Title: An Acceptable Arrangement


Author: Christi (daisycm83@gmail.com)


Rating: PG-13, but um, not really at all.


Timeline: If you think this falls somewhere in the show’s actual timeline, I would check the expiration date on your medication. It’s obviously not working properly.


Category: Austen!verse (Which is very, very AU.)


Pairing: Shep/Weir UST. And seriously, look at that U there. Do not read this story if it’s going to bother you. I don’t want rageful emails at the end bemoaning the lack of closure. Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning, because this is me, giving you warning. Also, a tiny little bit of established Sam/Jack and Vala/Cameron.


Disclaimer: Did the high boots and petticoats give me away? Yeah, I thought so.


Author’s Note: Okay, I’m not really certain how much of the Sam/Jack fandom from SG-1 overlaps with the Shep/Weir fandom. I figure it’s probably a good bit, but just in case, I’m going to go through a quick explanation here. Basically, awhile back I wrote this really bizarre AU where the characters of SG-1 were all sort of transposed into a bad Jane Austen knock-off situation. Anyway, it sort of spun into this series thing, and of course the Atlantis people had to get in on the action. (Well, my brain dictated that it was necessary, anyway.)


You don’t really have to read the previous stories in Austen!verse to understand this fic. (Though if you would like to, they can be found at my website, http://literatiwannabe.the-family-archives.com) I mean, events will be kind of referred to, but not really anything essential. Just…go with the silliness, accept it as it is, and you’ll be fine. (Oh, and any historical/political stuff? Total crap. Completely made it up. Just…don’t pay attention to the girl behind the curtain.)


As always, I have to thank my beta readers, thekatebeyond, caroly_214, and raisintorte. Without raisintorte, Austen!verse never would have happened. Without thekatebeyond, I never would have gotten the guts to post it. Without caroly_214, Austen!verse (and really life in general) would just suck. So, thank you. Also, thank you to the many, many, many people who I have ranted and raved and rambled at, who have plotted with me and listened to me bitch and whine and moan. (jennukes? aj? karma_aster? I’m looking at you, here.)




“Evil to some is always good to others.”





Despite Gateshire’s undeniably convenient proximity to the Atlantic, the small country town had never been considered as a prospective home for any of the many naval enterprises that British society expected as a matter of routine. The exact reason for this oversight could only be speculated upon, but as it is particularly difficult to miss what you have never had, no one bothered.


Of course, this all changed when John Sheppard arrived in Gateshire.


Being the second (and his parents might claim, lesser) son of a barely landed country gentleman, John had from his birth been expected to make his own way in the world. As he had no particular religious inclination and a tendency to stumble through speeches rather than imbue them with any kind of import, the military seemed to be the most logical (and frankly, the last) recourse left to him.


His life would have been entirely spent soldiering had it not been for the simple fact that, for as long as he could recall, John Sheppard had possessed a remarkable proficiency with numbers. As a single man with no financial obligations, his pay stipend often exceeded what he required for day-to-day living. With this residual income, John was known to make frequent and, as it turned out, often exceptionally prosperous investments.


As a result, John found himself the unlikely holder of vast financial resources, much to his chagrin. As he saw no sense in continuing to garner a salary he had no use for, he resigned from the military, planning to indulge himself in the life of leisure he had unexpectedly earned.


Not two weeks after this decision, John forced himself to reevaluate. As it turned out, idleness (however leisurely it may be) did not suit him. So instead, he set about finding some use for his unanticipated windfall.


He quickly dismissed the idea of resuming his education. Becoming a barrister seemed too dreary, becoming a doctor too gory, and he certainly did not have the temperament to become a politician. No, a business venture was clearly what he needed, something entertaining and new and preferably profitable for other employees.


So Atlantis Trading and Shipping was created, born of equal parts boredom and excess wealth. John had slowly been building what he believed to be an unparalleled staff of ship captains, sailors, scientists turned shipwrights - a winning team when combined with his own financial prowess. However, as was clearly evidenced by the letter he currently held in his hand, there was one crucial component of his company missing – a diplomatic element.


“How can they claim we don’t have a permit?” he wondered aloud. “I obtained one when we began to build the boats a few months ago.”


“Ships,” muttered Rodney McKay from across the room. “They’re called ships.”


John had known that, of course – he just enjoyed Rodney’s exasperation. “Those little puddle jumpers? They hardly seem big enough.”


“That’s the point now, isn’t it? Small, but fast. Efficient. Get the goods quicker in order to stand a chance against the monolithic East India Trading Company,” Rodney retorted. “And I swear to God, if you name them all ‘Puddle Jumper 1’, ‘Puddle Jumper 2’ and so on, I’m quitting right now.”


Seeing as Rodney made similar declarations at least once a day, John foresaw no immediate threat. “That’s reason enough,” he replied cheerily, just to bait him.


“Gentlemen,” Cameron Mitchell interrupted, “Can we get back to the issue at hand?”


Turning his attention back to the letter that had just arrived in the post, John felt a distinct sense of frustration. “Yes, right. So what are we going to do about this?”


Rodney just looked at him blankly while Cameron shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I think a trip to London is required.”


John had been dreading that inevitable suggestion. “I hate London. I don’t suppose you’d be interested?”


Cameron raised his hands, a smug grin on his face. “Do I really have to point out who the owner of this company is? Besides, I’m a newlywed yet.  Tearing me away from my new wife and her many charms right now would just be…cruel.”


Somehow, John suspected that six months from now, after spending weeks in close quarters at sea with his newly won spouse, Cameron would be singing a different tune. But no matter.


“I’ll go!” Rodney volunteered. “I love London. Why, the food alone….”


As happy as John would have been to pass the odious duty of hobnobbing with the privileged and repellent to someone (anyone) else, the idea of sending McKay to sort out diplomatic matters could be nothing but disastrous. “No, I’ll go. I suppose it’s my office as the head of this company. Besides, I want to see if I can find someone to take care of this sort of thing fulltime – dealing with contracts, easing the way with foreign dignitaries, opening trade possibilities in other regions. Lord knows none of us will be any good at it.”


“You could hire Jackson,” Cameron suggested. “He certainly talks enough.”


“That he does,” John admitted with a grin. “But unfortunately, I already offered the post to Mr. Jackson. He’s refused, incapable of imagining himself away from his studies so regularly. He did say if we ever need a traveling dignitary he might consider a trip or two, though. For all the good that does me now.”


“What about his protégé?” Rodney suggested. “You know, the annoyingly cheerful one.”


“Jonas Quinn. I considered it, but although he’s undeniably bright, he’s a bit on the inexperienced side, don’t you think?”


Their silence was answer enough. “No, someone new is our only recourse, though I fear it may take me at least a fortnight to sort out this whole mess.”


“It’ll take at least that long to install the rest of the new improvements on all the ships,” Rodney assured him. “Possibly longer, so there’s no hurry.”


John curbed the impulse to laugh. “Anxious to get rid of me, Rodney?”


Seeing as Rodney had never been one to bother with the charade of good manners, John should have expected his reply.


“Is it that obvious?”




While John Sheppard was packing for his reluctant trip to the city, Elizabeth Weir was swallowing a bitter pill of her own – the finalization of her wedding arrangements.


Ideally, such an event was supposed to be heralded by something other than a vague sense of dread, but Elizabeth Weir had learned long ago that reality was rarely ideal. Her impending nuptials were neither her choice nor her desire, but rather her duty – a state of affairs that she had become more than accustomed to over the years.


After the untimely death of her mother more than a decade previous, Elizabeth had been left to serve as the mistress of her father’s house – no small task for a normal household, let alone one that centered around the mercurial political world of Parliament. Thus from an early age, Elizabeth had gotten a curious insight into a world normally dominated by men and their so-called superior political minds. She had learned five languages, could manage to be seated with both a Frenchman and a Spaniard and keep things civil, and was able to gracefully navigate the steps of seventeen foreign dances in an attempt to make visiting foreign dignitaries feel friendlier towards their strained English allies. Above all, she had learned that politics had a hand in everything.


So really, it shouldn’t have surprised her when her father arranged her marriage with the same calculating eye that he had used for every previous undertaking regarding his daughter. She knew better than anyone that every move he made was a political one, and having a daughter married to the promising young Mr. Simon Narim was sure to be a beneficial arrangement for both men.


Obviously, the idea of consulting Elizabeth had never really occurred to either of them.


Still, despite her lack of involvement in the situation, she found herself curiously unemotional about the idea. Mr. Narim did not seem to be a bad sort of man – merely ambitious, an attitude to which she was accustomed. At the very least, marrying him would allow her to continue flourishing in a familiar situation, exerting what little influence she had in an attempt to guide political matters in a way few other women had the means or interest in doing. So while part of her naturally wished that she had some stronger emotion for her husband-to-be, the larger, more practical part accepted her marriage with all the grace she could manage.


If some small, romantic part of her rebelled at the idea of such a calculated union, then no one need know about it. She had long ago learned to keep her own counsel about such matters.


Still, as she laid out her dress, Elizabeth found herself curiously uninvolved. It was a beautiful gown, though simple in design, with an elaborate lace veil (a gift from her fiancé) and new white boots. The neckline, however, demanded some kind of decoration.


“That strand of pearls you have would look lovely just there, Miss,” pointed out her lady’s maid, Miss Simpson.


The thought had occurred to her, but for some reason, Elizabeth hesitated. “The pearls were my mother’s.”


“And lovely they are. The necklace is just the thing.” Simpson fetched to pearls from Elizabeth’s scantily populated jewel box, laying it against the simple neckline of the dress.


Elizabeth ran her hands over them thoughtfully. “Perhaps.” Something about the thought of wearing her mother’s pearls for this hollow ritual touched on her too often quelled sensibilities. “Come, I need to get dressed.”


With Simpson’s help, Elizabeth dressed methodically, pinning up the long dark curls of her hair and arranging the delicate veil and smoothing every wrinkle of the fine ivory satin. But when she arrived at the church and took her father’s hand for the long walk down the aisle, her neck was curiously bare of adornment.




“...from politics, it was an easy step to silence.”

                                                                                                ~Northanger Abbey




Surprisingly, Elizabeth grew easily accustomed to married life. Most of her duties as a wife were tasks she had already been in the habit of doing for her father’s household – save for those few conjugal rights that her husband occasionally demanded. What was more, Simon had decided against the upheaval of a honeymoon trip, seeing as their wedding had just happened to correspond with the beginning of the season. As such, the nights were filled with parties and balls, where Elizabeth flourished in her new freedom as a properly wed woman. It was not long before she was quickly gaining a reputation as a promising young leader in London society, known for being beautiful, charming, and particularly intelligent.


Simon was gaining a reputation, too – though it was doubtful that being most widely renowned as Elizabeth Narim’s husband suited his lofty political ambitions.


Wisely, Elizabeth refrained from comment on this matter.


Instead, she focused on pushing whatever political agenda Simon seemed involved in this week, bantering her way to floor vote successes and smiling faces. It was a rare day that they spent at home, instead dining with politicians, lobbying interested (and most often well-funded) parties, and smoothing the way with the occasional aristocrat.


On this particular afternoon, she was on the way to witness a vote in the Lower House. Despite nearly continuous campaigning since her wedding, the direction the vote would swing was a mystery to everyone.  As such, she was in a particular hurry to be on time and perhaps not paying as much attention to her surroundings as would be normally required.


Distracted as she was, Elizabeth was nearly halfway across the cobbled street before she noticed anything was amiss. When the loud sound of hooves broke her concentration, Elizabeth looked up to find herself directly in the path of an oncoming carriage that seemed to have no intention of stopping. As horrendously cliché as it was, she found herself dreadfully unable to move.


If not for the quick reflexes of a passing stranger, she had no idea what would have become of her. But as things happened, a man saw the commotion and darted in to pull her to safety. All she could recall was the echoing of furious hooves against stone and the warmth of a hand clasped around her arm.


Luckily, Elizabeth had always been quick to gather her wits. Flushed with both thanks and embarrassment, she looked at her rescuer for the first time. “I thank you,” she said quietly. “I was careless.”


Seemingly still a bit winded, the man waved his hand in dismissal. “Nonsense, the carriages are driven entirely too quickly on these side streets. It is a hazard.”


“Perhaps,” Elizabeth agreed with a smile. “But thank you all the same.”


The stranger shot a devastatingly charming smile in her direction. “I assure you, it was my pleasure,” he replied. “But now, I fear I’m going to be tardy for a meeting with the Magistrate, so if you’ll excuse me….”


At that she frowned, eyeing him with a neutral eye before deciding to speak cautiously. “If you’ll pardon my intrusion…do you mean Magistrate Everett?”


The inquiry caught his attention and he hesitated. “As a matter of fact, yes, I do. I have a business matter of some significance I’ve been told he may be able to advise me on. How did you know?”


She shrugged at that. “He’s the only magistrate with offices near here.” Still considering whether or not she should say what she was contemplating, she eyed him again. His hair was haphazard, though whether it had been that way before the commotion on the street, she could not tell. Either way, his jacket was at least two seasons old, though in good repair. But his shoes…no, it would not do. “Forgive me,” she said by way of apology, “but as you’ve been so helpful to me, I mean to return the favor.”


He raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “By all means, though we’ll have to find a carriage first. Should I jump in front of it, or would you rather push me?”


“Nothing so drastic as that,” she assured him. “I was merely going to suggest you reschedule your appointment for later in the day and change your apparel.” At his somewhat dumbfounded expression, she couldn’t help but laugh a little. “I apologize about the way that sounds, but you see, Magistrate Everett is well known for being something of a dandy. Impeccably shined shoes, the latest in tailored jackets, perfectly coiffed hair….”


Inevitably, his hand rose to his hair, as though checking to ascertain whether the chaotic mess was still in place. “I’m uncertain what you’re getting at,” he admitted after being properly reassured as to its presence.


“Just that he appreciates the same attention to appearance in others. He’ll be much more likely to help you if he…approves…of you.”


“Ah,” the man said, understanding dawning. “And here I thought those attitudes had died out with the coming new century.”


“In London?” Elizabeth retorted, amused. “Highly unlikely.”


“Yes…I do hate this city,” he sighed, following it with a bow. “Thank you for the advice, though.”


At that, she couldn’t help but laugh while she curtsied. “My pleasure.”


They each headed off in their own respective directions, and Elizabeth gave no more immediate thought to the encounter – after all, she was now ten minutes late for the vote.




It had been nearly a week since John had arrived in London, and the only thing he had managed to ascertain for certain was that he had been right to dread this trip from the first. Days of being bounced from one business official to another and the only piece of helpful advice he had gotten to date was from an unknown woman on the street, who had basically told him to comb his hair.


Thankfully, he had listened to her unique counsel, even going so far as to buy a new suit jacket – the meeting with Magistrate Everett hadn’t exactly been enlightening, but the perfectly coiffed official (as the mystery woman had put it) had managed to finagle John an invitation to the dinner party he was now milling through, a congregation of businessmen who would supposedly be able to help him with his permit problem.


Unfortunately, the only thing John had managed to accomplish thus far was seeming invisible to those men of any use at all. Everyone seemed to be worked up over some new bill that had been introduced on the Parliament floor that afternoon, something he knew absolutely nothing about. And if he did manage to find a group that weren’t discussing the new bill, then they were invariably discussing the outcome of the vote that had occurred just previous to the bill’s proposal – yet another subject for which he was ill-equipped.


Taking his place for dinner, he found himself exiled to the far corner of the long table, a placement reserved for the less desirable elements of any party – wives, retired and bored stockholders, and those with scandalously liberal opinions. Chagrined, John prepared himself for a quick and boring meal to be followed by another disappointing evening.


That is until he looked across the table to find the woman from the street this morning looking back at him.


Seemingly just as surprised as he was, she smiled. “Well, if it isn’t my street-side savior. I didn’t realize that heroes did anything so prosaic as attend dinner parties.”


“Tonight is an unfortunate exception, I assure you,” he retorted wryly. “I much prefer saving ladies from speeding carriages.”


She smiled, amused. “Of that, I have little doubt. Regrettably, you might find such heroics hard to come upon in a gathering like this.”


Seeing as the party fell short in both ladies and in speeding carriages, John couldn’t help but agree. “Very regrettable indeed,” he replied solemnly. As they both shared a smile over their own joke, he offered, “I am John Sheppard.”


She bowed her head in a small gesture of acknowledgement before countering with “Mrs. Elizabeth Narim.”


“It is nice to formally meet you, Mrs. Narim,” he said sincerely as everyone began to sit for the meal.


“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Sheppard,” she responded by what he suspected was a matter of habit as the first course was brought out. However, a spot of mischief sparkled in her eyes. “Excuse me for inquiring, but is that a new jacket?”


John fingered the fabric, sharing a smile. “As a matter of fact, it is.”


“It’s very nice,” she approved. When her eyes trailed up to his hair, however, they contained only mirth.


Compulsively, he began to reach toward it. “Well, I did try.”


She was genteel enough to at least attempt to hide her smile. “Yes, I’m sure.”


Thankfully, he was then distracted from their discussion as he eyed the plate put down in front of him, more than a little disturbed by its contents. This was the London food over which McKay had been raving?


Hearing a barely stifled snicker, John looked up to see yet another amused look on Mrs. Narim’s face. “Escargot,” she said by way of explanation. “It’s a French delicacy, and seeing as Monsieur Chirac is French….”


Monsieur Chirac was, of course, seated in the prime center of the table, surrounded by loudly disagreeing businessmen passionately arguing the new bill once again. At least one plus of being exiled from the main party and served glorified slugs was that his present state of ill information would not be exposed.


