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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.