Zuggat's screams were loud and shrill, echoing off the stonewalls and filling the small room. Sheppard watched him, his features reflecting only slight annoyance. However his hazel eyes told a different story. They were cold and hard. Barren wastelands of hatred. When the shrieks showed no sign of abating John reached out and tore a strip off the Empir's once white tunic. Grabbing Zuggat by his lank hair, Sheppard yanked the sobbing man's head back and roughly jammed the grimy cloth into his mouth. The gore soaked fabric wedged behind his teeth effectively choking off the high-pitched cries of pain. Slapping a piece of duct tape over Zuggat's mouth, John sealed the gag in place.
Standing back, Sheppard surveyed the now quietly crying man. A coarse rope was wound tightly around his chest holding him to a high backed wooden chair. At the moment that rope was the only thing keeping Zuggat upright. His arms were outstretched and bound to a scarred wooden table top. Next to his hands were a row of shiny metal objects that John had carefully placed onto the table. Sheppard turned, and after quiet consideration selected one of the items. The Empir's red rimmed eyes were wide and wet, tears spilled down his cheeks as he frantically followed Sheppard's movements.
Zuggat's breathing grew shallow and panicky. His sobs were muffled behind the crude gag as John crouched beside him, a bloody knife dangling loosely from his grasp.
"I want to personally thank you for looking after Doctor McKay." John said softly, as he idly twisted the hand holding the knife. He watched in cold fascination as silver shards of light reflected from the blade, onto Zuggat's face. Leaning closer, his expression masklike, he stared into the cringing man's bloodshot eyes.
"It was very generous of you to offer to sell him back to us."
The Empir whimpered and recoiled as far as the ropes would allow. The movement caused flames of pain to lick up his arms, and his empty stomach rebelled, rolling violently. John watched impassively as Zuggat retched behind the gag.
"You know, you'll probably choke doing that. You really should sit still." Sheppard lightly traced the knife down the Empir's face leaving another shallow line of crimson behind.
As the blood mixed with Zuggat's tears and turned a watery pink, John stepped back. His lips twisted briefly into a small, almost friendly smile. Reaching up with the hand still clutching the knife, blood soaking the sleeve of his black shirt, John tapped his radio, hailing Teyla.
"Teyla, how is he?" There was no need to explain who John was asking about.
"Rodney is asleep Colonel Sheppard. We are leaving now for the gate."
"How many broken fingers did he have?"
"Three Colonel," Teyla's voice was slightly puzzled.
"OK. I just have something to finish up here. Sheppard out."
John toggled his radio off without answering Teyla's unasked question. He leaned against the table and regarded the man responsible for McKay's imprisonment.
"Teyla said Rodney has 3 broken fingers, I thought it was two. Guess that means I have one more to do."
As the words registered Zuggat began to make frantic pleading sounds. He shook his head rapidly in negation of what John had planned.
"We've already done two, this is just one more. I'd like to say it will be over quickly, but you and I both know it won't be."
John's smile as he sat down opposite the Empir was dark and genuine. Reaching out he grasped the trembling man's left hand and flattened it against the table.
"See? I'm fair, we'll do your left this time."
Holding Zuggat's hand in an iron grip, John brought the wickedly sharp knife down and settled the blade against the joint of the Empir's little finger. Biting his lower lip in concentration he began sawing the knife through skin and gristle. Blood flowed out of the raw flesh, soaking into the table top, staining the wood black. The Empir's muffled screams were continual, with a mindless animalistic quality. John looked up in triumph when the finger finally separated from Zuggat's hand.
As Sheppard slid the bloody digit over to join the previous two, the screams abruptly stopped. Overcome with agony the Empir's eyes fluttered before rolling back in his head and he slumped into unconsciousness. Coming to a quick decision John stood and went to the room's exit. As he opened the heavy wooden door Ronon turned from guard duty and looked at him in question.
"Done?" the Satedean asked with a grunt.
"Yeah, but he's coming with us." Sheppard replied gesturing at the unconscious man.
"Is that wise?." Ronon looked over John's shoulder at Zuggat.
"Probably not but that's what's happening." Sheppard's voice made it clear there would be no debate on this matter.
