|Pieces of the Whole
Author: Kristen999 PM
The team are captured and learn that there are two forms of torture, not knowing which one is worse. Lots of Team emotional whump—Shep whump.Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort/Angst - John S. & Rodney M. - Words: 13,384 - Reviews: 36 - Favs: 49 - Follows: 4 - Published: 09-15-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3786580
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: "Pieces of the Whole" Complete
Character(s): Sheppard with Team
Genre(s): Stargate Atlantis: H/C -Angst
Summary: The team are captured and learn that there are two forms of torture, not knowing which one is worse. Lots of Team emotional whump—Shep whump.
Notes:I wrote this a couple of months ago and it gave me fits. I re-wrote parts and debated ever posting it, but after some awesome positive responses on LJ, I'm putting it up here in a single part. Here is the result, this is not my usual type of fic, its much darker than my normal fare.
Big thanks as always to Beth for her patience and care as a wonderful beta. Also thanks to Mandy for reading the rough and raw chunks in the middle of the night.
His throat is parched. He hasn't been offered anything to drink since he'd been shoved in here and his stomach rumbles greedily. The last power bar he'd eaten is a distant memory.
Time is meaningless. His watch, vest, belt – they'd all been taken, leaving him only his BDUs and the shirt on his back when they were taken prisoner. That was ten... hell, twenty hours ago for all he knows. One thing's for sure; trying to frighten him with total boredom isn't working, but the silence is making him a little twitchy.
He doesn't know where the others are; if they are alive in another room down the hall or on another level. He'd stopped yelling a while ago, demanding the attention of the guards, once his mouth went so dry he could no longer spit. Falling asleep seems like a good idea at first, but the floor looks cold and uncomfortable and if they are watching, he won't allow himself to appear weak.
Separation is the first step in breaking down a prisoner. Or that's what he's been told.
Rodney gets up, stalks back and forth, wondering how Ronon is faring if he feels this restless. After a few circuits around the cramped cell he's back to sitting, twiddling his thumbs, telling himself to remain calm.
The door opens and his heart leaps up to his throat as he wipes his palms over his pants, wishing for the solitude of just a few minutes ago.
One of the Thlemians walks in and clicks the door shut behind him. His posture is relaxed, his expression one of boredom as if this is just another meeting. The man wears pants and a top of the same color on the walls. They are simple and dull, like hospital scrubs, and they do little to conceal the solid frame of muscle underneath.
The Thlemian's eyebrows are perfectly trimmed curves over stony eyes. They appear to be the only hair on his body since his head is smooth and clean as a glass egg.
"I am Orate," the man announces.
"Dr. Rodney McKay, but you already know that."
Orate smells slightly of disinfectant. His expression is unreadable as he crosses his hands in front of him and idly plays with the silver ring that encircles his right index finger.
"Why are you nervous?"
"What? What kind of stupid question is that? Maybe it's because I've been held without food or water for who knows how long!"
"The door is open; all you have to do is walk out."
"Oh, right, and what about this situation doesn't say 'hello, I'm a prisoner?'"
"And that stopped you from opening it?"
"I can just leave?"
"If you want to."
Rodney narrows his gaze, looking from his host to the exit. "Where are the others?"
The fluorescence goes from one end of the ceiling to the other and the staggering aura above forces his eyes closed before they burn out his retinas. Spots, fuzzy red and purple blobs, dance before his lids as he huddles under the artificial sun. The light is deceptive; it holds no warmth and the hair on his arms stands on end as he shivers.
Misty clouds of his breath float in the air; the room is an ice box, sucking all the heat from his body. At some point his tac vest, gun belt and uniform top had been removed, leaving him in his black t-shirt and BDUs. Whoever had stripped him had also removed his boots and socks and his red feet curl under him as he sits cross-legged in the middle of his little prison.
He rubs clammy hands up and down his bare arms, trying to chase away the goose flesh as he rocks on the floor. He contemplates getting up and walking in circles to create friction and pump up his body heat. Squinting allows him to take in his surroundings as he stands up to begin moving.
The door opens and he spins around to face his captor, ready to make a run for it if given a chance. It's very hard to tell anything beyond shape and size, not that it matters with the Thlemians. They all look alike with their shiny dome heads, matching uniforms and the personalities of brick walls. The poster child for protein shakes enters and Sheppard is struck by an image of Vin Diesel from that movie with all the aliens who lurked in the dark.
"Who are you?" Sheppard demands.
Vin crosses his thick arms. "You should only speak when spoken to."
"Oh, yeah? Well, I was never known for my good behavior in school."
Sheppard gives a wry grin. "It's one of my better traits."
The walking ad for Bowflex gets in his face and Sheppard cranes his neck to look him in the eyes, blinding light or not.
"Explain to me your rank, Colonel Sheppard."
"You were there when we arrived while we spoke to one of your leaders. Something wrong with your ears?" Rodney snaps. He eyes the door and wonders if he really could just walk out.
Orate doesn't smile, giving a slate of granite a run for its money. "How do you make your decisions as a man of science?"
"What's with the twenty questions?"
"For a man of logic you have very erratic emotions," the Thlemian comments.
"I'm hungry, and, yes, a little cranky when I'm forced to play childish games with someone who makes the UPS guy seem fashionable."
Orate pulls out a sheaf of paper from his sleeve and places it on top of the table. "What is your impression of this?"
Rodney's eyes light up as he takes in the contents of the pages. He quickly realizes that the equations, graphs, and diagrams are for energy solutions that would make ZedPMs seem like normal alkaline batteries and snatches the papers from Orate's grasp.
"This is incredible!" Rodney stands, clutching the data, and begins making tiny laps around the room.
"They are very rudimentary in comparison to other things of the same nature."
Rodney flips page after page until pausing on the last sheet. "There's some stuff missing."
Orate pulls out another slip of paper and Rodney wonders where the all the hidden pockets are, but accepts it, furrowing his brow as he examines it. "What the hell is this?"
"It's the root of that theorem; surely as a scholar you know that."
Rodney tosses it to the table. "You're nuts."
His stomach picks that time to growl and Rodney licks dry lips, feeling a little awkward in front of the alien who doesn't even seem to blink and is way too fascinated with his every word. "It's rubbish, that's why."
"Really?" Orate places a hand on the table, leans way too casually, his eyes rolling sideways to the piece of paper and lazily back to Rodney. "I think you are incorrect."
Rodney slams his hand down over the paper, crinkling it in his anger. "Two plus two is not five!"
Sheppard's eyes are getting used to the fiery splotches in his vision. "I could go on but it's doubtful I'll ever see the ranks after this. My superiors and I don't always see things the same way."
"Where are your friends?"
That's not what he's expecting because the rest of the team had all been eating the same appetizer at lunch and his fuzz-filled mind recalls watching the same expression of horror appear on Teyla's face.
Maybe it'd been his imagination... maybe he'd been the only one affected.
"Answer the question."
"I take it I'm a prisoner then? I figured as much. Interrogation style lighting, not allowed to leave, missing the rest of my uniform. By the way, you might want to tell someone to turn up the heat."