Or so he thought, until Mrs. Narim asked kindly in an attempt to begin conversation, “So, do you have an opinion on the Hayes Bill, Mr. Sheppard?”


His eyes snapped towards her, trying to judge her motives. Surprisingly, she met his gaze squarely, and he realized that she was actually trying to help him rather than embarrass him. So, rather tentatively, he replied, “You mean the…tax…plan?”


“The tax increase on merchants and landed gentry, yes,” she affirmed, seeming relieved that he had played into her question.


John couldn’t help but feel distinctly relieved himself. “Right. Well, I honestly don’t see why a mere….”


“Two percent,” she offered helpfully.


“Yes, a mere two percent increase is causing all this fuss.”


Her smile was warm and approving, though her next words were spoken in jest. “Shocking words from a businessman such as yourself.”


John merely shrugged, unrepentant. “Well, at this point I’m merely a retired military Major with business aspirations.”


She looked curious at his correction. “Are you having problems with financing then?” she inquired.


“Actually, no. Financing is the one area I seem to be able to manage with ease,” he said, unable to keep some tinge of chagrin out of his tone.


His attitude seemed to confuse her. “By no means a small feat.”


Still, he remained dismissive. “All the money in the world does me no good if I can’t figure out how to obtain the correct paperwork. And I’ve never been much for paperwork.”


She laughed. “May I inquire what area your hopeful enterprise is in?”


“Trade,” he supplied readily. “I’ve financed a small fleet of ships, employed several crews. But the dock master refuses to let them leave harbor without the correct permit – which I thought I had.”


“Hmm. Sounds like a simple problem with the Oversight Committee.”


This observation prompted some immediate and probably rather startling arm-waving from John, his frustrations now reaching their boiling point. “That’s exactly what everyone keeps telling me! Unfortunately, no one seems to be willing to part with further information.”


Her sympathy was immediate and genuine. “That’s not to be unexpected. The Oversight Committee can be a delicate subject for most business owners.”


He stabbed a snail vehemently; annoyed with political and social rules he didn’t have a hope of understanding. Before he became too enraged however, she further expanded on her first remark. “Luckily, I am not a business owner.”


When he looked back up at her, she was smiling again. “You can help me?”


Mmm, most likely. However, I don’t really think this is an appropriate place.” She glanced down the table. “As exiled as we seem, talk spreads quickly and talk of the Oversight Committee makes these types of men very jumpy. I try to take a daily walk in Hyde Park when the weather is fine, usually just before tea time. If you would care to meet me tomorrow, I can try to explain then.”


An overwhelming sense of reprieve filled him. “I would be most grateful.”


“Think nothing of it,” she reassured him.


So because she seemed to wish it, he dropped the subject, falling into an easy and companionable silence while returning to his dubious appetizer.




“Nobody minds having what is too good for them.”

                                                                                                ~Mansfield Park




The next afternoon was pleasant, and so Elizabeth was true to her word and set out for a walk in Hyde Park. It wasn’t long before she caught sight of Mr. Sheppard – though admittedly, his position came as a bit of a surprise.


Picking her way through the damp grass, Elizabeth was forced to hike up her skirts in order to reach his prone position on a distant slope. Gazing at his relaxed posture, she almost hated to disturb him.




“Enjoying yourself?” she couldn’t help but tease gently.


He cracked open one eye in reply, eyeing her woefully. “I was. But now you’re blocking my light.”


Feigning an immediate contriteness, Elizabeth purposely moved further into it, completely shadowing his face. “I am sorry. Is this better?”


Luckily, his sense of humor remained constant and he just grinned at her antics. “I suppose that is your not-so-subtle way of telling me to get up?”


“Well, it’s not that I object to ambling in the grass, exactly, but I did wear my good boots. It seems a bit wasteful to ruin them simply because you object to clearly marked pathways.”


Mr. Sheppard stood obligingly, leading the way back to the cobblestone walkway. “Do you mean to say that this little visit with me was noteworthy enough to require your best footwear? I’m honored.”


She flashed a grin in his direction. “Don’t be. I have tea with the wives of several prominent Members of Parliament after our walk.”


“Ah. Sounds…dreadful,” Mr. Sheppard replied.


“You become accustomed to it,” she assured him. “Like most of London society. Speaking of which, let us talk of your predicament now.”


“Please,” he said eagerly, taking her arm in his as they strolled easily down the wooded lane.


Elizabeth was silent for a few moments, trying to sort out how to begin her explanation. “I’m rather afraid you’ll think you’ve spent the last few weeks in vain once I explain things to you. It’s simply a quirk of London bureaucracy that you’ve run into, and not at all difficult to navigate when you know it exists.”


“That’s hardly reassuring. I’m sure you’ve noticed that my talents, while easily stretched to matters like saving damsels, are not exactly suited for matters requiring a lot of…finesse.”


It would have been rude to laugh, so Elizabeth did her best to curb the impulse. “Really?”


He glared at her. “Oh, just get on with it.”


Laughing, she complied. “The Oversight Committee was originally created as a check for merchants – namely, the East India Trading Company. Certain individuals have long been concerned about the near monopoly they have on much of our trade, so a set of laws were passed that allowed a small circle of men to have intimate access to all of their private files.”


“But what does that have to do with shipping permits?”


Elizabeth smiled. “Well, how do you think they force compliance? Besides, the original role of the Committee has expanded in the last few years. Now, they have a hand in most business arenas based in London’s economic center. If you had chosen to license your business venture through Cornwall, you would have been saved much of your trouble. Then again, the problems from being based in Wales would likely prove more difficult.”


By this point, Mr. Sheppard had a pained look on his face that clearly expressed his doubt of that statement. “So, how do I clear all these charming bureaucratic hurdles?”


“Oh, it’ll be easier than you think. You see, the members of the Oversight Committee are supposed to be confidential, to avoid corruption within the system. But my father has long been friends with a man I know to be an influential member of the Committee, and I have been fortunate enough to have that friendship extend to me as well. If you like, I shall call upon him and arrange a meeting for you.”


Even through her glove, she could feel the heat of his palm as he squeezed her hand. “I would be in your debt.”


She shrugged, uncomfortable with the praise. “It is nothing.”


“I beg to differ.” After passing one more tense moment, he seemed to sense her discomfort and smiled. “And who is the man I am supposed to be meeting?”


“He is a Mr. Woolsey of the North End, but his offices are just outside of Parliament. He has long been in the King’s employ as an accounting official. He seems a bit cold at first, but as long as you have everything in compliance, he’ll be fair. Certainly more so than some of the other members of the Oversight Committee.”


“Do you mean to say that their idealistic plans of an unswerving system of checks and balances haven’t turned out exactly as they envisioned it?” Mr. Sheppard asked dryly.


Elizabeth smiled in turn. “Well, that was really the only predictable result, don’t you think?”


His laughter made her smile and though their business was now concluded, they continued their easy walk through the park, arm in arm.




The next morning, John received a note in the Post informing him that he had an appointment early that afternoon with Mr. Woolsey, should the time suit him. Seeing as John’s sole desire was to get the whole mess straightened out as soon as possible, he hurried to ready himself.


More than once on his way to the meeting, he found himself blessing the hazard of runaway horses. After all, without them he would never have formed an acquaintance with Elizabeth, and he had many a reason to be thankful for the connection.


Now waiting patiently outside of Mr. Woolsey’s offices, John found himself too nervous to sit quite still. At some point in the hassle, Atlantis Trading and Shipping had stopped being an idle pursuit and become something important to him – if it all fell apart now due to his own incompetence, he was not entirely certain that he would recover from the blow.


As such, it made perfect sense to pass the time with aimless pacing.


Idly, he wondered why there was such a delay – from every account Elizabeth had given him about Mr. Woolsey, he seemed to be the sort of man to run exactly on time. So when he began to hear the echoes of raised voices coming from within the offices, it was only natural that he listen in. Perhaps it was not quite ethical, but natural nonetheless.


He couldn’t catch every word that was being said, but the general source of discord seemed to be money, which was hardly surprising considering Mr. Woolsey’s occupation. It seemed that his visitor had made a habit of living rather outside of his means, hardly a new or particularly interesting story.


It was when the doors were flung open to reveal a livid Simon Narim that John’s interest stopped being merely idle curiosity and morphed into true alarm.


“Really, Woolsey, you must reconsider!” Mr. Narim demanded in a voice that seemed to carry a strange level of condescension for a man in his position.


“I’m afraid that I cannot. I have given you all the latitude I possibly can,” a little bespectacled man replied calmly from the door. “I would suggest that you begin to make arrangements as soon as possible for your retrenchment.”


At this pronouncement, Mr. Narim flushed a peculiar shade of red and stormed off, yelling at anyone who dared cross his path.


For his part, John was still reeling from this new and unwelcome piece of information. He did not have a chance to reel long, however, for Mr. Woolsey merely smoothed his vest down and turned to him. “I am sorry for the scene. I am afraid that Mr. Narim has always lacked a certain sense of…decorum…in private and economic matters. Do come in. I apologize for the wait.”


John followed the little man into his office and amidst talk of permits and national standards and shipping practices, the scene was pushed to the back of his mind.




If there is anything disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it.”





It was nearly a week before Elizabeth’s path crossed once more with John Sheppard’s, at a local ball where she was decidedly out of spirits and he was obviously uncomfortable, though she highly doubted that one thing was related to the other.


For her part, she was still stinging from an unpleasant scene a few afternoons previous, when her normally distant husband had felt it necessary to chasten her at length over her association with John Sheppard in the park earlier in the week. While it was perhaps regrettable that her meeting with John had sparked enough interest that the gossip had reached Simon’s ears, she still thought that it was a strange thing for him to take objection to, as she often walked with his business and political allies at Simon’s request. But then, during the course of their short marriage, Elizabeth had found her husband to be a rather unpredictable man – there was never any telling what mood he’d be in on a given day.


Still, she had to admit that she’d resented the rebuke. During the course of his rant, Simon had said many unpleasant things, all of which revealed a rather disparaging view of her person as a whole. The revelation that despite her best hopes, she did not much care for her husband had not been a welcome one for her.


Nevertheless, she was here to be charming and spotting Mr. Sheppard, who she had come to think of as a good friend, was helping her mood considerably. “Good heavens, Mr. Sheppard,” she exclaimed by way of greeting, “You look positively miserable.”


He smiled a little, bowing to her. “Am I that obvious? I apologize.”


“It’s all right. But whatever is the matter? Did the meeting with Mr. Woolsey not go well? I was certain that he would be able to help you in your predicament.”


“No, he was very helpful. In fact, the matter has been completely resolved. I am preoccupied by…other matters.”


“Do you require help with them as well? For if I am to solve all of your business worries, I feel I might go into business myself,” she teased, trying to ease the decidedly stormy look off of his face.


Luckily, he did seem to find her company diverting, at least, diverting enough to cheer some. “Perhaps. I have two chief concerns right now that are keeping me in the city, and if you magically resolve these as well, I have no earthly idea how I shall ever be able to repay you.”


“Nonsense,” she insisted. “Please, share your concerns with me.”


He hesitated for a moment. “Well, firstly, I am having a good deal of trouble finding someone to hire for a chief position in my newly licensed company.”


Matters when dealing with employment were always tricky; they required a certain harmony of personalities that was often difficult to predict. “What sort of position is it?”


“Diplomatic, mainly. I need a partner who has talents with the personal sphere rather than the business. Communication, networking, trade negotiations. I’ve interviewed a few prospects, but found them all distinctly…displeasing.”


She laughed. “You mean they were too much like everyday, ambitious politicians.”


At least he had the grace to look chagrined, at which she laughed once again. “And what is the second matter concerning you?”


There was once again a long hesitation from him, and just when she felt that he might say something serious, he deviated. “I fear that I am not very good at dancing.”


While she was a bit disappointed in the statement because Elizabeth was certain that it was not was he was going to say, she shrugged it off. “Well, I believe I am able to help with both of those predicaments.”


His smile was warm. “I suspected as much. What do you suggest?”


Because she knew that he would not think her forward or inappropriate, she merely took his arm. “That you dance with me while I consider a few potential candidates for this job of yours. I’ve been told that I can make the most inept dancer seem agile.”


Obediantly, he followed her lead. “Somehow, I have no doubt of that.”




She hadn’t exaggerated her talents, and John found that dancing with Elizabeth was much like carrying on a conversation with her – she effortlessly led you exactly where she wanted you and somehow could make you believe that it had been your idea in the first place.


It was a unique talent to be sure, and it made him feel no better about keeping silent. John knew that he was somewhat socially inept, but even he knew enough of social gaffes to realize that he had no place in telling Elizabeth of her husband’s financial burdens if her husband felt that they were not of her concern.


Still, keeping it from her seemed duplicitous, somehow – she had been such help to him already that allowing her to continue in ignorance seemed the worst sort of slight he could visit upon her. Moreover, he felt confident that if Elizabeth had been privy to her husband’s financial problems from the start, there never would have been a problem.


“You’re making that face again,” she said lightly as they danced.


“Just concentrating,” he lied.


Really, he was not even privy to enough details to be of any use to her anyway. Telling Elizabeth would only bring her worry without an avenue with which to resolve it. John felt certain that leaving it alone was the best course of action.


But if that was the case, why did it feel so dreadfully wrong?


The dance finished and John looked at his partner, resolved to at least attempt some kind of revelation. “Mrs. Narim, might I ask you a personal question?”


While she looked mildly surprised at the sudden formality between them, she merely smiled. “Of course, Mr. Sheppard.”


He gathered his courage. “How long have you and your esteemed husband been married?”


Judging by the little frown on her face, she found his question a bit puzzling. “Not a month,” she finally answered, and with her response, his good intentions were dismissed.


Even John Sheppard knew that to disturb the happy content of newlyweds with news such as this was a nearly unforgivable sin. While he was completely of the belief that Elizabeth was entirely too good for her husband, there was no way he could tell her that, and it aggrieved him deeply.


“Ah,” he said hollowly. “My belated congratulations go to you, then.”




For his part, Simon Narim slipped out of the ball early, knowing that his annoyingly capable wife could find her own way home. He could not be bothered with such trivialities right now, not when everything he had worked for so many years to obtain was slipping away from him.


Really, he didn’t believe he could be blamed. Was it his fault that popularity in British politics often held a correlation to wealth? He had been raised with all the appearance of wealth without the actual possession of it, and had attempted to continue his life in this manner. Unfortunately, he seemed to be particularly unlucky in financial matters. His few modest investments were failures. His attempts at gambling for a living backfired tenfold. He chose the wrong creditors.


So now, in the face of complete economic ruin, he felt the need for a little comfort. With the last bit of money he had in his pocket, he made his way to the home of a woman he knew very well. While her reputation was certainly questionable at very best, he had always found her company particularly soothing.


Sure enough, Madame Anise welcomed him with a wide smile and always open…palms. But what did it matter now what he spent his last bit of money on?


As always, her company was pleasurable enough, and Simon Narim spent his night quite contentedly. In the morning, he dawdled over breakfast, unwilling to emerge from this brief respite into the world where he was about to fall so spectacularly from the grace of London society.


Besides, Madame Anise had just finished a fresh batch of muffins and he did enjoy a good muffin.


It was when his second muffin lodged in his throat, completely cutting off all air supply, that Simon Narim finally gave a passing thought to his wife, no doubt waiting at home.


Well, he thought as the world turned grey, she could deal with the financial problems, just as she did everything else.


He then proceeded to choke to death.




“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

                                                                                                ~Northanger Abbey




Simon Narim’s funeral was a perfect farce, ridiculous in its dual earnestness and scathing. Even Elizabeth could not truly profess grief in the face of her late husband’s death, having been only acquainted with him in passing and having little tender feelings for what she did know. Still, she had long been the student of convention, so a plain black dress was bought and worn faithfully while she tried to sort out what was turning out to be quite the mess her spouse had left in his wake.


At first, Elizabeth had been under the impression that her biggest social hurdle would be overcoming the stigma of the simultaneously scandalous and ludicrous way Simon had died. However, as she sorted through the many stacks of papers in her husband’s previously undisturbed study, it was becoming ever clearer that the manner of Simon’s death was the least of her worries.


In fact, as it turned out, the most praiseworthy thing that could be said of him was that he had caused her less worry in life than he was promising to do in death, and that was more due to the general state of ignorance he had kept her in than anything else. Eyeing the stack of outstanding bills that she had piled before her, Elizabeth found herself at a loss.


Just then, a gentle knock sounded on the door. When she looked up, she was surprised to see Richard Woolsey standing there. “Forgive my intrusion,” he said politely. “There was no one to introduce me, and I need to speak with you about a matter of some urgency.”


Ever courteous, she stood in greeting before motioning for him to take a seat. “I suppose these might be the cause of some of your concern?” she asked, indicating the stack of parchment in front of her.


At the very least, Mr. Woolsey had the good grace to look chagrined. “So you’ve found out then.”


“Please don’t say better late than never,” Elizabeth replied wryly.


“No,” Mr. Woolsey agreed. “This was a case where you should have been enlightened as to the state of things long ago. Several men in my circle have been trying to contrive a way to tell you for some time, but to go over a man’s head and report his financial concerns to his wife is not exactly a common practice, you know. We had little idea how to begin.”


While rationally, Elizabeth understood their predicament, it still grated upon her already frayed nerves. Wisely, she chose to gather herself before responding. “I suppose since Simon’s untimely death, the financial burden of all of this falls to me?”


Woolsey grimaced. “Yes, I am afraid so. I will hold off the creditors as long as I can, but your husband had already tried their patience considerably and even widows can use up their much abused goodwill. Is it possible that your father will be able to help at all?”


