Art by mashimero
After what felt like a rock connected with the back of John's head, it was a sorry commentary on his life when the only thing he thought, as the world blacked out around him, was 'Not again'.
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John stifled a groan and opened his eyes. The grey stone ceiling of what could only be a cell in the Liraens' city greeted him. The fact his tac vest was missing helped to confirm it. He rolled over, nearly colliding with someone else's boot - probably Rodney's judging from the size - and waited a second for the world to stop swirling around him.
They had all been put into the room together - probably thrown in judging from how Teyla was half sprawled across Rodney's chest, her boots resting against Ronon's hair.
John didn't dare risk standing up, instead shuffling forward on his hands and knees, reaching out in turn for the pulses of his team. A knot in his gut loosened with each pulsing heartbeat that he found.
"Hey," he called softly, his head pounding. "Everyone okay?" He carefully pushed Teyla's legs away from Ronon's head only to be almost knocked over when Ronon shot upright. "Ronon, it's just us."
Ronon grunted in response and spared only the briefest second to touch what was obviously a sore spot on his head before rolling upright. "Everyone okay?" he asked, echoing John's question.
John nodded. "They're still breathing." He felt down the side of his boot but his backup knife was missing. "Did they -" 'take all your knives?' he wanted to say, but merely gave Ronon a vague gesture, unwilling to ask aloud in case the Liraens were listening in.
Ronon reached up and after a few seconds scowled. It was answer enough.
Ronon moved across and gently eased Teyla off Rodney's chest, laying her with care on the floor. He pulled off his coat and used it to cushion her head. John nodded his approval and then did the same for Rodney with his own jacket.
Team sorted, John stood up and hid a brief dizzy spell by pausing, casually leaning against the cell wall before making his way to the door. Even though it was more than likely locked he wanted to test it anyway. Just in case. Mainly because, as Rodney never stopped reminding him every time he spoke of his lab monkeys, it wasn't wise to ever underestimate someone else's stupidity.
The wooden door felt disgustingly sturdy as he pushed against it. He turned away, frowning, and saw Ronon on the far side testing the bars on a small window, set high, close to the ceiling.
"Any luck?" he asked, as Ronon tugged on one.
"No." Ronon gripped two of the bars and pulled himself up, peering through the gap. He let go, dropping down neatly to the floor. "It just leads to another room."
John stepped over his fallen team mates and hoisted himself up. He could feel the almost familiar nudge of Ancient technology as he looked through, but it felt sluggish and sharp in his mind. He squinted through the bright light of the other room and made out a chair with something sat on a table nearby, mostly spherical in shape but with a flat bottom stopping it from rolling. Muscles burning, John let go, landing awkwardly and scraping both knees.
John chose to ignore him.
Ronon took up position by the door. John crouched down again to check on Teyla and Rodney. Still out for the count - he prayed it was just from the blows to the head they all seemed to have taken. Not that he could do anything about it stuck in here. He sighed. "I thought they liked us."
"They were lying," said Ronon with a shrug.
Rodney suddenly twitched, his eyes flashing open for the briefest of seconds before slamming shut again. John lightly tapped his face. "Hey, you with us?"
"Nurgh," Rodney mumbled.
John poked him again. "Come on, wakey, wakey."
Rodney reached out blindly and tried to hit him. John easily dodged and flicked his cheek. "Stop!" Rodney finally opened his eyes and squinted up at him miserably. "You're a child." He groaned. "My head! What happened?"
"We got captured," said Ronon helpfully.
Rodney glared at him. "I guessed that." He groaned again. "My head is coming apart!" A thought seemed to occur to him and he pushed himself up so he was resting back on his arms. "Is Teyla alright?"
John found himself reaching for her pulse. "Still out cold."
Rodney made as if to reach over and nudge Teyla only to stop, gasping.
"What's the matter?" John asked instantly.
