Back from the Well: 1. Part One



Every step hurt; the sun burned down onto his naked, lacerated shoulders, enflaming his already burning back, and the damaged fingers on his right hand throbbed incessantly. The road stretched endlessly ahead of them, with the dunes from the previous dust storm piled high on either side. Rodney hoped they weren’t due for another dust storm – out here, on the road like this, naked and exposed, he didn’t see how either he or the other slaves could survive. The Karkaran slavers would be fine – they were dressed from head to foot in long robes, the light, graceful fabric covering their faces entirely, shielding their eyes with a thin strip of gauze, but the slaves they were shepherding along the sweltering road were mostly naked, or else wearing only tattered rags. The soles of Rodney’s feet were blistered from walking on the hot dust, but he hurt in too many other places to notice or care about the pain in his feet particularly; all his energies were spent on just putting one of them in front of the other. At the back of his mind there was a vague, nagging worry about Radek, now all alone back at the plantation. Radek was already sick and without Rodney to take some of his workload he doubted the other man would survive for long. Rodney couldn’t help but blame himself; getting sold at this point was the worst thing that could have happened. Not that he was sorry to leave that goddamn shithole of a plantation far behind, but now Radek would be alone and friendless and Rodney had experienced enough of this dog eat dog world to know that he wouldn’t last long.


There was a slight dip in the road, and, his feet dragging, Rodney tripped and fell. He lay there for a moment, winded, as the pain kicked in and his torn shoulders screamed their protest. Instinct had caused him to put out his injured hand to break his fall, and a sickening wave of pain engulfed him, making him vomit up bile onto the dusty dune. There was little enough to come up – they were fed such meagre rations that his stomach was never full. Rodney spewed and retched for a few seconds and then dropped back onto the dust, too exhausted to move. A harsh shout sounded somewhere along the road and then he heard hoof beats, and one of the Karkaran overseers loomed into sight.


“Get up!” he snapped, his horse’s hooves drumming dangerously close to Rodney’s head. Rodney closed his eyes, hoping one of the hooves would land on his skull, longing for the comfortable oblivion of blacking out, no longer caring what happened to him. “If you don’t get up we’ll leave you here by the side of the road,” the Karkaran said, and Rodney felt the searing swipe of the man’s whip as it flicked hard against the bare skin of his chest.


“I really don’t give a damn,” he muttered into the dust, thinking that being left out here, naked and alone, in the middle of nowhere, was probably preferable to the fate that awaited him once they got to the slave market.


“With your throat cut,” the Karkaran added, in an ugly tone. Rodney didn’t consciously move, but some instinct took over and he found himself rolling onto his side and staggering to his feet. He resumed his place in the line, walking on autopilot.


They walked for three days, and rested by night. The days were blisteringly hot, the nights freezing cold, and Rodney hated the stench of the slaves as they huddled together for warmth. They weren’t give blankets, they were barely given food and there was only just enough water to sate his constantly dry throat. Was Radek still alive, he wondered, as he lay in the middle of all that human flotsam and jetsam by the side of the dusty road. Were any of the others?


The Karkarans had taken Atlantis by surprise several months previously; nobody had heard of them, and nobody knew anything about them, but they had gated in stealthily one night, which shouldn’t have been possible. Rodney had since learned that the Karkarans were extremely efficient bandits who went from gate to gate, plundering what they could, and they had perfected a device that enabled them to lower the shields on their victims’ gates, allowing them to sweep in and overpower them. This was their way of life, and they were very good at it. They’d swiftly corralled the Atlanteans before they’d even had a chance to mount any kind of defence of the city. Rodney had been sleeping one minute, his arm slung across Carson’s thigh, John’s chest pressed against his back, and the next minute he woke to find five armed Karkarans with nets and ropes in the room. He knew John had tried to fight and had been taken out by a savage blow across the head from the butt of a gun. He also knew that he would never forget the sound of Carson’s scream as he’d scrabbled over the bed towards John’s unconscious body. Rodney had tried to reach both his lovers but had been caught in a net, and as he struggled to get free he must have been hit as well because the next thing he knew he was waking up in a holding pen in a slave market on Karkara with a dozen or so other Atlanteans, all of whom he knew by sight but none of whom he knew very well. He hadn’t seen either of his lovers again since that night and he had no way of knowing whether John had died back in their room on Atlantis or whether he too had been sold in a dusty Karakaran slave market. In some ways he almost hoped it was the former; he couldn’t bear the idea of John bowing his head to these rapacious aliens, of them stealing his lover’s dignity and making him into a slave. John was a soldier and his instinct would be to fight, and Rodney couldn’t see how that would have made him tempting to any prospective buyer. He’d learned himself, the hard way, not to talk back, which wasn’t easy for someone with his temperament. John at least knew how to hold his tongue – but his fists? If he was pushed hard enough? Rodney doubted it. As for Carson – Rodney couldn’t even bring himself to go there. Carson was the kindest, gentlest soul he’d ever met, and the thought of Carson being beaten as Rodney had been beaten by various of his Karkaran overseers since his capture made tears of despair prick at the back of his eyes, so he’d long since forced himself not to think about what might have happened to Carson. It hurt too much.


From talking to the others in the holding pen he’d quickly pieced together that Atlantis had fallen to the Karkarans, and they, as spoils of that victory, had been brought back to Karkara to be sold as slaves. At first Rodney had hoped that because of his scientific knowledge he’d at least be of some value to the Karkarans and treated well because of what he could do for them, but that hope was soon quashed as he found out more about his captors. The Karkarans were afraid of technology for some reason he hadn’t yet been able to figure out, and while the bandits who roamed offworld were clearly adept at using it, no technology of any kind was allowed on the homeworld itself. The penalty for having so much as a watch on your wrist was death but the Atlanteans had been stripped of all their personal effects in any case to prepare them for their new lives as commodities on the buoyant Karkaran slave market. That was his first experience of enforced nakedness and at first it had bothered him a lot – until he found out there was worst yet to come. The fitting of his collar had been one of many low points. All slaves on Karkara wore thick leather collars – they weren’t locked on, but it was an offence punishable by a severe beating to remove them. Rodney hated the way the collar chafed at the skin on his neck – you could never forget about it – it was always there, rubbing the sore skin underneath. There was a thick ring set into the buckle which the Karakarans used to attach leashes in order to herd and corral their slaves; it was all so incredibly soul-destroying.


On the afternoon of the fourth day the slave convoy arrived in Shalla, one of the largest towns in the area. They were hustled along a bustling street to the slave market, which was nothing more than a cluster of big cages, surrounded by white tents. Rodney was relieved to be shoved into a cage with twelve others from the convoy of slaves who’d just walked in from the country. He sank down against the side of the cage and closed his eyes, grateful for a chance to rest. The cage was in the shadow of one of the tents so it at least afforded him some shade. He didn’t feel right – he knew that his fingers were broken, and he wondered whether they’d eventually heal in the same misshapen position they were currently in, but it was his back that was particularly hurting him, and he could feel the fever sweeping through his body. Even in the shade, his forehead was beaded with sweat that dripped down the side of his face and into his beard, and he could tell by the heat in his shoulders that the lacerations had become infected. If he turned his face he could just about make out the purple swellings that criss-crossed his back in long, hard, raised welts. He was sweating off more than he was taking in and he longed for water but knew from experience that they’d get food and water only twice a day, at sunrise and sunset. Slaves were fed and watered after the horses – the Karkarans knew their priorities.


