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Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 3 months ago

General & Dr Sheppard


Author: NA8

Fandom:Stargate: Atlantis


Warnings:BDSM lifestyle themes, graphic, loving BDSM sex, dark, possessive sex, and consensual spanking


Summary: An accident with Ancient technology sucks a John and Rodney from

an alternate universe onto Atlantis and they have very different ideas

about sex, marriage and relationships.


Nominated Category:

Best Established Relationship: - Slash


Best Romance - Slash



Part 1


"So, do you have any idea why we're here?" Elizabeth whispered to John as they both stood watching the scientists rush around Rodney's lab with an air of barely concealed excitement.


"I think it's a geek thing," John whispered back. "Rodney said we'd been invited to watch history being made. He sounded pretty pleased with himself."


"Do we know what kind of history? I mean...will there be loud bangs and should we stand back?" Elizabeth asked.


"I think that's always a wise precaution," John replied and they both took a surreptitious couple of steps away from the general melee.


"Right...I think we're ready – Radek, are we ready?" Rodney asked, in a tone of high octane excitement. Radek peered at the Ancient device he was working on, which looked much like a ZPM only bigger and less colourful, pressed a few buttons and then gave a cautious smile.


"We're ready!" he announced.


"Good. Fine. Great. Yes," Rodney nodded, his fingers clicking excitedly and his feet barely touching the ground as he hopped around the lab. "You two – what are you doing there?" he frowned as he careened into John and Elizabeth. "You can't stand there! That's where it's all going to happen!"


"It is? Then we definitely don't want to stand here," John said, as Rodney shoved them none too gently out of the way and then bent down to tape a large square area on the floor.


"Okay. Then I think we should begin," Rodney said, scrambling to his feet when he'd finished.


"I still think that maybe we should have checked the database again to see if there were more clues there to how it worked," Radek said in a worried tone.


"Oh for god's sake – it's quite obvious how it works!" Rodney snapped.


"Well, it seems obvious, yes, but supposing it doesn't do what we think it does?" Radek asked. John turned to Elizabeth with a pained expression on his face.


"This doesn't sound good," he murmured. "Shall we edge closer towards the door?"


"Good thinking." She moved a few feet to her left and he went with her.


"Well of course it does what we think it does, Radek!" Rodney shouted. "What the hell do you think it's going to do? Cook us dinner? It's quite clearly a transportation device."


"Yes, yes...but to transport what – and where?" Radek asked.


"We've been over this a thousand times," Rodney said. "This will completely revolutionise the way we move around, both here and when we're offworld. It'll save lives!"


"It'll save you walking as well," Radek muttered.


"And that!" Rodney beamed cheerfully. "No more long treks to get to where we want to go. We'll be able to beam ourselves straight there."


"This is some kind of transportation device then?" Elizabeth asked. Rodney rolled his eyes.


"Yes, yes – I've already said that!" he exclaimed, seemingly having forgotten that he hadn't actually said it to her. He waved his hand at the Ancient ZPM-like device excitedly. "This, ladies and gentlemen – and Colonel Sheppard – is a mobile transport device. We can install it anywhere – on a puddle jumper for example, and then all we'll need is a small interface device the size of a wrist watch – and, hey presto – we'll be able to transport anywhere within range of the device – and from what we can tell it's got a pretty wide range." He puffed his chest up proudly and gazed around at the assembled audience.


"You're sure about this, Rodney?" Elizabeth asked.


"Yes of course I'm sure!" Rodney replied in an irascible tone.


"Well, I have to admit that does sound good," John said, nodding slowly. "We could do with that kind of facility when we go offworld."


"It would mean that if someone got injured, for example, we could transport them straight to the puddle jumper and then gate home. No need for them to endure a half hour hike with a badly twisted ankle for example," Rodney said pointedly. John rolled his eyes.


"It was a ten minute stroll and your ankle wasn't badly twisted – you had a stone in your shoe," he said.


"Whatever – with this," Rodney slapped the device and beamed happily at him, "We won't have to walk anywhere unless we really want to, and with your penchant for parking the puddle jumper miles from where we want to go, that can only be a good thing."


"Okay – so – what's going to happen?" John asked, gazing at the Head of Science expectantly. He wasn't sure it was as exciting as Rodney thought it was – they did already have transport facilities on both the Daedalus and Atlantis - but he supposed this more mobile unit did at least have practical merit and it would certainly be of use to them, particularly in emergency situations.


"Well, I've got it set up so that when I press this button..." Rodney pointed. "An object in my quarters will be transported into this lab – into the vicinity of this taped square to be precise – and we'll be able to see it happening on this." He pointed to his laptop, which displayed a picture of the inside of Rodney's quarters. "See that – that apple?" Rodney pointed at the apple sitting inside a taped square in his quarters. "I'm going to transport that here."


"Well, at least you didn't decide to do the first test on a living object," John commented.


"I'm perfectly happy that it's safe, but yes, it was a wise precaution," Rodney beamed. "Okay everyone...are we ready?"


"Don't milk it, Rodney," John said. "Just press the button."


"Fine. Here goes." Rodney punched in some sort of algorithm and then stood back and pressed the button. Nothing happened for a moment, but then there was a high pitched hum and a whirring sound, and the two noises merged at the exact same time as a massive ball of light burst into being in front of them, twisting and spinning, tightly confined in the exact spot where Rodney had taped his square.


"Rodney?!" John yelled, because he was pretty sure this didn't look or sound right.


"It's fine...it's just a bit more...noisy than I thought it would be," Rodney shouted over the loud whirring sound.


"It seems like a lot of energy just to transport an apple!" John yelled, glancing at the laptop showing the live footage of Rodney's quarters – the apple was still sitting there, unmoving.


"It's okay!" Rodney shouted, but there was a panicked look on his face as the box began to shudder and the whirr became a squeal. "I can fix this!" His hands moved at lightning speed over the keyboard but nothing he did seemed to have any effect. The Ancient device shuddered some more and then John saw a tiny spark of fire emerging from the side of it.


"Get down," he yelled to Elizabeth, throwing her behind a table, and crouching over her. The noise got worse until it was all John could hear and then there was a juddering sound and a belch of smoke before it suddenly cut off completely in mid-shriek and all was quiet once more.


"Thank god," John muttered, getting to his feet. "Rodney what the hell was...?" Then he saw the expression on Rodney's face and turned to look at where Rodney was staring, in open-mouthed shock. "Oh shit," John muttered.


Two men were standing within the taped area on the floor, looking confused. As the smoke cleared, one of them reached for his gun, putting a hand out to thrust the other one behind him as he did so, shielding him with his body. John stared at the man with the gun in shock, and the man stared back at him, equally shocked, because they both could have been looking into a mirror. The man they'd transported into the taped square looked just like him - the likeness was unmistakeable. His hair was slightly shorter and he wore a single silver earring dangling from one ear. His clothes...well, his clothes were very different. He was wearing a pair of black leather pants that clung to his long legs in a way that John felt was perhaps a little too revealing. John's gaze was drawn to the thick black leather belt around his waist, from which hung an assortment of weaponry – something silver that jangled, a fearsome looking knife, and some kind of leather strap-type weapon that John wasn't familiar with. He was wearing a plain black long-sleeved shirt, and over that a black leather vest. Around his neck was a black thong with an intricate silver pendant on the end, engraved with two intertwined initials – John wasn't close enough to see what they were. Around his wrists were two black leather cuffs with silver lacings and he was wearing some comfortable looking black leather boots. He looked...kind of like a pirate.


"What the hell just happened?" John asked, holding his own gun on the stranger, and glancing over to Rodney.


"I have no idea!" Rodney said, his fingers frantically scrabbling over the keyboard.


"Why have you brought us here?" the man in the taped square asked, and everyone in the room looked at John and back at the man just to check who'd said that because they both had exactly the same voice.


"I'm sorry – it was a mistake," John said, lowering his weapon cautiously. "Look...I don't know what's happened here but we didn't mean to do this. Rodney!" he yelled, feeling completely out of his depth.


Rodney didn't reply – his gaze was fixed in horror on the second man in the taped square who had stepped out from behind the first.


"Oh shit – you didn't activate the QDD did you?" the second man said, gazing at Rodney with an expression of some irritation on his face. John did a double take. If coming face to face with the other John had been unsettling, this was positively freaky. The man who'd just spoken was a doppelganger for Rodney...only...he wasn't. He looked just like Rodney, but, like the other John, he was dressed completely differently. His hair was longer and John noticed in surprise that the extra length made the ends curl, giving his face a softer appearance than Atlantis's Rodney. Like the other John, he was wearing a black leather thong around his neck with a pendant hanging from it but he was also wearing a slim strip of leather around his throat as well, with a tiny silver buckle at the front. He was dressed in khaki cargo pants and a tight, sleeveless black tee shirt...and, John couldn't help noticing, he looked a lot more buff than their Rodney. The sleeveless tee shirt revealed two toned arms, and it had a slit at the top which revealed a fair amount of chest hair too. Snaking up his forearm was a long, silver bracelet that pointed directly at a tattoo on his upper arm. It was unlike any tattoo John ever seen - large and elegant, it was an interlinked J and R, etched in black and then filled in with some kind of silver piping.


"QDD? What the hell is that?" Rodney said, taking a step towards his doppelganger.


The new John immediately pointed his gun at him, stopping him in his tracks. "Don't touch him," he warned.


"What...hang on a moment here," John said stepping in front of the gun and shielding Atlantis's Rodney. "Nobody is going to touch anybody – okay? Now, before we get into all the science gobbledegook, could you please stop waving that gun around? Rodney might have screwed up here but we really don't want anyone shooting him. At least not before I get the chance," he muttered with a little grimace over his shoulder in Rodney's direction.


The new Rodney gave a little smirk at that but John's eyes remained fixed on the new John, who seemed like the kind of guy you really didn't want to piss off.


"Perhaps we could all cool down a little," Elizabeth said, stepping forwards. John heaved a sigh of relief for her diplomatic skills – he figured his own were pretty much worn out by now and he really didn't want anybody shooting anybody else – particularly when they looked so much like him.


The new John bowed his head in her direction. "My lady," he said in a tone of respect. Elizabeth paused and John could see by the expression on her face that she quite liked the title. "My apologies. It's not my intention to harm anyone. I'm just...very confused right now."


The new Rodney leaned against him and talked to him urgently. "It's all right, John. I think what's happened is that this – idiot - here," he cast an annoyed glance in Atlantis's Rodney's direction, "just activated the Quantum Dimension Device without having a clue how it works." New John's hand wavered, and then he finally lowered his gun, much to John's relief.


"A Quantum Dimension Device?" Atlantis's Rodney screwed up his face and then realisation flooded in. "Oh shit. Are you saying...that this thing...?"


"I'm saying that we were in our own universe, minding our own business, when you snapped a switch on that thing and sucked us over," new Rodney said in an irritated tone. "We discovered how it worked about a year ago – without dragging a couple of hapless bystanders across a universe to do it."


"That can't be possible!" Rodney said, his mouth opening and closing in a way that made him resemble a stranded fish, gasping for air.


"You surely understand the principle?" new Rodney asked in a patronising tone.


"That there are at any one time an infinite number of universes co-existing, some of them virtually identical to our own and some completely different, yes, yes, of course," Rodney said impatiently.


"Well, we're probably from one of the closest universes to this one," new Rodney told him. "And like I said, you've sucked us over here. Where were you aiming at?"


"What? Oh...my quarters." Rodney gestured to the live footage on the laptop which still showed the interior of Rodney's quarters, complete with the untouched apple.


"Well that explains that. We were in our quarters when the beam went off – which is annoying because if we hadn't been, then it wouldn't have caught us," new Rodney said. "Instead of aiming at your quarters here, you picked us up in the same location in our universe."


"So what you're saying is, that this device...no wait...hang on...back up a second here," Rodney said. "You said *our* quarters?" He glanced from new Rodney to new John and back again.


"Yes." New John nodded and placed a hand on new Rodney's shoulder. "Our quarters. Why? Does that have any bearing on how we get back?"


Rodney's eyes flickered down to the large tattoo on new Rodney's arm, with the intertwined J and R on it and then his gaze shot up, horrified, in John's direction. John knew how he felt – he was feeling a little freaked out himself.


"Okay," Elizabeth stepped in, clearly trying to ease the tension in the room which had just shot up a distinct notch. "Let's clear any non-essential personnel out of here so we can sort this out." She waved her hand and several people slipped out of the door, all of them casting amazed glances at each other as they went. John suspected that it would take all of three minutes for news of this to travel around the base. "Now, first things first. Rodney – can we get these people back to where they belong?"


"No," said both the Rodneys at the same time and then they glanced at each other in irritation.


"Not immediately anyway," Atlantis's Rodney said. "You saw the way this machine responded when we activated it – it's shot to pieces at the moment and even if it wasn't, I don't know enough about the way it works to guarantee that we could return them safely to their own universe."


"Perhaps you should have thought about that before you turned the damn thing on," new Rodney muttered.


"Well, perhaps if it had a label on it that said 'quantum sucky thing – do not touch' then I would have," Rodney snapped at him. "But we didn't know what it did."


"That's true," Radek butted in. "It was clear it was some kind of transport but there was nothing to indicate that it did anything like this."


"Radek?" New Rodney's face lit up. "Radek – you're alive!"


"What? Yes, certainly, I'm very much alive," Radek said nervously, pushing his glasses further up his face. Then the realisation hit. "So...in your universe I am not?" he asked softly.


"No. Sorry – we lost you a year or so ago during the siege of Atlantis," new John told him. "I have to say that it's pretty damn good to see you again, Radek."


"All right – we can all compare notes on our various universes later but for now we need to sort a few things out. Do you think you can get the device working again?" Elizabeth asked, turning to the Rodneys. "And I mean both of you – working together? I figure two McKays must equal twice the brainpower."


"Probably," both the Rodneys said together and then they glared at each other again.


"It'll take time though," Rodney warned.


"How much time?" Elizabeth asked.


The Rodneys shrugged and then gazed at each other and back at the machine. The new Rodney glanced at the new John questioningly and when he nodded the new Rodney stepped out of the taped area and went to look at the burnt out device.


"Well, it's looking pretty busted right now," new Rodney observed, with a scowl in Rodney's direction. "So if it *is* repairable, it's not going to be quick. We could be talking weeks."


"Weeks?" Rodney looked alarmed. "Shit I've just remembered something - we don't have weeks! Entropic Cascade will set in in less than 48 hours unless we can get you out of here before then. Otherwise the effects will be lethal."


"Entropic Cascade?" New Rodney frowned. "Not with the QDD - this is a sophisticated piece of Ancient engineering. They designed it to be an escape route into another universe in the event of the Wraith taking over the city - it's got a built-in filter to nullify the effects of EC, so we don't have that time pressure at least."


"Oh." Rodney actually looked as if he was disappointed by that.


New Rodney glared at Rodney again and then went back to stand beside new John once more.


"All right, if we've got a few weeks let's work towards that then," Elizabeth said. "As you're going to be our guests for a little while, we need to arrange some facilities for you. Now..." She hesitated and flushed slightly. "I'm assuming you would prefer to share quarters?"


New John looked at her blankly, and his hand crept up to new Rodney's shoulder again and stayed there, in a protective gesture. "Of course," he said, looking confused. "Wait...you guys..." he glanced at John and Rodney."You're not together in this universe?"


"No!" Both John and Rodney said together.


"Okaaaay," new John said, exchanging a frown with his Rodney. "So, this is kind of weird," he muttered.


"Uh – hello! Just as weird for us!" Atlantis's Rodney interjected, holding up his hand. "So you two are...what exactly?" He stood there, his arms folded across his chest, looking distinctly unimpressed.


"Oh god," John sighed. "You had to ask?"


New John grinned. "Perhaps we should introduce ourselves. I'm General John Sheppard..."


"General?" John frowned. "Damn." He wasn't sure why that annoyed him, but somehow it did. You can't possibly be competitive with *yourself* he told himself, but the idea that this John outranked him niggled at him.


"Hah – so it seems that the John in their universe has progressed a little further up the career ladder than you, Lieutenant-Colonel," Rodney said, stressing John's title pointedly, in a tone of malicious glee, holding his hands behind his back and rocking back and forth on his heels a little in enjoyment of John's discomfort.


"And this is my husband, Dr Rodney Sheppard," new John added, gesturing towards his Rodney. The look on Atlantis's Rodney's face was so comical that John almost fell about laughing there and then.


"What?" Rodney said, glaring at the new Rodney. "God, what the hell is wrong with you?" he growled. "I mean, if you *have* to be married to...to...*him*, then what's wrong with being the Sheppard-McKays, hmm? Or, wait, even better, the McKay-Sheppards. No, wait, wait...why couldn't he be John McKay? Why did you have to take his name?"


Dr Rodney Sheppard gazed at him blankly. "Why wouldn't I?" he asked. "He's my top – of course I took his name when we got married. Don't you people have the same customs?"


"As a matter of fact..." John started to say but Rodney got there first.


"NO!" he practically shouted. "He's what? Did you say he was your top? What the hell does that mean?"


Elizabeth made a little sound in the back of her throat and John stifled a grimace.


"Uh, Rodney..." he began, looking into Rodney's absolutely outraged blue eyes."Uh..." he tried to find a way to explain this sensitively, without upsetting Rodney even more, but then realisation flooded into Rodney's eyes as he figured it out for himself.



"Oh my god!" he breathed. "You're like what...his sex slave?"


"No!" both General and Dr Sheppard said in unison. Dr Sheppard glanced at his husband and grinned.


"He's my husband. I'm his top," General Sheppard said slowly, as if talking to idiots. "You people don't seem real familiar with these pretty basic things so I'm assuming it's done differently here?"


"Kind of," John said. "Look, I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to get to know one another. In the meantime, why don't we show you to some quarters and get you comfortable – then it's protocol that we have Dr Beckett look you over. After that, if you'd like to join us in the mess hall for something to eat? We're really sorry for having inconvenienced you like this and we'll do everything we can to get you home as soon as possible." He glared at Rodney as he said that and Rodney glared back at him.


"Okay...now...you're going to need some things," Elizabeth added. "John, Rodney – seeing as these men are the same size as you, perhaps you could lend them a change of clothes?"


Rodney gazed at his counterpart with an expression of distaste. "Well, okay...but I don't have anything like what he's wearing," he said.


"And I wouldn't be seen dead in what you're wearing," Dr Sheppard shot back at him.


"Rodney," the General said sharply, placing a warning hand on his husband's arm. "I think you need to calm down a little." He squeezed the other man's arm and new Rodney took a deep breath and nodded. "We'll take what we're given – thank you. I guess this is going to take a little bit of getting used to," the General added. "For all of us."


"I think you're right," Elizabeth said softly. "Perhaps you'd like to come this way, gentlemen..."

She put out a hand to show them the way and the General unclipped a slim silver chain from his belt, and, to John's complete bemusement and Rodney's barely stifled exclamation of disgust, attached it to the slim leather collar nestled around Dr Sheppard's throat. Dr Sheppard made a soft little noise and leaned into his husband and then they both left the room together, following on behind Elizabeth - with Dr Sheppard shooting another angry look in Rodney's direction as they went.


John gazed after them, still trying to process all this. "So...they seem like nice guys," he said eventually, glancing at Rodney. "Well, if you ignore the whole leash and collar thing." Rodney gave him a withering look in return, and then turned his back on him and began studying the QDD intently, pointedly ignoring the Colonel. "Okay then," John said, turning and leaving the room.




Rodney delayed for as long as possible, but finally, after Elizabeth called him and told him that giving Dr Sheppard some of his clothes was an order, and not a request, he left the lab and went back to his quarters. The apple was still sitting there, in its taped square, and he kicked it savagely with his foot. He still wasn't entirely sure how this had happened, and he hated being made to look an idiot in front of all those people – and, more than anything else, he *really* hated Dr Sheppard.


"Stupid curly hair," he muttered, getting some clothes out of his closet and throwing them furiously on the bed. "See – that's why I don't let it grow any longer. Looks stupid like that."

He found a spare jacket and threw that onto the pile. "I wouldn’t be seen dead in what you're wearing," he mimicked. "I'd quite happily see you dead," he muttered. "You and your stupid curly hair and that ridiculous tattoo and...excuse me...*gay*. Gay and tattooed and..." His mind didn't even want to go to the other part, the part with the collar and leash, the part that was frankly too kinky for Rodney to even wrap his brain around, so he just left it there.


He gathered up the little pile of clothes and then walked stiffly along the hallway to the room Elizabeth had allocated to the newcomers.


The General let him in and gave him a grateful smile when he saw the pile of clothes in Rodney's arms. Rodney deposited his gift on the bed, noticing as he did so that the Colonel must have already dropped by because there was another pile of clothes sitting there.


Rodney stood up and nodded to the General stiffly, before turning to leave, but as he did so Dr Sheppard emerged from the bathroom.


"Looks pretty much the same as back home," he said to the General, before seeing Rodney. "Oh. You're here," he muttered.


"Just dropping off the clothes you don't want to be seen dead in," Rodney told him.


"I just think they'll be a little big on me, that's all," Dr Sheppard said pointedly. "I'm a few pounds lighter than you. You've kind of let yourself go."


"That's enough, Rodney," the General said firmly. "New universe – same old rules, remember."


Dr Sheppard glanced at him from under his eyelashes and then sighed. "Okay. I'm just...really, really mad about this. Imagine how you'd feel," he told Rodney. "One minute you're back in your rooms hoping for a little R&R with the husband who's been offworld for four days without you – so you have a bit of catching up to do – and next thing you know, just as you're about to get down on your knees and show him just how much you really missed him...you're scooped up and thrown into a completely different universe and all because someone was a bit careless about which Ancient devices they stuck their fingers into."


"Some of these things I really don't need to know," Rodney told him stiffly, trying to banish the image of his doppelganger kneeling down in front of the General and reaching for the front of his tight leather pants from his mind. "I'm sorry though," he muttered contritely. "I really didn't know this would happen. I can see how it would be...an inconvenience."


"And what's really annoying is that if you'd just done it ten minutes earlier, we wouldn't even have been in our quarters," the other Rodney added. "Just ten minutes!"


"We're lucky really though, Rodney," the General said softly, putting an arm around his husband's chest and pulling him close. His Rodney came to rest easily against him, putting up a hand to touch his husband's arm affectionately.


"Hmm, how so?" he asked, glancing up at his husband.


"Well, if Dr McKay here had activated the device five minutes earlier, as I recall you were standing on your own in the room right about where we were taken. You'd have just disappeared and I'd have had no way of knowing where you'd gone – and you'd be on your own here right now." The muscles in his arm tightened, visibly, as he said that and the look on the other Rodney's face actually made Rodney feel sorry for him – his blue eyes were frankly devastated as he considered that idea.


"Well...okay then...pretty lucky after all," he squeaked.


"Like I said – I'm sorry," Rodney told them both, meaning it. He could imagine how resentful and weird he'd feel if the same thing had happened to him. "If there's anything else you need..."


"There is, as a matter of fact," the General said. "There are some toiletries in the bathroom, but Rodney is right – I've been offworld for four days and there are some things I really need to do to him right now...so, would it be possible for you to supply me with some lube?"


Rodney gazed at him, horrified. "What?" he spluttered at last.


"Lubricant?" the General said, in a surprised tone.


"Well I don't know why you think I'd have any!" Rodney exclaimed, feeling his cheeks grow hot at the very idea.


The General frowned. "If you don't mind me saying so, you people seem really hung up about anything to do with relationships or sex," he commented. "First you all freaked out when I said Rodney was my husband, then you got really edgy when I said I was his top, and now you look as if you're about to have a stroke because I've said I want some lube so we can make love."


"I'm not having a stroke. My people are really, really cool with the whole gay sex slave thing," Rodney said in a high-pitched kind of voice. "We know all about this stuff and we're completely fine with it," he added.


"Okay – firstly, not a sex slave," the other Rodney said, in a tone of annoyance. "Secondly, I'm not surprised you don't have any lube because it's clear as hell that nobody would want to go near you, let alone make love to you."


Rodney felt his temper rise uncontrollably at that. "Well, thirdly," he snapped back, his voice quavering as it rose an octave. "I don't have any damn lube because I don't *need* any damn lube because of being, you know, NOT – GAY," he growled. "I suggest you ask Carson for some when he does your medical."


And with that, he turned on his heel and stomped out of the room.




Carson Beckett took a sharp intake of breath as the two newcomers entered the infirmary. He'd been warned what to expect, but even so, there was no denying that it was pretty damn weird. These men...they looked so very like the two men he'd been working with for the past couple of years, and yet...the other John was holding a silver lead that was attached to a leather collar around the other Rodney's neck, and the other Rodney was leaning into him affectionately, with a softness in his eyes that Carson didn't think he'd ever seen in their own Rodney's eyes. Their clothing was also strange – it accentuated their bodies more, without being in any way obscene or distasteful. The entire tableau added up to something completely alien while at the same time being eerily familiar and that was precisely what made it so unsettling, Carson thought to himself.


"Hey, Carson," the new John said easily, smiling at him.


"Uh...General Sheppard," Carson nodded his head nervously. This John had a different manner to their John. He seemed very in control, less flippant and laid back, while still having something of their John's easy-going charm about him.


"That's pretty formal. Call me John," the General said with a broad smile. "Back in our universe, you're one of our closest friends. It feels weird to hear you call me General."


"Right. Okay. John." Carson nodded anxiously. "And, uh...Rodney." He nodded at the other man.


"Carson." The new Rodney frowned at him. "I hope this won't take long. I mean, I understand all the tedious protocol stuff, but you know, it's pretty clear who we are and where we came from, and it isn't as if we invited ourselves – we were more or less kidnapped from our own dimension and the sooner I get started on fixing the QDD, the sooner we can go home. Not that we're not having a great time meeting you guys, but...we'd really like to leave asap."


Carson found himself relaxing. This Rodney, like their own, clearly had a smart mouth on him and no intention of letting anyone else get a word in edgeways.


"Aye, Rodney, I understand that – however I do need to do a full physical on you both, just to make sure you don't have any kind of communicable diseases. I'd also like to do a DNA test to see how you compare to our Sheppard and McKay, if that's okay with you? This is a remarkable event, after all, and we'd like to gather as much data as possible."


"Oh god. How long will all that take?" Rodney asked in a resentful tone. John put a hand on his arm.


"That'll be fine, Carson," he said calmly. "Let's get started."


Carson nodded. He decided to start with Rodney – the other man was clearly fidgety and it would be a good idea to deal with him before he started climbing the walls – Carson had enough experience of their own Rodney when he was in one of these moods to know how to handle him.


"Rodney, if you'd like to sit down here." He put a hand on Rodney's arm and gestured him to the bed. Rodney stiffened and glanced at John and Carson had the feeling that he'd just done something very wrong. "Uh, if that's okay?" Carson said uncertainly, gazing from one to the other. John's jaw tightened.


"That's fine," he growled. "Just...ask me first before you touch him, okay?"


Carson hesitated; clearly he'd just transgressed some rule he didn't know anything about. Elizabeth had given him some instructions on this subject, and he was under orders to find out whether the new Rodney was a willing participant in this strange relationship and that he wasn't being mistreated, but it was going to be hard finding anything out if the General got this pissed off just because he'd put a hand on Rodney's arm.


"I'm sorry," Carson said softly. "But if I'm going to examine him then I will need to touch him."


"That's fine. It's just that in our universe it's polite to ask first and make your intentions clear," the General told him firmly. "I understand that this isn't our universe and you have different customs, but even so, it's still a shock to us when people behave differently. We're not used to it."


"Okay." Carson took a deep breath, trying to wrap his head around this. "You're right – we don't know your customs. I'm very sorry if we do anything to offend you – perhaps when it happens you could just point it out to us. It'll be entirely innocent on our part."


The General relaxed a little and nodded. "All right. Go ahead, Doctor," he said, resting his hand on Rodney's neck and stroking him. Rodney leaned back into the embrace, and Carson had a weird moment, watching them being so physically at ease with each other.


"Doctor?" the General queried. Carson shook his head.


"Sorry. Just thinking...that if our John did that to our Rodney I'd have to put Rodney in restraints and administer a strong sedative," he said with a wry grin.


