Darkness Runs Deep

The canvas bag over his head was stifling. Sounds all around him found his ears, but John couldn't decipher what was going on. Fear pushed at him, but he pushed back, refusing to give in to its call. He tensed as he felt his shirt ripped from his body and his bound hands pulled over his head. The faint squeaking of a pulley whined in his ears and he felt himself pulled upwards. His arms stretched over his head and then, slowly, his whole body left the ground. He fought instinctive fear but he remained still and turned his senses outward, trying to figure out what was going on.

John cocked his head slightly at the sound of heavy footsteps approaching him. "Who are you?" he asked firmly. Without his eyes, there was no way he was ready for the fist that buried itself in his ribcage. Pain ripped through him and he felt his breath explode from his lungs. Panic gripped him for a moment as he struggled to breathe, before he managed to pull in a loud, wheezing breath, then another, his lucidity returning.

"Shut up." The deep, heavily accented voice was strangely calm.

John swallowed hard and listened, allowing his primal instincts to take over. Again, the heavy footsteps shuffled, the sound coming directly in front of him. Without sparing a moment, John lashed out with his left foot, satisfied as his heavy combat boot met soft flesh.

The object of his attack yelled loudly in pain, and behind the canvas bag, John grinned in satisfaction. His happiness was short lived as he felt two strong sets of hands grab each of his legs. John twisted his body as he struggled to free himself. He felt like a snared animal, and fought with the ferocity to match it. The rope burned into his wrists but still he battled, refusing to give in. He heard a deep, dark laugh an instant before another fist to the gut again stole his breath. Haze clouded his mind and the struggle ended. John felt his ankles bound tightly together, before his feet were pulled behind him and secured. Powerless, he hung there, blind, and at the mercy of his unknown captors.

Slowly, his mind cleared as his fast breathing once again turned regular. Questions, laced with uncertainty raced through his head, but the throbbing pain in his ribs suppressed his curiosity. He clenched his jaw and remained silent as the heavy footsteps once again moved around him.

"You are strong." The voice that accompanied the heavy footsteps was deep and laced with a thick, unfamiliar accent. "Many that cross my path do not fight. Others learn early that fighting leads to... more unpleasant incidences. Some do not learn… and their time with me is brief."

The voice held a note of finality that John instantly understood. Tensing slightly, he drew in a quiet breath. "What do you want with me?" He held his tone even and confident.

"Many things. Our paths have not crossed before. There is much we must know about you."

"All you had to do is ask," John quipped darkly, "this isn't exactly how you make friends."

A grunt that was nearly a chuckle preceded the man's next comment. "I am not interested in friendship, only everything you know about your people and your technology."

John closed his eyes as his mind raced. Who were these people? His mind touched briefly on his team. You guys better be safe... Darkly, he felt the touch of irony at his thoughts. Like there's anything I can do at the moment if they're not... His interrogator's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Let us start with a name."

"Fred?" John immediately quipped. Pain exploded from his back, tearing a hissing breath from him as one of his interrogator's men hit him twice with what John could only surmise was a long narrow stick or whip.

"Do not make this hard on yourself," the interrogator said quietly. "What is your name?"

"You know," John grunted, "you're not exactly making me trust you..." Another lash across his back interrupted him. John squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to take a breath. Deep inside him an insistent fear pushed at the edges of his control. He was blind, tied... helpless. He didn't know who his interrogators were, what they wanted, or what threat they posed. The cold clench of his gut brought realization to him. He was facing one of his greatest fears; to be helpless. At that moment, John didn't care about himself, or his health, but only about Atlantis; his friends... his family. He needed information before he could act and being beat to a bloody pulp wasn't going to help him get it. John sighed quietly. "John Sheppard," he softly supplied. "You?" he ventured.

"My name is of no concern to you, John Sheppard."

John closed his eyes in frustration.

"Where are you from?" his interrogator asked.

John swallowed against the snug cord that held the sack around his head. "Another world." He pushed back against his fear and held tightly to his wits; stalling... buying time until he could learn something useful and sort things out. Just get me out of here alive...

"And that world would be?" the interrogator pressed him for specifics.

"Far away." John felt the tension in the room shift, and barely managed to clench his muscles, before the whip returned. Time and again, his body flinched under the assault, the ropes digging painfully into his wrists and fire swarming over his back as he was lashed over and over. The whip descended once more and John could no longer stifle the choked cry that escaped his clenched teeth.

Then... it stopped, the fire of each lash fading to a throbbing smolder. Sweat poured off his face, only made worse by the stifling canvas back covering his head. John's deep, fast breaths were ragged.

"You will learn that resistance only brings you pain. What world are you from?"

Through the haze of pain, John found his wits. With cold clarity, he strengthened his resolve. Information or no, there were certain things he couldn't... wouldn't tell this bastard. "No," he whispered, tensing as the interrogator's heavy sigh reached him.

"I see."

John's head snapped back as the impact of a heavy stick replaced the stinging blows from before and threw his body forward against the restraints. The pain was just as intense, but different. Heavy, crushing agony ripped through his body twice more, before it stopped. He grunted quietly and drew in a haggard breath, struggling to hold onto consciousness.

