A/N: Here I was, happily working away on the third installment of the Guardian series, when I had a couple of dreams that were just two dang good to ignore. They were set in Atlantis, but it wasn't quite Atlantis, and the more I thought about them once I woke up, the more I decided that I just had to write this story. So this is an alternate universe, where some things are recognizable and canon (hey, you just can't mess with Rodney), and other things, well, take a left turn at Albuquerque. This is going to be rated mature for language, violence, language, and torture. That I wrote such a story over the holidays kinda goes to show what Christmas with my family is like. :) This story is close to my original fiction, and is influenced by Kim Harrison's 'Rachel Morgan' series, Jim Butcher's 'Dresden Files', and a shout out to Nancy A. Collins 'Sonia Blue' series and her Pretenders - the races of myth and legend that still live among humans. Oh, and also influenced by a healthy dose of painkillers due to a stuck kidney stone. Enjoy!
John Sheppard wasn't much of one for large cities. It wasn't because of the pace – hell, nothing really seemed to faze him and being laid back was just as much part of his nature as his stubborn cowlicks and his slightly pointed ears. It was mainly because of the sheer number of people involved. He had tried to fit in during his youth, much to his father's ire and his family's dismay, but his cowlicks weren't the only thing stubborn about him and he tended to do what he pleased anyway. He spent several years in Denver, even went to college, and afterwards did a stint in the Air Force. But the one thing he learned during that brief period of rebellion was the world at large was full of a helluva lot of assholes. And he would never admit his father may have been right – no matter how hard he tried he just never fit in completely. And now there was a rift between them that was beyond all healing, but in all honesty that didn't bother him as nearly much as it should.
Now John was older, and he hoped wiser, and had a cabin on a dozen acres of land in the northwestern corner of Montana in an area the locals all called The Yaak. His place was simple – the cabin had two rooms, three if you counted the tiny closet of a bathroom – and tended to lose power a couple times during the winter whenever a particularly nasty Arctic front would blow through the area. But there was a backup generator in the pump house and a hundred gallon fuel tank in his garage for those occasions. He was a half hour from Libby if he needed groceries or a cold beer and a game or two of pool if he was feeling lonely, and for any hard to get items or just for the hell of it he could run into Kalispell for the day. But for the most part, he was just content to be a quiet homebody.
The locals were friendly and tended to let him be, which suited him just fine. Oh, there was speculation as to why he wanted to live all alone in the woods, and after the Unabomber thing down in Lincoln he tended to get some funny looks whenever he was in town. But that eventually passed and the general consensus leaned more towards a very bad experience with an ex-wife whenever he shot down one of the local's attempts at matchmaking. He never tried to dissuade them of that notion – it was certainly more believable than the truth….
Yup, as far as John was concerned, he'd found his own little slice of heaven.
It was a gorgeous September day – the sun had warmth but there was still a bite in the shade – and John was working on stocking up his wood supply for the winter. He'd been at it since the sun came up over the Cabinets, and the muscles of his shoulders and back were humming pleasantly as he swung the heavy splitting maul up and around yet again. It bit into the dry wood and the round practically flew apart with a good sharp crack. He picked up the larger of the pieces and sat it on the abused Ponderosa stump he used for a chopping block, and one more swing reduced it to a size that would fit in his stove.
John left the maul buried in the stump and swiped his face with the hem of his gray t-shirt. The cool breeze brought goose bumps up on his stomach, and a moment later matching ones along his arms. He'd worked up a decent sweat during the course of the morning and his flannel shirt hung all but forgotten from the door of the wood shed. He eyed the pile of uncut stuff as he tucked his shirt back in and grinned – he just might get that cord done before lunch. He started to sort the split stuff to stack in the shed, and only had half an armload when he straightened up and froze.
