Admittedly, she agreed with Ladon's opinion that Cowen and Kolya wouldn't have been suitable leaders for the Genii, even if she had some doubts about whether Ladon was the best choice or simply the best of bad choices, but she hadn't come to the Pegasus Galaxy to stage social coups; it wasn't her place to decide who should be in charge, but she would work with the current leader if he was willing to do the same. With Kolya targeting Ladon in particular, and Elizabeth having no reason to trust Kolya over Ladon, she was forced to accept the current status quo and hope that she wasn't misjudging him- he had been honest so far, even if she couldn't guarantee that would last- but the sooner she had John back in Atlantis, the better. Turning Ladon over might be the most immediate solution, but she wasn't going to betray someone who'd primarily acted to help them in favour of the man who'd tried to kill them once already; they had to find Kolya's base before things took a turn for the worse. Ladon had been able to give them a better idea where to look by studying their pre-existing list of potential Genii planets, but that could only take them so far with time this significantly against them.
Add in Doctor Beckett's warnings about the effect that prolonged feedings could have on John, and Elizabeth knew that she had to move quickly. John might have survived for over two decades by himself in an area completely outside his experience, and spent that time fighting some of the most dangerous enemies humanity had ever known, but that didn't mean he could endure that kind of treatment for long… to say nothing of what shape he'd be in once it was all over…
McKay and Ladon had managed to identify a likely-looking planet based on Atlantis's database and the Genii's own files, but when they'd actually checked the address out, they'd found nothing more than a deserted warehouse, with only a couple of caretakers and a few rodents inside. It had been somewhat encouraging to see how quickly McKay and Lorne had rallied the troops to try and save John despite his awkward start in his new role, but Ronon and Teyla were still far too awkward for her to believe that they were comfortable with having John working in the city.
The only thing keeping Ladon alive right now was the fact that she didn't negotiate with terrorists and she was strongly opposed to giving Kolya what he wanted; if that was going to be the last thing John ever said to her, she wasn't going to ignore it.
If only she could stop worrying about what kind of shape John would be in if they took too long to find him…
As John was forced back into the interrogation chair, he cursed his inability to get through to his fellow prisoner in time to stop this; once he'd started talking about escape, the Wraith had just retreated back into a corner of his cell and sat there in silence.
Still, he supposed that he should be grateful he wasn't going to have to deal with Kolya giving him the apparently-traditional 'villain rant' of pop culture; it might have been different if he'd known that John was the Phantom, but Kolya wasn't going to waste time explaining himself to a Wraithspawn. He'd enjoyed that kind of monologue in the films he'd seen once he was made an official part of life in Atlantis again- one reason he'd liked the Die Hard series was the fact that all four films gave the villain the chance to explain why they were doing this beyond them being jerks- but when you were dealing with that situation in real life and about to be tortured by someone who'd nearly killed the woman he… CARED STRONGLY ABOUT… he wasn't that interested in hearing why Kolya wanted Ladon dead.
In end, Kolya's plan came down to the fact that the git didn't have the military strength necessary to mount an effective assault on Atlantis or the Genii right now, so all he had was this twisted attempt at blackmail; the fact that it hurt John was just inconvenient.
As Kolya started to address the camera again, John tried to distract himself by thinking of some of the films he'd seen since returning to Atlantis- the X-Men movies had been interesting, but he had serious doubts about that new Superman film that had just come out that year- but when the Wraith walked up beside him and its hand was jammed against his chest once again, John couldn't stop himself from yelling through his gag as he felt another decade or so being taken from him before the Wraith was pulled away.
God… he was going to be reduced to a desk role his first week on the job at this rate…
Aside from vaguely registering that Elizabeth was still rejecting Kolya's offer, John only came back to himself when he was thrown back into his cell. Dragging his way to the wall next to the Wraith's cell, John slumped against the wall and waited for his fellow prisoner to speak.
"You still believe that your friends will come?" the Wraith's strange voice said.
"Yeah, I do," John said, gritting his teeth as he stood up to face the cell window himself. "But that doesn't mean that I want to be stuck here until they pull it off."