Vin doesn't back hand him or throw a punch like expected; he steps away to reveal the exit. "No one's holding you here."
Sheppard wonders where the others are.
"They haven't come for you. It's been days and no one's entered through the ring to take you home."
Sheppard knows this little game and turns his back on his captor and the door. The others are in Atlantis or are somewhere else in the city; the guy's baiting him or trying to rattle his cage. Or maybe they are in similar cells, undergoing the same type of questioning, but either way it doesn't matter. He won't tell Vin a thing.
"If they haven't launched a rescue operation then where else could they be? It would only help if you were forthright. They could be lost or hurt."
"You know, speaking of being helpful, I could really use the sunglasses from my vest. Nice shady things to cover up my eyes?" Sheppard peers at Vin through squinting lids.
"You'll tell me one way or another, Colonel Sheppard."
He'd been waiting for the bad guy threat and he sizes up the alien for a quick takedown. After all, anyone who looks like the actor who willingly starred in The Pacifier has to be a pushover.
Orate gives him a wry smile. "Go ahead. You're free to leave."
The Thlemian walks over towards the opposite wall, waves his slender fingers across it until a panel shifts open to reveal a window. Rodney's hands brush the door handle as light streams through the glass to reveal another room whose walls are stark white and blindingly bright.
In the middle of the cell is Colonel Sheppard and another Thlemian, this one a lot more imposing looking with the word brute written all over his thuggish face. Rodney holds his hand over his eyes to ward off the glare from the room and his brain quickly goes over all the reasons why this is a very, very bad thing.
He storms back into the cell, peering through the glass. "What are you doing with Colonel Sheppard?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Orate answers, eyes piercing Rodney's in challenge.
"I don't know. That's why I'm asking."
"Nothing. As you can tell Colonel Sheppard is fine, if not a little irritated."
The pilot has been stripped down of most of his uniform and the alien keeping him company doesn't seem to care about personal space as the two look like they're about to square off against each other.
Rodney knows leverage when he sees it. "What do you want?"
"For you to study the equation and give me your valued opinion."
"My opinion doesn't matter since it's completely wrong!"
"That is not what the equation says."
Rodney shakes his head,waves his hands about in a tantrum. "Even a child knows that two plus two is four!"
Orate shakes head. "Read it again."
"Do you not understand it?"
"It has nothing to do with understanding...and more with being right."
"Who decides what's right?"
"Logic does. There are fundamental principles in math and science."
The Thlemian walks lazily around the cell, hands behind his back in thought. "And you uphold all these principles?"
"Yes." Rodney's voice quivers. He doesn't like where this is going and the anger masking all of his fear begins to evaporate.
Orate's hands could smash apart bricks; his meaty fingers grip both of Rodney's shoulders in their steel traps hard enough to leave bruises. The man's forehead touches his own and, unlike Teyla's warm form of greeting, it sends chills down his spine. Orate's voice is deep, echoing more inside his mind than in his ears.
"I will always know when you're lying, Rodney."
He tries not to whimper and releases a breath as the Thlemian lets go of him to slump down in his seat.
The left side of Orate's mouth twitches. "Do you know how many nerves in the body can be manipulated with a simple electrical pulse?"
Rodney cowers a little. "A lot?" His voice squeaks.
"Millions. By placing a simple transmitter to the base of the neck, a person could inflict pain to any region of the body, down to a single muscle fiber."
A stone heavy hand rakes its way down his backbone and Rodney flinches under Orate's touch.
"How difficult do you think it would be to fly a jumper if you couldn't use your hands?"
Orate nods his head and the guard in the other room pulls out a device, tapping his thumb upon it. Sheppard cries out in bloody murder. Rodney protests, hollers and curses, briefly wondering who put in the surround sound speakers.
"Stop it, you sadistic bastard!"
The colonel holds his hands out in front of him as if they are on fire, but Orate stands stoically as Rodney's ears fill with wave after wave of Earth shattering screams. He pounds his fists against the thick glass, taking turns swearing at his captor and pleading for the other guard to stop, knowing that neither man is listening.
He can hear the questions from Sheppard's tormentor coming over an audio feed but fails to hear what they want when Orate breaks in and says, "Tell me, Rodney..."
The centers of his hands are engulfed in a pain so intense it electrifies and maps the nerve endings in his arms, cramps his shoulders and makes the room spin. All the ligaments in his hands spasm, causing the knuckles to pop, and his fingers feel like razor blades slicing the tendons that attach to the bone.
Sheppard can't stop yelling at the top of his lungs, or curling his hands into fists to relieve the feeling of acid burning holes into his flesh.
"I'll make it stop, Colonel. Just answer me."
Nothing will extinguish the twin infernos or remove the invisible daggers that twist in constant circles in his palms, digging deeper every second.
"I can also make it worse."
Sheppard hones in on Vin's voice and launches from his seat, ramming his shoulder into the man's midsection, knocking his captor down. He is ready to beat his wrists into the face of the alien even if he's blind.
Vin is quick to respond, planting a boot in Sheppard's gut as he launches himself at him. All the air is knocked out of him as his captor gets back to his feet while Sheppard manages to stand back up, but it's too late.
Vin makes a point of showing off his little remote-control-torture device."Not nice," he growls.
He's been kicked in the kneecaps before but this is FAR worse. His legs want to buckle, but they're frozen in place. The patellar tendon that goes over the triangular bone of his knee is being pulled so tightly it feels like it's going to snap. The rubber band of tissue stretches and stretches and STRETCHES—all the muscles spindles firing in paroxysm of pain.
His eyes water with the pain of his crucified hands and the trail of agony blazing up his femoral bundle to the lumbar region of his spinal cord.
"Where are your team mates?"
"Not... here," Sheppard rasps.
"You're hidden deep in the city with no hope of them finding you. It would require launching an all out assault with a high casualty rate. What do you think you're worth to them? How long it would take for them to decide that it's not worth the risk?"
Sheppard has managed to find the right way to squeeze his eyes nearly closed and still make out where his captor is at the moment. In Vin's hand he sees the remote that's been the cause of all his suffering.
"Does... that... thing...get HBO?"
"Why do you protect them? They've left you here to suffer needlessly... Just answer the question and you can relax."
His body is shaking and he might just topple over as the springs in his lower back pull apart like the coils of a Slinky. "Why do you... care?"
Vin steps closer, tilting the tiny device. "I ask the questions."
Sheppard can feel his tail bone trying to break away from the rest of his spine. "My team better be safe...or I'll break your neck."
"I'm sure they are safe in your city after their escape."
Splintering. He can feel bone shattering. "Then why are you asking me where they are?"
Sheppard crumples as the pain disappears.
Every nerve and muscle screams in relief as they grow slack and the sudden release drops him like a sack of potatoes. He moans... splays his fingers on the floor, enjoying the ice cold slate next to his cheek, his legs and back feeling like jelly.
"Tell me, Colonel. What would you do for them?"