Walking over to the Empir, John cut through the ropes holding him in place. As they parted he slid bonelessly from the chair landing in a bloody heap on the floor. The movement and the pain from his mutilated hands as they brushed the stone tiles jostled him, bringing him sharply back into awareness. Looking up at the two men standing over him he screeched and tried to scrabble away. Ronon looked at John with raised eyebrows before he lifted a foot and pressed Zuggat flat to the floor so Sheppard cold retie his bonds.
John crouched beside the terrified man and grabbed his face. His fingers dug cruelly into the abundant flesh as he twisted Zuggat's head toward him.
"You're coming with us. If you try and hold us back, I will hack off bigger pieces and drag you. Do you understand me?"
The Empir nodded, his frightened eyes fixated on Sheppard's face. It was dotted with tiny drops of blood and totally without pity. John stood yanking Zuggat up with him. Dragging him to the door Sheppard looked back at Ronon.
"Let's blow this place."
"Just say the word." Ronon followed behind John holding up a detonator and grinning.
The three men left the Empirical Residence, stepping over and around the occasional body they encountered on the way. With each step Zuggat's fear increased, cutting through the haze of pain clouding his mind. A bleak feeling of despair lodged in his chest. He was marching towards his death, of this he was certain.
The sun was riding high in the sky when they finally walked out of the complex. Pulling a stumbling Zuggat behind them, the two warriors paused by the huge metal gates at the edge of the woods. Judging they had come a safe enough distance Ronon wordlessly handed Sheppard the small detonator. John lowered his head gazing at the ground before looking up at the taller man. He nodded once in thanks, then turned back to face the place that had held Rodney prisoner for almost a month. Closing his eyes against the sting of emotion, Sheppard depressed the black button igniting the strategically placed C-4.
The explosion was loud and hellish. The percussive wave pushed at them. Black smoke poured from the ruins, flames shot up and rubble rained down. Surveying the devastation John felt the huge black gapping hole inside of him shrink a little. The desperation and anger he had been living with for the last 26 and a half days eased fractionally. The side of his mouth quirked a bit. Sometimes blowing the hell out of things did help a little, despite McKay's claims to the contrary.
Turning from the once majestic Empirical Residence Sheppard and Ronon dragged Zuggat down the path into the woods. As they entered the cool darkness of the forest, John's radio crackled to life spilling Teyla's worried voice into his ear.
"Colonel Sheppard, Ronon?"
"Teyla, we are on our way to the gate. We'll see you in about 10 minutes." Sheppard continued without stopping, yanking on Zuggat's rope.
"John, Rodney is awake again and asking for you. I will give him my radio." Relief at their safety was evident in Teyla's voice.
A quiet rustling was followed by a click as Teyla switched her earpiece to a private channel. Then McKay's harsh breath and weak voice was there in Sheppard's ear.
John licked his lips and cleared his throat before replying. "Hey buddy."
"where are you John? We heard an explosion."
"I'm on my way, be there before you know it."
"Good." Rodney's tone was tired, soft with relief and something else.
"What does Beckett say?"
"That I'll live."
"That's the best news I've heard all month McKay." If John's voice trembled slightly at that admission neither one of them was going to acknowledge it. "Tell him to give you the good stuff, you deserve it."
"He has. John..."
"Take it easy McKay, I'm almost there."
"Ok." Rodney was already mostly asleep again.
Picking up the pace eager to reach the Stargate quickly, John led the way to the clearing. Ronon dropped back following behind their staggering captive, prodding him to move faster. Within minutes they reached the clearing for the Stargate. As soon as they came to a stop Zuggat fell to his knees. In reflex his bound arms moved to brace himself as he slowly fell face down. The instant his mangled hands touched the ground the Empir erupted in muffled shrieks of pain. The cries attracted the attention of the few people moving around the clearing. Doctor Beckett looked up from McKay's side. The tension on his face eased as he recognized John and Ronon.
"Colonel, thank god. Now that you're here, maybe this daft bugger will let us take him through the gate." Carson smiled gently down at Rodney as he said it, exasperation and affection filling his eyes.
John stared at the man he hadn't seen for 26 and a half days. The last of the tension lifting from his shoulders as he looked at McKay's haggard face. Dark bruises mottled the skin and Rodney looked like death warmed over. But even though he was clearly hurting, a sweet crooked smile spread across McKay's lips as he looked into Sheppards eyes.
"Right who's this here then?" Carson pointed at the Empir. His question interrupted John's intense study of McKay.
