Author: Little Red
Challenge: swficathon: For cassievalentine, who wanted the aftermath of "The Real World," Elizabeth having issues, and John helping her work through them, friendship or more.
Spoilers: "The Real World" and "Common Ground." Set in the time between those two episodes.
Warnings: The vaguest of non-graphic, fantasy-only non-con sex.
Thanks to: anr, who not only assigned me episode-related fic because I love eet, but also beta'd!
He probably wouldn't have let go on his own, not until someone told him that she's okay, but he doesn't put up a fight when they pull him away from her.
"In here," one of the medical techs says, escorting him into another quarantined section. "We have to scan you for contamination."
He doesn't feel contaminated. Elizabeth's skin felt like Elizabeth, not like the host of replicators hidden underneath. The bright lights of the scanners had been blinding, and he'd felt dizzy for a second on the higher concentration of oxygen in the confined space, but she felt normal.
"Tell me how she is," he demands.
He wonders if anything he said reached her.
He learns that Elizabeth is fine, and that's the only thing that makes two hours of quarantine bearable.
His initial scans for nanites came back negative, so he thinks Carson is keeping him here well past dinnertime to make a point.
"It's got to be unethical to starve your patients," John complains. He hadn't had the chance to eat lunch before he got the message that Chuck had found Elizabeth unconscious in her office and she was in a coma.
Instead of apologizing for having refused his earlier request for a sandwich, Carson gives him a serious, disapproving look. "That was quite a risk you took."
John shrugs. It was easier than watching from behind a plastic sheet, unable to help her. "Elizabeth's alive, isn't she?"
"We very nearly lost you both."
John shakes his head. Losing Elizabeth was never an option.
When he's finally, finally released with less than a .001% chance of anything replicating inside of him, he wolfs down some mystery meatloaf in the mess hall and goes looking for her, just to make sure.
He tries her quarters, her office and the balcony first, but finds her ruminating on the Stargate. She looks no worse for the wear, just a little more tired. Her expression is distant, so he tries to crack a joke.
Elizabeth brushes off his humor and his company in general, and he leaves with the general sense that she's probably okay, and that it won't take long for any of them to put this behind them. After all, it was only five hours, and they're all getting used to this sort of thing – alien body-snatching, mysterious medical ailments, miraculous recoveries.
He believes that right up until he falls asleep, and dreams of Elizabeth pinned to that infirmary bed by unknown hands, screaming.
He does ask her what happened to her, kind of.
She hinted, that first night staring at the Stargate, that it was an awful experience, but she didn't go into detail. He usually doesn't like hearing details like that. Some of his comrades in arms like to talk about the worst experiences of duty, of capture or battle or injury, either as a way of bragging or as a way of forging bonds by comparing scars. John usually leaves when that kind of talking starts. It takes enough out of him to look at his own scars, day after day, without talking about them out loud, or adding other people's to the mix.
When he asks Elizabeth, "Are you okay?" for the fifth time the day after the incident, and she looks annoyed, he says, "I can't imagine what that must have been like."
She pauses for the briefest second, like she might actually tell him, but settles on: "You don't want to know."
He's invited for a closed-door replicator briefing, where Carson and Rodney explain that Elizabeth will always have some quantity of inert nanites in her body, but they show no signs of reactivating.
Elizabeth looks profoundly uncomfortable, and John doesn't blame her. Just the thought of it makes his skin crawl.
"Our lab tests show there's virtually no danger of contagion with inactive nanites," Carson says. "Though I wouldn't want you to donate blood for a transfusion."
"Noted," Elizabeth replies with a nod. She still looks pale.
"Actually," Carson continues, "There's some indication that nanites like these could be adapted for medical purposes to repair severe physical trauma. Doctors have worked for years with the theory of microscopic robots to aid in delicate surgeries. The possibilities for medical advancement are remarkable and must be explored."
"It's too risky to experiment with these," Elizabeth argues. He doesn't miss how she crosses her arms across her chest, kneading her hands into her upper arms like she's either cold or trying to feel the invaders beneath her skin. "The last thing we need is replicators loose in the city."
"Well, we'd obviously make sure there's no chance of that," Rodney huffs.
"Elizabeth's right," John says. "The security risk is too much to mess around with this."
Both Rodney and Carson open their mouths to argue, but John talks over them:
"I'm not saying never. We'd have to see the exact details of your experiment proposals before you go ahead with anything. And if there's any chance of contamination, you don't do it."
