“I will shoot you if you don't let him go.”
“And risk hurting Doctor McKay?”
“I'm not aiming at him.”
The flames licked at Kolya's body, hair and clothing flitting away as embers, and his skin seemed to melt from his bones. Fat pooled in hot puddles before evaporating and leaving greasy marks on the stone.
John stared through his sunglasses at it.
It was disgusting and unnerving, watching a person be reduced to ashes from flesh and bone, but he refused to look away.
He refused to let Sora look away either. It seemed however that she wasn't traumatized by it—she'd crept close to the viewing window and was watching the whole process with something akin to maniacal glee—and John remembered Heightmeyer's warning that Kolya was a sociopath who'd preyed on anyone around him. John almost felt bad for the girl.
She'd still been a participant in Rodney's torture and Elizabeth's rape.
A noise rang out into the room, the timer, and Biro clicked down the heat until the unit was off. Heat billowed toward them when she opened the door, revealing the blazing red tiles and sending a stream of hot air into the vent.
As the ashes were scraped out into a dented tin box, John told the guards, “Take her back to the brig,” and Sora's face fell. He stopped his men with a hand, “Unless she wants to help throw his sorry remains into the ocean.”
The grin that touched his lips was toothy and almost cruel. “Might be hope for you yet.”
Her eyes lit with something that John thought could be hope. He resisted killing it—she could prove useful in the future and that meant John couldn't lock her up indefinitely, not if he wanted to sway her to their side—and watched her lock her eyes on Biro.
The tin was extended to John, who promptly spun on his heel and moved quickly toward the door that would lead them out on to the pier. A left turn, a right, a long corridor, he walked down them with his shoulders squared and the box swinging in one hand carelessly: Kolya hadn't had respect for the people of Atlantis and John would show him no respect in return, even after death.
The door opened to reveal the wide metal plates of the pier, water cresting a story down against the bulkheads. The waves crashed with a fervor that reminded John that they were only 24 hours out from Hurricane Agrippa, and the ocean around them had yet to fully calm. It's discord was mimicked on the faces of the group gathered at the tip of the pier.
Elizabeth was dressed in layers and Carson had two black eyes; Ford, Teyla, and Radek stood shivering as the wind blew hard against them.
Rodney held onto one of the railings with a fist, his knuckles milk white. Ronon stood sentinel next to him with an expression on his face that read somewhere between controlled fury and carnal hatred. John knew that was directed both at Sora and the tin box.
“Hey, buddy,” John murmured as he came close, a warning before he took Rodney's free hand in his own and kissed the fingertips extended toward him.
There was a swallow and then Rodney asked, “Where is he?”
John took that hand, sliding the box into it, then watching as Rodney felt every edge and dent, along the seams and the hinge. Rodney seemed to relax as he felt the slosh of the ashes within, the weight of them as he jiggled and bounced it.
“Almost rid of him forever.” John waited a moment to stroke along Rodney's arm, one finger drawing a line parallel to one of the wounds Kolya had made on his lover's body. He ached to kiss Rodney in reassurance, but Rodney wouldn't have allowed it.
Not right then, when the PTSD had its hold so tightly on Rodney's mind.
Rodney grunted in agreement though. He swiped at his face, stopped by Ronon's growled, “Don't,” and dropped the hand back to his side; he extended the box out, John taking it back.
“Let's end this,” Ford muttered.
John pulled his arm back and hurtled the box out over the water.
The lid flipped back as it crested and began to fall, white, dusty cremains sliding out. A half-melted wedding ring and a pair of dogtags made out of Genii-smelted steel followed, disappearing beneath the surf.
“You still need me if you want this city! You still need both of us!”
Rodney screamed them both awake, his lips bloodied where he'd bitten them to keep silent in the moments before the nightmare became a flashback. There were new crescents stabbed into his palms from his nails, and John turned the lights back down after memorizing the new damage.
He sighed as he stumbled into the bathroom to find the wound cream and a washcloth, dampening it with the saline Carson had supplied them with.
“I'm sorry,” Rodney said when he returned. “I'm sorry. I'm trying... I tried...”
John tempered the babble with a stroke to Rodney's cheek, murmuring, “You did more than try. You were brilliant, buddy. You did good.”
“They cut out your eyes.”
His blood boiled at the remembrance of Rodney's screams over the PA, broadcast just for John and Ronon to hear. He could still hear the squish of it as the knife had worked and Rodney's sobs, how he'd pleaded and begged and fought against the men who'd held him down on their conference room table.
No, John did not think Rodney had broken when he'd spilled the plan to Kolya: he'd been saving his fucking life and Elizabeth's too. He'd kept them both alive with fast talk once he'd recovered, or at least once the shock and the adrenaline had set in, and saved them both from being defenestrated
“Let's wash you up, okay?”
Rodney wasn't ready to let it go, however. “I should have been stronger. You wouldn't have...”
“Don't compare yourself to me. Or Ronon, or Elizabeth, or anyone else.” John wiped at the blood on Rodney's palms with the washcloth, but he kept his eyes on Rodney's face. “We all had different training, by life or the military, and we all resist in different ways. Except there is no resisting torture, not really. So don't take yourself down that path, sweetheart. Please don't.”
