’t mind talking about it and Ducky knows most of this anyway, but it’s a bit of a long story.’

John just nodded.  ‘Whatever you want to say.  We won’t speak about it to anyone if that helps.’

Tony gave a grim smile.  ‘It’s been a tough year for me, tough couple of years in fact.  My partner – NCIS partner,’ he qualified quickly, ‘…Kate was killed by a sniper last year, a guy we’d been chasing for a while and shortly after that we got a new member of our team, Ziva David, a Mossad Liaison Officer who’s an old friend of our new Director, Jennifer Shepard.’

‘Mossad agent?’ demanded John.  ‘How… why…’

‘I suppose pretty much like I’ve been seconded to MI5,’ Tony shrugged.

‘Well, yes, but there’s a big difference between being seconded for a couple of weeks for a particular operation and  becoming a Liaison Officer. Why would NCIS need a Liaison officer anyway?’

‘I agree with you, John, and can only presume it’s because she’s an old friend of our Director.’

‘Which is very suspicious, as well.  You’ve been seconded to MI5 because you’re my cousin, but you’re also uniquely suited to protecting Rodney.  Creating a post for a friend? That’s very different.’

‘I agree, and I was also very surprised when the senior agent of my team agreed to it.  He doesn’t like to be told to do anything, let alone have a new team member foisted upon him.  There’s another reason he accepted her, I’m sure of it, even if it was his former lover who appointed her.’

‘Former… Are you serious?’

‘I admit I was extremely surprised, too,’ Donald said.  ‘It’s the very first time I can remember, at least since I’ve known him, that Jethro has accepted such an imposition from a director.  In the past he’s simply refused to countenance a team member he hasn’t chosen himself. I can only infer from this that his former relationship with Director Shepard has influenced him greatly.’

‘I can understand why you thought some time away would help,’ John commented.

Tony smiled wryly.  ‘Oh, I haven’t told you the half of it yet.’

John stood and topped up everyone’s glass and motioned to Tony to continue.

‘In May of this year, Gibbs, my boss, was caught in an explosion and suffered some severe memory loss.  Fifteen years to be precise, and he finally decided to retire and move to Mexico. As Senior Special Agent, I took over the team, but this pissed off almost everyone concerned.  Except Ducky,’ Tony added, with a look of gratitude at his friend. ‘Anyway, David and McGee, another agent,’ he explained before Rodney could do more than open his mouth. ‘David and McGee refused to accept me as their new supervisor and took the piss on pretty much everything.  They refused to obey my instructions; they were late to work, or left early; McGee refused to do the paperwork associated with his new position of Senior Agent – he wanted the title but not the workload – and a host of other stuff. The Director refused to censure them and back me up and she insisted on overseeing every case we had and challenged pretty much any decision I made.

‘Anyway, Gibbs came back a month or so back – Madam Director had put him on leave instead of processing his retirement – and I went back to Senior Agent with little to no respect from my subordinates.  No, John, let me finish. Just after Gibbs returned, the Director asked me to go undercover on an assignment for her. At first I was pleased: I’m good at undercover work and more importantly, it would get me away from the office, but when I asked a few more questions I discovered she wanted me undercover outside of office hours and to keep it secret from anyone else  The only back-up I’d have would be her cell phone number. No handler, no official presence, nothing.’

‘A black op,’ John said flatly.

‘Exactly.  It concerned me tremendously and I refused, but she kept on and on at me and just before I left last week had begun to hint that if I didn’t take the case she’d do her best to get me removed from NCIS, or at least demoted and moved from the Major Case Team.’

‘She…  Can she do that?’ John demanded.

Tony shrugged.  ‘I don’t see why not.  No-one questioned her putting a Mossad agent on the MCRT or giving the team leader five months leave. I don’t think a little thing like moving an agent from one team to another is going to bother anyone.’

‘Did you know about all this?’ Rodney demanded of his cousin.  ‘Couldn’t you do anything about it?’

‘I didn’t know about the request for Anthony to go undercover, although I was aware of the problems he’d had with his fellow team members while Jethro was…away,’ Donald admitted.  ‘I did my best to support him and persuade Timothy and Ziva, and Abigail too, to follow his commands, but to no avail. I’m a little ashamed I didn’t try harder or even realise what scrutiny Anthony was under from Director Shepard…’

‘It’s not your fault, Ducky.’  Tony put his hand on his friend’s arm.  ‘You did your best, and you and Jimmy were always there for me when I needed some moral support or just to yell at somebody.  You pretty much kept me sane between the two of you.’

