"So," Kolya said, as the Genii commander walked over to look at him, "now Atlantis employs Wraithspawn as leaders?"
"I know how to hit the Wraith hard," John replied, taking care to keep his responses brief; he wasn't going to act like a mindless animal, but he had to give the impression of being very blunt if he wanted these guys to treat him like a conventional Wraithspawn. "It works for both of us."
"I see," Kolya said, his gaze hard before he shrugged. "In any case, what Atlantis does is not important to me now."
"And what is important to you?" John asked.
"All you need to know is that you will be returned to your city once I have achieved my goal," Kolya said. "That should be enough for you."
John couldn't risk asking more questions without attracting too much attention to what he really was, but he was already fairly sure that things weren't going to be as smooth as Kolya was implying.
The only positive thing right now was that at least Kolya hadn't realised who John really was; he could only imagine what the bastard would do to him if he knew that John was the Phantom who'd stopped him taking Atlantis…
Returned to Atlantis and back in her usual attire, Elizabeth wasn't sure if she should consider the current situation good or bad. Ronon and Teyla had reached the Stargate just in time to see people in what looked like Genii uniforms carry an unconscious form that was most likely John through the Stargate, but the gate had shut down before the two of them could get close enough to confirm that assessment or see what chevrons had been dialled, which meant that they were restricted to randomly checking the last fifty addresses dialled by that Stargate in no particular order.
Making contact with the Genii to discuss this turn of events had been awkward, but at least Ladon Radim appeared to be being honest when he claimed to have had no idea that anyone was trying to capture any member of the Atlantis expedition; they had too few useful allies in Pegasus to start doubting them now. She had calmed Ronan down when he had attempted to threaten Ladon to find out what he knew- Ronan might be uncomfortable about John's face, but he took his role in Atlantis seriously enough- but Ladon had only been able to tell them that the codes they'd given to the Genii had been stolen a while back without providing any definite suspects. Elizabeth had accepted the argument that he had come here with no ulterior intentions, putting himself completely in their hands despite the risks, but she had been forced to quickly talk Ronan down before he did anything they couldn't take back later. She had just been talking with Ladon in her office when the sound of the Stargate dialling was followed by an unscheduled offworld activation alert, prompting the two of them to hurry into the control room.
"Identification code?" she asked as she looked urgently at McKay, hoping against hope that John had made an escape on his own.
"None, but we're receiving an analogue video signal," McKay replied.
"Bring it up," Elizabeth said.
As the image of Commander Acastus Kolya appeared on the wallscreen, Elizabeth fought down the urge to shudder; the last time that man had been in Atlantis, he'd pushed John into acts of brutality that still made her shiver when she thought about them, and that was before she considered what he'd almost done to her. The order to establish the video link he was looking for was issued almost automatically as Teyla clarified Kolya's identity for Ronon; the timing of events was too great for this to be a coincidence.
"This is Doctor Weir," she said, resisting the urge to vent her rage.
"Good," Kolya said with his usual sickening arrogance. "I wanted to be sure that you were there to see this."
That cryptic comment was explained as he stepped aside to reveal John trapped in a chair behind him, a white scarf tied over his mouth and his damaged face clearly visible.
"What have you done to him?" McKay asked.
"Nothing… which is less than I should do, considering what he is," Kolya said, now glaring at the screen. "Does your blasphemy know no bounds, Doctor Weir? To have a false Phantom is one thing, but to give positions of authority to Wraithspawn-"
"You didn't call us to criticise our methods, Commander," Elizabeth interjected, even as she privately noted that at least Kolya didn't know that he could potentially kill two birds with one stone right now; he clearly didn't know that John was the 'false' Phantom he was talking about, so at least he had no reason to inflict a more personal revenge on him. "What do you want?"
"I wish to make a trade," Kolya replied.
"Before we continue this conversation another second, I want to speak with John Sheppard," Elizabeth interjected.
"Be my guest," Kolya said, stepping back and removing the scarf from John's face with a mocking grin.
"Give him nothing," John said firmly, staring at the camera in his usual firm manner.
"That's all you have to say?" Kolya said, smirking at John as he indicated for his guards to put the gag back on before turning his attention back to the screen. "Then again, I suppose I could expect nothing more from a Wraithspawn…"
"What are your terms, Kolya?" Elizabeth asked; she didn't want to discuss what John appeared to be any more than she had to.
"I have heard the familiar voices of yourself and Doctor McKay, but there is one person I know is there who has yet to speak," Kolya said, standing in front of John once again. "Ladon Radim is with you, is he not?"
"Why would Ladon be here?" Elizabeth asked.
"Well, to preserve his precious alliance with you, Doctor, so that the Genii might remain in the favour of Atlantis," Kolya replied casually. "My sources have already confirmed this, so there's no point in denying the fact. Turn him over to me, and your pet Wraithspawn will be released immediately."
"What makes you so sure we want him back?" Ronon asked. Elizabeth shot a frustrated glare over at Ronon, but she didn't dare to say anything; right now, she was fairly sure that Kolya wasn't receiving a return image from their end, but he would hear anything she had to say.
"He might be a Wraithspawn, but you have already shown that you are willing to make… unconventional decisions," Kolya said; judging by the sneer on his face, he still believed that they had used a fake Phantom to avert his takeover of Atlantis during their first encounter. "I dislike repeating myself, but I will do so; in exchange for this man, I wish to receive Ladon Radim."
"I'll need time to consider your offer," Elizabeth said, keeping her tone cold while looking over at Ladon to try and assure him that she wasn't genuinely thinking about taking the deal…
"Allow me to help expedite your decision," Kolya said, turning around to move the camera towards a door at the back of the room. For a moment, Elizabeth wondered what was going on, but when two guards appeared dragging a very unkempt-looking Wraith, with a shackle around its feeding hand hand and moving far more slowly than a healthy creature should, she couldn't restrain a gasp of horror.
