"Dead or Alive"

by Grey Lupous

Part Nine
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Awareness danced at the edge of John's senses, sounds, smells, and very blurry vision intermixing with the burning pain on his chest and arm. He focused on the pain, knowing it would bring him around faster than concentrating on anything else. As the world came rushing back to him, he shoved the pain to another part of his mind so he could assess the situation more clearly.

The voices had hushed, but he could hear heavy steps making their way away from him. Sheppard forced his eyes to focus, watching from the ground as Vargas led McKay back into the jungle. He could see the large man's shoulders tensed with barely controlled rage, and caught the quick stricken look McKay tossed over his shoulder.

Vargas roughly grabbed the scientist and shook him for the effort, propelling them further. Sheppard watched, anger and fury rising in his gut as Vargas's rough treatment made Rodney's limp more prominent. He pushed away the dizziness and disorientation as he pushed himself up. He'd promised McKay he'd handle the bounty hunter, and there was no way he was going to squelch on his word.

He lurched to his feet, feeling his equilibrium sway, but focused all of his attention on moving forward. After he took care of Vargas he'd have time for something as trivial as gaping chest wounds. Staggering around the tree, he searched for where the damn monster cat thing had knocked his gun. With a grin he leant down to pick it up, nearly toppling over. Closing his eyes he forced himself to stay upright, and groped blindly with a hand until he managed to grab a hold of the strap.

With a grunt he righted himself, waiting for the dizziness to pass. When it did he finally opened his eyes and inspected the weapon. It looked fine on a cursory glance, but it had taken the brunt of the impact with the cat. Turning it over again he frowned as he spotted the jammed cartridge. He could fix it given time, but that wasn't something he had.

He let the gun drop to the ground, almost cursing giving McKay his 9mm earlier. Vargas certainly wouldn't let him keep it, although why the scientist didn't use it on the howler earlier was beyond him. That was something he'd have to work on later, but right now...

He stumbled back around the tree in the direction Vargas had taken McKay. He didn't need to pull out the  life signs detector in order to follow them as Vargas was leaving a clear trail on the forest floor. John continued to surge forward, not really having a plan of action, instead letting his determination lead him. This was going to end now.

*          *          *          *          *

Ford and Teyla had made far better time getting back to the Stargate than it had taken for them to reach the cave, but even though night had fallen, a few of the search parties still remained. Whatever the Genii had offered the Frescans, it must have been very valuable, as it appeared they were as equally determined to protect the gate from intruders as Ford and Teyla were to get off the planet.

Through the trees she could see the clearing for the Stargate, as well as the group of Frescans guarding the gate. There were only four guards now, as opposed to the eight there had been earlier, but they were still as heavily armed. Ford had been right in guessing that the night watch would be less guarded.

Before they had left the relative protection of the cave he had double-checked their supplies. They had prepared for a diplomatic mission, so they didn't have much in the way of munitions, but always the ever prepared marine, Ford had stashed away a few extra supplies on him, "just in case".

She watched as Ford, obviously in his element, melted into the shadows in front of her. He was almost imperceptible in the dark as he silently approached one of the guards patrolling the perimeter. It was hard to make out in the darkness, but she caught his signal and silently moved into her position to flank the guard on the other side.

Ford's guard didn't even see him until he was right behind him, and before the guard had time to let out a shout or warning to the others, Ford had clubbed him over the head with his P-90. Unfortunately for Ford, the other guard had caught the movement out of the corner of his eye.

Acting quickly, Teyla grabbed a fallen branch and swung it like a pitch hitter, smacking the guard on the back. He landed on the ground with a thump, but she had already discarded the branch and was on top of the guard, holding a hand over his mouth.

"I do not wish to harm you, but if you make another sound I will have to do something drastic," she whispered harshly in his ear. "Are you going to be silent?"

He nodded under her and she started to let him go. With one arm he lashed out, trying to strike at her temple. In one swift move she delivered a strong blow to the back of his head, knocking him unconscious. She looked up to see Ford dragging his guard back into the foliage, and followed his lead. She quickly covered the unconscious guard with some brush, and crept back towards the gate.

