DISCLAIMER: Stargate Atlantis and its characters are the property of MGM, Showtime, Gekko etc. no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I took the challenge of "epic proportions" literally, and followed in the traditions of Homer in writing a grand heroic epic. I hope you enjoy.
WARNING This fic contains femslash (female/female romantic/sexual relationship) if that bothers or offends, please don't read. Also, this fic contains some violence nothing more than what you'd see on the actual show but I wanted to give a warning just in case. Oh, and the occasional swear word.
SPOILERS: Nothing specific, but everything through season three to be safe.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Place Called Home
"Stupid, lazy slaves. Always complaining about the something," Vagan muttered as he sloughed into the shack he called his home. He let the door, little more than salvaged pieces of rot wood nailed together, slam shut behind him. Too busy digging in the cupboard for the wine he kept stashed there, he didn't hear the click of the bolt snap into place on the door. He never saw the blow to his head coming, but he definitely knew when the dense piece of timber connected with his skull, once, twice, and sent him sprawling across the floor.
Dazed, the world swimming, he could barely push at the figure looming over him, groping at his body, searching for something The tell tale sound of metal clicking together brought his world back into sickening focus. She'd found the weapon he kept concealed. The barrel of the gun pressed into his forehead as he was yanked onto his knees.
"Where is she?"
"I don't know what you're talking about-" A fist connected with his face, shattering the bones in his nose. Blood gushed out over his face and mouth.
"Where did they take her?"
"You broke my nose! You bitch! You broke my nose!"
This time the gun whipped across his face, knocking him to the ground as a new gash was opened up across his cheek. Unceremoniously, he was dragged to his knees again, the muzzle of the gun pressed to his forehead again.
"Where is she?"
"I don't know!" He finally answered desperately, realizing for the first time how much danger he was actually in. Even with his wavering vision, he could see the murderous rage building in the woman holding the weapon on him.
Laura Cadman tightened her grip on the gun.
Jaw set, she pulled the hammer down, cocking the weapon. "I won't ask again." She pressed the gun harder into his forehead, breaking the skin.
Vagan started to cry. "They will kill me if I tell you."
"And I'm gonna kill you if you don't tell me," Cadman hissed. "Choose. You can die now or die later."
Vagan stared up into the barrel of the gun realizing slowly that there really was no choice in the matter at all.
Three Months Earlier
Your smiles, they make my day. You don't know it yet, but you're everything
The dual suns of M9S-244 set in tandem, spreading golden red light over the valley. The sounds of laughter and music floated on the air like a soft mist almost tangible in the fading light.
Laura Cadman hitched her P-90 up and settled more comfortably into her stance at the edge of the village. She'd been standing watch for a while now, ever since Sheppard had radioed in and told her that, for once, trade negotiations had gone well and instead of being chased out with torches and pitchforks, they'd been invited to join a village gathering in celebration of the trade alliance.
Behind her, a branch snapped. She turned, her finger already on the trigger, easing up when she recognized Dr. Weir staring back at her.
"Lieutenant Cadman." The expedition leader smiled slowly. "I just needed some fresh air," Elizabeth explained, gesturing vaguely toward the still celebrating village.
"The Mahatans throw quite a party," Laura smirked.
"They are apparently worlds renowned for their fermented ale."
"Good thing there's no law against drinking and dialing then," Laura replied sarcastically. It earned her one of Elizabeth's rare, full-on smiles. Idly, Cadman wondered what it would take to see another one. "So things are going well for once?"
Elizabeth took in a deep breath of the night air. Mahata reminded her of Colorado with its crisp, clean air, and she marveled once more at how planets could be so similar galaxies apart. "Things are going well," she agreed. "In exchange for our assistance designing and building an aqueduct to divert water to their south plain, they have agreed to let us poke around the ruins."
"An aqueduct in exchange for ruins? Must be something special about them."
Elizabeth gave her a knowing look. She hadn't been a top-notch negotiator for nothing. "Rodney seems to think they may contain information about an Ancient weapon or at the very least, a ZPM."
"Now that would be somethin'," Cadman smirked. "McKay must be going nuts at the party. Probably climbing the walls waiting to go look around."
"Actually, he's been a little distracted."
"Pretty blonde?" Laura asked. Elizabeth nodded, laughing softly. "Figures. Rodney is nothing if not predictable. Then again, so am I."
"You prefer blondes?" Elizabeth teased.
"Brunettes actually," Laura answered. There was a prolonged moment of silence as they held each other's gaze. Laura battled between trying to explain or just staying silent, opting for the latter. She'd already said too much as it was.
Elizabeth blinked and looked away, breaking the moment. Laura let out a sigh of relief. "I should get back to the party."
"Yeah, I should, uh " Cadman gestured vaguely toward the wide open landscape. "Keep watch."
Elizabeth smiled once and was gone. Back to the party, back to her carefully neutral appearance. But Laura knew she'd gotten to see something rare in the few minutes she'd spent with Weir. Without the ever-present disasters, the life and death decisions, the questions of pressing moral significance, Elizabeth was a woman. A woman who liked to laugh; a woman who knew the value of being able to be alone. A woman Laura had wanted desperately to get to know better since the first day she came to Atlantis. Two weeks later, Laura thought she might just have that chance.
The mess hall was deserted, but after all, it was 11:45 at night and most of the city was asleep; except, of course, for their intrepid leader.
Elizabeth walked in, making a bee line for the all night coffee carafe, and poured herself a cup before turning back toward the door. It was then she noticed Laura. At a table on the far side of the room Cadman sat, heartily putting away a plate of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans, obviously reheated from the earlier dinner menu. Inexplicably drawn, Elizabeth cradled her mug of steaming coffee between her hands and walked over.
Laura looked up at the approaching footsteps, quickly wiping her mouth with a paper napkin. "Evening, Dr. Weir. What has you up so late?"
"I'm finishing a status report for the SGC. You?"
"Just got off shift." Laura motioned to the chair across from her. "Join me?"
"Thank you," Elizabeth smiled, sliding into the seat. "Colonel Sheppard told me you requested a permanent transfer to Atlantis. We haven't managed to scare you away yet?"
"No, ma'am," Laura laughed, taking another bite of her meatloaf. "With the exception of getting stuck in someone else's body, this has been the best assignment I've ever had."
"Well, we aim to please." Elizabeth took another sip of her coffee, eyeing Cadman over the rim of her cup. There was something easy and comfortable about talking with the younger woman. Too easy and comfortable, she warned herself.
"I bet you do." There was a hint of a smile on Cadman's lips, and for a moment Elizabeth thought she'd imagined both the tone and the smile. It didn't make the blush on her cheeks burn any less. She took another drink of coffee, trying to find something to say, her mind desperately blank. She was saved the trouble by Laura and her curious nature. "So how are the Mahatans doing?"
"Doing well. Dr. Goodman is in the process of designing the aqueduct so that it follows their natural flood plain."
"And the translation of the ruins?"
Elizabeth gave her a look. "Less than well. Most of the writing has either crumbled or been worn away by the elements, and what is there apparently is quite difficult to read. Rodney's actually asked for me to come out and take a look at it."
"That's right, isn't it," Laura mused almost to herself. "I forget sometimes you speak Ancient fluently."
"I wouldn't go that far," Elizabeth smiled self-depricatingly, "but I have a fair understanding of the language. I never thought learning Latin would end up being this useful."
"Latin? What, were you expecting Julius Caesar for dinner?"
At that, Elizabeth actually blushed, answering, "My father insisted."
"Wouldn't French or Spanish have been more practical?"
"I speak those as well," Elizabeth answered easily, as if knowing two completely different languages from her own native tongue was a slight accomplishment. "And Russian."
"So do you understand what Zelenka says when he walks around muttering in Czech?"
"Not all of it," she admitted. "But enough to tell you it's best he mutters in Czech."
Laura smiled, sitting back as she finished the last of her meal and took a long drink of water. As she continued to smile, and stare at Elizabeth, the brunette felt the tell-tale heat start burning its way up the back of her neck, spreading to her face before she finally forced herself to look away from Laura's appraising gaze. Finally, inwardly cursing herself for being so damn bold, Laura broke the spell between them and started to replace her dinnerware on the tray. "Sorry to cut this short, but I've got a training session tomorrow with Ronon," she explained, "and I'd prefer to be at least semi-conscious before he knocks me out completely."
Elizabeth laughed softly and stood, cradling her half drunken coffee in her hands. "Then you should probably get to bed."
"You should too," Laura commented, her eyes meeting Elizabeth's. "I'm sure the world won't end if the SGC doesn't get its report on time."
"Oh, the world won't end, but Mr. Woolsey will think it has," Elizabeth joked. "Have a good night Lieutenant," she bid softly.
"You too, Dr. Weir." With one last soft smile, Laura picked up her tray and headed for the door, dropping her dishes off as she went. Elizabeth waited just long enough and then turned, watching the last of Cadman's saunter through the door. To her surprise, Laura stopped at the threshold, turned back, and smiled one more time at her before disappearing around the corner.
Knees suddenly weak, Elizabeth slid back into her chair.
This was very, very bad.
Three days later, Elizabeth felt her stomach flip once, twice, three times as she watched Laura stroll into the Gate room, casually checking the magazine clip on her P-90 as if she was making sure she'd grabbed her purse for a day of shopping.
"Lieutenant Cadman, I didn't realize you were coming along as well." Elizabeth smiled pleasantly as she clicked her tack vest into place. Although unarmed, as she always was on these missions, she wasn't an idiot. She'd heard too many stories of SGC personnel taking stray staff blasts or bullets to be careless with her own safety, even if the damn vest was uncomfortable as hell.
"Dr. Goodman asked me to come along. He wants to see about the possibility of blasting out the area for the aqueduct instead of trying to bring in excavation equipment. What about you?"
"Translation on the ruins. I'm meeting Rodney while John, Teyla, and Ronon help coordinate the work force needed for the aqueduct."
"I still can't believe McKay finally asked for help."
"I was shocked too," Elizabeth grinned. "But you know Rodney the chance at having a ZPM trumps even his own pride."
"We ready to go?" Lorne asked as he walked into the Gate room. There was a collective nod from the civilians and Marines assembled. Deferring to the fact his boss's boss was standing next to him, Lorne smiled wryly and motioned for Elizabeth to give the order.
She looked up toward the control room, meeting Chuck's eyes. "Dial the gate."
"I can see why you're having problems with this section," Elizabeth said, bent over and squinting at a nearly rubbed off section of a wall. "It's not Ancient. Not exactly anyway. From what I can tell, it's actually earlier, linguistically speaking, than the Ancient we know."
