General & Dr Sheppard: 11. Three Rodneys
Ten minutes later, John returned to the lab with Ronon, Teyla and Major Lorne in tow, all of them armed to the teeth.
“Do we have any idea what’s facing us in that universe?” he asked Radek.
The scientist shook his head. “No, but once I activate the beam, you should be able to communicate with Rodney via the radio before going in. You’ll have to be quick. I can only keep the beam open for a couple of minutes before the crystals burn out.”
“A couple of minutes is long enough to find out what’s going on,” John said grimly. “Is it time yet?”
Radek glanced at his watch and then nodded, and his fingers moved fast over the QDD interface. The beam flashed into life and John held his breath, his attention fixed on the window into the other universe in the taped-off area of the room, but nobody materialized.
“There’s nobody there,” Radek said, his face pale.
“Dammit!” John reached up and touched his radio. “Rodney, are you there?” he shouted.
“John? Oh, thank God,” came back Rodney’s low, breathy whisper. “Rodney Sheppard has been shot.”
“I know. We’ve activated the beam. Get him back into the window and we can—”
“I can’t do that,” Rodney’s voice hissed.
“Because there are four Genii standing here with their guns on us both right now,”
“Who is that? Who are you talking to?” a voice said in the background.
“Myself! Look, I told you, he’s dying. He needs a doctor. Get Carson up here now!”
“Nobody is going anywhere until Commander Kolya gets back,” the voice replied. “But you were talking to someone. Is this an invasion? You’re not Dr. McKay—who are you?”
“I’ve told you who I am! Now, are you going to help him or not?”
There was a sickening crunch, a muffled scream, and then the radio went dead.
“Rodney!” John listened for another second, but there was no reply. “Right, we’re going in,” he told his team. “There are four armed Genii on the other side of this window, but we have the advantage of surprise. Radek, shut the beam down when we’re through and start it up again at thirty minute intervals after that,” he ordered. “Let’s get moving.”
John ran up to the window, his team behind him, and threw himself straight into the path of the beam. He had a brief moment of disorientation as he found himself standing in the same lab he’d just left—only without Radek and the QDD behind him. To his right, he could see Rodney Sheppard, lying on the floor in a pool of blood, with a gaping wound to his chest. His own Rodney was crouching beside him, one arm clutched over his ribs, a trickle of blood running from a gash on the side of his face. John didn’t have time to take in any more than that, though, because he saw the Genii soldiers turning, mouths gaping as he seemed to appear from nowhere. John fired on them before they knew what had hit them, and seconds later the others fell as Ronon, Teyla and Lorne joined in the fight. Only when the Genii had been dispatched did John have the chance to look around properly.
The lab was virtually identical to the one he’d just left, only it was in a much worse state of repair. It looked untidy and uncared for.
“John?” a voice said tremulously from the corner of the room, and John spun around to see a thin figure cowering away from the gunfire.
“Oh, shit,” he whispered. The man was another version of Rodney—only this Rodney was a pale, frail-looking creature. His clothes hung off him and he had a haunted look in his blue eyes that sent shivers down John’s spine.
“He’s not your John, idiot,” his own Rodney said behind him. “He’s mine.”
John turned back and strode over to where his Rodney was crouched beside Dr. Sheppard.
“How is he?” he asked.
“Bad. We need to get Carson up here,” Rodney said.
“Are you okay?” John’s eyes raked over Rodney’s cut face and the awkward way he was holding himself.
“I’m fine. From what I can figure out, we’re in a universe where the Genii seized the city during that big storm last year. Kolya is in charge here. He was on the mainland when we came through, but they’ve called him back. They shot Rodney Sheppard because he took them by surprise when he suddenly appeared in here. It won’t be long before Kolya gets back and then we’re really in trouble.”
“Radek will open up that beam again in thirty minutes,” John told him.
“Please…you can’t just leave. You have to help us,” the new Rodney said.
John took a deep breath. Having two Rodneys around was freaky, but three was positively insane. He stood up and turned to the other man.
