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When Things go South

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Simply a trade mission

The team stepped through the Stargate and started down the road that lead to the nearest town. It was midday and they strolled at a relaxed pace, Sheppard in the front with Teyla, Rodney in the middle with Dean and Ronon was bringing up the rear. The planet was full of trees, and the settlement was close enough that they didn't need a jumper for the trip.

"So this is, what, your sixth mission with us?"

"Yep," replied Dean cheerfully. "No, wait… Are you counting the lousy rescue mission on that jungle planet, too, Sheppard? Because that doesn't count."

Sheppard grinned at him. "Sure it does! We saved your ass, and we were all there, so that counts as a mission together."

"It was Doctor Parrish's fault," Dean groused. "He should have stayed away from that man-eating plant. It was bigger and a lot harder to cut than any plant on Earth. Hell! I couldn't even scratch it with a machete!"

"Is that why we found all of you wrapped in four little cocoons, Winchester?" Rodney mocked with a smirk on his face.

"Like I said, Spock, we were trying to rescue Doctor Parrish—"

"Ah yes, the good old routine of the idiots: act first and think later. Good work, Captain Archer."

Teyla smiled. Rodney and Dean kept bickering like two children; however, during these last few months they had been less... hostile in their quarrels. It was evident to Teyla they were becoming good friends.

From time to time McKay and Dean kept calling each other by strange nicknames, especially after a mission together when they had encountered a strictly female society.

Dean had compared the leader of the clan to a certain alien woman, T'Pol, and claimed that in their own way they were both hot. Since then, McKay had started to call him first Trip, then Archer–claiming he could in no way be a chief of an engineering department.

The reference had, of course, been utterly lost on Teyla. When she had asked the colonel who this "Captain Archer" was, Sheppard had just dismissed it, saying he was a guy like Kirk. Sometimes, the way those Earthlings talked confused her.

She turned to their newest teammate. "I'm glad that you are with us today, Dean."

"Thanks, Teyla." Dean grunted. "So what exactly are we doing here today?"

"It's a trade mission with some people that claim to have found a Wraith device in one of their collections, and want to trade it with someone who can do something with it. We should be back in Atlantis by evening."

Ronon arched an eyebrow. "How many men?"

"My friend told me there are two of them. They came from another world and set this planet as neutral ground for trading. They seemed very wary; we have to meet them at the tavern."

Sheppard brought them to a halt just outside the village. "Okay, listen up, kids," he announced. "Teyla and I will handle the negotiations and see what they're asking for in exchange for this device. Rodney, you need to do a quick scan to see if what we're buying is good."

McKay snorted. "With our luck, it's probably junk mail from hive ships, or a scam of some sort and a waste of our time."

"You're a real ray of sunshine, McKay," Dean rebuked.

"Ronon, watch our six." Sheppard continued. "Dean, I think you should just enjoy the morning market and stay out of sight, but keep an eye out… just in case. We don't need to scare them with our numbers."

"Are you expecting trouble, Sheppard?" asked Ronon.

The colonel scratched the back of his neck, as thought something bothered him that he couldn't place it.

"Naaa… it's just to play it safe."

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They arrived at the settlement and took a minute to observe the flow of people in the plaza.
Most of them were wearing leather clothes and long tunics; a lot were in the middle of the street trading. The town itself wasn't very advanced, technologically: some houses were built of woods, others of stones; overall it had a very medieval air.

Dean had convinced Sheppard to let him go on the missions with a tact vest, his worn-out jacket, and his weapons rather than the P90 that the colonel and Teyla had brought. Yes, the P90 had more firepower, but it was also more difficult to hide; even his jacket seemed a bit out of place here. Teyla and Ronon probably wouldn't draw too much attention, but with their gear and uniforms Dean, Sheppard and McKay would immediately stand out. "Don't you think we're a bit obvious in these clothes?"

Sheppard and Ronon looked at him. "So?" prompted Sheppard.

"I'm just saying, when you encounter other people isn't it better to…I dunno, lay low, before you tell them you're from another planet? You know, the uniform kind of screams that we're not from around here."

McKay scoffed. "We're not anthropologists, we don't need to dress up. Besides, the uniforms are comfortable. These clothes seem rather itchy. You know I have allergies…"

"We know," Sheppard cut him off. To Dean, he said "This isn't a cover op, kiddo. We're out here to make friends. Being suspicious all the time won't help us find new allies against the Wraith."

"Besides," Teyla added "people in the Pegasus Galaxy often travel using the Stargate, they know there are people from other worlds with different cultures. Our clothes reveal to them that we are travelers as well."

Dean nodded. "I get it. There's no Prime Directive out here," earning puzzled looks from Teyla and Ronon, a grin from Sheppard, and a snarky comment from McKay.

"Okay, kids, recreational time is over. Let's move!" Sheppard ordered "Check back in an hour."

Sheppard and Teyla moved toward the tavern along with Ronon and McKay. Dean took off near a stand in an alley and, after some sweet talk with a female merchant, vanished into the crowd.

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The meeting was proceeding quite well; Teyla really had a gift for negotiation and easily overcame her contacts' wariness. They set at a table a little removed from the other customers in the rear of the tavern.

Malik and Irniq represented the people of a small planet, Thetasis, in a system near the edge of the Pegasus Galaxy. Given the fact they were so distant from the common feeding ground of the Wraith, they were able to live in peace for many generations and their society had grown more advanced than others. But a mixed group of archaeologists and soldiers, the Archivists, collected as much information as they could on the old threat, because they foresaw that the peace of their world couldn't last forever.

Thanks to that group, the people of Thetasis had discovered that a great amount of Wraith had been awakened from their sleep. The leader of the Archivists had sent a couple of teams around the galaxy to find out what had happened, and, in their travelers, they had collected a lot of information.

They had learned that an expedition of human, who possessed the gene of the Ancestors, had found Atlantis and awakened the mortal enemy. Even if they were responsible for that, rumors about their help in the fight against the Wraith had spread all over the galaxy. Given the fact that Thetasis was no longer safe from the deadly threat, they had chosen to seek out Atlantis's people in order to give the information they had and help in their own way.

However, nothing was without cost. Despite their noble purpose, their people weren't healthy, and they wanted a fair trade for their information.

Along the journey, Malik explained, they had encountered a group of people who claimed to come from Atlantis. They wore anonymous clothes and held Wraith stunners, things that were becoming common among the people in the Pegasus Galaxy. The Archivists were suspicious and asked them to take a test; when they didn't pass it, the imposters started to shoot in order to take their belongings.

Malik and Irniq were the only survivors of a team of six people sent out to seek Atlantis's team.

These people had every reason to be wary.

"What kind of test?" McKay grunted.

McKay's ears caught only that part while Sheppard took note of every detail in their story. He didn't like what he heard. Someone was impersonating members of the Atlantis expedition; John wondered why.
Was Malik's data really that valuable?

"It's nothing to worry about. If you are, as you said, a child of the Ancestors, this device will show it." Irniq, the shorter of the two men, held up a device of Lantean design, and Sheppard relaxed a bit after seeing it.

It didn't seem like a dangerous test.

If they wanted him to light up some Ancient object, there was no problem. The thing looked similar to their sensor scanner, but bigger like one of their tablets from Earth. Before McKay could lay his fingers on the device, John touched it and the screen lit up quickly. He was able to see some string of Ancient and Wraith languages before they took it away from him.

Malik and Irniq looked like children at Christmas, watching the screen while McKay fumed at him. Rodney obviously wanted to take a peek at the content of the ancient data-pad too, but thanks to Sheppard, his chance was gone. The Archivists held the precious device tight to them, claiming that it wasn't the device they wanted to trade.

Sheppard felt a little tricked: that wasn't just a test, they wanted to gain access to the information on that thing. However, before he could point that out, Teyla was able to cut a deal for the Wraith device in exchange for medical supplies and the activation of the Ancient device. After some additional bargaining they agreed to another of Colonel Sheppard's requests: the opportunity to visit their planet. He had seen the look in Rodney's eyes if the Archivists had more Ancient devices, McKay wouldn't stop bitching about the importance of analyzing them.

An invitation to their planet was the best option to soothe the pouting scientist, and it was also a good way to start a diplomatic relationship with a possible new ally. He was sure Elizabeth would approve his cunning move, too.

Malik started to hand over the Wraith device—and that was when all hell broke loose.

Without warning, the four customers nearest their table drew Wraith stunners and opened fire. Caught completely off-guard, Ronon was hit three times, Teyla once, and the poor guys from Thetasis were too surprised to scream or do anything at all.

McKay and Sheppard were hit before either of them could get a shot off in return.

Sheppard was only able to curse to himself as unconsciousness took him.

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Dean saw movement in the tavern and some too-familiar blue light from the window.

Three customers left the tavern in a hurry and with wary eyes.

That wasn't a good sign.

He checked his radio, but when no one responded he headed toward the rear of the tavern. Hiding behind the wall, he saw several men binding and loading the unconsciousness bodies of the colonel, Ronon, and the rest of the team with two other guys onto two worn wagons.

"Son of bitch." He growled in surprise.

Two of the men took off their upper clothes and covered the rear of the carts and their prisoners. Underneath those disguised coats, they wore what seemed to be uniforms of some kind, green with brown stripes. Dean didn't recognize them.

They were six of them, too many to take them all at once by himself. If he started shooting, he would likely be taken out as well, or he could accidentally hurt those on the wagons. Too risky. The uniform and the way these men carried themselves meant they were most likely trained soldiers. Dean couldn't underestimate them, not with so much at stake.

So he quietly followed the group to a warehouse a mile from the town, hidden in the forest.

He took a swift check of the perimeter to assess the situation, and by the time he finished it was almost evening. They were almost due to their scheduled check-in with Atlantis. Once they missed it, they would have to wait a couple of hours or more before Doctor Weir would send Major Lorne and his team to check on them.

He knew Sheppard would probably want him to get back to the Stargate, dial in and ask for help, but what would happen if they were moved before the rescue team arrived? He couldn't risk letting them out of his sight.

He was on his own.

Like every respectable warehouse, it had two entrance—and just because things couldn't be simple for him, four soldiers were watching the surroundings at each side of the building. The only good news was that the woods were thick and there was a fair distance between each sentinel. The best way to save the team would be to take them out one by one without alerting the others.

Dived and conquer.

He slowly approached the soldier nearest his cover and he took him silently from behind, closing his hand on his mouth and putting him in a choke hold. The guy tried to free himself and scream for help but Dean was able to hold him firm. A minute later, he was out of commission.

Dean didn't kill him; he was a human and despite the ambush on his team, he didn't want to kill anyone if it wasn't strictly necessary. Wraith, wendigos, ghosts—sure not a problem. Humans, however, were another thing.

Searching the soldier, he found a small Wraith stunner, and just to be on the safe side he shot the guard, tied him up with a rope, and hid him near a bush.

One down, three to go, besides the other two in the warehouse.

Sheppard owed him big this time.

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Teyla was the first to awaken.

They were in some sort of warehouse full of crates and corn. As the confusion brought on by the stunner slowly dissipated, she focused on her surroundings and found her friends on the floor as well, bound with their hands behind them. She heard a noise at her right and relief washed over her when she turned around: the colonel was awakening too.

"Are you alright, Colonel Sheppard?"

"Teyla…Am I tied up in a barn? " She could hear the tension rising in his voice.

"…Yes, Colonel."

"Then no, I'm not all right."

Another groan, and she heard McKay waking up as well as Ronon, from her left, who grunted at his own predicament. The two Archivists were still out of commission.

Movements from one end of the barn caught their attention. A soldier appeared in front of them with a small Wraith stunner in his hand. He had black short hair, cut in a military style, and piercing blue ice.

They knew his uniform all too well.

Another groan escaped McKay's lips.

"Colonel John Sheppard, Teyla Emmagan, Doctor Rodney McKay and Ronon Dex. It's a pleasure to meet all of you."

"Yeah… I can't say the same," Sheppard snarled back.

The soldier merely raised an eyebrow and continued, "My name is Andrei Dalca."

"You're a Genii. We have a treaty with them…your people… why have you kidnapped us?" spluttered McKay.

Dalca smiled, and took out from one of his pockets the Wraith device stolen from Malik. Teyla, Ronon and Sheppard watched his every move while they tried to free their hands from the ropes, but it wasn't working. "For a brilliant scientist like you, Doctor, I'm surprised you didn't guess already."

"McKay, he isn't working for Ladon." Said Sheppard "He's probably one of the Cowen's guys."

The soldier went stiff. "Ladon Radim isn't worthy to guide our people. The Genii need a stronger leader. We are, gentlemen, at war. He is a mere scientist."

"Then what? Do you plan to be their new leader? Are you trying to use us as hostages?" Teyla couldn't fathom what this man was doing. They were wasting valuable resource that could be better used in the war with the Wraith than in a plot to depose their current leader. It was nonsense. And Doctor Weir would never help with another coup d'état, nor would she give him anything that could harm innocents from the Genii world. Using them as hostages was a flawed plan.

"No, you are what I call… a bonus. My mission was to retrieve the Wraith data. It's just happened that I took the opportunity to capture you as well. You know, all of you are quite famous."

Teyla exchanged a glance with Sheppard. He had noticed as well as she that the Genii hadn't actually answered their questions. Was he just a puppet or the puppeteer?

Dalca glanced at each one of his prisoners, assessing them one by one, before stopping on McKay. "…And you, Doctor McKay, are well known for your knowledge. You'll be useful for the decoding of this device."

Rodney blanched for a moment before spilling everything he had on his mind. "You're insane if you think I'll help someone like you. I've been on that road with your stupid buddy Kolya, and I will not do it again! You can kis—"

The Genii soldier was suddenly right up in his personal space, his clear glacial eyes at the same height as Rodney's, and with the stunner pointed right at his heart, the metallic muzzle touching his chest. The scientist stopped in mid-sentence, too scared to even breath. At that distance, Teyla didn't know if the charge could stop his heart, but she was sure he wasn't eager to find out.

"I'm sure we can find a way," Dalca purred. "I can be very… persuasive."

Sheppard tried to move to protect Rodney, but the Genii stepped back after his threat, circling them.

"You'll be transported off-world, where we have a more… comfortable location for you." He was again in front of them, he had a serious face. "My men have the orders to shoot you if any of you decides to try anything. You can walk on your own, or I can stun you here and now. Your choice."

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Another soldier came from behind them and had his stunner out, pointed at them. Sheppard assessed their situation while the second soldier was waking up the other two hostages.

Stalling would get them only so far, and he didn't know if Winchester had called for backup or not. If they wanted to secure them off-world that meant the Genii soldiers were probably guarding the 'Gate too. For now, it was in their best interest to just try to stay alive and be ready for a chance to escape. He signaled with a nod to Teyla and Ronon, who understood the situation right away.

"What? Are we going with them?" McKay squawked.

Sheppard sighed. "Yes, Rodney. We don't have much choice."

"Oh God…I should have stayed in bed this morning."

Sheppard was thinking the same thing, but he didn't let him know. This trade mission had nagged him from the beginning; he should have trusted his "Spidey sense" all along and taken another team with them.

A blue shot wrapped the second soldier and Dalca turned around to face the unexpected enemy, only to be punched right in the stomach and then shot with a Wraith stunner. Sheppard and Ronon took the best defensive stance they could while tied up.

"Who's there?" Sheppard yelled.

From the shadows behind Dalca's body, Dean walked in with a smile on his face. "I'm Batman."

Teyla and Ronon shot at him a curious looks while McKay just scoffed. Malik and Irniq were confused and looked at him as if he was another threat.

Watching the faces around the room he dropped his smile, Sheppard, however, was glad Dean was there. "Nice timing, kiddo."

Dean took that as a thanks, and with his knife he cut the ropes that bound Ronon's and Sheppard's hands. They in turn released the others. The colonel and Ronon retrieved their weapons while McKay took the Wraith device from Dalca. Dean and Teyla secured the two unconscious soldiers on the floor.

"Where is Lorne and the rescue team?" demanded Rodney.

"There wasn't time for that, and by the way, you're welcome."

"Come on kids, we need to go," said Sheppard. "Now."

They ran off toward the other entrance after Dean explained to them that he had already taken care of the four guards around the perimeter. Nevertheless, Sheppard didn't want to stick around one minute longer.

"Who are those guys, anyway?" Dean panted as they ran.

"Genii, or at least a faction of them," Sheppard replied. "We need to find a way to the Stargate and back to Atlantis."

Sheppard held up his gun and Ronon took the lead into the forest. At one point along the run, the two Archivists stopped and chose to depart from them. They'd had enough adventures for a day, and preferred to take their chances in the village rather than go anywhere near the Stargate and other enemies. The Genii weren't interested in them but in the Wraith device, so they agreed to leave it in McKay's hands.
Sheppard gave them the coordinates of a planet where they could meet once the situation was under control, and Malik and Irniq disappeared into the thick foliage, heading back to the village.

After a long walk through the woods, the team finally arrived near the Stargate.

Sheppard cursed. As expected, there were five soldiers near it, and it was possible there were more crawling around the forest. He knew after the first shot they wouldn't have much time before the enemy's reinforcements would be upon them. Ronon had his gun already trained on one of the soldiers.

"Ronon take the two near the DHD," Sheppard ordered "McKay once we cleared a path, dial Atlantis and send the IDC. Teyla, Dean, flank t'em, and I'll take the guy in the middle."

They placed themselves in position, ready for Sheppard's order. McKay was between Ronon and Dean, prepared to bolt toward the DHD.

When John gave the signal, Ronon opened fire. He took one target down without effort, while the other ducked and started shooting back.

"Don't you dare hit the DHD or we're all dead!" McKay shouted like a mad man. Sheppard took his target while Dean and Teyla were having some troubles due to the fact that the soldiers had a better cover.

Ronon ran toward the DHD, followed by McKay. The Satedan shot the guy behind it, while he was preparing to fire again. Rodney was dialing Atlantis's coordinates, when more shots came from the forest behind them.

"Take cover!" Sheppard wanted to groan in frustration—there were at least other two groups of genii soldiers. Teyla was able to subdue her foe and approached the Stargate with Sheppard, and Dean took out his enemy too, and ran toward McKay. Yet the Genii kept advancing near their position, closing them in a pinch.

Some of them shot with Wraith stunners while others were aiming with real guns at non-vital areas.
Dalca had probably given orders to take them alive.

"Ronon!" Teyla's shout pierced the air.

Ronon was shot twice by a Wraith stunner and crashed to the ground, Teyla went to assist him and dragged him toward the Gate. Sheppard laid down cover fire to protect both of them, while Dean, was near Rodney, shot at the group of soldiers approaching from the edge of the woods. The Stargate activated with the familiar "whoosh" and McKay sent his IDC with rapid clicks.

"The shield is down, go!" shouted McKay from the DHD.

"Atlantis! This is Sheppard, we're coming in hot!" Teyla was struggling to carry Ronon toward the Stargate, and Sheppard helped her while aiming at the incoming Genii on their sides. He called out the rest of the time "Rodney, Dean, let's go!"

But that couldn't be that easy, of course. As they were making their retreat, one of the Genii tossed some sort of shock grenade right between Sheppard and McKay. The explosion was sudden, and the shock wave so powerful that it threw Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon over the event horizon, while Dean and Rodney fell back, several meters away from the Stargate.

Some Genii soldiers quickly approached the DHD and secured it, other pointed their guns at the enemies on the ground.

The pain, the deafening silence, and the faces of the soldiers ready to stun them told the scientist and the hunter only one thing: they were so screwed.

Chapter Text

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Out of the freaking pan into the fire

Elizabeth waited anxiously in the Control Tower with the technicians. Sheppard's team was over two hours late. It wasn't unusual to miss the appointed check-in by an hour or so during a trade mission, but for all Sheppard seemed to view Expedition protocol as little more than suggestions, this was unlike him. Usually a missed check-in meant trouble.

She was ready to call for Major Lorne's team when the Stargate lit up, and Chuck dove for his console. "We have an unscheduled off-world activation!" He turned toward the leader of their expedition. "We're receiving the identification code, ma'am, it's McKay."

"Lower the shield. Security team, stand by."

Soon they heard a radio transmission coming through. "Atlantis! This is Sheppard, we're coming in hot!"

Elizabeth signaled the marines on the security team to take position. She always dreaded when Sheppard called reporting they were under enemy fire. Without missing a beat, she called for a medical team as well.

Bullets and stunner fire burst through the open 'Gate, forcing the marines to duck to avoid them. Then Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon came flying out of the wormhole on the crest of a powerful shock wave, hitting the floor several meters away. The blast caused the event horizon to flicker ominously for several seconds, threatening to shut down altogether.

Elizabeth ran toward them, and was relieved to find that they at least hadn't suffer any burns. The medical team with Carson was there in a blink of an eye, and they took over the situation and stabilized their patients before taking them into the infirmary.

With her people in good hands, Elizabeth could take stock of the situation. The fact that an explosion had occurred so close to the Stargate wasn't a good sign. Worse, there was no sign of McKay or Winchester, though the wormhole remained active. No one else stepped through the Stargate, and the shooting had stopped at the same time the three of them had arrived. She ordered Lorne to mount a rescue mission to retrieve the two men.

The major and his men were ready to go by the time the 'Gate finally shut itself down.

"Dial the 'Gate," Elizabeth commanded.

Chuck tried to connect with the other Stargate –but without success.

Elizabeth strode over to his console and leaned over his shoulder to see what was going on. "What's wrong?"

"Doctor Weir, the 'Gate didn't lock. Someone on the other side could be dialing another Stargate, or..."

He didn't need to finish that thought. The force of the blast that had hurled three people through the wormhole at high speed raised serious concerns about the structural integrity of the other Stargate. But she chose not to assume the worst. "Keep trying" she said "and as soon as the 'Gate is open, send Major Lorne's team to check the planet. Call me if there is any news."

"Yes, ma'am."

She stalked out of the Control Room and headed toward the infirmary.

Two members were missing, and someone was keeping the Stargate busy. She needed answer, and fast.

When she arrived at the infirmary, only Teyla was awake, though just barely. Ronon and Sheppard were still out cold, and Carson was checking on them. Even while he was working on three patients, Carson shot a worried look at Elizabeth. It hadn't escaped his notice that two people were missing from the infirmary.

"Doctor Weir…. I'm sorry… we were cut off…" Teyla groaned weakly.

"It's not your fault Teyla." But, before Elizabeth could say anything else, Teyla drifted into unconsciousness.

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Andrei Dalca strode through the grassy field toward the Stargate.
The squad he'd left there had secured the DHD, and alerted him that they had been able to take two prisoners. He approached the leader of the scouting team near two other guards watching the unconscious captives on the ground. "Call back the patrols," he ordered "we need to leave this planet immediately. As soon as everyone is ready dial the Manarians' planet. From there we'll go to our base. Tell your best man to re-dial quickly; the Atlantians could be waiting on the other side, ready to rescue their people."

"Yes, sir!" The soldier left his position and relayed Dalca's instructions over the radio to his men. Within moments, they began to emerge from the trees nearby.

Dalca took his time to observe who they captured from the Atlantis' team. He saw Doctor McKay slumped on the ground, with a blond guy he didn't immediately recognize.

He was wearing what looked like pieces of a mismatched uniforms: a plain dark green shirt, grey trousers like McKay's, a pistol hostler on a leg and a worn-out green coat over a black tac vest. The Genii didn't have any information about him. From previous reports, Dalca knew that Sheppard's team had only four people. However, after a moment's thought, he recognized the guy as the one who ambushed him and his men in the warehouse and rescued the Atlantians. He had to be one of their people.

Dalca had to admit, he was surprised: this man alone had been able to knock out him and five of his men; that meant he was highly trained. From soldier to soldier, the young man had gained a bit of his respect.

One of the guards approached his commanding officer, the Wraith device in his hand. "Sir, we found this on the scientist."

"Well done." Congratulated him. Then to the rest of his men, he said "We accomplished our mission. We need to fall back now, and take those two with us."

The soldiers nodded, and staged the two member of the Atlantis team for transport trough the Stargate. "All set, Lieutenant Dalca."

"Then dial in, and tell to one of your man to stay behind and hold the connection for as long as possible. When the rescue team comes, I want him to be long gone. He can't be captured alive. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir."

The Stargate shut down, and immediately a short man composed the next address with quick moves. The Genii soldiers left in small groups, one of them carrying the hostages along, and in a matter of minutes the grassy field was empty.

As ordered, the last soldier waited for a while by the open wormhole, before he took off and disappeared into the woods.

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The air was humid and stale. Rodney slowly came back to consciousness on a small, uncomfortable cot, and for several seconds he couldn't place what had happened or where he was. Several scenarios flashed though his mind, each one worse than the last. He most likely had a head injury, and instead of being monitored by the best experts of the medical team on Atlantis, he was probably in the hands of a wannabe country doctor on an unknown planet that hadn't even discovered electricity yet.

Or worse.

Maybe he had been left alone, bleeding to death in some cave during a Wraith attack. Or maybe he had blown up something with another Ancient project and this was the aftermath. The thought of an explosion was the spark that brought his memories back in the right place.

No. He, Doctor Rodney McKay, hadn't done anything wrong… this time.

It was the Genii's fault, and their stupid attempt to kill him.

He patted himself to check if he had any body parts missing, but they were all accounted for. His hearing was acceptable and except for some cuts and bruises, he was fine. Rodney didn't know how much time had passed. Hours… maybe a day, there was no way to tell.

Rodney slowly got up from the cot and surveyed his surroundings. He was in a cell, and a very ugly one: there were small water drops falling from the roof, dust covered everything, the walls had mold on them, and the cot was all rusty. It was the recipe for a very nasty bacterial infection. The barely functional light in the middle of the room reminded him of the old lamps miners used on Earth, except it seemed to run on electricity. And there was another bed on the other side of the cell, with a body on it.