John's green eyes narrowed as he scanned the woods behind his cabin. He didn't see any movement, but that still didn't kill the feeling that something was out there, watching him. It was times like this he wished he could have a guard dog of some kind, but the critters just couldn't stand him. Didn't matter if it was the world's mellowest lab or a high strung Chihuahua – they went absolutely nuts around him. He did have a big old tomcat when he first moved in, but he disappeared one summer night his second year in the cabin. John was pretty sure a cougar got him, because the next morning he could smell eau de tomcat pretty strong around the place. Maybe that cat was back, and that was what was making the woods exceptionally quiet at the moment. He remained utterly still for several minutes, watching, listening.
Suddenly John did an odd little exhale/snort and shook his head, a crooked grin lightening his face as he laughed at himself. "You're going crazy from being alone too much, John," he muttered to himself. "Next thing you know, you'll be talking to yourself." He chuckled again as he resumed picking up the wood and stacking it neatly in the shed. That done, he picked up another round from the shrinking pile, and just as he turned to the stump the breeze shifted directions.
John dropped the round and spun. Lips slightly parted, he sniffed the air a few times as he slowly backed up. "Who's there?" he called out as he scanned the woods again. His heel hit the stump and he wrapped his hand around the maul's handle. "C'mon, I know you're out there," he growled as he levered the heavy blade free.
Gun oil had such a distinctive odor.
John settled the maul in a solid two-handed grip and slowly approached his garage, and he made absolutely no sound as he walked. He lost the breeze the second he pressed his back against the wall, but now he could hear soft slow footsteps on the gravel of his driveway. John tightened his grip, raised the maul, and watched the ground. When a shadow started to grow and he figured whoever it was was close enough, he stepped around the corner and swung like Barry Bonds.
The man flinched backwards, and the heavy blade caught the rifle he was holding and forced it upwards and into the garage door. John had just enough time to register a young face, dusky skin, and camo fatigues before he stepped in close and head-butted the guy. He let go of the maul since it was now buried in the door, but it also kept the young soldier from using his rifle because the handle had it trapped. But that didn't slow the kid down. With blood streaming from a broken nose he backed up a step and aimed a quick jab at John's face. But John was quicker. He caught the kid's fist, spun, and planted an elbow into the side of his head. His head snapped into the garage door hard enough to make it rattle in its frame before he crumpled.
A second later something hit the door about level with John's navel. He glanced at the tufted end of a tranquilizer dart, then his head snapped towards the long winding drive that led to the highway only to see another man. "You have got to be shitting me," he muttered. The guy was dressed just like the kid – camouflage fatigues, black tactical vest, black cap, armed to the teeth. And he was loading another dart into his rifle. So John did the first thing that came to mind.
He turned and ran like hell.
The land for a good thirty yards around his place had been thinned, and he knew the deeper woods beyond that like the back of his hand. He made a beeline for the forest and darted between Ponderosas for cover. Something slammed into a trunk to his left, so he dodged right. He made it to the denser growth and bolted down a barely discernable game trail. He followed it only for a short distance before veering off into the undergrowth. Just when he was starting to think he had a chance at getting away from these jokers, something smacked him between the shoulder blades. It stung like a mother, then instantly went numb.
John stumbled and caught himself on a tree trunk. He spun himself around it for cover and tried to reach the dart in his back. Since he couldn't quite get his fingers around it, he just rubbed his back across the trunk like he was scratching a particularly nasty itch and dislodged the thing. He took off again, but his blood was roaring in his ears and all he could really manage was a drunken stagger. He was dimly aware of something else hitting him in the small of his back, and a moment later he tripped over his own feet and slid face first through the duff. He spit pine needles from his mouth and even managed to crawl another ten feet before he lost all strength. Then he finally collapsed and just lay there, gasping for breath, his fingers curling in frustration in the duff.
Someone put a boot under his shoulder and rolled him over onto his back. John blinked a few times and tried to focus on the man standing over him. The guy was huge, and his tac vest looked oddly small on him. A smirk peeked out from behind a neatly trimmed goatee as he tapped a radio earpiece. Then John's vision began to fade, and the last thing he heard before the world disappeared was a deep rumbling voice say, "Specimen has been acquired. Get the chopper ready – we're coming in."
End Note: So ... yay? Nay? Curious? Furious?