"You-you've never even met John before!" McKay protested. "Why are you doing this? He doesn't deserve that!"
"Let's be clear, Doctor McKay; no-one deserves this," Kolya said coldly.
"Don't do this," Elizabeth said, as the guards removed the shackle on the Wraith's right hand.
"Don't do it."
"The choice is yours, Doctor Weir," Kolya said. "Do we have an arrangement?"
Elizabeth could only stare in silence as Kolya had the Wraith's hand placed against John's chest and began to feed, John throwing back his head in a manner that made his pain clear.
As much as it killed her to do this, John had spent years placing Atlantis ahead of himself; no matter how much she wanted to save him, she couldn't give any sign of weakness to men like Kolya in case they came back to try and get more through the same method.
Tightening her grip on the console in front of her, Elizabeth fought not to scream in rage as the Wraith was driven back from John with a cattle prod, hints of grey at his temples, pain on his face and a bleeding wound on the front of his chest…
"You just crossed a line, Kolya," she said, glaring coldly at the Genii commander.
"We've found that a minimum of three hours between feeding sessions is crucial to ensure the body has sufficient time to recover from the trauma," Kolya said; right now, Elizabeth wished that the screen was two-way so that she could make her contempt clear. "That's the time you have to decide. Three hours."
As the transmission came to an end, Elizabeth checked her watch, already planning how long they would have to find where Kolya was before John was subjected to that treatment again.
Things were bad enough when the Genii and that Wraith thought that they were just dealing with another member of Atlantis; how would any of them react to the discovery that they were dealing with the Phantom of Atlantis who'd defeated Kolya's attempt to take the city?
As he regained consciousness in his cell, John cursed his bad fortune.
He'd spent years managing to avoid being captured by the Wraith when he was engaging in battle with them in full Phantom regalia, working on his own with no hope of back-up, assistance, or treatment if things went wrong, and here he was, barely a month into his new role in Atlantis, and he'd been captured by a git and fed to a Wraith?
He didn't think that Atlantis had weakened his edge or anything like that, and he wouldn't trade his ability to talk freely with Elizabeth for anything, but this whole situation was so frustrating…
"They called you John Sheppard?" his fellow prisoner said from the next cell.
"Yeah," John said briefly. "That's my name. Pleased to meet you."
"You're in pain," the voice noted.
"Well, I just got fed on by a Wraith, what do you think?" John countered; at least now he didn't have to worry about maintaining the Phantom's appearance of strength in the face of adversity.
"I would not know," the other man said.
"Hopefully, you'll never have to find out," John said, groaning as he tried to straighten out; he felt like his bones had become suddenly stiff, most likely because of how much he'd aged since that thing fed from him. "I didn't think anything could hurt that much."
"You're still alive," the voice said.
"For the moment, but who knows how many years that thing took from my life?" John noted; the aging aspect of the Wraith feeding was one thing he was trying not to think about, but he had to at least acknowledge that he'd be slower than before once he got out of this. "I'll tell you this; if Kolya's men hadn't have pulled that damned thing off, I'd be dust in a suit."
"Do you blame the Wraith or the master?" the Wraith asked.
"Master?" John repeated, looking at the door between their cells in sudden suspicion.
Now that the voice had brought it up, he had given the issue of the Wraith feeding some thought over time; if nothing else, the Wraith mostly seemed to feed just because they needed to eat rather than out of any kind of sadistic desire to see humans die, even if a few took more pleasure in it than others. He knew that some Hives had formed a sort of alliance with various worlds; even if the humans were always the underdog in those relationships, planets such as Olesia showed that the Wraith could be open to negotiation if the right deal was offered, so they weren't just animals.
"I guess…" he said, still turning over his response as he gave it, "it would depend… on what the Wraith felt about it…"
"For the Wraith, hunger burns like a fire inside," the voice in the other cell said solemnly, shifting position slightly to reveal long, unkempt hair. "If you found yourself burning alive, would you settle for just one drop of water… or would you take more?"
"Good point," John said, deciding to avoid saying anything that might inspire more conflict; even if he disagreed with the decision to feed on humans, if he was right about the identity of his cellmate, the last thing he wanted was to provoke the guy…
Whatever John might feel about the Wraith normally, Kolya was the real problem right now; when he heard that kind of description of the hunger, and thought about what the person in the other cell must have gone through, the Wraith was basically just another victim, even if it was being used to torture him.
"So," he said, looking grimly at the creature in the next cell, "your hunger aside… no hard feelings, right?"
"I do what I must to survive," the Wraith said grimly, emerging from the shadows of his cell to reveal that his theory was correct. "I took barely more than a few years from you, and even the strength I gained from that is already fading."
"Yeah, we're both being tortured here, I get that; what matters is what we're going to do about it," John said, looking firmly at the creature he had fought for so many years.
"What we are going to do about it?" the Wraith repeated, looking at John in an almost quizzical manner.
"I've got people coming to look for me, but I'd rather not wait around any more than I have to," John clarified, as he looked at the creature. "We can spend our time complaining about the fact that we're both going through a lot of crap right now, or we can get out; I don't know about you, but I know what I want to try."
"There is no escape-" the Wraith began.
"Because you only had one man when you were trying to get out," John clarified. "Right now, there's two of us; has to be better odds, right?"
He couldn't believe that he was even attempting this, but even if Michael had stabbed him in the back, right now, the Wraith had no reason to see him as anything more than another victim of their captors; that had to count for something…