Spittle flies from his mouth and Orate wipes it away from his chin. Rodney rakes fingers through his hair, staring in horror out the window. This isn't a camera feed; only a wall separates him from Sheppard, but what he can do about it?
Should he try to beat up his own captor or plead for him to stop this?
"Funny how receptors work... everything's connected to one another."
What is he thinking? Groveling sounds good.
Rodney steps closer. Orate's eyes are slick as oil. "Stop it...please."
The alien pets Rodney's head while he listens to the guard lie to Sheppard about their whereabouts, wishing there was some way to let his team leader know that he's right in frickin' front of him!
Orate grabs the slip of paper and holds it up. "Solve the equation."
Sheppard's boneless, desperate to let the floor swallow him whole or let his body melt into the foundation. He doesn't open his eyes, content in shutting them away from the harsh stimuli.
"You must think highly of them to endure all of this ...we've just begun, you know. I can make it a lot worse."
"Go to hell."
Vin paces around his sprawled form, tsking to himself.
"What would you do if I told you that they were experiencing this same type of treatment?"
Sheppard props himself on his elbows, opens his eyes to glare through the sunlight lashing his pupils. "Then I'd kill you and everyone else I could get my hands on."
"I believe you."
"You'd better be lying."
"And if it was the truth...what would you do to prevent it?"
Rodney's brain is ready to explode with his treacherous thoughts. He chews briefly on his lip. "The answer is five."
Orates sighs. "I don't believe you."
The vein in his forehead is about to burst. "I said five!"
Orate looks over at the window and the other Thlemian responds by glancing their way. "You know, the points in the feet can affect the entire body."
Both captors smile at the same time in mirror versions of one another.
"Two plus two is five," Rodney states as calmly as possible, suppressing sheer terror.
"I thought science was your passion, your vocation? I just can't accept such a response lightly."
Sheppard presses his thumbs into his Achilles heel, panting harshly because he can't scream anymore. Curling up into a fetal position doesn't help... it can't control the feeling that a knife has sliced his feet open.
"Would they do the same for you, I wonder?"
Sheppard's eyes well up, but goddammit, he's not going to give his torturer anything else.
It hurts so much... he hides his face, trying to vanquish the moisture there and he hates himself for it.
"But it's not right, Dr. McKay."
"I'll make it right. I'll prove it, damn it!!"
Rodney shoves the Thlemian away and stalks over to the window to pound on it with his fist, slamming it down each time for emphasis as he stares helplessly at his friend.
His captor walks over and crouches down, his breath visible as a silvery mist in the cold as he speaks. "We already have what we wanted."
The three walls that surround him bear the imprints of his fists. The building material is made of painted over slab that denies him the pleasure of leaving holes. His fingers are swollen, but not broken, and the next time he sees one of the Thlemians he'll satisfy his desire to hear some bones crack.
He doesn't know how long he's been locked away in this dark, silent cell. There's no natural daylight to go by, no hum of machinery or nature to measure. An invisible energy field keeps him close to the wall, giving him the space of a long coffin. He growls at the empty air, curses the guards for their cowardice in not showing themselves. The frustration gets the best of him and his hand lashes out to feel the zap of pain burst through his fingers.
He doesn't know when the sounds began.
A whisper behind him. A mutter deeper, elsewhere.
Snippets of conversation pan from one corner of the room to the other. Sometimes it's a garbled sentence; a woman's voice or some soft crying off in the distance causing his ears to strain to catch the noise.
Hours go by and his senses are dulled by the nothingness; his mind drifts aimlessly, only to be jerked back by odd laughter. His keepers are screwing with his head; his ear drums relax only to be tickled to life by the nuisance around him.
It's a scraping of nails over his nerves, winding him way too tightly. He claws at the energy barrier in front of him, feeling the static charge build up in his fingertips, causing all the hair along his arms to sizzle. He's ready to test the limits again, to see how long it takes the room to grow yellow if he holds his hands inside the obstruction, letting the pain overwhelm him before he pulls away.
He begins to push his hand towards the energy field when the east wall slides open, streaming light into his gray world.
The other room is subdued, cast in low luminescence and in the middle of it is Colonel Sheppard, hunched over on the floor with his hands clamped over his ears as if trying to block out a sonic assault. Ronon can't see the man's face since it's buried between his knees and the sight of his team leader in such dire distress makes his imprisonment all the more unbearable.
"Are you comfortable, Mr. Dex?"
Ronon spins around and gets as close to the force field as possible, his nose tingling from the proximity to it. "Who are you?"
He's pissed that he allowed someone to slip in unnoticed.
The man has the deepest blue eyes, much like the seas that surrounds Atlantis. "My name is Orate."
"What's wrong with him?" Ronon demands, tilting his head towards the window.
"I think the noise level is a little too much for the colonel. Would you like me to turn it off?"
If he had a long safety pin he'd have popped holes in his eardrums by now.
The sheer brutality of the white noise woke him from a dreamless sleep into a cloud of disorientation, making it impossible to think. Where was he? What time was it? What the hell was going on?
Oh, yeah. Prison cell. Vin Diesel. Pain.
His memories get a little muddled after that.
None of that matters now, except stopping the waves of energy trying to make his ears bleed. His temporal bones and the channels leading to his inner ear are ready to collapse.
He plugs his pointer fingers in his ears to cork the air from going inside to activate the nerves leading up to his brain. If it works it might stop the feeling that his head might explode. His thoughts are lost in a sonic boom and he can't sleep or scream over the noise. He's familiar with this tactic, too; drive the occupant insane, deprive them of rest, bombard them with noise.
He contemplates slamming his forehead into the unyielding floor to knock himself out when the noise stops.
He dares to lift his head to bask in the blissful silence.
The door opens up and this time he's not going to stick around for twenty questions. He balls up his fists, eyes searching for a target when an elderly man, no taller than Linda Hunt, stands before him. The man is hunched over a wooden cane and his face is more wrinkled than one of Ronon's old leather skins. Grandpa could give Father Time a run for his money.
"Guess not all of you can try out for the next Fast and the Furious," Sheppard mumbles.
The old guy raises a single eyebrow. "You plan on hitting me?"
"Not a very wise choice, Colonel."
Before Sheppard can react to the ominous threat, a bony hand points at his chest.
Something in Sheppard's head detonates and he's on his knees, unable to fight against the force that pulls him to the floor.
"You don't know anything about him," Ronon snarls.
"He dropped his guard, allowed appearances to deceive him." The Thlemian shakes his head. "Would you have made the same mistake?"
Undermining his CO's authority by agreeing is exactly what this alien wants from him.
"You wouldn't have... you're a warrior, a hunter. You live by instinct and don't make such mistakes." Orate stands before him. "No, you would have struck, maybe even have escaped."
Ronon's never been able to penetrate the field, but if he punches hard enough, maybe he can grab Orate by the throat. His captor studies him and Ronon glowers back.
"You have great strength and your loyalty is impressive. Just how strong do you think your colonel is?"
