Back from the Well: 2. Part Two


Warm hands reached for him in the dark and gentle words of comfort were whispered into his ears. John didn’t say anything, but his hands fastened even more tightly around Rodney’s body while the tears fell. Carson kissed his face, and talked to him, hands softly stroking his arms, and forehead, and hair, calming him. He couldn’t hear what Carson was saying because he was crying so hard and he was dimly aware that he’d be ashamed of himself in the morning but he was too tired and hurt too much to care. Somehow it had been easy to keep going through it all when there had been no other option, but now that he was safe, and reunited with the two people he loved most in the world…now all he was able to do was fall apart. He hoped he was at least doing it with good grace and a minimum of fuss. He wore himself out with crying, one arm wrapped around Carson’s shoulder as he sobbed furiously into the other man’s neck. Behind him he knew from the tense lines of John’s body that he felt angry and helpless in the face of the enormity of what had happened to Rodney, but John stayed where he was, his arms holding Rodney tight and keeping him close, constant and unwavering, wrapped around Rodney’s thin body.


At some point he stopped crying, more out of exhaustion than anything else, and then he slept again, his face nestled on Carson’s shoulder.


When he woke John was gone and Carson was sitting in a chair by the bed, mixing something with a pestle and mortar.


“What are you doing?” Rodney mumbled, glancing over at him.


“I’m having to do things the old way, like my grandmother taught me,” Carson told him, turning to him with a smile, and putting the pestle and mortar down. “How are you feeling, Rodney?”


“Like someone hit me with a truck,” Rodney replied honestly. He tried to sit up and let out a groan as his entire body protested.


“I don’t think you’ll be going anywhere just yet, Rodney,” Carson told him with a sympathetic smile. “I’ll help you to sit and then you can eat. After that I want to examine you and change your dressings.” He got up and helped Rodney into a sitting position and then brought him a tray.


“I’m starving,” Rodney said, surveying the bread and bowlful of thin soup on the tray. “Is this all there is? I could eat five times this amount.”


“Aye, I’m sure you could, but by the look of you it’s been months since you had a good meal,” Carson told him. “If you eat too much then I can guarantee you’ll just bring it straight up again and the point is to start building you up. I’ve seen to it that it’s plain food – if you ate anything rich in your current condition then it might well kill you.”


“If you say so,” Rodney said dubiously, sticking his spoon into the soup. He felt absolutely famished and harboured a small nugget of resentment towards Carson for not giving him more food. The soup tasted delicious but Rodney barely noticed because he slurped it down so quickly, wiped the bread around the bowl and then stuffed that into his mouth too, desperately needing the sustenance in his aching belly. He demolished the lot in a few seconds, despite Carson’s admonishments to go more slowly, and a few seconds later he felt a wave of nausea and brought the whole lot up again. Carson sighed as he held out a bowl for him to vomit into, and Rodney gazed at him over the top of it with a hangdog look.


“Sorry,” he muttered when he was done.


“You’re the physicist, I’m the doctor,” Carson told him. “If I need to know about ZPMs I listen to you and if you need to know about the human body, you listen to me. Yes?” It wasn’t really more than an affectionate scolding and Rodney grinned and leaned back on his pillows while Carson went to the door and called for more food. This felt like the old days and that made him feel better than any medicine in the world. Carson came and sat back down on the bed, and took Rodney’s good hand in his own.


“Seriously, Rodney. How are you?” he asked.


“I’m fine. I’m sorry about last night.” Rodney ducked his head and felt his cheeks burn.


“Rodney, there’s no need for apologies. I’m just sad it took us so long to find you and you had to suffer for so long out there.”


“Where are we?” Rodney asked, glancing around. He was in a big, airy room, with light rinula curtains at the window. Outside, the sun was high overhead and he guessed it was past midday. “Did I sleep that long?” he asked, surprised.


“You’ve been asleep for 17 hours straight,” Carson told him. “It was partly the drugs I gave you, and partly your own body needing the rest.”


“Where’s John?” Rodney asked anxiously. At the back of his mind he couldn’t help worrying about John – the colonel’s body had been hard and tense last night, and Rodney knew how he hated any kind of emotional fuss. He hoped his tears hadn’t been too much of an embarrassment to all concerned.


“He’s out working. There’s a lot to do,” Carson told him. “Everyone’s pretty excited that you’re here. I told them you won’t be fit to see anyone for a wee while, but you’ve got a long list of visitors for when you feel up to it.”


“There are other people from Atlantis here? Carson, what is this place?” Rodney asked in bewilderment.


“I’ll tell you when John gets here – he said he’d join us for lunch and judging by what happened to your breakfast you’ll be ready for that shortly,” Carson said with a grin. “Now, first things first…I want to examine you.”


Somehow it had been easier being examined the previous evening, through a drug-filled, exhausted haze, but now that he was reasonably compos mentis Rodney found it harder. Carson gave him more pain medication before unwrapping his bandages but in the bright light of the room, Rodney saw more marks on his body than he had realized were there. Back when he was a slave he’d taken little notice of all the many wounds on his body, but now that he was here, with normal people who looked healthy and weren’t covered in sores, cuts and bruises, he realized just how appalling his body looked.


Carson’s fingers were as gentle as ever as he checked Rodney over. He seemed pleased by the progress of the wounds on Rodney’s back and after washing them down, he applied more ointment and bandaged Rodney’s torso again. He left Rodney’s hand alone, for which the scientist was grateful, and gently palpated Rodney’s abdomen. Rodney winced in pain, and Carson looked up at him.


“It’s tender, yes? The lower bowel?” he asked.


“Yeah.” Rodney shrugged.


“I noticed some other discomfort last night. I’d like to do an internal examination, Rodney. Are you up to that?” Carson asked. Rodney sighed.


“Carson is it really necessary and does it have to be done by you?” he asked, feeling his cheeks flush slightly. It was one thing to be examined so intimately by your doctor but quite another by your lover, when, on another occasion, it might be the kind of activity you did for pleasure. But he knew that wasn’t really the problem; he just didn’t want to face the whole conversation he was sure they were imminently going to have – and he also knew Carson well enough to know he wasn’t going to be able to avoid it either. His pride had been shattered enough already and he wasn’t sure he could bear to surrender the last remnants of it, not even to Carson.


“Yes it is necessary and yes it does have to be me. Rodney there aren’t any other doctors here – there’s only me. I’ve got some of my nursing staff but nobody I’d trust to do this – and I think you’d be more relaxed with me than anyone else in any case – yes?” Carson asked. Rodney gazed sightlessly down at the sheets. “Yes, Rodney?” Carson asked again. The truth was there wasn’t anyone else that Rodney would have allowed to touch him so intimately right now, not even John, so Carson was right about that.


“Will it hurt?” Rodney asked at long last. Carson hesitated.


“A little, maybe, depending on the damage, but I’ll be very careful. Do you want to tell me what happened first?”


“Not really.” Rodney shrugged.


“Rodney.” Carson just sat there, waiting.


“I think you’ve guessed it, Carson. The details don’t matter. You know what this planet is like. I was raped, several times. The last time was about 4 days ago,” Rodney rapped out, as business-like as possible.


“Did you bleed after any of the rapes?” Carson asked, in a matter-of-fact tone, every inch the professional. Rodney was glad he wasn’t making a big emotional deal of this – he didn’t think he could have stood that.


“Frequently.” Rodney shrugged.


“Did you receive any medical attention?”


“Yeah, right,” Rodney snorted. “Because the Karkarans are such a caring, touchy-feely kind of people.”


“I’m worried about the tenderness and the fact you vomited up your food earlier. I didn’t get you back just to lose you through inefficient doctoring. I really need to do that exam, Rodney,” Carson told him firmly.


“Okay. Fine.” Rodney rolled over onto his side and hid his face in his arms as Carson bustled around the room, gathering things – Rodney didn’t want to know what kind of things. Then he sat back down on the bed and gently did the exam. Rodney was worried about how tense he’d be – now that he had some control over his body and what was done to it, it was hard to allow anyone to do anything invasive, but this was Carson after all, and Rodney willed himself to relax and let him to get on with it. In fact, it hurt much less than Rodney was expecting and Carson was as gentle and thorough as always. When he was done, Rodney rolled back over and gazed at him. “Well?”


Carson nodded, his face guarded, and Rodney guessed it was as difficult for him to treat his lover in this particular circumstance as it was for him to be treated. “There’s no internal bleeding at least – I was worried there might be. There are some other minor issues but I think I can take care of them. I can certainly relieve the soreness – I’ve given you something for that. As for eating – next time you just need to take it much more slowly I think.”


Rodney sat and stared at the wall glumly, suddenly feeling completely exhausted and depressed. Which was ridiculous, he told himself, because he was here, and he was safe, and he wasn’t back at that god-awful plantation and Carson’s careful fingers were a damn sight less painful and intrusive than being thrown down over the side of a well and having your ass invaded by some oaf with a whip; which was why it made no sense at all that he was crying silent tears of soul- destroying sadness. Carson didn’t say anything, he just put his arms around Rodney and held him until he was done, stroking his shaking body the whole time, and then he drew back and smiled at him.


“I know something that will make you feel better,” he said. He got up, went over to the big oak table at the side of the room and brought back a fresh bowl of water, some soap, a pair of scissors and a sharp knife.


“I’m not following how this will make me feel better,” Rodney said.


“I thought I’d shave that beard and trim your hair for you,” Carson told him with a laugh.


