Man this was a marathon of a chapter. So much that I wanted to fit and it just kept running away with me! Anyway, most of the loose ends are wrapped up now although there's a thread poking out here and there that I may come back one day and tidy up – who knows? But for now this is done with – my other projects await!
Thanks to all who read and reviewed, hope you enjoy the finale – please do hit the review button and let me know what you think of it.
The first thing Teyla saw when they burst into the small, white room was an overly large, muscle-bound man. For a brief moment or two that was all she saw. But only for a moment or two.. the man's technique was poor and he relied too much on his strength and bulk. Against an experienced fighter such as herself, he didn't stand a chance. The second thing she saw, as she stepped over the unconscious body, was the blood. Thinking back on it later, she reasoned that she must have seen more than that, must have looked at the infirmary-style bed and at its occupant, but her sole, abiding memory of that moment was of blood. Blood on the white floor, on the white walls, on the starched sheets and the infirmary scrubs. Bright red on white.
She moved towards the bed as if in a dream, her gaze taking in the blood-stained scrubs, the bruises and drying blood on the Colonel's face and.. she swallowed.. the thick leather straps that bound his wrists and ankles to the rails of the bed, those around his wrists smeared and stained with blood, the skin underneath red and raw with it. Colonel Sheppard lay limp and unmoving on the bed, his chest rising and falling slowly, his limbs hanging limply from the restraints, offering no resistance as Rodney gently turned his head on the pillow, gazing with concern into the Colonel's eyes.
Teyla knew the very moment when Ronon saw what had been done to Sheppard; saw the blood. Like her, he had been focused on the fight as he entered the room, dispatching a second muscle-bound guard with a few concise moves, he and Teyla spearheading the attack while Rodney headed straight for Sheppard and Lorne's team covered the corridor. Within mere moments of their arrival the only remaining occupant of the room, aside from their team, was a tall man with sharp, blue eyes, dressed in the garb of a doctor. He had cowered back from them as they decimated his guards, his face a warring mixture of hatred and fear.
Rodney, on reaching the infirmary bed, had breathed out a curse, his voice rich with horror and dismay, "Oh my god!" and Ronon had turned his head from the cowering man, getting his first proper look at the occupant of the bed. Teyla's attention was on the Colonel, shock leaving her stunned for a moment as she watched Rodney peer closely at Sheppard's face, and she did not see Ronon's reaction to the sight, only heard his roar of fury. By the time she turned around he had the blue-eyed man pinned to the wall by his throat, the tall warrior's face a mask of rage. The man in the doctor's robes was clearly terrified, squirming weakly against the stranglehold on his neck, his hands clawing futilely at Ronon's, but, looking back to the Colonel, she could not find any pity in her heart for this man.
It all happened so quickly. She saw Ronon's hand tighten around the man's neck even as Dr McKay suddenly straightened from the Colonel's bed, realising what was happening and shouting out, "Ronon, no!"
There was a sickening crunching noise and the blue-eyed man gurgled helplessly. Too late. Ronon's face showed his disgust as he let the body drop to the floor.
Rodney was furious, his face flushed red as he yelled at the Satedan, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Ronon's face was set, unrepentant. He looked past McKay to where Sheppard's head lolled loosely on the blood-stained pillow. "He deserved to die."
Rodney was practically spitting as he glared at Ronon. "Well, that's as maybe, Conan, but as it happens we needed him alive!"
He gestured angrily at the bed and Teyla frowned as she took in the Colonel's condition; he was awake but seemed confused, sluggish, barely reacting to his surroundings, despite the shouting and violence. "Look at him! That son of a bitch has given him something, drugged him with something and I'm thinking perhaps it might have been helpful to Carson if we could have, oh I dunno, found out what crap they've been shoving into his veins – and maybe asked the man nicely for the antidote, hmmm?"
Rodney's voice was harsh, his sarcasm more cutting than usual, and Teyla knew his anger stemmed from his fear for his friend; a fear they all shared. Even Ronon seemed to have a moment of doubt, his voice not quite as confident as he rumbled, "Beckett's a good doctor. He'll fix him."