At that, Elizabeth had to laugh. “My father lives in service of the King, Mr. Woolsey. He lives well due to the advantages of position, not wealth.”


“I feared as much. Well, do let me know if there’s something I can do to help. Otherwise, I shall leave you to your mourning.”


Mourning, indeed. There was little that was mournful about how Elizabeth was feeling at the current moment. Wrathful was a much more appropriate term. If Simon had still been alive at that moment, she would have thrown every muffin she could find at him, dignity be damned.




When John had heard the news of Simon Narim’s untimely – and unusual – demise, he had known immediately that something must be done. It was deciding what exactly, that had taken him an entire fortnight, feeling a little guiltier with every day that passed in which he did nothing. Now, standing in Elizabeth’s foyer waiting to be announced, he wondered if this was really as brilliant of an idea as he had believed when it had occurred to him at three a.m. the previous evening.


But when she came to meet him with eyes slightly tinged with red, worry lines creasing her face, and no smile in sight, he was certain it was. Because he had no smooth words of consolation, he stuck with the basics while greeting her. “I’m so sorry.”


He thought it wise not to mention specifically what he was sorry for, as he seriously doubted Simon’s death would have made the list.


She took his hand easily, seeming glad to see him. “You didn’t have to come.”


“Yes, I did,” he replied. “Can we…?” he gestured to the study and she nodded.


“Of course, come in. Would you like anything to drink?”


“You don’t have to entertain me, Elizabeth. I didn’t come here to subject you to endless small talk and platitudes.”


She smiled, albeit wanly. “I know. But serious conversation is just as serious over tea.”


With that established and the assurance from the soon-to-be-unemployed butler that tea was on its way, they settled back, Elizabeth waiting patiently for John to reveal the purpose of his visit.


Unfortunately, he didn’t know quite where to start. After a lengthy silence, he explained, “I can’t think of a way to begin that isn’t horribly rude.”


Strangely, she found this amusing. “At this point, as long as you’re saying it to me rather than about me, I don’t care a bit.”


It was a sobering statement, and John once again found himself cursing the callous man she had married. “I am wondering exactly how bad your financial situation is.”


Her face took on a peculiar expression. “I didn’t realize that my late husband’s financial difficulties were such public knowledge.”


“Oh, they aren’t! As far as I know anyway, which isn’t saying much at all. But you see, the day you arranged that meeting for me, I overheard a conversation that led me to believe that things might in fact be very…serious. I wanted to tell you, but I had no details and despite appearances, we’ve only known each other a very little while.”


She seemed more amused by his lengthy speech than angry, a fact that John felt distinct relief over. “It’s quite all right, Mr. Sheppard. It was not your office to inform me of my husband’s many…indiscretions. And to answer your question, things are quite bad indeed. It seems that Simon’s only talent with money was spending it.”


Somehow, it was almost a relief to know that John’s mind had not overblown the situation. It meant that his worry – and the resulting solution – had not been for nothing. “I thought it might be. That is why I have come with a…proposition…for you.”


One delicate eyebrow rose, lending her face an endearing, quixotic quality. “How intriguing.”


“That is, I mean, if you do not have a plan already at your disposal,” John said, suddenly realizing that that might in fact be the case. If there was one thing he had learned over the course of their short acquaintance, it was that Elizabeth was a brilliantly resourceful woman. It was entirely possible that she didn’t require saving at all.


John refused to admit, even to himself, that he would be distinctly disappointed if that were the case.


For her part, Elizabeth just shook her head. “The last two weeks seem a blur of trying to come up with a solution to this mess, all to no avail. So as much as I hate to admit it, I’m very open to any ‘propositions’ you might have.”


Taking a deep breath, John tried to begin as simply as possible. “You know about my recent search for a partner in Atlantis Trading and Shipping.”


“Of course, did any of the names I gave you turn out well?”


He waved his hand dismissively. “There were a few that might have worked, but none as well as…you.”


At this, she seemed to be shocked into silence for a good long moment. Conveniently, that was when the butler knocked, wheeling in a tea cart laden with steaming tea and scones. John took initiative and served them both, and by the time they were both sipping at their teacups, Elizabeth seemed to have quite gathered herself.


“Not that I’m not flattered by your obviously high opinion of me, Mr. Sheppard,” she began. “But I’m not entirely certain how you mean to work this. Would I move to the country…with you?”


“Yes. I’ll…well, I’ll get to that part. What I propose is simple enough: I will pay out the entirety of your late husband’s debts here and wherever else he might have acquired them. In return, you will come and help me run Atlantis Trading and Shipping. You’re far more qualified than any man I’ve interviewed in the last few weeks, and what’s more, I like you better. I feel that we could work together well. And my team…well, I won’t lie. They’re a bit of a handful. But I feel confident that they’re nothing you can’t handle.”


Elizabeth smiled a little. “Thank you. But…well, I know that in my position, I’m hardly one to be worried over matters of propriety, but surely you see that it would not be proper for a newly widowed woman to move to the country with a charming and decidedly single man?”


John winced. “Yes, well. That’s what I was going to get to next.” He hesitated, then gulped the rest of his tea. “You must forgive me, because I’m fairly certain I’m going to make a mess of this.”


Obviously confused, she just nodded. “Of course.”


“I am not a particularly romantic man. I’ve never expected…well, honestly, I had never planned…what I mean to say is….” he trailed off, lost in his own muddled explanation, and Elizabeth smiled.


“My goodness, Mr. Sheppard. You weren’t exaggerating, were you?”


He found himself scratching the back of his head in befuddlement. “Apparently not. And please, call me John. Hearing you call me Mr. Sheppard seems strange right about now.”


“All right then, John. What are you trying to say?”


Gathering his courage, he looked her straight in the eye. “I think we should get married.”


Complete and obviously stunned silence was her only immediate reply.




"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."

                                                                                                ~Pride and Prejudice




Elizabeth knew that it was probably rude to remain silent this long when faced with a marriage proposal. She just honestly had no idea what to say, and seeing that Elizabeth rarely found herself at a loss for words, that was quite remarkable. Not to mention that she had never really been on the receiving end of a marriage proposal before – Simon had gone straight to her father and it had all been arranged as civilly as possible.


This awkward sort of question hanging in the air was an entirely new experience for her.


Finally, she managed to clear her throat. “Forgive me. You just…caught me by surprise is all.”


John looked a little stunned himself. “Yes, the idea is rather startling, I admit. May I explain?”


“Please do,” Elizabeth said emphatically.


He nodded. “Well, as you said yourself, coming to Gateshire on your own so recently after the death of your husband would be inappropriate. And while our marriage would certainly cause…talk…I think it would be a more salvageable situation in the long term. I have a few more things to settle here in town, and even a hasty wedding takes time, so the way I see it, it would be feasible for us to wed in a fortnight, which would be just when your traditional month of mourning ends.”


Although the immediate scandal would likely be hugely indecorous, he was correct – marriage usually helped a situation blow over as quickly as possible. And frankly, there was already a scandal bigger than anything London had seen in at least three seasons surrounding the Narim household right now – what was one more?


But what was she thinking? She couldn’t be considering this! “It is certainly a noble offer,” she said tentatively. “And a kind one. But I’m afraid it’s simply too much.”


John frowned. “But I…well, it’s not entirely altruistic, you know. I want you to work for me, no one else. This is how I can obtain that. Do you think it would really be so bad? We get along well and could be great friends, I think. And we won’t…what I mean to say is, I wouldn’t expect you to…well, you would have your own room. And an office. And an equal investment in Atlantis Trading and Shipping. As I said, I know it’s not a very romantic proposal. If you ever find someone that you think you’d be more pleased with, I’d freely give you a divorce. I just….”


Somehow, she found herself smiling at his strangely earnest expression. “This isn’t just a whim, is it? You’ve really thought it through.”


He seemed vaguely affronted at the implication that he wouldn’t have. “I was up most of the night after two weeks of searching for a solution. This just seems…best. Mutually advantageous, at the very least.”


“To be sure,” she agreed. “But is there not some young lady who might be a bit disappointed at your sudden marital status?”


John shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “As I said, I’ve never been particularly romantic. There have been…flirtations, I admit. But certainly nothing that would stand in the way of our marriage, should you accept. I understand if you want to take some time to think about it. I realize the timing is quite horrible, but I was under the impression that time was likely a concern for you now.”


It was a strangely surreal conversation, calmly discussing what could ideally be a very amiable lifetime together while eating blueberry scones. And yet, the more he explained himself and the longer Elizabeth considered the arrangement, the less and less bizarre it seemed. At the very least, she knew John better than she had ever known Simon, even after only a brief acquaintance. She did not have to guess at his true nature; she knew for a fact that he was a good man. And really when it came down to it, what other options did she have? She had no talent for manual work, no fortune, and no options. 


But despite those undeniable facts, when she looked at John, he didn’t feel like a last resort. He simply felt like the best choice.


“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t have to think about it. If you’re certain about this, then I’ll happily accept.”


He froze for a moment and she had a sudden, distinctly unpleasant image of him changing his mind and taking it all back until finally, he smiled. “Really?”


She found herself smiling back. “Really.”


“I…I am glad to hear it. I think…I really think this could work, the two of us.”


Somehow, she found herself agreeing.




John found it incredibly surprising how easy it was to get married once one put their mind to it. The decision had been the trying part of the whole situation; now that it had been made he found himself curiously calm.


It helped that Elizabeth had set about putting things in order with a minimal amount of fuss. Once she had said yes, the rest seemed to be mere details as far as she was concerned. The only matter John insisted he have control over was paying off her late husband’s creditors, and no amount of cajoling would persuade him to reveal what the total amount had come to.


He firmly believed that having her at Atlantis would be well worth the price, however.


By the end of a fortnight, things had fallen into place. John arrived exactly on time at Elizabeth’s front stoop to walk her to the church, still strangely unruffled by it all. Elizabeth’s lady’s maid Simpson answered the door and led him to the dining room, where Elizabeth was dressed in a charmingly simple white dress and studying a few items laid out on the table with great concentration.


“You look…lovely,” he said a little awkwardly, because it was true and needed to be said. White suited her particularly well, and if he wasn’t mistaken she was wearing her good boots, which made him rather ridiculously proud.


She smiled. “Thank you. I’m sorry that I’m running a little behind. It’s just…well, this is the same dress I was married to Simon in because there was no time to have another made. I had a few alterations done, but essentially, it’s the same dress, so I’m wondering if perhaps a little deviation in wardrobe would be appropriate.”


“Yes, please,” John agreed. “What did you wear last time?”


“The veil.”


He curbed the impulse to wrinkle his nose at the fussy addition. “Don’t. Just the dress is fine.”


Yet, she still hesitated. “Maybe these pearls? They were my mother’s.”


“Oh. Yes, those are quite nice.” Advising her on her wardrobe should have seemed strange. Oddly, it didn’t. “Would you like me to fasten the necklace for you?”


She nodded and turned around. Slipping the strand over her neck and affixing the clasp easily, John had the sudden realization that this scene could likely be reflective of the rest of his life.


He found that he didn’t mind the idea at all. “Shall we go?” he asked lightly, as though they were merely off for a party or another stroll in the park.


With her arm in his, they proceeded out of the door and to the church, chatting easily along the way.




“Business, you know, may bring you money, but friendship hardly ever does.”





The ceremony was short and to the point, and Elizabeth found that the entire ordeal was much less trying with John’s warm hand enfolding hers. When the minister pronounced them man and wife, she actually found herself smiling.


There was a brief kiss, and then they calmly walked out of the church arm in arm, where John helped her into the waiting carriage. With minimal fuss, they were on their way to Gateshire.


“So,” John asked after a few contentedly silent moments. “How do you find married life the second time around?”


She pretended to consider this carefully. “Well, seeing as we’ve been married for an entire ten minutes now, I must say that marriage improves dramatically upon a second attempt. And how are you feeling about the entire nuptial experience?”


“Very well, thank you. I can’t imagine why I never tried it before.”


“Perhaps you lacked the proper inducement,” Elizabeth teased.


He responded in kind, with an acknowledging smile. “Obviously, that must be it.” After a moment, however, he sobered considerably. “Honestly, though. Do you have any regrets?”


Because she knew that he would appreciate an honest response more than a hasty one, Elizabeth took pause. “Really, I don’t know what regrets a person can have in the first half hour of a marriage,” she finally replied. “But I do not anticipate any distressing feelings of remorse, no.”


“Well, that’s something, I suppose,” John admitted. “Although I doubt you anticipated your first husband choking to death on a muffin, either.”

The silence that fell between them was immediate and heavy, and John looked rather pale. “Oh. I…well, forgive me. That was callous.”


Elizabeth didn’t say anything. She couldn’t, really.


“Honestly, Elizabeth, I didn’t mean it like…I was just jesting a little…completely inappropriate, I know….”


She found herself biting her bottom lip, uncertain of how long she could hold out.


When John reached for her hand in a pleading gesture, she couldn’t help it. The laughter escaped full force, filling the cabin of the carriage. For a moment, John looked scared, then stunned, and finally, amused. “Why, you little….”


Elizabeth tried to sober herself, although the occasional giggle still escaped. “I’m sorry. It’s just that it’s really so absurd. I think I’ve been avoiding saying it aloud for fear that I’d burst into laughter someplace public.”


Because there was no other response, John grinned. “I suppose that would have been quite the social scandal.”


Seeing as she was now in a carriage riding to a new town with a new husband merely a month after her previous had passed away, the realization that she had, in fact, been avoiding social contempt prompted yet another bout of laughter from Elizabeth. John simply watched her enjoy herself, seemingly content to lean back and try not to be too jarred by the shaking of the carriage.


After a few more moments of silence, something obviously occurred to him. “I suppose I should tell you something,” he said slowly. “I meant to mention it before, but it continually slipped my mind.”


Considering the frenzied events of the past few weeks, Elizabeth could understand that. “All right.”


“You know, of course, that my money is from investment and not inheritance. As such, there was no family estate, no ready and waiting base of operations. There was just me and a ridiculous amount of money.”


She had no idea where he was going with this. “Are you trying to reaffirm that I married well? Because it’s really rather unnecessary.”


“No, no. I’m just telling you this, because about the time I was looking for proper housing, I was also beginning construction on the headquarters for Atlantis Trading and Shipping. As such, I decided on a whim just to combine the two. And things sort of…grew from there.”




“Yes. It ended up being a rather large structure, when all was said and done. Overlarge, some think. I rather like it, but then I suppose I would have to.”


Honestly, she had no idea what he was trying to say. But then, as Elizabeth was quickly learning, that was often the case with John. “I think I’m missing your point.”


He grimaced. “Just wait. You’ll see for yourself.”


It wasn’t until nearly eight hours later, when they came to a stop overlooking Gateshire, that John’s meaning became clear. Although he had tried to warn her about the size of their intended destination, staring down at it, Elizabeth wondered if any words could have done it justice.


Atlantis Trading and Shipping Company was not merely a building – it aspired to be a second town center. On one side, she could make out the hazy shapes of boating docks, anchoring a small fleet of streamlined ships. Nearer to the road, there were doors for what appeared to be an extensive stable and shipping area. Meanwhile, the East Wing was clearly the main house, being more familiar in architecture and style, and the West Wing seemed similar – some kind of extended staff quarters, perhaps. If all of that wasn’t enough to attract attention, at the center of the entire structure towered a lighthouse.


Faced with the sight, Elizabeth found herself struck temporarily dumb.




Her silence was thoroughly nerve-wracking for John, who found himself studying the spectacle that was Atlantis through less enamored eyes. Whereas before, he had always viewed his home with nothing but satisfaction, he now found cause to critique it. He feared that it was too big – ostentatious, even. Perhaps it really was disrupting to the eye when taking in the general landscape of Gateshire. He had heard all these complaints before and had little trouble dismissing them. Somehow, he felt that if Elizabeth said them, they would cease being the irksome complaints of interfering neighbors and become true.


So when she finally exhaled a long, low breath, John found himself holding his own. Luckily, he didn't have to for very long.


"It's amazing," she said softly.


Relief flowed through him and he found himself grinning like the fool he undoubtedly was. "You think so?"


"I really do. It must have taken forever to build."


"Not particularly. It's remarkable what you can accomplish when money is no object."


Her responding smile was wry. "I wouldn't know."


"You will now," he pointed out easily. "Let us go. I find myself eager to be home."


Agreeably, she returned to the carriage and before long, they found themselves pulling into the stables of Atlantis. John barely had time to help Elizabeth out of the carriage before the inevitable crowd descended. John found himself trying to answer a dozen questions at once while getting hugs and giving orders and generally completely incapable of attending to his wife, who looked a little bemused at all the commotion.


After considerable effort, John managed to calm the majority of his staff, pushing through them to once again join Elizabeth, who was still waiting patiently by the carriage. “I guess that I was missed,” he joked.


“Hardly,” Cameron corrected from across the room with a teasing lilt in his voice. “It’s just that you divvy the wages.”


“Well, there is that,” John conceded with a grin of his own. “Nevertheless, it’s good to see all of you,” he said to gathered crowd.


“How touching,” Rodney remarked dryly, causing John’s eyes to shift over to the sharp-tongued scientist.


“Not so much you, Rodney,” John clarified.


“Yes, yes, I’m stung by your indifference,” Rodney replied, rolling his eyes. “Can we get down to business already? As I recall, we sent you to town for two specific purposes, and while the correct permits have already arrived by post, I don’t see any kind of diplomat accompanying you.”


It was just like Rodney to not even notice Elizabeth’s presence at John’s side, and for some reason it rankled John even more than Rodney usually did, spurring him into a sharp verbal parry. “As usual, Rodney, you’re exaggerating even the most simple of facts. First of all, you didn’t send me anywhere – I’m the boss, remember?”