Rodney grumbles something that sounds like, "We'll put together a proposal."
Elizabeth's fingers are digging depressions into her skin, so John prompts, "Elizabeth?"
She shoots him a hardened, scolding look before turning back to the scientists. "I'm fine. You can submit the proposal whenever you're ready."
After glancing between Elizabeth and John, Carson says softly, "We'll wait a while."
He has the dream a few more times. Elizabeth is on the infirmary bed with the scanners showing her nervous system thick with nanites. Sometimes she's bound and gagged, sometimes screaming, sometimes being wrestled into submission by people John can never see well enough to identify.
She looks right at him, but she doesn't seem to recognize him and he can't help her. When he wakes up, he's exhausted from watching her struggle.
Once, he rolls over, and he's momentarily surprised she isn't there in his bed with him, like they're more than platonic coworkers and she ought to be there when he wakes up from a dream.
His chest feels choked with panic, and it's the first time he actually thinks, I could have lost her.
It takes him a week or two to notice, but it hits him that he can't remember the last time he saw Elizabeth smile.
He notices something else, too – it's been weeks since Elizabeth touched him.
He doesn't think about it until he brings her coffee, and rather than taking it from him, she waits for long seconds and then asks him to put it on the desk, even though her hands are free.
"What was that?"
She gives him a wry smirk. "Being overly cautious, probably."
He frowns, reaches over the desk, and just manages to touch her fingers before she pulls her hand away.
"I'm sorry," she says, and doesn't meet his eyes.
It takes him a while to say it, and when he does, it doesn't come out right.
"You know, if you were anyone else..."
Elizabeth raises an eyebrow. They're reviewing reports for Earth together, redacting anything that will get anyone fired, and so his thought is a propos of nothing except the way she looks as though she hasn't slept in a year and how she jumped six feet in the air when his laptop gave a low battery alarm.
Other than that, she's fine. Her work hasn't suffered.
It's just not her work he cares about.
"You'd probably remind them that Doctor Heightmeyer's around. If you need anything."
Elizabeth goes white as a sheet.
After a moment, she says, "I've had enough of doctors."
He understands that, though the panic on her face unnerves him. Elizabeth has dropped similar Heightmeyer hints to him in the past, and he's never once gone to see her.
He doesn't have a clue how he'd be qualified to help, but something in him feels desperate when he sees her in pain, so he offers, "I'm here, too."
The next time he dreams about Elizabeth, he's fucking her.
He's had dreams like this before – since not too long after he met her, though he doesn't plan on admitting that anytime soon – but this feels different.
They're somewhere he doesn't recognize, and he has the sense they're being watched. She's beneath him, egging him on with a wanton grin and movement of her hips that feels so good, but it also feels wrong, like he's taking advantage, like she doesn't know what she's doing, like she's being tricked by forces in her brain and body that aren't really her.
He knows that, because the real Elizabeth won't touch him anymore.
"This is real," he tells the phantom beneath him, who ignores his words by wrapping her legs around his back, pulling him in deeper.
He gasps, the sensation more intense than a dream should be, and even though he knows he's lying, knows this is a dream, keeps saying:
"This is real."
"This is real."
His cock throbs, overwhelmed with sensation, in his bed in the real world and inside Elizabeth in his dream. His whole body hurts to come, to plow mindlessly into her or the tangled bedding, but he's suspended until he can make her understand.
"This is real."
He doesn't think he gets through to her.
When she comes underneath him, her features disappear, like her face is gone.
He overhears something he's not supposed to, but it's not entirely by accident. He's supposed to meet Elizabeth after her weekly nanite-scan-checkup, but he decides to go to the infirmary rather than waiting in her office, and he arrives early.
He's been doing that a lot lately – arriving early to meetings, checking up on her at unexpected times, finding reasons to bother her over the intercom when he hasn't heard from her in a few hours and he starts worrying that she could have collapsed again.
Carson pronounces the replicators 100% inactive for the third week in a row. John can hear from the doorway when Elizabeth asks again about contagion. "What if I get injured, and I'm bleeding?"
"The chances of transmission through ordinary contact with bodily fluids is unlikely, according to the experiments," Carson says. "They are present in your blood, but the highest concentration is still in the region of your central nervous system, and when inactive, the replicators are inert and can't pass through your skin – or anyone else's. We have it in your file to use contamination procedures in any situation involving your blood, and you should use protection during sex until we can run further tests, but other than that, you can go about your life completely normally and not worry."