"Well, he'll have to now, won't he? Cos dead guy over there in the corner's sure not going to be any help!"
"Rodney," She kept her voice deliberately calm, not allowing her own fear and anger to show. "We do not have time for this; we must leave."
A burst of gunfire from the corridor gave an added impetus to her words and McKay forgot his anger in a second, his moods shifting like coloured lights that used to sometimes light the winter sky on the long nights of Athos. He turned quickly back to the bed, his lips pressed tight as peered closely into the Colonel's face. He snapped his fingers in front of Sheppard's eyes.
"Colonel Sheppard? Can you hear me, Colonel? It's Dr McKay.."
"I think he knows who you are.."
McKay rounded on Ronon sharply, his colour quickly rising again. "You think so, huh? Have you taken a look at his eyes recently?"
Ronon frowned and Teyla joined him as he leaned forward. She had been so disturbed by the Colonel's immediate physical condition, by the bloodstains and evidence of torture, that she had not seen whatever had made McKay so worried. Her heart sank as she saw the Colonel's eyes. The dark centres of his eyes had shrunk to tiny pinpricks; there was no focus to his gaze, no life in his eyes. He looked right through Rodney, right through her, as though they did not exist. She had seen such symptoms before, in those who ate the keera berries that her father had warned her about.
"Colonel?" He seemed to respond sluggishly to McKay's voice, his oddly vacant eyes blinking slowly as he tried to focus on Rodney's face.
"Blue.." Sheppard's words were slurred, his voice cracked and dry. Teyla wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly.
"What?" Rodney's voice mirrored her own confusion.
"Are you my friend?.."
"Yes, Colonel," McKay's voice cracked slightly, the tightness in his throat masked with exasperation, "I'm your friend. We've come to take you home."
Sheppard frowned drowsily. "Need me to tell you the code.."
They all froze for a moment at that, their eyes meeting in immediate understanding of what had gone on here. McKay was the first to recover himself.
"Bastards," he muttered darkly and reached over the Colonel's body to begin freeing his left hand.
Ronon quickly unfastened the straps around Sheppard's ankles as Rodney and Teyla worked carefully on the restraints at his wrists. The leather was stiff and unwieldy, caked in dried blood, slippery with fresh. Despite the urgency of their situation, Teyla took her time to work the strap free from the buckle, her eyes noting with concern the dusky colour of the Colonel's hand.
Eventually she got the strap unfastened, holding his arm gingerly as she carefully, gently, peeled the blood-soaked leather away from Sheppard's wrist. She grimaced at what was revealed. The flesh beneath was raw, abraded, the skin scraped away to reveal angry, red flesh and blood, so much blood; crusted and drying, still oozing from the exposed flesh. Sheppard gave a sudden groan, a choked, pitiful sound, and she looked up to see his face crease in a frown of pain.
"Hurts," he hissed faintly. His arm trembled weakly in her hands as the blood flow began to return his hand, painfully reperfusing the starved tissues.
"I know, Colonel," she soothed, keeping her voice low and calm, as though as to a child, "but we be home soon and Dr Beckett will care for your pain. Just a little while longer, Colonel."
Gunfire sounded again from the corridor closely followed by Lorne's tense shout, "Getting pretty tight out here guys, we need to get moving!"
There was no more time for finesse. Finally free of the restraints, they laid Sheppard's arms limply on the bed and Teyla and Rodney stepped clear as Ronon slipped his arms under the Colonel's battered body and lifted, bearing the weight easily as he, as gently as possible under the circumstances, slung Sheppard's limp form over his shoulders. Teyla couldn't help but notice Sheppard's involuntary grunt of pain but, other than that, the Colonel did not react, his limbs dangling loosely as Ronon turned for the door. His lack of response worried Teyla even more.