“You’ll simply have to forgive me if my memory slips. Easy enough to do considering that you’ve been gone for two months.” Rodney retorted.


“Well, excuse me for not following the demands of your rigid schedule and rather wanting to take my time and find the best person for the job!”


“For all the good it did you, obviously. After two months, where is your so-called perfect employee?”


“Oh, for heaven’s sake, she’s right here!” John yelled, gesturing to Elizabeth, who he had a feeling was only barely managing not to burst into laughter at the whole spectacle.


In the silence that fell over the room after his proclamation, she was predictably the first person to recover. “Gentlemen, perhaps we should take this discussion to a more…private location?”


Rodney shook his head by way of response, and John watched as the shipwright’s face progressively turned a brighter shade of red. “Who are you?” Rodney demanded in frustration.


Feeling an undeniable twinge of triumph, John delivered what was sure to be the piece of information to push Rodney straight over the edge of reason. “This is Elizabeth Sheppard. My wife.”




“Wife?! WIFE?! We send you to find a diplomat and you come back with a wife?!” Dr. McKay yelled as soon as the conference room’s doors were latched.


“It’s hardly a scandalous concept, Rodney. People get married every day,” John pointed out, still gloating over his temporary victory in a way that made Elizabeth roll her eyes.


“Yes, but that’s not exactly my point, is it?” Dr. McKay retorted, rather pointedly avoiding glancing in her direction.


“Then please, enlighten us. What useless and no doubt small-minded stereotype are you trying to drive home?” John shot back.


This seemed to temporarily stop Dr. McKay’s tirade, and he even had the grace to look sheepish for a moment. Unfortunately, it passed quickly. “It’s just that you can’t go to town on business and then decide to turn over a large portion of this company to a woman just because she’s attractive.”


Upon some reflection, Elizabeth decided that she had never been called pretty as a form of affront before. She wasn’t at all certain she liked it. “I don’t suppose I’m allowed to say anything in my defense?”


Dr. McKay glared at her. “Please, save me. I have no patience for women, seeing as they are taught to do nothing but dance and embroider cushions and bat their eyes in a coquettish manner. Unfortunately, John doesn’t seem to share my common sense.”


“To his merit, I assure you,” Elizabeth scolded sharply, feeling more than a little tired of this unpleasant man. “Otherwise, he might not have noticed that besides dancing and batting my eyes, I can speak five languages, have extensive contacts in the political and business spheres, and possess the remarkable talent of ignoring men’s often tactless and short-sighted precepts of what a woman should be. Oh, and I can also embroider, but in light of my other accomplishments, I suppose it’s a fault you shall have to gather the grace to overlook.”


Out of the corner of her eye, she could make out John grinning at her, with what seemed to be pride shining from his eyes. The expression bolstered her spirits, and somehow the whole situation was suddenly tinged with a touch of the ridiculous. “Now,” she said, much calmer. “Could someone please tell me how things are faring now that we have the appropriate permits to undertake our first trading run?”


After a moment’s hesitation, Dr. McKay returned to his previously strident tones. “Not well! At all! I’ve been trying to contact our dear Mr. Sheppard here for the past fortnight in an effort to tell him that a new, much more serious problem than mere sailing permits has come to my attention.”


“Elaborate please, Rodney,” John said, no longer amused at the way the conversation had turned.


“Oh, now you want the full story…”




Temporarily chagrined, Dr. McKay proceeded to share the company’s current troubles. “The port of Paris, where we had hoped to complete our first few trade expeditions, has declared that we will only be allowed to dock our ships there if we pay a small business tax so exorbitant that it would almost nullify our profits.”


A serious problem, indeed, Elizabeth reflected. “This smells of the East India Trading Company.”


“Are they so duplicitous?” John asked.


“You don’t gain a veritable monopoly over British trade without having more than one distasteful card up your sleeve,” Elizabeth pointed out, mulling over the problem. “Do we have a map of France nearby?”


A still skeptical Dr. McKay promptly furnished one, and with one finger, Elizabeth traced the watery route of the Seine River. “Ah, yes,” she said thoughtfully, tapping a marked section of docks just north of the main port.


“Yes what?” Dr. McKay asked, intrigued seemingly despite himself.


Curbing the impulse to gloat, Elizabeth merely smiled. “See this section of docks just outside the city? They belong to one Monsieur Chirac, a French businessman of no small means and fortune with, conveniently, no ties to the East India Trading Company. They are notably shallower than the main city’s docks, which is why no one has attempted to negotiate for their use. However, it is my understanding that this would not be a problem with our ships?”


Looking more than a little shocked, a dazed Dr. McKay replied with, “No, the puddle jumpers weigh considerably less than the average trading vessel, to promote easier maneuverability and quicker traveling times.”


“Wonderful. Then I propose that I quickly compose a letter to Monsieur Chirac negotiating the use of these docks for say, a ten percent cut of all profits we make out of Paris?”


Which would be brilliant if we could only get the letter to him in time to keep our schedule. As things are, it will take at least another week to receive his reply,” Dr. McKay pointed out.


“I know London is not exactly around the corner, Dr. McKay, but I seriously doubt it would take one rider more than two nights to go there and back,” Elizabeth said mildly.


London? But I thought you said…”


“Monsieur Chirac is lately in London, overseeing the passing of some crucial Parliament decisions that would be sure to affect his interests here in England,” Elizabeth explained easily.


“Monsieur…surely not the man who forced me to eat snails?” asked John, remembering the dinner party from weeks earlier.


Elizabeth laughed. Of course that would be what jogged John’s memory. “The very same, I’m afraid. Is it too unforgivable a sin to consider entering into business with such a man?”


He laughed. “Very nearly. But go ahead and write your letter. Perhaps when the affirmative reply returns to us tomorrow, Rodney will have gathered himself enough to muster up an apology.”


Sitting down at the nearby table and already beginning the correspondence, Elizabeth smiled back. “I will not hold my breath.”




“It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides.”





Much to Rodney’s chagrin, Elizabeth’s plan was executed simply and easily, and the first trade mission left Atlantis exactly when planned. With Cameron Mitchell and his wife Vala, their entire crew, plus the additions of Rodney and John, the small ship was definitely packed tightly during the journey, but everyone was so enthusiastic about their ultimate aim that they hardly noticed. However, the tight quarters became notably problematic when they had finished a day’s of trading and were faced with trying to fit seemingly endless crates into the hold of one already tightly packed ship.


Eyeing the dock and shoreline laden down with goods, Cameron Mitchell seemed incredulous. “How did we think this was going to work again?”


“It will work,” Rodney said confidently, the only member of the group seemingly not suffering from buyer’s remorse.


“Are you certain?” John asked. “Because the laws of physics seem to dictate otherwise.”


The look Rodney shot him in response was one of pure disdain. “I designed the ship, didn’t I? As long as we load it correctly, the puddle jumper should be more than capable of handling this load.”


That brought a smile to John’s face as he remembered something. “Yes, you did design the ship. With the help of a woman.”


“Samantha O’Neill is no ordinary woman! She’s…well, really rather remarkable. Although why she married that idiot….”


“He adores her,” Vala Mitchell said as she picked her way up the dock, around crates. “That’s reason enough for a woman in this day and age.”


“This from the woman who demanded adventure and entertainment before she agreed to marry me,” Cameron teased.


“Someday, you’ll have to tell me that story,” John laughed. “But for now, we’d best get started. Rodney, what should we load on first?”


“Heaviest crates go first, obviously,” Rodney said. “Get some and follow me in.”


“You’re not going to take any?” John asked, annoyance lacing his tone.


“I have to show you the way, don’t I?”




Behind him, Cameron Mitchell picked up a crate and shook his head. “Just let him be, Sheppard. Remember, we still have to spend two days with him on a very small ship.”




John grinned. “You have an excellent point, Mitchell. Let’s be going, then.”


They would have begun loading right then, except that Vala interrupted. “Wait. Who’s that?”


John turned to look downriver, where three ships made their way slowly up from Paris. The top flag proclaimed them to be British, and the bottom… “It’s the East India Trading Company,” he said heavily.


“Ah, the competition. You know, their fabrics really are horribly overpriced,” Vala remarked, still watching the ship’s progress.


“Good to know,” John remarked, trying to file away the information for use later. After all, they had bought some remarkable bolts of silks and satins in the city.


“You know that they’re watching our every move, don’t you?” Cameron pointed out.


John had been aware of the fact, almost able to feel the weight of the other crew’s eyes upon them. “Let them watch. It’s about time they began to reconcile themselves to a little competition.”




With John gone and the business finally underway, Elizabeth took a few days to better acquaint herself with her new home and the people in it. While she by no means considered herself to be an easily overwhelmed woman, touring Atlantis seemed somehow so massive of an undertaking that she had to resort to asking John’s man of affairs to lead her around. Thankfully, Mr. Bates was more than accommodating.


“As you know, Mrs. Sheppard, Atlantis is composed of three main wings – the house, the business, and the staff quarters,” he began explaining as they walked toward the main room. “Naturally, the business takes up the most room. Besides the obvious necessities of docks, stables, and a loading area, the business part of the building also houses conference rooms, offices, workshops, and of course, the lighthouse.”


“Of course,” Elizabeth replied wryly. “It is rather hard to miss, isn’t it?”


He smiled politely. “Yes, ma’am. Now, in addition to five complete crews for the puddle jumpers, Mr. Sheppard also keeps in his employ several inventors, shipwrights, and scientists, as well as having a standing arrangement with a group of local tradesmen.”


“What trades, exactly?” she asked.


“Oh, carpenters, blacksmiths, even fishermen. Mr. Sheppard didn’t want to disrupt the already established economy of Gateshire, so he decided to work with them whenever possible. The locals have a representative who meets with him at least once a week to discuss…whatever needs to be taken care of.”


“How clever,” Elizabeth remarked.


“Yes, it’s very progressive of him,” Mr. Bates affirmed as they arrived in the main room, where Elizabeth couldn’t help but get promptly distracted. The area was large and open, consisting of a series of lofts and balconies overlooking the main loading area. The lighthouse loomed over them, steps curling around and around in what seemed like an endless spiral. If the sight alone was not enough to impress, there was the added feature of the acoustics, which here seemed to be particularly strange. For a moment, Elizabeth would have sworn that Mr. Bates had asked her to check the status of a horseshoeing, but after a moment’s reflection, she realized that the request was actually a man below, directed towards one of his underlings. Still, it had sounded as though it had been spoken right beside her. “Mr. Bates, what on earth…?”


For the first time, Mr. Bates’ smile actually seemed in earnest. “Yes, it is a bit startling, isn’t it? I don’t quite understand it myself, but Dr. McKay claims that the acoustic affect was created on purpose. From this outer level of the main room, conversations can be held in various places all over the building as though you were standing right here. It’s quite convenient at times, considering the sheer size of our operation. Still, there’s no way to turn it off, either, which means you catch the everyday din as well as the important information.”


Marveling, Elizabeth looked around. “Still, it’s quite the feat, despite its inherent drawbacks.”


“Many positive things are often tinged with a bit of inconvenience,” a soft feminine voice said from behind them.


Elizabeth turned to see that a lovely young woman had arrived. “How very true,” Elizabeth remarked.


“Miss Emmagan!” Mr. Bates exclaimed. “I am sorry, did Mr. Sheppard not contact you? You know that he decided to accompany the first trade run to Paris, and as such, is not here to meet with you this week.”


“I was notified, yes,” Miss Emmagan confirmed. “However, I was also told that there was someone else who might be better equipped to meet with me. I came to you in hopes that you might point me in the direction of that particular person.”


For a moment, Mr. Bates looked lost, so Elizabeth cleared her throat delicately. “Of course!” he exclaimed, picking up on her less than subtle hint. “Forgive me. Mrs. Sheppard, this is Miss Teyla Emmagan, the local blacksmith as well as being the representative I was telling you about earlier. Miss Emmagan, this is Mrs. Elizabeth Sheppard.”


Elizabeth curtsied and Miss Emmagan did the same, after which an awkward silence fell. “So, you are the local blacksmith? How fascinating and unusual for a young woman. Was it a family trade?” Elizabeth asked.


“Yes, my father and his father were both experts and I was not to be deterred from learning, despite my father’s frequent protestations.”


“A commendable trait indeed,” Elizabeth assured her. “I do so admire women with knowledge of a trade.”


“Thank you,” Miss Emmagan acknowledged, relaxing a little. “I am afraid that you shall have to excuse me, but…I was not aware that Mr. Sheppard was married,” she added a bit stiltedly.


“It is a rather recent development,” Elizabeth assured her. “My husband has put in me in charge of all diplomatic matters, so if you would like, I would be more than happy to adjourn to one of the conference rooms to discuss whatever you and your people require. Perhaps we can even arrange for some tea to be served.”


Miss Emmagan smiled, and Elizabeth instantly felt that this was a young woman she could befriend. “That sounds lovely.”




After two days on that extremely small ship, John found himself more than a little anxious to arrive back at Atlantis and get as far away from Rodney as possible. Ironically, however, when Atlantis actually came into sight, John forgot completely about getting away from Rodney and looked more towards seeing Elizabeth again. There was something strangely appealing about knowing that someone was at his home, awaiting his arrival.


He was not disappointed when he stepped off the ship and found his new wife standing composedly on the dock, a welcoming smile gracing her face. “Good day,” she said by way of greeting. “Welcome home.”


Home was still a strange concept for John Sheppard, so he found himself grinning somewhat inanely. “Thank you. How did you fare in our absence?”


“Oh, well enough,” she assured him. “Although next time, I would appreciate some notice that I am to have a meeting with the representative for the local tradesmen.”


They began to make their way down the dock, arms linked easily, but he frowned at her chastisement. “Did your meeting with Miss Emmagan not go well?”


“Oh, it was lovely, but it would have been even more pleasant if I had been able to order tea in advance.”


“Ah,” he said, wondering why he had never thought to order tea for his meeting with Miss Emmagan. “Yes. Well, now you see why we needed you here. I never think of things like advance tea service.”


She laughed and the sound made him smile. “A very serious fault indeed. However did you manage without me?”


“To be honest, I haven’t the slightest idea,” John admitted.


“How flattering, though you’ll likely want to retract that sentiment once I make my next proposal to you.”


“That sounds ominous. I’m not certain I want to hear it.”


“You likely don’t, but I think it’s necessary. You see, I’ve been considering it carefully, and I have come to the conclusion that with the first trade run back successfully, this might be a perfect opportunity to have a formal launch of the company.”


John narrowed his eyes. “That sounds suspiciously like you want to throw an event of some sort.”


Undeterred by his undoubtedly sour expression, Elizabeth forged ahead. “A ball.”


He had feared that exact response, and without conscious thought, John quickly recoiled against the idea. “Must we? Really?”


Thankfully, Elizabeth was kind enough to overlook his sudden lack of maturity. “I do think it would be best. It would impart an extremely strong and optimistic attitude to our various investors and business associates while simultaneously serving as a gesture of gratitude to the staff for all of their hard work thus far.”


When she put it that way, it sounded so damnably logical that John found it hard to argue against. Besides, the idea of the high and mighty social set of Gateshire socializing with the largely working class of Atlantis’ staff was almost fiendish in its amusement. “I suppose I’ll have to wear the new suit I had made in London?”


Grinning at her apparent victory, Elizabeth squeezed his arm. “Oh, no. We’ll have to have an entirely new one made up.”




“Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society...”

                                                                                                       ~Pride and Prejudice




While Elizabeth quite firmly believed that preparing for a ball was much more of an inconvenience for a woman than for a man, she was also convinced that one would never be able to prove this axiom given John’s current state. “What on earth is the matter?” she asked with exasperation as she eyed his disheveled appearance.


With his shirt buttoned incorrectly, his cravat tangled in a hopeless knot, a smudge of dirt on his cheek, and of course, his perpetually mussed hair, John looked positively hopeless. “Have I mentioned lately that I hate balls?”


Silently reminding herself not to laugh, she crossed the hall between their dressing rooms, trying to formulate a logical plan of attack for his current state. “Not in the last half hour, I believe.”


“Well, I do,” he reiterated sulkily, fidgeting as she began to undo and then correctly button his shirt. “You look beautiful,” he added after a moment’s silence, sounding almost surprised.  


“I’ll try very hard not to be outraged at your astonishment,” she teased, now attacking the cravat. “And just imagine, I managed all this in half an hour.”


“You had help!” he protested. “I happen to know for a fact that Miss Simpson arranged your hair.”


“A job at which she is most adept,” Elizabeth agreed. “As, I am certain, your valet Mr. Grodin would be if you would simply allow him to perform his duties.”


Even the mention of such an idea had John wrinkling his nose in distaste. “I know. It’s just…well, perhaps it’s my less than glamorous position as a second son, but I have always felt that there was something rather odd about paying a man to help you dress yourself.”


“Perhaps,” she allowed. “But is it more odd than appearing at your own social event in a thoroughly unacceptable fashion?”


At this, John looked annoyingly smug. “Well, at least I am beginning to have some fashion, regardless of the style.”

This time, she really couldn’t stop her laughter from filling the hallway. “Oh, John, I’m afraid that fashion isn’t one of those things that’s commendable in any way. Rather, it tends to be an all-or-nothing virtue.”


“How unfortunate.”


“For you, it most certainly is,” she agreed, turning to his hair and finally giving up. “Mr. Grodin!” she called down the stairs, pleased when he appeared so quickly that it was almost certain he had been waiting only to be summoned.


“Yes, ma’am?”


