vanwaelda (vanwaelda) wrote,

Hearing is Believing - McShep - Angst - NC17

Title: Hearing is Believing
Author: Vanwaelda
Pairing: McShep, with a side portion of Porne
Rating: NC17 - nothing graphic (though there is suggestion), rating is mostly for language.

Summary:
"He didn’t think he’d ever forget the sound of that gunshot as it echoed through the forest, startling birds from their roosts and causing John to crash to his knees in horror, his stomach clenching and threatening to double him over. He didn’t know how long he knelt like that; fingers digging into the loam, trying to catch his breath and imagining the way Rodney’s brains would be decorating the forest floor."

Word count: Monster at 17,653, but is COMPLETE.

Posted in TWO PARTS. Link to the second at the end of the first :)

Beta:
This has been betaed to death. If you find any errors at all, they're mine! Thanks go to lillyjk, saffronra and jeanstarwind, for beta nitpicking. But special thanks go to seiyaharris for betaing as I wrote, and continuous encouragement. Without her this would never have been finished! Thank you girlies :)



Hearing is Believing




Hearing a bang, followed by a loud thump, John panicked and propelled himself at the wall of his tiny prison cell. He clawed at the slatted wood, looking again for a break in the boards, forcing his fingers between them so hard he felt splinters embed themselves under his nails. They were too tight together though, the claustrophobic prison too well constructed. He stopped, breathing hard and trying to ignore the throb in his hands.

“McKay?” he whispered, face pressed right up against the boards. “Rodney? Can you hear me?” He paused, holding his breath so he could hear over it, listening for any noise from the adjoining cell. Nothing. The clunking sound of the latch being lifted on his own cell door spurred him into action again, and he found himself banging on the partition wall, calling McKay’s name frantically. “Rodney? Dammit, Rodney, answer me!” he yelled, even as the cell flooded with light and he felt strong hands wrap around his bare ankles. John’s hands scrabbled frantically for something to hold onto as his ankles were pulled, fingers clawing at the almost smooth walls; desperate to stay in the cell, however terrible it was – it was better than out there.

“No,” he muttered, bracing his hands against the sides of the cell, barely three feet apart. “No!” he said, stronger and louder, trying to kick the hands that were pulling him bodily backwards. “No, NO!” he screamed, as he was yanked fully into the bright, blinding light.

*

“Colonel Sheppard? Now then… come on son, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Carson Beckett murmured, clicking off his penlight and tucking it back into his breast pocket. Sheppard was in another headspace entirely; Carson didn’t want to think about the sort of mental trauma that would cause flashbacks like that.

“No,” Sheppard whispered, with his eyes closed and his whole body trembling. Carson was concerned at the man’s behaviour, but pleased as well, it was the first sign of awareness he’d made since he’d been found.

“Come now,” Carson muttered, gesturing for another nurse. “We’re going to look after you, Colonel Sheppard,” Carson explained to the man on the gurney. “Where are you hurt?” he asked, frowning at Sheppard’s obviously dislocated shoulder and the fresh laceration on his forehead. The pilot didn’t answer, merely closed his eyes and turned his head away from all the lights.

Carson sighed. “Let’s get him straight to the infirmary. I want some warm saline ready; his temperature needs to come up. Nurse Callahan, run ahead and warn Doctor Ramathan we're going to need him please. I think that shoulder's going to need surgery,” he added, and then followed the gurney as they swept Colonel Sheppard through the halls of Atlantis towards the infirmary. People came out of rooms and labs to stare, and Carson couldn’t blame them. Sheppard had been missing for days, kidnapped from a routine mission on what was considered to be a safe planet. It was the Colonel’s first mission back on full duty after a nasty stomach bug, and no one expected anything to go wrong. They were supposed to be looking at some bugs that were giving off interesting energy readings for heaven’s sake!

Still, when the Colonel’s team missed their first check in, and then their second, Elizabeth sent Major Lorne’s team straight on through.

They found Teyla and Ronon near the gate, unconscious and apparently heavily drugged. When they woke up in the infirmary twenty-four hours later, it was to tell Elizabeth that they had been attacked by previously unseen indigenous peoples, that they had all been hit with drugged darts, and that the last Ronon had seen was McKay and Sheppard being dragged off into the dense rainforest.

In the five days since the mission, Radek Zelenka had managed to determine that the Stargate hadn’t been activated by the indigenous people; which meant Rodney and the Colonel were still on the planet somewhere. But it was a big planet, and even Major Lorne’s team was having no luck trying to hack their way through the undergrowth looking for tracks.

But, on the night before the sixth day, barely an hour ago, Carson had been woken from his predawn sleep by a panicked sounding Elizabeth on the intercom system. The skeleton crew on the Alpha site had just called in, was requesting a medical team for a pick up – Colonel Sheppard had just stepped through the gate.

Carson was still half asleep when he walked through the gate to the Alpha site ahead of his medical crew, hardly able to believe the reports. Then he stopped dead when he saw the figure slumped on the bottom step of the Stargate dais. Sheppard was barely clothed, and covered in dirt, blood, and bruises. The Marines had covered him in an emergency blanket, and were offering him water, but the man was unresponsive. He was missing all his kit, his boots, and most of his clothes. By the time Carson and his team managed to coax him onto the gurney, he was shaking violently and muttering nonsensically; they had barely got a word out of him since.

Regarding him now, Carson sighed, they’d managed to get the Colonel onto a bed in the infirmary and were trying to assess his injuries; wrapping him in warming blankets and giving him fluids. He didn’t acknowledge the nursing staff as they bustled around him, and the vacant look in his eyes had Carson thinking about shock.

They just needed him to talk; they needed him to explain what had happened – because while the Colonel had just turned up unexpectedly (with no ID code to announce his arrival), Rodney was still missing.

*

When John woke up, it was to darkness. He shut his eyes, opened them again, and couldn’t determine any difference in the dark surrounding him. He lay there just breathing for a moment, trying to do a mental assessment of any possible injuries. It was hard, his head ached and his thought processes felt like wading through thick treacle. Head, arms, torso, legs, feet. He could wiggle everything without causing any jolts of pain – which was a good sign. But the darkness and the silence were worrying him; it shouldn’t be this dark, there should be some light somewhere, artificial or otherwise. He raised his right hand towards his head, intending to hold it in front of his eyes, and winced when it bounced off something not a foot in front of his face.

