Title: Unhinged

Author: Titan5

Rating: PG-13 for violence and torture

Timeline: early to mid season four

Spoilers: Inferno, Vengeance

Summary: When John's team is captured, John is tortured for information. Things don't get much easier, even after they escape.

A/N: This was written for Kriadydragon (Stealth Dragon) for the Sheps Atlantis 2nd Annual Ficathon at Livejournal. Her prompt was for Shep whump, feral/insane Shep, team taking care of/protecting Shep.

Unhinged

Teyla concentrated on keeping her hands still as the cool blade of the knife slid between them, slicing the ropes that held her arms behind her back. The sudden freedom of movement was both relieving and painful as the circulation was restored. She didn't have time to enjoy the moment before she was shoved ruthlessly into the metal cage, going instantly to her knees on the rough, cold ground. The sudden clang of the door slamming closed brought her quickly around.

"What about him?" she asked, nodding her head toward John and the two large men half-dragging him off as he scrambled to get his feet under him.

The man in the worn, dirty clothes and wild brown hair grinned, his teeth yellowed and crooked. "He'll be questioned by Alajos, the leader of our people. Then we'll add your kind to the mines with the others." Clicking the lock in place, he winked at her as he turned to leave, making Teyla fight to keep her stomach contents in place.

Looking around the compound, Teyla studied her surroundings as she sat in the middle of a metal cage that was basically a four foot cube sitting on the bare ground. She was in a courtyard, surrounded by four stone buildings and only one small gap as an entrance. There were four other cages, presently unoccupied, all staked to the ground around a central metal stake.

John was able to get his balance about the time the two guards shoved him through a door to one of the buildings. Swallowing hard, Teyla backed up against the side of the cage until her back hit the metal bars, positioning herself to keep a watch out for John's return. She had a bad feeling he wouldn't be in good shape. He wasn't in good shape now. Sparing a glance at the small opening to the courtyard, she could only hope that Ronon and Rodney were out there, planning their rescue.

Four days earlier . . .

John's alert level shot straight up as soon as he exited the wormhole and stepped onto M4Z-667. They were there to put the finishing touches on a trade deal and it looked like almost the whole village was approaching the gate. He brought his gun up, peripherally aware of the rest of his team coming up behind him and the gate shutting down.

"What's going on?" Rodney asked as Ronon and Teyla brought their guns up as well.

Ignoring the question, John scanned the faces of the crowd. The ones he recognized wore expressions of fear or pain, some with blood running from their mouth or nose. He finally spotted Ellig, the village leader, looking worn and broken and lost. A man John did not recognize walked beside him, one hand firmly encircling the proud chief's bicep while the other remained hidden. John instinctively tightened his grip on the gun in his hand.

"What's going on here?" John asked, directing his comment to no one in particular. The man escorting Ellig stepped forward, the gun in his hand now visible. He was taller than John, but not as tall as Ronon, his build somewhere between them as well. Long dark hair was pulled back in a rough pony tail. His clothes were brownish-tan and nondescript, much like those of the town people. If this escalated into a fight, there would be no way to distinguish between invader and victim.

"Who are you?" demanded the man, his voice firm and filled with an air of authority.

"We're explorers, looking for trade partners. Is there some kind of trouble here?" The man hadn't indicated he knew who they were and John wanted it kept that way if possible. Atlantis and its people had made a few enemies since their arrival in the Pegasus Galaxy. No need to stir up extra trouble if it could be avoided.

The man made his way to the front of the crowd and John couldn't help but notice some of the people in the crowd moving to flank them. They were being surrounded with no way to fight back without hurting innocent people and he couldn't see any way around it. "We are taking these people to our world to work for us," the man announced boldly.

"It looks like you're taking a whole village of people. Do these people want to go with you?"

The man laughed and slapped his knee with his unoccupied hand. "No, probably not. They will work in our mines until the mine gases drive them mad and they die, but we did not give them a choice. Perhaps you would like to join them? We are always in need of more labor."

Rodney snorted from behind John and he could well imagine the eye roll that probably accompanied it. "Don't count on it. Honestly, how many backwards, lazy, let's-make-everyone-our-slaves people can there be in this galaxy?"

John knew he should probably shush Rodney, but the tightening look of anger on the head bad guy's face at the insult was actually kind of satisfying. Part of him agreed whole heartedly with the scientist, it just wasn't particularly a good opinion to voice. Said the pot to the kettle, he thought.

"I have a better idea," John said, knowing full well they were about to join the party. He had to try, though. "Why don't you let these people get back to their lives and we'll let you leave this planet alive."

A dozen guns came up, aimed at the four people still on the raised platform with the stargate. Sitting ducks was the term that came to John's mind as the head bad guy grinned at him. "You will put down your weapons or we'll kill you where you stand, as well as several of these villagers you seem so concerned about."

John hesitated, scanning the surroundings for any other choice that wouldn't result in a lot of innocent lives being lost. Nothing presented itself. "Now!" came the impatient demand. Looking around at his team and not seeing any answers there, he nodded to them and unclipped his P90, laying it gently on the ground. His teammates reluctantly followed suit and he tried to comfort himself with the gratitude in Ellig's eyes.

They were swarmed by bad guys, who tied their hands behind their backs and collected their weapons. After being marched down the steps, John was made to stand in front of the leader, who smiled smugly at him.

"You are very foolish, something you will come to regret. Who are you and what planet do you come from?"

John shrugged one shoulder noncommittally. "We wander around. Our world was destroyed, so we just kind of roam around and look for ways to survive, people we can trade with."

The man looked at John for several seconds, displaying no emotions. When his hand shot out and struck John in the face, it caught them all by surprise. John staggered a couple of steps, but managed to avoid falling, blood dribbling down from a split lip.

"I do not believe you. Your dress and weapons would suggest otherwise."

"I didn't say it wasn't recent," John snapped, glaring at the man. "Maybe we're just really good at it." He wasn't telling this guy who they were if he could help it. If he knew they were from Atlantis, he would stop at nothing to get the city, of that he felt sure.

"What is your name?" The man's voice was hard and cold.

"You first," John shot back.

Surprisingly, the man relaxed and smiled. "Fair enough. I am Hadwyn, of the people of Alvernia. Now who are you?"

John hesitated a moment, wracking his brain for a suitable set of names. All he could think of was the movie they'd been watching the night before the mission. "I'm, uh, Robin. This is Marian," he said, nodding to Teyla, whose eyebrows had just arched up to the stratosphere. "That's Achoo," he said as he pointed to Ronon. Looking at Rodney, who was shaking his head and glaring, John said, "and that's Blinkin."

"So help me . . . Robin," Rodney blustered, his face reddening in anger. The scientist's attitude was taken as anger for giving away their names, so Hadwyn continued.

"Where are you from?"

"Rottingham," Ronon said with a straight face.

"I've never heard of it," the man said, frowning as the look of suspicion returned to his face.

"Okay, is there some map to every planet in the galaxy and its people, because I missed out on the visit to that information center and it sure would have come in handy. Just because you've never heard of us doesn't mean we don't exist. Next you'll tell me you've never heard of Tatooine or traded with the Ewoks of Endor." John sighed as if truly perplexed by the man's lack of knowledge.

Looking confused, the man finally shook his head angrily. "It matters not. You will come with us and our commander will question you himself. You are bound to have more people than this and we will know where they are." He turned to his men. "Take these four over there and hold them. They are to go through last. Keep them separated from the others."

The team from Atlantis was herded over to the side, several feet away from the gate and pushed to the ground. They watched as the gate was dialed and what looked like the whole town was pushed and shoved through the gate. After several minutes, John turned to Teyla. "Where are the children?" He had not seen a single person over the age of ten or twelve go through the gate and he knew there were many children in the village. The guard behind him grunted and laughed.

"Children are of no use to us. They cannot work the mines and they use valuable resources."

A cold chill ran down the pilot's spine that had nothing to do with the breeze bending the tall grass that surrounded them.

oOo

Present day . . .

"What is your name?" asked the large, balding man with a bushy, graying mustache. John couldn't help but notice a large percentage of these people came in extra large.

"I already told your buddy on the other planet. My name is Robin, Robin Hood. From Rottingham."

The man crossed his arms and stared at John. "The trouble is that I don't believe you. I have given you my name, Alajos. Now it is your turn. This does not have to be hard."

"First of all, you have me tied to a chair. Your people have knocked me in the head a few times and given me a killer headache. Why would I lie to you? It's just a name." John kept trying to focus on the man and display his resolve, in spite of the fact that his vision kept blurring and his stomach felt sour and unhappy. He was pretty sure that last clunk on the head had resulted in a concussion, but he had to keep his wits about him. These people were ruthless and cruel and he couldn't risk them recognizing their names or that they came from Atlantis.

"That is what I am wondering," said the man. "We will start simple and then work our way to more . . . creative motivation. But you will tell me your name, where you are from, and the gate address of your people." He leaned over and got right in John's face, his putrid breath hot on John's face, forcing the pilot to swallow almost continuously to keep from vomiting. "And then we will harvest your people to work in the mines for the rest of their short lives." He straightened up and cracked his knuckles with a smile. "We begin."

