As the group followed Ladon through the trees towards the Genii encampment, Laura dropped back to walk beside Evan.
"Hey," he greeted softly.
"Hey," she repeated, drawing a calming strength from his presence. She hated feeling this off-kilter. She thought she was used to the stress and adrenaline of life in Pegasus, but this situation was yanking her emotions in too many directions.
She wasn't sure how to answer. Was she okay? No, and she wouldn't be until they had Jen back. Was she going to get Jen back? Oh yes. If it took her last breath.
She'd cycled through so many emotions since her best friend had been taken, but with Ladon's assurance that the man they held did indeed know something, the fear and worry had been pushed aside to make room for cold hard anger.
"If this guy knows where Jen is," she whispered, "then God help him. Because I won't."
"Easy, Red," Evan cautioned. "He's no good to us if you kill him before the first question."
Laura snorted. "Oh, I won't let him off that easy."
"Just be careful.”
Laura glanced sideways at the Major, not missing the worry in his eyes.
"I'm always careful.”
Evan flashed her a grin. "Careful is never a word I would associate with you."
"No?" She smiled, jumping into the lighthearted conversation he offered, letting it wash over her shattered nerves like a healing balm. She knew he was doing it on purpose, and almost hugged him for it. "What would you associate with me? Sexy? Gorgeous? Hot?"
"Plus dangerous, impulsive, uncontrollable, overbearing, rude-"
"Why Major, you sure know how to sweet talk a girl." She bumped him with her shoulder.
"Careful," he cautioned with a smirk. "We wouldn't want to wipe off your tattoos."
She showed off her marked arms. "I kind of like them. Makes me look dangerous."
"You don't need tats to make you look dangerous, Red."
"And that," she winked, "is exactly why I love you."
"And here I thought you were just after my body."
"That too," she added with a laugh.
Up ahead, the forward group exited the forest trail and moved out into an open field. Laura and Evan followed the others as they crossed the open space towards a large brick building set against the trees on the far side.
Tension lifted itself out of her abdomen and settled between her shoulder blades. She took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, giving the anxiety time to settle itself out. Teyla said she needed the worry for Jen's safety to show, but she had to make sure it didn't rule her mind.
As they neared the building, the group stopped.
Laura shot a quick look to Evan, who nodded his reassurance. "Give him hell," he commanded softly.
Laura walked to the front to stand next to Teyla.
Ladon addressed John. "I will need a moment to get him out of the cell and into the holding area. I will send Daro to get you."
With the two Genii now inside, Teyla looked to the gathered group. "Remember what we have discussed. If this is to work, you may not speak. Only Laura or I are allowed to address this man." Then she turned to Laura. "He may see your emotion, but show him no weakness."
Laura welcomed the spike of adrenaline that coursed through her at Teyla's words. "He won't know what hit him.”
Teyla dipped her chin. "No, I don't believe he will."
The door behind them opened. Everyone turned as Daro leaned out. "We're ready.”
"Showtime," Laura said, taking her place directly behind Teyla.
Once inside, Daro pointed to an open doorway at the end of the long corridor. "Ladon waits for you there.”
Laura glanced at the others, watching each take position a few feet behind both herself and Teyla. She would have laughed at the situation of having superior officers standing behind her if it weren't so serious. With a nod from Teyla, they began to move, the heavy footfalls of their boots echoing off the stone walls.
They reached the open doorway and entered without stopping. The room was large and windowless, holding nothing except for a man with his hands and feet bound to a chair in the far corner, and Ladon, who stood off to the side.
The man in the chair was old for Pegasus standards, mid-thirties if Laura had to guess. She was surprised by his body shape. At Teyla's description of the men being slaves, she'd expected him to be dirty and malnourished, but this man was hard and angled, with the muscled body of a fighter. He stared at them with a hard expression. Despite being tied to the chair, his posture oozed confidence.
Laura almost smiled.
Breaking him into pieces was going to be fun.
Teyla had been very distinct in her instructions while she drew the Ahmazos designs down Laura's arms. Laura was to act as Teyla's second in command, taking orders only from Teyla. But Teyla had been very specific in what, exactly those orders would be.
It had been Teyla's final description that told Laura exactly how she was to handle herself.
Laura was to be as diplomatic as Ronon would be in getting Jennifer back.
With Teyla's words running through her mind, Laura marched directly up to the man in the chair and kicked him square in the chest.