“What…” he murmured, stretching his hand out and feeling smooth wood above him. He swallowed a surprised gasp, and ran his fingertips over the wood, following it to the right, and wincing as his arm hit a wall. “Oh God…” he breathed; stretching both arms out and feeling for the extent of the box he was in. Three and a half… maybe four feet wide, he decided, with his fingertips braced against the wood either side of him. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and tried very hard not to panic as he raised his hand behind his head and found a solid surface there too. He wiggled his toes next, scooting down until his bare feet struck solid wood. It was then that he stopped, doing the math… seven feet long at the most, maybe four feet wide, three foot deep. The sum added up to ‘coffin’.

“Oh God,” he breathed again, scrunching his eyes tight and raising his hands in front of his face again, scratching his fingernails down the surface of the wood. “Oh no no, please…” he whispered, desperately feeling for the barely there ridges between the boards. “No,” he whispered again, his voice choking in his throat as he did the mental math about area and available air. “Help,” he muttered, banging on the ceiling above him. “Help!” he shouted, banging harder. He hammered both fists into the wood suddenly, joining in with his feet, kicking and cursing and screaming. “I’m not dead! I’m not! Let me out! I’m not dead!!”

*

“John, John… Colonel Sheppard, please, calm down. No one’s trying to hurt you, we’re here to help. Please,” Kate Heightmeyer tried to keep her voice low and calm as she stroked John’s arm, willing him to relax. They couldn’t afford to sedate him now; they needed all the intel he could give them.

She watched as he made an obvious attempt to control his breathing, closed his eyes tight and flexed his hand in the restraints. He was mumbling something over and over again and she leaned forwards to hear it.

“Please…” he was whispering, his voice broken and rough. “Please. I’m not dead. Please let me out, please,” he whispered again, eyes opening to stare at Kate. “I’m not dead,” he murmured again, lips barely moving.

Kate frowned and looked at him. “I know John. I know you’re not dead. You’re home, you’re safe and you’re very much alive.”

“Please…” he whispered again, and she felt his fingers move against her arm. “Let me out.”

Kate frowned again, looked down at John’s hands in the restraints, his bloody and torn fingernails, and then looked up at Carson. “Why is he in restraints?” she asked softly, half an ear on John’s continued mutterings.

Carson sighed and rubbed his face wearily. “We were trying to calm him down without sedating him,” he answered. “He was, he was scratching his face love, and you can see that for yourself. But since we put them on, well… I don’t think he’s really with it. Whatever’s going on in his head, he’s not really here at all.”

Kate nodded, and thought hard about that. “If he’s not here… he’s there…” she turned back to look at John and made a quick decision. “Here, undo them, quickly,” she ordered, deft fingers working to undo the restraint on her side.

“What...?” Carson started.

“He’s having a flashback, whatever happened to him… they must have restrained him somehow. Look at his fingers, it’s like he’s been clawing something,” she told him, without looking up. She finished unbuckling the restraint and lifted John’s hand into hers, smiling when he squeezed it gently. She nodded in encouragement as Carson finished unbuckling the other one. “Good, now tilt the head of the bed up,” she ordered.

Carson did it, and John’s entire body relaxed as he became more upright. His head dropped forward to rest his chin on his chest, and Kate felt him squeeze her fingers again.

“You’re welcome,” she smiled as Carson shook his head in disbelief.

“I’ll get that IV put back in,” he murmured, getting back to work now that John was calm.

*

After a few minutes of banging and screaming, John forced himself to lie still and calm himself down. He laid his arms over his chest and curled his legs up so that he wasn’t touching the edges of the box, and tried very hard to imagine himself in a wide-open field. It worked, after a fashion, and he calmed down enough to realise there was a draft wafting over his toes. He lifted his head, squinted and blinked a few times, and made out a very faint grey line along the bottom of the box. There was an opening there, to daylight. Not buried alive then. He let out a breath, and let his head drop down with a thump.

“Oh, thank God,” he whispered, raising his hand carefully and wiping stinging sweat out of his eyes.

Now he knew he wasn’t six feet under, and that there was air getting in, however little it was, it was a lot easier to calm himself. After a few minutes of listening for noise, he started exploring his small space again, stretching carefully to knock on portions of the walls, testing for soundness. The board at his feet gave ever so slightly if he kicked it really hard, and that combined with the tiny bit of light made him think it was a door to the cell – meaning it was also a possible way out.

The walls to his right, above him, and behind him, were solid and secure, sounding like they were actually holding back earth – which made him shudder all over again.
But the wall to his left – when he tapped it, made a clunking, hollow noise, and John pressed his whole face against it in an effort to hear anything.

It was ages before he did. Minutes, maybe hours, he had no way to tell the time. Then there was a groan, followed by a scuffling noise, and another groan.

“Rodney?” John asked, pressing his lips against the boards. “McKay?” John called, louder this time.

“Sheppard?” McKay’s voice answered, sounding much like John had felt when he’d first come to. “What the…” he stopped, coughing hard. “Where the hell are you?” he asked, followed by another loud thump.

“McKay. Just calm down – you’re in a small space but… it’s not… there’s air getting in, so don’t get worked up.”

Silence for a moment, and then, “What the hell are you talking about, Sheppard?”

John frowned, thinking, “What can you see, Rodney?”

“Um…” he heard scuffling noises like McKay was sitting up. “Prison cell. Joy. Bout fifteen foot by fifteen. Dirt floor, red mud, wooden bars…” he paused. “Facing a clearing in the forest; we’re still on the same planet then?” he asked, and then carried on without waiting for an answer. “There’s plenty of air, Colonel, I can see the goddamn air.”

“Right,” John whispered, knocking his forehead against the wall and closing his eyes briefly. McKay got an open-air cell, and John got a coffin – figures. He was trying very hard not to feel jealous of his friend; it wasn’t really working out.

“What about the walls?” he asked, his voice small and weary.