The next six hours were fairly routine, which actually gave John a sense of comfort. Alajos would ask his questions. When John responded with sarcastic remarks or refused to answer, someone would hit him. Alajos had three men to help him so he didn't tire or injure himself. They badgered him, threw cold water on him, partially strangled him, pulled his hair, and put bruises on nearly every square inch of his body. They discovered that clapping him soundly on the side of the head disoriented him for several minutes, so that became a favorite way to punish him for his lack of cooperation. Even though unoriginal, John had to admit he was relieved when they finally quit hitting and kicking him in order to haul him to his feet. He hadn't had more than a couple hours of sleep at one time for four days and he was already beginning to feel himself come unhinged.

oOo

Teyla straightened her posture as the door John had gone through opened. She was stiff from hours of cramped sitting, the cage being too small to allow any standing. Two different guards drug John out, barely conscious and making no attempt to help them. As they drew closer, she could clearly see new bruising on his face and arms, along with dried and fresh blood around his nose and mouth. A third man appeared in front of the cage, motioning for her to stay back as he opened the cage. As the guards let go of John's arms, one of them placed his boot on the pilot's butt and shoved, sending him flying into the prison to land face down on the hard-packed dirt. All three guards howled in laughter as they locked the door again.

John groaned and lifted his head a bit to look at Teyla. "Hey," he said in a low, scratchy voice. "You okay?"

Smiling as she moved closer to John, Teyla nodded. "Yes, John, I am fine. They have not injured me." Reaching out to grab his shoulder, she helped him roll over onto his back and sit up. Now able to get a closer look, Teyla could see that his right eye was swollen almost shut and his lip was split in two places. He glanced around the enclosure and then moved to put his back to the flat metal bars. When he was settled, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes for a few seconds.

"Don't suppose you have any water?" he asked softly.

"No, I am afraid not. They brought me a small cup of water and some . . . distasteful food shortly after we arrived. Have you had nothing?"

John snorted lightly, grimacing and bringing his hand to his split lip. "Just hits and kicks and questions. Head guy . . . Alajos . . . wants our address so he can pay a visit . . . get more workers for their precious mines."

On their four day trek from the gate, one of the more civilized Alvernians had explained that their main livelihood was extracting a mineral from the mountains that they then traded to two worlds that used it in their energy production. The problem was that the ore produced a gas that made the workers hallucinate. It was mild at first, but the effects built up over time, driving the workers insane until they ended up killing themselves or getting killed attacking those around them. Occasionally a particularly potent buildup of gases was released, resulting in acute paranoia and hallucinations. The leaders of the settlement had decided the best way to solve the problem was to kidnap people and force them into slavery working the mines, thus sparing their own people a rather dismal life and terminal illness.

"It is late," Teyla said. They had arrived at the camp in the early evening, but that been many hours ago. "You should rest."

"Yeah," John breathed out. "Guess we'll go for round two tomorrow. I'd hate to fall asleep and miss anything."

"Alajos did not believe your story that our world was destroyed?"

"Nah . . . said we were dressed too nicely. He doesn't know what to think at this point, but he's not taking any chances of missing potential workers and besides, I think he kinda enjoys jerking me around."

Letting out a long sigh, Teyla nodded. She knew the type well and that was not good news. They would continue to hurt John until they felt certain they knew everything or until they tired of torturing him. That meant his treatment would get worse, not better. She truly hoped Ronon and Rodney were coming for them soon.

Two days earlier . . .

They had been walking for two straight days with only a few hours rest at night and they were dirty and exhausted. The trail was worn and dusty. The team from Atlantis was kept several hours behind the people from the village, no doubt to keep them from inciting any kind of revolt. They had also gleamed that the villagers would be taken straight to the mines, while they were going to a second camp for interrogation. When the leader got the information he wanted, they would also take their place working in the mines as slave labor.

Teyla looked up to see Hadwyn making his way down the path to their group, which consisted of the four teammates from Atlantis and four guards. One to one ratio. Apparently they felt the new guys really needed to be watched. "You will make camp here," he announced. "When the food is ready, we will bring your portion."

"How about a drink before dinner?" John asked with an irreverent smirk.

Hadwyn stared at him for a moment before turning to Saxon, the guy who seemed to have the highest rank of the four. "You may give them water."

John let Hadwyn leave before taking a small step toward Saxon, a young soldier who seemed nervous with his responsibility. "Think you could untie us for a while? I can't feel my hands."

Teyla knew he probably wasn't lying about that. She could barely feel her arms from the elbows down. Walking with your hands tied behind your back was not only uncomfortable, but it made balancing difficult as well. She could see Saxon waver, studying each of them in turn. They looked tired and beaten, something she hoped would work in their favor.

"Okay, maybe you could just tie our hands in front instead of behind us. That would restore some circulation and allow us to feed ourselves," John suggested.

Teyla noted the slump of his shoulders and the way he swayed on his feet. He'd gotten punched a few times shortly after their arrival on the planet as he tried to escape, but not since. She was pretty sure he was feigning weakness, which meant he was planning something. She looked to Ronon, who gave her a tiny nod. He'd noticed it too. Glancing at Rodney, she narrowed her eyes and then waggled her eyebrows at him before glancing quickly at John. Rodney frowned and mouthed what.

Frowning at Rodney, she looked at John and then back at the scientist. If she was any more obvious, the soldiers were going to pick up on her cues. Rodney watched John a few seconds and then his eyebrows shot up as he looked back at her. She nodded and watched the color drain from the man's face. They would be ready for whatever John was going to do. At least she hoped they would.

"All right, I guess we could do that," said Saxon finally. He nodded to the other guards and stepped forward towards John. Teyla was standing behind John, with Ronon and Rodney standing side by side several feet behind her. She watched as one guard cut Ronon's bindings and instructed him to put his hands in front. She tensed, knowing it was coming.

John suddenly put one hand to his head and swayed dangerously, as if he were about to topple over. Saxon reached out almost reflexively to steady him. "Hey," he said sharply, attracting the attention of the other guards. The one next to Rodney moved to help Saxon support John, but the second he arrived, John barreled forward, knocking the two men down and landing on top of them. Ronon used the distraction to quickly overpower the guard about to bind his hands. Teyla's hands were still tied behind her, seriously limiting her mobility, but she managed to crouch and sweep her guard's legs from underneath him while John struggled to keep the two men on the ground.

"Ronon, get out of here," John yelled, kicking out his foot to hit Saxon in the face. Blood spurted from the man's nose as the other guard managed to get one hand on a large rock and brought it up to connect solidly with the side of John's head. He went limp immediately.

Teyla's legs were hopelessly tangled with those of her guard, who was fighting to keep her grounded. With her hands still bound, she was finding it hard to gain enough leverage to successfully mount a counter struggle. Glancing up, she saw Ronon had freed Rodney's hands before knocking his guard back down. "Ronon, take Rodney and go!" she shouted as she watched the guard who had taken John down go for his weapon. "Now, Ronon!"

Indecision filled his eyes, but a quick glance at the guard bringing the gun up forced him to follow her advice. "We'll be back," he said to her as he grabbed Rodney and ran for the trees a short distance away. Gunfire sent splinters of bark flying as the two men disappeared through the trees. Teyla smiled. She knew Ronon would not let them be caught. She was just as sure that he would come for her and John when he could. Turning her attention back to John, she frowned at the blood running down the side of his face as he lay completely limp in the dirt. Saxon was holding his face while blood oozed out from between his fingers. He mumbled some curses and then kicked John in the side and once again in the hip when the object of his wrath didn't stir. Sighing, Teyla hoped they could stay alive until their rescue.

Present . . .

They came for John shortly after dawn. He and Teyla were each given a small cup of water and then he was ordered from the cage while Teyla was given a small bowl of watery food for breakfast.

"Looks like maybe they're doing me a favor," John quipped as they led him away, but Teyla didn't smile. She looked worried and sad.

Led to the same room as before, John was once again tied to the chair. After being left alone for quite a while, which John figured was supposed to raise his anxiety level, Alajos entered the room with two helpers. He cracked his knuckles loudly in front of John and then crossed his arms. "Are you ready to cooperate today?"

John shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I thought I was cooperating yesterday. Not my fault if you refuse to believe anything I say."

"Then give me an address, so that I may check out your story."

John looked at Alajos for several minutes while the tension built. His mind was racing for something to stall with. Ronon and Rodney would come for them, of that he was sure, he just needed to give them time to catch up and then devise a plan. He saw the punch coming, but he didn't have any way to avoid it. Time got a little fuzzy between the series of punches and kicks so that he had no idea how long he'd been in the chair. His head was bowed with his chin almost touching his chest when a bucket of very cold water was thrown in his face. He gasped and sputtered, trying to catch his breath.

"I need you to be alert, Robin, or whatever your name is." Placing one hand under his chin, Alajos jerked John's head back, snapping his neck painfully. "What is the address of your planet?"

As John blinked the water out of his eyes, he suddenly had an idea. "Okay . . . okay . . . just remember . . . I told you it was destroyed." He gave them the address of Taranis. It was only after Alajos sent someone to check it out that he remembered the gate had been destroyed by the volcano along with the city. There would be no way for them to check out his story. "I'm . . . uh, not sure if the gate is still functional. We had a bit . . . of a natural disaster."

Alajos just raised one eyebrow as he continued to frown at him. "What kind of natural disaster?"