“You don’t like the beard? I thought maybe it was a good look for me.” Rodney scratched his hairy chin speculatively.


“When did you last see yourself?” Carson asked carefully.


Rodney remembered a pale, watery reflection gazing back at himself from the bottom of a well.~


“Clearly? Not since Atlantis,” he said. “Do you have a mirror?”


“I do, but are you sure you want to see?” Carson said.


“That bad, huh?” Rodney chuckled. “I’d like to see the beard before you shave it off, Carson. I’ve never grown one this long before. I thought maybe I looked distinguished.”


“Hmm. Well, you should prepare yourself,” Carson said, handing him a small square of glass. Rodney took a deep breath and then raised it and gazed at himself. It took awhile for his eyes to believe what the mirror was showing him; he looked like some crazy street guy, with a long, wild beard, and shaggy, unkempt, matted hair. The beard ended abruptly where his collar had been; that skin had been rubbed bare and was red and chafed. Rodney gazed at his hollow cheekbones, and the gaunt, haggard lines of his jaw, and then glanced up at Carson.


“My beard is kind of ginger,” he commented. Carson smiled. “And I don’t like the streaks of white. Shit, Carson, I’m no longer surprised you had trouble recognizing me – I’m just surprised John had the slightest inkling it was me beneath all this.”


“I wasn’t sure at first,” a voice at the doorway said, and John entered the room, closing the door behind him. “Sorry, I’m running late – I grabbed something to eat while we were out. How’re you doing, Rodney?”


“I’m fine,” Rodney said. “Just contemplating my new look. Carson thinks I should lose the beard but hell, it took months to grow!”


“I could just trim it,” Carson offered.


“Yuck. Does that mean we have to get beard burn every time we kiss you from now on?” John said and it was such a John comment that Rodney laughed out loud, feeling his spirits lift.


“Nah. You’re right. Carson – go ahead,” Rodney said, sitting back. John came and sat down in the chair beside the bed, tossing an apple in the air and catching it again. “So how *did* you recognize me, John?” he asked. John grinned.


“It wasn’t until you made that smartass comment to that bastard who was selling you,” he said. “Up until then it could have gone either way – it sort of looked like you but you were mainly looking at my boots and I really needed to see your eyes. I was just beginning to think I’d take the risk and buy you anyway, just in case by some miracle it was actually you and not just my own hopes misleading me, and then you opened your mouth and pure Rodney McKay spewed forth. What was the phrase – ‘a race of priapic technophobes’?”


“Ah, yes…I thought maybe I was going to have my tongue cut out for saying that but I don’t think he actually understood that it was an insult – in fact I don’t think he understood what I’d said at all,” Rodney grinned, as Carson finished cutting the ends off his beard and began lathering his face with the soap.


“You have no idea how pleased I was to hear those familiar snarky tones,” John grinned back. “Rodney, we’ve been looking for you for so long.” His voice was strained as he said that and Rodney sensed a whole world of despair in it which took him by surprise. He didn’t know why he should be surprised that his lovers had been as worried and concerned about him as he’d been about them, but he was.


“Carson said,” Rodney murmured. “You have a new look yourself, I see,” he added, changing the subject in case this one led somewhere tearful, glancing at John’s long, neatly braided hair.


“Yeah – it helps to convince them I’m one of them if I wear the Karkaran braid,” John shrugged. “And Carson really loves braiding it for me in the morning.”


“I do not!” Carson protested but the little grin at the corners of his mouth belied that comment. He picked up the sharp knife and began carefully scraping at Rodney’s beard.


“Are you going to explain what’s happening now? What is this place?” Rodney asked. “And Carson said there were some other people from Atlantis here? Who? How many? And, you know, how the hell?” He screwed up his face and Carson sat back with a sigh.


“Rodney McKay, if I’m going to do this then you’ll have to sit still,” he admonished.


“I’m sorry. Go on. I’ll just sit here. You and John can explain all this to me and I’ll try not to ask too many questions.”


“That’ll be a first,” Carson muttered under his breath, returning to his work.


“Okay. I’m sitting still. Tell me,” Rodney demanded. John took a bite of his apple, and nodded towards Carson.


“The story starts with him. He’s the reason we’re all here,” he said as he munched. Rodney glanced at Carson, who was flushing.


“Well, that’s not exactly true. I just started things off, you’re the one who…”


“He’s just being his usual modest self – ignore him. This place, our freedom – it’s all down to him,” John said to Rodney with a roll of his eyes, interrupting Carson. Rodney caught Carson’s arm as it came up to shave his beard. He rolled back the white sleeve and found the dark blue-green numbers tattooed on the doctor’s wrist, proof that he’d been a slave, just as Rodney had. Then Rodney glanced at John, and he shrugged and slid his black shirt half way up his arm to reveal the tattoo on his own flesh.


“Damn it,” Rodney growled. “I really didn’t want this to have happened to either of you. I screamed and hollered and kicked up such a fuss when they tried to tattoo me that eventually they had to sit on me so they could write their stinking numbers on my skin.”


“They had to knock me out to do it,” John said cheerfully.


“While I just offered them my wrist like a good boy,” Carson added.


“Go on with the story,” Rodney nodded, as Carson busied himself with shaving his beard again.


“Well, I was bought by a local businessman with a sideline in extortion and money lending,” John said. “He wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular so he wanted some bodyguards to look after him. No freeman would do it – they all hated him too much – so he had to rely on slaves – which isn’t the best idea when you have to arm them.”


“At least he was too scared of you turning on him to treat you badly,” Carson said. “You had food, clothes, water and a warm place to sleep.”


“That’s true,” John nodded.


“So what happened?” Rodney asked, glancing at John’s scarred, half-closed eye.


“Oh this?” John reached up and touched it lightly; it clearly didn’t cause him any pain. “My owner and I fell out. He wanted me to kill someone who’d welched on a deal and I wouldn’t. Had a couple of the other slaves hold me down and tried to blind me in one eye as an object lesson in obedience. Luckily for me, not all the slaves were on his side. We made a fight of it, and he got scared and ran off.”


“There was nowhere to go though,” Rodney said sullenly. “You were still a slave – only now a slave who’d assaulted a freeman.”


“I know. He could have had me killed but he was so tight-fisted that he couldn’t bear to stand the loss – he’d paid good money for me after all. So he decided to just sell me on instead, so I could become someone else’s problem,” John shrugged. “That’s where Carson comes in. You tell him your part of this story, Carson,” he prompted. Carson finished shaving off Rodney’s beard, washed away the last of the soap, patted his face with a towel and then picked up the scissors to start on his hair.


“I was sold to a wealthy businessman. He owned this house,” Carson began, as large wads of hair started to fall onto Rodney’s shoulders and arms. “He also had terminal cancer.”


Rodney looked up in surprise and Carson pushed his head back down reprovingly. “You’ll end up with one side longer than the other if you keep doing that. I’m a doctor, not a barber,” he groused, and Rodney shared a sideways grin with John. “Anyway, he knew he was dying, but the pain was debilitating and it was a long, slow death. He’d heard that I was a doctor from offworld, and as all the quacks on this planet are just that, quacks, he thought I might be a worthwhile purchase. As it turned out, I was able to make his last few months a lot more comfortable than they would have been otherwise. They don’t have good drugs and medicines here like we had back on Atlantis, but I spent hours down the herb market, finding out about what they do have, and I managed to mix him some potions that meant he could go on working – and he loved his work so much that he didn’t want to stop. He was working on some big deal, and even though he knew he was dying he still wanted to close the deal. I think he thought he’d have left a worthy legacy if he could just make it happen – he needed to make it happen for his own satisfaction before he died. He didn’t have any friends and family, and although I was just a slave, he was good to me. He was an austere man, but he had a fine mind and he’d often sit up into the night talking with me. He was fascinated by my stories about Atlantis. He hated the fact that his people have all these ridiculous laws prohibiting technology – although I think that was more due to the fact that he could see all the wasted business opportunities and it chafed at him.” Carson finished cutting and picked up a comb and combed Rodney’s hair through. “Well, he secured the deal, and then he was content to just sit back and die. I made him as comfortable as possible and a couple of days before he died he called in his lawyers, and freed me. They said he was crazy, but he was determined and what he was doing was perfectly legal. He left me this house and all his money and there was nobody to contest the will so he got his way. I stayed with him until the end and then I wondered what on earth I was going to do next.” Carson got the mirror and handed it to Rodney. “There – you look much more presentable now,” he said. Rodney ran his hand over his smooth chin and rubbed it thoughtfully. Now that he had been cleaned up, he could see just how gaunt and pale his face was. His features were pinched from pain and deprivation and there was bruising along his jaw from frequent backhanders, but his eyes were the same as ever – just as Carson had said. They still shone, bright blue and curious, inside his hollow face.


“So what did you do?” he asked Carson, relieved beyond belief that at least none of the things that had happened to him had happened to the doctor. He had never been able to bear thinking about it during his own captivity and he felt a surge of happiness to discover that Carson hadn’t been raped, abused, or beaten. It was bad enough that he had the same tattoo etched on his wrist that they all bore, but at least he hadn’t suffered as much.


“What could I do? I knew I had to find my people. You all had to be out there somewhere. So I started frequenting the slave markets. I hated leaving any of those poor wretches there, but I couldn’t save the entire planet. I’d been looking for a couple of weeks when I stumbled across John. He was my first purchase.” Carson took back the mirror from Rodney and placed a fond hand on John’s shoulder. “I was so nervous when I bought him – I thought I’d screw it up for sure, that they’d find me out and sell me instead of allowing me to buy.”