“Bars in front,” McKay answered, though his voice still sounded sluggish. “Dirt walls to rear and the left; and…” his voice got louder suddenly and John knew he was making his way over to his ‘coffin’, “…wooden boards on the right. Is that you?” he asked, and John heard a tapping noise. “Are you the other side of there?” McKay asked, tapping louder. It sounded like he was just the other side of John’s head.

“Sort of,” John answered in a small voice.

“They separated us,” McKay answered, and John heard him drop to the floor with a thunk. “Typical. They know we’d get out if we were together.”

“Yeah,” John replied, trying hard to keep breathing and not cry or something.

“Hey, Colonel?” McKay piped up suddenly. “You’re not injured are you?”

“No,” John managed, wiping his face quickly and trying to disguise the crack in his voice. “Nope. They knocked us out with some sort of dart. But I’m not injured. Cold though,” he added, musing. “They’ve stripped me of my gear…” he did a mental inventory again. “I’ve just got my shirt and shorts on. You?”

“Oh,” McKay replied and there was a pause. “I’m fine. A few bruises, probably a concussion from being dragged around,” he grumbled. “But no, I… I’ve got all my clothes actually, boots and everything. Huh,” he mumbled something and John couldn’t catch it.

“What?” John asked, lifting his head to hear better.

“Oh Jesus,” McKay replied, and John heard a grinding noise, and then McKay’s hands scrabble at the wall between them. “Colonel, about now would be a good time to rescue us, okay?” he demanded, and his voice was high and shrill. “Nice natives, please don’t hurt me, there…. Argh!” he yelled, as John heard something heavy smacking into flesh. He pressed his hands against the dividing wall and tried to kick at it with his already bruised feet. “That’s my hand! I need my hand!” McKay shouted, and then screamed again. It was a long, drawn out, horrible scream – ending in sudden silence, and John renewed his battering on the wall.

“No! NO! McKay? McKay!?” he screamed, panicking as he heard nothing more from the other cell.

That was when they came for him the first time.

*

“Is he okay?” Elizabeth Weir asked, her eyes trained on the Colonel’s frail form. He was still lying on his back on the bed, his arms and legs in the same place Carson left them when he finished his last exam. He was shaking again, as Kate Heightmeyer asked him gentle questions about what had been done to him; Elizabeth didn’t miss the way he was nodding his head, eyes closed tight.

Carson looked at her strangely and then stuffed his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “No,” he answered simply. “Aside from the perfectly obvious mental trauma; he’s severely dehydrated and malnourished. I doubt they fed him the entire time, and if he got any water at all, it wasn’t much. He wasn’t much of a weight before, he was barely fit after that stomach flu, and he’s lost a lot of muscle mass…”

“In five days?” Elizabeth asked, eyebrows raised.

Carson frowned at her again. “Aye, in five days. Try not eating anything at all for a day or so and see how you feel,” he added quietly, and she blinked, feeling chastised. “Anyway,” he started again. “The worst injury was his right shoulder. It was dislocated a day or two ago, the tissue’s extremely swollen, there's sure to be ligament damage, and he’s got little to no movement in his arm.”

“I heard him…” Elizabeth muttered, and Carson spared her a sympathetic look.

“Aye, it must have hurt like hell when Doctor Ramathan was examining him. He's just had some anti-inflammatories so far. I don’t want to sedate him, and any strong pain killers will have the same effect. We're not going to be able to put it off much longer though, he's going to need surgery on his shoulder...”

“We need to find out what happened,” Elizabeth interrupted firmly. “He’s the only one who can help Rodney right now.”

“Aye,” Carson murmured, looking back over to Sheppard. “Aye, you’re right at that. Well,” he started again, crossing his arms over his chest. “That head injury’s recent; he must’ve fallen down in the last few hours. He’s taken a couple of beatings as well; he’s got a few bruises that’ll heal right enough, and probably a sore rib or two. One of his ribs is cracked actually, looks like he’s got bruising to the chest. Severe bruising to both his hands, and both feet,” he listed with a deep sigh. “He’s nearly shredded his fingernails…”

“How…” Elizabeth murmured.

“I don’t know,” Carson answered, anticipating her question. “But, judging by the splinters we pulled out, and the cuts and scrapes that needed cleaning and stitching…” he looked down at Elizabeth carefully. “Kate and I both think he was probably shut in somewhere. Aye,” he muttered at the look on Elizabeth’s face. “Not nice. Other than that, both his shoulders are wrenched, and he’s taken a few blows to the head. There’s nothing terribly serious though – nothing else surgical. He’ll live, though he might not be grateful for it,” he finished.

“Wrenched?” Elizabeth asked, glancing back over to the shapes huddled around the Colonel’s bed.

“Aye,” Carson answered, stepping behind her. “May I?” he asked, his hands resting lightly on her upper arms.

“Of course,” she nodded, feeling only a little apprehensive.

Carson pulled her shoulders back gently and then picked up her wrists, pulling them together and against her back, right in between her shoulder blades. He pulled them a little higher and she felt the burn of protest in the muscles of her shoulders.

“Like that,” he muttered, somewhere near her ear. “I would say he was either held, or tied like this, for a prolonged period; probably more than a day or so.”

“Is that how he dislocated his shoulder?” Elizabeth asked quietly, trying not to twitch.

“I’m not sure,” Carson answered honestly. “If it was, then they’d have to have been pretty violent with him. I’ve a feeling it might’ve been something separate, a fall maybe. He’s had trouble moving both his hands; I’d say the muscles are very tired and weak; he’s going to need some physiotherapy.”

He dropped her arms gently and Elizabeth rolled her shoulders to get rid of the twinge she already felt there. “Has he said anything?” she asked, turning to look at Carson, not wanting to see the Colonel right now.

“No,” the doctor was shaking his head. “Nothing useful anyhow.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Major Lorne’s already taken two teams to search the planet again. They’ve taken Jumpers to widen the search; obviously Rodney’s there somewhere. Hopefully we’ll hear something soon.”

“I do hope so,” Carson told her with a small smile.