Whether Rodney was mulling those words or just didn't feel like being refuted further, John wasn't sure. He loathed the silence that fell and worked, instead, to clean up the blood, slicking the cream onto the marks. There was nothing to be done about Rodney's lips beyond swiping chapstick over them until there was a decent layer.
He coaxed Rodney to lay down once he'd set everything back in their places, pulling them flush with one arm, the other pillowed under Rodney's head. He could feel the way Rodney's breath began to even out, hitching here and there as he fought a losing battle against sleep.
Only once he had been still and quiet for several long minutes did John press a lingering kiss to Rodney's cheek before drifting off himself.
“Sheppard put you in this position, not me.”
The rumor had circled its way to Atlantis via their trading partners: Ladon Radim had survived the fall through the Stargate and was actively trying to capture an AR team. Posters were being sent to worlds far and wide with a reward set if someone managed to bring Radim John, dead or alive.
Also, Kiym told them, Radim had killed Cowen in a coup.
“He is the new leader of the Genii.”
Ronon growled ominously at that and John looked to the empty chair where Elizabeth was not, and then at Lorne whose grip on the table edge had to be edging into painful; other faces around the conference room table bore a look that bordered on rage.
John thanked the woman for her intel, ushering her to the VIP quarters before closing the doors and standing to look at each and every one of the people seated around him.
Atlantis' mood and tone had changed since Agrippa and the Genii. It was darker and more instinctual and protective, particularly of those that Pegasus was trying so hard to kill, and each of those present had sworn to see to it that the loose ends of the storm were neatly tied away.
They sat there, now, silent. Waiting.
Caldwell and two of his people, Lorne, Ford, Bates, Rutherford, Ronon, Teyla, eight of the men from their myriad of spec ops teams. Cadman. Zelenka. Beckett and Keller.
A grim smile, a touch manic-looking, formed on his lips. “Steven?”
And Caldwell nodded with his own feral expression lighting his eyes. Beside him, Marks and Meyers clenched their hands, offering bared teeth and a promise: for the damage he had done, Ladon Radim would pay with his life.
They dispersed after that, no further words necessary.
“You killed two of my men.”
“I guess we're even.”
“I don't like even.”
“Well, it won't be even for long—I'm not finished yet.”
For all their fear of being culled, the technologies they'd cultivated and the hopes they'd had to test atomic weapons, the Genii didn't have any idea how to react when faced with four elite special ops teams.
The first twelve men fell without a peep, John's knife slicking through the soft skin of their throats before they could get out a sound; Lorne and Roosevelt's team broke necks with brutal efficiency while Ford and Bates' team followed behind Sheppard and Sora's with guns poised, their boots printing bloody marks on the concrete.
Half the compound was dead when they were finally spotted and the alarm was raised, but like cowards, they ran rather than fight.
John relished the noise of gunshots and screams that followed, reveled in the fall of the bodies at his feet as he advanced. A few managed to make it to the escape shafts, but he didn't worry about them: Rutherford and Ronon had teams gathering any of those who tried to flee.
He stepped on and over corpses as he pushed forward, peering into every room until he found the one he'd wanted all along.
Sora gave a gleeful, bloody smile; the knife she'd been permitted had been licked clean, no longer wet with blood but saliva. “Ladon.”
Radim sneered and John's face screwed up as he leapt at the man. A chair and papers and other detritus went flying in the short scuffle while Sora and the rest of the team watched from the door, none daring to interfere as the two went down behind the desk with the distinct sound of bone snapping and splintering.
A shout rang out then a short desperate gurgle, and John rose up to his feet seconds later.
In his left hand, his tactical knife dripped blood and tissue onto the floor, and in his right, held by long hair, was the head of Ladon Radim.
“Take the body,” he ordered as he passed into the corridor; he re-sheathed his knife, exchanging it for his nine mil, and made his way toward the surface; obedient, his team dragged Radim's remains along by his ankles, scrunching their noses when the scent of urine and shit hit them.
It still bruised as it beat against the ladder rungs and was still warm when it was set before Ronon ceremonially. He snarled at it in response, listening to the Genii survivors cower together and gasp. The glare he gave them cowered them back in submission, women clutching children to their chests, and when he turned back, John could see those terrified eyes turn to him.
He tried to picture himself in that moment: his neatly tied and zippered uniform with a sheen of blood, the handle of his knife caked thickly, and the head that he had yet to let go of. If only the whole of Pegasus could see him right now...
There was satisfaction in the knowledge that it would be gossip among the planets soon enough. There would be fear and awe now when they arrived at the markets and on worlds and John closed his eyes to keep himself from smiling at that realization: Pegasus could easily be theirs if they understood how easily it could be conquered instead of allied.
He could already taste the favorable trade agreements, the foods and the drink and the weapons they could take into the arsenal.
The tide was about to change.
“Disagreements like ours will no longer matter.”
“Your arrogance is astounding. You and your people are not even from this galaxy.”
“No, but we could easily destroy it.”
“You already have.”