Donald smiled sadly and patted Tony’s hand.

‘So, that’s the story of my summer.  You can understand how happy I was to get away from them for a while?’

‘But the same problems will still be there when you go back,’ John pointed out.  He was furious at the way his cousin had been treated and desperately wanted to do something to help.  He just wasn’t sure what, short of getting on a plane with a big stick.

‘Yes, but a little distance has given me some time to think,’ Tony told him.  ‘I do have other options; the FBI have tried to poach me a few times. I just needed space and time to think.’

John nodded and tightened his arm around Rodney.  He was glad his cousin had the opportunity to put some distance between him and his situation.  He just hated it had taken Rodney being kidnapped to give that space.

As ever, Rodney seemed able to read his mind and he cuddled closer to John and patted his leg in comfort.  Brian moved as Rodney moved and soon the scientist was squashed tight between his man and his dog, but John was fairly certain Rodney was both comfortable and comforted.

————

Early on Wednesday morning Jack O’Neill met with his Deputy Head of Station, Samantha Carter, to bring her up to speed on his chat with Harry Pearce and Danny’s subsequent findings.  Sam was an old CIA hand, having progressed through the ranks from Junior Analyst to her present position with tours of duty in several different countries en route.  Her father had been a CIA agent and she’d happily followed in his footsteps, anticipating a thrilling career jam-packed with glamorous locations and momentous, world-changing happenings.  In retrospect, she should have known she’d be disappointed.

Life as a junior analyst had been monotonous and mind-numbingly boring.  She’d been used as no more than a coffee monitor on frequent occasions, even when she was attending a briefing in an official capacity, and the sheer number of sexual advances she’d had to fight off was frightening.  From being the shining star of her college classes and graduate studies, she’d become nothing more than a stepping-stone for ambitious young men, keen to use her intelligence to further their own careers.

Leaving the CIA, or indeed any of the intelligence services, however, was very difficult.  All her time there was protected by non-disclosure agreements and to present a curriculum vitae to a prospective employer with several years unaccounted for was impossible.  So she’d kept her head down and prayed she might finally be sent on a posting free from both sexual advances and sexual discrimination that she might, just possibly, enjoy.

Jack O’Neill had been her saviour, her knight in shining armour, and though she quickly found out his analyst was also his partner, it actually gave her reassurance that life as his deputy might finally be all she’d originally dreamed of.

For now, she read through the summary Daniel had compiled from a host of other reports and frowned.  ‘But…what…?’

Jack smiled grimly.  ‘I know. Frightening, eh?

‘Do the people in the intelligence department not talk to each other?  Is there no sharing of information any longer?’ Sam demanded. ‘When I worked there, admittedly not in England, we had daily meetings to compare lists of POIs.’

‘POIs?’

‘What?  Oh, person of interest.  Each section head would compile a list of names that kept coming up or subjects that recurred.  It was easy to see how much overlap there was and took very little time. We could then merge the information and present a complete picture of what was happening, with whom and where.  When did that stop happening?’

‘I’ve never been given a report like that,’ Jack said, frowning.  ‘That’s why I brought Danny on board, to do just that. I don’t have the time or the patience to read through all the crap I’m sent.  It’s also why I decided to move my office away from the Embassy. I don’t get folk turning up every five minutes moaning about so-and-so having a longer pencil than them.’

Sam smirked.

‘Really?’  Jack shook his head.  ‘And you call me childish!’

‘Actually, Jack, I think she called you infantile which is completely different.’  Daniel added his two cents.

Jack scowled at them both.  ‘It was mistake putting the pair of you in my office.  Now all you do is gang-up on me.’

This made Sam laugh.  While it was true she and Daniel frequently ganged-up on Jack, for her it was the freedom to actually be able to do that, more than the teasing itself, which was so refreshing.  She sobered and brought the conversation back to Daniel’s report. ’What do we do about that?’ She motioned to Jack’s desk.

‘We take it to Harry Pearce.  This obviously ties in with whatever he didn’t or couldn’t tell me yesterday.  We need to trust him and he to trust us. This report will help with both.’

————-

The three Americans were shown into a small conference room at Thames House and were joined by Harry and his two senior case officers, along with another man they’d not met before.

‘Jack, Sam, Daniel, this is Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, on loan to us from NCIS.’  Harry smiled at Tony as he introduced him.

Jack’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline.

‘NCIS?  How come you’ve got an NCIS agent working for you, Harry?’

‘It’s a long story, but the short version is that Tony has dual nationality, UK and US, and he’s uniquely placed to help us with our latest…issue.’