*

John flinched as another of the guards punched him in the side of the head. One of them was holding him, his shoulders wrenched painfully back, with his wrists held between them. He wasn’t sure how many there were; they’d pulled a heavy sack over his head as soon as they’d dragged him out of what he was now (affectionately) calling his coffin. He’d had time to be almost blinded by the brilliant white sunlight, and to see a flurry of bodies around him, but that was all. Since then he’d been on his knees in the dirt, panting with the pain in his shoulders and trying hard not to think about what this sack might have held before; it smelled like faeces and blood – it made John’s stomach turn just to think about it.

He shook his head to dispel the fuzziness from the latest knock, and tried to straighten himself, tried to show these people he wasn’t afraid.

“Whatever it is you want,” he told them defiantly. “You’re not going to get.”

The laugh that followed covered the sound of any movement, and the foot to his belly was unexpected. It left him panting and trying not to be sick.

There was a body right next to him; he could hear the heavy breathing, feel the warm weight of expelled air against his face. “Who says we wanted anything else?” the voice asked, and the guard behind him pushed him down into the dirt so fast he swallowed dust and started choking on it. He felt something thin and leathery being tied around his wrists, and struggled hard, only to have the guard sit on his back to pin him down. Deft fingers tied his arms in place, wrapping the leather around his chest and shoulders, securing his arms in the painful position.

“You totally don’t have to do this,” John muttered, spitting out a mouthful of the cloying dust as he did so.

“No,” the guard on his back grunted as he stood. “But it’s fun,” he added as he tucked one hand under John’s bound wrists and lifted. Someone else hefted his ankles, and then he was being carried across rough ground.

“No,” John insisted, struggling as he worked out where they were taking him. “Come on, let me down and we can talk about this!” he added, glimpsing a flash of pounded red dirt underneath him as the sack was pulled from his head.

“It’s not you we want to talk to right now,” the guard at his head answered, as they stopped and he heard a clunking noise. Next second he was being forced back into the coffin-box, kicking out and catching the guard behind him – somewhere painful judging by the yell.

“Leave McKay the hell alone!” he bellowed, still struggling as they pushed him bodily down the box and slammed the door behind him. They pushed him so hard, and so fast, his head slammed into the wall at the end and everything went fuzzy for a while.

*

“Sir?” Major Lorne stood at the side of his commanding officer’s bed, trying hard not to look uncomfortable. Dr Weir had suggested he have a go at this; no one else seemed to be able to get through to him. Doctor Ramathan was coming to take him to surgery soon; the Colonel had already had his pre-med.

“Sir?” Lorne asked again, pulling up a chair and leaning towards the bed so that Sheppard could see him. Two hours and counting; McKay’s time was running out.

“Sir, look, I know you feel like shit, but we need to know what happened. You're going down to surgery soon and we need to know now. My team is still searching the planet. But we need some parameters, Sir. We need somewhere to start. We need…” he stopped, frowning at the blank expression on the Colonel’s face. He rubbed a hand over his own eyes, noting the stubble as he passed it over his jaw. “Colonel Sheppard,” he tried in a stronger voice. “We have a man missing, and you need to report!” he added, and then sighed, dropping his head onto the bar at the side of the bed and wondering why none of the other teams seemed to run into as much trouble as McKay and Sheppard’s.

“We…” Sheppard’s voice was rough and he coughed, giving Lorne time to look up.

“Yes? Sir?” he asked, and Sheppard frowned at him. Lorne looked around him quickly, wondering how much shit he’d get into if he tried this. He stood up and looked down at Sheppard, trying to look as menacing as the worst drill sergeant he could remember. “Report, soldier!” he barked, and sagged in relief when Sheppard started talking. Thank fuck for military procedure, and dutiful soldiers.

“We were taken hostage,” Sheppard was whispering, his throat obviously dry and painful. Beckett had said he’d probably been drinking his own piss just to stay alive – Lorne remembered what that felt like, and how humiliating it was.

“We were drugged,” Sheppard continued, and then his eyes fluttered closed.

“Soldier!” Lorne barked, a warning note, and Sheppard’s eyes snapped open again.

“Sir,” Sheppard mumbled, obviously in another head space altogether. He continued talking as Dr Weir appeared quietly and stood by Lorne’s shoulder, listening with her head tilted to one side. “We were separated, but could speak to each other…” Sheppard carried on, obviously struggling to stay awake. “They…”

“What did they want, John?” Dr Weir asked, probing for answers.

Sheppard turned his head toward her voice. “Nothing,” he whispered. “Nothing. They didn’t know who we were. They didn’t want anything from us. Just… just sport. It was just fun to them,” he whispered.

*

John woke up again to the pounding of his own head. At least that’s what he thought it was, then it sort of morphed into the pounding of a fist again flesh and he winced as he realised what it was.

“Rodney?” he croaked, turning his head so that it wasn’t pressed into the wooden floor beneath him.

He heard laughing, and more thumps, and he shoved his still bound shoulder against the partition wall – trying to make a noise, to distract them, anything.

“McKay?” he called, ashamed at how quiet and rough his voice was. There was no answer, but the voices did fade, and a slamming noise indicated the guards had left.

“Rodney?” John whispered again, desperate now, afraid that perhaps this time his friend was dead.

“Yeah…” was the weak reply. “Yeah, still here… more’s the pity.”

John smiled.

“You okay?” he asked, shifting so that his face was close to the wall.

“Better for hearing you,” McKay grunted, it sounded like he was moving closer. “You’ve been horribly silent for a very long time.”

“Yeah,” John answered. Then, a little louder, “I hit my head.”

“Figured,” McKay told him, and his voice was nearer now. “You got some food in there too?” he asked suddenly. “Because I got the shit beaten out of me for the privilege of some dry bread and dirty water,” McKay continued, grumbling away.

“Um…” John muttered, his mouth going dry at the idea of water, dirty or otherwise.

“Colonel?” McKay asked.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got some too. Thanks,” John lied, shifting so that he was lying on his side. He breathed through his nose as he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the pain in his shoulders. What was the sense in McKay knowing how much better off he was anyway?

“Any idea how long we’ve been here?” John asked, throat almost closing as he listened to McKay eat and drink. At least his arms were numb now, and really, who needed air?

