Rating: T, perhaps bordering on M in places
Content Warning: Adult themes, sexual situations, language, some violence here and there.
Summary: In the city of Las Vegas, Detective John Sheppard works to solve a string of unusual murders. Challenged by a woman who refuses to be treated like a one night diversion and unexpected temptation, John discovers that nothing is as it seems.
Classifications: Drama, Romance
Pairings: John Sheppard & Original Character
Spoilers for: BIG huge honking plot and dialogue spoilers for S5E19 Vegas.
Acknowledgements: I used the Gateworld dot com transcript to back up my own viewing as I worked through this episode. Thank you Gateworld!
Disclaimer: The Stargate characters, storylines, etc aren't mine. I am unfortunately not associated in any way with the creators, owners, or producers of Stargate or any of its media franchises – if I was that movie so would have happened, and sequels as well … lots of sequels. *sighs dejectedly*. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, equipment, etc are the property of whoever owns them. The original characters and plot and anything else I made up are the property of me, the author. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright (c) 2011 ShaViva
Chapter 1: ... play games ...
"Ms Scott, Mr Adelson would like to see you in his office."
Sabina Scott looked up from the cards to her immediate supervisor, giving a quick nod to acknowledge his request. Jim Norwood smoothly made the transition in dealers, smiling at the four players awaiting the next card while Sabina stepped back. The change rarely made an impact – people intent on the game rarely noticed the dealer, except in those rare cases where they tried to pin their string of bad luck on one.
Walking purposefully but at an unhurried pace, Sabina made her way to the lifts, taking them up to the third floor, where the administrative officers for the casino were located. At the very end of the hall was the chief executive officer's suite. A member of security was always posted outside the door. When Sabina approached, the current one gave the door a brisk knock before opening it to let her through.
"Ms Scott," Sheldon Adelson greeted her formally.
"Mr Adelson," she returned, stopping a few steps from his desk and standing straight, poised and awaiting instructions. It wasn't the first time she'd made the same trip and for she assumed would be the same reason. Sabina wasn't simply a dealer for the casino. Her primary role was to be on the floor sure, but only so she could use her role to spot those who thought they could cheat the system and take home more than luck alone could earn them, without them getting cagey and bolting before security could have a word with them.
Sabina had always been good at math. She had a way with computers too, and a turn of mind that let her use those skills to think and act like the cheats, to anticipate the various ways they'd come up with to get in where they didn't belong. Early in her career she'd worked more in the field of business security, being hired to legitimately do everything she could to hack their systems. If she couldn't get in they got the big green tick. If she could, which was more usually the case, they got a report and a stack of recommendations to ensure her performance couldn't be repeated.
If not for a chance meeting with the man before her, Sabina would have continued in that role indefinitely. Instead, Sheldon Adelson had seen the potential in what she could do as a means to cut down on his casino's losses from card counters and other cheaters. So she'd come to Vegas after her last hacking job, instead of getting in her car and seeing where the road would take her. She'd stayed … for going on five years, the longest she'd ever stayed anywhere. Whenever Sabina thought about moving on something made her hesitate ... a feeling that there was something about Las Vegas that she needed, something she was waiting for.
"There's someone in the high stakes poker room I want you to assess," Adelson got straight down to business. "You'll replace the current dealer at the next deck change."
"Of course," Sabina agreed immediately. "Any particular suspicions?"
"I'll let you form your own opinion," her boss replied. "Dan will accompany you and report back to me once you have something."
Dan Carlson was the head of security for the private gaming rooms, and familiar with Sabina's true role at the casino. They'd gotten to be friends of a sort, as close as Sabina even let anyone get. She'd learned too early in life that permanency was more of a concept that something she'd ever get to apply to herself. The people close to her had a way of ending up on the wrong side of dead – at the end of the day the only person you could count on was yourself.
"Busy night," Dan commented as he escorted Sabina down the long corridor towards the upstairs poker room.
"I guess," Sabina agreed. When she'd come in for her shift the night hadn't seemed any different than any other Saturday night, but then she didn't work security so those kinds of numbers weren't her thing. "Who do we have in there?" she asked as they reached the closed door.
"Frank and Steve," Dan began, naming two of their poker regulars, Frank Vincent and Steven Schirripa. They had connections – to the mob and to things Sabina was sure she didn't need to know anything about. As long as you acted with honour while you were in Sheldon Adelson's place, he didn't care what you did outside it. Since that was the kind of life philosophy that kept you living, Sabina was more than happy to go along with it. "Benny," the security chief continued, "Priest, Phil and Joel."
"And our mark?" Sabina questioned, recognising that it wasn't likely her boss wanted her checking out guys who's played plenty of times before.
"Yeah, and the mark," Dan acknowledged. "He's been in a couple of times before tonight, always poker, always wins. Real quiet … and real unfriendly. This guy won't be winning any popularity contests, you get my drift?"
"Okay," Sabina nodded, straightening and rolling her shoulders a couple of times to get herself into character. Dealer, professional, just part of the scenery. Nothing to draw attention. It was a mental preparation too. She closed her eyes for a few seconds and imagined an impenetrable barrier between her and the outside world – protection for the mind that always showed as a complete lack of personal interest in anything while on the job. If any of the players did look at her, all they'd see was 'the dealer' – nothing to take note of, nothing special - a person with no real interest in them. "I'm ready," she said, motioning for Dan to open the door.
"I'll hang out here," Dan stated – Sabina knew it wasn't a suggestion; more an order from the Boss who didn't want anything to happen to so useful a staff member as Sabina had turned out to be.
"Hopefully it won't take me long to work out this guy's angle," she acknowledged.
"Buzz me if you need help," Dan said, giving Sabina a stern eye. There was no room for heroes at the casino – you did your job the best you could and left everyone else to do theirs.
"Will do," Sabina promised, waiting until he opened the door for her before striding confidently inside.
The security guard inside the door nodded as Sabina murmured that the Boss wanted a dealer change at the end of the hand. She walked forward, ignoring the bar and the few patrons sitting and talking quietly as they watched the game, stopping beside the second security guard to wait unobtrusively. The current dealer, a veteran of the casino, gave her a brief nod before turning back to his work. While he ran through what looked like the last round of raise before the inevitable fold or call, Sabina stood beside the guard, hidden in the shadows, and took the opportunity to observe.
It was a testosterone haven, the seven players all eying each other while keeping their tough guy poker faces well in hand. Frank and Steve looked like exactly what they were – two Italian men of advancing years well used to success and to getting their own way. They were talking about a housekeeper and a missing finger. From the sound of it, that was a conversation Sabina was glad she'd missed the beginning of.
Beside them sat the mark – the only guy at the table Sabina had never seen before. She glanced beyond him to Benny – dressed in his usual black leather jacket and sunglasses, even though it wasn't all that bright in the room. Benny thought if no one could see his eyes they'd have a harder time picking his bluffs. Sabina could have told him tells were rarely that obvious and that he should ditch the glasses and watch the way he held his arms close into his body when he had a good hand instead, but that wasn't in her job description. Next to Benny sat Priest – so nicknamed because he preached the good life, the wisdom of God and all that, all the while spending his free time in what many would call a den of sin. He was a straight up guy though, and maybe he was right when he said he was on God's mission. Maybe God needed people like him in a place like the casino more than in a church where everyone already believed.
Rounding out the table were Phil – an accountant who, wrongly, thought that a talent for financials should translate into a talent for cards because they were both about numbers – and Joel, the youngest regular at the table. Sabina knew his interest was career related – he wanted to play professionally at the big, televised tournaments, and was putting in his time in as many games as he could swing. He was good – maybe he'd even make the tournament circuit one day.
Finally, Sabina turned her attention back to the stranger, watching him closely. His hair was more grey than any other discernible colour although he didn't look especially old. He wore it long enough that it draped the shoulders of the black long coat he was wearing. He kept his eyes down and the way he played was beyond casual – actions taken with very little thought and with hardly any attention paid to his fellow players. He looked like he didn't even want to be there … which was odd enough to make a note of, because no one came to a high stakes poker table unless they wanted to win.
It came down to Steve and the stranger in the end. The dealer gestured to Steve, awaiting his next move.
"I know, I'll see him," Steve said. He picked up his cards and laid them down – revealing a weak hand he'd hoped to bluff into a winner. The stranger did the same, revealing a better hand and taking the pot.
"Nice hand, huh?" Steve said, annoyed. "Got me again. It's almost like you can read minds, huh?"
Sabina held back a smile – no serious poker player liked being caught out in a bluff. It was always something the other player did that gave them the edge, rather than a mistake on the bluffee's part. Although, mind reading was a bit extreme as far as excuses went, even for Steve.
"Only yours," Frank retorted.
"Look at this guy," Steve continued, motioning to the stranger. "He won't even look at me! You've been taking my money all night; you won't even look at me?" He addressed the stranger but got absolutely no response. This guy was as cold as ice and as calm.
"Whoa, whoa, leave it alone," Frank urged, looking worried. "He's a freakin' whacko."
"Interesting," Sabina thought as she moved forward, nodding to her fellow dealer before taking his place at the table. With the only remaining empty seat beside her, the dealer position put her almost directly opposite the mark, perfect for observing without being obvious.
The man gave her a quick once over - finding nothing of interest, he quickly returned his attention back to the table top.
Sabina disposed of the old deck, taking out a new pack and showing all the players that it was still in the wrapper. Breaking it open she spread the cards out on the table in front of her, pushing them around randomly to 'wash' them of any potential deliberate ordering. She then gathered them up, squaring them into a deck before splitting them for the first riffle. The sound of the cards flicking each other in quick procession was satisfying, something she'd liked from the first day at the six week poker school she'd had to attend before beginning her then new job. She kept the cards low to the table – no chance anyone would catch a glimpse of any of the faces. She riffled them again before boxing them for another split.
Before she could begin, the door of the room opened. After a short conversation and the requisite pat down from the guard at the door another man walked in.
Sabina looked up just as Frank and Steve saw the man, their reaction making it obvious that they knew the newcomer. Glancing up herself, the breath caught in Sabina's throat and her heart rate quickened, although she couldn't have said exactly why.
He was tall and lanky, his dark hair unruly in a way that didn't come out of a hair dresser's armoury. Neither did the stubble that darkened his cheeks – the result of neglecting his razor rather than by design. There was nothing especially riveting about him – sure, he was good looking, and wore the black suit coat, open collar shirt, and jeans well enough that any red blooded woman would want a second look. He'd stand out anywhere, but Sabina was used to men like him. The dangerous, purposeful type who radiated the 'don't mess with me' vibe without even trying. The casino was usually full of them … and none of them had ever raised Sabina's pulse after a single glance.