"Volcano." When Alajos quirked his eyebrow again, John explained. "You know, hot molten lava erupting from the ground amidst violent earthquakes. Kind of destroyed the city. Only a few of us escaped and it was headed for the gate when we left, so you might not get a connection."

Alajos looked skeptical, but at least it would take them a while to check it out. He was hoping they would put him back in the cage with Teyla. They needed to be together when Ronon did whatever he was going to do.

"Watch him," Alajos said to the remaining guard as he walked from the room.

"I don't suppose you could untie me for a while?" asked John, knowing full well what the answer would be. The guard glared at him for a moment and then looked away. "Ah, I see you're in a talkative mood. You really shouldn't gossip so much." The guard continued to ignore him, so John looked around the room, searching for something that would help him out of this predicament.

John had begun to doze when the door snapped open so abruptly that he jerked his head up. Alajos stomped into the room, followed by four men carrying a large wooden box. As they set it on the floor, it occurred to John that the box looked like a wooden coffin and he felt his stomach clench as his heart rate began to edge upward. This was not going to be good.

Alajos just stared at John as the men opened the box to reveal its stained interior, complete with restraints at both ends. No, not looking good at all. "I have camps stationed all the way to the gate. It was a relatively simple task to relay a message to the camp nearest the gate and have them dial the address you gave us. It does not connect. It may be as you say, that your gate was destroyed. But more than just the four of you survived. I now need the address of your new world, where the remainder of your people are."

John sighed, resigned to his fate. "I can't do that."

"Then we will move on." He nodded to a fifth man who had entered the room. The guards moved forward to untie his hands, but they held him still as they stretched out his arm. The fifth man came at John with a syringe and needle. He tried to struggle, but four bulky guards had no problem holding him still. Gritting his teeth, he could do nothing but watch the man empty an amber solution into the vein in his arm. It burned going in and he could feel it moving up his arm, like fire in his blood vessels burning him from inside.

"I have been told it burns and is painful. This however, is the easy part."

"What is it?" John asked, almost afraid of the answer. The guards were no longer holding him down, but they surrounded him watchfully. He was already beginning to feel funny, with sounds and images beginning to distort slightly.

"It is a concentrated solution taken from the ore we mine. It is a very strong hallucinogen and should make it easier to weaken your resolve. Tell me, how do you feel about bugs? We have found that many people fear some of the larger ones."

Guy-with-the-syringe picked up a box and carefully opened it. One of the guards reached inside and pulled out a huge insect that looked like a three-inch long cockroach. It was moving its legs frantically and making a clicking sound that didn't sound very different from the iratus bug. John involuntarily cringed and leaned away from the creature. The guard dropped the insect back in the box and the four guards pulled John up and began pulling his clothes off. John fought, but his movements were already becoming clumsy and disjointed. He was stripped to his boxers in just over a minute.

"What . . . what are you doing?" John asked, trying to keep the mounting fear from his voice as he was pushed toward the wooden box.

Shoving him down on his back, the guards began attaching the restraints, one to each leg and his hands above his head to the top of the box. John pulled and squirmed, but they were far too strong and he was already weakened from the beatings and lack of food and water. Once he was restrained, they moved back and Alajos stood at the foot of the box.

"Last chance to give me that gate address."

John remained silent, his fear and dread crowding out his usual sarcastic remarks. Why did it have to be bugs?

A guard handed Alajos the large box of bugs, scratching and clicking noises clearly audible through the box walls. "These are podi bugs. They have tiny claws and jaws, but in great numbers they can cause much damage and pain. They will eat the flesh off your bones while you are still alive and screaming."

Alajos form was now swaying and distorting, his voice sounding more and more like the voice of a Wraith. The guards were laughing, but the sound was muffled and freaky sounding, driving John's fear up even more. He began to pull and struggle against his bonds, desperate to get out of the box. Alajos turned the box over, spilling what looked like hundreds of huge insects across John's chest and abdomen. He could feel them crawling all over him, scratching and biting and clicking. Suddenly they looked and sounded like iratus bugs and John began to scream and writhe, panic almost smothering him. Then the lid came down, blocking out the light and any chance for escape. He screamed even louder when he heard them nailing the box shut, trapping him in something that was way worse than any hell he'd ever imagined.

oOo

Sighing, Teyla uncrossed her legs and stretched, giving up any hope of meditation. She looked wearily to the door they had taken John through several hours ago. It was late afternoon and he'd been gone all day. At one time she thought she'd heard screaming, but it was so muffled that she couldn't be sure. The longer he was gone, the more she worried.

The door she'd obsessed over all day finally opened and two men drug out a pale, almost naked figure, head bowed to reveal damp, matted dark hair. Edsel, the man who was apparently her keeper, motioned her back so that he could unlock the cage and swing the door open. The two men brought John to the open door and then shoved him inside. Edsel picked up the food and water he'd set down to open the cage and set them just inside the door before locking them back in.

Turning her attention to John, she crawled up to him and rolled him over on his back. He was dressed only in his boxers and she knew he would hate her seeing him like this. He was trembling and twitching, his body covered with tiny cuts and stinking of sweat and urine. His eyes opened and darted around as he began flailing around, as if trying to sweep something off his body.

"Get 'em off, get 'em off!" he yelled, his voice hoarse and low as he twisted around and slapped at his arms and legs and torso in a mad panic.

"John!" she called to him, grabbing his arm in an effort to reach him. "John, you are all right. There is nothing there."

He continued to writhe, kicking and screaming as he attempted to get something imagined off his body. "John, please stop. What do you see? There's nothing there, I promise you. Please listen to me!" She straddled his stomach to hold him down and pinned his wrists to the ground beside his head. He was weak, which enabled her to hold him relatively still as she leaned her face down to come almost nose to nose with him. "John. I am Teyla. You must calm down. You are all right . . . there is nothing on you. Can you hear me?"

His struggles had slowed, almost halted as she finished her plea. Blinking a few times, he seemed to try to focus on her face. His pupils were dilated until there was almost no hazel left visible. "Tey . . . la?"

"Yes," she breathed out, the relief filling her almost painful in its intensity. "Yes, John, it is me, Teyla." She could feel his body trembling violently beneath her. Sliding off to his right side, she kept her face in close proximity to his. He lifted his head up a few inches, frowning as he tried to look over his body.

"Bugs," he whispered, beginning to slap himself again.

"No, John, there are no bugs," she said, gripping his wrists once again. "What did they do to you? What made these marks?" she asked, indicating the hundreds of tiny scratches scattered across his body.

"Bugs . . . eat . . . me . . . still feel . . . them."

Just as her heart rate had begun to slow, Teyla felt it jolt again. "What kind of bugs? John, were they harmful? Are they poisonous?" She didn't see any sign of poisoning, but she couldn't be sure. John was obviously very disoriented and confused. Turning first one arm up and then the other, she found the puncture mark that told her John had been drugged. Without knowing what they had given him or when, the knowledge did her no good. John shivered and tried to curl up, making Teyla realize that the sun was going down and the temperature was already dropping. John needed more clothing, especially in light of his injuries and being drugged. She looked around and saw Edsel standing not far away, talking to some of the guards. She waited until the soldiers walked away and then caught his eye, waving him over. He looked around a moment until he determined that no one was looking and then approached the cage cautiously.

"What do you want?" he said roughly.

"My friend . . . he needs clothes."

Edsel shook his head. "Not possible. They'll be angry when they come for him tomorrow if I have slowed them down."

Sighing, Teyla looked down at John, his eyes now closed as he mumbled and shook. "Perhaps a blanket?" She looked back up at him, hoping the man would take pity on them.

"I'll see what I can do," he said mournfully before walking away.

Teyla drew John up into her lap and wrapped her arms around his torso, trying to impart some warmth and comfort. "Shhh, I have you John. Everything will be all right."

John pushed against her weakly for a moment before going limp in her arms. She gripped him tightly, wanting him to know he was safe. She had not expected Edsel to return, but a few minutes later, he strolled up to the cage and pushed a thin, musty blanket in through the bars. "Best I could do," he muttered.

"Thank you," she said earnestly. As she worked to pull the blanket around her friend, she glanced up at Edsel, now starting to edge away from the cell. "What did they do to him? Please, if I knew, maybe I could help him."

Edsel glanced nervously around again, but the courtyard was almost empty, so he pretended to be checking the bars of the cage. "According to Ugo they gave him a drug derived from the mines that makes you see things that aren't there . . . distorts what really is there. Then they tied him in the torture box and filled it with podi bugs and locked him in for several hours."

"Podi bugs . . . I am not familiar with them. Did they cause the scratches and wounds on him?"

"Probably. They're big and they scratch and bite, but they don't carry sickness or nothin'. It was mostly designed to scare him to death, weaken his resolve and confuse him so he'll talk. They'll do it again and again until he gives 'em what they want or goes crazy. The drugs just confuse him and make it worse."

Teyla shivered, thinking that such treatment would make anyone go crazy, much less someone who already had a rather frightening history with bugs. No wonder John was panicking. She looked up at the guard, who almost looked sympathetic as he stared at John's pale form, unable to stop shaking or twitching. "Thank you for telling me."

Edsel shrugged his shoulders. "Ain't nothin' either of us can do about it, so no need to thank me." With that, he walked off. Teyla eased John down on the ground so she could better get the blanket around him and then snuggled up next to him, wrapping her arm around his shoulders with his head in the crook of her arm.