Ronon tries not to look at what's going on in the other room; there's nothing he can do to stop it, nothing to prevent it from happening. It makes his rage boil to the surface, but he won't give in. He owes Sheppard more than that.
"A person of few words. You're more of a man of action. An enforcer who isn't afraid to get his hands too bloody."
"Would you like to test your theory? Let the barrier down and I can give a demonstration."
Orate chuckles. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"It'd make my day."
"I'm sure it would. I imagine that urge to kill flows through your blood. Sometimes violence is the only way to make people understand. It saves lives. Brute force is a show of superiority that wins more often than not."
Ronon tries to ignore what is going on in the next cell since such distractions can hurt his chances of escaping. He knows he could take out this man with his bare hands if given the chance.
"Your leader sees killing as a failure."
"No, he doesn't."
"Really? Why don't you watch and find out."
Ronon crosses his arms, puffing out his chest, the muscles straining under his clothes.
"If you won't look, then you'll listen."
He's there right now, rising more than four hundred feet high, over looking the southern bank of the Thames. The more he focuses on the amazing view, the more calloused fingers push through his brain.
Grandpa isn't a replicator; there's no holographic hand shoving past tissue and matter, but it feels just as awful. It's worse than driving spikes into his skull or an ice pick behind the eye... it's plucking and drilling.
His hands are inert by his sides and an internal pressure continues to build in his head until it feels like his skull will burst into fragments. The questions are spoken softly, but they wail like a banshee inside his mind.
"How many people have you killed?"
Sheppard thinks of freedom and calm.
"How many by your hands?"
The sensation of hovering above the city.
"Do you see their faces when you close your eyes?"
It hurts physically to rip out his memories, leaving him panting and eyes squinted closed as tightly as possible until he feels a warm trickle of blood drip down from his nose.
"Do they look shocked?"
The teenage Afghani boy's face is smudged with grease and his clothes are stained red around the hole in his chest.
"Stop!" Sheppard pleads.
"Does he haunt your dreams, Colonel?"
"Why... don't you... shove that cane... up your --"
"Did he have to die?"
The bends would preferable to this agony. Sheppard begins to calculate how much weight the London Eye can hold.
Claws rake across the surface of his brain and the blood drips faster down his chin.
His closed lids are a movie screen for the memories he battles against. He opens his eyes, fights to focus, concentrates on counting the liver spots on the old man's face. "People... die... It happens in war."
"Are they even people to you? Do you know their names before you take their life away?"
The tarmac has body bags lined up next to his chopper ready for their trip home. Sheppard can feel his eyes try to roll into the back of his skull. "I... kill so others can live."
"They mean nothing to you," the Thlemian accuses.
The old man's voice fills his ears and drags his thoughts out into the open, burning a trail of fire behind them. Sheppard's voice breaks as he whispers, "If I didn't care... don't you think I would stop trying to make up for it?"
"You're all cowards!" he spits. Ronon wants to break the window and snap the old man in half.
"Your colonel doesn't have what it takes to resist... he's vulnerable."
"Sheppard hasn't told him a damn thing you want to hear." Ronon glares at his captor in pride. "I'd say he's winning."
"For how long?"
"Don't underestimate him."
Orate grins. "And don't overestimate his chances. Everyone has a breaking point... even you."
The blood running down the colonel's face can't be a good sign. The Wraith have tried to force Sheppard to say and do things without this type of result, but the sight is enough to set the flames on high inside the inferno that's been building. He turns around to face the other way.
These people don't have the right to do this; to take away his friend's dignity.
"The colonel doesn't like talking about death. About killing... but what about you? It's not such a dirty deed is it?"
Ronon would rather duel with this asshole than listen to the mind rape that's going on next to him. "You like talking about death so much? Would you like to learn the details first hand?"
"Do you enjoy it? Does it fill in the emptiness deep down inside; that bottomless pit that has no room for anything else but hate?" Orate barbs.
"I won't lose sleep over killing you."
"Tsk... tsk. Avoiding the question, Mr. Dex."
"Why do you hide behind your force field!"
"We all hide behind walls; some are more impenetrable than others." Orate thrusts his hands through the invisible barrier and grabs him by the scruff of his shirt.
Ronon is jerked towards the shield, his body scraping along the pulse of energy, burning his skin from the contact as he's shoved towards the window. Orate is a lot stronger than he looks and there's no escaping the man's grip. The alien is able to move wherever he wants and slams Ronon up against the glass, his head pinned in place by another hand.
"Where is your rage? Where is your desire? What can your bottled up emotions do for you and your team leader now? Watch and be helpless, oh great protector."
His mom was cremated and he was never allowed to touch the urn on the mantel even though at a young age he knew her desire to have her ashes spread at sea. His dad never allowed it and it was one of many arguments he never won.
There are more dog tags and faces without names, but soon they fade to serial numbers on mission reports hazy letters of remorse and people he can never forget.
Ford's face still pops in his mind; the one with two good eyes and a boyish smile.
Sumner's is between a set of crosshairs.
Carson's is a disembodied voice over a radio telling him everything's going to be all right.
"So many failures..."
Sheppard can feel the old man's skeletal fingers press against his skull, strong bony thumbs trying to drill holes in the center of his forehead.
He manages to lift his hands away from his sides before they're slammed back in place. Every facial muscle twitches like he's pulling four G's and the tiny sounds escaping his throat are small and pathetic.
"No matter how may lives you take...you cannot save the ones you've sworn to protect."
Sheppard puts up another black wall with rows of calculus problems; he thinks of square roots, the radii of circles and never ending integers. He can feel himself slipping and crumbling away, his body swaying on its feet. Sheppard still battles, protecting what he has left, but the stabbing pain only mounts.
"I can feel it...what's eating away at you the most. Stop fighting me," Grandpa implores.
"I'd rather die first."
"If that is what it takes."
The old man spreads his thumbs from the middle of Sheppard's forehead across his temples. It's like forcing open a door and the room fills with his screaming.
"I don't hear defeat. I hear resistance."
Ronon will watch now, to bear witness to Sheppard's fight and strength. Anger overwhelms his training; it fills his heart with blackness and his only solace is that it will be unleashed on Orate and all his friends at some point.
"Your rage is a weapon, runner. It's your salvation." Orate lets go of his hold and Ronon can only lash out at the force field as the man steps behind its protection once again.
"Tell me. Will you trade a life for a life?"
Ronon means it... if this is what they wanted from him all along. "Is that your game?"
The alien draws back, his mocking voice fills with somber seriousness. "This is no game... are you truly that numb to death?"
"I don't fear it."
Orate grins, waving a hand in the air, and Ronon's weapon appears in the empty chair. "A death to prevent a death. Shouldn't be hard for a man who doesn't have a problem with killing."
Ronon grips his blaster. "I will only take my life after you free Sheppard and the others."
His captor chuckles. "Who said anything about your own?"
A door opens and another Thlemian is shoved inside, a scrawny man with dirty clothes who bows before his leader and looks up at Ronon with fear-filled eyes.
