Pairing: Pre-slash Evan Lorne/Ladon Radim
Disclaimer: This is a transformative work. I did not create Stargate Atlantis or its characters.
Dear smaragdbird: This isn't a pairing I've ever considered, but I really enjoyed writing this story. I hope you enjoy it, and that you have a happy holiday season.
Set during the episode Coup d'Etat.
Warning: Discussion of drawing blood without permission, as happened in the episode.
Summary: As a leader, Ladon knows that he has to make tough decisions, and live with what he's done. But maybe, just maybe, he doesn't have to sacrifice as many lives as he'd originally planned.
"So these are the men who are supposed to be the solution to our little...deficiency," Cowen says, voice raised to project to an auditorium of hundreds, rather than the half dozen scattered around the room. "Can't say they look like much."
The three Atlanteans clamber to their feet. Their dark, homespun clothing, messy hair, and smudged faces make them look like one of the bandit gangs that prey on the Genii outposts from time to time, but the steps they take forward are as menacing as those of newborn kittens. Lorne, the handsome one who's inherited Sheppard's rank, seems to have shaken off the effects of the sleeping gas the best, but even still he rests his weight against the bars of the cage as he glares at Cowan.
"I'm hurt," Lorne says, smile as wry as his tone, and Ladon can't help but wonder if that sarcastic wit is taught in their tactical training, or if Sheppard merely recruits after his own taste. "You haven't exactly caught me at my best."
Cowen snorts. "I'd say that's exactly what we did, Major."
"Oh, no. That was second-best at most." The amusement drops out of Lorne's face. His eyes are cold, the stare of a man who has killed and will kill again, but Cowan remains as bored-looking as he always does these days. "It's Cowan, right?"
"Commander Cowan, leader of the Genii," he says, settling his clasped hands around his girth. "I take it you've heard of me."
"I've heard enough to know that this is a gross breach of the truce we had with the Genii," Lorned says. "But if you let us go, quickly and unharmed, Dr. Weir could be convinced that this was all a big mistake."
Cowan snorts again, then turns his back to the cage. Ladon's known him long enough to know Cowan's trying to show Lorne how little his words mean, how much power Cowan has, but if the bars were but a fraction wider, Lorne could simply snake his arms through them and take Cowan by the throat, hold him hostage or kill him outright.
It's exactly the kind of careless, egotistical mistake that gives Ladon hope that his own desperate plan will succeed.
"Do what you need to do," Cowan orders Ladon, mouth tightening. "The sooner we're done with this whole mess, the better."
"Of course," Ladon murmurs. He holds in place, watching until Cowan has left the field entirely, and then he turns back to the prisoners.
The Genii, primarily, are foot soldiers, trained to use their weapons in close quarters, even to fight hand to hand. Kolya had been experimenting with training a squad of snipers, though Ladon rarely interacted with them. Every one of them had a way of looking at you that said they were busy calculating the wind, and whether you'd take a step to the left or the right in the next second.
Lorne is staring at him that same way.
"You know, there are a handful of phrases that are never good," Lorne says, his tone far more mild than the look in his eyes.. "I used to think 'we need to talk' was the worst, but 'do what you need to do' edged it out a good ten years back."
"You need not worry." It's the truth, for the moment at least. Ladon looks away from Lorne's intense eyes, studying instead the dark circles under every eye in the group, the wan skin that would be common on the Genii homeworld these days, but is a giveaway for the hale Atlanteans. "When is the last time you ate? Drank?"
Lorne blinks, as if surprised by the question. "I can't give you an exact number of hours, considering the fact that your people knocked us out, then dragged us to whatever world this is, and confiscated all our stuff."
"I thought as much." Ladon turns, taking a quick measure of the men in the room. His loyal group outnumber Cowan's, but Cowan's outrank them. Ladon gestures to Soren, as protocol demands. "See that these men are brought food and water. Quickly."
Soren frowns at him. "Cowen didn't say--"
"Cowen said to do what I needed to do," Ladon snaps. "And I need these men to be well-provisioned in order to gather the samples I need. Get them meat, at the very least, and as much water as they can drink. Now. I have little time to waste."
Soren's mouth works like he's trying to choke down soured goat's milk, but he nods and leaves to do Ladon's bidding, gathering up his fellow loyalist lieutenant with a sharp jerk of his hand. Ladon allows himself a quiet sigh, a moment's loosening of the muscles that have been riding tight around his shoulders for days, and then he moves on as well, needing to see to the next phase of his plan.
A glance back at the cage assures him that Lorne is still watching him, but this time, there is more than death in those eyes.
Ladon's just not sure what it is.
