Warnings: Swears, torture (offscreen), angst

Prompt: writing for Kajikia, as part of the Atlantis Back to Basics ficathon.

x-x

He'd seen this much blood before.

He looked up and his head spun. Where was his unit? He was… they had been… His gaze again rested on the body on the floor, and he took a shuffling step back.

The man lying before him shared his dark hair and fair skin. Probably about the same age, too. Both soldiers, of a sort. Other than the fact that he was US military, and the man at his feet was Kosovo Liberation Army, Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës… No, wait. He frowned in his confusion, because that wasn't where he was.

"Major Lorne."

There had been this much blood then. He squatted down and reached a tentative hand toward the body, fingering the fabric, blood wetting his fingers. The cloth was the wrong color. This one was darker green, and the red UÇK insignia was missing.

"Lorne."

He'd killed this man, just like he'd killed the man in Kosovo, at close range, face-to-face, because he had to. He'd been defending himself, and his unit, then. This time, he'd… The man had come in, and... He wiped one hand on his torn trousers, palm going through a hole and wiping blood across his skin. Where was his unit?

"Major."

There had been this much blood –

"Evan."

He looked up and John Sheppard was there, P-90 tightly gripped against his body, alarm in his eyes. How long had the man been standing there?

"Evan," Sheppard repeated, voice soft, as if he were gentling a skittish animal. "Put down the knife."

And with that, Evan looked down and saw a knife, his hand curled so tightly around its hilt that his fingers had gone white. He let it drop by his knee.

Sheppard was squatting beside him before he'd even realised the man had moved. He watched as Sheppard palmed the knife, sliding it into his holster, eyes trained on him the whole time.

"Team's outside," Sheppard said, nodding toward a door that Evan didn't remember being there a moment ago. "Are you okay to walk?"

Suddenly, he heard the sounds of gunfire from outside, or maybe he finally noticed them, and he glanced in that direction. A door, open, in a thick grey wall. Stone floor. Cold. He'd slept there, and they'd –

And he remembered their knives now, and what they'd do with them, and –

This time, when the man had come in this time, this time he'd –

"We have to go." Sheppard nodded toward Evan's hands, and Evan looked down at them. They were covered in blood.

"I'll need to get those off you."

Oh, right. The restraints.

Evan gave a sharp nod, then stood, unsteady. Arms thrust forward, he watched as Sheppard unfastened the cuffs first from his hands, then his ankles. Rubbing his wrists absently, he wondered where Sheppard had found the key. Off the body? He looked at it, the dead man's eyes empty as they stared toward the ceiling. Had he killed him? He thought he had. He found he didn't care.

"Can you walk?" Sheppard asked, standing before him. The Colonel's initial look of alarm had shifted to a wary concern.

Another nod, and as Sheppard went to the doorway and peered out, Evan took a shambling step forward.

At least Sheppard hadn't asked if he was all right. He had to work hard to stifle the laugh that threatened to erupt, because although he wasn't sure quite what he was, he was far from all right.

x-x

- Two Weeks Later -

Evan sat before the easel he'd placed by the window, soft light flowing through the stained glass and pooling around him. He moved his hand quickly, using the charcoal to sketch light marks across his canvas.

It had been so long since he'd done this. He felt as if he hadn't used these muscles in a while, and really he hadn't. Somehow, sketching out troop manoeuvres on a scrap of paper was not the same.

He used to paint all the time, back when he was younger, but he'd stopped for whatever reason. He'd dabbled in some landscapes since he'd arrived, mostly using Atlantis herself as the subject matter, but he'd quit after the first few. He'd gotten busy, or bored, or frustrated; he couldn't even remember why he'd stopped. But Heightmeyer had figured this sort of activity would be good for him. So here he was.

Eyes on his canvas, his hand traced a curve across its plane. He was stuck on Atlantis base for the duration, until Heightmeyer gave him her blessing. So if she wanted him to paint, he'd paint.

He was physically well, the drugs his captors had used on him having worn off by his second day back. The only visible evidence of his experience were the faded red welts around his wrists and ankles where restraints had bit into his skin, and the raised marks on his back and thighs where they'd cut him. Carson had given him a clean bill of health, but apparently, their resident psychiatrist was concerned about the state of his head. He huffed a mirthless laugh. He actually thought he was doing pretty damn well, considering he had spent a month as a fucking POW.