She was staring, a fact that only became obvious when the man's lips curved in a subtle smirk that said 'busted'. Feeling the flush of embarrassment riding up her throat to her cheeks, Sabina's eyes shifted into focus and connected with his with a snap that was almost electric … they were hazel, alluring, and oh hell, she could almost read the trouble burning behind them. This man had issues, conflicts … hot desires she was suddenly sure had little to do with human contact and more to do with whatever he'd come to the table for.
"Serious gambler," she thought, disappointed. That made it easier to tear her gaze from his, to push aside the rush of connection, of almost knowledge that had sizzled between them while they maintained eye contact.
"Aren't you a little out of your league here?" Steve asked. It didn't sound derogatory, which was interesting in itself.
"What are you, my mother?" the man retorted, his voice rasping just a little in a way that just completed the sexy package Sabina was doing her best to ignore.
The newcomer sat beside Sabina, shifting to let the waitress place his chips in front of him. As she left he turned to Sabina.
"Go ahead. I'll ante," he said, his gaze locked on the same man she herself was there to observe. With a sudden burst of intuition Sabina was sure that this man was just as interested in the stranger as she was. But why? What was his connection to a man suspected of something as innocuous as card sharping?
"Player in," Sabina confirmed in a low voice, intent now on observing both strangers. She began the shuffle from scratch, washing the cards again before completing a series of riffles and boxes until she was ready to deal. Squaring the deck, she placed the cut card on the table and then cut the deck on top of it. The cut card always remained on the bottom of the deck so the players couldn't see the undersides of the cards. Holding the deck in her left hand, Sabina began to deal, pitching each card from the front right corner so they skimmed low to the table. After dealing two a piece, she paused, waiting for bets to be laid.
The man beside her looked at the mark, who broke his study of the table top to stare back. His façade was blank – there was no way to see what either of them was thinking but there was no doubt the tension at the table ramped up as the game progressed.
The uncanny thing was, the mark kept winning, hand after hand. He seemed to know when to throw in his cards and when to hold and he never, ever fell for a bluff. Nobody was that lucky but Sabina was at a loss to explain it. The guy was cheating, she had no doubt, but not by any means she'd seen before, and she'd seen them all. Mr Adelson wouldn't be happy unless she could solve the mystery – but regardless, once she reported her findings the stranger would not be welcome at the casino again. It was Adelson's place and he didn't need to give a reason for banning someone.
Later, after hours of play, a hand came down to the too intriguing man beside her and her mark. She watched them eye their cards, her mark having first bet. He threw in some chips and the black haired man followed suit. Sabina burned the top card – placed it in the discard pile before dealing the community cards as was the usual practice. Quickly dealing the three cards, she revealed the six of spades, the seven of spades and the seven of hearts. It was a good flop, the potential for a full house or a straight flush there depending on the cards already in hand.
The mark immediately placed another stack of chips into the pot, the dark haired man following without hesitation.
Sabina dealt the fourth card, another seven. Now the potential for a game winning four of a kind was staring everyone in the face. The mark barely reacted, throwing down his bet like he didn't even care how much he was risking.
"Twenty-two thousand to call," Sabina announced.
The black haired man eyed the mark silently, each trying to suss the other out.
Steve shook his head. "He doesn't have it," he commented, a break it etiquette. Players never contributed once they were out of a hand.
"Shut up," Frank retorted, giving his friend a stern glance.
The staring match continued for a few more moments before the dark haired man abruptly gave in, tossing his cards face down on the table. Sabina couldn't help but look at him … frown lines appeared between his brows and he pursed his lips like he was swallowing back something distasteful. He looked … disappointed, but not with the result of the hand. More like disappointed that he hadn't stepped up and risked the twenty grand to see if the last seven had been in his opponent's hand.
Without a word the mark reached forward, collecting his chips.
Steve couldn't contain himself. He shook his head again, his eyes on the black haired man beside Sabina. "He didn't have it. No way."
The mark gave a small nod of the head to the black haired man – as much acknowledgement as he'd given anyone, and then stood up. Clearly he was done for the night. Sabina kept her expression blank but she wasn't surprised when Steve spoke up. No one liked to see a winner leave the table before their luck had turned.
"Wait. Where you goin'? You can't leave now!" he accused angrily. "Look at this guy!" he tried to get support from the other players as he got to his feet. "Hey!" he said again when the mark ignored him. He reached out to grab a wrist and that's when all hell broke loose.
The mark growled like a vicious animal, slapping Steve's hand away and then hurling him backwards across the room. Poor Steve crashed down on a glass table top, shattering it as people yelled in panic. Sabina pressed the hidden 'panic' button under the table before she shifted back quickly, getting out of the way as the security guard began to move forward to head off trouble. The alarm would register down in the control room, sending up more guards to assist if a fight broke out, which looked all too imminent.
The black haired man beside Sabina leaped up just as the mark jumped onto the table, running across it and shoving the other man to the floor. He ran for the door, taking out the first security guard too easily. The security guard at the door was ready for him, his pistol already out. Sabina watched, open mouthed as three shots slammed into the moving body of the mark. He didn't stop, didn't even pause, just powered forward, shoving the guard out of the way too before disappearing out the door. Sabina heard Dan yelling from outside the room, more shots firing, even as the black haired man regained his feet and gave chase, pausing only briefly to pick up the guard's dropped gun before he too disappeared out the door.
"What the hell?" Frank yelled, already at his friend's side.
"Everyone stay calm," Sabina ordered. "Security guards are already on their way up here. If you all wait I'm sure we'll get this situation sorted out quickly."
"Situation?" Frank laughed harshly. "Did you see that guy? Ran through bullets, like freakin' superman."
"Vest," Joel said quietly, thankfully keeping his cool. "Had to be. Probably Kevlar. Nothing less than military grade FMJs will even make a dent."
His quiet demeanour and logical explanation did more to reduce the panic levels than Sabina's assurances of help on the way. Giving him a grateful look she moved forward, eyeing the mess on the table with dismay. There was no standard call she could make for this one. Chips were everywhere, the cards scattered amongst the chaos so that whose stake was who's was anyone's guess. Mr Adelson himself would have to come down and reach an equitable solution for everyone.
Sabina knew she should stick around but at the same time she wanted to follow the black haired man, find out what the hell had happened. Joel's suggestion had calmed the room but Sabina knew it was implausible at best. Every player was subjected to a pat down before they got in the room. If anyone had been wearing a vest the guard would have detected it, and no way was anyone getting in wearing something that yelled 'I expect trouble!'.
It had been a minute, maybe less, but Sabina couldn't stand it. An inner tension was building, urging her to action. She hurried for the door, putting a hand to Dan's elbow on the way out. "Tell the boss I went to see if that guy caught our mark," she said, not waiting for Dan to protest. Once she'd cleared the door she broke into a run, sprinting down the corridor and then down the stairs, hoping to see signs of where the two men had gone. On the casino floor it was all quiet.
With a defeated sigh, Sabina slowed. She'd lost them. Still, maybe she'd see signs of which way they'd gone once they'd gone outside the casino.
Hurrying again, she hit the front door at a half run, skidding to a stop a few steps past the entrance and glancing around. Something made her look right first, just in time to see the mark exiting the side lane that led to the back of the hotel. He stumbled a few steps before his steps evened out and lengthened. She broke into a run even though she knew there was little chance she'd catch him.
By the time she got to the lane he'd disappeared into the mess of people walking along the sidewalk on the other side of the street. Puffing slightly, Sabina turned to the lane, making her way forward with her eyes to the ground. She saw what looked like blood, a long smear glinting wetly in the moonlight. She wasn't sure why but instinct have her looking up.
He was there, the black haired man from the game, looking down. They watched each other for moments before Sabina shifted slightly, telegraphing her intention to leave.
"Stay there!" he shouted, pointing down at her to get his point across.
"I don't think so," she shouted back, turning.
"Hey!" he yelled.
Sabina stopped in spite of herself, glancing up again. The moonlight glinted again, this time off a LVPD badge.
He was a cop!
"Like I said, stay there," he ordered again. "I'm coming down."
"Of course you are," Sabina muttered, sure that somehow her night was about to get worse, even though it hardly seemed possible.
Chapter 2: I'll be what I am
Detective John Sheppard strode through the casino and out into the street, making his way down the sidewalk, his mind awash with a confusion of thoughts.
The guy had jumped off the damn roof! Jumped more than a hundred feet. The sound of the body hitting the ground had been the kind of sickening thud people didn't usually walk away from. This guy had though, seeming to heal with every step he took. That on top of the way he'd run through bullets like they weren't even there took things to a whole new level of crazy, and that was saying something for Vegas.
To make things worse John had a civilian who'd witnessed too much – if he didn't head her off the story would hit the news before he could follow up the massive lead the night had provided him. The radiation on the bodies had led him to the hospital – the sick guy then leading him to the Lucky Roller's Motel. From there he'd picked up the suspect and tailed him to the casino on the slim chance there was a connection. He hadn't been doing anything else and leads on the case had been non-existent before he'd turned up Laurence Foster.
John wasn't sure what he'd thought he would find, following a random guy from the motel, but it sure has hell wasn't someone who could take multiple bullets and a hundred foot leap of faith and walk away. Given the state of the bodies and what he'd seen that night, Sheppard was thinking he'd stumbled a lot closer to the perp than he'd realised. He had to get back to the Lucky Roller, but first he had to smooth over the situation with the dealer. The last thing the LVPD needed was bad publicity ... the last thing he needed was a spotlight shining on his activities.
She was standing exactly where he'd pointed but her expression said she was less than happy about it. As John approached a frown formed. He'd thought the impact she'd made on him at the poker table was a residual effect, because he was sitting down to a game when he'd promised himself he wouldn't go there again. He already owed too much to Mickey with no prospects of paying him back anytime soon. His adrenalin had been pumping. Now, alone and with the moonlight shining down on her, John realised he'd been wrong. As he stopped a couple of steps away and assessed her his puzzlement grew. She was beautiful but not really his usual type. Didn't have that in it for fun vibe he usually looked for. On the tall side, she still had to look up, her brown eyes full of suspicion as she met his gaze. That intrigued him too. A woman sees a guy take multiple bullets and just run away but instead of being scared, she's curious?
Before he could talk she launched into speech, her voice low and appealing in a way he didn't want to be noticing.
"What the hell was that?" she demanded. She looked up at the roof above them, then down at the blood stain glaring at them from the ground. "He jumped, didn't he?"
He opened his mouth to say something but she didn't give him the chance.
"And don't try to tell me of course not, no one could survive that," she shot out. "I know what I saw. That guy, whoever he was, took three bullets to the chest and didn't even slow down. You chased him and the fact that you were up there when I clearly saw him walking off down there," she pointed to the street behind them, "are dots a child could connect, even though the picture they make shouldn't be possible."