The cart that he's scavenged from their current encampment is a shoddy thing, the wheels ragged and uneven, squawking loudly as he makes his way across the building. But it's sturdy enough, and fairly clean, good enough to suit his purpose. The screeches it produces have the added benefit of making one side of Major Lorne's lovely face draw up like a sandcat spying a bath.
"My apologies, Major," Ladon calls as he begins setting up a workspace in the middle of the room. "I know our facilities are a far cry from those you're accustomed to on Atlantis."
"Were accustomed to," Lorne calls back, keeping to the lie the Atlanteans have so inexpertly spread across the galaxy. Ladon doesn't bother to inform him that Weir's already admitted the truth; no good soldier would so easily taken in by such assurances from the enemy. "And the facilities would be improved about two thousand percent if you'd just open this door."
"I admire your sense of humor." Ladon checks the stability of the rickety folding chair facing his own one more time, then nods to his under-sergeant. "Bring him."
Ladon looks right at Lorne as he speaks, watching for the man's reaction. "Whoever wants to go first."
Lorne steps forward first, offering himself up in place of his men. Once upon a time, good Genii commanders would have acknowledged the courage in such a gesture, respected it, but Kolya's sneering lectures still ring in Ladon's ears, reminding him of the foolishness of that kind of self-sacrifice. Ladon curls his fingers into the heavy wool of his uniform pants when Lorne pauses, calculating gaze sweeping from one guard to the next, taking in the guns trained on him and his men. If he insists on being not merely foolish, but suicidal as well, Ladon will not intervene.
Lorne smiles at the under-sergeant. "After you."
Ladon covers his relief by reaching for the heavy brown bottle of medical alcohol, shifting it closer to the edge of the cart. By the time he's done the same with the porcelain jar of cotton tufts, Lorne is standing in front of him.
"Take off your jacket and sit," Ladon orders gruffly.
Lorne doesn't do anything at all for the space of a couple breaths. Ladon looks up, wondering if he needs to threaten him, but Lorne's staring at the syringes arrayed on the cart. His eyes flick towards Ladon, and he begins stripping, yanking off his scarf in two quick jerks before he starts on the jacket. He's left in a black undershirt, the soft material rippling over his chest when he drops the clothing to the floor.
"I always look forward to the medical experimentation portion of an imprisonment," Lorne says as he sits down. "Just the kind of thing to brighten up a guy's day."
"We're not monsters, Major." Ladon cups Lorne's elbow in one hand, his own chilled fingers drinking in the warmth of Lorne's skin, tempting him to linger over his inspection of the man's veins. "I simply need to draw some blood."
Lorne sits forward, so quick and intent that every gun in the room but Ladon's own snaps to attention, though he makes no move to break free of Ladon's grasp. "Why are you doing this? If your people need assistance, all you had to do was ask Dr. Weir."
"Really, Major?" Ladon lets out a soft laugh. "I'm certain Dr. Weir would have been more than happy to help us gain the ability to use the very technology she hoards so tightly."
Lorne slumps backward into the shallow embrace of the chair, eye widening slightly. "You're trying to develop the ATA gene in the Genii."
"If that's what you call the Ancient gene, then yes, I am."
"You do know that it's not as easy as injecting our blood into somebody, right?"
Ladon rolls his eyes. The Atlanteans are always so smug about their knowledge, even though he's seen with his own eyes how little they comprehend of the Ancient's creations. "Yes, Major. The Genii do have an understanding of how genes work."
Lorne holds his tongue after that. He watches Ladon's preparations with a frown that sits oddly on his face, as if the lines around his mouth are more used to being pulled upwards. When Ladon moves forward to wrap the loose tourniquet around his upper arm, Lorne's chin tips up and away, a telling sign Ladon's witnessed in even the most hardened soldier. The speeding pulse beneath his fingertips confirm what he suspects.
"Do you have a problem with needles, Major?" Ladon asks, keeping his voice low, between the two of them only.
"I do when they're being used on me without my permission."
Ladon sighs. He doesn't have the time to treat this like a negotiation, but he also needs to execute his ruse as cleanly as possible so that Cowan remains complacent. He could order some of the men to hold Lorne down so Ladon could simply take what he needs, but it seems a waste to put this proud man through any further trauma, when in a matter of hours, he will be but another casualty on the list of those Ladon's responsible for.
"Unfortunately, when Cowan makes up his mind that he wants something, the rest of us have little choice in the matter." The truth of that statement turns his tone bitter, and Ladon winces, knowing he needs to be more circumspect. "But I will do what I can to make this as painless as possible for you. Now, tell me, Major. Do you have a problem with needles? If you're going to be ill, or swoon, I'd like to be prepared."
Lorne snorts. "I'm not going to swoon." He looks over to the cart again, and swallows hard. "But that's a really big needle. Have you guys not figured out evacuated tubes yet? If I remember right, those should be right about your level of tech."