Due to the awful illumination, he couldn't see who was on the other bed. It wasn't Ronon–there were no dreads he could see–and it wasn't Teyla, her slender figure hard to confuse with that of a man. Rodney really hoped the person on the other side was Sheppard. He got up and advanced to his cellmate, a rush of disappointment filled him when he saw the man slumped on the cot. None too gently he shook Winchester's shoulder to wake him up.

A hand caught him by the neck in an instant, and Rodney gasped. "Winc–"

He couldn't breathe.

As Rodney struggled, the young man opened his eyes, but it took him a while to recognize the scientist. He released him as soon as he did, and Rodney swiftly stepped away from the guy. He coughed and massaged his neck while Winchester threw him a stern look. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Rodney was furious–he didn't like near-death experiences. "What was I doing?! I was waking you up, Terminator! What's wrong with you?! You almost killed me!"

"You should have just called. I don't react well to touch," Winchester said bluntly.

"Obviously" McKay grumbled "Neither do I, but I don't go around trying to kill anyone." The younger man glanced at him with an eyebrow up while Rodney kept massaging his neck. "What? Are you afraid some Wraith will try to feed on you in your sleep?"

Winchester shot him a weird look, before answering. "Something like that." He glanced around their cell, then he patted himself, and from a tiny internal pocket he took out a slim knife. He hid it in his sleeve and got up. "Where are we?"

Rodney was boiling with rage. Of all the people he could end up captive with, it had to be this…ape. "Uhmf… how should I know? It's probably an underground prison on another world. The Genii seem to love lurking and working under hundreds of meters of earth."

He watched Winchester surveying the perimeter of their cell, testing the strength of the bars and the lock on the door. He placed his coat on the bed and kept going around the room in his t-shirt. It was hot down here, so Rodney disposed of his jacket too. Maybe they were on a base near a volcano or something.

Rodney knew they had to work together if they wanted any chance to escape this place, but no matter what was the circumstance, most of the time the guy drove him crazy. It was more likely that, by the end of the day, they would kill each other. By judging by the strength Winchester had displayed earlier, the odds of Rodney being the one left standing were slim. With another sigh, Rodney approached to observe his attempts at breaking out. "It's more likely Sheppard comes through that door than you can crack it with that knife. "

"I left the lock pick set in my room or I would've already done it, McPessmist," Winchester shot back "You said we're on another planet… Any chance they'll find us soon?"

Rodney snorted derisively "Not likely. The DHD will probably holds memories of the last few addresses, but they have to check it first. And without me pointing out the obvious course of action, I don't think they'll check it anytime soon."

"So we're on our own. Fine, I'm not planning to stay here for long, anyway."

"Who do you think you are? Frank Morris?"

Winchester smiled at that remark. "See? I knew you saw Escape from Alcatraz. But I prefer the Great Escape–you can call me Hilts."

Before Rodney could retort, they heard footsteps coming their way. Winchester got away from the door, taking Rodney with him, and hid the knife under the cot. He was about to say something about leaving their only weapon when Winchester just signaled him to stay quiet.

Three soldiers approached and entered the cell, two guards pointing guns and one in the middle watching them with a cold smile.

Rodney groaned in exasperation. There was no end to the bad news.

"Doctor McKay. What a pleasant surprise."

"Kolya." His tone was half a lament, half a curse.

Winchester raised an eyebrow "Friend of yours?" he inquired dryly.

"Like hell!" Rodney barked back.

Their bickering seemed almost to amuse the Genii. "My men told me they managed to capture two of Sheppard's team during their mission. I was expecting to find our dear vexing doctor here, but I don't know you." Kolya fixed his cold eyes on Winchester who glared defiantly back.

Aw hell. We are so screwed.

Rodney had to do something before they were both killed by his macho bravado. "He is no one. What do you want from us? You have the Wraith device, you can let us go. You don't need us."

The Genii took a moment to set his eyes, once again, on Rodney. "Yes, we acquired that device, but my scientists assure me its decoding would be faster with your… cooperation. And this could be fundamental to my cause."

"Uhmpf…your scientists…I'm shocked they didn't activate some distress signal already."

Winchester rolled his eyes "You gotta be kidding. We were captured just for a nerd convention?"

Rodney turned around, ready to kill his cellmate himself. It appeared that every single word from his mouth was meant to irritate him or Kolya. It was going to get them both killed.

"Perhaps it's time we have a talk alone with your teammate." Kolya signaled the two guards who advanced on Winchester, their guns trained on him. Kolya kept his own aimed at Rodney's chest. Both of them stayed still while one of the guards took a pair of handcuffs and placed them around Dean's wrists. They roughly took him for his arms.

"Easy, guys, I'm not into those kind of kinky things."

One of the guards threw a well-placed punch to his stomach. Winchester bent for the hit but took it without a yelp.

"Wait!" Rodney cried, but Kolya continued as tough nothing had happened. "In the meantime, Doctor, I hope you'll consider my offer. It will be better… for both of you."

Winchester threw Rodney a cocky grin "Don't worry Spock, I'll be back in no time." And just like that, they took him out of the cell and down a long corridor.

Rodney was alone, again, in the hands of that psychotic bastard of a Genii, with a man who seemed to have a death wish. He just hoped the rescue team was closer than his pessimistic thoughts had predicted.

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They took him past rooms after rooms, far from where they had held him captive. Dean counted the steps in his mind while watching his surroundings. Their cell was the last of a long block–through apparently they were the only guests–and after a turn on the left, he saw a metal door leading to another section. Near it were two guards, who opened the door for them. This section was identical to the previous corridor, except that it had two more tunnels interconnected between them. It was like a little maze built by a mole.

McKay was right. Again. From the overall architecture of that place they were clearly underground.

Out the corner of his eye, he saw a man opening a side door he didn't notice earlier. Through it he was able to glimpse a long ramp of metal stairs leading up and out of sight. Since they were underground that had to be one of the exits.

They took him into the tunnel on the left, and in the first room of the sector.

He swore bitterly.

There were chains on the walls, a table with long sharp knives, hooks, syringes and scalpels on it, a chair directly in front of the cuffs falling from the roof in the middle of the room, electrical wires, two buckets–one full of water, one empty–and, of course, blood on the walls to enhance its creepiness.

Yep, the perfect torture chamber.

Dean tried to fight off the two soldiers that held him. His plan to irritate the leader had worked so well that he had been able to redirect his attention on him instead of McKay. However, he wasn't willing to play the part of the prisoner without a fight. He knew that once he was bound in those chains he would experience all kinds of wonderful new forms of pain. He could see it on their faces.

Might as well inflict some to them first.

Dean was able to break the nose of one of the guards with a head-butt, and with a kick he collapsed the other one's knee. The struggle took only a couple of minutes, then the guard with the broken nose moved forward and landed a punch on his jaw and another in his stomach. He was unable to defend himself with his hands tied up, and the soldiers were able to subdue him with ease and secure his hands in the chains.

The man in charge looked on with amusement in his eyes "I'm starting to understand why Sheppard wanted you on his team."

The guards moved a mechanism and the chains rose above his head. Dean was barely standing up: the chain pulled his hands toward the roof and his feet were only just touching the floor. His shoulder ached at the tension.

They truly knew how to make a man uncomfortable.

"Fuck you," Dean spat.

The soldier's leader took one of the knife from the table. "I'm Commander Acastus Kolya. First, I want to know who are you and what you know." He came closer, his eyes glacial and his face serious. "As long as you and Doctor McKay cooperate, you'll live. Once we have archived our goal, we may even consider returning you to Atlantis."

"Sure, and then we all live happily ever after" Dean scoffed defiantly "Screw you!"

The Genii nodded, and one of the guards punched him. "Answer my questions or I'll take them from you. Who are you? What's your position in Sheppard's team?"

"It's none of your business."

The other guard punched him several times until he spat blood from his mouth. Then the commander made a cut in his t-shirt near his ribs.

"We'll start with one question at a time. Who are you?"

"Bruce Wayne."

The knife sliced swiftly into his skin. The movement was precise–neither too deep nor too superficial, calculated for maximum pain and minimum damage–and Dean gasped at the unexpected cut. "Son of bitch!"

"I'll ask you once again: who are you?"

"Fuck you! My name is Bruce Wayne!"

Kolya took away the knife, pressed his hand on the cut and kept pressing until Dean groaned from the pain. He tapped Dean's mouth and nose with the other hand, then covered them firmly, cutting off his air supply completely. Dean struggled to free himself from his grip, but to no avail.

"I know when you're lying, so I'll ask you again" Kolya hissed in his ear "if I don't like your answer, we'll keep going like this. Who are you?"

He removed the hand from his mouth, and Dean took a few seconds to breathe. He closed his eyes for a moment. A bubble of panic rose in his chest. The guy knew how to interrogate a man.

Shit. Yeah, he was totally screwed.

"Fine" he groaned out "I'll tell you. My name is… Indiana Jones."

Once again, Kolya pressed in the wound between his ribs harder, and he cut off his air supplies with a strong hold on his neck. The pain and the need to breathe filled Dean's mind, and he struggled without success, the handcuff cutting into his wrists. The blood started to flow slowly down his arms while Kolya just stood there, coldly torturing him.

The burning in his throat was so excruciating that he blacked out.

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Kolya released his hold and the prisoner's unconscious body just collapsed on itself. The chains, however, prevented him from actually hitting the ground. He took a moment to observe the young man.

The Genii had seen the fire in his eyes. The young man was stubborn but everyone sooner than later cracked during his interrogation. He was quite fit and had several scars on his body, he couldn't be a scientist like Doctor McKay. But he didn't wear any tags or rank insignias, so he probably wasn't a soldier either.

What was his purpose on Sheppard's team, then?

A knock on the door shook Kolya out of his thoughts. Lieutenant Dalca was on the threshold waiting for him.

"Wake him and continue with the interrogation." Kolya instructed the guards "I have other matters to attend to."

"Yes, sir." The guards replied.

"And record what he says. I want a full report later."

"Yes, sir!"

He left the room with the lieutenant while the guards were waking the prisoner with slaps on his face. The two older soldiers headed down the tunnel toward the main area. "What do you have?"

"On him? Nothing, sir. Our spies say they didn't encounter new people from Atlantis."

Speaking of Atlantis made Kolya think. Perhaps their prisoner had the same gene of the Ancestors as Colonel Sheppard and other members of the Atlantis expedition, and that was why, even if he wasn't a scientist or a soldier, he was part of the team. Kolya noted to himself to add the question to their interrogation. "Anything else?"

"Nothing, sir." Dalca repeated "But during my mission he took out five of my men without bloodshed."

Kolya stopped and watched him. "You should train your men better, Lieutenant. I trained you better than this. Failure is not acceptable."

"Yes, sir."

They arrived at a lab where three Genii scientists were working on the Wraith device. It was the second compound he and his men had moved to after receiving the new prisoners. He had limited resources on this planet, and limited personnel, compared to when Cowen was in charge.

And those three scientists were not nearly competent as Ladon Radim.

Just thinking about that little traitor made him furious. None of his men would never stab him in the back as Ladon had. The problem was that Radim had been the chief scientist, not one of the men he himself had trained. Ladon hadn't any loyalty toward him, just as he hadn't toward Cowen. It had been a great mistake to trust him and Kolya didn't plan on doing it again.

Dalca, however, was one of his best officer, a skillful soldier and loyal to him. He had successfully taken the Wraith device from the Thetasian people and captured two members of Sheppard's team. Best of all, he had captured one of the cleverest scientists Kolya had ever encountered. Doctor McKay's help had to be assured for his plan to work.

Kolya needed advantages on several fronts before making his move against Ladon Radim and take his rightful place as leader of the Genii.

Chapter Text

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Gain something, lose something

It was easier to endure the torture with the two guards.

When he regained consciousness, Dean had found the two Genii soldiers with him and no trace of Kolya. They kept asking questions about who he was, what his role was in the Atlantis team, and what he knew about the City. Despite his terrible predicament, he was able to irritate them so much that they resolved to hit him over and over. They hadn't Kolya's imagination, and they didn't try any other methods to get the answers out of him. Punches in his face and his stomach were much more bearable than what Kolya had forced on him. The taste of blood in his mouth, the aching pain in his ribs, and the dizziness due to a concussion were manageable. The lack of oxygen, and the instinctive fear that overrode all his control–not so much.

The bulky, short soldier on the left turned his head around. "I'll ask you again, scumbag. What's your name?"

Dean spat in his face. "How many time do I have to tell you, dumbass? It's Han Solo."

After the third alias, Dean had just decided to stick with the last one. He may have said something about snakes and whips after affirming he was Indiana Jones, but these guys didn't catch his reference. They kept hitting him like he was their personal punching bag. Being in another galaxy was making his movie references and jokes hard to catch, anyway.

"What is your rank?" Before he even had the chance to open his mouth, the guard with the broken nose kicked him.

"Son of bitch! I told you! I'm Captain Han Solo, asshole!" No matter how many time he told them the same thing, they kept throwing their fists at him.

Like a Swiss clock, every three hours Kolya had come back to torture him. Each time he had used the same method: first the Genii stabbed him, then he choked the air out of him. During those "sessions" Kolya didn't ask anything, he just stared him in the eyes. A couple of times, Dean had passed out, only to be brought back to consciousness by the cold water they threw over him.

They had to have been in that room for at least two days: he was dehydrated, his body kept shaking, and he was dead tired.

When Kolya was once again in front of him, he cursed loudly. The man approached slowly, his gaze roaming over the bumps and cuts on his body, like he was studying him. The Genii took his jaw in his hand, moving his face. A little spark of fear ran through Dean. He stood still, not daring to let out a single gasp.

Kolya seemed to notice his fear, because he gave an obnoxious smile. "Are you enjoying your stay in this room, Atlantean? Maybe you want to tell me one more time: what is your name and rank?"

Dean was about to speak when he was stopped: once again a hand was covering his mouth and the other was pressed not-so-lightly on one of his wounds on the ribs. Panic threatened to rise again. Dean didn't know how many more times he could resist if the commander opted to resume his torture.

"If I don't hear the truth, I might consider asking Doctor McKay… There is enough room for the two of you in here." The Genii let him go.

Dean's head slumped, and he breathed a few times to recompose himself. He couldn't let McKay get hurt for his stubbornness. He had to give them something. If it was just this basic information, it wasn't anything valuable.

He could do it.

Nevertheless, he felt like he was failing Doctor Weir and Sheppard by spilling the truth. "…Dean…Dean Winchester…I'm not in the military, I have no rank."

His voice was weak and barely audible, but Kolya nodded and patted his head. "There, that wasn't so hard."

Dean flinched, but didn't move away. He was too tired to do anything. The Genii's hand left his head, and he strode to the door. Relief washed over Dean to found out he wasn't asking anything else.

At least for the moment.

Kolya stopped on the threshold and turned to one of the guards. "Let's return Winchester to his cell. Doctor McKay must feel lonely down there."

The bulky guard opened the chains on his wrists and Dean crashed on the floor. He had been held upright for so many hours, his body was weak and unsteady. The two men took him without effort, and dragged him into the tunnels. Dean felt a little light headed by the sudden change of position, and couldn't muster the strength to move a finger, let alone fight his captors. Soon they arrived at a familiar block. In their cell McKay had almost worn a furrow in the ground, pacing back and forth in an attempt to blow off his anxiety.

"Winchester!" McKay shouted. Once the guards dumped him in their cell he rushed to his side. The doctor must have seen all his wounds, because he paled in horror. "What the hell did you do to him?"

The commander was there, observing the whole thing. "At least he told us the truth."

McKay had a bewildered expression on his face. "Kolya, what's the meaning of this? Are you insane?"

"Relax, Doctor McKay, he is alive." The Genii didn't seem fazed by his outburst. "And he will keep breathing as long as you help my scientists with the decoding of the Wraith device."

Dean saw McKay's eyes moving back and forth between him and Kolya.

The silence was interrupted by the Genii's threatening voice. "I'll ask you again tomorrow, Doctor. Let the night be your advisor."

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A faint smell of clean sheets and a soft bed under him was the first thing he felt when he woke. Opening his eyes, he found himself in the medical bay.

It was past midday.

Sheppard got up from his bed and took the uniform near his bed. He remembered the explosion, and he had to know if the other two members of his team had made through it or not. A little ringing in his left ear was the only remaining injury that nagged him.

The doctor rushed over his patient to check on him. "Where do you think you're going, son?"

"Not now, Carson. I'm fine, where is everyone? Did Rodney and Dean make it?" Sheppard demanded briskly.

Doctor Beckett checked his pupils and looked away. He had a pained expression, and Sheppard knew what was coming before he heard the Scot say, "I'm sorry, Colonel–they're missing."

Sheppard put the t-shirt on and walked away from the medical bay without another word. He marched straight into the Control room. Ronon, Teyla, and Major Lorne were in Elizabeth's office, talking with the leader of Atlantis expedition. John was almost furious they hadn't woken him for the sitrep. He entered the room in a rush.

"Colonel," it was the respectful greeting from Lorne, while Ronon and Teyla just nodded at him.

Just like him, the other two members of his team had some bruises, and Ronon was favoring one side. By the way he was looking, he probably had some cracked ribs. The three of them were really lucky they hadn't been injured worse by the explosion.

"John… shouldn't you be in the medical bay?" Elizabeth asked, concerned.

Sheppard waved a hand dismissively. "I'm fine, Elizabeth. What's the status? Did you already send a team to the planet?"

"Yes, sir," Lorne replied, all clipped military professionalism. "I'm just returning from there. No sign of McKay or Winchester. There were several marks on the ground, looks like at least a dozen soldiers were walking around the 'Gate." His face was grim. "We followed several leads on the ground. The rescue team searched the village, but even with the jumper we didn't find any trace of McKay's locator on the planet."

"I sent Doctor Zelenka to the planet." Elizabeth added. "He thinks he can retrieve the list of addresses that were dialed from that 'Gate; hopefully we can find out which planet they took them to."

John clenched his fists.

The only good news was they hadn't found their bodies. Even with the coordinates for the planet, there was no way to know for sure if it was the right one. Days had passed, and they could have moved McKay and Winchester to a couple of different worlds before reaching one of their secret bases. They were Genii, every subtle tactic was possible with them.

The face of that cold-blooded Genii with blue eyes popped in his mind. "What about Ladon Radim? We should call him and see what he has on Andrei Dalca."

"The man who captured you, sir?" Lorne asked, his tone carefully neutral.

Sheppard turned to his XO. "Yes, he was in charge of that unit. I don't know if he is also the brains of this faction. Radim must know him."

Ronon took out his gun. "I say, we go to his planet and ask him directly." His line of thought was clear.

"I already sent a message, gentlemen. I'm waiting for his response." Elizabeth's tone reminded to all of the men in the room that they were still in her office, and she was still in charge.

A brief minute of silence passed.

Teyla tried to break the tension. "Perhaps we should contact the people of Thetasis, Doctor Weir?" she suggested. "They said they were ambushed before; it may have been the Genii. We could acquire more information if we talk to them."

"That's a good idea, Teyla. You and Ronon follow that lead after Carson releases you all for active duty. Major, contact the Genii homeworld, explain our situation if you must, and ask for a meeting with Radim." Elizabeth turned to face Sheppard. "John… I need your help in changing McKay's passwords and accessing codes. We can't take any chances."

He was about to protest, but then he just closed his eyes and nodded. Elizabeth is right. They needed to secure Atlantis first, and changing the security codes was a top priority. The abductors could interrogate McKay and Winchester for that kind of information. Protocols were in place for this kind of thing; he and Elizabeth had to be ready. The only problem was that, in terms of data and usefulness, McKay had much more value. Winchester was a liability; they could kill him anytime.

Sheppard closed his eyes for a moment, and sighed. One thing he knew for sure: the kid would try something on his own. That's what Sheppard would do. He just hoped they could arrive in time to rescue the two of them.

"Let's get to work," prompted Elizabeth.

The people in the office dispersed to attend to their duties, while him and Elizabeth stayed behind. He sat in the chair she offered him. By the look on her face it was clear they needed to "talk."

"John… Ronon and Teyla already debriefed me. You must know this isn't your fault."

"Yes, it is, Elizabeth. I took the team straight into a trap," he shot back angrily.

"The Thetasian people didn't set you up."

"I know, but I should have checked the perimeter…and I should have called the whole thing off the moment they told us they'd been ambushed by people who pretended to be us."

Elizabeth frowned. "You couldn't possible have known they were there."

In a sudden fit of rage, Sheppard shot to his feet, his chair toppling over to hit the floor with a crash. "It's my duty to know this kinds of things, Elizabeth!" he roared.

Elizabeth sat perfectly still. Silence filled the air.

John felt ashamed of his conduct. He wasn't angry at her, he was angry at himself. His mind was replaying the moment when the bomb hit the ground between them, and the horror on McKay's face.

He hadn't done anything to help his friend back then.

"Sheppard, I know you think it's your responsibility as leader of your team to watch out for them." Elizabeth's tone was calm and collected. "However, McKay and Winchester need you now. Don't dwell on things that were out of your control."

"Right. Yeah." He took the chair from the ground and set it back in its place. "Sorry."

"Let's find them, John. We'll work on your manners later."

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Doctor Rodney McKay wasn't known for his good manners.
As soon as the Genii guards left them alone, he helped his stupid cellmate to rest on one of the cots. The man crashed on it and didn't move for a while.

Rodney began to berate him. "You just had to poke him, didn't you?! You and your foolishness… are you going to die on me now?"

"McKay…" His voice was barely audible, and Rodney shut his mouth for a moment, and listened what the other guy had to say. "...I'm ok…"

"You're OK!? Have you seen yourself? You're not Captain America, you idiot!"

"You don't need… to worry." It seemed every word was an effort.

"Worry!? Who said I was worried? I just have a brain, unlike certain people…" He circled their cell, waving his hands around. "Do you think you can go anywhere now that they've beaten the crap out of you? For God's sake, think for once!"

"I saw half the layout of this level….I think… I saw an exit."

That stopped Rodney in his tracks. "Well, why didn't you said that sooner? Was that the only way you came up with to find a way out? By getting yourself punched to death?"

"McKay…" He let out a sigh. Slowly, Winchester started to draw what looked like a map on the dusty floor. "There are other two tunnels here and there… the middle is a sort of chamber… on the right there is a door that leads to a main room….I think… I saw a flight of stairs heading to the roof."

The younger man closed his eyes, and Rodney took a moment to observe him: he was clearly tired, probably from lack of sleep, and the bruises were a nasty shade of purple. The cost for this information had been high. "Did you see any other prisoners?"

"No, just us. A couple of guards at each intersection, and at the end of this tunnel…here." He pointed at each spot on his drawings as he spoke. "I don't know if there are others."

"And even if we were able to open this cell and take out those soldiers, which we can't , we still have to assume there are soldiers patrolling the Stargate and the area around the exit." Rodney set heavily on the ground in despair.

There was no way they could save themselves on their own. Kolya would be there in the morning to threaten them again, and they had no way to escape.

Winchester interrupted his hollow thoughts. "McKay, how long do you think you need to decode that device?"

The question startled him. "What? The Wraith device? I don't know, five, six days. Maybe less in my lab. It depends on what's on that thing."

"Shit. McKay, listen to me… when the time comes… you need to delay the decoding… as much as possible."

"Winchester, what are you talking about?" Rodney frowned at the way he was talking. Did he have a concussion?

"We'll live as long as you are useful. We need to buy time."

"Oh, right… well, I can double it, make up some glitch and buy us some time… wait, what you mean, when the time comes? I have to accept Kolya's offer tomorrow!"

"No, you don't. You'll refuse to cooperate…"

"But that's insane, they'll torture you again! And that's a galaxy Sheppard has to search, not a single system–"

"Damn it! Listen to me! That's why we need to give them time to find us!"

"And what!? Let you go on a daily session of torture with Kolya? Do you really want to die?!"

"…Rodney, please…I can take it, and you need to do it."

It was the first time since this nightmare begun, that the guy called him by his first name. Rodney watched his bloody face and his green eyes. He saw the determination and the plea he held in it. The worst thing was that he was right. That course of action was actually the most rational one to take in their predicament. The scientist sighed–– he wasn't good in this kind of situation. The other man was asking him to help in a suicide mission. He tried once more to dissuade him. "You're not in the military. I know you like to play the little soldier, but you don't know what you are asking me to do."

"I know, Rodney, I've been there. I'm sorry, ok? But you need to stay strong and do it, man."

Rodney huffed in exasperation. "You don't have to do this… I can delay the full decoding for several weeks."

Winchester shot him a tired smile. "They'll watch you, Spock. Those scientists will probably figure out if you delay it too much. We need to stall in both ways without letting them know it."

Rodney capitulated, and they both kept their mouths shut when a guard came to deliver a small dinner. He just nodded to the injured man. From the way he slowly moved to eat his food, Rodney didn't know if Winchester would be able to hold more than a couple of days under Kolya's torture.

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Kolya watched the footage of the interrogation. He had to give credit to the people from Atlantis, they were able to bear an interrogation with honor. The man was young, but he saw the fierce look in his eyes and his foul remarks. It was only the threat to harm Doctor McKay that led him to give up his true name. Regardless of his own grudge with Sheppard, Kolya could recognize a fine soldier when he saw one. This young man had potential.

Just like Idos had.

His loss still burned him. Even after a year and half from that cursed day, when Cowen had ordered him to send his elite team to Atlantis. Sheppard, in his attempt to stop the invasion of the City, had activated the force-field around the Stargate. That had prevented the reinforcements from arriving, stopping their re-materialization. He had killed fifty-five of his men in a single strike. Including the young captain, Idos, the son of his younger brother. He had been one of the most loyal men in his unit, and under his tutelage from when he was a child. Idos was like a son to Kolya. Winchester reminded him of Idos, with his blond hair and his stubborn attitude. Aside from his resemblance, however, he was one of Sheppard's men and Kolya wanted to break him just to hurt his enemy. Nevertheless, he had a mission, and that took priority over any personal revenge. The Genii needed the two prisoners to cooperate, especially after the last reports of Wraith attacks on their home world.