"Are you done?" he asked after she'd stopped talking.
She nodded, waiting for his explanation.
"Firstly, Ms …," he trailed off, raising a brow to let her know he expected her to provide a name.
"Scott," she said shortly. "Sabina Scott."
"Right, Ms Scott," he repeated with a small, charming kind of smile. "Detective John Sheppard," he returned the introduction. "Now, it's understandable that you'd have questions and I'd like to answer them, but I can't." He gave that half smirking smile again. "This is part of an ongoing police investigation. In fact, I'm going to have to ask you to keep what you saw to yourself."
"You're kidding, right?" the woman had the audacity to laugh. "A room full of people saw that guy run through bullets. This is one secret the Las Vegas Police Department won't be able to cover up!"
That pissed him off. The LVPD might not be the precinct of choice for the up and coming detective but they weren't shoddy. He took a step forward, getting into her personal space a bit, his eyes going intent.
She shivered. It was so small if he hadn't been watching her so closely he'd have missed it. Since it wasn't a cold night, and the shiver was accompanied by a glazed kind of expression in her eyes, satisfaction surged to the forefront. John Sheppard was no stranger to women lusting after him – he didn't seek it and he was no catch so he didn't really understand it either, but it happened and he wasn't above taking what was offered if it was offered freely, using it to his advantage to work a case. The possibilities in keeping her quiet long enough for him to get past the next steps in the investigation suddenly looked way more promising.
"Seems to me you have quite the interest in this guy yourself," he said quietly, remaining too close. "Now that I'm thinking about it, you were watching him pretty closely during the game. Then instead of staying at the scene until the police could take your statement like you should have, instead of running away from the scary guy, you follow us. You want to explain that?"
She shifted back, eying him warily now. "I was doing my job, just like you," she told him.
There was no fear in her, for the situation she found herself in, or of him, even though he was deliberately trying to intimidate her. Maybe she was more his type that his first impressions had suggested. He ran his eyes up and down her slowly, taking in the dark pants, white shirt, and black vest, all covering a slender but strong build. She had kick ass boots on too, and with her long hair in a tight pony tail, had independent, competent woman down pat. "And what job would that be?" he drawled sardonically.
"I deal cards," she stated the obvious, only continuing when he raised a brow and gave her a speed it up gesture. "Casinos attract people who think they can beat the odds … sometimes they try artificially tipping the odds in their favour."
John got it in a heartbeat and laughed. "You're a casino cop, undercover – you scam the scammers!"
"I'm not a cop and I don't scam anyone," she shot back, indignant. "For every system they can come up with there's always a way to expose them. Card counting – scams of any kind – are illegal Detective. Everyone knows that when they choose to step through our doors. If they cheat anyway, they deserve to be caught, through any means available to us."
"So my suspect is a suspected cheat?" Sheppard queried more seriously.
"Nobody is that lucky," Sabina said simply. "Statistically I mean, the odds of anyone having a perfect run of wins, over several nights like your suspect had …. well, it's as close to impossible as it gets. I have no doubt he was cheating."
"How?" John asked.
"That's the part I couldn't work out," she admitted, "and I've been at this for five years so believe me when I say I've seen it all." Glancing around the lane, her eyes going up to the roof again, she shrugged. "Now I'm thinking whatever made that guy special enough to survive what he did tonight is the same thing that makes it possible for him to win every time."
"And I suppose you have a theory on that too?"
"One I hope to hell isn't right," she grimaced. "This is Las Vegas … Area 51 and Nellis air force base are a stone's throw away. I don't want to think anything to do with genetics is being done out there but I can't see any other explanation."
"You think that guy was genetically enhanced?" John's eyes narrowed as he considered the possibility.
"Maybe, I don't know," she retorted. Folding her arms over her chest she raised a brow at him this time. "All right, what's your theory then, Mr Hot Shot Detective?"
"You said it yourself Honey," he drawled. "Area 51. I think I'm going to go with alien invasion."
He laughed when she scoffed, her expression shifting to disgusted. "Get serious," she snapped.
"What?" he held out his hands imploringly. "Come on, you didn't think I was really going to offer a suggestion, did you? I'm a cop – we don't jump to conclusions, not without a logical chain of evidence."
"What do you call what we witnessed tonight then?" Sabina demanded.
"A step in the process of finding that logical chain of evidence," he returned. "That's why I need you to keep a lid on your speculation until further notice. No telling your Mom or your sister or your boyfriend about the genetically enhanced scam artist you almost caught tonight."
"One, I never talk about my work outside the casino," she said seriously. "It's confidential and my cover would be blown in a second if people find out what I really do. Second, I don't have a Mom or a sister or a boyfriend but it wouldn't matter if I did, because lastly, I'm not in the habit of gossiping Detective. I have far better things to do with my time."
"Really?" John was taking that step closer to invade her space again before his brain could catch up with his body and stop him. "What better things do you do with your time Ms Scott?"
"None of your business!" she shot back, shifting to glare up at him. That put their faces way too close for her comfort, if the way her eyes widened before she gulped and stepped back was any indicator.
"So you're not going to ignore what you saw tonight?" he asked.
"I don't see how that's possible," Sabina replied stubbornly. "How do you forget a bullet proof guy who can leap from tall buildings?"
"I'm not asking you to forget it," John persisted. "Just step back, let me deal with it."
"And what if he comes back? Or someone just like him with the same freaky powers?" Sabina insisted. "That's a big risk to the casino. I can't keep this to myself. At the very least I have an obligation to warn my boss."
"Wrong answer," he'd taken a hold of her wrist before she could avoid him, starting to walk towards where he'd parked his car and dragging her along with him.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" she demanded, tugging hard and digging in her heels to get him to stop.
He did, so quickly that she crashed into him. Before she could jump back he grabbed her shoulders and pulled her up until they were all but sharing breaths.
"I thought that would be obvious," he said, his voice rasping low and heated. "I'm taking you into police custody," he smiled, leaning even closer, "my custody," he whispered, "until I can be assured that you won't stick your nose where it doesn't belong and ruin my investigation."
"Okay, okay, I'll hold off on reporting any of this to my boss!" Sabina promised abruptly, arching her back in an effort to create some distance. That just thrust her assets even more into Sheppard's sphere of attention. She wasn't built like a Vegas show girl, but he'd always been more of a leg man himself and from what he could tell, hers were prime A grade real estate.
"Too late," he said simply. "You shouldn't have been so ornery. Maybe I would have believed you. We both know you're only telling me what I want to hear because you want me to let you go, when you should have agreed up front, because it's the right thing to do."
"Maybe I don't know you Detective," Sabina said with quiet intent, "but my instincts on people are usually pretty good. They have to be to do the job I do. Those instincts tell me that you're not a by the book man."
"Maybe not, but I'm still pretty attached to the 'right thing'," he agreed, not offended. After all, he could hardly deny it since breaking the rules, going behind enemy lines in a botched attempt to rescue Karen was why he found himself where he was. Dishonourably discharged and sweating his ass off at the LVPD when he'd rather be where he belonged, up in the blue, flying helicopters like he used to. Then he grinned, pulling her closer again and leaning in so he could talk close to her ear. "Maybe it's not about the rules at all," he murmured, deliberately breathing in her scent and deciding she smelt good … really good.
"Seriously, you're coming on to me?" she jerked away, glaring at him. He'd have let it go but her act couldn't cover up what he could see … she was just as interested in him as he was in her.
"Surprisingly, yes I am," he admitted freely. The bluntness of his answer surprised her. She blinked, frowned, shot him a puzzled look, and then glanced away again. He was still holding her shoulders and reluctantly let go, taking her hand again, gently this time, and tugging her into walking beside him. "That puzzles you?" he asked curiously as they approached the entrance to the lane.
"Frankly, yes," she shot him another one of those quick glances. "Guys like you don't go for girls like me."
"Wait, guys like me?" he stopped again, turning narrowed eyes on her. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Fishing for compliments Detective?" Sabina shot back. Shaking her head she met his eyes, determined. "Fine. I'm sure a man who looks like you is no stranger to female interest Detective. I'm guessing your usual type is more 'for one night only curvy show girl', not someone needing a serious, professional image, like me."
"Ouch. Now, that's just being nasty," John grinned, eyeing her with speculative intent. They were still a few feet from the lane entrance, still invisible to the people walking past, unaware of their presence. Lifting a hand he smoothed it down her pony tail, enjoying the silky softness and the image of how it would look wrapped around his wrist while he moved above her. "You don't know men as well as you think you do ... that serious, professional image you've got going is sexier than the flashy reveal … makes a man want to see what you're hiding."
He didn't give her a chance to protest … the connection was there buzzing between them and he just wanted to know how it would feel if he got closer still. He ignored the internal warning that Sabina Scott wasn't for him, that getting involved with her would be something he'd live to regret.
Curving his hand over her cheek he leaned down as he urged her upwards until their lips met.
Chapter 3: Right or wrong
Sabina felt that panicked and yet exciting wash of emotion as John Sheppard kissed her for the first time, that and a healthy rush of fight of flight adrenalin. It wasn't your average 'Hello – nice to kiss you for the first time' kind of kiss either. No, Detective Sheppard took over every one of her senses like he'd been doing it forever, like he had every right to plaster himself all over her. He kissed her as though he wanted to know every secret she'd ever kept, as though he could learn her with his lips, his tongue and the hands he was running all over her.
She forgot everything in the face of the connection she felt with him, so foreign to anything she'd ever felt with anyone else. The urge to get closer was fuelled by a spark of electricity flowing from him to her and back again. It was physical, sure, but it was so much more as well. In the past Sabina would have scoffed at anyone who'd say what she was currently thinking, but she couldn't help herself even though it scared the crap out of her.
He was it … the one.
The man she'd waited for forever without even knowing that's what she was doing. She hadn't recognised it at first sight, but it was there after the first kiss. John Sheppard was it for her, just as she was it for him … and somehow she knew that knowledge would freak the hell out of him even more than it did her. He'd come to his senses in a minute, realise where they were headed, and high tail it out of there before she could blink, while he still retained the ability to leave her without a backward glance.
That couldn't happen … because if he left Sabina knew she'd never see him again. There wouldn't be a second chance for them. They'd lose something precious and never know what they'd missed …. she was as sure of it as she was of her own name … and she couldn't accept that as their future, as her future.
And so she acted completely out of character, something John Sheppard wouldn't know about her until it was too late for either of them to deny their feelings. She went with her instinct and pushed it big time, skipping past so many steps it would make her head spin when she thought about it later.
"I want you," she murmured when he tore his lips from hers, panting harshly.
His eyes went hotter still, and he was back to kissing her, his hands on her ass to pull her up against his arousal. "Back at you," he muttered, rocking her against him in a way that left nothing to the imagination.