"Meaning?" Rodney prompted. He'd spent the better part of the morning waiting none-too-patiently for Elizabeth to feed him bits and pieces of translation, practically looking over her shoulder the entire time.
Elizabeth gave him a look that had him withering. "Meaning... this is going to take some time to translate. There are references to a power, uh, tool..."
"Loose translation - it could be a ZPM, but I'm not sure. I need the rest of the translation to put it into context."
Sheppard's voice crackled over the radio. "McKay, come in."
"This is McKay."
"How much longer?"
"Elizabeth says it's gonna be a while," Rodney answered petulantly. "Why, you have a hot date or something?"
"No..." John answered slowly. Elizabeth pictured the pinched look on his face as he fought for patience with Rodney and smiled. "But we've pretty much wrapped it up here. Cadman blasted the hell out of the place - most of the clean up work can be done with shovels now."
"Good for her," McKay huffed. "Those of us needing more than C-4 to do our jobs require longer than three hours to complete a task."
"I heard that McKay," Cadman interjected testily over the radio. Elizabeth grinned and started in on a new section of the translation.
There was silence over the radio before John came back on. "Okay, Ronon and Teyla are still in the village coordinating volunteers. I'm sending Cadman out to keep an eye on you. Lorne and I are headed for the gate to send back equipment and personnel."
"We don't need Cadman to keep an eye on us," Rodney argued. "I am perfectly capable of, of, you know, protecting both of us should the need arise."
"That I would pay good money to see," Cadman interjected again.
Rodney tapped his radio angrily. "Enough from the peanut gallery!"
Elizabeth's voice cut in, in real time and over the radio, making Rodney wince at the double-dose. "Enough from all of you." She waited to make sure everyone was listening to her. "Colonel, proceed with your plan. We'll dial Atlantis in an hour if we're still not done. Lieutenant, Rodney and I look forward to seeing you in a few minutes."
Elizabeth wasn't sure, but she thought Cadman sounded excited as she responded, "Yes, ma'am."
Fifteen minutes later, Cadman came to a stop at the outskirt of the ruins. Looking down the steep incline to the pillars of rock Elizabeth and Rodney were scrutinizing, Laura could almost imagine the Ancient city that had once stood there in all its glory, nestled in the small valley next to the broad expanse of plains that separated it from the Mahatans village. Now there were only bits and crumbling pieces of what had once been a thriving civilization.
Picking her way down the hill, she let her feet slip just enough so that she playfully slid most of the way down. Knocking the dirt and grass off her hands, she walked over, smiling at McKay the entire time. "How's it going?"
"Just fine," he answered stiffly.
Cadman looked between him, seated on a piece of rock, laptop on his knees, and Dr. Weir, laying flat on her stomach, her face mere inches from the rock as she tried to brush away loose bits of dirt from the inscription. "Working hard I see."
Elizabeth craned her head around, giving Laura a knowing look before going back to her translation. "Okay, this section refers to the history of the settlement. It seems to be one of the original cities built by the Ancients it was a center for technological research-"
Elizabeth's voice was drowned out as Teyla's deceptively calm tenor came over the radio. "Lieutenant Cadman, do you copy?"
"I'm here," Laura answered, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up.
"Lieutenant, villagers say the Gate just activated. We have three inbound Wraith darts."
"Did you try to radio Sheppard?"
"He has already gated back to Atlantis."
Of course he had. "All right, let's move!" Laura ordered, barking into the radio as she started to climb back up the rocky hill, "We've gotta get out of sight. We're sitting ducks in these ruins."
Rodney didn't have to be told twice. Over the years he had perfected shoving his laptop into his pack while running and pulling out his gun at the same time. Elizabeth was a little slower. Clambering up out of the ruins, she slid halfway back down the rocks. Laura lunged over the side, grabbing Weir's hand to help haul her back up.
"This is Cadman. Do you have a position on the Darts?"
"Headed toward the village," Teyla answered, the sound of panicked villagers echoing through the radio.
Cadman looked around desperately. There was nothing but open space between the ruins and the forest that bordered the village. They were exposed either way they went. "You two, make for the tree line." When Rodney hesitated, Laura grabbed his shirt to shove him along. "Now!" She could hear the darts high pitched whine coming toward them. Checking her clip, she raised her weapon, watching as the tiny dots grew larger by the second. Sparing half a glance to see that Rodney and Elizabeth were almost to the safety of the trees, she looked back and took aim.
A hail of bullets cut through the air toward the first dart. There was a flash, a puff of smoke, and then the entire engine blew. The second dart took its place, its beam already down and sweeping the ground. Laura watched it move toward her until at the last second she dove away. She barely had time to reverse her position and roll back before the third dart's beam swept next to her. She stood up, shaking, and started to run for the tree line. Even at that distance, she could already hear McKay screaming at her.
"Are you insane! Playing chicken with a Wraith dart! What the hell's the matter with you!?!"
The whine of the darts had returned. Laura sprinted toward the tree line, popping a new clip into her P-90 as she went. Barely looking back, she fired off another burst of rounds, hoping her luck would hold out. Ahead of her, she could see Weir, crouched behind a tree, her expression fearful as the darts converged on her.
"Look out!" Laura didn't even check to see where the beams were, she just jumped and rolled to the left. The beam missed her head by a foot, but it felt like an inch. She fired off another round of bullets at the dart's undercarriage, pleased when the second dart showered sparks. She'd only winged it, but it was enough. Adrenaline pulsing through her like a freight train, she lunged up once more and sprinted into the safety of the trees beside Weir and Rodney, stopping just long enough to recognize the tight burning in her lungs as she gasped in air.
"Lieutenant, that was either the bravest or the stupidest thing I've ever seen," Elizabeth ground out, her face pale.
Cadman grinned. "You're welcome ma'am."
"Lieutenant Cadman? Respond please!"
"This is Cadman, Teyla," Laura wheezed into the radio. "I've got Drs. McKay and Weir. We made it to the tree line on the far side of the village."
"Was that you who took down the dart Lieutenant?"
"Well done." Coming from the normally soft-spoken Athosian, it was high praise indeed.
"Thanks," she laughed. "You have a position on the darts?"
"They are circling but have yet to cull the village. It must be a reconnaissance mission of some sort. I suggest we all stay hidden and wait for them to leave."
"Of all the days not to bring a puddle jumper," Rodney groaned, slumping against a tree.
"We'll be okay," Laura said, far more confidently than she felt. "We just need to stay out of sight."
"What about the Mahatans?" Elizabeth asked, trying to peer out through the trees and brush they were concealed behind. "Can you see what's going on in the village?"
Rodney moved farther out. "I don't see anything except... wait..."
"Oh, my God..." Before Laura could grab her, Elizabeth was gone, running out of the brush, McKay on her heels. Laura looked out in time to see a group of children, no older than eight or nine years old, running from the far plain, past the ruins, toward the small stretch of trees they were currently hiding in. One of the Wraith darts had spotted them and was turning around, lining up for an attack run. They may not have been there for a full culling, but they weren't going to ignore such easy pickings.
"Shit." Even with her late start, Cadman still managed to out sprint McKay to the kids just as Elizabeth got to them, already trying to calm them and direct them to the safety of the trees.
"Come on, this way, hurry, let's go." They herded the children like sheep between them. Rodney grabbed one up without asking, then took the hand of another, all but dragging the child along with him to the safety of the trees. Elizabeth scooped up one of the younger ones, a girl about five, and ran toward Rodney, handing the child off before running back.
Laura turned, bringing her gun up once more, eyes narrowing in on the dart as the high pitched whine grew louder over her shoulder. She fired off her entire clip despite the distance, hoping to make the dart hesitate and give them time, but the Wraith continued to come at them head on. The dull metallic click told her what she already knew - she was out of bullets. Grabbing the hand of the nearest child, she started to run, dragging the boy along as well. Elizabeth ran back out, trying to grab him from Laura, but McKay's scream told her it was too late. Looking up, she could see the Wraith beam just about to wash over them. With what little strength she had left, Laura surged forward, swinging the little boy with her and practically throwing him five feet away to safety. The last thing she remembered seeing was Elizabeth's terrified face as the beam swept over them both.
Hope you got your things together; Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we're in for nasty weather; One eye is taken for an eye
Don't go around tonight, well, it's bound to take your life
There's a bad moon on the rise
Everything tingled and hurt in an all-too-familiar way. Laura groaned as she registered the feeling of being swept up, again, into a Wraith dart. Something cool was placed on her forehead before a cup was pressed to her lips.
"Drink." The voice was soft and kind. Laura opened her eyes just enough to see a girl, sixteen if she was a day, staring back at her. The girl offered the cup again. Laura reached for it out of habit, stopping as something solid tugged at her wrists. Looking down, it took her a moment to process the cuffs and shackles around her wrists and arms. Panicked, she sat up, desperately looking around for Dr. Weir.
The room was dark and full of bodies similarly shackled. The girl touched Laura's shoulder and pointed to a far wall. In the dim light Laura could barely make out the long lines of Weir's body, her dark hair, and the standard Atlantis uniform.
"Does she belong to you?" the girl asked shyly.
"Does she belong to you?" she pointed to Laura's uniform. "Only mates are allowed to stay together."
Laura's mind was still foggy, but not so much she didn't see the hint for what it was. "Yes," she answered slowly. "She belongs with me."
The girl nodded. "I will tell Eloya." She started to move onto the next person but Laura pulled her back.
"Where are we? Who are you?"
"You are on Abyssus," the girl answered slowly, as if the words themselves pained her. "And my name is Danika. Now I must go." She looked pointedly at the hand Laura still had around her arm. Reluctantly, Laura pulled away and Danika moved on to the next person chained beside her.
Across the room, Elizabeth started to stir. Everything tingled, and for a moment, she thought she'd fallen asleep at her desk. That was the only reasonable explanation for why everything hurt so damn badly. Trying to sit up, she heard the rattle of metal and knew she wasn't at her desk. Or anywhere near Atlantis. Beside her, someone groaned. Elizabeth opened her eyes to take in a face she didn't recognize. Sitting up so quickly her head spun, she had to wait a moment before she could actually focus on her surroundings.
The room was dark and smelled foul. She wasn't sure if that was a particular trait of the room itself, or because of how many bodies were currently being held inside it. Glancing around, it was hard to tell in the dark, but she didn't see anyone she recognized. She wasn't sure whether to feel grateful for that or not. The sound of the door scraping open kept her from thinking about it too hard.
"On your feet!" Elizabeth shuffled to her feet with the rest of the group, the shackles on her hands and feet making it awkward to stand. A weasely looking man with a half-filled in beard entered the room, two much more burly guards entering behind him, both holding Wraith stunners.