The next morning, Kolya went to visit them along with other two guards. Doctor McKay and Winchester were up and in the middle of the cell when he entered. From their faces, Kolya could tell the prisoners had something in mind. The scientist kept fidgeting and watched the room without laying his eyes on his cellmate, who instead was watching them with a disrespectful expression and was slightly pushing the doctor behind himself. The Genii could guess just by his stance that he had chosen the role of protector.

Kolya was amused that, even with all his injuries, Winchester kept facing them. "I'm expecting an answer from you, Doctor. I assume you're enough clever to know what will happen if I don't like your answer."

"Uhmp… yes, you already told us yesterday: pain, excruciating pain and oh, let me guess…more pain. The answer is still no." The high-pitched tone of his remark told him that the scientist was well aware of the authenticity of his threats.

However, Kolya didn't hear the answer he was looking for. With a nod of his head the guards seized the prisoners, securing their hands behind their backs. "Am I to assume you prefer to hear the screams of pain from Mr. Winchester here instead of working with our scientists?"

The doctor's face blanched in a second, but he didn't say anything.

"What? You're already bored with me, dickhead? And who are they? New douchbags? Just because I broke the other guy's nose–" Winchester didn't finish the sentence because one of the guards hit him with the back of his pistol from behind. It was so quick the man didn't have time to react.

He fell to his knees. "Son of bitch!"

"Dean!" McKay shouted.

"Very well. It will be a pleasure to teach to your friend some manners, Doctor." McKay was pushed to the ground and his hands were freed. Before he could drag himself up, the commander ordered the soldiers to take the prisoner to the interrogation room.

Kolya closed the cell but left a portable radio on a shelf, out of McKay's reach, and turned it on.

He smiled without any trace of pity at the scientist on the floor. He would suffer, too, for his impudence.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rodney couldn't fathom what the Genii commander was plotting until he heard a noise coming from the radio. "Doctor, I am assuming you can hear us."

"Kolya…" he whispered. A shiver ran down his spine.

"Unfortunately for Winchester here, he can't hear you, but I don't think he'll mind it very soon." Rodney heard strong statics coming from the radio.

At one point there was a loud crack. He knew that sound: it was the same two wires charged with electricity emitted when they touched each other. He gulped in horror. He knew what would happen in the other room.

When he heard the first shout, he shut his eyes. They were torturing Winchester with electricity, and he could hear the cries of pain. The yells kept coming from the radio for a few hours. There were times when his screams seemed muffled, as if he was trying to hold them back.

Rodney used his hands to cover his ears, cursing the Genii and his teammate for ever agreeing to his plan.

At one point they stopped, the radio went quiet and Rodney watched the Genii device with dread. "For today, I'm afraid your chance to abide my request is over, Doctor. Let this be a reminder for tomorrow."

The screams started again and McKay launched himself onto the jail bars, yelling at Kolya to stop it. However, no one was there to listen his cries.

When they finally took Winchester back to the prison cell, Rodney was huddled in a corner, his head hid behind his knees. He had stopped pretending to cover his ears. However, as the guards opened the door, he attacked them in a fit of rage. It was useless, of course, and he was hit back for his attempt.

After the guards left, he checked his injured teammate.
Winchester was unconscious; his pulse was weak, barely detectable. Rodney cursed and tried to hydrate his lips with the leftovers of their previous meal. Winchester didn't wake up at all.

The next day, when Kolya entered the cell, Winchester was on the cot, still out of commission, and Rodney was up and standing before him, protecting his cellmate.

"Are you ready to work, Doctor? Or should I entertain myself once more with Winchester?"

Rodney's eyes were full of hate. "I'll work on the Wraith device, you let us go unharmed, that's the deal."

"We'll see, Doctor. I can give you my word that your teammate will keep breathing as long as you'll behave."

"Sheppard should have killed you," Rodney spat.

Kolya gave him a glacial smile. "I assure you, the feeling is mutual."

They took him on a secondary laboratory, where three other scientists were working on the Wraith device with old and mismatched equipment. Rodney sighed. Even if he wanted to, with that kind of technology it would take him weeks to decode something useful. He said as much to Kolya.

"I'm sure you'll work as fast as you can, Doctor McKay." The Genii's smile didn't promise anything good, and the scientist turned around, afraid of the unspoken threat.

Kolya left, leaving behind a guard on the door and the other three genii scientists with him. Rodney looked again at the equipment, hoping to find something he could use against those bastards. They needed a miracle to escape, and right now Rodney was the closest of the two of them to anything that may be capable of reaching Atlantis.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In his personal office, Kolya reviewed his strategy. The day had been eventful: he had acquired new information from his spies on different trading worlds, and McKay had finally decided to work on the Wraith technology. Soon, he would have enough data to strike their mortal enemy and push away some of those life-sucking aliens from his homeworld.

The Genii scientists had orders to watch each of McKay's actions, learn from him and keep an eye for any false moves. The three men were eager to prove to their Commander that they weren't incompetent as he thought. However, the scientists had agreed with McKay's statement, the decoding would take at least a few weeks or more to actual be of any use.

While Kolya pondered if McKay was trying to delay them, someone knocked on the door. "Come in."

A tall doctor entered the room. Of all the scientists on his base, this man was the only one Kolya regarded with a certain respect. He had been pushed away from the Genii scientific community a few months prior for his bizarre experiments. However, since some people still thought his research was worth pursuing, they had given him a secluded lab on a distant world, so he could keep continue his studies without being bothered.

Only a small group of people knew of his existence, and Kolya had recruited him when he left. He only appeared rarely out of his laboratories, asking for raw materials for his projects.

"Commander, may I speak with you?"

"What's the matter, Doctor?"

"I heard we have another prisoner." His voice was toneless as ever.

Kolya paused for a moment. "Yes, it's true."

"May I request him for my experiment?"

He frowned in annoyance. "I already give you four prisoners, what happened to them?"

"I'm afraid they weren't ideal test subjects. Too weak, and in one case I may have exaggerated with the dosage, but those errors will not repeat any further."

"What changed?"

"I think I found the perfect balance in the formula. It will work."

"And you want to test it on our Atleantean, is that right?"

"Yes… I saw the footage of his interrogation, he is young and strong. The perfect candidate."

"I want him alive, Doctor, and I want results. No more errors."

"Of course, Commander Kolya. May I take him now?"

Kolya pondered the scientist's request. If he was right…If he could make it work, it would be a great achievement for the Genii. Especially for him.

He nodded. "Do what you have to do, and keep me updated."

The scientist saluted the commander with a respectful "Yes, sir," and left the room.

His enemies would be on their knees. Kolya wondered what face Sheppard would make if he ever found them. Just that thought was enough to entertain him.

 

Chapter Text

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Struggling

Elizabeth and Sheppard changed McKay's security codes in Atlantis and worked on several plans to ensure Atlantis's safety. After all the appointed measures were in place, their returned to the briefing room. Ronon and Teyla had just stepped through the 'Gate, and they were heading toward the briefing room as well. Major Lorne and Doctor Zelenka were already in their seats, ready for the debrief. All of their faces were grim.

After they all sat down, Elizabeth gazed levelly at them. "So, where do we start?"

Teyla shifted in her seat. She explained that their encounter with the Archivists had gone longer than expected, and, at the end of the discussion, Ronon had lost his patience and stormed back to the Stargate.

Elizabeth could picture the scene in her mind, and inwardly thanked Teyla for her patience.

"I'm afraid we don't have much to report from the Thetasians, Doctor Weir. The Archivists met four men disguised as simple travelers: they wore civilian clothes, not uniforms." Teyla paused for a moment, trying to recall their exact words. "When two of the Archivists pointed out that oddity, the imposters told them they were on a secret mission. One of the Archivists tested them with an Ancient device and found them lacking the gene of the Ancestor–"

"And that's when they all start shooting each other." Ronon interjected.

Teyla nodded. "Yes, it is as Ronon said. Irniq and Malik were in charge of the Wraith device, so they fled and headed to the Stargate as ordered by their superiors. They had standing orders to complete their mission. They didn't return to their planet, and instead dialed a couple of trading planets before they encountered my Athosian friend." She took a small paper out of her pocket with the coordinates of the planets the Thetasians had visited, and put it on the table. "They sent someone back to the planet before they met us, but they did not found the bodies of their comrades." She turned her gaze to Sheppard. "Irniq was surprised when he heard Doctor McKay and Dean were abducted during our escape. I do not think they have set a trap for us."

"Could they have been followed?" Lorne's hand didn't stop moving as he spoke, writing down the most important information.

"It is possible, Major. Of the six of them, Malik confessed that he and Irniq were the least experienced. If they were followed by a Genii, they may not have noticed it."

"Were they able to describe the imposters?" Elizabeth inquired.

"Yes, Doctor Weir. The man that spoke with them during the negotiation was the same Genii that seized us. They remembered his face."

"Dalca?" Sheppard spat, the name more a curse than a question.

"Yes, Colonel. He knew many things about Atlantis and our teams."

A moment of silence filled the room after that statement, then Major Lorne began his report as well.

"We received an encrypted file from Ladon Radim."

"What did he say, Major?" Elizabeth was surprised the Genii had so swiftly replied to their requests.

"The file contains the military career of Lieutenant Andrei Dalca, with some parts redacted. He served under several different commanders. He is a specialist and he had his own unit back in the day. Dalca was also in Cowen's inner circle, but he disappeared after the coup d'état."

That last piece of information was a great cause for concern. "He was that close to Cowen, huh?" John said through his teeth.

Elizabeth sighed. "Major, why didn't Ladon come in person?"

"The radio transmission attached to the encrypted file said only that their world was in great distress and there had been several Wraith attacks on the surface since last month, ma'am. He can't leave his people; for now, they're stuck underground." Lorne seemed to ponder his next words carefully. "As for Lieutenant Dalca, I think I saw him when my team and I were ambushed on M1K-177. His ambush was flawless. "

"Do we believe the Genii?" Ronon growled under his breath.

"We received confirmation from our teams and the Daedalus: their solar system is swarming with Wraith," Lorne replied while looking at his notes.

"Anything else we should know?" Elizabeth's mood was getting worse with each report.

Doctor Zelenka held up his hand, and all the eyes in the room focused instantly on him. He adjusted his glasses and stood up. "I'm afraid I have bad news. The DHD shows the last fifty addresses dialed from the planet, but there is no way to know in which order."

John tapped his fingers on the table. "So we're back to square one?"

"Not exactly, Colonel. We were able to identify ten common trading planets, so we can start from there. One on the list is… awfully familiar."

Elizabeth frowned. "Which one?"

The Czech scientist let out a sigh before answering, "Manaria."

Sheppard punched the table in frustration. "Those little bastards, that must be the planet! They already screwed us when the storm was hitting Atlantis!"

"Colonel, enough! We already had the apologies of their Higher Council for that incident. If the Genii indeed have a base on their planet, we must act with all the diplomacy we can. Meanwhile, we can't rule out the possibility that they simply used the planet as a step-over for their real destination."

Elizabeth saw that Sheppard wanted to retort, but he stopped himself. She could understand what was going on his mind; she was worried, too. However, it was evident that his emotions were getting the better of him. She waited for him to compose himself. He was a seasoned soldier, and they had already discussed that prospect while they were changing McKay's codes.

While they all quieted down, Elizabeth took a minute to recollect all the information they had. It wasn't much, but at least they had a starting point. She just hoped it wouldn't turn out to be a dead end for their rescue mission.

"Doctor Zelenka, I want you to be ready tomorrow morning to depart for Manaria. Once there, please make a copy of the addresses dialed from their Stargate and return to Atlantis," she ordered decisively. "Sort all the planets visited on both worlds and make a list of which planets could be Genii outposts."

As an afterthought she added, "And send Ladon a copy of both lists of planets and ask if any have abandoned bases. For now, we're assuming this group is acting in secrecy, behind Ladon's back. We need to narrow their location." Then her gaze moved to Lorne. "Major, prepare your team. You'll come with us."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Us?" Sheppard's surprise showed on his face.

Elizabeth knew she wasn't his first choice in a rescue mission, but she had a plan. "Colonel, I intend to have a diplomatic negotiation with the Higher Council of Manaria. If they know something, and if they are willing to help, I'll establish the proper channels. In the meantime, you need to stay here and keep Atlantis safe."

"But–"

"Sheppard, we don't know if they plan to attack us or use McKay and Winchester in exchange for something. One of us needs to stay here, and my negotiation skills are of better use with the Manarians right now. "

Sheppard seemed a little dejected, but nodded. "Understood."

Teyla held up her hand. "May I ask to seek out my fellow Athosian and other contacts off world? Maybe they have heard rumors about them and can help us."

"Yes, Teyla; thank you. Take Ronon with you, and stay sharp."

Teyla bowed her head, and Ronon got up. He didn't seem to mind her orders. It was better for him to go and protect Teyla off-world than be here on Atlantis without anything to do.

As everyone else got up and prepared for the night, Sheppard stayed behind. She could see by the frown on his face that he was once again analyzing their course of action. They both knew it wasn't ideal, but it could lead them to their missing friends faster than blindly checking every planet on their list.

She wished they hadn't met the Genii at all. Dealing with those scheming bastards always ended badly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

He woke feeling a numb all over him. His eyes were half closed, and he could barely see that he was on a gurney with several straps around his wrists, ankles, and two of them around his torso. Dean wasn't in his cell with McKay, but in some kind of medical ward. The fog in his mind didn't dissipate and, by the lack of pain, Dean was sure they had dosed him pretty hard. Maybe something like morphine, but who knew what kind of drugs they had in this galaxy.

He had eaten just one meal in two or three days, throwing up half of it when theirs captors had decided to play with electricity on him. He was surprised he was still alive. He was so weak it couldn't have taken much drug to put him down. Dean saw an IV strapped around his arm and several bandages around his wounds. It looked like they were taking care of him.

Was it another form of torture?

Make him feel better just to start all over again?

A doctor came into his line of sight, it had to be the effects of the drugs because even with the Genii uniform and the white coat over it, he looked like the spitting image of Halling. Except he was bald, more emaciated, and his eyes were cold and were watching him like a hawk with a mouse in his claws.

Definitely not Halling.

Dean had a very bad feeling about him.

"Hello, Dean. I'm Doctor Alastair."

Dean tried to say something but, like the rest of his body, nothing was moving at all. Dread ran through his body. The Genii doctor took a small towel to clean the sweat and the blood from his face.

"Rest for now, we'll work together soon… I'll expect great things from you."

He injected something into Dean's IV and kept cleaning his face. Dean wanted to struggle and escape the touch but except his eyes nothing stirred; after several seconds, he felt overwhelmingly tired and oblivion took him away.

A day had to have passed, because when he woke up again he felt a little better. Physically at least. The pain of his wounds was dulled and some of his other bruises were slowly fading. His mind wasn't dampened by drugs and he was able to move his body a bit, even if it was restrained.

Dean cursed his predicament.

He wasn't in the medical ward anymore, but in a room very similar, to his dismay, to the torture chamber he'd already seen. Nonetheless, this one was clean. On one side there was scientific equipment of some kind and a table with some syringes on it. He was seated in a sort of long chair, far away from the door. There were straps covering his body, from his neck to his toes, and even a loose one for his head. The usual IV penetrating his arm was there hydrating him, and directly in front of the chair there was an alien computer monitor: it looked old, like some TV box from the '70s. Out the corner of his eyes he saw a desk with some books on it.

There was no one else in the room, just him, held by those ties on that uncomfortable chair. The fact that he was placed there and not in his cell with McKay couldn't be good. He wondered what had happened to Rodney.

For a couple of hours, no one came. He used half the time to try and free himself, without any success.
Then he waited, thinking of the several possible ways they probably wanted to torture him. At one point, he even thought they were trying to bore him to death. It wouldn't be painful, but that didn't mean Dean wanted to die losing his patience strapped to a damned chair.

He had almost dozed off when the strange doctor from before entered the room. Dean snapped alert and watched every move from the creepy scientist.

"Hello, Dean."

"You son of bitch, let me go!"

The man chuckled and his laugh had a malevolent ring in Dean's ears. "Hush now… there is no need to be impatient. The young ones are always like this, aren't they?"

"What the fuck do you want?"

The man approached the table with the syringes and took one off it. The liquid inside had an ominous purple shade. Doctor Alastair came close to his IV and injected the drug into it.

He smiled again with his shark-like smile. "Well… I just want you to sit tight and watch something for me."

"Like hell, douchebag!"

Dean tried to struggle when Alastair took the tie near his head and secured it so that even his head was immobilized. He couldn't do anything for the drug and he couldn't do anything to keep that bastard from strapping him tighter on the chair. Dean was powerless, at the mercy of the menacing doctor, but that didn't stop him from yelling at his captor every foul word in his extensive vocabulary.

The man moved around the room, lit up the screen in front of him, then with fluid movements he placed himself in front of Dean. Just his presence made Dean's skin crawl.

"It's useless to struggle, but you can scream all you want. You'll be my masterpiece."

Suddenly, while the doctor was talking, Dean could feel that something was very wrong with him. He bit his mouth trying to not give him any satisfaction. Dean watched the arm were the IV was: he could feel a burning sensation while the injected drug flowed in his system.

"Fuck you!" It was like a fire was under his skin, burning his veins and moving through his whole body.

The pain was intense, it was like nothing he'd ever experienced before. He cursed and screamed. He struggled fiercely, but it wasn't enough to set him free. The doctor moved his head toward the screen. He put adhesive tapes on his eyelids–so Dean couldn't close them–raised the audio on the footage, and placed a set of headphones on his ears.

Then the Genii left the room without a second look.

Dean was alone, watching a sequence of bloody images and with the sound of screams echoing in his head. It was like someone had recorded the torture and kills done by hundreds of men, beasts, and Wraith and just mixed it together in a splatter movie: skins torn apart, people eaten alive, people on fire, dismembered corpses, and blood everywhere.

It was a massacre.

The cries were so real and painful: first a woman, then a man, then a kid, after that other voices kept screaming and blended together in a cacophony of sounds, then the sequence repeated itself. It was deafening.
Dean could only listen, watch, and endure as much pain as he could while he struggled.

This had to be an innovative form of torture.

He cursed loudly toward the door. "I'm gonna kill you! I'm gonna fucking kill you, asshole!"

As the time passed by, his mind started playing tricks on him. First his skin seemed to scorch, then gashes were appearing on his body like the ones on the footage. The pain seemed real, too. Then when he glanced back he couldn't see anything on those spots, only a burning sensation that kept flooding his body. Sometimes it felt like he was on a rack and a shadow was tormenting him, peeling away every single chunk of his skin; but there was no one near him scream.

He was losing his mind.

What was worst, however, was the woman's voice; it was driving him crazy. He just wanted her to stop. He knew it was all part of the torture, but that didn't give him any comfort while he was listening. He kept struggling like a madman.

The crazy doctor kept coming back at regular intervals. A couple of times, Dean was lucid enough to try with redoubled efforts to break free. However, as if nothing was happening around him, the doctor kept injecting Dean with more drugs. Just when he thought his predicament couldn't get any worse, the female voice trigged something in him: one moment he was in the Genii lab, the next, he found himself in his most painful memory.

He was once again in that damn house, near Sammy's nursery, and he was unable to enter the burning room. The door was open, the flames were everywhere, and his dad was taking little Sammy out while he was paralyzed on the threshold. Dean knew his mom was there by her painful screams, he could almost see her between the flames on the ceiling, but the heat was intense and his body didn't move.

He was just standing there, hearing his mother's cries.

Powerless.

Those few seconds of his memory seemed to stretched like forever.

When he regained a moment of lucidity, Dean found himself once again in the Genii compound, tied to a chair, watching the bloody footage. His tears dried on his face. He wanted to smash that damned thing! He knew they were messing with his mind, and that enraged him even more.

After the third time that happened Dean couldn't listen to her anymore. It was too painful.

A day passed, and his body stopped struggling.

He was too tired to move, his mouth was dry from his prolonged swearing at his captors, each part of his body was in pain and his eyes were burning. When Doctor Alastair entered the room, took a look at his patient, and Dean barely registered his approach. Alistair removed the headphones, and the lack of reaction from Dean seemed to satisfy him because he smiled.

Alastair came closer. His mouth was so near Dean's ear there was almost no space between them. Yet Dean didn't even flinch.

"Now we can really start."

The Genii took another syringe with a grey drug from his table and swiftly injected it into Dean's neck.

Again, no reaction from him.

Alastair sat near him, cleaning his cheek. "Good boy."

Dean was still looking at the footage without really seeing it. His mind, completely taken over by the drugs, had locked him into horrible nightmares.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Doctor Rodney McKay wasn't known for playing well with others, especially when threatened. "Who gave you your degree? A monkey!?"

The days in that damned lab with three incompetent Genii scientists seemed like an endless torture. His meals were delivered there, and most nights he dozed off on a chair. They were just scraping the edge of the Wraith device, and Rodney was slowly working on it.

At a closer look, the device was a bit different from other models he had encountered in the past. Rodney and the other scientists had to be sure that the thing didn't emit a distress signal when hooked to other forms of technology, so they tried to remove all the nonessential components first.

Yes, he was held captive by those Genii, but that didn't mean he wanted to alert the Wraith to their presence in this planetary system. He and Dean had enough trouble without adding the Wraith to the mix.

One of the scientists turned around and yelled, "Doctor McKay, these calculations are wrong! If you hook it up now, you'll cause an overload!"

"That's not possible–my calculations are flawless!" Rodney had grown bolder with the Genii scientists. Kolya hadn't shown his face in a couple of days, and he found his professional pride overcoming his fear of the commander.

The guards on the doors, hearing their quarrels for the umpteenth time, didn't bother to intervene.

When Rodney plugged the device into an antiquated computer, the thing sparked to life for a minute before immediately starting to smoke. The three scientists responded quickly, disconnecting it hastily before turning as one to glare at him.

"Oh." Rodney had known very well that the device would fry the computer, but hadn't expected it to happen so quickly. However, in the brief moment they were distracted, he secretly took some materials from his workstation. Since the day he started at the lab, he had been working on a solution to communicate with Atlantis.

The first day, he had just pretended to work along. When they had discovered the secondary hidden beacon signal they had swiftly cut its connections to the main circuits before it could activate by itself, allowing them to study the device almost safely. They had to check if the device had other safeties in place, and that analysis had put a hold on their decoding for a couple of days.

Nonetheless, it was that beacon that would likely be his way to call Atlantis.

Rodney just needed time to work on it, without being watched by those three monkeys, and he needed to redirect the signal to a frequency that only Atlantis would pick up. It wasn't an easy job, and he was working as subtly as possible. Also, he needed time to figure out all the possible problems.

He knew it was up to him to save their asses. Sheppard would take too long by himself.

"Doctor McKay, I think it's best if you step outside of the lab. You've done enough for today." That glacial voice from the door froze McKay on the spot.

Rodney slowly turned around, making sure he was covering the pieces on his table. "Kolya, to what do I owe the displeasure?"

"I heard from my soldiers that my scientists were ready to kill you, so I'm here to watch the show."

Rodney surveyed the room. The murderous looks on their faces were nothing he hadn't seen already when he was dealing with his minions on Atlantis. However, it was the first time he really felt that the killing intent behind those looks would lead them to hurt him.

He gulped. "Well, that's not my problem, if I have to work with them, they should be able to keep up."

Kolya chuckled. It was never good when he did that. "They told me you made a mistake, not them. Are you trying to delay the decoding process? I warn you, Doctor, don't test my patience again. It will not end well."

They moved away from the lab toward the long tunnel, two guards pushing him forward without care.

Rodney watched the older soldier with a mixed expression of rage and fear. "I made one mistake because it's three days straight I'm working on this thing without proper meals and hours of sleep. Contrary to everyone's beliefs, I can't do miracles!"

At an intersection, Kolya turned and studied him for a moment. "Very well. Captain, escort Doctor McKay to his cell and let him have another meal. You'll work on the device tomorrow."

While the Genii was leaving, he turned around again; his face was serious and Rodney stood still under his glare. "Ah, and Doctor…no more mistakes."

When he arrived at the cell, the guards tossed him in without any regards. Rodney retorted some obscenity at them. But while he was bitching at his captors, he noticed there wasn't any other sound; he turned around to take a look at the two cots, and found them empty.

There was no trace of Dean.

"Where is he!? What did you do to him?"

One of the soldiers watched him with a wary look, but both of them kept silence. Rodney hated to be ignored, so he pushed the bars of his cell. "Where is he!? Is he dead? We had a deal, you…. assholes!"

He raised his voice and finally one of the guards gave up. They had spent the whole day watching him and seemed ready to shut him up. "You mean the other prisoner?"

"No, I mean my cat. Of course I mean the other prisoner, you moron! Where is he!?"

The soldier nearest the cell didn't mind his outburst. It seemed like he was enjoying leaving him in the dark. However, Rodney had noticed the soldiers' behaviors and he knew some people hated his endless speech. Sheppard had said a couple of times that it was like a form of torture in itself. "If you don't start talking, I'll swear I'll keep talking all night about the complexity of a wormhole."

The other soldiers looked at him with a bored expression, and one of them pointed a gun at him. Guess for them there was always another way to shut him up, but Rodney tried to not think about that scenario. "You can't shoot me–Kolya needs me to decipher the Wraith technology. Now, where the hell is Winchester?"

The first guard hit him in the face with the butt of his gun, and Rodney was so surprised that he fell on the ground. Both Genii laughed at his predicament. "He was transferred to the medical ward. I heard he is with Doctor Alastair."

Rodney kept touching his nose as the blood spilled out of it, and he failed to understand their hollow smirks. He went to sit on one of the cots, moving away from them. He took a small breath to calm himself. Last time he saw Dean he was half dead; it made sense they took him in the medical ward, if only to keep him as a bargain chip.