The light of the moon shone down in the clearing, illuminating the two other guards. The shadows of the trees did not reach far enough to conceal their movements, so they had to go with their backup plan. Reaching into her vest pocket, she pulled out the small canister Ford had given her.

She stopped a few yards from the guards and waited. This was the lieutenant's plan, so she was following his lead. A soft clink of him pulling out the pin was crystal clear in the silent night, and both guards stood up straight, pointing their weapons in Ford's direction. Without waiting she yanked the pin out of her device and tossed it into the clearing, seeing Ford's join it a second later. Thick black smoke billowed up from the canisters.

The guards started hacking as soon as the smoke reached their lungs, and Teyla took a deep breath and clenched her eyes shut before diving in. Flesh connected with flesh and she acted on pure instincts as she struggled with her attacker.

When the smoke cleared both guards were on the ground, out cold. With a cough, Ford waved a billow of smoke away with his cap. "Let's dial a friendly address and get the hell out of here. We should have enough time when we get there to try as many as we want."

Teyla rubbed at her eyes as she made her way to the DHD to dial one of her trusted trading partners, one she knew would not mind them stopping in for a quick visit.

"Hey, Teyla."

She looked up mid-dial. Ford flashed a grin and gave her a thumbs up. "You kicked ass."

She dipped her head and smiled in return, before finishing dialing the address.

*          *          *          *          *

Back in the jungle of horrors, McKay's mind was whirling, trying to come up with a solution to escape from this demented creep—again—and to go make sure that Major Sheppard was okay. As much as he didn't want to admit it last night, he knew Sheppard better than he knew almost anyone else. John would have fought to his very last.

He'd remembered Sheppard's nine millimeter too late, and it had been viciously flung into the forest by Vargas when Rodney had reached for it. He kept trying to come up with viable plans,  but as soon as his mind latched onto a coherent thought, he either caught a whiff of the howler's blood soaking his jacket and the noxious scent would send his head spinning, or Vargas would tighten his already iron-clad grip on his shoulder and draw himself uncomfortably close to McKay. How the hell was he supposed to rescue the Major if he couldn't stop losing his concentration?

It also didn't help that Vargas's ruthless pace was making his ankle twinge painfully with each step. He stepped wrong, feeling his ankle fold under him. He bit back on his grunt of pain, and Vargas grabbed a fistful of his jacket, keeping McKay from sinking to the ground.

"You are lucky I'm a very forgiving man, Mersir McKay," Vargas whispered in his ear. "A less patient man would've slit your throat already."

McKay clenched his eyes, actually trying to focus on the pain instead of Vargas's words.

"A less patient man with no self-control might have taken his frustrations out on you in a way that would not damage you for the Genii's purposes."

A cold shiver ran down McKay's spine, and he tried to keep his breathing under control. Vargas was bluffing, trying to scare him into obedience. Rodney tried to find that happy place where he could think with a calm rational head. It was up to him now; it was his turn to save him and Sheppard.

"You wouldn't dare," McKay ground out.

"Wouldn't I?" He could feel Vargas smirk, he was so close.

He prayed that the other man didn't hear his heart beating wildly in his chest. "Let me make a correction on that. You won't lay a hand on me."

"Oh? Who's going to stop me little man?" Vargas yanked them to a halt. "You?"

"No," a voice growled from behind them. Both Rodney and bounty hunter looked over their shoulders to see a bloody, panting Sheppard standing there, looking as if he could tear Vargas apart with his bare hands. "But I will."

"Sheppard," Vargas sneered. "Looks like the howler didn't finish you off."

"It'll take more than a few cat scratches to keep me down," he cocked his head to the side. "Now, if you'll be so kind," Sheppard narrowed his gaze, "let McKay go."

"And if I don't?" Vargas spun around, twisting McKay so that he put extra pressure on the scientist's injured ankle. "What will you do?"