John wonders – worries – for a second if Carson knows something he doesn't about Elizabeth's personal life, or if the sex advice is just generic precaution.
He's momentarily distracted, but he doesn't miss her next question: "What about children?"
There's a long pause.
"I don't know," Carson says. "There's no reason to think you couldn't carry a child to term, but the likelihood of nanite transmission..."
Elizabeth holds up a hand to stop him midsentence. "It's okay, Carson. I understand."
When she meets John at the doorway, she asks, "Were you listening?" She sounds, oddly, like she wouldn't care either way.
Her calm makes the anxiety brewing in his chest feel all the more exaggerated. He admits he was eavesdropping on her incredibly private medical conversation with frown, and says, "We don't have to do this right now." 'This' is the trade proposal they're preparing together to bring to the new Genii government.
"Thanks," she says, "but we should deal with first things first."
He kicks himself mentally, thinking that if he were better at this, if he were a better friend or a better man, first things would be taking care of her, not messing around with a trade proposal the Genii aren't even expecting. He'd know what to say to her. He'd be able to guess at what she's thinking or feeling or needing. He doesn't even know if she ever planned to have children; they never talked about it.
She looks okay plodding through trade details until late into the evening. She doesn't look like she's about to have an emotional breakdown.
Since he started watching for it, she still hasn't smiled.
It's inappropriate, maybe, because he really has nothing to do with it, but it doesn't surprise him that the next vivid dream he has is about children.
He shouldn't feel like her prognosis has, somehow, taken something away from him.
He almost falls asleep in a mission briefing after three weeks of restless nights, and that's when he goes to see Carson.
"Look, I'm sure it's nothing, but given the whole replicator... thing..."
Not surprisingly, that's enough to cause a full-scale panic, but the tests come back the same. If there are replicators anywhere in his body, there are too few of them to detect, which means they aren't doing any replicating.
Carson asks about the content of the dreams and, without nanites present as an excuse, John doesn't want to admit that he's been dreaming night after night about his boss tied to a bed. He's doesn't want to know what Freud would have to say about that.
"Could some of the dead ones have crossed over into me?" he asks. At least, he thinks irrationally, that would mean Elizabeth isn't alone.
"It's a long shot, though we've never dealt with anything like what happened to Elizabeth, and live nanites can cross the skin boundary fairly simply. Anything could have happened when you touched her and, since the nanites were tapped in to her nervous system and brain activity, it's conceivable you could have been affected by her experience in ways we can't detect."
He remembers feeling strange, but only for a second, and he still thinks that's because of the oxygen tanks.
"It's also possible," Carson suggests, "that this is your way of dealing with what almost happened."
"You mean, almost happened to Elizabeth." He's not a big fan of that idea. He's dealt with worse. Hell, he's thought she was dead twice already since he met her. He should be used to it by now.
Carson doesn't give. "We all would have suffered."
John's chest contracts, and he's completely sure he doesn't want to continue with this line of conversation here in the infirmary, or ever. "If it's not replicators, can I at least get a sedative?"
The sedative is low-dose, but it drops him into sleep like a stone and he emerges seven hours later without remembering a single dream.
He feels like he forgot to do something, like he left the refrigerator door open in the galley, or he filled in a crossword puzzle with every answer except one.
John puts most of what happened out of his mind when he's off-world, on a mission, but when he's on Atlantis, he finds himself watching Elizabeth carefully. He reviews all the reports he normally avoids, and pays attention when he sees her talking with other expedition members. He's so vigilant that McKay accuses him of thinking Elizabeth's a security risk because of the replicators inside her.
"That's not it," he insists, though McKay is right, of course, that she is riskier than she was before Niam attacked her in the puddle-jumper. He's less worried about that than maybe he should be. John's watching her just to be careful, because for some reason it feels like she has to falter at some point, if only because of how desperate she seems in his unmedicated dreams, and if she does, he doesn't want anyone else to catch it first.
McKay's comment is the first time anyone besides Carson has even mentioned her experience since the first week after the fact. No one else is treating her like there's anything wrong.