"You have been deemed worthy by the gods to serve them. This is a great honor." He said it in such a way that no one seemed inclined to voice any opposition. "Some of you will be taken to our masters to serve at their hands, and some will stay here to labor for their love." He snapped once and two more people entered the room, an average sized man with a stocky build and a woman who looked so old Elizabeth thought she might be the last surviving Ancient.
"Bolin is head man here. He and Eloya will sort you. Do as they say and you will live to honor the gods. Disobey, and you will suffer their wrath." Without another word the man left.
Bolin sneered at the group of prisoners. "This is the sorriest bunch yet."
"Get on with the sorting," Eloya ordered.
Bolin walked the first line of prisoners, nodding at some, shaking his head at others. The one's who didn't meet his approval were unlocked from their shackles and dragged away by the guards. It was hard to tell if that was a good or bad thing. Elizabeth was in the last line of prisoners. Unlike the others, when Bolin approached, she met his stare with a steely glare of her own until the other man blinked. With a smirk, he shook his head at her.
He gave a cursory glance to the end of the line, and pronounced, "The rest stay."
One of the guards started to undo Elizabeth's shackles, already half hauling her away, when Eloya spoke up. A young girl stood beside her, looking furtively between Elizabeth and the other end of the room. Eloya nodded toward Elizabeth. "This one has a mate."
Bolin snorted in disbelief. "Who?"
Chains rattled at the far end of the room. Elizabeth looked over, eyes straining in the dark, and saw a flash of blonde hair. Relief flooded through her as she recognized Laura Cadman. "Me," Laura answered quickly. She nodded toward Elizabeth and then gestured toward herself. "Look at us, we go together. It's our custom."
Bolin looked suspiciously between the two women, but it didn't pass his notice they wore similar looking clothing. He glanced at Eloya. "We've had female mates before," she said cautiously, as if trying to gauge his reaction.
"That one will be trouble," he warned, jerking his head toward Elizabeth. Elizabeth's glare deepened.
"She won't be any trouble, I promise," Cadman urged, knowing Elizabeth's look prefaced serious trouble. "She will listen to me," she added without thinking.
Bolin shook his head, still disbelieving. Eloya gave him a pointed look. "She is able bodied."
"She is defiant. The gods value the taste of defiance-"
"-and the gods also value the ore we mine for their ships and weapons," Eloya retorted. "If the gods want to keep this mine running, we can't keep sending them the strongest slaves."
Elizabeth got the distinct feeling she was witnessing an argument no one was supposed to see.
"They are on your head, Eloya." Bolin looked between Laura and Elizabeth again, and then back at Laura. "And she is on yours." With a nod, the guards let go of Elizabeth before following Bolin out of the room.
There were about twenty of them left in all. Most were older, in their mid-fifties to sixties. Too slow to out run the Wraith, Elizabeth thought.
Eloya moved in front of them, her creaking voice taking on an air of authority. "I know most of you are confused. And scared. As well you should be. This place is called Abyssus. Here, we labor for the gods until such time as they come to claim us or we die in their service. Do not try to escape. At best, you will be captured, punished, and set to work once more. At worst, there are things without names outside this compound. Terrible things. And even if you beg for your life at our door, we will not open to you. You take your work assignments from Bolin. I have little patience, so don't come to me unless you are dying. Meals are communal. New arrivals eat last. Come along, we will get you places to sleep."
One by one they filed passed Eloya. Elizabeth waited until Laura trudged up beside her, feeling a measure of relief in the other woman's presence. As they passed by Eloya, Laura stopped, her eyes meeting Danika's and then Eloya's. "Thank you."
"Stay out of trouble. That'll be thanks enough." A quick shove from the guard set them shuffling along again.
The sun was low on the horizon as they walked outside, but after the darkness of the holding cell, the light still stung their eyes. Elizabeth gasped as her vision cleared and the entirety of Abyssus was spread out before her.
The compound was centered at the base of a mountain. Scaffolding and ramps showed the way to caves where slaves of every size, race, and sex moved in and out, hauling large buckets and carts of ore. To the right, butted up against a sheer cliff, living areas were set up. Some consisted of shacks pieced together with scrap wood. Others were small caves that had been hulled out of the rock. There was a central eating area and at the far side of the camp, a latrine. Everywhere there wasn't a piece of the mountain hemming them in, a ten foot wall of stone had been erected. There was one entrance, heavily guarded by men with Wraith stunners. Just over the entrance she could make out another mountain range to the west.
"Keep moving!" Another blow to her back sent Elizabeth shuffling forward so quickly that she ran into Cadman's back.
"I know what you're thinking," Cadman whispered, her eyes taking in the same scene as Elizabeth. "Don't be foolish. You know McKay and Sheppard are out there right now figuring out a way to get us back. First rule: stay alive. We just have to wait for them to find us."
"You sound pretty optimistic," Elizabeth said softly, her eyes wide as she continued to look around. There had to be at least two hundred people being used as slaves for the Wraith.
"No reason not to be yet."
The line continued to move, the guards prodding any stragglers with the butt of their weapons, and Elizabeth began to have the vague understanding of how cattle must feel. One by one they filed past a woman who was handing thin, reed sleeping mats and rough bowls.
"That's Huff." Danika was back, standing just close enough to Laura to be heard, but otherwise ignored. "She's Bolin's mate. Stay away from her if you can."
"Why?" Elizabeth asked out of the corner of her mouth.
"As the head slave's mate she enjoys certain privileges," Danika said cryptically. "And she doesn't like to share."
"Great, just what we need," Laura mumbled, continuing to shuffle along.
As they approached, Danika discreetly disappeared. Bolin walked up, taking his place beside Huff as she handed Laura her mat and bowl. "These are the two I was telling you about."
Huff gave each of them a long glance, smirking. "They don't look like much." Beside her, Laura felt Elizabeth tense. She understood the sentiment, but knew better than to let it show. With another smirk Huff handed over Elizabeth's mat and bowl, tossing her head to where the rest of the slaves had assembled in the main eating area.
The sun was down now, and with it, the work day was over. Slaves came from the caves, grimy with dust and dirt. None of them gave the new arrivals a second glance as they went to their sleeping areas, retrieved their own bowls, and took up their position ahead of them in line.
She wasn't hungry, but the guards gave them little choice but to follow along with the rest of the slaves in line as dinner was doled out. Elizabeth cringed as a mixture of rice and something was poured into her bowl. She paused only long enough for Laura to get the same minimal helping of what passed for food, and then shuffled with her to the far side of the eating area away from everyone else.
"How are we going to get out of this?" Elizabeth asked, eyeing the food in the bowl. She was hungry, but not that hungry.
"We aren't," Laura answered. "We're going to wait for Sheppard and McKay and the cavalry to show up. All we have to do is stay alive," Laura repeated. "And believe me, in a place like this, that's not going to be easy."
Cadman was always so cool, so laid back and irreverent, it was difficult to see the visible change in her demeanor. Faced with this new situation, she was completely in control and in charge. Elizabeth didn't want to admit it, but a part of her was glad the younger woman was so capable. All she seemed able to do at the moment was panic. Then again, she had been taken prisoner by the Wraith and forced to become a slave in their mines, so she figured panic wasn't a totally uncalled for emotion at the moment. Even still, her first instinct was to act. To lay out a plan of attack. Sitting back and waiting for rescue didn't fit her character.
Laura seemed to understand Elizabeth's need. She put a reassuring hand on her knee, squeezing lightly. "I know it's hard, the waiting, but they'll come. Until then, just keep your head down. Don't draw attention to yourself. Play it cool and stay out of people's way. Places like this, you don't want to stick out." Elizabeth nodded, filing the information away. "Also... I don't think it's such a good idea we give anyone our real names."
"At the moment they think we're just another couple of humans... if the Wraith find out who you are..." Laura let her sentence trail off, leaving Elizabeth to imagine just what might happen. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
Elizabeth thought for a moment. "Call me Lena. It was my mother's name."
Laura gave just a hint of a smile. "All right then, you can call me Lisa. It's my mother's name."
Elizabeth looked back down at her bowl of rice and... stuff. She'd had some terrible meals before but this took the cake. John had better find them soon, she thought. Before she got hungry enough that the food in her bowl started to look appetizing.
After what had passed for dinner, the new slaves had been herded together and instructed to find a spot on the ground that looked comfortable. The other slaves had gone back to their normal living and sleeping areas at the edges of the compound to await the morning call to work.
"They're probably trying to keep a short leash on us. Breaking us in," Laura commented, her voice hushed as she laid her reed mat out next to Elizabeth's, as far away from the other slaves as she could safely get without drawing the guard's notice. The sun had gone down at least an hour before, and although she knew it wasn't nearly as late as she was used to, Elizabeth found herself on the brink of exhaustion. Which, she supposed, was a good thing, as there was no fire and no blankets. Just the sound of creatures in the night and the soft sobs of several newly captured slaves. She lay down on her side, squeezing her eyes shut. Any minute now, she thought. Any minute and they'll be here. John will come. Rodney will have a brilliant plan. Ronon and Teyla will kill all the guards. Any minute now
On the other side a man started to cry, mumbling and ranting to the night that he wasn't supposed to be there. That he had crops that needed to be harvested. Elizabeth's chest tightened, her throat burned as she fought another wave of panic as the man's voice got louder, more frantic.
She heard the rustle of chains behind her before a warm hand pressed into her back. It was as far as Laura could reach in her shackles. "It's a test," she whispered. "The guards want to see who's going to try and run... who's going to break."
The sobbing turned into a wail.
"Stay quiet," Laura ordered. "Pretend to be asleep and no matter what happens don't move."
They heard someone scream, the clanking of chains, and then the sound of feet pounding in the dirt. Elizabeth started to sit up to see what was going on, but Laura shoved her back down with a firm hand. "Stay put," she hissed.
In the distance they heard the guards call out to one another. Torches went up around the camp. Laura and Elizabeth stayed in place, eyes open and scanning around them as the other slaves shifted, curiously peeking their heads up only to lower them at the sound of a guard's voice. In the distance they heard screaming again and knew whoever had attempted to run had been caught. Within minutes the entire compound was awake. Finding security in numbers, the new arrivals started to sit up as the older slaves came out of their sleeping areas, trudging down into the main area.
"Get up! All of you! To the ring!" It only took one guard giving a firm kick to a still frozen slave to have the rest of them up on their feet, moving along with the others to the area the guards pointed out. Laura and Elizabeth ended up wedged toward the front of the group.
