Author: Alli Snow
Category: Angst, Romance, Vignette
Warning: Sexual Situations, violence
Summary: In the end, we're simply slaves to our humanity.
There were no words.
As in the abattoir, there was nothing to say. In the slaughterhouse there had been only mindless screams of terrible pain and unending suffering, cries for mercy that went unanswered, wordless pleas for kindness that were countered only by further cruelty. Although the butchery was now part of another place and time, the terror and pain and loss of hope we had experienced echoed in our souls.
The memories of the children were the worst, and therefore were the most vivid. The creatures in the burgundy cloaks had showed equally bottomless savagery towards all of them, young and old, male and female, beautiful and ugly. It made no difference. Blades had gone down. Crimson and rust stains on the rich burgundy fabric. But the children were the worst, because there was never loathing or anger or despair in their eyes, only innocent confusion, innocent tears.
There were no words. When I studied my reflection, even when I focused past the veils of fragrant steam, focused hard on the woman in the mirror, my eyes remained strangely blank and flat, as through they were not eyes at all but panes of glass.
Daniel and Teal'c told us that that our rescue had taken three days. We had to take their word for it. Down in the abattoir there had been no windows, no routine meals, no way to judge the ebb and flow of day and night. We had been given little to drink, less to eat, and we'd slept hardly at all, too afraid that they would come for us the moment our eyes drifted shut. Our captivity might have lasted three hours, three days or three hundred.
As odd as it may sound, I have no recollection of our rescue. I do remember our capture in all its stupid simplicity. The two of us had gone ahead to scout out the terrain; the vicinity of the Stargate revealed no indications of a Goa'uld presence, but one couldn't be too careful.
But we weren't careful enough. We were ambushed, and barely had a chance to radio the others before we were taken into custody. Just custody. They didn't want to kill us. At least not right away.
We learned later that they are called the Aranua. Thin and tall, in excess of seven feet in most cases, with skin the color of curdled milk and watery eyes tinged with sickly yellow. Pointed noses, angular chins, prominent teeth, wrinkled, hairless skulls. Had the Aranua ever visited ancient Earth, they might have inspired the popular depiction of the Grim Reaper. Yet the myth of the Reaper is tame by comparison.
They herded us like stray animals back to their lair, an underground cavern that the UAV hadn't been able to detect. Yet 'cavern' doesn't fully describe this place. As I said before, there are no words. Only images floating in my head like so much flotsam.
Black rock, shiny and sharp as obsidian. The small room where we were forced to strip and redress in coarse clothing, stiff from generations of dried sweat and blood. The coldness leeching into my bones, into my guts. The white nose and chin protruding from the darkness of their hoods... all that I had seen of the Aranua at that time.
They did not speak. I think perhaps they have no voice, no language, but perhaps they simply had nothing to say. They had a pet, a human man who did their bidding, who had sold his soul to them in order to live. He gave us no name, so we referred to him as Bones; the moniker was chillingly appropriate. He was possibly my age but looked two decades older: his arms and legs were withered sticks, his joints thick and gnarled knobs, his eyes sunk so far into the depths of his skeletal head that they seemed to be just two black pits in the center of his filthy face. Beneath his tattered garments, his ribcage seemed no more sturdy than if it had been made of paper mache. He bled constantly from his right ear. Yet he was so obsessed with living that he didn't seem to notice these infirmities, and he was perversely loyal to his silent masters.
It was Bones who told us they were called the Aranua. Oddly, it was also Bones who warned us against speaking.
"If you want to live," he informed us, in a voice like chains rattling, "be empty. Be silent. Be still. Speak, feel, fear... it will bring They Who Choose." And he smiled, his open mouth revealing weeping, toothless gums.
Of course, it was impossible not to be afraid in the abattoir. We were not the only captives of the Aranua; two black-robed giants took us to a crowded obsidian chamber that brought back memories of the prison on Chulak... and in comparison, they were pleasant memories. The cave was vaguely round with a high domed ceiling, and in its sides niches had been carved. Aranua sat in these niches, dressed in gray with their faces completely shrouded, overseeing the slaughterhouse floor. Overseeing the stage.
The stage. Black rock, like the rest. Raised six feet tall with steep steps on each of its five sides. This is where the burgundy robes waited with their sharp silver scythes. Others would wander the petrified human crowds - They Who Chose - and they would those sacrifices to the stage with a strength that appeared out of proportion with their height and slender build.
Most struggled, but no one ever helped the Chosen to break free of the Choosers. Not even the children. They hung back, watched with shame burning in their eyes, shame but relief that it hadn't been them, that they hadn't been Chosen, because they knew when it happened there would be no one to intercede on their behalf.
Interfering with the process, with the mindless, never-ending slaughter would only call the attention of the Choosers. To try and stop murder was itself suicide.