Orate grabs the thin shoulders with his massive hands and steers him towards the shield. With little effort, the newcomer is pushed forward, passing through the barrier as he trips over his own feet and stumbles to the ground before Ronon.
"Kill him and I'll stop Colonel Sheppard's soul from being ripped apart."
"Enough!" he hears himself yell.
Everything is blur of mistakes, errors-- every sin, every second guess ever made. Sheppard can feel them sharp as knives...blood leaving another trail down his face. He's back on the Wraith ship, near the body of Colonel Sumner, trying to understand the words of a dying monster.
He's broken the lock to Pandora's box---released the hounds of Hell upon the innocent.
"You woke the Wraith-- you sentenced everyone in this galaxy to a new plague," the old man whispers inside his head.
"Yes," Sheppard's voice trembles.
"How can death have meaning when it's your constant companion?"
Sheppard can feel himself falling, too weak to struggle anymore –too lost to find anything to hold on to, everything spilling out of his head.
"What does it matter?"
The blaster feels good in his hand and he looks back and forth between his suffering CO, his friend, and the petrified Thlemian.
"I don't kill innocent people."
Orate's laugher fills the room. "You don't know that."
"This is not my enemy and I'm no murderer."
"It's an ends to a means. Who is this person to your team leader? To an officer who commands such respect?"
"It would only lower me to kill a bystander for Colonel Sheppard. It would betray everything he ever stood for."
"Your colonel is being torn to pieces... do you not want to stop his pain?"
Ronon's guts twist, knowing he's giving up his chance. "He's taught to be better than that."
His torturer is in way too deep, too far inside his head to wrest it away.
"Every... life is worth something. Is worth dying for... worth protecting. We can't do anything for the dead... but we can for the living."
Sheppard allows himself a victory when he pushes away one set of fingers from his aching head and blackness soon follows.
Soothe misery and offer hope.
In the hollowness of her prison cell there is no one; no other companion to share her feelings or thoughts, but she's not really alone. Her teammates are in the rooms next to hers. Plaster and brick physically separates them, but she's forced to hear their despair.
The first time had been hours ago, she thinks. Rodney's agitated voice had boomed and ranted through the thick walls with his usual sharp tongue. Several times she had called out to him, hoping he'd listen, to understand she was near, but it was to no avail.
Teyla had splayed both hands on the west wall closest to Rodney's panicked, pleading voice. Gone was the bite, the typical cutting tone, replaced by screaming and begging. Her heart could barely contain itself over his desperation.
When the shouting had stopped and his defeat had consumed him, she'd heard the quiet, "I'm sorry," over and over again.
Teyla had gone to her knees, head bowed against the solid frame of the building, offering reassurances that landed on deaf ears. Rodney did not stop babbling about two plus two and apologizing to Sheppard.
The insane rambles had troubled her greatly, but not as much as not knowing what had happened to John to make the scientist act so devastated.
Ronon's pounding on the other wall hadn't been hard to mistake; his restlessness and irritation in their mutual situation was understandable. There wasn't a way to tame his inner beast or coax him into waiting patiently.
She heard a stranger's voice, cold and calculating; his questions frightened and fueled her intense desire to get out. The man taunted Ronon, pushing buttons, trying to cross lines that shouldn't be crossed, and time and again, the Satedan's voice had stayed quiet, but deadly. There was no rhyme or reason why she could hear some parts of the conversation but was treated to dead silence in between. She couldn't catch exactly what was being said and her anxiety grew over the implications of what she was allowed to make out.
Teyla had tried to reach out to Sheppard with her mind when he'd begun screaming, praying, humming, doing anything to handle his pain. By the time his voice was raw and the sounds of his torment died away, a part of her had died with him, leaving her feeling empty and useless.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, elbows on her knees in reflection, a section of the wall opens up. Teyla rises to her feet, rests her hand on the glass as her eyes burn in sadness. John sits in a chair, head lolling to one side unconscious; his arms are bound to the chair rests and his feet are tied to the legs.
The door opens to her cell and Teyla meets the man halfway, her strides furious. "If you are truly an honorable race of beings as you told us upon our arrival, then I expect my teammates to be treated humanely and any medical needs be addressed."
The person in front of her is imposing; his stride speaks of power, his stance control. "I am Orate," the man addresses her. "May I call you Teyla?"
"Why do you have Colonel Sheppard restrained?"
Orates waves a hand at the window. "Is he not a dangerous man? The military commander of your army?"
"We have no army. We came to you in peace and sat at your table to break bread before discussions as you requested. Yet you reward our friendship with deceit," Teyla charges, keeping an eye on the window.
"You worry over your teammates, demand adequate treatment and ask nothing for yourself." Orate reaches out to brush his fingers along her hair. "Such selflessness."
Teyla slaps away the offending hand. "Why is Colonel Sheppard unconscious? What have you done to him?"
"Our desire for honest answers is met with defiance. If you would simply be more open, all of this would prove unnecessary."
"Perhaps if you were honest with me now, then we could find some mutual agreement."
She suspects this is not the answer the Thlemian expected; his crystal eyes sparkle then narrow in contemplation.
Orate walks over to the window, sweeping his gaze around the empty room until it lands on her. "You are different than the others... You burn with a much more radiant fire. I wonder... what fuels such passion?"
Sheppard wakes up with a crick in his neck, but at least the vestiges of the mind pummeling feel like a distant memory, which he's very grateful for. The past few hours... days... Had it been days? They've been a tornado of emotional abuse and he's getting sick of being someone else's punching bag.
He acclimates to another awakening and notices his wrists are tied down, his ankles bound in a similar fashion by rope. It's hard to fight down panic; the last time he'd been trussed up he'd been a tasty three-course dinner for a Wraith. Squirming causes the restraints to cut his skin; the chair is heavy and strong and won't break if he flings himself to the floor.
"Please, stop struggling. You'll only injure yourself, Colonel."
The voice sounds female and he looks up to confirm it. He stares at a woman with short curls of brown hair, fair skin and a small stature. Although she's not his type at all, the woman has a very sweet, natural beauty about her. She steps closer and he can smell the scent of fresh powder, her mannerisms remind him of a timid doe-eyed dear.
He won't fall for the innocent look.
"If you untie me then there's nothing to worry about."
"Not yet, I'm sorry."
"You guys have something against hair? If I'm being tortured because I have lots of it, I consider that discrimination."
"This doesn't have to be unpleasant, Colonel."
"Is this where you tell me your name and try to come on to me?"
She frowns, shaking her head sadly. "Would you rather me be someone else? Elizabeth, perhaps? You have fond feelings for her."
Sheppard tenses all his muscles and glares.
"There are others, women you harbor more intimate emotions for...Chaya... Teer." She furrows her brow in concentration. "You want to know how...Teyla is now. If she's okay."
"So you're another mind reader, huh? What's with the act, going for the sweet and caring routine?"
"I can be , John. I can make you forget about your loneliness, your sorrow... I can make you whole again," she says, punctuating things by caressing his cheek.