Her work is the same as ever. All the mistakes she's making are off the clock; she forgets their casual breakfast plans twice, but never their official meetings. He's seen her trip over streaks of light on the floor, or select a transporter destination in completely the wrong place for the movie night lounge, and forget the name of the movie five minutes after the opening credits have rolled.
He doesn't know how to broach the subject – isn't sure, actually, what subject he wants to bring up.
It's Elizabeth who gives him the opening, after she clips her shoulder on the door of the transporter and sighs, rubbing the careless injury, "I haven't slept in days."
"Is Carson giving you something?" he asks. Everything that's worrying him could just be side effects of insomnia medication, he thinks hopefully.
A wild, panicked look flashes through Elizabeth's eyes, like he threatened her. "No," she answers resolutely.
He can't think of what in his question could have upset her. "Are you sure you're doing all right? I'm a little worried about you."
"It's been almost a month, John. Can't we just forget it?"
He hasn't been sure how to help her, so when she tells him what she wants, he does his best to comply.
But he can't forget it, because the less time he spends watching her like a hawk, the more time he has to himself, feeling like he has forgotten something, that same feeling he started getting after using sleep aids.
After a few more restless nights, he entertains the idea again – briefly – that he's infected with replicators, too, and their way of getting him to give in to their whims is by frustrating him with repetitive, nonsensical dreams and making Elizabeth into a perfectly functional administrator that no one else thinks of as a walking ghost, half of herself.
More likely, he's just lonely and frustrated, because he didn't even realize before the replicators how much of his time was taken up with seeing Elizabeth, or waiting for Elizabeth, or thinking over things she said, or looking forward to the easy way she always touched his arm when she walked next to him, like any day now she was going to tuck her hand around the crook of his elbow.
He wasn't really afraid of losing her, not until the end when everything stopped working and Carson and Rodney threw up their hands and he had nothing but a last-ditch faith attempt, because no one else was going to do anything except wait and hope she came out of it on her own.
He feels like that now, like those first four hours. He's not afraid of losing her, because Elizabeth is strong-willed and she always finds a way to get through everything, but he can't see the path she'll take out of this and so he doesn't know how long it will take.
All he could do the first time was touch her and hope for the best.
This time, when they're alone in her office late at night, he says the thing he thinks every morning when he wakes up wondering where the hell these dreams came from: "I want to know."
Elizabeth doesn't even look up, pouring water from a pitcher into her glass while her eyes dart back and forth between that and the report on her computer monitor. "Know what?"
"What happened to you in there. You think I don't want to know, but I do."
The pitcher hits the edge of the glass, and it all pours out in water and a clatter. She yelps in pain and drops the pitcher, and because he can't figure out how she would have hurt herself, he grabs her hand and holds it to see the injury.
She flails her arm like she's caught in a trap, yanking her hand to her chest as he lets go in surprise.
"I'll go get a towel," she mumbles. By the time she grabs a rag from the control tower somewhere, she's laughing, obviously fake.
"Clumsy," she chides herself. "I should get to bed."
He's pissed off, suddenly, that she's dodging him, and that she won't even touch him without acting like her hand is on fire, and at the same time Carson says there's nothing wrong, that he hasn't been infected with replicators, but he doesn't know what's happening to him.
How he can think of nothing except her.
And usually, when he's thinking about her, at least at night, it's in situations he's never seen her in.
Howling in fear and desperation.
That last word pops into his head from nowhere, and he feels like it's important.
"Look," he tells her, with all the firmness he can muster in the face of her upset and the thing it's doing to his chest, "You don't have to talk about this with me, and you don't have to do it now, but you need to talk about it to someone."
"Thank you, Doctor Sheppard," she snaps. He's never heard her sound like that, cruel, like she's trying to hurt him with just the tone of her voice.
The venom in her voice doesn't last, but it feels like the first time she's been honest with him all month.
"I'm sorry, John. I don't know what came over me. It's obviously past my bedtime."
She leaves him next to her damp desk and overturned glass and report left open on her laptop, mid-sentence.
Somehow he knows she doesn't sleep.
She comes to see him in the jumper bay. He's neurons-deep in the engine backflow system, trying to chart out new maneuvers with the ship without testing them. It's an exercise he does and, once he figured out how to do it without actually firing any engines by mistake, it's something that calms him.
He's surprised to see her after only twelve hours or so since their mini blowout in her office. When he leaves an argument in a huff, he usually stews over it for days. Elizabeth is, apparently, a better person, though he already knew that.