Beside her, Laura heard Elizabeth gasp as the slave, a man with graying hair and a short trimmed beard was dragged into the sectioned off area the guards had called the "ring" and tossed to the ground. It was obvious the guards had already taken some time to beat him along the way. More torches were brought, and with the light they were finally able to see the post set up at the far end. The guards moved the man to the post and secured his chains around it. From the back of the crowd Vagan arrived, cursing and dragging on a shirt.
"So we have a runner?" Despite the fact he'd been called from bed like the rest of them he seemed pleased at the news. One of the guards walked up and handed Vagan a wicked looking whip. He gave a cursory glance at the man who was strung up before turning to the rest of them, playing up to the crowd. "Were you not warned what would happen if you tried to run?" The crowd stayed silent, the older slaves already knowing what to expect from the demonstration, the rest of them silent from fear. Vagan smirked. "Now you will see and you will understand. There is no escape."
The guards stripped off the man's shirt as he pleaded and begged for mercy. His cries fell on deaf ears. Vagan made sure the first lash resounded with a ringing snap of the whip, making everyone assembled wince not only at the sound but at the man's scream of pain. On and on he went, his face contorted in sick enjoyment as the poor man screamed over and over until finally he stopped screaming all together. Vagan whipped him a few more times for good measure before handing the guard the whip back. Laura had counted forty lashes in all. Elizabeth had stopped watching after the first.
The punishment completed, the slaves started to disperse, the guards herding the new ones back to the main area they had been in before. Elizabeth didn't move. "Aren't they going to take him down?"
"Elizabeth I know," Laura said, meeting her eyes in silent understanding, "But we can't get involved-"
"He'll die like that!"
"He's dead already," Laura countered. "Leave him be."
"No." Elizabeth moved to hobble toward the ring, but Laura grabbed her, pulling her back. The glare Elizabeth shot her would have melted the chains holding them in an instant. She jerked away, heedless of the guards staring as she shuffled as fast as she could in her shackles toward the man still strung up.
Just as she reached for him, Vagan's voice cut through the night. "Leave him!"
Elizabeth turned, meeting the slave master's eyes coldly. "He could be dying."
"Then he dies," Vagan shot back flippantly. "He has earned the gods' wrath by his disobedience."
Defiant, Elizabeth reached for the man. Vagan took three steps toward her, fist raised, but stopped when Laura managed to throw herself in between Vagan and Elizabeth. "Please! Don't?" she held her hands up submissively, backing up to keep her body in front of Elizabeth's. "We don't know your laws it is our way that people be allowed to die in peace," Laura explained as calmly as possible. "Just, please, let us take him down. The gods have their punishment and they will have his life just let us take him down?" she asked again.
Vagan looked like he was about to hit Laura for even suggesting it, but his eyes flicked to the side, taking in Eloya's silent stare. He dropped his arm and waved at the man dismissively.
"Fine, take him down. It'll be up to you two to bury him as well." With a barely tempered glare, Vagan stalked off.
No one else stayed to help.
They unhooked the chains, bringing the stranger down to lie on his side on the hard packed dirt. His breathing was shallow and pained. He spluttered blood as he coughed, fighting for air.
"Shh, it's okay," Elizabeth soothed. "It's okay," she whispered, knowing it was a lie. Laura was right. He was dying. Slowly. Painfully.
"What have I done?" he whispered. "How have I angered the Ancestors? I have lived a good life " He coughed harder, moaning as he clutched at his sides. Laura ran her fingers over his abdomen, frowning as she recognized the broken ribs that had likely punctured his lung.
"You did nothing wrong," Elizabeth answered. "The Ancestors are not angry." She struggled to remember the mythology of Teyla's people, to find a context to bring him peace. "They will take you beyond the stars where you will find rest," she assured, fighting the break in her voice. "You will have peace."
Another cough rattled through his body.
Laura met Elizabeth's eyes. "Walk away," she whispered.
Elizabeth looked between Laura and the man and then back at Laura. "No, you can't."
"He could go on like this for hours while he bleeds out," Laura whispered, her words punctuated by another coughing fit. "All we can do is make him comfortable."
"You can't " Elizabeth hissed.
There was a hardness in Laura's eyes Elizabeth had never seen before. Cold and unfeeling, her words sounded detached even as she assured, "Yes, I can."
Elizabeth looked back down at the man, gasping for air and muttering an incoherent prayer, and in that moment she imagined what she'd want done if the situation was reversed. She closed her eyes, nodded, and stood up, walking a few feet away, her back to them. Over her shoulder, she could hear Laura's voice carried in the dark.
"What's your name?" Laura asked.
His eyes fluttered around, finally landing on Laura's and holding. "Larkin."
"Larkin, I need you to do me a favor, okay?" Her voice dropped until it was little more than a whisper of sound. "I want you to close your eyes, and think about home. I want you to imagine your fields and your farm on a warm summer day. I want you to remember being happy with your friends and family as you brought in the harvest." For a moment, Larkin's eyes cleared and he knew what Laura was asking him to do, knew what she was proposing. He nodded in silent understanding, his eyes sliding shut. "Can you see it Larkin? Can you see your home?" He nodded silently, wheezing.
Laura blinked away tears. "Hold onto it. Hold onto that image. Don't let it go. You're going home." She reached for him, her hand fitting easily over his nose and mouth, squeezing both shut with an iron grip. Surprisingly, Larkin didn't panic, didn't fight. She doubted he had much fight left in him anyway. She held on until his body stopped trying to automatically suck in air and he stilled. She waited until there was no movement at all and then she removed her hand, covered in the blood he had continued to cough up.
A hand pressed against her shoulder, but it wasn't Elizabeth. Danika stood above her, a shovel in her other hand. "Follow me."
Cry, baby cry; Cry, cry to heaven
Say a prayer and light a candle
Toll a bell
Cry, baby cry; Cry, cry to heaven
If that doesn't do it for you
Go ahead and cry like hell
There was no sleep that night as Laura, Elizabeth and Danika buried Larkin in a shallow grave under the guard's always watchful presence. The sun rose, chasing away the darkness as Laura shoveled in the last of the earth over his grave and Elizabeth repeated what she could remember of the Twenty-Third Psalm.
They made it back to the main area in time for breakfast and waited at the back of the line for a piece of bread little more than the size of Elizabeth's fist and another bowl full of the gruel.
This time they were both too tired and too hungry to care. They shoveled the food down, not even tasting it as they mechanically swallowed. A horn sounded, signaling the end of breakfast.
The older slaves went about their business, filing easily into line to go to the mines. Bolin appeared, still gnawing on a much larger piece of bread from his breakfast, and looked the new arrivals over slowly, his eyes immediately drifting to Laura and Elizabeth's exhausted forms. He quickly split the rest of them up into various work assignments before turning to Laura and Elizabeth, smiling coldly. "You two, come with me."
The mine was gritty and dank. Everything to be expected from a slave run operation. Rotted planks held up crumbling shafts as Elizabeth and Laura shuffled into the tunnel, half bent over so they didn't knock their heads on the untenable ceiling. Dim torches and Wraith versions of lanterns lit up the pitch black.
Bolin shoved rough handled picks into their hands. He grabbed his own up, cleaving off a section of the wall. He pointed with the pick ax toward the two types of rock that had dropped from the wall; one was a dull grey, the other, a deep black Lucite.
"You better fill up at least six buckets of the black rock every day."
"Or what?" Laura snapped, unable to help herself. She felt frayed at the edges, ready to come undone.
Bolin took an imposing step forward, his ax raised. "Or you stop being useful."
Laura held his stare, her hand tight around her own pick. It wasn't nearly as sharp or sturdy as the one he held, a benefit of being 'head slave' she assumed, but even if it had been, to seek a fight now would have been suicide. She was still chained and there was at least half a mile of tunnel work they'd come through that she didn't know how to get out of. Not to mention the guards. Or the 'unspeakable' things that lay beyond the compound.
"Get to work," he growled, shoving them both toward the wall. The other slaves scurried out of his way as he walked out, their picks a flurry of movement, sending up showers of rock and dust.
Laura bent down, sifting through the rocks that Bolin had knocked off. Even in the dim light, she knew what it was.
"Naquadah. Unrefined, obviously. Not weapons grade, but it looks pretty pure." She tossed the rock into Elizabeth's bucket.
"How can you be sure?"
"Energetic materials expert, remember?" She shrugged. "Makes sense I guess. The entire gate network is made up of Naquadah. Ancient technology. The Wraith had to base their designs off something... and this seems to be a universal constant."
Reluctantly, they turned for the walls and started picking at the rock. A shower of dust and particles went up, making them both cough and gasp for air. Elizabeth dropped her pick, and to Laura's surprise, yanked off her shirt.
Laura kept her eyes focused on the floor, trying desperately not to stare. "Uh... whatcha doin'?"
"I don't know about you, but I'd prefer not to die of Black Lung while we wait to be rescued." Laura finally looked up at the sound of ripping, understanding dawning as Elizabeth tore a strip of material off her shirt long enough to tie around her mouth and nose. She slid the shirt back on, but now it only covered about half her torso.
Laura followed suit, impressed with Weir's ingenuity. Her black t-shirt ripped easily, but still only came to just above her navel. They grabbed their picks again and started to work.
Six buckets each a day. Elizabeth thought it sounded impossible with the way her muscles screamed and the exhaustion made her ill, but the alternative was unthinkable. Grimly determined, she started to hit the rock.
Danika made her way through the tunnel, carting a bucket of fresh water. She stopped at Laura and Elizabeth, the last in their tunnel, setting the bucket down so that they could ladle up the much needed liquid. Elizabeth took the water gratefully, then passed it to Laura who drank as well. "How long have you been here?"
"All my life."
"Is that why you're carrying water instead of mining?" Laura asked, taking another drink before handing it back to Elizabeth.
Danika nodded. "Eloya is my grandmother. She and my mother were taken from their village years ago. I was born here in Abyssus."
"What happened to your parents?"
"Mother was taken to serve the gods, ten summers past."
"I'm so sorry," Elizabeth whispered. It didn't pass her notice Danika didn't mention her father.
"Do not pity me," Danika responded, showing a strength far beyond her sixteen years.
"I don't. I sympathize."
"You had better get back to work. Bolin doesn't like you... and he likes to make examples of the ones he dislikes. How many buckets have you filled?"
"Three each, why?"
She glanced at their blistered and dirty hands. Some of the blisters had started to bleed already. "What did he tell you? Six each?" They nodded. "Filthy liar," she cursed. "Vagan requires ten buckets each."
"Ten?!" Laura and Elizabeth echoed each other's horror. Filling the three buckets they already had had been difficult enough. Ten? They didn't need to worry about Black Lung killing them. They were going to be worked to death long before that.
"Son of a bitch," Laura hissed, looking down at her splintered hands.
"What happens to those who don't meet quota?"