"Yeah, that man is so uptight," Rodney muttered. "I don't know how you guys can stand having him around."


"Och, he's got a certain charm all of his own," Carson said, feeling oddly defensive of their Rodney. It was one thing for the people on Atlantis to complain about him and tease him but quite another for these newcomers to say anything against him. He was, after all, *their* Rodney, and Carson suspected they were all rather fond of the scientist, even if he could be a total pain in the arse.


"He's rude and obnoxious," the new Rodney sniped. The General's fingers closed around his husband's neck in a little squeeze.


"He's not unlike you were when I first met you," he said.


"Oh please! That's so not true!" Rodney retorted in a voice that sounded so like their own Rodney's that Carson couldn't help but grin.


"I think that's probably why you don't like him," the General added, with a grin of his own. Rodney glared at him, and then glared at Carson as well when he saw his grin.


Carson took some blood from Rodney, and then glanced warily at the General. "If you don't mind, John, I'd like to examine Rodney on his own," he said.


"Why? I'd prefer to be present if you're going to be touching him," John replied.


"It's one of our customs," Carson told him. "We have a thing called doctor/patient confidentiality. There might be something Rodney wants to share with me that he'd feel uncomfortable talking about in front of you."


John gazed at Carson blankly. "Like what?" he asked, in a bemused tone.


"I don't know. Anything," Carson shrugged, glancing at Rodney. Rodney was giving him an equally blank look.


"I can't think of anything," Rodney said. "What could there be that I wouldn't want John to know about?"


"I don't know," Carson said again, feeling that they were totally not on the same wavelength on this, and at a loss as to how to explain it any better than he had already. His orders from Elizabeth weighed on his mind as well. She'd asked him to ensure that this new Rodney was okay – that he wasn't some kind of slave who needed liberating, and Carson didn't know how he could ascertain that if the General hovered over him during his examination. If Rodney was being coerced into this relationship then he wouldn't be able to talk freely about that in the General's presence if he was afraid of the man – although Carson had to admit that he didn't seem particularly afraid of him.


"I'm going to have to ask you to take this on trust," Carson said eventually. "Look, why don't you stand in the next room, John? You can leave the door open and if Rodney thinks I'm doing anything he's uncomfortable with, he can call you."


At least that way he'd be able to have a private conversation with Rodney without John hearing. The General glanced at Rodney, who shrugged.


"I don't mind," he said. "If it's one of their customs."


"Okay," John said at last. "Just call me if you need me." He leaned over and deposited a firm kiss on Rodney's mouth and then turned and left. Carson stood there for a moment, trying to process the fact that these two men, who looked so much like his own Colonel Sheppard and Dr McKay, had just had a deep smooch. It was...just plain weird.


"Is it okay if I remove this?" Carson asked, turning back to Rodney and touching the collar around his neck, lightly. The collar didn't look uncomfortable but he wanted to make sure the skin underneath it was healthy – and also to check whether Rodney was allowed to remove it.


"Okay," Rodney shrugged. Carson unbuckled it and examined it for a moment. It was made of very soft leather, and the inside was lined with some kind of padded material. It hadn't even left a mark on Rodney's neck so it clearly wasn't fastened too tight, or pulled on to cause discomfort.


"Could you take your shirt off?" Carson asked, getting out his stethoscope. He did want to listen to Rodney's heart, but he also wanted to make sure the other man didn't have any marks of abuse on his body. Rodney did as he was told, stripping off with an air of impatience. His body looked in better shape than their own Rodney's – and there was no sign of any bruising or anything else for that matter, although Carson didn't know what he'd been expecting or even exactly what he was looking for. It was just the collar and lead thing that had thrown them all and led to Elizabeth's concern.


He listened to Rodney's heart, and then took his blood pressure. "Impressive," he murmured. Their Rodney was borderline hypertensive, but this Rodney's heart was clearly in a more healthy state. "Rodney...I wanted to ask you..." he hesitated, unsure how to best approach this difficult issue.


"Is my relationship with General Sheppard consensual?" Rodney supplied for him, rolling his eyes slightly. "Don't think I haven't figured out just how freaked you people are by us. That's what all the Doctor/patient confidentiality crap was all about isn't it? And why you wanted me to remove my collar? Do you want to check my ass, Carson, to make sure he doesn't rape me every night? For god's sake! What's wrong with you people? He's my husband! Why would I be with someone who abused me? I'm not his slave – I'm his partner. We're equals."


"It's just the collar and lead thing," Carson muttered, feeling embarrassed.


"What about it? He's my top – it's like...it's like...I saw two of your people in the hallway on the way here and they were holding hands. It's like that to us. Nothing more. I don't understand why it freaks you out – where I come from it's just normal. Nobody would think anything of it."


"Okay." Carson nodded. "I'm sorry if we've offended you. It's just we were concerned about your welfare, that's all."


"I think you should be more concerned about your own welfare," Rodney snapped. "You people are all so damn locked up in yourselves. Look at you, Carson! My Carson doesn't have that worried frown all the time. He'd be laughing at this if he could see it. You people are all stressed out all the time without even knowing it."


"You could be right," Carson said, in a conciliatory tone.


"I usually am," Rodney said pointedly. "Now, can I put my shirt back on or was there anything else you wanted to see?"


"No. That's fine. Go ahead," Carson sighed. This really hadn't gone very well although at least he'd be able to report back to Elizabeth that this Rodney was no more a victim than their own was.


Carson called John back in, examined him and took his blood, and then finished up, feeling rather relieved. He was intrigued by what Rodney had said though – it was strange thinking of another him in another universe leading another life. He wondered what this other Carson was like - did he wander around in a collar on the end of someone else's lead? Could he possibly be happy with that? Carson didn't think so. Now Carson did at least have a better understanding of what their own John and Rodney must be feeling, being confronted by such a very challenging alternate view of themselves. Carson made a mental note to check up on them and see how they were both handling having their alter egos on the base.


"Just one more thing," the General asked, rolling back his sleeve after Carson had taken his blood. "We need some lubricant. I asked Dr McKay for some earlier but he nearly fainted on the spot and said I should ask you."


"Aye, that sounds like Rodney," Carson said, with a wry smile. "Of course I can let you have some. Do you need condoms as well?"


"Why the hell would we need condoms?" Rodney snapped. "Unless...oh god, in this universe men can't have babies can they?"


"No, Rodney," Carson said, trying hard not to laugh. "No...I was offering the condoms for safe sex. To avoid sexually transmitted diseases?" he supplied when he saw that both men were still looking blank.


"We're in a monogamous relationship, Doc," John told him. "So that's not really an issue for us. But thanks all the same." He took the tube of lubricant that Carson was holding out for him. "Oh, and one other thing...Dr McKay keeps calling us something... what was the word, Rodney?" He glanced at his husband.


"Gay," Rodney said sourly. "What does it mean? Is it some kind of insult? I bet it is."


Carson gazed at them for a second, desperately suppressing the urge to laugh once more.


"Uh, no...it's not really an insult. It's an expression we use to denote people of the same gender being in a sexual relationship. It's a kind of colloquial expression for homosexuality. I take it that it isn't a term you use in your universe?"


"Nope." John shook his head. "Never heard of it. Why does it matter whether people of the same gender are in a relationship? Is that important here?"


"Yes," Carson sighed. "It's becoming more accepted but there are still a lot of taboos against same gender relationships. That's probably partly why Rodney got so freaked out when you asked him for lubricant. People aren't comfortable with the issue."


"Oh god, you people – you have everything upside down," Rodney growled. "You haven't figured out whether you're tops, bottoms or switches, which – hello! – is much more important than the gender of the people you sleep with, and you scream and run a mile if anyone mentions sex. I have no idea how you even get through the day."


"We do okay," Carson said defensively. "I think we just have very different ideas about interpersonal relationships than your people."


"Well obviously," Rodney muttered.


"One thing I was wondering..." Carson bit on his lip, unsure whether he wanted to know the answer to this or not. "As we're on the subject of relationships...uh...your Carson...is he in a relationship back in your universe?"


The General grinned at him. "Yeah. He just got married," he said, slapping Carson's arm affectionately.


"Oh aye - who to?" Carson hoped his voice didn't come out like a squeak.


"Colonel Caldwell," John told him.


"What?" Carson gazed at him, unsure whether he was horrified or flattered.


"You're not with him here then?" John asked.


"No...I'm single," Carson replied.


"Well you're very much taken in our universe. You couldn't take your eyes off the Colonel from the moment the Daedalus arrived. At first we just thought you were *really* concerned for the health of the Daedalus's crew, with all the tests you kept running – then we realised it was their commanding officer you were actually interested in. You kept it quiet for awhile because you both wanted to be sure."


"Oh god." Carson sat down with a bump. "Colonel Caldwell? Really?" he asked, feeling his chest tighten. "Oh god," he said again, imagining himself walking around after the tall, imposing Colonel, at the end of the other man's lead. Now he really knew how poor Rodney felt having these two men here on Atlantis. It was just...disturbing.


"Does that mean...do I wear a collar like Rodney?" Carson asked, tracing a hand absently over his neck. John roared with laughter.


"No! Idiot! You're the Colonel's top!" he said, slapping Carson's arm heartily as if he'd just told a good joke.


"What?" Carson sat there, stunned. "What?" he said again, blankly. He'd found it hard imagining being on the end of Caldwell's lead but he found it positively impossible to imagine himself attaching a lead to the tall Colonel's collar and pulling him around. "Are you sure?" he frowned.


"Of course!" John told him. "I was best man at your wedding. I fastened your belt myself."


"My belt?" Carson spread his arms, feeling confused. John pointed at his own thick, black leather belt, from which dangled various items of equipment.


"Your belt," he repeated. "It's our custom – the best man or woman makes a gift of a belt to the top on their wedding day. That's why we say 'buckling the belt' sometimes when we refer to two people getting married. I take it you don't have the same expression?"


"Uh...no...we say 'tying the knot'," Carson said weakly.


"What knot do you tie?" Rodney asked, poking his fingers curiously into some of the vials that were sitting on the table.


"Oh...it's not a real knot. It's more of a metaphorical knot I think," Carson frowned. John gazed at him steadily as if he thought this was another thing that was seriously strange about Carson's universe.


"Well ours is a real belt," he shrugged. "The one you gave me when you were best man at our wedding was particularly well supplied but then you knew Rodney pretty well and clearly thought I needed all the help I could get!" he laughed.


"Supplied?" Carson asked, glancing at the belt.


"Yeah." John fastened his fingers into the loops on his belt. "Clamps, clips, leash, strap," he said, pointing at various dangling items and finishing up with the black leather strap that hung from it. He glanced at Rodney, who grinned back at him.


"I can be a handful sometimes," Rodney said with a shrug.


"He beats you?" Carson asked, in a strangled tone.


"Of course not," Rodney sighed. "He spanks me. Big difference."


"He loves it!" John laughed.


"Well, mostly I love it. Sometimes I don't – when I'm being punished," Rodney added, wrapping an arm around his husband's waist and gazing up at him fondly. "Oh god, Carson, don't go getting that look again! How do you people punish each other when you screw up?"


"We...uh...d'you mean when we screw up professionally?" Carson asked, confused.


"When you screw up any which way," Rodney shrugged. "Supposing someone stole from someone?"


"Well...we've got a brig," Carson said uncertainly. "And back on Earth we have big prisons where we keep the people who've transgressed the laws of our society and...what?" he said, seeing the look of shock on their faces.


"You keep people locked up? In cages?" John asked, sounding aghast.


"Well, not cages...cells," Carson said defensively.


"Like animals?" Rodney said, in a choked tone. "Away from their families and loved ones? Away from their husbands and wives?" He sounded utterly horrified.


"Aye." Carson spread his arms. "It's just what we do."


"And you think we're freaky," Rodney muttered.


"How does it work for you then?" Carson asked, trying to be as non-judgemental as possible as there was obviously a culture gap here that would take quite some time and effort to bridge.


"Well, if Rodney screwed up, I'd punish him," John shrugged. "I'm his top so he's my responsibility."


"You're talking about physical punishment?"


"Of course. The strap isn't just for show," John said with a shrug.


"And supposing you didn't punish him?" Carson asked, genuinely curious. "Supposing he did something – like stealing – and you refused to punish him? Would someone else punish him?"


"No!" John shook his head. "Nobody except me can touch him. If I refused to punish him then I'd be punished instead," John shrugged. "That's the way it works."


"So who'd punish you?" Carson frowned. "Rodney?"


"No!" Rodney and John both laughed.


"No – the highest status top I reported to would punish me. It happened not so long ago. My Lady Elizabeth punished me." John glanced at Rodney who had gone strangely still and silent, his head hanging down. "But we'll save that story for later," John said softly. "Come on, Rodney – I think it's time we went back to our quarters and had that reunion, don't you?" Rodney took a deep breath and then glanced up, with a grin.


"Sounds good to me," he said.


"Thanks doc. We'll see you later – in the mess hall?" John asked.


"Aye – of course." Carson nodded. Carson watched them go, thinking what a great couple they made. They looked so easy together, so right. The General had one arm wrapped around his husband's shoulders and Rodney's arm was wrapped around the General's waist, and they were talking in low, conspiratorial voices, and nobody could doubt the genuine and obvious affection they felt for each other. At least Carson felt his mind had been put at rest on that score – he'd have no trouble telling Elizabeth that although this relationship might seem strange to them, it was entirely consensual, and where they came from their behaviour was clearly perfectly normal.


"Colonel Caldwell though..." Carson sat back in his chair, feeling winded. "Colonel Caldwell?!"


Part Two: Culture Clash



General Sheppard was relieved when he finally got his husband back to their quarters. It had been a long and difficult day so far and he was glad to finally be alone with someone he didn't have to explain himself to.


"At least the city looks the same," Rodney was saying as they entered the room. "I know these aren't our quarters and we don't have our things but at least when we're alone we can pretend it's our universe and not theirs. These people are so weird. Are any of them even *in* relationships? They all seem to be single. Just walking around in their polite little world without..." John decided he'd heard enough – if you let Rodney go on then you could quite literally find yourself listening to him all day. He grabbed his husband's arm, pushed him against the wall, and kissed him hard on the mouth. "Unnnhhh," Rodney finished, melting into him in that very satisfying way he had. His husband's large hands slid down the back of his leather pants and caressed his butt and John sighed and went back in for another deep kiss. Rodney opened up for him, his mouth devouring John's hungrily, and John gathered him up in his arms and held him tight. Damn but it had been a long time! Four days was too long considering how frequently they made love when they were together. John's cock was already rock hard and he couldn't wait to get his husband naked and make love to him. Rodney had his own ideas though, and when John released him he sank immediately to his knees and reached eagerly for the front of his husband's leather pants. John grinned, and entwined his hand in Rodney's wavy hair. This would do – in fact this would do very well. It'd take the edge off his sexual appetite so when he did finally sink himself into Rodney's ass he'd be able to make love to him for a very long time.


Rodney opened his fly and released John's hard cock and then paused for a moment and gazed up at his husband for permission to suck.


"Oh yeah – get me off, Rodney," John urged, moving so that he had his back to the wall now and could lean against it. Rodney didn't need any more encouragement than that and he dipped his head and took John's hard cock in his mouth with one expert swallow. John sighed – Rodney really was extraordinarily good at giving head. He stroked Rodney's hair gently as Rodney deep-throated him and it wasn't long before he was coming down Rodney's throat, and then Rodney was cleaning him up with little laps of his tongue, before getting to his feet with a satisfied smile on his face.


"God I missed you," Rodney said, sighing and leaning against him in that way he had, like a cat. It always made John feel good to have Rodney's solid body entwined around him, and he wrapped his arms around his husband and sniffed his hair contentedly.


"Missed you too," John breathed, reconnecting with the smell and taste and feel of his husband.


"Four days without seeing you and then this had to happen," Rodney sighed.


"Get over it, Rodney," John told him. "It happened – but we're both okay. It's not like either of us died. I know what your problem is. You're coiled like a spring – in fact, when you're this uptight you sound just like Dr McKay."


"Hey, I just gave you a Rodney Sheppard special blow job and now you're insulting me?" Rodney protested.


"It was a very nice blow job," John grinned, grabbing his husband's head and looking deep into his eyes. "But you are twitchy as hell, you've gone four days without me followed by all these shenanigans, and you need taking down."


Rodney's blue eyes widened appealingly at that and John felt his cock twitch again. He might have only just come, but Rodney could make him hard again in no time at all.


"Is that what you're going to do?" Rodney whispered. "Take me down?"


John smiled affectionately and leaned in for another gentle kiss. "Oh yeah," he replied. "Now, get your clothes off and get over to the bed so I can take a good look at you."


He disengaged himself and walked over to the bed, then slowly undid his belt, knowing that Rodney was watching him, those eager eyes of his missing nothing. John put the belt and all the items hanging from it on the nightstand, then removed his vest and boots before sitting down on the bed. Then he leaned back and gazed at Rodney.


"So...clothes?" John raised an eyebrow. "I don't want to have to rip them off you because the only other things you have to wear are what Dr McKay brought you and somehow I don't think you're going to look as cute in those."


Rodney snorted at that, and quickly tugged his tee shirt over his head. He made short work of his pants, kicked off his boots and socks, and then came to stand by the bed, naked. John gazed at him for a good long time, feasting on the sight of his husband's naked flesh. Damnit but Rodney turned him on so much. He loved the broad chest and shoulders, the fine covering of chest hair, and the compact hips. But John didn't miss the tense shoulder muscles either and the way Rodney was holding his body, stiff and hunched. Rodney was stressed out, and John was going to make sure that he got exactly what he needed. His gaze rested for a long time on Rodney's swollen cock. He knew his husband had to be desperate to get off, but he also knew he had to take his time and make this really work – for both of them.


"Looks pleased to see me," John commented with a nod at Rodney's cock.


"Yeah, like it's never *not* pleased to see you, General Tightpants," Rodney shot back.


"Shame it's not allowed to come then," John told him pleasantly. Rodney sighed.


"You're evil," he muttered.


"I know." John grinned at him. "Now turn around – let's see that beautiful ass of yours." He twirled his fingers and Rodney turned, with an insouciant swing of his hips, to reveal his butt. John gave a happy sigh. He loved all of Rodney, but he had a special fondness for his husband's ass. It was just such a nice ass – round and firm and so eminently biteable, spankable and fuckable. "Mmmm...hold still," John said, grabbing Rodney around the waist and placing a big kiss on his husband's butt. Rodney giggled, and John's heart positively sang at the sound – he hadn't heard Rodney giggle once since they'd arrived in this universe, and it was a sound he'd missed. He kissed Rodney's butt some more, and then sank his teeth gently into it – just enough to leave a little mark because he liked marking Rodney's flesh and after four days away all his previous marks had faded. He knew Rodney got off on being marked too and his husband gave an excited little gurgle and glanced over his shoulder.


"I might have known it would only take you a few minutes to make sure you put the Sign of John back on me," he commented. John laughed.


"I hate it when there's not something of me here," he said, stroking Rodney's ass appreciatively. "Your whole body is like a blank canvas – and this ass of yours is a work of art of and by itself so it doesn't need that many enhancements; a nice little bite mark or handprint just sets off the colour of your skin perfectly. Now come here."


He reached out and pulled Rodney down on top of him. He liked this – him fully clothed, Rodney butt naked. It felt sexy as hell. He kissed Rodney hard on the lips again and Rodney moaned and rubbed against him.


"Are you sure about the whole not coming thing?" Rodney whimpered when John released him.


"Very sure," John said firmly. He knew that Rodney would hold on because he'd commanded him to and his husband would never disobey him on this, but he also knew that the initial frustration would only add an extra frisson to their lovemaking and Rodney would come all the more explosively when he was allowed to.


"God I hate you," Rodney sighed, kissing his way along John's jawline and ending up at his mouth again.


"Mmmm...yeah...I'm really getting that whole hating vibe off you right now," John laughed, placing his hands on Rodney's butt and squeezing. "How long has it been since I last spanked you?" he asked, stroking the soft skin affectionately.


"I don't know. A week?" Rodney glanced at him.


"That would explain why you're so mouthy then," John said. "You really shouldn't go more than a couple of days without being spanked."


"Are you going to spank me first or fuck me first?" Rodney asked, lying contentedly in his husband's arms, his naked body laid out over John's clothed one like a feast.


"Neither – I'm going to play with you first," John said, pushing Rodney up onto his haunches, and then pulling him down again so that his chest was level with John's mouth. "First these..." John closed his mouth around one of Rodney's hard nipples and sucked down on it and Rodney moaned ecstatically. John rested his hands on Rodney's butt as he worked, sucking forcefully. Rodney loved having his nipples played with and could take some quite rough play, but John wasn't in the mood to do more than suck and nibble. Rodney was sighing, and his hands came to rest on John's shoulders. John held him even tighter, and gave a little teasing bite to one of his nipples. Rodney squealed and drew back.


"As you were, Rodney," John told him, pulling him back so that he was close again and going in for another bite. Rodney squealed again, wriggling in John's grasp, but he stayed where he was and let John torment his nipples some more. John bit down gently and then soothed the sore nub with his warm tongue before repeating the action and Rodney was moaning now, begging John to stop, for the torture to end, but sighing in pleasure all the same.


Finally John drew back. "Over my knee," he said throatily, grabbing Rodney and pulling him down over his knee. Rodney's legs were splayed, revealing just a pucker of asshole, pink and inviting. John reached for the lube, rubbed it liberally over his fingers and then slid one deep into Rodney's waiting ass.


"Oh shit..." Rodney sighed, opening up under John's questing finger. John kept the finger in place and then slapped Rodney's ass with his other hand. Rodney's buttocks gave a little wobble as they were spanked and John loved the large pink handprint he left in his wake. It soon faded and John slid another finger inside Rodney, as deep as it would go, and slapped his ass again, harder this time. Rodney gave a deep moan of frustration.


"I really need to come!" he cried.


"I know," John said soothingly.


"Can I?" Rodney asked.


"Nope," John replied, spanking him again.


"I'm dying here!" Rodney complained.


"If you come before I say you can then you'll be sleeping on the floor tonight with a *really* sore ass and not in the bed with me with a pleasantly glowing one," John told him. Rodney let out a wail of utter sexual frustration and John grinned to himself. This was what he loved about Rodney – his husband was in no way stoic. He wouldn’t hold on grimly because he'd been told to – no, he bitched, and whined, and wriggled, and wheedled - and John loved it. His own cock was now hard again but he ignored it – this ass was too tempting a target for his hand, and besides, he loved fucking Rodney best when his lover had a warm butt. He slid his fingers back and forth inside Rodney's ass, all the time keeping up a firm rhythm with the palm of his other hand, and slowly but surely Rodney's ass turned from a deep creamy colour to a beautiful shade of bright pink. John's slaps were firm but erotically so – this was a pleasure spanking and they both knew the difference between this and a punishment spanking. Luckily John didn't usually have to deliver many of those.


Finally John slowed his pace, before stopping altogether, and Rodney lay over his knee, moaning softly. John noted that the tightly bunched muscles in his shoulders were already starting to look looser.


"I think that's taken care of – now I'm gonna fuck your brains out," John said.


"Promises, promises," Rodney muttered. John laughed.


"When do I ever not keep my promises?" he said, pushing Rodney off his knee only to pounce on him, and kiss him again. Rodney lay there, naked and accepting, while John covered him in kisses. Then, slowly, with a grin of total sexual evil, John slid one finger along the underside of Rodney's erect cock. He could see the goose pimples spring up on Rodney's flesh and the sheen of sweat break out on his face from the effort of not coming.


"Oh god...evil, cruel, evil, inhuman..." Rodney muttered. "Hate you, hate you, hate you..."


"Still holding on?" John asked, moving his finger rhythmically, up and down, up and down the hard shaft.


"Just about...no thanks to you," Rodney wailed. "Really hate you now."


John grinned again and moved his hand away to pinch Rodney's nipples tight.


"Ow!" Rodney cried, but John swallowed the sound with a deep kiss, keeping his squeezing grip on Rodney's nipples throughout, loving the sounds Rodney was making in the back of his throat and the way he was squirming under the fierce caress. Finally John released him and Rodney sank back, his face now nearly the same shade as his ass.


John decided it was time to put him out of his misery – he'd taken him about as far as he could go and he didn't want to push him over the edge. The last thing he wanted was to have the bed to himself later this evening – Rodney would bitch all day tomorrow if he wasn't allowed to sleep in his arms tonight and besides, John hated it when he had to sleep without Rodney beside him.


John pushed Rodney's legs open, got between them, and then slowly teased his husband's anus with his hard cock, just dipping it a little way in and then withdrawing. Rodney let out a strangled moan.


"Please...you've gotta get in me," he muttered.


"Mmm, but it's so much fun just teasing you," John replied. Rodney gazed up at him, his hair dishevelled and his eyes needy. John took pity on him, and slid his hands underneath his husband's warm buttocks and pulled them apart. Rodney gave a throaty growl that became a shriek of pure pleasure as John pressed his hard cock against his anus and then slid inside him. Rodney's legs immediately came up and wrapped themselves around John's back.


"Oh god...that's deep...but need you deeper," Rodney said hoarsely, gazing up at John blearily, his blue eyes dark with arousal.


"Okay...you can come any time you like," John told him, leaning over him, still fully clothed.


"Oh thank god!" Rodney cried.


"Any time you like after I've come," John clarified.


"Noooo! No! No! No!" Rodney moaned at the caveat, banging his head back on the pillow repeatedly in time to his protests. "You already came once when I sucked you so you'll be ages!"


"I know. I'll be a nice long time," John told him smugly. "Just lie back and enjoy." He patted Rodney's face affectionately, then grabbed his hips and began sliding in and out, with slow, leisurely thrusts. Rodney's body had lost most of the tension that John had noticed earlier, and now he was almost completely relaxed as he lay there, his arms akimbo on the bed, his erect cock standing out proud from his body as John thrust into him powerfully, taking his time. Rodney's entire body seemed to unravel a little more with each inward stroke of John's cock and John smiled to himself. It might have been merciless to insist that Rodney couldn't come but it was that lack of mercy that had turned Rodney into the boneless heap of goo currently quivering under his touch. He paused for a moment, and leaned his fully clothed body over Rodney's naked one and deposited a long, deep kiss on his husband's lips. Rodney opened up eagerly for him, kissing him back, passionately, with total abandon. John loved getting Rodney to this stage – to where he just surrendered, completely and utterly, to whatever John wanted to do to him. John lowered his face and nuzzled at Rodney's nipples, kissing and sucking them and Rodney whimpered in pleasure, his hands patting at John's back in a totally incoherent gesture of appreciation. Finally John pulled away again, and started thrusting once more. He looked down on Rodney panting and mewling beneath him and felt a wave of total love for his husband. Rodney looked so damn beautiful here like this. Thank god that beam that had brought them to this universe hadn't separated them because John knew he'd be beside himself with worry if that had happened. At least they were together – and even if they could never find a way home, they'd always have each other.


Rodney was smiling up at him, and John wondered if he was thinking something similar. Rodney's ass was milking his cock, making each thrust even more pleasurable, and John knew he was close. He moved up the pace, pounding into Rodney faster and harder, until he was coming, ejaculating his warm semen deep into Rodney's body. He hung there for a moment, gasping and blinking as his orgasm continued for what felt like a very long and intensely pleasurable time, and then moved his hand to take firm hold of Rodney's cock.


"I'm done, Rodney," he muttered. "So you can come - any time you want." He slid his hand up and down Rodney's hard shaft a couple of times but that was all it took and then Rodney was coming over his hand and over his own naked stomach, with a cry of absolute sexual pleasure. John grinned, and rolled over, wanting to avoid getting splattered while he was still dressed. He removed his clothes and then got back into bed and took Rodney in his arms. Rodney nestled against him, in that way he had, melting against John's body, and they lay there for a long time. Every so often John moved his face and kissed Rodney's hair, or forehead, or lips, and Rodney would reciprocate by stroking John's bottom with those big, clever hands of his.


"What were you thinking – earlier?" John asked. "When you smiled at me?"


