The mistake was going down to check on his subject.
Let's face it, when a guy has just flipped out in a poker game and broken a hitter's wrist, then jumped ten stories to the ground, there's hinkiness going on. Bad hinkiness. It's none of his business. Time to go home. Time to go back and get his damn chips, if he even can.
But the murders are hinky, too. He has bodies. Too many bodies. He needs to be sure there's no connection.
When he reaches the street level, he's astonished to see that the guy is still twitching. Wheezing and heaving, like some half-smashed insect that just won't give it up.
He's going to have to call an ambulance. Damn. This is going to be hard to explain.
He's reaching for his cell phone as he kneels down next to the guy, avoiding the splatter of blood. "Hey, I'm calling 911," he says, "so try not to die on me—"
The guy rolls over, unbelievably fast, and hits him in the face.
"I won't," is the last thing John hears.
When he wakes up, he's lying on a rough wool blanket on what feels like a cold stone floor. He opens his eyes and realizes he's in a cave, narrow and so low-ceilinged that he'd barely be able to stand. There are a few boxes and bags lying scattered around. Looks like someone's hideout—maybe dealers. There's a lantern near what must be the way out.
There's also a pale guy in black and silver crouched between him and the light, hands in fingerless gloves steepled together, watching him. The guy who had taken at least three shots to the chest, jumped from a building, and lived. He doesn't even look hurt, except for a smear of blood across his forehead.
"What the—?" he starts, and coughs. His throat is thick with dust.
"Drink this," the guy says, and puts a flask to his lips. John tries to reach up to guide it, but realizes his hands are tied above his head. He gulps, and then coughs again; it's vodka or some other clear alcohol that burns all the way down. But he's thirsty as hell, so he takes another couple of swallows before he turns his head away. The vodka gutters over his cheek for a second before the guy pulls the flask back.
"Look, there's been some kind of mistake. I'm really not anybody worth kidnapping."
"No mistake," the guy says, low and gravelly. He doesn't say anything else, just sits and stares. John isn't used to getting looks like that. He blinks and looks away, at the gray stone of the cave wall, just a few feet away.
"My name's John. What's yours?"
The booze is starting to warm through him, open him up, and he says, "Fine. I'm gonna call you Nick for now. Nick, I'm a cop in this town. Grabbing me was a bad idea, but it can still work out if you—"
"Shut up," Nick says, pressing his palm against John's mouth.
Nick smells strange, really strange, harsh and metallic, like no one who's ever been this close to John before. He's leaning over John now, and this close his skin doesn't just look pale, it looks like it's in patches—smooth in some places, crackled paint in others. It's cold in the cave, but even this close his body doesn't seem to be giving off any warmth at all.
"I thought I recognized you the moment I saw you at the game. It's a good thing humans are so easily led."
Led? That doesn't make any sense. He had followed Nick because—because—his head fuzzes as he tries to reconstruct his reasoning. There had been a good reason. He knows it.
Nick ducks his head down and takes a deep sniff against John's throat. John tries to jerk back, but there's nowhere to go. "I was right. You smell of them."
His hand is off John's mouth, and he gets out, "'Them?' Who the hell is 'them?' I know it's been a couple of days since I showered, but I'm an Old Spice guy."
Nick laughs, a deep, husky laugh of metal scraping on stone. "The Old Ones. You smell of the stars burning for thousands of years, John, of the great and terrible city of glass. But you were born here, in this fat and sleepy galaxy, far from their home. How is that even possible?"
John is starting to panic. This guy is out of his mind, but something about the way he's talking is getting into John's head, slipping in between his thoughts, carrying them further than they're supposed to go. His mind is flooded with strange images, the City and strange people in white clothes and silent battles between vast ships in space—
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he manages.
"Perhaps not. It doesn't really matter." Nick straddles him, uncomfortably close to his hips. "I'm so hungry, John. You can't imagine. None of the humans have satisfied me for more than a few moments. And the other—the other is worse. Oh, he's clawing at the walls of glass now, trying to get at you. Begging me to take it slow and share it all."
Panic is giving way to dreaminess in John's head. It's something like the clarity of combat, his thoughts all gone quiet, except that he's not moving. He's not doing anything but waiting for Nick. Thin and long-haired Nick with his eyes like a cat and a leather cuff on his wrist. Nick who John can't look away from.
"And I think I will," he murmurs. "I think I want you for days, John Sheppard."
He raises his right hand, translucent long nails gleaming, and brings it slowly to rest on John's chest. John blinks, confused. The touch is almost gentle, but Nick's grin is fierce.
As the pain—sudden, startling, wrenching deep from within John's chest—begins, it eradicates the question of how Nick knew the rest of his name.
John doesn't know how long the pain goes on. He'd seen enough death in his time that he hadn't really stopped to wonder what it had felt like, going from human to the withered husks that had been the stars of his crime scenes. Now he has some idea. It isn't just life and strength that Nick is ripping from him—it's the idea of them, the belief that he can ever be warm again, that there is anything in the world but pain and weakness. John hadn't thought that he was hanging on to much hope about anything, but apparently he had been, because now that Nick has drawn it out of the corners of his mind, he's lying in such a deep pit that it doesn't even seem worth opening his eyes again.