"Rest, John. Ronon and Rodney will come for us soon. We just need to hang on until them. Rest." She stroked his face a few times and noticed that the trembling didn't seem to be quite as severe. She tried not to think about what tomorrow would bring if they truly did what Edsel had described again.

oOo

They came about an hour after dawn the next morning, when John was still groggy. He'd thrashed and murmured all during the night, waking twice with screams of terror that brought Edsel running to check on them. Teyla had begged them to take her instead, but they had laughed, saying that her turn would come soon enough. They had John halfway to the building before realization of where he was going kicked in. The change was abrupt and violent. He let his legs fold beneath him, almost taking the two guards to the ground. From there it was twisting, kicking, pulling, and biting as he fought with every ounce of strength not to be taken back into the torture chamber. They finally produced a stunner, having to shoot him twice to put him down.

When John came to, he was back in the box, already firmly tied in place. The man from yesterday was backing away from him, an empty syringe in his hands. John was suddenly aware of slight sting in his arm and looked up to find a small bubble of blood welling up. Alajos was standing at the foot of the coffin like box, smiling down at him. "Perhaps you would like to reconsider giving us the address of your homeworld. We have twice as many bugs for you today. And it is a mixture of the podi bugs and valedas. The valedas are about the same size, but with pincers that they have been known to use aggressively. I am told it is very painful. An address, Robin, and you will be spared."

John thought frantically, trying to think of an address he could give them. Anything to buy himself some time. The problem was that his brain felt slow and fuzzy and the drug was starting to kick in, making it almost impossible to think. Alajos was handed a huge box, the sounds coming from inside making John want to vomit. "Wait!"

Alajos grinned and leaned forward slightly. "Something you wish to tell me."

"Yes . . . I'll tell you, just . . . no more bugs . . . please, no more bugs."

"I give you my word," said Alajos. "You do realize that we will have to check out your story."

"Yes," John said desperately. He gave them the address of the planet the Taranans had moved to, knowing that the settlement was now abandoned. There was no way he was giving them an address where people lived and endangering whoever was there. If he was lucky, a couple of Michael's bug creatures would still be there. "Settlement . . . is a couple of . . . kilometers from the gate."

Alajos frowned. "What is kilometer?"

Sighing, John had started to relax a little. "It just means . . . they might have to walk a few minutes . . . but it's not far."

Alajos nodded. "I will arrange for a team to check your story. That was not so hard, now was it?"

The room and everyone in it had taken on that fun-mirror look and sounds were now getting distorted, making it even harder for John to think. The only thing he seemed able to focus on was that he had bought himself at least a few hours. "Sure," he slurred. And then he watched as Alajos turned the box upside down, dumping the huge insects on him once again. He was barely aware of them laughing as he squirmed and twisted and screamed.

"It would be ashamed to waste all these bugs, aye? I think you are lying, but you can think about it as we check your story. Close it." John screamed even louder as the light was blocked out and the bugs began to bite.

oOo

John wasn't aware when they took the lid off the box several hours later. He no longer had a voice. All he could see was bugs, giant life-sucking iratus bugs. Things were touching him, different things. Sounds were different too, sandwiched between the scuttling and clicking noises. Something was different, but he couldn't seem to focus on it.

"Kill the bugs," a voice demanded forcefully.

Something was pressed in his hand, something cold and hard. "You must kill the bugs and save yourself. Shoot, shoot now!"

Recognizing the feel, he pulled the trigger, trying to kill the hundreds of bugs that surrounded him. He pulled the trigger until a hand closed over his and the clicking of the empty gun finally registered in his mind. The gun was removed and someone slapped him.

"You must wake up and see what you have done. You have killed your comrade."

"No . . . bugs . . . kill bugs . . . " he whispered, his throat so sore he could barely make a sound. He tried to get his blurry vision to focus, but it was impossible. Everything waved and distorted in unnatural ways. Colors were wrong, too, bleeding from one object to another even as the lines between things faded in and out. "what?"

A man gripped his chin, holding his face still and he recognized the face. He was not a friend . . . something with an A . . . Still unable to focus, he couldn't tell if the man was smiling or grimacing at him. "You must look at what you have done." He made John turn his head to look across the room. Someone lay face down on the floor, a pool of blood spreading out from around her. The hair and the clothes were familiar.

"Who?" John asked, fear rising as he wondered what he had done.

A guard used his foot to turn the body over. Teyla lay with her eyes closed and blood smeared across the front of her shirt, her body completely limp. Even though everything was still fuzzy, there was no mistaking his teammate. He tried to pull away from the two guards holding him up, lunging toward his friend. "No!"

John was immediately jerked back up right, his legs losing all their strength as he realized Teyla was dead. "What did you do? Why?" he croaked, his voice barely audible.

Alajos expression hardened. "You lied yet again. My men tell me the settlement you sent them to was abandoned some time ago. It did not take much in your state to convince you to fire a gun, but instead of killing bugs, you have killed your teammate. Your friends will not rescue you, once they know what you have done. You cannot go home again. You might as well give me the correct address."

He'd killed Teyla. She'd been his friend, his family. She had trusted him, counted on him. Suddenly he didn't want anyone to rescue him. He let go, his legs giving out completely, causing the guards to take his weight.

"Get her out of here and tie him to the chair. Give him a double dose of the drug and we will start again. I grow tired of his stubbornness."

John could hear the sound of Teyla's body being dragged away as he was tied to the chair once again. He didn't care what they did to him anymore.

"Sir, that much of the drug at once . . . he will not survive."

"Then this will be over when he is dead. Give it to him and do not question me again."

John sat limply as they injected him with more of the drug, fixing in his mind that he could not give them the address of Atlantis. He'd failed Teyla, he could not fail the rest of the expedition. He just hoped the rest of his team had made it home. He didn't fight when they put the musty canvas bag over his head and tightened it so much it almost strangled him.

The next several hours went back to punching and hitting, along with sticking leeches all over him. By the time they got to the leeches, his mind was flying high and he was convinced they were giant cousins of the iratus bugs. They smothered him until he passed out several times, each time threatening to kill him. When Alajos finally lost his temper for good, they marched him out to the courtyard where a large hole had been dug. The coffin box was sitting next to the hole and they started trying to get him back into it. John fought until they clobbered him on the side of the head.

When he came to, he was tied into the box again and sitting at the bottom of the hole. Alajos was red-faced with anger. "I cannot waste any more time or energy on you. You will be buried alive with your friends to die a slow and painful death." Two guards picked up boxes and dumped the insects all over the inside of what now really was a coffin, one of them taking pleasure in making sure several insects landed in John's face. Then they nailed the lid shut. Unable to scream any more, John could hear the dirt hitting the top of the box in an almost rhythmic pattern.

oOo

Teyla lifted her head a few inches, blinking her vision clear until she could see that she was still in the metal cage. She pushed herself up on her elbows, groaning at the tingling sensation running through her arms and legs. Her head pounded and her body felt heavy and lethargic. Gathering her strength, she pushed up until she was sitting and closed her eyes a few seconds as the vertigo washed over her, making her stomach curl and lurch. "By the Ancestors," she mumbled. She reached up to push her hair out of her face as she opened her eyes, only to see dried blood on her hand and arm. Looking down, she discovered the front of her shirt covered with tacky and drying blood, yet she felt no wounds. Checking herself over, she confirmed that she was not injured. "John," she gasped.

"You could probably use some water," said Edsel, startling her. She hadn't heard him approach, a sign of how groggy she still was. He opened the door and set a large bowl of water inside, along with a rag. "I thought you might want to clean up."

Looking up at Edsel, Teyla frowned, cocking her head slightly to her right. "Why did you stun me? And why am I covered in blood, even though I have no injury. Whose blood is this?"

"Don't you pay no mind to that blood. It's from the bahavo we slaughtered for our evenin' meal last night. Clean up quickly if you want."

"No, I want to know why you stunned me. And where is my friend . . . Robin? They did not bring him back last night. What have they done to him?" She was beginning to notice the gray light of early morning. Edsel had walked up to her cage and stunned her shortly before dawn, without any warning or explanation. She was more afraid now than she had been since the ordeal had begun. Edsel darted a quick glance to where two men filled a hole with dirt across the courtyard. "Edsel? Please," she pleaded, willing to beg if she had to.

Sighing, he squatted and fiddled with the lock, leaning in so he could talk quietly. "I don't guess it'd hurt none to tell you. They drugged that friend of yours to the gills and put him back in that box with the bugs. Then they tricked him into thinkin' he'd killed you. Alajos, he'd pretty much had it with your comrade by then, so when he still refused to cooperate, they shot him full of more drugs and put him back in that box and . . . " Edsel's eyes strayed back over the men with the shovels.

Teyla felt a panicked rush of adrenalin. "Jo . . . he is not over there is he?" When Edsel looked down, Teyla rose to her knees and put her hands on the bars. "Is he dead?"

Swallowing and slowly bringing his eyes up to meet hers, Edsel shook his head. "Not yet."

"They are burying him alive?" She couldn't comprehend the horror John must be going through. "Edsel, please, you must help me. You must help him. Surely you do not condone this."