"I'm doing just fine, so why don't you do me a favor and cut the bull, I'm not buying it," Sheppard says coolly.
"I'm Laurue. And I wish I didn't have to do this."
"Whatever it is, I'm sure you don't have to."
"You're in control of things here, John. I hope you understand that," Laurue's voice trails away as she vanishes into the hall.
Sheppard struggles in vain to get free from the chair; the butterflies in his stomach begin to intensify, but the ropes only chafe his wrists. He's forced to stop when the woman returns back, pushing a cart. She brings it to a halt at his side and pulls a pair of scissors from it.
Her doe-eyes dim in sadness as she holds them in regret, almost reeling him in on the whole benevolence act.
"It's dangerous to play with sharp objects." Sheppard jokes, but something tells him this lady won't let humor dissuade her.
"This isn't personal," Laurue says softly.
She grabs the hem of his t-shirt and makes quick work of the fabric, slicing along the seams. In seconds, Sheppard is bare-chested without a single cut marring his skin. He tries to calm his breathing and control his thundering heart of being undressed.
Laurue traces some of the fine black hair on his chest. "I wish these were different circumstances, but we both have our duties."
Actions speak louder than words and for all this talk about about regret, he knows this woman has free will. "Mine is about protecting others, what about yours?"
He waits for an answer, but the woman walks towards the wall and flips a switch without looking back. Water steams down in a heavy mist, surprising him as it wets his hair and begins dripping down his face, chest, and back. Blinking water away from his eyes, he notices the nozzle in the ceiling for the first time. He strains forward to see a drain under his chair causing his belly to twist in knots, thinking this is a great way to clean away blood.
"You know, it'd be easier for me to take a shower if my hands and legs were free," Sheppard says sarcastically.
Laurue shakes her head as she tugs on two large rubber gloves and flips on a machine nestled on her cart of doom. There's a loud humming sound and the woman picks up a pair of paddles with spongy material attached to each end. Sheppard's panic level has gone off the Richter scale because he knows what that buzzing sound means and why he's being treated to a nice steady stream of water.
"I'll start the power at a hundred."
Sheppard doesn't get a chance to answer before a powerful jolt surges through his body, spasming up every muscle and slamming his jaw shut from the electrical charge.
"We all have our parts on the team," Teyla answers.
"A team... a joint effort, a cooperative unit. Together, a sum of all its parts and disbanded, nothing but pieces of a broken machine. Which cog are you, Teyla Emmagan?"
Teyla searches for another door or a connecting hall to John's room, but she finds no means to get to him. It doesn't surprise her that another Thlemian is there with her CO, conducting an interrogation just as Orate does with her.
"Laurue is very good at what she does," Orate whispers in her left ear.
Her muscles tense at the sight of the scissors. Teyla knows she is the focus of this demonstration. The colonel is purposely faced in her direction; his humiliation and vulnerability are very painful weapons.
"What would you do for him? For your team?
Sheppard's body nearly snaps in two with a convulsion and Teyla stifles a scream with her hand. Memories of Kolya's torture and her inability to save John from such torment grip her heart.
"How long will you let him suffer?"
Water pours down John's face; his hair is flat against his brow, his chest heaving. Green eyes flash defiance at his torturer and the woman rewards it with another zap of electricity. Teyla can't hear his screams, but her imagination fills in as her friend's body bucks and contorts with each shock.
"I guess you enjoy such pain."
These people have sorely misjudged her. She whips around to jab Orate in the throat when her muscles freeze and her body is overwhelmed by an unyielding force. She shakes with the effort of fighting against it.
"What were you planning on doing? Knocking me out? Finding your friends and just walking out of here?" Orate looms over her. "If you're under the illusion that you can win, you're mistaken."
Orate walks behind Teyla as she fights uselessly against his mental hold. "Your heart beats like a soldier's. It's easier to try to fight than it is to admit to weakness."
"What do you want?" Teyla's voice is pure venom but she knows this man can sense the fear underneath.
"You can't lie to me; I sense your feelings no matter how hard you try to hide them."
"You're an empath."
Orate rests his chin over her shoulder. "Not quite, but we can read your emotions… even if they are conflicted most of the time."
"Just tell me what you want from me."
"The colonel is an attractive man, isn't he?"
Teyla will not rise to the bait. The woman who's been hurting Sheppard looks out the window and stares right at them in questioning.
Teyla knows they are communicating to one another, Orate the master sending signals to his underling.
"Tell her to stop."
"It must be tough in your position, always under constant threat from your enemies, never knowing which day will be your last." Orate pushes away her hair, stroking her shoulder. "It would be natural to have a moment of weakness."
"You are wrong," Teyla says through gritted teeth.
Her chest tightens as John jackknifes again; the veins in his neck pop out, his arms shake and his head is thrown back in frozen muscle contraction. Sorrow overwhelms her anger over his suffering.
"Does he fuck you?"
Teyla bites her lips until she tastes blood.
Orate laughs. "Do you prefer sweet sounding statements? Does he make love to you?"
"We are not like that."
"You lie. You have too many strong feelings towards him not to be lovers."
"I do not think of John in that way."
"But you would do anything for him... kill... even die for him."
"Yes. I would."
"Come on, John, just give in. I don't want to increase it anymore more, we're already at 200 and it can go a lot higher."
Sheppard tries to pull his slumping body back into the chair, but he's out of energy. "I told you...I don't need a jump...my battery's already charged."
Laurue puts her paddles down and gently takes his chin again to look into his dazed eyes. "I can offer you freedom, comfort. You can have the respect you deserve, a command over tens of thousands. Anything your heart desires. Love, pleasure, a life without fear of death. You won't feel alone anymore, John."
Sheppard can't wrestle away from her grasp. "No...don't want it."
"Is your life really living? So much uncertainty, so much death. Your memories haunt your dreams; your regrets eat at your soul. Each day is a reminder of failure; why should you spend every waking moment trying to find redemption in a galaxy that offers only pain?"
Laurue pushes back his damp locks. "I can make it all go away. I can even make you forget."
"You're a broken man, John Sheppard. Let me fix you." Laurue leans in to press her warm lips against his clammy ones.
"Don't," Sheppard growls.
Laurue pulls back, honestly shocked. "Why?"
"Where's my team?" he demands.
"What would you do for them?"
Sheppard clamps his hands around the armrests and pushes up until his spine finds the back of the chair. He wouldn't get a passing grade for his posture, but he's sitting up straight again.
"Let them go. It's me you want."
"You won't do what you're told."
"If it's...behavior you want...buy a dog."
"Give up, John. Save yourself."
Sheppard gives her his best cocky grin. "You're just going to have to roast me some more."
Laurue looks over towards the wall; all he can see is tile and molding between droplets of water. If there's an audience enjoying the show, he won't let them see him crack, no matter how many times they try to scramble his brains.
"I don't think you can take much more of this, John. 300 is one of the highest settings. It might stop your heart."
Sheppard looks at her in the eye, knowing for once she speaks the truth. "It's what separates me from you."