“Please take Mr. Sheppard and see what you can make of him. And Mr. Grodin, there’s a week’s bonus for you if you can manage it quickly.”


Mr. Grodin was up the stairs before she had even finished her sentence, looking distinctly relieved at being allowed to step in and avert disaster. “Thank you, ma’am.”




For the third time that evening, John caught himself surreptitiously trying to loosen the abhorrently tight knot that Peter had managed to wrench his cravat into earlier. As Elizabeth finished greeting yet another guest he had not known he was acquainted with, she turned to him. “You should try to stop fidgeting,” she whispered. “It’s distracting.”


Considering the ease with which she had been greeting people and conducting business so far, John found this claim to be particularly amusing. “Thankfully, you seem to have enough charm to compensate for my many shortcomings.”


“So you seem convinced,” she allowed. “I must say, my last husband wasn’t nearly so pleased with that exact circumstance.”


“Yet another way in which he was grossly short-sighted,” John muttered, taking a moment to ruminate on all the various pains he would have liked to visit upon Simon Narim if given the chance.


Her hand squeezing his arm was what dragged him back to his ballroom and the spectacle that filled it. “Nevertheless, do try to focus. It’s just one evening. Seeing as the guests seem to have all arrived, shall we begin the dancing? I have asked the musicians to open with a quadrille.”


Seeing as even John knew enough of social etiquette to know that people would expect them to dance the first round, he felt he couldn’t refuse. “Fine, but if I step on your feet, I implore you to pretend as though it never happened.”

Her responding smile was far too innocent to be genuine. “I did last time, did I not?”


The dance was brisk and invigorating, and afterwards John found himself actually wishing that he could spare a few more moments for another turn around the floor. However, keeping company with business contacts required more circulation than dancing, so he and Elizabeth began to take turns about the room, making sure to hobnob with all the investors and businessmen that had somehow taken an interest in the Atlantis venture. While conversation with them wasn’t exactly sparkling, it was certainly better than the incendiary nature of the conversation they found Rodney engaged in with Mr. Woolsey.


Considering how instrumental Mr. Woolsey had been in the eventual success of Atlantis, the very last thing John wanted to hear Rodney say upon their approach was a scathing dismissal of the Oversight Committee and all it stood for.


Of course, that was exactly what he was saying. “I mean, the very suggestion that this so-called ‘Oversight Committee’ is anything but a bunch of politicians looking for an underhanded payday is ridiculous.”


Mr. Woolsey, to his credit, seemed to be holding his tongue when he might have justifiably jumped straight to irreparably insulted. “Are you earnestly suggesting that the Oversight Committee is entirely corrupt in its purpose?”


“To be certain,” Rodney blindly agreed. “How else do you explain the chokehold the East India Trading Company has over British trade?”


Sensing a disaster before it had a chance to fully coalesce, Elizabeth stepped in completely calmly, as though she were merely taking part in the spirited debate and not carefully steering it away fro social ruin. “Certainly, you cannot ignore that they have been well-established in England for many years, Dr. McKay. Even if they had an advantage when dealing with paperwork, there is a certain amount of business sense that is always a factor.”


“Oh, I’m not saying they are without sense,” Rodney agreed. “It takes a great deal of sense to know exactly who needs a decent bribe. I don’t suppose that that’s an option for us?”


Obviously, wondering if Rodney could possibly reflect more poorly on Atlantis than he had thirty seconds previous had been a mistake, and John winced at the question. Elizabeth, however, did not falter. “Dr. McKay, there is certainly no need, seeing as Mr. Woolsey here has already been so kind as to furnish the appropriate documents we require.”


Watching Rodney’s face actually pale was a sort of sadistic pleasure for John, and when Rodney spoke again, his voice actually squeaked a bit at first. “You…you’re on the Oversight Committee?” he asked Robert Woolsey.


“Yes, Dr. McKay,” was Mr. Woolsey’s wry reply. “Would you like me to lodge a formal complaint in your honor at the next board meeting?”


“No! No, that will be quite unnecessary,” Rodney assured him, looking lost. “I…what I mean to say is….”


John was almost sorry when Elizabeth took pity on the scientist, as he had been enjoying the all too rare spectacle of a thoroughly speechless Dr. McKay. “Rodney, I do believe that there is a young vicar’s daughter over there without a partner. Would you mind terribly?”


Rodney’s reply of “Not at all” was barely out of his mouth before he had darted in Carolyn Landry’s direction, conveniently some distance away.


“I do apologize for his rash comments, Mr. Woolsey. Please be certain in the knowledge that your aid is held with nothing but gratitude here at Atlantis Trading and Shipping,” Elizabeth managed.


For a tense moment, John feared that Mr. Woolsey was not in a forgiving mood. Thankfully, the worry passed when a small smile appeared on the little man’s face. “Not to worry. Problematically, Dr. McKay is not entirely wrong; the Committee has gone astray in the last few years.”


John sighed heavily. “Unfortunately for the rest of us, being right is a rather annoying habit of his.”




While being invited to a ball such as this in her state was certainly a welcome novelty, Samantha O’Neill quickly found that there was more than one reason pregnant women did not often venture out in the public eye. While the judgmental glares and whispered exclamations did not bother her in the slightest, she found that shortly after her arrival, her feet were positively throbbing. As such, it was not long before she escaped onto the balcony, where Vala and Janet quickly joined her.


“Are you all right?” Janet inquired, concern lacing the midwife’s tone.


“Yes, fine. Just tired. I thought some fresh air might be nice.”


“Yes, but by darting out so quickly, you missed the spectacle of the evening!” Vala exclaimed, sitting on the bench next to her. “One of the scientists and one of the businessmen nearly came to blows.”


“You’re kidding,” Sam exclaimed, bewildered. “Who in the world…?”


“Dr. McKay,” Janet exclaimed, and really, it no longer required further explanation. “Vala exaggerates, though. It wasn’t nearly that close of a call. The newly dubbed Mrs. Sheppard caught it in plenty of time.”


“How clever of her,” Sam said admiringly. She knew from regrettable personal experience that Rodney McKay was a hard man to derail when he was intent on disaster. “I wonder if there’s a story there.”


“Oh, it’s a fabulous one,” Vala assured her, obviously relishing the gossip. “You see, she was actually very recently wed to a man in town named Simon something-or-other, and….”


Her telling of the story was cut short when the door to the balcony swung open and their hostess herself appeared, slightly flushed. She didn’t see them for a moment, seemingly just taking a moment away from the festivities to gather herself. When she finally did catch sight of them, she actually jumped a bit. “Oh! Do forgive me, I did not mean to intrude. I just…wanted a moment to breathe.”


“Completely understandable, I’m sure,” Janet agreed.


“Yes, it’s a rather stuffy crowd you’ve got in there,” Vala couldn’t seem to help adding, much to Sam’s dismay.


Thankfully, Mrs. Sheppard did not seem to take offense. “The evils of doing business, I’m afraid,” she allowed. “Now, forgive me, I know that you are Mrs. Mitchell, wife to one of our captains, but the names of your company seem to have escaped me.”


“I’m Janet Fraiser, the local…”


“Midwife! Of course, my apologies. And that means you must be…Colonel O’Neill’s wife?”


Sam smiled. “That is correct, Mrs. Sheppard.”


“Wonderful to formally meet you,” the other woman replied. “I understand congratulations are in order.”


Ruefully, Sam placed a hand on her ever-protruding belly. “So it seems, though sometimes I feel like it should be condolences.”


Mrs. Sheppard laughed. “Yes, I’ve heard it can be an uncomfortable experience. Do you require anything?”


It was a sincere and sweet sentiment that touched Sam. “Not at all, but thank you. I was just pleased to be invited – a woman in my condition isn’t often asked to events like this.”


“Perhaps, though I’ve always found that to be ridiculous. What in the world are you supposed to do for nearly a year, just hide away?” Mrs. Sheppard rolled her eyes. “But then, I suppose that my modern education is showing a bit. Really, John and I decided to invite anyone who had remote connection to the company, and it was my understanding that all of you have been helpful in your own ways.”


“We like to think so,” Janet responded.


“Nonsense, I’m sure it’s not a debatable matter.”


Upon conversing with their new neighbor, Sam had to admit that Elizabeth Sheppard was…unexpected. “I realize that you probably have to return to your hostess duties,” she began tentatively, “But first, let me extend an invitation to you. Once a week, when Vala is in port and Janet is not consumed by her work, we have a…well, an embroidery meeting is what we call it. Would you like to join our circle this week?”


She hadn’t expected to issue the invitation, but judging from the way Mrs. Sheppard’s face lit up, it had been the correct gesture. “That sounds lovely!”


“Excellent. I will send you a note with all the pertinent information.”


“I look forward to it,” Mrs. Sheppard assured her. “Now, if you ladies will excuse me, I really should get back inside.”


With that, she was gone, and the three friends found themselves once again alone on the balcony, silent in thought. “You know,” Vala finally ventured. “She may actually show some promise.”


Sam laughed. “How much would you wager that she’s thinking the exact same thing about us?”




"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?"

                                                                                                       ~Pride and Prejudice




Walking to Cheyenne Manor for the first time, Elizabeth had to admit, if only to herself, some nervousness. After all, despite her boasts to Dr. McKay, embroidery had never really been her strong suite. She often found it a boring and useless task, two things to which she had never really had patience for. Still, the women who ran the circle she had been invited to join hardly seemed to be boring themselves, so perhaps the conversation would be enough to make the journey worthwhile.


So, with an embroidery project that hadn’t been worked on since she had had a governess to make her practice tucked under one arm, Elizabeth knocked on the impressive front door of Cheyenne Manor.


She was promptly greeted and escorted in by a bespectacled man with white hair, and in no time at all, Samantha O’Neill, large with the weight of her pregnancy, came to meet her. “Elizabeth!” she greeted easily. “I am so glad you could spare the time to come.”


“Not at all, I’ve been looking forward to this. Though I must admit now that I’m rather out of practice.”


Confusion darkened the other woman’s features. “Out of practice at what?” Then, seeing the bundle under Elizabeth’s arm, she laughed. “Oh! Embroidery! You…actually brought some. How charming.”


It was a rather confusing statement, considering what the wording of the invitation had been. “I…excuse me?”


Samantha smiled. “Follow me, dear. You’ll see.”


More than willing to leave her wayward attempts at handcrafts abandoned, Elizabeth took Samantha’s arm and followed her into a sitting room, where Mrs. Frasier and Mrs. Mitchell both sat – though neither was doing any sort of embroidery. Instead, Mrs. Frasier was reading aloud from a book of what seemed to be a collection of Shakespeare’s more lascivious sonnets, while Mrs. Mitchell was actually lounging and commenting on the logistical merits of each of the poet’s suggestions while smoking a cigar.


It was a scene unlike Elizabeth had ever encountered with other women of her class. Strangely, while scandalous, she found herself more at ease in this room than she ever had been with a needle and thread in hand. “Oh, thank the Lord,” she muttered.


Next to her, Samantha grinned. “I am so glad you approve. We were taking a chance that you would. Now, let me make a few less formal introductions. That is Janet over there reading, and Vala stinking up the room. And you can call me Sam.”


Quite in spite of herself, Elizabeth found that she was smiling. “Please, you can all call me Elizabeth.”


“Nice to properly meet you, then,” Vala said from her armchair. “Do sit and let Janet continue. She was just about to get to an interesting verse.”


More than willing to comply, Elizabeth first helped Sam into a chair before sitting down herself and happily taking the brandy offered by Janet, who then proceeded to finish the verse she had been reading.


Silence followed the final verse for a moment, before Vala predictably broke it. “All respect to the man and his rhymes, but I still think I’d rather be on top.”


Thankfully, Elizabeth had swallowed her brandy before the implication of the other woman’s sentence fully registered, which avoided the potentially embarrassing scene of spitting her drink back out again. However, the other women in the room seemed to take this comment quite in stride. Janet, in particular, was laughing so hard that her face flushed. Perturbed by this reaction, Vala shrugged. “What? I married a man who is fabulously good-looking and promised me pirates. It seems the least I can do to give him a good lay now and again.”


“Hear, hear!” Janet cheered. Truly, Elizabeth was beginning to suspect that the smaller woman had already imbibed at least one glass too many. “If all women embraced such ideas, life would certainly be simpler for the rest of us.”


For her part, Sam merely looked amused before gesturing to her protruding stomach. “Well, don’t look in my direction. I think it’s fairly obvious that Jack and I don’t suffer any in that respect.”


“Fair enough,” Janet allowed, still giggling. Elizabeth, however, was still a few steps behind in the conversation.


“Forgive me, but…your husband promised you pirates?” she asked Vala, almost dreading the response.


At her inquiry, Vala merely looked very serious. “Well, the possibility of pirates, at the very least.”


That explained…exactly nothing. “Ah,” Elizabeth finally intoned, as it seemed like the safest response.


“Cameron and Vala had an….unusual courtship,” Sam ventured, to which Janet snorted.


“That’s certainly a pleasant way of putting it. The rest of us might call it the shipwreck that it was.”


“Oh, it certainly wasn’t that bad….” Sam protested, but Janet cut her off with a stern finger.


“You have no room to talk! I still get headaches when I think about the mess that was your courtship.”


“Now, just because you and Mr. Teal’c have reached some sort of bizarre accord, that doesn’t mean….”


Once again, Janet interrupted her friend. “Mr. Teal’c and I understand each other and our situation perfectly, which is certainly more than could ever be said about you and the Colonel a year ago.”


Strangely enough, Sam merely laughed at this, silently acknowledging her friend’s point before turning to Elizabeth. “What about you, Elizabeth? How did you and Mr. Sheppard meet?”


Finding it unlikely that some version of the scandal had not reached the Gateshire gossip scene by now, Elizabeth lifted an eyebrow. “You mean to say that you haven’t already heard?”


As she thought, Sam’s face took on a distinctly guilty tint. Vala, on the other hand, seemed free of shame. “Of course we have,” she said airily. “Well, parts of it, anyway.”


“But parts are rarely as interesting as the whole story,” Janet offered by way of consolation.


At this, Vala tilted her head. “Actually, I find parts are almost always more interesting,” she commented. “But certainly less informational.”


It was hard to fault her reasoning or her honesty, but Elizabeth suddenly found herself in a difficult position. While she certainly wasn’t ashamed of the events that had led to her marriage to John, there seemed to be something a little pathetic in relating the story of two amiably married but platonic people to these women who all seemed so comfortable in their own relationships. It was the first time that her situation had seemed anything but perfectly agreeable to her.


Thankfully, she was spared from having to relate the details by the opening of a door on the far side of the room. She recognized Colonel O’Neill as the man who came in, smiling sheepishly. “Forgive me for the intrusion, ladies. I just…well…I wanted to….”


To Elizabeth, who watched silently as the Colonel wandered across the room to his wife and sought out her shoulders, massaging the undoubtedly tense muscles there, it seemed that he had merely wished to check on his pregnant wife. But rather than say this, the Colonel managed to come up with an excuse. “You see, Mr. Siler has had an unfortunate mishap with a mangle.”


Sam, leaning back into her husband’s hands with a contented sigh, laughed a little. “Again? That poor man.”


Colonel O’Neill smiled. “Yes. He claims that it is not too serious, but I thought Mrs. Frasier might be kind enough to look at it for him regardless.”


Suddenly clear-eyed, Janet sat up, all business. “Certainly. Please excuse me, ladies.”


Seemingly perfectly content to stay where she was with her obviously doting husband close at hand, Sam smiled. “What in the world was he doing with a mangle, anyway? Laundry hardly falls under the scope of his duties.”


“Apparently, it was squeaking, so he thought that he would try to force the rollers apart with his hand. He’s asked me not to worry, though, because apparently he knows from experience that his hand will not stay that peculiar shade for very long.”


Wrinkling her nose in apparent distaste, Vala stood. “I do believe that’s my cue to leave. Elizabeth, if you care to accompany me, I shall walk down to Atlantis with you.”


“I would enjoy the company,” Elizabeth agreed, standing. “Sam, thank you so much for your hospitality.”


“Of course! Do come again next week.”


Taking in the friendly atmosphere and the happiness radiating from the homeowners, Elizabeth did not know how she could possibly resist. “I’m looking forward to it already.”




Sitting in his office reviewing the profits of the first trade run, John could not help but be astounded at the amount of profit they had managed to make in less than three days. Granted, after the appropriate people were compensated, the profit would be negligible at best, but still, it was better than he had ever expected to do at first.


Which was exactly why he was double-checking the numbers – just in case.


Somewhere in the midst of this complicated procedure, he was interrupted by Rodney knocking perfunctorily on his door. “Excuse me, but have you seen your wife anywhere?”


More than willing to be sidetracked if it meant mocking Rodney, John put aside his equations. “Do you mean to say that you have something that a mere woman can help you with?”


For his part, Rodney was not aggrieved by this comment so much as he was dismissive. “Obviously, she has proven to be no ordinary woman, and as such, I fully plan to report to her as instructed. Which is why I need to speak with her – I have reviewed the applications she sent down for me to look at and narrowed the field to an infinitesimal list of barely qualified candidates.”


It was just like Rodney to admit he was wrong without ever really admitting it at all. Idly, John wondered if the other man practiced such social idiosyncrasies, or if they were just a natural part of his character. “Well, I’m afraid she’s out at the moment, visiting. You might consider making an appointment next time, rather than just having the presumption to appear unannounced.”


“Don’t be ridiculous. I shall just wait for her here. You have a most convenient view of her office from yours. I suppose that was intentional? How…sentimental.”