Rodney looked down at John's feet. His smile fell away and he flinched in fear as he recognized the writhing man. Sheppard's face went still and dangerous as he glanced down at Zuggat. Stopping Beckett from touching the Empir, he looked at Rodney and in a deliberate voice answered the question asked by the Atlantis CMO.
"He is no one to worry about now."
"Colonel, clearly this man is in great pain." Carson protested.
Sheppard turned his hard gaze towards the doctor. "Not for much longer."
John held Carson's eyes and rather than trying to hide it, he let the anger and rage fill his expression. "I will take care of him, you look after Rodney."
Beckett paled and nodded shakily before turning back to McKay. Realization of who exactly the cowering man was, settled over the doctor. That broken man had brought the wrath of Colonel Sheppard down upon himself when he dared to kidnap and torture the CSO of Atlantis. He was in effect a dead man walking. And while Carson didn't quite agree with whatever Sheppard planned to do, he knew the Colonel wanted to set an example. Life in the Pegasus Galaxy was dangerous and unpredictable, but there was one universal truth, no one hurt John Sheppard's family and lived to tell about it.
John walked up the steps of the gate platform. At the top he turned and nodded to Ronon. The tall man bent to pick Zuggat up from the ground. Setting him on his feet Ronon grasped the back of his collar and marched him over to Sheppard. Teyla climbed the steps to stand beside her teammates, concern lighting her brown eyes. Ignoring her for the moment John took the rope and yanked the Empir closer to him. He looked up at Ronon and quietly gave him an address to dial on the DHD. The Satedean jumped lightly from the dais and headed over to enter the address. Teyla looked at John her brow furrowed in confusion.
"Colonel? John? Is that not the address of a space gate? Surely you do not intend to..."
Sheppard looked at Teyla, his eyes full of shadows. "We almost lost Rodney...I almost lost him. Because of this man and his greed."
Teyla searched John's features before nodding once and moving back to stand by McKay's stretcher.
The familiar sound of a gate dialing filled the air. The event horizon opened and the deadly splash back flared out, then collapsed back into the watery blue surface. John turned to look at the weeping Empir one more time. The light from the gate casted fragmented reflections over his face.
"Do you know what happens to a human body in hard vacuum?" John asked in a light conversational tone.
Zuggat shook his head rapidly, his eyes huge and pleading above the gag.
"Well it's not pretty, and I've heard it's very painful. Although McKay tells me it's not exactly like they show in the movies."
John glanced over at Rodney, a question in his eyes. McKay swallowed thickly, shifting slightly in pain, before silently mouthing a reply. John turned back to Zuggat. Reaching out he grabbed the man's hair, twisting a handful he forced the Empir to look at Mckay. He leaned in close his lips almost brushing Zuggat's ear.
"I guess you're gonna find out for yourself." Sheppard hissed before pushing the struggling man through the gate.
The clearing was completely silent and the sound of the gate disengaging was loud and startling. John ran a hand through his hair and attempted to regain his composure. He took a deep breath, waiting a few seconds before turning away from the gate. Slowly he climbed down the steps aware of everyone consciously looking everywhere but directly at him. Stopping beside McKay's stretcher he smiled down at the injured scientist. This time the onesided grin reached his eyes, turning them a molten gold. Reaching out a faintly trembling hand Sheppard rested it gently on Rodney's shoulder, before sliding it down his arm to grasp his wrist. John lightly pressed his fingers against McKay's pulse point, partially to comfort Rodney, but mostly to reassure himself.
"Hey buddy, what do you say we go home?"
McKay's eyes closed tiredly and when he spoke his voice was slurred with pain and the medication Beckett had given him.
"It's about damn time."
Sheppard's reply was a hoarse bray of laughter that was equal parts amusement and relief. His happiness was in stark contrast to the man he'd been for the past month. He'd become a dark silent man who had grimly stalked the halls of Atlantis, planning revenge. Now with the rescue of McKay and the knowledge that the scientist would be back where he belonged, John felt all his raw places begin to heal.
As he waited for the gate to dial, Sheppard stood beside Rodney's stretcher, reluctant to let the sleeping man out of sight or reach. With a lazy grin he watched everyone scurrying around gathering up their supplies. A deep feeling of satisfaction welled up within him at the thought that he would soon be bringing his family home.