Satisfaction tightened her heart as the man gasped in pain and surprise before smashing backwards onto the floor, chair and all.
"Pick him up," Teyla ordered, glancing over her shoulder at John, her voice commanding.
Laura stared at the man on the floor as John and Evan walked forward to flip the prisoner upright. Then they stepped back, joining Ronon where he stood next to Ladon in the corner.
The prisoner hunched over in the chair, coughing. After a deep breath he straightened, his eyes drilling directly into Laura. Wariness warred with anger as he fought to regain his composure.
"I am not pleased," Teyla announced. She walked slowly around the back of the chair. "And when I am not pleased..." she completed her circle walk and stopped beside Laura, "people die."
The prisoner snorted.
Laura jumped forward, smashing her knuckles into the man's face. She felt the satisfying snap and crumble of his nose as the cartilage gave way beneath the force of her fist. The prisoner's head snapped to the side and he sagged in the chair. He leaned further over the side and spat blood onto the floor. He straightened slowly, eyeing Laura warily before turning his attention to Teyla.
"Who the hell are you," he snarled.
Laura's foot caught him in the chest again, sending the man crashing violently to the floor. "You were not told to speak!" she hissed.
"Pick him up,” Teyla ordered.
John and Evan righted the chair once more. Teyla leaned down and tapped the man across his broken nose with her index finger. The man grunted in pain. "You have taken something that belongs to me," she said with a cold smile.
"I—" the man began, but his words were cut off with a yowl when Laura grabbed his nose and squeezed.
"He forgot again," Laura said, looking up at Teyla.
"He has been gone from home too long," Teyla shook her head with mock sadness.
"Perhaps we should give him a moment to remember where he came from?" Laura asked.
"Perhaps," Teyla looked as though she were considering the question, then shook her head.
Laura let go of the man's nose, but not without adding a painful twist. The man howled and bounced against his restraints. His glare was deadly as he stared up at Laura, but she could also see a slight hesitation. He looked at the marked designs on her arms, then snapped his eyes to something behind her. She didn't give in to the urge to look. Hopefully, he was starting to connect the dots.
The prisoner breathed sharply through his mouth, licking the blood as it dripped from his broken nose. He turned his head and spat another mouthful of blood onto the floor. Laura was mildly disappointed he chose the side away from Teyla.
Teyla stepped in front of the man once more. “You have taken something that is very important to me... and I want it back."
The man's mouth twitched, but this time he caught himself before he said anything.
"Speak," Teyla commanded forcefully, stepping back and waving her hand at the man as though the flick of her fingers would be enough to make him obey.
The man closed his mouth in defiance, but realized his folly when he couldn't breathe. Glaring at Teyla, he opened his mouth again, but said nothing.
Laura connected her fist with the side of the man's jaw. She ignored the stinging pain across her knuckles as her skin split open, and slugged him again.
The man's head wobbled as he tried to shake off the bell ringer she'd just delivered.
"I have taken nothing," he wheezed as blood dripped down his chin from his split lips.
This time Laura hit him so hard he toppled over sideways, chair and all. Blood dripped from her split fingers, forming a splatter pattern on the dusty floor.
Teyla waved her fingers to John and Evan. The two men hauled the chair back up and twisted it until the prisoner was facing Teyla once more.
"Three nights ago, you helped take one of my sisters from Laurentia,” Teyla said.
At the mention of Laurentia, the man blinked.
Laura's insides screamed with the victory. He knew. He knew about the planet. He knew about Jen!
"I don't know what you're talking about," the man sneered.
"Blonde hair," Teyla began. "Young. Pretty. Dressed as we are. She was there at the request of the old woman you are working for. We know this is not the first time you have stolen something that didn't belong to you. The old woman likes to pick and choose, doesn't she? The festival offers a nice cover for watching without being seen."
"I don't know what you are taking about," the man repeated.
"Where did you take her?" Teyla demanded.
"I didn't touch her," he stubbornly insisted.
After a few moments of the round about questioning, which left them with nothing other than his stubborn refusals, Laura turned to Teyla. "I need a pitcher of water."
Without taking her eyes from the prisoner, Teyla repeated the demand. "Fetch me a pitcher of water."
Ladon motioned towards the back of the room.
"Make sure it's full," Laura added, smirking at the confusion flashing across the prisoner's face.