“Does Carson Beckett exist in this universe?” he demanded. The new Rodney nodded. “Good. Then get him up here,” he ordered.
“I already radioed for him,” new Rodney said. “We’ll help your friend, but you must help us in return.” He glanced at Rodney Sheppard’s still form, a puzzled expression on his face. “I’m guessing this is some kind of inter-dimensional thing, and I’m not saying that normally I wouldn’t be jumping up and down in excitement about this, but right now all I’m thinking is that this is too good an opportunity to miss. You must help us.” He reached out a hand and grabbed John’s arm, and John noticed the livid bruises on his wrists—he could make out actual fingerprints imprinted on the scientist’s flesh.
“We will if we can,” John told him grimly, wondering what the hell was going on in this reality. “Fill me in.”
“The Genii control the city, but they don’t have the gene so they can’t work anything. We haven’t told them it’s possible to inject the gene,” new Rodney said quickly. “So they’ve had to keep us here to work things for them. They don’t understand the Ancient technology, in any case, so all the scientists are useful to them. They’ve got the military locked up.”
“Do you know where?” John asked.
“Oh, yes. I know where,” new Rodney replied, in a weary tone.
“How far? Can we mount a rescue mission in 25 minutes?” John demanded.
“It’s not far—and they won’t be expecting anything, so it’s worth a try,” new Rodney said hopefully, his blue eyes pleading with John.
John didn’t have it in him to refuse this thin-faced, bruised, clearly maltreated version of someone he was so much in love with.
At that moment, Carson ran into the lab…and skidded to a halt when he saw John.
“Major? Oh, thank God! How did you get free?” he asked.
John shook his head. “I’m not Major Sheppard. It’s a long story, Carson—but there’s a man over there who needs your help,” he said, nodding at the two Rodneys.
Carson took in the pool of blood and ran straight over to Rodney Sheppard, and then stared from one Rodney to the other…to the other.
“No time to explain!” John’s Rodney said briskly. “He’s bleeding to death here!”
Carson immediately set to work, but from the grim set of his lips, John guessed the news wasn’t good.
“Is he going to be okay?” John’s Rodney demanded as Carson worked.
“I have no idea how he’s even alive,” Carson muttered. “He shouldn’t be. These injuries….” He shook his head.
“Do something!” John’s Rodney said helplessly.
“I’ll try, son, but he’s in a bad way,” Carson told him. “I need to get him to the infirmary.”
“No,” John butted in. “He stays here. We have to go back through a window into another dimension in just under thirty minutes and our Carson will take care of him from there. Just keep him alive for that long, Doc.”
Carson gave a grim nod and John turned back to the new Rodney.
“All right. Take us to where they’re holding Major Sheppard,” he commanded, beckoning his team to accompany him. His own Rodney got to his feet. “You stay here,” John ordered.
“No,” John’s Rodney said, his jaw jutting out obstinately. “I can’t help Carson. I’ll be more use with you. You’re going to need all the help you can get if you’re going to go through with this insane plan.”
“We don’t have time to argue about this!” John growled.
“Then you’ll have to let me come with you, won’t you?” his Rodney retorted, grabbing a gun from Teyla and falling into line behind John.
John saw it was pointless to argue and gave in and they all set off behind new Rodney.
They made it down to the lower reaches of the city without being seen, then new Rodney paused, and beckoned them to hunker down across the hallway from a room. There were two Genii guards stationed outside.
“This is it?” John whispered to new Rodney. “You sure?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m sure,” new Rodney said. “John tried to escape a couple of weeks after the Genii first took the city. Kolya found out about it and stopped it. Then he brought me down here that night and beat me up some in front of John, so he’d know what would happen if he tried to escape again,” he whispered.
John winced. That sounded very like the kind of thing Kolya would do. Kolya had once tortured his own Rodney, and John had the sneaking suspicion that the Genii commander had enjoyed it a little too much.
“You’re sure they’re still here?” he asked. “They haven’t been moved anywhere else? We don’t have time to get this wrong.”
