I. A Meeting Over Meat
John looked around the grocery store, dismayed. It had only been a few years since he left Earth to go to Atlantis, and already he seemed to be forgetting the basics of food preparation. He knew that he was going to make steaks for dinner, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember the difference between a Rib Eye, a Filet and a Cube Steak. Based on prices, Filet would probably taste the best, but only if he went by the “more expensive = tastier” equation.
“The filet is good, but only if you have a great grill,” a voice interrupted his musings. “Personally, I prefer a good Rib Eye with some dry rub and baked potatoes: can’t go wrong with some dry rub.” A young man looked at John in expectance, as if the unsolicited advice was the beginnings of a deeper conversation.
John sighed, smiled and turned to the man in question. “This is going to sound crazy, but I haven’t been around for the past couple of years and I forgot which cut of steak I like.”
The young man laughed, as if John had told a particularly hilarious joke, before quieting down and pointing to a cut of New York Strip Steak. “Can’t go wrong with a good strip steak—grill it over charcoal, put some basic seasonings on, and then dip the hell out of it in A1.”
“Thanks for the advice.” John grinned, slightly. He had no plans for the night, and this young man seemed particularly nice—it’d be good to have non-military friends again. “If I buy two, will you show me how to do it?”
The florescent lighting shone down on the two men, and the man across for John nodded. “Xander Harris,” he stuck out his hand expectantly.
“Colonel John Sheppard.” John shook his hand, not noticing (or pretending to ignore) the look of terror that briefly crossed Xander’s face.
“Want some potatoes with the steak?” Xander questioned, moving his cart towards the produce aisle. John nodded, absently taking in Xander’s body: he was tall, solid, with well defined muscles. His hair was, in a word, shaggy. Messed up on purpose he supposed, designed to look as though the man was nothing more then an overgrown child. John was about to comment on the hair when Xander stepped out of the shadows and John got his first look at Xander’s eyes—or lack thereof.
He knew better than to comment on an obvious injury, but part of him couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the young man that caused him to wear an eye-patch. Most eye injuries could, if not be fixed, be replaced by lifelike glass eyeballs. But Xander didn’t have that—he had a pirate patch over an eye.
“I don’t like talking about it,” Xander interrupted John’s musing before continuing to the produce section of the market. “It happened a long time ago and I’m mostly over it, so just ignore it, please.”
John nodded, absently pushing his cart behind Xander. “Should I grab some beer?” He questioned, knowing he was actually asking how comfortable Xander was in going to a strange man’s house for dinner, and maybe more.
The knowledge of the real question showed when Xander hesitated before agreeing, “As long as it’s not that fruity shit that most of my friends drink.”
John smiled before turning his cart around, “meet you by the check stand in 10 minutes?” He questioned before walking off without waiting for a reply. Xander shook his head, trying to clear the thought cloud that had descended the second he saw how attractive the man eyeing the steaks had been.
He glanced around, determined that John was nowhere in sight, and reached into his pocket for his cell phone.
“Hey, Dawn?” His voice quivered as he maneuvered the cart through the vegetable bins. “Can you put Will’s on the phone? I need a background check on my date for the evening.”
He was pulling up next to the potatoes when he began speaking again. “Yes, I have a date.” His voice rose, indignant. “No, I didn’t take covert pictures of him to send to you.” He took four potatoes off the shelf and placed them into a plastic bag. “Yes, he’s hot.” He snagged a twisty-tie off the nearby pull-tab and sighed. “Colonel John Sheppard,” he finally whispered, glancing around to see who could overhear his conversation.
“No, I didn’t know he was in the military when I hit on him!” His voice squeaked slightly. Xander began pushing the cart towards the tomatoes, thinking about putting together a salad with their dinner. “No, I’m not sure if he’s a plant.” He stood still, rolling his cart back and forth across the grocery floor, crossing the same inches over and over again until the image of the tile was practically burned into his mind.
Seconds passed, then minutes. Finally, he hung up his cell phone and walked away from his cart. He knew Willow was right, that after the last two dates there was little chance this one wasn’t a plant as well, but part of him hoped that Colonel John Sheppard wasn’t part of the NID, that he wasn’t trying to steal the baby-slayers for his own research, his own torture. They had his name now, and they would check him out: maybe Xander could call him after he’d been cleared.
But he wouldn’t risk the baby-slayers for anything: not even a quick dinner with one Colonel John Sheppard.