Lorne nods. "You use a double-ended needle, so that it punctures the stopper of the evacuated tube when you slide it into place. The vacuum draws the blood. It's a lot easier on the patient, and a lot more sterile."
"Interesting." Ladon can almost grasp how it would work, although he's not certain if the Genii machinists are capable of creating the necessary parts. "Perhaps, when our people are not in constant danger, our scientists can spend more time on medical advancements."
"Or you could let us go," Lorne says. "I know for a fact that Dr. Weir would share as much of our own medical knowledge with you as you could ever hope to learn. Maybe Cowan doesn't get how valuable that kind of information is, but I can see that you do."
Ladon stills, rubber tourniquet forgotten in his hand as he meets Lorne's eyes. "It doesn't matter what I think," he grinds out. He can't allow himself to get caught up in daydreams about the impossible things Lorne is promising, or to be tempted by an implied offer of help that isn't anything more than another gambit to escape. "The commander is the one in charge. And you are wasting my time."
"If you say so." Lorne falls blessedly silent after that, allowing Ladon to resume his work without the distraction of his velvety voice, though his words have lodged themselves like thistle down between Ladon's ears, pricking at him when he's least prepared.
He doesn't have time to be here.
The Genii volunteers are scheduled to leave for Atlantis in a matter of minutes, Dahlia amongst them. Weir will most certainly send Sheppard after the Zero Point Module as soon as she has her hostages in hand, and Ladon needs to be in place in the appointed warehouse well before that happens. He can't afford to mess this up, not now, not when he's so close to victory, but at the same time he knows he needs to present a calm facade to Sheppard and Cowen both. Right now he's practically jittering out of his skin, the extra dose of the adrenaline cocktail in his veins combining with thoughts of Dahlia to make him anxious and furious in turns.
It hadn't helped that Lorne's words had come back to him once again as he'd prepared the injection that'd keep him safe from the sleeping gas, as he'd slid the long, thick needle into his own arm and pressed the plunger home.
Lorne stands as soon as Ladon walks into the room, coming forward without having to be asked. "If you're back for more samples, I'm going to have to bring out the vampire jokes. And believe me, that's just in bad taste, considering the whole Wraith thing."
A part of Ladon's restless, jittery brain wants to go chasing after Lorne's bait, wants to ask him what, exactly, a vampire joke is, but the memory of Dahlia's pale face is enough to keep him focused. "Tell me, Major. How do your people treat prisoners?"
Lorne doesn't even take a second to think. "Well, for one thing, we don't perform medical experiments on them."
"Would you, though, if they gave you permission? Would your doctors try to find a way to…." Ladon trails off, shaking his head sharply at how close he'd come to giving himself away. "Never mind. I simply want to know if you treat your prisoners well."
Lorne's eyes narrow. "What's this about?"
"You seem unhappy with our hospitality," he tries. "But your people do seem unfamiliar with any kind of deprivation."
Lorne isn't fooled by that poor evasion. He steps forward, fingers wrapping around the bars, tempting Ladon to move closer as well. He resists, knowing that he'd be a fool to do so.
"I can tell you don't agree with Cowan," Lorne whispers. "If you're asking for asylum, then the answer is yes. All you have to do is get us to the gate. I will personally guarantee your safety once we're in Atlantis."
Ladon smiles and then shakes his head. "If only it were that simple, my friend."
"It can be," Lorne calls out as Ladon heads to the door, towards his destiny.
Maybe, he thinks. Maybe there's a little more room for hope than he'd thought.
Sheppard, as always, is a hive of bees, a swarm of gnats, the kind of irritant that gets under his skin and makes him want to sting back in utterly trivial ways. Ladon doesn't understand why Sheppard's sarcastic wit provokes that reaction in him, when Lorne's similar sense of humor draws him in, makes him want to sit and banter with him over a cup of tava milk served with bread and jam.
"Lorne!" Sheppard calls out as the cell comes into sight.
"Starting to put it all together?" Ladon says, but his gloating feels like a bubble of gas knifing through his stomach. His plan has already left people grieving, even if he hasn't yet reaped the lives. But Ladon is not a soldier; a soldier can take refuge in knowing he was simply following orders. He is not a scientist; a scientist can point to the facts, letting proof support his position.
He is a leader. By choice, if not by inclination. By need, if not by acclaim. A leader must make the hard decisions and then live with the results.
There is still time to change the fate of these Atlanteans. All he needs to do is decide whether they'll truly help his people--or send them to a fate worse than that at Cowan's hands.
More adrenaline races through his heart than if he'd given himself a double dose of the sleeping gas innoculations. Cowan's gloating words in response to Weir's offer had made the decision easy; Sheppard's confirmation simply gives him the final push to act.