"Five lashes for each missing bucket."
With a shared look of misery, they grabbed their picks back up, chipping at the wall as hard as they could.
They'd heard the horn sound, signaling the end of the day. They kept mining anyway even as the others started to shuffle toward the surface, both of them on bucket number nine.
Elizabeth's hands ached, but the fear of being whipped, as they'd seen happen the previous night, kept her going despite the splinters and blisters and cuts. Her shoulders and arms ached as she swung at the rock, knocking off a large section before leaning down to sift the Naquadah from the granite around it. A jerk on her leg chain sent her sprawling. She looked up from the dirty floor of the tunnel to find Bolin grinning down at her. Laura's whirled, her hand tight on her pick, but stopped just short of swinging it at the man.
Laura leaned down, helping Elizabeth up before they both grabbed their picks and buckets up and followed the rest of the slaves into the light of the fading day. At the mouth of the cave Eloya and Danika were waiting, tallying the final numbers.
Elizabeth set her bucket wearily before them.
"That's nine for this one."
"Ten," Laura corrected, setting her bucket next to Elizabeth's.
Elizabeth turned, glaring, but Laura stood firm. "No it's not," Elizabeth argued.
Danika and Eloya shared a look. Bolin, thankfully, was on the other side, counting picks to make sure all of them had been returned. "It doesn't matter," Eloya said. "You two are judged as a pair."
"Lena. Shut up," Laura hissed as Vagan came toward them.
Eloya looked briefly between Elizabeth and Laura then turned to Vagan. "They have eighteen between them."
Vagan clucked his tone in mock disappointment. He looked between Laura and Elizabeth and then nodded at Laura. "Then she'll have to be taught a lesson." With a snap of his fingers one of the guards came over, unlatching Laura's shackles from Elizabeth's before grabbing her roughly, along with a half dozen other new slaves to be taken to the ring.
"No," Elizabeth called out. "Take me."
Laura glared back at her. Vagan just smiled, sickly sweet. "I think you'll both learn better this way." He led them on as the rest of the camp followed.
This time, Elizabeth pushed to the front of the crowd. She found Laura's eyes, silently pleading with her, but Laura continued to shake her off, resigned to taking the punishment.
"Are you so anxious to feel the strap?" Eloya asked, appearing next to her.
Elizabeth swallowed hard. "It should be me-"
"It should be both of you," Eloya countered. "But Vagan has chosen, and you won't change his mind."
One by one the slaves were strung up. Some received five lashes, others, who hadn't learned of Bolin's deception, earned twenty, five for each of the missing four buckets owed. Finally, Laura was taken to the post, her arms bound high, exposing her entire back like a blank canvas.
The first lash fell with a sickening snap of the leather. Laura jumped, but unlike all the others, remained silent. Vagan whipped her three more times in rapid succession, and although she twisted and cringed with each lash, she stayed quiet.
A murmur ran through the crowd, suddenly interested in the new comer who refused to cry out. Vagan continued, slowing and then speeding up, lashing not only at her back, but lower on her legs as well, ripping through the material of her pants and shirt. As the tenth lash fell, the crowd seemed to collectively hold its breath, waiting for her cries. When none came, another murmur swept through those assembled, this time one of amazement.
Elizabeth pushed away the tears stinging her eyes.
Laura was taken down, slumping half over under her injuries. Vagan crouched down until they were at eye level and gave her a long look, smiling slightly. "Why do I believe I will be seeing much more of you?"
She looked up, a thousand insults and retorts held fast behind her clenched teeth. The only thing that held her back was the flash of black metal she'd seen tucked into his waistband. Bleeding and injured, she could have hallucinated a lot of things, but not familiar sight of her .9 mm Beretta outlined under Vagan's thin shirt. With yet another reason to fear the slave master, she stayed silent. Lashes she could recover from, but as her drill instructor used to say, a gunshot wound left a mark. Vagan smirked, misjudging her silence for submission, and tossed the whip to the nearest guard, whistling merrily as he walked through the crowd toward the shack he called home.
Elizabeth rushed forward, slinging Laura's arm around her shoulder to help her stand. To her surprise, the guards didn't try to put Laura's chains back on. In fact they did the opposite, working their way among the newcomers and removing the leg and arm shackles. As they took Elizabeth's off, one of the guards explained, "You work better with out them."
She glared at him as he moved on to the rest. So it was another test, she thought. Just another way to break them. They knew even the strongest among them would have trouble meeting the quota requirements, especially with Bolin's deception. They had stacked the deck to prove a point and a particularly vicious one at that. Holding Laura up as they moved back into the communal area for dinner, Elizabeth vowed they wouldn't get the chance to hurt the young woman again.
"Rodney, you should get some rest."
"I'm fine," McKay snapped as he continued to peck at his keyboard. He hadn't shaved in days and John was fairly sure he hadn't showered either.
"Carson told me you asked for more stimulants," Sheppard said delicately.
"I'm close to finding them-"
"-No, Rodney, you're not. But you are close to having a break down. You haven't slept in days. You look like crap." The insult barely registered in McKay's mind. He kept staring at his computer. John understood his obsession. He hadn't been able to shake the sound of Rodney's screams over the radio as he reported in that Cadman and Weir had been swept up by a Wraith dart.
Despite immediately dialing Atlantis and giving Sheppard the Gate address the villagers had informed them the Wraith dialed, they had been too late. By the time John had spun up a jumper, complete with a contingent of Marines, and gated to the address the dart was gone. There was nothing left but empty space and Zelenka's assertion that energy traces confirmed there had been at least two Wraith cruisers present. As everyone on Atlantis knew far too well, there was no tracking the Wraith through hyperspace and they were far outside of the long range sensors. Still, Rodney kept trying, modifying the sensors over and over again, trying to get a hit from the women's subcutaneous I.D. chips.
"Can't you see I'm working? Why are you bothering me?"
"Rodney, you aren't going to do Elizabeth or Cadman any good if you collapse. You need to rest."
"Yes, you can."
"No! I can't!" Rodney yelled, swinging out angrily and knocking his mug of cold coffee off his lab table to shatter on the floor. "I lay down and all I see is them getting swept up in the dart and I am powerless to stop it!" Frazzled and coming apart at the seams, Rodney stared at Sheppard with fearful, bloodshot eyes. "I was right there John. Right there. It should have been me, not them."
"There was nothing you could do," John answered, his words hollow even to his own ears.
"Well, there's something I can do now," Rodney shot back, slumping back in front of his laptop. "Leave me alone."
And because John knew what it was like to be the one who survived, to have that guilt, because he knew what it was like to fight like hell to get your friends, the closest thing to family you had back, he let Rodney be. He'd give Rodney one more day. If McKay hadn't collapsed by then, or found a way to rescue Elizabeth and Cadman, he'd have someone 'accidentally' stun him. At least that would buy the scientist a few hours sleep.
Almost three weeks had passed since they had been taken. The cuts on Laura's back had scabbed over and begun to heal, but Elizabeth checked them almost obsessively to make sure they stayed clean and uninfected. Still, they were both just glad that the water was fresh and not choleric. They could live on minimal food but not poisoned water.
Elizabeth had stayed true to her vow. Every day like clockwork, she and Laura hauled ten buckets each to set in front of Eloya for counting. With Laura's injuries, it wasn't a stretch to guess that Elizabeth was doing more than her share of the work, but the old woman never mentioned it and for whatever reason unknown to them, Bolin and Vagan didn't press the issue.
No one else had tried to run.
With the exception of Danika and Bolin none of the other slaves even tried to talk to them outside of 'excuse me' or 'pass the water.' Most were too traumatized to do little more than function at the basest level. Elizabeth had always prided herself on her independence after all, she'd willingly chosen to lead an expedition to another galaxy without knowing anything more than that Atlantis was structurally sound and had breathable atmosphere but she knew that if it hadn't been for Laura's presence, her companionship, she wouldn't be any better off than the rest of them.
As the days stretched on, they carefully eased away from the main group, and hedged out their own sleeping area, little more then some grass at the far edge of one of the abandoned mine shafts in an alcove. It wasn't much, but it kept out the elements. They'd even been allowed to start keeping their own fire, like the other slaves who had been there much longer. The guards, a constant presence, didn't seem worried about the possibility of escape, only the continued good working order of the mine.
They fell into a monotonous, exhausting pace. Up at dawn, breakfast, mining all day, dinner and then collapsing down next to each other on the thin mats that gave no comfort or warmth. Elizabeth would never admit it, but she never went to sleep until she felt Laura's hand on her back, the slightest touch offering a world of comfort and solace.
Every ninth day was a day of rest, something they learned quickly as it was the only thing to look forward to. It was frightening to think of how easily they were becoming accustomed to the slave camp, but a choice between death or conformity was really no choice at all.
Danika arrived just after breakfast. She'd managed to form an attachment to Laura that Elizabeth wasn't entirely certain about. Elizabeth had spent years as a negotiator honing her skill for unobtrusive observation to the point she noticed things now without even consciously looking for them. Without having to think about it, she managed to catalogue at least seven different times that Vagan had watched Danika together with Laura. Elizabeth wasn't sure what to make of it, but she knew anything connected to Vagan couldn't be good news.
"I thought you could use this." Shyly, Danika stretched out her hand to Laura, revealing small chunks of home made soap.
The Marine took it gratefully, offering up a slow smile in return. It seemed the attachment wasn't one sided. "Thank you."
"If you'll follow me, I'll show you where we wash our things."
Danika took them passed the main eating area and the punishment ring, and then passed Vagan's shack to where a small stream ran through a clearing of trees. It wasn't much, but the water was clean. Women and men were already on their knees, bent over the water as they scrubbed at their tattered clothing.
Laura shrugged out of her uniform jacket, already pocked with tears and snags, and slung it around her waist before taking off her ripped t-shirt. Elizabeth followed suit, kneeling next to Danika as they all started to rinse and wash their shirts.
"You never talk about your world," Danika said. "Why is that?"
Elizabeth and Laura shared a look. "We'd rather not be reminded of what we've lost."
Danika kept scrubbing as she said, "But you and Lena never seem to be bothered."
It took Elizabeth a moment to remember that Danika was referring to her. "We've been through a lot," Elizabeth demurred.
"So much, that being taken as a slave has no effect?" Danika asked dubiously.
"Where we are from," Laura said slowly, ringing out her shirt, "we've been dealing with the Wraith for a while." And unlike the rest, they had hope for a rescue.
"What do you mean? 'Dealing with the Wraith'? How do you deal with the gods?"
"They aren't gods," Elizabeth ground out through clenched teeth. She'd spent the better part of two weeks listening to Vagan and Bolin, and anyone else who cared to, extol the virtues of the Wraith as saviors and gods. "They're nothing more than differently evolved creatures."