“No.” New Rodney shook his head. “That first time amused Kolya so much that he brings me down here most nights now just for fun. If I’m lucky, he just wants to slap me around a little to taunt John. If I’m unlucky…. Well, let’s not get into that.” His face was pale and taut as he said that, and John had a sudden inkling of what he meant and felt sick at the thought of it. He glanced at his own Rodney and saw that he’d heard it, too, and his blue eyes were wide with shock.
“He does that…in front of Major Sheppard?” John’s Rodney asked, in a horrified whisper.
“I think that’s the whole point,” new Rodney replied, gazing at his own bruised wrists. “John’s locked up—he can’t do anything. He just has to watch. Kolya told me that if I wasn’t compliant and didn’t give every indication of enjoying it, then he’d have John beaten—but John doesn’t know that. He probably wonders why I don’t put up more of a fight.”
John felt a surge of ice-cold anger deep in his belly as he imagined how his counterpart in this universe must feel about that.
“Okay. How many guards are in there?” he asked, feeling the calm of cool resolve settle around him. They were going to do this, dammit. There was no way they could leave these people here like this. This could have been them if circumstances had panned out just a little differently.
“Two on the door, six inside,” new Rodney told him. “They have plenty more all over the city, though, so we have to stop them calling for backup.”
“Okay. Here’s what we do…” John said, turning back to his team.
A few seconds later, new Rodney walked along the hallway and went straight up to the guards on the door.
“I was told you were having problems with your communications in here,” he said, gesturing with his head at the door.
The guards seemed confused, but they let him in, and when they were turning back, John’s team made their move. They were fast and outnumbered the two on the door so they were able to dispatch them quickly and quietly. Then they stormed into the room. John just hoped that new Rodney had been able to talk his way into getting close enough to the comms units to disable them, but he didn’t have time to check because next thing he knew, he was facing a barrage of gunfire. He ducked, feeling a sharp, burning pain in his arm, and then pivoted and returned fire in one quick move. He saw one of the Genii fall, and then Ronon was striding into the center of the room, gun blazing, and more Genii were going down. There was some frenzied fighting, but John’s team was good, and the Genii were soon dispatched. Only then did John get a chance to take a good look around.
They were in a large room, with a big pen at one end surrounded by a forcefield. Inside, John could see a huddle of people with faces he recognized. One of them gave a shout and edged as close to the side of the pen as he could, and John found himself looking into his own face once again. Only this time the cheekbones were sunken and thin, there was a thick, dark beard on his new counterpart’s chin, and he was staring into a pair of hollow, desperate eyes.
John tore himself away from his other self and ran over to new Rodney, who was standing by a console, fiddling with some wires.
“Are we safe?” John hissed at him.
“Yes. I disabled the system before they got a call out,” new Rodney told him with a grin. “Now…I just need to…. Done it.”
The forcefield surrounding the pen winked off and John raised his gun and shot the door off its hinges. He was about to step forwards when he was nearly knocked off his feet as new Rodney raced past him and threw himself straight at the new John as he emerged from the pen.
John stopped short. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised, but somehow he was. New John grabbed new Rodney in a tight embrace, then drew back, took hold of his face, and kissed him on the mouth.
John turned to glance at his own Rodney, who gave a deep sigh.
“Are we together in every damn universe?” Rodney muttered, rolling his eyes at the other John and Rodney.
“It’s starting to look that way,” John replied with a slight grin.
“Are you okay?” Rodney touched his arm and John glanced down, surprised to find that his shirt was stained red, and wet with blood.
“I’m fine,” John said tersely, but there was an expression on his Rodney’s face that he didn’t think he’d ever seen before, and he was brought up short by it.
“You’re not fine, dammit, you’re injured. Hold on.” Rodney reached into John’s vest pocket and fished out a field dressing, then took hold of John’s arm and tied the fabric hard around the wound to stem the tide of blood. John gazed at him as he worked; Rodney wouldn’t look at him, but there was something about the scientist’s expression and obvious concern for him that made John’s heart do a little leap of hope. Rodney finished tying the makeshift bandage and glanced up, met John’s questioning gaze and flushed—then hopped away from him as if he’d been caught doing something illegal.