Rodney had been sold twice before so the market itself held little fear for him. The first time he’d been sold to some kind of travelling trading consortium to work in their kitchens. That hadn’t been bad work – at least he’d got to eat well enough, even if he did spend most of his days and half his nights peeling vegetables and scrubbing pots. He’d learned there that you never looked a Karkaran freeman in the eye unless you wanted a beating – and he’d been on the receiving end of several before that lesson had finally sunk in. He’d been there for a few months before being sold on, in an entirely random way, to work on a massive plantation that needed extra manpower to bring in the harvest. Their only crop was rinula – something akin to cotton – it left your fingers covered in tiny cuts when you picked it but when it was woven and dyed it produced the light, graceful robes that the Karkarans – and only the Karkarans – wore. It was against the law for slaves to wear robes – if you were lucky, you got to drag a piece of old sackcloth over your body, but just as often slaves went naked, and although Rodney had long since lost his embarrassment about that, he had never entirely become accustomed to it either.


One of the slavers came into the cage and began jotting down the various numbers tattooed or burned onto the slave’s wrists. Rodney gazed at his without emotion but that hadn’t been the case when they’d first marked him. For some reason this indignity had hurt more than the loss of his clothes, perhaps because it signified to him, for the first time, what his status on this planet was. He’d kicked up a fuss, shouted and screamed, but they’d just knocked him down, sat on him, and tattooed his wrist anyway, laughing and jeering at him the entire time. Now the dark green-blue markings on his wrist were irrelevant to him and he couldn’t exactly remember why they had upset him so much at the time; there had been so many worse humiliations since. He held up his arm wearily to the slaver as he came by, and the man looked up the number in his sales’ ledger.


“Says here you’ve worked in kitchens and in the fields,” the slaver said, glancing at him.


“Yeah – and before that I was an exceptionally brilliant physicist and mechanical engineer but you don’t seem to have much call for those professions around here,” Rodney told him, the fever making him flippant. The slaver grinned.


“That smart mouth get you into much trouble?” he asked.


“Plenty,” Rodney replied.


“Well, hold your scum tongue when we’ve got buyers looking at you or I’ll cut it out myself,” the slaver told him.


“I would expect nothing less,” Rodney said wearily, resting his head on the back of the cage.


“Stand up,” the man ordered. Rodney did as he was told, heaving himself to his feet and then swaying slightly, the sweat trickling into his eyes. The man looked him up and down and wrote something in the ledger, then motioned with his finger. “Turn around.” Rodney did as ordered, beyond humiliation. “Says here you stole from your previous owner,” the slaver said. “Is that why they flogged you?”


“I never even met my previous owner,” Rodney replied, glancing back over his shoulder, “but I really doubt that the stale old loaf of bread and rotten vegetables I took from the gutter at the back of the kitchens was food he was intending to feast on himself. However, yes, that’s why I was punished.”


“So, we’ve got one fairly useless slave who steals and he has the marks on his back to prove it to any prospective buyer,” the slaver growled, motioning that Rodney could turn around again. “We’ll put you down for half a zenari and if you don’t fetch it we’ll throw you in the junk cage at the end of tomorrow’s trading.”


“You’re so kind.” Rodney sat back down with a thud, and leaned his head back on the cage. So this was it – he’d seen the junk cages at the end of the trading day, filled with slaves who they couldn’t even give away. They were herded together and their throats were cut and their carcasses sold for god knows what purpose – to be boiled up for glue like old horses maybe, Rodney wondered. He had no idea whether he’d reach the modest sale price – half a zenari was hardly going to make the trader rich, but Rodney knew he wasn’t in good condition, and if *he* was a prospective purchaser he doubted that he’d look twice at himself. He wasn’t brawny enough for physical labour, or pretty enough to adorn the bedroom of any prospective master or mistress, and with his swollen, misshapen fingers it was clear he wasn’t going to be able to do much by way of skilled work either.


“Great. Here I am, the most brilliant physicist of my generation, and I’m unlikely to even fetch half a zenari on this god forsaken hellhole world,” Rodney muttered to himself. Last time he’d been here, he’d fetched two zenaris, but that had been before the plantation and that place chewed people up and spat them out half dead. The plantation…Rodney closed his eyes, and thought about Radek, who was still back there, rotting to death out in the rinula fields.




The plantation stretched as far as the eye could see – row upon row of neatly tended plants, baking in the hot afternoon sun. Rodney stumbled down from the cart with a dozen or so other newly purchased slaves and was taken to a huddle of rundown, ramshackle huts. He smelled them before he got close and retched – the stink of human sweat, faeces and despair was overwhelming, and he longed suddenly for the massive bowls of vegetables he’d been peeling for the past few months, even if they did come complete with the bad-tempered fist of the chef who ruled the place like a martinet.


The plantation overseers were dressed in coarse linen pants and loose shirts; only high-caste Karkarans wore fine rinula robes – these overseers were low-caste Karkaran freemen and they couldn’t afford the expensive fabric. Rodney was wearing an old, coarse tunic made of sackcloth which he’d been given in the kitchens where he’d previously worked and he was glad of that much at least. The new slaves had no possessions so they didn’t need to settle in and they were simply put straight to work. Rodney did 6 hours in the fields until sunset, and quickly learned how to snap the rinula off at the bud and throw it into his sack. It was hardly mentally stimulating work, but it was hard, back-breaking labour. The overseers roamed the plantation looking bored. If they thought you weren’t working quickly enough they flicked their whips lazily in your direction – and sometimes they just did that anyway, for something to do to relieve the tedium. Rodney’s fingers were soon cut and bleeding from the sharp rinula branches and he had several slashes of blood over his body as well from the whips. He was relieved when time was called and they were all herded back to the huts for a paltry meal of stale bread and dried meat. Labour was plentiful and cheap on Karkara, courtesy of the offworld bandits and the constant supply of slaves they brought home, and there was little need to keep your slaves in good condition when you could just buy new ones if they died. When the meal arrived, the slaves swarmed forward, each fighting to get their share of the small amount that was on offer. Rodney was still in reasonably good condition and managed to shove his way to the front and get a fair handful of food. As he pushed his way out again he noticed another man on the outskirts of the crowd, bone thin, his skin stretched like paper over his ribs, trying in vain to push his way in towards the food. The man was wearing a pair of tattered pants but had nothing to cover his chest and his skinny body was liberally adorned with numerous vivid red whip marks so Rodney guessed he wasn’t exactly popular with the overseers either. The man looked at Rodney, and then ran towards him. Rodney held the food defensively against his chest and prepared to be ambushed. The man reached him, put out two skinny hands…and patted his face.


“Get off me,” Rodney protested, pushing the insistent hands away. “You can have some of the food but take your hands off me.


“R…Rodney?” the skinny man squeaked. “Is that you? I can’t see very well without my glasses.”


“Radek?” Rodney gazed at the other man in astonishment. Radek seemed to have aged by 10 years. He had a long, straggly beard the colour of dark wheat, and his collarbones were so prominent they looked as if they would cut through the thin layer of skin that protected them.


“It *is* you! Oh thank god!” Radek beamed happily at him.


“Well there’s no need to be so pleased. It’s not like I’ve brought the cavalry or anything. It’s just me,” Rodney said, grabbing Radek’s arm and leading him away from the throng around the food.


“Yes. It’s just you,” Radek said happily. “I’m sorry – it’s been a long time since I last saw anyone from Atlantis.”


“There were others? Who?” Rodney asked quickly, handing Radek half the bread and meat, and stuffing some of the rest in his mouth and chewing furiously, desperate for the sustenance to relieve the ache in his belly. Radek’s eyes were luminous and sympathetic in his gaunt face.


“Not either of the two you would like to know about. I haven’t seen either Doctor Beckett or Colonel Sheppard – I’m sorry, Rodney,” he said softly and Rodney felt hopes he hadn’t even realized he’d been nurturing fade painfully in his chest. “I was with a couple of the women to begin with,” Radek said, his face shadowed with sadness. “Laura Cadman and Katie Brown?”