He slashed a dark, angry line across the canvas. He stared at the mark for a moment, then exhaled loudly, letting out tension he'd only been half aware of holding. Slowly, he reached out a hand and began smudging the line away with his finger.

They'd hidden him away well, apparently. Elizabeth had told him that they'd thought he was dead, at first. But then his captors had been in contact, and several times after that, but kept bouncing their signals, making them next-to-impossible to trace. It had taken the Atlantis team some time and effort to find him again. So really, he shouldn't be angry: not with Weir for not getting him out of there faster, nor with Sheppard for not just blasting his way in once they had figured out where he was being held. And the idea that the men who'd captured him were still down there, still alive… Well, other than that one man he'd killed. The charcoal in his fingers snapped, and he tossed it aside heatedly. His head knew that he shouldn't be angry with his teammates, but his heart – that was a different matter, entirely.

He grabbed another charcoal from the tray near his hand. Heightmeyer wanted drawing? He'd give her drawing. He made a series of harsh, dark lines across the canvas, and a face began to take shape. Dark hair, beret at a rakish angle, UÇK insignia on his upper arm, dead eyes, a dead man, but that wasn't what he wanted, he didn't need physical reminders when he was back to dreaming of Kosovo every. damn. night. He crumbled the charcoal in his palm, letting it fall between his fingers and onto the floor. That wasn't it. That wasn't it at all. Taking a deep breath, he wiped away the lines with his sleeve.

He'd been back for two weeks, now. He'd been having daily meetings with Heightmeyer, and felt like he was controlling himself well. Mostly. For the most part. It was possible that he could be released for duty as early as today. He just needed to keep his shit together. It was all about the control. His life, his head, his art. Mastery over the materials.

The light changed and he looked up to see a beam burst through the windows and onto the drawings he'd stuck up on his walls. Torn from his sketchbook, the sheets covered most of their surface, overlapping each other in their quest for prominence.

It had taken a couple of days for him to get up the courage to ask anyone to sit for him. He'd actually had to think on it for a bit, trying to find someone who wouldn't look at him oddly for making such a request, and who wouldn't be overly critical of the result. Finally, he had asked Teyla.

He'd done lots of sketches of her from life, and one complete painting. He'd liked it enough that he'd given it to her, in thanks. Feeling himself successful, he'd moved on to a new subject.

This one, he hadn't asked. He just couldn't, and the person probably wouldn't agree to sit, anyway. So he had stolen a series of quick sketches from life, capturing fleeting images of heads, hands, arms, shoulders, torsos; in the mess, in corridors, in the gym; entire pages of hands, heads, which to others would probably seem a bunch of nothing, but from these small parts, he would make the whole. He'd done a ton – almost filled half his sketch book – but finally, he'd felt ready.

He'd followed his usual method from there. He'd carefully sketched out the details on his canvas, and then and only then had he put paintbrush to fabric, trying to bring the man to life before him. But unlike his try with Teyla, the portrait hadn't worked.

Evan rested the charcoal against the edge of his easel. Here he was, on his second try. He'd gessoed over the first version, then started sketching again, but he still couldn't quite get it. All the bits had been there – the hair just so, the cock of the head, the stance. The details were all there, but there was something missing, something important, something essential. Still, for only his second attempt at a portrait in years, it hadn't been half bad. His mom, the art teacher, would probably consider it technically competent, but he knew it wasn't right.

He nearly jumped when his radio went. He'd forgotten he'd even put it on. He tapped it and answered, "Lorne."

Elizabeth's voice greeted him. "Heightmeyer has released you for duty."

"Good," he replied, anxiety and anticipation mixing in his response. Elizabeth would not be calling him if she didn't have something for him.