"My chest hurts," said Rodney, wincing. "Oh God, I think I've broken my ribs!"
"I think you would've noticed broken ribs sooner, Rodney." John stood up and stretched. "They dumped Teyla on you when we were dragged in here; you might get a nice bruise."
Rodney pulled a face then released a gusty sigh. "This is our lives!" He said, seemingly more to the world at large than his team mates. "This shouldn't be normal!"
John wholeheartedly agreed. He glanced down and checked his watch. Less than an hour since they'd arrived, meaning at least another two before they missed their check in and a rescue team was mobilised. They couldn't have been out long, just enough to strip them of anything useful and bundle them into a cell.
Rodney tried sitting up and shuffled back till he was able to rest against the wall. "Ow. What is it with people taking us hostage all the time? We're the good guys!"
"That's a matter of perspective," said John absently, watching Teyla breathe.
"What? Oh right, the one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist thing." Rodney waved a hand dismissively. "All we did was step out the gate and they attacked us! They didn't even lure us into a false sense of security with pie like PX6 291 did. Hey, isn't this the planet with that pink vegetable thing that tastes like grapes? I thought we agreed to trade for that last time!"
"Either something's happened between now and then or they were lying the first time round," said John with a sigh.
Ronon suddenly held up his hand and they all fell silent. John waited impatiently, his muscles tense as he watched the bigger man listen carefully at the door. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Rodney crouching protectively next to Teyla and swallowed a smile of approval.
Seconds later John heard the echo of footsteps, just one person at a guess, walking past outside, then the tiniest murmur of voices before the footsteps echoed away again, but lighter as if it were another person.
"One guard," said Ronon quietly, backing away from the door. "They've just changed over."
Teyla shifted, one hand coming up to her head as her eyes fluttered open.
"Teyla! Finally!" said Rodney.
"You okay?" Ronon asked.
She looked at each one of them in turn and then at the door. "Again?" she sighed.
"Again," John confirmed.
Teyla gently touched the back of her head and winced. "I am fine," she said after a moment. "Merely bruised."
"They really weren't careful when they dragged us in here," said Rodney sourly.
The cell suddenly descended into darkness as the small window was covered up from the outside. John tried to resist the urge to hold his breath, all his senses straining and his muscles taut as he waited.
"This doesn't bode well," Rodney muttered.
Outside the door John heard the clear thundering of boots on stone. "Brace yourselves," he whispered needlessly.
The door burst open, momentarily blinding them all with the sudden change in light, to reveal Marlin, the leader of the Liraens, and a group of six burly men. Four of them were holding guns, their guns, and John instantly, and pointlessly, shot the rest of his team a warning look.
"Marlin, what is the meaning of this?" Teyla asked sharply. "We arrived to discuss a trade agreement, on your invitation, only to be treated like criminals!"
"Forgive me, Teyla Emmagen," said Marlin insincerely, "but circumstances have changed." A strange expression flashed across his face, too quick for John to understand.
Ronon glared at the guard holding his gun. "I'll be wanting that back," he growled menacingly.
"We don't always get what we want," Marlin smiled even as his guard took an unconscious step backwards. "Colonel Sheppard, if you'd like to come with me. We have much to...discuss."
"No, no, no," said Rodney suddenly. "No, we all have to be part of the discussion, we're...we're like a package deal, take one, take all."
Marlin made a subtle gesture with his hands and all four armed guards instantly trained their weapons on Ronon and Teyla.
"Shut up, McKay," said John. He nodded to Marlin. "Shall we?"
Strong hands wrenched him from the room and John was dragged around the corner and into the room beside the cell. He could still hear the muffled voices of his team, their raised voices sounding odd, as if they were underwater. A heavy sheet covered the bars in the top corner that was the only window to their cell.
John's gaze flicked quickly round the room as he was pushed into the chair. It seemed bigger now he was inside it and he could feel the pull of Ancient technology more strongly here, although it felt sluggish, as if something was corrupt in its system.
