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Fanfiction: Broken Wings, Chapter 23

For author's note and disclaimer see Chapter 1

Part 5: Emergency Landings

His team would find him.

John was certain of that. They wouldn't stop until they did. He'd learned his lesson at the Ancient Sanctuary; had spent months believing they'd given up on him only to learn that they hadn't at all even if their effort had been counted in hours not the days he had endured. But he'd learned; he had to keep faith and they would come for him.

And Mitchell's team was no doubt looking for him right alongside his own team; Mitchell, who was currently gone from the cell and locked up somewhere with a Lucien Alliance operative who loved torture and pain games. John shook the thought away. Mitchell was too valuable for Allia to kill. He would survive whatever Allia would do to him.

In the meantime, John lectured himself, he had to concentrate on finding a way to escape. He walked the length of the room and briskly shook his arms, trying to get the blood flowing to get warm. He'd managed some rest before the cold had brought him out of his doze. If someone didn't bring clothes or a blanket they were going to be screwed, John thought morosely, because it was too cold in the cell to be in the state of undress that he and Mitchell found themselves.

Maybe it wasn't the ambient temperature of the ship itself, John mused as he paced. Maybe the temperature was affected by the outside. If they were far south it would explain the cold. He remembered the cold weather training he'd received prior to being sent to McMurdo and shivered again.

A scrape of a bolt going back had him freezing in place. He moved to the side of the door again and squinted ready for the lights going on which they did with alacrity. He'd barely made a move when the zat gun appeared in his face.

'Don't move! Back up against the far wall!' The same goon who had taken Mitchell away pushed the zat gun forward threateningly.

'OK, OK.' John held up his hands surrendering. He kept going backwards until his back hit the wall and waited.

The guard grunted and stepped to the side, zat gun still poised. A woman entered carrying a tray of food and a blanket. She placed both on the ground in the centre of the room and walked back to the guard.

Gina Lovell, John identified as he watched her take the zat gun and hold it with the same assured quality the guard did; the same quality that told John she knew how to use it and would if he made the slightest wrong move.

'You can leave. Close the door behind you.' She ordered.

John saw the guard hesitate minutely before nodding and moving away. The door shut with a hard thump.

'Eat.' Lovell ordered.

He glanced down at the tray of food; a bowl of soup or broth, some bread and cheese. There was a mug of coffee, the scent drifting up to tempt him. His stomach growled. 'I'm not hungry.'

'It's not drugged.' Lovell assured him. 'Allia prefers her guests are fully aware of what she puts them through.'

John walked over and sat down slowly. He pulled the blanket around himself, grateful for the warmth of the scratchy grey wool and that the size meant he could cover himself completely. He reached for the coffee first and took a hesitant sip. The caffeine jolted his system and woke up his taste buds; the warmth flooded through his chest and belly. He set the coffee aside and picked up the spoon.

Lovell watched him, her sharp gaze intent on his every move.

The soup was good; chicken, hint of garlic, some parsley and white wine. He could taste onion, celery and carrot in the stock. He dipped a chunk of bread. 'I should probably thank you.'

'Allia ordered you were to be fed. You don't have to thank me.' Lovell stated harshly.

John waved his spoon. 'I meant I should thank you for revealing the plot that Mitchell was going to be kidnapped.'

'I was under orders to do that too.' Lovell shot back.

John shrugged and tugged his blanket back into place when it was in danger of falling. He took another bite of soup. 'Mostly, I feel sorry for Stan. You know the guy you set up to be the patsy.'

Lovell flinched. Her face paled. 'How is he?'

Interesting, John considered. He could almost believe that she cared. 'He's fine. He helped us find the cell you had set up. The NID chastised him for his lone action but since you'd fooled everybody not just him, he didn't get any further punishment.' He waited a beat. 'Not that you care about that, right?'

Lovell flushed. Her freckled face burned bright red before she scowled at him. 'You don't know anything about my relationship with Stan.'