"I was wondering why I'd been getting so pissed off with Dr McKay for bringing us here," Rodney replied. "No, this isn't our universe and we don't belong here - but when you were looking down on me just then as you made love to me, I just kind of figured that none of that matters because wherever you are is home."


John didn't have a reply for that. He just gathered Rodney up in his arms and kissed him deeply on the lips for a very, very long time.





Rodney McKay tried turning on the QDD for the 25th time and for the 25th time in a row got a faint flicker of light followed by a noise that sounded like a depressed parrot wailing down a well and then the light disappeared, the noise ended abruptly, and the QDD went black and dead – again.


"Oh god." Rodney sat down and buried his head in his arms. He'd been working on the device non-stop ever since the accident that had transported their doppelgangers into their universe, apart from his brief sojourn to give the newcomers clothes. Carson had dropped by a couple of times but had left fairly soon once Rodney started snapping at him. Even Radek had eventually had enough of his foul mood and had disappeared somewhere but Rodney couldn't stop working. If he could have got the device working by sheer force of will alone then he would have, but in his heart he knew that the other Rodney's prognosis that it might take weeks was probably correct – and he couldn’t stand the thought of it. Weeks! Weeks of having to put up with his irritating alter ego and his freaky relationship with the doppelganger John. It made Rodney's palms sweat and itch just thinking about it.


"Hey," a voice said, and Rodney stiffened. Oh no. Not now. This was the last thing he needed. "You're still working on this? It's been hours. I thought Dr Sheppard said it would take weeks to fix? So it doesn't matter how many all-nighters you pull, Rodney, those guys are still going to be hanging around here for awhile."


Rodney got up without saying a word, and then, completely ignoring Sheppard, picked up some tools and headed back to the QDD.


"Rodney?" Sheppard sounded bemused behind him. "Look, I know you screwed up and you're feeling responsible for this but it's not a total disaster. Well, it's a small disaster, but not on the Arcturus scale for example. No solar systems got wiped out." Rodney could imagine the Colonel had a stupid grin on his face when he said that and that just annoyed him even more.


"Hello – ignoring you right now!" he snapped, holding up a hand.


"Ignoring me? Why?" Sheppard asked, sounding genuinely puzzled. Rodney turned around, feeling utterly exasperated. Was the man completely clueless?


"Are we on the same page here?" he exploded. "Those two men are...the other Rodney is...don't tell me you're not seriously freaked out by their relationship?"


"Well...maybe a bit," Sheppard acknowledged. "That's partly why I'm here. Look – don't freeze me out, McKay – you're the only other person around here who understands how weird all this is."


Rodney gazed at him for a moment. He had a point. Nobody else had a clue – not even Carson, for all his bustling attempts to be sympathetic earlier.


"You're right. I'm sorry. I'm just...finding this really hard to handle," Rodney said miserably, putting his tools down. "They look just like us, Colonel! I mean – nobody should have to know what they look like from behind, or that their hair does that stupid thing at the back, or how they sound when they're talking too fast."


"But they're not us, Rodney – they're them. I guess it's kind of like having a twin brother or something," Sheppard told him.


"A gay twin brother who wears a collar and gets off on being pulled around on the end of a leash by his scary boyfriend," Rodney groused, sitting down again with a sigh, feeling utterly bone weary.


"You thought the General was scary? I thought he was kind of cool," Sheppard said sitting down beside him.


"Yeah – and that's another thing. You get the cool doppelganger while I get the irritating one," Rodney replied. Sheppard turned and gazed at him steadily. "Oh don't even say it!" Rodney snapped.


"Say what?" Sheppard said, spreading his arms.


"That they're just like us. That your doppelganger is cool and mine is irritating because you're cool and I'm irritating," Rodney muttered.


"I wasn't going to say that," Sheppard said, although Rodney thought he detected a trace of smugness in his expression. "What I was going to say, Rodney," Sheppard said quietly, "is that this whole thing is strange. Not them per se but the fact that this means that there really are an infinite number of different versions of me living out their lives in various different universes. I mean when you think of the scale of it...it's mind blowing. And also...kind of humbling. I always used to think I was unique, but now...well, I guess I'm not."


"You're still unique in this universe," Rodney told him. "We were never supposed to meet our alternate selves – the fabric of space/time isn't constructed that way."


"Yet the Ancients built the QDD and made it possible," the Colonel pointed out.


"Yes but...maybe they never got it to work properly." Rodney bit on his lip.


"Rodney?" Sheppard was looking at him intently, and Rodney examined his hands in some detail. "Rodney?" Sheppard asked again.


"I don't know!" Rodney said finally. "I'm just saying – maybe the drawback is always that you can't send people back. Maybe we can fix it and maybe it'll work but even if it does – we don't have a clue how to focus it, or make it do what we want it to. We might get it working but that's no guarantee we'll be able to send them back. Maybe we'll just suck more people over here. Or maybe we won't even get it working and we'll be stuck with these guys forever and I seriously don't think I could stand that. I'd have to ask for a transfer back to Earth."


"It won't come to that," Sheppard said firmly. "Rodney, you have to give these guys a chance. Yes, I know there are some...cultural differences, but none of that is a reflection on you. Their preferences aren't yours. Their relationship doesn't say anything about you."


It all seemed so reasonable. Rodney glanced up, miserably, and looked into Sheppard's hazel eyes. They seemed sincere – he didn't appear to be laughing at Rodney.


"I just...you know, the rest of the base is going to be having a party with this," Rodney muttered wearily. "They'll be laughing at me."


"Hey – you're not the guy whose alter ego wears the tight black leather pants," Sheppard grinned. "If they'll be laughing at anyone it's me, but seriously I don't think they will. Now look, I said we'd meet them in the mess hall around seven. Why don't you come along?"


"I'm not finished here," Rodney said quickly.


"Yes you are," Sheppard told him firmly. "How long since you ate something, Rodney? You've been locked up in here avoiding everyone since this happened. You can't stay here forever and you can't skulk around hoping to avoid two men who are on the same base. You're going to have to work with Dr Sheppard – so you might as well at least try to get to know the guy so you can have some kind of a professional rapport with him."


"Dr Sheppard – I mean, just the name..." Rodney shook his head in disgust. "And he's so arrogant!"


"Yeah, well...that seems to come with the face," the Colonel said, getting to his feet.


"Hah! I am not that arrogant!" Rodney protested.


"Sure you are," Sheppard replied. "If the situations were reversed and he'd sucked you into his universe, then you'd be the one making the digs at him – and of course you both know exactly which buttons to press to really wind each other up."


Rodney had to acknowledge that there was some truth in that. He got to his feet, reluctantly.


"Come on," Sheppard said, gesturing with his head in the direction of the door. "It won't be so bad."


Rodney sighed and allowed himself to be persuaded, much against his better judgement.


The mess hall was crowded when they got there and Rodney seriously suspected that was because everyone wanted to gawk at the newcomers. There was certainly a little crowd around them; Elizabeth, Carson, Ronon, Teyla – even Radek and Major Lorne were gathered around where the two men were sitting. Rodney grabbed some food and then followed Sheppard, frowning at everyone who so much as dared to glance in his general direction.


Rodney dumped his tray on the table and sat down beside Sheppard, grateful at least that he had some moral support in the situation. He noticed that the other Rodney had changed into one of his tee shirts – and it pained him ever so slightly to see that it hung a little more loosely on his doppelganger than it did on him. He also noticed that both men had slightly wet hair and he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying hard to banish the mental image of the two of them sharing a shower together.


"I was just saying," Carson told Rodney and Sheppard, "that the results of the DNA test were startling. These two men have identical DNA to you two. There isn't even the slightest variation. You are, to all intents and purposes, exactly the same people."


"Except for them being, you know, them and not us," Rodney said pointedly. "With their customs and ways and freaky lifestyles and not our more sensible arrangements." He glared at the other Rodney who just grinned at him in return. Rodney frowned. This was different.


"Well obviously they've had different life experiences and come from a very differently ordered universe – but on a genetic level there is no difference," Carson pressed. This didn't help the way Rodney was feeling. If these men were the same as them, then how did that explain the difference in their sexual preferences? Rodney took a large mouthful of food and tried to let the conversation wash over him.


"I'm sorry – we should let our guests get something to eat," Elizabeth said. "We got so engrossed in conversation that we got a little sidetracked."


"Great. I'm starving," the other Rodney said, his eyes lighting up. He glanced at the General who nodded to him and even that irritated Rodney. Did the other Rodney have to get permission for *everything*? It was so demeaning! The other Rodney got to his feet and then paused, and looked at him. "So, Dr McKay – any news on the QDD?" he asked, in a more pleasant tone of voice than Rodney had heard from him all day.


"It's still not working," Rodney told him grumpily between mouthfuls of food.


"I'll report to the lab first thing tomorrow – see what we can do with it," the other Rodney said, turning and almost scampering over to the food trays.


"Yes, because once we have your shining intellect in the lab I'm sure it'll be fixed in the blink of an eye," Rodney muttered into his dinner.


"Rodney. Play nice," Sheppard whispered to him. "I think he's trying to be friendly."


"How can you tell?" Rodney countered under his breath. Sheppard just glared at him.


The other Rodney returned to the table with an enormous plateful of food and Rodney scowled at him.


"Seriously – even I've never been that hungry," he commented.


"It's for both of us," the General said calmly. "Rodney always gets my food for me."


"Oh god no," Rodney groaned, as the other Rodney sat down beside the General. The two men looked very relaxed and at home. They seemed more at ease now than they had been earlier, and Rodney flushed deeply when he realised the probable reason why. He really didn't want any more of these explicit mental images taking up space in his head so he shovelled another large portion of food into his mouth and chewed on it glumly, trying to concentrate on anything other than the idea of these two men having sex with each other.


The General started cutting up some food, took a bite, and then offered a forkful to his husband. The other Rodney took it with a smile at his husband and then the General started making conversation as if all this was a totally normal way of behaving. Rodney swallowed down his own mouthful of food with difficulty, his mouth suddenly having gone dry.


"So, we were talking to Carson earlier about our different customs," the General said. "And..." he glanced around the table speculatively, "judging by the way you're looking at us right now, I'm figuring that we're doing something you don't normally do."


"You could say that," Rodney snapped. "Normally we feed ourselves. We don't need someone else to do it for us. We're all grown men, not babies."


"It's just our way," the General said, flashing an easy and utterly disarming smile in his direction. He gave his husband another forkful of food and then rested his hand gently on the back of the other Rodney's neck and stroked the ends of his wet curly hair affectionately. Rodney didn't know where to look. It was just so...embarrassing somehow. He noticed that he wasn't the only one freaked out by the blatant displays of affection between the two men. Major Lorne looked as if someone had slapped him around the face while Elizabeth had her best diplomat's face on – the one she wore when she was trying to be friendly and non-judgemental even when she was seriously freaked out. Others seemed less bothered by it – Ronon was mainly only interested in his food, and Teyla had that benign look on her face that came from having met a lot of people from a lot of different cultures and being familiar with and unfazed by their different customs. Radek also seemed to have adapted relatively quickly and was more interested in finding out about what had happened to him in the newcomers' universe.


"It was during the siege of Atlantis," the General told him, shaking his head. "God it feels weird to be talking to you again, Radek. Weird and totally fantastic of course – to be able to see and talk to someone who has died – it's...well, it's wonderful." He gave a wide and genuine smile, looking utterly delighted. "Anyway, during the siege you and Rodney and Lewis went to an Ancient orbiting weapons platform and tried to get it working so you could take out some of the hive ships. You got trapped onboard and were killed when it was destroyed. Rodney was really cut up about that when he got back. He missed you in the lab – hell, we all missed you, Radek." He beamed at Radek fondly.


"We had that siege too – about a year ago?" Sheppard said, nodding slowly. "So the events in our universes are similar but not quite the same?"


"It would seem so," Elizabeth mused. "We lost Peter Grodin in the way you describe – not Radek."


"Peter?" the other Rodney glanced at her and then at the General. "Our Peter is still very much alive." He looked at Elizabeth and bit on his lip. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth," he said to her. Elizabeth looked confused.


"Why are you sorry for me?"


"Well, in our universe you and Peter were in a relationship," the other Rodney shrugged. "I can imagine how devastated our Elizabeth would be if she lost Peter. He's totally her right hand man and she relies on him."


"Really?" Elizabeth looked stunned. "Peter? Me and Peter Grodin?"


"They got together after the siege," the General told her. "Obviously that never happened here if Peter died."


"And also there's the fact that you people don't seem to have sex," the other Rodney added. "So you probably wouldn't have got together anyway."


"Rodney," the General murmured in a low, reproving tone, and that hand he had on his Rodney's neck squeezed warningly.


"Well, that's an interesting observation," Elizabeth said, looking uncomfortable.


"And there see - every time sex is mentioned you all go very tense and weird," the other Rodney added, munching heartily on a mouthful of food.


"Did you actually want to go to bed hungry?" the General growled at him. "Because right now I'm not feeling inclined to give you any more food."


Rodney stiffened – the General got to decide what and how much the other Rodney got to eat? That was such a horrible thought that he jammed some of his own meal hurriedly into his mouth almost as a reflex action against the notion of it being forcibly taken away from him.


"I'm sorry." The other Rodney nuzzled against his husband apologetically. "I honestly didn't mean that to be insulting – I just find it curious, that's all. I mean, are you people *all* single?"


The Atlanteans exchanged glances.


"Well, I guess we are, yes," Elizabeth replied.


"Which would explain the level of stress on this base," the other Rodney commented. "I mean, all that sexual tension!"


"We're not stressed – we're here to do a job not spend our lives rutting like rabbits!" Rodney snapped, unable to bear it.


"No, you don't seem remotely stressed to me," the other Rodney told him calmly with an ironically raised eyebrow.


"We're getting the impression that your society is a bit more open about sexual relationships than ours," Elizabeth interjected smoothly.


"So – you've been fighting the Wraith, just as we have," Ronon cut in, in that deep, gruff voice of his, clearly uninterested in all the talk about relationships. "Have you found a way of defeating them yet?"


"Unfortunately, no," the General replied with a sigh. "I was wondering if you'd come up with any more effective ways of fighting them than we have. Maybe we could swap notes?"


"I'd be glad to show you our military reports," Sheppard told him. "If there is any knowledge we could pool then it would benefit us both – perhaps we could go through them tomorrow morning?"


"Good. Yes. Thank you, Colonel." The General nodded thoughtfully and Sheppard looked kind of proud and pleased with himself. Rodney could understand that – there was something about General Sheppard; he just made you want to impress him, to be noticed by him, to get a nod of approval from him. He was so effortlessly cool.


"I was wondering – you two seem to have a complex hierarchy when it comes to chains of command and law and order," Carson mused. "Is your entire universe like that?"


"Complex? I don't know about that," the General said. "Your society seems way more complex to me. Ours is relatively straightforward. Once you've figured out your power dynamic and preference, it's relatively easy to fit into our society. Of course, figuring it out isn't always easy – god knows I had my difficult teenage years when I didn't know what I was or what I wanted and I got into a lot of trouble while I figured it out but eventually you grow into yourself somehow." He glanced at his Rodney and grinned. "Even Rodney figured it out eventually."


"Yeah. With some help from you," the other Rodney said, smiling fondly back at his husband. "Before he came along I was a basket case. Totally screwed up."


"And that's different to what you're like now how?" Rodney raised an eyebrow of his own back at his nemesis. The other Rodney refused to rise to the bait though. He just...giggled. There was no other word for it. He giggled. His face creased up, and he made a little gurgling sound at the back of his throat. All the Atlanteans around the table gazed at him, surprise etched on their faces at such a very un-Rodneylike sound emerging from the other Rodney's mouth. The General grinned, and tickled his Rodney's neck affectionately, then leaned over and kissed his ear. Rodney wished the earth would open and swallow him whole. Did they really need to be so overt about their relationship? There was just no way you could ignore the fact that these two men were besotted with each other and that made Rodney glance sideways at Sheppard, only to find that Sheppard was glancing uneasily back at him, and they both exchanged discomforted looks.


"It's completely different," the other Rodney said eventually, still giggling a little. Rodney noticed that the giggle appeared to be infectious as Elizabeth, Carson and Radek were all grinning away madly as well. "Before I met John I couldn't figure myself out at all – tried to top, tried to bottom, tried to switch. Nothing seemed to work for me – the thing was, I never met a top who was smart enough to handle me until John came along and I knew it. I ran rings around them all. But John – well John had me all figured out in that quiet way of his and before I knew it..." the other Rodney shrugged and slapped his hand down hard on the table, making Rodney jump. "Bam. He had me over his knee and eating out of his hand. Literally – in both cases."


"Oh god. That's way too much information," Rodney growled, struggling to suppress another one of those irritatingly persistent mental images.


"I think it's interesting," Elizabeth said brightly, in a slightly forced tone. "Carson was saying that your whole society is structured around these power relationships?"


"Yes, we got a bit freaked out earlier when he told us you punish people in your society by locking them away. We find that a bit barbaric to be honest," the General said.


"But your society uses physical chastisement – we find that equally barbaric," Elizabeth replied, looking a little stung. The General shrugged.


"I suppose it's a matter of perspective," he said. "Our way at least keeps people in their homes and jobs, while at the same time ensuring they do receive a penalty for any wrongdoing. It's not perfect but it works for us."


"So what happens – you get to punish Dr Sheppard when he does something wrong?" the Colonel asked. Rodney clenched his fists tightly around his cutlery and thrust another large forkful of food into his mouth and began chewing savagely on it, more as a way of distracting himself than because he was actually hungry.


"Yeah." The General nodded. "I've given him a few pretty hard spankings when he's been out of line."


Rodney spat out the mouthful of food he was eating, much to everyone's general amusement.


"I sincerely hope this isn't giving anyone around here any ideas," Rodney spluttered.


Elizabeth grinned at him and patted one of his hands affectionately. "Don't worry, Rodney," she said with a little laugh. "Nobody is going to spank you."


"Although we've all had our moments of wishing we could," Carson muttered. Rodney glared at him.


"You're supposed to be a doctor and against harming people on principle," he said stiffly.


"I'm just saying – it seems to work okay for these nice people," Carson teased, with a wide grin.


"It's all just...completely crazy," Rodney growled.


"It's how our universe works. Always has," the General shrugged. "I don't actually understand how your universe works – you must need so many rules to govern all your interactions. Things are much simpler where we come from."


At that moment, Colonel Caldwell came over to their table, bearing a tray of food.


"Excuse me – can I join you?" he asked politely, his eyes flickering over the new John and Rodney with a look of fascination. Rodney sighed – he guessed there wasn't anybody who didn't know about the newcomers by now. He suspected that total strangers could gate in from the furthest reaches of the Pegasus galaxy and know about it within 30 seconds of arriving.


"Of course, Colonel! Good to see you!" the General said. "I was wondering when you were going to show up."


"Uh...I have a meeting...with some other people...back in the...my place...you know...the, uh, infirmary," Carson said hurriedly. Rodney frowned at him, wondering what the hell his problem was, but Carson was so eager to be gone that he almost knocked over his chair as he scrambled out of the mess hall.


Rodney decided he didn't want to stay for much longer either. Despite what Colonel Sheppard had said about not pulling an all-nighter he knew that was exactly what he was going to do. There was no way he was going to allow his doppelganger into his lab tomorrow without having a much better handle on what exactly was wrong with the QDD and how to fix it.


Part Three: Awakenings



Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard arrived at his desk a couple of hours early the next day, anxious to have time to prepare for his meeting with the General. He wasn't sure why he was feeling so apprehensive, but he did know that there was something about the idea of spending a few hours in the company of his alter ego that both un-nerved and excited him. The truth was, and John was barely able to admit this even to himself, but General Sheppard was exactly the kind of man he'd once wanted to be. He didn't know when he'd lost touch with that ambition, or why, but seeing the General striding around Atlantis, so sure of himself and his place in the universe, whichever universe he happened to be in, had brought some uncomfortable emotions to the surface for John. It was hard to put his finger on it exactly – he just knew that he didn't want the General to find him disappointing. He wondered if everyone felt like that around the man or whether it was just him because they shared the same face and name. Did people look at him like they looked at the General, John wondered? Did they strive to impress him and do their best to get a word of praise from him the way he wanted praise from the General? Somehow he doubted it. He knew his people liked and respected him, but he also knew that he wasn't in the same league as General Sheppard and he wondered why. What had happened in the General's life that had rendered him so at ease with himself? He looked like the kind of man who'd never made a wrong decision, and even though John doubted that could be entirely true, he envied him the appearance of it all the same.


John disliked paperwork. He got it done, but he was rarely up to date with it so most of his files were a mess – except the ones on the Wraith. Protecting his people motivated John far more than filing equipment inventories, drawing up staffing rotas and conducting personnel appraisals. He was relieved that at least he'd be able to show the General a clean set of military reports, neatly filed and up to date; he just prayed the General wouldn't ask to see anything else and even that surprised him a little. Since when had Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard cared what anyone thought of him?


John spent a couple of hours making his office and his files as respectable as possible, and had them in some kind of shape by the time the General knocked on his door. John called him in and then paused, finding himself seriously fazed because the General was wearing his uniform. His identical uniform. The leather pants, tight tee shirt and vest were gone – he'd still retained those little quirks that were presumably customary in his universe – the pendant around his neck, the silver earring dangling from his ear and the impressive black leather belt around his waist from which hung an assortment of different objects but apart from that – there was no difference.


"Can I come in?" The General paused in the doorway looking at John with a quizzical expression on his face.


"Uh...yeah...I...sorry - damn but you look just like me," John said, with a little laugh.


The General grinned. "It's the clothes. Thanks for them by the way. They fit just fine and it's good to have something clean to put on. I even managed to persuade Rodney to wear those pants of Dr McKay's this morning."


"Ah. I'm guessing that wasn't easy," John grinned.


"An understatement," the General grinned back. "In the end I resorted to taking his own clothes down to the laundry while he was in the shower so he had no choice."


"I'm surprised I didn't hear the yell of protest all the way from here when he found out about that," John chuckled. The General laughed.


"Yeah. He wasn't happy," he said, shaking his head.


"Uh...now, perhaps I'm not understanding the rules of your society but couldn't you have just ordered him to wear them?" John said carefully. He was intrigued by the way things worked in this alternate universe. Everything about it seemed strange to him, and from what the General had said, he found everything equally strange about John's universe.


"Ah, well, yes I could," the General nodded. "But I prefer to save that kind of thing for when it's really important. There are ways to make things happen without throwing your weight around. At the end of the day he knows that what I say goes but there's no point making every single minor issue a battle of wills. It'd be exhausting apart from anything else, and also...I love him. I don't want to squash him."


John nodded, completely not understanding. Maybe this was just another example of how the General seemed to be so effortlessly at ease with his own authority. He didn't *have* to assert himself unnecessarily because he was so sure of himself.


"Would you like some coffee?" John offered.


"Yeah – black, o..."


"One sugar, I got it," John grinned. "I figure we both like our coffee the same way." He handed the General a coffee and the other man took it, grinning back at him.


"You figured right then."


"Anyway I flicked through some of the mission reports and pulled out the ones that seemed most relevant," John said, gesturing to the General to sit in the chair beside him. "It'll be interesting to see how many things happened the same way in our different universes. Perhaps we could compare notes – you might have done something different to us that worked better than what we did, or vice versa."


"Sure." The General nodded slowly, taking a bunch of files and leaning back in his chair. John leaned back in his own chair and then they both, simultaneously, swung their long legs up onto the desk. Then, taken aback at the mirroring, they glanced at each other and laughed.


"Damn but this is weird," John said. "I told Rodney it was kind of like having a twin brother but it's still weird to acquire one as an adult."


"Damn weird. We even have the same mannerisms," the General said. "I'm glad to hear you spoke to Dr McKay about this situation we're in," he added, thoughtfully. John raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "I understand that you and he are not together in this universe, and Dr Beckett was kind enough to explain that your people have some taboos about same gender relationships so I completely appreciate that things are very different for you, but..." He broke off with a shrug. "It's just sad to see him like this, that's all."


"Like what?" John asked, frowning.


"Alone. Lonely."


"Oh Rodney's fine." John waved his hand around airily. "Yeah, he can be snippy, but he's like that with everyone. That's just him."


"No. It isn't," the General said. "He's like that because he's lonely. I know because that's what my husband was like when I first met him."


"Your Rodney is still pretty snippy," John pointed out, feeling a little stung.


"Only with your Rodney," the General replied sharply. "And I think that's because he really hates being reminded what he was like. And of course he's also pretty stressed out about our current situation but I think I've taken care of that and he's calmed down now. Your Rodney doesn't have anyone to look out for him though – there's nobody to calm him down."


"Oh there's nothing wrong with Rodney!" John replied, more forcefully than he'd intended. "He's not lonely – he's just a workaholic who never gets laid and exists in a state of more or less permanent high stress. That's the way he likes it – well apart from the not getting laid thing probably, but he's fine. You make it sound like he's about to have a nervous breakdown or something."


"No...nothing like that. I just wish he was happy," the General said softly. "Tell me, Colonel – John - it seems so weird to me that you and I would look so alike, and have the same mannerisms even down to the way we like to put our feet up on the desk when we're reading - and yet we seem to have very different feelings. Can you honestly tell me that you've never thought about Rodney as a potential..."


"No!" John interrupted firmly, feeling himself flush.


"You have to have noticed how incredibly cute he is. The bright blue eyes, the attitude, the intelligence and of course that great ass," the General grinned. John swallowed hard. In all honesty he *had* noticed all those things about Rodney but never in a focussed way. He didn't spend his time sitting around thinking about it, but there were times when he'd looked – and then looked away again, dismissing the thought as idle sexual speculation, not something to be taken seriously. This was *Rodney* they were talking about after all, and although John had had plenty of sexual experiences with other men, he'd never had a relationship with one. It was too much hassle and had never been worth it in terms of his career apart from anything else. He liked women too and that was a much easier path to go down. Was that just society's conditioning, John wondered, because the General's people seemed to be comfortably bisexual. "So you have noticed," the General murmured, those hazel eyes of his missing nothing.


"Yes. Okay. I've noticed," John replied, in a strangled tone, wishing fervently that they weren't having this conversation. "But this is *Rodney* we're talking about here. I'd never go there. He'd probably shoot me with my own gun if I even tried. Trust me, we're not as alike as you think, General. Rodney is seriously uncomfortable with the relationship you and Dr Sheppard have - it's not something he wants in his own life."


"Maybe he's uncomfortable because it is," the General said softly.


"No." John shook his head. "Really. No. There is simply no way that's what's going on in Rodney's brain right now. Mainly what's going on in Rodney's brain is that he's really pissed off that he fucked up and brought you here and he really wants to send you back to where you came from asap. There's not a whole lot else going on."


"You know him pretty well then?" the General smiled.


"Rodney's an open book," John said with a shrug, taking a sip of coffee. "You can pretty much tell everything he's thinking by looking in his eyes...although that's less helpful than it seems because mostly what he's thinking about is food!" he grinned.


"Oh yeah. Ain't that the truth," the General grinned back at him. "Or sex of course," he added, and grinned again when John choked on his coffee at that.


"So, back to business," John said in a bright tone when he'd recovered. "Mission reports."


They worked for a couple of hours, comparing notes as the General read through the reports.


"So in your universe you found a ZPM on Dagan. We searched there but didn't find anything." The General shook his head.


"Ah, yeah, that was the Indiana Jones mission," John grinned. "Not that finding it did us any good because we didn't get to keep it."


"Of course your Rodney had the incentive of Acastus Kolya holding you hostage to help motivate him," the General muttered grimly.


"Kolya didn't show up in your universe?" John asked. He'd often thought how much easier that mission would have been without Kolya but the General was telling him they'd never even have found the ZPM if Kolya hadn't come along and given Rodney an incentive to be more brilliant than usual.


"No, Kolya didn't show up in my universe because Kolya was dead," the General said grimly. "I killed him myself."


"You killed him?" John turned, startled. The General had gone very still, and his body was taut. "When? Why?" John asked.