“He dropped all his money,” John supplied with a wink at Rodney.


“Thank you, John,” Carson said reprovingly, cuffing the other man lightly on the back of the head.


“I couldn’t believe it was him,” John grinned at Rodney. “And I sure as hell couldn’t believe he owned all this when he brought me back here. Talk about landing on your feet.”


“I was lucky,” Carson said soberly. “I’m very much aware that others were not so fortunate.” His hand squeezed Rodney’s shoulder briefly. “Anyway, we decided to use the money to find our people. John started riding out to visit all the slave markets, while I made some house calls as a doctor as an excuse to check out all the slaves who weren’t up for sale. If we found one of our people who wasn’t for sale, I just asked for them instead of payment for my services. Only a couple of my clients refused, and John took care of them.”


“Really? How?” Rodney glanced at John.


“I never wanted to know,” Carson grimaced. “But we got back every single one of our people that we found. They all live here – it’s a big house, and they’re safe here.”


“Who do you have?” Rodney asked eagerly. “Do you have Elizabeth?”


“Yes – we found her about a month ago,” John told him.


“Is she okay?”


John hesitated and glanced at Carson.


“She was in a better state than you when we brought her in, but she can tell you about it herself. She’s top on your list of visitors for when you’re receiving them,” Carson told him.


“Major Lorne, Teyla, Miller and Ronon are here – they were part of the warrior posse accompanying us when we found you,” John said.


“Great. Everyone got to see me looking like a crazy guy,” Rodney complained. Carson shook his head.


“They’ve seen it all before, Rodney,” he said softly. “You weren’t the first we brought back in this kind of condition. They’re just glad to be able to help – and they’ve been loyal and true to the end. There isn’t one of them who hasn’t been utterly committed to finding our people. They’ve ridden for days on end, combed farms and cities, trying to track you all down.”


“I know about some other people,” Rodney said quietly. “I told you about Radek last night. He’s back on the plantation. He told me that Katie Brown is there too. He also told me that Laura Cadman is dead.”


Carson took a sharp intake of breath. Rodney explained in a few short words what Radek had told him, and John turned away and slammed his fist angrily into the wall. Rodney flinched and looked up at Carson in surprise. This wasn’t typical behaviour from John; the Colonel was usually the most laid-back of them all – it was he who usually calmed them both down if they were upset about something. Carson shook his head and put a finger over his lips and Rodney bit back the enquiry he had been going to make.


“Radek was alive when I left him but he doesn’t have long if he doesn’t get medical treatment soon,” Rodney told them both, talking in a very fast voice. “We should go and get him as soon as we can. I’ll show you where the plantation is. I walked all the way to Shalla from there so I know the way.”


“You can draw me a map,” John told him. “I’ll bring you some paper this afternoon.”


“No. I’m going with you. I can be more help that way,” Rodney argued, because he needed to do this for Radek. He’d formed a bond with the other man during their time on the plantation and he hadn’t forgotten the hero-worship he’d seen in Radek’s eyes – and he desperately wanted to live up to it.


“I’m not taking you with me. You’ll draw me a map,” John insisted.


“What, you think just because you bought me that you can tell me what to do as well?” Rodney flared, and then he wished he hadn’t said that because the expression in John’s eyes wasn’t pretty.


“No, but you’re not well enough to go and you’re more use to us here,” John told him through gritted teeth. “Damn – how could I have forgotten how annoying you are?”


“Forgive me for being myself,” Rodney snapped. “And what do you mean by being more use to you here? What the hell is there for me to do here – work in the kitchens maybe? Or do some fetching and carrying for Carson?”


“That’s enough,” Carson said firmly, breaking into the argument. “Rodney, you won’t be well enough to ride for a couple of weeks, and it sounds as if Radek can’t wait that long. There’s no question of you going,” he said. Rodney gazed at him in surprise – Carson wasn’t known for laying down the law, but on this topic he had made himself very clear – and when Rodney opened his mouth to protest, Carson shot him a look that made him close it again.


“All right,” Rodney said sullenly. “I’ll draw you a map.”


“Good. Thanks,” John said, curtly nodding his head, and then suddenly his face creased into a big grin. “Damn, but it’s good to have you back, Rodney,” he said. “Nobody around here argues with me the way you do. I missed that.”


Rodney allowed himself to be mollified by that comment and cast John a furtive grin in return. “When will you go?” he asked.


“Tomorrow. First thing. So I’d better leave you now and go and make sure everyone’s packed and ready.” John got up and leaned towards Rodney. “Really, it’s very good to have you back,” he said softly, and then he reached out to put a hand on the bed and kiss Rodney’s cheek, but the movement was sudden, and all the talk about the plantation had reminded Rodney of being back there, and he acted purely on instinct as he saw the black clad arm coming towards him and flinched away. John stopped, and drew back, a horrified look on his face.


“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I was just spooked,” Rodney tried to explain but it was too late. John’s eyebrows were drawn into a fierce, angry knot across his brow, and he glanced at Carson over Rodney’s head. Carson sighed, and gave an almost imperceptible nod, and John’s entire body became taut with fury. He didn’t say another word, just stalked out of the door and slammed it shut behind him.


“Great,” Rodney commented sourly. “So much for doctor/patient confidentiality. Don’t think I don’t know what that nod meant, Carson.”


“We talked about it last night when you were sleeping. Several of our people have been raped, Rodney and John’s not stupid; he knew from the condition you were in that there was a fair chance you’d been mistreated in that way too, in addition to all the other abuse,” Carson said softly.


“What’s happened to him?” Rodney asked miserably, gazing at the door. “I’ve never seen him like this – he’s so angry.”


“Yes, he is,” Carson said, coming to sit beside Rodney on the bed. “But he isn’t angry with you, although sometimes when he flares up like this it feels that way. He’s angry with himself. He feels he failed Atlantis, Rodney.”


“What? That’s ridiculous!” Rodney exclaimed. “They gated in at night. We were sleeping. How the hell was he supposed to know they could even do that?”


“He was assigned to Atlantis to protect us, and the way he sees it, he failed. He feels he should have known about the Karkaran bandits, should have examined the gate defences in more detail, should have had a plan for what to do in the event of that kind of blind attack.”


“Nobody could have anticipated what happened that night,” Rodney protested. “It wasn’t his fault.”


“I know that and you know that, but he’s blaming himself anyway. He has a hard time of it when he hears what some of our people have gone through, and of course now there’s you…and that hurts him more than anything else because he loves you.”


“He does?” Rodney didn’t know why he was surprised.


“Don’t be daft, Rodney,” Carson admonished. “You know that.”


“Well…it’s just we never talked much before all this happened,” Rodney sighed.


“But you know we both love you, right?” Carson said.


“Yes,” Rodney said in a quiet voice. “Of course I do. Sorry, Carson.”


“Then think of it from his viewpoint. Those men burst into our room in the middle of the night and pulled you out of his arms. They stole you away from him and sold you to people who beat you and raped you, and he’ll never forgive himself for what they did to you because he loves you and he wasn’t able to protect you.”


“They hit him over the head with the butt of a gun! He was out cold!” Rodney protested.


“I’m not saying it’s logical. I’m just saying that’s how he feels,” Carson sighed. “He’s been like this since I found him. It hasn’t always been easy dealing with it. He’s still John, and he cares deeply, but sometimes the situation is too much for him and then he needs to let off steam.”


“Last night…you said something to him about not getting into a fight,” Rodney remembered.


“Aye – he’s taken to prowling the streets at night looking for tavern brawls. He’s been known to start one just to work off his rage,” Carson told him, with a worried frown.


“Really? I mean this is John we’re talking about,” Rodney said, unable to take it all in.


“He’s still John, Rodney, he’s just really hurting right now. Don’t get me wrong – he’s doing a brilliant, tireless job, but maybe that’s part of the problem. He’s worn out half the time, and he pushes himself too hard and has been getting by on too little sleep for too long. I was hoping that once we found you…” Carson bit on his lip, and then put a hand on Rodney’s arm. “We’ve both missed you very much,” he said softly. “I love him and I know he loves me, but there was always a gaping hole in our lives without you. I felt like we were wounded, just limping along, and we need you to make it work. What you said earlier – maybe you were right. We didn’t talk. Everything was easier back then and it didn’t seem necessary to say anything, or talk about how we felt, but now…maybe now it is. I love you, Rodney. Not a day has passed since we were separated when I haven’t thought about you. I’ve been sick with worry, wondering where you were and what was happening to you.”


Rodney stared at Carson, feeling the tears prick behind his eyes again.


“I used to deliberately not think about you,” he muttered. “Because I knew I couldn’t bear it if they’d done to you what they did to me. I just couldn’t take it.”


“Well they didn’t. I feel as if I got off so lightly compared to some of our people,” Carson sighed.


There was a knock at the door and Carson went to open it. Someone handed him a tray of food and he brought it back to Rodney, who sat up eagerly, reaching for it.


“Uh-uh. Not after last time,” Carson told him. “This time I’m feeding you myself, and we’ll take it slowly.”


“I’m not a child, Carson,” Rodney bristled.


“No, but you’re my patient so I get to be bossy with you,” Carson grinned sitting down and picking up the spoon. He fed Rodney slow spoonfuls, and Rodney felt the ache in his stomach gradually ease as the food warmed him. This time the food stayed down and when he’d finished Rodney felt too tired to speak.