"You're going to start your coup!" McKay exclaims.
Ladon nods. He owes them this much explanation, especially if they're going to be working together in the future. "I needed Cowen and his elite guard together in one place. I knew the chance at some Puddle Jumpers would get him here."
Sheppard smirks. "Good one!"
"Most of my men are waiting for me on our homeworld," Ladon says. He's minutes away from success, and the anticipation has his heart pounding. "Tonight, the leadership of our people changes hands."
"You were just gonna leave us here to be vaporised with the others?" Sheppard asks, and that quickly the reality of what Ladon's about to do crashes back down on him.
He can't look at Lorne. "Yes, I was," he says, holding Sheppard's gaze. If he is to be the leader of Genii from this moment on, he must step away from the slippery plans that come so easily to him, from the lies Cowan and Kolya taught him to prize. "Things have changed. Let's go."
He allows himself one quick glance as the door is opened. Instead of the condemnation he expects, Lorne's eyes are considering, questioning, as he gazes back at Ladon.
Ladon's heart is heavy as he triggers the remote detonator for the device. He can never allow himself to forget what he has done this day. But he must look to the future now, to leading his people in better ways.
Lorne's shoulder brushes against his as they head towards the infirmary--towards Dahlia.
Towards a new day.
Ladon steps out of the infirmary to find Lorne waiting for him in place of the stone-faced guard who'd accompanied him across Atlantis. He's unmoored after his visit with Dahlia, only the second one after her surgery, and seeing that cockily raised eyebrow and smug smirk shocks a laugh out of him.
"I almost didn't recognize you without bars across your face," Lorne says, as dry as ever.
"And I, you," Ladon says, too surprised to come up with anything wittier. "Did you get lost, Major, or have you done something to deserve babysitting duty?"
"Yeah, sure, we can go with one of those." Lorne shrugs. "After all, I'd never, ever do something as ridiculous as pull rank in order to see that ugly mug again."
"That would, indeed, be ridiculous." As ridiculous as Ladon's own reaction to seeing the man in front of him once again. He should apologize, he knows that much, but what could he possibly say? I'm sorry I almost killed you without second thought while I was busy with my coup seems a little...bald.
Lorne's smirk fades. "How's your sister?"
"Dr. Beckett says she's well on the way to a full recovery." Ladon himself could see the truth of that in the way she'd smiled at him, could feel it in the strength in her grip when she took his hand, but she's still so pale and weak that sometimes it's hard to believe. "I will be forever grateful for what he's done for her."
Lorne nods. "I'd feel the same way if it was my sister."
"You have a sister?" Ladon winces slightly at the inanity of the question; surely half the people in the galaxy have sisters. But Lorne simply grins.
"Yeah. Her name's Emily. She's three years younger than me, but she always acts like I'm her baby brother. Maybe it's because she's a mom now, but she's kind of always been that way."
"She sounds nice," Ladon says, smiling with an ease he hasn't experienced in a very long time.
"I'm not sure nice is the right word, but I love her a lot." Lorne glances over at Ladon, then looks back to the infirmary door. "She and the rest of my family are the reason I'm out here. I love flying, but I could do that back home without something trying to kill me every single day. Once I found out what was out here, the kind of things that were trying to get to her and my nephews, my mom and dad…." He shakes his head. "They're why I keep fighting."
Ladon is not a man who is burdened by watery eyes, but he has to look up and away, has to grit his back teeth together and drag a breath in through his nose before he can speak again.
"I told them," he says. "I told them that I didn't think the shielding was adequate. But they said I was paranoid, that I didn't know enough about the human body to understand what would happen. So I worked harder, until Cowan finally named me chief scientist. I foolishly thought that would be enough for my words to carry weight."
"I would have thought that his people dying under his nose would be all the evidence he'd need."
"Yes, you would think that, wouldn't you."
Lorne sighs. "Your name's Ladon, right?"
"Yes." Ladon's surprised at how wrong the question hits him, though of course the intimacy of first names doesn't exist between them. He certainly hadn't had time for social niceties while he was in the middle of orchestrating Cowan's demise. "Ladon Radim. I'd say forgive me for not introducing myself properly, but I have the feeling that's simply one more grain in the bottomless barrel of sand."
"The sentiment wouldn't hurt, but I'll let it slide this once." Lorne holds out his hand and smiles. "I'm Evan. Pleased to meet you, Ladon."
"Evan," Ladon murmurs. It's a pleasing-sounding name, one that could be Genii in rhythm and texture. More than that, it's an offer, a promise of a new beginning that he knows he doesn't deserve. He slips his hand into Evan's broad, callused palm, and returns the squeeze of kinship. "I'm pleased to meet you, too."