A cold mask slid over Sheppard's face, and he straightened up from his slightly hunched position as McKay did his best to keep from crying out. The rage John'd been trying to squelch turned into hard fury. "Let's just say that you'd be better off at the mercy of one of those howlers."

"I told you that if you tried to stop me I would collect both bounties."

Sheppard cracked a smile, giving Vargas the coldest and most sinister look that McKay had ever seen. Suddenly, he had no doubt that Sheppard would make good on his promise.

"I'm standing right here, Vargas. Or are you such a coward that you can't face off with me without using a hostage as leverage?"

Vargas's eyebrow twitched in anger and he ferociously tossed McKay aside as he stalked towards Sheppard. "I will deliver your broken and lifeless body to Cowen, and both of us will gain the satisfaction of having you dead for good."

"Promises, promises," John arched an eyebrow. "You're all talk."

McKay rolled himself over from where he had landed, watching as Vargas drew his knife out with one swift move as he charged towards Sheppard. In one move, John sidestepped Vargas and grabbed a hold of his knife-arm. Just as swiftly, he swung under the bounty hunter's arm so he was to his back, using one leg to knock out Vargas's knee. Then with both hands he twisted Vargas's wrist until he let go of the knife. The weapon dropped to the ground the same time as Vargas hit the dirt.

As soon as the large man hit the ground he swung his feet around, sweeping Sheppard off his feet. Forgetting the knife, he rocketed forward, one beefy hand wrapping itself around Sheppard's throat, the other gripping Sheppard's injured arm.

Vargas increased the pressure on Sheppard's throat, leaning back far enough to get a better vantage point of his opponent's face, watching with satisfaction as Sheppard's face started to turn colors. His voice was low, only loud enough for Sheppard to hear, but it was laced with menace. "I'll snap your spine, so you are still alive but only able to watch as I break the Mersir's spirit in front of you. What do you think of that?"

McKay saw his friend's face tighten in pain and anger, and started to pull himself up, but before he could even gather himself together, John had lashed out with a leg, connecting solidly with the bounty hunter's head. McKay could've sworn he heard Sheppard say something like, "you're full of shit", but he couldn't be sure.

Sheppard slithered away from Vargas, and was on his feet again in a moment. Even from the distance, Rodney could see the utter concentration on Sheppard's face, as well as the undeniable anger simmering under the surface. Vargas unfolded himself, rising from the ground as if he were a morning shadow appearing with the morning sun.

Sheppard panted heavily, the toll of his wounds from the previous fight and the exertion from his trek through the jungle starting to weigh down on him. Opposite to him, Vargas swiped a hand across his face, smearing the blood from his split lip.

The bounty hunter ran his tongue across the wound. "Very good, Major, but it's going to take more than a few fancy moves to take me down."

"Talker, ain't ya?" Sheppard took a step back, watching as Vargas matched him step for step. They began to circle each other, moving around the dense foliage, only keeping each other in their sights.

McKay forced himself to his feet, determined to see this through. A soft cry left his lips as he put too much weight on his aggravated ankle, but forced himself to remain standing. He limped forward, grabbing onto a tree for support, watching as Sheppard and Vargas latched onto each other like two fighting dogs, exchanging blows quicker than he and Sheppard traded barbs.

His eyes fell to the ground as something shiny caught his attention, and he saw Vargas's bloodstained knife glinting from the forest floor.

*          *          *          *          *

The tree shook with tremendous force as Vargas slammed Sheppard against the trunk. John saw black dots dance across his vision, and the only thing keeping him from blacking out was pure determination—the desire to wipe that smirk off of Vargas's face. He savagely twisted and turned, trying to free himself from the bounty hunter's grip. Either he was too weak at this point, or Vargas was far too strong for him, because he couldn't shake him off. In a last ditch effort, he used a move from the Larry, Moe, and Curly book of fighting, jabbing his fingers into Vargas's eyes.