Outside in the corridor, all was chaos. Lorne's team were under attack, struggling to keep the enemy pinned down at the end of the corridor, keeping the exit clear for Sheppard's team. The major began shouting orders, pulling his men back as soon as Ronon carried Sheppard from the small room. Having the Colonel draped over one shoulder didn't seem to cramp Ronon's style to any great degree as he aimed and fired his gun with his one free hand as they executed what Sheppard would have called a "strategic withdrawal". Rodney would have possibly described it something more like "run like hell for the gate" and it almost felt that way to Teyla, the sense of urgency almost overwhelming. Their enemy was persistent, dogging them all the way to the gate, Lorne's marines fighting a hard-won rearguard action to protect them. It seemed they really didn't want to let Sheppard go.
She had rarely been so relieved to see the event horizon explode out towards her and to step through the gate to the safety of Atlantis.
Teyla had never seen Dr Beckett so furious. He had been waiting for them in the gateroom and had cursed out loud when Ronon had laid Sheppard down onto the waiting gurney, his angry words shocking the entire control room. Usually so mild mannered, Teyla knew the doctor had a core of moral strength to him that few could match. He might not be strong or brave or a warrior like Ronon but she knew when it came to caring for and protecting his patients, he would stand up to a Wraith queen if necessary. His eyes had spoken of his disgust at the things men could do to one another even as he had rapidly assessed the Colonel's injuries, issuing orders to his team as they set the gurney rolling quickly towards the infirmary.
Even now, hours later, Carson was still angry. She could see it in the tenseness of his posture, in the uncustomary glower on his face, the way he picked things up and put them down just that little bit too hard as he moved restlessly around the infirmary.
"Dr Beckett," her voice was low, soothing, trying to calm the agitated man.
He seemed almost startled as he looked round at her, as though he had forgotten she were there. One or more of Ronon, Rodney or she had stayed constantly by the Colonel's bedside in the hours since his return, making sure he was never alone.
"Aye, lass?" The doctor seemed to have to force his usual congeniality into his voice, his smile seemingly stretched too tight.
"It has been many hours, Dr Beckett. When can we expect the Colonel to awake?" Perhaps discussing his patient might distract him… or let him give words to the emotion troubling him.
Beckett sighed. "I honestly can't say, lass. We know very little about whatever drug they gave him. Most of it was metabolised by the time we were able to sample his blood and our lab tests can only tell us so much – it seems to have been similar in some ways to a variety of earth drugs we call opiates."
He sighed again and ran a hand restlessly through his already ruffled hair and Teyla thought she heard him mutter something under his breath; she could not be sure of the words but thought she caught the word "bastards" in there somewhere. Dr McKay had explained many of the earth swearwords to Ronon and she and Teyla recalled that that was one of the somewhat less polite ones. It was certainly not a word one would usually expect to hear used by the kind-hearted Scot.
"Dr Beckett?" She drew his attention back to the bed and the sleeping Colonel. Carson's restless motion stilled as he looked down at his patient, his lips tight and set with anger as he took in the gauzy bandages wrapped around both wrists, the mottled bruising across Sheppard's face, steri-strips holding closed a couple of nasty cuts on his cheek and forehead. And that was only the visible damage. It said nothing of the signs of blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen, the needle marks on Sheppard's thigh, arm and neck, the unknown residual effects of whatever dangerous chemicals they had injected him with.
The Colonel had been almost unconscious when he came through the gate, his eyelids drooping over those disturbing, pin-prick pupilled eyes. He had seemed completely unaware of his surroundings, remaining limp and non-reactive as Carson and his team had poked and prodded him and ran their tests. Teyla had been guiltily relieved when those sightless eyes had finally slid shut and the Colonel had slipped into unconsciousness. Now she began to wonder when – or if – he would ever reawaken.
She stayed silent as she watched Dr Beckett look down at Sheppard, the anger radiating off him in waves as they both imagined what this man, their friend, had been through in that awful place, and when he lifted his eyes to hers she was surprised to find them glistening. The fury seemed to drain from him, his shoulders sagging, and his voice was plaintive as he asked her, "How can someone do that to another human being, Teyla? How can they take pleasure in causing such harm? Take knowledge and science and use it to torture a man?"