"And what would you have us do?" the Wraith asked. "No-one has ever left this place alive."
"First time for everything," John said, looking firmly at the Wraith. "Seriously, though, if you've been stuck down here for this long, what have you got to lose? You know the layout of this place, right?"
"Well enough to know what we would be up against if we attempted to escape-" the Wraith began.
"Which is what I'm counting on," John said firmly. "I'm probably not going to be around for you to snack on for much longer, and they're not exactly going to let you go any time soon; at least this way we can actually do something about that."
The Wraith simply stared at him for a few moments before it sighed.
"You truly believe we can achieve this?" he asked.
"Our odds couldn't exactly get much worse unless you feed on me again," John pointed out. "We bust out now, I'm in decent shape and you're still reasonably fed; if we wait too long, I'm… well, nothing changes for you, but I'm certainly not going to be at my best."
The Wraith simply stared at him for a few moments, before it nodded with a grim smile.
"Like you say, we have a common goal," the creature said at last. "What is your plan?"
As escape plans went, John could have come up with something more sophisticated, but when his opponents currently believed that he was nothing more than a feral animal, he didn't feel the need to overly complicate things at his end either. The next time the guards came to lead him and his current associate out, John waited until he was outside his cell before he hurled himself backwards, slamming both guards against the bars of his cell and leaving them winded before forcing one to the ground. As the Wraith knocked one of his guard down and started to strangle the second, John punched his own second guard in the throat before turning to the first one as he got back to his feet, slamming the guard's head into the bars of his cell before he could react.
Looking over at the Wraith, John noted with grim satisfaction that the Wraith was feeding on the second guard after managing to get that sheath thing off his hand, but the guard he'd attacked first was back on his feet and firing his pistol at the Wraith's back. Grabbing a knife from the belt of his own fallen foe, John hurled it at the guard, striking him in the back and sending him to the ground. As the Wraith finished feeding, John gave his own foe one last blow to the head to make sure he stayed down before taking the other man's weapon. As the Wraith finished feeding, John tossed his current 'partner' the keys to the shackles on his wrists before taking the guard's radio and other weapons.
With the immediate problem dealt with, John nodded at his new partner to lead the way as the two left the cell-block and progressed along the corridor, heading away from the room where John had been tortured just a short while ago. After a few moments' walking, they were approaching another door with three guards in front of it, prompting John to halt behind a pillar as he took a moment to consider his options. Glancing back at the Wraith- and halting his new ally's examination of the gun he'd taken from another guard- John held up a hand in a 'wait' gesture before activating the radio he'd taken earlier, creating a burst of static from the radios on the guards up ahead. As they looked down, the distraction was just long enough for John to charge forward and stab the man with the knife he'd taken earlier, as his Wraith ally grabbed another guard and broke his neck.
The third guard turned his gun on the Wraith, clearly concluding that it was the superior threat, but John swiftly spun around, using his latest victim as a shield, and fired a couple of quick shots at the other man. The first one just grazed the other man's ear- John's reflexes had been more affected by the feedings than he'd guessed- but the second bullet struck him in the head, putting the guard down and leaving them with a free path to the door. Retrieving his knife, John waited for a moment as the Wraith confirmed that it hadn't sustained any serious wounds before they continued up the base's interior stairs.
After a few moments of frantic ascent, the Wraith opened a metal hatch above them and emerged into the middle of a forest, the world around them dark but the starry sky clear and brilliant above them.
"OK," John said, taking a moment to appreciate the view above them, "we're out; how far to the Stargate?"
"It will be guarded," the Wraith said grimly.
"We've got guns," John noted, indicating the weapons in question; they weren't his usual choice of armament, but when their opponents wouldn't have anything more advanced, he could make it work…
"They will be waiting for us," the Wraith continued, sitting on the edge of the hatch with obvious fatigue.
"You OK?" John said, concerned despite his trained instincts.
"I will be fine… if I feed," the Wraith said, looking at him with a sudden edge to his expression that John didn't like.
"Don't," John said, turning the gun on his fellow escapee. "We both know that we need each other right now; we're not going to get out of this if we turn on each other. The Genii are the problem, not us; once we get to the Stargate, we go our separate ways, and that's it. Deal?"