Maybe it was wrong, to take advantage of what she instinctively knew about him - that the casual, in it for fun encounter was both the entry and exit point as far as he was concerned. And maybe she was crazy, thinking that going along with it would net her a different outcome than all those other women he'd likely slept with. And it didn't matter, because something was driving her onward anyway, despite the voice in her head demanding that she be reasonable.
"Where?" she demanded, kissing her way up to his ear and breathing hotly. He shuddered, dragging her closer still. "Detective," she got out but he didn't respond. "John," she all but begged, demanding an answer.
"Again," he urged, tugging her shirt out of her pants at the back so he could get his hands underneath. They were hot against her bare skin, causing her to shudder this time.
"What?" she blinked, confused.
"My name, say it again," he explained, pressing his hot palms to her back.
"Oh," she smiled, slow and sexy. "I want to go back to your place John … and blow your mind with hot … fast … sex."
It was so unlike her to talk like that but it had the desired effect. He broke away abruptly, grabbing her hand and walking rapidly towards the car park. A few minutes later they were in his car, driving, her hand held firmly against his thigh.
She barely paid attention to their location when John finally pulled up somewhere, stopping the car. Later it was only the impressions that she remembered. Him opening her door, dragging her out and into his arms. The stumbling walk to his door as he tried to kiss her and pay attention to where he was going at the same time. Setting her down inside and then walking her backwards as he kissed her until abruptly they were in his bedroom and he was stripping her with simple efficiency.
That's when everything slowed down, when the impressions gave way to memories that would be burned into her brain forever. The sight, in the semi darkness, of John Sheppard as he undressed for her. God, he was so beautiful she wanted to bottle up the feeling of wonder she had for him so she could keep it forever.
He didn't rush … even though the heat of their first kiss would have suggested a hard and fast passionate clash between them. Once he had her in his domain, something in John seemed to relax. In that relaxing he showed her more of what was inside him that he'd probably intended. For Sabina, it was knowledge to cherish and more than that, to keep close because she knew she'd need to confront him with it sometime in the future. No way did a man only interested in a string of meaningless one night stands know how to touch a woman with so much feeling. Know how to tune in to his partner and give what was needed before taking what he wanted. They communicated through touch, through sounds, but there were no words. It was so smooth and so effortless for a first time, which was something in itself, but when John finally shifted to join his body with hers, Sabina felt a connection far beyond the physical. Jolts of pure energy every place he'd touched her magnified a hundred fold once he was inside, the ripples spreading out until she was filled to the brim. It was a rush of sensation that swept them both away as they climaxed together, neither sure where each ended and the other began.
Sabina fell back to the mattress, exhausted, breathing hard. John shifted so that he could collapse beside her, his skin sheened with sweat.
"Okay, that was a little more intense than I was expecting," John muttered.
Sabina laughed weakly. "Just a little?" she queried.
"A lot then," John corrected himself. "Intensely more intense."
Sabina laughed again. "I think you've incapacitated me completely …. I might not be able to move again."
"Ah, but what a way to go," John noted, his voice slurring a little with the need to sleep.
"It was," she agreed, yawning. With a sigh she settled against him, smiling as he put his arm over her, all but snuggling his face into her neck. Between one breath and the next they both fell asleep.
It was the noise of keys lifting that woke her a couple of hours later.
"John?" she murmured, sitting up in the bed, the sheet held over her chest.
"It's okay," his voice sounded raspy in the darkness, and she sighed silently. It was already happening. He'd remembered who he was making himself out to be … remembered who she was, and determined that was a clash that wasn't going to happen. He was pulling away from her.
"Are you going somewhere?" she asked, even as she scrambled out of his bed, reaching for her clothes.
"Yeah, police business," he used the handy excuse, one she couldn't argue with.
"At," she glanced at the clock beside his bed, "two in the morning?"
"The law never sleeps," he quipped, careful to not look her directly in the eye.
She had her clothes on by then and quickly sat to pull on her boots.
"Okay," she said. "You can take me home first."
"Ah ….," he frowned. She could almost see his brain trying to come up with a reason to say no that wouldn't have him feeling like the complete bastard he was in danger of being. "Where do you live?"
She gave him the address and he shook his head. "Opposite direction to where I need to be," he said. "I'll call you a cab," he offered.
"That's okay," she said easily. "I'll just come with you and you can take me home after. I'll wait in the car … you won't even know I'm there."
"Unlikely," he muttered under his breath. He eyed her for a moment and she could see that she was losing him. He was about to step over into complete bastard even though she could see that the effort pained him. At the heart John Sheppard was a decent man, although clearly life had not paved the way for him to always live it.
"Aren't you obligated to keep me with you anyway?" she reminded him. "How will you know otherwise that I didn't run straight to the papers with my breaking story about aliens loose in Las Vegas? If our guy gets wind that you're on to him, he might rabbit, and then where would you be?"
He smirked but he didn't go back on the reasons he'd given to keep her with him, even though they both knew it wasn't strictly true. They both knew she wasn't going to blow his case like that. "Good point Ms Scott," he congratulated her.
"Just trying to do my civic duty, Detective Sheppard," she returned, smiling, knowing she'd won, for now.
"Let's go," he urged, waiting until she'd walked to his side before putting a hand to her back and guiding her to the door. Less than half an hour later they were pulling up at the Lucky Rollers Motel.
"Stay in the car," John ordered Sabina, waiting until she nodded before continuing. "Don't talk to anyone. Lock the doors after I get out and don't open them for anyone except me."
"Okay," she agreed, giving him a small smile that had him flashing back to the hours before. She'd given him a similar smile moments after he'd finished undressing and pulled her naked body against his. That first touch of skin against skin had almost pushed his heart out of his chest it had been beating so hard.
Giving himself a mental shake he pushed the images aside. Now was definitely not the time to be thinking lustful thoughts about anyone, especially not someone who made him feel so off centre. The sooner he got done at the motel, the sooner he could put Sabina Scott and their unexpectedly intense one night stand from his mind permanently. What the hell had he brought her with him for anyway? He needed to get his brain into gear and stop letting his manhood do the driving, something that wasn't usually such a challenge.
As soon as he entered the office of the motel he was all business, insisting the manager open up the room next door to Lawrence Foster's. What they found wasn't wholly unexpected – another body to add to the tally and proof positive that casino guy was in fact the serial killer he'd been chasing for months.
He'd actually solved the case.
Now all he had to do was locate his perp, bring him in, and his job would be done. He didn't need an explanation for the guy's super human powers, wasn't sure he wanted to know even if an explanation was offered.
The money in the black holdall was an unexpectedly alluring fly in the ointment. Could he do it, take what wasn't his because it would mean he could leave the shitty life he'd fallen into behind? The kind of guy who deserved a woman like Sabina Scott wouldn't do it. The random thought kicked his adrenalin higher still and part of him wanted to take the cash just to hammer home to himself and to her that he couldn't be the man for her.
He was torn, his thoughts scattered. The John Sheppard of old, the helicopter pilot who's broken the rules to save his girl, wouldn't take the money either. The echo of that man sounded within him but John ruthlessly squashed it. He hadn't saved Karen and he'd killed twelve others in a failure of mammoth proportions. The man he used to be had died in that crash along with the others … what had walked away was too much the lesser man for him to ever aspire to be different.
Yet, he still felt like a criminal moments later, when he opened the boot of his car and threw the holdall inside before slamming it resolutely. It was done now – he'd removed evidence from a crime scene. He couldn't go back.
John was staring at a puddle of car fluid on the ground next to his parking space, delaying when he'd have to get back into the car and face his latest mistake, when a black SUV drove into the car park, pulling to a stop as two more pulled up behind it. The FBI guy he'd met earlier in the day, Richard Woolsey, got out of the lead car, walking over to him.
"Detective," he greeted John casually, like meeting up in the car park of a cheap motel at almost three in the morning was something he did regularly. Heck, maybe it was.
"Got another body here," Sheppard revealed, his options down to none. "I was just about to call it in."
"I heard about what happened at the casino," Woolsey revealed.
"You followin' me?" John queried with a frown, not liking that idea at all. Tonight hadn't been a stunning display of his character. He'd just had sex with a woman he'd met the same night, in between falling off the no gambling wagon and pocketing thousands of dollars he hadn't earned – did they know about all that too?
"There's a satellite locator on your car," Richard said without apology. "If you don't mind, we'd like you to come for a little drive."
"Do I have a choice?" Sheppard asked, already suspecting the answer would be no. He glanced at his car, wondering what to do about Sabina. He'd have to just leave her there – she'd work it out, if she hadn't already. She'd work out he was a lost cause too, maybe even before they had one of those awkward conversations where his inadequacies became too obvious. At least she was following his order and staying inside.
Before that thought was even finished, the door to his car creaked open and Sabina Scott got out. She approached, giving him a quick glance before she turned her attention to Richard Woolsey. "Is there a problem here?" she asked. "John, is this guy bothering you?"
It was funny, her putting herself into the role of protector, like a guy trying to impress a girl at a nightclub, and he smiled as he answered. "Yeah, as a matter of fact he is. What are you going to do about it?"
"You're the cop," she reminded him. "You do something about it."
"I am," he said more seriously. "I'm cooperating." Taking out his keys he moved to hand them to her. "Take my car and go home okay. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Of course you will ... to get your car back," Sabina muttered. She looked at Woolsey again. "Is Detective Sheppard in some kind of trouble because of that guy at the casino?" she asked.
"By 'that guy' I assume you mean the gentleman who avoided being shot by two security guards before evading Detective Sheppard's pursuit?" Woolsey questioned.
"No, I mean the guy who got shot, three times, in the chest," Sabina corrected, "before jumping from a hundred foot height and living to presumably go and beat impossible odds at another casino."
"I'm sorry, you are?" Richard Woolsey eyed Sabina with sudden interest.
"No one you need to worry about," John broke in, taking Sabina's arm and urging her towards his car. "You can trust her – she won't reveal anything you don't want revealed."
"Who says I won't?" Sabina pulled her arm away, clearly determined now that wherever they were taking him, she was going too. "I'm Sabina Scott," she introduced herself over John's protests. "I deal at the casino where Detective Sheppard found the suspect tonight. I saw the whole thing and I will tell any and every one if you insist on leaving me behind."
"Richard Woolsey, FBI," the older man replied blandly, "and I suppose we'd better take you along then."
Sabina smiled, pleased with her triumph but John was less than thrilled. One, because the more time he spent with her, the more he was sure purging Sabina Scott from his consciousness was going to be impossible. Two, he'd been watching Woolsey when Sabina introduced herself, and if he wasn't mistaken, the name hadn't come as a surprise. These guys already knew who Sabina was, and that wasn't good news, for either of them.