The monster of a man bellowed and grabbed a hold of Sheppard's hair and yanked his head to the side while the other hand descended to Sheppard's calf. For one awful moment, he was afraid that he was going to take McKay's punishment for him. The moment passed and Vargas's hand returned with the knife Sheppard kept strapped there during missions. He could've kicked himself for forgetting about it. He'd been too worried about McKay to even remember it.

With a hand still full of Sheppard's hair, Vargas yanked again so that Sheppard's chin was in the air, and his neck was fully exposed. With crushing force, he pinned Sheppard against the tree, holding the knife firmly against the Major's neck. With shallow breaths, John met Vargas's maniacal gaze with steely eyes.

"As you can see, Major, I have won," Vargas's lips drew back into a smile that could only belong on  someone out of their mind. "I will watch as you bleed in front of me."

"If you do," McKay called out boldly, "you'll never collect your bounty!"

"Oh, what do you want?" Vargas rolled his eyes as he turned to look at McKay.

The scientist stood several yards away, but was holding Vargas's large knife to his own neck.

"McKay! What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Sheppard hoarsely called.

"Saving your ass!" McKay called back, his stance not wavering. "Now Vargas, you let him go, or I'll save you the trouble of having to drag me back to the Genii."

Vargas chuckled softly. "That is very brave of you, Mersir, but we're both aware that you don't have the courage to carry through such an act."

McKay's face hardened with determination.

"Shit," Sheppard muttered, having seen that look only once, right as McKay was descending into the black entity filling the gateroom. "Rodney, don't!"

"He is too much of a weakling," Vargas shook his head softly. "Your ruse will not work, Major."

McKay pressed the knife further into his neck, sucking in a breath as the sharp metal bit into his skin. A thin trickle of blood ran down his neck, the deep red striking a dark contrast against Rodney's pale skin.

"You wouldn't," Vargas challenged.

Rodney met his gaze evenly, feeling in control for the first time since the cave back on Fresca. "You won't be able to stop me. If you let go of Major Sheppard to try, I guarantee you won't make it five steps before he takes you down. If you want to try me, that's fine."

Vargas's eyes widened as he realized McKay wasn't bluffing.

"So I guess you have to decide what you want more: your revenge, or your money."

The bounty hunter took in several deep breaths, trying to keep control of his temper. He glared at McKay, all the while keeping a firm grip on Sheppard. He could feel the Major fighting him, and wasn't about to let up.

"Fine, Mersir, you win. Drop the knife."

"You first."

Reluctantly Vargas let the knife drop to the ground, but immediately shifted so that his elbow was pressed against Sheppard's windpipe. "Now drop the knife."

"Drop Sheppard."

Vargas smiled coldly. "Gladly."

Using all of his strength, Vargas slammed Sheppard's head into the tree, and for the second time that morning, John lost consciousness.

"Hey!"

Vargas stepped away from Sheppard, indicating the limp body. "He is merely unconscious. You have your wish; now please drop the knife. I cannot deliver damaged merchandise to Cowen."

"I don't trust you."

"Pity."

"Come over here, I'll drop it as soon as I'm sure you're not going to go back on your word."

"You drive a hard bargain, Mersir," Vargas slowly approached McKay, holding his hands up in submission. "I did not think you had such loyalty in you."

"Neither did I. Go figure."

Vargas reached him, and grabbed the knife, twisting it out of McKay's grip. Rodney grimaced, but had grown used to biting back on his pain this morning. Vargas quickly stowed the knife, and lifted McKay's chin to inspect the cut.

"You will live."

"You can tell I'm ecstatic," McKay grumbled. "Not that I'm particularly ready to be a Genii slave, but why don't we step this up a little?"

"As you wish," Vargas gripped the back of McKay's neck. "But understand me, Mersir, I have no patience for you anymore."

"Neither do I," McKay muttered, watching Sheppard out of the corner of his eye as Vargas shoved him down the path. He closed his eyes when he could no longer see his friend, trying not to think too hard on what was about to happen to him.

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