For a second he thinks she might not do it, but the hesitation is short-lived and the paddles kiss each side of his ribcage. The zap makes the room glow stark white.
"You do not have to hide your soul from me. Just drop your barriers." Orate's breath is hot at the nape of her neck.
"What truth is it that you think I hide from you?" Teyla shouts back. "What words do you want me to speak?"
"Admit the feelings you hide!"
Teyla closes her eyes to the colonel's pain. "There is nothing that I conceal. I care for John just as I care for the others."
"And that is why you follow him?"
"No! He's a good man, a good leader. All of us listen to Colonel Sheppard because we are a part of his team."
"You obey him because you are blinded."
"Feelings can cloud judgment, can make people turn the other way to the evils of power."
Teyla's head is about to explode. "We are not like that."
"Why do you cry?"
"You admit that you would die for him."
There is a silence and Teyla holds her breath and forces herself to look out the window. The woman is glaring back, her devices of torment in her hand hover in front of John's unconscious body strapped to the chair. The female Thlemian looks uncertainly at the window.
"Morality, religion, justice. All excuses used by those who represent tyranny," Orate says venomously.
"Love, compassion and sacrifice are the vocabulary of the humane." Teyla glowers at him before turning towards the woman she knows can hear her on the other side of glass. "Which are you? What words do you speak or are you so caught up in your arrogance that you have forgotten?"
The woman studies her paddles before glancing at her helpless prisoner and speaks for the first time at them. "Does she not speak the truth, Orate?"
Teyla lifts her head at the sound of the woman's voice in the room and realizes she is free of the other man's hold. Orate stares back at the window, his face twisted in confusion.
"You talk about hiding secrets, yet you torture an innocent man because you won't reveal what it is you really want from us." Teyla wipes at her eyes. "You ask of love, but I bet you have no idea what it means."
Orate nostrils flare. "I know what damage it can create; the fury it unleashes in the name of it."
"It is a powerful feeling, one I don't think you have experienced in such a long time that it frightens you." Teyla has hit a nerve; the scowl increases the wrinkles in Orate's face.
Hoping to tap into the small amount of doubt the other Thlemian has, Teyla sends a pleading look at the woman once more. "Do not punish us for things you don't understand... fear breeds hate and violence. Is that all you are capable of displaying?"
The woman swallows, eyes blinking as if just realizing that her actions are malevolent. "We have the answers we want; there is no reason to go on."
Orate doesn't concede as easily. "We are not scared of you or your people...our ways are just." He sends an accusatory look through the glass pane. "Maybe some of us have allowed ourselves to be persuaded by other measures."
The lines in the sand are being drawn and it is time to cross them for John's sake. It's harder for Teyla to hide her worry over his condition.
Orate's radar must have felt the waves radiate from her. "Do you still insist on lying?"
"You love him."
"I love John like I love Ronon and Rodney. They are my family." Teyla senses the man's confidence slip. "Do you not have that here?"
"And what would you do to protect them?" Teyla squares her shoulders and glances back at the woman. "What would you do to care and look after them?"
"They've passed the tests, Orate. Can you not... know that it's true? Can you not feel it as I do now?" The female steps away from the chair... away from the colonel's limp form.
Teyla's voice is a razor's edge. "Let us go."
The woman glowers at the other Thlemian. "Orate, don't forget why we do this."
A shadow of indecision flashes over her captor's face. "Very well."
A door appears and opens. Teyla doesn't waste anytime hurrying through it, ready to knock the woman out of her way.
The female Thlemian holds up her hands in supplication. "I am Laurue and I'll cut his bonds."
Teyla lets her know with a look that if the blades of the scissors touch anything but rope, that she will pay the price for it. Orate's presence is unwelcome, but he remains off to the side, face still calculating, weighing every action. John's body begins to fall out of the chair as his bonds are freed. Teyla grabs him under the armpits and gently lowers him to the floor as she wraps her arms protectively around his chilled body.
"Get me a blanket," she orders.
Laurue looks at Orate first but leaves to retrieve one. Teyla pulls the colonel onto her lap, his soaked hair dampening her shirt as she cradles his head against her stomach. "It's okay, John, you're safe now," she whispers to him, trying to wrap him closer.
"You were the easiest to read, but I think you harbor volatile emotions that are buried so deeply that you're not even aware of them," Orate comments, his tone unaffected by the situation.
"If you don't let go of the rest of my friends then you might find out how much of what you say is true. Revenge never alleviates pain or brings about justice, but in this case, I might not object to it."
"As you wish."
Apologizing to the wall makes him feel all the more pathetic and he stares at the ground, searching for the shards of his dignity amongst the tiny scraps of paper. After he's done mangling the sheet he might try putting it back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Instead, here in the dank, dark shit hole that is his current existence, he taps out Morse code on the wall, hoping the colonel can hear it.
Rodney raps his knuckles every few minutes just to let Sheppard know he's not alone even though the physicist himself feels more and more isolated in the darkness.
The light from a nearby door opening has him scrambling to his feet, squinting at the sudden assault on his eyes. After his pupils readjust, he runs in, no longer fearful of anything, and skids to a halt in front of Teyla and Sheppard.
"What the hell?"
He doesn't know what else to say, crouches next to his friends while keeping a wary eye on Orate who stands in the shadows.
"Rodney!" Teyla's voice is filled with relief. Her face flickers between joy and intensity, as she remains fiercely protective of her charge. She's gathered the colonel into her arms, one hand stroking back his hair, the other trying to hold his shivering form firmly.
Rodney reaches for a pulse and, for the briefest moment, he thinks Teyla might not even allow it. He feels a thready beat and his eyes grow wide at the unnatural marks on Sheppard's torso.
"God, are those burns?"
"They used electricity on him." Teyla's voice is menacing and if Rodney didn't know any better he thinks the only thing keeping her from Orate is the colonel.
Rodney grips Sheppard's shoulder awkwardly, knowing the pilot can't feel it, and searches his neck, but doesn't find any type of transmitter or device. "He needs a doctor."
"The harm is minimal; we made sure to use measures that would not leave permanent damage," Orate explains.
Anger has shoved fear out of the way as Rodney shouts. "You call this minimal! You didn't try to pull out his toe nails and that makes your barbarism nicer?"
Rodney stands to his full height and blocks Orate's path as he walks towards them.
"This session was designed to be more brutal in nature for the requirements of the test." Orate's tone is the equivalent of a shrug.
Rodney's outrage is interrupted by the entrance of a female carrying a blanket, but before she can get past him, Teyla addresses the woman with a clear-cut warning. "Give it to Rodney," she orders.
The woman hesitates, almost dismissing the notion, but Teyla won't have any of it. "You come near him again and you'll regret it."
The woman shoves the blanket into his hands and makes a hasty retreat. Before leaving she lingers in the doorway. "You mentioned the need to protect one's family… that is what we were trying to do."
Rodney wrestles with Sheppard's arms while Teyla wraps the blanket around the colonel's upper half. It's troubling that the pilot doesn't even stir from the jostling and Rodney wonders if the Thlemians ever think about things such as cumulative effects.