"Shh, keep it down. There ain't nothin' I can do to help. I do what I'm told and I get by, that's it. I'm sorry for your friend, I really am. But he's as good as dead. Forget him." Abruptly he stood up and stalked away, leaving Teyla to watch the men put shovel after shovel of dirt on John. She looked to the open area between the buildings, pleading for Ronon and Rodney to come.

oOo

At mid day, a distant explosion rocked the camp. People came running out into the courtyard, looking around for any source of information. Teyla rose up on her knees again, watching the commotion around her. Hope swelled bright inside her. If it was a rescue and they got here quickly, maybe they could still get to John in time.

Alajos stormed outside, obviously angry as he hollered for the men to come to order around him. She picked up just enough of what he said to determine there was an explosion at the mines and slaves were running around everywhere. He quickly ordered most of the men to the mines, leaving only a skeleton crew to secure this base. Teyla smiled, her hope quickly growing.

Alajos talked to two of the men who remained behind for several minutes and then stalked over to stand in front of her with a smirk. "You probably think your two friends who escaped are coming for you, but that is not true. We have . . . accidents . . . in the mines quite frequently. The ore is very unstable, another reason we recruit workers from off world." She tried not to look directly at Ronon as he snuck up behind the guard at the courtyard entrance or to react when he slit the man's throat. "If they do happen to attempt to rescue you, we will be ready for them." Teyla watched as Ronon silently took out the next guard, Rodney right behind him.

"You seem to have everything covered," she said, looking up at the smug man. "What you did not take into account, however, is that we have been through much the last few years and we have taken on much greater threats than you. We have killed many Wraith. We have battled Replicators. And now we will defeat you."

Alajos laughed, leaning back as he did so. Ronon wrapped a meaty arm around his neck and pulled one arm painfully behind him. "What she means is, you didn't count on me. Let her out or I'll break your neck."

Alajos stopped laughing, his expression immediately sobering. He tried to look around the courtyard for help, but he couldn't move his head. Edsel moved up to the cage apprehensively with the key.

"Edsel, open the door," Teyla said. The scared man looked at Alajos, who was able to give a tiny nod. Edsel dropped to his knees and unlocked the door, allowing Teyla to crawl out with Rodney's help. She swayed a moment as she got the circulation going in her legs. "We must get John."

"Where is he?" asked Rodney, looking around the open area. "We've got to get out of here before some more guards show up."

Frowning, Teyla motioned toward the freshly turned dirt. "They have buried him in a box there. He was alive when they put him in."

"What?" Ronon roared. "Who did this?"

Teyla glared at Alajos. "He is responsible for that, as well as torturing John. We must get him out quickly." She began moving forward, motioning to a small outer door. "I believe they placed the shovels here." Jerking the door open, three shovels and a couple of other instruments fell out on the ground.

Ronon pushed Alajos down beside them. "Grab a shovel and dig. If he's dead when we get to him, so are you."

Alajos, Ronon, and Edsel dug furiously while Rodney and Teyla kept watch. Fortunately the box was not buried too deeply, enabling them to uncover it relatively quickly. As Ronon ordered Alajos to open the box, Teyla turned to Edsel. "What about our things? We had weapons and outer protective gear with supplies."

Edsel looked to Alajos, but the man was busy trying to pry open the wooden box while leaning over, his feet in the narrow space next to the container. He was grunting with the effort, sweat and dirt streaked across his arms and face. Edsel looked at Teyla and nodded, heading down the building edge to the next door.

"You should go with him," said Ronon.

She knew he was right, but she wanted to be there for John. She glanced at Rodney, noticing for the first time how bruised and scratched up he was, illustrating that they had not had an easy time of it either. Ronon was battered in much the same way, but his expression was tense with pent up anger and frustration. With a small nod, she followed Edsel through the next door into a hallway. He led them to the first room and opened the door. Their weapons and vests lay on a table against the wall, the pocket contents spread out haphazardly across the top.

"Help me put these smaller things back in the pockets," Teyla directed, picking up a field bandage as she spoke. Edsel went to work, helping her repack the vests very quickly. As they picked up the vests, she saw John's clothes thrown on the floor in the corner and hurriedly retrieved them. They couldn't very well drag him all the way back to the gate in his boxers. Edsel held the door open so she could exit the room with her overflowing arms.

They returned to the court to find two guards on their knees with their hands clasped behind their head. Rodney stood nervously behind them, holding a gun that must have been taken from one of the prisoners. Teyla raised one eyebrow at the scene and Ronon just grinned. She quickly decided she was a lot more interested in John than in how they had overpowered the two guards. That was when she noticed they had somehow pulled the box from the hole and Alajos was busy prying the lid off with the edge of a shovel. Ronon must have put the two guards to work after they were captured, which might explain why they were still alive.

The wood splintered around the last nail and Alajos almost landed on his butt. Regaining his balance, he dropped the shovel with a grunt and pushed the lid off in the hole next to the wooden box.

"John?" Teyla said, dropping her load and rushing forward to peer in the box. Ronon had stepped forward with her, but they both jumped back as several large bugs scampered from the box, scattering in all directions. "Oh, no," she murmured, dread filling her as they once again stepped forward. John was covered in cuts and bites, some old and scabbed, while some fresh ones still seemed to be bleeding. Several living bugs ran around the box, darting around a huge number of squished ones. Insect parts were smeared on his pale skin in places, mixing with the blood. One hand lay across his stomach, the nails ragged and bleeding where he'd tried to claw his way from his tomb. Bracing herself, she leaned forward and placed two fingers on his neck.

"He is alive," she breathed out.

Sliding his knife out of sight, Ronon retrieved his gun and pointed it toward the two guards. "Get him out of there . . . and you better not hurt him any further." Exchanging a worried glance, the two men got up and carefully removed John's limp form from the box, laying him out on the ground.

Teyla finished strapping her vest on and kneeled beside John, checking his pulse and breathing. His pulse was rapid and weak, but seemed steady enough. His face was pale, his skin cool and clammy. "We need to get clothes on him."

"We need to get out of here first," said Ronon. "No way our luck will hold out much longer. I'll get Sheppard and you two cover me."

Rodney had his vest on and his gun up, wearing his I'm trying to look tough expression. Teyla clipped her P90 to her vest after checking it and pointed it toward the two guards and Alajos. "Do not move or I will be more than happy to kill you," she stated, her voice cold and clear. In her peripheral vision she saw Ronon stand Sheppard up and pull him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Teyla kneeled to get John's clothes, never letting the gun waver or lower. As they backed toward their exit, they heard muffled sounds in the distance. The soldiers were returning.

They had reached the opening between buildings when Alajos began to yell at the returning soldiers to hurry. Before he could say anything further, Ronon shot him and then they all turned and ran in the opposite direction.

oOo

Almost two hours later, they holed up in the cave Ronon and Rodney had been hiding in while trying to plan a rescue. It was hidden behind a small waterfall, which Rodney said was too much like something from a movie and they would surely be found. Ronon pointed out that these people had never even heard of a television, much less seen one.

The abundant and close water supply made cleaning John's wounds a little easier. Teyla spread the small tube of antibiotic ointment as far as it would go, making sure to cover the deeper scratches and bites. She was partially relieved and partially worried that John never stirred during her ministrations. Once finished, Ronon helped her get John dressed and then she covered him with an emergency blanket. He was shivering badly and she wasn't sure if he was cold or if it was because of the drugs or torture.

"We need to get him back to Atlantis," said Rodney, staring at the unconscious pilot.

"They'll be looking for us and they have people stationed all the way to the gate. Getting back without being caught will be tricky, especially with Sheppard out of it," said Ronon. "We need to wait until things calm down and we need to move at night."

"Tonight?" Rodney looked from Teyla to Ronon, his voice nervous and high.

"Maybe," was all Ronon would commit to. "You need to rest in case we do move tonight. I'll keep watch."

"Wake me in a few hours and I will take a turn," said Teyla.

"I can take a turn too," offered Rodney.

Ronon nodded and went to sit by the falls where he could almost see through a slight break in the falling water. Teyla sat beside John, checking him once again before trying to get some sleep. So much had happened to him the last few days and she knew he wasn't through it yet – none of them were.

It seemed as though she had just dozed off when she was awaked by a hoarse cry and frantic motion next to her. Something smacked into her and she sat up, instantly awake. John was sitting next to her, jerking and slapping at himself, trying to call out in a voice that was too worn and frail.

"John," she said, trying to grab his arm and make him sit still. "John, it's all right, they are gone. We are going home," she said, trying to calm him down. Rodney was sitting a few feet away, his mouth hanging open in shock. Getting to her knees, she leaned over close to John's face. "John, it's Teyla . . . you are safe and you need to calm down."

His eyes widened, showing her his still huge pupils and making her realize he was still under the influence of the drugs. He scrambled backwards until his back hit the wall of the cave. "No . . . dead . . . I killed you," he said in a hoarse whisper. "Not real . . . dead."

Suddenly Teyla remembered what Edsel had told her. "No, John, I am not dead. They tricked you. I am not dead." She tried to approach him slowly so as not to startle him, but he lunged to his feet and ran straight at the waterfall.

Ronon grabbed him around the chest and his momentum swung them around, sending both men crashing to the ground. John continued to squirm and twist, making pitiful noises as he attempted to scream as he fought. Ronon finally got him pinned to the ground where he couldn't get away and after a few seconds of struggling, John went limp, his eyes rolling back in his head. His shirt had hitched up to his chest in the struggle, making the rapid movement of his chest as he heaved in air painfully obvious. It reminded Teyla of a wild animal that had been cornered and was terrified out of its mind.