The Wraith simply glared at him for a moment before he got back to his feet, his expression grim but clearly willing to accept John's argument as they began to walk.
"What is the matter with your face?" the Wraith asked curiously.
"My face?" John said, looking at the Wraith in surprise before he tried to fall back on the usual assumption. "I'd think that if anyone would recognise-"
"You are not what they call 'Wraithspawn'," the Wraith said, chuckling slightly as he looked at John. "I would have sensed trace elements of the enzyme in your blood if that was the case; what is there merely suggests brief past exposure to the enzyme, rather than the lifetime that would be expected if you had been contaminated in the womb."
"Ah," John said, contemplating the best response for a moment before deciding to give the Wraith at least some of the truth. "There was an accident… a long time ago."
"Ah," the Wraith said, looking at him in silent contemplation for a moment before he spoke again. "It must have been a… unique accident."
"To say the least," John said, his silence as they continued walking making it clear that he considered the issue closed. Despite the Wraith's injuries, they made reasonable progress, but it didn't take long for John to draw to a halt as he realised something.
"You don't know where we're going, do you?" he said, turning to look at the Wraith in frustration.
"It has been many years since I was brought here…" the Wraith said, even as he sat down on the ground, wheezing as though short of breath.
"Great," John groaned, slumping down on the ground beside his 'partner'. "Our best chance when we get to the damn gate is to take out the guards in a crossfire, and we don't even know where to go…"
"It was not my intention to deceive you, John Sheppard," the Wraith said grimly, as he lay on his back to rest.
John was saved from replying when he heard something coming towards them from the direction they'd been running from.
"Crap," John groaned, as he realised what must have happened. "Not that late… he didn't need much time to deploy guards… damnit!"
"Indeed," the Wraith said, looking grimly at him. "There are only four of them, but that is too much for us to confront in this state… unless drastic measures are taken…"
John was about to ask what the Wraith was talking about when he felt the creature's hand slam against his chest once again, followed by the agonising sensation of life being taken from him before he could do more than yell in protest. John tried to protest, but he soon lost the strength to do much more than lie there and groan in agonised exhaustion, feeling as though he'd suddenly become a hundred. He vaguely heard the Wraith roaring as he threw the attacking Genii around, followed by the agonised scream of two guards being fed from, but he could barely focus on anything more than his next breath… it was so hard to focus…
As the Wraith appeared above him, John simply glared up at the creature that had stabbed him in the back in the most dramatic manner imaginable.
"Finish it," he said grimly.
He might be about to die, but he was not going to give that Wraith the satisfaction of begging (Even if the bastard wouldn't know who he was really killing)…
"As I told you before, John Sheppard," the Wraith said, "there are many things about Wraith you do not know."
As the hand slammed back onto John's chest, John winced as he felt another biting pain in his chest, felt some part of the Wraith digging into him all over again…
Hold on a minute… he was actually feeling stronger now…
As the Wraith took his hand away, John practically shot to his feet, feeling far more alert and prepared than he had any right to feel when he'd been a physical centarian just a few seconds ago. Glancing down at himself, he was amazed to see that his whole body had returned to its original physical age, his muscles back to their peak and his hands strong and firm.
"How the Hell…?" he said, looking at the Wraith incredulously. "You can… give life?"
"The Gift of Life is reserved only for our most devout worshippers," the Wraith explained solemnly. "And… our brothers."
"Huh," John said, looking down at himself once again before he looked back at the Wraith. "I guess there are things we don't know…"
"You have taken steps to give me back my life; I merely repay the debt," the Wraith said.
Stuck for a suitable response to that news, John turned his attention to the easier-to-understand issue of the fallen Genii, soon noting that one was still slowly breathing despite looking as old as he'd felt earlier. "You left one alive, huh?"
"I felt that he would be a useful source of information," the Wraith clarified.
"Good call," John said, nodding in agreement before he walked over to crouch down beside the last living Genii soldier. "OK then, pal, we've got a lot to do you already know you're not getting out of this, so do us all a favour and tell us where the Stargate is and how long it'll take; we'll make it quick."