“I’m sorry,” John heard new Rodney whisper to new John. “All those times…he said he’d hurt you if I didn’t…”
“I know. I guessed that much.” New John’s hands caressed the sides of his Rodney’s face. “Where is he? I’m going to kill him with my bare hands.”
“He’s on his way back from the mainland,” John told them, throwing his new counterpart a gun. “Get your people armed as best you can.” He pointed at the weapons belonging to the fallen Genii. “We don’t have much time.”
They ran back to the lab, and John was relieved to find that Rodney Sheppard was at least still alive. He had no idea how he would have begun to tell the general that his husband was dead. It just couldn’t happen.
“How’s he doing?” Rodney asked, running over to Carson.
“He’s holding on by a thread. To be honest, I have no idea how he’s still alive, but he is,” Carson said. “I’ve given him some medication and basic triage. I’ve made a note of exactly what I’ve given him and how I’ve treated him so your Carson will know when you get him back.” He handed the note to Rodney.
“How much time do we have?” John demanded, hearing a disturbance out in the hallway which could only mean one thing—Kolya was here.
“Four minutes,” Rodney told him, glancing at his watch.
“Then get the other Rodney into the target area ready for the beam. I’m going to help these guys fight it out until the last possible second,” John told him.
Rodney nodded, and between them, he and Carson dragged Rodney Sheppard into the window between the two universes. Then Carson stood up and hesitated for a moment. John saw a grim look settle on the doctor’s face, and then he grabbed a Genii gun from one of the fallen guards and joined the rest of them, ready to fight to free their city.
A second later, Kolya burst through the door. He had a contingent of armed Genii with him, but the Atlanteans had the element of surprise on their side. Kolya gave an angry growl when he saw the released prisoners, but his eyes widened, startled, when he took in the fact that there were two Johns fighting him.
Not that John got much of a look at his enemy. His counterpart had been spoiling for this fight for too long, and had endured too much at Kolya’s hands, and his anger was white hot; John could almost feel it boiling out of him. He was in poor physical condition—he was reed thin and had clearly been badly treated in captivity—but his rage was sustaining him as he threw himself on Kolya.
Ronon was an asset of and by himself, taking out several of the Genii in one go with his blaster, and John’s heart did a flip as he caught sight of Aiden Ford, fighting side by side with Major Sheppard. At least one good thing had come out of the events in this universe.
The fight was scrappy and uneven, but the Atlanteans had the fire of revenge burning in their bellies and eventually the Genii started to drop back. John turned to see Major Sheppard standing over Kolya, his hands around the other man’s throat, literally squeezing the life out of him. Then it was done, and he dropped Kolya’s corpse to the ground and stood up, a wild, blood-hungry look in his eyes, seeking out someone else to fight.
“We have to go,” John told him, grabbing the major by the arm and leading him away from the fray. “Good luck, not that I think you’ll need it. You’ve pretty much got them beat.”
“I have no idea where you came from or who you are, except…well, except for the obvious fact that you appear to be me,” Major Sheppard told him. “But thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” John told him. “Tell me, before we go…are you and he married?” He nodded his head in new Rodney’s direction. The scientist was busy collecting Genii weapons from the fallen enemy and handing them out to any Atlantean that had run out of ammunition.
“Not yet,” new John grinned. “But once we kick these Genii out of the city, I plan on taking care of that.”
“And you two being in a relationship—that’s not a problem here?” John asked.
“No,” the other John said blankly. “What kind of problem?”
“Nothing,” John sighed. He noticed a distinct lack of any kind of leashes, collars or tattoos, so he guessed this wasn’t that kind of universe, but there had been something he’d recognized all too well in that fierce embrace this John had given his Rodney back when they’d released him from that pen.
“John!” his own Rodney said frantically, beckoning him over.
John nodded, and saw a white beam opening up in the window. He called his team together and they ran back towards the window between the universes.