"We need to get out of here," he whispers in Teyla's ear.
"We need to find Ronon."
"Where is he?"
He hasn't seen Sheppard since the window had closed back up, leaving him to stew once again. The force field disappearing from view startles him because it's so unexpected. The door appearing makes him cautious and even more alert.
Something is about to happen and no matter what, it means he won't be inside a cage anymore. The Thlemian whose life he'd spared starts to follow and Ronon points his blaster at him.
"I didn't kill you before; don't give me a reason now."
Ronon storms in from the side, eyes registering the rest of his friends and his gun automatically targets the source of their troubles.
"There's no reason for any violence; we've determined that you are not an enemy."
He gives Orate a wicked grin. "But you're my enemy."
"Enough! Just get over here so we can leave," Rodney blurts.
"Are you letting us go?" Teyla asks.
"You are free. I can arrange an escort to your craft and when you return, we can start our discussions. I know you still seek a suitable power supply, yes?"
Rodney can't contain his disbelief. "Trade? Are you insane? Wait don't answer that-- we already know the answer."
Orate moves closer to the irate McKay and Ronon grabs his friend by the shoulder and pulls him to his side.
"We have technology that others seek and only those deemed fit for what we have to offer may gain access to it. Do you think we would share with just anyone?"
"Specialist Dex, as the most aggressive of your team, you showed us that you do not take life without reason or just cause. Despite a background of violence you have ethics."
Rodney snorts. "Unlike you."
"And you, Rodney McKay, build your life upon facts. Your work, your field of study is your life and, as a man of science, principles are your foundation. Despite how much they mean to you, your friend means more. You were willing to say or do anything to help him. Even denounce logic itself."
"Of course I was. You make it sound like it was a tough choice," Rodney snarls
"It was very hard on you----you are very conflicted and the least honest with your emotions."
"You did this to test us?" The thought sickens Ronon.
"To know that a race has rules that they follow regarding life and death, even while under extreme pressure speaks on how you make decisions." Orate looks from Rodney to Ronon. "That your men of science have a sense of loyalty towards other living beings. That your warriors are not just bloodthirsty savages without a moral compass."
Teyla hasn't moved an inch as she tends to the colonel and listens to reasons that don't justify the means. Orate cocks his head to one side as he turns to her. "We do not apply such a high emphasis on love and friendship as you do. We had to verify that you were not prone to overemotional reactions. To see female leaders is a rare thing; we didn't know if there were other underlying reasons for your place with your superior. Such things can erode leadership."
"You did this for our reactions even though you are empathic," Teyla seethes.
"We are sensitive to emotions. So much so that we don't use them or let them cloud our judgment. It has been a long time since we've encountered such… irrational feelings in others; we had to make sure what truly motivated your purpose."
"And… getting to know us...was too much trouble?" Sheppard's gravelly voice draws everyone's attention.
Sheppard feels like crap, his muscles won't stop trembling and his stomach is a sea of nausea. Teyla's cradling him in a very unmanly way, but truth be told, he's not sure if he can even sit up at this point. His muscles are mush and he's freezing. He pulls the blanket snugly around him and tries to prop himself up against Teyla.
He's never seen this guy before, but his stature screams leader and Sheppard's been aware enough to listen in on parts of the conversations buzzing around him. "You might try talking…next time."
The Thlemian looks on in impatience. "As I've tried to explain...your people don't...your feelings, as loud and intrusive as they are...can be...deceiving. You do not always say what you mean."
"That gives you permission to do whatever you please?" Sheppard's head aches with a passion but he won't show it.
"You are the leader, are you not?"
Sheppard doesn't feel like on laying on the ground and he glares at McKay to help him up, knowing that Teyla in her current mode will not oblige. "Yeah, I lead the team."
"Then it's your job to face such a trial. It is, after all, your teachings that your students follow. Therefore, you are the one subjected to the testing."
Rodney huffs indignantly.
"You could stand to learn a few lessons in diplomacy," Sheppard says dryly.
Sheppard struggles to rise and Teyla warns him to stay put, but he's had enough of other people telling him what to do. Rodney's there to grab one side of him as the head rush hits him with a wallop andbile burns a trail up his esophagus.
Ronon's taken a flanking position and Sheppard realizes he's out of uniform, literally. "I want my clothes back."
"Shouldn't we just get out of here?" Rodney asks in a panic.
The Thlemians had stripped him bare in front of his team. The last time he'd let someone get away with that, he'd regretted letting them live. There's no way in hell he'll let another person walk away with their last image of him in such a vulnerable state.
"Very well, I shall retrieve your things."
The man's exits as his team encircles him, Rodney leading the tirade as usual. "Are you crazy? Let's go now!"
"Who is he?" Sheppard asks Ronon who's sizing up his CO's condition.
"His name's Orate," the Satedan replies. "Want me to take care of him when he returns?"
"No." Sheppard shakes his head and immediately regrets it, almost stumbling from the dizziness.
"You should not be standing," Teyla warns.
"I'm leaving with my boots on."
Orate returns, carrying his clothes minus the t-shirt, and hands his Glock over to McKay. Sheppard senses some underlying taunt in the gesture. Rodney's jaw muscles clench as he accepts it and for the briefest of moments he's not sure what the scientist is going to do. That glimpse is enough and Sheppard allows Teyla to help him dress in order to get out of there quickly.
"Perhaps, when you've calmed down and thought things through rationally you'll be in a better frame of mind to talk," Orates suggests.
Sheppard can barely lace up, but he pulls them through enough holes to make them tight and straightens without falling. "I doubt it."
"Do not allow your penchant for emotion to color your judgment of what we've done here. We have a lot to offer you."
"We're not interested in what you have to sell," Sheppard replies and looks at his team. "Let's go."
"This is a mistake," Orates calls after them.
"No, call it a reasonable choice based on the known facts," Rodney returns over his shoulder, steering Sheppard's left elbow.
Ronon has their six as Teyla walks beside him, allowing Sheppard the illusion of moving under his own power. By the time they exit the city all of them slow to a snail's pace to stay in step with his slower speed. There's no talking or discussion about what had transpired.
Rodney goes up front and begins the pre-flight and Sheppard allows the hum of the jumper's engines coming on line to lull him into relaxation. Ronon and Teyla sit opposite him on the other bench. They are silent, lost in their own thoughts.
The chronometer in the jumper says they've only been gone for a day while their internal clocks, manipulated by the Thlemians, had them all believing it had been longer. It's hard to believe that a race that could have done that, could supposedly read peoples' minds, could have been so wrong.
Sheppard finally closes his eyes, only to be startled seconds later by an unexpected touch. He blinks blearily, sees Teyla's face hovering over his as she lays the blanket from the planet over him. He smiles at her, curls tighter under its warmth, and lets his eyes fall shut.
Loyalty, compassion, conviction, morality. Their collective choices in these matters are what had brought them all together. As a team and a family. One that could not be broken down into a simple summation of its parts.