Rodney had to endure and keep working for both of them. Once he was able to assemble all the spare parts of different technologies with the Wraith beacon, he would make contact with Atlantis. Sheppard and the rescue team would find them in no time. He just had to stop thinking and focus on resting.

If I make one wrong move… who knows, the Wraith might show up and kill us all. It wasn't a pleasant thought.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Dean was running through a forest. "Come on, Sammy!"

He held his brother's hand as they fled. He had heard his father's ominous shout before they started running. The hunt was going really bad. He had just one shot in the flare-gun; he hoped he would be able to reach the car and get Sam to safety before going back for his dad.

"Dean! I saw something!" His little brother was still young, his face pale and frightened, small tears forming at the edge of his eyes. He was just a kid.

He should have stayed in the motel–it was only his third hunt, for God's sake. "Come on dude, we need to move!"

They were running through the forest, and he could see in his peripheral view the shadow of the Wendigo chasing them. Dean kept his flare gun up, ready for anything, but the monster was too fast.

They tripped. They got up in a second, and Dean held his brother behind him daring the thing to face him. A movement from the left side took him by surprise and in an instant the two of them were thrown into the air like chopsticks.

When he regained his senses, he found himself impaled on the ground: a huge branch tree was protruding from the side of his belly. He couldn't move and his brother was nearby, unconscious. For a brief moment the forest around him faded and it looked like he was in a room with his little brother still on the floor. Dean blinked in confusion, and in a heartbeat he was once again surrendered by trees.

"Sa…Sammy wake up." The pain in his abdomen was too intense, he couldn't even stretch an arm to reach him. He was bleeding, profusely, and he knew in that instant that he was done.

If only Sammy could run away.

The Wendigo approached them, first sniffing at Sam, then watching Dean with his feral eyes.

"Stay away from him, you son of bitch!"

The monster instead made what passed for a laugh and tore Sam's torso apart.

"Sammy!"

Sam jerked awake for a moment at the sudden pain before bubbles of blood flooded his mouth and in his last moment he looked at his brother. Dean struggled, trying with all his strength to reach his brother. It was useless. The branch kept him in place and he was too late anyway.

Life had already left Sam's eyes.

No no no no no no, Dean thought in denial; it shouldn't have gone this way.

His father couldn't be dead, Sammy couldn't be dead. That shouldn't have happened. They should have been alive, after they tripped over that branch the Wendigo should have gone into a frenzy and targeted him, and Dean should have shot it with his flare gun.

That was what happened, wasn't it? Then why things were so different?

The Wendigo approached him and put his claws in his belly wound. Dean let out a muffled moan: half of his body was already going numb and the death of his brother had left him in shock. He was dying, shaking at each movement of the claws in him. Still, he wasn't able to look away while the Wendigo was feeding on him.

The monster licked his hand with the claws in front of him, placed it on Dean's shoulder and loomed closer to his ear with a bloody smile. There was something familiar in his face, almost human, but Dean couldn't recollect why he thought so.

"There is nothing you can do, Dean. Let yourself go."

He didn't know Wendigos were able to talk, or how it knew his name; it didn't matter. He didn't care about the hunt, of himself…nothing, even his need of revenge faded in an instant.

The emptiness inside him was taking over everything.

He had screwed up his job, the only job that really mattered: he hadn't protected his brother.

The Wendigo kept caressing him with one hand while the other went in and out of his belly, ripping him apart. What was left of his body that wasn't numb was in excruciating pain.

"I can ease your pain, you just need to listen to my words," the creature whispered lowly.

His dad was dead, his brother was dead because of him; there was nothing left in this world for him. Soon he would die too. There was some comfort in that: he wouldn't be left alone much longer. His body slowly relaxed.

"Dean, listen to my words."

He kept hearing the Wendigo's voice, talking to him for hours. What he thought would be a quick death became an awful long agony until blackness finally took him away.

Chapter Text

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sga~spn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Following the White Rabbit

Dean woke up.

He was tired, he hadn't the strength to open his eyes. Worse, he could feel a painful sensation coming from them, like needles behind his eyelids. It was already the third or the fourth time he had woken up feeling like that. He stayed still, his eyes closed for a bit longer.

Where was he? Dean couldn't remember.

The fire? The Shtriga? The Wendigo hunt? No. Maybe.

He tried to focus a little more.

Was this the aftermath of the witch hunt with Bobby?

Dean had a flash of the slaughtered body of his friend and the witch taking him prisoner in his dungeon for days: torturing him, feeding him like a pet, taunting him for Bobby's death and then promising him that one day he would do his bidding.

Wait. Dean frowned.

Didn't they stop that son of bitch in time? Bobby had survived that hunt––thanks to Dean––and then they'd killed that witch together, hadn't they?

He didn't know. Was Bobby alive? Or dead?

He only knew by the bonds around his body that he was tied up. Dean finally decided to open his eyes. The small light in the room almost blinded him and, after a moment, he surveyed his surroundings. The alien monitor in front of him jogged his memory.

How could he forget? He was far away from Earth.

His mind turned once again to his contradicting memories. What was the truth about Bobby?
The witch's taunting words felt so real in his mind, he couldn't discard them that easily. After a while, however, he forgot what he was thinking and his eyes wandered, once again, around the room. It was happening more frequently: his lack of focus and the holes in his memory were just some of the reasons he couldn't tell if something really happened or he had imagined it.

Nonetheless, in a brief moment of lucidity, he had realized one thing: he had lost track of time.

He didn't know when his last meal had been; he had an IV attached to his arm that kept him alive, but they had to be feeding him from time to time. Despite the constant tiredness, the sleep-deprivation and the weakness in his limbs, he wasn't really starving. Also, the presence of a catheter felt like a persistent reminder of his predicament and his inability to do anything to fight back.

Another serious problem was he didn't remember how or when they got him, and more importantly what they were doing to him. He couldn't say if he slept for a couple of hours or just few minutes; he had no way to know when was morning and when was night in that room.

How long had he been in there? Days, months…years? He felt like he had been strapped to that chair since forever.

Bit by bit, it became harder to focus on even the smallest piece of information.

However, Dean knew how his "day" would start.

The mad doctor would enter the room and inject something in his IV, then he would place the headphones on his ears and play the gore footage on that damn monitor in front of him. Sometimes the Genii went out of the room, but most of the time he headed to his desk like it was the most natural thing to do. It seemed the madman had an endless stock of syringes filled with drugs, and he enjoyed Dean's cries of pain.

Hallucinations, screams in his ears and the burning sensation were the first signs the drugs were working. The pain almost drove him crazy.

Then came the nightmares.

At the beginning he had realized that the things he was experiencing were memories of the worst hunts he had in the past mixed with his worst fears. In the early days Dean had endured several doses before the vivid nightmares came, but after a while the number of shots kept decreasing while the hellish experiences seemed to increase.

It was like he was pumped all the time with those nasty drugs.

When he woke up he was more tired than before, and each time it was harder to separate the nightmare from the reality, the truths from the lies. Dean knew he had to fight back, to overcome his fears and hold on until the rescue team showed up. However, those thoughts were soon lost, along with most of his hope and willpower. The drugs were crushing all his defenses.

"Hello, Dean."

"Alastair." His rough voice was an indication of how long he had screamed in his previous session.

Dean hadn't realized when the doctor entered the room; maybe he hadn't left at all. He had cursed the doctor, threatened to kill him, but his words were meaningless while he was tied up, and they both knew it. After what he had guessed were dozens of shots, he had just dropped his boldness and silently stared at his captor whenever he approached. Dean had hoped to endure better by not wasting energy, but the shots kept coming and the room was inevitably filled with his screams.

The Genii approached with a slow pace.

"Why?" For the thousandth time, he asked the same question. And the thousandth time, Alastair didn't reply.

Dean was enduring the pain because he thought they wanted information on Atlantis. If it was for his friends, he had at least a reason to hang on. Nevertheless, the doctor hadn't asked anything about them, nor about him. He seemed satisfied to torture Dean without any particular reason.

Alastair checked his notes, then he removed one of the bindings around Dean's arm. It wasn't enough to have the whole arm free, but it gave Dean some leeway. "Dean, listen to my words. Give me your arm."

Dean hesitated. His entire body was tied up, so he couldn't escape just because his arm was free. It was a test. Dean preferred to keep fighting back, even on a simple task like that, yet a part of him wanted to comply with his order just like he always obeyed his father's commands. It was a disturbing comparison and he didn't know why he had just thought something like that.

Next thing he knew his arm was in Alastair's hands.

He didn't know if the Genii took it or he gave it to him. He was spacing out while he was deciding what to do. The not knowing if he gave in into his demands made Dean even more afraid of his situation.

The drug was once again injected in the tube in his arm, his face was directed toward the monitor and the headphones were on. Like an endless cycle, the screams and the bloody footage began to play again.

"That's ok. You'll do better next time. I'm sure you'll just listen to my words." Alastair kept patting his shoulder, patronizing him.

He was so worn out, and already too drugged, that fighting back seemed like a wishful thought. Without him realizing it, Dean's consciousness drifted once again. He had reached the point that Alastair needed just a single dose to put him in a state where the nightmares could tear apart his mind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Alastair checked the eyes and took the pulse of his test subject. He leisurely wrote the data on his notes.

It was the eighth day since the beginning of this experiment. The young man before him had already been weakened by Kolya's torture, and yet he was still fighting his drugs. Alastair couldn't have hoped for a better guinea pig.

He had perfected his formula for years: criminals, spies, people from different worlds, even a Wraith had been among his subjects. All failures. However, every single one had been important to his research, and more than anything he enjoyed torturing his patients.

Doctor Death, they called him. A fitting nickname whispered among the soldiers of the base. Alastair chuckled to himself.

The test subject was in a half lucid state, yet he didn't move away from his touch.
He was almost ready for the second phase.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rodney worked on his side project every time the three scientists were arguing with each other, or when they were too engrossed in the decryption to notice what he was really doing. Often the three Genii would engage in a discussion about which way was the fastest to decrypt the Wraith device. With carefully chosen words, Rodney would let them know which theory seemed more or less worthy, choosing a different one's each time. This usually triggered a fierce battle among the Genii.

Only a brilliant scientist like Rodney would be able to use the pride of the three Genii scientists against themselves.

After a couple of days of sneaky work, he had made a control unit for a Wraith beacon out of spare parts. His own device needed a charge to work: not too small, since it was needed to be powered up and set on loop, but neither something too big that would be missed. That said, it wasn't easy for Rodney to steal a battery. The pieces of technology in the lab were all from different planets and, with the exception of the antiquated computers from the Genii world, didn't have enough power to even connect with the Wraith tech.

Another problem, aside from the battery, was to find the right long-range sub-space frequency he needed to send a signal to Atlantis.

He remembered Radek talking about a sub-space radar in the main control room. The main computer always scanned to find other Ancient sub-space signals, it was a subroutine they had never bothered to shut off. Nonetheless, among the billions of things Rodney had to work on, he couldn't remember what was the right frequency for the program. So while he pretended to decipher the Wraith language, he analyzed the beacon in order to at least find out which frequency the Wraith monitored. He really wanted to avoid warning the Wraith.

However, he couldn't slow down the progress of the Genii scientists indefinitely. One day they completed translating half of the data in the Wraith device and they reported it to Kolya. Results were still important to assure his and Dean's safety.

"Doctor McKay, what have you found?" His tone was that of a man who didn't want to waste time. The threats seemed always right around the corner.

"We're working on it. I already told you, the information is too well protected for us to be careless about it. For all we know, one wrong connection and we could spread a Wraith virus to all the computers we're working on–"

Kolya cut him off. "I don't want your excuses, Doctor McKay. I want to know what you have found."

"Well, the primary function of the device is to send a distress signal. Aside from that, it has some information about a Wraith ship from the war with the Ancients." Rodney grunted. "The device had several layers of protection and one of them was, like I said, a computer virus. It wiped out one of your computers, by the way."

"Doctor–" Kolya seemed ready to hit him.

"Right… well, it has a couple of beacons, they act as powerful distress signals." As he realized a potential slip-up, he hastily added, "One was badly damaged…"

"Can these beacons be activated again?"

"Uhm…Yes? One of them, maybe… why? Do you want to invite the Wraith for a tea party?"

Kolya smiled like a predator. "Not exactly, Doctor. Hold off on the decryption for now, and show my scientists how to activate the beacon remotely."

"Why?"

Kolya's glare was terrifying. "I'm not keeping you alive to ask questions. Do it, and that's an order, Doctor. I don't like to repeat myself."

Rodney gulped and went back to work.

They had almost disassembled one of the beacons, and he needed the other for his plan to call Atlantis. He worked two nights straight to put the first beacon back to his former self. He was tired and famished by the time he was done, but his work was a success. He had hidden the secondary beacon, repaired the first one, and assembled a third with damaged parts in case that psycho wanted proof of the existence of the other pre-existing beacon. He had a bad feeling about why Kolya wanted it, so he had––with some crafty moves–– tampered a bit with the range of the distress signal.

By working only on the beacon, he had practically mastered the ins and outs of the damned thing. Rodney was pretty sure he knew which frequency he should avoid when he was ready to activate his signal.

The only things he needed for their freedom were the right frequency for Atlantis, and a battery.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Genii was very pleased with himself when McKay handed over the beacon and the remote control. Kolya was waiting for an opportunity to get rid of some enemies from his home-world, and thanks to McKay, he now had the means to do that.

Despite his obnoxious character, the scientist was indeed a genius. If only he had a bunch of scientists that capable, he would have already found a way to kill the Wraith once and for all. His people had been hiding for too many centuries; it was time for the Genii to rise to their former glory once again.

Kolya ordered his soldiers to move the doctor back to his cell for the time being. By now, he had learned that it was best to keep the Atlantean confined for a day or two in his cell in order not to mess with the work in the lab. He knew the scientist would be trying to slow down the decoding in a futile attempt to buy time for his friends to rescue him. Despite that, he had noticed that threats about the wellbeing of his bargaining chip worked like a charm each time McKay seemed to slack off. It amused him to see how the insufferable scientist seemed to care for his teammate.

The Genii commander went back to his office with the Wraith beacon in his hand. He had read the last reports from his spies off-world, the pointless research by the Atlanteans on Manaria, and the situation on their home-world.

For his prestige to rise among his people, he had to let them know to whom they had to be grateful, once the Wraith were gone.

After working for a while at the final details of his new plan, he summoned Lieutenant Dalca.

"Lieutenant, I have a mission for you and your team."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Dean, get your bag ready. We need to go." John entered the hotel room in a rush.

"Dad?" Dean was absently cleaning the guns.

"I just heard from Bobby. There are signs of demon activity near Stanford, we need to go and get your brother before Azazel catches him."

Dean stood there for a second with his mouth open.

Hadn't they already killed Azazel?

"Now, Dean!" John's urgency was clear. They moved quickly around the motel room, and Dean took all the weapons spread on the bed.

In less than five minutes all their bags were packed, and he and his dad were out and into the car. Dean took out his phone and dialed Sammy's number, but it went straight to voicemail. He watched his phone with mixed feelings: panic, rage, and disappointment because that wasn't the first time Sam didn't pick up his phone to answer his calls.

Time seemed to fly, and–when Dean finally took his eyes away from the phone–they had arrived. They were in the campus parking lot, and Dad was watching Sammy's apartment.

"Come on, we need to hurry." John strode toward the door of the building.

Dean blindly followed his father. At Sam's floor they realized the door was slightly open. They pointed their guns and rushed through the door.

"Dean!" Sam yelled, when he saw them.

"Oh, look, Sam! That's what I call a family reunion! Didn't I tell you they would come?" The yellow-eyes demon winked at them.

Azazel was in the body of man, probably one of the college professors on campus, and he had Sam pinned against a wall. The demon held Sam by the throat without effort. His little brother's face was battered, and a large knife was planted deep in his left shoulder.

John Winchester rushed ahead, while Dean started to chant the exorcism.

Azazel threw both of them away with a shake of his hand, then he pinned each Winchester to a wall while he collected his knife from Sam's shoulder. "Now, why don't we chat a little? It's been so long since we were all under the same roof." Azazel gazed at Sam. "You were such a little baby in your nursery. I remember how funny it was to see your brother holding you, while the house burned. Do you want to say something, Sammy?"

His little brother's face was grim. "Fuck you! I have nothing to say. And it's Sam."

The demon patted his face, then walked to the center of the room. "Really, Sammy? Is this your attitude? After all the miles they drove to rush for your aide, you have nothing to say to them? We all know you stopped listening to Dean's calls a long time ago, but that's just mean."

"It's not like that!" Sam had guilt written all over his face.

The demon knocked Sam out before he could say anything else, and his body collapsed to the floor.

"Sammy!" Dean struggled from his spot. For some reason, Azazel let him go and Dean rushed toward his brother. The demon took his time to walk toward the older prisoner, leaving the two youngsters alone.

He stabbed the hunter in the leg. "Perhaps you want to say something, John?"

John grunted but didn't scream.

The yellow eyes went to the two brothers on the ground, and John's did the same. "Do you want to tell Dean why he had to protect Sammy-boy and carry on hunting while his little brother could go to college? He was never a son, just a soldier and a guardian for your boy, nothing more. "

"Screw you!"

"Ahahah… John…Too chicken to say which is your favorite? Don't worry, I'll tell them for you. It's Sam, of course! It was always little Sammy."

"That's a lie!" John roared.

"A lie?" Azazel's smile was even wider. "I don't need to lie when the truth is much more painful."

John's body flew across the room to land near his two sons.

"Dad! Shit!" Dean took position in front of the two of them. He'd heard every single word. It was painful, but it wasn't the time to dwell into it. He took his gun and shot Azazel several times.

The demon chuckled as he pinned Dean to the wall once again. At his feet were his father and his brother, bleeding, while the demon was walking closer. He didn't have any other weapon and the exorcism had failed––they were in seriously deep shit.

Azazel closed the distance between them and begun slicing the shirt and the skin near Dean's anti-possession tattoo on his chest.

"Son of bitch!" Dean endured the pain while Azazel kept slicing him. He was trying to think of something to get the three of them out of there, but the agony was blinding him.

"Maybe I'll torture John while possessing your body, how that sound, Dean? Do you want to taste it when I suffocate him with your hands? I bet you have some pent-up rage repressed in there."

Against his better judgment, Dean couldn't stop himself from provoking him. "Oh, yeah? Is that your plan? Using me to kill my dad, huh? Dude, I knew you were a douchebag, but I didn't know you had some daddy issues. What is it? Demon-dad never cuddle you, eh?"

"Has your mouth ever saved you from trouble? I can't wait to hear your screams when I kill John." After finishing his carving on his chest, Azazel cleaned the knife on Dean's jeans.

Then he took a few steps back.

Dean was dreading the moment the dark smoke would come out of that man and pass into his mouth. He knew he didn't stand a chance to fight him from the inside, just as he didn't on the outside.

The demon, instead, changed his plan and crouched near the younger brother, moving the long blade toward his throat. "You know, I had great plans for Sammy, but it turns out he was so sheltered by the two of you that he became weak. And this college life…He even proposed to a girl! Such a waste of time."

Dean threw away all the fears for himself and shouted with all his voice. "Leave him alone! You fucking monster! If you touch him, I swear I'll kill you! I'll come back from fucking hell just to kill you!"

Dean kicked and screamed while he was still pinned to the wall, trying with everything he had to fight back the demon's power. A hand finally broke free.

Before cutting Sam's skin, Azazel stopped. The demon seemed to observe him with renewed interest. "Oh…Now that's a spirit I like."

He threw them around the room like rag dolls a couple of times. When Dean opened his eyes again, he was tied to a chair while his father and his brother were on the couch. The three of them had several cuts all over their bodies, and his dad and Sammy were unconscious, probably in need of an ambulance.

Every bone in his body screamed in pain and Dean was dizzy from a real bad concussion. The room was spinning like a carousel.

"It's admirable how far will you go to protect them. You would spend an eternity in hell to save their lives, wouldn't you?"

What was that? Praise?

Dean didn't have the strength to speak let alone to fight back. The demon was behind him; he could smell the sulfur in the air.

"They don't care about you, but you already know that, don't you? You are just a good little soldier on a good day, and a hindrance most of the time." Azazel's words were like stabs in his heart. "Sam wants a normal life–he doesn't need you–and John…he always disappears for a hunt, leaving you behind to clean up his mess. One day your dad will stop coming back, too. Haven't you had enough, Dean? In the end, you're always left alone."

Azazel moved to his side, seated on a chair, and with one hand he started caressing the back of Dean's neck. There was something hypnotic in his actions: the blood loss, the soothing movement and his words were clouding Dean's thoughts. His body stopped fighting the ties and he stilled under the demon's touch.

"There is nothing you can do, Dean. No matter how much you try, they will always leave you behind. But it's okay. " The voice seemed to change to a different tone. "Listen to my words… I will take care of you."

The demon took his chin in one hand and turned Dean's face. Their eyes met. Dean had the distinct feeling he knew that face–maybe he had encountered the poor man possessed by Azazel in one of his periodic checks on Sam. Those thoughts, however, faded as he caught sight of his yellow eyes.

The pure darkness in them was pulling him in.

"I'll take good care of you. You'll be my masterpiece." The demon's cold hand was almost a relief to his throbbing head. "You can even save them."

"H…How?"

The demon chuckled again while listening at his pleading tone. He came closer Dean's ear and whispered with a soothing voice. "You just have to listen to my words, and obey me."

He stood up, creeping behind Dean's back, placing his hands on his shoulders and moving his mouth from ear to ear. "That's simple right? You've always been a good little soldier. You can be mine."

Dean wanted to say something, but the words wouldn't come.

"Just listen to my voice."

Dean's mind was too foggy to think straight; he didn't know how long he could stay awake. The demon circled around and sat on the chair. His hand left Dean's shoulder and pressed the wound on his chest, his fingers dancing in the blood. It was so painful, Dean's eyes shot wide open and a small moan escaped his lips.

Azazel had a devilish smile on his face. It was clear he wanted him awake enough to understand his conditions. "If you agree, I let them go. I'll never touch them again… Do we have a deal?"

Dean had a way to save his father and his brother. There was a little voice inside his head that was telling him there was something very wrong, that he shouldn't make any deals and he had to fight back. But it was fading away, replaced by the demon's voice that was growing stronger, annihilating every other thought and making it harder to disobey.

"Dean, listen to my voice."

He was a hindrance, he always knew it. Without him, they probably would be better. They would realize how similar they were in their stubbornness, and maybe they would finally start to talk to each other. Or, as the demon said, they would likely live their own lives apart, like they wanted. Bottom line: they would live. That was what Azazel promised. If that was the case, then… wasn't it reasonable for him to accept his deal?

He nodded slightly, and the demon looked triumphant.

"Then let's see." Azazel stood up and walked in front of him, he took the knife and sliced his own wrist. Dark blood poured out from the professor meat-suit while the demon advanced. Without waiting for a reaction, Azazel placed the wrist on Dean's mouth. "Drink."

Dean was surprised and wanted to move away or close his lips, but his body didn't move. He gagged as the demon blood flowed down his throat.

"What did I say, Dean? Listen to my words. Drink." It seemed like a broken record, those words said over and over.

Little by little, he lost all his resistance. He almost tasted the sulfur in it, the dark blood was like fire and ice at the same time and it was spreading inside his body. He started to drink on his own. The demon kept pouring blood and repeating his words. The sounds slowly lost all meaning.

The darkness was crawling in him.

He could feel it.

Dean was losing himself, his humanity… His eyes were turning black.

He was becoming a monster.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was almost three weeks since they had disappeared, and John had nothing new to work on. Doctor Weir had returned for a brief check-in the day before, only to report that the negotiations with the new Magister, chosen by the Higher Council of Manaria, weren't going anywhere. Apparently the Manarians had profitable trading relationships with the new government from the Genii world so they were treating the matter carefully. The Higher Council didn't know anything about a group of outlaw soldiers stationed on their planet.

Or so they kept saying.

After several days, a servant from their escort had a slip of the tongue and told them about a group of Genii coming and leaving the planet in a hurry, right around the frame time they were asking about. Their running hypothesis was that Manaria was only a mid-step planet and not their base of operations. However, Elizabeth couldn't leave the negotiations as they were: it was possible they were wrong and this was another Genii plot to throw them off their trail.

So she headed back to Manaria.

Teyla and Ronon were still off-world gathering data from every possible source, and checking-in each time they traveled to another planet. They stayed a couple of days on each world collecting rumors, but it was a dead end.

Zelenka had secluded himself in the lab with several other scientists, working on estimated patterns and possible hideouts from the hundred planets they had pulled off the two DHDs. However, the team of scientists didn't agree on some of the prediction formulas used and suggested other options, making Zelenka's work twice as hard.

While waiting for the Daedalus' return to the Pegasus Galaxy, he and Lorne worked out a few possible rescue strategies based on some layouts of abandoned Genii outposts Ladon had sent them as a gesture of good will. Three of the four bases were underground: it said plenty about those guys' habits.

Unfortunately for their two missing people and for the rescue team, the possibility of being held underground made it even less likely that they would be able to track McKay's subcutaneous locator. So even with the Daedalus in orbit over the right planet, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to just beam them aboard.

One late night, while John was walking back to his quarters lost in his thoughts, he found himself in front of the door to Dean's room.

He cursed to himself. The week before, he had been in McKay's lab, and that night he was there. His subconscious was doing a very wonderful job of making him feel guilty.

On a whim, he opened the door.

Breaking the privacy of other members of his expedition wasn't one of his habits. Nevertheless, as the other day he couldn't stop himself from entering the lab, in that moment he couldn't keep from entering Dean's room either. When he had been in the lab he had realized how much he missed his friends. Ronon and Teyla were away looking for clues on them, Elizabeth was on Manaria, and John was the one bound to remain behind on Atlantis with his own ghosts. John had stayed a whole night touching McKay's computer and other stuff, just sitting there pretending it was like any other night spent in the lab with his friend.