Chapter 4: Weak or strong
The sun was high in the sky before they arrived at their destination, a grouping of small buildings beside the highway, in the middle of nowhere. They'd put Sabina in a separate vehicle to the one Sheppard rode in, something she hadn't planned on. It was almost as though she and the Detective were suspects in some crime they knew nothing about and they were being kept apart to ensure they couldn't collaborate and align their respective stories.
They put her in a room with a steel table in the middle and weird, green lighting in the corners. The doors had small windows in them but they were too high for her to see anything useful. There were chairs at the table but she didn't sit down, pacing back and forth instead as she drove herself crazy going backwards and forwards between wondering what was happening to John while they had her on ice and asking herself how she'd let someone she'd met the day before twist her emotions up so completely.
When the door opened she turned swiftly, folding her arms over her chest.
"Ms Scott," the man who entered wore a uniform she didn't recognise, all dark fabric and pockets. He was of a similar height to her own and had the kind of face that inspired trust. As he drew closer, Sabina took in the close cropped dark hair and alluring blue grey eyes and decided sending this good looking, easy going and appealing man had been a deliberate choice. Woo the woman with a man who'd ordinarily be hard to resist. Of course, she'd just spent a startlingly passionate night with John Sheppard so her scale was way off normal.
"What, no bad cop?" she quizzed, glancing at the closed door.
He laughed, taking a seat and gesturing for her to do the same. "I'm not here to trick you and I think we both know I'm not a cop."
"And I'm not a criminal, although being locked up in here for hours without any kind of communication would make anyone feel like one," Sabina replied.
"When it comes to national security Ma'am everyone is guilty until proven innocent," the man replied.
"This is about that guy at the casino, isn't it," Sabina sighed, giving in and sitting down in the seat facing her interviewer. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Right, sure," he nodded, not taking offence that she'd pointed out his oversight. "Major Evan Lorne."
"Major?" Sabina queried.
"United States air force Ma'am," he clarified.
"So the military really is involved," Sabina commented. "Was I right? Was that guy the result of some kind of genetic experimentation?"
"Ah, no, not exactly," Lorne replied. He pushed a thick document across to her and placed a pen meaningfully on top of it. "This is a non-disclosure agreement. If you want to know the answers you'll have to sign it first."
"And if I don't?"
"Then you'll be our guest until such time as we feel the current threat is over," the Major said simply. "And before you start thinking a few days off on government time might not be a bad thing, it will be impossible to let anyone know you're here. You'll disappear until we say otherwise."
Sabina shrugged. She had no family, no close friends. There was work but they'd understand if she explained what happened once she was able to return. If she'd had to admit to it, it would be beyond pathetic, but the only person she cared anything personally about - because life had crashed them together before she could find a way to keep him out - was here already. Speaking of which ...
"Are you giving Detective Sheppard the same deal?" she asked.
Lorne's lips turned up in the barest of smiles and Sabina felt a flush staining her cheeks. "Is my answer going to influence your decision?" he asked.
"Probably not," she admitted, too tired to prevaricate. "I want to know," she admitted. She'd never been good with letting a mystery go; that was probably a contributing factor in her being so good at her job. She never stopped until she had the answers.
Reaching over the table she took the document and opened it. She read the first page and then glanced up to see Major Lorne watching her. "Are you going to sit there like that while I read the whole thing?" she riffled what felt like hundreds of pages meaningfully.
"I'm here to answer any questions you might have," he offered.
"And the fact that you sitting there with nothing to do but look at me is really distracting doesn't sway you?"
"Not particularly," he admitted. "I'm under orders, which trumps any discomfort you might be feeling. Sorry," he added when she grimaced.
"Fine," Sabina shifted abruptly, swivelling herself until she was straddling her seat, her back to the Major.
"Your back is going to be sore sitting like that," he commented helpfully but she ignored him, turning her attention to the NDA. Even being a fast reader it still took her over an hour to work through the whole thing.
"Any questions?" Lorne asked when she turned around, placing the document on the table and reaching for the pen.
"What's to ask?" she queried. "In the most long winded way possible I'm agreeing that anything I learn here is 100% confidential, can't be revealed to anyone not already in the know, from now until the end of time. If I break the agreement you get to lock my ass away for the foreseeable future, without a trial."
"Harsh, but essentially correct," the Major confirmed.
He watched Sabina sign it and then took the agreement, adding his own signature as a witness. Once it was done he stood, walking to the door, opening it and handing the signed document to whoever waited outside before closing the door again.
"Okay," she said as soon as he returned. "So tell me, if he's not genetically enhanced, how did that guy survive three bullets to the chest?"
"It's not genetic enhancement, no, unless you consider something genetically not human to be the same as enhanced," Lorne replied.
Sabina blinked, frowning. "Not human?"
"He's from a species called the Wraith," the Major was so casual he might as well have been commenting on the weather, but that very approach convinced Sabina more than anything else would have that he was telling her the unvarnished truth. "They come from another galaxy a long way from ours and weren't a problem for us here until they attacked Earth a few months back."
"Aliens attacked Earth?" Sabina asked, incredulous. "How was that something that didn't make every news feed the world over?"
"We discovered a defence platform that was used to take down the Wraith ships before they could do any damage we couldn't cover up," the Major explained. "Unfortunately a few of their smaller ships crash landed."
"And the pilots survived?" she asked, eyes wide. "They didn't burn up during re-entry?"
"The Wraith have remarkable regenerative capabilities," Lorne shook his head. "It takes a full clip to take one down. Anything less and the bullet holes close up so fast you can watch it happen."
"Do they read minds as well?" Sabina quizzed.
Lorne eyed her in surprise. "Yeah, as a matter of fact they do. How'd you know that?"
"At the casino, where I work," she explained, "that guy – the wraith Detective Sheppard was tailing – he was cheating, winning way more than anyone could relying solely on luck. He wasn't counting cards, he didn't have a partner helping him, and he wasn't using any of the devices people bring in to control the play. Reading minds is an explanation I can live with."
"You know, most people are just a little more shocked, a little more sceptical when we tell them aliens are among us," Lorne pointed out.
Sabina shrugged. "They didn't see what I did last night. Even without the poker game, nobody normal jumps a hundred feet willingly, expecting to walk away."
"True," Lorne agreed. He looked at Sabina assessingly and then seemed to come to a decision. "Do you want to know more?"
She didn't hesitate. "Yes."
"Then follow me."
He took her on a tour of the facility, showing her the remains of crashed ships - Darts he called them. They sat in on part of a briefing on what the Wraith was building, something that caused radiation exposure which turned out to be how Detective Sheppard had stumbled over him. There were theories straight out of science fiction and all Sabina could do was listen, overwhelmed by the world that was opening up in front of her. Nothing was as she'd believed.
Lorne introduced her to some people too, including a young Doctor, Jennifer Keller, who was responsible for the autopsy of the last of a long string of victims of the Wraith fugitive.
"They feed on human energy," Doctor Keller explained, turning her right hand upward and tracing a line across the palm. "They have something on their palm they use to inject enzymes into their victims through contact with the chest. It's like they absorb the life from the body until there's not enough left to keep the victim alive."
"Okay, well now I'm officially freaked out," Sabina quipped, her stomach churning as her active imagination provided too good a picture of what that would be like.
"No you're not," Lorne countered.
"Maybe not, but my brain feels like you've jammed too much knowledge into it," Sabina admitted.
"I had one more thing to show you," the Major said, "but it's not really necessary, if you've had enough for the day."
"What is it?"
"We have a captive," Lorne said simply. "Nothing like convincing people aliens exist than by showing them one in the flesh."
Sabina hesitated but then shook her head. "I'm already convinced," she said.
"Fair enough," Lorne nodded to the doctor and then urged Sabina to follow him out the door.
"So, what now?" Sabina asked.
"What now?" Lorne repeated evasively as they walked down a long deserted corridor towards the exit.
Sabina stopped, waiting until the Major was facing her before continuing. "Look, I might be running on fumes after only a couple of hours sleep last night, but I can still see that there are unanswered questions here," she said. "The one that's really got me thinking is why. Why did you tell me any of this when you could have glossed over it and cut me loose? It's not like I had any evidence to back up my story and you said it yourself. Most people would need a lot more convincing than I did before they'd believe me if I told them I dealt poker to an alien last night. Why take the risk bringing me into the mix?"
"This is gonna sound crazy," the Major began.
"What, crazier than the part about life sucking aliens on Earth?" Sabina retorted.
"In some respects, yes," Lorne replied. "How much to you know about quantum physics?"
"Very little," Sabina admitted. "I've heard of Schrodinger's cat."
Lorne smiled. "That's the one most people come across. Okay, well in quantum physics there's a theory that all possible actions spawn multiple realities, where every path that could be taken is played out."
"Alternate realities, you mean?"
"Exactly, alternate realities," Lorne confirmed. "Now, it's always been just a theory, until about a year ago. I lead a team that's based in the same galaxy the Wraith originally come from – there's something called a star gate that lets us travel instantly over long distances using wormholes." He stopped, eyed Sabina to see if she was still with him, and then went on. "We were working on creating a power source, something strong enough for us to dial other galaxies instead of just other planets, but instead we ended up opening a rift – my team went through and found ourselves in one of those other realities."
"What does all of that have to do with me?" Sabina queried.
"I'm getting to that," Lorne returned. "Okay, so the other reality was similar to ours, a lot of the same people, the same experiences with the Wraith. Not all the people were the same though. There were a couple in particular in that reality that weren't working with us in ours." He met Sabina's eyes intently. "You were one of them."
"What?" Sabina laughed. "You're trying to tell me that there's a reality out there where I'm part of a team that travels between planets, that I live in a different galaxy?"
"That's exactly what I'm telling you," Lorne said seriously. "I was there Sabina, I met you and I spoke to you. You were a liaison for us, along with another person there we didn't have on site, because we found it was just too disturbing to spend too much time talking to our alternate selves."
"Was John the other person?" Sabina made that intuitive leap abruptly.
"He was, and a pretty important part of that reality too," Lorne admitted. "You probably don't know this but your Detective used to be a pilot in the air force and in that reality he still was. He was a Colonel and the guy in charge of the base I work on."
"Was there anyone else there that's missing from here?"
"Interesting question," the Major acknowledged. "Maybe on a small scale but none that we noticed. No one significant. Why do you ask?"
"Because somehow, John Sheppard and I met just at the time an alien is wreaking havoc here, on our Earth, and now it's connecting us to all the rest of it that we're both already involved in in another reality," Sabina tried to get her head around how big a coincidence that was.
"Boggles the mind, doesn't it," Lorne commented.
"Yeah, just a bit," Sabina agreed. "How long were you there for, in the other reality?"
"The rift was an accident. It took the scientists a while to work it out to get us back home," Lorne explained. "We were there long enough for you and I to become friends, enough that I feel like I already know you even though we've never met before today."