'I know that you pretended to be his friend…' John needled, licking his spoon.

'It wasn't a pretence!' Lovell snapped. She shifted position against the wall but the zat gun remained steady in her grip. 'Like I said you don't know anything about it. I had no choice.'

'There's always a choice.' John countered.

Lovell sneered at him. 'And you know nothing about living under the rule of the Alliance.'

John dipped more bread and chewed it thoughtfully. He reached for his spoon. 'You're right.' He conceded.

She lifted her eyebrows in startled fascination. 'You're admitting I'm right?' She sounded incredulous.

'I don't know anything about living under the rule of the Alliance,' John repeated; he lifted a shoulder and gave a half-smile. 'I've barely lived in this galaxy at all in the past five years.' He held her gaze. 'As you know.'

'Yes, because you've stolen Atlantis just as you've stolen other valuable artefacts that should have been ours.' Lovell argued.

'I had this same argument with a Council of Pegasus planets once.' John said. He pushed away the memory of his trial and realised Lovell was looking surprised again. 'Did you think you were the only one who has claims on her? If we left, you don't think there aren't a half-dozen civilisations – and I lose the term loosely – waiting to take her over?'

'We have as much right as anyone.' Lovell countered.

'You're not even in the same galaxy.' John shot back. He didn't think the Alliance knew about Atlantis being on Earth and he wasn't going to give away that she was. 'What makes your claim any more valid than ours? At least, the Pegasus worlds are there.' He pressed. 'And can you even use the technology?'

'We have the Ancient gene therapy.' Lovell said calmly. 'We should probably thank you for that.'

'The gene therapy is great.' John agreed. 'But it doesn't always work. For every Ancient device that allows the fake gene to work, there's one that doesn't.'

Lovell shook her head. 'I don't believe you.'

'I don't expect you to.' John admitted. 'But I'm telling the truth. Sometimes you need the real thing.'

'Well, now we have you.' Lovell said and he could see he'd convinced her. It was partly true although the percentages weren't as fifty-fifty as he made them. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the fake gene worked just as well as his own, but there was that one per cent that baulked and wanted a real expression and usually that one per cent only wanted John's shiny Ancient gene which surpassed even that of Jack O'Neill's.

'You have me now,' John agreed calmly, 'but not for much longer knowing my team and SG1.' He knew he radiated confidence and when Lovell shifted again, another minute redistribution of her weight, he knew she was convinced he was right about his imminent rescue too.

He picked up the bowl and tilted it to scoop up the last of the soup. He focused on eating for a long moment before he finished and set it aside. The mug of coffee warmed his hands and he sipped it gratefully.

'So, you say I don't know anything about living under the Lucien Alliance,' John said conversationally, 'how about you tell me something?'

'I'm not here to educate you.' Lovell protested.

John remained silent and drank his coffee.

Lovell sighed with enough exasperation that he figured he was going on her list of Most Annoying Captives. 'Fine. You want to know what it's like? It's hell. It's day in and day out wondering whether today is the day that your leader will kill you because she's upset or having a bad day or…' she gestured with the zat gun, 'it's knowing that the rest would happily hand you to her for sport if it means they can go a day without being tortured or under her regard. It's knowing you only have yourself to rely on every day, every hour.'

John swallowed his coffee. 'Weren't things the same under the Goa'uld?' He found himself reluctantly interested.

'Yes and no.' Lovell said. 'Each Goa'uld controlled vast territory; sometimes they left overseers, most of the time they didn't.'

'Ah,' John got it, 'so most planets were enslaved to the Goa'uld but were rarely visited.'

'You paid your naquadah fee or whatever it was they waned and everything was fine.' Lovell agreed. 'Now though…the Alliance moved in on every world and since the Ori left…there's no escape from them. They control everything.'

'Not everything and every world.' John countered, because he knew that much. There were safe worlds; worlds allied to the SGC or the Tok'ra or the Jaffa Confederate.