“You need to get some more sleep,” Carson told him with a fond smile.


“You won’t go anywhere while I’m asleep will you?” Rodney asked, feeling stupid for being so needy but anxious all the same.


“No. I’ll stay right here. I don’t have any other patients needing me at the moment so I’m entirely at your disposal,” Carson told him. “Here.” He sat down on the bed beside Rodney, put a pillow on his lap, and moved Rodney over so that his head was resting in Carson’s lap. Then he gently stroked Rodney’s hair until Rodney was lulled into a deep, dreamless sleep.






When he woke it was dark outside, and Carson was sitting at the oak table in front of the fire and – Rodney’s heart thudded in his chest – John was there too. They were both eating, talking quietly. He lay there for a moment, just watching them, enjoying the sounds of his lovers’ voices – voices he hadn’t been sure he’d ever hear again, and then he tuned into what they were saying.


“I’ve gone through the details with Teyla, Ronon, and Lorne. We’ll be leaving first thing in the morning. I’m leaving Miller in charge here to protect the rest of you.”


“Make sure you say goodbye to Rodney first. He’s freaked out by that little temper display of yours earlier.”


“Well I’m sorry about that.” John somehow managed to sound both irritable and contrite at one and the same time.


“He’s just jumpy right now – and you being angry around him doesn’t help. He’s had enough of that these past few months as it is.”


“I know. I said I’m sorry.”


Carson’s hand reached out and gently covered John’s, and Rodney noticed that John’s hand had been freshly bandaged.


“At least going after Radek will give you something to focus on,” Carson said wearily. “I’m weary of mending these endlessly bruised knuckles. You will take care, won’t you, John? This plantation Rodney describes sounds like the stuff of nightmares.”


“I’ll be fine – and I will bring Radek back,” John said in a determined voice.


“Aye, I have no doubt. I’ve made up something for him for the journey home. I’ll give the instructions to Teyla. Rodney said that Radek is suffering badly from his asthma. I wish I could lay my hands on some Ventolin but I’ve prepared something that will at least help ease his chest. I’ve also packed some ointment and flasks of painkillers. If Radek is in the same condition as Rodney then it’ll be a hard journey home with him.”


“Is Rodney going to be okay?” John asked, and his voice was tight with concern. “I mean, he still sounds like the same old Rodney but…he’s so damn thin. I’m almost frightened to touch him. Last night when I put my arms around him I thought his ribs would break if I held him too tight.”


“He’ll be fine. He just needs time,” Carson said softly.


“And how soon before we can get him to…” John paused and bit on his lip.


“Not yet. He’s too weak at the moment. Give him a few days. Maybe by the time you get back then we can tell him about it, but not until then. I don’t want him fretting and you know what his mind is like once it’s engaged. It’ll distract him from his recovery.”


“He’s our best hope, Carson,” John said bleakly, and Rodney wondered what the hell they were talking about.


“I know. All the more reason not to push him before he’s ready,” Carson replied. “I’ll not have him carrying the burden of all these people while he’s still so sick.”


“His back…will he be scarred for life?” John asked.


“Aye,” Carson replied with a tiny shrug of his shoulders. “Now don’t go getting angry again, John,” he warned as John threw his napkin onto the table with a muttered curse.


Rodney jumped, unable to stop the reflexive reaction to John’s muted outburst, and both the men turned to look at him. Rodney sought out John’s gaze anxiously and was relieved to find the other man smiling at him.


“Hey – we saved you some dinner. Apparently we have to feed you really slowly or you throw up,” John said.


“Aye – very slowly. I’ll let you feed him this evening,” Carson said, getting up. “I was thinking, Rodney – would you like to take a bath? I wouldn’t normally recommend it with your injuries but I think you’d feel better if you were really clean and I’ve got some oil that will help your skin heal – I could add that to the water.”


Rodney glanced down at his body. Carson had washed him on the bed a couple of times but that hadn’t been enough to remove months of sweat and grime and he liked the idea of a bath so he nodded eagerly. Carson disappeared and John came over and fed him some more soup and bread, and neither of them spoke. It felt good just being alone with the colonel again, especially as John seemed to be calmer now than he had been earlier.


“How did you learn that Karkaran accent you used yesterday?” Rodney asked, after he’d been fed. “I had no idea it was you back at the slave market. You sounded completely different.”


John shrugged. “It seemed a useful thing to acquire. They don’t argue with me so much if I sound like a belligerent, high-caste warrior, although that damn slaver I bought you from kept trying to convince me you weren’t worth the sale. I was running out of reasons to buy you and thought I’d have to get tough with him if it went on any longer.”


“You mean that wasn’t you being tough?” Rodney asked, with a grin. “You seemed scary enough to me.”


“Oh I can be much more scary than that, believe me,” John said, and there was something about his tone that sent a shiver up Rodney’s spine. “Here – I’ve brought you some paper so you can draw that map.” John got up and handed the paper to Rodney.


“Ah – slight problem.” Rodney surveyed his damaged right hand.


“Use your left – and tell me everything I need to know as you go along. Any landmarks, how the plantation is laid out, where Radek sleeps, how many overseers there are, what weapons they carry, what the daily routine is – everything. We’ll get Katie as well if we can – but we might need to make a separate trip for her if Radek is in as bad a way as you say.”


Rodney spent the next hour or so going through everything John wanted to know in some detail and then Carson returned and he and John helped Rodney out of the bed, and guided his unsteady legs out of the bedroom and down the hallway towards another room.


“Wait ’til you see this, Rodney,” John grinned as they entered the room at the end of the hallway. Rodney had been expecting a tin tub in the centre of a bare room, but instead he found a massive recessed pool of water, with dozens of tiny, lit candles around the perimeter.


“Is this a bath?” Rodney gaped. “It’s more like a small swimming pool!”


“Well, Carson is a very wealthy man,” John replied with a grin. “And I’m guessing his former owner really liked bathing!”


The pool was full of warm water that smelled partly scented and partly medicinal, and now Rodney knew why it had taken Carson so long to prepare it – he had no idea how many kettles of water must have been boiled to provide the hot water but he was guessing it was a significant amount. He knew from his weeks in the kitchens just how long it took to get those big pans boiling over an open fire.


“Who does all the work?” he asked Carson, as they helped him to the side of the bath.


“We all do,” Carson replied. “Those of us who aren’t searching for our people or tending to the sick anyway. We have a kitchen rota and as for the bath – we don’t fill it very often because it takes so long, but whenever we bring someone back they get the scented bath. It’s kind of a welcome home gift.” He gave a little smile, and Rodney guessed that had been his idea. It sounded very like the kind of thoughtful thing that would only have occurred to Carson Beckett. “When it isn’t a special occasion we usually just wash out by the well,” Carson added, and Rodney felt himself stiffen.


“Okay?” John asked anxiously, as Rodney’s step faltered.


“Fine,” Rodney said stiffly, allowing them to seat him on the edge of the bath. “Thank them for me – the guys who boiled all this water. I know what a total pain in the ass that must have been.”


He watched as John stripped off his black rinulan clothes and laid them on a bench at the side of the room and then swiped his hand through his braided hair to release the long, dark locks. Finally, John stepped into the bath and held up his hands to help Rodney in beside him. Carson helped Rodney out of the thin robe he was wearing and removed all his bandages save for those on his broken fingers, and then guided him into John’s waiting arms. The water was warm and soothing and it didn’t sting as much as Rodney had been expecting when it made contact with his wounded body so Rodney guessed that there was something numbing in the medicinal oil that Carson had put in the bath. He gave a sigh of pleasure as he relaxed into John’s arms and John gently held him in the warm water, the back of Rodney’s head resting on John’s shoulder, John’s strong arms wrapped around Rodney’s chest. Carson removed his own clothes, slid into the water beside them, and then reached for a pot of oil and poured some into his hands.


“Only the best stuff for you – Carson won’t let me use this stuff because it costs so much,” John told him, squeezing him lightly.


“The money isn’t endless,” Carson sniffed. “Especially considering how many people we’ve brought back here and how many mouths there are to feed.”


“See, Carson would actually make a really good Karkaran nobleman,” John joked. “He’s got these ledgers where he keeps the household accounts and he’s always boiling up these weird potions with ingredients he’s brought back from the market.”


Carson refused to rise to the bait. He warmed the oil in his hands and then gently placed them on Rodney’s chest and began soothing it into his skin. Rodney sighed and relaxed. This felt so good. His body had known only deprivation and abuse for so long that he’d forgotten what it was like to actually feel warm and fed and loved like this. He closed his eyes and surrendered himself to Carson’s loving touch, while John held him, frequently pressing little kisses onto the side of his face. There was nothing sexual about the experience, even though all three of them were naked together. Rodney hoped that one day he’d want to make love to them again but right now it was good just to feel their naked flesh warm against his own, and their loving hands cleaning his body. Carson reached for a washcloth and began rubbing Rodney’s body carefully, and months of ingrained grime fell away, revealing his pink skin underneath, although that also had the effect of throwing his many cuts and bruises into stark relief. Rodney gazed down at his shrunken stomach and prominent ribs with regret, barely recognizing himself.