“Yes?” Rodney asked eagerly, desperate for any news.


“I was sent here, to work in the fields, but they were…they were sent to work up at the house,” Radek said and there was something about the way he said it that made Rodney’s heart sink.


“They’re pretty women.” Radek shrugged his shoulders and Rodney felt his hands curling into fists, understanding what that meant all too well.


“Are they still there?” he asked.


“Katie is. Laura…she died,” Radek told him softly. Rodney glanced up in shock. He’d had Laura Cadman in his head once, and although he’d never exactly viewed her as a friend, he’d come to appreciate her gung-ho style and sharp wit.


“How?” he asked. Radek bit on his lip.


“You know Laura. She was a fighter – a marine. They tried to rape her but she fought back. She never gave in, no matter how much they tried to break her spirit – so in the end they killed her. That’s what I heard anyway.” Radek gabbled through the story with as few words as possible but even so, Rodney could barely take in the horror of what he was being told.


“Oh god. Oh no. Poor Cadman.” He could almost hear her strident, combative voice, as if she was still in his brain, and he could imagine her dying this way; she just wasn’t the kind of woman who’d roll over and give in. “And


“She has a more docile temperament I think. She didn’t give them any trouble so they kept her,” Radek said. Rodney bowed his head. No matter how bad his own circumstances, it still hurt to hear what was being done to the rest of his people.


“How long have you been here?” he asked Radek.


“Since the beginning,” Radek replied. “It’s not good here, Rodney.”


“It’s not good anywhere on this garbage heap of a planet,” Rodney snapped.


“No, but you…you look as if you’ve been fed,” Radek muttered. Rodney glanced down at his own body and realized that even though he’d lost a few pounds, it was nothing to the dramatic weight loss Radek had experienced – and he’d been slim enough to begin with.


“I’m sorry, Radek,” he said softly, handing the man the rest of his food. Radek took it gratefully and stuffed it into his mouth.


“I’m not strong any more,” Radek told him between chews. “At first I was able to fight my way to the front and get more food, but now…” he shook his head.”It’s harder now.”


“Well, I’ll get your food for you. I’m good at shoving people out of the way,” Rodney told him, with only the barest glimmer of a smile.


“Thank you.” Radek smiled back, and for a moment Rodney saw a glimmer of the man he’d worked so closely with for the past couple of years. “Come on – I’ll show you where we sleep,” Radek said, swallowing the last of the food. The sleeping quarters were no more than stinking mud huts with reed mats on the floor and some extremely ragged blankets, but Rodney was too exhausted to care. He threw himself down next to Radek, pulled a blanket over his aching body and closed his eyes. Radek settled beside him, his breath coming in wheezing gasps.


“You’re ill,” Rodney said.


“Just…asthma,” Radek replied. Rodney opened his eyes and turned his head to gaze at the other man. He’d forgotten that back on Atlantis Radek had taken regular doses of his inhaler. How the hell was he coping out here without any medication? No wonder he looked so old and ill.


“There’s something in the crop that makes it worse,” Radek explained.


Rodney fought back a wave of angry helplessness. There was nothing he could do. He couldn’t take Radek away from here, couldn’t somehow ease his strained breathing, and he felt so damn useless.


“Tomorrow you’ll work with me,” Rodney said firmly, because the only one thing he could do was help Radek with his workload; judging by the slashes of red all over the other man’s body, the overseers weren’t exactly pleased with Radek’s output.


“Thank you, Rodney. I am very happy you are here,” Radek said softly.




Rodney woke at dawn, as the sounds of the marketplace began to erupt around him. It took him a few seconds to realise where he was and for a moment he thought he was back on the plantation with Radek. He could hear someone’s strained, noisy breathing, and he reached out to check that Radek was still alive, as he did most mornings, but instead found thin air, and realized that the wheezing was his own. He came to, blearily, to find that the fire in his back had kept the chill of the night at bay, and his body was burning up. He felt much worse today than he had the previous day and that wasn’t good because if he didn’t get sold today he’d be lying in the middle of a pile of corpses with this throat cut by the evening and his chances of being sold were slim if he looked like he was about to die anyway. Who’d waste good money on a slave with infected skin, broken fingers and a high fever?


The door of the cage was opened briefly and some food and a pail of water were placed on the floor. Rodney tried to get up, but the slightest movement sent shockwaves of pain through his body so he stayed where he was. He wasn’t hungry anyway – or at least his stomach was contracted in semi-starvation but he didn’t feel like eating. He was too ill.


The sun had risen higher in the sky next time he opened his eyes, and there was a prospective purchaser prowling around the cage. He didn’t even look at Rodney – he just stepped over him and grabbed the arm of the man beside him.


“He looks strong enough. He’ll do,” he said. “Take him outside so I can get a better look at him.”


Rodney turned his face back to the side of the cage. Now, even despite the hot sun overhead, his skin felt cold and clammy. He could no longer feel his broken fingers but maybe that was a good thing; they’d hurt so much. Maybe he’d die before Radek, he thought to himself, and a crooked smile tugged at his lips. There was some irony in that. Not that he’d know whether Radek was alive or dead.


He’d worked beside Radek for a few months, bringing in the seemingly endless rinula harvest. Radek was slow, his laboured breathing and starved condition making it hard for him to push his way between the sturdy bushes, especially carrying the heavy sack, but he did have slender, nimble fingers and found it easier to divest the branches of their buds than Rodney, who had much bigger hands. So they pooled their resources, and Rodney carried both sacks, and held the branches back, while Radek picked the rinula. It worked well enough and the overseers mostly left them alone. Rodney fought his way through the crowd for food for both of them every night, but Radek’s physical condition was a constant concern to him. The other man was so very frail that Rodney doubted he’d last long unless he was allowed to rest and could build up his strength with food – and neither of those things was likely to happen.


After a couple of weeks on the plantation the routine was already taking its toll on Rodney. He noticed how it was always the most recently acquired slaves who got the best portions of food, simply because they were stronger, and it worried him that his own strength was fading with every passing day. Each morning it seemed there was a new body to leave outside the door for the overseers to feed to the dogs, and he dreaded that one day it would be Radek. As they were leaving in a long queue to go to the fields one day, he saw Radek, further up the line, flinch as a big overseer, with his long red hair plaited into a Karkaran braid, rode past. The man rode back again, examining the line carefully, and then his gaze fell on Radek. He grabbed Radek’s arm and pulled him away from the line of slaves, and Rodney felt his throat go dry. He broke out of line, and ran after them, purely on instinct.


“Can I help? He’s not very well. He has trouble breathing. If you needed someone to fetch something I could do that?” he offered. Radek put a trembling hand up to his mouth, and Rodney gazed at them both blankly, wondering what the hell was going on. The overseer leaned down in his saddle and grinned at Rodney.


“I like him – I like the way he wails like a baby, but as you’re so keen to take his place why not? You’re new aren’t you?” Rodney didn’t have time to reply because the overseer grabbed his arm and dragged him over towards the big well where they drew their water, and then dismounted, Radek in one hand, Rodney in the other. He threw Radek down by the side of the well and Radek pushed his hand into his mouth and began to tremble.