"Why?" the General said, in a surprised tone, as if it was obvious. "He touched Rodney," he growled. "During the big storm – he took a knife to Rodney's arm and scarred him for life with his mark. He put HIS mark on *my* husband. He hit him, held him prisoner away from me, and he hurt him." The General looked absolutely outraged and John was unprepared for the other man's vehemence. "You think I'd let him live after that?" the General growled, in a hard, cold tone that sent shivers up John's spine. "I followed him through the Stargate and killed him with my own hands in a fair fight in front of his people. I think that sent a message to the Genii that nobody hurts anything of mine and lives to boast about it. They haven't troubled us again since."


"Right. Okay." John nodded slowly. Just when he'd been feeling at ease with the guy, the General showed a darker side than John had hitherto glimpsed. He suddenly had the feeling that this man was really not to be messed with – or, perhaps more to the point, Dr Rodney Sheppard was not to be messed with - because if anything happened to him, John had the feeling that the General would go ballistic, and his revenge would most likely be short, to the point...and fairly brutal.


They flicked through some more mission reports, and then the General paused, deep in thought.


"I'm wondering – as your Rodney found that ZPM – did he also have any luck with the Arcturus weapon or didn't you encounter that?"


"No, we encountered it all right," John sighed, throwing his counterpart a file. "There you go."


"Man what a fuck up that mission was," the General said, flicking open the file.


"For us too," John told him.


"Ah." The General read through the file, quietly, one finger playing with the pendant around his neck as he did so. When he'd finished he looked up, shaking his head. "Well, that's pretty much what happened in our universe too," he sighed. "Half a solar system blown away and we were lucky to get out of there in time."


"You agreed to allow your Rodney to work on the weapon then?" John had always regretted allowing Rodney to talk him into that one, and he was pleased to hear that his counterpart, for all his air of being totally in command of any given situation, had also tripped up on that occasion.


"Yes," the General sighed and then he glanced sharply at John. "But it says here you agreed too. What did he say to convince you?"


"Some stuff about trust and having faith in his abilities, yada yada yada and then he threw in something about him winning the Nobel prize...and he just looked so kind of...well, you know what Rodney's like. He was like a really determined and over-eager puppy with extremely sharp teeth and he just wouldn't take no for an answer. I suppose on some level also I really wanted to be convinced because that weapon sounded really cool, although I'm still kicking myself about that. How about you? Did your conversation with him go the same way?"


"Yeah, pretty much by the sounds of it – although my Rodney also threw in a truly spectacular blow job for good measure," the General said and then he grinned when John pulled a 'too much information' face. "Your Rodney must be pretty damn persuasive if he managed to convince you without the benefit of a blow job," the General commented.


"Well, you know Rodney," John shrugged, wondering what a truly spectacular blow job from Rodney would be like and then catching himself wondering and shrugging the thought quickly away.


"Anyone would think you had a soft spot for him," the General murmured.


"Nice try, General, but we're not going there," John replied. "And I wish he hadn't damn well persuaded me. That decision still keeps me up at night. How about you?"


"It doesn't give me sleepless nights – although I can't say the same for Rodney," the General said softly. "My Lady Elizabeth really wasn't happy about that one." He gave a little grimace.


"Yeah – ours wasn't thrilled either. She gave Rodney a chewing out half the base heard."


The General frowned. "Maybe that's why it still occasionally keeps you awake at night then," he murmured. John glanced at him questioningly, trying to figure out what he was getting at.


"Well, you supported Rodney – so surely some of the fallout should have come your way when it all went wrong?" The General raised an uncompromising eyebrow and John didn't know how to respond to that. He hadn't thought of it that way. He was saved from having to reply by a knock followed by a flurry of activity at the door as the two Rodneys tumbled excitedly into the room. Now that they were dressed identically John had to take a moment to tell them apart – the likeness really was uncanny. His task was made even harder by the fact that neither of them would keep still and they kept finishing each other's sentences.


"We think we know how to fix the QDD!" one of them announced.


"Of course it isn't simple. What happened was that during transport the energy exchange was so great that the internal crystals were obliterated," the other said.


"Completely burnt out," the first one continued.


"Which sounds bad..."


"And in fact *is* bad..."


"And at first we weren't sure whether we'd be able to repair them or not..."


"We looked at them for hours and then we decided we *couldn't* repair them..."


"Even two brains working at our level of genius can't repair crystals that damaged..."


"Although if anyone *could* have repaired them it would have been us..."


John glanced at the General to find the other man glancing back at him looking as completely bemused and stupefied as he was feeling. If having one Rodney around was both exhilarating and faintly scary, having two pacing around the room, both of their hands flailing madly as they spoke at top speed, was positively disorienting.


"So we need to find some new crystals..."


"Sounds easy. Isn't..."


"We checked through an inventory of everything we've found on Atlantis since arriving and there aren't any crystals of the exact shape and energy type we need..."


"We COULD modify some but that would be time consuming..."


"BUT...then I remembered there was this planet we went to about 5 months ago, PBX-250"


"Hang on!" The General said, finally managing to get a word in edgeways. "PBX-250 – wasn’t that the planet with the really unfriendly aliens? The ones who wanted to tie us up and sacrifice us to their gods?"


"Yes, yes, yes!" his Rodney said impatiently – John had identified him by his slightly longer hair and the glimpse of his leather collar beneath his shirt.


"As I recall we barely got away with our lives last time – what makes you think it would be different in this universe?"


"Maybe they don't worship the same gods in this universe?" the General's Rodney suggested.


"Unlikely," the General snorted. "The Colonel and I have just been going through their mission reports – things seem to happen pretty much the same, with just a few minor details changing."


"Well it's worth a try!" both Rodneys said at the same time.


"Okay, pipe down here. It's hard enough concentrating on one of you, let alone both of you," the General said. "You – Rodney – sit down and shut up for a second. You – Dr McKay, could you finish explaining this please?"


The General's Rodney sat down with a dramatic sigh and a little pout in his husband's direction. The General reached out a lazy arm and cuffed the back of his head affectionately in response. That left their own Rodney taking centre stage – something he looked happy about, as usual.


"According to Dr Sheppard here, Planet PBX-250 used to be some kind of Ancient outpost," Atlantis's Rodney said, puffing up his chest as he held forth. "The people who live there now are primitive – as evidenced by the whole human sacrifice thing – but if we can get around them then there is Ancient technology just littered around the place. Dr Sheppard said there was a large chamber, sunk deep into a mountain rockface, where he definitely saw crystals of the kind we need - and all kinds of other stuff. There might even be a ZPM!" he said excitedly. "Not that that would help with the QDD of course but..."


John closed his eyes and tried to concentrate – there were far too many acronyms being casually thrown around in this conversation.


"But a ZPM would be very useful for 101 other things on Atlantis!" the other Rodney finished excitedly, clearly unable to keep out of the conversation. The General cuffed him lightly on the back of the head again.


"Ssh. It's hard enough following one of you, let alone both," he growled.


The General's Rodney grinned back at his husband. "John – this is do-able!" he exclaimed. "We could gate over there, grab the crystals, gate back, install the crystals in the QDD and be home in a couple of days."


"Is that true?" John said, turning to his own Rodney for confirmation. "Is it that simple?"


"Well, theoretically yes," Atlantis's Rodney replied. "Although the crazy religious cult people might not be so keen on us stealing their stuff."


"They're not using it!" the other Rodney protested. "They don't even know what it's for! It's just lying around, underfoot!"


"Rodney – last time we went there they nearly barbecued us," the General pointed out.


"But we do have the advantage of the fact that you've been there before so you know what to expect," John said slowly. "And also we'll have the benefit of surprise – you've been there but *we* haven't – so they won't know anything about us and they won't be expecting us. If we plan it right..."


"I could draw up some maps and we could talk about how we deployed our team," the General said slowly.


"If we went in prepared, with a clear mission objective and the right equipment..." John continued.


"Hah! And they thought *we* were confusing when we did that," the General's Rodney said, his eyes gleaming. "So?" He looked at the General expectantly. "Is it a 'yes', John?"


The General glanced at John who sighed and held up his arms in surrender. "It's the over-eager puppy dog thing, like I said," he muttered.


"Yup. They're just so persuasive. Even without the truly spectacular blo..."


"Uh, yes!" John told the Rodneys, interrupting the General before he could finish that sentence. "We'll need to run it by Elizabeth of course, but I don't think she'll object so it's a yes."


"When do we set off? I could be ready in an hour," his Rodney said.


"Tomorrow will be fine, Rodney," John told him, with a roll of his eyes. "I know we want to send these people back home as soon as possible but we do have some planning to do before we set off."


"Fine. Okay. Fine. We need to do some preparation in any case because the housing was burnt out during the transfer. It'll need ..." The Rodneys continued their discussion as they walked back out of the door.


"Well at least they seem to be working together okay," John said once the two Rodneys had left.


"Yeah – for now at least. I guess there's nothing like a good intellectual puzzle to keep them both out of mischief – and away from each other's throats. Now – let's get working on that plan," the General said, clearing a space on the table.



Several hours later, John left his office, rolling his head from side to side and getting a satisfying crack in response. He could feel the usual pre-mission excitement building in the pit of his stomach and was actively looking forward to the following day. First, he had to run a couple of errands though. He stopped by the practice room first and found Ronon there, as he often was, sparring with a couple of volunteers. John beckoned him over – he and the General had already gone over the mission plan with the big man, but there were some private orders he wanted to give him.


"Listen – tomorrow I want you to stick to Rodney Sheppard like glue," John told him. Ronon gazed at him dispassionately, assessing that comment. "Got that?" John asked. "I want you to be his personal bodyguard – make sure that nothing happens to him. I don't want a hair on his head harmed."


"Very well," Ronon nodded, his eyebrow rising ever so slightly in unspoken query. "Just Rodney Sheppard – the other Rodney? Not our own? Not the General?"


"Nope. The General can take care of himself and our Rodney always seems to manage just fine."


"You think that the other Rodney is a weak link?" Ronon frowned.


"No. Not at all. I just know that if anything happens to him the General will go ballistic and that's a complication we can do without. Understood?"


"Understood." Ronon nodded his head thoughtfully.


His next port of call was the lab. It was late but Atlantis's Rodney was still working, as John had known he would be, lying on the floor gazing up at the underside of the QDD. There was no sign of the other Rodney – or in fact anyone else - but John wasn't surprised by that. They'd been working in here since the crack of dawn and he doubted Rodney had taken any breaks – save for a couple of minutes to snatch some food which he'd have undoubtedly stuffed down his face while still working. All the others were either too sensible to work such long hours – or less personally invested in the problem.


"McKay, time to turn in," he said.


Rodney glanced out from underneath a pile of burnt-out crystals and various bits of housing, looking befuddled by the interruption. John noticed the dark smudges under his eyes and the weary lines around his mouth.


"Not yet. It's still early," Rodney said.


"It's nearly eleven," John pointed out. "And we're leaving at six tomorrow."


"Eleven? I never usually turn in before one," Rodney said brusquely, returning to his work.


"Well you will tonight," John told him firmly.


"Oh, I'm sorry – for a moment there I assumed you were the General mistaking me for his slaveboy with all the ordering around that's going on," Rodney snapped. John felt his eyes narrowing and he gazed at Rodney for a moment. He knew for a fact that the scientist had worked all through the previous night, and he had learned to read Rodney very well since they'd all arrived on Atlantis. The scientist could get by on very little sleep but when he did he was snappy, and his reaction times were slower, and John didn't want to risk that on the mission the following day – especially if the natives were as unfriendly as he'd been told.


John decided not to take no for an answer. He reached out and waved his hand in front of the light panel, plunging the room into darkness.


"What the hell are you doing?" Rodney demanded.


"Turning off the light so you can get to bed," John replied sweetly. "And..." he thought about it for a moment, heard a satisfying mental click, and then grinned. "I've kind of told the city not to turn it back on again for a few hours," he added. "I doubt you'll be able to over-ride that particular command, Rodney."


"Oh for god's sake!" Rodney slid out from where he was working and bumped his head on the underside of the housing as he sat up. John winced. "Ow! Damnit that's your fault and this is ridiculous!" Rodney told him, charging across the room and trying the light switch anyway. The room remained resolutely dark.


"Sorry." John crossed his arms over his chest and stood there impassively, waiting for the torrent of complaints. He wasn't disappointed.


"I have work to do, Colonel and I should point out that I'm Head of Science here, not you, and I can work whatever damn hours I want to. I don't tell you how to run the military operation here and I don't expect you to interfere with my work – now turn the bloody lights back on again!" Rodney ranted.


"Nope." John remained where he was. Rodney was so close to him in the dark room that he could see the angry flash of his eyes as he spoke but John wasn't going to back down on this one. "I'm sorry, Rodney, but I want you rested before we gate into the arms of these sacrificial cultists tomorrow. It won't be an easy mission and I need you to be alert."


"When have I ever not been alert during an offworld mission?" Rodney snapped.


"Look, Rodney," John said, in a softer voice, leaning in close, "You've been under a lot of strain these past couple of days and you need the rest. Why are you fighting this? You're clearly exhausted – you look like shit – why not just go with it?"


Rodney stood there for a moment, and he was so close John could hear the restless, nervous movements of his hands, hands that John had never known to be still.


"Cute," Rodney muttered at last. John frowned.




"Your concern for my wellbeing. Cute. I'm very touched. Now you've done your duty – turn the lights back on again please, Colonel."


"No." John's voice was harder this time. Rodney stood there for a moment and they were eye to eye, nose to nose, and John had a sudden, surprising impulse to grab Rodney and kiss him, hard, on the mouth, and *make* him give in. He bit the disquieting impulse back down. Damn but having the alternate Rodney and John around was giving him the most disturbing thoughts. The moment passed, and Rodney's mouth settled into that hard, crooked line that John was very familiar with.


"Fine," he said, in a quieter tone than John had been expecting. "You win, Colonel." He grabbed his jacket from the back of a chair, strode over to the door and opened it. "Oh, one last thing," he murmured. "Who is going to be in charge tomorrow?"


"What?" John frowned, wondering what the hell he meant.


"You or the General?" Rodney asked, the sweetness of his tone masking the savagery of his question. "You're just a Lieutenant-Colonel after all and he's a General so he outranks you." It was meant to wound and it did.


"Me," John snapped at him. "I'll be in charge – as usual. You're my people. I know you and what you're capable of. And he didn't earn that rank in this universe so as far as I'm concerned he doesn't outrank me. He's just a very useful guest who's coming along with us to help out."


"Does he know that?" Rodney asked sweetly. "Only...he doesn't strike me as the kind of man who likes anyone else to be in charge." And with that he gave John a fierce, triumphant little look and turned on his heel and walked away.


John stood there for a moment, feeling like he'd been punched. Damn McKay for always knowing his weaknesses and where to hit – although John knew that he'd laid down the gauntlet himself by effectively throwing the scientist out of his own lab in the first place. He should have known he wouldn't get away with that without Rodney retaliating in some way. Rodney McKay was no pushover – and John had come to accord the scientist a grudging respect for that.


With a sigh, John decided that his errands weren't yet over for the evening. He took himself off to the room that General and Doctor Sheppard shared and hesitated for a moment outside, wondering what he might be interrupting. He thought of the other Rodney, with that endearing giggle of his, pressing himself into the General's arms, and imagined the other John kissing him, hard, fiercely, passionately, on the mouth, the way John had just wanted to kiss their own Rodney. John shook his head, trying to banish the mental image. These thoughts didn't go anywhere so he'd have to find a better way of handling them. He knocked on the door and a few seconds later the General opened it and squinted at him blearily. He was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts, which he'd clearly hurriedly pulled on as his fingers were still pulling at the waistband as he caught sight of John.


"Sorry to disturb you. I just wanted to make sure we were clear on one thing before tomorrow," John said softly, glancing over the General's shoulder at the mound in the bed which shifted at the sound of his voice and uncurled to reveal Rodney Sheppard. The scientist sat up, his eyes sleepy and his hair looking dishevelled and...kind of adorable. John swallowed down hard.


"Is there a problem? Has something happened?" Rodney Sheppard asked, sliding out of the bed. He was completely naked and John felt his dry throat become even dryer. The scientist had a compact body, with firm, pale flesh, and there was something utterly compelling about his naked body. He was unconscious in his sexuality, with the loose, unembarrassed movements of someone both familiar and comfortable with his own nudity. John's eyes flickered down slowly over the broad firmness of his shoulders, the tattoo on his upper arm, the little red bite mark over one nipple, and the smooth curve of his cock as it swung in a nest of soft brown curls.


"Eyes front and centre, Colonel," the General growled in a low, warning tone. John tore his eyes away. "Rodney – either get back in bed or put some clothes on," the General snapped over his shoulder. "You're lucky it's you," the General told John. "Anyone else would be lying on their back with my fist mark on their jaw right now for looking at my husband like you just did. If your interest lies there then you have your own Rodney, remember," the General added softly.


"Sorry...I didn't mean anything – I was just startled," John said quickly. "There's no problem, Dr Sheppard. I just wanted a word with the General," John directed this comment over the General's shoulder and Dr Sheppard sighed and slid back into bed, but he remained sitting up, his arms wrapped around his knees, gazing at the door. "I wanted to be clear on one thing tomorrow, General," John told his counterpart. "I just realised it wasn't something we discussed earlier and I think it's important that it's said. I really appreciate your help, but these are my people, and there can only be one person in command."


The General gazed at him for a moment, an assessing look in his eyes.


"I realise you technically outrank me," John began, trying to address the other man's arguments before he made them.


"But not in this universe," the General said, which had been John's exact point from earlier. John wasn't surprised about that – during the course of the day he'd found they thought the same way on a number of issues. "It's all right, Colonel. I wasn't intending to throw my weight around tomorrow. These are your people, however much they might look like my own. Besides...I'm looking forward to seeing you in action," he said.


John nodded, relieved, and then he thought about that last comment for a moment and felt his stomach clench nervously. He wasn't sure he wanted to be assessed by this man – or, at least, he didn't want to be found wanting by the General of all people.


"Way to pile on the pressure," John grumbled. The General laughed.


"I have every faith in you," he replied, patting John's arm. "You're me remember?"


"Well. Kind of." John shrugged, glancing over the General's shoulder at Dr Sheppard again. If he was the General then he'd have someone that enticing waiting for him when he got back to his quarters and not a cold, empty bed. He wondered what it would feel like to have a naked Rodney wrapped around his body, those restless hands of his running over his skin, teasing and arousing him. The General cleared his throat warningly. "Anyway – like I said, I'm sorry to disturb you," John said, tearing his gaze away from Dr Sheppard again. "Sleep well."


He turned and left but his footsteps didn't take him back to his own room. Instead he found himself walking towards Rodney's room. He paused outside, wondering what the hell he was doing – or intending to do - and then, finally, he knocked. Rodney opened the door a few seconds later...looking disappointingly clothed. He gazed at John resentfully.


"Come to make sure I'm actually in bed, Colonel?" he asked. "No, wait, you're probably here to tuck me in yourself. Or maybe you want to handcuff me to the bed just to be sure I don't leave – having the General around seems to be having a bad effect on you."


"I actually came to apologise for pushing you around earlier but you know what? Forget it," John told him, snapped out of his mood by Rodney's sarcasm and seriously not wanting to even consider the enticing mental image of Rodney handcuffed to a bed. "If you want to work all night then go ahead. You're a big boy. But if you screw up on the mission tomorrow because you're worn out then I promise you that you'll hear it from me, long and loud."


"You've turned the light back on in the lab?" Rodney asked suspiciously. John concentrated for a moment and then nodded.


"Done. But I meant what I said Rodney."


"Fine." Rodney glowered at him.


"Good." John stood there, wanting more than anything to wrap his arms around Rodney and kiss him hard. The thought of the other Rodney's erotically compelling naked body was still running through his mind, in an endlessly repeating loop, bringing fantasies and emotions to the surface that John had never allowed himself to seriously consider before.


"Great," Rodney said. They stood there for a moment, both as tense and taut as piano wire, although presumably for different reasons, John thought. He wondered what Rodney's mouth would feel like under his, and whether his body was the same as the other Rodney's – presumably it was, minus the tattoo and a little softer around the middle maybe. He licked his lips, remembering the other Rodney's cock, smooth, slightly curved, and beautiful, nestled in its bed of light curls. As for the tattoo...John liked the idea of Rodney somehow being marked as his, bearing his initial on his flesh, imprinted there for everyone to see. He could feel himself getting hard just thinking about it...which was ridiculous, because this wasn't going to happen. Whatever the other Rodney and John felt for each other, this Rodney, standing here in front of him, had never given any indication that he was anything other than straight. He was always bleating on about his thing for blonde women in a way that John often found irritating. Besides, he couldn't just...what? Pin the scientist against the wall and kiss him? Rodney would scream loud enough to wake up the entire city and after that John could imagine the questions he'd be subjected to, to say nothing of a possible charge of sexual assault. Rodney might just be vindictive enough to pursue something like that to the nth degree.


John took a deep breath and the highly charged moment passed. "Well then. You can go back to work. If you want." He nodded in Rodney's direction, and then turned and walked back to his own room as fast as he could. He was barely inside the door when he opened his fly, grabbed his aching cock and rubbed it with a few brisk strokes which was all it took before he was coming, all the time imagining Rodney McKay, *his* Rodney, on his knees in front of him, that crooked mouth of his opening wide to suck him.



Part Four: Sacrifice



After all his warnings to Rodney, John thought it was ironic that it was *him* who didn't get much sleep that night. Between worrying about the mission and whether he'd impress the General or not, and fretting over his disturbing fantasies about Rodney, John tossed and turned for most of the night. His feelings for Rodney weren't new, but they'd never been this sharply in focus before. Up until now he'd mainly viewed the scientist as an amusing pain in the ass, someone he enjoyed being with, someone he occasionally mentally undressed, but not someone he'd ever seriously move in on, and certainly not someone he'd have a relationship with. His sexual experiences with men had mostly been one night stands which John had enjoyed well enough but not to the point where he thought he was exclusively gay or wanted to live with another guy. To be honest he'd never actually wanted to live with anyone. He'd been a loner for years and that was the way he'd always thought he preferred it, but seeing the General's close relationship with *his* Rodney had brought up some emotions that John had long kept buried. Maybe having someone waiting for him when he came home would be nice. No, specifically speaking, maybe having Rodney waiting for him at home, naked, willing and compliant would be nice. John sighed as his cock immediately responded to that thought by hardening once more; he could hardly believe he truly wanted to give up his solitary existence for Rodney McKay of all people so why couldn't he stop thinking about the scientist?


His rational mind told him that this was just a natural response to the unsettling way the doppelgangers behaved with each other. Not only were they clearly in love but they made no pretence at hiding it. Their customs were just very different to those in this universe and their ease when discussing sex and their own relationship made everyone on Atlantis *un*easy by comparison. No wonder you're having these unsettling thoughts about Rodney McKay, his rational mind told him, but they'll pass. It's just a natural reaction to the situation, just ride it out. However, his cock wasn't remotely interested in anything his rational mind had to say. His cock didn't want these emotions to pass; it wanted Rodney and seemed to have sprung into a life of its own around the scientist. John jerked himself off three times during the night just thinking about holding Rodney down and sliding into that firm, white ass; about Rodney kneeling in front of him and looking up at him with the same look of adoration that Rodney Sheppard was always giving the General; about Rodney taking him in his mouth, his big hands sliding around John's body to caress his naked bottom... John gave up trying to rest at around four am and took a long, cold shower, reasoning that his cock couldn't possibly require any more attention for the rest of the night.


By contrast Rodney McKay looked positively refreshed when they met in the gateroom a couple of hours later. John gazed at him suspiciously, wondering whether he had actually taken his advice and gone to bed early, despite all the scientist's protests on the subject. Either way he knew better than to ask – Rodney almost certainly wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing he'd done what John had told him to so there was no point.


The General and his husband had reverted to their own clothes again – John guessed they felt more comfortable in them and he was glad because it would make it easier to identify everyone when out in the field.


The six of them took the puddle jumper through the gate and the General directed John where to land. The two Rodneys kept up a constant stream of nervous chatter in the seats directly behind him, sniping and squabbling with each other like children in the back of a car on a long journey. John grinned and let the sound wash over him. He actually liked the sniping – both the Rodneys had a biting wit and some of their comments made him laugh out loud. He knew that some people - Major Lorne for example - found their own Rodney to be a royal pain in the ass and couldn't stand his need to provide a running commentary on everything around them when they were on offworld missions, but John liked it. One Rodney was entertaining enough and two made him crease up with laughter on occasion. When he glanced sideways at the General, who was sitting next to him, he got the impression the other man had come to the exact same conclusion and they shared an amused look.


They landed in a field and left the puddle jumper and John activated the cloak and then looked around.


"So far so much the same as most places we end up," he muttered.


"It's exactly the same as the PBX-250 in our universe," Rodney Sheppard beamed happily. "So that means the chamber we're looking for is..." He twirled around, fingers snapping excitedly, "this way," he said, deciding on a direction and leading them forward. Ronon quickened his pace a fraction to catch up with him and then loped alongside him easily, ignoring the constant stream of chatter. John gave a quiet smile as he brought up the rear – he knew he could trust Ronon to obey his orders.


They found the chamber set into the side of a hill and the Rodneys spent a couple of hours fiddling around with various complicated looking door mechanisms until they finally gained entry. John glanced around nervously as they stepped inside.


"So far so easy," he muttered to Teyla. She shook her head.


"I agree. It has been very easy," she murmured back.


"This is going great," Rodney Sheppard beamed excitedly. "Last time we were here it took me almost an entire day to get into the chamber but this time it was quicker because I knew how. Also, last time someone kept distracting me by asking how long it would take – over and over again." He shot a sour look in his husband's direction. "And someone else went off to shoot something to eat because he'd run out of power bars and *that's* when the crazy cultist natives were alerted to our presence and showed up," Rodney Sheppard added, with an equally sour look in Ronon's direction. The big man remained impassive.


"Isn't there another door you should be opening?" he boomed at the Rodneys, deadpan. John tried to swallow back his yelp of laughter and noticed the General doing the same.


"Plenty," Rodney Sheppard said with a distinct sniff in Ronon's direction. "This way," he announced, sweeping over to a door at the far end of the chamber. The door soon succumbed to the combined force of both the Rodneys and John left Teyla to guard the outer entrance and followed the rest of the team in. They walked for a long way, and then finally came to another door.


"How many more damn doors do we have to work our way through?" John asked.


"That's exactly what he said last time," Rodney Sheppard muttered, gesturing with his head in the General's direction.


"I wouldn't mind if we could just walk through them but every time we come to one you two have to spend an hour working on the damn thing," John groused.


"These doors were built by the Ancients well over 10,000 years ago, Colonel," his own Rodney told him with a reproving look. "They haven't been opened since then. You can hardly expect them to just slide back."


"The doors on Atlantis did when we first arrived," John reminded him.


"These are older and were built for a different purpose, *and* they have a different mechanism," Rodney snapped at him irritably. "Now are you going to shut up and let the clever people work?"


John gave a heavy sigh and paced around the small, dark hallway anxiously. He didn't like how cooped up they were down here. If someone attacked them right now then they were sitting targets. The Rodneys finally got the door open and they all walked into a dark room.


"One of you – touch something – you have the strongest genes," Rodney commanded, nodding at the two Johns. John slid his hands onto what appeared to be a console and it hummed into life beneath him. The room lit up revealing a literal junkyard of Ancient technology, scattered all around the place.


"My god!" Rodney McKay breathed, his eyes lighting up as they always did when confronted with this kind of thing.


"It's good isn't it?" the other Rodney grinned at him. "Now – over here. I think this was where I saw those crystals."


The two of them worked for awhile, sorting through various boxes and examining various consoles but to no avail. John started to feel antsy. This was taking too long.


"How much longer?" he hissed, pacing back to the doorway and looking out.


"Found something!" Rodney McKay waved his arms around excitedly. "Ah. Drawback," he muttered. The other Rodney pushed him out of the way. Rodney shoved him out of the way in return and the two glared at each other.


"Boys, boys," the General said. "Play nice now."


"What's the drawback?" John asked, striding over.


"These are the crystals we want but they're fixed into a power generator. We'll have to uncouple them from their housing and that could take awhile," Rodney McKay told him.