Teyla had no answers for him; the same questions plagued her thoughts as she sat at Colonel Sheppard's bedside and watched him in his drugged sleep.
"I do not know, Dr Beckett. But I do know that as long as people such as you and I have the strength to fight them, we will do what we can to stop such things from happening again," she offered him what little comfort she could.
The smile he gave her was weak but genuine, a glimpse of the Carson Beckett she knew and respected; the man of healing, of caring. She smiled warmly in return.
She and Carson looked around instinctively at Ronon's deep, rumbling voice. The Satedan had been hanging around the infirmary a lot since Sheppard's return. He was never one to show his emotions openly but Teyla knew he felt a deep kinship with the Colonel and, she suspected, was also feeling a little guilty that his actions on the planet – whilst entirely justifiable to his mind – may have slowed or endangered Sheppard's chances of recovery.
"How's he doing?" Ronon hovered at the end of the bed, a jerk of his chin indicating Sheppard as he spoke.
Carson's voice seemed almost back to its usual, confident timbre as he ran through the Colonel's condition for Ronon.
"His physical injuries will heal in time – though his wrists are a mess and he may well be left with some scarring. He just about ripped all the skin off trying to get out of those restraints…" His words faltered as his thoughts dwelled on that image, a hint of anger momentarily darkening his face, before seeming to make a concerted effort to shake it off.
"I'm more worried about the residual effects of whatever drugs they gave him. We have no way to know what damage they may have done." Carson looked up at Ronon's face as he spoke and seemed to catch a glimpse of the guilt Teyla suspected lurked there, the doctor's face softening immediately.
"Now don't go blaming yourself lad, you'd no way to know. And seeing how they've treated to the Colonel, I highly doubt that man would ever have told you anything helpful."
Teyla thought to add her reassurances to Beckett's but at that moment a sound from the bed drew all their attention. Sheppard's face was creased into a frown, a soft moan escaping his lips as he stirred weakly. As they watched, his eyes fluttered open.
Carson was as the bedside in seconds, leaning close to peer into the Colonel's eyes, his voice calm and reassuring as he asked, "Colonel Sheppard? John? Can you hear me, son?"
For a moment Sheppard's gaze was blank, confused, and then his eyes widened in what looked to Teyla like anger and terrible, terrible fear and she jumped in shock as the Colonel screamed and lashed out.
Sheppard awoke to pain. Aching pain that encompassed every muscle, every fibre of his being. He couldn't help the quiet moan that escaped him as he shuddered his way to consciousness. For a moment, when he opened his eyes, everything was confused, jumbled. Somehow he was expecting white – a white ceiling – but instead it was greenish-blue, a gentle pastel shade, and his instincts told him that was good, that was safe. But then someone leant over him and a voice was calling his name, calling him John; a soft, reasonable voice and a smiling face with blue, blue eyes. His spine arched as terror and hatred flooded through him and he felt the IV in his arm, the starched sheets against his skin and he screamed his fear and his anger. Infirmary. No, no, he was back in the infirmary bed with needles and restraints and pain and he had to get out, had to get out of here. He lashed out at the blue-eyed man and pain exploded through his arm as his tender flesh connected with the face looming over him, the blue eyes falling away.
His aching muscles screamed and protested as he flung himself desperately over the railings of the bed, not caring where he landed, just needing to get away from here. His legs gave under him as he hit the floor but surging adrenalin gave him strength, and he pushed himself awkwardly to his hands and knees, his arms burning with fiery pain as he dragged himself across the floor. There was chaos and confusion, voices shouting, calling his name. All that mattered was escape, getting out of here. He screamed when hands grabbed at him, his voice cracking as he shouted his defiance, struggling and kicking as someone lifted him bodily from the floor. He swung out wildly, his fist connecting with something solid and seconds later a hand gripped his wrist, pinning his arm. He couldn't hold back the scream of agony that tore from him at the tight pressure that dug into his abraded flesh, sending fiery pain shooting up his arm.