For three days - according to our rescuers - we sat in filth and horror, clothed in the garments others had died in, surrounded by butchery that simply never stopped. There were hundreds of humans but still the supply should have dwindled swiftly... only the hunter Aranua continued bringing in new stock.
Where they came from, I didn't know. Not only that, I didn't care. As the screams and sobs drove into my ears, my head, my heart, relentless torture, I took Bones' advice. I became numb. It wasn't a conscious choice; at least I like to think it wasn't, that it was simply the only way to stay sane. There was no way to shut out the sounds so I shut out the feelings, at least as best I could. He did the same. We stayed together but apart, avoiding the Choosers but never consistently together. It wasn't want I wanted. I was miserable, terrified, sickened by what I had seen. I wanted to hold him and be held; I wanted to have one last moment of peace, of happiness, in case mine was the next head on the chopping block. But what if that happiness brought the Choosers to me? To him?
I think now of the Aranua watching from their niches. At the time I assumed that they simply viewed the slaughter as some kind of sick pastime, as amusement, but not anymore. I don't think it was entertainment; I think it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They presided over the carnage not with interest but with hunger; the longer we remained the more palpable it was. For three days they watched, psychic vampires growing fat and sated not only with the devastating horror and excruciating agony of those who were killed upon the stage... but also with the emotions of the rest of us, those who were for the time allowed to live. How satisfying it must have been for them to sense our repressed suffering, the internal ache we couldn't share, the humiliation as we allowed children to be taken to the blood-slick stone.
Upon waking in the infirmary my first thought was this: if he had been taken, Chosen, dragged to the stage, would I have broken out of my stupor? Would I have thrown my safety aside for honor, for loyalty, for humanity? Would I have fought the Choosers, albeit in vain, for the plain and simple fact that I could not allow Jack O'Neill to be killed in front of me without trying to stop it? Would I have tried to stop it?
I don't know.
I don't know.
I don't know.
It is this lack of knowing that stares at me from behind eyes like panes of glass.
I shut myself down, turned myself off, trying to escape the abattoir spiritually and emotionally if not physically. I don't remember the rescue teams, led by Teal'c and with Daniel close behind, that finally breeched the Aranua banquet hall. I don't remember the freeing of the human cattle. I don't remember being taken back to the Gate.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm not actually home at all. Maybe all of this, all of it, is simply a sudden final fantasy before the severe blade of a silver scythe bites into my neck.
The echoes of the screams are still in my head, my heart. I'm well trained; so is he. But no training can prepare you for this.
Now, I stand in the locker room, dressed, my hair still dripping from the shower. Now, he enters the room on the way to a shower of his own, and for the first time in three days our eyes meet. Now, emotion flows up from a hidden reservoir, overcoming me.
Does he lock the door? Is it lockable? Does he actually walk to me or simply appear within arm's reach? We're on the floor, he's braced over me although his weight is still a very real and surprising thing, it's hard and cold but not as hard and cold as the black rock. Kisses are hard, desperate, thorough, deep. Hands are insistent but surprisingly gentle. Discarded clothing creates a carpet of fabric and buttons and zippers, I hold him and am held in return, yet we say nothing, nothing, words are unwise, forbidden, words will bring the Choosers, bring death. So much skin under my hands, so much that his own hands seek out, his mouth descending to tease and then rising again, his body over and around and finally inside me, and this position must be hurting him - it's hurting me - but it's a good pain, a pure pain, a pain that will ultimately bring pleasure. If the Aranua are still with us somehow, linked to their would-be-meal through some obscene filament, I hope they choke on the hot rush of passion in my abdomen - fingers entwine in my hair - of overpowering desire - my knees raise and ankles lock behind his back - of slow, lingering satisfaction - as he spasms against me, into me.
And then we're still. Silent. Exhausted.
To my surprise, as we slowly dress, I find myself crying. Not loudly or heavily. In fact, I only gradually notice the hot tears slipping down my face. I pull on my pants, clasp my bra, and then I have to stop because it's all too much. Too much all at once. I sit down on the bench, embarrassed to see that I'm shaking, shaking, and to my further surprise he sits down beside me - also shirtless - and pulls me against him. His cheeks are dry, I note, but his eyes are not.
"Oh God," I whisper, and my voice is painfully hoarse. I'm thinking of the children, first, and then the elderly, the men and women, the beautiful and the ugly, massacred in the shadow of the Reapers, and a coldness seizes my bones and muscles so I hold on to the feeling of just a moment before, the pleasure that the Aranua would choke on, I hold on and savor it.
I feel him bury his face in my hair. His embrace tightens. It hurts, but it's a good pain.
"Oh God," I murmur again, and then I'm silent, because sometimes there are no words.