"How long is 'awhile'?" John demanded.


"Could be anything from ten minutes to four hours," Rodney replied cheerfully, reaching for his tools.


"Well hurry," John snapped. "I'm just...getting a bad feeling."


"Hmm. Me too," the General said, turning to stare at him.


"We haven't heard anything from Teyla for nearly half an hour," John murmured.


"She's on a half hourly check in," the General shrugged. "No reason why we would hear from her before then."


"No but..." John touched his radio. "Teyla," he called. There was no reply.


"Okay now I'm really worried," John said.


"Could just be the radio," Ronon said. "We're a long way down."


"Yeah but...we really need to go and investigate. McKay, Sheppard – get those crystals out as soon as you can. Ronon – you stay here and guard them. General – you're with me," John told the other man. The General nodded and they both left the room at a run.



They raced up to the entrance, matching each other stride for stride. It took several minutes and John's anxiety increased as they got closer - and heard the sounds of fighting. He turned to glance at the General who nodded grimly at him – and both men increased their speed.


They burst through the final door to find Teyla holding her own with a pack of savages – or at least that's what they looked like to John. There were all dirty, smelly and clad in animal skins. One of them had a necklace made entirely of human teeth around his neck. There were also three of them lying on the ground so John guessed this fight had been going on for a little while – and that Teyla had been her usual proficient self. John drew his gun but the little pack of savages ignored it, clearly not recognising what it was or what it was capable of. John fired a warning shot into the air but even that failed to make an impact – and then several of the savages launched themselves at him knocking the gun out of his hand, and after that it was just a messy hand to hand fight.


"Why didn't you call for backup?" John asked Teyla a few minutes later, after they had reduced the savages to a pile of groaning bodies on the floor.


"I tried, Colonel," she replied. "But my radio was broken when they took me by surprise."


"How the hell could they take you by surprise?" John glanced around at the fields below them. There was no way these savages could have crept up on her from behind. She had to have seen them coming.


"They did not come from outside," Teyla told him grimly. "They came from within. There must be another entrance to the complex."


"Damn," the General swore. "That means..."


"Oh shit," John growled, tapping his radio. "Ronon – both Rodneys – this is Colonel Sheppard – get out of there. You need to run."


"We're nearly there," one of the Rodneys replied in his ear. "We've nearly got the crystals."


"I don't care. Leave the damn crystals. Just get out of there!" John commanded.


"Just a few more minutes, Colonel," the voice said, and John knew it was his own Rodney speaking.


"Rodney Sheppard – get your ass out of there now!" the General growled beside him, and then the two Johns turned to face each other as they heard a rumbling from inside the complex; a few seconds later another small band of natives emerged and threw themselves on them, screaming and yelling a battle cry.


John glanced around as they fought – the Atlanteans were by far the better fighters but the savages made up for that in sheer numbers. John wished he could locate his gun because that would have given them the edge they needed but it was lost somewhere underfoot amidst the scrum of people. He guessed that both Teyla and the General had experienced the same problem – and he could have kicked himself for wasting time on a warning shot first time around.


He was worried about the Rodneys, and kept glancing anxiously towards the door leading into the underground complex. Several minutes hard fighting later, he heard the booming sound of gunfire and Ronon strode purposefully into the fray. He didn't seem to have any compunction about firing on the unarmed savages and decimated their ranks with several rapid shots from his guns before the savages swarmed over him and his guns went the same way as John's had. John looked around frantically, trying to locate the Rodneys. He finally caught sight of Rodney Sheppard; Ronon was shielding him from the fight, keeping their assailants away from him and John heaved a sigh of relief that Ronon was obeying his orders. He wondered where their own Rodney was and presumed he was hiding out of sight – he could fight if he absolutely had to but they all knew he wasn't exactly an expert in hand to hand combat. John was distracted for a few minutes by a man with long white hair who had what looked like several small children's skulls hanging from his belt and who was proving hard to take down. John finally dispatched him and turned again to see how the rest of his team were doing. He was surprised to find that Rodney Sheppard had left the safety of Ronon's side, and was now holding his own, quite successfully, with two opponents. He clearly wasn't as strong a fighter as the rest of them, but, John realised, much to his own surprise, he was pretty damn good! John also noticed that he was working his way towards the General and the General was working his way towards his husband, slowly, purposefully, each of them casting little peripheral glances in the other's direction as they fought.


They were on the verge of winning when John heard a yelp behind him.


"ENOUGH!" a deep voice boomed and the savages fell back. John whipped around to see what the hell was happening. He quickly located the man who had called an end to the fight. He was enormous – bigger even than Ronon - and twice as fat. One side of his face was dyed red with what looked like blood, he wore a necklace of bones around his throat...and he had one big arm wrapped around Rodney Sheppard's chest while with his other hand he was pressing a long, sharp, jagged knife against the side of the scientist's neck. "Lay down your weapons or I will kill him," the man yelled, in a deep, bone-chilling voice.


John glanced at the General, wondering what the hell the other man would do. He remembered what the General had told him about Kolya and had a sudden vision of the General going ballistic and them all ending up on a sacrificial table somewhere as a result. However, the General seemed to be surprisingly still and calm.


"Let him go now, and I promise you that your death will be quick and painless," the General said, in a low, hard voice. The big man grinned at that and John had to admit he didn't blame him; the General was hardly in any position to bargain after all.


"I could kill him with a flick of my knife before you got within spitting distance," the big man laughed, digging his knife into Rodney Sheppard's neck to illustrate the point. John saw a large droplet of blood well up into the cut and begin to trickle down Rodney's throat. He glanced at the General again, unsure what to do.


"We should give them our wea..." he began.


"No," the General interrupted him tersely. "If we do that then they'll just kill us all. Rodney," he called, "Close your eyes." John was surprised when Rodney Sheppard did just that, immediately, without hesitation.


"What the hell are you...?" John started to say, but then he saw the flashbang concealed in the General's hand. What happened next was so fast that it was all a blur. The General threw the flashbang onto the ground, at the same time shouting, "Now Rodney!"


John turned away to avoid the effects of the stun grenade but saw Rodney Sheppard lunge forward, covering his eyes, as the flashbang went off, momentarily blinding and deafening everyone taken unawares by it. At that exact same moment the General threw the knife he had in his other hand directly at the big man's chest, barely a few inches away from Rodney's shoulder. It embedded itself there with a satisfying thunk and the big man went down, with a rattling sound. Rodney tore himself away from the big man's grasp and ran towards John and Ronon at the same time as the General started running in the opposite direction. The General swiftly covered the distance with his long legs, reached the big man's side and pulled his knife from his chest, only to plunge it deeply into his belly – and then he slowly and deliberately twisted it. John winced as the big man howled like an animal.


"You should have opted for the quick death," the General hissed as he pulled his knife out of the man's belly. "Nobody harms what is mine and lives. You were dead the minute you put your knife to his throat."


The other savages, still reeling from the blinding, deafening effects of the flashbang, and surprised to find their leader so effortlessly felled, ran away towards the trees.


Ronon walked over to where the big man was lying and, John couldn't help noticing, he gave the General a look of profound respect when he reached him.


"He will take several hours to die," Ronon commented, glancing dispassionately at the man lying groaning on the ground and poking him with the tip of his boot.


"I know," the General replied, wiping his knife on the dying man's ragged hide pants to clean it. "But I did warn him. If he had listened to me then I would have made his death swift and painless, as I promised." He got up, and then walked purposefully back to where his husband was standing, beside John. He placed a hand under Rodney's chin and lifted it to examine the wound on his neck.


"All right, beloved?" he whispered softly, his eyes raking over Rodney to see if he was injured anywhere else.


"Fine. Just...shaken. I didn't even see him coming which is irritating because he's the size of a house," Rodney muttered.


"Hmmm," the General said, his eyes coming to rest once more on the blood trickling down his husband's neck. "Hold still while I take care of this."


John watched, astonished, as the General leaned forward, and, instead of wiping the blood away or trying to stem the tide with a cloth, he clamped one hand around the back of Rodney's head and the other on his shoulder, pulled his husband forward, and sucked at the wound with his mouth. Rodney shuddered slightly in his grasp and his hands went around the General's waist to steady himself. John was struck by the look of total trust in Rodney's eyes. He hung there, very quiet and still, while the General pressed his tongue, hard, against his neck, stemming the bleeding.


"Do you think Doctor Beckett is familiar with this method of healing a wound?" Teyla muttered into his ear.


"I don't think any of us are," John whispered back. They carried on watching, startled, as the two men stood there - and John could have sworn that he heard a faint humming sound. Then the General released his husband and gently moved Rodney's head sideways so that he could examine the cut again. John gazed at it in astonishment – the bleeding had completely stopped, and the cut itself looked smaller – and was clearly well on its way to healing.


"How the hell did you do that?" he asked. The General didn't move, or take his eyes off his husband.


"We are bonded. It's Kaeira," he muttered impatiently.


"What is Kaeira?" Teyla asked and John was glad that she didn't know either.


The General frowned but still didn't remove his gaze from his husband. "Energy flow, life-force," he muttered brusquely, as if that explained everything. Then, finally, he seemed satisfied that Rodney was okay, and only then did he draw the other man into his embrace. He wrapped his arms around him and held him tight, every muscle in his body taut. John could feel the emotion in the embrace and wanted to look away but he was too transfixed by the sight in front of him. They looked so easy together, so *right*. Rodney's body seemed to fit with the General's, sliding against him and locking into place with the ease of long habit. John was surprised to find a wave of envy rising up in his chest and he fought with it, trying to push it back down. Damnit but it was becoming harder and harder to suppress these emotions and he was angry with himself that it should be necessary. The longer the doppelgangers were here, the more John found himself struggling with thoughts and emotions he'd always been able to control before.


"Sorry about getting caught. I thought I was getting better at this. I guess I'm out of practice," Rodney muttered into his husband's shoulder. The General pushed him back and delivered a heartfelt kiss to the other man's forehead.


"Out of practice?" he asked, with a raised eyebrow.


"While you were away last week...I didn't exactly keep up with my practice sessions," Rodney muttered, shame-faced. "I was busy working on that reactor shielding and I guess I got distracted," he sighed.


"Did you run either?" the General asked. Rodney flushed and squirmed, shaking his head.


"Nope. Sorry. The whole distracted thing applies again there I suppose."


"Hmmm. We'll take care of it later. Now...come here." The General drew Rodney back into his arms and kissed him firmly on the mouth and John felt another pang of sharp envy. He couldn't help noticing the way Rodney melted against his husband, his hands sliding around the General's body. John was jolted out of his reverie by his sudden realisation that their own Rodney was not with them. He glanced around anxiously and tapped his radio urgently.


"Rodney?" There was no reply - just the faint hum of static. "Rodney?" he yelled, turning to look at Ronon. "Where is he? Did he come up with you?"


"No." Ronon shook his head. "He wouldn't leave the crystals but this one," Ronon nodded in Dr Sheppard's direction, "He ran out of the chamber when ordered so I went with him."


"You left Dr McKay down there?" the General asked, in an incredulous tone, striding towards them.


"I was given my orders," Ronon replied, his voice even deeper than usual, glancing at John.


"Orders? What orders? To leave a man behind? Whose damn orders were those?" the General snapped.


"Mine," John said softly. "I ordered him to stick with your Rodney whatever happened."


"Why?" The General gazed at him blankly.


"Because I was worried about what you'd do if something happened to your Rodney. Rightly, as it turned out." John turned to glance pointedly at the big man lying on the floor, his breathing coming in rattling gasps. John saw a gun lying beneath one of the felled savages and he picked it up and fired it at the big man's head, putting him out of his misery. The General's expression darkened.


"Don't interfere with me or mine again, Colonel," he hissed, standing nose to nose with John. "Rodney Sheppard is my responsibility. He doesn't need any special guarding. I know his capabilities. You should have paid more attention to the safety of your own Rodney; he was your concern."


"Let us not argue on this matter," Teyla interceded. "We should instead find out what has happened to Dr McKay."


John glanced at the General, still feeling angry, his fear and guilt about Rodney's fate combining in his gut to create a queasy feeling.


"You're right. Let's get moving," he hissed, picking up more discarded weaponry from the battlefield and then running full pelt towards the underground chamber again.



The door to the room with all the Ancient technology in it was open when they got there. John ran full pelt into the room, skidded to a halt, and looked around desperately; the room was completely empty.


"McKay!" he yelled. "Where the hell are you? McKay?"


"Colonel. Over here," Teyla said, kneeling down. John ran over to her and touched the red stain on the ground beside her. His fingers came back coated in blood.


"There's another exit," Ronon said, from the far side of the room, kicking some boxes out of the way and revealing a door.


"They'll have taken him back to the village for sacrifice," the General said grimly, striding over to the second doorway. "Ronon – can you track them?" he asked. Ronon nodded and wrenched open the door.


John felt his heart thud in his chest at mention of the word 'sacrifice'. This whole thing was turning into a nightmare and the worry in his gut was making it hard for him to think straight. He followed on behind the others, his fingers closing around his gun; he didn't like losing anyone on a mission but this wasn't anyone – this was Rodney, their Rodney - no, *his* Rodney. They had to get him back because John wasn't entirely sure he could contemplate what his existence would be like without the scientist in his life.


"It's getting late," the General said as they emerged from a long winding corridor into daylight once more. There were long shadows on the ground and overhead the sun was sinking inexorably towards the horizon. "They always perform their sacrifices at sundown so we don't have long. We'll follow their tracks to the village and then figure out what to do next. They do have a very long sacrificial ritual which they'll be preparing for right now so that might buy us some time. Ronon, lead the way. Rodney, you next where I can see you. Colonel – I want you beside me. Teyla, bring up the rear."


At some point, and he wasn't sure how it had happened, or even when it had happened, the General had assumed command, and John didn't feel calm enough right now to wrest it back from him. Besides, now wasn't the time to argue about that; right now, all John cared about was getting his Rodney back.


Ronon soon located some tracks, and stood there, surveying them grimly for a few seconds.


"He's still alive," Ronon murmured. "We know that at least."


"How?" John asked.


"Well, firstly, why bother transporting him at all if he's dead? But also...there is a trail of fresh blood." Ronon pointed to the droplets of blood on the ground and John found his fingers curling uselessly around his weapon again.


"They staked him," Rodney Sheppard said quietly, glancing at his husband.


"What?" John turned angrily to glare at the General. His doppelganger sighed.


"I'm sorry, John but Rodney's right. They've tied him to a stake by his hands and feet," the General told him softly. "That's how they're carrying him back."


"How can you possibly know that?" John demanded.


"Because that's what happened to me when we visited this planet in our universe," Rodney Sheppard replied. John felt a tide of anger rise in his belly.


"Wait a minute – you never mentioned this before," he growled, advancing on the General, his hands balling into fists.


"We told you the natives of this planet offered up sacrifices to their gods," the General replied in a firm tone, standing his ground.


"Yes, but you didn't say they caught Rodney – your Rodney. You know how what happens in one universe has an uncanny knack of happening in the other and you knew we hadn't been here. What were the odds that if we did, then Rodney – our Rodney - would end up the same way as yours?" John hissed, invading the General's personal space, standing just inches away from him. It felt strange – disorienting - to be so angry with someone who looked so much like yourself. The General didn't back away – he faced John down.


"I'm sorry. We didn't mean to mislead you," he replied. "But we had no idea that this would happen. We assumed that because we'd been here before we'd know what pitfalls to avoid."


"Well it might have been useful to give the mission *leader* that information," John said, his voice rising in anger.


The General sighed. "You're right," he said. "But I don't honestly think it would have made any difference."


"At least in our universe John rescued me," Rodney Sheppard interjected, looking from one John to the other with a worried expression on his face. "So there's a good chance it'll happen the same way again."


"Things don't always happen exactly the same way," John reminded him in a snarling tone. "Radek died in your universe remember?"


"John – blaming us won't get Dr McKay back," the General told him.


"We're here, on this planet, because of you. We put our lives on the line for you. *Rodney* put his life on the line for you. As far as I'm concerned, right now I don't give a damn if you get to go back to your freaky leatherman universe, or if you have to live out the rest of your lives in our universe but Rodney - *my* Rodney - wanted to send you home because he feels guilty about bringing you here in the first place," John said, breathing heavily. "And he's sure as hell paying for that. Did you want to go back so badly that you felt it was okay to lie to us?"


The General's expression darkened. "We didn't lie," he growled. "This was a sin of omission if anything, John. It wasn't intentional. We had no idea this would happen. Now, you can stand here and argue with me about it, or we can go and rescue *your* Rodney before they slit his veins and let him bleed to death all over their sacrificial table – and I, for one, refuse to allow that to happen."


John glared at him for a long moment, breathing deeply, trying to get some control back.


"We'll get him back," the General murmured softly. "I've done it once and I'm pretty damn sure I can do it again. Now, are you with me, Colonel?"


John had no choice – the General was their best hope of getting Rodney back and they both knew it. He gave a disgusted sigh and then nodded at Ronon to get the hell on with tracking where they'd taken Rodney. As they walked, John tried hard not to think about Rodney, injured and alone, being tied to a stake like an animal and carried back to some stinking village to be sacrificed. Somehow though, it was all he could think about, and his anger boiled in the pit of his stomach, hot and explosive.


The trail led them back to a collection of mud huts which passed for the natives' village and the sun was low on the horizon by the time they arrived. They hid in bushes, watching as the villagers gathered around a large fire. There was some kind of ritual dance going on, and a great deal of what could have been singing but sounded a lot like wailing. John edged closer to get a better look – and then stiffened. The mud huts were arranged in a loose circle around a massive stone table, and on that table, tightly bound with ropes, was Rodney. John hoped the scientist was unconscious because he could imagine how freaked out he'd be if he wasn't...but then Rodney moved his head, and John bit down on his lip as he saw Rodney blinking, a dazed, shocked expression on his face that twisted into a moan of pain. He was trying to pull on his restraints but was too tightly bound and one of his arms looked crooked and misshapen. John was half way to his feet when the General pulled him back down.


"Not yet," his doppelganger told him. "Just before the sacrifice they all gather around the fire to purify their sacrificial knives. They'll leave him alone for a few minutes then – not even a guard because the entire village has to share in the purification ritual. That's when we'll make our move."


"Knives? Plural?" John felt his heart skip a beat as he saw that all the villagers were carrying small knives as they danced and sang. Somehow he'd imagined that there would be a High Priest, and some kind of big sacrificial knife.


"Yes. They take it in turns to stick a knife into their offering," the General said grimly. "Every single villager joins in – even the children. They put their blades into the fire first, and then they line up and each one plunges their knife into the victim as they go by. They sing throughout, and to prolong the whole thing they start with the extremities – feet, hands, arms, legs. They want him to bleed to death slowly during the course of the night, not die with a slit throat within the first couple of minutes."


John honestly thought he might be sick and he doubled over for a second, trying to catch his breath. He felt a hand on his back.


"We won't let it happen," the General told him in a low, hard tone, rubbing reassuring circles on his back. "Okay, here's the plan. When they move over to the fire, I want you, Rodney, to go and free Dr McKay. You need to get him as far away from here as possible. I doubt you'll get him as far as the puddle jumper – he's not in good enough shape and I don't want you to become too far separated from the rest of us in any case. Take him to that big tree we passed on the way here and wait for us there. Teyla, Ronon, Colonel – wait until they turn back to the sacrifice. When they realise he's gone, make as much noise as possible and do as much damage as possible to distract them so that Rodney can get Dr McKay as far away as he can. Understood?"


"No," John said flatly. "I want to be the one who cuts him free." He honestly didn't think he could stand by and let anyone else do it – no, it wasn't that – he didn't *trust* anyone else to do it.


"Come with me," the General said, taking his arm and pulling him away from the rest of the team. "You're the better fighter, John. We need you to be part of the distraction," he explained once they were out of earshot.


"Rodney Sheppard will screw this up. I should do it," John said insistently. The General put his head on one side and regarded him for a moment.


"Rodney won't screw it up. He might bitch and whine but we both know that when the chips are down there's nobody else we'd rather have by our side. This isn't about Rodney not being up to the task, this is about you."


"No it isn't – and I'm the one who's supposed to be in charge of this mission, remember?" John growled.


"Circumstances change, Colonel," the General snapped back. "Listen, John," he said, in a more conciliatory tone. "I understand where you're coming from, believe me, but I've assumed command because frankly you're not thinking clearly at the moment."


"Bullshit. You're assuming command because you like being in command," John snarled.


The General gave a little grin. "Well, yes I do," he nodded. "But that's not what this is about. You've been fighting a war on two fronts ever since Rodney got taken and no military commander is at his best doing that."


"What the hell do you mean – a war on two fronts?" John frowned.


"One with them – the people who took Rodney – and the other with yourself," the General told him. "With how you feel about him."


"Oh fuck this," John raged. "I've told you before, I'm not *you*, General. I don't feel anything about him other than that he's a member of my team and he's in trouble right now."


"Bullshit," the General said, echoing John's own phrase back to him in an eerily familiar tone. "Now you can lie to yourself, Colonel but don't damn well lie to me. You are all over the place right now and you have been since they took Dr McKay. I know, because I know what that used to feel like, before I made Rodney mine and drummed a few basic rules into him."


That brought John up short and he thought about it for a second. "The crystals..." John shook his head. "You ordered your Rodney out of the chamber and he obeyed while my Rodney stayed..."


"That's right. My Rodney left the chamber immediately because I told him to and he knows that if I make something a direct order then he obeys it – instantly and without question. And if your Rodney had done the same we wouldn't be in this mess," the General snapped. "Now, when we get Dr McKay out of there – and I do mean *when*, not if - then you can work on that with him, but right now we have a job to do and I need you to follow my orders. I know it doesn't come easy to you because, hell, it doesn't come easy to me either," the General gave a wry grin, "but we're both military, Colonel, and we both know there can only be one leader in a situation like this. So, what's it to be?"


John gazed at him for a moment as the General's words hit home. The other man hadn't pulled any of his punches and John hated being so easily read, but at the same time he had to acknowledge that the General was talking a lot of sense.


"Okay," he said at last. "But when we get out there you'd better stand well back because I'm feeling pretty bloodthirsty right now."


"I know," the General shrugged. "They took him, and they hurt him, and he's yours so that hurts you. I know exactly how you're feeling right now, John. You'll learn to control it – in time – the way I controlled it when my Rodney was threatened earlier, and when we get out of this I'll be pleased to give you some advice on how to do that, but for now I'm happy to just point you in their direction and let you do your thing."


"Good," John said grimly, turning and stalking back to where the others were standing.



They watched for several more minutes until the sun was hovering on the horizon, and then the villagers all began to gather around the fire. The noise they were making changed, from a tuneless singing into a sinister humming. John's fists clenched and unclenched uselessly as he stood there, never taking his gaze off Rodney, who was clearly wide awake now, and tugging frantically at his bonds as the humming grew louder and more menacing.


"Hang on in there, Rodney...we're coming, we're coming," John muttered to himself. Then the General touched his Rodney's arm and John watched, anxiously, as Rodney Sheppard slipped silently out of the bushes and ran across the village circle towards the stone table. The General was right about his husband's abilities – he was quick and efficient in his work and as soon as he reached Rodney McKay's side he slid a hand over his mouth to keep him quiet, turned his head so that he could see he was being rescued, and then took his knife out and began cutting through the ropes that secured McKay to the table. John watched, itching to get out there and help, every single muscle in his body taut with tension. The General had one eye on what was happening and the other on John, and he put a hand on John's shoulder to calm him. There were a lot of ropes, and it was taking Rodney Sheppard a long time to cut through them all, although John could see he was working as fast as he could.


"One of us should get out there and help him," he muttered to the General.


"No – we'll stick to the plan," the General told him firmly, and John was suddenly grateful that someone was thinking clearly right now, keeping him grounded, because he knew he was hanging on by a thread. "Now, we need to hold them off for as long as possible to give the Rodneys a chance to escape," the General reminded the team. "But we can't hope to defeat an entire village. So when I give the command, I want you to throw your flashbangs into the melee and then get the hell out of there and rendez-vous back at the tree. That should buy us enough time. Understood?"


They all nodded, and John had to admit that it was a good plan – the kind of plan he'd have come up with himself if he wasn't in some weird place in his head right now, where all he wanted to do was grab Rodney and hold him tight while at the same time simultaneously laying waste to the people who had hurt him. He was torn between the two impulses and had never felt this out of control in his life before. It simply wasn't him. He was always the calm, together one – whatever happened he kept a cool head and he had no idea how to deal with these new emotions that were currently rampaging through him.


Rodney Sheppard finally managed to sever the last rope, and then he pulled Rodney McKay up. McKay gave a little cry of pain that John heard from his vantage point, even above the sound of the humming, and one of the villagers turned around...and then all hell broke loose.


"Now!" the General commanded and John leapt into action, throwing himself out of those bushes and towards the fire without even thinking. He was dimly aware of Rodney Sheppard grabbing McKay's arm, slinging it over his shoulder and helping the other scientist away from the village, and then John was surrounded by villagers and he went in all guns blazing, firing at anyone who looked like they wanted to follow the two Rodneys. He could hear Ronon to his left and was grateful for the big man's familiar bulk and solid ability to hold his own in a fight. Teyla was beside Ronon, hair loose and face focussed as she fought with her usual skill and grace. The General was side by side with John, fighting for all he was worth, a look of grim determination on his face, and he was *good*, John noted distantly as he fought. He knew a few moves that John himself hadn't yet mastered but John made up for that in sheer zeal and he knew that he was roaring at the top of his lungs as he fought, screaming out all the mixed up emotions that were churning him up inside. Ronon kept shooting him little glances of surprise – this wasn't John's normal fighting style. Usually he was quiet, calm and quick-witted, but now he was like a dervish – fast, furious and loud. Even John himself didn't know what was going on inside him; he just knew that these people had tried to kill Rodney and on some level that made him really, really mad.


It was all he could do to bring himself to obey the General's orders to release the flashbangs – John just wanted to stay there and fight, but the General positioned himself at John's side and just before he gave the order he cuffed John around the head to get his attention and make sure he was listening. John threw the flashbang reluctantly at the shrieking savages attacking them and then made his retreat, covering his ears with his hands as he ran.


The villagers were clearly seriously freaked out by the flashbangs because they didn't follow them. John ran faster than any of the others and reached the tree first, to find Rodney Sheppard crouched down in front of Rodney McKay talking to him urgently. John's Rodney was lying with his back against the tree; his skin was pale, and John could see a dark streak of blood on his temple.


"He's hurt," Rodney Sheppard told him. "I'm worried he'll lose consciousness. I've been talking to him, trying to keep him awake, but he can't walk and we need to get him out of here."


"We will," the General said grimly, coming up behind them. "Colonel – you take one arm and I'll take the other. Ronon lead the way, same formation as before – double quick time back to the puddle jumper."


The two Johns pulled the injured Rodney up and he gave a low moan of pain as they began running, carrying him between them, his legs dragging and stumbling as they went. It was a long, hard slog but they covered the terrain in a surprisingly fast time. John breathed a sigh of relief as they ran across the field where he'd parked the jumper. He snapped the control to de-cloak it and they staggered inside. Teyla closed the door while the two Johns dumped Rodney at the back on one of the bunks, then John ran for the controls and fired up the jumper, spinning it straight up into the air.


"Dial the gate!" he yelled at the General but the other man shook his head, an expression of shocked resignation on his face.


"I can't," he said. "You'll have to land again, John. We won't be going anywhere tonight - the Wraith have just dialled in."


"What?" John's hands faltered on the controls and he gazed at the General in disbelief. "No! Seriously – after all we've just been through this cannot be happening!" he shouted, at nobody in particular.


"Looks like they dialled in about ten minutes ago so I'm guessing they're here to do a culling. They'll keep the gate occupied for most of the night while they feed. There's nothing we can do but land, keep cloaked, and wait them out," the General said.


"Rodney needs a doctor!" John protested.


"I can't change what's happened," the General snapped. "Land the damn jumper – in a few minutes there'll be Wraith darts crawling all over the place."


John did what he was told, reluctantly, and then slammed his hand onto the console. "Damn," he growled.