“Radek, what’s…?” Rodney began but next thing he knew he’d been thrown forward, headfirst, towards the well wall. He nearly went over the rim but reached out desperate hands to scrabble for purchase on the stone. He felt his sackcloth tunic being ripped open, and then rough hands grabbed his ass. He knew what would happen before it did because of the wrenching sobbing sounds Radek was making beside him, and he tried to kick back, to struggle, but then he remembered Laura Cadman and he knew he didn’t want to die out here. He wished he could be as brave as she’d been, but Carson and John might both be alive out there somewhere, and while he still had that hope to cling to he didn’t want to die. There were no gentle hands caressing him, no murmured voices in his ear, no lube, no skilled fingers moving inside him, no John making wisecracking comments about the way Rodney mewled like a kitten, or Carson stroking his hair and kissing him deeply. There was only a sharp wrenching sensation in his ass, and a scream that came from deep within his gut and rose up, forced and guttural, out of his throat. He could feel the hard stone wall of the well rubbing the front of his thighs and genitals and the thick length of the overseer pounding in his ass, causing little rivulets of warm blood to run down his thighs and somewhere beside him he could hear Radek, still sobbing. It seemed to go on forever but he suspected it only lasted a couple of minutes. His fingers slid helplessly on the rough surface of the well but he couldn’t get any purchase. His ass was in the air, and the overseer was bigger than him, and well fed; there was simply no contest. He tried to block out what was being done to him, and gazed down into the deep, dark blackness far beneath. Someone was staring back at him from the inky depths and he realized, with a dim hint of recognition, that it was him. He could see his own desperate face, with the agonized eyes and wild, unkempt hair and beard gazing up at him, beseeching him to stop this, to save them both, but he couldn’t and there was nothing to be done but lie there until the overseer came deep inside him, shouting a bellow of triumph as he shot his load into Rodney’s unwilling body. The man withdrew and rearranged his pants, then dragged Rodney up by the scruff of his neck.


“You know, I think I like you as much as I like him,” he grinned, glancing from Rodney to Radek and back again. “You cry like a girl.” Rodney gazed at him, still numb, his body aching from the assault, blood and semen running down his legs. He wished he hated the man, but he felt nothing but pain. On this world, this treatment was somehow inevitable. In fact, he couldn’t think why he hadn’t been expecting this all along. How naïve had he been?


“If you’re done, we should get to work,” he managed to say finally.


“Yeah – I’m done – ’til next time,” the man chuckled, and then he put a big arm around Rodney’s neck, pulled him close, and deposited a sloppy, aggressive, wet kiss on his lips. For some reason, that hurt more than the rape had, and Rodney shoved the man away. “Play nice now,” the overseer said, backhanding him casually across the jaw with a force that sent him flying onto the wet ground beside the well, and then he turned back to his horse, hauled his large frame into the saddle and rode off in the direction of the fields. Rodney wiped away the thin trickle of blood that was flowing from his cut jaw, and glanced over at Radek, who was lying in a little huddled heap on the earth by the well, still sobbing.


“We have to go, Radek,” Rodney said, grabbing the other man’s arm and hauling them both to their feet. “If we’re late we’ll be punished.”


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Radek babbled as Rodney hurried him down towards the field.


“Shut up,” Rodney hissed, as he grabbed their sacks from the cart, ready for the day’s work. “Just shut the fuck up all right?” Radek nodded nervously, and his sobbing subsided, but for the rest of the day he kept shooting worried little glances in Rodney’s direction. That night it was Radek who pushed his way through the crowds for food, while Rodney went outside to the well to try and wash the blood and semen from his body. Rodney hated himself for still being hungry after what had happened, but when Radek brought him the food he stuffed it into his mouth as eagerly as ever. They sat on the side of the well, neither of them talking, for a long time, and then Rodney finally spoke.


“Why didn’t you tell me?” he said quietly.


“Because I only had sorrow to share and there was too much of it as it was,” Radek said, his eyes fixed on the ground. “And also, Rodney, it was not an easy thing to speak of, to you of all people, but I had no idea…I should have told you…I didn’t think this would happen as it did today. I’m so sorry.”


“What do you mean, to me of all people?” Rodney asked.


“You – Rodney McKay. You, my boss. How was this something I wanted you to know? That this man did these things to me.”


Rodney shook his head, sort of understanding, but appalled anyway. There was nothing to be done about it and no way to escape it. What it all boiled down to was survival – and if he wanted to survive then he just had to take everything they threw at him and somehow live through it. For now, all he could do was scrub his sore body clean and hope there wouldn’t be a next time but he was realistic about that as well.


“How many times?” he asked. Radek screwed up his face, and glanced at the food squashed into his hands.


“I don’t remember. Does it matter? Many times,” he whispered.


“I’m sorry,” Rodney said quietly, staring at the water beneath them, and his own reflection, pale and shocked, staring back at him.


“I too…yes.” Radek said no more, and they sat out there silently until it was completely dark and the second moon had risen and it was too cold to remain there.




It was late afternoon when Rodney woke – there were long shadows on the ground, and he realized he was alone in the cage – everyone else had been sold. A soft, black, hide boot was nudging his foot.


“This one?” The slaver sounded surprised. “He’s hardly worth looking at. Give him a couple of hours and we’ll throw him in the junk cage.”


“Then he’ll be going cheap,” a voice replied, in a hard, guttural Karkaran accent. Rodney glanced up to find himself face-to-face with the tall, black-clad figure of a Karkaran warrior. The man’s body was completely covered, from head to foot, in expensive rinula, and he had a gleaming silver blade hanging from his belt. Wrapped around his head was the kind of turban that only a high-caste Karkaran could afford, and he wore a long Karkaran braid down the right hand side of his face. His eyes were just visible behind a layer of the thinnest black gauze, fully protecting him from any dust storms. He wore an under-layer of tight black shirt and pants, to keep the dust out, soft hide boots that came up to his knees, and a long, light, floating coat over the top of this ensemble.


It wasn’t easy to make out the features behind the gauze, but Rodney did see the deep scar that covered the man’s left eye, closing half the lid and standing out as a livid gash, confirming his suspicion that the title of Warrior wasn’t honorary, and this man was not to be messed with. He dropped his gaze quickly, because experience had taught him that Karkaran noblemen viewed eye contact by a slave to be deeply offensive.


“I’m sure I could sell your master something better,” the slaver said, glancing over his shoulder towards the tent outside. Rodney followed his gaze and saw the man sitting on his horse by the tent, surrounded by an entourage of free born Karkaran warriors and attendants. Rodney had never seen such a wealthy Karkaran up close before – he’d never seen either of his previous owners at all, as he’d simply been part of a job lot of slaves, bought to do a menial job. This man though, was clearly extremely wealthy. He was dressed all in white, a colour only the highest caste Karkarans wore, and his white turban was decorated with golden jewels. The rings sparkled on his gloved fingers, and the horse between his legs was a magnificent silver stallion. He had several black-clad warriors around him, each of them heavily and visibly armed, their faces all covered against the dust storms. As Rodney watched, an attendant brought the nobleman a glass of wine which he sipped casually in the late afternoon sun.


“Don’t tell my master what he wants to buy,” the scarred warrior growled angrily to the slaver. “I am his quartermaster, not you.”


“This one has only worked in the fields and kitchens,” the slaver continued, licking his lips nervously. “He won’t be any use in a fancy household like your master’s. He even stole from his previous owner – look.” Rodney was dragged to his feet, and he let out a yelp of pain as he was turned around and thrown bodily against the wall of the cage. “He was whipped for his crime,” the slaver said, displaying Rodney’s lacerated back to the warrior. “Come on – let me show your master something worth buying.”


“Turn him around again – I want to look at his face,” the warrior said, in a low, hard tone.


Rodney swallowed. He was used to dealing with slavers and overseers but he had never been looked at by a high-caste warrior before and he was acutely aware that if he said or did the wrong thing then this warrior would slit his throat and walk away without a backward glance. The slaver dragged him back and turned him around and Rodney gazed carefully at the warrior’s black hide boots, feeling nauseous and trying his hardest not to faint. Maybe there was a small chance that this rich Karkaran would buy him and judging by how low the sun hung in the sky, this might be his last chance at avoiding being thrown into the junk cage this evening.