Somewhere, he hears Nick sigh, a deep, ragged sigh of satisfaction. His hand returns to John's chest. John would jerk away, but all he can produce is the faintest twitch. Nick's hand drags leisurely up his shirt, over his throat, up over the jawbone to cup his face.
"That was only twenty years, John," he says.
There's metal against his lips again. John doesn't have the will either to turn away or to drink. Sometime during the pain Nick had freed his hands, but they lie heavy and useless above his head, and the vodka spills down his chin.
"Drink, John," Nick orders, and that causes John's brain to catch enough to let him swallow. He's thirsty again, so thirsty, and the alcohol warms him just a little but nothing can satisfy the terrible need spasming his throat.
"You...eat...?" he finally mumbles when Nick takes the flask away.
"Yes." Nick's hand lingers. "Your world will be a feast to us beyond all imagining."
John should be laughing with disbelief. Alien space vampires. But all he can feel is cold, and the smooth glide of Nick's fingertips over his stubble.
Whatever craziness this is doesn't matter too much, he guesses. Nick is going to kill him. Hell, he's probably already killed him. Every cell in John's body feels burst open. He can't imagine he won't die from this.
John's eyes flutter open. He doesn't think he said that out loud.
Nick is kneeling next to him. The lines of his face are less gaunt.
"We take," he says, "but we can also give. If we choose."
He carefully unbuckles his cuff.
"My people do this in more formal ways, but under the circumstances we will have to make do. Do you want your life back, John Sheppard?"
It is such a remote possibility he can't respond. Life? For there to be life there would have to be somewhere other than this cold floor in this darkness, something else in the world besides Nick's cruel hand and voice.
He remembers flying. Looking down on the desert, free, forever.
God, he wants his life back.
He closes his eyes as they water. "Yes."
He's too weak to tell him: ...but you can't give it to me.
Nick slips the leather around John's wrist, drawing it up so tight that he gasps. "Very well."
Getting it back hurts almost as much as having it taken, only it's a strange sweet fierce pain. John realizes halfway through, vaguely, that he's bucking against Nick, bucking hard with each surge of life. He must be making a lot of noise because Nick presses his hand against John's mouth again. Without thinking, John sucks his fingers in, the faintly bitter taste going straight to his brain like the vodka. When Nick withdraws, John's hands grasp at him convulsively before falling to his sides.
His body feels whole and well. Maybe too well; surges of energy are crashing around inside him like waves against a sea wall. He's also incredibly hard. He ought to be embarrassed by that, or disgusted, but already it feels like his body is this thing that isn't entirely his own, that doesn't have much to do with what *he* wants.
He knows Nick sees it, but he doesn't acknowledge it. "If you are considering escape, John, you should know that—despite what the enzyme is telling you—I am still much, much stronger and faster than you are. And I have no compunction about cracking your skull."
John squints at him. "Did you give me all my life back?"
"Yes. And a little more."
"Why?" John demands, rising to his elbows. "If you're not even getting fed—why are you doing this?"
Nick looks towards the cave mouth. "Do you know how many of my brothers your people slew?"
"I don't even know what you're talking about."
"My hiveship came to this planet five thousand strong, with two hundred Darts and a queen who shone like a newborn sun. They are all gone—all except the other. Your people have put him in a box and tortured him in every way their petty imaginations could encompass. Now, he starves."
Nick glances back at him, and his expression is as cold and wolfish as John has ever seen.
"That is why, John Sheppard. That is why I am doing this now."
He raises his hand again.
This time, John is full enough of the enzyme that it's a little while before he has to scream.
Nick leaves him for the day, telling him, "Rest."
It's not like John has any choice in the matter, but Nick's voice pushes him underwater. He sleeps, harsh fabric pressed against his cheek, far too deep to dream.
When he wakes, Nick is back, and John is almost too exhausted to be terrified.
He silently feeds John broken-off bits of an energy bar. John nearly chokes on them. He has to be reminded to swallow. Then water, then more alcohol. The vodka is good this time. John feels boneless and accepting. He could die here. It would be okay.
When Nick reaches for his chest, John croaks, "Don't."
Nick smirks. "It is not your choice, John."
"But I didn't...didn't ask this time."
Nick strokes the leather on John's wrist, trails his finger up into John's palm. John's fingers close around it convulsively. "You said yes forever."
He wants to protest, but Nick slams his other hand down, and it starts all over again.
This time, when he's shaking shining crazy with the enzyme, Nick slides off him. He looks a little tired, a little out of breath. Must be the "more" Nick said he was giving him.
"Want to take a break?" John blurts. "Looks like you could use one."
Nick snaps his head at an unnatural angle and a smile curls slowly across his face. "Why not?"
He knows he's messed up, but he keeps on. "Cards?"
"I like games, but I can think of a better one." He leans forward. "Touch yourself, John."
"What?" he says, but his hand twitches.