"It seems, Colonel," said Marlin softly, as his guards strapped John to the chair - wrists, legs, chest, "that you weren't entirely honest with us when we first met." He pulled out a couple of crumpled photos from his jacket pocket and held them out for John to see. John resisted the urge to groan in frustration - those stupid, stupid Genii ransom photos! Just when they thought the last of them had been destroyed another one cropped up to bite them in the ass.
"You're a little late if you're wanting the ransom," said John with his 'see, this is just a silly misunderstanding' smile. He suspected it made him look constipated but it was worth a go. "The Genii have pulled their request - we're allies now."
Marlin turned and trailed a hand across what John now realised to be the Ancient device. "I have no need for their trifling payouts," he said dismissively.
John didn't move. He knew this routine and if his time in Pegasus had taught him only one thing, it was that if he could live through a Wraith feeding, he could survive whatever 'discussion' Marlin had planned long enough for the rescue team to arrive. He hoped.
"I have need of information," Marlin continued slowly. He turned to the nearest guard and whispered something in his ear. The guard paled but nodded and left the room at speed. A single, measured gesture had the rest of the guards following him out, leaving John and Marlin alone.
"I've nothing to tell you," said John, his tone as even and steady as he could make it. "And nothing you do will change that." Except it would, because John knew, knew better than most, had seen it first hand, that all men had a breaking point and sooner or later he would break too. But the rescue team would arrive long before that. Woolsey was nothing if not efficient.
"Of course not," said Marlin agreeably. "You're a strong man and strong men do not reveal their secrets without appropriate incentive."
John tensed automatically and felt the restraints bite into his skin. "This isn't going to end well for you," he warned.
Marlin considered this, his hand trailing lazy circles on the Ancient device. "I think it will." He smiled widely. "By the time we're finished I'll know all I could wish to about Atlantis and her secrets."
The door creaked open and a small, gaunt man with limp, wispy blonde hair scuttled into the room. He didn't seem entirely aware of his own surroundings, his eyes large on his small face. "You requested my presence, sir," he whispered.
"Yes, I've got a new patient for you, Odel," Marlin dropped his hand away from the device.
"I'm not a patient," said John sharply, panic rapidly taking hold of him.
Odel didn't seem to hear him. "A new patient, yes," he murmured.
Marlin wrapped a fatherly arm round Odel's shoulders and, with a brief smile in John's direction, whispered something into his ear. John strained his muscles and once again felt his restraints dig in to him as he tugged against them. He stopped when Marlin finally straightened and retreated to the far wall. Odel moved the table closer to John.
John felt his entire world narrow to Odel and the device, the rumble of his team mates sounding more distant than before.
"This device will extract what I need to know," said Marlin, from the edge of John's awareness. "It's so much cleaner."
"He oversimplifies things," Odel sighed. He reached out, placing his hand on the Ancient device.
John could feel it as the thing struggled to life and regardless of keeping up a stoic front he began to struggle violently against the bonds holding him to the chair.
Restart session with new patient?
Odel nodded once.
A lightning strike of pain flashed through John's head. The room instantly faded out and he became aware of a high pitched scream. But he couldn't focus, couldn't concentrate or understand anything beyond the pain in his head. It felt like his skull was being peeled back, hard stubby fingers scraping through his brain, ripping apart each nerve, each blood vessel. It was pulling apart his mind, dissecting him piece by piece while he was still breathing. He wanted to reach out, to rip the hands from his head, to do anything that would just make it stop, but the cursed chair held him tightly in place. Oblivion took him and John welcomed it, realising as he did that the screams were coming from him.
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In oblivion there were two voices, cool and soft, cutting smoothly across the fire in his mind.
"I'm going to ask you questions, Colonel. You will not need to speak. What is the Ring address for Atlantis?"