“It’s been at least twelve hours since I woke up, judging by how hungry I was,” McKay answered, and then made a groaning noise.

“You okay?” John asked, raising his head.
“No, the fuckers broke my tooth,” McKay mumbled, and it was obvious he was holding his face.

“How bad…” John dropped his head again; he was too tired to hold it up. “How bad are you hurt?”

“Everything hurts,” McKay groused from the other side of the wall.

John nodded, thinking that if McKay could complain, he was probably all right. “Can you move?” he asked slowly. “I mean, can you run, if you have to?”

“Believe me Colonel, given half the chance, I’ll be sprinting away from here,” McKay grunted, and John smiled again, pressing the side of his face into his shoulder and trying to get a little more comfortable.

*

“He’s sleeping,” Ronon grunted as Beckett walked over to him.

“Aye, he's had an anaesthetic, and a touch of pnemonia on his lungs; he's exhausted,” Beckett sighed, picking up a chart and writing something on it. Ronon didn’t pay attention – he wanted to know if someone would live or die - not how they’d get there.

“Five hours. McKay will be dead by now,” Ronon muttered, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You don’t know that!” Beckett snapped, slamming the chart down.

Ronon shrugged, belligerent, and glanced back at Sheppard. He was nestled in a pile of blankets, face turned to the side in a pained looking sleep. Beckett had finally given in and let him have painkillers that were having a light sedative effect, knowing they weren’t going to get anything useful out of him until his fluid levels were up a little.

“Are you not joining the scouting parties?” Beckett asked, referring to the teams Major Lorne was still directing.

Ronon shook his head. “No.”

Beckett frowned, and Ronon tried to explain, “As soon as they saw Sheppard was gone…” Ronon stopped, and shrugged again. The meaning was clear. As soon as they saw Sheppard was gone, they would have killed McKay – made him pay the price.

“That’s something I don’t understand…” Beckett frowned, looking a little less angry. “If Colonel Sheppard could escape, why didn’t he bring Rodney with him? Or at the very least…” he trailed off, sighing. “He hasn’t been able to tell us what happened, not really.”

“He will,” Ronon nodded, kicking his feet up on another chair and settling in to wait.

“Aye,” Beckett looked at Sheppard’s still form. “But mebbe it’ll be too late by then.”

*

They dragged John out of his coffin again the next morning. There had been a night of respite since McKay’s last beating, during which John had managed a little pained sleep; and now it was dawn, and they were back.

John was forced to his knees on a patch of dusty ground and he tipped his head back to look at the sky, it was going to be a hot day. He’d barely seen the sun since arriving on this planet. The rainforest was so dense that the canopy was only just broken in the clearing around the Stargate. Here though, this clearing was so vast the canopy was broken and the brilliant, bright sunlight was bursting through, drying the ground and turning it all to dust. He dropped his head again, wishing for his sunglasses, and took a look around. There were mud huts, cattle, and people wandering around and going about their business.

John wasn’t really pleased that he hadn’t got the sack over his head again this time. That just meant they didn’t mind him seeing them anymore, which meant they would probably be the last things he saw.

He waited with his eyes lowered, trying not to draw attention as he took in as much as he could. Two kids were carrying a large pail over, water slopping over its edges as they moved, and John found himself licking dry lips. They set it down ten feet from him, and John felt a little pang of want. Best he could tell they’d been here forty-eight hours, without any liquids at all. He knew he was already feeling the effects: dizziness, disorientation. He’d stumbled when they tried to get him upright, but he wasn’t sure if that was the dehydration or the bump to the head. The strain on his shoulders wasn’t helping, it was a constant burning ache now, and he couldn’t feel his fingers.

He winced a little as a shadow approached and then stopped in front of him, but forced himself to look up into his captor’s face.

“What d’you want?” he asked, his voice nearly sticking in his throat. The guard in front of him was big, dressed in animal skins and wearing a grin that had John’s stomach turning.

“Your friend to watch,” the guard smirked and stepped aside.

John squinted. One of the mud huts in front of him actually seemed to be a large cell with wooden bars, and it was dark inside, the light bouncing off the dirt making it hard to see. Then he caught movement and watched in growing apprehension. Two more guards were bringing McKay to the front of the cell, kicking and shouting the whole way; John was pleased to note – no point in making it easy for them after all.

They got McKay out of the cell pretty quick (despite the kicking) and threw him down in the dirt in front of John. Then they did nothing. The guard behind John backed off a little, McKay’s guards did the same, and John waited.

In the end, McKay lifted his head and eyed them all warily. “What, no spears?” he snapped, and John bit back a grin.

Then McKay’s eyes tracked round and settled on John.

“You okay?” John asked, quietly.

McKay nodded, but John could see the way he was holding his left hand to his chest as he shuffled round and sat up. Maybe that’s what the screaming had been about the first time. John was pretty sure he might pass out from pain if someone broke his fingers one by one.

“You?” McKay was asking, glancing around at the guards and looking puzzled. “What’s going on?” he hissed, after John nodded.

“I’ve no idea,” John answered, looking around again. The guards were just standing around, watching them, and smirking. The big one was moving to stand by the pail of water, and the grin on his face was making John nervous in ways he didn’t really want to think too much about.

“You want water?” the guard asked suddenly, using a small bowl to catch up water from the big pail and let it splash down again.

McKay was looking forlorn, and the guard smirked at him. “It’s okay, you can have water, I won’t do anything to you,” he told McKay, and John fought the urge to get up and kick him in his grinning teeth.

Instead, he shared a look with McKay; the other man was licking his lips, looking pained.

“Can’t we just…” McKay started, and made as if to get to his feet. John tried to stop him, to shout a warning, but he was already down again, a guard’s foot on his back. “Ow,” McKay muttered, his voice muffled by the dirt.

“Yeah,” John mumbled, sagging a little. “I don’t think it’s going to be that easy somehow.”

There was an understatement, he thought a few minutes later, when he was being held down head first in the water barrel. He couldn’t hear anything over the water thrashing around his head, but he was pretty sure McKay would be yelling by now. The guard had said he wouldn’t do anything to McKay if he drank the water. They neglected to mention that once he’d had a sip; John would be offered the whole barrel.