“I suppose he might wash up all right,” the slaver said, grabbing Rodney’s head and turning it this way and that so that the warrior could view him.


“Can he read and write?” the warrior asked.


“I don’t know but he’s got a quick tongue on him so he probably learns fast,” the slaver said, clearly having decided that this sale was better than none if the rich nobleman’s quartermaster couldn’t be persuaded to view any of his more expensive slaves. “He’d probably look all right in your master’s library. Maybe he could fetch and carry for him? That might be a use for him,” the slaver said, clearly racking his brains for a selling point. “Think you could do that?” he asked Rodney, poking him in the ribs.


Rodney sighed. It was stupid of him – he knew that the minute the words were out of his mouth, but he was too ill and too heartsick to care. “Well, I’ve got a doctorate in physics so I guess I could manage some light fetching and carrying for a race of priapic technophobes, yes,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his tongue.


The slaver raised his hand for the blow Rodney was entirely ready for, but the warrior stopped him with a laugh.


“He’s smart. My master wants someone smart. He’ll do.”


“Really?” The slaver glared at Rodney who sank to his knees, too shaky to stand, and unsure why he was even still alive. “Was your master looking for a fuckslave?” the slaver asked anxiously. “Because if he is, then we have some younger, prettier specimens over here.”


“Those boys would bore him,” the warrior said, glancing over to the other cage where some naked youths lolled in the sun. “My master wanted someone older. Less malleable. Smarter. He likes a challenge,” the warrior said.


“Fine,” the slaver sighed, finally running out of ways to convince the quartermaster to buy a more expensive slave. There was no accounting for taste after all, although it was clear from the look in his eyes that he thought the rich nobleman could have afforded someone more promising than Rodney. The slaver grabbed Rodney’s arm, pulled him to his feet again and shoved him out of the cage door. He took him over to the ledger, where the warrior was busy counting out some money from a bag. The warrior was given a bill of sale, and then a leash was attached to Rodney’s collar and he was handed over to the warrior. The man pulled him over to the horses, and he staggered behind him, barely able to stand upright. The white-clad nobleman leaned forwards in his saddle and surveyed his new purchase intently, and then nodded at the warrior and the two exchanged a glance. It wasn’t possible to see his expression behind the fine white gauze that covered the nobleman’s face but he didn’t seem particularly pleased with his purchase. His gloved hands clenched down on the reins of his horse and he reached into his robes and pulled something out. Rodney suppressed a shudder wondering now whether he had just escaped death merely in order to experience something even worse.


“Here,” the nobleman said, handing the warrior the flask he’d fished out of his robes. The warrior nodded and turned back to Rodney. Rodney eyed the flask suspiciously, suddenly recalling the slaver’s words and the warrior’s reply. A fuckslave? Was that what he was now? He didn’t see how that could be any worse than what had happened to him back at the plantation but he had heard stories about the games the Karkarans liked to play with their more unfortunate fuckslaves, and the more highborn the nobleman the more cruel they seemed to be. Was that why he’d been purchased, to be strapped down and exposed to even more pain and suffering, writhing in agony at the whim of this wealthy, high-caste stranger? The stories he’d heard had been vague and frightening but there had been talk of potions that made you particularly susceptible to pain. Was that why they’d bought him? Because he was already in such a condition that it wouldn’t take much to make him scream?


“Drink this,” the warrior said, handing him the flask. “All of it.” Rodney gazed at it blindly.


“Please…don’t…” he cried incoherently, throwing himself at the nobleman, imploring him, but his unsteady legs gave way beneath him and he found himself hanging onto a white sleeve. He was dimly aware that he would be punished for laying hands on a Karkaran nobleman and he steeled himself for the blow. The nobleman circled the horse backwards, shaking Rodney off his sleeve, and glanced around to see if anyone else had witnessed his honour being sullied by the unclean hands of a slave but the marketplace was now nearly empty and nobody was watching.


The warrior grabbed Rodney from behind and held him tight, handing the flask back to his master. The nobleman took it and nodded at the warrior, and next thing Rodney knew his mouth was being forced open by the warrior’s hard, black-gloved hand. The nobleman undid the flask, leaned forward in his saddle, and poured the foul-tasting fluid down Rodney’s throat. Rodney spluttered and gasped for air, but the warrior held him fast and didn’t let him go until he’d swallowed all the liquid. Then the nobleman put the flask back in his robes, glanced at the warrior again, and nodded once more.


“Get him on the damn horse quickly,” he said, his voice so low and taut that it practically vibrated.


Rodney stood there, still choking on the liquid. His legs felt heavy, and his broken hand was throbbing from where it had been knocked in the melee. Next thing he knew he was going down, and the warrior caught him as he fell, and dragged him over to his horse. He was dimly aware of the warrior throwing a thin linen cloak over his body – it was mercifully soft but he still cried out as it settled around his torn shoulders. Then the warrior vaulted onto his horse and two of the other warriors took hold of Rodney and handed him up so that he was sitting in the saddle in front of the warrior. The warrior’s body was hard and muscled behind his, and he put one strong arm around Rodney’s waist to keep him upright, grabbed the reins, and then nudged his horse out into the convoy. Somewhere ahead, Rodney could just make out the nobleman’s flowing white robes, surrounded as he was by the bobbing black-turbaned heads of his warriors around him, and then he felt his eyes growing heavy. His belly felt warm from whatever potion they’d fed him, and the pain in his back and hand seemed to fade. He didn’t sleep but the steady motion of the horse’s footsteps lulled him into a state of pleasant numbness. Perhaps, after all, the drink in the flask had merely been given to him to make him drowsy and malleable for the journey. He was glad that the warrior had both his sinewy arms wrapped around his waist because he thought that otherwise he might have fallen off the horse sideways and he doubted the white-clad nobleman would have taken too kindly to that. He wondered what the man intended to do to him when he got him back to his house and shivered in fear. The warrior’s arms tightened around him as if he thought Rodney was going to jump off the horse and make a run for it but Rodney knew there was no escape. Now he wished he was back at the plantation and he closed his eyes and hoped that Radek was having a better day than he was.




After that first time, the rapes were frequent. It was usually the same overseer, but sometimes the others joined in, taking his place when he was done. What bothered Rodney as much as anything was how casual it was; it was always short, brutish and painful, and done with such an air of total indifference to his misery. It wasn’t even as if their sole reason for raping him was the pleasure they took in his suffering – they simply didn’t care. He was a receptacle for their boredom as much as their lust, as they spent every day standing in a field with a whip, urging the field slaves to work harder. They were low-caste Karkarans, freemen but the lowest of the low as far as Karkaran society was concerned, one notch above slaves themselves, with no chance of ever moving up the food chain – and Rodney suspected they viewed rape as one of the perks of an admittedly tedious job. Rodney wasn’t alone in being picked out for their attention but the overseer who’d raped him first did seem to get some perverse pleasure from having Radek lie beside the well, sobbing the entire time. “Two for the price of one,” the overseer would say with a satisfied smile after finishing with Rodney. “His whining turns me on and you’re a good fuck.”


“If you could just shut the hell up when he’s doing it then maybe he wouldn’t find the pair of us so endlessly bloody appealing,” Rodney snapped at his colleague, and he knew Radek really tried, but the other man was simply too distraught to be able to sit beside that well and stay silent. Radek was growing visibly weaker before his eyes – neither of them was being fed enough considering the long hours of hard physical labour they were doing and Radek’s asthma had taken its toll on his thin body. Rodney would sometimes pinch the other man in the night just to make sure he was still awake, and grew especially panicky whenever Radek’s wheezy breathing faltered for a second. Radek was his lifeline – without him he wasn’t sure he could have survived the almost daily rapes and the back-breaking routine. His own health wasn’t good either – they were working them into the ground and Rodney was starting to worry about what would happen when the harvest was over. Would they just kill the slaves? Or would they sell them on?