His heart rose to his throat at her next words:

"Sheppard's team didn't make check in."

x-x

- Later -

The puddlejumper swooped over the firs, nearly clipping their tops as Evan looked for a good place to land. Finally deciding on a promising clearing, he glanced back at the three men on his team: Ramirez, O'Brian and Martinez. Geared up, they sat at the back of the tiny ship, ready, almost eager, and so damn young. Lucky, too: they'd been captured when he had, but they'd been let go, told that he was dead. But he hadn't been. His captors had kept him, their leader, probably hoping that he would be a better bargaining chip. Maybe. He wasn't sure why, actually. After their initial interrogations, which were all the usual questions on arms and weapons capabilities and ships and where-are-you-from, they'd drugged him up so much that he'd barely been functional. Sending messages back to the last 'gate address Evan had visited, they'd made contact with Weir and started putting pressure on Atlantis.

Evan turned back to the viewscreen with a pinched smile. That hadn't quite worked out for them.

He pushed those thoughts aside, as he'd forced himself to do so often lately. He felt like he was being haunted; everything reminded him of his time as a captive, and of Kosovo; it was as if the two events were now linked in his head, and he was caught in a loop. Everything reminded him. Everything: the men he was leading, the paintings he was trying to do, everything, but he'd been through similar… whatever… Heightmeyer had mentioned PTSD, but Evan thought she was full of it. He'd been through shit like this before, here and elsewhere. He could deal. It was time to switch it off, turn it into overdrive, focus on the mission. Later, after, if things went bad, he could let it hit him. Not now. Now, he was needed. Everything, from here on out, was his responsibility.

He settled the ship in the clearing, doing a final check to make sure its cloak had held.

From behind him, one of his team said, "Major?"

Evan turned to find Ramirez, dark head bent over the device in his hand. The man looked up, brown eyes piercing. "About eight clicks," he added, motioning to the left.

Evan nodded. They'd been sent here with a general idea for where Sheppard's team was due to have landed. He only hoped that the team wasn't too far from where Ramirez had tracked their jumper.

"Nowhere near a settlement or any structures," O'Brian added, his light eyes lifting from his own screen.

"Right," Evan said, voice coming out clipped and brisk. He did a quick gear check, patting his weapon. He looked up at his men, all of whom were doing the same. "Let's go."

Ramirez was on point, Martinez on their six as they began threading their way through the trees. Evan knew from his own readings that there were no life signs nearby, but he kept his eyes open, tension keeping him alert to the sounds around him as they moved. The forest was dim, shadows cut by the few bright beams of light that pierced the leafy canopy. The ground at his feet was soft with fir needles, and their scent filled his nose as they crunched underfoot.

Moving quick-time, they reached the clearing just as the sun sank low enough to bring the forest into shadow. The jumper was nowhere to be seen, but it was there, according to Ramirez's readings. What they could see was Sheppard and the three others on his team. They lay on the ground near where their jumper was cloaked, face-down, and Evan could see Sheppard and Ronon's guns near their hands. Teyla was slumped beside Rodney, motionless. Whatever had got them had come fast.

Ramirez made to go in, but Evan held him back with a quick hand. Keeping to the shadows of the trees, he did a quick reccie. He could see they were breathing, hell, they were close enough that he could see their eyes moving under their lids, as if they were dreaming. There was no blood evident, and no obvious indications of injury. But there was also no sign of what had knocked them out.

He was just about to move forward when he heard shifting in the undergrowth, and signalled for his men to fade back into the treeline. Well hidden now by vegetation and the rising darkness, he sank down, weapon at the ready, and watched. He kept his breath slow and even, his hold on his weapon relaxed despite his rising tension.

Some minutes later, there was movement in the trees across the woods, and a man came into the clearing, then another, then a third. The moonlight showed them all to be well armed, but either hunters or militia, rather than regular military – there were no uniforms, and each carried a different model of weapon. He saw their eyes widen as they took in the bodies in the clearing and realised what they'd, apparently, trapped. The lead man motioned with his hand, and Evan saw a shimmer in the air surrounding Sheppard's team. The hunters went in.

As the first man bent down and reached toward Teyla, Lorne stood and waived the others forward. They broke the treeline, weapons at the ready, purposefully moving so that they would be heard.

The hunters took one look at them and sprinted for the forest.

Evan proceeded toward Sheppard, eyes moving from his fallen comrades to the woods and back again. He crouched down beside the man and nudged him with one hand, eyes on his surroundings as he said, "Sheppard." He kept his voice low, assuming that the hunters might still be nearby. When he got no response, he nodded to Ramirez, then made to signal Atlantis.