“Hey,” John said, turning his face and catching his lips lightly with his own, breaking into his despondent mood. “Why don’t I wash your hair?” John suggested when he’d finished kissing him. He handed Rodney over to Carson, who held him while John took handfuls of the warm water and gently trickled it over Rodney’s head. Then he poured some of the oil directly from the bottle onto Rodney’s wet hair, and slowly, gently, massaged it in. His long fingers caressed Rodney’s head, massaging his scalp smoothly, and Rodney zoned out, lost in a haze of pleasure. John’s thoughtful face loomed over him, intent as he went about his work, and Carson’s loving hands held him up in the water and he felt completely safe and secure under their tender ministrations. John washed the oil from Rodney’s hair until it was clean, and then took Rodney back from Carson, pulling him close for another light kiss.


Rodney clung to his shoulders, tracing his fingers over John’s wiry, solid body. John had always been lean, but now there was an even more sharply defined six-pack and his muscles had become harder, toughened by the hard life he’d been living. His skin was darker as well, tanned by the hot Karkaran sun that had only burned Rodney’s paler flesh, causing it to peel back to its usual pallor again. The dark hair on John’s chest was plentiful and Rodney nuzzled against the familiar contours of his body, enjoying the sheer physical sensation of being close to him again. He dipped his head and claimed John’s lips with his own, softly, without passion, simply making contact with the lover he had missed so much. He traced his good fingers over John’s face, the way he’d traced them over Carson’s face the previous evening, finding the familiar patterns of cheekbones and skin, needing to connect with that sense of the beloved again. His fingers paused over John’s scarred eye.


“Damn, and you were always the pretty one,” Rodney grinned. “Now Carson will have to take over that title.”


“You’re kind of cute yourself,” John told him, kissing him again.


“Yeah, but you were always the really cute one,” Rodney said. “I kind of like it though – makes you look wild and sort of depraved.”


“That’s me. Definitely depraved,” John winked. Rodney kissed the scarred flesh, trying to come to terms with the change in his lover.


“Can you see out of it?” he asked.


“Yeah – there’s nothing wrong with the eye itself, it’s the eyelid and skin down the side.”


“If we were back on Atlantis I could make him as good as new in no time,” Carson sighed behind them. “It only requires a wee bit of cosmetic work.”


“It could have been worse,” Rodney said, glad that this was the only scar on his lover, thankful that he didn’t have to see the same marks on John’s body as were livid in his own flesh. He ran his fingers through John’s loose, dark hair, trying to come to terms with that as well.


“You must miss that half an hour you used to spend in front of the mirror every morning rubbing gel in your hair to get it to stick up,” he teased, allowing the long, dark, wet hair to float through his fingers. John’s face looked different without the familiar, mussed-up peak of hair on top of his head. The smooth, long hair framed his face, giving him a slightly exotic appearance that Rodney liked. John just grinned at the teasing, and caught Rodney’s lips in another kiss, a deeper one this time that took his breath away and made him remember just how good it had been, all those months ago on Atlantis, back in a different lifetime.


He could feel Carson behind them, gently caressing Rodney’s arms and the back of his neck with his fingers and lips, and Rodney reached out an arm to pull Carson into the embrace. This felt so right, a lover under each arm, the way it always used to be. Only they’d never bathed together like this on Atlantis. They’d fallen into bed, frequently, for plenty of mind-blowing sex, but they’d never done anything like this. Rodney had the feeling that back on Atlantis they would have shied away from anything as simple and heartfelt as this. They would have been embarrassed by their own emotions, and he knew that he would have made some smart remark to deflect his own discomfort, but here, after all that had happened to them, they clung together, simply lost in their joy at being reunited.


Rodney traced the fingers of his good hand over Carson’s sturdy, fleshier body. The other man had lost weight, as they all had, and the frequent riding and tougher lifestyle had made his body harder. His chest was as broad ever though, and his shoulders just as solid and reliable, and it felt so good to run his fingers through the hair on Carson’s chest and let his lips nuzzle the side of Carson’s neck, while John’s fingers idly caressed his own neck. He could feel the wet bandage on John’s hand as the other man stroked him, and they floated there for a long time, in a tangle of limbs, entwined in each other, warm and content, until the water started to cool and then Carson finally, regretfully, disengaged.


“I don’t want you getting cold, Rodney,” he said, helping Rodney out of the bath and reaching for a big towel at the side. He wrapped Rodney in it and gently patted him down, stealing kisses here and there as he went.


“I hope you don’t do this for all your patients,” Rodney murmured, thoroughly enjoying all the attention.


“Only the ones I love – and so very nearly lost,” Carson said softly, and Rodney’s breath caught in his throat at that, and then John’s hand was there, on his shoulder, and another towel was rubbing his hair dry. He felt suddenly exhausted once more and then he was falling. He barely remembered John swinging him up into his arms and carrying him back to his room and putting him to bed. He only woke once in the night and this time he only cried for a little while, and very early in the morning, when it was still dark outside, John kissed him goodbye and he clung to him for a moment, scared to let him go in case he didn’t come back, frightened about what might happen to him at the plantation, knowing all too well what kind of a place it was. But Radek was still out there and he needed John more than Rodney did right now, so finally Rodney let him go, and Carson pulled him back into the warm bed and covered them both with the blanket and wrapped his arms around his waist, and Rodney fell asleep once more.






The following day Carson allowed him a visitor and Rodney insisted on being allowed to sit up in the chair by the fire in order to receive her. He felt strangely nervous and hoped he didn’t look too much like a freak show but the minute the door opened and Elizabeth stepped inside he knew he needn’t have worried. Elizabeth had changed too; her wavy hair had been cut into a severe crop, and, like all of them, she had lost weight. Already very slim, she was now as frail as Rodney, and he didn’t like the lines of pain he saw etched on her face, or the wisps of silver in her hair. He got up, clutching his blanket around his shoulders, and walked towards her, slowly, carefully, anxious not to embarrass himself by keeling over – he still wasn’t very steady on his feet. She wasn’t either – he saw that she was walking with a stick and limping heavily on her right leg. He heard the sad sigh escape from his lips and felt a glimmer of the anger that he knew was consuming John right now. This was Elizabeth, damnit! She was someone he respected, someone he was fond of, and someone he utterly believed in as a leader. What had they done to her? She stepped forward carefully, leaning on her stick, and they both faltered into the centre of the room and met each other halfway.


“Rodney.” She stood there, gazing at him, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears.


“Elizabeth.” He stood there too, smiling inanely. There didn’t seem to be any need for words. He made no move – something about her reminded him of a startled gazelle and she seemed very fragile to him in a way that he’d never felt about her before. They gazed at each other for a long time, taking in every new, pain-etched line, desperately searching for every familiar feature, their eyes devouring each other. Her gaze settled briefly on the raw, sore skin on his neck where his collar had been, and travelled down to his bandaged hand before rising once more to his eyes, and drinking up everything that was in them. He didn’t turn away, or deflect her scrutiny with a wisecrack, but just stood there, and allowed her to look – allowed her to see. Then he, in turn, looked her up and down, taking in her twisted leg and the sadness in her eyes, and he wanted very much to take her in his arms and hug her, but something stopped him; something about the way she carried herself, which made him very wary about making any sudden movements or crowding her out. His arm rose a little towards her but he was careful to keep his distance. She stood there for a long time, just gazing, and then, finally, she hobbled a little closer to him, closing the gap between them, and she very carefully, very slowly, put her arms around his neck, and hugged him close. He slid his arms around her frail body and breathed in the scent of her hair, and was just very, very glad that she was still alive. She and he went back a long way and he was extremely fond of her. She finally released him and he stepped back and gestured with his hand to the seats in front of the unlit fire. She limped towards them and sat down with a sigh.


“I’m so glad you’re alive,” she told him. “When John rode in with you a couple of days ago we could hardly believe he’d finally found you. He’s been like a man possessed. He’s obsessed with getting us all back, but you were his special hope and I know that each time he came home without you he was devastated. Thank god he finally found you.”


“I’m glad you’re alive too,” Rodney told her, never taking his eyes off her pinched, pointed face. “Does your leg give you much pain?”


“It’ll be fine although I think I’ll always need this.” She gestured towards the cane. “But I’m really very lucky. Rodney – shall we not talk of what was done to us?” she asked, and he noticed the beseeching look in her eyes. She had read in him some of what she had suffered herself, and he knew that she, like him, was tired of all the pain, and longed for their relationship to be the same as it had been before.


“That sounds fine to me,” he told her easily. “John has gone to get Radek. I’ve been with him for the past few months.”


“Yes. Carson told me.” She smiled, and nodded. “Thank god for Carson. Without him…” She shook her head and gazed at the blackened logs lying in the fire grate.


“Yes. He’s a hero in his own quiet way,” Rodney nodded. “Elizabeth…last night I overheard Carson and John talking. They spoke about some kind of task they want me to do. Do you know anything about it? I’d ask them myself but I know they won’t tell me and Carson will only scold me for eavesdropping.”


She raised a thin hand and gathered her shirt more closely around her throat. “Yes, Rodney, I do know about it,” she said quietly. “But you weren’t meant to overhear that and Carson would be very angry with me if I said anything to you yet.”


“But there is something to hope for?” Rodney asked, feeling tired even from this brief conversation.


“There’s always something to hope for,” Elizabeth replied.


They sat and talked for a little while longer, about everything and nothing, and neither of them said where they’d been since they last saw each other, or what had happened to them, but both of them knew all the same.