One day Radek couldn’t get up. Rodney covered him with a sheet and left him there, hoping the overseers wouldn’t slit the scientist’s throat while he was gone. A day or two’s illness might be ignored but after that they’d just shove Radek out of the door with the corpses, to be fed to the dogs, dead or alive. When he got back that evening, Radek was lying on his side, shivering, his breathing coming in hard gasps.


“You need food. You have to get your strength up,” Rodney said desperately.


“Yes, Rodney,” Radek nodded.


“Don’t you dare damn well die on me,” Rodney admonished fiercely.


“No, Rodney.” Radek shook his head. He gazed at Rodney with a smile curving his lips.


“What are you grinning at?” Rodney demanded. “What the hell is so funny?”


“You, caring about what happens to me,” Radek said, his eyes shining bright with delirium. “For a long time the only time you’d notice me was when you could shout at me for doing something wrong.”


“That’s crap,” Rodney said shortly, although actually he knew it was true.


“No, no, no – it’s not a criticism,” Radek muttered. “When we went to Atlantis that changed – I did some good work and you started to notice me and that made me swell with pride. At first I thought it was just me wanting your praise, but everyone on your team was the same. You were the great Dr McKay, and we all wanted to impress you so much.”


“Really?” Rodney frowned. “I never was very good at all that winning friends and influencing people stuff.”


“Of course we were all very scared of you and your temper,” Radek added.


“Of me?” Rodney was taken aback. He knew he could be irascible and sharp-tongued but mainly he thought his team viewed him with the same mixture of exasperation and fond contempt as most people he encountered.


“Yes, yes,” Radek nodded vigorously. “You always knew how brilliant you were, but you never knew how much we knew it too,” he added. “That would explain why you kept telling us so often,” he grinned.


“If only I thought anyone ever listened then maybe I wouldn’t have had to say it so often,” Rodney groused.


“Ah, we listened! We listened to every word you said,” Radek told him. “I know you, Rodney and if anyone can save us it’s you.”


“What?” Rodney glared at him. “Radek I’m a physicist, not a miracle worker, and in case you haven’t noticed there’s no technology on this planet and it’s not as if I can piece together a spaceship from bits of bath tub or anything. This place might as well be the middle ages and we are well and truly stuck here. Being a genius doesn’t make one blind bit of difference here,” he added bitterly.


“No, but you will save us,” Radek said insistently, reaching out a feverish hand to take Rodney’s and press it firmly. Rodney gazed at the other man blindly. How had he never seen the hero- worship in Radek’s eyes before? Had it always been there? He realized with a slow blink of amazement that it had, and that he had just never noticed it before.


“You need food,” he said quietly. “I’ll get you some food. You’ll get better if you eat.”


He gently disengaged himself from Radek’s grasp and went outside. He sat down on the side of the well – the place that was so often the site of some of his worst suffering in the morning was also the place he usually went to in the evening to sit and think. He glanced down into the inky depths and saw himself staring back, the way he did most days when he was being raped, although usually then his face was twisted into a pained grimace. Now he looked at himself through Radek’s eyes, and saw something else entirely. He didn’t feel like a hero – he never had been the hero – that had always been John’s role in all their lives, not his, and yet somewhere along the line Radek seemed to have decided that he was the one who could save them all, and he had no idea whatsoever where to start. The plantation was so heavily guarded by overseers that there was absolutely no chance of escape. He supposed it might be possible to sneak into the kitchens and at least steal some food to keep Radek alive, but that was the limit of his miracle-working abilities.


Rodney got up, fear rising in the pit of his stomach because he knew how dangerous this was, but he ignored it. If it had just been for him then he knew he wouldn’t have the courage to do this, but it was for Radek, and that made it worth the risk.


Rodney stole quietly up the path to the kitchens, feeling his heart pound in his chest. It was late, and there didn’t seem to be anyone around. He found the back entrance and stumbled over an old tin tub lying in the gutter, covered by a thick wooden board. Rodney moved the board aside – it seemed to be some kind of compost, but sticking out at the top amid all the vegetable peelings was half a loaf of stale bread and a few moulding vegetables. Rodney took them and wrapped them under his thin tunic, before turning and scooting back to the slaves’ quarters.


Radek ate the food gratefully, and smiled his thanks. Rodney took a little for himself but made sure that Radek ate most of it; the other man needed some sustenance if he was to stand a chance of fighting off his illness. It had all been so easy that Rodney decided to try again the following night. After that he did it every night, and usually came back with something. Sometimes he was lucky enough to steal a bone with some meat still left on it from the overseers’ plates, and although he was still ill, Radek did show some small signs of improvement – enough to at least stay out in the fields all day, even if Rodney had to do all the work.


Maybe he got over-confident, although judging by how scared he was when he tiptoed up that path every evening, Rodney really didn’t think that was the case, but one evening he was coming back with the scraps of food he’d stolen and he had the misfortune to pass the overseers’ hut at exactly the time one of them came outside to piss. He glanced at Rodney, glanced away, and then glanced back as he made out the strange shapes under Rodney’s thin tunic.


“What have you got there?” he asked roughly, coming over.


“Just something for my friend. He’s sick,” Rodney said, shrinking back against the wall. He wasn’t sure what to expect – maybe a backhander or two, or maybe a cut throat – it wasn’t easy to tell with these people.


“Is that food? Have you been stealing food?” the overseer roared, and Rodney closed his eyes as the man took hold of his tunic and pulled him into the lamp light that was flooding out of the overseers’ quarters. Some of the others came outside having overheard the commotion and then everything happened so quickly that Rodney barely had time to draw breath. First they found the food, and then the chief overseer decided that this was a good excuse for an object lesson, although Rodney was more of the opinion that he was seizing on the whole thing as an excuse for some sport. All the slaves were woken and dragged from their quarters, and Rodney’s eyes sought out Radek’s pale, scared face in the crowd. There was some kind of a long lecture which Rodney largely blanked out through sheer terror, and then the chief overseer was looming over him, his face flickering menacingly in the torchlight. He was a tall, thin man, with a livid scar on his chin that looked like the legacy of one bar-room brawl too many.


“Which hand did you use to steal the master’s food?” he demanded and when Rodney made no reply, one of the overseers grabbed his right hand and placed it on a rickety old table. Rodney tried to move it, worried that they were going to cut it off, but three of the overseers sat on him, holding his arm into position, and then he saw the chief overseer take one of his fingers in his hand and he closed his eyes – and next thing he knew there was a loud, sickly crack and a wave of pain engulfed him, and he could hear himself screaming like a wounded animal. The chief overseer took each finger in turn and broke them all, and afterwards Rodney sank to the ground, clutching his wounded hand to his chest. He was sobbing in pure agony but his hope that this would be the end to it was cut short when they pulled him up, stripped off his tunic, and tied him to the side of a tree. He wasn’t sure what was happening; there was a lot of noise and shouting all around him and he was out of it from the pain in his hand, but then he caught a glimpse of the chief overseer grabbing a whip from one of his men, and Rodney buried his face in his arm and whimpered as he hung from the ropes around his wrists.


