"Thank you, Annabelle."
His eyes stare at my chest far longer than it should take him to read my nametag, especially considering he already knows it, and I'm half tempted to tell him they're not going to talk back before he looks up again, his hand reaching out for his change. I want to just throw it at him and tell him to go to the bar down the street if he feels like ogling someone's tits, but I doubt if Mr James would appreciate me telling his brother to fuck off. Again.
"It's my pleasure." I wonder if he can hear my teeth grinding as loudly as I can. "Have a nice day," which, store manager insisting or not, is a stupid thing to say to any customer at half gone nine at night, never mind this one.
"Oh, I will," he replies, taking the note out of my hand, running his finger along my palm as he does. And I'm more than sure he sees me wiping my hand on my jeans as he leaves, but I just can't bring myself to care.
Only one hour in and already I've had two drunks, the manager's lecherous brother and a kid stealing gum. Welcome to Hell-shift at the C-Mart.
It wouldn't be so bad if Chris was here at the store with me instead of visiting family in Montreal. I don't mind working with Jimmy and Sian, but they're pretty much stuck in the back with the inventory tonight, which leaves me on the till with nothing more to amuse myself other than thoughts of what old Mr Patterson wanted with a pack of nylons and some chunky peanut butter. Whatever it was, I'm sure he's having a more interesting night than me.
The broken electronic beephiss of the doors that signal another customer is drowned out almost instantly by the complaining.
"--And if Jeannie wants ice cream and pickles that badly, why isn't Kaleb out here getting them?"
I follow his gaze as he turns around to look at the guy following him into the store and am met with tight jeans and hair that begs to have fingers run through it.
"I don't know, Rodney. Maybe because I thought it was a nice gesture to let the man stay with his pregnant wife. Unless you wanted to stay in the house with your sister while she's in the middle of a cravings jag?" he replies as I send thanks to whichever god decided to break up the monotony of the night by sending me good looking men who need to shop.
'Rodney' shudders. "Good point."
"I do have them occasionally," Cutie says, and I'm so busy staring at him below the neckline that it takes me a few moments to realise he's looking right at me.
I blush as I look at him, paying no attention to the muttered, "Oh god, not another one," coming from beside him.
"Can you tell us where the pickles and ice creams are?" he asks, ignoring Rodney.
"Pickles are on aisle five and the ice creams are in the freezers along the back."
Cutie smiles. "Thank you."
"Right, come on, the sooner we've got them, the sooner we're out of here."
I can still hear Rodney's complaining when the door goes again. The man that walks in glances over and smiles as soon I meet his eyes, going straight towards aisle two.
It's a minute before I realise it's gone quiet in the back and I've lost track of Cutie and Rodney. Still, considering Mr James has spent more on the security system than he ever has on staff wages, that's not exactly a problem. I've got one eye on the store and one on the small TV screen below the counter as I flick the image to the back camera and-- wow, I never would have thought Cutie would use that method to shut his friend up. Although I guess a tongue down the throat puts them a little past the friend stage. Cutie's hand comes up to cup the back of Rodney's head, and I suppose I should feel guilty hitting the zoom button to get a better view, but I really don't.
I'm so busy being impressed by the quality of the zoom on this thing (I see Rodney's gasp just before Cutie's tongue slides inside) that it takes me a few moments to realise the other guy's walking towards me, hand reaching into his pocket and pulling something out.
I've always thought that if the store was ever held up when I was in it that I would fall back on the procedure Mr James had us all learn: hit the panic button, don't get shot. But all I can think is there's a gun pointing at me and who's going to feed the cat if something happens to me and there's a gun pointing at me.
"Money from the register. Now." His voice is low, barely carrying.
I don't want to take my eyes off him, but I have to when my first two attempts to open the register without looking make him growl at me and wave the gun. I pull all the notes out of the drawer, dropping some of them when my fingers won't work. I scoop them up, taking the time to press the panic button that's next to them when I do.
"Is this it?" he demands when the money is on the counter.
My eyes look down at the notes that have to equal less than $50. "It's been a slow night."
"Then get the money from the safe," he orders, his volume rising.
"I don't have the combination," I say, not even thinking to deny we even have a safe. It's in Mr James's office and he's the only one who knows the combination for it. I can see movement out of the corner of my eye, Cutie and Rodney silently moving down the aisle, Cutie's aborted reach towards his thigh causing Rodney to shake his head. And they're cops, they have to be. They're communicating completely without words, Cutie's hand motion sending Rodney down a different aisle.
Anger crosses the robber's face and I can see his knuckles whiten as his grip on the gun tightens. And oh god--
But there's no pain as Cutie moves quickly, reaching the robber and pulling him away, the bullet going wide to fly into the wall behind me.
I drop to the floor behind the counter, pressing the panic button again and again and where are the police? Shouldn't they be here by now?
The gun goes off again, the sound of the shot reverberating through me as there's a grunt of pain and a dullslick sound nearly covered by Rodney's shout of, "No!"
Footsteps and the thwack of something hard hitting something soft and someone falls to the floor and all I can hear in the silence is a stream of words coming from Rodney, unintelligible and muted and it's not until I move that I realise I've covered my ears with my hands.