"Can I help you with something?" he asks, extracting his thoughts from the jumper and pulling his hands away from the controls. "We didn't have an 0800 this morning, did we?"
She ducks lower than she needs to to avoid the ceiling as she climbs into the jumper. "Can you close it?" she asks, glancing askance at the two techs arguing about energy conservation – he thinks, based on the work schedule – in Vietnamese.
"Are we going somewhere?"
She raises an eyebrow at him that says he's being difficult, even though his question is reasonable.
He closes the hatch. Elizabeth sits down on one of the benches in the back, and he swivels his chair to look at her.
"You were right last night," she tells him finally. "I don't think you really want to know. I think you're just asking me what I went through because you think I'm not handling this well, and think that's what a friend should do."
He wonders if he should be insulted. "I just want to help, Elizabeth."
She gives him a look that isn't exactly grateful. "I'm fine. I will be fine. I don't need you to worry about me."
He sighs. "Then why are you here, if you don't really want to talk to me?"
"Because you're my friend," she tells him, "and I don't want you to think I'm not appreciative, just because I'm not-"
"-appreciative?" he supplies.
Her mouth quirks sheepishly, but it's nowhere near a smile. "Some things I need to work through on my own. I know you understand that."
"Yeah." He has to cop to that. "But you shouldn't ever do that because you think you have to work through it alone. You don't have to protect me. You went through that. The rest of us just... sat and watched."
Something must have snuck into his voice, interrupting his calm, therapeutic demeanor, because she is suddenly looking at him with something like sympathy.
"I guess I've been there often enough myself," she concedes.
"I don't say this often," he offers a little joke, "but I want to listen."
He doesn't tell her that he thinks he's seen bits and pieces of it already.
"I turned into a bug," he reminds her. He never talks about that except when it's necessary, and he hopes she appreciates the gesture. "Can it be weirder than that?"
"No. Just... longer-lasting."
He crosses the cabin to sit on the bench across from her, because the cockpit is too far away when she sounds so... resigned.
"I can't believe they're always going to be inside me."
He tries to look sympathetic instead of angry, but what he's thinking is that they were in puddle-jumper just like this one when Niam choked her, and there was nothing John could do.
"I feel like I'm a time bomb," she admits. "Like it could all happen again at any minute."
"Carson doesn't think that's possible. He's rarely wrong."
He doesn't know what to say to that, because she's right. Strange things happen in the Pegasus galaxy all the time, and he has no idea how many of those strange things could wreak havoc with the replicators still inside her.
She confesses into the silence: "I woke up in an asylum. They told me I'd had a psychotic breakdown, and nothing about Atlantis was real." She raps her knuckles against the bench next to her. "Nothing made sense. It felt as real as this. Everything hurt."
"It's okay," he tells her, afraid to say anything else in case it breaks the spell and she remembers she doesn't want to talk about this.
"I thought I was insane. I was seeing things, hearing things. I felt like..."
She doesn't finish her sentence. She rubs the thumb of her right hand along her index finger until the skin grows bright red, then balls her hand into a fist.
"I thought I knew everyone was lying to me, but when they drugged me... I just wanted it to stop, and there was no way out."
Pale images flit through his mind as she talks, of white walls and white clothes and white pills. It's all vaguely familiar without knowing from where, the way he recognizes clips from popular movies he's never actually watched. Carson's guess must be right – the replicators were tapped into her neural activity, and somehow he got the echo, flashes of her experience like background noise.
"I think I might have felt some of that when I touched you."
Elizabeth says, "I never thought I'd find myself again. Find reality. Even now, I know it's crazy, but a trick of the lights or the transporter taking too long..."
"It's hard to know for sure," he fills in.
She finally looks up at him, and her expression chokes speech out of him. She looks small, and devastated, and alone.
He leaves his bench to sit next to her, and before she can react, he wraps her in a hug.
He can feel her panic like a live wire as she stiffens, and he doesn't hold her tightly, doesn't let go, just waits to see what she'll do. He half expects to get hit in the face.
She doesn't even breathe, her hands reaching up to grip his biceps, but she doesn't force him away.
He can feel the second she starts to relax. Eventually, her head melts to his shoulder with a ragged breath.
He's not much of a hugger, really, not for greetings or farewells, not even with friends, but this feels necessary.
He figures out what to say. "I was never afraid to touch you, Elizabeth."