In reality, it had been anything but sentimental – at first, it was entirely unplanned, and by the time they had realized it, the convenience of easily being able to attract the other’s attention seemed wise. Still, there was that ever-present sanctimoniousness in Rodney’s voice that prevented John from clarifying the situation. Somehow, he sensed that if Rodney knew about the arrangement between John and his wife, life would only be more complicated than it had to be.


Instead, he just smiled. “You must admit that Elizabeth has already proven to be an asset to this company.”


“As I have already said,” Rodney allowed. “What’s more, she tolerates your company on a regular basis, proving herself to be even more formidable than first impressions would dictate.”


John just shook his head. “You can’t just admit that you were wrong, can you? There is always some caveat to it.”


“Well, of course there is. I would never be just flat-out wrong.”


John hoped that eventually, he would be able to quote that declaration back at him in ironic triumph. Unfortunately, he feared it might take a long while.




Steve Wraith never enjoyed having to report in the main offices of the East India Trading Company. He supposed it was a little pathetic to be so terrified of his own uncle, but to be fair, he thought that his uncle was legitimately terrifying.


Waiting outside of the office, he stewed in a nervous silence before finally being called into an audience with his uncle, the head of the infamous East India Trading Company.


“Well?” the man behind the desk asked impatiently.


“Well…Atlantis Trading and Shipping is officially up and running,” Steve reported dutifully. “What is even more concerning is that it seems that the early rumors about their ships were not exaggerated. While small, the ships seem to be able to carry a surprisingly large amount of cargo.”


“How disappointing for us. Have they completed their first trading run yet?”


Steve winced, as he had been hoping to avoid that particular topic. “Yes, sir. It was, by all accounts, a resounding success.”


“Well, that just won’t do, will it?”


Dread settled low in Steve’s stomach. “No, sir. Is there any specific action you would like me to take?”


The low chuckle that greeted his offer was hardly reassuring. “Relax, Steven. I’d hardly ask you to strain yourself. No, I want to wait and observe what happens next. No use rushing to action if this little company will be obliging and die all on its own. If it doesn’t…well, then we shall see, won’t we?”


Steve just prayed that he would not be forced to see such a thing first-hand, wondering if his uncle could be convinced to approve a transfer to someplace as far away from the politics of trade as possible. Maybe it wasn’t too late to join his brother in the Americas after all.




“An engaged woman is always more agreeable than a disengaged. She is satisfied with herself. Her cares are over, and she feels that she may exert all her powers of pleasing without suspicion. All is safe with a lady engaged; no harm can be done.

                                                                                                              ~Mansfield Park




Although he had enjoyed his excursion to Paris, John found that there was a certain relief in finally being able to return to his previous routine. With the business slowly making headway, and three puddle jumpers regularly making scheduled runs in Paris, Amsterdam, and Lisbon with a fourth nearly completed, he found that he could afford to indulge in a few leisurely activities.


One of his most favored was a weekly fencing lesson with the local blacksmith, Teyla Emmagan. While it might seem unusual to be tutored by a woman, John had found that there was no man better in town with a foil than Miss Emmagan. Besides all that, their weekly meetings about business had sparked an unlikely friendship, surprising to but cherished by both parties.


The training room was yet another novelty in the Atlantis building, the architecture and design of the space allowing for training on all terrains as well as the inevitable falls caused by John’s still questionable technique.


Predictably, Miss Emmagan was already patiently waiting for John’s arrival, and he sheepishly greeted his friend for the first time since his return from London. “Miss Emmagan, forgive me.”


“Of course,” she said dismissively, standing to meet him. “It has been too long, Mr. Sheppard.”


“Yes, it has,” John admitted, kissing her cheek. “You’ll have to forgive me for that, as well.”


“It is already done,” Miss Emmagan assured him. “Tell me, however, have you been practicing?”


“I…well, not in so many words, no,” John admitted.


This actually prompted a smile from the young lady. “I did not imagine you had. Between becoming a worldly and thoroughly married man, I can not imagine when you might have had a chance.”


John laughed. “Yes. I suppose there isn’t any chance that you shall be kind and let me win at least one bout?”


“You suppose correctly, Mr. Sheppard. En guarde. Prêt. Allez.”


With only those four words of warning, Miss Emmagan quickly launched into a series of lightning fast thrusts and jabs that immediately had John falling back. “For heaven’s sake, Mr. Sheppard,” Miss Emmagan exclaimed, not even out of breath. “If you have not learned parry four yet, I have little hope for you.”


For his part, John was just trying not to trip over his own feet, which quickly proved impossible and had him eyeing an amused Miss Emmagan from the less than ideal vantage point of the floor. “I think my vanity is permanently bruised.”


“Nonsense,” Miss Emmagan assured him, giving him a hand up. “You shall be fine. What’s more, that’s not any worse than you were doing two months ago. I’m uncertain if it’s markedly better, but it is certainly no worse. Again?”


Wondering why in the world he had befriended such a persistant woman, John nodded, starting the whole process over.




While it could not be denied that Elizabeth was more than enjoying the responsibility and faith John was entrusting in her, really treating her as a partner, there were times when it was a decided inconvenience as well. For example, while she had no objections to reviewing the various agreements Atlantis struck up with different businessmen and city ports, it would be a notably easier task if John had targeted cities in which she actually spoke the language. She had made it a point to learn five languages growing up, but at no time was Portuguese one of them.


Thankfully, she had heard tell of a man in town who spoke many languages, and considering the stack of contracts from Lisbon that were quickly accumulating, had little compunction about calling on him for assistance. Abydos Abbey was an estate of fairly impressive size, and Elizabeth supposed that she should have at least written ahead to request the Earl’s aid. Considering the timeliness of some of the documents, however, she had little choice but to impose on his goodwill and hope for the best possible outcome.


She was greeted at the door by a cheery young man who introduced himself as Jonas Quinn, Dr. Jackson’s apprentice. Whilst chattering happily, Mr. Quinn led her straight into Dr. Jackson’s office, shockingly without announcement. “Daniel, this is Mrs. Elizabeth Sheppard,” Mr. Quinn finally said after taking a break to breathe. “She says that she needs some translating done.”


For his part, Dr. Jackson peered at her over the rim of his spectacles, smiling. “Is that so? Well, do sit, Mrs. Sheppard. I would be more than happy to help you with whatever you require.”


Momentarily thrown by his easy and informal demeanor, Elizabeth took a moment to gather herself before sitting. “Thank you so much, Dr. Jackson. I did not mean to intrude upon your work, but I found myself at a loss. I am fluent in five languages, but my husband took it upon himself to enter into business with the port of Lisbon, and I’m afraid that Portuguese is not in my verbal repertoire.”


Dr. Jackson smiled at her long-winded explanation, taking the papers. “Think nothing of it, Mrs. Sheppard. I am always happy to help a neighbor in need. You say that you speak five languages yourself? That is no mean feat for a woman.”


Feeling a light blush grace her cheeks, Elizabeth shrugged. “Yes, well, I have had the blessings of both opportunity and interest. Languages have always fascinated me.”


“I understand that perfectly,” Dr. Jackson assured her. “I have never been able to learn them quickly enough for my liking, though it was certainly not for lack of effort.”


This statement puzzled her. “Forgive me, but I believe that I have been told that you speak somewhere near twenty languages with various degrees of fluency.”


“Actually, he speaks twenty-four,” Mr. Quinn corrected gaily. “As well as being well-versed in reading the dead language of Sanskrit.”


Now it seemed that it was Dr. Jackson’s turn to flush. “Yes, thank you Jonas. I wonder, would you mind procuring some fresh parchment for our translating efforts? I believe there might be some in one of the storage cupboards.”


“Right away, Dr. Jackson!” Mr. Quinn agreed happily, proceeding out of the room in a quick, if enthusiastic, manner.


Laughing a little, presumably at his apprentice’s perpetually positive demeanor, Dr. Jackson shook his head. “You’ll have to excuse him. He tends toward being a little too eager for most people.”


Really, Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile. “I find it rather refreshing, to be honest.”


“So do I,” Dr. Jackson admitted, smiling warmly at her. “Now, let’s see if we can’t translate these documents for you.”


After taking a moment to peruse the contracts, he smiled. “Ah, I see now. You are John Sheppard’s new wife. How are you finding the trade business?”


“Very well, actually. It’s certainly more engaging than an average woman’s life in the city,” she responded thoughtfully, evaluating the vast changes her life had gone through since having the happy luck to meet John Sheppard.


“I can imagine,” Dr. Jackson intoned. “I have heard so much talk of those new ships your husband built. What do they call them again?”


She laughed. “Puddle jumpers. It originated out of some jest, I believe, and just happened to stick.”


He chuckled, obviously diverted by the unusual name. “Yes, well, I hear that they are quite impressive. Do you find them to be everything people say?”


It was, surprisingly, the first time that Elizabeth realized something rather important. “Actually, I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I’ve never even stepped foot on one.”


“That must make singing their praises to your investors rather difficult, then, must it not?” Dr. Jackson reflected.


“Yes,” Elizabeth replied thoughtfully. “I believe I will have to take the situation firmly in hand.”


Dr. Jackson smiled. “I have no doubt that you will, Mrs. Sheppard. Not one doubt at all.”




“I want you to take me on a boat ride.”


Startled, John looked up from calculating the most recent payroll. “Excuse me?”


Elizabeth stood in the door of his office, looking frightfully determined. “I want you to take me on a boat ride.”


It wasn’t that he was adverse to this proposition. It was just that it was coming a little out of the blue. “I…I thought you had your embroidery circle this afternoon?”


Curiously, this brought a smile to Elizabeth’s face. “Did you not hear? Samantha O’Neill had her baby last night. A little girl.”


The good tidings did not fail to bring a smile to John’s face either. “How lovely. Should we send a gift?”


“Oh, I have already seen to it.”


Really, John reflected, she was an exceptionally good sort of wife for a man to have. “Excellent. Now. What is this about a boat?”


Elizabeth sat down in the chair opposite him, looking earnest. “I was meeting with Dr. Jackson yesterday when he brought something remarkable to my attention. How am I supposed to intrigue new investors and trading partners with all the various improvements in our ships if I know nothing about the ships in the first place? Oh, I know that they are smaller and more light-weight, but I want to experience being on one so that I can more properly explain their virtues.”


John carefully considered her words and quickly saw that her arguments were more than valid. “Fair enough. Can you meet me at the dock in a quarter of an hour?”


Obviously delighted, Elizabeth smiled. “That quickly?”


“Yes. Conveniently, I just received the news that the fourth puddle jumper is ready for its trial voyage. Why not kill two birds with one stone, so to speak?”


“Why not, indeed?” she repeated.


And so, a quarter of an hour later, John found himself preparing the fourth puddle jumper to set sail, Elizabeth an attentive and involved pupil. “One of the advantages of the design of puddle jumpers is ease. Even a barely seaworthy fellow like myself can manage them for a short journey, and for longer trips, the entire ship can be handled by only four men.”


“So few?” Elizabeth asked. “How is such a thing possible?”


“I haven’t the slightest idea, really. I know the size has something to do with it, as well as the unusual placement of the sails. Rodney and Mrs. O’Neill did most of the actual designing, so you might want to talk to them in more detail.”


“I’ll be certain to do so,” Elizabeth assured him. “But for now, your scant knowledge will have to do.”


“Well, I did not say it was scant!” he objected, which prompted a teasing smile to light his wife’s face. His eyed narrowed at the expression. “You really do that to me a little often for my liking,” he complained, stepping onto the ship before helping her on as well.


She merely shrugged by way of response. “Well, you make it so simple.”


“Hmmm. Hardly the point I was trying to make, but we’ll revisit that argument another time. For now, come here and let me teach you how to steer.”


She obediently crossed the deck, joining him at the helm. “I assume that you know the basics of port and starboard, compass navigation, that sort of thing?” he asked.


“In theory, certainly,” she affirmed. “I’ve just never put the knowledge to the test.”


Wondering a little if someone as small as she would even be able to control the wheel, even if it was smaller than the average vessel’s, John quickly concocted a secondary plan of attack. “All right, come here then,” he gestured, stepping back so that she could take the place of navigator.


When she seemed fully settled, John proceeded to step closer to her, reaching around her so that he could guide his hands with her own. They were surprisingly small and pale against his, and he became strangely aware of her proximity so near. With her head almost resting on his chest and brown curls occasionally tickling his neck, it seemed that she was everywhere and the knowledge lay heavily on his mind.


Clearing his throat and trying to focus once more, John tried again. “All right, so your hands should probably be placed about….here. Now, check the wind. Are you ready?”


She glanced over her shoulder, face alight with joy, and for the first time it occurred to John that really, Elizabeth was a remarkably beautiful woman, not merely when she was dressed for a social function or when she tried at it, but simply by being. “I am,” she assured him.


“I…” he began, feeling as though he should have something particularly profound to say. Thankfully, the feeling quickly passed and John shook his head and smiled ruefully at his own foolish flight of fancy. “Let’s be off, then.”




“Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies.”

                                                                                                       ~Pride and Prejudice




The next week was particularly trying for John, which with a new business was hardly unusual. What was unprecedented was that it was not from Atlantis that his troubles stemmed, but rather from issues more heavily involved in his personal sphere. Namely, his boating lesson with Elizabeth earlier in the week had been witnessed by many a member of the company, and as such, there seemed to be a renewed interest in the supposed romance of the two newlyweds which had him constantly on the receiving end of such sly and knowing comments that irked him exceedingly. Not surprisingly, Rodney was one of the most frequent culprits, and the constant jibes and jokes had set John well on edge.


As a result, not only was he more snappish than his usual pleasant demeanor dictated, but he additionally felt that for his own peace of mind, it might be wise to avoid close contact with Elizabeth for a short period of time. Thankfully, she seemed unbothered by any injudicious comments that might have been aimed in her direction, instead working with the dedication and effectiveness that John had always believed her to be capable of. He could not, at this time, imagine anyone but Elizabeth being his partner in trying to make a success of Atlantis Trading and Shipping.


Still, when Elizabeth came to his office later in the week, it was with some small amount of trepidation that he allowed her entry. She was flushed and obviously excited by some piece of news she had to tell him – perhaps relating to letter she had clutched in one hand.


“Is everything well?” he asked with somewhat more than a mild concern, considering her obviously animated features.


“Very well,” she assured him with a wide smile. “It is merely that I have recently been the recipient of some particularly interesting news. John, you know, of course, that my father currently holds the position of King’s Ambassador to Denmark.”


“Of course,” he acknowledged, though if he was being quite honest, he was uncertain if he had known her father’s exact position.


“Well, I have just received a letter from him containing a most intriguing proposition. You see, the King is scheduled to take a tour of the Scandinavian countries next month, but has long had a tense relationship with the authorities in Denmark for some long ago offense that only they remember. In searching for a way to appease their disquieted sensibilities, His Royal Majesty applied to my father, who suggested that perhaps a gift of some sizable value would smooth things over nicely.”


John smiled. “As is the way of things.”


“Yes, of course. Unfortunately for the King, many of his Royal Navy ships are currently embroiled in the ever-growing conflict with France at the moment, and his regular secondary source of transportation, the East India Trading Company, has been temporarily banned from Denmark while some outstanding taxes are being disputed.”


Suddenly suspecting where this line of thought was heading, John found himself rising from his seat in anticipation. “Elizabeth, do you mean to tell me that in less than two months of being with me here at Atlantis, you have somehow managed to secure our company employment from the King himself?”


Looking inordinately proud of herself, Elizabeth nodded. “That is exactly what I am trying to express, although you should be made aware that the offer is contingent on your agreement to ship the King’s gift within the next two days.”


Feeling overwhelmed by such an enormous boon, John finally stood completely and, at a loss for what else should be done, took Elizabeth in his arms, spinning her around so quickly that she shrieked and laughed most entertainingly. “You,” he said when he finally slowed, out of breath and elated at the prospects before them, “are a most remarkable sort of woman.”


She merely rolled her eyes at his effusive praise. “I take it that you agree to my father’s terms, then?”


“Yes, most eagerly! I shall begin to make arrangements without any further delay.”


Before she could respond, there was a sound at the door that drew both of their attention. “Mr. Sheppard, the….”


Cameron Mitchell stopped shortly upon entering, staring for a moment until John remembered that he and Elizabeth were still in what could be a misleadingly intimate position. Sparing no time in clearing his throat and releasing Elizabeth, John looked at his employee expectantly.


“I do apologize for…my interruption,” Mr. Mitchell began. “But I came to announce the arrival of Captain Lorne’s puddle jumper back from Lisbon. You did say that you wished to know when they were back.”


“Yes, of course,” John acknowledged. “I’ll join you on the docks shortly to begin unloading.”


For his part, Cameron nodded shortly, and after one more ridiculous, supposedly knowing grin, was gone. “I am sorry for that,” John offered stiltedly.


Elizabeth, however, seemed unbothered. “It is of no consequence. So, I shall write back to my father expressing our agreement?”


“Absolutely. Send Aidan Ford to town with the message as soon as you’ve finished composing it – he is by far the fastest rider we have, and the most trustworthy.”


She nodded, making her way toward the door. “Go on and inspect your booty from Portugal then, and leave me to attend to this matter. It will all be arranged.”


As she left, John wondered that she should feel the need to reassure him. He certainly did not feel a requirement for it.




Considering the extreme degree of scandal with which she had departed London and all of her contemporaries in fashionable society there, it was with no small amount of amusement that Elizabeth beheld the stack of letters in front of her nearly a week later. Perhaps she should have anticipated this turn of events when the delivery of the King’s most particular gift to the Demark government was accomplished with a swiftness and professionalism unlike he was previously accustomed to, even going so far as to prompt a letter of thanks from His Royal Majesty herself, hinting at possible future employment opportunities for Atlantis in the near future.