New Rodney ran up, grabbed his hand and shook it enthusiastically. “Thank you!” he beamed ecstatically. “I mean, I have absolutely no idea where you came from, or what the hell you were doing here, but thank you!”
John grinned back at him. “My pleasure, Rodney,” he said, and then he gave the scientist a little salute and ran backwards into the beam.
Carson was waiting with a full medical team on the other side and he whisked Rodney Sheppard away for immediate surgery. John trailed back to the infirmary after them, Rodney by his side.
“What’s the general doing here?” Rodney asked when they got there. The general was lying on his side, eyes closed, arms wrapped around his own body. “I wondered why he wasn’t with you, but what’s wrong with him?”
“He’s what’s been keeping Rodney Sheppard alive,” John told him grimly. “I’m not sure how it works, but it’s something to do with that lifebond thing they keep talking about.”
“Are you talking about the Kaeira?” Rodney wrinkled up his forehead. “If that’s the case, shouldn’t he have a big wound on his chest right now, if they’re doing that weird sharing thing?”
“He didn’t mention Kaeira, just said it was the lifebond. I don’t think he’s healing Rodney exactly. It seemed to be more that he was giving him some of his energy or something. Kind of like when the Wraith suck life from people, only the exact opposite, I suppose—he was giving it back?” John floundered, realizing he knew nothing at all about this lifebond, but curious about it all the same, and how, if at all, it related to the Kaeira.
One of the other doctors on Carson’s team came up to them and sat John down on one of the beds. He removed the makeshift bandage Rodney had tied around John’s arm and began examining the wound.
“How is he?” Rodney asked, peering at the wound over the doctor’s shoulder. “Is it bad? It looks kind of messy. It’ll need stitches.”
“He’s the doctor, Rodney—let him work,” John told him.
Rodney moved away reluctantly. “I suppose I should, you know, get back and make sure Radek hasn’t ruined weeks of work on those damn crystals,” he said.
“Not so fast, Rodney,” John told him, placing a hand on his arm as he made to leave. “Doc, when you’ve finished with me, Rodney here has a couple of either badly bruised or possibly broken ribs.”
“I do?” Rodney looked startled.
“Yes, you do,” John told him. “You’ve been holding yourself strangely ever since that Genii guard thumped you for talking to me on the radio. You also need to get that cut on your face cleaned up.”
“Man, how could I have forgotten about that?” Rodney asked, in a tone of utter wonderment at his own lack of hypochondria. John snorted. Rodney sat down beside him on the bed with a sigh. “Do you think Dr. Sheppard is going to make it?” he asked John quietly.
John turned his head, surprised by the anxiety in Rodney’s voice, and found that those blue eyes were nearer than he’d been expecting, and that Rodney was pressed a little closer than John had realized. He knew just how much Rodney hated it when people were injured or killed—he’d seen the scientist deal with that enough times to know how much it devastated him whenever it happened—but Rodney’s eyes were now oddly vulnerable, in a naked way that John wasn’t sure he’d ever seen before. He suddenly realized that he was only seeing that now because Rodney had started letting his guard down around him, and John felt an overwhelming urge to put his arm around the scientist and kiss him. He resisted it. He was sure that Rodney was learning to trust him, was maybe even starting to have some feelings towards him, but he’d played a slow game so far and didn’t want to scare the other man away irrevocably by moving too fast.
“I don’t know,” John replied softly. “But he’s got the best MD in two galaxies operating on him, and he’s got him on his side.” He nodded at the still form of the general in the next bed over. “So I’d say he has a better chance than most.”
When the doctor had finished with John, he moved onto Rodney. He wanted to examine Rodney’s ribs and asked him to remove his shirt and Rodney flushed.
“Don’t you think an infirmary should have more privacy?” he asked, gazing around the bare and somewhat makeshift room.
John rolled his eyes, amused. “There’s only us here, Rodney,” he pointed out.
Rodney thought about it for a moment, and then removed his shirt and stood there, arms semi-crossed over his chest, looking profoundly awkward.