With his arms still tied tight behind his back, there really wasn’t much John could do. He knew he could hold his breath for a couple of minutes, but the panic was bound to cut that time a little.

Of all the ways John Sheppard imagined he would die in the Pegasus galaxy, drowning (surprisingly) hadn’t been among them. Still he thought, as he felt water burning his lungs and realised he was fucked, it wasn’t really all that bad.

*

Teyla sat on the edge of the hospital bed and regarded Colonel Sheppard carefully; he was watching her back with tired eyes, only recently awake from the anaesthetic.

“I do not understand,” she began quietly, taking in the pallor of the Colonel’s face, and his greasy, matted hair. “Why you will not tell us what happened when you escaped?” she asked, frowning a little. The Colonel blinked at her. “You must see,” she murmured. “That the quicker you tell us all you recall, the quicker we may be able to help Doctor McKay. We are exploring the planet, but it is vast, and the forest is dense. Even with the life-signs detectors, we are having little success,” she stopped, looking at the Colonel. “John… you are crying,” she murmured.

He gave a small shake of his head, and she felt her chest tighten a little. Men from Earth were so determined to show as little emotion as possible. She picked up his limp hand and squeezed it gently.

“Why are you upset?” she whispered, and watched as the Colonel squeezed his eyes shut, forcing out more tears.

“I’m…” he croaked, and she was startled at how little control he had over his voice. She heard his breath hitch and watched him trying to control his breathing. “The life-signs detectors won’t work,” he managed after a moment, and Teyla watched as his face crumpled again.

Concerned, she gripped his hand again and leant forwards. “John?” she murmured. “What’s wrong? Is there something on the planet which will stop the Ancient technology from working?”

“No…” he whispered, and she watched as he tried to school his face into something less heartbroken. “They won’t find Rodney’s life sign; because he’s… he’s dead.”

*

John woke this time with a sort of numb disbelief that he was still alive. He blinked a few times, and noted that there was too much light for him to be in his coffin, and then registered the burn in his chest and how hard it was to breathe. He coughed, and a rush of vomit that had him choking followed it; he couldn’t sit up with his arms still tied behind his back, and it had him panicking. Then he felt hot hands fumbling at his shoulder and pushing him over onto his side. He spat and retched for a minute, feeling water flow out of his mouth and nose.

“Oh God, oh thank God,” McKay was muttering, patting John’s face and rolling him onto his back again. “You all right? Are you okay?” he asked, getting right up into John’s face.

John blinked again, and focused on McKay’s face; he was white and sweaty looking.

“What happened?” John managed, closing his eyes and sagging a little.

“They tried to drown you,” McKay babbled, hands smoothing over John’s arms, petting his head and face, as if he were checking John was still there. “Oh God, you stopped breathing, you…”

He turned away, and John heard him bringing up the contents of his own stomach.

“You ‘kay?” John mumbled after a moment, feeling weak and wrung out.

“Yeah, yes,” McKay answered, it sounded like he was wiping his face on his arm. “I’m sorry. Carson taught me…” John opened his eyes and noticed the flush on McKay’s face. “He tried to teach me CPR but I’m not very good at it. I… uh… I think I broke your rib.”

Oh. John closed his eyes again and shifted experimentally. Yeah, that would be why he felt like he had an elephant sitting on his chest then. He opened his eyes when he felt McKay patting his arm again.

“It’s okay, you did good,” John murmured, looking at him and smiling. “Thanks,” he managed.

McKay managed a sickened looking smile, and then shifted away.

“Listen,” John continued, barely whispering. “Can you untie my hands?” he asked, shifting uncomfortably again.

McKay made a soft snorting noise and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Sorry… I…”

“McKay?” John asked, trying to lift his head.

“I can’t,” McKay answered quietly. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I tried, when you were… before…” he huffed and scooted closer to John. “My fingers…” he whispered miserably.

John closed his eyes and dropped his head. “Both hands?” he asked wearily.

“What? Um… yes, well, yes…” McKay muttered uncomfortably. “I’m sorry,” he added in a whisper. “You must be… God,” he murmured, pressing one swollen hand against John’s arm. John could feel the heat of it through his thin shirt.

He opened his eyes and looked up at McKay. “You have to try again,” he insisted, ignoring the way his stomach churned at the wounded look on McKay’s face. “I know it hurts; but you just did CPR Rodney, you can untie me. I know you can.”

“Right… yes…” McKay was looking down at his hands, and John realised they were shaking.

“Quicker you untie me, quicker we can get you home to Beckett.”

McKay nodded decisively and scooted forward again to push John onto his side. There was a minute of fumbling, then McKay’s head hit him in the back and he realised McKay was attacking the leather thong with his teeth. Another minute, and John felt a sudden release in the pressure on his shoulders; the pain made him cry out.

“Oh God,” he muttered, as McKay clumsily pulled the leather from around his chest. It was like the worst pins and needles ever as the blood started circulating properly in his arms.

“You all right?”

John tried to nod, gritting his teeth fiercely against the pain as he tried to move his arms.

“You don’t look all right.”

“McKay,” he ground out. “Just…”

“Yeah, sorry. Listen… I… Here,” he said, fumbling for John’s left arm and rubbing it clumsily. It helped, but it hurt like fuck as well. John was grateful for his dehydration for a moment; he couldn’t even force any tears out. “Why… why are they doing this to us?” McKay asked after a minute, as he transferred his attention to the other arm. John watched, he was only using his thumb and middle fingers, holding the others out stiffly.

“I don’t know,” he answered at last. “They’re trying to mess with your head, with our heads,” he corrected himself, leaning into McKay’s touch and trying not to be too girly about it. “We need to get those strapped up,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of McKay’s hands. “Come on,” he insisted, pushing McKay’s arms away and trying to lift his own. It didn’t really work very well; he gestured with his head instead. “Get your shirt off, we’ll tear it into strips…”

“I…”

“For fuck’s sake Rodney, you can put your jacket on after! We need to get your fingers straightened out and wrapped up, okay?”

McKay rubbed his face and then stripped slowly. Really, John tried not to be nauseated by the bruises covering the other man’s torso, but it was hard.