A couple of days after that, Carson allowed him to get dressed and helped him to walk around the house. The place was huge and Rodney was suitably impressed by the big rooms, which were mainly stuffed full of mattresses to accommodate all their people. Now Rodney felt grateful that he got to share a room with Carson and John and didn’t have to bed down with so many others; privacy had been something he’d missed during his months as a slave. The house also had a laundry room, a library, several large, airy living rooms that looked out onto the courtyard and a massive stable block.


“I always wanted to marry a man of substance,” Rodney said approvingly, after having received the full guided tour.


“Aye, well you’ve yet to get the ring on my finger,” Carson replied with a grin.


“Are you playing hard to get?” Rodney asked suspiciously.


“It’s a bit late for that I think,” Carson laughed, and he pressed a kiss to Rodney’s cheek. They ended up in the large, flag-stoned kitchen, where a dozen or so people were sitting around a big wooden table, chatting as they prepared food. Rodney recognized some familiar faces and they all waved and greeted him by name. It felt almost like being home. Almost. “I can help with the food,” Rodney said. “I’ve had a lot of practice peeling vegetables if that’s any use.”


“When your hand is better,” Carson told him. “Maybe when you’re stronger you can help feed the horses, or draw water from the well.”


“Not the well. I’d prefer the horses,” Rodney murmured, and Carson looked at him sharply but Rodney avoided his gaze.






As each day passed they both worried more and more about John. Rodney was now well enough to walk around the house unaided. His back drove him insane with itching and Carson had taken to making him wear gloves in bed so he wouldn’t scratch the healing scabs. He was so irritable about it that Carson boiled him up some special lotion which smelled disgusting but did take the edge off the itching at least. His fingers were healing well; they ached every now and then, but at least they were on the mend, thanks to Carson’s careful daily examinations.


Finally, on the afternoon of the fifth day, there was a clattering of hoof beats and several horses galloped into the courtyard. Rodney was immediately swept up in the throng of Atlanteans running out to help with the horses and to see who, if anyone, had been brought back to safety. Rodney pushed his way through the crowd anxiously to John’s horse, and grabbed the bridle with his good hand. There was a bundle of rags slung on the saddle in front of John, and for one heart-stopping moment Rodney thought that Radek was dead, and John had merely brought back the corpse, but then John was yelling for Carson and handing the bundle of rags carefully down to eager, waiting hands. Rodney took a step back as John dismounted and then John lifted Radek as if he barely weighed a thing, which was probably close to the truth, and made for the stone stairs into the house at a run, Carson close behind. Rodney followed them, his heart in his mouth. What he could see of Radek didn’t look good; the other man was in an even worse condition than when he’d left and barely looked as if he was breathing. John placed Radek on the bed, and then walked back towards the door.


“Are you okay?” Rodney stopped him, trying to peer under the black gauze to see the expression in John’s eyes. John’s black clothes were dusty and streaked with what looked suspiciously like blood. Lots of blood.


“I’m fine. We got Katie too but she’s not in bad shape. Well, physically at least. She was able to ride,” John said curtly.




“Hanging on by a thread.” John didn’t say anything more, just left the room, slamming the door shut behind him as he seemed to do a lot these days.


“Can I help?” Rodney asked Carson, edging over to the bed and gazing at the grey face peering out from the bundle of rags. Radek moaned and muttered something and his eyes opened and closed again, then opened once more and gazed blankly up at Rodney.


“Radek – it’s me, Rodney,” he said, sitting down on the side of the bed and taking Radek’s hand in his. “He can’t see very well without his glasses,” Rodney explained to Carson. Radek squeezed his hand and gave him what could have been a smile or a grimace.


“Help me get him undressed,” Carson said and between them they quickly stripped Radek out of the rags, revealing his painfully thin body, the ribs protruding. Radek’s breathing was coming in wheezy gasps and Carson glanced around. “Damn it where’s John?” he asked. “I need to know how much of that medication he gave Radek and when.”


“I’ll go and find out,” Rodney said. He found John in the courtyard by the well. He’d stripped off his shirt and turban and was standing there bare-chested, ladling cool water over his head. Rodney gazed at him, horrified, taking in the streaks of dried blood that were liberally streaked all over his lover’s naked chest. “What happened?” he asked, hoping that none of the blood was John’s. It didn’t appear to be.


“We got into a bit of a fight.” John gave a grim smile. “I was hoping to steal Radek away in the night but we made too much noise and one of the overseers came to investigate. So I had to kill him.” He didn’t look too upset by that.


“Was he a big guy – long red braid?” Rodney asked hopefully.


“No.” John squinted at him meaningfully through a haze of water. “But I got that one later on, out by the well. Why? Was he the one?” His body was taut as he stared at Rodney and they both knew what he was referring to.


“He was the worst one,” Rodney replied quietly.


“Then I’m glad it was me who killed him,” John said in a low, fierce voice. “After we killed the first overseer, Ronon grabbed Radek and got him onto one of the horses, but some of the other overseers came looking for the first guy and we had a fight on our hands. That big guy – he was a coward. He took one look at us and turned tail and ran. I didn’t want him going to wake up the guards at the house so I chased him down outside and put my sword through that big gut of his.”


Rodney thought that maybe he should feel something but to be honest he just felt numb.


“What about the chief overseer? The one who broke my fingers and whipped me?” he asked, morbidly fascinated despite himself. “Tall, thin guy, bald, scar on his chin like someone broke a bottle and gashed him with it?”


“We got him too.” John gave a very satisfied smile. “Lorne took him out. He wasn’t so brave when he was dealing with armed soldiers and not half-starved slaves.”


“Did any of our people get hurt?” Rodney asked.


“Just cuts and bruises. I sent Teyla up to the house to find Katie – I thought that would be the hard part but Teyla was lucky. Ran across her and managed to get her out without anyone noticing. We might have some trouble though. That place belonged to someone pretty high caste, and if they trace the raid to us then we’ll have a battle on our hands.”


“Do you think they knew who you were?”


“No.” John shook his head. “But they might make enquiries and we haven’t exactly been living very peacefully, what with one thing and another, so it won’t take them long to put two and two together if they really try.”


He reached for a towel and rubbed his long, wet hair and Rodney’s heart sank. That didn’t sound good.


“Oh – Carson wants to know what medicine you gave Radek,” Rodney said, clicking his fingers, suddenly remembering.


“I’ve already sent Teyla up to see him. She was in charge of that. She can tell him,” John said shortly.


“Where the hell are you going?” Rodney asked, as John stalked off, out of the courtyard, in the direction of the street.


“I just need a couple of hours by myself,” John told him curtly. “I’ll be back.”


Rodney watched him go, feeling a rising tide of panic in his stomach. He was glad they’d got Radek back, but something bad was happening to John and he didn’t have the first idea how to handle it. He was suddenly aware of Elizabeth’s gaze on him, from across the courtyard, and he lifted his head to look at her. They shared a knowing glance and he sighed. She knew they had a problem brewing here too, but she didn’t know what to do about it either. Besides, right now maybe it didn’t suit them to deal with it; the brutal truth was that at this moment in time John was more use to them in his current persona of rabid rottweiler. Nobody liked seeing him like this, but everyone was acutely aware that he was doing a damn fine job of rescuing people and keeping them all safe.


Rodney gave another sigh and then turned back to the house to find out how Radek was doing.






Radek was weak but he had fewer injuries than Rodney had had when he’d been brought in. His main problem was malnutrition and his asthma and once Carson had treated the latter and he got some food down him he soon began to improve. Within two days he was sitting up in bed, and within 3 he was playing the prime number game with Rodney, just for something to keep their minds occupied – and, if he was honest, Rodney was grateful to have something to distract them from actual conversation. He was very glad that Radek was alive and would soon be better, but the memory of their shared misery out by the well back at the plantation was always at the forefront of his mind whenever he looked at the scientist. Neither of them spoke about the plantation, and Rodney wondered if they ever would – and whether it would always hang there, forever between them, if they didn’t. Radek had another frequent visitor; Katie Brown had been very concerned about Radek during their journey back and their shared experience of life on the plantation, however different their respective suffering had been, had given them some kind of bond, so she spent a lot of time at Radek’s bedside.


The following day, Rodney was called to a meeting of the senior staff – the first he’d attended since arriving. It was almost like the old days, back in the control room on Atlantis, if you could discount the fact that Elizabeth’s skin was as pale and thin as paper, John looked like some kind of exotic alien with braided hair and a deep scar over one eye, and Rodney himself was three sizes smaller than he had been. Only Carson seemed unchanged in their midst but Rodney wondered if even that was an illusion. Yes, Carson hadn’t suffered physically the way he or Elizabeth had suffered, but there was something about the invisible weight that Carson seemed to be carrying around on his shoulders that made Rodney as uneasy about the doctor as he was about his other lover.


“Rodney, I know Carson would like to give you a few more days before asking you this, but there’s something we need you to do and I don’t think we can wait any longer,” Elizabeth told him earnestly.


“If I can help then I will, of course,” Rodney said quickly. “But I have no idea what use I can be. I’m a physicist, and of course, also a mechanical engineering genius, but there’s no technology of any kind on this planet, so I don’t see what…”


“That’s not exactly true,” John interrupted, and Rodney turned to gaze at him in surprise.


“All we need is a distress signal, Rodney,” Elizabeth said softly. “The Daedalus was making its way back from Earth to Atlantis when we were captured so she has to be out there somewhere. I have no doubt that Colonel Caldwell has been looking for us ever since we were taken but with no clue as to where we were sent…it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”


“I can’t make a distress signal without some kind of radio transmission,” Rodney said. “Certainly not one that’s strong enough to reach a ship that could be several hundred light years away. Even if I could construct a rudimentary radio signal from the naturally occurring materials on the planet, it could take several years to reach the Daedalus.”