"Straight on… that way… half an hour…" the man said, pointing out weakly with his shaking hand.
"Good," John said, nodding in acknowledgement before he stepped back to let his new partner finish the job; it wasn't exactly pleasant, but John had little sympathy for the people who'd sat back and let him get tortured like that. Picking up their opponents' fallen guns for extra ammunition, John handed a couple of them to the Wraith before they began to hurry in the indicated direction.
After a prolonged period of walking- which was actually shorter than half an hour, based on John's guess; most likely the Genii they'd interrogated wasn't as fit as they were- they had reached the edge of the open area that contained the Stargate. With a lake to the right of the Stargate and six guards gathered around it, it didn't take long to confirm that their options for taking the gate were limited, but both knew that they wouldn't get a better shot.
Exchanging glances with the Wraith, John indicated for him to head to the right while he went to the left. As they moved around the clearing, taking care to hide behind the trees, it didn't take long for John to confirm that none of the soldiers seemed to be that interested in their surroundings; most likely they either hadn't heard about his escape or assumed that he'd take longer to get here.
Once he'd taken up position behind some trees a short distance from the Stargate- he was never going to be able to dial the 'gate before someone saw him, but he was in a safe enough position right now- he quickly studied the trees on the other side, his gaze soon falling on the pale face of his Wraith ally; the Genii wouldn't see it as none of them were looking, but he was in a good position.
Holding up his hand and hoping that the Wraith could see his fingers from this distance, John lowered his fingers one at a time until his fist was closed, at which point he ran from cover and fired at the nearest guard. The weapon wasn't as precise as his usual gun, but the bullet still struck his target in the left side of his chest, knocking the Genii guard down for the count. As John turned to aim at the next guard, taking up position behind the Stargate to use it as a shield, the Wraith dived into action, taking out two guards and charging up to a third, plunging a hand against his target's chest. With John's second target eliminated, before the guard could do more than shoot at the Stargate, John charged out from behind the Stargate and fired at the last guard before he could decide which enemy to go after first.
"Well," John said, shrugging as he looked at the Wraith as it finished feeding. "That went well."
"Quite," the Wraith said, looking grimly at John. "What now?"
"We get out of here," John said, nodding at his ally before he turned towards the DHD, quickly dialling it.
"We agreed-" the Wraith began.
"And I'm not going back on it; I just thought it might be a better idea to get somewhere else before we see about going home," John said, just as he entered the last symbol and activated the Stargate. "After all, do you want to stay on this planet any longer than you have to?"
Looking at the active wormhole, the Wraith nodded grimly as he walked up to the gate, John right beside as they stepped through the event horizon to emerge on another world, this one located in a ruined desert city.
"Just a random address I found a while back," John said, as the Wraith looked curiously at him. "There's nobody here and it's fairly off the beaten track; it seemed like a decent choice."
"Agreed," the Wraith said, taking in the area before he looked back at John. "I will depart first."
"Of course," John said, grateful that the Wraith brought it up; he could probably find a Wraith-controlled world easily enough, but by leaving first, he ensured that he wouldn't see John's home address.
"The next time we meet…" the Wraith said, with a new edge to his tone.
"All bets are off," John nodded in understanding.
Still, as the Wraith entered the chevrons for his own address… for the first time in memory, John hoped that he wouldn't see that Wraith again.
He wasn't foolish enough to think that he could trust the Wraith completely, but he could be reasonably sure that he could trust the guy to stick to any deals they might make if they met again in the future, and he didn't want to have to kill what might be the first Wraith he felt he could trust unless he had to.
As the Wraith walked through the Stargate and the wormhole shut down, John pulled out his stolen Genii radio- from what McKay's analysis had determined, they operated on similar enough frequencies to Atlantis's communications that they should be able to talk to each other if you knew what frequency to use- and quickly entered the address.