Of course, that was when the hunters attacked.

Evan could either have his men drop back to cover, or stay exposed as they recovered the other team. But there was no way he was leaving Sheppard's team out here during a firefight, and Sheppard's jumper was just-fucking-there, so he kept going.

He sent out a burst of covering fire, then grabbed Sheppard by the shoulders and started dragging, shouting for his men to do the same. A projectile of some sort hit the ground at his feet – thank god these hunters were crap shots – and he kept going, walking backward, crouched low, dragging Sheppard as he moved. The next bullet hit him in the upper arm with enough force to make him gasp and drop the man. He hissed in a breath and grabbed hold again, grateful that he could still do that much, and shouted, "Move!"

Damn, it hurt; his arm, his chest, but… Five more steps, maybe. Four. Three. Two. And he was at the jumper, Martinez triggering the door.

The door opened, and the clearing went dead-silent around them. Evan almost smiled despite the pain, because he could imagine what the hunters were seeing – a doorway opening in the air in the middle of nothing, a doorway to nowhere, hung suspended, floating.

Not waiting for the hunters to recover their wits, Evan pulled Sheppard inside with a jerk, and slumped onto the deck beside the man. Everyone was in. "Go!" he tried to shout, but it came out weak. He hauled in a ragged breath.

Martinez scrambled for the door controls. Evan hauled himself upright with a heavy hand on the seat of the pilot's chair, trying not to jar his injured right side as he moved. He slid into the chair as his men worked behind him, and concentrated on getting the ship out of there. On, he thought; and up; and out, and home.

He realised that he could no longer lift his right arm. All right. That could be a problem. Stay focused, lift-off, up and… And he couldn't really breathe. Shit, okay. In a minute, he could… His vision blurred, and he felt panic rising in his chest. The sky was dark around him, and he blindly set course for the Stargate – hell, they could come back later for the other jumper – and as the ship locked on course, the world fuzzed around him and he was gone.

x-x

- Four Days Later -

Evan glanced into the mirror over his sink, then away. The look in his eyes; he saw everything there despite the dimness of the room: Kosovo, and his recent time as a POW, and his time in the infirmary, and everything. Everything.

God, when you couldn't even look yourself in the eye, what the hell did that mean?

Pushing away from the sink, he sat down, hard, on the floor, back to the wall of the tiny bathroom. He stared down at his hands. The room's lights were just bright enough to set the details of the skin there in fine relief. He was getting old – even his hands looked old, and he was getting too old for this shit.

His team was fine. O'Brian had been wounded, but it was just a graze to his temple. Everyone else had come through it all right. Sheppard's team had spent the night in the infirmary, recovering from the stun field. They'd been out the next day.

Not him, though. Turned out the bullet had gone through his right arm and into his chest. He'd spent several days in the doctor's care, and left with another scar to add to his collection.

He'd been let out just today, with orders to rest, to sleep. But he knew he couldn't sleep. Sleep would be the worst thing for him now. Sleep meant dreams, and dreams meant nightmares, and he just couldn't –

He jumped at the knock on his door. It was pretty late, and he hadn't exactly been expecting visitors. He levered himself up from the floor. He still hurt, and he wasn't moving very quickly, so it took him a few before he got to the door and opened it.

Sheppard stood there, bottle in hand. "Hey."

"Hey," Evan replied, his surprise clear in his tone. He and Sheppard got on great on duty, but it wasn't as if they hung out or anything. He hadn't even realised that Sheppard knew where he'd been quartered.

Sheppard looked worn around the edges, but it wasn't until Evan met his eye that he realised that there was something going on there, something more than a casual visit and booze. He wondered if he had the same look in his eyes that he saw in Sheppard's. Maybe they were both awake at this late hour for the same reasons.

Sheppard raised the bottle and his eyebrow. "Figured you could use this."

Evan felt his lip quirk upwards, and he stepped aside so that Sheppard could enter. The doc had told him not to drink, with the pain meds, but what the doc didn't know couldn't hurt him.