But being so far removed from the society of veneer-thin manners and currying favor had broken Elizabeth’s previous habits of expecting the world to behave in a particular manner. As such, it must be admitted that the sudden influx of letters from previous acquaintances, businesses attempting to schedule interviews, and even several high ranking society members had quite startled her at first. The numerous invitations for the entrepreneurial Sheppards were almost laughable, proving to Elizabeth that every social scandal, no matter how serious, was eventually overcome by either circumstance, money, or both.


All of this she had been reflecting upon in the sitting room of their more personal quarters when John entered, disrupting her introspections. “You look very serious,” he teased, as was his habit in the last week, being in so good a mood as a result of their sudden good luck in business.


“I assure that it is nothing dire. I was merely reflecting on the transient nature of social standing. Right now, it seems we are quite in favor with the King, and as a result, everyone else.”


John seemed undisturbed by this fact, other than it might mean he would be required to be a bit more sociable than he might otherwise like. When Elizabeth assured him that this was not the case, he relaxed. “So you do not find yourself missing the bustle and business of London, then?” he asked, a note of worry laced in the off-handed inquiry.


“Surprisingly, no,” she teased back. “Really, I lived in that world because it was required of me and because I was adept at maneuvering through it. I find, however, this life to be much more rewarding, where my status seems based purely on the quality of my work.”


“Which is above reproach,” he pointed out.


“Well, yes, that does help, doesn’t it?” she laughed. “Nonetheless, I have instructed the cook to prepare a more elaborate meal than usual tonight. I thought we might celebrate our fashionable status, seeing as it is certainly going to be of short duration.”


The idea seemed to appeal to him, and soon the two were dressed and seated together for dinner, as had become their habit whenever John was in town. Elizabeth was forced to admit, if only to herself, that she quite enjoyed this aspect of their situation. Dinner with John was almost always an enjoyable affair, even if nothing more than business was discussed. Their conversation was, as it had always been, light and effortless, and she found it often so easy to laugh at his various antics that it made the evening hours when one could not work pass quickly.


“Have all of the profits been reported from the recent Lisbon run yet?” she asked as the soup course was served.


“Nearly, and I’m pleased to say it was one of our most profitable ventures yet. Captain Lorne and his crew really did a remarkable job. I have been considering hiring them full-time, now that they have proved themselves.”


“He is a most agreeable man, and certainly clever enough to turn a profit, so why do you hesitate?”


At this, John looked a little awkward. “I wished to consult with you before doing anything that might be construed as long-term.”


This fact touched her a great deal, and she reflected that she could not be more content with her current situation. She had wondered briefly, when first agreeing to his proposal all those months ago in the city, if she and John should really suit each other as partners for longer than a lively conversation. Now, watching him across the dinner table, she found that he was perhaps a dearer friend to her than anyone had ever been previously. But because she knew him well, she knew that to say this would only embarrass him, and instead stayed within the limited scope of business when replying.


“Then by all means hire him,” she said before sipping at her beef and barley broth.




Mr. Kolya was not accustomed to being summoned and then kept waiting. His area of specialty had often imbued a certain mixture of respect and fear in all of his business associates, a situation that he preferred vastly to this waiting indeterminately for someone to be ready for his arrival.


Finally, however, he was permitted to enter the office of a Mr. Wraith, the man who had rather curtly requested his presence with the promise of making it more than worth his while. “Ah, Mr. Kolya, do come in,” said Mr. Wraith in greeting. “I apologize for the delay, but as you can imagine, running a business like mine is no easy task.”


“Nor mine, Mr. Wraith,” Mr. Kolya said shortly. “But I was assured you would more than compensate me for my time.”


“That is my hope as well,” Mr. Wraith agreed. “I have asked you here with the expectation of coming to a business accord with you. It is my understanding that you and a small number of your countrymen housed within this country run a sort of…business of requirement, where you accomplish certain deeds that might perhaps reflect badly on a gentleman of my stature if they were connected to me.”


“We have been known to do such things from time to time,” Mr. Kolya admitted easily. “For a price.”


“Of course, of course! Now, to the particulars. There is a small company to the south of here that has lately become something of a thorn in my side. I am convinced, however, that they would be significantly less troubling if I could merely examine the plans to a rather renowned ship of theirs, which seems in everyway to be inferior to mine superficially, but seems to outsail, outship, and outmaneuver mine at every turn. They call it a puddle jumper, I believe.”


“And do you require the possession of a previously made ship, or would something less…bulky…serve your purposes better?” Mr. Kolya asked.


“Mr. Kolya, I can already see that you and I are of like mind. A ship is much too difficult to steal and easy to trace for my liking, and the work of reverse engineering something of that scope leaves me rather impatient. I would assume, rather, that there are set plans for these ships somewhere within the headquarters of Atlantis Trading and Shipping, that could, at the right time, be procured more easily than an entire ship.”


“That seems to be likely. Do you have a set date by which you would prefer to have these plans in your possession?”


“I can be a patient man when I must be, Mr. Kolya. However, I have heard tell that Atlantis is currently planning a much longer journey than their recent day trips to mainland Europe. It is my understanding that the bulk of the staff will be joining this expedition, and so it might seem a prime opportunity for someone to take advantage of the lack in manpower.”


“A clever plan, indeed, Mr. Wraith. I assure you, my team can do this job for you easily and without hesitation.”


“Excellent, Mr. Kolya, excellent. I look forward to this and many future business transactions between us,” Mr. Wraith said easily, leaning back in his chair. “And please, if we are to be well-acquainted, you must call me Michael.”




“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”





By early fall, it was clear that Atlantis was no mere flash in the pan of business ventures. After turning a substantial profit three months running, Elizabeth suggested that perhaps it was time to expand their ports of trade. After all, further destinations meant more varied goods, and variety really was the spice of life nowadays. People would pay outrageous sums for the goods only obtainable in distant ports.


Obviously, Bombay was the next logical expansion in their current shipping route, having both a friendly port and an exotic enough air to lend their ventures a truly worldly quality. A trip that long during this time of year was somewhat unusual, considering the great storms that sometimes arose during the fall months, but despite Elizabeth’s misgivings, both John and Cameron felt the trip was safe so long as they departed by the beginning of September.


Although really, why John was going at all was a source of more than usual consternation for her. With the holidays looming, it was a bad time for any business owner to be away from his investors, but even her sound advice fell on deaf ears. John, apparently, had always wanted to see India.


She had to admit to a feeling of relief when John was unavoidably detained from the launch by an unforeseen financial tangle, and allowed Cameron and Vala to sail off without joining them. Her relief was short-lived, however, as John promptly announced that he planned to follow them a mere three days later, hoping to catch them still docking in France.


Understandably, by the time he was prepared to leave, Elizabeth was still in a rather contrary disposition – the sort of disposition that led to nothing but trouble.


Having loaded the last of his necessities onto the awaiting ship, John turned to the company waiting on the dock, headed by Elizabeth and McKay. “I think that’s the last of it,” he said unnecessarily. “Was there anything else you required of me before I set off?”


“I’m sure we can make do,” Elizabeth smiled.


“Probably better than when you’re actually here, mucking things up,” McKay muttered.


“Yes, well, be that as it may, I shall return as soon as I can all the same,” John teased. “For now, I take my leave of you.”


For some reason, his goodbye caused McKay to raise an eyebrow. “While that unemotional sentiment suits me just fine, even I know that you should probably give a warmer assurance to your wife.”


Amused, Elizabeth turned her eyes to the man she so often forgot was her husband, who was now shifting his weight awkwardly back and forth. His unease appealed to her current mood, and she decided not to resolve it as she so often was wont to do. “Do you require a warmer goodbye, Elizabeth?” he asked, obviously hoping for a negative response.


Trying not to laugh, she smiled at him unhelpfully, enjoying the chance to torment her usually smug spouse. “Perhaps.”


Honestly, she could almost swear that she saw him go pale before leaning towards her slowly. “The things I do for my business,” John muttered with a teasing light in his eye, the soft comment obviously meant to be heard by Elizabeth’s ears only.


It brought an honest smile to her face, as it was meant to. “Just close your eyes and think of Atlantis, if it helps you get through it,” she whispered back.


She felt the puff of air displaced by his laughter against her lips a second before she heard his retort. “Somehow, I think I’ll manage.”


The kiss was brief and suitably unremarkable to the many pairs of speculative eyes watching them. For Elizabeth, however, the entire encounter was unexpectedly disconcerting. The hasty pressure of his lips on her own, an awkward marital ritual that they had deftly managed to avoid for months now, left her with an unforeseen blush in her cheek and a knot in her stomach that was not easily resolved.


As she watched her husband board his ship, Elizabeth found herself both looking towards and strangely shrinking from his eventual return.




When his team paused just outside of Gateshire, examining the large structure that was Atlantis Trading and Shipping in person for the first time, Mr. Kolya could not help but overhear one of his company wondering if they had brought enough men to effectively secure a building that size.


“Do not be so timid, Mr. Doran,” Mr. Kolya admonished him. “I find it exceedingly tiring. Remember, there are only a few people still there, the rest left for India two days ago and won’t be back for at least a month. We have planned this down to the last detail and are being paid handsomely to carry out this job. We even have the benefit of a coming storm to muffle any noise those few left behind might be inclined to make.”


Really, Mr. Kolya reflected as they made their way toward the building, it was rather tiresome to constantly be dependant on a group of other people. Perhaps after this job, he would begin seeking employment that only required his own considerable expertise.


“Now remember,” he lectured as they drew nearer, “it is only the central wing that concerns us, as our intelligence suggests that will be where any scientific plans are being kept. Each use the entrance assigned to you and be certain to capture anyone you see on your way to the central room. From there, I will interrogate them as to the whereabouts of the ship designs.”


They each went their separate ways then, with Mr. Kolya moderately confident that this plan would be successful. One of its chief failures had been the fear of being overheard in the tranquil English countryside, but judging from the ever darkening horizon, fate had more than seen to this potential problem. While he did not approve of relying on luck as a matter of course, in this instance, he was not at all sorry that it seemed to be on his side.




Drawing her arms close to her body, Elizabeth could not help but look out the window toward the sea one more time. “Do you think that John managed to avoid this coming storm, Dr. McKay?”


Hardly seeming concerned, Dr. McKay barely looked up from his calculations – she believed that he was working on something that involved wind speeds and ocean depth and current prediction, though she could not be certain. “Oh, it’s hard to say, exactly. Probably not, considering the direction that the wind seems to be blowing.”


It was not exactly the reassuring response she had been unconsciously seeking, but then, why she would apply to Dr. McKay for anything but the painful truth, she had no idea. “I see,” she replied quietly.


She did not like Atlantis this quiet – over the past few months, she had grown accustomed to the constant hustle that was a working business. Between the crews now headed to India and those few workers who she had sent home early due to inclement weather, the halls almost seemed to echo. It was very likely that right now, she and Dr. McKay were the only souls in the building.


She had barely finished forming this notion, however, when a sound from somewhere behind her forced Elizabeth to reevaluate this opinion. Turning in her eagerness to greet someone else with which to converse, she was startled to find a stranger standing there – the sort of stranger that prompted a cold fear to settle in the pit of her stomach. Still, she resolved not to show her uneasiness directly. “Well, hello. We must not have heard your knock with the noise of the approaching storm. Is there something we can do for you?”


The man, dark and undoubtedly sinister, smiled. She supposed that it was meant to be an expression of charm, but instead, she found it most disturbing. “To begin with, Mrs. Sheppard, you can proceed a little further into the main room. Secondly, you can, without further struggle that would waste both of our time, tell us where the plans for your little puddle jumpers are. And thirdly, if you would be so kind as to silence Dr. McKay, I would be grateful. If you do not succeed, I assure you that I will.”


It was only when he pointed it out that she heard Dr. McKay’s distraught yells over the pounding of blood in her own ears. Seeing as her first duty was to her employees, Elizabeth hastened to Dr. McKay’s side, where he was still making quite a racket. “Dr. McKay,” she tried softly, without effect. Then, more loudly, “Rodney!”


Perhaps it was volume or even the shock of being so informally addressed by a woman that was effective, but either way, she was grateful for it. “Hush,” she warned.


Flustered and wide-eyed, Dr. McKay looked at their captors, who seemed to total five in all. “But they have pistols! And swords!”


“So they do, Dr. McKay. Let us not then give them any cause to use them.”


The man who had spoken to her earlier appeared to be their leader, and seemed vaguely impressed with her words. “So reports of your intelligence have not been exaggerated, I see, Mrs. Sheppard,” he said almost admiringly.


“As I have never heard any myself, I could not say,” she retorted, resenting his intrusion here, where she was most at home.


He merely found her amusing. “That seems fair,” he acknowledged, before being momentarily distracted by one of his men.


“Mr. Kolya, we believe that we have all of the exits secured,” reported a young man.


“Do not believe, Mr. Ladon. Know,” the man now identified as Mr. Kolya snapped before returning his attention to his two hostages. “Where was I?”


“I believe we were speaking of my intelligence,” Elizabeth prompted, not out of vanity, but merely in hopes of stalling.


“Ah, yes. Well, I suppose that your common sense shall be tested soon enough. You have succeeded in two of the tasks I gave you, but it is time to turn our attention to the third.”


Drawing his pistol and very calmly pointing it at Dr. McKay’s head, Mr. Kolya asked, “Now, where are the design schematics for the ships you refer to as puddle jumpers?”




With ice cold rain pelting him from all directions, John could not deny a distinct feeling of relief when the light shining from Atlantis’ lighthouse came into view. All of his intentions of catching up with the expedition to India had quickly evaporated when he had encountered this storm, and after a few too many close calls, John had been more than happy to decide that turning back was quite obviously the safer course – after all, riding the edge of the storm back to Gateshire seemed infinitely easier than trying to push his way through it.


So it was a bone-weary John Sheppard that finally managed to dock and secure the puddle jumper, wanting nothing more than a warm bath and perhaps some soup. He was certain that Elizabeth would be able to procure some – she had a knack for that sort of thing that he had never quite appreciated as much as he did presently.


All things being what they were, it was no surprise that he was practically inside before John noticed that something was most definitely amiss. To begin with, he thought it odd that no one came to greet him. The docks were visible from most windows in the house, and he knew that Elizabeth had fondness for watching the ocean when sitting on her own. Secondly, there seemed to be a peculiar concentration of torches lit not in the house area, but the central portion of Atlantis, and while it was not unheard of for Elizabeth to lose track of time and work through dinner, it was not exactly common either.


Ultimately, it was a combination of whim and a distinct sense of unease that caused John to use the servant’s entrance in the house, rather than one of the many more trafficked ways into the building. As he did not find any sign of Elizabeth’s presence in the house, he proceeded to make his way to the center of the building, still taking a certain care in his steps, though he knew not why.


He remained uncertain of his motivations until the main room finally came into view and all of his previously ridiculous seeming suspicions were proven to be valid. There, huddled on the floor with Rodney next to her, was Elizabeth, glaring up at a man who held them both at the wrong end of a pistol.


“You are trying my patience,” the man said, quietly enough to seem severe and loudly enough to be heard. “For the last time, where are the building schematics?”


“Mr. Kolya, I have already told you that I do not know,” Elizabeth replied coldly.


“Do you really expect me to believe that you, the wife of this company’s owner and seemingly its chief organizer, do not know where the company’s most valuable assets are held?”


John wanted to scream at him, to insist that she was telling the truth and to spare her any harm. He wanted to rush to her and check any wound this interloper may have inflicted upon her. But somehow, he found himself frozen, watching the entire scene with mounting trepidation. “My duties have nothing to do with the jumpers,” she explained very slowly, as though talking to a petulant child. “And as such, I have not yet taken the care to know every particular about them.”


Finally seeming to accept this rational argument, Mr. Kolya’s eyes slid to a cowering Rodney, who flinched under his gaze. “And what of your knowledge, Dr. McKay? As designer of the infamous ships, I assume that you know exactly where the plans are kept.”


Eyeing the pistol that had not once faltered from its ominous aim, Rodney replied readily, “Of course I do. Unfortunately for all of us, they aren’t there right now. Mr. Sheppard borrowed them right before his journey to refresh himself on the exact measurements of the cargo hold and somehow managed to forget to return them.”


In a flash, John recalled that as usual, Rodney was correct. Returning the schematics had slipped his mind with his impending departure, and they were even now lying on the dining room table of his home, collecting dust.


Looking down at the foreboding scene, John took a moment to try and formulate the correct plan of action. When one did not immediately come to him, he took another moment to retrace his steps and fetch the plans, hiding them away where he was quite certain no one but he could find them.


As he was hiding them, the realization happened upon him that no one knew Atlantis better than he did. He had paid for every piece of wood and stone in this building, and as such had taken a particular care to be acquainted with all of it. If there was one way to extract these interlopers from his home, it was to use his superior knowledge against them.


Almost without thinking about it, he made his way to an upper floor – one of the many hallways that echoed strangely down to the main room. Feeling positively mutinous at the current state of affairs, John proceeded to take a deep breath, yelling out, “Mr. Kolya!”


Dr. McKay’s snort of what John assumed was derision and someone jumping from shock did not even manage to bring a smile to John’s face. “Who is there?” the voice he knew as Kolya’s asked.


“I am John Sheppard, owner of this company. This is my home you have so unceremoniously invaded, and it will now be the home I unceremoniously expel you from.”


“Ah, Mr. Sheppard! I cannot say that I was anticipating this meeting, but your arrival certainly does make our situation more interesting. You realize, of course, that I have your lead shipwright and your wife hostage. If you merely comply with our demands, I promise that they will emerge unscathed from this ordeal. The same can not be said if you trouble me overmuch.”