He could give them that, he could give them that and maybe they'd stop, for a little while. The IDCs would keep them safe, it would keep them all safe, they just had to stop, had to stop it now. No, no, hold out, hold out five minutes, just five minutes and then he could tell them.
"Sir, I have a partial address. His memories indicate a further precaution."
No, no, it hadn't been five minutes yet, just five minutes, nothing before then, hold out till then.
"Colonel, what is the security precaution on the Ring in Atlantis?"
Don't tell them, don't tell them, never tell them. Is that screaming? Who's screaming? Are the others okay? No, don't tell them, never tell them.
"He is resisting."
"Then push further."
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"John! You've got to wake up!" Rodney a voice in John's mind supplied. "Come on, we're going to die here! Please, please, please wake up!"
It was an almost Herculean effort to wrench his eyes open, and to wait as the world swirled above him to finally settle on Rodney's pale, blood streaked face.
"Oh thank you," Rodney breathed, his fingers digging into John's shoulders, and ow how had he not noticed that before? "John, we have to get out of here."
"Teyla? Ronon?" John asked roughly, his tongue feeling heavy and dry in his mouth. "What happened?"
"There's no time for that!" Rodney snapped. "We have to get out of here, this whole place is coming down!" Rodney's strong hands pulled him upright and held onto him. The Stargate, they were in front of the Stargate, John realised. It was in a large stone room, but the walls were shaking, the doorway behind them already blocked off.
"John! You have to get us back," said Rodney, forcing John's attention back to him. He watched blood dribble down the side of his team mate's face feeling oddly disconnected.
"We can't leave without Teyla and Ronon," he said, twisting to face the doorway again.
"John, they're gone." Rodney hung his head. "I know you're confused but we have to go and we have to go now!" Rodney's grip on his shoulders suddenly evaporated and he sagged like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Rodney seemed paler than ever, his gaze turning vacant. "Get me home, John. Get me back to Atlantis."
John stared at Rodney dumbly. "Why didn't you dial?"
"My head..." Rodney trailed off. "I, I don't remember the address, the IDC."
Something else clicked in his mind. "Why do you keep using my name?"
Rodney laughed nervously as the building shook around them, raining down dust onto their clothes. "What else should I call you?"
"You wouldn't leave the others behind," said John slowly. He crossed his arms and resisted the urge to cradle his aching head.
Rodney, or whoever it was, reached out for him again. The second his hands made contact it was like their surroundings faded to nothing. The only thing mattered was Rodney, Rodney's voice persuading and silky smooth like he'd never heard it before. "What are the co-ordinates for Atlantis? What is the code that gets us through the ring?"
John had never wanted to answer something so much in his life. But a little voice in his head stopped him. "You know what they are," he said simply. What felt like a burning arc of fire lanced through the inside of his head.
"I don't remember, you have to help me John, you have to help me or we'll die."
Somewhere in the distance, so faint John almost mistook it for an echo of memory, there was the rat-tat-tat of gunfire. Rescue, John thought.
The Imposter before him looked panicked. "It's not working," he hissed, his expression suddenly sharper, more alert and twisted into something so... unlike Rodney. "What do you want me to do?"
John felt the tiny, almost playful tug of nearby Ancient technology, but it felt corrupted, only half powered to him, like only the tiniest nudge could bring it to full power.
John felt a moment of disconnect from himself before the scene cleared and he realised he was sat in a chair. He blinked stupidly in the gritty light. His surroundings looped sickeningly around him but he was able to make out a man knelt on the floor clutching his head. The door burst inwards and there was a flurry of Atlantean soldiers pressing into the small space. The two strangers were shot quickly and efficiently, their bodies slamming into the stone floor. A sound that seemed to echo round and round John's head.
Restart session with new patient?
A grey haired sergeant grabbed his arms and started loosening the restraints. "It's okay, sir," he said soothingly. "We're gonna get you out. We'll get you home."
John closed his eyes. And smiled. "Okay."