"Yeah. Talk about bad luck," Rodney Sheppard said behind him.


"We'll just have to settle down here for the night. Make ourselves comfortable," the General said.


Part Five: The Long Night


John unbuckled himself from his console and went to the back of the jumper where Rodney was still lying where they'd left him.


"Are we home yet?" Rodney asked, his eyelids fluttering open. John took a deep breath and sat down beside him to check over the damage.


"Not yet," he murmured. "We've had to make an unscheduled stopover. I'll get you to Carson as soon as I can, Rodney. Now – where does it hurt?"


"Oh great," Rodney sighed. "First of all I get skewered by crazy people wearing animal skins and now I get to have you as my personal physician. No offence, Colonel, but you're not exactly Dr Beckett."


"Well I'm the best you've got right now," John told him, unzipping Rodney's jacket and sliding it carefully off the other man's crooked arm.


"Ow! No, ow!" Rodney protested and his face went a sickly shade of green. John managed to get the jacket off him and threw it onto the bunk.


"His shoulder is wrenched from where they staked him," Ronon informed them helpfully from behind, where he was watching the proceedings with his usual air of mild disinterest. "It should be strapped up. I could do that."


"No thank you!" Rodney snapped. "I think I'd prefer to wait until we get back and have it done under a full anaesthetic."


"Carson probably wouldn't anesthetise you for that," John told him with a grin. If Rodney was complaining then he couldn't be too badly hurt. He turned his attention to Rodney's face. The scientist had a large bruise on his jaw, and, more worryingly, a deep cut on his forehead which was dripping blood. John took hold of Rodney's face in his hands to examine it and Rodney went still beneath him in a way that felt oddly nice. There was blood running down the side of Rodney's face and John felt a sudden, overwhelming urge to lean in and press his tongue against it to stem the tide, the way he'd seen the General do to his Rodney earlier that day. The impulse was so strong that he felt himself moving, wanting to hold Rodney down and do...something...he wasn't sure what.


"What the hell are you doing?" Rodney protested, placing a hand on John's chest to keep him at bay, and John came to a halt, startled, and realised that his mouth was just inches away from Rodney's forehead.


"Just...looking," John said, unconvincingly.


"Looked more like you were sniffing," Rodney said suspiciously.


John got up quickly and turned to the General. "That cut is pretty deep. Couldn't you – you know, do that thing you did earlier?" he asked. "The Kaeira or whatever you called it."


The General gave him a surprised look. "No. It wouldn't work," he said, shaking his head.


"Why the hell not?" John asked. "It worked on your Rodney."


"That's because we're lifebonded," the General replied, fingering the pendant around his neck. "I can only heal Rodney and he can only heal me – it's the way it works. I can't heal just anyone."


"Could I heal him?" John asked, glancing back at his Rodney, who was looking very pale and was clearly in shock.


"Not unless you were lifebonded, no," the General said. "And I really don't think Dr McKay could stand that ritual right now. He's too weak. Apart from anything else, it's not something you can rush into in the heat of the moment. It takes preparation and you have to be in the right mental place. Also...the title means exactly what it says. You'd be bonded for life. He'd be yours and you'd be his and somehow I'm not sure you're ready for that yet."


"What the hell are you all talking about?" Rodney muttered wearily behind him.


"Nothing. Just...exploring an option," John replied, feeling angry again, although this time he didn't even know why. He had no particular wish to bond with Rodney for life, whatever the hell that entailed, but at the same time there was a part of him that liked the thought of Rodney being *his*, completely and irrevocably. He felt guilty about it because Rodney was injured, but damnit he'd *liked* how Rodney had felt under him just now, when he'd held still while John examined him.


"Kaeira may not be exactly what you think it is in any case," the General told him softly. "I didn't heal Rodney – we just shared the wound between us to lessen its effect. Look." He moved aside the collar of his jacket to reveal a faint red mark on his neck, very similar to the one on Rodney's neck. John stared at the General, dumbfounded. Just when he thought he understood these men, that he was getting a handle on how it worked between them, he went and discovered something like this - something that showed how very different both they and their universe were.


"We don't have that, whatever it is," John said. "I've never heard of that in this universe."


"Just because you've never heard of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist here," Rodney Sheppard pointed out. "It worked for us, despite the fact we're not supposed to be here. While we're here we're subject to the laws of your universe, so if Kaeira was unique to our universe then it shouldn't be possible here but it was because we did it. Not that I'm suggesting you lifebond with McKay to help him because frankly the way things are between you two right now you'd probably end up killing each other during the bonding ritual, but..."


"Okay, Rodney. I think you've explained that enough," the General cut in.


"Just saying." Rodney Sheppard shrugged.


"Look, I don't care what kind of healing gizmo they've got," Rodney said behind him, "but I'm seriously freaked out by all this talk of lifebonding so can you all just shut up and let me get some sleep?"


John turned around sharply. "No," he said firmly. "The one thing you can't do right now is sleep, Rodney. You've got a concussion – you've been drifting in and out of consciousness for the past couple of hours and you need to stay lucid. I don't want you to be in a coma by the time we get you back to Carson."


"I really don't think it's that bad," Rodney said, sitting up straight to glare at John with more intensity...an effect that was ruined when his face went green and he leaned over and retched onto the floor of the jumper. John winced.


"Just sit back and don't move," he said, sitting down beside Rodney and putting a firm hand on his good shoulder, stroking him to calm him down. "Ronon – get me a medical kit. Looks like we'll have to do things the old fashioned way," he sighed. John managed to make Rodney comfortable and then he examined the contents of the medical kit. "Hold still and try to be a better patient for me than you are for Carson," John admonished, squeezing some antiseptic lotion onto the wound on Rodney's forehead. Rodney grimaced but held still while John cleaned up the wound and then pressed a bandage onto it and fastened it. The cut was deep and John doubted the bandage would stem the blood flow for the entire night but it was the best he could do.


Rodney lay back when he was done, and closed his eyes. He didn't look good. John prodded his leg.


"Eyes open, Rodney. You need to stay awake, remember."


"Then keep me awake!" Rodney snapped.


John gazed around at the assembled company. They were all tired, hungry, dishevelled and miserable and wanted nothing more than to get back home, and instead they were stuck here for the night with a wounded team member. Teyla was sitting up front by one of the consoles, her hair all mussed up, while a muddy Ronon was lounging on the floor, his arms loosely wrapped around his knees. The General and his Rodney were seated on the opposite bunk and were the only ones who looked remotely comfortable, John thought. Rodney Sheppard was leaning against his husband's shoulder and the General had an arm wrapped around him and was stroking his neck gently with one long index finger. John sighed and wished he could do that with his own Rodney right now – and not be met by a hissing, snarling handful of outraged scientist. There was no way his Rodney would ever lean into him like that. He noticed his Rodney's eyes drooping and prodded him again, earning an angry glare from the scientist.


"Okay, we need to talk about something," John said. "Anything. Just to keep McKay awake."


"We could talk about what a huge fuck up this mission was," Rodney Sheppard muttered. "Seriously – was there anyone who didn't fuck up? I got held hostage."


"I did not see the men who attacked us and so was not able to warn you in time," Teyla said with a sigh.


"I omitted to tell the Colonel the full details about our own trip to this planet," the General said. John nodded to him, glad the other man was big enough to own up to that. John realised that he was actually a little bit relieved to find that his counterpart did make mistakes – he'd put him on something of a pedestal and it was good to know that the man was human after all.


"And I gave Ronon some orders which didn't pan out too well in practice," John replied. The General nodded back at him and they shared a moment of quiet understanding.


"I didn't fuck up," Rodney McKay said.


"Oh you so did," his counterpart snorted. "The Colonel told you to get out of that chamber and you didn't."


"Yeah, well, I noticed how *you* hot-footed it out of there the minute the General told you to jump – leaving me behind," Rodney scowled.


"And if you'd done the same then maybe we wouldn't have had to rescue you," John interjected, wondering just how long it had taken the General to drum those 'basic rules' he'd mentioned into his Rodney and whether he'd have similar success if he tried it.



"Oh great. So this is all my fault now," Rodney griped. "That's fine. Blame the dying guy. He can't fight back."


"You're not dying," John snapped. "And you seem to be doing just fine with the fighting back thing. That head wound isn't slowing you down any when it comes to complaining."


"Right now I have a lot to complain about," Rodney retorted.


"Yeah well, join the club."


"And what did you mean about giving Ronon some orders that didn't pan out too well in practice?" Rodney asked. John shifted uneasily.


"I told him to stick close to Dr Sheppard – not to leave him on his own," John muttered.


Rodney gazed at him steadily for a moment, and then realisation hit and John was surprised to see a sudden burst of sheer naked hurt flash into the scientist's eyes.


"Right. Fine," Rodney muttered gazing at John out of a pair of wounded blue eyes. John winced, knowing exactly what was going through Rodney's mind right now and how he was convinced that he was bottom on John's list of priorities. The truth was so much the opposite that John felt winded and he gazed helplessly back at Rodney, wishing he could explain that to him.


"Oh god," Rodney Sheppard said in an undertone to his husband. "Honestly, it's painful to watch sometimes."


"Ssh," his husband replied. "They'll figure it out."


"There is absolutely nothing to figure out," Rodney McKay snapped. Everyone glared at everyone else.


"I didn't screw up," Ronon said. Everyone glared at him. "Well I didn't," he shrugged.


"He's right," John said. "You get the mission Gold Star, Ronon."


Ronon sat back, looking pleased with himself.


"Wait, wait, wait!" Rodney sat up, too quickly, and then swayed, the blood draining away from his face. John put a hand on his arm.


"Steady, Rodney. Take it easy."


"I knew I didn't fuck up – I got the crystals!" Rodney said. "In my jacket pocket." He clicked his fingers impatiently at John and pointed at his jacket. John handed it over to him. Rodney fished around excitedly in the inner pocket and pulled out a handful of crystals...all of them broken. Rodney's face crumpled. "Damn," he muttered. "Must have been smashed when they knocked me out," he said, looking utterly dejected. "Sorry," he murmured to the General and the other Rodney. "Would have been good if they were okay. Could have sent you home within a couple of days."


"You tried, Rodney," John told him, shaking his head.


"And failed," Rodney said bitterly. He lay back down again, the shattered crystals falling from his fingers onto the puddle jumper floor. He looked so utterly miserable that John wished he could put an arm around him and pull him close.


The General leaned forward and gave Rodney a gentle smile.


"It's okay, Dr McKay. It would have been nice to go home but we don't mind hanging around a little longer. We'll get the QDD fixed somehow. I have complete faith in both my husband and you. If anyone can sort this out, you two will do it."


"Yeah because he's so damn perfect," Rodney snapped, scowling at his doppelganger. "He didn't drag anyone out of their universe against their will, and he jumped like a rabbit when ordered out of that chamber so he didn't get caught, knocked out, tied to a stake and dragged through acres of muddy fields and then strapped down onto a sacrificial table by blood-thirsty aliens."


The General smiled broadly which John thought was pretty nice of him considering Rodney's outburst. "He's not perfect. Neither am I. We've both fucked up in our own universe," he told Rodney.


"Really? How? We've got some time on our hands and I'm all ears," Rodney said, wrapping his good arm across his chest and gazing expectantly at the General. "I could do with hearing something entertaining right now."


The General glanced at his husband. "Do you mind me telling this story?" he asked.


Dr Sheppard chewed on his lip miserably. "I don't like remembering it," he muttered.


"This is sounding more and more appealing," Rodney said in a tone of some glee. John prodded his leg again.


"Be nice," he warned. "This is a very small ship and we've got to spend several hours together."


"Well they've been so holier than thou since they got here!" Rodney exploded. "'In our universe we don't have any hang ups about freaky gay leather sex. In our universe we don't lock people up. In our universe we're not sexually repressed like you people,'" he parodied. "'We don't suck people out of their own universes against their will. We're much too clever for that. And in our universe we like to wear collars and leashes and have constant sex with tubloads of lube.'"


"What?" John raised an eyebrow.


Rodney flushed.


"I asked him for some lube the other day. It seemed to freak him out," the General explained. John had to bite back a grin as he imagined how Rodney had reacted to that. "Look, Dr McKay, I'm sorry if you feel we're throwing our weight around. We don't mean to – it's just that we're used to things being a certain way in our universe and it's just hard to adjust," the General said in a conciliatory tone. "But trust me, we're not perfect."


"It was Duranda," Rodney Sheppard said unexpectedly. "The Arcturus weapon? That's the story he wants to tell."


"Oh. That." Rodney went strangely quiet.


"I persuaded John to let me go and work on the weapon again. He persuaded my Lady Elizabeth." Rodney Sheppard bit on his lip. "We blew up half the solar system and Lady Elizabeth was really, *really* mad." Rodney Sheppard winced. "It was a big fuck up all around."


"Aw – did daddy spank you?" Rodney asked, in a less than kind tone.


"No," Rodney said quietly, gazing at the General. "No, he didn't. I still think he should have but that's his decision."


"It wasn't his fault," the General said quietly, sitting back and putting an arm around his husband again, pulling him close. "I know what he's like when he gets intellectually excited by something and I knew what was going on with him. I agreed to take his case to Lady Elizabeth. I supported him. It was my responsibility when it failed, not Rodney's."


"So what happened?" John asked, fascinated by this glimpse into how their society worked.


"Lady Elizabeth wanted me to punish him," the General replied. "This was a huge mistake, committed in the public domain, and she thought he should be publicly punished."


"Oh my god," Rodney breathed. "You people really are sick."


"Do you want to hear the story or not?" Rodney Sheppard snapped. McKay shrugged and sat back, but he was clearly interested, despite himself.


"It's the way our society works," the General explained. "My Lady Elizabeth felt Rodney deserved a public reprimand. The sentence was 30 swats. As Rodney's top I was responsible for delivering the penalty – while you have a brig, we have a designated punishment room - and anyone can attend and watch if it's a public disciplinary."


"Oh god," Rodney breathed again, looking extremely uncomfortable.


"I refused to agree to the penalty," the General said. "Rodney hadn't lied to me – yes, he was perhaps too eager to go back and work on the weapon, and yes he let his intellectual arrogance overwhelm his better judgement but I knew all that and still I agreed to support him."


"So...you refused to punish him?" John said slowly.


"Yes." The General nodded.


"Does that mean someone else had to do it?" John asked.


"No! I wouldn't let anyone else touch him!" the General said, in a horrified tone.


"So what happens in that situation?"


"What do you think?" the General asked.


It all slotted into place – Rodney Sheppard's evident misery at the thought of this story being told, and what the General had said to him the previous day about John taking some of the blame for their own Arcturus disaster. John flushed.


"You took the punishment for him," he said slowly.


"Yeah," the General nodded. Rodney Sheppard made a little sound in the back of his throat and nestled closer to his husband. The General stroked his arm gently.


"I'm guessing that must have been...kind of humiliating," John made a face.


"It was. I'm the highest ranking top on the base apart from my Lady Elizabeth," the General said with a sigh. "I also run the military operation and I'm in charge of all the military discipline so this was a pretty damn humiliating situation to be in. It wasn't an easy decision to make but I couldn't in all conscience allow Rodney to take all the blame. It wouldn't have been right. I knew I'd allowed myself to be persuaded against my better judgement and that was my fault, not his."


"So what happened?" John asked. "Who punished you? Rodney?"


"No!" the General grinned. "No, that's not the way it works in our universe, John. As I said, Lady Elizabeth is the highest ranking top but she rarely administers any punishments herself. She puts Peter in charge of that, the way I put Lorne in charge of it for the military personnel. She and I have enough to do, frankly, without overseeing that as well."


"Peter Grodin?" Rodney McKay asked, frowning. "I thought you said he was her sub?"


"He's a switch," Rodney Sheppard replied. "It works well for him – he gets to sub to Elizabeth in their private relationship and be pretty toppy with the rest of us as part of his job. He seems happy about it anyway."


"Your entire society is just so hard for us to understand," John told the General, shaking his head.


"Then you'll understand that we feel the same way about yours," the General replied. "My Lady Elizabeth accepted my decision to take the punishment in Rodney's stead. I presented myself in the punishment room at eleven the following morning and it took place." He shrugged.


"Nobody went to watch," Rodney Sheppard added, in a proud tone. "They all like and respect him too much. Nobody wanted to see him humiliated. It was just Elizabeth and Peter."


"And they're two of my closest friends so it wasn't too bad," the General added. John frowned.


"If they're good friends then I'd have thought it would be even worse," he commented.


"No. Nobody liked it, least of all me, trust me," the General laughed. "But it was done quickly and quietly, with the minimum of fuss, and then I was able to go back to my quarters and Rodney spent the whole day trying to make it up to me in various extremely inventive ways so it wasn't all bad." He grinned at his husband affectionately.


"Crazy. Completely insane," Rodney McKay muttered to himself.


"I think it is very romantic," Teyla said. "You must love each other very much."


The General and Dr Sheppard grinned at her and Rodney sighed, heavily.


"Oh for god's sake don't encourage them," he muttered, closing his eyes.


John prodded him again to keep him awake. "I think it's a nice story as well," he said.


"Well I didn't notice you volunteering to take my place in Elizabeth's office after she chewed me out for the same bloody mission in our universe," Rodney snapped at him.


"Well that's because you and I aren't married and I don't get any blow jobs from you," John retorted, enjoying the look of shock that passed over Rodney's face.


"Ugh. These people are having a bad effect on you, Colonel," Rodney told him primly. John grinned and then found himself laughing. He couldn't stop himself. The General joined in and then Ronon, and then they were all laughing – except for Rodney McKay who sat there with a face like a sour lemon.



The night wore on, long and weary, and blood began to seep through Rodney's bandage. John could see that the scientist was growing weaker. His face was as pale as a wraith's right now, and he gradually stopped talking although he was still valiantly trying to remain awake.


"Hey...time to change that bandage," John said gently, nudging him.


"Tired..." Rodney muttered, his eyes rolling backwards. John caught hold of his head as it clunked to one side.


"Stay with us, Rodney," he said in a low, firm tone. Rodney's eyelids fluttered closed and then, with a great sense of struggle, opened again.


"Just a nap?" he asked.


"No," John replied, carefully undoing the soiled bandage and placing another one over the wound.


"Not even a really short one? A catnap?" Rodney requested blurrily. John held his face firmly between his hands and looked into Rodney's confused blue eyes.


"No. Now stay with me, Rodney!"


"Damnit, John, I'm *tired*," Rodney muttered. John stared at him. It was the first time Rodney had ever called him by his first name, so he knew the scientist's condition must be serious. Rodney would only let his guard down if he was feeling too ill to notice.


"I know, Rodney, I know," he said softly, his thumbs moving gently over Rodney's cheeks. "It won't be much longer. Are you in any pain?"


"Just...feel cold," Rodney said, his good hand coming up to rest on John's wrist.


"Christ, Rodney, you're cold as ice," John said.


"He's in shock," the General said, leaving his bunk and coming over to look at the scientist. "We need blankets." He rifled through the survival gear stored under the bunks and fished out a couple of blankets and handed them to John.


John thought about it for a moment, and then, not caring what Rodney or anyone else thought, he scrambled onto the bunk beside Rodney, pulled him over so that the scientist was resting against his body and tugged the blankets around them both. Rodney was too out of it to do more than murmur a slight whine of complaint, but John thought that was more because the movement hurt his arm than a protest about sharing John's body warmth.


"You'll soon warm up now," John told him, using the cover provided by the blankets to disguise the fact that he had wrapped an arm around Rodney's chest and was holding him tight against him. The back of Rodney's head came to rest on John's shoulder and despite the circumstances John couldn't help thinking that it felt good there. It felt right, as it if belonged there. He rested his cheek against the side of Rodney's head, fighting all his instincts to kiss the other man's hair. Rodney settled back against him, his body relaxed in John's grasp – although John was sure that was only because he was so sick. If he was well John knew the scientist would be pushing him away as quickly as he could.


An hour or so passed and the others all fell asleep, leaving just him and Rodney lying there, Rodney's weight warm and solid against John's chest, both of them staring into space. Rodney shivered and whimpered every so often and John felt helpless, knowing there was nothing he could do but stay here and keep Rodney warm until morning. Rodney's eyelids drooped again and John squeezed him.


"Wake up, Rodney."


"Can't. Just let me sleep," Rodney replied, his eyes remaining closed.


John squeezed him more firmly. "No. Eyes open – that's an order," he said.


"I'm not military," Rodney slurred. "Can't order me around."


"Sure I can. I'm in charge of this mission and it isn't over yet so you have to do what I say." John moved his head and spoke directly into Rodney's ear, softly, in an undertone. "Eyes open, Rodney. Do it for me. Trust me."


Rodney seemed to think about this for a moment and then, with an act of will so great that John could feel it through every single muscle in Rodney's body, the scientist opened his eyes. John gave him another reassuring squeeze and held on tight. He knew he should feel guilty but this might be the only chance he got to hold Rodney and although he was worried about the scientist's condition, he couldn't help but relish the opportunity to hold him in his arms.


John started whispering stuff in Rodney's ear just to keep him going. He thought Rodney was listening – every so often he gave a little grunt or his eyes widened as if he was following what John was talking about. It wasn't anything particularly interesting – just a mish-mash of facts about his life and any stray thoughts that entered his head.


"Did you know I threw up the first time I went flying?" John said. Rodney managed a twisted little grin at that.


"Flyboy not so tough huh?" he whispered.


"Nah – wanted to fly something, anything, all through my childhood and then when I finally got the chance I threw up. Had to work a long time on overcoming the motion sickness," John said. Rodney was silent again. John searched desperately for a new topic of conversation.


"I always wanted a dog as a kid but we moved around too much. Dad said it wouldn't be fair. He was right."


"Had a dog. Ran away," Rodney muttered. "Cats simpler."


"Yeah. I like cats too," John said, remembering Rodney had owned a cat back on Earth. He'd always thought it was strange that someone as prickly as Rodney had owned a pet – and clearly been so attached to it. Now that he thought about it, it struck him that Rodney resembled a cat a bit himself – all sharp claws and hissing – to say nothing of the ruffled fur and wounded dignity whenever he was upset. He wondered if it was possible to tame the scientist, to smooth down that fluffed up fur and coax a purr from him – maybe even get him eating from your hand and twining around your legs. He'd never have thought so if he hadn't seen the way Rodney Sheppard behaved with the General. John glanced over at the opposite bunk and looked at the two of them lying there together, side by side, fast asleep. The General had an arm wrapped around his Rodney's waist and his Rodney was pressed back against him, looking utterly relaxed. The General's chin was resting in the crook of his Rodney's neck, so close that it looked like he was kissing him, and his Rodney looked as happy and contented as a cat as he lay there in his husband's arms. John felt a pang of envy and glanced down at his own Rodney, wishing it could be the same for them.


Rodney managed to stay awake for the rest of the night – more through cussedness than anything else, John thought, although he did wonder whether Rodney had responded, on some level, to the order he'd given him, and his request to trust him; Rodney hadn't tried to sleep since then.


When dawn finally broke, John left Rodney's side for the first time and walked over to the front of the puddle jumper to peer out. Outside there were plumes of smoke and the usual sense of desolation and carnage that accompanied a culling.


"Poor bastards," the General said, coming up behind him, stretching his long, lean body as he walked.


"It's hard to feel that much sympathy with them bearing in mind how they treated us and what they did to Rodney," John muttered.


"Yeah – but look at it from their point of view. It must look to them like their gods are angry with them for not offering up that promised sacrifice when we freed Rodney last night. You can see why a primitive people like this would believe in vengeful gods when the Wraith have this habit of turning up every so often to feed on them."


"I suppose, but right now I have to admit I don't care much about them – I just want to get Rodney back to Carson," John said, glancing over his shoulder to where the scientist was still seated on the back bunk of the jumper. Rodney had stopped talking a long time ago, and although his blue eyes remained open, by some act of utter obstinacy on his part, they had long since stopped focussing on anything and were just staring blankly ahead, oblivious to his surroundings.


"The gate's still open," the General observed, glancing at the console.


"Yeah – but most of the darts have left so it shouldn't be long," John said, buckling himself into his seat. "Hold tight everyone," he said over his shoulder. "Because we're out of here as soon as that gate becomes free."


"Rodney – sit with Dr McKay," the General ordered. "Make sure he's secured."


The next few minutes passed as slowly as any that John had ever known, and then suddenly the darts were gone and the gate closed and John slammed his hand onto the console and took the ship straight up into the air. Beside him the General dialled out and John flew straight for the gate.


"Medical emergency," John yelled as soon as they had a communications link. "We need Dr Beckett as soon as we're through."


Within minutes they had landed back in Atlantis and within seconds there was bustle everywhere. Carson pushed past him with a medical team and manoeuvred Rodney onto a gurney. John was disturbed by the fact that Rodney didn't even cry out when they moved him and he was about to follow on behind the gurney when Elizabeth intercepted him.


"John – what the hell happened?" she demanded. "What's the matter with Rodney? Why were you gone so long? Why didn't you stay in radio communication with us? Did you get those crystals?"


"I..." John stared at her blankly, realising she deserved a full briefing but unable to think about anything else but how Rodney was right now.


"I'll handle the briefing," the General said, stepping up beside him and touching his arm. "Go, John. I'll take care of it." John nodded gratefully and left the General to it. He ran all the way to the infirmary and got there to find Carson bustling around Rodney's pale, still form.


"How's he doing?" John asked, running up to Rodney's bedside.


"He's lost a lot of blood. We need to get a tube into him," Carson said, sticking a needle into Rodney's arm.


"He's got a badly wrenched shoulder as well," John told him.


"Aye, I can see that."


"I don't know if there are any other injuries," John babbled. "He didn’t mention anything but he was kind of out of it for a lot of the time. I made him stay awake – don't know if that was the right thing but I thought he might lose consciousness if I let him sleep."


He gazed down on Rodney's white face, willing the scientist to be okay. The dark red bruise on Rodney's jaw stood out, livid, against his icy features and he looked half dead already.


Carson turned away from Rodney and crashed straight into John.


"Colonel – you're in the way and it's not helping," Carson told him. "I want the infirmary cleared of all non-medical personnel."


"I'm not leaving," John said firmly.


"Oh yes you are," Carson replied, equally firmly. John frowned at him, surprised. Usually Carson was such a pushover, but then again John had never gotten in his way when he was in full ER mode before, and it seemed *this* Carson was a different kind of beast altogether.


"Will he make it, doc?" John asked, backing out of Carson's way.


"If you'll let me get on and do my job then there's every chance," Carson replied, shoving John backwards out of the door. "I'll call you when there's some news."


John stood outside the closed door, wondering what the hell to do with himself. His legs felt like jello and he was suddenly hit by a wave of some kind of emotion and he doubled over, gasping for air. It took him a few minutes to recover, and then he staggered away, needing fresh air. He made his way to the South West pier, which was his favourite, and held onto the railings as he took great gulps of air.


"What the hell is happening to me?" he wondered out loud, as he tried to calm himself. Where the hell had these feelings come from and how on earth did he deal with them? He'd never felt like this before, about anyone, and he would never have expected to feel like this about *Rodney* of all people. Was it just because their doppelgangers were here, with their in-your-face relationship? Would these feelings change or become more manageable once they left? Or was he stuck with them now? If so, he didn't see how the hell he could keep on working with Rodney. It would be a particular kind of torture to see the man every day, to want him and worry about him like this, and not be able to have him.


"Hey," a voice said behind him, and he glanced around to see the General. "I thought I'd find you here. It's where I always come," the General said.


"Yeah. My favourite place on Atlantis," John muttered.


"How's Dr McKay?"


"I don't know. Carson said he'd tell me when he had some news. He's lost a lot of blood," John said, and then he felt it again, that wave of powerful emotion that had almost floored him before, and he leaned over again and vomited his guts out into the water far below. He felt the General's hand on his shoulder and was grateful for its solid warmth.


"Damnit...what's happening to me?" John hissed, when he finally managed to get himself under some kind of control.


"I can't say for sure but it looks pretty similar to what happened to me once," the General replied. John straightened up and looked the other man in the eye.


"I can't control it. It keeps hitting me and I can't keep it down however hard I try. I've never felt like this before."