Lovell laughed humourlessly. 'You mean the so called safe havens? The Tok'ra only want you if you consent to be a host; the Jaffa hate humans settling on their territory and…the Tau'ri only provide sanctuary if you have something to offer them.'

'That's not true.' John immediately denied. 'We give people sanctuary all the time for no reason and no reward but because they've asked for it and it's the right thing to do.'

Something flickered in her eyes.

'They tell you differently, don't they?' John remarked. 'They tell you that you have to have something of value for us because that's the way they prevent you from turning to us.'

'Yes.' Lovell said quietly. 'That's what they tell us.'

John tilted his head and held her gaze. 'Maybe you don't know as much about us as you think you do.'

Lovell regarded him thoughtfully. 'I've lived among you for a year. I've learned a lot.'

'What have you learned?' John was disheartened to get to the bottom of his mug. He put it down.

'That your people don't know the meaning of suffering.' She said with renewed hostility as though taking offence to his question.

'Well, that's not true.' John argued. 'I think some of the Middle East and African countries would disagree. And even in the West and more industrialised parts of the world, there are people who suffer; who live in poverty and go hungry and cold. Who end up being bullied and hurt because their leaders don't do enough to help them.'

Lovell sighed. 'It's still safer here than anywhere else in the galaxy.'

John didn't discount her opinion; he imagined Earth was safer in comparison than some other places for all it was a target. Homeworld did a lot to ensure that the public never knew about the alien threat; to keep their world safe from harm. The dangers on Earth though were very much the dangers in the rest of the galaxy; tyrants and torture; death and destruction. Was the way they'd rushed in and dismantled the Goa'uld any better than the way they'd handled Afghanistan or Iraq?

'At least you get to have friends here.' Lovell said. A ripple of shock travelled over her large eyes as though she couldn't believe she'd said such a thing.

John eased himself into a better sitting position and picked up the bread, folding it around the cheese like a sandwich. 'Stanley.' He guessed.

Lovell blushed again and didn't reply.

'He's a nice guy.' John commented. 'We had breakfast with him when you sent him to Miami. Seemed like a good guy who only wanted to do the right thing.'

'He is a good guy.' Lovell jumped to Stan's defence. 'He's…he doesn't realise how smart and special he is.'

'And he was your friend.' John stated firmly. 'He's really OK, you know. They didn't dock his pay or fire him. I think he's mostly hurt over the deception.' He paused for effect. 'He liked you; he thought you were his friend.'

Lovell's features crumpled and for a moment John thought she was going to cry. She got to her feet in a rush. 'You're finished eating. Move back to the wall.'

He swallowed down the rest of the bread and moved. His legs were stiff with the cold but he got to his feet. He walked back slowly and sank back into a sitting position as Lovell collected the tray, keeping the zat pointed at him all the while.

'You know,' John said as casually as he could, 'if you want sanctuary all you have to do is ask.'

Lovell's eyes blazed at him. 'You're in no position to offer anything.'

John shrugged and tugged the blanket tightly around himself; he wasn't giving it back. 'You really think Mitchell and I aren't going to survive and escape this?' He gestured around the cell. 'You've read the intelligence on us; you've heard the stories in the NID. You know what my team and SG1 are capable of doing; of surviving. Are you sure you want to bet on your boss?'

'I know what you're doing and it isn't going to work.' Lovell claimed. 'I won't help you escape.'

John smiled. 'Then we'll escape without you.'

Lovell scanned his face and frowned. 'You really believe that, don't you?'

John didn't bother answering.

She sidled up to the door and banged on it loudly. It opened up and Lovell left. The cell plunged back into darkness.

John sank back down to the ground and let his head fall back onto the wall. 'Should have done better, John.' He chastised himself softly. 'Should have convinced her to help.'