"What was she like, this other me?" Sabina couldn't resist asking.
Lorne smiled. "You really want to know?"
Sabina thought for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, I really want to know."
"Okay then," Lorne put a hand to her elbow and did a one eighty, heading back the way they'd come. "Let's grab a drink and I'll tell you everything I learned while I was there."
"What about John?" Sabina had to ask.
The Major stopped, took out a small communicator. "I'll find out his status," he said.
Sabina listened while Lorne questioned another officer on the whereabouts of Detective Sheppard.
"He's already on his way home," Lorne revealed once he'd signed off and put the communicator away.
"He went home without me?" Sabina felt a stab of hurt deep inside, struggling to keep her face blank so the man before her wouldn't see how upset she was.
"He might not have had a choice," Lorne explained, his expression shifting to concerned understanding. "Maybe he didn't sign the agreement. Or maybe he didn't like what we had to tell him."
"Maybe," Sabina took a deep breath and let it out slowly
"Come on, I'll buy you that coffee and tell you a story," Lorne nudged her shoulder in a friendly manner, smiling when she nodded.
"I'd like that," she said, surprising herself in how much she meant it. Major Evan Lorne was a genuinely nice man. Even after so short an acquaintance she felt that they were already friends, even though she couldn't explain how easily and quickly that friendship had been formed. And in the face of John Sheppard abandoning her, she could do with a friend.
It hurt to be abandoned ... again ... and there was only one positive she could come up with for the situation with Detective John Sheppard. She knew where he lived.
Chapter 5: A solitary man
Sitting in the back seat of the SUV as it drove him through the desert, back to Las Vegas, John's head was spinning. It wasn't just the Wraith or the fact that apparently in another reality he was a much better guy than he was in this one. He wasn't living up to his potential and wasn't that a real slap in the face. No, it wasn't all the character hits … it was the rest of what they'd shared about that other him that really had him going.
"Why did we bring her along?" Rodney repeated John's question about Sabina back to him. "Because she's important, or at least she was, in the other reality. Only her name wasn't Sabina Scott. It was Sabina Sheppard. She was a strong gene carrier – Wraith and Ancient, a member of an off world team … and your wife."
"My what?" Sheppard repeated after swallowing dryly.
"Your wife, and pregnant with your first child when we left to come back here," Rodney clarified.
"Bullshit," John said aloud much as he had after McKay's reveal, shaking himself to shut off the replay running in his head. The whole thing was crazy. McKay wanted something from John and everything he said, everything he showed John was about leading John to give it to him. How Sabina fit into that he wasn't sure, just that somehow McKay believed that telling John he'd felt enough for a woman in some other reality to marry her would help in forcing him to do something in this one. Protect her maybe? Put himself out there to stop something from happening?
Maybe McKay even thought it would inspire him to clean up his act to 'win the girl'. John shook his head because, damn, it was only having the opposite effect. He didn't want ties to anything and knowing real potential was there made him want to hit the road at the first opportunity and just keep driving.
"Sir?" the driver queried his sudden outburst.
"Nothing," John muttered, hunching down in the seat and closing his eyes. Maybe he felt guilty for getting Sabina hooked up in his mess. He'd at least asked if she was all right before they'd bundled him out of the building. That counted for something … not a lot and Sheppard expected she'd be pretty steamed at him for leaving her there. Not that he intended to stick around to find out how much.
He was beyond tired and the trip was long and boring - it didn't take long for him to drop off. He dreamed of tall grey skinned aliens chasing him, palms outstretched while foreign ships buzzed through the sky and a woman with brown eyes and a rounded tummy waited for his return with a welcoming smile. He woke up cranky and disturbed … and determined on his next course of action. It was time to say goodbye to his old life … time to go out there and find something new.
They took him home and Sheppard was relieved to see his car sitting parked in the drive way. That saved him the effort of going back to the Lucky Roller's Motel to pick it up. He waited until the SUV had disappeared down the street before opening the boot to check that the carryall was still there. It was, and still loaded with the 'few thousand' dollars he'd admitted to finding.
McKay hadn't seemed concerned, and if you looked at it from a certain point of view, had all but given Sheppard permission to consider the money finder's keepers. That Wraith guy certainly wasn't going to come looking for him to get it back.
He went to the precinct first, boxing up his stuff and then walking away with just the poster off his office wall. All he had to do now was go home, pack a few things. Then he'd be able to hit the road.
When John pulled into his street he saw an unfamiliar car parked outside his house. He drove up the driveway, killing the engine as he looked towards the door. Sabina was waiting for him, sitting with her back against his door, her eyes closed.
"Hey," he said as he approached. Her eyes snapped open and their gazes locked for a few moments, staring at each other wordlessly before he realised what he was doing and looked away.
"I can't believe you left me there," she began, jumping to her feet.
"It's a top secret facility," he shot back, immediately on the defensive. "It's not like they gave me a choice."
"Did you want them to?" Sabina asked quietly.
He winced, realising that she wasn't just going to go away quietly like he'd hoped.
"What do you want?" he asked unkindly. "Because if you haven't noticed, I'm kind of busy here."
"They told you," Sabina breathed out, her face visibly paling.
"Told me what?" John said, shifting around her to open his door. He left it open, knowing she'd follow him inside. Better they did this in private anyway.
"You know very well what!" Sabina said, closing his door just a little too forcefully. "They told you about that alternate reality … about the versions of us there. That's why you're pushing me away now."
"Get over yourself honey," John drawled. "I've got no problem with whatever those people were up to because they aren't us and they aren't ever going to be."
"And last night?"
"Don't get me wrong, as one night stands go, it was way up there on the scale of worth remembering," he smirked cruelly, "but still, at the end of the day, a one off thing. I ain't lookin' for a wife or a partner or even another round of casual sex. The way my life is right now I've got no use for regular of any kind so don't take it personally, okay."
"Ouch," Sabina said mildly. "You certainly told me."
"Fine, good, I'm glad we understand each other," he shot back, on the back foot after her mild reaction. Shouldn't she be slapping his face and storming out the door right about now?
He was still holding his rolled up poster. Glancing at it, wondering why the hell he'd kept it, he tossed it on the coffee table.
"What's that?" Sabina asked.
"Johnny Cash … the original solitary man," John replied.
Sabina laughed. "And I suppose you identify with him, right?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," he retorted snidely. "Simplifies things if you only have one person to consider."
"I'm not surprised," Sabina said mildly.
"And why is that?" John couldn't help but enquire. She'd literally known him less than a day – no way she knew him that well after so few hours.
"You're offended," Sabina commented, "and you're a hypocrite. You go out of your way to make it clear to me that you want me gone without having to actually say it in so many words and yet when I agree that you're just like Johnny Cash you don't like it. Make up your mind John."
"You want the words?" John challenged grimly, getting up in her face. "Well, here they are honey. I'm not the guy for you and you sure as hell aren't the woman for me. I'm not the hero those FBI guys told you about – I'm a washed up ex helicopter pilot who was dishonourably discharged for disobeying orders and getting twelve people killed, eight of them civilians."
"But you could be him," Sabina said quietly, standing her ground.
"No I couldn't. It's too late for that, way too late," John shot back harshly. "As of this morning I have no job and no prospects. I'm in debt up to my eyeballs, to people you don't want to meet in a dark alley," he all but yelled at her. "Now, unless you've got the cash to fix that little problem for me I've got no use for you."
It was cruel and brutal, he could see it in her eyes, the way they went glassy as she swallowed hard. But to give her her due, she still held her ground, still looked him dead in the eye.
"I'm not going to force myself on you John Sheppard," she said simply. "I'm better than that, and so are you, even if you can't see it. It's not too late for you … and even if you let me walk away today, it won't be too late for us. I'll wait until you see that as clearly as I do."
"You met me last night. We hardly know each other," John countered, stepping back. "Now maybe you've romanticized that in your head because you want to justify why you slept with a guy you barely knew, or maybe you really believe we're the real deal. I don't know and frankly I don't really care. I don't know how many different ways I can tell you I'm not the man you think I am."
"You're not the man you think you are," Sabina corrected sadly. She bent down and picked up his Johnny Cash poster, unrolling it and holding it out in front of her. "I agreed that you are the solitary man John, but that song never meant what you seem to think it does. It's not about a guy determined to go it alone. It about a man who's been let down too many times, a man who just wants a woman who'll stick by him, no matter what. Being solitary is forced on him just like it's been forced on you, because so far he hasn't found that woman. If he's ever lucky enough to find her, he'll leave the solitude behind, is a heartbeat. Will you?"
John felt that same sick despair at having his own worth thrown in his face washing over him. He'd felt it when McKay had been listing his faults, cataloguing the fate of everything he'd ever held dear. So grim and so pointless because in the end he'd achieved nothing. He was a grown man who hadn't cried in a very long time but if he didn't get this woman out of his house soon, John feared he was in danger of breaking down now. Too many times the past few hours he'd been too close to that edge. He wasn't going there now.
"Take off the rose coloured glasses honey. I don't need you," he stated firmly, grabbing her wrist and dragging her towards the door. "And I don't want you, okay. Just go."
Sabina nodded, tears swimming in her eyes as she stood for a moment, watching him wordlessly. He knew what she was waiting for, for him to relent and he steeled himself to ignore the twist of emotions churning him up inside, the voice in his head screaming for him to take what she was offering.
"Go," he said again, harshly. "Go, and take your fairy-tale hopes with you. This isn't one of those 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone' moment and you can go all in that I won't realise different once you're gone."
"I feel sorry for you John Sheppard," she whispered as she turned and hurried out his front door.
The Johnny Cash poster she'd dropped floated slowly to the ground at his feet, the figure of his idol starring up at him accusingly.
"It's for the best," John muttered, turning away.
His eyes glistened and he had to swallow back some pretty hefty emotional turmoil before he could continue with his current plan. A few minutes later he had everything he wanted to take and was striding out the door for the last time, throwing his bag in the trunk. He kept the cash with him, putting it in the front seat beside him.
Slamming the door John walked slowly around his vehicle, bending to examine every place a tracking device could be planted. It was small but he found it, fingers reaching to detach it. Staring at it a moment, John dropped it to the ground, casually putting his heel on top and crunching it slowly into pieces. He didn't want to be followed … by anyone.
Opening the driver's side door, Sheppard jumped in his car and roared away from the home he'd lived in for a few years without a backward glance.
On the floor by the front door was the poster he'd left behind.
Chapter 6: A paper ring
Sabina wiped at the tears streaming down her face as she drove too fast away from John Sheppard's house. She'd been such an idiot, thinking that a man she'd stumbled across at the casino and spent a few hours with was the love of her life. How could she have been so deluded?