"I know. You're pretty good at keep everything tucked away inside, not even a ripple showing on that calm, laid-back exterior," the General chuckled. "Don't want anyone to see you're not the cool, easy-going guy, huh?"


"Something like that," John muttered, sliding down to the floor and slumping there, his back against the railings. The General sat down beside him, those long, leather-clad legs of his stretched out beside John's. "Here," he said, handing John some gum that he'd fished out of his jacket. "Should help take the taste away."


John accepted it gratefully and stuffed the gum into his mouth to banish the unpleasant taste of vomit.


"So, you wanted to watch me in action during the mission. You can't have been too impressed," John said, with a sigh. He'd really wanted to impress this man too, but somehow it had all gone so very wrong.


"By and large I thought you did a good job," the General said carefully. "Even the best planned missions can go wrong and you can't prepare for every eventuality. But you have a good head on your shoulders, you fight like a warrior and you looked out for your team – with one notable exception."


"Oh shit." John hung his head and gazed down at his knees, remembering the look of hurt in Rodney's eyes when he'd told him about his orders to Ronon. "I didn't mean to leave Rodney exposed. I had no idea it would pan out that way," he muttered.


"Then you have to tell him that," the General said. "When he's well enough to hear it. He's not a soldier, John, not like you, or Teyla, or Ronon. He deserved your protection."


"I know," John nodded.


"And he'll be blaming himself for the mission turning into such a huge fuck-up," the General added. John turned to gaze at him and found himself meeting two serious hazel eyes that looked disconcertingly like his own.


"That doesn't sound like Rodney," John said with a shrug. "We're talking about Mr Arrogance here after all."


"I know." The General gave a wry grin and shook his head. "Took me awhile to figure it out as well but however arrogant he is, and however petty he can be, he always tends to take his fair share of any blame going around – more than his fair share sometimes."


John thought about that for a moment and then nodded. Now that he really thought about it, Rodney had never been slow in accepting when he'd screwed up and offering an apology.


"Do you mind me asking you something...how did you get to be a General so young?" John asked, because this was something that had really been bugging him.


"Isn't the question not how I got to be a General but how come you're so confused about your own ambitions," the other man replied, with a raised eyebrow. "You tell me, John. Why are you so ambivalent about your career?"


"I have...chain of command issues," John said, making a face.


"Which is another way of saying you don't like taking orders – well, hell, neither do I," the General grinned. "Shall I tell you what I see?" he asked softly. John tensed, unsure whether he wanted to hear this, but he didn't want to lose whatever respect the other man might have for him by refusing to listen to his opinion so he nodded.


"Okay, the way I see it is like this: you're good – you're quick, you care about your people, and you have an excellent military brain," the General said. John nodded, waiting for the 'but'.


"You're also lazy," the General added. John nodded again, and sighed.


"Yeah. I know," he said.


"I noticed your personnel records and equipment inventories aren't as up to date as they should be," the General said.


"Yeah. I hate doing those things," John shrugged.


"But there's something else. It's not so much *that* you're lazy as *why* you're lazy. You see, I think that you don't want anyone to see just how much you care about this stuff. About all of it - about your job, about the people here...about yourself even. It's as if you stop yourself so they never get to see the real you – this one," the General patted John's chest. "The one that just threw up over the side of the railings. You'll never step up to the next level until you can control your emotions, John, and in order to control them – first you have to feel them."


"I feel plenty," John replied, feeling pretty stung right now.


"Own them then," the General said, laying it down between them like it was a challenge. "I look at you and see someone who's been avoiding taking responsibility for how he feels for a very long time. I don't know why but I can see how in your society it might be easier that way. You have all these stupid rules to try and make sure that everyone knows what to do and how to behave towards each other but if you could just be who you are, who you truly are, and inhabit that space inside you, then you wouldn't need any of that crap. You have a great gut instinct, John – I saw that back in that underground chamber - but it's almost like you fear that part of yourself. You hold back – I felt it and your team must feel it, and until you commit to being who you are and going after what you want then you'll never make General."


"Are you talking about Rodney here?" John asked suspiciously.


"Among other things, but not just about him," the General said. "He's part of it though. If you want him, then you have to go after him. That's what I did." He sat back and put his hands behind his head with a wry smile. "He was in all kinds of shit when I first met him. He was unhappy and boy did we all have to suffer because of that!" he grinned. "He was getting into trouble and being disciplined the whole time as well – which wasn't nice for him – and I was finding myself more and more drawn to him. Once I figured that out, it was relatively easy. I stepped in and he pushed me away – we did that a few times before I had to get tough with him and then finally he figured out I was serious about him and not just playing and he let me in. He'd had a shitty life in many ways up until I met him – nobody had ever loved him before so it's hardly surprising how mistrustful he was of me at first. Once he realised I did love him, and once he actually learned to trust me, he calmed down and stopped getting into trouble. It wasn't all easy or plain sailing and it wasn't just him who found it hard. At first, I felt pretty much like you do now – my emotions were so strong they made me feel out of control so I had to work on that – a lot, because it sure as hell wasn't easy. Now I can control it – you saw me controlling it back there when that bastard was holding him hostage."


"Your Rodney did exactly what you told him," John said, remembering. "That impressed me. My Rodney would never have closed his eyes like that and just trusted me in those circumstances."


"Well we've worked on that," the General replied. "We've been through a lot of drills and one of them is the 'what you do when an ugly savage holds a knife to your throat' scenario. So, Rodney knew what I expected of him and he did it."


"I really doubt I could convince my Rodney to work on that kind of thing," John sighed.


"Not while you're ambivalent," the General shot back. "You hold back on everything, John. It's almost as if you're afraid to admit that anything is that important to you. Not your career, not Rodney, not anything. Maybe you've got good reasons for that – I don't know where our life experiences differ – but I'm just saying, if you want more, if you want to make General, and have Rodney, and be everything you can be, then you have to start admitting you want it and you have to stop being ashamed of what you feel."


"It's...our universe is more complicated I think," John sighed. The General nodded.


"Well, I won't dispute *that*," he grinned.


At that moment Carson's voice sounded on John's radio.


"Colonel Sheppard? I have some news about Rodney."


John leapt to his feet. "On my way," he replied and then he nodded at the General. "Thanks for the pep talk," he said.


"You're welcome – and remember to explain about the mission to Rodney," he added.


John frowned - that wasn't exactly going to be easy and he preferred to avoid those sorts of conversations. Even after Duranda he'd gone out of his way to avoid Rodney and only the scientist's dogged persistence in tracking him down had forced him to have the conversation John really hadn't wanted to have. He supposed this was what the General meant about holding back, and he squared his shoulders and decided that the General was right – it was time to step up to the plate.



"He's got a concussion so I'll need to keep him in here for 24 hours but I've sutured the wound and we've replaced a lot of the blood he lost so he's in much better shape now," Carson told him, when he got to the infirmary. He gazed at John searchingly, perhaps surprised by his behaviour earlier. "You did a good thing keeping him awake, John," he added softly. "That was the right thing to do in the circumstances."


"Hell, he did that himself," John said with a shrug, remembering the obstinate look in Rodney's blue eyes when he'd been lying shivering in his arms. "I just kept reminding him, that's all, he's the one who held on in there."


"Well, you can see him now – not for long, just for a couple of minutes."


John nodded and walked over to the bed. "Hey Rodney," he said. The scientist still looked pale but his eyes were brighter now and he was at least talking again. His arm was strapped across his chest and there was a clean bandage over his forehead.


"Colonel," Rodney said stiffly, nodding at him. John sighed, remembering Rodney's sleepy warmth as he'd nestled against him in the puddle jumper and longing to have that intimacy back. He wondered if Rodney was embarrassed about how he'd held him, but he wasn't entirely sure how much the scientist remembered so he didn't bring it up.


"How are you feeling?" he asked.


"Fine. I have a concussion and you were right – Carson is just one shade above Ronon on the whole strapping up a badly wrenched arm thing," Rodney sniffed. John grinned.


"No anaesthetic then?"


"No – this place is like being in the dark ages," Rodney complained loudly as Carson walked by.


"Still moaning about your arm, Rodney?" Carson asked, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.


"Ah yes, Doctor Death here seems to think it's amusing to manhandle seriously injured people and cause them unnecessary pain and suffering," Rodney snapped. John smiled and placed a hand on Rodney's arm.


"You're sounding much better anyway," he said.


"Yes, well, no thanks to you," Rodney said, glancing at John and then glancing away again and John saw that same flash of hurt in his eyes that he'd seen earlier.


"You're right – I'd like to apologise about that," he said firmly.


"Really?" Rodney glanced back at him distrustfully.


"Yes. I made a serious error in judgement when I told Ronon to stick close to the other Rodney. I didn't mean to leave you exposed – that's the last thing I intended, trust me." John hoped that his tone conveyed his absolute sincerity and he guessed that it did because the hurt faded from Rodney's blue eyes to be replaced by something that looked very much like...surprise. "I know you're not military and you need our protection – I think it's just that you always handle yourself so well on missions that I forgot that," John said. Rodney preened like a cat that had got the cream at that.


"Well, thank you, Colonel," he said, that jaw of his jutting forward in a familiar way that made John want to grab it and kiss it. "I do think I've mastered the basics very well, even if I do say so myself. Of course it's hardly rocket science, although frankly I've always found that pretty easy, but even so..."


"Even so, there are still plenty of things that need working on," John interjected smoothly. "So I think that, when you're better, you'd benefit from some training sessions with me."


"What?" Rodney blinked. This clearly hadn't been where he thought this conversation was going.


"That's right. The General's got Dr Sheppard trained in some pretty interesting techniques so..."


"I bet he has," Rodney snorted.


"*Military* techniques," John stressed. "And he picked them up pretty well so if he can do it, I see no reason why you can't."


"Oh god. There was a trap there somewhere and I walked right into it," Rodney groaned. "It must be because I nearly died. My brain's still weak from lack of blood."


"You're doing fine," John grinned, patting his hand. "Carson – when will Rodney be well enough to have his first drill session with me?"


Carson came to stand at the end of the bed and regarded Rodney for a moment.


"It'll probably be months – a serious head injury like this," Rodney said, glaring at Carson meaningfully.


"Och, no, lad," Carson beamed. "You'll only be in here for a couple of days and back to light duties by the end of the week. Give it ten days, Colonel and he's all yours," Carson said cheerfully. "And if I might say so it's an excellent idea, Colonel. Rodney could do with some regular work outs – he has a very high heart rate and exercise would de-stress him significantly I think."


"Traitor," Rodney hissed but Carson just smiled cheerily at him and disappeared. John turned back.


"Ten days then," he said to Rodney. "I'll book out the practice room for our sessions. We can start with an hour a day and maybe work up from there."


"An hour?" Rodney looked outraged. "I can't spare an hour every day. I'm a very busy man, Colonel. The science department doesn’t run itself you know!"


"You can get up an hour earlier then," John told him pleasantly. "We can do it before you start your busy working day."


"But..." Rodney clearly couldn't think of a reply to that and he slumped back down on his pillow. "Oh just get out," he snapped at John.


John gave him another wide grin and then he leaned in close.


"I really am glad you're still with us, Rodney," he whispered, with complete sincerity, directly into Rodney's ear, before turning on his heel and leaving the infirmary. When he glanced back he noticed that Rodney had just the faintest glimmer of a crooked little smile on his lips.


Part Six: Out of Control



Rodney Sheppard let himself into the quarters he shared with his husband and stood there for a moment, rubbing his neck absently. He was stiff, tired, and vaguely pissed off that the mission had been such a disaster, but pleased that McKay was going to pull through. Much as the man irritated him, the last thing he wanted was to attend the funeral of someone who bore such a close resemblance to himself - even apart from the fact that he would have been devastated to see Colonel Sheppard's reaction to such a loss. Rodney cricked his neck from side to side until he got a satisfying click and then went into the bathroom. He caught sight of himself in the mirror and sighed; he looked sweaty, tired, bloodstained and dirty. Rodney decided that a bath was in order, and he started filling the tub. He checked the bathroom closet for some kind of nice oils to throw in but they seemed to have been provided with only the most basic toiletries. Rodney made a face – these people seemed to lack any kind of sensuality. He finally found some kind of muscle relaxing bubble bath and threw that in, then sat on the side of the tub and swirled the green liquid absently with his fingers until it dispersed.


The bath had just finished filling when he heard John return to their quarters so he turned off the water and went into the other room to greet his husband. John looked as beat as Rodney felt right now and they gave each other a wry smile and then Rodney walked into his arms and they just stood there for a moment, holding each other and saying nothing.


"Dr McKay is going to be okay," John said finally, muttering into Rodney's hair.


"Yeah. I stopped by the infirmary before coming back here," Rodney replied. John was silent but he had buried his nose in Rodney's hair and was sniffing. Rodney drew back and gazed at him – and wasn't surprised to see a familiar dark gleam in his husband's eyes. He wondered how long it would be before John gave into it, because he could see that he'd used up all his control during the mission and was hanging on by a thread right now.


"I drew a bath – thought we could both use it," Rodney said, watching his husband carefully.


"Good thinking," John nodded, disengaging himself and sitting down on the side of the bed, reaching for his boots. Rodney knelt down between his open knees and brushed his husband's hands away, undoing the boots for him and pulling them off. John put a hand on his shoulder as he worked, kneading absently. "Thanks," he muttered, when Rodney was done. Rodney put the boots in the closet and then John beckoned him back. "Get undressed, Rodney, I want to examine you," he said.


Rodney shrugged his clothes off quickly, threw the filthy garments into the laundry box and then came to stand in front of his husband, completely naked. He was used to walking around naked when they were alone together - John had always been pretty insistent about getting to look at Rodney in the nude as often as possible. John stood up, and moved Rodney's head to one side so that he could examine the wound on his neck. He gave a little sound in the back of his throat and Rodney tensed, but then the moment passed. Rodney's fingers reached up and found the corresponding spot on his husband's neck and the Kaeira hummed between them for a moment.


"It's healing," Rodney murmured.


"Yeah." John's long fingers moved down across Rodney's skin, ghosting gently over the surface as he checked his husband for any other signs of damage. Rodney felt fine, but he knew John wouldn't be satisfied until he'd looked him all over himself, so he submitted to the inspection without comment. John turned him around and found a minor scratch on the back of his leg and then his fingers lingered on Rodney's bottom for a moment.


"Bite mark's nearly gone," Rodney observed, glancing back over his shoulder.


"Yeah," John frowned. "Guess I'll have to replace it then," he said, wrapping an arm around his husband's waist and placing a wet kiss on the back of his neck.


"Mmmm," was Rodney's only reply. He knew that was a given, especially judging by that look of barely leashed control in John's eyes.


"Can't have you walking around unmarked," John continued, his fingers sliding up Rodney's chest and firmly squeezing one nipple. Rodney sucked in a lungful of air and reached his hands back to caress his husband's still fully-clothed body. He loved fingering the black leather that encased John's long legs and his hands came to rest on his husband's firm ass.


John continued kissing the back of his neck while fondling his nipples with his hands and Rodney leaned back into the caress, loving the sensation of surrender, enjoying his own nakedness as he pressed against the roughness of John's fully clothed body.


"Bath'll get cold," Rodney muttered.


"Are you trying to distract me from enjoying my husband?" John asked, his voice low and dangerous in Rodney's ear. Rodney grinned.




"A bath first would be nice though," John said, pushing Rodney away with a slap to his buttocks.


"Here. Let me undress you," Rodney said, turning around. He waited until John nodded his permission and then he slid his fingers into the shiny silver buckle on John's belt and undid it. He removed the belt carefully and placed it on the nightstand, his fingers sliding over the thick black strap hanging from it as he did so. He gave a little shiver and John stroked his back with one fingernail, trailing it all the way down to his naked ass.


"Apprehensive, Rodney?" he asked, in that dark, growling voice that always made Rodney's stomach churn.


"Always am when I'm due a session with your strap," Rodney replied with a grimace. "So - are you going to punish me tonight or wait until tomorrow?" He had no doubt that John *would* punish him. Neither of them had forgotten his admission earlier that he hadn't kept up with either his drill routines or his running program while John had been absent.


"Tonight," John replied and Rodney felt his stomach churn even more. "You'll be antsy if I make you wait until tomorrow."


"Oh waiting's fine," Rodney said quickly. "I'm a patient man. I can wait."


"You're not a patient man – you're the most ridiculously impatient man I've ever known," John replied. "But I'm going to make you wait a little because first I want that bath."


"Want to warm up your arm muscles, hmm?" Rodney said, undoing his husband's shirt and stripping it off him, then moving his hands down to John's pants.


"Helps the swing," John told him with a grin. "So I can make more of an impression on your disobedient ass."


"Sometimes it's hard for me to remember why I love you," Rodney groused, sliding John's pants down his long legs. John kicked them off his feet and then pulled Rodney close and kissed him firmly on the lips. Rodney melted against him, his arms sliding around John's naked flesh, utterly surrendering to the kiss.


"That's why you love me," John said when he released him.


"Oh that. Yeah," Rodney replied with a sigh. "Seriously, John. You don't have to punish me. I know you're tired and I didn't do anything really bad..."


"Nice try, Rodney," John said, rolling his eyes. "But I asked you to keep up with your fitness routines while I was gone and I expected you to do just that."


"I *was* busy with the reactors," Rodney pouted. "It wasn't like I flouted your orders on purpose. I was just so busy with my work that I forgot."


"Really?" John raised an eyebrow. "So, tell me, did Ronon happen to drop by the lab and remind you on each of the four days I was away?"


Rodney screwed up his face thoughtfully, as if trying to remember. "Oh okay he did," he sighed at last. "But it was always at the most inconvenient times."


"So you brushed him off," John said, chucking Rodney under the chin with his fingers, an amused but dangerous glint in his eyes.


"Kind of," Rodney shrugged, knowing he was on thin ice here and there really didn't seem to be a viable exit.


"And tell me, if it wasn't for the fact that you let it slip out there, would you have even told me about it?"


Rodney snorted. "Yeah. Right. I have an IQ of genius proportions. Do I look stupid?"


John chuckled. "Yeah, that's what I thought. And *that's* why you're going to be sleeping with an extremely hot ass tonight, Rodney Sheppard. You know how I feel about lying – I can forgive you not following my orders a hell of a lot more than I can the lie."


"It wasn't a lie. I just didn't tell you straight away. I didn't have time!" Rodney protested. "You'd only just got back and then we were transported here and it went clean out of my head."


"Hmm, well I agree the circumstances were a little unusual but we had plenty of time alone together for you to tell me before the mission. You were just hoping I wouldn't find out although why the hell you thought that Ronon would cover for you I have no idea."


"I bribed him," Rodney replied. "With food and a gun I modified specially for him."


"Honestly. You're incorrigible," John said. "And if you're going to modify guns shouldn't you modify them for me? I'm your damn husband remember?"


"I spoil you enough as it is," Rodney replied with a cheeky grin. "What with all the blow jobs and sexual favours."


"You belong to me!" John growled, reaching for him possessively in a way that made Rodney shiver and his cock stand to attention; he loved getting this reaction out of his husband. "So the sexual favours and the blow jobs are my due," John hissed in his ear. Rodney clung to him, enjoying the way their cocks slid together, rising up to meet each other. To be honest, when John had first proposed marriage he hadn't been sure. He didn't know that he wanted to give up his independence, take another man's name and effectively belong to him. John was old fashioned as well – there were various kinds of marriages a couple could contract in their universe, but John had wanted the traditional kind, where Rodney became his, body and soul. Of course Rodney could still divorce him if it didn’t work out – it wasn't irrevocable – but even so, it was a big commitment.


"I just don't see it working any other way," John had said with a shrug on the day he had proposed. "I know myself, Rodney and the kind of man I am, the kind of top I am, and the kind of husband I want to be. You'll never be unloved, and you'll always be cherished but I need to know you're mine. You have to belong to me – otherwise it'll just feel to me as if we're playing at it."


"I do want to marry you but...I'm not sure I can submit to you at the level you want me to," Rodney had replied, wanting to let go and accept the proposal, but scared of somehow losing himself in such an arrangement.


"And I don't think you could be happy with anything less," John had retorted. "You know what you're like, Rodney. You also know me - you know I won't ride roughshod over you, but I do want to own you. I need that from you – anything else would just feel like you were holding back on your submission, never truly belonging to me, and you and I both know that's when you'll act out and get into trouble because it won't feel real enough for you."


Rodney had thought about it long and hard. The kind of marriage John was proposing wasn't easy – in fact he knew the Lady Elizabeth had talked two couples out of committing to each other on such a level and had persuaded them to opt for an easier arrangement instead; yet the very demands of such a marriage were also seductive.


Rodney's past was a wreckage of discarded relationships. For awhile he hadn't even known what he was – he'd tried topping, had had a brief, unsatisfying relationship with a sweet woman during his college years but he wasn't consistent enough to be a top, and his moods were variable at the best of times, leaving her confused and hurt all too often. He also honestly didn't like having all that responsibility for another human being resting on his shoulders; it irritated and oppressed him, making him even more moody until she'd ended it. Then he'd tried subbing – to a woman first of all. He'd been attracted to the security and certainty of her zero tolerance approach to relationships but she was inflexible to the point of cruelty and he ended up feeling sullen and resentful around her, unable to breathe or allow his genius to shine. The man he'd fallen into bed with next had been much more easy-going – but he wasn't anywhere near Rodney's intellectual equal and Rodney had run rings around him until the poor guy had told him he was just too much of a handful for him and ended it. After that there had been a long period of loneliness and unhappiness, punctuated by occasional one night stands that had, for the most part, gone pretty badly. He'd managed to acquire a reputation for being a difficult and disobedient sub, which he felt was undeserved, and he'd started acting out all over the place, causing Elizabeth to summon him for several public punishment sessions which had humiliated him almost beyond endurance – not least because they were always so well attended by the rest of the base personnel who thoroughly enjoyed witnessing his discomfort.


Then suddenly John had stepped effortlessly into his life and taken control as if by magic, bringing him to heel with love and affection and an underlying strength of character and sternness that Rodney found himself responding to. Nothing in Rodney's life to date had prepared him for falling in love. He'd never known such happiness or such terror, both of them woven together inextricably, cradling him and restraining him at the same time. With John he learned how to explore his own nature, to really be who he was, in the safe knowledge that someone would catch him if he fell and hold him tight. John was everything to him, but he was asking Rodney to take one final step that would involve a surrender and level of submission he wasn't sure he was capable of. Marriage of this most traditional kind meant that he really would become John's possession. There was no concept of rape or assault within a marriage like this – he would become John's chattel, his body a plaything for his husband to use when and how he liked, and while the idea appealed, the reality scared him. Not that he seriously thought John would ever harm him, but with their marriage Rodney effectively lost the right to say "no" to anything his husband wanted to do to him.


He'd finally agreed, standing in John's room, white-faced, scared beyond belief, his fingers digging anxiously into John's arm – and John's big, bright smile when he heard the words had banished all his fears completely. Of course this was the right thing; to be owned, to be loved by this man, of all people, the one man on Atlantis everyone respected and liked, and the fact that this amazing, handsome, smart man wanted *Rodney* of all people to be his husband...well, Rodney still couldn't get his head around that. Of course it was right. When they told Elizabeth, Rodney had feared she'd withhold her consent and try and talk them out of it, the way she had with those other couples, but instead she had been warm in her congratulations, and she'd given a heartfelt sigh.


"Thank god you're taking him off my hands," she'd murmured to John. "Not that it hasn't been an experience, Rodney, but I'm glad that from now on you're somebody else's responsibility!"


So they'd got married, and even now, a year or two down the line, Rodney knew it was the best decision he'd ever made.


Rodney blinked, returning to the present to find his husband biting on his neck.


"Mine," John was muttering hazily, the way he did when he got into this kind of mood. Rodney grinned, wondering why the hell that notion had scared him so much back then, when he was considering John's proposal. John's mouth was nipping his neck and it was starting to hurt, so Rodney went very still. He'd learned from experience that when his husband was in this mood he liked Rodney to surrender, totally and completely, to being marked, or to whatever kind of pain or pleasure he wanted to hand out. Rodney clung on for a few minutes while John completed his marking, and then his husband drew back and slid his finger along the new mark on Rodney's neck, which completely covered the previous knife mark.


"That's better," John growled. "It's the mark I made now – not his."


Rodney felt it with his own fingertips, enjoying the tingle he got out of being owned and possessed in this way. Then he noticed some of the bruises and cuts on his husband's body.


"Hey...looks like you've been in a fight," he joked, pressing his fingers onto a bruise on John's arm.


"Yeah - more than one," John replied, but he wasn't smiling. Instead, there was a dangerous look of intent in his eyes and he was looking at Rodney in much the same way as a wolf looked at a deer. Kaeira buzzed between them but John brushed Rodney's hand away, breaking the link. "Don't share them," he said, hoarsely. "I don't want to see any marks on your body except the ones I put there. And I aim to put several on you this evening."


"Okay, just let..." Rodney began, but John interrupted him.


"I want you," John said, in a low, guttural tone, pushing Rodney back onto the bed, his movements hard and barely controlled. "Now," John hissed, holding him down.


Rodney shivered at the tone of John's voice – he'd clearly reached the limits of his control and all hell was about to break loose; Rodney knew the signs very well.


John was always like this after Rodney had been hurt, especially if someone had put a mark on his body. He became incredibly possessive – after Kolya had scarred him and John had tracked the Genii leader down and killed him, his husband had returned to their rooms in a mood so fierce that Rodney had, for the first time ever, been genuinely afraid of him. They had stayed holed up in their rooms for several hours while John worked out his emotions on Rodney's willing body. Rodney had never felt in serious danger but it had been clear that John's emotions were running high and nothing less than Rodney's complete submission would satisfy him. John was clearly feeling the same way right now, and Rodney gave himself up to him immediately, understanding how John's mind worked. His husband could always control these emotions during the actual crisis – like he had earlier that day when Rodney had been held hostage, but afterwards, when they were alone together, he seemed to feel a need to reclaim Rodney, to make him his again, in the most basic way.


John's hands and mouth were roving over Rodney's body, stopping to suck or bite here and there. Rodney lay still – he knew John didn't want to be caressed in return – he just required that Rodney offer himself up to him and allow him to do whatever he wanted to him. Rodney didn't think he presented a very sexy prospect at the moment – he was dirty and sweaty after the mission – but John didn't seem to notice that. His mouth was warm and fierce on Rodney's body and he covered one of Rodney's nipples with his mouth and bit down. Rodney gave a little squawk of pain and shifted slightly beneath his husband, and John growled like a lion afraid his meal was going to be taken away from him, and held Rodney down with his hands.


"Don't move," he warned, returning to his task, his teeth nibbling down on Rodney's sensitised nipple.


"Ahh..." Rodney squealed as the bite deepened, but he knew John intended to mark him and the bite continued until Rodney wasn't sure he could take it any longer. At the same time he knew John would make him take it, that John wouldn't let him up until he'd marked him the way he wanted to, and this would be one of many marks his husband would place on his body this evening.


Finally the pressure from John's mouth lessened and he drew back and licked at the red bite mark he'd left on Rodney's chest. Rodney glanced down at it with some pride. He liked the way he always felt bearing John's marks on his skin. Sometimes, when he was in the lab, he'd finger the marks through his uniform, remembering how they were made. They spoke to some need deep within him, and, while it wasn't always comfortable receiving them, the pleasure he got from them for days afterwards more than outweighed the momentary pain of their infliction.