He shook off the negative thought and focused on the positive; Lovell wasn't as faithful to the Alliance as the Alliance wanted her to be. Her time as Lovell had seduced her. Long term cover assignments were like that. Lovell actually did seem remorseful about Stanley; actually did seem to care for Stanley. They made an unlikely couple but no more so than Jennifer and Rodney.

Maybe he'd done enough to get Lovell thinking about helping them. An escape would be quicker if they had someone on the inside. He'd convinced Todd, the Wraith, to help him escape so it wasn't outside of the realms of possibility that he'd convinced Lovell.

He sighed and moved; rewrapping the blanket around himself to create a sleeping bag effect. He closed his eyes and let himself drift.

He was so tired.

The day had been busy before they'd gotten captured and zatted. It was the middle of the night and he was exhausted. He didn't blame Mitchell. Truthfully, Rodney had called it at the breakfast when John had announced the holiday; John had a habit of getting into trouble. John snorted. Rodney could talk. He'd whisked Jennifer off to some physics conference and ended up saving the world from apocalyptic freeze lightening. John chuckled. He'd wished he'd been there to see it. It would have been cool.

He snickered again. Mad; he was finally losing it, John thought amused. Either that or he'd spent too much time in cells; had gotten too used to being a captive. That was a possibility. Life just wouldn't give him a break – or a vacation it seemed. His last vacation had stopped well short of the days of surfing and sun that he had been promised. He needed the time away from being in danger; being responsible; being captured…

Damn it.

John wasn't stupid despite the fact that he kept up the pretence of not knowing as much as he did. It helped his job if people underestimated his intelligence and capabilities. Only Rodney had ever called him on it openly – to the point where occasionally Rodney would try and encourage him to do his doctorate; Teyla did it without words, with just a look, when she was sure that he was being stupid on purpose; John was certain Ronon knew but thankfully they'd never discussed it. Ever. He liked Ronon the best sometimes.

No, he wasn't stupid. He was too aware that he needed the downtime. Some of it was grief and he could admit that if only to himself; he'd lost too many people in the last few years. Some of it was the pressure of command. He'd gotten the job because he'd killed Sumner. It had been a mercy killing but a killing. He'd stumbled through the first year not knowing what he was doing but trying his best. When Colonel Everett had arrived with the cavalry during the siege, a part of John had been grateful to relinquish the responsibility despite his misgivings over Everett's own command style. The briefing on Earth drifted through his mind; he'd been convinced that he wouldn't get command; that at best he'd be returned to Atlantis as a Major to serve under someone else. His promotion and assignment had been a shock…

O'Neill's hand landed on his shoulder. 'Hank, Elizabeth; you don't mind if I steal our newest Lieutenant Colonel away for a brief chat?'

Elizabeth's smile was tight but she nodded her acquiescence. Landry's was gleeful.

John sighed and gave into the inevitable. 'Sir.'

O'Neill led him through the SGC and out of the mountain. Somehow they ended up at O'Neill's place, half-packed up with boxes everywhere, and sat out on his deck with two beers.

'So,' O'Neill said, 'you're the military CO now.'

John nodded. He couldn't believe it.

'You know it shouldn't be you.'

The words hurt more than John was prepared to show; he liked O'Neill; thought O'Neill liked him. He stared at the beer in his hand.

'You're not ready.' O'Neill continued. 'Elizabeth likes you and she's not prepared to listen because I, and the rest of the military, took her leadership away from her once and she's making sure we can't do it again. But there was a reason we appointed a Colonel in the first place and I think you know it.'

'I don't have enough experience.' John said slowly.

'No, you don't.' O'Neill said. His brown eyes met John's with sympathy shining out of them like a beacon. 'And I think I can guess how many times in the last year you've second guessed yourself and how many times you wished Sumner was around to deal with the crap you had to deal with. I'm also guessing that mixed in with the delight about your promotion – and you deserve it, don't think you don't – that there's a fair amount of trepidation that you actually got assigned as CO because you already know it needs more experience than you have.'