Danika looked around, checking to see who might be listening. "You should not say such things. I have seen Vagan kill slaves for less. At the very least, Bolin would challenge you."
The young girl gave another look around and lowered her voice further. "They only maintain control by invoking the gods' name. Vagan has been appointed by the gods to rule here. Bolin is his lapdog. If you challenge the authority of the gods, then you are challenging Vagan. Bolin has to fight you. If he let someone challenge Vagan, then he might be the next one taken to serve the gods."
And didn't that just explain so much? Bolin kept the slaves working, the guards made sure no one escaped, and Vagan made sure none of his favorites were taken as Wraith snacks, including himself.
"Listen," Elizabeth said, her tone brokering no argument. "The Wraith are not gods. They aren't invincible. They can be killed." She looked over, meeting Laura's eyes, almost proud as she urged, "Tell her how many you've killed, Lisa."
For the first time ever, Danika saw Cadman flush. It was unnerving to see the normally stoic and controlled blonde do something so spontaneous. "I've killed them," she answered. "It's hard, but it can be done."
"I have seen them I can't imagine anyone defeating them."
"Whoa, wait a second. You've seen them? They come here?" Laura asked, her voice rising.
"Yes. Dumai, he is one of their highest servants," Danika explained, "comes every few months through the stone ring to collect the ore. The gods come with him sometimes to make sure the mine is producing enough, and more often if they wish to collect slaves instead."
There was something in the way Danika said Dumai's name that sent a chill through Elizabeth's body. "Dumai was he the one who sent your mother to the Wraith?"
Danika nodded slowly. "Vagan didn't even try to stop them, but I did," she whispered. "They took her anyway."
Pieces fell slowly into place as the entire puzzle was revealed to Elizabeth. "Vagan is your father, isn't he? That's why you and Eloya don't work in the mines."
"Vagan is nothing to me," Danika said, her tone contradicting the words. "He protects Eloya and me out of guilt, because he was not man enough to stop them."
Laura leaned closer, putting a comforting hand on the girls shoulder. "You were a child. You couldn't have stopped them either."
Liquid brown eyes blinked back at her, impossibly dark with years of longing and pain. "You look like her," Danika said softly. "My mother." She swallowed, pushing away the tears with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-" The girl stopped abruptly as Laura reached out and tugged her close for a hug.
"You don't have to apologize. Not for that. Not ever."
Danika took in a shaky breath, on the verge of tears again before finding her balance. Smiling, she looked at Elizabeth. "You are a lucky woman Lena."
Staggered by the comment, the words were out of Elizabeth's mouth before she even recognized saying them. "Yes I am."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Heightmeyer asked, clearly unconvinced. "The last few times we've tried have been "
"Disastrous?" Teyla offered.
"I was going to say unhelpful," the psychologist responded kindly. "You're putting yourself at a great deal of risk."
"I know the risk," Teyla answered. "This is worth it."
Elizabeth and Laura had been gone over a month, and although regular Atlantis missions had continued, there was an unwritten command to seek out any information or leads on where the two women might be. By silent agreement, the expedition crew refused to declare them anything other than Missing in Action. John, through sheer strength of will, and the backing of every department head, had steadfastly refused even a temporary replacement for Elizabeth. The IOA and SGC, faced with a revolt in the Pegasus Galaxy, had acquiesced on the condition that if there was any evidence the management of Atlantis was slipping, or that Weir and Cadman were indeed killed, a replacement would be sent immediately.
John had done more paperwork in the last month than in his entire life, but he refused to give them a reason to replace her. The continuing lack of information on the women's whereabouts was at least good news in the sense it kept the IOA from making a final decision.
With John and Rodney and the rest of the staff keeping the SGC and IOA happy so that they could continue the search, Teyla had set off on another mission. It had taken some convincing, but John had finally agreed, under certain conditions.
Across the room, Ronon slouched against the wall, lazily flipping his stunner around as Teyla prepared herself to make the mental connection with the Wraith. John watched from the far side of the room, worried but resigned. The last few weeks had taken a painful toll on him, hollowing him out just a little more each day the women remained missing. Rodney had practically become intolerable.
Carson prepped her IV, administering the light sedative. "We're all set love. Just tell us when you're ready."
Teyla nodded, trying to remain calm as she listened to Kate's instructions. Watching the light, reaching for the cold place deep, deep inside that she recognized as the Wraith, she relaxed into the feeling and floated into the darkness.
It felt like she was wading through mud as she carefully prodded and tested, trying to extract images, fragments without being noticed. There was no response. Pushing harder, she found images of Elizabeth and Laura and projected it out. On the edges of her periphery, she felt a response, a tingle of recognition; she just had to reach for it just a little farther
An electric jolt shot through her body, seizing up her muscles as she was snapped back into reality and the blinding white light of the infirmary.
"What happened?" she asked drowsily, her voice sluggish and detached to her ears.
"You didn't feel that? You were taken over," John said slowly.
"What did he say?"
John and Ronon shared an uncomfortable look. "He said 'now we know who to look for.'"
Teyla flopped back onto the pillows defeated. "Then I have made things worse."
"Look at it this way," Ronon said, his usual gruff tone softened in deference to her. "At least now we know they're still alive. That's more than we had to go on before."
"Yes," Teyla agreed, "But now we are not the only ones looking for them."
It's always have and never hold; you've begun to feel like home
What's mine is yours to leave or take; what's mine is yours to make your own
Oh, be my baby
Oh, I'll look after you
The sun was just beginning its descent into the horizon, shedding the last of its rays out over the small stream where a few of the slaves were doing laundry. Elizabeth gathered up the two shirts, gifts from some of the other slaves for her help in mediating a dispute between the boundaries of their living areas, and folded them into a neat pile. Another day of rest had come, leaving her the time to get some additional sleep and wash, as best she could, her and Laura's scant clothing supply.
Across the stream, Laura gathered dried grass and small twigs as kindling for their fire. Little by little over the nearly six weeks they'd been on Abyssus, they gained little bits of freedom. Although the guards still kept a watchful eye on all the slaves, Lena and Lisa, as they had come to be known, were among the few slaves that weren't considered a risk.
Elizabeth assumed it was due to Danika's fondness for Laura and whatever influence the young girl had over Vagan. Neither Elizabeth nor Laura mentioned to Danika the fact they were still awaiting a rescue, or that they had started to make plans for escape. Escaping the compound was one thing; getting off the planet after that was an entirely different matter. They were too afraid to ask the other slaves the questions that might give them more information. And so they bided their time, plotting for escape, and waiting for the Atlantis rescue that Elizabeth had begun to fear would never come.
She leaned forward, splashing water up onto her face and then down her back, cooling off in the late evening sun. Blinking against the light, she watched as Laura picked her way through the rocks and grass, looking for bigger branches to bank their fire with. The weeks on Abyssus had been painful. The scars on Laura's back still weren't healed completely, and although Danika had suggested Laura ask Eloya, the resident medicine woman and jack-of-all-trades for something to help the healing, the Marine had stubbornly refused, her pride winning out over common sense.
They had both lost weight, so much so that their clothing dwarfed them, but they had gained muscle. Painstakingly earned muscle, built by twelve hour days in the mines chipping at solid rock and hauling bucket after bucket of Naquadah ore. The fact there were no mirrors on Abyssus made little difference. Elizabeth knew that the woman she had been before was fading, leaving in her wake someone she didn't recognize.
Laura, however, didn't seem to change. Ever stalwart, always in control, she managed to plod through each day with minimal complaint. The only noticeable difference was that the normally talkative young woman had grown quiet. Whether it was out of fear, or self-protection, Elizabeth wasn't sure, but as she watched Cadman heft up her twigs and grass and head back across the stream with a wave of recognition toward her, she couldn't help but remember with longing the carefree soldier from Atlantis who was always quick with a smile and snappy remark.
"She is attractive," a voice said from behind her, bordering somewhere between mocking and challenge. "I can see why you're with her," Huff finished, her trademark smirk in place. Elizabeth ignored her as Huff rinsed out one of Bolin's shirts. "What I can't understand, is why she would choose you." Although the words stung, for reasons Elizabeth didn't want to think about, she kept her eyes focused on her laundry.
"In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if you two are even mates," Huff finished. That remark earned Huff the response she was looking for as Elizabeth turned, shooting daggers toward the headman's wife. Feigning innocence, Huff continued, "You two don't act like mates."
Elizabeth swallowed hard. It had only been a matter of time before someone pointed it out. Easily, she fell back on the lie she and Laura had worked out, hoping it would shake Huff off her current topic of conversation.
"We don't like public displays of affection," Elizabeth answered shortly. "Besides, after a day spent in the mines, who feels like doing anything but sleeping?"
Huff's smirk turned into a knowing grin. "My husband never seems to have a problem with it." Elizabeth refrained from pointing out that Bolin rarely did any actual work in the mines, preferring to yell and intimidate his way around the others. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you two were lying. I'd think you told everyone you were mates so that you got to stay together."
Elizabeth noticed that others had begun to listen in to the conversation, some out of curiosity, some for the gossip, and some because they'd been thinking all along what Huff had the attitude to actually say.
"We don't have to prove anything to you," Elizabeth answered, her eyes intent on the shirts in her hands.
There was movement behind her, and without warning Laura reached down and tugged the taller woman up to her feet. Sparing the iciest of glances to Huff, Laura mumbled, "Is this good enough for you?" Face to face, Laura leaned up, bridging the distance in height, her hand massaging the back of Elizabeth's neck as she pulled her down, her mouth closing tight and hard over the brunette's lips.
Elizabeth's soft, surprised gasp gave way as she melted into the kiss, her arms wrapping around Laura in response. Light, sound, and the memory of where they were faded into the distance as she clung to the smaller woman, reveling in how right the world felt for once.
Too soon it was over.
Laura pulled back abruptly, leaving nothing but air between them as Laura shifted her gaze from Elizabeth to Huff, glaring menacingly, her cheeks flushed. Whether it was from arousal or anger, Elizabeth couldn't tell, but the air practically crackled with electricity around the blonde. "Are you happy now?" she asked Huff. "Or do you need a full demonstration?" Huff blinked back, silent with grudging respect. "We prefer our relations to be private and that's all that needs to be said." Without another word Laura left, grabbing up her bundle of sticks again, never once looking at Elizabeth as she went.
Huff looked up and smirked sardonically at Elizabeth. "You two must be mates. You're the only one who seems to get her to react to anything at all."