"What . . . what did they do to him?" asked Rodney, not taking his eyes off John.

As they moved him back away from the falls and wrapped him in the blanket once again, Teyla told her teammates everything that had happened from the time of their escape. By the time she had finished, Ronon was planning to return to the camp with reinforcements after they got John back to Atlantis.

oOo

John slept fitfully, waking twice more before they left the cave. He did not recognize anyone either time and had to be restrained, kicking and punching for several minutes until he finally succumbed to exhaustion. His eyes were wild and feral and Teyla could see the fear in Rodney's face each time John woke up. Several hours after dark, they decided to head for the gate. They hadn't seen or heard anyone yet and they weren't sure if that was good or bad. They left the relative safely of the cave with John thrown over Ronon's shoulder and Teyla watching their six.

Three hours after they began, John began twisting and pulling away from Ronon, trying to lift his head to see where he was. Ronon was forced to put him down or drop him. As soon as John touched the ground, he scrabbled away from Ronon, huddling against a large tree trunk several feet away from the group. He was shaking and his chest was pumping with rapid breathing, like someone who'd been deprived of air for a while. Dark eyes darted back and forth between them, fear creasing his features.

"John?" said Teyla softly, her voice making him jerk and pull back against the tree, almost like he was trying to shimmy up it backwards.

"Don't," said Rodney softly. "He's afraid of you . . . he thinks you're dead so he must think either you aren't real . . . or you're one of them trying to trick him."

The revelation was like a knife to her heart, but she could find no fault with the logic behind it. She desperately wanted to comfort her friend, but she could not go near him for fear of making things worse. For a moment, all she could feel was bitter hatred towards those who had driven this wedge between them, even though she was certain it was only temporary.

Ronon stepped forward one step and John raised up as if about to bolt again, like he'd done in the cave. Seeing the reaction, Ronon held his hands up defensively and stepped back again. After several seconds, John lowered himself back down, his brow furrowed in a frown as he watched the three.

Rodney looked around a few seconds and then grabbed his filled canteen. He held it out for John to see and then opened it. "Water. Are you thirsty?" At John's unchanging expression, he took a sip and then poured a few drops on his hand. "See . . .water." Holding the canteen in his outstretched hand, he slowly crept forward. When he was almost within touching distance, John rose to a crouching position and edged back around the tree, his eyes never leaving Rodney.

"Leave it," said Ronon. "We can't afford to spook him."

"Oh . . . okay," Rodney mumbled, setting the canteen on the ground and carefully backing away from it. John watched the canteen and the three people for several agonizing minutes before inching forward and grabbing the canteen. Backing until his shoulders hit the trunk once again, he kept his eyes on them as he drank from the container, slowly at first, and then greedily.

"Uh, Sheppard . . . slow down or you'll make yourself sick," Rodney warned. John immediately stopped and looked warily at Rodney and then down at the canteen. He screwed his face up and bent over, clutching his stomach and panting shallowly. After some convulsive swallowing, he threw the canteen at Rodney, who jerked it off the ground. "Hey . . . we don't have unlimited supply of water you know!"

John jumped at Rodney's suddenly loud voice and scrambled back to a tree a few feet farther back. Curling up, he lay on the ground behind the tree, as if he were hiding from them.

"Rodney, you shouldn't yell at him," scolded Teyla, longing to go to him. "He is confused and frightened. I do not believe he knows who we are."

Rodney's mouth moved a few times as if he were preparing to protest, and then he looked at John and shook his head. "I didn't mean to . . . it's just that . . . fine." He stood staring at Sheppard for a while. "How long do you think he'll be . . . like that?" he asked, waving at Sheppard's hunkering form.

Sighing, Teyla shook her head. "I do not know. I believe the drugs are still very strong in his system. I overhead one of the guards say they have only recently developed this drug from the ore they are mining and they do not know all of the effects yet. They only know that it causes strong hallucinations."

"Great," Rodney muttered. "Sheppard gets to be guinea pig again."

"We need to get moving," said Ronon.

They all looked at John, wondering how to approach him and make him understand. Teyla looked at Ronon and then they both looked at Rodney. The scientist happen to glance over and see the two teammates watching him. "What? No, no, you saw his reaction to me last time. He ended up spilling almost all my water."

"I cannot go, he does not trust me. I believe him to be afraid of Ronon. He let you get closer than either of us," pointed out Teyla.

"He can sense that you're afraid of him," said Ronon and Rodney snorted at the smirk on the big man's face.

"Yeah, well thanks for the vote of confidence. Fine, it's up to me to save us all as usual," he mumbled, turning to John, who was now watching them from around the tree. Rodney crouched down to get closer to eye level with John. "Hey . . . look . . . uh, I know you're really confused right now, but we're your friends. You need to stay with us so the bad guys don't catch you and do more bad stuff to you. You need to come with us. We can help you."

John stared blankly at the scientist, making it hard to tell if he understood anything Rodney was saying. Rodney held his hand out and John shied back away from it, even though he was still several feet back. Dropping his hand, Rodney sighed. "Look . . . I need you to trust us. We're a team. We trust each other and we help each other. Please. You have to come with us because . . . we don't leave our people behind."

John's head shot up, his eyes alert as he studied Rodney.

"I think he recognized that," said Rodney softly, hope filling his voice and his expression.

"Yes," said Teyla. "I believe you are right. You are doing well, Rodney."

"Just hurry up so we can get out of here," urged Ronon.

Frowning, Rodney let out a quick breath. "Fine, Mr. Patience, I'm coming. You try convincing crazy Sheppard to join us and do it fast without scaring him off."

John was up on his hands and knees now, watching them intently. Slowly standing, Rodney edged back toward Teyla and Ronon, motioning John with his hand. "Okay, Colonel, we have to go now. Just . . . follow us please."

The three Lanteans began slowly walking away, occasionally turning around to see what John was doing. Rodney walked at the back because John seemed to trust him the most. After a few moments, he leaned forward and whispered, "He's following us."

oOo

Rodney would tell anyone that would listen that the next four days were hell on wheels . . . or more accurately on feet. They walked . . . a lot. And they walked slowly due to John's shuffling and sometimes stumbling gait. They had to check every few seconds to make sure he hadn't wandered off, which he occasionally did. Luring him back on track wasn't an easy or quick task.

Every few hours something would brush against his skin in such a way to feel like a bug crawling on him and John would throw himself to the ground, slapping and rolling and whimpering. The first time it had happened, none of them knew what was going on and Rodney had rushed to John instinctively, thinking he'd collapsed. As soon as he touched the thrashing pilot's arm, John had punched him in the face, bloodying his nose and giving him a black eye. He thought Teyla was a bit impatient with him while administering first aide. It was painful and he had every right to bitch a little at being decked for helping a friend.

Once when they were resting a bug actually did crawl up John's leg. Rodney saw it an instant before John did and froze in place, staring at the creature. There was no way to knock it off before John had a chance to see it because the pilot refused to get closer than ten feet to any of them. Rodney winced when John saw it, waiting for the explosion. He was more than shocked when it didn't come. John just stared at the thing, his eyes wide as he watched it meander up his pant leg. When it reached his thigh, John began to shake, his face went white, and his breathing was so fast Rodney was sure he was going to rupture a lung.

Getting slowly to his feet, Rodney walked carefully over to John, who looked like he was completely paralyzed except for the panicked breathing. Slowly bending over, watching the team leader for any sign he was about to deck him again, Rodney swiftly brushed the insect off the Colonel's leg and then stepped on it, grimacing at the crunch beneath his boot. Looking back, he noticed John studying the squished remains of the bug.

"Sheppard . . . you okay?"

John was shaking so hard it was visible as he slowly lifted his head to look up at Rodney. He didn't answer, but he didn't back away, even though Rodney was only two feet away from him. "Okay, I'll take that as a yes. And you're welcome," the scientist said with a smile.

They only came across Alvernian soldiers twice on their trek to the gate, probably because they stayed away from the main road, if you could call it that. Once they simply hid in some bushes as the group passed, each terrified that John would do something to give them away. But he didn't. He sat on the ground quietly several feet away, almost as if he understood the danger Rodney had warned him about while shushing him.

The second time was a little more interesting. They had just discovered John was no longer following them when they heard the voices of two soldiers talking. The three teammates had no choice but to duck behind some cover and hope John wasn't doing anything to attract their attention. They eavesdropped as much as possible on the conversation, trying to gain some intel. What they discovered was that Alajos had pretty much been a dictator and there was now a power struggle going on between three people wanting to take his place. That was good news for them. No one cared enough about his death to seek revenge and no one seemed to care about the fact that they had escaped due to the chaos of the three factions trying to gain control. As long as they stayed out of sight, they were home free because no one was actively looking for them.

Once the soldiers had passed, they spent the next hour looking for John. When they found him, he was sitting in the middle of a stream, soaking wet. He kept splashing water on his face and neck. That was when Rodney noticed his flushed cheeks. None of them had been close enough to realize he'd developed a fever and now he was trying to cool himself off.