“We need something faster than that,” John told him. “Things are looking ugly out there. The Karkarans didn’t like Carson’s owner handing him this house and all this money in the first place and we haven’t exactly kept our heads down and avoided trouble since then. There’s a buzz about us – and if those people from the plantation start making enquiries then it won’t be long before they come knocking on our door.”


“I still don’t see how you expect me to construct a distress signal out of nothing,” Rodney said.


“Technology is against the law, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Carson told him, leaning forward in his seat. “There’s a gate on this world, Rodney, and the bandits go to and fro, bringing in new slaves and other saleable commodities. Some other stuff has to get through – however zealous the authorities are in tracking it down.”


“Have you found something?” Rodney asked eagerly.


“Yes. Lots of things.” John got up, retrieved a wooden box from the corner of the room, and dumped it in front of Rodney. Rodney glanced inside eagerly – and then his heart sank. In the box were dozens of small items of machinery, ranging from a couple of old watches to what looked like half a naqada generator; there was even a piece of an Ancient energy cell but none of them were whole, or working, and there wasn’t a single item that looked like it could generate a distress signal.


“We’ve had a team of people out looking for this kind of stuff and we’ve thrown anything we could find in here,” Elizabeth told him. “Do you think you can do anything with it?”


Rodney glanced up, his gaze travelling from face to face, taking in the expectant, hopeful looks. He didn’t want to be the one to take that hope away but realistically speaking he didn’t see how he could construct anything useful from what they’d given him.


“I may be a genius but this is just a box of random objects,” he told them in clipped tones, angry that they were placing the burden of all this hope on him when it was so very unlikely he’d be able to do anything with what he’d been given.


“Yeah, but like you said, you’re a genius,” John told him. “If ever we needed you to live up to that moniker it’s now, Rodney.”


Rodney took another look at the box and gave a deep sigh.


“Fine. I’ll see what I can do,” he muttered. Everyone smiled and sat back in their seats in relief, as if he’d already constructed a signal and the Daedalus was, even as he spoke, hovering overhead on a rescue mission. Only Rodney knew just how unlikely it was that this plan would work. He took the box all the same, and stomped off to find a quiet corner to examine it in more detail.


The box was full of a delightful assortment of oddments but there was nothing that Rodney could see that would create a powerful enough distress signal to alert the Daedalus. He stared at the box glumly for two days, fiddling endlessly with the various bits and pieces within, but drew a blank. On the night of the second day, Carson came looking for him.


“Are you coming to bed, Rodney?” he asked. “I’m worried about you. You’ve been looking into that box for 36 hours solid and you’re still not completely better. I don’t want you having a relapse.”


“I’m fine,” Rodney muttered. “Well, you know, apart from being asked to work miracles.”


“It’s a bit like turning water into wine then I take it?” Carson sighed, placing two firm hands on Rodney’s neck and rubbing away some of the tension.


“Worse,” Rodney sighed. “Most of these things aren’t even from the same planet so there’s no consistent energy source even if I could get something working, which I can’t. They’re all stone dead.”


“You need some rest,” Carson said, depositing a kiss on his head. “Maybe inspiration will strike in the morning. I don’t want you sitting up for another night puzzling about this, Rodney.”


“John said we might not have much time…” Rodney began.


“Aye, well, John’s so used to pushing himself too fast, too far, that sometimes he forgets and does it to those around him too. We don’t want you having a relapse, Rodney; you’re our only hope.”


“Ah, you make a fine Princess Leia,” Rodney said, patting Carson’s hand affectionately. “I’ve never exactly seen myself as Obi Wan Kenobi – I lack a certain zen-like Jedi quality – but I’m very flattered to be considered anyone’s ‘only hope’. If only I could live up to the expectation.”


“Will you come to bed?” Carson urged.


“In a minute. I’m not done thinking,” Rodney replied, still gazing at the contents of the box. Carson sighed.


“I knew this would happen the minute we showed you this stuff,” he groused. “Don’t stay up too late.”


“I won’t,” Rodney lied, waving a casual hand in Carson’s direction as the other man left the room.


He removed all the contents of the box and gazed at them again, then started tinkering with them once more. It wasn’t easy with only one good hand but he managed to get a faint glow out of the Ancient energy cell. Not that it was much use but at least there was a glimmer of life left in it. If only he could somehow rig up the naqada generator to some kind of elementary radio signal, and use the energy cell to power it…Rodney stood up excitedly. “That could work,” he said to himself, throwing all the items back in the box and grabbing it. He ran up the stairs to their bedroom, raced over to the bed, and grabbed Carson roughly by the shoulder.


“Damn it, Rodney, what time is it?” the doctor growled.


“Time? I don’t know. Who cares? Morning – I heard a cock crow a little while ago. Anyway, I need Zelenka. Can I have him?”


“What?” Carson blinked blearily.


“He’s got two good hands and he’s the only one who’ll understand what I want to do with this stuff.”


“He’s been very ill, Rodney,” Carson said uncertainly.


“Yes, yes, I know but he can stay in bed. I’m not asking him to go out and do a full day’s work in the fields for god’s sake! I just want him to follow my instructions so I can see if I can rig something up here.”


“All right – in the morning,” Carson told him firmly. Rodney pouted. “Why don’t you come to bed in the meantime?” Carson asked, trying to pull him down onto the warm sheets but Rodney wasn’t having any of it.


“I’ll see what I can do until he wakes up,” he said, grabbing his box and running back downstairs again. Damn, but it felt good to be using his brain again after so many months of enforced manual labour!


Rodney bounced into Radek’s room three hours later, full of energy. The other scientist was eager to help, despite Carson’s misgivings, and Rodney outlined what he had in mind.


“I need your hands, Radek,” Rodney told him.


“I can’t see very well,” Radek pointed out.


“Well I can see and you have two good hands so between us we’ll figure something out,” Rodney beamed. “Do you understand what I want to do?”


“Yes…but is this all there is to work with?” Radek gazed at the contents of the box with a miserable expression on his face.


“I know – that’s what I thought – but if we can just use what’s left of the energy in that power cell…”


“I suppose it might work,” Radek said uncertainly. “If anyone can make it work it’s you, Rodney.”


“Well, that’s very true,” Rodney hummed happily to himself.


They worked for the best part of the morning, until Carson threw him out telling him that Radek had to rest and that it would be a good idea if Rodney rested as well, although he didn’t actually expect him to. They resumed later in the afternoon. In the evening, Rodney demanded that everyone went out and tried to find something that he could use for an antenna and by nightfall Dr Simpson had returned with a makeshift piece of very fine copper that she’d stolen from the local blacksmith that would do. By midday the next day, Rodney had something that he thought might be halfway workable and he called the others into the meeting room to show them.


“It’s not very sophisticated,” he told them, noting their faces as they looked at the distinctly unpromising device, held together in places by strips of rinula, and generally speaking looking extremely rickety. “But I think it might work. I can’t programme in the Atlantis command codes, so Colonel Caldwell won’t actually know it’s us, even if he is out there looking for us still after all this time, but I did do something extremely clever with the signal, so it only resonates on an Earth type frequency. That should clue him in. If this does work and if he is out there then he should pick it up immediately – and with the Daedalus’s hyperdrive that would mean that he could, theoretically, be in orbit within a few days.” Rodney didn’t actually have any expectation that would be the case, but it was certainly the best case scenario.


“That sounds promising,” Elizabeth said, leaning forward in her chair.


“Of course he wouldn’t be able to contact us to let us know he’s here as we have no communications facility but he should be able to zero in on the signal,” Rodney shrugged.


“Well, we don’t have any other options so…let’s go ahead.” Elizabeth waved her hand.


“Okay then.” Rodney tightened a couple of connections and the energy cell flared feebly into life. Rodney sat back expectantly.


“Is that it?” John made a face.


“Were you expecting it to get up and dance around the room, Colonel?” Rodney snapped. “It works doesn’t it?”


“How do we know?” John asked.


“Well, that’s just it – we don’t exactly,” Rodney shrugged. “I mean, I think it’s transmitting but I don’t have a receiver so it could just be lit up a pretty colour and doing absolutely nothing.”


“Great.” John rubbed his hands over his forehead wearily.


“Hey – this is as good as it gets!” Rodney protested. “You didn’t exactly give me a lot to play with here.”


“Okay, okay.” Elizabeth raised her hands. “Rodney – thank you,” she said with a nod in his direction. “What do we do now?”


“Just wait.” Rodney crossed his arms over his chest and glared at John. “And hope,” he added.






As it turned out, their situation was just as desperate as John had feared. A few days later a posse of black-clad warriors turned up on their doorstep. John went out to speak to them, but returned grim-faced.


“They’re not happy,” he said, wrinkling his forehead in one of those ironic frowns of his that led Rodney to believe that ‘not happy’ was something of an understatement. “They think we stole a couple of slaves from them a week ago and killed a few of their overseers. They requested that we let them in so they could check out our house to see if we have Katie.”


“What did you tell them?” Elizabeth asked.


“I told them where they could shove their request and now they’re going to fetch some friends and then they’re coming back to check the house anyway, with or without our permission.”