Voices nearby, jumbled and confused, but the tight grip was gone from his wrist. He lashed out furiously again, striking solid flesh, and a rumbling voice cried, "Dammit!"
Arms like steel bands encircled him from behind, pressing him back against a firm chest, pinning his arms to his sides. He shouted and fought, kicking desperately, but he was growing tired now, the surge of adrenalin fading, and he felt despair as he realised he had failed again in his attempt to get free. His heart was pounding in his chest as his eyes darted frantically around the room, searching for a way out.
And then soft hands were clasping his face, turning his head, holding him still as deep brown eyes tried to capture his panicked gaze. Not blue eyes; not sharp, cold, blue eyes but warm, brown eyes and a gentle smile and a voice that was low and warm, like smooth chocolate. He looked into those eyes and let that warm voice wash over him and suddenly the words began to make sense and the face came into focus. The sense of relief was overwhelming and the last of his energy flooded out of him, his legs giving way, the strong arms around his chest the only thing holding him upright as his surroundings suddenly slotted into place.
"Teyla?" he gasped.
They were all taken by surprise by Sheppard's violent reaction, Carson most of all. Beckett was unprepared for the fist that came swinging his way and the blow stunned him, toppling him backwards to land on his rump on the infirmary floor. Before Teyla could do more than take a step towards the dazed doctor, Colonel Sheppard was scrambling from the bed, his eyes wild and panicked. He crumpled to the floor immediately and for a moment she was torn as to whom to turn to first.
The Satedan was already moving. "I'll take care of Sheppard!"
She rushed to crouch by Carson who still sat slumped on the floor, blinking slowly as he pressed a hand to his jaw. "Oowww.."
"Dr Beckett? Are you alright?"
He seemed to shake himself at her words, waving off her concern. "I'm fine, lass. He just knocked me for a loop for a moment there.."
The earth slang was confusing to her but he seemed to be getting over his shock and his head was as quick to turn as hers when more screams and shouts rent the peaceful air of the infirmary.
"Oh my god, the Colonel!"
She helped Beckett shakily to his feet and the two of them were stunned to see Sheppard struggling and squirming in Ronon's grip, kicking and flailing wildly. Before they could move to intervene, Sheppard's fist caught Ronon in the face and the Satedan instinctively grabbed hold of the Colonel's wrist, trying to block further blows. Sheppard's howl of pain was like a dagger in her heart and her voice was sharp as she rebuked the tall warrior.
He realised his mistake at once, releasing the trapped limb with a startled, "Sorry!" and, almost immediately, Sheppard punched him again, struggling with a strength born of desperation to get free of his captor's grip. The Colonel's face was a mask of terror and pain, his consciousness too lost in the nightmare of his recent experiences to recognise that he was home, that he was safe, that the people he was fighting so hard to escape were his friends.
"Dammit!" Ronon cursed fluidly as the blow slammed into his cheekbone and, with a growl of impatience, dropped his arms to wrap around the Colonel's chest, pinning Sheppard's arms in place and hauling him upright. Sheppard continued to struggle and yell as Teyla and Carson rushed forward to help, his panicked eyes looking through them as though they weren't there, searching for escape from his pain, from his nightmare.
It was an instinctive movement to grab his face between her hands, to try to make him focus on her, to forge a connection and ground him in this reality. His skin was hot and damp beneath her hands, sweat trickling between her fingers as his eyes darted from place to place desperately.
"Colonel Sheppard! Colonel, it is Teyla. You are safe, Colonel. You are back in Atlantis, there is no-one here to harm you."
She kept talking, making her words a continuous flow of gentle reassurance, trying to break through his panic and fear and bring him back to them. She kept her eyes on his, holding his gaze, his attention, until finally his breathing began to slow and she saw, literally saw, the life come back into his eyes as he awoke from his nightmare and recognized her face.
"Teyla?" His soft cry was that of a plaintive child, scared and afraid.