"Turn over," John said roughly, but it wasn't an order. Rodney knew he had to stay still, and John flipped him over, as if he was a doll, rolling him onto his front. Rodney wrapped his arms around the pillow and lay there, tense, wondering where John would mark him next. John sucked a path down his back, following the line of his spine to his waist and then he paused and Rodney knew what was coming next. He took a mouthful of pillow and waited, and sure enough, next thing he knew John was sucking on one of his buttocks. The suck continued for a long time, and then it gradually deepened into a bite. Rodney bit down hard on the pillow, trying to keep still and not wriggle too much under the fierce caress. Finally John released him, and Rodney could feel his warm tongue lapping on the mark. Rodney sighed and shifted slightly and John gave a growl, pinned him down to the bed and sank his teeth back into Rodney's other buttock. Rodney gave a startled cry which was muffled by the pillow, but that just seemed to enflame his husband even more and his grip became tighter, his arms holding Rodney fast so he couldn't move. That bite seemed to go on for hours – John had him in such a tight grip that he was unable to move at all, and all he could sense was his own submission, thrumming through him, as John's teeth marked his ass. It hurt, but it was a good hurt, making his cock tingle, and enthusing him with the thrill of his own lack of power. He could feel the energy passing between them as he willingly surrendered himself to his husband and John took his surrender as his right, as his due, and that was more of a turn on than anything else. Finally John's grip lessened and he moved his mouth away from Rodney's buttocks. Rodney glanced back over his shoulder to see the two bite marks, one on each buttock, red and proud. He knew these marks would last for several days and that thought made his cock harden even more.


John's face loomed over him, his hazel eyes dark, unrecognisable and full of sexual energy. Rodney shivered.


"On your back. Open your legs," John ordered, but again he didn't wait for Rodney to obey, but flipped him over and shoved his legs open with hard, brutal movements. "You're mine. I'm going to take you," John said, in that same low, dark tone. Rodney nodded and reached blindly for the lube on the nightstand. Sometimes, when he was like this, John forgot about lube and while Rodney could take a dry fuck if he had to, or if that was what John intended, he preferred not to if he could avoid it. He popped the lid with his thumb, squeezed a liberal amount over his hand and slid a finger into his ass. John growled again, grabbed his hand and removed the finger. "Mine," he hissed. "Don't touch. All mine." Rodney nodded, and squeezed the lube onto John's fingers and then lay back, legs open wide and inviting, just hoping John would actually use the lube and not go straight in there. He was relieved a few seconds later to feel John's hard, lubed fingers entering him. John leaned over him again, placed one arm over Rodney's chest to keep him still, pressing him into the bed, and then rammed his finger hard into Rodney's ass. Rodney gasped – it didn't hurt, but it was fast and furious, taking him by surprise. John was gazing down on him, a strange look in his eyes, one of complete dominance, just teetering on the brink of losing control. He had become a predator, a wild animal intent on stamping his ownership on Rodney's flesh and the darkness in his eyes made Rodney shiver and his cock go into a spasm of need. John scared him when he was like this, but excited him too, and he knew he couldn't have one without the other.


John slid another finger into him, and then proceeded to finger fuck him so fast and so hard that Rodney was gasping out loud with every thrust, trying hard not to move, willing himself to submit to his husband's demands but longing to scream and writhe under the harsh caress. John put his head on one side and gazed at him, their eyes locked as he plundered Rodney's body with his fingers. His eyes raked over Rodney's chest, lingering on the bite mark over his nipple and on his neck, his pupils becoming dilated with arousal as his fingers continued their furious pace. Rodney wanted to come, could feel himself on the brink and he arched up, unable to stop himself moving. John gave another low, guttural growl at the movement, and threw himself across Rodney's body, wrenching his husband's buttocks open with his hands and sliding his thick cock deep inside him in one fast move. It took a moment for Rodney to register the change in sensation because it had happened so quickly, and then he felt a familiar warm burn, and a feeling of fullness, and his ass was stretched around John's thick cock and it hurt and felt so good at one and the same time. John was on top of him, looking down, that strange look still in his eyes. He adjusted his position so that he was fully embedded inside Rodney, up to the hilt, making Rodney whimper, and then he rested his body on top of Rodney's and claimed a deep, savage kiss from his husband's mouth. Rodney opened up immediately, but really it was a one-way process as John ravaged his lips with his own. Finally he drew back, leaving Rodney gasping for breath, his body still adjusting to the sudden intrusion of John's hard cock into his ass. John moved his mouth down and took Rodney's bitten nipple in his mouth and sucked down hard. The nub of flesh was already sensitive and Rodney squealed and tried to wriggle but John held him completely immobile as he sucked. He finished with that nipple and turned his attention to the other, sucking down hard again. Then he looked up, an utterly feral look in those dark, sex-hungry, hazel eyes, grabbed Rodney's hips, and slid out of his ass and then back in again with a hard thrust. Rodney grunted but lay there, his legs open wide to receive his husband, and John fucked him pitilessly, so fast and so hard that Rodney wondered how he was even managing to stay conscious.


"Nobody touches you," John said, and Rodney remembered an arm across his chest and the stink of that savage as he'd held a knife to his throat and he knew John was remembering it too, and that this was all about banishing the memory, and his husband reclaiming what was his. "Nobody but me," John hissed. "You're mine. Mine. Mine. Mine." He said the words in time to each powerful inward thrust, over and over again, like a mantra, and Rodney could feel himself on the verge of coming. He was John's – body and soul. He belonged to his husband, and was happy to offer up his body to him, a willing sacrifice on the altar of John's need to possess him. Rodney came, spurting out over his own belly, and John looked down on him fiercely, triumphantly, and then, without warning, he withdrew, and came, deliberately, on Rodney's neck and chest.


Rodney lay there, utterly winded, feeling John's warm come cool on his body, next to his own. Then John was sliding down on top of him, taking him in his arms, holding him tight and moving against him while making a keening sound in the back of his throat.


"It's okay," Rodney said softly, wrapping his arms around his husband and soothing him with little caresses along his back. "It's okay. I'm safe. He didn't hurt me. You got me back. It's okay."


He had seen the dark side of John's soul – had known it existed when he married him – and was honoured that John felt safe enough to share it with him. John managed, by and large, to control his possessive streak, and Rodney guessed that very few people in their universe knew just how deep it went, but when they were alone together he was able to let go, to descend into the darkness and surrender himself to it, and Rodney was always there to hold him when it was over.


John was still shuddering, his breathing coming in fast, hard gasps against Rodney's neck.


"Ssh," Rodney whispered, holding him tight. "You're okay. I've got you."


Finally his husband's breathing slowed and he looked up at Rodney and Rodney was relieved to see light again in those intense hazel eyes. At least John had recovered more quickly this time than he had that time after he'd killed Kolya. Then Rodney hadn't been sure he'd be able to bring John back from the brink and it had taken several hours.


John winced, and ran a hand over Rodney's bitten neck.


"Sorry," he muttered.


"I like it," Rodney replied with a grin.


"So do I," John said in a wry tone. "I'm not sorry about marking you – I'm just sorry for the way it happened – for losing control." He shook his head.


"I don't mind that either," Rodney told him, caressing him gently with his fingertips. "I can handle you."


"Hmmm. That's good," John murmured.


"Besides, it's nice. I'm usually the one who loses it, not you. Makes me feel like you're human after all," Rodney said.


"Of course I'm human. What else would I be?"


"Well, a minute ago half lion, half wolf, I think," Rodney said, pointing out the come that was drying on his body. "I suppose I should be grateful you didn't actually piss on me."


"It's a thought," John said wryly, and the eager light in his eyes made Rodney think he might not entirely be joking.


"Oh god." Rodney rolled his eyes. "Well if you do that, you're the one who explains to these people why we need a new mattress – I couldn't bear to witness another of their horrified reactions."


"You okay?" John asked anxiously, drawing back and tracing a finger over Rodney's skin.


"I'm fine. It was intense, but weirdly sexy. I always come really hard when you're like this, even if I'm also high on, you know, sheer terror," Rodney told him.


John bit down on his lip. "Sorry," he said again. "I just...the thought of him with his arm around you, with his *knife* against your throat. It makes me..." His hands balled uselessly into fists.


"Hush," Rodney said, drawing him back again. "I'm okay. We're both okay. Relax. You can come down now. In fact...I think it's time for that bath. That should relax us both. Come on."


He got up, gingerly, feeling like he'd just gone ten rounds with a wraith, and held out his hand. John took it and Rodney dragged him off the bed and into the bathroom. He topped up the tub with more hot water, and then got in, pulling John between his legs. Rodney lay back, his arms wrapped loosely around his husband and he kissed John's dark hair affectionately as they soaked. John had taken more bruises in the day's fights than Rodney had realised and he ran the soap over his husband's skin, removing the dirt, grime and sweat and bringing John back down again. John sighed, lying back against Rodney's chest, and Rodney smiled, fondling him absently. He loved having his husband cradled in his arms like this. It wasn't often that John would let himself just be held and Rodney liked to make the most of it.


They luxuriated in the bath for a long time, until it started to grow cold, and then John got out and they towelled themselves down. They returned to the bedroom and Rodney walked purposefully towards the bed, wanting nothing more than to throw himself into it and catch up on some sleep but John paused by the nightstand and gave a heavy sigh.


"Not so fast, Rodney. We have something to take care of," he said. Rodney turned, wondering what the hell he meant, and then his eyes alighted on the strap.


"Oh god no. Not now," he moaned. "Honestly, John, can't we leave it? I was a naughty boy and I won't do it again. Can't we let it go at that?"


"No we can't, and you know that," John told him, a regretful tone in his voice. Rodney did know that, on some level. Right now neither of them wanted to do this, least of all Rodney, but he also knew that if they didn't, a tiny chink would open up in their relationship. This was one of the fundamentals on which their lives were built – it couldn't be shirked just because neither of them was in the mood.


"How do you want me?" Rodney sighed at last, giving in to the inevitable.


"Against the wall. Hands braced, legs open," John ordered, but Rodney had done this enough times to know how it went. He walked over to the wall, placed his hands flat against it, planted his legs wide and jutted his ass out. Then he watched over his shoulder, his stomach doing several anxious flips, as John unfastened the strap from his discarded belt and prowled back over to him.


"Five for missing the drills, five for not running and ten for not telling me about it," John told him. Rodney groaned.


"Twenty? That seems a lot," he complained.


"All deserved, as you well know," John snorted.


He took up position behind his husband and Rodney faced the wall again, bracing himself. A few seconds later the first swat fell on his bottom. He felt faintly aggrieved; he'd already been bitten there – twice – this evening, and now this! John's punishments were always hard and to the point – Rodney had never yet mistaken a serious punishment spanking for a pleasurable erotic one and this was no different. There was no warm up, just the snap of the strap and the sting of pain on his ass. John was always fair but equally firm and Rodney knew that complaining and pleading didn't work, although that didn't usually stop him trying it anyway.


He was tired, irritable and seriously pissed off to be in this position and it had been a long, exhausting day. The strap whipped across his buttocks, hard, unrelenting and extremely painful. Rodney rested his face against his hands and began to sob, little whimpering sobs. He was surprised – he didn't often cry so easily – but somehow, at some point during the strapping, he realised he needed this release the way John had needed his own release earlier. John's arm didn't falter, and the strokes came slowly and steadily, and soon Rodney was crying in earnest. Not so much because it hurt, although it did, but because they both could have died today and instead they were here, alive and together. All the fears and tensions of the day left his body as John's strap made its inexorable marks on his skin, claiming him once more, over and over again, with its searing fire - and he didn't have to be strong for John any more; he could just let go and accept the punishment he'd earned what felt like a lifetime ago.


Then it was over. He heard John put the strap down on the nightstand but Rodney didn't move. He just stood there, sobbing softly into the back of his hands. Then he felt John's fingers on his shoulders and he was turned around and pulled into a warm embrace and John was kissing his hair, and sliding his hands down his back, comforting him.


"You're so beautiful when you surrender like that. I love you so much," John whispered, and that just made the lump in his throat even bigger and now he was bawling like a child into John's shoulder. "Cry it out," John whispered, stroking him like he was a cat. Rodney did just that and when finally he'd finished, and his sobs had morphed into whimpers, his breath hitching in his throat, John guided him over to the bed and helped him to get in. Rodney felt his husband slide in behind him, John's groin pressing against his warm, sore buttocks, and then John wrapped his arms around him and they both lay there for a moment, too exhausted to sleep.


"Don't ever leave me," Rodney whispered, putting a hand on his husband's arm where it crossed his chest.


"Never could," John replied, kissing the back of his neck and then, reconnected with each other, the energy flow running easily between them like warm honey, sweet and satisfying, only then did they finally fall asleep.




Rodney McKay sat in his bed in the infirmary feeling utterly bored. The truth was that he only actually enjoyed being in the infirmary and under Carson's scrutiny when he *wasn't* actually ill or injured. That was much more fun because he got to be fussed over and indulged on his terms and when he'd had enough he could just walk out again. Being actually injured was another matter entirely and he hated it. For a start, there was nothing wrong with his brain, so he didn't see why Carson wouldn't at least let him work on his laptop while he was incapacitated. His arm hurt and he had a dull headache most of the time but he was pretty sure that even with those handicaps he could still work on the theoretical side of restoring the QDD even if he wasn’t allowed back to his lab. Instead he was stuck here, bored witless.


"Carson!" Rodney yelled, for the seventh time that morning. "Carson!"


The doctor emerged from a side room with a wary expression on his face and stood at the end of the bed. "Rodney," he said in a calm but ever-so-slightly world weary tone.


"There's no reason for me to be taking up valuable bed space in the infirmary. I could be sitting in my bed in my quarters just as easily," Rodney told him, because at least then he'd be able to use his laptop without any nosy doctor interfering.


"We've been through this, Rodney," Carson said, his voice strained. "Several times. You have a concussion and that means I need to keep an eye on you for 24 hours. If you left the infirmary I wouldn't be able to see you - and if I can't see you I won't notice if you faint, or fall over, or start having bad headaches."


"Well, obviously I'll *tell* you if any of those things happen!" Rodney protested.


"Not if you're unconscious on your bathroom floor you won't," Carson retorted. "And as for the issue of freeing up an infirmary bed – we're hardly rushed off our feet." He gestured around the empty room. Rodney thought about it and then let out a heavy sigh. "I know you're bored, Rodney, but please try to be patient," Carson said, with a sympathetic smile. Rodney sighed again.


"Can't I at least have a visitor?" he asked.


"You could, but there doesn't appear to be a queue of people lined up outside the door," Carson replied. Rodney gazed down at the sheet, feeling glum. Carson came around the bed to stand beside him and squeezed his arm gently. "You've already seen Elizabeth, Teyla and Colonel Sheppard this morning," he said. "And people do have work to do. I'm sure more people will drop by later. I know Ronon said he would."


"Great," Rodney sighed. "No offence but Ronon's hardly the world's greatest conversationalist."


"Then you'll just have to hope he brings you something nice to eat," Carson said and Rodney brightened at that thought. He was already sick of the blue Athosian 'grapes' that Teyla had brought along a couple of hours ago. He'd gorged on them happily enough for ten minutes but that novelty had long since worn off.


"I'd feel much happier if I could just have some coffee," Rodney said sweetly, glancing up at Carson hopefully.


"Nice try, Rodney, but the answer is the same as it was the previous eight times you asked. No," Carson told him. "Caffeine is a really bad idea for you right now with that head wound."


"Damn it, Carson! I'm sure that's why I have this bloody headache!" Rodney protested. "My body needs a certain amount of caffeine just to get through the day. It's used to it!"


"Well, view this as a good opportunity to break yourself of the habit then," Carson replied with zero sympathy. Rodney glared at him.


"Oh go away," he sighed. "You're much more fun when I'm not actually ill."


"I could say the same thing about you," Carson muttered under his breath as he walked away – only to return a couple of seconds later with a broad grin on his face. "You wanted a visitor, Rodney – well one has just arrived!" he announced, in a pleased tone, before scuttling off again. Rodney sat up, excited, and then slumped back down again when he saw who it was.


"Oh. It's you," he muttered, as Rodney Sheppard sauntered up to his bed.


"Nice to see you too," the other Rodney said, with that stupid grin of his. Rodney glared at him sourly, thinking how incredibly unfair all this was. Here was he, badly injured and practically at death's door, while his counterpart was fresh as a daisy, that ridiculous curly hair of his looking clean and freshly washed, and he was wearing...he was wearing...


"Is that one of Colonel Sheppard's shirts?" Rodney asked, gazing at the dark purple fabric suspiciously.


"Yeah. You only gave me uniform stuff – the Colonel gave John some casual clothes as well and I liked this so I thought I'd wear it," the other Rodney said. It fitted him a bit snugly, because he was broader across the shoulders and chest than the Colonel, but he looked much more comfortable in it than Rodney knew he would have felt in such a garment.


Rodney gazed at the other Rodney in surprise, wondering why he always looked so comfortable in his own skin, seemingly completely unaware of how stupid he looked. Right now he was also looking incredibly relaxed and there was a goofy little smile playing on the corners of his lips...and...and... Rodney frowned.


"Oh my god – is that a hickey?" he snapped, seeing the red mark on the side of his counterpart's neck. "Aren't you a bit old to have a hickey?"


"You're never too old and it isn't a hickey – it's a bite mark," the other Rodney told him with a happy smile.


"You let him bite you?" Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, feeling deeply threatened for some reason.


"Sure. Well, to be honest it would have been hard to stop him, the mood he was in last night, but yeah. I like it when he bites me. You should try it sometime." Rodney Sheppard gave him another one of those bright smiles.


"No thank you!" Rodney snapped. "Doesn't it hurt?" he asked curiously, still freaked out although he wasn't sure why.


"Yeah, but it's such a *good* hurt," his counterpart told him with what could only be described as a lascivious wink. Rodney gazed at him, appalled by what that expression looked like on his own face.


"There see – just not getting the concept of 'good' and 'hurt' being used in conjunction with each other," he commented.


"Well maybe that's because you've never tried it," the other Rodney told him. "Are these grapes?" He peered at the bowl on Rodney's nightstand.


"Yes they are – well, no they're not, but they're near enough. Teyla brought them in – for me," Rodney said pointedly.


"Well, I'm you," Rodney Sheppard said cheerfully, helping himself to a handful.


"You so *aren't*," Rodney snorted.


"Sure I am. We look the same – apart from me being better looking - we talk the same, we walk the same, we're both Head of Science on Atlantis, we both have the same hottest guy on the base wanting to jump our bones, we both..."


"Hold on!" Rodney held up his hand. "Back up there. Who wants to jump my bones?"


"Colonel Sheppard." The other Rodney rolled his eyes. "You must have noticed."


"Colonel Sheppard is straight. As am I," Rodney replied firmly.


"I have no idea what that means. Is it the same as being gay?"


"No – it's the opposite," Rodney snapped.


"I'd have thought the opposite of 'gay' would be 'sad' but whatever," the other Rodney shrugged.


"So he is absolutely not interested in me that way," Rodney continued.


"Oh. Okay. So, him being absolutely not interested in you would clearly explain why he was out of his mind with worry about you during the mission, and why my John had to take over command when we found out they'd captured you because your John was acting all crazy. It probably also explains why the Colonel crept under those blankets with you in the puddle jumper and held you all night. Definitely not interested in you. At all."


"He was trying to keep me awake! And warm!" Rodney protested. He had to admit that he had been touched by the Colonel's concern for him – he hadn't expected him to hold him like that, and he'd felt curiously reassured by the way the other man had wrapped his arms around him and whispered in his ear. People never usually cared that much about him and it still surprised him that the Colonel, of all people, had been worried about him.


"Oh. Right. Okay," the other Rodney nodded. "Just from where I was sitting it looked more like he wanted to kiss you."


"He does NOT want to kiss me!" Rodney remembered the warmth of the Colonel's breath against his ear and on his hair and how safe he'd felt lying there with him.


"Ah – but you want to kiss him right?" Rodney Sheppard grinned.


"NO!" Rodney shouted. "And if you keep on like this I'm going to get Carson to throw you out."


"Okay. I hear you." Rodney Sheppard put up his hands in mock surrender. "So what's your problem with it, Rodney? Why does the idea freak you out so much?"


"It doesn't freak me out. It's just not who I am," Rodney snapped. And he was pretty sure it wasn't. Not that he'd had sex with that many people but they'd all been women. All two of them. Not that it had gone very well, admittedly, but he assumed that was a matter of practice, and if they'd just kept on seeing him he was sure he'd have gotten better at it.


"So, how are you?" Rodney Sheppard said, ignoring that last comment and stuffing the grapes into his mouth.


"I'm fine. Well, no, I'm very ill apparently, according to Carson, and people should be nice to me – especially because I'm suffering caffeine withdrawal and my behaviour is therefore unpredictable." Rodney paused for a moment, and his counterpart grinned at him again.

"Um...I should probably...you know...thank you or something for the last minute rescue, although really, did you have to cut it so fine?"


"We got you out of there, didn't we?" his counterpart said, leaning on the side of the bed.


"There is a chair." Rodney gestured with his head.


"Yeah...not feeling like sitting down right now." The other Rodney gave a wry grin.


"Oh god. He spanked you didn't he?" Rodney could feel his face flush a bright shade of vermillion at that thought.


"Yup," the other Rodney shrugged.


"Why? What did you do?" Rodney asked, horrified and fascinated at one and the same time.


"Didn't do the drills he set for me while he was away. I was an idiot and let it slip to him during the mission." Rodney slapped his hand against his forehead.


"My god – he spanks you for not doing exercise?" Rodney shuddered, remembering that Colonel Sheppard had him down for some drills of his own. In fact he'd been busy sitting here trying to think up ways of getting out of them but now he wasn't so sure that was such a good idea. The Colonel had been behaving weirdly since these people arrived and Rodney wasn't entirely sure how he'd react to him avoiding the drills. Not that he thought he'd spank him as such but...Rodney tried to close down that mental image but it just sat in his head, tormenting him. "That's just...terrible," Rodney sighed at last, still preoccupied by the thought of Colonel Sheppard throwing him over his knee.


"I know. It sucks. Exercise is for dogs," his counterpart said.


"That's what I always say!" Rodney exclaimed.


"But John wants me mission-fit the whole time so we do these drills – and I have a running program too."


"It sounds awful," Rodney sympathised.


"It is," his counterpart agreed, in a melancholy tone.


They shared a rare moment of bonding.


"You could just say no," Rodney said eventually. "When he tries to spank you."


"Not really," his counterpart shrugged. "You see, when I married him I agreed to submit to him in everything. So he owns me and can do pretty much anything he wants to me."


"What?" Rodney exclaimed, aghast. "That's terrible!"


"No - it's fantastic," the other Rodney replied.


"But...but..." Rodney tried to imagine what that would be like and failed. "Are you saying he could really hurt you and you couldn't even charge him with assault?"


"I suppose so but he wouldn’t. That's not the way it works – and besides he'd get a hard time from the other tops if he was abusive towards me. But I know he never would - it all comes down to trust," the other Rodney said softly. "I trust him. It's that simple."


"I don't understand you." Rodney shook his head.


"No – but then you don't understand yourself either, so no surprises there."


"Was there a reason why you dropped by to irritate me?" Rodney snapped, the rare moment of bonding clearly well and truly over.


"No, I don't think so...oh yes!" His counterpart gave that stupid little giggle of his and clicked his fingers excitedly. "I came to tell you not to worry about the lab. It's in safe hands."


"What?" Rodney sat up straight with a frown.


"The lab. I've been working there all morning – just thought I'd drop by and reassure you. I've got them all working on the QDD. Man, it's great to be working with Radek again – he's fantastic. Not as brilliant as me of course, but then who is? But he's a good, solid engineer. Nice to hear that Czech accent again."


"What do you mean you've been working there all morning? Who said you could work in my lab, with my people?" Rodney demanded, throwing the sheets aside, and sliding off the bed.


"Well, there's no point me sitting around waiting for you to get better before starting work modifying those crystals. It'll take weeks as it is, so I thought it made sense to get a head start."


"Where are my clothes?" Rodney demanded, looking around the infirmary helplessly. "Carson! What have you done with my clothes?"


Carson came running out of the side room. "What now?" he demanded and then he saw Rodney and his eyes widened. "Rodney – what are you doing out of bed?"


"What does it look like? There is no way I'm letting this irritating idiot loose on *my* lab," Rodney snapped. "Now give me my clothes."


"No," Carson replied, standing in front of him, his blue eyes flashing.


"What? Carson, we don't have time for this. I'm fine – I'm not about to keel over or anything, and while I'm lounging around here god knows what *he* is doing in my lab. Anything could be happening!"


"Like what?" the other Rodney asked.


"You could be blowing things up," Rodney growled.


"Or sucking people in from other universes?" His counterpart raised an eyebrow.


"That was an accident! Look, that lab is mine – you are not in charge of it and you do not give my people orders!" Rodney snapped at him.


"I already have. They like me. Apparently I'm nicer and more laid back than you. I told them that's because I'm getting laid all the time and you aren't," his counterpart grinned at him.


"You...you..." Rodney lunged towards him across the bed only to find himself restrained by Carson's surprisingly strong arms.


"Now, now, Rodney, calm down," Carson said, his voice sounding suspiciously amused.


"It's *my* lab," Rodney said desperately, trying to squirm, but Carson had him held fast.


"I know, lad, I know," Carson said softly. "But you're not well enough to be there right now. You lost a lot of blood yesterday and that was a nasty head wound I sutured. You're not well enough to go back to work yet."


"I'm fine." Rodney felt the room swimming, and then there were two Carsons in front of him, and he could feel himself going down. Strong arms caught him and directed him back onto the bed.


"There. See," Carson said grimly. "I told you." He helped Rodney to get under the sheets and then stood there, his arms folded over his chest. "Now, you are not going anywhere – I'll sit here and guard you myself if I have to."


Rodney Sheppard gave a snort of amusement at that. Carson turned to glare at him.


"And *you* are leaving," he said.


"Okay. On my way," the other Rodney grinned.


"I still don't see why..." Rodney began. Carson fixed him with an extremely stern stare.


"Be quiet, Rodney, or I'll call Colonel Sheppard in here and tell him exactly why he has to detail two of his soldiers to guard you," he said. Rodney thought about that for a moment. It wasn't a good thought.


"Damnit, Carson, when did you become so bossy?" he complained.


"Tell me about it," the other Rodney said, slapping Rodney's arm. "Him and John between them – always bossing me around. Nice to know you have the same problem."


"Aren't you supposed to have left?" Rodney glowered.


"Get well soon, Rodney." The other Rodney grabbed another handful of his grapes and then, with a cheery wave in Rodney's direction, he left.


"Seriously, Carson, what's going on? Why are you being so mean?" Rodney asked, feeling extremely aggrieved; he'd always been able to push the doctor around quite easily before and he had no idea what had happened to the normally mild-mannered Scot.


Carson had a strange look in those blue eyes of his and he gave an odd little smile.


"I found out something that surprised me, that’s all," he murmured. "It got me to thinking..."


"Oh god – it's them again isn't it?" Rodney sighed, leaning back on his pillows, feeling utterly exhausted after his recent exertion. "First the Colonel, now you – they're having this weird effect on everyone."


"It's made me feel much more confident," Carson told him softly.


"I noticed," Rodney sighed.

"Knowing there's a Carson out there who...well I don't want to go into details, but it's just made me feel a wee bit more sure of myself. You could learn a thing or two from them as well, Rodney."


"Like what – how to wear a collar?" Rodney made a face.


"No – but you have to admit that Rodney Sheppard seems very happy with his life. I'm sure you could take a few lessons from that. Now, hold still – you're looking very pale, lad and I want to make sure you didn't do yourself any harm as a result of that wee bit of stupidity just now." He put his fingers on Rodney's wrist and took his pulse and then checked his head wound. "No harm done – but I'm going to keep you in here for an extra day or so just to be sure," Carson told him.


"My entire life sucks," Rodney sighed, banging his head back on the pillow.


"Aye," Carson agreed with a smile. "It's not easy being you, Rodney."


Rodney closed his eyes, feeling worn out. He wished Colonel Sheppard would come and visit him again. In fact, he wished he was here right now. It had felt so nice back in the puddle jumper, being close to someone, being touched, being held. He hadn't been close to anyone in a very long time. Generally speaking, nobody was ever that keen on being close to him and he'd stopped yearning for physical contact as a result. No point wanting something you couldn't have. Unless...unless you could? He had another flash of that memory, of the Colonel's warm breath ghosting over his ear, of the Colonel's hard body underneath his, of those strong arms wrapped around him, keeping him still, keeping him warm, keeping him alive. Rodney relished the memory, replaying it over and over again in his mind, using it as a comfort blanket until he fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.



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