“Rodney,” he murmured.

“Don’t… just, don’t.”

John nodded, and they got on with the task of bandaging McKay’s fingers.

*

“Carson!” Elizabeth called as she rushed into the infirmary. “I just got your message; is it true?” she asked, eyes wide.

Carson frowned and nodded as he led the way over to Colonel Sheppard’s bed. Kate was still there, but sitting back now, no longer holding the Colonel’s hand. Ronon and Teyla were hovering, and the Colonel himself was looking sickened and miserable.

“John?” Elizabeth asked, stepping right up to his bed. “Is this true… is it… is Rodney dead?”

The Colonel nodded morosely.

“What happened?” Elizabeth breathed, and if anyone noticed how she leant on John’s bed for support, they didn’t say anything. “Was it them… did they…”

“No,” Sheppard interrupted, his voice still gravelly. Carson made a mental note to send a nurse for ice chips. “No. It was after… after we escaped.”

Carson closed his eyes and felt something in his chest tighten; typical Rodney, survive the torture and die during an escape attempt.

“Well, actually we were released,” Sheppard continued.

“Released?” Elizabeth asked, confused.

“It’s their culture, their sport. They train warriors by having them hunt,” Sheppard answered, looking at her steadily.

“What, precisely, do they hunt?”

“Us,” Sheppard answered.

*

They didn’t see any of their captors for the rest of that day and the following night – they were off on a hunting party. Half the village barrelled out of the camp with their spears (Rodney laughed) and bows, singing and laughing. John felt it was the perfect opportunity for an escape attempt, or would have been if he could get his arms to work. As it was, they were dumbfounded by the simplest of technology, the cage door was tied shut; neither of them had the strength or dexterity in their hands and arms to open the complicated knots. It almost had McKay weeping with frustration, and definitely had him shouting about the lack of modern technology, keys and keyholes in particular.

They slept on and off, and lay huddled at the back of the cell when kids came to try and poke at them with long sticks. McKay snarled at them a few times, and they backed off, but always came back with an adult who would point and shout in a language neither McKay or John understood. They were wrung out by nightfall, hungry and thirsty in varying and awful measures. John fell asleep on his back, and woke just before dawn to find McKay curled up against him, between him and the front of the cell; which made John smile. He slept again after that, one hand reached out to tangle limply in the front of McKay’s jacket

The screams woke them, when the sun was climbing again.

McKay sat bolt upright and scrambled for the wall, pressing himself against it and staring at the front of the cell with wide, panicked eyes. John moved a little slower, the steady throbbing pain in his arms a constant now.

“Calm down,” he muttered at McKay, wincing at the way his throat rasped; three days and counting without water.

“Calm down? Calm down!” McKay replied, flinching visibly as they heard another terrified scream. “What are you doing?” he yelled, as John pulled himself to his feet and dragged himself over to the front of the cell.

“Looking,” John muttered, peering out between the bars. “Shut up,” he snapped as Rodney started talking again. He could hear something other than the screams, and he tilted his head towards the village in order to hear it better.

“John…”

“Rodney, quiet,” John insisted, listening hard; it sounded like chanting. Chanting and…singing. “Oh God,” he whispered, taking a step back as the villagers came into view, carrying their hunt.

“What? What?” McKay hissed, getting up and staggering over to John.

Another scream answered the question for him, and they watched in horror as the villagers dragged a bloody, struggling man into the centre of the clearing.

*

Zelenka listened to the message as it came through the open wormhole, nodding seriously. As soon as the gate shut down he turned and fled for the infirmary.

“Elizabeth!” he yelled as he burst through the doors, and then sprinted over to the crowd around Colonel Sheppard’s bed.

“Radek?” she asked, turning to look at him with one eyebrow. “Something wrong?”

He stopped, hands on his hips as he panted for breath, then waved one hand to try and express that he had something to say.

“Radek?” Carson asked, stepping up to him. “You all right man?”

“Message,” Radek gasped, wondering just how far it was from the gate room to the infirmary, and when he had turned into one of those scientists?

“A message? From Major Lorne?” Elizabeth asked, giving him her full attention.
Radek nodded frantically and took a deep breath. “They have found something…” he paused to take another breath.

“Rodney?” Carson asked, just as Ronon said: “A body?”

“What?” Radek gasped, looking between them. “No, no. A clearing… a big…” he spread his hands wide. “A big clearing. Village. They are speaking to villagers now.”

“Now?” Elizabeth asked, looking worried.

Radek nodded. “With luck, perhaps they help?”

“Help?” John choked from the bed. Radek turned to look at him.

“I think,” Elizabeth answered, already striding towards the infirmary door. “that we need to get Major Lorne on the radio ASAP and explain the situation. Radek, with me,” she ordered, and he trotted after her.

*

“No, you don’t understand,” John shouted, shaking with pain as he was held by his shoulders. “Listen, I’m the leader, I’m in charge; you want to have some fun, you do it to me!” he yelled, trying to push forward and only succeeding in getting a punch to the gut. “Rodney,” he whispered around the pain, watching as McKay was led towards an altar in the centre of the village clearing.

McKay was already barely conscious, they hit him hard in the head when they took him from the cell, and he didn’t put up much of a fight when they manhandled him onto his back on the stone altar.

“No,” John whimpered, sagging in his captive’s arms. He’d seen what the natives did to their prisoners once they were on that altar. He’d stood and watched with McKay as they cut the man at precise intervals with sharp copper knives, as they collected his blood in large copper bowls, and then eviscerated him while he was still alive enough to scream in agony.

He didn’t think he could bear to watch that happen to McKay, to his team mate, to the best fucking friend he’d ever had.

“No,” he whispered again, giving another feeble struggle.

The blow came from behind and he didn’t know what had happened till he was on the floor and gasping for breath. That fucker of a big guard, the one who had some English, had hit him in the shoulder with the blunt end of something heavy. John knew his shoulder was dislocated before he even managed to turn his head to look. “Fuck,” he whispered, struggling onto his left side and knowing that if there were anything in his stomach he’d most certainly throw it up right now. He could see the altar still from here, could see as the big guard walked over to McKay, his long hair gleaming in the sunlight, hips moving smoothly; he was enjoying this.