Around them, some of the other slaves nodded in assent, and Elizabeth recognized they had passed yet another of the Abyssus' tests. Gaining the respect, or at least peaceful coexistence of the other slaves was the last thing on her mind, however. Grabbing up her laundry, she stalked after Laura, weaving her way past Vagan's shack and through the communal areas of the camp to their alcove on the far side of the mine.
"What the hell was that about?" Elizabeth demanded as she entered, tossing their newly washed clothes into a dusty corner of the cave.
"What are you talking about?"
"You kissed me," Elizabeth hissed. "In front of everyone."
"You heard Huff. She wanted proof. She wasn't gonna let it drop."
"I could care less about Huff and her proof - why did you walk away?"
Laura's head snapped up in confusion. "What?"
"You kissed me like..." Elizabeth trailed off, overwhelmed by the memory, unable to adequately describe it. "And then you just walked away like it was no big deal."
Cadman swallowed hard, unnerved by the look of open want on Elizabeth's face. "We're just playing a part, remember?"
"Are we?" Elizabeth asked. She reached up, trailing her hand over Laura's shoulder where the scars from the whip still stood out red. "Are we just playing a part? Or is there more to this? Because that kiss didn't feel like we were just acting. The way you look at me sometimes when we're alone I swear I can feel it "
Laura took a step back, but Elizabeth could see the indecision in her eyes. "I can't."
"You're my boss," Laura whispered, "and I'm a Marine... and I just can't."
"Look around," Elizabeth exclaimed, her temper snapping in exasperation. "We aren't on Atlantis any more; we're not on Earth. For once, please, can you stop pretending that everything is going to be okay? That there is some grand rescue plan at work. I know how these things go. I've been the one making the decision. If they could have found us, they would have. Weeks ago." She took a hesitant step closer. "I don't want to give up hope of someday going home, but I've spent too many years making others face harsh realities to ignore them myself. And the truth is we may never go home. I don't want to spend the rest of my life, however long that may be, denying myself what little happiness there is because of rules that no longer apply and probably never will again."
Tentatively, Laura reached up and brushed a strand of hair away from Elizabeth's face. There was so much she wanted to say, so much she wanted to try and explain, but the thoughts and emotions were overwhelming. From the moment she'd woken up on Abyssus all she could think about was keeping them safe, keeping them alive until help came. The thought of any other ending made her sick with fear. She'd told herself to forget about the attraction she felt for Elizabeth, to keep focused on the task at hand. She'd fought so hard to keep in control, to stay strong, turning in on her self as day by day her resistance started to falter. And now, with a few words and the brush of her hand, all of it came tumbling down inside of her.
"God, you're beautiful."
With one step, Laura slid her arms around Elizabeth, their mouths pressed together in a much softer, more tender kiss than they had shared in front of the others. It didn't stay that way long.
Elizabeth had spent too long denying her building feelings for the younger woman before they'd ever been captured. Now, those feelings had solidified into something unshakable. Unrestrained, they poured from her into every movement, every touch, and with each kiss, each caress, Laura met her step for step.
The ground was hard, their mats making little difference, but neither noticed as Elizabeth laid them down, covering Laura's body with her own as she kissed and sucked at her neck, her hands working Laura's threadbare shirt up and off her body. Elizabeth tugged off her own in response, smiling in honest delight as Laura grinned up at her.
There wasn't time or comfort enough for slow exploration or languid lovemaking, but it was enough that they were there, together. The sun set and the horn sounded for the evening meal, but they were oblivious to it all. Their clothing disappeared piece by piece as they took pleasure in each other's body, finally able to touch and taste that which they had denied themselves for so long.
Calloused hands cupped soft flesh as Laura let her mouth roam over Elizabeth's breasts, tasting, teasing with her tongue, reveling in the hisses and gasps she earned when her teeth scraped in just the right way. Elizabeth's hands stroked Laura's body, feather light at first, and then harder, her nails biting, scratching in time to Laura's ministrations as they moved higher and higher, lost to everything but the feel of their lovemaking. And as they came, a mass of twisted limbs and searing mouths, for a moment there was nothing at all in the universe but them.
From the shadows, Huff watched, breaking one of the cardinal rules on Abyssus to give others what privacy they could. The women had made trouble from day one, carefully throwing off the trepid balance between Vagan and Bolin and the slaves. A balance that kept her comfortable and relatively free. She hadn't been able to pick up most of their conversation, but there were two words that stuck out loud and clear: Atlantis and Earth. One, she'd heard of only in legend, the other sounded just as mythical. With a calculating smile, she turned from her position concealed among the trees and headed not to the cave she shared with Bolin, but to Vagan's shack.
Slaves milled around the communal area freely as they ate their evening meal the next night. Elizabeth and Laura sat together on one of the log benches, eating in companionable silence, looking up every few minutes to smile at each other as they counted the minutes until they could be alone again. As Bolin's voice cut through the air, they both realized they should have been expecting the interruption. It was too much to ask to find a moment's peace on Abyssus.
"Is this your doing?" Bolin demanded as he dragged Danika behind him by the arm. The girl was barely able to keep up, tripping every few feet as Bolin pulled her up the path to where Cadman and Elizabeth were eating with the others. Elizabeth felt Cadman tense, saw the muscle in her jaw twitch, but the other woman remained seated. "Is this your doing?" Bolin demanded again. "Are you the one who told her the Wraith are not gods?"
A quick rush of chatter went through those assembled. The word blaspheme was passed around liberally. Laura knew, however, that Bolin's anger came not from having the sanctity of his 'gods' challenged, but the sanctity of his position as head slave. In a culture based on fear and the all-powerful Wraith, if Bolin couldn't keep the slaves in line then Vagan would find someone else who could. "You know that I am," Cadman answered slowly, "so why are you making such a show of asking me?"
Bolin yanked Danika harder, ignoring the girl's protests, and threw her onto the ground at their feet. "How dare you-" Elizabeth was on her feet in an instant, moving to shield Danika, her eyes burning.
"How dare you question me!" Bolin swung out, catching Elizabeth across the face with the back of his hand. As he came down a second time, his arm was stopped short by Cadman's iron grip.
"I know you didn't just touch my mate," Cadman hissed. Bolin was a little taller than her and powerfully built compared to her lithe frame. Still, fueled by anger, she held her own against him. "And I don't like men who pick on little girls."
"You wish to challenge me?" he sneered, disbelieving, tugging his hand away.
"It's been coming for a while, hasn't it?" Laura smirked. "Now's as good a time as any."
It took only a moment for him to decide. "We go to the ring." Glaring, Bolin turned and stalked off toward the punishment ring.
When Cadman started to follow, Elizabeth grabbed her, spinning her around. "Are you insane? He's going to kill you."
"I have to fight him."
"No, you don't. You're going to get yourself killed."
"Maybe you don't see the way things work around here, but he just put his hand on you. If I let him get away with it, he'll do it again, and I doubt he'll stop with just a slap." Unconsciously, Laura reached up, trailing her fingers over Elizabeth's cheek where a bruise was already beginning to form.
Elizabeth leaned into the gesture, her eyes clouded. "He'll kill you," she repeated.
"I've seen scarier clowns," Laura smirked, all faux bravado, and for a moment Elizabeth could see the woman she was before this nightmare had begun. Without another word, Cadman headed down to the area Bolin had indicated. A sizable crowd had begun to form, including some guards, who seemed as excited to watch the fight as the rest of the slaves.
Danika raced passed Elizabeth to yank at Cadman's arm. "Please, don't. The last man to challenge Bolin died painfully. He will kill you."
Laura stopped and looked down at the girl. It wasn't too terribly long ago that she'd been the same age. She still remembered how the world had held a fascination, a promise of so much more than she had seen. All Danika had ever known was slavery. "He may kill me," Laura answered honestly, "but I've still got to fight him."
"Because some one has to."
Stepping into the ring, she stripped off her jacket and tossed it to Elizabeth. Rolling her neck, she watched as Bolin started to circle her. "I will give you no quarter woman."
"Same to you," Laura sneered.
He lunged for her, his meaty arm swinging out as if he was trying to take her head off in one fell swoop. Laura dodged under his swing and kicked out, connecting solidly with his gut before moving away. Her steel-toed, military issue boots were her greatest weapon, and she knew she had to use them wisely. Bolin was slow, but built like a fucking mountain, and it was gonna take a while to work him down. Reminding herself to be patient, Laura kept her eyes on him, watching his shoulders the way her brothers had taught her. When he faked to the left, she swung out, catching him with a right hook across the jaw. Bolin reeled, taken by surprise, but it was Laura who cursed, loudly. It felt like her hand had hit solid rock. Bolin was used to winning by sheer strength, not skill. He didn't know how to fight, only how to pummel.
"Use your speed," she muttered, remembering one of her first lessons from boot camp. He was slow, she was fast. She could get in more hits, she just had to stay out of his reach. For the first time in months she felt life, purpose, course through her. Bolin swung out, just missing her, and she kicked out again, catching his side with the toe of her boot. She was pretty sure she heard a rib or two crack just before a roar went up from the crowd. Apparently, she was gaining fans.
Wheezing, Bolin let out a growl of rage and charged at her. Laura tried to side step, but there wasn't enough room with the crowd at her back. The wind gushed out of her as Bolin tackled her to the ground. Her head bounced against the ground and the world started to swim. It doubled as Bolin reared back and came down hard, landing several punches before Laura could raise her hands up to shield her face. Bolin continued to rain down blow after blow. Desperately, Laura wrangled her feet in between them, kicking at Bolin's legs, her boots making contact with his shins, and then groin. He backed off, howling, stumbling off her enough to let Laura swing out. Thrusting up, she connected solidly with his nose, shattering the bone with the heel of her palm.
Blood gushed down his face. Half-blind from the impact, Bolin fell back, clutching at his face. Wavering, Cadman managed to get to her feet, dragging her forearm across her face to wipe away her own blood. Her head pounded. Blood continued to flow from the abrasions marring her face. Looking over, she saw Elizabeth standing in the front of the crowd, her eyes focused only on Laura, and felt the rage build inside her again. Rage at being taken by the Wraith, at being forced into slavery and made to live in the hellhole called Abyssus. Bolin came at her again, but she kicked out before he could get to her, catching him with a roundhouse under the chin. Unrestrained, she jumped on him, her fists pummeling his face, heedless of the few protective hits he was able to get in.
A voice she didn't recognize as her own was shouting at him. "Don't. Ever. Touch. Her. Again."
From the crowd, someone called out, in a tone she hadn't heard in too, too long. "Lieutenant. Stop."