The memory of the bomb kept replaying in his mind. He didn't want to lose another friend in enemy territory, not like Holland.

John gritted his teeth.

He needed to remind himself that they were still alive. His next visit in their rooms would be to wake them up, not because of an order to gather their things and send them back to Earth for their funerals.

He would find them, and he would bring them home.

As he entered the room, he stepped on a line of white grains on the floor, near the door. "What the…" He crouched on the ground, took some in his hand and smelled it.

Salt.

The weirdness of that made him wander what Dean was doing with it, how he had so much salt, and what kind of other things he held in his room.

A small smile appeared on his face. No matter how much time had passed, the kid was always full of surprises. The room was much similar to his, as were all of Atlantis's quarter rooms, except the kid didn't have any posters, guitar or golf stuff around.

It was very neat and clean.

He had a set of stylish knives and his lock-picks on display on a dresser, a computer placed on a desk, some makeshift books about folktales from the Pegasus Galaxy–which John found weird on the kid's desk–and a wallet near a small box made out of wood on the bedside table.

John sat on the bed and opened the box. It was a carillon, or something very similar to it. He turned it around a moved a small mechanism a couple of times to play the song. It was definitely something from the Pegasus Galaxy, but he was surprised when the carillon played its music.

Like a soft lullaby, the carillon played the notes of Carry on my Wayward Son under John's astonished face.
Then it came on his mind he had seen something like that on the planet full of kids. A small smile appeared on his tired face. It had to be a present from the kids after the flu case and Dean's famous bedtime stories.

While the music kept playing, John took the wallet in his hands. He hadn't see that wallet since their first meeting when the young man had abruptly arrived on Atlantis, and he had almost shot John. Ronon had stunned Dean and John had searched his wallet for some ID.

After they gave it back, he hadn't seen him carry it anywhere. True to be told, it was useless in this Galaxy.
Driver license, library card, dollars meant nothing on other worlds with so different cultures, and it wasn't something distinctive like the dog-tags John and the military personnel wore.

When he opened it, he found the two fake identities he had already seen on his first meeting, and a set of photos. They were a bit old and the edges were a bit worn out, like they had been taken out countless times. One was a photo of a little blonde child and his mother hugging each other. They seemed so happy, it pained John to realize he was looking at a moment in time just before Dean had lost his mother.

The other two photos were like snapshots of other two happy memories in Dean's life. He could tell just by glancing at them. In one, there was a blond kid smiling happily near his mom holding a cute little infant, the other had two kids in an auto salvage yard smiling at the camera.

He stared at the photo of the two boys, studying their expression. They were close to each other, and that reminded him of how, at their age, he and his brother had been close, too. They'd had their happy moments when they were children.

How many years had it been since he'd spoken to Dave?

It pained John that at one point they had just seen things so differently that they were unable to hold a real conversation with each other without ending up in a fight. He had walked away from his father, from his family, working his way up in the Air Force. Then came his two tours in Afghanistan and the assignment to Antarctica.

He had never turned back.

He had just left, without sorting things with them.

John closed his eyes. It wasn't the time to dwell on the past. He had two friends missing, two people that were part of what he felt was his family here and now, and John promised to himself he would do everything in his power to bring them back.

He put the photos and the wallet back in their places, leaving the room with renewed motivation. There had to be something he could do… John was sure Zelenka could use a fresh pair of eyes. Maybe he could help to narrow down the list of planets.

John took a deep breath before marching to the labs.

It was his job to bring his friends home.

Chapter Text

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sga~spn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Pegasus Rhapsody

The Genii commander marched down the tunnels leading to Doctor Alastair's lab. After hearing the last communication with Lieutenant Dalca, he was in a good mood. Kolya had ordered Dalca's team to scout planets that had contact with the Atlanteans and their home-world's system. He had information about three Wraith ships hunting in that sector of the galaxy, and he knew the people from Atlantis had spaceships and they were most likely using them to search for their missing people.

Kolya had planned to use the Atlanteans to fight the enemy.

Doctor McKay had told him in one of his ramblings that the distress signal was so powerful the Wraith would swarm upon them if his scientists had tried to turn it on. Kolya had used that information to his advantage. If the beacon was activated while they were on a planet and the Wraith came, the Atlanteans would have to fight back in order to survive. Kolya's strategy would kill two birds with one stone.

Once he arrived at the lab, the commander knocked and entered without waiting any reply. The Genii scientist had secluded himself in that section of the facility for days. Kolya had waited long enough; he wanted some reports on the doctor's pet project.

The room was spartan: a cabinet with drugs, a desk with some dubious medical books on it, two chairs, a trail full of medical equipment in a corner and the prisoner tied to a chair with his head oriented to a monitor.

The doctor was near the Atlantean, checking on him and whispering something. When he saw Kolya, Alastair got up and went on his desk. "Commander, what a pleasant surprise… do you need something?"

"Yes, Doctor. A status report." Kolya stopped to observe the reaction from the Atlantean prisoner on the other side of the room.

"There is no reason to worry, Commander Kolya. You can speak freely. The external sounds are distorted into what his mind his experiencing. He can't hear us now."

Kolya held up an eyebrow, still doubting his words. "How can you be so sure?"

"Believe me, I prepared several types of drugs by myself." Alistair took one of the syringes to show him. "The one I'm using was extracted from a very dangerous plant; I know its effects. Right now, our guest is entrapped in one of his hallucinations. He is blind and deaf to the outside world. Only repeated actions and words can slip in and reach his subconscious. "

Kolya glanced at the prisoner again: his body was trembling like he was experiencing something nasty but, aside from that, it wasn't possible to tell if he was really deaf to their conversation.

"It's been nearly two weeks, Doctor." Kolya had achieved, with his methods, better results in less time.

"True… but he was tougher to break than the others, it took me twice the time. Even now, he exceeds my expectations. He is truly a good test subject."

"Did you check to see if he can activate the Ancestors' devices?" Kolya had a theory of what his role was in Sheppard's team, and he was eager to know the truth.

"Yes. And to my great surprise, he doesn't need to be truly conscious to do it."

"Good." Kolya was already thinking of how to use that ability for his own purposes. If they could use Ancient technology, he would be even more powerful in the eyes of his people. "Tell me once again what are you doing."

"It's a two-phase experiment. In the first phase, the subject is injected with several doses of this drug, kept in a sleep-deprived state with the video and audio supports. This combination of factors and the drugs provoke strong fearful hallucinations, concocted by his own experience. Also, there is moderate memory loss." Alastair took some of his notes from his desk. "The hallucinations are so powerful that the subject is in a frail state of mind. Positive and negative stimuli are used to break his will and this other drug along with repeated keywords make him more compliant– "

Kolya stopped the complicated explanation; he had already witnessed some of his previous results. "Will it work?"

"Of course, Commander. I'm going to proceed with the second phase very soon. It could take me another week, but I'm sure he'll be ready."

"Didn't your other test subjects die after a while?"

"Yes, Commander Kolya. I was too rash in my previous exploits, that's why I envisioned a day or two of rest between the two phases. With that, his neural pathways should stabilize, and his body should be able to sustain the large amount of drugs in his system."

"Don't let him die, Doctor. He is valuable for my plans."

They heard a moan coming from Dean and some incoherent phrase, while Alastair nodded. "Of course, Commander."

Kolya stood there as the doctor called two guards. Alastair released the Atlantean from his ties and took out the IV and all the other tubes attached to his body. The prisoner was too drugged to even realize they were moving him.

"Take him to the cells," Kolya ordered, before Alastair could open his mouth.

The doctor inclined his head, but didn't say anything. He turned toward his research once again, checking and preparing the right vials and tools for the next phase.

The scientist's unfazed air was irritating. "My patience has limits, Doctor. Don't disappoint me." Kolya's harsh glare was a clear message: there was no room for errors. This time he wanted flawless results.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rodney slept for a whole night. He hadn't found a miraculous way to save the situation, nor had Sheppard come to his rescue, returning him to his city and his beloved bed. No, Rodney had just worked for days before Koyla had finally allowed him to crash on the bed of his cell. The scientist felt, once again, frustration at the mere thought that his actions were controlled by that psychopath of a Genii. Yet, not everything was going according to the enemy's plan.

He was secretly working on a device to contact Atlantis, he had slowed down the analysis of the Wraith device, and he had dampened the range of the beacon he had given to Kolya. On top of that, he had smuggled a small screwdriver out of the lab and into his cell, hoping for a chance to steal a source of energy from somewhere. Perhaps even from the lamp in there.

It was a desperate attempt, but that was his situation.

However, even stealing a lamp in his own cell wasn't simple as he thought. The guards were always nearby, and it was difficult to do anything suspicious. So Rodney dropped his idea, waiting for the right opportunity.

Then two guards came, tugging his cellmate between them. Rodney got up and watched, speechless, while they dragged him into their cell and tossed him on the floor. The guy hadn't grunted from pain nor spoken any of his foul remarks. Rodney ran to his side.

Dean was semiconscious. His glassy eyes set for a moment on Rodney, before a small smile appeared on his face. "S…Sammy… you're… alive."

Before Rodney could say anything, he passed out.

"Winchester, what the hell did you do?" Rodney mumbled despairingly as he carried his friend to one of the beds.

Rodney wasn't that kind of doctor, but he could feel the burning skin under his touch and he had diagnosed himself enough times to know that Dean had a high fever. He trembled on the bed, and small whimpers escaped his lips but he didn't wake up. Winchester seemed a little more healthy than when he had been half electrocuted, at least. His previous cuts and wounds seemed well treated, but Rodney could see the signs of restrains around his arms and neck.

Rodney wondered what he did during his days in the medical ward. Probably nothing good. However, the fact that the guy mistook him for someone else wasn't a good sign either. Rodney let him sleep a couple of hours before approaching him again. They needed to talk about his plan, and what had happened to Dean. The scientist was almost ready to shake his shoulder, when he stopped himself.

Rodney remembered distinctly the first time he had tried something like that. He didn't want to experience another of Dean's choking moves.

"Winchester, wake up." McKay tried to call from a safe distance, but it seemed his voice couldn't reach him.

"Come on, we don't have all day here, Winchester." Rodney scowled in annoyance.

It wasn't time to sleep–they had too much to talk about. Rodney shook his shoulder a little, and took several steps back, waiting for retaliation. His annoyance turned to concern when Dean didn't react at all. He crouched near him to see if he was breathing. "Dean? Dean, wake up."

Finally, glassy eyes slowly opened for a bit, before closing again. "It's ok… Sammy… I'm here… Not gonna die on you."

Did he call me Sammy? Rodney tried to remember if there was a "Sam" in Atlantis that he knew. Aside from Colonel Carter, there wasn't any Sam he could remember working with them, and Winchester had never met Carter.

Then… who he was talking about?

An epiphany crossed his mind. "Winchester, I'm not your brother! Come on, wake up!"

The eyes opened once again, and this time it seemed like they were trying to focus on him. Confusion was written all over his face. "…Rodney?"

"Yes, yes, I know my name, glad we cleared that up. Snap out of whatever dream you had, will you?"

"Where… Where are we?"

Rodney shot him an incredulous look. "You're kidding, right? We are in a prison, held hostages by a bunch of psycho Genii, and you don't remember? Oh, for God's sake!"

Recognition seemed to pass over Dean's face.

Rodney was more than pissed at his cellmate. "What did you do this time? Did you try to escape from the med ward just like you tried on Atlantis your first time? That's why they drugged you?"

Rodney saw in an instant the change in Dean's attitude. He stood abruptly from his bed, his eyes wide, watching the surroundings, and his left hand was covering the nook of his right elbow.

Rodney tensed at the sudden reaction. "What?"

"McKay we…we need to go... now!" The urgency in Dean's voice was alarming.

"What are you talking about? It's not like we're in a beauty spa you know. Those are bars, not just fancy decorations and–"

"We have to leave... I can't go back…no…no more…"His cellmate was wandering around the room without listening to him, and he was spouting incoherent things.

Rodney was astonished -he didn't understand what was making Dean react like that. Rodney tried to put a hand on his shoulder, but Dean snapped and pushed him away. The scientist fell on the ground.

"Don't touch me!" Then as he regained a bit of lucidity, Dean went motionless. He leaned his back on the wall and slowly slid to the ground, with his knee in front of him and his head buried behind his arms. His body was trembling, and he looked like a little kid. "Sorry… McKay…I didn't mean…."

Rodney was too shocked by his unstable behavior to be angry. "Dean…W…what happened?"

"They… he… drugged me… there were screams…so much blood…the fire…"

Rodney grasped just a bit of his incoherent speech. "Who? Kolya?"

The fear was draining the life from McKay's face. While he was working in the lab, Dean had been tortured. Rodney hadn't really thought about him for a couple of days, too focused on his plan. Since they told him Dean was in the medical ward, he had just assumed his cellmate was healing from the previous torture, not receiving new ones.

From the way Dean was speaking, it was clear they had done something to him. He wasn't coherent. Who knew what kind and how many times they had tortured him? Rodney was furious, and for the umpteenth time wished Kolya would die horribly.

"No…not Kolya…Aza…no, not him…Al…Alastair."

Rodney could see sparks of terror and guilt in his friend's eyes. Whatever they did to him they had likely succeeded. He wasn't the same man who had gone with them on a trade mission. Before McKay could ask anything else, Dean left his spot on the ground and started circling the room and talking to himself. He was whispering about deals and demons. Once again, his cellmate didn't make any sense.

Minute passed, and then his posture changed abruptly. Dean stopped pacing and stood in front of the bars of their cell, like he was assessing them. "We can't wait here for those monsters to come back, Sammy. We need to escape. Do you have a paper clip with you?"

Dean was facing the lock, so he couldn't see Rodney's stunned expression.

That's it. McKay was sure by now, Dean had gone crazy. One moment he was talking with him, the next he was acting like he wasn't even in the room, then he started talking again and mistook him for his brother. Kolya, this "Alastair," those damn Genii had seriously messed with his mind.

Rodney didn't know what his best choice was: to follow the man in his hallucinations, or call a guard for help.

"Come on Sammy, we don't have all day."

Without thinking, Rodney gave him the small screwdriver he had stolen.

"Seriously, dude? A screwdriver? Who do you think I am, The Doctor?" Nevertheless, Dean took it, and began to work on the lock. In two minutes the lock clicked, and the door opened. If the situation hadn't been so surreal, Rodney would have said something about his thief skills. Dean didn't waste time in chit-chat; he took the knife hidden underneath the cot and crept out of the cell.

Rodney followed right behind him. He knew it was a terrible plan. It wasn't even a plan. He was entrusting his life to a guy with hallucinations!

They hid behind a nook, keeping out of sight of a guard walking toward their block.

"Dean–" Rodney whispered his name in warning.

"Don't worry, Sammy. As long as I'm around, nothing bad is gonna happen to you."

Rodney gulped, unable to say anything.

Dean spun to action and swiftly grabbed the guard from behind. Before the Genii could sound the alarm Dean took out the Wraith gun and shot him. After that, Dean engaged in a shoot-out with other two guards at the end of the corridor, while Rodney ducked near the fallen soldier. McKay searched the unconscious man for other guns, and secured one for himself, as well as a radio transmitter.

While they were escaping, Rodney kept thinking about the battery he needed for his plan to call Atlantis. The Wraith stunner in Dean's possession had some sort of battery, and Rodney could use it to power his controller. However, the controller was in a lab nearby –along with the beacon and the Wraith device– but away from their current escape route. If they took a detour, he could try and activate it instead of running around without an actual escape plan. Rodney had seen many soldiers patrolling the tunnels and there was another floor above them. By his calculations, there were too many Genii. Even if they were able to leave the underground bunker, they would never be able to reach the Stargate. If they were able to call Atlantis, however, they would at least have a chance.

The two guards weren't a match for Dean, and soon they lay unconscious on the ground. "This way."

Rodney reached for Dean's arm –despite his actions, his cellmate seemed unsteady on his feet. "Dean, we need to go to the lab."

Winchester turned around with an eyebrow up, for a moment he stood there like his mind couldn't process what he was seeing, then his face morphed in a confused expression.

"Sa…R…Rodney?"

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Colonel Sheppard was with Major Lorne's team on a planet called Camlea, near the Genii's planetary system. It was the third planet so far, they were examining it with a puddle jumper, and the Daedalus was in orbit acting as aide. The spaceship scanned the whole world trying to detect Rodney's locator, while Sheppard's team was on the ground, asking questions of the people living near the Stargate.

Since they hadn't a real clue on the two missing men, they had started by searching the planets with abandoned compounds built by the Genii. They began with the ones closest to the enemy home-world in order to narrow down their list. It was a valiant and a risky effort, but Colonel Caldwell had his orders.

Genii activity wasn't unusual around these worlds, so it was a difficult task and the team on the planet had spread out to cover more ground.

"Colonel Caldwell, this is Sheppard. Did you find anything on the scan?"

"Negative, Sheppard. No sign of McKay from here. On the other hand, we're receiving a strange signal. We picked it up when we arrived in the area. My technicians are analyzing it." As he was pondering the strange phenomenon, he added, "Did you touch any alien technology?"

"Uh... No, not that I'm aware of. We are in the village two klicks away from the Stargate, asking questions." Sheppard's voice was interrupted by static. "W–What kind of signal?"

Before Caldwell could reply, a Wraith ship emerged from hyperspace, approaching the planet.

"Sheppard, we have enemy inbound! Get out of there!"

While Colonel Caldwell was issuing orders on the bridge, Major Mark reported the situation very briefly to Sheppard. The transmission abruptly ended when the Wraith ship attacked the Daedalus, and launched several Darts. Some of the smaller alien ships began to swarm around the planet while the others began to shoot at the Daedalus.

"Major Mark, raise the shield and prepare for battle. Send the 302s out," Caldwell ordered briskly.

"Yes, sir." His second in command promptly moved his hand on the panel in front of him.

Caldwell was pissed, he knew something like this would happen. There was always trouble when he had to work with Sheppard.

The man was like a bad luck charm.

Despite his inner thoughts, he didn't hesitate after assessing their situation. They had to fight back. It was a lone Wraith ship, but their people on the planet would never reach the Stargate in time to flee if the Daedalus didn't engage it and keep it occupied long enough. Also, Major Lorne's team and Colonel Sheppard had to deal with the darts heading for the planet.

The colonel clenched his fists. Damned Wraith. He tapped on his com-link. "All hands, we're under enemy attack. Battle stations."

The Daedalus was the only thing between the team on the ground and the Wraith.

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It was naïve to think that the signal wasn't related to the Wraith.

Sheppard cursed in his mind. If Rodney had been with them he would have already figured it out. Sheppard ordered his men to flee to the jumper via com-link. The Darts in the sky were already sending foot-soldiers on the ground to capture the poor villagers in the settlement. They also used their beams wherever there was a lot of people running away.

"Get out of here, run to the cave!" Sheppard yelled at the screaming people, firing back at the Wraith as he moved.

When he was almost out of ammo, he ran toward the Jumper. Major Lorne was on his six, covering from enemy fire. "Sir, some Darts are breaking formation and heading to the Stargate."

"Damn it! Lorne, how far is the Jumper?"

"One klick northeast, sir."

They ran through the woods, dodging enemy fire. Sheppard had to think fast. If the signal was the only thing that brought the Wraith here–and it wasn't just bad luck–then they needed to find it and stop its transmission.

Major Mark had reported only one ship, but it was one too many for Sheppard's likes.

"Lorne, we need to find where this signal is coming from and shut it down!"

"Yes, sir," The Major grunted as he shot another foot soldier.

The moment they arrived at the jumper, Sheppard swiftly turned it in stealth mode, allowing them to be cloaked from the sky. The marines came shortly after: two were unaccounted for, beamed up by one of the Darts. Sheppard cursed under his breath, while he moved his hands rapidly on the console. A warning signal appeared on the monitor, right near the Stargate.

"The transmission is coming from there." Sheppard pointed at a small dot on the map. "Listen up! We' re going back to the 'Gate to track down the signal." All faces nodded as one. "Major, you'll cover us from the sky, shoot whatever Dart tries to approach the 'Gate. Once we shut down that damn signal you'll retrieve us."

Lorne was ready to say something about letting his commanding officer take the most dangerous task, but the firmness in Sheppard's eyes stopped him. "…yes, sir. Good hunting."

Lorne took the controls of the jumper and flew them into proximity of the Stargate. The plain was filled with burned grass and the people in sight were screaming and running away from the Wraith. Sheppard and the group of marines swiftly disembarked the jumper and started searching the area, hiding from the Darts and shooting the foot soldiers on sight.

With the cloaked jumper, Lorne was able to sneak on the Darts before they approached the Stargate. However, the cat and mouse's game soon gave away his position, and after his third shot, the Darts started to regroup and attacked the elusive jumper together.

"How long down there, Colonel? The enemy has found the jumper."

"We're close, hang on Major! The signal is close to the Stargate." Sheppard crouched and shot two Wraith, then ran toward where he'd located the signal.

It was a small device that looked like a squid jig, and there wasn't a switch to turn the thing off. John shot it without hesitation. Meanwhile, a Dart was able to hit one of the Jumper's engines. Sheppard gaped in shock as he tracked a long line of smoke coming from nowhere. Apparently the shields were still working while the jumper went down.

"Lorne!"

Sheppard strode toward the jumper's location. He tried to contact Lorne, but there was only static coming from his com-link. A hollow feeling threatened to swallow him whole. He couldn't lose another friend. Not now.

"Colonel Sheppard, this is Colonel Caldwell. Major Lorne is aboard, we had to beam him here. Over."

He stopped in his tracks, relief washing over him.

"Colonel, I'm sorry, seems we just lost our ride home." Lorne's voice through the com-link added more weight to Caldwell's words.

"Don't worry, Major. You can ask Zelenka for the bill." Sheppard ran through the field with the broken device in his hand.

The marines were trying to regroup around him while fighting the Wraith. He re-tapped on his com-link. "Not to sound ungrateful, Colonel, but we could use a hand getting out of here."

"We're tracking your team's location, Sheppard. We'll beam you up shortly." Colonel Caldwell wasn't the type for friendly chit-chat on the radio, especially if he was in the middle of a fight with a Wraith ship.

A couple of minutes later, a white light enveloped Sheppard and the marines as they were beamed onto the Daedalus. The shields were holding and their weapons seemed to be effective, but both colonels knew the situation could change any minute.

"What's the status, Major Marks?" Caldwell was observing the battle unfold from his chair.

"Shields at thirty percent, Colonel, but we detected a big explosion in one of the enemy's engines."

"Thanks for the rescue, Colonel." Sheppard put his gun away.

"It seems my job is rescuing your team, Sheppard."

Another shot shook the spaceship fiercely.

"Start evasive maneuvers, Major. Colonel Sheppard, I think it's time we return to Atlantis. We crippled them, but if the battle keeps going, we're gonna lose."

Sheppard wasn't happy, but he knew Caldwell was right. They were trying to keep a low profile and Caldwell had held his position for as long as he could in order to retrieve them.

Major Marks was preparing for an FTL jump when another Wraith ship came out from hyperspace.

"Ok… I think that's our cue." Sheppard's tone was light, but tension filled the room.

The new Wraith ship, however, instead of fighting them, began to shoot at the other Wraith ship. Both colonels were stunned. However, the Daedalus was close enough to be hit in the crossfire.

"How much longer before the jump, Major?" Caldwell blinked as another shot hit their shields.

"Thirty seconds, sir." As soon as Major Marks' preparations were done, he launched the Daedalus into the hyperspace, leaving the battlefield behind.

Sheppard glanced at the broken device in his hand for the tenth time. The shape of it was somehow familiar.

A mysterious beacon, two hives fighting each other–most likely in order to retrieve it–and the perfect timing of their presence on the planet searching for Rodney and Dean. Too many coincidences.

John didn't like to be paranoid, but he wondered if it wasn't all connected.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ sgaspn ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They had to be hunting a group of shape-shifters in what appeared as an underground facility, when they were ambushed. That was the only explanation he could came up with. He had heard Sammy's needy voice when he was drifting in and out of consciousness. It made him smile: despite the years, he always sounded like a whining little boy.

Dean didn't remember why he was hunting again with his brother, what they were doing chasing shape-shifters… he was just too happy to have him back to care about anything else. Regardless, there were gaps in his memories: one moment he was on the bed, the next he was up and looking at the lock of their prison. However, he just dismissed it. The monsters must have drugged him for some reason, or else he just had a serious concussion. Nothing he hadn't recovered from before.

Breaking out of the cell was the easy part. He felt feverish and a little lightheaded, but he knew what he had to do: protect Sammy and finish the job. During their escape, Dean had already shoot three shape-shifters dressed as some kind of military guards. He knew it was temporary –this wasn't the right gun to kill a shape-shifter– but they didn't have silver bullets with them.

"This way."

"Dean, we need to go to the lab." His brother, behind him, reached for his arm.

Dean was a little bit pissed. Now was not the time to second guess his decision. When he turned around, however, it wasn't his brother behind him. Sam's figure mixed with Rodney's.

He blinked. "Sa…R…Rodney?"

It was Rodney McKay. Dean didn't understand. He was hunting with his brother, what was McKay doing here? When did the scientist decide to return from Atlantis? Where was Sammy?

He pointed his gun at the person in front of him. Dean looked around frantically, feeling as if he was waking from a dream.

Where were they? Earth? Atlantis? Another planet? And who he was really with–Sammy or Rodney? Was this another shape-shifter trying to trick him?

Dean was lost for a whole minute.

The uniforms of the unconscious Genii soldiers on the floor were enough to jog his memory. The Genii, the torture, McKay, the drugs, the pain…Dean lowered the gun, shaking a little. He felt like he was breaking apart; a small, hysterical laugh escaped his lips. They were together and out of the cell. Dean had just to shut out all the pain and think about how they could escape this living hell. There was no time to figure out what was wrong with him. They had to move.