"Oh, for the love of . . . " Rodney mumbled, raising both arms up over his head and then letting them drop again. "We're sneaking around in the woods trying to get to the gate undetected and he goes for a swim. It's official. He'd totally lost it . . . nutty as a fruitcake . . . bats in his belfry . . . crazy as a loon . . . he's come completely unglued and unhinged." Looking around at his confused teammates, Rodney shook his head. "Never mind."

Without thinking, Rodney waded into the shallow stream. "Colonel, only you would sit in a stream to cool yourself off. You have to get out of there right now," he prattled as he took John by the upper arm and helped him to his feet. It was only as they stepped on the bank that he realized John had let him touch him without belting him.

"Rodney," Teyla breathed out softly.

Rodney looked at John, almost afraid to move. The pilot was studying his face, his eyes wide and a little afraid. The pupils didn't seem quite so huge and he could see a rim of hazel starting to come back. John reached out a trembling hand and touched his bruised and swollen face, barely making contact with the damaged flesh. Rodney stood rock still, afraid to break the moment of trust.

"S . . . sorry," John whispered, his voice still rough and barely audible.

"It's okay," said Rodney softly. "You . . . weren't exactly yourself."

John suddenly flinched and pulled away, backing up several steps. Rodney sighed, thinking the return of John Sheppard had been too good to be true. "Okay, Colonel, we're almost to the gate. Think you can keep up this time without wandering off?"

John didn't answer, just watched as the three finally began to walk off. Rodney glanced back and made sure John had fallen in step behind them.

They reached the gate two hours later and Rodney would have jumped for joy if he hadn't been so tired and so hungry. Oh, and there were two guards standing by the DHD. They stood in the trees, looking at the gate with a longing so strong it hurt.

"So, what do we do now?" asked Rodney, glancing back to make sure Sheppard was still behind them. He was standing half behind a tree, peering at them from the edge. Rodney smiled and nodded, trying to be reassuring. John just stared impassively. Okay, maybe not so reassuring.

"We go home," said Ronon, strolling out into the clearing with his gun drawn.

"What . . . no," Rodney sputtered in disbelief. "You can't just go . . . oh, for heaven's sake. We've hiked across this stupid planet just to die in front of the gate," he complained, following Teyla out into the tall grass. "Come on Sheppard, we're making our last stand," he said, motioning to the pilot.

They walked single file across the clearing, three of them with their guns up and ready. The guards at the gate raised their weapons, but made no other move as they walked defiantly up to the DHD.

"We're leaving," said Ronon.

The guards exchanged a look and then one of them spoke. "Are you the ones that escaped and killed Alajos?"

"Yes," said Ronon gruffly. "Is that a problem?"

"Not for me," answered the guard. He looked at the man beside him. "What about you?"

Laughing, the second guard lowered his weapon. "I say they did us all a favor. Let them pass."

The first guard also lowered his weapon and they both backed away from the DHD. They stared at John, who was crouching slightly as if about to attack, his fists clenched and his face pinched with anger. "What's wrong with him?" asked one of the guards as Teyla dialed the alpha site.

"Alajos tortured him," answered Rodney darkly. "I think he recognizes your uniform." The two guards backed away a few more steps, bringing their guns up a few inches.

The wormhole snapped into place, startling John so that he backed up a few steps, almost falling on his behind in the process. Rodney turned to him and motioned him forward. "Come on . . . we're going home."

John backed up a few more steps, the anger from before replaced with fear. Ronon had moved to stand right in front of the event horizon with Teyla just behind him, both of them watching John. Rodney stepped toward John, his hand outstretched. "Come on, you have to trust us. We're your team, remember? We're friends. We take care of each other." John stared at Rodney, not moving away, but not moving toward him either. Rodney sighed. "We aren't leaving you behind."

John's eye widened, darting to the gate and then back to the scientist. Rodney took another step forward, his arm extended as far as he could get it. John finally edged forward until he reached out and touched Rodney's hand. Smiling, Rodney nodded. "Let's go home," he said softly.

"Home," John whispered. Dropping his arm, Rodney motioned for John to follow and then walked toward the gate. He didn't turn around to look because he could feel John behind him. Ahead of him, Ronon and Teyla exchanged a smile and disappeared into the blue puddle. Rodney and John were right behind them.

oOo

As soon as they arrived at the alpha site, Teyla dialed Atlantis. Rodney briefly explained what had happened and that Sheppard was "just slightly crazy right now" so they should back off and give him some space. By the time they actually stepped through the gate and into the Atlantis gateroom, he was a little nervous. Keller and a medical team were waiting at the edge of the room, but the warning had been taken seriously and no one approached them. John stood crouched and tensed, eyes darting around the room for signs of an attack or a way of escape, no one really knew which. Several soldiers formed a security ring, staring nervously at their CO.

Carter was slowly edging her way down the steps. "Rodney . . . tell us what's going on."

"I thought I explained already. Sheppard was drugged and tortured and he's . . . a little confused. Okay, he's nuts basically. I'm not sure if he knows who we are . . . or maybe he does, but he isn't making the connection that we're all on the same team. He thinks he killed Teyla, so he's kind of afraid of her . . . ghost of Christmas past or something. Anyway, he's getting better . . . he's let us a little closer lately . . . but we just need to . . . be careful." Rodney noticed John staring at him and flashed him a nervous smile.

"He seems to trust Rodney the most right now," said Teyla.

"How badly is he injured?" asked Keller from the sidelines, edging forward a few inches as she strained to get a better look at her patient.

"I think most of the injuries are superficial," answered Teyla. "They beat him before they began drugging him, so he is bruised and may have some rib injuries. He was placed in a box with some large insects and he has many scratches and small bites." Her voice had gotten cold and hard as she finished, her anger at his treatment showing through.

"They buried him alive with those bugs," said Ronon.

"Excuse me?" said Carter, he eyes growing wide. "They buried him alive?"

"Yes," snapped Teyla. "When he would not tell them of Atlantis, they drugged him and put him in a wooden box filled with insects and then buried him. Fortunately Ronon and Rodney arrived to rescue us a short time later and we were able to get him out."

To Rodney it seemed that everyone in the gateroom had tensed with anger following the revelation. "The drug makes him hallucinate," he added. "And he's been doing a lot of that." Rodney extended his hand to John. "We're in Atlantis. Look around you, Colonel. Atlantis. Home. Do you know where we are?"

John looked around the room, scowling at the large number of people and the way he was the center of their attention. He backed up a few steps toward the ring. His rapid breathing told Rodney he was on the verge of panicking again. "Whoa, whoa, just . . . stop for a minute. No one's going to hurt you. You have to trust us." He turned around to Keller. "Can't you just sedate him or something, because I'm not sure we're ever going to talk him into that narrow hallway?"

Keller shook her head. "Not without knowing what drugs they gave him. I can't take any chances on a reaction of some type."

"He's panicking," Rodney said in a forced whisper. John's eyes were darting around the room and his fists were clenched as he looked for a way out. Suddenly he ran for the now empty stairs. His body was abruptly engulfed in a red light and he collapsed bonelessly to the floor. Rodney turned to Ronon and put his hands on his hips. "You just had to stun him again, didn't you? I think you get some kind of sadistic pleasure from that."

Ronon shrugged as he holstered his gun. "We weren't getting him to the infirmary any other way. He's less likely to hurt himself or punch anyone else in the nose this way."

Rodney gingerly patted his still sore nose. Okay, maybe stunning Sheppard wasn't such a bad idea.

oOo

Rodney followed the nurse through the infirmary with Teyla and Ronon right behind him. She led them into the observation room looking over isolation. Standing at the window, he looked at John stretched out on a gurney below, unconscious. Keller and a nurse were tending to him. "You put him in isolation?"

Following his gaze, the nurse nodded, her expression a little sad. "Yes. Dr. Keller thought it would be best. Less people, less movement."

"Easier to contain if wakes up and goes nuts again," muttered Rodney.

The nurse didn't say anything, but pursed her lips a little before turning to leave. "Dr. Keller will join you in a few minutes," she said before walking through the door. As the door was closing, someone pushed it open again and Samantha Carter joined them by the window.

"Rodney," she said with a slight nod. "Teyla, Ronon. I'm glad to hear you're all okay. I understand you're all supposed to get something to eat and then to get some rest."

"Yeah, yeah, after we get an update on Sheppard," Rodney said impatiently. "What is she doing down there, anyway?"

"I am sure Jennifer will come talk to us as soon as she can," said Teyla. Her voice was calm and controlled as always, but her tight grip on the bar indicated that she wasn't quite as patient as she was letting on. Ronon placed his hand on hers and gave her a slight smile. Taking a deep breath, she nodded and relaxed her shoulders a little as Rodney returned his gaze to the room below.

Almost as if she sensed the tension, Keller looked up at them and nodded. Turning around, she spoke briefly to the nurse monitoring John and then left the room. A minute later, she joined them at the window.

"Well?" asked Rodney as they all turned to face her.

Keller cleared her throat nervously, taking a moment before letting her eyes meet theirs. "He's obviously been beaten. He has bruises that vary in age over most of his body and two cracked ribs. The cuts and bites are mostly shallow, although a few of them are showing signs of infection. I'm most worried about what appears to be numerous head injuries and the drugs in his system. He's been hit in the head several times resulting in at least one concussion. There are signs of bruising on the brain and a small amount of swelling. His bloodwork also shows the presence of a drug I'm not familiar with, although chemically it's almost like a cross between some fungal and plant derivative hallucinogens on Earth."