Evan let the door slide shut, then went to his wardrobe and pulled down two glasses. He turned back to find Sheppard standing in the middle of the room. Then he realised. His one available chair had been sacrificed to the gods of art, so to speak – it was currently standing across the room by his easel with its back to him, supporting a canvas.

"Yeah, sorry. No chairs. Um… floor?"

Sheppard gave him an amused look. "Don't get a lot of visitors?"

Evan cast an embarrassed glance around the small space. It did look kind of like that, didn't it. Between the bed, the chair, the desk, his canvases and scrapbooks and easel, there really wasn't a lot of space for social events.

"I'm just giving you shit," Sheppard said, sitting on the floor with his back leaning against the desk. "This is good." He smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes. "Reminds me of college."

Evan finally sat, leaning against the bed for support. He slid the glasses toward the other man as he shifted, trying to get comfortable. The pain meds were pretty good, he had to admit that, but that didn't mean they were perfect.

Sheppard poured the drinks and slid one a few inches across the floor, toward Evan.

Evan lifted it and took a slow sip. "Good stuff." Scotch, he thought, or whiskey – he could never tell the difference.

"No problem," Sheppard replied, drinking from his own glass. "Least I could do."

Evan savoured the warm flavour of the drink, and the burn of the liquid as it hit his throat.

"You all right?" Sheppard asked.

"Yeah, I'm good," Evan replied in platitude. His side ached, his arm hurt, and he wasn't quite sure who he was anymore. But yeah, otherwise, he was good.

Sheppard motioned with his glass. "You were in Kosovo," he said softly, more of a statement than a question.

"Yeah," Evan replied, tensing. He wasn't sure where this was going.

Sheppard pointed to himself with his glass. "Afghanistan." He took a slow sip. "But some of the stuff here…" He shook his head and lowered the glass. "You seeing Heightmeyer?"

Evan froze in the midst of lifting his drink to his lips. How much was he showing, exactly? Eventually, he nodded.

Sheppard looked away. "Yeah, me, too."

Evan swirled the liquid in his glass, staring down at it. "Does it help?" he asked after a moment. He looked up.

Sheppard was staring at him. He seemed to really think this over. Finally he answered, "Yeah, I think so."

Evan nodded.

Sheppard stood awkwardly, leaving the bottle where it rested on the floor. "Get some sleep," he said, a certain amount of command in his tone. Then he gave Evan a humourless smile.

Evan looked at the bottle. He heard the door shut behind Sheppard as the man left.

He knew what Sheppard meant. He knew that he could drink enough to knock himself out, no dreams. But he'd also seen where that path had brought others. Bad idea.

Sheppard had left him an open invitation, mentioning Kosovo and Afghanistan. If he ever needed to talk.

Maybe he'd save this bottle, show up at the man's door some night, whiskey in hand. Maybe he would talk. He huffed a sharp laugh. Probably wouldn't. Not in his nature. But it was nice to know that he could, if he needed to.

Lifting the bottle onto the bed, he carefully pulled himself to standing. Turning to put the bottle away, he suddenly saw his room as Sheppard must have seen it when he'd entered, and he realised… Oh, shit. And he actually burst out laughing.

Yeah, his room was kind of dark and crowded right now, but there was no way Sheppard could have missed them; on the walls near his easel, the damn drawings: Sheppard's face, his hands, his torso; in the mess, in the gym. Sure, they were sort of tucked in a corner of the room, but they were far from hidden. He had to have seen them. Oh, Jesus.

Evan bit the inside of his lip, smiling. John probably thought he was crushing on him or something. He chuckled. Well, if he did think that, he was obviously okay with it.

Evan walked around the canvas until he was facing it, and he stared down at the charcoal sketch he'd done there. He nodded slowly and, pulling his sleeve down over his hand, began erasing it.

He could see it – he could see what was missing, and each line he erased freed a bit of that something. The soul of the person, beyond the mechanical reproduction. The experience. The responsibility.

Maybe, he if got it right this time, he could give the portrait to Sheppard. With the booze. That'd be a real kick in the pants.

He glanced to his sketches, but they weren't necessary, not for this. He knew the man.

He sat before his easel and, propping the bottle between his knees, he began painting.

x-x

End

x-x

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