The sooner he was back on Atlantis, the sooner he could put Kolya out of his mind until he had the chance to take that bastard out the next time they met…
Staring anxiously at the Stargate from her office, Elizabeth wasn't sure if the uncertainty was worse than witnessing the actual torture. As long as she could see that John was alive, she had hope that she could get him out, but if she didn't know what kind of state he was in…
She was just relieved that Ladon had agreed to be moved to another room after the deadline for Kolya's last contact had come and gone; he was close enough to the control room that they could still collect him if they needed his input, but until they knew what was up with John, she wasn't going to let her only potential bargaining chip out of the city.
The idea that she could see anyone as a bargaining chip disturbed her on some level, but she pushed it aside; John was important to the expedition, and that was what she had to focus on.
"Has there been any news?" Teyla asked, walking in to look at her, the rest of the Atlantis senior staff gathered in the control room as they anxiously waited for the next call.
"Nothing," Elizabeth said, shaking her head in frustration. "We're far beyond the scheduled check-in time, and Kolya's showing no sign of getting back in touch; we can't keep Ladon contained forever…"
The sound of the Stargate activating prompted her to get to her feet and hurry back to the control room, Teyla close behind her as the wormhole engaged.
"Hello?" a voice said from the radio in the control room before Elizabeth could say anything. "Is anyone there?"
"John?!" Elizabeth said, staring at the radio incredulously. "How-?"
"I broke out of my cell with the aid of that Wraith that was feeding on me earlier," John said, sounding almost worryingly healthy for a man who'd been fed on by a Wraith twice. "I got to the Stargate, grabbed a Genii radio to send this message and dialled out to a neutral planet, but I'd appreciate you letting the shield down so I can come home."
"Of course," Elizabeth said, turning around to look firmly at McKay. "Let him in."
"But-" McKay began.
"It's John," Elizabeth said resolutely. "Let him in."
With nothing else to say to that statement, McKay reached over to lower the shield.
"It's down," Elizabeth said, hurrying down from the control room as the shield lowered, waiting anxiously for whatever kind of shape John would be in when he returned; if he could make an escape, he couldn't be that badly off, but-
When he walked through the Stargate, looking no older than he had the last time he'd set foot in the city, Elizabeth was relieved that she wasn't the only person to gasp in shock; even with John's hands covering the more damaged parts of his face to avoid shocking anyone, it was clear that he showed no sign of the physical aging he'd been subjected to.
"What the Hell?" McKay said, looking at him incredulously from the control room. "How- you were- I mean, you look younger than you did before you left!"
"Turns out Wraith don't just take life; they can also give it," John explained with a slight chuckle that was only partially muffled by his hand. "We had to take out a few guards on the way to the Stargate, and my old cellmate took the opportunity to feed on some of them and give me back the years I'd lost."
"Seriously?" Lorne said, looking at the disfigured man in surprise. "He just… did that?"
"He referred to it as him 'repaying the debt' of me giving him back his life," John said. "Of course, I'd have preferred it if he'd consulted me before using me as a battery pack for the last round- he needed my energy to give him the strength to fight off this guard team we ran into- but when the alternative was to be dead or recaptured, I'll take what I can get…"
Elizabeth didn't care about the finer details right now; all that mattered was that John was back, he was away from Kolya, he was safe in Atlantis, safe with her-
She froze, overwhelmed by the intensity of the feelings she'd only just acknowledged.
The idea of losing John Sheppard had scared her.
The revelation that she loved him was terrifying.
If she hadn't been in public, Elizabeth would have screamed in frustration and then broken down sobbing.
She'd known that she had an attraction to John for some time- her 'hallucination' while under the influence of Oberoth's nanites had proved that- but the idea that she loved him…
Even if he was technically outside of the standard command structure, he could never see her that way; she represented the peace he'd been striving for since he'd come to Pegasus, the representation of the promise he'd made to his only real mentor and guide…
God, he'd met her when she looked like she was in her eighties; even if that hadn't technically been her, it was still weird.
Resolving not to think about it any more, Elizabeth made a brief comment welcoming John back before she turned around and headed back for her office, making brief comments about needing to start arrangements to send Ladon back to his people with her full apologies for recent events; hopefully the Genii would all understand that she'd just been anxious about the absence of an important member of her staff…
John was just settling into his new role on Atlantis, and now she had to make it all complicated by realising that she was in love with him?
She hadn't been expecting this…