John swallowed some of his beer and nodded sharply.

'What you have, Sheppard, is great instincts, a truckload of luck and a leader who supports you.' O'Neill added. 'That counts for a lot.'

'Yes, sir.'

O'Neill waved his beer at him. 'I'm also giving you Evan Lorne.'

'Lorne?'

'Major. Experienced SGC team leader. Good guy.' O'Neill reeled off. 'He needs to think more outside of the box sometimes but he's solid; good with procedures and, well, weirdness.' He waited until John was looking at him again. 'He'll be your XO.'

'I don't get a choice.' John stated, a little annoyed.

'No,' O'Neill said cheerfully, 'you need Lorne; trust me on that.' He smirked at John before he sobered abruptly. 'You'll do fine, Sheppard. You've been doing fine. If you hadn't, no matter what Elizabeth wanted you wouldn't have got the job.' He patted his shoulder. 'For what it's worth, I think you'll be great. Just you know…' he waved his beer at him, 'don't get yourself killed.'

The bolts scraped open again and John snapped out of his doze, wondering how long it had been since he'd eaten and conversed with Lovell. He lurched to his feet, got tangled in the blanket and had only just righted himself when Mitchell was pushed unceremoniously through the door.

John gave up any idea of overpowering the glowering guard and instead caught Mitchell; his arms automatically going around the other man as he leaned to take Mitchell's weight.

'Sorry,' gasped Mitchell, clutching at John's shoulders.

''S'OK.' John said as the door closed and locked again.

He staggered back to the wall and slowly, as slow as he could manage, lowered Mitchell down to the ground. His eyes catalogued Mitchell's injuries. There was bruising around his face; a burn mark on his chest; a hand print along one bicep; scratch marks along his ribs. His knees were purple with bruising and there was a row of livid welts along his back; he'd been flogged. John recognised the pattern from seeing it mark his own skin once.

'It's not as bad as it looks.' Mitchell said quietly. 'She had them heal some of it.'

John didn't reply. He moved to retrieve the water bottle the guard had given him and held it out to Mitchell.

Mitchell took a couple of careful sips and handed it back. 'Thanks.'

'Did they at least feed you?' John asked, feeling guilty about the meal he had consumed.

Mitchell nodded. 'I had something.' He breathed out sharply and held a hand to his chest. 'I think they've demanded an exchange; me for the woman pretending to be Allia.' His eyes met John's regretfully. 'I think they plan on keeping you.'

John's heart jolted a little with the news but he smiled for Mitchell's benefit. 'Well, I am prettier than you.'

Mitchell laughed weakly.

'You shouldn't be on the floor when you're injured; it's too cold and you need to keep warm.' John said. 'And I don't think you're going to be able to move around on those knees much.' He contemplated everything and sighed. He got the blanket and manoeuvred Mitchell forward until there was space between him and the wall. John climbed in behind him so that Mitchell ended up sat between the vee of his legs.

'Uh, Sheppard…'

'Cold weather training; you know the drill.' John said succinctly. 'Suck it up.' He shifted, pushing his legs underneath Mitchell's and levering them off the icy floor; he ignored Mitchell's grunt of pain. He spread the blanket over both of them, putting his arms around Mitchell to hold it as gently as he could over Mitchell's chest.

'Thanks.' Mitchell said eventually. 'Not that I don't appreciate this but…'

'Don't worry,' John said smiling, 'it's going on The List.'

Mitchell made a snuffle of agreement. 'OK, then.' He relaxed in John's hold and John was pleased at the warmth of another body against his. 'I need to tell you…things…'

'Get some rest first, Mitchell.' John ordered. 'We can plan the escape later.'

'OK.' Mitchell sighed.

John waited and a few moments later he wasn't surprised to hear Mitchell's breathing even out. Mitchell's weight slumped into John and he felt a rush of protectiveness. They needed to plan an escape because he was damned if he was losing Mitchell.

Chapter 24



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