He looked again at the scientist. McKay was speaking and kept glancing at him like he was afraid of him. "…Winchester, are you listening?"

"What?"

"Oh, for God's sake! How many time do I have to explain it?! We need to go to the lab, there is no way we can make it to the surface. There is another level above and there are too many soldiers."

"So what? You want to go out in a blaze of glory?"

"What!? Are you out of your mind!? Of course not!"

Dean's eyebrow rose up. "Then what?"

"If I can go to the lab, I can send a sub-space signal to Atlantis! They could locate us much faster if they have a single sector or just a system to search and not the entire Galaxy!" Rodney seemed exasperated. "The rescue team has a chance. We don't. "

"And you think that after breaking out of the cell we're gonna have the time to wait for the rescue team, huh? Come on, McKay! We both know they'll kill us on the spot."

"No, they wouldn't dare! I haven't finished the decryption of the Wraith device, I'll bargain it for our lives."

Dean observed the scientist, then turned around. "We can make it Rodney, I can take both of us out of here."

"No, there are too many of them, we'll be caught. Listen to me for once!"

Dean stopped in his tracks. The words echoed in his head. He wavered a bit and took a moment of rest near a wall with his eyes closed. He could swear that he heard those words with Sammy's voice. Dean glanced at his partner close to him, apprehension in his eyes.

Still Rodney, not Sammy.

His hands trembled like he was too high on caffeine. It was time to face the reality. Rodney was right: they didn't have a chance, especially with him in this conditions. He was having a hard time staying lucid and he had just a stunner with him. Calling Atlantis could be their best bet, or at least it would be for Rodney. Dean knew he was a liability; it was a wonder they hadn't killed him already. But they needed Rodney. The scientist had just to play along for a while, and the rescue team would find him.

"You're right."

"What?" Rodney couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Of course I'm right, I'm always right…"

"Let's go to the lab. Which way?"

Rodney directed the two of them away from the main tunnel. When they arrived, Dean took out a guard and the three scientists working on the Wraith tech. Dean surveyed the room: it was big, with nooks, tables and plenty of equipment.

His vision blurred as he placed himself near the door. He had to be on guard and stay awake, but even so, he knew he couldn't last much longer. He kept hearing someone whispering to him, phantom memories playing in the corner of his mind, and the dizziness kept threatening to overwhelm his senses. A couple of times he even felt like Azazel was creeping behind him, but when he turned around to catch it, there was nothing.

"Rodney, get to work. We don't have much time."

Rodney went to his bench and took out several objects hidden in the midst of the technologies on the table. He was working as fast as he could, and he was going to say something, but he dropped it.

Rodney didn't like when someone stated the obvious. He had to reassemble and hook the device up a computer to reach the right sub-space frequency. That meant he needed time. Rodney knew it was a long shot, but he had done his homework. He was pretty sure the sub-space frequency he had chosen was one of the safest, and the most likely to be intercepted by Atlantis's scanners.

There was one small problem: he didn't know how much time it would take them to see it.

Dean was fidgeting, and looking around him. The time was ticking and, when the alarm resonated into the tunnels, the tension rose up. "How long, Rodney?"

"I would work faster if you'd stop pestering me!"

"They'll be here in a couple of minutes," Dean added evenly.

"Not helping!"

Rodney was working on the beacon so it could transmit in a continuous loop, when he heard Dean breaking equipment around the lab. "What are you doing!?"

"…Creating a ruse."

Rodney was amazed by his quick thinking. "Right, do your worst."

They had to look like they were in the lab for the Wraith device or to mess with their decoding, otherwise it would appear too obvious they had something else in mind. After he finished inputting the right data, he added a battery from one of the Wraith stunners, and searched for a place to hide the whole thing. With not much time to think about it, Rodney put his beacon and controller in a vent over their heads. He was sure no one would look in there.

They were so caught up in their work that they didn't hear the sound of footsteps approaching. Dean was in the middle of room, he took the Wraith device and launched it at Rodney. "Do something."

The soldiers rushed in the lab with their guns and stunners pointed at them. "Don't move!"

"Shit." Rodney and Dean ducked under some tables, avoiding the stunning shots.

"Eat this!" Dean started shooting back, and a couple of guards fell while others advanced into the room.

Rodney ducked with the Wraith device in his hand, the one he had yet to decode. He didn't have time to sabotage the device. The soldiers were already there; it was over. They were trapped, and both sides knew it.

"Stop shooting. The scientist has the Wraith device." A firm and cold voice was able to stop the ongoing gunfight. McKay dared to see who had such authority over the soldiers. Not Kolya, but a man with a white coat and a sharp face. Rodney glanced back to Dean, to see why he stopped too. His teammate was shaking in a mixture of rage and horror.

"Alastair," the young man mumbled in stupor.

"Dean, I'm surprised to see you up and running. You should rest."

Dean was feverish, and Alastair's voice seemed to echoing in his head. A wave of vertigo assaulted him and he gripped the table like his life was depending on it. "You son of bitch! I'll kill you!" Dean stood up and adjusted his grip on the gun.

"Hush now, don't be hasty. We both know there isn't another way out, and that stunner can't kill me." The Genii made a step forward. "Besides, you don't want to hurt me. Listen to my words, lower your gun."

Rodney watched in shock as Dean's gun tilted toward the ground. The scientist couldn't believe what he was seeing: it was like he was struggling to keep his gun pointed. "Dean, look out!"

A couple of soldiers were near Dean's position. Rodney saw as the Genii grabbed and pushed Dean face to a wall, disarming him. While Rodney was watching the scene unfolding, other guards approached and blocked him too. He felt a fit of pain when they beat his body to the ground. Rodney groaned; their resistance would cost them more pain than he had anticipated. Despite it all, whatever indecision his cellmate had before, Dean wriggled under the arms of the two guards in a vain attempt to free himself.

"Don't hurt him." Alastair walked toward Dean. He placed his hand on his shoulder and whispered in his ear. "Dean, listen to my words. Enough now, stop struggling."

Since he had entered the room the buzzing in Dean's head had gone up ten notches. His words were like a mantra in his head: alluring and frightening at the same time. Dean had already heard those exact words, he was sure, but he couldn't place where.

He had a flash of memories: blood, his little brother, his house on fire, someone screaming, claws tearing skin apart, his dad, himself on a rack, Bobby's corpse, his mother, the yellow-eyed demon. The pain was so intense he felt like his head was going to explode.

He couldn't fight the soothing grip on his shoulder and the voice calling for him. Worse, he didn't want to. Dean's eyes were absent, and he stopped struggling altogether.

"Good boy." Alastair caressed the back of his neck while the two guards loosened their grip on him a bit. "Listen to my voice. Relax, Dean."

It was the only sound he could hear beside the pain, and his body obeyed Alastair's orders. Dean didn't feel the needle when it entered his neck. Blissful darkness enveloped him in a heartbeat.

Rodney was too shocked to speak. He hadn't heard what the Genii had whispered in Dean's ear, but it was clear that whatever he said had a huge impact on his teammate.

When he saw Dean's body collapsing in the soldiers' arms, a bubble of panic rose in his chest. Dean was too like Sheppard, he wouldn't go down without a fight. That he didn't worried him. "What did you do to him!?" Rodney demanded.

Alastair instructed two soldiers to carry the unconscious prisoner in his lab, then he turned toward McKay, held upright by other two soldiers. The Genii still had an empty syringe in his hand. "Doctor Rodney McKay, I presume, uhm? I expected… something… more, from Kolya's words. I'm Doctor Alastair."

"What did you do to Dean!?" Rodney had already met his fair share of preposterous bastards and this "doctor" seemed one of the worst.

"This? It's just a mild sedative, he'll wake up in a couple of hours. I couldn't risk anything stronger."

Rodney eyed the man with his most poisonous glare. Alastair had an evil glee in his eyes that just screamed mad scientist to him. "I want to talk to Kolya! We had an agreement! Dean's and my lives for the decryption of the Wraith device!"

Kolya appeared on the door, just in time to hear his last sentence. He observed the mess in the lab with annoyance. One of the scientists had woken up in the meantime, and had retrieved the Wraith device. The stupid monkey spoke in a hushed voice to his commander, then he left in a hurried pace. Kolya's harsh glare was terrifying. "Doctor McKay, I thought you were a smart man. Did you really think you could run away with that technology?"

"Kolya…" Despite his previous words Rodney was utterly terrified to speak to him. Just by watching the Genii, he could tell that whatever excuse he had in mind it wasn't going to work.

"I warned you, you shouldn't test my patience. I think it's time you learn that every action has its consequences." After a brief series of instructions, Kolya dismissed the soldier on his left. "Make sure our guest learns a good lesson, then escort him in his cell."

Kolya cast one more disdainful look in their direction, and disappeared into the tunnel.

Alastair shot him a wide smile. "You should be more careful of what you bargain for, Doctor McKay. We didn't kill Dean, didn't we? Commander Kolya kept his part of the deal. I just had the opportunity to spend some quality time with him. And let me tell you… I'm not done yet."

A cold sweat ran through him: Dean's mood swings, the hallucinations, the shakes, they were all caused by this mad doctor. He was the torturer Dean was afraid of. "What are you doing to him?"

Alastair came closer, like he was sharing an important secret. "I'm on the verge of an important discovery…a revolutionary way of dealing with enemies…and who knows… maybe I can play with you next."

Before Rodney could even grasp what the Genii was telling him, he was dragged out of the lab by a couple of guards.

Chapter Text

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Point of No Return

A good lesson. Rodney should have known better than to anger the sick bastard.

The two soldiers dragging him back to his cell had taken a detour to another room. It was probably the same one where they had electrocuted Dean. When the punches to his stomach started, Rodney was caught off guard. He fell on the ground and he was beaten repeatedly. His cries were subdued by a gag on his mouth.

One thing was sure: Kolya had instructed them perfectly. They never hit his head, his hands nor his face; Kolya had made sure Rodney could work after all the beatings. Even so, the soldiers took their time playing with him.

Rodney felt like he had fallen into the deepest circle of Hell. He was a scientist, not Ronon or Sheppard or Dean; he hadn't a high tolerance for pain. Rodney wanted to curse Kolya, his tormentors, even himself for thinking they would be rescued, but the cloth in his mouth took his voice away.

He had passed out several times, but by his internal clock he knew they had been doing this for a whole day. When he woke up, he was on the ground in his cell. Aside from small areas, his body was in agonizing pain and he didn't dare move. His mind started to work some calculation to escape the reality of his predicament.

The beacon had been transmitting since the day before. They were underground so the signal would be muffled a bit, but the choice to put it in the upper vent could improve the transmission. Rodney had also activated a sub-routine on the device: if Kolya used the Stargate and if they were enough close to it, the signal would bounce off on the active 'Gate and amplify its range. They were two really big ifs, but he counted on the Genii's tendency to go around spying on people on other worlds. The chance their signal wouldn't be transmitted, one way or the other, was really small.

The only unknown factor was Atlantis, or more precisely Zelenka. If the Czech failed to monitor the sub-space frequencies while they were searching for them around the entire Galaxy, Rodney and Dean were as good as dead. The battery hooked to the Wraith beacon wasn't the perfect kind to charge it. Sooner or later it would be drained, and their last hope with it. He wasn't a trusting person by nature. And those technicians in the Control Room in Atlantis hadn't inspired any faith from him. Radek was the only one around there with enough brain cells to be of any help, he had already proved that several times. However, it was such a small thing to monitor he knew most people wouldn't check it. He just hoped Radek would prove him wrong once again.

At one point he must have dozed off, because the next thing he knew the door of his cell was opening and Kolya was entering with a guard on his heels. Reluctantly, Rodney forced his body up and far away from them.

"Doctor, it's nice to see that my men treated you well."

"Ah, that's rich." He injected as much venom as he could into his retort.

"I'm assuming you'll behave from now on." Kolya regarded him calmly, but Rodney could hear the warning behind his words. "The scientists reassured me you didn't tamper with the Wraith technology, but they had to clean up your mess in the lab. Captain Balogh and Doctor Lindgren paid the price for your little stunt."

Those were the names of the guard of his cell and the leader of those three incompetent scientists. Kolya's words couldn't be any clearer: they were dead because of him. Rodney wasn't terribly fazed by that. He wished all of them an extremely horrible death.

Maybe the Genii saw it on his face, because in one sudden move, Kolya's hand was around Rodney's throat. Rodney desperately tried to get some air. He couldn't breathe. "Pull another trick like that again, and you'll wish I'd killed you."

Kolya let him go, and Rodney coughed loudly. He tried to take in deep breaths and calm down, but his heart was beating so fast that Rodney thought he was having a heart attack.

"Tomorrow you'll be in that lab working on the device. I want that data. You are running out of time, Doctor." Kolya marched out of the cell without giving him another glance.

Rodney slowly sank onto his cot, his hands uncontrollably shaking.

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The Daedalus was docked at Atlantis for repairing. Camlea, the planet they had escaped, had encountered several incursions by the Wraith, and it was impossible to help the people on the planet without putting their men in danger, too. For now, they had no choice but to retreat, licking their wounds.

Sheppard had left the broken beacon with Zelenka, who was dissecting it piece by piece in order to understand why it had attracted so much attentions. Lorne had his arm in a cast and was compiling reports in the medical bay. Ronon and Teyla had returned once again empty-handed from their travels. Ronon was relieving his anger with several marines in the gym, while Teyla had chosen the calm of her room to meditate.

In her office, Elizabeth was taking a very serious call from Stargate Command.

The senior staff reunited in the Briefing Room, along with Colonel Caldwell. They all looked tired, a heavy silence filled the air.

Elizabeth was replaying the last conversation with General Landry in her mind. "Colonels, what happened on PX-379?" she asked.

Sheppard shot her a curious look. "Elizabeth, we already sent our reports… what this is about?"

"Sheppard, please, answer my question."

"We were searching the allegedly abandoned Genii compound on PX-379," he recapped with a frown. "We were asking information about McKay and Winchester to the people living nearby the Stargate. No sign of Genii activity on those buildings or traces of our people."

"So what went wrong?"

Colonel Caldwell coughed to get the others' attention, and explained the chains of events that led them there.

Elizabeth set motionless as she listened the report. "So… two Wraith ships were approaching the same planet around the time that signal was broadcast, is it right?"

"That's right. And before you say it… yes, right when we were on the planet," John interjected before Caldwell could reply.

Elizabeth turned to face Sheppard. "You think that this group we're hunting is behind it, right?"

"Yes, there are too many coincidences not to think so. Two enemies, one bait." His hands met at the center and mimed an explosion.

"Colonel Sheppard is right. It's a bold but effective tactic," Caldwell added.

Elizabeth addressed him next. "Colonel Caldwell, the Daedalus took severe damage in the battle. How many were injured?"

"I have twenty people with minor injuries and three in critical condition."

"How many dead?"

"We lost two men during the raid." Elizabeth could see the guilt on John's face as he spoke, evident in the set of his jaw and the hard glint in his eyes.

Elizabeth took a deep breath before dropping the bombshell. "Stargate Command and the IOA are still evaluating all the options, but they want us to put a hold on the search for Doctor McKay and Dean Winchester."

"What? Why?" Zelenka spluttered in disbelief.

"Elizabeth, you can't be serious," John added.

Elizabeth stared at all of them in turn, the pain on their faces mirroring her own. Her eyes stopped on Sheppard. "I am, John. They have twenty-five reasons right here. If the Daedalus hadn't been in orbit I would be reading a list of ten people killed in action today. Yours and Lorne's names, too. "

She looked down at the reports displayed in front of her. The two names were clear on the white draft. "Right now, we don't know where their base is. And–if you're right–they're using that signal to force us into a battle with the Wraith. Until we can come up with a solid plan to find and rescue Rodney and Dean, I can't authorize the mission. I'm sorry."

Sheppard was clearly outraged, she could see it in the way his fists clenched and his whole posture stiffened. He was ready to bolt out there, take a jumper and go find them all by himself. But he knew the futility of an action like that, and more importantly he knew deep down there was truth in her words. He wouldn't risk any more people in a fruitless search around the galaxy.

The room went quiet again as the consequences of suspending the search sank in. It felt like they were giving up.

Teyla got up from her seat. "Ronon and I…We're not from Earth, but we stand here as equals. Is that not correct, Doctor Weir?"

A silent conversation passed between Ronon and Teyla. Whatever Teyla had in mind, Ronon seemed ready to follow her lead.

"Yes, Teyla." Elizabeth was a bit surprised by her question.

"Then we don't have to abide by those orders. We can come and go of our own accord, correct?"

And in that moment, she understood. "Teyla–"

"Doctor Weir, I understand your need to protect your people. I'm just asking you to let us go on our way for a while. If we find solid evidence of Genii activity in one of the planets we're visiting, we'll let you know."

Elizabeth couldn't say no, and she didn't want to put up a fight. She hated to be the one in charge that had to halt the mission, and Teyla was offering her a compromise to ease the situation.

"Elizabeth..." John obviously wanted to go too, but he stopped himself. He was the military commander in Atlantis, and–like it or not–it was best if he stayed behind organizing a rescue team for when it became necessary, rather than going with them, risking court martial and putting Elizabeth in a difficult situation. He needed to trust Ronon and Teyla to track the Genii without him. In the meantime, he and Zelenka would work on the beacon, searching for clues. John looked at his two friends, there was a firm determination in their eyes and as they understood his intentions, they nodded to reassure him too. "...I think we should let them go. This way we can cover more ground, and as a small group it's less likely they'll draw attention."

Teyla bowed her head. "Thank you, Colonel."

Elizabeth sighed. "Very well. Teyla, Ronon, you have a go."

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Dean slowly woke up in the usual room, on the same chair, as though his attempt to escape had been nothing but a dream. His limbs were so heavy he couldn't move a finger, and a small grunt escaped his mouth.

"Ah, Dean, you're awake. Good."

The blood froze in his veins as Alastair's voice resonated clearly in his ears. The Genii doctor was in the room preparing some medical instruments on a tray; each movement was precise and he was taking his time with his preparations.

After a while he began talking again. "I didn't think you had the strength to try and escape. Commander Kolya is very upset about it. You were already at your limit; did you really think it could work?"

He wanted to say something, but nothing came out. His mind was dampened by the leftover sedative.

"Stay still."

Dean obeyed without thinking, and the needle was in and out in a heartbeat. It was weird, he knew he didn't had much of a choice, but it bugged him how easy it was to comply. He told himself it was the damn sedatives that were dulling him. Like the other thousand times he was injected with a drug, Dean waited for the burning pain in his veins to come and prepared himself.

However, it was different from usual. There was no pain, and he shot a look at his torturer.

"Well…I'll make sure you will not run again."

The room started to wobble in his vision and he felt lightheaded, again he was on the border of consciousness. Whatever the doctor injected wasn't his usual drug: Dean felt suddenly drowsy. The Genii approached to take his vitals, his eyes seemingly ablaze with malicious intent.

Confusion and fear gripped Dean. "What… what did…. you do… to me?"

"It's time for the second phase of my project. Waiting another day would be a waste of time."

"What… the fuck?"

The Genii doctor walked around his chair, appreciating the fear in his patient. "Let's just say I will help you forget… unnecessary things."

Dean stared at him, seeing him and not seeing him at the same time. The new drug was starting to kick in. Alastair's finger ran on the edge of his cheek, removing some of his sweat. "…once I'm done, you'll won't even remember your loved ones."

Dean gritted his teeth, and tried to break his restrains. "Like hell!" He spat.

"Ah….so spirited. Good, if you don't fight, it could kill you."

The room seemed to fade into darkness while the taunting voice kept reaching him. An intense pain filled his head before he lost consciousness.

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Dean woke up on the leather seat of his Impala. He turned off the radio, silencing the notes of "Can't Find My Way Home," caressed her wheel and got out of the car. He had missed his car–she was truly a beauty.

He walked a few steps to the porch of the house in front of him, and stepped through the door. He went into the library and looked around: the smell of salt, gunpowder and old books was everywhere. Dean knew where he was, he just didn't remember how he had gotten there.

Sioux Falls, Bobby's house, probably the closest thing to a home for him.

"Come on, we're all waiting for you, princess." Dean turned around. Bobby was there, watching him with his gruff face and a beer in his hand.

Dean slowly followed the man like he was drunk. He didn't remember when he had his last drink, but there were a lot of things that his mind couldn't fathom at the moment. They left the library and went in the kitchen. Dean jolted in surprise when he saw Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, Teyla and Rodney sitting at the same table with his dad and...Sam.

John Winchester was talking with Ronon and Sheppard about how to kill a Djinn, Teyla was helping Bobby with dinner, and Sam was having a lively argument with McKay about the secrets of the Stargate and the wonders of the Pegasus Galaxy. They were all there, and they were talking to each other like it was an ordinary thing.
Dean just stood there, incapable of thinking straight. Since when did his friends from Atlantis know his family!?

Despite that thought nagging him, it was dismissed to the back of his mind when he thought about Sam. He couldn't take his eyes off his younger brother. Sam was there, with his long hair and his puppy eyes, talking to his family again, sitting in the same room with their dad and him like the last couple of years of silence hadn't happened.

His father's voice drew Dean's attention. "Dean take a chair and sit, stop fooling around."

"Yes, sir." He took the only empty chair and sat at the table.

A wave of tiredness washed over him, and, as he began to process all the things around him, he finally started to relax.

"Dean… Atlantis! I can't believe it! You have to tell me everything. McKay said you went on a mission with their team…On another planet!"

The Sasquatch was smiling at him, while Rodney had a bitch face plastered on. Dean didn't want to ruin the moment with questions that would likely start a fight, so he put up a grin in response. "Not just one. I bet he didn't tell you how awesome I was on a couple of missions."

Rodney scoffed, then shot him a brief concerned gaze. "Winchester, you're dreaming."

"Sure, Spock."

McKay rolled his eyes, and started to talk once again about Atlantis and her defense systems with Sam. On the other end of the table Teyla was explaining some Athosian traditions to Bobby, and Ronon seemed happy to listen to Dad's explanation of how to kill the things that hunted people on Earth.

If he ever would have a Thanksgiving with his family and friends, that was exactly how he pictured it. They were talking, drinking, and eating all together like a big family.

"Are you okay, kiddo?" the colonel asked out of the blue.

Sam was on his right completely focused on his discussion with Rodney. Sheppard was on his left, observing him with a worried expression. Dean frowned. Yeah, sure, his head was hurting like a bitch, but he wasn't the type to complain about something like that while there was such a good company around. "Peachy."

"Hang in there, stay sharp and don't give up, Dean."

A chill ran down his spine, and the room was getting colder all of sudden. Dean shot him an incredulous look.

What was he talking about?

Dean was ready to say something, when he noticed that the voices in the room had lowered and stopped all at once. The happiness was gone, and Dean could feel the tension rising in his chest.

"What's going on?" The sudden silence got his eyes away from Sheppard. What he saw horrified him: Ronon and Teyla's faces were blank. Literally. No mouths, eyes or noses, they looked like some creepy doll without a face turned toward him.

Dean blinked just to be sure and got up, knife in hand. "What the hell… Dad… what's happening?"

He surveyed the room: his dad had a blank face, and Bobby too. After them the same thing happened to Rodney and Sheppard.

"Dean–"

Dean took Sam away from the table, taking several steps away before whatever had infected the others would hit them too. The pain in his head was killing him, and he fell to his knees.

Sam crouched near him, trying to help.

With watery eyes he saw one by one each of his friends vanishing into thin air. With every single person fading out of existence he felt something shattering inside him. The agony was so intense he screamed.

He didn't know how, but he just knew: he was losing their memories.

First a man with dreads, then a woman, after them other two guys. When one of the two older men vanished, the only thing left on the floor was his hat.

Dean wanted to escape, but he couldn't get up, let alone ran away. The cold was seeping into his body, and invisible frozen hands seemed to wrap around him, chaining him to the ground. Breathing became an incredible task to accomplish, and his vision swayed a little. There was just one person left near the table, his dad. He saw, as the figure faded away, that the memories of his father began to blur as well. One moment he knew that right there was John Winchester, the next he just had a hollow feeling in his chest and the clarity that someone had gone missing.

A quick glance around the room proved him right: on the table were several plates and bottles of beers too many for just the two of them. Something was very wrong. Dean held on to Sam like an anchor.

Not him too, please. Not Sammy

"We need to get out of here."

"Dean, we can't go anywhere. We're trapped!"

It was true: the doors were closed and the whole room was changing around them, slowly fading of any color, melting away. Dean looked at his brother once again, the terror in his eyes. His little brother was starting to fade as well. His eyes were fixed on him, just like when they were young and he was scared of the dark.

"Dean you need to fight this, you can't leave me! You promised, right?" Sam hugged him.

"I…I didn't leave you, Sammy…" The edges of his vision blurred, and Dean hugged his brother back.

And then everything disappeared in a white void.

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A familiar face appeared in his line of vision. Apparently, the man was his doctor, since he had a white coat, checked his vitals and was taking care of him.

Why do I need a doctor?

He didn't have an answer for his own question.

His head was killing him, and his mouth was dry. Maybe he was in some sort of hospital after an accident. It was hard to recollect his last whereabouts.

The doctor moved his jaw, and Dean looked at him with a disoriented expression. "Hello, Dean. Do you know who I am?"

He slowly shook his head, the man felt very familiar, but he couldn't say who he was. He had the feeling they'd already had this conversation.

"I'm Doctor Alastair. I'll ask you some questions, just a simple check-in."

Dean was pulled by his voice, in the confusion of not knowing what was happening, the familiarity of that sound comforted him. He nodded.

"Good. Do you remember your family?"

He paused for a while, thinking. Of course he remembered his family, who wouldn't? But the more Dean thought about it, the more he realized it wasn't so simple. He saw two figures in a car moving around with him.

"…Dad and.. my…my brother….S…"

It was like a blanket was covering his memories, and they were just a bit out of reach. It felt like he had his name on the tip of his tongue. He tried to remember his baby brother's face and the pain in his head increased. However, a chubby little face came to his mind. His eyes shot wide and wandered the room, searching for him. Panic rose in his chest. That's when he realized his wrists were tied to the chair.

