The flames curl about the blade and caress it close, splitting into thin, delicate tongues beneath a razor fine edge only to lick over the metal and wash back together upon one another as waves on the sea. The fire crackles and pops, sending minute sparks of crisp, orange light dancing into the shadows in their brief but glorious lives before facing out of existence one more, swallowed by the night its self. The dried, black ichor upon the blade sizzles and snaps with an almost sickly and stomach-wrenching sound before eventually searing away to nothing. It leaves only in its wake the currently strangely intoxicating scent of charred flesh - the sweet aroma of victory.

It is a victory that was hard earned, for there are but four of them now. The Blonde. The Singer. The Artist. And the Elder. There had been two others chosen with them after the culling. The Dancer, a lithe, pale creature who belonged not at the mercy of an entirely fickle Wraith Queen but on the grand stages of the ballet, alighting upon the air gracefully, had been too fragile and brittle, succumbing in their escape.

The saddest, still, is the Poet. A young, bohemian fellow whose silver tongue struck the Queen's undying fancy. The Poet had fallen only a few hours before, his life snuffed out by other refugees, a hunting and scavenging party most likely. He had been so overjoyed to see humans - free humans - who did not bow to the Wraith, that he approached, his arms clasped behind his back in what the skrae all knew to be a sign of submission and supplication. The strangers spied his tattoos and the lavish attire of the skrae, not the pathetic, tortured soul lurking beneath them. They strangers had panicked, and opened fired upon the Poet. The other four had been forced to fight out of self-preservation.

They have no names, not anymore. The Wraith took their names and bludgeoned their will to bend and break. It is a cunning method of torture, psychologically, and the Elder knows this. By taking their names, by expunging any sense of identity, the Wraith have bowed many in the past, but not these four, defiant souls.

The Blonde turns to the Elder, her blue eyes wide and expressive as they have not been in months, perhaps years. They, these once strangers, now brothers and sisters, have gone for so long without the consistency of solar day and night cycles in the hive that it is impossible to tell for certain exactly how much timed has passed. Only one factor remains certain; it has been too long of a captivity. They are only newly free now, born into this dead world anew only a few days prior, unable to instantly shuck away their precisely trained manners and protocol; it will be some time before any of them grow comfortable to speak at length, if ever.

A part of the Elder wants to die at the thought, the bittersweet memory of how expressive he had been. He had once waxed on about various topics from the utterly mundane trivialities to life to the most pressing and dire of urgencies, matters in which lives honestly hung in the balance. Yet the Wraith have torn that from him. He licks his dry, cracked lips at the though, tasting the coppery tang of his own blood at the split corner of his mouth from the skirmish. He wonders what his voice will sound like uninhibited once more, having forgotten his own spite and biting sarcasm save in ghostly, watery memory. He had always taken it so for granted that he could open his mouth and spew forth any petty diatribe of his choice before the Wraith; now, he has not spoken in weeks. He will have to try to speak soon, very soon, if they are to survive this world that no longer wants them. He will have to be the quick witted, sharp and verbose genius of his past if he is to complete the illusion.

There are people out there, somewhere. The Elder knows this; they all do. The Wraith would not tarry long in orbit where there not food to be had. However, he, of all people, knows how they will be viewed if they continue to bear the marks of the Wraith. He knows they will be scorned, cast out, and possibly shot at once more. Yet, they must chance it, for they are in desperate need of food, shelter, supplies, and tactical information.

What they need is an emissary, one who can seamlessly transition this unusual fold of four into whatever remains of a society out there. The Elder will be their emissary. He is the oldest, so, perhaps, it is truly his place to do this, to force himself not to be skrae but to be human once more. Besides, this is his idea, and, therefore, his sacrifice to make, his pain to bear, not theirs.

The Blonde cocks her eyebrow minutely to punctuate the question. It is a gesture he has seen often before, on a lithe caramel colored woman with eyes of the deepest obsidian. He cannot accurately picture the woman's face, though; it has been too long.

Are you sure?

It is her question. The Elder lowers his gaze in response. It is only the faintest of drift of his pupils, but it is the most he has allowed himself to answer to the affirmative in weeks unless directly asked by his Queen. Of course he is certain. They need this.

The Blonde eyes him for a long moment from the far side of the fire, giving him time to back down as another unspoken question lodges uncomfortably between them. He sits and contemplates the various further inquiry she may be posing wordlessly. She may be inquiring as if he can handle this, both physically and mentally. She may be implying concern for his mental status to even consider this a viable option. Or, she may merely be offering him the chance to back down from this barbary before it begins. His gaze slips downward once more, yet the Elder cannot deviate from this course now that he has decided.

The Blonde rises and rounds the meager fire on nimble feet, brushing past the other two and dragging the knife through the flames as she does. She looks to each of them in turn, and taking in their detail swiftly, without truly appearing to do so. It is another gift of their sadistic training. The Wraith wished for their faithful little pets to be observant and cautious, ever ready to attend to the needs of their Queen or to those of higher rank without ever seeming to move or to watch. It would be ill-seeming, apparently, in Wraith culture, for mere humans - cattle - to spy upon their masters, their gods.