‘And that issue is…?’

‘Also a long story, but what you need to know at the moment is that John’s partner – who is also one our top scientists – is under threat from someone we understand to be a US national.  We believe two of Dr. McKay’s colleagues are also at risk so I’m hoping you have some more information for us about the name I gave you yesterday.’

Jack was silent for a moment, running all this information through his mind.  He’d met John Fitz-Sheppard and Adam Carter before, and he knew Adam’s wife had been killed the previous year although any details on her death had been kept extremely quiet.  He didn’t know anything about John having a partner so was unable to divine anything further from the brief information just given.

‘How do you know John’s partner is being threatened?  Has she received any calls or letters or anything?’ Jack finally asked.

He saw John and Harry exchange a glance and John give a slight nod.

‘Dr. McKay was taken from his home last Thursday by people we believe are working for Acasta Kolya.  He was retrieved by John and his team, along with Tony, on Saturday, but we believe that Kolya is still a threat to Dr. McKay and members of his team,’ Harry explained.

Jack couldn’t hide his surprise.  His own relationship with Danny had ruffled a few feathers, both inside and outside of the CIA, but he’d just ignored them and made sure everyone knew not to mess with either Danny or himself.  To now discover that a senior member of MI5 – and a former high ranking Marine at that – also pursued a… a less than conventional relationship was a bit of a shock.

‘Okaaay.  Right, well, we have some information on that.  Danny?’

Daniel passed around copies of the report he’d made for Jack and there was a short silence while they were read.  The surprise on each face told Jack when all had finished.

‘Yeah, it’s a little shocking isn’t it?  I’m going to the Embassy when we finish here to bang some heads together.’

‘So, several US intelligence agencies have had Kolya under surveillance, but none of them noticed each other and each of them saw him meet someone different?’  Adam was a little incredulous. ‘And all the people he met were on various agency watch lists but none of them realised? How is that even possible?’

‘A complete lack of joined-up thinking,’ Tony answered.  ‘I’ve seen it myself at NCIS. Two or three units focus on one frequently small issue and don’t bother to look at the wider picture, or they ignore clues that might point to a wider picture.’

Jack nodded in agreement.  ‘Which in this case meant Kolya was seen with SVR operatives, Russian secret police,’ he added as he saw Tony frown.  ‘Along with known members of the Russian Mafia and no one picked it up. Those following the SVR had no idea who Kolya was, and those following Kolya-…’

‘…Had no idea who the SVR and Mafioso were,’ finished Tony.

‘And reports on both groups were made to CIA analysts who also didn’t bother to cross check, even when the analysts were in the same department,’ Jack added.  ‘It’s only because Danny summarises all the reports that come into my office that it was picked up, and then only because he did a little investigation of his own.  One or two of those reports weren’t meant for me and would have simply been filed, but Danny includes everything that is produced by the Embassy analysts, not just stuff meant for me.’

‘So we have a couple of different issues here.’  John was clearly thinking out loud. ‘The fact that Kolya is in close contact with the Russians, and also the fact that you weren’t on the circulation list for a number of important reports.  The question on that point surely is, were you – or your predecessor – ever on the list, or is it a new development?’

‘And how much else is being directed away from you?’ added Tony.  ‘If you don’t know a report exists, you can’t ask to see it.’

There was a further silence as each person thought through the ramifications of this new development.  Harry finally broke the silence.

‘Jack, why did you bring this to our attention?  You could have just told us that Kolya appears to have links to the Russians.  We didn’t need to know about a possible conspiracy within your own department: that could have been dealt with by yourself.  I’m very grateful, as are we all, but why tell us about this?’

Jack considered how to explain.  ‘I’m still new to this spying game.  I was a good officer and a damned fine pilot, but I’m not a spook.  General Hammond brought me in for that very reason. I’m not a spook and I don’t have any of the issues that muddy the waters between the CIA and hell, almost everyone else.  I’ve got a major problem here, but I don’t know how deep it goes. Is it just the London Station, or is it much wider? Much, much wider? I don’t know who I can trust at the Embassy or back in DC, but I do think I can trust you guys.  You and I agreed, Harry. Agreed to trust each other, and now I’m trusting you, and your people, to help me sort this out. Am I right to trust you?’

————

- - - -

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Daisy May

Daisy May

I'm a fifty something woman who enjoys writing fanfic. I've been writing all my life but only recently began to share my fanfic. It's a bit frightening to be honest, like walking down the street naked - not that I've ever done that except in nightmares!

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