"Sammy! My brother…His name is Sam." Dean stared in confusion at the restrains. They were only on his wrists, but for a moment he felt like there was something wrong with it: like there should be more around him. That thought made him uncomfortable. "Why am I tied up?"

"Those are for your own protection, Dean. We don't want you to get hurt now, do we?"

He didn't like the explanation, but he accepted it. His wrecked mind was working again on the reason it was so hard for him to remember anything. It was his duty to watch over Sam, how could he ever forget about him?

He reasoned that he must had hurt himself pretty badly to end up like this. A bubble of panic threatened him; he hated to feel so powerless. "Where is Sammy?"

Alastair marked something on his notes, and kept going. "What is the last thing you did?"

Dean couldn't remember. A flash of him and another person in a tunnel appeared in his mind, the memory so blurred that he didn't know if he was with someone else or he was running alone. The pain in his head kept increasing and he couldn't take it anymore.

"…I…I don't know… we…I was running in the tunnels…Where is Sammy?"

The doctor huffed at his insistence. "Sam isn't here."

Dean couldn't help but relax when he heard it. His body slumped on the chair like he had run a marathon. He was really tired, his head was on the verge of exploding, but he was somehow glad.

Sam was safe.

He didn't know why that thought crossed his mind either.

"You should sleep now, close your eyes." Dean dutifully obeyed. He was so exhausted.

The injections kept coming at periodic intervals along with the visits from his doctor. His memories kept fleeing him, leaving him more and more confused. If it wasn't for Alastair reminding him of his own name at each session he would probably forget that, too. The only thing that kept popping up in his mind despite it all was a name: Sammy.

One day, something changed in his routine of sleeps, injections, and talks with the doctor. He woke up with Alastair placing headphones on his ears, and turning on a monitor in front of him. The doctor was so close it was a wonder he hadn't woken up sooner.

"Dean, listen to my words. I want you to watch this for me."

The words echoed in him: an order repeating over and over in different voices, the tones so mixed up that they were hard to separate. Dean fell into some sort of trance, and his head moved to comply with the request.

The video started with a scenery of a world, the Genii planet and its inhabitants living their lives: the undercover job as farmers above ground, the harvest, a party with visitors from other worlds, a culling by the Wraith, small children crying, the training session of young Genii soldiers in their underground facilities, an explosion, more screams, a unit of soldiers coming from a Stargate, and again back to the beginning.

It was like a collection of shots of a Genii soldier's life.

The footage was on loop, and from time to time phrases like: "you must obey the Genii," "listen to my voice," "you are a Genii," filled the screen for a split second.

Dean couldn't stop watching, incapable of turning his head away even without ties binding him. He sat there for hours, until Alastair came once again and injected something into his IV. His frame obscured the screen and broke the trance. When the doctor placed a cup of water to his lips, Dean drank eagerly. He hadn't realized how thirsty he was, nor for how long he had been awake. Once more he felt like his head was so heavy he could sleep for days.

Before he closed his eyes, the doctor placed a hand on his shoulder and patted him. "Good boy."

Dean felt grateful there was a person that kept taking care of him.

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Alastair was enthusiastic. The second phase of his experiment was proceeding well. After days the only trace of Dean's past memories were just fragments of his family, and even those were more like ghosts than actual memories. The subconscious order to obey whatever order came from his voice was being reinforced by his frequents visits, and by the words Alastair was whispering each time he drugged him. The footage was also doing its job with its subliminal messages, and the images were imprinting new memories in his mind. It just needed a few days to be fully embedded in him.

Soon, he would be ready.

Alastair couldn't wait to have more patients with the Ancient gene to work on. Their brains' physiology was slightly different from other subjects he encountered. That was probably the reason he need more time with this subject. The past experiments had been a failure, but not without any kind of breakthrough. The last of those weak test subjects had been able to survive a couple of days after the second phase. Alastair had analyzed with precision the amount of drugs he had injected into him, and he had imported the right corrections on Dean's dosage.

The final step would be to stabilize his mind, and see if he could be useful without his memories. Not that Alastair had actually erased those memories; his drugs couldn't wipe them truly clean. For now. The closest thing he had accomplished was to create a neurochemical block that prevented the access to certain areas of the brain that held his episodic and autobiographical memories.

The previous subject had been able to talk, move and seemed to retain at least the muscle memory of what he had previously learned. By targeting his autobiographical memory, Alastair had been able to effectively get rid of the knowledge of events and some personal experiences from the subject's own life. Without knowing who he was, Alastair had been able to manipulate the former prisoner as he wanted. His goal had been to present the achievement of his work to Kolya, so he could use the man as foot soldier or spy in his coup d'état. Unfortunately the man had had a psychotic breakdown and died.

Alastair was well aware of how close he had been to reaching his goal, and that was the reason he had requested the Atlantean for his experiment. He knew he would succeed with the right test subject. And Dean seemed the perfect candidate.

In one of their last sessions he had asked Dean to activate an Ancient device, and he had done it in a heartbeat. The Genii was satisfied that Dean's ability to work on the Ancient technology hadn't been dampened by the neural blocks in his brain. Alastair was thrilled to show his results to Kolya.

If the experiment was deemed a success, he could ask the Genii commander to lend him McKay. Alastair was eager to know if breaking the scientist's mind would compromise his formidable knowledge as well.

Chapter Text

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Looking for an Echo…

The lab was restored to pristine condition in a couple of days. The two Genii scientists left kept sending murderous glares to Rodney while he slowly went back to work on decoding the Wraith device. It was his fault their colleague had been killed, and they hated him despite the fact that they needed him for actually doing any work at all.
Rodney, for his part, didn't give them any thought. Each time he stirred the pain in his ribs flared up, and small whimpers escaped his lips, reminding him all too well of his beating.

Rodney had lost all his willpower to defy Kolya and his goons; his only hope was that Sheppard and the rescue team would soon come crashing through the door, guns blazing, to save him. However, that ray of hope dimmed, bit by bit, as days passed and no one came.

By the end of the week, his work was almost done. He was at once relieved and terrified to find that the device wasn't anything special after all. Bits and pieces of information were still unknown, but he had deciphered enough to determine that it held only a logbook from one of the biggest hives during the war with the Ancients.

The Queen of that hive had been severely wounded and most of her soldiers dead. She had launched a small pod with the device into space and gone into a sort of prolonged hibernation, hoping that another hive would find the beacon and come to her rescue. The logbook had been inserted so she could prove her identity to her fellow Wraith. The device contained the coordinates where the hive ship had been stranded, but McKay had yet to uncover it. By his calculations, the Wraith pod had sailed through the outer space until the gravitational field of Thesasis had caught it. The hard impact on the planet was probably why the device hadn't been active when it was discovered.

Sure, in itself it was a great discovery: it held data on how the Wraith had fought the Ancient, and what kind of tactics they used in the past. But, except for the location of the hive ship, it wasn't very useful in the present war. Surely, it wasn't what Kolya was expecting.

Rodney dreaded giving these results to the nasty Genii.

A few days later, one of the computers made a clear ping in the lab. The decoding was complete, and the monitor showed a string of coordinates. Rodney typed furiously on the board, surveying several constellation charts in order to find the system and the exact planet where the hive ship had landed. Some planets and stars felt familiar, and he suspected he had already analyzed that part of the galaxy for one of his missions with SGA-1.

When McKay finally realized which planetary system it was, he let out a huge sigh. "Oh… thank God."

"…And why is that, Doctor?" Kolya's voice from behind made Rodney jump to his feet. The Genii commander leaned mock-casually against the doorframe with a smug expression on his face. Rodney gritted his teeth and closed his hand in a fist, but didn't do anything else. Retaliation for scaring him was out of question. "I'm waiting for an answer, Doctor McKay. Don't make me ask again."

Rodney had blown his chance to hold back precious information. He wanted to slap himself for his stupidity. However, unable to stand the soldier's glare anymore, he turned his head to look at one of the computers.

It was time to spill the truth. "The analysis of the Wraith device is complete. Your lap dogs may have already told you this, but it held only the logbook of an old hive ship."

Kolya's mood changed–it was evident that wasn't what he wanted to hear. "My men sent me a preliminary report. However, I don't think that's all. You should know there is always something to learn from your enemies." His low and malevolent voice had a hint of mockery in it. "Weapons we can steal, technology we can acquire. Where is this hive ship?"

Despite what would happen, Rodney couldn't help but retort with a little bit of self-satisfaction in his voice. "It's gone. Destroyed."

"Care to explain, Doctor McKay? I don't like your tone."

Rodney rolled his eyes and pointed at the monitor. "Those coordinates are for a planet in the Doranda System. It was destroyed during the overload of a flawed Ancient project… along with other planets. The hive ship must have been buried under tons of debris or we would have detected it."

Kolya's eyebrow rose. "You destroyed a solar system? In our galaxy, Doctor? For what… more power? Perhaps we aren't so different after all."

Rodney sneered in disgust. "It was five-sixths, not a whole system, and it was uninhabited! You and I have nothing in common, Kolya."

The Genii seemed unfazed by his words. Rodney could see he was already planning his next move.

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McKay's words hinted that they were responsible for it somehow. Knowing them, the commander could easily guess who had been the one to play with the Ancient technology.

The inutility of the Wraith device was a big setback for his plan of acquiring information and gaining power for his coup, but it wasn't a total waste. Thanks to the beacon provided by McKay, Kolya had been able to hit both the Wraith and Sheppard.

His spies had reported what they saw on Camlea, the planet they used as test ground. The lights in the sky, the retreat of the Atlanteans, and the fall of Wraith ship's debris were proof of how successful that plan had been. Sheppard's team had hastily retreated from the planet, and since that day no other Genii facilities had been explored by the Atlanteans. The fear of another trap had made his enemies more cautious. The Wraith, by contrast, seemed very eager to find the device. By the debris of two Wraith ships on the ground and the interrogation of a lone survivor, Kolya knew for sure that two different hives had fought each other in order to retrieve the device. Thanks to that, two ships had been destroyed and the culling on his homeworld had greatly subsided. Kolya was aware that even if he had another beacon to use, his trap wouldn't work again, but he couldn't help but rejoice thinking about his enemies' demise.

Once again, he observed the Atlantean scientist in front of him. He could clearly see the slight tremble of his body, the disgusted expression on his face. Doctor McKay didn't even know how his contribution had helped to destroy his own friends. Playing with him was another bonus for the whole situation.

Kolya smirked. "Then, Doctor McKay… I don't need you anymore."

The scientist paled at his words, and in one quick motion, Kolya drew his stunner and shot him. The terror in his eyes was priceless. His body slumped on the chair under him.

Kolya addressed the guard near the door and the other two scientists in the lab. "Take him to his cell. His job isn't done." He gave the stunner to one of the scientists. "Find everything you can on their technology. If I don't see results, you'll see your former colleague sooner than you expected. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir."

Kolya walked out, while his men carried out his orders. Doctor McKay was a valuable asset to his plans, for now he had expired his utility, but the knowledge he had would be of great benefit to the Genii people.

Alastair had already asked him to lend McKay for his experiment, but Kolya had refused. He didn't want to waste the mind of the scientist on Alastair's drugs. The commander knew how to handle guys like McKay: a little threat here, a beating there, a reminder of how his friends had abandoned him and his teammate, and in no time the doctor would submit to all his demands.

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Sheppard headed toward the lab, hoping to hear news from Zelenka. A week had passed and nothing had changed: Teyla and Ronon were still searching for clues, while he was stuck in Atlantis.

When he arrived, Zelenka was working on a tiny charge, while the other pieces of the broken beacon were laid out on the table. The components were all over the place. John couldn't help but feel an aching sense of déjà vu. "Do you think it's wise to gut it, Doc? Last time Rodney did something like that we shifted phase."

Zelenka looked up at Sheppard with a tight smile. He was obviously tired, and probably hadn't slept in a while. "That was an Ancient machine, Colonel. This is just a broken beacon, it's harmless. Your shot was perfect: it will never work again."

Sheppard could hear a little complaint in his voice, but he wasn't bothered by it. "Sorry, Doc. I didn't exactly have a lot of options."

They had been in a tough situation, shooting it had been the only reasonable thing to do. If Rodney had been there… maybe he could have deactivated it in no time, but he hadn't. He and Winchester were missing–that was the reason they had been on that planet in the first place.

"It doesn't matter. The beacon is only part of something bigger. From what you described of the Wraith device on Thetasis, this could be just a piece of it."

"How do you know?"

Zelenka took three small burned wires in his hand: they were different from the rest of the cables that were lying around. "These aren't Wraith parts. Someone tore this device apart, and put it together with some other alien components. I assume these belong to the Genii."

A spark of hope flared to life in Sheppard's mind. "Rodney?"

Zelenka nodded. "Probably. I can't be sure, but these components were too perfectly combined with the Wraith technology to think otherwise."

That was good news–they finally had some proof Rodney was still alive. The two of them left the lab, and kept talking while they headed out to the Control Room. They needed to tell Elizabeth, too. If they had enough proof and half a plan, maybe she would reconsider her decision.

"What else have you got from that thing?"

"Nothing. It was designed to transmit a low sub-space signal, but its range wasn't very wide. I assume we have Rodney to thank for that."

Sheppard frowned. Pondering that statement for a while. "You mean… if it had been wider, more Wraith ships would have received it, right?"

Two Wraith hives had headed toward that planet after the signal had been out for half a day. And Zelenka said the beacon's range had been shortened? Who knew how many hive ships would have come if that damned thing had broadcast its signal to the full extent of his range. A couple of systems? Half the galaxy? Those rogue Genii were playing with fire.

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Radek let out a grim sigh at Sheppard's prolonged silence. "Yes, and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

The colonel's team and the Daedalus had barely escaped the encounter. Since then, all the people in Atlantis were on edge, and the order to halt the rescue mission weighted heavily on their minds. Half of his team was working around the clock repairing the Daedalus, and others–along with Doctor Miko–were still trying to filter the list of planets they had extracted from the two DHDs in order to find the Genii base. Despite his terrible attitude, Rodney was his friend, and Radek had become a sort of a mentor and a friend to Dean as well. He wasn't ready to abandon them. Radek was determined to find every possible clue from that beacon in order to find Rodney and Dean.

He and Sheppard arrived in the control room where the technicians were working, monitoring the status of Atlantis and the scheduled returns from the off-world teams. The two of them stopped there while they were talking.

"Did you recognize the frequencies the Wraith were tracking? Can we use it to track their movements?"

"The beacon was too damaged to know the exact frequency… although we can… narrow it… down." Something had caught Radek's attention. A small warning light was beeping on one of the sub panel controls, and it bugged him. A sudden thought came to his mind, and he rushed to the console, shoving the oblivious technician away.

Sheppard raised an eyebrow at the sudden action. "Gee, Doc… aren't you channeling too much of McKay's behavior?"

Radek didn't dignify that with a comeback. If he was right, Rodney would likely have his head on a plate for not checking it sooner.

Typing furiously on the computer attached to the mainframe, Radek tried to boost the transceiver range in order to triangulate the source of the signal. He was sure now: that warning light belonged to one of the sub-communication systems, likely what Atlantis used to monitor the sub-space frequencies. That was one of the many redundant systems in Atlantis's mainframe, it was easy to forget about it since most of the time it recorded only basic noise from outer space. Lucky for them, it had also a recording device built in to analyze the noises and find patterns.

While he was typing, Sheppard came closer. "Zelenka, what's wrong?"

Radek was pulling constellations charts on the monitor, and was tracing the signal back. He didn't know how long the signal had been transmitting its location, but he could tell at a glance that the signal was already gone. He shot a wild look at the colonel–at least they had a trace to follow now.

"Colonel, it's him!" he pointed at a group of planets on his monitor. "Rodney must have found a way to send a signal, I narrowed down the area…but the signal was too weak to pinpoint the right planet."

Sheppard took a look at the monitor. Several planets with a Stargate were displayed on it. Their research was narrowed to fifty planets instead of hundreds. "How do you know it's his work?"

Radek understood why Sheppard wanted to be sure. They had barely escaped a trap; he didn't want to run into another. The colonel needed solid proof. "The Wraith beacon was using the same kind of sub-space frequencies, but Rodney knows the frequencies Atlantis is monitoring. We had a discussion of the utility of those background activities less than a month before the team went missing. He wanted to shut down useless programs to save some of the ZPM's energy."

Sheppard returned his attention to the small dots on the monitor. "Do we know any of these planets?"

More typing, and some of the dots disappeared from the screen. "I removed from the list the inhospitable planets from the Ancient database and the one we already searched."

Thirty planets were left on the list.

Sheppard smiled. "Good work, Doc!" he crowed, then he ran toward Elizabeth's office.

Radek threw a reproachful look at the technician he had shoved away from the console. The man excused himself and left the room. The other technicians around him quietly tried to not cross his stare. For a moment he felt like he could understand Rodney's abrasive behavior toward them, and his lack of faith in anyone other than himself. Radek let out a Czech curse under his breath. He had almost missed Rodney's clever distress signal.

He double-checked his analysis, just to be sure. He needed to print out all the coordinates and calculate which planet was likely to be the Genii's hideout, but he was glad. They finally had a solid lead to bring their friends back home.

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Fragments of memories were haunting his dream. "Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don't look back! NOW, DEAN, GO!"

A fire, someone screaming, a training course in a Genii compound, people running away from several Wraith soldiers, himself stripped on a chair and screaming, a man giving him the order to shoot something in a suburban house with flickering lights, people with farm clothes in a meeting with the Athosians, a corridor in a huge city in the middle of the ocean, the explosion of a bomb, blood and headless bodies on the ground, a child crying.

Dean woke up, startled by the intense pain in his head.

He was on a bed. Bandages covered half of his torso, his right arm and his head. He swung his legs over and sat up as his eyes scanned the room. He had been in a medical lab for God knew how many days, and this was an adjacent room with a more comfortable bed, two chairs and a small desk. The setting was so much like the other that it seemed he hadn't moved at all. It took him several minutes to even recall who he was.

"Captain, how are you doing today?"

His head jerked up toward the familiar voice that distracted him from his thoughts. A sigh escaped his lips and he got up to greet his superior. The man in the white coat approached with his head titled to one side.

The bomb. He was Dean Winchester, soldier of the Genii Army. He had been told by his doctor at least a couple of times that he had survived the explosion of a grenade meant to kill his entire squad.

"I'm fine, sir." It wasn't entirely true. There were holes in his memory, he felt a bit off, and most of times he had headaches. Still it was better than nothing: according to Doctor Alastair, his men were all dead.

Only some details were crystal clear in his head, and those gave him a fair guess of what his life had been up until the explosion: he was a soldier and he had fought his entire life. The rest didn't seem to matter, it was all blurred together.

The doctor watched him with a serious expression. "Captain Winchester, you had a severe head injury; however, the pain will subside in time. Your amnesia is a mechanism of the mind to protect itself. It's entirely possible you'll never remember your past, but I don't think it will affect your future as soldier."

"Yes, sir." His expression remained composed. Another thing he knew was that he didn't like hospitals; the sooner the doctor would clear him, the better he would be.

Alastair sat down on a chair and he did the same. The doctor took a syringe from a small pocket and injected its contents into Dean's arm. It was his daily dose of treatments and he didn't question it. According to Alastair, it was a drug meant to speed up his recovery.

The doctor gripped his shoulder. "Listen to my words."

The words echoed in Dean's head as the drugs took over.

"You are Dean Winchester, Captain of the Genii Army, and you're working for Commander Kolya; that's all you need to know."

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Dean's behavior changed: his body slowly relaxed, and his eyes became absent like he was in trance.

Alastair smiled: the conditioning was working just fine. He had been able to make the Atlantean particularly susceptible to everything he said, but some key-words were necessary to impress his orders. With those phrases planted in his subconscious, Alastair could easily make him believe whatever he wanted. If he told Dean to kill someone, the Atlantean would do it without hesitation.

"You have to follow my orders."

"Yes, sir."

"You are about to meet Commander Kolya. Follow his commands until I say otherwise. Don't disappoint me."

"Yes, sir." Dean sat there, listening without moving. The perfect toy.

It was almost too good to be true… the programming was doing an excellent job.

Alastair stood up, nodding in appreciation of his work. "You'll report to me at the end of each day, and unless ordered by me or Kolya, you'll stay here and wait for your next dose."

"Yes, sir."

He needed to keep drugging him to suppress his memories and to keep him in check, but it was a small price to pay for the success of the experiment. Also, the prolonged isolation was helping to reinforce his grip on Dean's mind.

The programming could be repeated, but Alastair would have to wait and let Dean's neural patterns to stabilize before messing with his head again. He had theorized that with a series of his procedures, the neural blocks could become permanent and the subject would be unable to refuse his orders or access his old memories. Better yet, he would willingly do as he was told, believing it was his own choice. He was thrilled by the idea of experimenting on Dean again: his resilience had been impressive, and the pain he could endure was astonishing. Alastair enjoyed every minute the young man fought back.

However, for now, he had to make sure his toy wouldn't break before he had another chance to mess with his mind. "Tell me once again: who are you, and what are your orders."

Dean followed his instructions perfectly. "I'm Captain Dean Winchester of the Genii Army. I have to follow your orders, sir."

Alastair had asked Kolya to craft a Genii identity for him. In order to keep his mind sane, he had to give him a new fake persona. The rank of captain was just a twisted joke from Kolya, based on a fake name the young man had given them under torture. With time and more treatments, the illusions and the lies mixed with some truths would imprint over his past memories. "Good. What about Atlantis?"

A brief frown appeared on Dean's face, it was like he was trying to find the right answer. "I served there for an undercover mission. They're the enemy. I was reporting back the information obtained when I was ambushed by the Atlantis' people. They set a bomb to wipe out my squad."

Alastair had been scrupulous with certain details of his new identity. Truths and lies together were the keys to make it believable. "Good. Remember, that is what you need to know, you don't need anything else."

"Yes, sir." Dean stood there for a while, awaiting further orders. The Genii repeated several times who he was and what was expected from him. Then he drugged Dean again. He ordered him to sit on the bed, and in a matter of seconds the drug took effect and he collapsed like a doll without strings, his body going rapidly limp. Alastair's lips twitched in a tight smile at the sight. It took him weeks to finally have him in this state. Despite the defiance he showed in the beginning, Dean Winchester was now his personal puppet.

After Kolya had once again refused his request to lend him McKay for his experiments, Alastair had decided to keep Winchester as his own pet and gave him specific orders. Kolya was unaware of how little control he really would have on his experiment. When Kolya's usefulness expired, too, the doctor planned to leave, taking the Atlantean with him.

Alastair took Dean's jaw in his hands and turned his face so their eyes would meet. "The people you loved are dead, the people from Atlantis are your enemy. Be a good soldier and do as I say, is that understood, soldier? You only have to listen to my voice."

Dean responded with a monotone "Yes, sir."

Pleased by his response, Alastair left him like that and went out of the room.

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When Dean woke up, several hours later, the headache was just a dull pain and there was a uniform on his bed. The thick green uniform with brown stripes felt strange on him. He tried a couple of times to move in it but, despite being the right size, he felt a little uncomfortable. Instinctively, his hand went to his neck to loosen the knot of a tie that wasn't there. Strange. He probably had spent too much time in disguise, and that was why the polished uniform felt out of place on him.

When the door of the room opened, Dean straightened himself in a military stance. The man who walked in with Doctor Alastair was imposing and Dean's instincts told him to beware of him. They studied him in his uniform like they were appreciating the sight.

"Captain Winchester, glad to see you up. Any headaches?"

"No, sir." Dean failed to see Alastair's smile as he observed the other man in the room.

He was a soldier, that was plainly evident from his appearance. He was older than the doctor, and his eyes were gazing through him like he was dissecting him.

"Do you know who I am?" The authoritative voice coming from the older soldier sent chills up his spine.

Dean straightened his stance in response. "No, sir."

In an instant, the man grabbed his neck and pushed him up against the wall. The pain in his head was nothing compared to the pressure on his neck. It took him a second longer to mentally curse his pathetic attempt to avoid the attack.

"I'm Commander Kolya, and you are one of my soldiers. I can do what I want with you. Do you have something to say, Captain?"

Don't fucking choke me, sir? Dean didn't say it out aloud. Even if he didn't remember much, he knew that disrespect wasn't tolerated. He was trying to understand why the commander was suffocating him and didn't catch the mocking tone in Kolya's words. His body instinctively tried to free himself, but he wasn't in a position to do anything. With simple moves Kolya had been able to pin him to the wall, and the pressure on his neck was making it hard to utter a word. "…N…No...S…Sir."

The lack of oxygen was starting to hit him as black dots were appearing in his vision. He couldn't think, the pain was overwhelming. The memory of a similar event flashed in his mind. He was bruised, held by chains and Kolya was towering over him, his hand on his mouth cutting off his air supply. Apparently, the commander had already tried to suffocate him in another occasion.

"Commander!" Alastair's voice had a warning note in his tone.

Deception? Defiance? Rage? Whatever Kolya was searching for in his eyes, he didn't find it and let him go.

Dean bent over to regain a little of self-control, but it was hard: his entire body was shaking, and he was panting like there wasn't enough oxygen in the whole room. It wasn't just the sudden action that left him like that, but the fact that he'd already had the same treatment. He remembered it. Did that happen before he was sent to infiltrate Atlantis? Was it part of his training to resist interrogations?

"Take deep breaths and stand up straight. The commander didn't say you could be at ease."

He followed Alastair's orders, and stood upright facing once again the commander. Whatever that was, he had to show them he could handle himself. He straightened to rigid attention.

Kolya, for his part, gave a satisfied smile. "I don't like failures, Captain. I hope you'll remember that."

"..Y...Yes, sir." His voice sounded rough, even to his ears.

A warning? To not mess up…. Again?