The other female, the Singer, sits to the side, her legs tucked up neatly beneath her in a graceful kneel that sends the Blonde's mind harkening back to the courtesans and geisha of old. Her back is ramrod straight, a practiced pose that is as effortless as breathing now after a few rather pointed feedings for not maintaining the proper posture. The Singer is hacking away at her once long, ebony locks. She grabs fistfuls of hair and swipes her own razor sharp blade through the delicate strands, chopping her hair close to the scalp. Chunks of hair glisten and gleam in the firelight as they fall away. The hair seems to catch the warm glow and hold it deep within before the clumps of black separate and feather to fall about her like snow or ash upon the wind, slipping to the ground and piling up on one another.

Neither the Elder nor the Blonde blame her for this. Their Queen preferred both girls to keep their hair long enough to stroke when they knelt at her side, petting them as her personal lap dogs. As such, it must be quite liberating for her to cut it all away, as though she could even sever the lingering memory of the sensation of the Queen's slick hand carding carelessly through her hair, the feeding slit skimming over her scalp.

Meanwhile, the other, younger male, the Artist, stares intently in the firelight, as a moth drawn to the flame. He runs his own blade upon a whet stone to hone and keep the edge. The younger man is restless, agitated even in the wake of the Poet's death. He has been twitchy ever since their escape. He does not trust the seeming security of this place, not even now.

And he? The Elder? He is not certain what he feels.

The Blonde kneels before him, her flaxen hair rustling from the motion with a soft, barely audible whisper. His ears are well adjusted to the gentleness of such sounds, his senses all primed to attend the fickle whims of their Wraith masters. It is a habit he knows will die hard.

The Elder watches her as she draws the red hot blade from the fire, his eyes subtly tracking the motion without actually looking. This is it. He swallows before the blade draws close, smelling of burnt tinder and scorched flesh. Under the Blonde's careful hand, the searing hot metal kisses his cheek with such heat that it steals his breath away with a hushed gasp. In another lifetime, he would have cried out, screaming and sobbing against the pain; in this life, he holds his tongue and bites back any sound of hurt as she skillfully plays the blade across his flesh. It is a dubious mercy, sparring him from staying her hand and extending his suffering. It hurts, oh God, it hurts, but the cauterizing cut of the blade somehow pales in comparison to the cruelty of the Wraith. And, yet, the pain both grounds and vents him in a way he cannot accurately describe, as though she is not only cutting away those vile markings but also those dark years of captivity, training and servitude they represent. She has not the time, nor the medical supplies to free him of the markings upon his chest, arms and back, but her skillful hand can at least pare the blue green flesh from his face and neck. She is swift and deliberate in her strokes, scoring off those awful markings with a speed that surprises him, and, when she is done, he shudders with release.

The Blonde places the makeshift bandages upon his face with speed and care to prevent infection. There is a tenderness to her actions, a softness that reminds him of another woman he had known in that distant other life, how sweet and loving she had been, how kind and compassionate. The Blonde finishes tending to these wounds with the same finesse, but he knows it is not from the same, meticulous schooling of the woman of his past. The Blonde sits back on her heels, an oddly mirrored image of the dark haired girl, surveying her work.

His lips twitch in a forgotten, alien sensation. His lax cheeks pinch and rise as his facial muscles impossibly work beneath the torn and destroyed flesh. The corners of his lips gather and curl even more to realize that her delicate hand has not destroyed the intricate underlay of tissue beneath his flesh that command human facial expression. It is a delirious expression, slowly spreading and growing to encompass his entire being. It is a smile, something he has not made in at least a year or more.

"This...." he pauses, his breath hitching with no small measure of uncertainty to this, the first truly free thing he has said since the Wraith stole him away in the blinding white light of the culling beam.

Three sets of eyes raise expectantly to the Elder. They have not heard him speak in some time, not since their Queen punished him for his snide remarks and hopeful tales of the legendary John Sheppard by feeding directly from his neck. His voice is rusty and wavering, as though unused to the words and uncertain as to the correct sentence structure. They look to him, their faces still expressionless by most normal standards but screaming to him in a thousand, nearly microscopic signals that would have otherwise been lost to him in the prior incarnation of his existence. He nods to them, forcing himself into a gesture which feels both entirely foreign and utterly familiar, a quick, repetitive bobbing of his head that he knows went along with serious self reassurance in that mythical, other life.

"This..... this is going to work."

He says it as a solemn promise to them, with a strange reverence as though the words are a prayer to God himself and no other. This will work. He can do this. He can blend in, be normal, if only for the others. He means it. For, without the weight of those awful scars, he is Rodney McKay once more, not merely some dog of the Wraith, and Rodney McKay never - never - gives in. He wines, complains, moans, and gripes, but he has never encountered a problem he cannot solve.




Author's Notes : No, I haven't given up on Caliber. I'm still working on the next chapter and possibly a prequel of sorts along with other stuff. However, I figured you guys might appreciate a one shot drabble from Willem, Kylie, Klutch and Rodney's shared past. Happy Early Thanksgiving, by the by!