When her mobile phone rang she answered it distractedly, her mind still on the horrible scene she'd just lived through.
"Sabina, this is Major Evan Lorne."
"Major," she replied, frowning. She hadn't been expecting them to call her.
"Have you got a minute to talk?" Lorne asked.
"Sure, hang on, just let me pull over," Sabina said, dropping the phone to the seat next to her as she looked in the rear view mirror.
There was no one behind her. She indicated and pulled over, parking at the curb in front of houses very similar to the one she'd just left. Cutting the engine she took a moment to wipe her eyes properly and get herself a bit calmer, and then picked up her phone again.
"Okay, I'm here," she said.
"Listen, my superiors are keen to talk to Detective Sheppard again, but he's dropped off our radar," Lorne began.
"And you think I know where he is?" Sabina gave a harsh, self-mocking chuckle.
"We were hoping so," the Major admitted.
"What happened to the tracker you had on his car?" Sabina asked, remembering what she'd hear the FBI guy say when they'd come to get John at the Lucky Roller.
"Disabled," Evan said simply. "That's what prompted my call. My superiors were fine with cutting him loose as long as we knew where to find him. Now we don't and he's not answering his phone. If we had some clue on his likely location we'd have a better chance of finding him."
"Well, I'd like to help you Major, but I can't," Sabina said.
"Can't or won't?" Lorne enquired.
"Can't," Sabina retorted bitterly. "He dumped me Major ... big time. I don't know where he is or where he's going to be. All I can tell you is that it looked like he was planning to leave."
"What makes you say that?"
"He quit his job," Sabina said quietly.
"Okay, sure, that sounds like he's planning to cut and run," Lorne agreed. "So you don't have any idea where he might go?"
"I knew him for a day," Sabina pointed out grimly. "When he was dumping me it became very clear that wasn't enough time to understand him even a little bit. I'm sorry Major – I have nothing that can help you."
"I'm sorry too," he said quietly, his tone understanding and gentle in a way that made the tears well up in her eyes again. "You okay?" he asked.
She swallowed, sniffed, and gave a mumbled yes, even though they both knew she was lying.
"It's probably not the time, but when you're ready, Mr Woolsey would like to talk to you," Lorne said, thankfully leaving off any further comments about her screwed up situation with John Sheppard.
"I don't know for sure," Lorne admitted, "but I think he's interested in you coming to work for us."
"Really?" Sabina didn't know why she was surprised.
"Of course, really," Lorne replied like he was wondering why she'd question it. "Look, we know you're not that Sabina from the other reality but there are some … attributes she had that you have to have too. Attributes that would make you a very useful addition to our team."
"You mean the people here or your team in that other galaxy?"
"Both, but mostly the second one," the Major confirmed. "I'll text you my contact details so you can call me when you're ready to talk."
"And if I don't do that soon enough you'll call me yourself," she deduced with a small smile. She might have lost her hopes with regard to John Sheppard that day but it looked like she could replace them with other dreams, and with the promise of a new friendship with the kind of man she knew instinctively would never let a friend down.
"Something like that," Lorne admitted.
"Send the text," Sabina said, sure that he was smiling as he promised he would.
She ended the call, staring at the idle phone for a few moments, her mind racing. John Sheppard had gone off the grid and despite the way he'd crushed her she still cared about him, too much. The Wraith was still out there and he knew John was after him - and John was out there, alone.
Cursing herself for a fool, Sabina restarted her car and did a quick u-turn, heading back towards John's house.
"What are you doing?" she muttered to herself, knowing how crazy it was to go back. What was she going to do, follow him? Attempt to keep him safe all by herself? If he got himself into trouble there'd be little she could do, and if she caught up with him and it was all fine, he'd already made his position clear. She didn't need a repeat of that particular humiliation.
Knowing all that, she still couldn't stop herself … she approached his house, saw his car already gone, looked into the distance and caught a glimpse of red enamel disappearing towards the highway. Maybe it wasn't him … and maybe she just needed to do something.
Driving was something.
With a grimace and still mentally berating herself, Sabina headed for the highway too.
Knowing he was just torturing himself, after pulling onto the highway, Sheppard slotted in his favourite CD and hit play, skipping until he found the song he wanted. The sounds of Johnny Cash singing the old classic burst from his car speakers as he continued to drive.
Belinda was mine 'til the time that I found her
And lovin' him
Then Sue came along, loved me strong, that's what I thought
But me and Sue,
That died, too.
Don't know that I will but until I can find me
A girl who'll stay and won't play games behind me
I'll be what I am
A solitary man
A solitary man
I've had it here - being where love's a small word
A part time thing
A paper ring
I know it's been done havin' one girl who loves you
Right or wrong
Weak or strong
Well screw it, Sabina was right, about the song and about him! The conclusions were there to be made, and Sheppard found himself slamming on his brakes before he really thought about why.
He had the chance at a new life but as he looked at the stolen money sitting on his passenger seat, John realised abruptly how badly he was kidding himself. A life begun on lies would only end the way his current life was going, and he had so many lies stacked on top of each other he'd never unravel it. What was it they said? You couldn't leave your problems behind. Something like that.
Same shit, different location.
Don't know that I will but until I can find me
A girl who'll stay and won't play games behind me
I'll be what I am
A solitary man
A solitary man
Despite the odds, despite himself, John Sheppard had actually found that girl Johnny was singing about … a girl who played it straight up, who'd offered to wait until he got his shit together. And what had he done? Instead of grabbing her and holding on for grim death, he'd humiliated her, crushed her way too hard to prove what a tough customer he was. To prove that John Sheppard didn't need anyone.
And that was the biggest lie of all because he did. He had to go back, had to face the music.
As soon as he made the decision, something relaxed inside and John's mind flashed image after image at him, He joined the dots and with a burst of clarity realised he knew where to find the Wraith. It was his chance to redeem himself, to connect to that other him, the one who'd been a hero who'd saved the world several times over … to show a girl that he deserved to be the man she'd decided to pin her trust and hopes on.
Slamming the car into gear, Sheppard gunned the engine, spinning the tires as he did a u-turn and headed back the way he'd come. He knew what he was looking for, and roughly where he was going to find it. Grabbing his phone he found the details McKay had given him, dialling the unfamiliar number and waiting for someone to answer. When they did he spoke quickly.
"This is Detective John Sheppard. I need to speak to Doctor Rodney McKay. Tell him it's urgent."
Sabina sped down the highway, eyes darting ahead every few seconds to check again for any sign of John's car. There wasn't any and after too many miles she slowed, guiding her car off the road to the red dirt beside it.
Her phone beeped – she had a message.
It was from Major Lorne. His contact details as promised. Even though she knew he'd probably think she was pathetic, Sabina selected his mobile number and placed the call.
She had a bad feeling … anticipation or dread churning low in her stomach, telling her that something bad was about to happen. John was in trouble, she knew it. Maybe the Major would be able to come up with a way they could find him, before it was too late.
"That was quick," Lorne commented as he answered.
"What?" Sabina blinked, made the connection and laughed. "Sorry, I'm not after that job, that's not why I'm calling. It's about Detective Sheppard."
"Specifically?" the Major queried blandly.
"Don't ask me why okay, I just need you to try and get in contact with him again," Sabina explained. "I was hoping you'd be able to do that."
"Did you try his phone?"
Sabina grimaced, hating that she was forced to admit how little she knew about the guy she'd slept with. "Ah, no. I don't have his number."
"Oh," Lorne paused and she heard him sigh.
"I'm not expecting you to give it to me, but maybe you could try calling him again," Sabina suggested. "Or maybe you have another way to get in contact. Just to see if he's okay. Please?" she added when Lorne remained silent.
"We don't need to do that," the Major finally said. "He called us, a few minutes ago."
"He did? He's okay?"
"Last time Doctor McKay spoke to him he was," Lorne replied.
"Where is he?" Sabina couldn't resist asking, even though she knew he wouldn't answer.
"You know I can't tell you that," Lorne admonished. "And even if I could, I wouldn't. It's too dangerous. You need to leave this one alone for now Sabina. Let us handle things, okay."
"So I was right, he's heading into trouble?" Sabina asked, the dread rising inside her sharply.
"You think about that job we talked about," Lorne ignored her question completely. "Call me again when you have an answer, okay?"
"Okay," Sabina said in a small voice.
"Don't worry about him," Lorne added, ending the call before she could respond.
The road was deserted – she could be the only person left on earth for all the life she could sense around her. The last 24 hours had drained her … she just needed a few minutes of quiet to gather it all back inside again. Then she'd know what to do next.
With a weary sigh, Sabina leaned her head against the steering wheel, closing her eyes.
Chapter 7: Havin' one girl who loves you ...
When Sabina's phone rang some time later and she blinked awake, she realised she'd actually fallen asleep. The sun was much lower in the sky too – it was close to sunset. God, what had she been thinking?! She must have been really tired to sleep for so long in a parked car on the side of the road. Anyone could have found her. "Stupid," she muttered as the phone rang again. Picking it up she fumbled for a moment before pressing the right button,
"Hello?" she said, her voice croaky.
"Sabina, its Major Lorne."
"Did you change your mind about checking to see if Detective Sheppard is okay?" Sabina asked hopefully.
"Ah, no, not exactly," Lorne replied. "That's not why I'm calling."
"You know where he is," Sabina realised abruptly.
"Yeah, we do," Lorne admitted.
"Is he okay?" Sabina asked quickly and then shook her head. "He's not, otherwise you wouldn't be calling me."
"To be honest we don't know and we can't contact him. He's out of cell phone range," Lorne replied. "Listen, do you have GPS?"
"Yes," Sabina replied.
"Punch in these coordinates," Evan reeled off a series of numbers.
Sabina punched them in, watching the map as the destination appeared. She'd been on the right track but she just hadn't gone far enough. John was about forty miles up the road.
"It's close - I can get there within a few minutes," she said. Not waiting for him to offer up any suggested course of action, Sabina started the engine, pulling back onto the road and accelerating quickly. "What happened?"
"Sheppard found the Wraith," Lorne replied. "We lost contact so we don't know his current status. What I can tell you is that the Wraith and the device he was working on have been neutralised."
"How?" Sabina asked, even though she wasn't sure she really wanted to know.
"Air strike," Lorne admitted. "We had no choice Sabina. That Wraith was trying to send a signal to his people. If he'd been successful we'd have a fleet of hive ships in orbit with no way to take them out."
"What do you want me to do?"
"We don't have anyone close by and the tech we'd use to get to Sheppard won't work because of the interference caused by the explosion," Lorne explained. "Any resources we can send are hours away, and leaving things as they are, without knowing whether Detective Sheppard survived is unacceptable. We don't leave people behind."
"I'm already on my way," Sabina admitted. "I'll go look."