“Rodney,” John murmured, flinching and closing his eyes as he heard a whimper from McKay’s direction, then a startled scream. “Please, no,” he muttered into the dusty ground.

There were more screams, long, drawn out screams, and short, panted yelps. McKay was frightened, probably terrified, and John couldn’t even bring himself to watch; he’d never been more ashamed in his life.

“Up,” someone grunted, and then John felt a blinding, searing pain as he was dragged upwards by his abused arm. He was sick then, retching and gagging on bile, as he was held upright. He couldn’t have supported himself if he tried, and he hung, panting, as the two guards walked him forwards; he knew he was being taken towards the altar, and he didn’t want to lift his head to see.

He wasn’t given an option though. They came to a stop and then there was a hand in his hair, yanking his head up so that he had no choice but to look down at McKay.

“John,” the other man whispered. He obviously didn’t even have the strength to struggle as the natives moved around him, tying him to the altar with more of the leather thongs that had bound John’s arms. McKay’s face was white; there was sweat on his upper lip, and a red, spreading stain on one of his legs.

John closed his eyes for a moment and tried to school his expression, swallowing a lump in his throat that just wouldn’t go.

“John,” he heard again, and forced his eyes open.

“You’re gonna be fine Rodney,” he lied, trying a smile and knowing it was more of a grimace.

McKay just shook his head miserably, and closed his eyes as his arms were pulled down, positioned so that they hung off the edges of the altar. John swallowed hard when he saw that large, hand-beaten copper bowls were being placed under McKay’s dangling fingers, still wrapped messily in strips of his shirt.

They cut his jacket off next, neat slices that got rid of the material as quickly as possible, exposing McKay’s broad, pale chest and the myriad of purpling bruises.

“Fuck,” John whispered, as he looked at the way McKay’s stomach was shrunken, at the nervous way his chest was raising and falling. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, as they pressed the knife against McKay’s arm and the scientist barely flinched. “I am so so sorry,” John repeated, as the blood flowed and collected in the copper basins, red on beaten gold.

*
Nick Lorne kicked the hard-packed red dirt in frustration, glowered at the man in front of him, and then made a decision. He raised his P90 and pointed it at the village elder.

“One last time,” he ground out. “We know he was here, which way did he go?”

The old man didn’t flinch, probably didn’t know what the automatic weapon pointed at his chest could do. There were feathers in his hair, and blood staining his fingertips.

“You gonna answer me?” Lorne snapped, eyes flicking to the right to take in Chapman as he hurried over. The marine was carrying a bloody scrap of material and Lorne took a breath. “Sergeant?” he asked, without taking his eyes off the village elder.

“Sir. It’s… it’s a science team jacket. Or was. I found it by the altar. Sir… he would have lost a lot of blood…”

Lorne interrupted him, flicking the safety off the P90 and taking a step towards the elder. “Did you kill him?” he snarled, and he could hear David take a breath behind him; he wished to God he hadn’t brought the botanist along now. “Did you kill Doctor McKay?” he asked again.

“No.”

Lorne turned his head, quick, taking in the big guy striding towards him. Chapman and Ramirez both raised their weapons; Parrish took a hurried step back. The big guy kept coming, regardless, only stopping when the barrel of Lorne’s gun was pressed into his bare chest.

“No?” Lorne asked, tilting his head back so he could look the guy in the eye; he was a good six inches taller than Lorne and built like a brick shithouse.

“No,” the guy repeated. “We did not kill the annoying one,” he said, and there was a nasty smirk on his lips.

“Where is he then?” Lorne snapped, exasperated.

“He was released with the other… the… Colonel?” the man asked, and smiled at Lorne’s sharp nod. “Our hunting party did not find them, as you see…” he gestured over to the poles in the centre of the village. The poles Lorne had been trying not to look at, the ones with the heads. “… we did not recapture them. They escaped,” he finished.

“And you aren’t still looking?” Lorne asked, leaning back ever so slightly. This guy was fucking intimidating, and his nonchalance about the weapon pressed into his chest wasn’t helping matters.

“No,” the guy shook his head and an earring rattled; it was bone. “No, one of our party is missing, we will not lose more,” he stood back a step. “Your people were strong. We weakened them, but they showed unusual strength. They stayed together when we released them, tried to help each other. This made them stronger. Men usually separate, run for their lives. These two…” he shook his head, looking a little troubled suddenly.

“Where did your friend go missing?” Lorne asked, because if Sheppard had killed him, maybe they could find a trail.

“We lost track of him near the falls,” the guy answered, lifting his hand and pointing into the forest.

“Will you show us?” Lorne asked calmly. “If you show us… we won’t come back, we won’t hurt your people.”

The guy watched him for a moment, and Lorne had the feeling he was being assessed, measured. Then the guy smiled.

“You people,” he shook his head. “You are most unusual. But yes, I will show you.”

Lorne nodded, and called over his shoulder to Parrish, never taking his eyes off the man in front of him. “David, get in the jumper. Ramirez, go with him. I want you to get a message to Doctor Weir. We need Dex here, and Teyla. I want as many marines and life signs detectors as you can get at short notice.”

“Yes Sir,” Ramirez snapped off, and strode back to the jumper.

“David…” Lorne warned, when he didn’t hear the scientist’s footsteps follow.

“Nick… He doesn’t need me, he’s got the gene…”

Lorne turned his head, ever so slightly, just to take in the side of David’s worried face. “Go home,” he ordered. “I don’t want you here, you don’t need to be here. Go home and tell Sheppard what we’re doing.”

“But, Nick…” David muttered, glancing from the village elder, to the big guy and back to Lorne.

Lorne turned back, turned away, and shifted his P90 a little higher. “That’s an order Doctor Parrish,” he snapped, eyes firmly fixed on the man in front of him.

“Yes, of course. Sir,” David whispered, and Lorne heard his footsteps, heard the jumper start up, and the sound it made as it lifted off.

“Just you and me now,” Lorne snarled, nodded his head for Chapman to back off and cover the other villagers. “Shall we have a little chat?”


Continued in Part Two
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