Laura reeled back, her military training too ingrained not to immediately follow an order. Looking down, she could barely see through the haze of red coloring her vision. Bolin was a mess, his face bruised and broken. Her hands trembled and it occurred to her she'd probably broken a few bones in the battle. Shaking, she looked over at Elizabeth. The movement was so slight, no one else would have noticed it, but Laura saw the subtle shake of her leader's head. The silent command to end the fight she had so clearly won.
Backing off, Laura hauled herself up, towering over the man now groaning painfully on the ground. "This is over between us. You stay away from me. You stay away from my mate and my friends, or I swear to God, I will kill you."
There was silence as Huff ran from the crowd to kneel beside him, her eyes deadly as she stared at Laura and then Elizabeth. Laura stumbled away from the pair, her eyes already on Elizabeth, relief flooding through her. She heard movement just as Danika called out in fear, "Behind you!"
Turning, she didn't have enough time to block Huff's swing. Where the woman had gotten a shank, Laura would never know, but the ragged edged piece of metal cut into her stomach as she tried to jump away from it. Screaming, Huff attacked again, slicing at Laura's upraised arms, catching her across the left forearm. Laura grabbed at the wound as blood began to flow freely down her arm and hand. Huff moved to strike again, still advancing, until, seemingly out of nowhere, another body flew into Laura's wavering vision, knocking the woman to the side.
Elizabeth knocked Huff down, sending the woman sprawling. The shank dropped to ground as Huff rolled, and both women scrambled to get to it, rolling in the dirt over and over, raising a cloud of dust until they were all but obscured. Finally, there was a scream, and all movement stopped. Laura crawled over to the bodies, desperation fueled by the vision of Huff's form sprawled on top of Elizabeth's. "No, no, no-" Laura shoved at Huff's body, gasping as the woman's lifeless form rolled off of Elizabeth. Weir's teary gaze met Laura's. Silently, Elizabeth held up the blood covered shank, trembling as she handed it to Laura.
"No! Huff!" Bolin lurched toward them, his intent clear as he stared at the dead body of his wife. With the last bit of strength Laura possessed, she moved on her knees between Bolin and Elizabeth, and swung out, stopping his forward movement cold. His face contorted in surprise and agony, Bolin dropped to his knees in front of Cadman. Grasping his shoulder, she pulled the shank out, knowing the wound was mortal but a painfully slow way to die, and plunged it back in deeper. He gasped one last breath as Laura held him up before his eyes slid shut and he dropped to the ground dead.
For a good ten seconds, no one breathed. Silently, Elizabeth crawled over to Laura, pulling the shank from the blonde's loose grip. Laura met her eyes and tried to smile. "Told you he wouldn't kill me." It was the last words she managed to get out before the world went dark and she collapsed into Elizabeth's arms.
"Some one, help! Please?" Danika rushed forward, already grabbing at Laura's arm and trying to stop the blood flowing freely from it.
When the others hesitated, the girl turned on them, her glare ferocious. "What was Bolin to you except a bully? Little better than the guards who hold us! This woman has fought him according to our laws and she has won, despite his mate's dishonor and tricks. Come! Help her now."
As if snapping out of a dream, several people moved to help them, Joyel and Badon, two of the bigger men, picking Laura up and carrying her back to the alcove. They laid her as gently as possible on the thin sleeping mat Elizabeth and Laura shared, before moving away to let Elizabeth and Danika try to help. From behind them, a voice like dry sandpaper cut through the crowd. Elizabeth looked up to find Eloya kneeling on the other side of Laura. Efficiently, the woman looked Laura over, her knobby fingers pressing and pushing and checking for injuries.
"The face will heal. Her hands are broken but I can straighten and set the bones. We must stop the bleeding."
"The cuts are too deep," Danika pointed out, panicked.
"We must brand them."
"Excuse me?" Elizabeth cut in, panic tingeing her voice. "What do you mean?"
"You can ask questions or you can watch her die. Your choice," Eloya answered, not even bothering to look up as she spread out small pouches.
Nodding, Elizabeth backed off as Eloya pulled Laura's shirt away from her abdomen. she cleaned the wound off as best as she could, doing the same to the cut on Laura's arm, before taking out a small packet of dark powder and sprinkling it over the wounds.
"Oh my god... is that... oh my god, at least give her something for the pain," Elizabeth pleaded as she realized just what Eloya was about to do. She'd heard of cauterizing wounds with gunpowder before, but even on Atlantis, under the harshest conditions, she'd never heard of something so barbaric being done.
"What would you have me give her?" Eloya asked rhetorically. "It's best to do it now, while she's unconscious." Elizabeth reached out, gently cradling Laura's hand as the old woman took the small piece of lit kindling offered. Elizabeth couldn't watch as Eloya put the fire to the powder, but she knew Laura's scream of pain would haunt her for the rest of her life. The smell of burnt flesh filled her nose, making her want to retch, but when she opened her eyes, the wounds were sealed over and the bleeding had all but stopped.
"Bring me fresh bandages and boiling water," Eloya commanded. Looking at Elizabeth once more, she gave a smile. "Your partner is strong. It will be a long night, but she will live if she sees the dawn."
Elizabeth prayed the old woman was right.
Everything hurt. Even her hair. Breathing hurt, thinking hurt, and even the slightest attempt at movement made her gasp in pain, which made everything hurt all that much more.
"Shh, don't move," Elizabeth whispered, placing a cool cloth against Laura's forehead.
"Feel like... I've been hit... by a tank..." Laura wheezed, eyes still shut.
"Close enough. You went toe to toe with Bolin." Laura vaguely remembered the fight. Mostly, she could only think about the pain. "You won," Elizabeth said softly. Laura didn't remember winning... all she could remember was him looming over her, and then Huff cutting her and... like a flash it came back. Huff and the shank, Elizabeth wrestling the weapon away, Huff's dead body, Bolin's last effort.
"You saved me," Laura mumbled, opening her eyes just enough to take in Elizabeth's weary face.
"You saved me," Elizabeth echoed. "I know you're in pain, but Eloya says you're going to live."
"The old woman is finally talking to us now?"
"She wasn't a fan of Bolin and Huff's either. In fact, most of the camp pretty much hated them, but no one had the guts to challenge him. You, Lieutenant, are officially Dorothy in this Oz."
"Would have been easier to drop a house on him."
For the first time in longer than she could remember, Elizabeth laughed. Softly at first, and then louder, until the tears came. Laura reached for her with bandaged hands. "It's okay. We're safe now."
"We're slaves on a Wraith controlled planet," Elizabeth ground out. "You think we're safe?"
"Safe as we can be until Sheppard and McKay figure out where we are and get their asses here to rescue us."
"After all this time, how can you still have so much faith?"
"In a place like this, sometimes all you have to hold onto is faith."
Elizabeth leaned down, brushing Laura's hair away from her face before pressing a feather soft kiss to her lips. "You have more than faith to hold onto," Elizabeth murmured, kissing her again. "You have me."
Elizabeth rose with the dawn, freshening up as best she could with the cold basin of water they kept in the alcove. Checking on Laura, she was relieved to find the blonde resting peacefully, her face no longer contorted in pain. It had been three long days since the fight. Elizabeth hadn't left her side for even a moment. She'd assumed Vagan would come after them the first day, but Eloya, by way of Danika, had assured her that the situation had been explained to the slave master. When Elizabeth had inquired about the twenty buckets of Naquadah ore that was owed each day, Danika had only smiled and told her it had been taken care of. Laura's defeat of Bolin had resounded far more deeply than even Elizabeth could have imagined.
Behind her, Laura stirred, moaning softly as she tried to turn into a more comfortable position. Elizabeth bent down, helping her adjust.
"Good morning," she smiled, helping ease the younger woman into a propped position. "How does breakfast in bed sound? I can offer you rice or rice."
Laura smile, then winced as her split lip protested the action. "Rice sounds good."
Elizabeth brushed the hair away from Laura's eyes, smiling in open wonder at the woman before her. The words, those three little words, were on the tip of her tongue, but something prevented her from expressing them. Laura watched the shift of Elizabeth's features, the change in her eyes, and knew that the other woman had shifted into analytical mode, where life and everything in it became a problem to resolve, an issue to explore. Laura wasn't sure what had prompted the sudden change, but she knew to leave well enough alone. Elizabeth didn't talk about something unless she wanted to talk about it.
"I'll be right back," Elizabeth promised, pressing a gentle kiss to Laura's forehead before heading out into the main camp area. Several people greeted her with nods and an occasional smile as she passed through, each a little bit more friendly than the last, but as she took up her regular space in the breakfast line, the camp ground to a halt.
From the serving area, Eloya called her name. Elizabeth quickly left her place and headed over. "Is something wrong?"
"You're in the wrong spot," Eloya answered slowly, as if explaining the situation to a child. "The rest won't eat until you're served."
"But I'm in my usual spot."
Eloya let out a condescending sigh. Elizabeth tried not to be offended. "Your mate killed Bolin. By rights she is head slave, which means you both get served first."
Elizabeth blinked in confusion. The last few days Danika had brought them their meals and fresh water so that Laura wasn't left alone. The implications of Laura killing Bolin, at least those further than the understanding they would get to live another day, had yet to set in. This was a Darwinian society the strong survived, and ruled, by sheer will and strength. Laura, and by extension Elizabeth, had knocked off the head of the society. It was only natural that the rest now looked to them for leadership. Natural and completely unsettling.
Uncomfortably, she moved to the head of the line, and accepted the breakfast rice and the chunks of bread that were at least twice the size of the ones she'd ever received before. She opened her mouth to argue, but the look Eloya gave her said there would be no discussion. With a mumbled 'thanks,' Elizabeth headed back toward the alcove. She made it halfway there before an all too familiar voice called her to a stop. Turning, she tried to keep a neutral look on her face as she eyed Vagan.
As he approached, she watched the shift of material and knew that today, like always, he carried Laura's .9mm concealed under his shirt. Elizabeth met his eyes coolly, neither challenging nor submitting to his stare. He gave her an appraising look, something unfamiliar in his gaze, quickly revealed and just as quickly covered up. "Lisa killed Bolin." Elizabeth waited, knowing there was more than the obvious assertion. "That makes her head slave. For the time being."
"So I've learned."
"You might want to pass on to her that I expect her to keep tight reign on this rabble. Any trouble and I'll hold you both responsible." His voice lowered as he leaned toward her, the stench of his breath heavy on her skin. "And next time, it won't just be the whip I use to keep order. Understand?"
"Completely," Elizabeth answered dryly.
Vagan gave her his usual smirk and walked away. She swallowed hard, squelched the urge to fling her bowls of rice at his head, and found the inner reserve of control that kept her from going crazy each day. Shoulders set, she headed off once more for the alcove, wondering just how long they would last before they earned Vagan's ire and he attempted to make good on the threat.
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