"But he's going to be okay, right," said Ronon, more as a statement than a question.

Keller sighed and frowned. "In time, I believe he will, but it's not going to be easy. He's developed a respiratory infection, no doubt due to his overtaxed immune system. It isn't serious and we're treating it with antibiotics, but the fever on top of the head injuries and the lingering drug is not going to help matters. I'm afraid the confusion and disorientation will hang around in varying amounts for several days, possibly longer." Taking in a long, deep breath, she stared down at her patient. "And then there's the whole being buried alive with a box of bugs thing to deal with."

After several moment of silence, Teyla looked up and spoke. "We will be there for John. We will do whatever it takes to get him through this."

"I'll take first watch," Rodney volunteered.

"Whoa, guys, just slow down," said Keller. "The three of you have been through an ordeal yourselves. You're all exhausted and dehydrated, especially you, Teyla. I considered keeping you all over night so I could get some fluids into you and keep an eye on you. The stipulation for me letting you go is that you all go eat a decent meal, drink plenty of water, and get some rest. That hasn't changed."

Rodney sputtered, pointing to John below. "But what about the Colonel?"

"He'll still be here tomorrow," said Keller matter-of-factly. "Someone will be with him at all times and I'll call if we can't handle him. Now go . . . eat . . . sleep." She glanced at Carter for help.

"That's an order ladies and gentlemen," said Carter.

"Fine," Rodney snapped, turning to Keller. "You better call me if he wakes up and needs . . . you know . . . someone he trusts."

Keller's expression softened as she placed a hand on Rodney's arm. "I will, Rodney. I promise. Get some rest."

Grumbling, the three of them left. Cater looked down at her sleeping second in command. "You think he'll be out for a while?"

Keller nodded. "I hope so. He's exhausted. He's obviously had very little to eat or drink in the past . . . what has it been, ten, eleven days?" She sighed and shook her head. "They really did a number on him. I think everything else combined with the stun, he'll sleep for a while." Looking at Carter, she grinned sheepishly. "Don't tell Ronon, but stunning him was probably the safest way to get him down here without stressing him more or taking any chances of anyone getting hurt. No way I could sedate him with unknown drugs in his system."

Cater returned her smile. "Don't worry. There's no way I'm encouraging him to stun his commanding officer again. It'll be our little secret."

oOo

Rodney was pissed. He'd intended to get to the infirmary early, but he'd overslept. Not that he was ever admitting to Keller that she'd been right about him needing sleep. Nor would he admit that although still tired and sore, at least he no longer felt like all his muscles were in a permanent cramp. Sighing, he opened the door to the isolation room just in time to see Sheppard roll away from the attending nurse and straight off the bed. "What the . . . "

He watched as John scrabbled across the floor, pulling the IV pole over. When he reached the end of the tubing and it pulled his hand, he jerked his head around, looking for the source of his entrapment. Mesmerized, Rodney just watched as John pulled frantically at the tape on the back of his hand and then jerked the IV out, leaving a small puddle of fluid and a few drops of blood as he skittered between the legs of some Ancient machinery and pressed himself into a corner.

The nurse joined him as they bent down to observe John, his legs pressed to his chest and his arms wrapped around them as if trying to make himself smaller. "Dr. McKay, I'm glad you're here," she said a little frantically.

"Shouldn't you have had the rails up to prevent this sort of thing?" he asked in an accusing tone.

"I know, I know," she babbled. "I had them up. I only took them down for a moment to shift his sheets where they had become tangled and I was about to put them back up when he woke up. He just . . . " Unable to find the words she wanted, she waved her hands around in a circle and then pointed to the huddling figure.

"I'll take it from here," Rodney said in annoyance. "Just . . . just go . . . before you cause any more harm."

The nurse looked like she might argue, but then closed her mouth and headed for the door. "I'll get Dr. Keller," she mumbled as she went through the door.

"You do that," Rodney whispered sharply. Kneeling, he peered at John sitting pressed to the wall. "I'm guessing you aren't coming out any time soon?" When John didn't move, other than to press himself even harder against the wall, Rodney sighed. "Yeah, didn't think so. You know, when we get you through this, you're going to owe me big time," he mumbled as he looked around and then grabbed a blanket off the bed, followed by a gauze pad from one of the shelves. "And I don't mean a few measly desserts, Sheppard, I mean big. As in I'll have to think a while to come up with something appropriate big."

Squatting down so John could see him, Rodney showed the panicked man what he had in his hands. "I'm not going to make you do anything you don't want to do. I'm, uh, just going to come sit beside you, okay?" John stared at him, but didn't move. Rodney slowly began inching forward until he was next to the pilot and then turned to sit with his back against the wall. They were close, but Rodney made sure their shoulders didn't touch so that he didn't spook his friend.

The Colonel was watching him warily, but hadn't moved away from him. Rodney thought that was a good thing. He held out the gauze pad and pointed to John's hand, where several drops of blood had smeared across the skin. John looked at it as if fascinated for a moment, but then let Rodney take his hand to clean off the blood. Rodney held the pad in place for a while until the bleeding seemed to stop.

"Okay, now that that's taken care of, are you cold?" asked Rodney, holding out the blanket. John just stared, as if not sure what to do, so Rodney spread it over the man's legs, which he had finally eased down in front of him. "You really shouldn't be sitting in the floor, you know. You're sick."

John looked up at Rodney and frowned, as if seeing him for the first time. His mouth moved, as if he wanted to say something, but then he shook his head and put his hands over his face. After a few minutes, John ran his hands through his hair a couple of times and then gripped his hair and pulled. Wincing, he stopped and let his hands drop, looking around the room. When he turned back to Rodney, the scientist noticed for the first time that John's pupils looked almost normal. Licking his lips, John stared intently at Rodney's face. "T . . . te . . . team?" It was as if it had taken every bit of concentration he had to force that word out of his mouth, but it was a beautiful sound to Rodney.

"The team? Everyone's safe, all of us, including Teyla. She's okay, you know. You didn't really hurt her," Rodney babbled. "If you want to see, I can send for them. We've really been worried about you."

Keller picked that moment to enter the room with the incompetent nurse from before. "Rodney . . ." she said in an exaggerated southern drawl, crouching down to get at eye level with the two men sitting against the wall. "What's going on?"

"I think he wants to see the team . . . you know, to make sure everyone's okay."

"Really?" she exclaimed in surprise.

"Yes, really. He even asked for them . . . well, sort of."

Keller smiled and nodded. "I'll send for them. Don't suppose you could talk him into getting back into bed?"

Looking back at John, eyeing Keller suspiciously, he shook his head. "Not yet."

"Okay . . . we'll just take this one step at a time. Try to keep him calm."

Rodney snorted. "I am. And I'm doing a much better job than nurse Ratched over there."

"Rodney, that isn't fair. Camille was just doing her job. You know the Colonel is . . . a bit disoriented right now," scolded Keller mildly.

"Fine, fine, so it wasn't her fault . . . exactly," admitted Rodney. "Just . . . go get Ronon and Teyla please. I think . . . I think maybe he's trying to make his way back to us." And he had to keep believing that because if Sheppard was nuts for good, they were all doomed. And that was one more thing he wasn't admitting out loud.

oOo

Jennifer watched from the observation room as Ronon and Teyla knelt to the floor, talking softly to John and Rodney. Because of the angle, she could see Rodney and John clearly on the far side of the room. After a few minutes, Teyla began inching forward to sit next to John on the side opposite Rodney. As she drew close, John pulled back until he was leaning heavily against Rodney. She could see Rodney's mouth moving and she imagined him talking to the pilot, trying to keep him from bolting. When Teyla was next to him, they stared at each other for several moments.

Slowly, Teyla reached forward to take his hands. John made a feeble attempt at pulling away, but she held onto him firmly, placing his hands on either side of her face. John's hands were trembling and Teyla was talking to him now, never taking her eyes from his. Slowly his posture relaxed and he quit trying to pull away. His hands gently caressed her face as the fear drained out of him and he finally slumped forward, his forehead touching Teyla's. Keller turned away when she saw moisture glistening on their cheeks, feeling like an intruder into a very personal moment.

After giving them a few minutes unobserved while she brought her own emotions under control, Keller turned back to the room. Teyla and Rodney both had a hand on John's shoulder and the pilot was now studying Ronon. The big man edged forward a few inches every few minutes until he was sitting at John's knees. Slowly reaching one hand out, he brought it down to rest on John's leg, ignoring the flinch at his touch. They all continued to talk until the tension in John eased and he once again leaned back against the wall.

Several minutes later, the whole group looked a lot more relaxed. John was still maintaining a careful watch on the room and the people around him, but he no longer looked like he was about to jump out of his skin. Rodney glanced up, catching her eye. With a small smile, he gave her a nod before returning his attention to his team. That was the moment Keller knew that Sheppard would eventually be okay.

THE END

Yeah, I know, kind of a lame place to end. But this was supposed to be short (coughs into hand) and the deadline approaches and knowing me, I'll go on for a month if I don't make myself stop. Maybe a sequel/continuation later if there's any interest??

The movie night reference was to "Robin Hood: Men in Tights". There was also a brief reference to "Star Wars" and to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".