Footsteps retreated down the hallway, but Laura refused to take her eyes of the man in the chair. A few moments later Daro appeared at her side with a large spouted jug overflowing with water. Laura turned towards Ronon, who was standing like an angry gargoyle in the shadows of the corner.
Time to share the fun.
She tipped her chin towards the man in the chair. "Hold his head back."
Ronon smile was cold as grabbed a handful of the man's hair. He yanked, hard. The prisoner twisted in the chair, but Ronon clamped his free hand down across the man's throat.
"Open his mouth," Laura ordered, stepping closer.
Ronon pinched the man's nose, stopping his breathing.
The prisoner screamed with the pain of having his broken nose abused.
"You look thirsty." Laura held the pitcher above the man's upturned face. "Who am I to prevent a dying man from his last drink?"
Mumbling curses, the man bobbled back and forth in the chair, but Ronon held firm.
Laura began pouring the water into the man's open mouth. It burbled and splattered, filling his mouth and sending streams of the liquid down his front and onto the floor. The chair rattled as the man fought to hold his breath, unable to breathe out of his broken nose, and unable to get air past the stream of water.
After dumping half the pitcher, she straightened and nodded to Ronon, who released his hold.
The prisoner flipped his head forward, choking and spitting up water.
"Where is she," Teyla demanded.
"I don't know," he coughed, shaking his head back and forth. "I didn't do anything!"
"Again," Laura turned to Ronon.
"No, wait!" the prisoner called out, but Laura refused to delay. This piece of garbage had taken Jen, and she wasn't going to quit until he was completely broken. She repeated the earlier procedure, stopping only because there was no more water.
Ronon released him and took a single step back.
The prisoner coughed up more water, spitting and wheezing as he sucked in air. This time, when he looked up, his eyes reflected worry, yet he was not far enough gone that he was going to give up.
“I didn’t take anyone!” he snarled.
Laura lifted her leg and the man jerked back. She slowly lowered her foot until it was pressed directly on top of his crotch, then leaned forward, pressing her weight down. He shifted with the pain and pressure, his breath coming in short gasps.
She reached into her boot and withdrew her knife, twisting it in the air in front of the man's face while she continued to lean her weight against her raised leg. "Where…is…she?”
"I wasn’t there," he gasped, hunching over. “It wasn’t me!”
"You were there." She scratched the blade across his cheek. “It was you.”
She sensed his indecision, his confusion as he struggled to keep his composure. But he still wasn’t talking.
She continued to scratch the tip of the blade across his check. Up one side, down the other, leaving a red trail in the skin. Deep enough to mark him, but not so far as to make him bleed. Yet.
"We know you were in the tavern. We know you drank. And we know you drank too much. You were quite happy to let everyone know how much you'd gotten paid to help an old woman and her people take a pretty healer through the forest to the gate."
She shook her head slowly, and trailed the tip of her knife beneath the man's bottom lip. "You chatter like an old crone when you're drunk." She tapped the knife across his mouth. "Perhaps I should help you with that little problem, hmmm? Remove your tongue? Then you can drink all you want..."
The man's eyes opened wide in fear and uncertainty. His bravado was failing, sliding away as easily as the blood that dripped from his face. His hands were now squeezing the ends of the chair, and he was sub-consciously pushing himself back, trying to create distance between them. His attention jerked from Laura, to the Lantian's behind her, to Teyla, and back again. Laura knew the moment he'd made the decision—he would no longer look her directly in the eye.
He may have escaped his own planet, but he couldn't escape his beliefs.
"Where did you take her?" Laura asked, her voice sickly sweet, firm with the knowledge she was mere moments away from pulling him completely apart.
He sucked in a breath. "I didn't take her anywhere," he insisted, his voice wavering, unsteady. "I don't know...don't...don't know what you are talking about."
She leaned back with an aching slowness, letting the man slump slightly into his now-free personal space. Once he was straight in the chair, she snapped her hand up and stabbed her knife down through the back of his hand, which was still strangling the edge of the armrest. The blade sliced through his flesh and embedded itself into wooden arm of the chair underneath with a thunk.
The man's screams would have cracked the plaster if there had been any.
"Oopsie," she blinked. "My bad. That isn't your knife hand." She withdrew the blade with a wiggle and twist, earning her another scream from the man in the chair. She leaned to the side, dangling it in the air over his non-injured hand. "This is your knife hand.”
She jerked her arm higher.
The man's scream paused the knife's descent.
"Denali!" he screeched. "Denali, all right? The old woman took her to Denali!"