"Go on. Humans all need it afterwards. Touch yourself for me."
"Fuck off," vibrates off John's lips, but his arm, the cuffed one, is moving, and his hand is fumbling into his pants and wrapping itself around his cock. It's never felt like this, never, not even when it was new, every nerve raw and singing, the pleasure like it's going to shake him apart. No lube, but the roughness only sharpens the feeling, the pain just a delicious contrast to the other sensations. Nick's watching, amused, and he knows he should be ashamed, horrified, ready to kill himself, but Nick's been over, around, in him. There's hardly a line between them anymore, not one that matters. When Nick kisses him, John opens his mouth for his tongue, sucks on it desperately while his hand works. He comes all over both of them, and if it weren't for Nick's grip on his hair, he thinks he might have gone to pieces right there.
"Messy," Nick says, letting him go. "Humans are so messy."
John feels every degree of the cold in the cave. Sickness is creeping through his stomach. For once, he'd welcome the exhausted sleep, but he's far too awake and alive for that, even with the edge off.
"Where is your—yes."
John opens his eyes to see Nick rummaging through a small pile of things. John's things. Badge, the gun he'd grabbed, phone, gum, a little pack of tissues.
Nick's cleaning up, but John's looking at the phone. He'd turned it off before going to the game and hadn't gotten it on before Nick had clocked him. The battery's probably not dead. If there's any service where they are.
"Are you concerned about your possessions?" Nick picks up the phone, twirls it in his fingers. "They will not help you."
John forces a sneer. "Do you even know how to use that?"
"This childish trinket?" Nick laughs. "Yes, I believe I do."
He opens the phone, turns it on and holds it up so that John can see the screen. One little bar flickers at the top. He punches in 9-1 and then stops.
"Is this right?"
John's never hated anyone as much as he has in that moment. He doesn't think it's just the enzyme. "You son of a bitch."
"Perhaps not." He clicks it shut and tosses it over his shoulder. "Now, where were we?"
Sometime in the middle of the night, when Nick's about to drain him again, John can't take it anymore. He starts babbling. "Stop. Stop. This isn't right."
Nick has ignored most everything else he's said, but this makes his eyes gleam. "What's not right?"
"I'm a pilot," he says. "I shouldn't even be here. I just—I just want to go back."
"So do I, John. So do I."
It doesn't change anything.
He loses track of the cycles. Each time Nick goes a little farther each way, and John doesn't think it'll take much more, up or down, to kill him. They're mostly silent now, little gasps and moans all that escape into the dark. Nick lies next to him and even when he's on the upswing John can't push him away. He's dreaming with his eyes open: blue alien ships with webbed corridors, metal rings that spin and spit out pale fire, a tall tall woman with pale green skin and a white gown, so beautiful he would dash himself on rocks for her. In his exhausted chest shivers to life a new kind of nausea, fierce and sly, and he is astonished to recognize it as homesickness.
There are times when he is ready to beg Nick, "Take me with you."
After one of the upswings, the words are hovering on his lips when Nick abruptly sits up.
"What—?" John's tongue is heavy in his mouth. Words feel strange.
"Be silent!" Nick orders, and it's like a slap back down into darkness. Nick starts to crawl towards the cave entrance—and then there's a sizzle and a flash and he falls down, face forward.
"Got him!" a rough man's voice calls. "You sure there's only one Wraith, Teyla?"
"Yes, only one," a woman says. "I can feel no others. Why?"
"There's someone else in there."
John pushes himself up to his elbows. At the cave entrance, a woman's face—and gun—appears. Teyla? She stares, then says, "Ronon, I think it is our Sheppard."
"Sheppard?" a higher-pitched man's voice comes. "He's alive?"
"Barely." Teyla comes towards him. She's beautiful, smooth cafe-au-lait skin and dark hair, but then the man—Ronon—coming in behind her and stopping to land a kick on Nick's side is also beautiful, darker and huge and very competent-looking, and even the guy behind him, middle-aged and in a suit, doesn't look too bad, and John decides on the spot that they will always be the best-looking people in the world to him. He should be embarrassed—he knows he looks like hell—but they don't seem to care.
"I guess I shouldn't really be surprised," the middle-aged man says. "Good work getting your cell phone on, detective. It took a little while for anyone to realize you were missing, but once they did, we could triangulate, even out here in the desert."
"Who are you people?"
"Friends." Teyla kneels and offers him water. He gulps it down greedily and almost misses the middle-aged man's answer.
"We work with Agent Woolsey. You met him. It's a good thing he took an interest in you; he saved your life. Well, we did, actually, but he sent us out here to do it, which means he'll take all the credit."
"The FBI?" He's weirdly disappointed. It should have been bigger. Should have been more.
"Oh, no," the middle-aged man chortles. "Much more exciting than that. You'll see."
"Great. That's great."
Teyla slides an arm behind him. "I imagine you would like to leave this place now."
He nods. "Wouldn't really mind, no."
Sitting up turns out to be a little ambitious, however. Dizziness and pain spike through him. But as he passes out into Teyla's arms, he realizes that the homesickness is gone.