"Carefully," Lorne ordered. "Don't take any chances."
"I won't," she promised.
"You won't be able to talk to me once you get close," Lorne reminded her. "Whatever you find, as soon as you know anything, you drive back until you have a signal. Contact me immediately."
"Okay," Sabina put the phone down, turning her eyes to the road, her foot pressing down full on the accelerator.
She saw the smoke first, from small fires spread out over a wide area, the debris scattered everywhere. Then she saw John's car … off to the side and looking surprisingly intact. Pulling up beside it she braked sharply and left the car running, jumping out and hurrying to the driver's side.
There was no sign of John - it didn't look good. Wrapping her arms around herself, trying not to cry, Sabina turned. That's when she saw him.
Stretched out on the ground, a gun in one hand, his face turned up to the sky.
"Oh God," she exclaimed, running towards him, dropping to her knees beside him. His eyes were closed and he looked so pale. There was blood on his shirt, high on the left side.
She knew what that meant and a wave of cold, sick dread swept over her. She was afraid to touch him at first, afraid to find out the answer to whether he was alive, or not. Until she knew for sure his future could be anything. Once she knew, if it was bad, there was no going back. Hand shaking, Sabina reached out, hovering close to his face, straining to feel him breathing.
Was that a waft of warmth or was she just imagining it because she wanted it to be true?
"John," she whispered, touching his cheek.
His eyes snapped open and connected with hers. "Hey," he croaked.
"Hey yourself," she returned, smiling even as tears welled up and spilled over.
"You stayed," he slurred, his lips shifting into a half smile.
"I suppose I did," Sabina agreed. "And I'm not leaving you … I'm going to get you to help."
"Sorry," he murmured in a too low voice. He was slipping back into unconsciousness.
"John!" Sabina said sharply. "Stay with me okay? You're too big for me to carry – you have to help me."
"'Kay," he whispered.
"Okay, we're going to stand up," Sabina announced. She couldn't worry that she'd hurt him more by trying to move him - if she did nothing he'd die anyway. Getting to her feet she grabbed John's right hand, pulling even as he sat up, swaying drunkenly. Before she could stop it, he fell back to the ground with a growl of pain.
"Can't," he said with a grimace.
"Not an option!" Sabina shot back stubbornly. "You need to try harder."
"Didn't mean it," he muttered, grabbing her hand and squeezing it in an effort to make a point that eluded her. "Best thing …," he trailed off, his eyes closing.
For a moment Sabina thought she'd lost him completely. "John!" she yelled, shaking his shoulder. He moaned weakly but he didn't wake up.
"Damn it!" Sabina looked around desperately but of course there was no help. She checked her cell phone but there was no signal, just as Major Lorne said there wouldn't be. She was on her own.
"Fine, we do this the hard way," she growled, moving to stand at his head. Bending low, she got her arms under his armpits and pulled him up off the ground as far as she could. Then she dragged him, in a half circle first until she was pointing in the right direction, and then slowly across the dirt towards her car. She fumbled behind her to open the back door, blindly stepping up into the car and dragging him with her. She was at the limit of her strength and never more glad that she was the opposite of the petite, feminine woman. Straining she managed to get John's upper half up against the seat. Running around to the other side of the car, she crawled across the seat, grabbing John under the arms again and dragging him across until he was mostly in the car. She slammed the door, running back around to push his feet inside, cursing that he was too tall to lie stretched out, before closing that door too.
Then she was in the driver's seat and speeding away, checking her cell every few seconds for it to pick up a signal. When it did she almost cried in relief.
"Major," she rushed out as soon as he answered. "I've got John but he's hurt, pretty bad."
"Details Sabina," Lorne ordered in a purposeful voice that somehow helped her calm down.
"It looks like a chest wound, maybe shoulder, I can't tell for sure," Sabina reported. "There's evidence of blood at his ears too. Maybe from the explosion?"
"Is he conscious?"
"No, but he was, for maybe a minute," Sabina glanced in her mirror, frowning at the figure sprawled across her back seat. "Breathing is shallow and slow and he's pale. After he lost consciousness, I couldn't wake him up again. I'm scared Evan … we're a long way from the nearest hospital. I don't think he's got that kind of time."
"Where are you?" Lorne demanded. "Give me the coordinates."
Sabina read them off the GPS, panic making her twitchy as she waited for the Major to tell her what to do.
"Pull over and stand by Sabina," Lorne said. "We've got you on sensors," he continued as Sabina stopped the car at the side of the road. "Don't panic okay, we're bringing you to us."
She would have questioned what that meant but she didn't get a chance. There was a wash of warmth all over her and a tingling sensation that was just getting to the irritation stage when a blast of bright light hit her. When she opened her eyes what she saw defied explanation. Instead of being in her car, she was in what was clearly a medical facility. People rushed towards her and then past to the figure stretched out on the floor behind her.
The place was a hive of activity as they tended to their patient and all she could do was step back out of the way.
She turned and saw Major Lorne walking through the doors. It was mortifying but as soon as she saw that one familiar face in a sea of strangers she burst into tears.
"Hey now, none of that," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder and drawing her into his side. "He'll be okay. Got the best doctors here and they've handled way worse than a gunshot wound."
"I'm sorry," Sabina mumbled, struggling to get herself under control. "It's just been a hell of a day, you know?"
Lorne laughed. "Well, it's done now. You made it through and you saved Sheppard's life."
"Go me," Sabina joked weakly, wiping her face on her sleeve. She looked around again, frowning. "Where the hell are we anyway?"
"Time for another one of those stories," Lorne said, urging her to walk with him. "Did you ever watch Star Trek?"
Sheppard woke up slowly, staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling and wondering why it wasn't the sky his last memory supplied.
He'd been sure he was dead … the pain in his chest, the fact that he couldn't even stand straight let alone walk away, and that he'd been alone miles from any hope of rescue kind of pointed in that direction. He'd had some kind of waking dream there for a few minutes though, that Sabina found him. She's stayed too … in his mind she'd been his Johnny Cash girl. It was a nice fantasy.
Startled, he turned his head and saw her … his fantasy girl, sitting beside his bed.
"Hey," she said when he met her eyes.
"Hey yourself," he said, his voice dry.
"Here," she reached to the side and brought him a glass of water with a straw, helping him drink before taking it away. "They said you'd be pretty thirsty after the surgery."
"Surgery?" he asked.
"For the bullet in your chest," Sabina supplied. "The Wraith shot you. You were lucky – an inch lower and we wouldn't be talking now." Her eyes glittered for a moment and she looked away.
"Where am I?"
"Now that's a story in itself," Sabina replied, smiling. "We, my friend, are smack in the middle of a science fiction story. If you can believe it, after I dragged you to my car and drove us back into cell phone range, they beamed us here, just like on Star Trek."
"Where's here?" Sheppard asked.
"On a ship called the Daedalus, in orbit above the Earth," Sabina explained succinctly. "If that isn't science fiction awesome, I don't know what would be."
"And the Wraith?"
"Destroyed," Sabina revealed. "The signal he sent out apparently got through to some of those alternate realities but not here. Because of you, he didn't get the chance to bring more Wraith to our Earth. You saved us all."
"Neat," John murmured, smiling faintly. Neither commented on the fact that while they'd been lucky, the versions of them they'd each been told about would probably not be equally as lucky. In their reality, the Wraith could already be launching their campaign to reach Earth. There was no point in commenting because there was nothing they could do, even though the fact that those other versions of them existed was probably the reason Sabina had been able to call in help to save John.
They were quiet for the moment and he was drifting, not sure how he should feel now. He'd thought it was all over but it wasn't and he had no idea what should be next.
"What did you mean, back at the scene, when you said you didn't mean it," Sabina asked in a low voice.
He knew what she was talking about – his vision that wasn't a vision at all but reality. It was scary but getting that close to death was a life changing lesson he had to learn from. Just because he'd lost so much in the past was no reason not to man up and risk himself again. And if he didn't do this now he might as well chuck it all away.
"The things I said to get you to leave," he admitted, his voice still too weak. "I was needlessly cruel and I'm sorry for that." He looked at her and some of what he was feeling came through - it was there, in his eyes, if she would look closely enough. "I know it's fast but … you didn't give up on me, and because of that I'm alive when I should be dead. You were right Sabina … I wasn't a solitary man by choice and I knew it … I was too freaked out to admit that you were the girl good ol' Johnny was singing about."
"I was following you," Sabina admitted, "like a crazy stalker lady which is so not me, not that I expect you to believe that. Nothing has been normal since I met you. I feel like we've been on fast forward, like everything was pushing us to get somewhere we needed to be and there was no time for it all to go at the usual pace."
"Exactly," John agreed, his voice a bit stronger now. "It's sappy as hell but you have to think this is fate. That McKay guy said it was amazing how one incident could so radically change the course of a life. Something happened to me that changed mine … threw me off course. Meeting you has forced me back on track."
"I don't know if there was one thing that caused me to be so different from that other Sabina," she responded. "I don't think there was … it was just that you weren't there … so there was no need for me to be there either, not until now, when we can have a chance at that other life together." She flushed. "That sounds so presumptuous. I know what I want John. I've been alone for a long time and I used to like it that way - did everything I could to stop anyone from getting close. Until you. I don't care that we haven't known each other very long – a chance at the future Major Lorne told me he saw for me in that other reality. I hope you want it too but I'll try to understand if you don't, if it's still too fast for you."
"A few hours stretched out in the dirt with nothing but the empty sky for company helps a man catch up," John drawled. "We can slow things down a bit ... see what happens."
She smiled, her eyes shining and hopeful as she nodded her agreement.
"Come here," he murmured. "I need to check something."
Her eyes narrowed but she leaned closer until her face was hovering above his. John threaded his hand through her hair and drew her down the last inch until his lips were on hers. He kissed her, the two of them smiling as they realised simultaneously that the magic wasn't something they'd imagined.
"Well?" she said when she drew away.
"I was right," he gave her a sexy half smile, noting the way her pulse beat strong and fast at her neck. "That electricity between us is no accident."
"Apparently it's in our genes," Sabina smiled, her hand finding his and holding on tight.
"Our genes?" John couldn't stifle the yawn that took him. He was still tired and though he wanted to resist sleeping and talk to Sabina some more he knew it wouldn't be long before he cashed out for a few more hours.
"It's a long story. Close your eyes," Sabina urged. "I'll tell you all about it when you wake up."
"You promise?" he asked intently.
"I promise," she said simply. "Rest now, okay?"
"'Kay," he murmured, his eyes drifting shut.
"John," she whispered just before he dropped off.
"You're my best thing too."
"Sweet," he said, mostly asleep now.
Sabina smiled, taking his hand again because she could. She'd wait for him to wake up again … and then they could work out what was next together.