I push myself up, supporting myself on the counter because my legs won't do it. Jimmy and Sian are running down aisle three yelling. Sian reaches me first, asking me if I'm okay, but I can't answer. I can't answer because I can't move, eyes locked on where Cutie is lying on the floor. Rodney's hand pressing something against his stomach, shouting for someone to get an ambulance as the red under his fingers spreads.
Jimmy's on the phone and I shake off Sian's concerned grip as I move forward.
"Rodney--" The name from Cutie's lips is barely there.
"No! You don't get to do this. You don't get to die back home and you sure as hell don't get to die in a shitty little Walmart wannabe." His command to Cutie flows effortlessly into the yell at Jimmy. "Where the hell is that fucking ambulance?"
But Jimmy's already outside, motioning to the police cars that are pulling up.
The paramedics are right behind the police as they pile into the store, going straight to Cutie and speaking in hushed tones.
"Ma'am?" I look at the detective who's holding my arm. "Ma'am? Are you injured? What happened?"
I shake my head. "He saved my life." Two of the cops have pulled the robber to his feet and are reading him his rights while they take him outside.
"Cu--" My words trail off as the paramedics wheel a gurney past us, Cutie's face covered with a breathing mask and Rodney following, still holding whatever he'd used to try and stop the flow of blood. "I don't know his name."
It takes a few days before I manage to track down which hospital they took Cutie to. A few days of police interviews and statements and telling people over and over what happened and hoping that the slimeball who decided to rob us gets his balls handed to him when he's rotting in whichever prison cell he ends up in.
The elevator doors open when it reaches the fifth floor and I step out, walking to the nurse's station.
"Can I help you?" the nurse asks, looking up from the file he's writing in.
"The guy who got shot in the store robbery last weekend? Can you tell me what room he's in?"
The nurse's eyes narrow as he looks at me. "No reporters are allowed in the hospital."
"I'm not a reporter." Not unless reporters have suddenly taken to wearing jeans and t-shirts of obscure bands. "I work in the store. He saved me from being shot. I just want to see how he is."
And the suspicion is replaced by understanding. Coming around from behind the station, he points down one of the corridors. "Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard is room 536."
Lieutenant Colonel? Not a cop, then.
The antiseptic smell of the hospital accompanies me down the corridor. 536 is the last one, but it's pretty obvious which one it is several metres before I even get there. The sound of Rodney's voice complaining about, well, about everything, gets louder with each step, and I figure if Rodney's feeling up to berating the poor hospital staff then Cutie -- Sheppard -- must be okay. Because, after seeing the look on Rodney's face as he followed the gurney out of the store, I have no doubt that if Sheppard wasn't okay there'd be no sound at all.
The sound of a woman's voice joins Rodney's and the exasperated, "Mer--" makes me pause.
A moment later, the owner of said exasperation comes appears, one hand on her back and the other holding the hand of a young girl as she calls back into the room. "I'm going for coffee."
The young girl waves. "See you later, Uncle John."
I wait until they're past before I continue, standing just next to the door.
"Don't do that again." The exhaustion in Rodney's voice is so palpable I can almost touch it.
"How about if I promise never to do it unless you're there to save me by hitting the bad guy on the head with a tin of beans?"
"Sheppard." The warning in the tone is heavy.
There's a sigh and then, "Look, Rodney--"
But Rodney cuts him off. "I'm serious. Between back home and now coming here only to be shot by idiots in the local Kwicky Mart, then I'm actually considering just telling Atlantis not to let you out of the bedroom."
"She loves me too much to do that."
"She loves you like I love you. Alive."
I knock on the door before Rodney can continue, stepping into the room when they both look over. "Hi."
"You're the girl from the store."
I nod at Sheppard's recognition. "I wanted to say thank you. I don't know what he would have done if you hadn't been there."
"Shot you, probably," mutters Rodney, but I ignore him.
"Are you okay?" I ask, realising what a stupid question it is as soon as I ask it. Of course he's not okay, he's in hospital after being shot.
Sheppard's "I'm fine", merges with Rodney's "That's debatable."
"I'm fine," Sheppard answers again, glancing over at Rodney and I sense this is an argument that's been going on for a while.
"I guess I should go," I say, pointing a thumb towards the door. Because Chris is waiting downstairs after giving me a lift here. He vowed every kilometre of the way that he was never going on vacation again unless I went with him, just in case something like this happened again. And then asked me to have dinner with him.
But it seems wrong to just leave. The guy's lying in a hospital bed because he saved my life. With a quick glance over to Rodney, I close the distance between me and the bed, leaning down and kissing Sheppard on the cheek. "Thank you," I say, knowing that those two words could never, ever be enough.
Sheppard nods as I walk back to the door. "Anytime. I'm always up for saving a damsel in distress," he smiles.
And the thing is, I get the feeling that he really is. I also get the feeling that, as long as Rodney's there, saving them is the only thing he's going to be doing.
"So, Rodney," I hear him drawl softly as I leave the room, "tell me more about not letting me out of the bedroom?" And I grin all the way back to the car.