"You could end up right in there with me," she mumbles into his neck. "You almost did."
If he thought he could have been in there with her, helping her in her struggle, he would've broken quarantine right at the beginning.
Her warm weight against him, close enough to hear her breathe, is soothing him, too, in ways he didn't know he needed.
"This is real," he promises.
Unlike his dream Elizabeth, who ignores him or can't hear him or doesn't know who he is, she squeezes her fingers harder into his arms in response. "Good."
They draw back from the hug, and he lets one hand fall to just above her knee, not wanting to seem like he's breaking contact before she's ready.
"Thank you," she whispers.
This isn't his style, and he's not sure if he's any good at this. He solves most of Elizabeth's problems by going off-world and killing them.
He borrows one of her lines. "We have to stick together."
She smiles, just a little one, and he feels air rushing out of his chest, like he's been holding his breath for almost a month. He grins back, unable to help himself.
When she opens her mouth, he expects her to declare herself fine, because she's learned to tell that lie well over the years. Instead, she says, "I think I'll be dealing with this for the rest of my life."
He wants to tell her she won't, but that's a lie he's not good at. "We all are, with our own stuff." He hears Beckett's voice in his head, telling her she's a biohazard and that she might never have children even if she wants them, and he bets she's thinking about the same thing.
"I guess none of us are getting out of here unscathed," she says, sighing, guilt filling her features. "Everyone chose to be here, I know, but it's not like any of us knew what could happen. I never thought..."
He never thought a lot of things, things that have happened to him, to her, to everyone else. He never thought he'd need her like he does, and that he'd feel so off-center when she's suffering.
"You'd better not be planning on leaving," he tells her sternly, though he means it to be a joke.
"I just finally got back," she points out with a painful, forced smile, but at least it's something.
He doesn't think he's lying when he tells her, "You're going to be okay. You've got all of us." He wants to say You've got me.
"Thank you," she replies, placing her hand over the one he's still resting on her thigh. "I should probably get back to work."
He nods. "I'll check on you later." The words sound strange coming from his mouth – or maybe it's the tone of voice. Compassionate. Gentle. Almost intimate.
She doesn't bother to tell him she's fine, and he shouldn't worry himself. She actually sounds grateful. "Okay."
He opens the hatch and Elizabeth leaves, but John stays in the jumper for a long time before he's ready to move.
He's aware that he's monopolizing her time, bringing her lunch before she has the chance to make it to the mess hall, intercepting her as she leaves her office for the day with unimportant questions that somehow turn into spending evenings together.
He's missed her, and he's making up time. It seems like the more he sees her, the more he verifies that she's alive and her mood is improving and she hasn't collapsed from a replicator relapse, the less disturbing his dreams are.
He likes the feeling that she might ask him if she needed something, something personal, a sympathetic shoulder to brace herself against, or someone to stay up with her at night if she's having nightmares, too.
They haven't talked about it again, but he's careful to touch her arm or her shoulder every time they meet, as a reminder. Every time she doesn't pull away, it feels like another weight lifted from his chest. Soon, maybe, he'll stop feeling guilty about what happened to her in the first place, about not stopping Niam or not finding a way to pull her free of the replicators sooner.
He's bringing coffee and toast and fresh fruit from the mess hall to her office, like he sometimes does on days when he can't make their usual morning meeting, and she beams when she sees him walking in with the tray.
"How did you know I needed coffee?" she asks.
"I know," he replies, handing her the tray before tapping his temple in a goofy sendup of a psychic.
She rolls her eyes, and something flips over in his stomach with the exciting sense that something is beginning. It takes him a second to catch his breath, and she's already talking:
"I think I've gotten all the details from the department heads for the new security request procedures. You should be able to-"
An incoming wormhole alarm blares. None of his teams are off-world, and he doesn't have to see Elizabeth's concerned expression to know that this isn't an invited guest.
She follows him to the control tower, and asks, "What's going on?"
Chuck is studying the screen in front of him. "It's a distress call. A set of coordinates. It's sent with the IDC we gave the Genii."
Elizabeth only glances at him for a second before he knows what she's thinking, and what the plan is. "I'll get my team together."
She nods. "Go as soon as you're ready," she says. "We can finish our coffee later."
He's halfway down the stairs, taking them three at a time, before she adds, "Good luck."
He nods, not paying attention, because he doesn't realize until later that he's going to need it.