"For your sake, I hope you are not one of those who cannot let go of their resistance," the interrogator said in a low voice. "Take him to his cell," he ordered.

Through the haze of pain, John felt himself lowered to the ground, but as his feet were freed of bindings, his knees buckled; his whole body weak from the beating. Two strong sets of hands roughly grabbed the undersides of his arms as consciousness fled him.

---------------

It was light that he first noticed, the warm caress of a direct beam of sun on his face chasing away the darkness. Gradually, he became aware of the cold stone floor beneath his body, chilling his left side. The air was cool on his face as he realized his captors had removed the bag from his head. Slowly, he opened his eyes, swallowing hard against a wave of nausea. Drawing in a careful breath John looked around. His prison cell was dark and musty, the only light coming from a high, bar covered window. Nausea swarmed through him again and John closed his eyes against it. His thoughts drifted to his team. Are they safe? Deep inside, he clung to the belief that they were, that his distraction had bough them the time they needed to escape... and that they'd be coming back for him. He searched through his memories, looking for the reassurance he needed.

"Head for the gate! Now!" Running behind his team, John staggered to a stop and spun, sending a spray of P-90 fire back through the thick underbrush. He dropped to the ground, taking cover behind a small stump as bullets scattered dirt in front of him. John rolled and peeked out around the other side of the stump and squeezed off several more shots. Suddenly, a red beam arched over his head and slammed into a nearby tree. Ronon's voice followed on its heels.

"Sheppard! Move!"

Another beam sailed past him and John pushed himself to his feet before breaking into a dead run as Ronon provided cover fire for him. Breathing heavily, he ducked unceremoniously behind a tree bumping into Ronon in the process. He took a deep breath. "Thanks. Teyla? McKay?"

"Should be to the gate by now," Ronon fired two more shots at their unseen pursuers.

John's hand instinctively cupped his radio headset as Teyla's voice crackled in his ear.

"Colonel, we are cut off from the gate!"

"Damn it!" he tapped his call button. "Stay put, Teyla. We're on our way to you." John glanced at Ronon before the both of them took off at a fast run towards the gate. It wasn't long until they caught up with Teyla and McKay. Kneeling next to her, John's eyes scanned the rustling underbrush surrounding a small clearing that housed the Stargate. His mind raced for a moment, before he pursed his lips and decided on a course of action. Reaching into his tac vest, John pulled out a fresh clip for his P-90. "I'll draw their fire. As soon as the way is clear, you three get your asses through the gate. I'll double back and follow." With a practiced hand, John loaded the fresh clip into his P-90.

"Colonel..." Teyla started.

"You can't be serious!" McKay protested.

"I'm going with you." Ronon stated unequivocally.

Under les dangerous conditions, John might have found the simultaneous protests funny, but this was no time for argument. "That's enough!" he snapped, ending all their protests. "Get through the gate. That's an order." He lifted himself into a low crouch and paused before looking back at each of them. "I won't be far behind," he reassured, his voice tempered.

"You better not be," Ronon grumbled...

It'd worked... at least John thought it did. He remembered hearing the Stargate engage as he led their pursuers on a fast chase through the woods. Then he was surrounded. Something hit him in the back of the head, and that was all he remembered.

How could a simple "boots on the ground, standard recon" go so wrong so fast? John stifled his frustration. The MALP had shown nothing of interest. All they'd planned on doing was a simple recon of the area around the gate. That was it. By the time life signs showed on McKay's Life Signs Detector, it'd been too late, the trap had been sprung.

Carefully, John opened his eyes, encouraged slightly as his stomach settled. He slowly pushed himself to his elbow, wincing as his stiff and sore back. He twisted to a sitting position and gasped as sharp pain from his ribs shot through him. He froze, leaning on his straightened arm and shallowly breathing through the pain. Broken… "Damn," he muttered. After a minute, he slowly got to his knees and carefully pushed himself to his feet. His legs were shaky and he instinctively wrapped one arm protectively over them as he looked around. Three sides and the ceiling of his cell were stone, as if where he stood had been cut out of the side of a cliff, or some sort of cave. He walked towards the cell door, his steps lethargic.

Instead of bars, a solid, metal wall greeted his gaze. The door was heavily armed with no exposed joints or hinges. All in all, his prison more resembled solitary confinement than a jail cell. Running his hand over the rough metal wall, John shook his head in frustration. Forcing himself to think, he followed the wall, his fingers trailing over the metal surface until he reached where metal met stone. He shook his head as he carefully scanned the junction. It was infallible, with no signs of weakness. John stepped back and turned away. Slowly, he limped across the cell before gently easing himself to the ground and leaning back against one of the cool, stone walls. He winced slightly as the fresh wounds on his bare back stung from the pressure, but after a moment, the pain passed, and the cool stone soothed them. He suppressed a chilled shudder and wondered how long and how cold the nights on this planet were. Letting his head fall back against the stone, John tried to rest. "Hurry up, guys," he muttered quietly.