Rodney clenched his fists. He’d been safe for only a couple of weeks, and now he feared that would be taken away from him and he’d be sent back into slavery. He wasn’t honestly sure he could bear that again, not after being so recently reunited with the two people he loved most in the world. And he knew that he would rather die than go back to that plantation. Why couldn’t they have had longer to bask in the peace and safety of this home Carson had made for them here? Why did it all have to end so soon? Hadn’t they all suffered enough?


“What should we do?” Elizabeth asked. “We could leave.”


“No. We have nowhere to run to and we’ll be worse off out in the open. We’ll be better off trying to defend the house. I’ve been through it with Teyla, Ronon and Lorne – we thought this might happen and we have a plan.”


Rodney glanced at Carson, remembering what he’d told him about how John felt about failing to defend Atlantis. It was clear that John wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.


They spent the next few hours preparing for the imminent attack. John assigned Rodney and Radek to the room with the feebly pulsing distress beacon while the marines took the prime defensive positions in the main part of the house.


“Why can’t I be out there with you and Carson?” Rodney protested. “I’ve been useful in battles before.”


“I know. When you were fit,” John replied.


“I’m fine – and I’m a much better fighter than Carson. Why are you allowing him out there?”


John rolled his eyes. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he’s a doctor and if this gets ugly, which it almost certainly will, then we might end up having wounded?” he suggested.


“Ah. Yes. Okay,” Rodney acknowledged. “But what do we do if they get in here?” Rodney asked John anxiously, sitting down at the table next to the distress beacon, along with a small group of other Atlanteans, mainly scientists. “Shouldn’t you…you know…give us swords or something?”


John looked at him steadily for a moment. “Would you know how to use them?” he asked finally.


“Well, no…” Rodney admitted.


“Well then. We’ll save the knives for people who will actually use them to fight with,” John said.


“But if they get in here we’ll…” Rodney began.


“Rodney – if they get in here then it’s all over,” John told him fiercely. “We’ll have lost. The only way they’re getting round me, and Ronon, and Teyla, and Lorne, and Miller is if we’re dead, and if we’re dead then you are too.”


Rodney stared at him, shocked. John’s eyes were fierce, the left one burning beneath the scarred flesh and Rodney actually felt a little bit afraid of him.


“Here.” John threw a knife onto the table and it gave a little zing as it came to rest, half-embedded in the wood. “If they get in here, use it – any way you can.” Rodney glanced from the knife back to John, understanding what he meant. He sat down at the table next to Radek, his heart thumping in his chest.


“Can we win?” he asked softly as John made to leave the room. John paused.


“We won’t be slaves again, Rodney,” he said firmly. “If we don’t win, then we’ll die fighting them. The only way any Karkaran gets his hands on any of my people again is if I’m dead.”


And then he was gone. Rodney gazed silently at Radek, who was mumbling something softly under his breath in Czech. Katie Brown was sitting next to him, her face strained and her large eyes dark with distress; Radek took her hand and squeezed it sympathetically. Dr Biro and Dr Simpson were seated across the table, exchanging tense glances. Outside, Rodney heard hooves pounding in the street and there was a lot of shouting going on. He wished that he was with John and Carson. After a little while the shouting gave way to the sound of sword on sword and the noise of battle grew closer and closer, until he could hear clanging just down the hallway. Rodney couldn’t bear it any longer and got to his feet. There was no way he was going to just sit here while John and Carson were out there, fighting to save their lives. He grabbed the knife from the table and ran towards the door, his arm outstretched…when suddenly he wasn’t in that stone room any more, he was running full pelt into a naked Asgard, and the walls around him were humming.


“What the hell…?” He came to a skidding halt, glanced around, and came face to face with Colonel Caldwell. “Oh thank god!” he cried, feeling the deck of the Daedalus beneath his feet. The knife dropped from his fingers and clattered onto the floor. “Oh my god! This is it. This is the best case scenario – and that *never* usually happens!”


“Dr McKay?” Rodney saw the shock at his gaunt appearance reflected back in Caldwell’s eyes. “We got your signal – no way of making out individual life signs so we thought we’d just beam up everyone closest to it.” Rodney glanced around and saw Radek, Katie and the others who had been in the room with him, all looking wide-eyed and disoriented by the sudden change in their circumstances.


“Everyone within a 3000 square metre radius,” Rodney screamed. “Do it! Now!”






A ragged cheer broke out from the Atlanteans as they realized they were safe and the fighting stopped immediately everyone was beamed into the Daedalus’s flight hangar. The Karkarans who had been caught up in the sweep looked around, bemused and seriously scared by their sudden transportation onto the spaceship. There was chaos for awhile but Colonel Caldwell swiftly got a grip on the situation and returned the Karkarans back to where they’d come from, while Carson and the doctor aboard the Daedalus set about tending to those Atlanteans who had been injured during the skirmish. Rodney was relieved to find that John had escaped unscathed save for a minor cut to his arm. Caldwell set about assigning quarters to the rescued Atlanteans, who were so numerous they had to bed down several to a room, before ensconcing himself in a private meeting room with Elizabeth for an extremely long chat.


It turned out that Caldwell had been looking for them for several months after returning from Earth to find Atlantis in the hands of the Karkarans. He had been combing the Pegasus galaxy for them ever since, to his credit, despite the increasingly less politely worded requests from Earth that maybe it was time to give up. He had been back to Atlantis a couple of times as well but each time the Karkarans had directed enough firepower in his general direction to ensure he kept his distance – but now John was adamant that he take them there.


“The Karkarans have the city, Colonel Sheppard, and they’re perfectly capable of defending it,” Caldwell growled at him. “We nearly got shot down last time we approached.”


“Well this time we’ll be more careful,” John replied. “Look, it’s been months since you were last there – they might have got lazy, or careless. It’s worth a shot.”


Caldwell had allowed himself to be persuaded in the face of John’s vehemence and they set a course for Atlantis.


Everything changed now they were on the Daedalus; they were all swept up in the bustle of so many people sharing a ship whose facilities were stretched to the limit. Rodney didn’t see either of his lovers alone during the entire journey because they were bunking down with so many other people. They were all kept busy in any case – John in briefing and preparing Caldwell’s best men for an assault to re-take Atlantis, Carson with the injured from the skirmish back on Karkara, and Rodney in helping the crew of the Daedalus. It felt strange to be dealing with technology again after so many months of hard physical labour and Rodney felt an odd sense of dislocation as he worked. People kept asking him so many questions and it was hard to get his brain into gear to answer them.


More than anything, Rodney missed the quiet time he’d spent with his lovers in the big house on Karkara. He was glad to leave the planet itself far behind but he had experienced ten months of hell followed by two weeks of relative peace and quiet and now everything had changed once more and there had been no time to adjust back to being Dr Rodney McKay after having been a nameless slave for so long. He felt like he was winging it – struggling to keep up as the pace of events outstripped him – and he wished he could at least have the comfort of falling into bed with his lovers at night. He missed their kisses and little touches of affection; he missed the quiet conversations he’d had with Carson, and most of all he missed having John hold him while they slept.


Now he shared a small room with 9 people, taking it in turns to use the bathroom at night, and while the accommodation was certainly a hell of a lot better than it had been on the plantation, it unsettled Rodney. He got tired easily, his body ached, he was plagued by minor nagging headaches and his back was still tender; nobody was making any concessions to his physical condition but Carson was rushed off his feet and everyone was stressed out so there didn’t seem to be any point mentioning it. It was bad enough that Carson deemed it necessary to do a full blood work and physical exam on everyone who’d been on Karkara, looking for god knew what kind of alien virus, and, which he’d muttered quickly under his breath without looking at Rodney while he’d drawn a syringe full of his blood, ‘sexually transmitted diseases’. Rodney was just relieved to be told that the tests had all come back negative – it was one less thing to worry about.


A few days after leaving Karkara, the Atlantean homeworld loomed into view. Caldwell took a cautious route in towards the city, expecting the Daedalus to take fire as it had the last time, but this time their approach was surprisingly easy and nobody challenged them.


“Is the shield up over the city?” John asked, gazing over Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney shot him a look; John was still dressed in the garb of a Karkaran warrior – most of them were still in their Karkaran clothes, including Rodney, because there weren’t enough uniforms to go around, but Rodney wasn’t entirely sure that John still needed to wear the Karkaran braid and keep that sharp knife hanging from his belt.


“No,” he replied, straightening up, his back protesting a little; the scar tissue was very sensitive and often felt sore when he was hunched in one position for too long.


“Good. Then we can transport straight down there,” John said grimly, striding away. Rodney gazed after him helplessly, knowing that there was nothing he could say to dissuade his lover from going into this unevenly matched fight. John was like a man possessed; he was obsessed with finding the Karkarans who had taken Atlantis in the first place and making them pay for what they’d done to his people.


John took with him his usual team of Ronon, Teyla, and Lorne, together with several of Colonel Caldwell’s best men in the advance guard that beamed down to the lower levels of the city. His plan was to make a stealth attack, taking the Karkarans by surprise, the way they’d taken him by surprise ten months or so previously. Rodney and Carson stood on the bridge of the Daedalus, Rodney anxiously nibbling on his thumbnail while they waited to hear from the attack team, and ten minutes later John’s voice came over the radio, nearly giving Rodney a heart attack from sheer relief that his lover was still alive.


“We have the control room,” he said, and his voice sounded strange, distant and…almost cheated? “There’s nobody here,” he added. “The city is empty. You can all come home.”


End of Part Two


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