But John had already ceased to listen to this interloper; instead moving to a more prime location where he might be able to surprise one of the four men Mr. Kolya was sure to send his direction. Even now, he could vaguely hear the orders being given to find John Sheppard and dispose of him, and John had to prepare himself for the onslaught sure to come. So it was arranged that even though his mind was roiling in turmoil at the idea of that man being anywhere near Elizabeth, much less harming her in any way, John also rationally knew that he had married a woman who was more than capable of taking care of herself.


If she felt it absolutely necessary, he might not even begrudge her making certain that Rodney came to no great harm.




“I have loved none but you.”





It could not be denied that when Elizabeth first heard John’s voice echoing from the great hallways, a flood of both relief and pure fear shot through her. While previously, she had been apprehensive in the extreme for her own fate, she now realized that John’s seemed much more important to her. Though she knew he was somewhat trained, she did not really think that trying to combat five armed men was a prudent decision.


He was here and that in itself was a miracle. However, the prospect of now losing him to these base ruffians seemed almost unbearable. The panic she felt at even the idea seemed so insurmountable that she could almost detachedly wonder at its magnitude, until the uninvited realization settled upon her that somehow, between an awkward, stilted business proposal and hearing his voice coming to her rescue, she had fallen in love with her husband.


The knowledge was almost too much to bear, as it was both untimely and unwelcome. Apparently, her visage was so altered with dread at the prospect of it that even Mr. Kolya could easily note it. “You are concerned for your husband.”


“Yes,” she admitted, almost without thought. To be fair, it could be excused if she was a little more scattered than usual – she had never before had this oppressive sense of trepidation and realization overcome her.


“How touching,” Mr. Kolya said, in atone that implied he thought it was anything but. “Did you hear that, Sheppard? Your wife is pale with concern for you. It is my understanding that she has already been widowed once. For a young woman to have to suffer such an affliction twice seems almost unforgivable. Perhaps, if you die, I shall just have to comfort her myself.”


The crude insinuation nauseated Elizabeth to such an extreme that she was in very real danger of being ill. Surprisingly, Dr. McKay took a moment to brush a hand along her arm in comfort, and though he was not John and was thus inferior, it did help soothe her frayed nerves a bit.


In a few moments, John’s voice echoed through the room once again, most definitely from a different location and slightly winded. “You lay one finger on her Kolya, and I will kill you.” It was stated calmly, as though it was a matter of fact, and something about it made her smile in spite of the situation. “Also? You are now down to three men, besides yourself.”


A livid rage quickly overtook Mr. Kolya’s visage, and he spun to face his captives once more, studying them with care. “Mr. Sheppard, I must warn you that if you persist in this ill-advised course of action, I will be forced to take my own. The next time I discover that one of my men has been incapacitated, I will have to kill either Mrs. Sheppard or Dr. McKay. Would you like to select your first victim, or shall I surprise you?”


There was silence for a long moment, and when John’s voice finally echoed through the room once more, Elizabeth was quite certain it was from yet another location. “Now you are down to two.”


This revelation angered Mr. Kolya so much that he face flushed with ire, drawing his pistol. “Congratulations, Mr. Sheppard. You have just killed Dr. McKay.”


There was a rush of movement, the loud crack of a gun, and next to her, Dr. McKay’s shriek echoed in her ears. When Mr. Kolya took pause, it was over Dr. McKay’s now prone body. “You shot him?” she asked, a bit dazed due to the commotion that had just occurred.


“He fell into a swoon,” Mr. Kolya corrected, disgust lacing his tone.


With those words, she suddenly understood – Rodney’s nerves had failed him right as his captor had shot the pistol, conveniently causing the nervous doctor to fall out of harm’s way. “Thank heaven,” she muttered.


“I would not be too thankful if I were you, Mrs. Sheppard,” Mr. Kolya warned. “Now, you are my only useful leverage.”




John was some distance above the central room, and as such could not clearly see the results of Kolya’s threats. Still, Elizabeth seemed remarkably calm, and he believed that even she would be flustered if a coworker had just been murdered right in front of her.


Trying to slow his pounding heart, John took a moment to lean against the wall. Perhaps fueling Mr. Kolya’s anger was foolhardy, but John had never taken well to being threatened. When backed into a corner of any kind, his immediate response was to fight his way out of it. The fact was, he had an entire company to think about. The puddle jumper’s unique design was one of the main reasons Atlantis was proving successful, and its loss would be a blow from which the company very well may never recover. While the loss of income would certainly not disturb John overmuch, he had almost a hundred employees whose futures were entirely dependant upon the regular wages they earned at Atlantis.


So really, giving up had never really been an option.


Now a bit more calm, John checked the ammunition and weapons he had gathered from the two young men he had already disposed of – they were both unconscious, gagged, and tied together somewhere on the third level of the building. That left two more on the prowl that must be dealt with, and this was the most logical place to lay in wait for them.


Sure enough, he could soon hear the approaching footsteps of one more mercenary, and when the time seemed right, John sprung out of his hiding spot and tussled with him. If there was one thing his somewhat dysfunctional childhood had taught him, it was the art of wrestling.


To his credit, the other man fought well, landing more than one painfully placed elbow in John’s chest before he could completely manage to overpower the intruder. Eventually, however, the scuffle ended with John victorious, and with another piece of rope he had lifted from the docking area, quickly tied the man up. He briefly considered flaunting this victory to the smug Mr. Kolya, but almost as readily dismissed it, reminding himself that now, Elizabeth was in even more danger than she had been before.


Instead, John considered his options. Obviously, there was one more man that must be dealt with before he could pursue Mr. Kolya himself. There remained a question of tactics, however – any way he considered the situation, Mr. Kolya had far too many opportunities to harm Elizabeth before John could definitively put a stop to it. If only he had paid more attention while in the Army to strategy, this might be more easily done.


Before he could judge himself too harshly, the sound of a second set of footsteps reached his ears, and John prepared for one more brawl.




Still a bit dazed from events both physical and mental in nature, Elizabeth sat motionless, wondering how things had managed to escalate this quickly. Much like the now raging storm outside, the situation seemed to intensify exponentially with every passing moment. “You know that you shall never get what you came for now, don’t you?” she asked Mr. Kolya quietly. “John will not stop until he has disposed of you and your men entirely. It is not in his nature to give up.”


“Nor is it in yours, I suppose,” Mr. Kolya snarled.


His obvious disdain merely caused her to raise her chin a bit defiantly, refusing to showcase the fear that she was barely keeping at bay. “I do not believe it is, no.”


“More is the pity for both of you, then,” Mr. Kolya retorted.


“Perhaps,” she acknowledged. “But allow me to inquire as to your plan now. After all, you are now significantly short-handed, and are likely becoming even more so as we speak. Soon, you will be all alone here, with a very angry man and an uncooperative hostage. You are surrounded by a countryside with which you are not acquainted and an ocean wild with the weather. How do you suppose to extract yourself from such a precarious position?”


“I could kill you all,” Mr. Kolya threatened.


“You could,” Elizabeth acknowledged. “But the problem of extraction would remain. How do you think our many employees would react to finding our corpses here, with you, unable to leave, alive beside them? While you may outnumber us right now, Mr. Kolya, I assure you that you cannot possibly overpower even the comparably small number of Atlantis employees remaining here in England.”


It was obvious that this line of questioning was irritating him to the extreme, and while he was certainly more volatile in such a condition, Elizabeth sensed that he would also be more liable to make a fatal error.


Wildly, Mr. Kolya looked around him, as though he was already trapped. “I will take a ship!” he proclaimed triumphantly after his eye had landed upon the docks outside.


“How?” she asked simply. “You do not know how to operate our ships. Perhaps you could manage in fair weather to not kill yourself, but in a tempest such as this, I very seriously doubt you’d have the same success.”


Her captor’s eyes slid to Dr. McKay, who was still blissfully unconscious, then returned to her, studying her carefully. “Ah, but you know how to sail those infernal ships,” he stated certainly, as though she had somehow unconsciously broadcasted the information.


Denial seemed like her first, and only, option. “No, I….”


“Ah, hush now, Mrs. Sheppard. You have been so collected until now that I would hate for you to lose your composure at this late juncture. The very fact that you are so close confirms my belief.” He looked outside once more, then up at the floors surrounding them. “Report!” he yelled.


When no reply came, he sighed. “It seems that it is time for our departure, then, Mrs. Sheppard,” he stated. Thoughtfully, he disarmed himself of his pistol. “This will hardly be of use to me out in the wet. Perhaps it is past time to rely on old-fashioned methods of persuasion.”


With that, he drew his sword, pointing it in her direction. “Now, stand.”


Reluctantly, she acquiesced, glaring at him. “If you touch me, I will scream,” she warned.


Rather than making him hesitate, this information seemed to please him. “All the better,” he assured her, reaching out his spare arm to draw her closer to the blade.


Following her pure instinct, Elizabeth responded by darting forward and managing to bite the heel of his hand, drawing blood and a yell from Mr. Kolya. Then, keeping her word, she let loose with an ear-piercing yell.




Elizabeth’s scream filled John with a momentary panic, and an opportune strike of lightning let him see that down on the main floor, Mr. Kolya was leading Elizabeth, at the point of his sword, out onto the docks.


Realizing his plan, John rushed down the remaining steps, knowing that anything and everything must be done to keep Elizabeth out of the mercenary’s clutches. Realizing that his pistol, like Mr. Kolya’s, would likely be useless in the cascading rain outside, John made a quick detour to the training room, where Miss Emmagan had left several different swords for John to practice with on her last visit.


He grabbed the first sharp one he could see and then wasted no time exiting onto the docks. The storm had increased a thousand fold since his own arrival, and John could barely keep his eyes clear from the pounding rain, angry wind, and roiling black sea. Still, he could vaguely make out the two figures of Elizabeth and Kolya down the dock, beginning the process of untying one of the puddle jumpers.


“Kolya, halt!” he yelled over the shrieking of the wind.


Instead of complying, Mr. Kolya responded by grabbing Elizabeth and drawing her in front of him, his sword held to her pale throat. “She has tried my patience most exceptionally, Mr. Sheppard!” My. Kolya called back. “I would not give me an excuse to kill her.”


Trying to remain calm even as Elizabeth’s eyes widened in panic and fear, John advanced slowly down the dock. The boards beneath his feet were uncommonly slick, and walking with a sure foot took a certain amount of concentration that he could not help but hope Mr. Kolya would lack. “Why are you doing this?” John could not help but inquire.


“Why does anyone do anything in this age? Money, Mr. Sheppard. It always returns to money.”


It was with no small amount of satisfaction that John noted Mr. Kolya backing up, inching his way away from John even as John managed to advance more quickly toward him. “Someone paid you to invade our establishment? Who?”


“Does it matter? Trade is a prosperous business, Mr. Sheppard, and where there is money, there is treachery. Now, do not come any closer, or I will slit your wife’s throat while you are powerless to do anything but watch.”


The threat froze John on the spot – he could not have moved even if he had wished to. “Mr, Kolya, please. Unhand her and we will let you leave. There is no cause for bloodshed.”


“How chivalrous of you, Mr. Sheppard. Unfortunately for you, I have quite a fondness for bloodshed.” With that, Mr. Kolya increased the pressure on his blade ever so slightly, and Elizabeth flinched as a thin line of blood emerged across her throat.


The sight of it, rather than filling John with fear, freed him from his paralysis. Infuriated, John lunged forward, managing to exert enough control over his blade to avoid Elizabeth entirely and embed it deep in Mr. Kolya’s right shoulder. The force of the blow caused the other man to cry out and stagger back, quickly losing his footing on the slick surface of the wooden dock.


For one horrible moment, John could only watch as both Mr. Kolya and Elizabeth fell back, off of the dock and toward the angry ocean beneath them. John leapt forward, and it was only at the last possible second, with desperate fingers, that he managed to pull Elizabeth to safety while Mr. Kolya, with one long yell, fell into the water below.


Safe in his arms, he could feel her shaking with repressed emotion and chill, and John found himself unable to let her loose right away. For one moment, he had believed her lost forever, and found that recovering from even the idea was no easy task.


Eventually, he managed to distance himself a very little, enough to brush long locks of sopping hair away from her face, studying every inch of her. “Are you all right?”


Her nod was hesitant, but present. “I believe so,” she replied faintly. “Thankfully, you have remarkable reflexes.”


He laughed, and if it had a tinge of hysteria in it, she was kind enough to not notice. John just pulled her close once more, her head resting on his shoulder with one of his hands tangled in her hair. “You’re fine,” he said softly, reassuring himself more than her. “Just fine.”


As she seemed amenable enough for the moment, John just held her, needing to be near her, to reassure himself that he had been successful in adverting disaster. She had just given him the fright of his life, and it took him a moment to accept that he was so affected not because his business had been compromised, or because his friend had nearly died, but because Elizabeth, just Elizabeth, had been in danger.


He did not know when she had come to mean more than a mere partner should, and really, he was not certain it mattered. The fact was that he had fallen in love, deeply in love, with the woman he now held in his arms.


This knowledge was accompanied by the very real awareness that there was nothing to be done about it.


While for some men, loving their wives was a source of lifelong joy and fulfillment, for John, it was a decided inconvenience. He was married to a woman whom he had promised nothing but friendship. Love had been left entirely out of their arrangement, and while now it seemed like a most garish oversight, at the time, it had not been a relevant issue.


So, he was in love with Elizabeth. And his honor, blasted though it be, would never allow him to act upon those emotions he now realized were most dear to his heart.


Gathering himself, he pulled away, studying her one last time with new eyes. She was crying and soaking wet and deeply shaken, but still, she was beautiful. And he would not tell her.


“Come,” he said, standing and helping her. “Let us go dry off before we both catch a fever.”


She nodded, smiling a little, and hand in hand, they headed inside.




Due to the lingering remains of the storm, a constable could not be sent for until morning at the earliest. As such, John merely collected the remaining intruders in one of Atlantis’ empty storage rooms, checked to make sure their bonds were quite secure, and locked them there. The valet, Mr. Grodin, was summoned to attend to Rodney, who was still unconscious is the main hall. Elizabeth watched this all with a strange sense of disconnection, and it was not until it was finished and John turned his attention to her that she realized how violently she had begun to tremble.


With great care, John took her arm once more and led her to her private rooms, where she was left to change and gather herself. And though she was still extremely shaken, Elizabeth had to admit that being warm and dry brightened her mood considerably. With the now very much awake, but thankfully imperturbable Miss Simpson’s help, Elizabeth managed to struggle out of her sodden dress, after which she entered the parlor to see that John had not only lit a fire before changing his own drenched apparel, but started a pot of tea as well. His consideration touched her deeply, and she poured two generous cups before tightening the sash of her dressing gown and curling into her deep, soft chair by the fire.


It was not five minutes before John emerged from his rooms, looking considerably better outwardly, but, she suspected, still quite shaken in all other aspects. She offered him a wan smile, trying to calm him as best she could. “Thank you for the fire. And the tea,” she remarked softly.


His gaze had been trained on her so intently that he looked almost startled to remember the actions he had taken. “Oh, it is nothing,” he said dismissively, crossing the room toward her. “Elizabeth, are you quite sure you’re all right?”


Feeling no need to lie to John, who was if nothing else, one of her dearest friends, Elizabeth sighed. “No, I am not.”


She immediately regretted her words as his face paled even more drastically. “Shall I send for a physician?”


“No, there is no need. I simply meant that…I am ill at ease,” she clarified, hoping to allay his worries. “It will pass, I’m certain. Come, drink your tea.”


He sat across from her with a heavy sigh, lifting his own cup tentatively, as though it required Herculean effort. “I must admit to still being a bit unsettled myself,” he muttered. “When I think of the nerve of Mr. Kolya, invading our business, our home in such a manner….”


Elizabeth silently agreed, staring into the fire. “He certainly must have been promised a substantial amount of money to undertake such a mission. It makes me wonder who would have the means and motive to order such a thing.”


John frowned, anger settling heavy on his face. “Whoever it is, they have made an enemy in us that they will come to regret.”


It was probably foolish of her to relish John’s simple, innocuous use of ‘us’. The night had been one of great turmoil and confusion, but amidst it all, her wonder at the revelation of her feelings seemed to be the most lingering feeling. In retrospect, she could not even place exactly when her feelings had grown beyond the terms of their arrangement, although she suspected that they had always been greater than she had blindly assumed.


Knowing her own heart now could not change anything, and yet, it altered even the way she looked at him as he sat sipping his tea. “Would you like me to start asking our contacts for any gossip they may have heard?” she offered.


He considered this carefully, and then shook his head. “Unless you think it is imperative we do so, I would wait. Asking questions now will only attract more attention.”


She agreed, finishing her cup of tea and staring blankly into the flames for a few more minutes before standing. “Well, I think sleep is the only thing for me now,” she said, ignoring the instincts that were so reluctant to leave his side after such on ordeal.


Because he was, despite his protests, a gentleman through and through, he stood as well. “And you are certain that you are well?”


Touched by his concern and wishing it could be more, Elizabeth simply smiled. “I will be. Although I shall be certain to thank providence for inclement weather tonight.”


John looked at her, seemingly confused. “Why? Without it, they might not have invaded tonight.”


“Perhaps. But without it, you would not have been here to stop them, either,” she pointed out.


That particular realization made him smile for the first time all evening, and he nodded. “Well, goodnight then.”


Wishing things could be different – and knowing that they never would be – Elizabeth began the lonely trek to her own rooms. “Goodnight.”