"Then follow me, you've spent enough time fiddling around. I want to see what you can do."

Dean dutifully obeyed. Kolya took him to a training room where several other soldiers were sparring. The soldiers, the fighting… It was like some kind of déjà vu. It felt right, like he belonged there, and that was enough to let him release a bit of his tension. The commander pushed him onto a mat, and let him spar with some guys. He had to be out of shape, or else they were really good, because he only took out one guy before the other four punched and kicked him to the floor. His muscles were screaming in pain and he had a few more bruises as the commander told them to spar again and again. Each time he was able to take only one or two guys before the others were able to pin him down.

For several days the commander kept training with him. Hand to hand combat, shooting, training with rods. It was an intensive program. Aside from that, Dean had been ordered to memorize some reports.

Judging by the folders on his desk, he had a lot to catch up on.

He had read about the first meeting with the people from Atlantis, their vast knowledge of the Ancestors and how they had accidentally woken up all the Wraith in the galaxy. Along with other files, he had also learned of the attempted invasion of Atlantis, and how the enemy had been so merciless in killing their people. Major Sheppard had been responsible for killing many of his fellow soldiers. Apparently, he had been on stand-by on their home planet and it was sheer luck he didn't die on that mission, too. According to Kolya, Sheppard was a formidable adversary and was an enemy to kill on sight.

While reading, Dean realized he already knew about some of those events. It wasn't a proper memory, he just knew those facts, but some of the details felt a bit off. He couldn't quite tell what it was–probably the combination of his head injury and his work undercover.

Those files, the training and some of his fragmented memories told him he was good at fighting and killing his enemies. That was probably the reason he had been selected for the infiltration of Atlantis in a solo mission. In the last report was stated that he had been able to blend in with a group of Athosians, that he was working his way up the ranks and sharing updates with his unit on a merchant planet. Then he had been discovered, and the Atlanteans had tried to blow him up along with his comrades. The details of the mission report were sketchy at best, but it was better than nothing. Some of the things he remembered finally seemed in order.

The training with Kolya, and his daily treatments with Doctor Alastair, became a steady routine. Day after day the sense of belonging increased, his performance under training improved, and the need to follow their orders felt natural to him.

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Kolya watched the matches with speculative eyes. Winchester wasn't bad and, for now, what the eccentric scientist had promised seemed good. Still, Kolya was very cautious: he didn't trust Alastair, and he had very little faith in his experiments. For all he knew, the Atlantean could end up like the other mad subject and shoot himself in the head. Or he could be faking and waiting for an opportunity to escape.

However, when he had choked him, Winchester hadn't reacted like the man he had tortured in the beginning. He hadn't resisted or defied him with his foul mouth, and–knowing the type of man he was–Kolya was sure Dean Winchester could hardly hide such temperament.

In one of their training sessions, the commander approached the young man on the floor. Winchester had an eye closed, a broken lip and held his arm around his chest. He looked just like Idos after one of their intensive workouts.

Kolya took two long rods in his hands and gave one to Winchester. "I think you need more training, Captain. Sheppard would kill you at the slightest hesitation. You need to be ready."

"Yessir." Winchester's reply satisfied him, and they started to spar together.

Several scenarios ran through Kolya's mind, each idea better than the previous one. His revenge on Sheppard would be ten times sweeter if he taught Winchester how to kill his former leader.

Chapter Text

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Lost in the Noise

After explaining what Zelenka had found, Sheppard discussed it with Elizabeth, Lorne and Colonel Caldwell for hours, trying to hammer out a strategy for searching thirty different planets as quickly as possible. Zelenka joined them after analyzing all the data from the sub-space signal.

It was a small list compared to the previous one; however mounting such a mission would still be no joke. Some of the planets in the same system were so far from each other that, given the current conditions of the Daedalus, she would need at least three days to travel the distance in order to provide cover for the team on the ground.

"Colonel Sheppard, even if we pushed the Daedalus to her max, we still need two and half days."

"Couldn't Hermiod do something?"

"You can try to talk to him, but it's pointless."

Sheppard was about to retort something when Elizabeth intervened. "Colonel, that's enough. You know as well as I do, Hermiod is on the Daedalus only to operate the Asgard technology. We can't break our agreement with his people."

Elizabeth was right. As much as he wanted to do something, his rush would only making things worse. "How about we send all our jumpers out?"

"That is impossible, Colonel," Zelenka said, troubled. " We have three jumpers in the bay waiting for repairs, and not enough to go to all those planets at once."

Back in his lab, Zelenka had already complained that he was late with the repairs. According to the scientist, he had been so focused on the analysis of the coordinates from the two DHDs, he'd had to put the rest of his work on hold. Then came the Daedalus, and most of the engineers had been diverted to repairing the ship while the jumpers were left unattended. The retrieval of a damaged jumper left on Camlea was also very low on the list of the off-world missions.

Sheppard sighed. It wasn't Zelenka's fault–they were all worried about their friends.

"Sheppard, I cannot risk the lives of all the men you're asking for. The IOA and the Stargate Command wouldn't approve such a mission." Elizabeth looked pained, but still she was resolute. "Leaving aside the rogue Genii, the chances of encountering the Wraith are too high. This plan is too risky. "

Sheppard took a moment to think and analyze their options. He studied the dots on the map that marked the possible location of the Genii hideout. Some planets were near each other, and only ten of them were actually in the outskirts of the system.

"How about we send a cloaked jumper on the inner planets and the Daedalus to the distant ones?" he suggested. "If the Daedalus doesn't find anything, we'll divide the remaining planets by sectors and scan each one of them in the same way until we find where they're hiding. It would keep us fairly safe, and we wouldn't be detected, right?"

"The jumper could pass unnoticed if we cloaked it right after the flight through the Stargate…" Zelenka mused, staring at the map.

"The Daedalus can scan those planets for Doctor McKay's subcutaneous locator and the presence of any energy readings. However, if they are underground, it could be impossible to find them from space," Caldwell clarified. "If there is something worth of checking out, we could send a team down to investigate. It will take time, but the Daedalus has a better chance of escaping than any jumper if there are Wraith ships in those systems."

"Seems like a good plan, sir," added Major Lorne.

Elizabeth had a firm look in her eyes and nodded to Sheppard. "All right. Colonel Sheppard, prepare a team. Colonel Caldwell, let me know when the Daedalus is ready to go. Let's find them and bring them home. I'll inform Teyla and Ronon; their next check-in is in forty-two hours."

They finally had a solid strategy.

Both he and Caldwell replied with a "Yes, ma'am."

It was entirely possible the Genii would catch on to their plan and set up another trap, or just flee. Yet, at this point, all of them knew it was the only plan they had that could actually work.

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The hard ground beneath him was the first thing he noticed while he woke up. His head was killing him, and his back, too, since he had been dumped on the floor. Also, the faint light, the smell, and the bars told him that he was once again in his cell. Rodney's eyes widened in shock.

He was alive.

Last thing he knew, he was in the lab and…Kolya had shot him!

The surprise at his predicament lasted only few seconds, and Rodney tested himself to assure he was fine. Apparently, the Genii had shot him with a stunner, though it had all happened so fast, he hadn't caught sight of the weapon at the time. That psycho had almost given him a heart attack!

However, his situation wasn't so good. He was still in his cell, held captive by the Genii, and there was no rescue team on the horizon. Rodney turned around at the sound of footsteps down the corridor.

"Doctor McKay, you're finally awake."

"You! Son of–"

He must have hung out too much with Dean if he was picking his curses. But that was not why he stopped himself mid-sentence. One of the Genii scientists–the one with a face like a reindeer–had an Ancient data-pad in his hands. He entered the cell while a soldier aimed a gun at Rodney.

Definitely not good.

How did Reindeer-face obtain my data-pad?

Just by looking at it, he could tell it was from Atlantis: on one side it had a slight modification for interfacing with Earth technology, same as the one that Rodney had done on his personal data-pad. It was possible they had retrieved it when they had kidnapped them on that horrible planet, but he couldn't believe his own eyes. They had the guts to let him work on the Wraith device for weeks with outdated computers, while they had that thing in store.

Who was the genius that hadn't handed him his data-pad?

On a second thought, Rodney was grateful they hadn't. His plan had been to stall the decoding for as long as possible, and with the Ancient device he was sure their work would have been done in half the time and his efforts to slow it down would have been too obvious.

"Activate this device, Doctor."

"Go to hell, Norpig."

The Genii pushed him toward the bars of his cell, his face hitting the metal hard. The pressure of a knife in his back made Rodney swallow any more comebacks.

"It's Norling, Doctor Norling. Just so you know, I'm allowed to torture you until you cooperate."

"Like you would dare, Norpig–" The Genii didn't let him finish his phrase. He punched and kicked him a couple of times until McKay's cries satisfied his rage, then he left the cell. The guard left him where he was and went out, too.

Rodney couldn't move for the pain, and cursed his mouth for his stupidity. Borrowing ideas from Sheppard or Winchester hadn't been a smart way to stall the enemy. He should have known that. He needed to find a way out of this predicament or he would end up working for them forever.

Right now, however, he just needed to breathe and find a way to ease the pain. As he was thinking, he fell asleep on the ground for hours.

When they returned again, a day had passed. The man with a smug expression entered the cell like he owned the place. Again, he had the data-pad and a guard with him.

"What's your answer today?"

"Bite me, Norling."

"Very well. Let's see how long you can remain defiant without food, Doctor. I think we'll see how tough you are in a couple of days."

Truth to his word the Genii scientist left and no meal was handed to him.

At first, he paced in his cell trying to find a way out. The only weapon he and Dean had had in the cell had been lost after their attempt to escape. Then when he realized they were serious with their threat about the food, Rodney tried his best to preserve his strength. He wasn't a soldier, and after almost two days without food, he began to shout to his captors. When Norling came to his cell, he had a tray of food with him. Rodney gulped as the Genii placed it near his foot.

"Come on, McKay, we both know I'm the lesser evil here. I could call some soldiers and let them torture you in ten other ways, and you'll crack under them in a day. But then, I can't promise you'll have all your fingers with you."

Rodney took the food and began to eat.

"Or maybe I'll take you to Doctor Alastair. I heard he has a gift for changing others' minds with his drugs."

"What!?" Rodney stopped eating and looked the other scientist in the eyes. The name he had just heard was of that psycho who had taken Dean away. Apparently, this Alastair was the kind of mad scientist who worked with drugs–that would certainly explain Dean's erratic behavior.

Norling was hinting something, but Rodney had no idea what he really meant.

He figured that Dean had started to talk about Atlantis. It was honestly surprising that he had kept the information to himself for so long. Even if he wasn't part of the program from the beginning, he knew too much about the Ancient city and their military power. Sooner or later, the only thing they would need from Rodney that Dean didn't have were his access codes.

He trembled a little at the mere thought of another invasion, but he knew without a doubt that Elizabeth and Sheppard would have changed all his passwords by now in order to protect Atlantis.

Norling must have seen his trembling as a sign of fear, and kept talking. "Ohh, you know him. I heard he wanted to play with you, too. I wonder how many days would take him to break you. Your friend, apparently, lasted for weeks."

Rodney was sure: Alastair had to be a professional torturer.

Norling came closer, hoping to scare him a little more. "You should know by now that Commander Kolya isn't a patient man. If I fail, he may be willing to give Alastair a piece of you. If you do as I say, I may be able to let you see your teammate."

"What do you want?"

A triumphant smile appeared on the Genii scientist's face. "Activate the device and help me understand this technology. I take it this is your personal data-pad, right? I bet you have some pretty useful information on Atlantis in there."

Rodney closed his eyes. It was exactly what he feared: Kolya wanted the Ancient data-pad to acquire new information on Atlantis and gain more power. It would have been better if the grenade had destroyed it. It was like with the Wraith device all over again.

The only thing different was that at least he and Dean were the only ones that could activate it, and the knowledge in it was way more important than some log book from the old war with the Ancients.

A small detail halted his line of thought. Kolya and his men couldn't operate it without the ATA gene. If he agreed to activate it and help the Genii scientist, there was a small chance he could use it to his own purpose. If the beacon hadn't worked the data-pad was their best chance of saving themselves. Also, he could create a virus to delete all the information he would share, so the Genii would be left with nothing in their hands even if they killed him.

He nodded, unable to form words.

They had a lot of control over them just by keeping the two of them separate. No way to form a synchronized plan, no way to communicate and share their knowledge, nothing. Even if he was able to dispose of the scientist and the guard by himself and then escape, which he couldn't, Rodney couldn't leave his teammate in the enemy's hands. He had to come up with a plan to find a safe route to the surface and Dean's location.

Doctor Norling took him to the lab and gave him his data-pad. The guard was with them with his gun ready.

He sighed. There was work to do, and another escape plan to plot. Rodney hated his life.

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Kolya summoned Lieutenant Dalca to his office. When he arrived, Kolya was giving orders to their newest recruit. The composed look of the soldier near him made him smile. After Winchester had left the room, Dalca seemed unable to keep his thoughts to himself. "Doctor Death really did a splendid job on him….Captain Winchester seems to be a perfect example of a Genii soldier."

"I want you to watch Captain Winchester, Lieutenant. I'm assigning him to patrol duty on the surface. Report all his actions; if there is something wrong, stun him and take him back."

His subordinate shot back a sly look. "Are you expecting problems, Commander?"

"That vicious doctor assured me he is stabilizing, and the new memories are making the captain's story more solid."

"Then…"

"Alastair wants to see what kind of reactions Winchester has with different kind of tasks. It could trigger something in him. Or so he says."

Dalca raised an eyebrow. "Do you think he'll try to betray you, sir?"

"Not for now, but I don't trust him. He is just another means to an end."

"Should I watch Doctor Death, too?"

"Yes, but be discreet. Also, we don't have much time: the Atlanteans are too quiet this days. Even their hounds are not looking for the prisoners anymore. I think Sheppard is up to something."

"Understood. I'll be going, then."

The lieutenant left, and Kolya read the reports on his desk. A couple of his spies had spotted Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan on two of their back-up planets while they were poking around. The spies had fired at them, but there was no sign of Sheppard.

Perhaps the Atlanteans had really given up on their people and Teyla and Ronon were on their own, or Sheppard had decided to cut their losses and sent just the two of them on a scouting mission. It was unfortunate his spies weren't able to kill them.

However, the last report he received on the duo was different: they had arrived through the Stargate on his former hideout but left, after meeting with a man from Atlantis, without even inspecting the area.

Kolya had the distinct feeling they were closing on him, but he didn't mind. He and his men were ready to leave the planet. The preparations were already in motion.

As he finished analyzing his future plans, he instructed a team to set bombs all over the base.

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It had been a long week and Sheppard was flying the cloaked jumper over the twelfth planet on their list. Ronon, Teyla and Lorne were aboard, along with three others. Lieutenants Kemp and Cadman had asked to join the rescue team: the first claiming it was his responsibility to watch out for a member of his own team, while Cadman wanted to pay back a favor to Rodney. Doctor Beckett had volunteered, too, claiming that if Rodney or Dean were injured he wanted to help them on the spot.

From his last conversation with Elizabeth, Sheppard knew the Daedalus hadn't found them, and they had only four planets left on their list. They were slowly closing in.

"Sir, there is something here. Multiple heat signals in the woods near the Stargate, and a small energy source three clicks south of our position."

Sheppard looked at the dots blinking on the screen.

Lorne typed something on the console, and another dot appeared. "I have a weak signal. The scanners can't pinpoint McKay's locator, but the signal is coming from there."

"Good job, Major." Sheppard flew the jumper over their target, and made another scan before moving to a plain nearby.

From the sky, there was nothing that seemed unusual on the surface, but Sheppard and Lorne and seen enough Genii compounds to know better. The signal showed a weak heat signature hidden near a small mountain; moving closer, the scan identified it as a geothermic reactor, barely working. It could have been something not related to the Genii, but it wouldn't be the first time the Genii had stolen and re-used alien technology, so they had to investigate. For all they knew, this planet could be the hideout they were looking for.

"Ok, listen up, kids! The facility has to be underground. If so, there are at least two entrances: one on the west side and the other on the north-east. One of them is usually pointing toward the Stargate. Judging by the data, if they use that power source, we're close to the second entrance."

Sheppard looked sternly at each one of them. "We'll split up into teams. Carson, stay in the jumper. Lieutenant Kemp, fly the jumper to the Stargate, and if you see the enemies, hit them. Keep your distance and be ready–you two are our only ride home." Sheppard moved his hand on the map on the screen. "Ronon and Cadman, you'll be the decoy. You'll ambush any soldiers in the forest and try to divert their attention from the base. Teyla, you and me will go in with Lorne. If this is their hideout, once inside, we'll split up to cover more ground. Let's go."

The lieutenants and the major promptly responded with a "Yes, sir" while Ronon and Teyla just nodded in response. Carson wanted to go too, but Sheppard had made it clear he had to stay in the jumper. He wasn't a soldier after all.

They swiftly acted according to his plan.

The jumper flew towards the Stargate, while Ronon and Cadman quickly disappeared into the forest. The three of them instead checked their surroundings. After the first loud explosion a couple of Genii soldiers emerged from a shaft nearby and ran toward the forest.

Sheppard, Teyla and Lorne went in. It was a cramped, stale tunnel that lead into the underground compound; they moved quietly, guns pointed and ready. An alarm went off and three guards appeared in the corridor; the gunfight ended swiftly and the three of them advanced without a scratch.

After few more steps, they found another set of stairs leading to another sublevel, and descended it. Few guards were in the tunnels, and they advanced without problems. At a crossroad, Teyla and Lorne moved down on the tunnel on the left while Sheppard went to the right.

"Don't take unnecessary risks." He ordered. "Contact me if you find them, and fall back to the surface as soon as possible."

Teyla shot him a curious frown while Lorne acknowledge his command.

Sheppard gritted his teeth as they split in the two corridors: the alarm, the small group of soldiers in the tunnels, the empty rooms. He had seen the signs. The Genii had been planning to leave their hideout long before they had rushed in.

The clock was ticking, and their chances of finding Rodney and Dean alive were slowly decreasing.

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His fingers were typing swiftly on the Ancient device. Working on a virus to wipe all the data without being discovered was difficult enough; adding a noisy alarm on top of that wasn't helping.

Although Rodney had to admit, in a sense, it was.

The Genii scientist and the guard near the door weren't paying attention to him, and he had easily connected the device to the computers in the lab. He was just one step away from wiping out all the information they archived through him.

Also, the alarm meant intruders, and Rodney would bet all his secret stash of chocolate bars that Sheppard was the unexpected guest. Finally, a team full of marines were storming the place. Maybe not just one, but three teams of big bad marines–and Sheppard–were already beating the crap out of Kolya and his stupid soldiers.

"What are you doing? Get away from that station! Stop right there!" Norling had a murderous glare in his eyes and was approaching fast.

Rodney had to launch the virus before the Genii could stop him. He pressed another couple of controls on the device before a hand grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.

The program, however, was already running: the deleting process was in the background and only a small bar showed its progress. All the decoding of the past weeks was slowly being destroyed, but the Genii scientist was too enraged to notice it.

Norling slammed his face on the tabletop a couple of times, and pinned him in an awkward position. The gun was resting on Rodney's chin while he screamed from the pain on his arm. "I said stop. What were you doing? Perhaps I need to break your fingers to make you listen, uhm?"

The question went unanswered, because Sheppard kicked down the door and burst into the room. Two shot in the chest of the guard and two in the back of the man holding Rodney were enough to silence the room. Sheppard moved past the bodies and ran to his aid.

"Rodney! Are you all right? What did you do to make them beat you like that?"

Maybe it was the hit on his head, but Rodney was slightly confused when he saw two Sheppards crouching near him. Ugh…like one Sheppard wasn't enough to make his life miserable with his stupid questions. "Sheppard? What…kind of stupid question….ah…My head…Why…"

"We came to rescue you and Dean, Rodney."

Rodney shot an incredulous look at him, his vision clearing until there was only one Sheppard crouching over him.

"Just…you? Where…where are the teams of marines?" His words were slurred but nonetheless grumpy.

Sheppard tried to check his head wound. "You're not hurt bad, it's just bleeding a lot. Hang on." He took a bandage out of one of the pockets in his tactical vest and dressed the wound in order to stop the bleeding.

"How would…you k..know…you're not Carson…Did you get a medical degree while we were kidnapped?"

Sheppard rolled his eyes. "No, Rodney. But I have first-aid experience." He then moved on to a sitrep. "Teyla and Lorne are inside the facility; Cadman and Ronon are on the surface fighting the enemy. Kemp and Carson are flying the jumper around." Sheppard removed the guns from the two dead bodies.

"You mean… you only took six people with you to save me and Dean? Have you gone insane!?"

He patted Rodney's shoulder with a smile on his face. "I missed you too, Rodney." Sheppard helped him to his feet and gave him a gun. Rodney took it resentfully.

"Do you know where they're holding Dean?"

"No, but you can always ask Kolya. I'm sure the psycho knows where the torture chamber is."

Sheppard was clearly surprised by his words. "Kolya?! Is Kolya behind all this?"

"What? You didn't know? Of course that bastard is behind it…what were you doing while we were missing? Twiddling your thumbs?"

Sheppard had a grim look on his face. "Rodney, tell me what you know. Now."

Rodney puffed a little, then he told Sheppard what he knew.

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Teyla and Lorne searched each room, silently advancing into the deepest part of the facility. They saw the empty prison cells, a room full of torture instruments, a training room and a laboratory.

They heard on the radio that McKay was safe and Kolya was behind their kidnapping; however, there was no trace of Dean.

Then, everything happened in a blink of an eye. A moment of distraction while searching was all it took for a Genii with a medical coat to jump Teyla from behind. He held her in front of him as a human shield and held a dangerous knife to her neck.

Lorne was aiming his gun at the enemy, but he didn't have a clear shot.

"You must be Teyla. I heard so many things from Kolya, I'll admit I'm quite intrigued. The Atlanteans seem a feisty bunch, but I never had the pleasure to work on an Athosian."

"Drop your weapon." Lorne had a steady posture and was waiting for the right opportunity to shoot.

Teyla tried to escape from his hold, but the Genii had a firm grasp on her. "Oh, I don't think so. She'll be my…insurance to get out. We don't won't her blood to paint these walls, right?"

Lorne didn't answer.

"Well, I think Dean was much more fun to toy with but…. who knows, maybe it was just his charming personality. He was very good at cursing and… screaming…"

Teyla tensed at those words. She wanted to punch the man and hurt him very badly. However, she was in no position to do so, and their priority was their teammate. The way the Genii casually dropped his name hinted that he had to know where Dean was.

"Where is Dean? If you tell us where he is, we will let you go."

The man gave her a malicious smile. Teyla had the distinct feeling they had fallen right into his trap.

"Ohh, so you want to find your former teammate, uhm? Pity he isn't here right now, it would have been a moving encounter."

He slowly dragged Teyla toward the exit, making it hard for Lorne to hit him. "You can't escape. Surrender, and we'll let you live."

A different alarm's sound resonated through the facility. The Genii tilted his head to listen, then he laughed. "Do you have the time to chase me down? Kolya has set bombs all over the place. They could explode any minute."

"You're bluffing. Why would he destroy his hideout?" Lorne's disbelief was evident.

Teyla too wasn't convinced. It could be one of their tricks.

"Why? To kill you, of course. I bet he waited until he heard reports of Sheppard in the tunnel. He might want to bury him alive. A classic, I'll admit, but not what I would do with such a fine specimen."

"Where is Dean? Answer me or you will die with us!" Teyla tried to struggle again.

He moved his mouth near her ear like he was whispering a secret. "I think he is on the surface by now. If you don't hurry, you might miss him."

Both Teyla and Lorne were so distracted by his words and the knife, that they didn't see the small vial in his hand until it was too late.

The moment the vial hit the ground, a small explosion went off. The Genii pushed Teyla toward Lorne and escaped the room. The smoke blinded them, but Lorne was able to fire at his fleeing figure. Teyla wasn't sure if he was able to hit the Genii. When they rushed into the main tunnel, there was no one. The man had disappeared into thin air.

"Are you okay, Teyla?"

"Yes, Major. We need to tell Sheppard about the bombs."

At first, they didn't believe the vicious Genii, but as they ran through the tunnels they spotted several bombs planted all over the place. Teyla and Lorne checked the entire floor without finding Dean or any other soldiers. The two of them regrouped with Shepard and Rodney. They hurried to the closest exit and left the underground facility.

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Alastair left his hideout and moved toward another hidden exit. It lead to a forest far in the east, and the passage he used wasn't well-known. The Atlantean had been able to hit him in the arm, and what was worse, due to their sudden arrival in his lab he had left all his research behind. He had just a small diary with him, filled with notes and a couple of shots of his precious drugs.

He could start over; the damage to his research wasn't irreparable. With his notes, and the right equipment, he could work again on his experiments. He was just annoyed by the people that had been in his way.

Alastair had told them Dean's location in order to escape, but he mused to himself that maybe he had said too much. However, it didn't matter. His escape was the top priority. With his mind and his notes, he could start over whenever and wherever he wanted.

Nevertheless, he hated to waste good resources. Kolya's plan to bury them underground was just a waste of a perfectly good place, his equipment, and potential new test subjects.

While escaping, he thought about the way the Athosian had seemed so desperate to have information on Dean. Was she someone close to him? The encounter between the Atlantean and his old teammates would have been a very interesting test to watch.

Too bad he couldn't.

He stopped, thinking for a moment, then he took out his radio. "Captain, do you hear me?"

A voice promptly responded his call. "Yes, sir."

It was time to see how far his experiment had succeeded. "Listen to my voice, Dean. I want you to kill the enemy and come back to me. I'll be in the forest on the east side of the mountain." As an afterthought, he added, "If you're captured, you know what to do. Don't disappoint me."

"Yes, sir."

"And Captain? Remember… kill them all." Alastair ended the conversation and escaped the tunnel.