"Yes, John. It is I. You are safe. You are home."
He sagged in Ronon's arms and the tall man found himself struggling to change his grip, to keep Sheppard from falling as the fight drained from the Colonel's body. For the second time that day, the Satedan found himself lifting Sheppard in his arms.
Carson was hovering, fussing over his patient, as Ronon carried the exhausted Colonel back to his bed and gently laid him down. The doctor tutted and frowned over the small, bloody wound where Sheppard had torn his IV loose and the blood stains seeping through the bandages at his wrist, while Sheppard simply gazed tiredly at Teyla and Ronon, seemingly unable to tear his eyes away from the faces of his friends.
He licked dry lips as Carson muttered to himself about having to re-bandage the wounds. Sheppard's voice was dry and cracked, his words so quiet Teyla almost missed it.
She smiled broadly and was pleased to see the faintest hint of an answering smile on the Colonel's lips. "Yes, John. You are home."
Teyla couldn't help but notice Sheppard flinch slightly as he turned his gaze to Carson. She frowned for a moment as she remembered the blue-eyed man in doctor's garb in that awful, white, blood-stained room. She wondered if they would ever know the full extent of what that man had done to John. Knowing the Colonel, she doubted he would ever tell them.
"How are you feeling, son?"
Sheppard's eyes were dark, his forehead pulled into a frown and Teyla suspected the answer before he spoke. "Hurts." His voice was quiet, drained. A cold shiver ran through her as she looked at the battered, exhausted man. If Sheppard was admitting to his pain then he must really be hurting. She thought again of the blue-eyed man and for a moment was fiercely glad of Ronon's actions.
"Okay, son. I'll give you something for the pain."
Sheppard's eyes focused tiredly on the reddening patch on Beckett's jaw as the doctor spoke.
"M'sorry.." he mumbled.
"Don't you worry about it, son," Carson brushed his apology aside carelessly, "I've had worse from bigger'n you, lad. Glasgow's a tough place to grow up.."
Sheppard grinned slightly at Carson's teasing but Teyla saw him flinch, his smile fading quickly, as Beckett held up a syringe and began to carefully draw a measured dose of painkillers. There was suddenly a tension in the air and Teyla realised the Colonel was trembling, his attention riveted on the hypodermic in Beckett's hands, sweat springing up on his brow.
"Colonel?" She moved to the side of the bed as she spoke but he didn't look at her, couldn't tear his gaze from the needle, from the fluid-filled tube. Carson had realised something was wrong and he stood still now, the syringe held carefully in his hand, anxious not to spook the agitated Colonel.
"Colonel Sheppard." She took his hand in hers and now he did turn to look at her and in his eyes she saw such fear, such dread, that she felt her heart freeze with sorrow for the suffering this gentle, brave man had endured. "You are safe here, Colonel. No-one will harm you. We wish only to ease your pain. You can trust us, John."
He nodded sharply, his body still tense, and she flicked her eyes to Carson, seeing his understanding of her unspoken request, before turning her gaze back to John, capturing his eyes with hers, talking to him softly, constantly, reassuring him that he was home, he was safe and everything would be alright. He flinched when the needle pierced his arm but kept his eyes on Teyla and she kept talking to him, kept up the flow of words, her voice soft and calm, as Carson carefully depressed the plunger and withdrew the needle.
John shuddered then, the tension flooding out of his body as he sank back against the pillows, exhaustion written in every line of his face. Teyla kept hold of his hand, kept talking to him as his eyes began to droop, the lines of pain easing from his face.
He kept his eyes on hers until the very last moment, blinking owlishly as the painkillers took effect, pulling him towards healing sleep, his attention focused only on her face, her voice, her words.
"You are safe now, John. You are home. It's okay to sleep. We will be here when you awake. Sleep now, John."
His eyes slid slowly closed and Teyla lets her words tail gradually away as his breathing evened out and his hand relaxed in hers. John Sheppard slept, home again, safe in Atlantis.