He’d received numerous cuts from these whips before while out in the field but he’d never been strung up and flogged at full force while tied up before, and each cut seemed to bite deep into his skin. He knew he was screaming, yelling, sobbing, begging for it to stop, but nothing made any difference and he had a sudden premonition that he was going to die out here, hanging from this damn tree. He wished that he could at least have said goodbye to Carson and John. They were the best thing that had ever happened to him and he still wasn’t entirely sure how he’d ended up with both of them. Surprisingly enough it had been the unassuming, retiring Carson who had somehow brought them all together and made it happen, and at the time Rodney had been utterly shocked that not just one, but both the attractive, intelligent men he had worshipped from afar for so long wanted him to be in a relationship with them but they did. He had never been happier in his entire life than those few short months they’d had together. They complemented each other somehow – John was witty and laid back, able to trade insults with him and calm his more irrational outbursts, while Carson was so kind and nurturing, making Rodney feel loved and wanted, which wasn’t something he’d ever experienced before and it still astonished him that anyone would feel that way about him. Were they still alive, Rodney wondered, as that whip flayed bloody streaks into his shoulders, back and buttocks. Were they out there somewhere, waiting for him? Or were they dead, or suffering the way he was suffering right now?


The two moons shone brightly overhead, and Rodney gazed up at them from under sweat- soaked hair. “Remember me,” he whispered into the night. Had he ever really told them how much he loved them and how grateful he was that they loved him too? Had he ever told them how surprised he was that they wanted him to be with them, and how he had never felt this way about anyone else before? He couldn’t remember ever saying he loved them, because he didn’t find that kind of thing very easy, but he hoped he’d shown them how he felt, with his actions and his caresses. He remembered some nights, just lying there, wide awake, staring at them, still bemused that they were both there, both sprawled out in his bed, next to him. Often he ran his hands over their features in the dark, gently, soft as a whisper, taking care not to wake them, making out familiar, beloved features and wondering how something this wonderful could have happened to Rodney McKay. Nothing wonderful had ever happened to him before. He should have told them that he loved them, but now it was too late, and he’d never see them again. “Remember I loved you,” he whispered to the two shining moons overhead, and at some point soon after that he mercifully blacked out.


They left him hanging there until dawn and then cut him down. He didn’t remember much about that, or the subsequent decision to sell him for a pittance to the slavers who were passing through on their way to Shalla. He didn’t get a chance to see Radek again before he was shoved into the convoy of slaves and told to walk, and while he was happy enough to leave the plantation behind him, he worried about the other scientist. Radek wasn’t strong, and Rodney had no idea how he’d cope without him. Would he be able to get enough food? How would he fare in the fields without Rodney to do the lion’s share of the work? Rodney fretted about it endlessly; Radek had placed his trust in him. Hell, Radek had been the only person in his entire life ever to look at Rodney with an expression of hero-worship in his eyes, and Rodney felt he’d let him down.




Rodney came to as they clattered into a cool, shady courtyard. Dozens of people swarmed out from the house to take hold of the horses, and the warrior dismounted, pulled Rodney off the horse, and immediately swung him up into his arms and pushed his way through the thronging crowd. Rodney was dimly aware that the warrior must be pretty strong to be able to take his weight, but then he remembered how little food he’d been living on these past few months and he guessed that maybe he wasn’t such a dead weight after all.


He heard someone asking something, but the warrior didn’t reply, just kept pushing ahead, and then he was climbing up some steps. Rodney turned his head and saw the billowing white robes of the nobleman ahead of them. The master swept into a room and the warrior followed, carrying Rodney as easily as if he was a child.


“Put him on the bed,” the master said, and Rodney stirred, feeling that he was missing something he should be aware of, something important and obvious. The warrior laid him on cool, white, rinula sheets and he cried out as his sore back made contact with the surface. “Is the room ready?” the master demanded of the people in the room. “Have you laid out everything I’ll need?” and Rodney whimpered, wondering what the hell they were going to do to him.


“It’s all right. Hush, dautie,” a lilting voice said somewhere over by the door but he had no idea who they were talking to.


“I’ll go while you do this. I won’t be any use and I’ll just get angry,” someone else said. Rodney grasped onto the sheet and tried to slide onto the floor to get away from whatever was about to happen next because it sounded like it was going to be bad.


“All right, but don’t go far – we’ll need you soon,” the master said. “And don’t go getting into any fights either,” he called after the warrior. The warrior turned, and Rodney cowered in fear as he saw the anger writ in every hard line of his body.


“I won’t go far. I’m not promising anything about the fighting,” he snapped, and then, with one last glance in Rodney’s direction, he was gone.


“The rest of you can go too,” the master said to the bustling people in the room as he peeled off his rings and then the thin white gloves underneath them. “He’s scared half out of his wits – it’ll be better if I do this alone. Wait outside the door – I’ll call you if I need you.” They scuttled out of the room and Rodney shrank back on the bed as the nobleman approached. What the hell was he going to do to him? The man sat down beside him and reached out a hand and Rodney flinched away from it in fear, his entire body trembling.


“Rodney, dautie, it’s all right. It’s only me. I’m sorry,” the man said in a soft, gentle voice.


Rodney felt as if his brain wouldn’t kick into gear and he blamed the drug they’d given him earlier. He felt so slow, and his mind was leaden. He was sure he should understand what was going on here but somehow he couldn’t get his thoughts together. He gazed at the nobleman blankly, watching as the man unwrapped the white gauze from around his face, to reveal two worried blue eyes and a mop of thick dark hair. “Rodney, it’s me, Carson,” a soft Scottish voice said. Rodney gazed at the man blankly, wondering if he was hallucinating. “I’m sorry we couldn’t say anything earlier. We have to be so careful when we’re out in public. John’s better at it than I am, so he always does all the talking.”


“John…John is here?” Rodney asked, as if in a dream.


“Aye – that was John who carried you up here,” Carson said.


John…John was the warrior who had held him so carefully on the horse, his arms wrapped around him to keep him from falling? How could that scarred man with the guttural Karkaran accent have been John?


“His eye…?”


“It’s fine. He’ll tell you all about it himself. He’s upset, Rodney, and he doesn’t want to overwhelm you. He knows he’ll get angry if he stays and he doesn’t want that.”


“Angry? With me?” Rodney asked blankly, too tired and befuddled to understand any of this.


“No, Rodney!” Carson said swiftly. “Not with you – with the people who hurt you. It’s all he can do not to take his knife to those slavers when he has to haggle to get one of our people back, and today was much harder on him of course because it was you. He would have stayed to be with you but you need medical attention and he knows he won’t be much use until you’re feeling a wee bit better.”


Rodney found himself gazing at the other man again, searching for something, some kind of recognition but his brain stubbornly refused to accept what his eyes were telling him. His gaze settled blankly on Carson’s face, seeking out the familiar, the beloved, and he reached out to trace the other man’s features with his fingertips, like a blind man. His eyes might deceive him but surely his fingers wouldn’t? He would know Carson’s features by touch alone – he had traced them often enough when they’d shared a bed together back on Atlantis. The face was the same beneath his trembling touch; leaner, harder, but still the same jaw, the same cheekbones, the same lips.


“Carson?” he whispered.


“Aye…hush now…you’re very ill, Rodney and I need to help you. Will you let me?” Carson said softly.


“Are you sure I’m not dreaming?” Rodney asked.


“Och no, dautie, you’re not dreaming,” Carson told him, reaching out a hand to gently soothe Rodney’s long hair away from his face.


“Dautie?” Rodney asked, latching onto the unfamiliar word.


“It’s an old Scottish word,” Carson explained, those gentle fingers still stroking him. “It means darling one.”


“Am I safe?” Rodney asked. “Am I really safe?”


“Yes, Rodney. You’re ours now. We bought you and this place is ours. Nobody can take you away. You have no idea how long we’ve searched, or how hard. John was out every day, scouting everywhere. He visited the slave markets every day, rode out into the country searching for you. He was tireless. It was him that recognized you today. I wasn’t sure it was you, but he said it was worth a closer look.”


“Have I changed that much?” Rodney asked.


“Just the beard and hair – and you’re a fair bit thinner,” Carson said. “But those eyes are still the same. Now, Rodney, there was a powerful painkiller and a mild sedative in that flask you didn’t want to drink from earlier but…”


“I thought you were trying to poison me,” Rodney said, confused. “I thought you were going to torture me.”


“I think someone’s already done that, dautie,” Carson said sadly. “I couldn’t give you anything to knock you out completely because I needed you to be able to ride back here, and now I need you awake so I can examine you. I can’t give you any more of the painkiller for another hour or so – I already gave you more than I should and you’re so weak I don’t dare give you any more – are you okay to hold on that long? Will you be brave for me?”


“Yes…it’s fine,” Rodney said, his mind still reeling from the recent turn of events. He still couldn’t get his head around all this.


“I’m sorry we couldn’t have been kinder to you back at the market,” Carson said softly, “but we didn’t dare risk letting you know who we were until we got you safely back. John always insists after one incident we had…and he’s right…but it’s so hard and I’m so bloody useless at it so he dresses me up like a nobleman so that everyone will be afraid of me and I won’t have to talk to anyone. I needed to get that painkiller down you back there so you could start to feel better. You were in such a bad way I was worried we might not even get you home.”


“I feel kind of woozy,” Rodney said.


“That’s partly what I gave you, but partly because you have a fever,” Carson said in those same low, calm, steady tones. “Now hold on, Rodney. Let me take this collar off you.” He reached out and undid the leash attached to the collar, then carefully tugged the buckle open, and finally removed the thick, hated object from around Rodney’s neck, throwing it onto the floor with a look of disgust. Rodney reached up his hand, and massaged his neck. It felt strange to be released from the collar after so many months. The skin underneath felt itchy and raw, and he scrabbled at it with the fingers of his good hand – it was the first time he’d had access to it in months. Carson gently pried Rodney’s fingers away before they could scratch the sore area too hard and began to wash the sore skin underneath, his mouth set in a grim line as he worked. He finished by putting some ointment and a dressing on it, and then stroked Rodney’s hair again. Rodney opened his eyes, not having even realized that he’d closed them, feeling hazy and spaced out.


“Now, roll over onto your front, Rodney, so I can tend to your back,” Carson told him.


Rodney allowed Carson to help him roll onto his front, and surrendered to Carson’s ministrations, still lost in a haze. The doctor swiftly removed the light sheet covering him and then gently washed the long, livid welts on his back, before applying some kind of a cool ointment to them that took the edge off the pain and made his body feel pleasantly numb. Then Carson wrapped his body in white gauze, bandaging him in the soft fabric, before turning him over again. Carson washed his entire body, his touch unfailingly warm and gentle, going slowly, never more than Rodney could take at any one time, his fingers checking bones and muscles and skin as he went, finding a catalogue of mistreatment that Rodney saw reflected in his horrified eyes. He applied ointment to Rodney’s numerous wounds, and took some time over his cut feet, washing, treating and dressing them, before finally reaching for his damaged hand.


“They’re all broken,” Rodney told him, his teeth chattering from shock, from the relief of being safe, and the knowledge he could finally let go now, and allow someone to take care of him. “They held me down and the chief overseer broke them one by one.”


“Aye, I can see that,” Carson said softly. “Rodney – I need to set these, and that means I have to pull them into place. It’ll hurt – not as much as when they were broken and the painkiller will take the edge off the pain, but it’ll still hurt. After I’m done there will be no more pain, I promise, and you can sleep. Will you let me do that, Rodney?”
“Yes…” Rodney nodded, his teeth still chattering. Carson wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and then went to the door and called someone. A few seconds later a familiar face appeared in the doorway. John had unwrapped his turban but was still wearing the black clothes he’d been in previously. Rodney’s eyes were drawn to the long scar over his eye and for the first time since he’d arrived here he felt like he wanted to cry.


“Hey,” John said, pausing in the doorway to gaze at Rodney for a second.


“Hey,” Rodney said back, wearily.


“The doc says he needs some muscle power in here and I guess that’s me.” John gave a John-like smile and Rodney felt something breaking inside him.


“It’s really you,” he whispered.


“It really is,” John said, coming over to the bed. He sat down behind Rodney, and put his arms around him again. “Okay, it’s all right,” John said. “We’re both here.” He held Rodney’s wrist and Rodney remembered being held down over a rickety table as two moons shone down on him and he flinched. “Hey.” John kissed his hair. “You trust us right?” Rodney remembered John holding him down the first night they’d all made love, while Carson kissed his throat, and John had said something similar back then.


“Yes,” he replied, leaning back against John’s warm, solid chest. Carson took hold of his fingers, gently, carefully, in his hand and felt the first one, examining it with the utmost care, and then, without warning, he manipulated it back into place. It didn’t click as it had when it had been broken, and the painkiller rendered the pain less sharp, but god it still hurt. Rodney howled, and John’s arms held him fast against his chest. It seemed to take an agonizingly long time to set all the fingers, and Rodney thought he might have passed out, because next thing he knew they were all splinted together in a neat line and immobilised in a bandage, and Carson was sitting on the bed beside him, stroking his hair again.


“All right, Rodney, it’s all done,” he said. “I know you hurt in other places but that’s the worst of it and I don’t want to put you through any more tonight.”


Rodney wondered if Carson knew about the rapes. His examination had been very gentle but very thorough and he was just about the best MD ever born, so Rodney doubted he’d missed anything. He wanted to explain but he was too tired.


“I’m sorry,” he said, but he wasn’t sure what he was sorry for or even who he was sorry for.


“Hush, Rodney,” Carson said, pouring something from a vial into a glass of water. “Will you take this now? It’ll help you sleep.”


“Radek…” Rodney said, urgently as Carson passed him the glass. “He was so ill. I know where he is. We have to save Radek.”


“We will, but not now. Now you need to sleep, Rodney,” John said behind him, his hands still warm and tight across Rodney’s chest.


“They broke my fingers and whipped me because I stole some food for Radek,” Rodney told them urgently, suddenly worried that he might never wake up and then nobody would know where Radek was. “His asthma is really bad and they’re working him into the ground. He’s on the plantation where I was. I can take you there.”


“You will, Rodney, you will,” Carson said soothingly. “Here, drink this.”


“I will.” Rodney nodded obediently. “Or you’ll have John hold my mouth open again and pour it down me.” It was meant to be a joke but somehow it didn’t actually seem at all funny once he’d said it.


“Aye, I’ll set John on you,” Carson replied, with a sad smile. John kissed the side of his face, and Rodney sleepily raised the cup to his lips and drank from it.


“Tastes really nasty,” Rodney muttered.


“It’ll help fight that infection. It’s not what I’d use if we were back on Atlantis but it works in a similar way,” Carson told him.


“There’s something I should really tell you,” Rodney said, trying to remember what it was. He had a sudden vision of himself staring back from the bottom of a well.


“Not now, Rodney,” John whispered in his ear.


“No. Not now,” Rodney whispered, feeling drowsy. Carson shifted and Rodney whimpered.


“Don’t leave me!” he begged, scared that none of this was real and if they moved out of his sight he’d never see them again.


“I’m not, Rodney. We’re both here,” Carson said. John shifted over so that Rodney could lie down and then he put his arms around Rodney again, pulling him close, against his chest, the way they always used to sleep back on Atlantis. It felt warm and familiar, and Rodney relaxed into his lover’s hard, muscled arms. Carson slid into the bed beside Rodney, facing him, and Rodney slung his arm over Carson’s thigh, where it belonged. Carson closed the distance between them and softly kissed Rodney’s forehead, his hands gently stroking Rodney’s arm, up and down, up and down.


Rodney felt himself slipping away, and some time, hours later, he had a dream that he was lying on soft pillows with each of his lovers on either side of him, their arms protectively laced around him, keeping him safe, and at one point in the night he woke up, and found out that it wasn’t a dream after all and that was when he started to cry.


End of Part One


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