John knew he shouldn’t, but the truth was he liked getting a glimpse of any Rodney flesh that was on view and he made the most of the opportunity to gaze at the other man’s bare chest. He wondered why the hell Rodney was always so paranoid about people catching a glimpse of him in any state of undress; he had a nice chest, with some good definition, and the flesh was stretched tautly over his broad shoulders in a way that John found very appealing. John wished he could get Rodney to be as happy and confident in his own skin as his counterpart was. Rodney was even looking in pretty good shape; presumably the exercise routines they’d been doing had tightened him up a little. John was right, though—there was a massive, dark, ugly bruise on his ribs, which the doctor examined carefully, before coming to the conclusion that they weren’t broken.
Elizabeth arrived a few seconds later and John took her to one side so he could give her a proper briefing.
“The Genii?” She shook her head after he’d finished. “That all happened well over a year ago—those poor people, to have been held in captivity for that long.”
“They were in a pretty bad way,” John agreed, nodding, remembering how thin his own counterpart had been and the bruises on the other Rodney’s wrists. It didn’t take a great deal of imagination to figure out how he’d come by them, or who’d put them there.
“John, I wish Rodney had never found that damn QDD,” she hissed, shaking her head. “It’s been nothing but trouble.”
“On the other hand, if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gone through and rescued our other selves from the Genii,” John told her with a shrug. “So maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. And having the general and Dr. Sheppard around in our universe has certainly been a learning experience if nothing else!” He grinned at her and she grinned back.
“That’s a diplomatic way of putting it,” she replied. “But seeing as we’re on that subject …this other John and Rodney you found—you say that they were, uh, involved, too?” She put her hand up to touch her neck, clearly embarrassed by the topic.
“Yeah,” John sighed. “It’s starting to become a theme. Wherever we go, we just end up bumping into versions of ourselves kissing each other’s brains out.”
“And how do you feel about that?” Elizabeth asked him. He gazed at her for a moment. “Ever think the universe is trying to tell you something?” she asked, a little grin tugging at the corners of her mouth.
“You could say that,” he agreed, grinning back. He found his gaze flickering over her shoulder towards Rodney, who was complaining vociferously about how much it hurt having the wound on his face cleaned.
“John?” The questioning tone in her voice brought him back to her and he found her gaze fixed searchingly on him. “Seriously?” she said.
“Yeah. Seriously,” he replied, tensing his shoulders as he gauged her reaction, but she just nodded thoughtfully, not looking remotely shocked or outraged. “The only thing that’s ever held me back was how damn hard it is for something like that to work in this universe. These other people we’ve encountered don’t seem to have the same issues we do.”
“I suppose I should be surprised, but I’m not—maybe as a result of having had the general and his husband around for the past few weeks. Where’s Rodney on all this?” she asked him softly.
“He’s not quite there yet,” John told her. “But I’m working on it.”
She gave a little laugh. “Well, good luck with that. But, John…I want you to know one thing: for as long as I’m the leader of this expedition, I will fight tooth and nail to keep you as my military chief. You have my full support and you always will. The small matter of who you fall in love with isn’t going to change that.”
He gave her a broad, relieved smile, and then his gaze flickered over to Rodney again, who was now jerking his head away from the doctor and complaining loudly about his lack of bedside manner.
“But you weren’t going to let it hold you back in any case, were you?” Elizabeth said softly.
“What?” He turned back to her. “No, not really,” he said, shaking his head. “Having the general around made it easier. He said you had to be who you are and go after what you want. Well, I’ve figured both those things out and I’m following that advice to the letter. If that means I screw up my career, then I’ll handle it. At least I’ll be living life on my own terms and not anyone else’s.”
“Well, I’m impressed.” Elizabeth rocked back on her heels and surveyed him intently. “John, you’ve changed. I’ve never known you talk like this before—or look so serious about something before.”
“Well, I never realized how much I wanted this before,” he told her with a wry smile.
“Then go for it,” she told him calmly, patting him on the arm. “I mean it, John. Life’s too short. If you’ve found someone you think you can love for the rest of your life, then you have to go for it, even if it is…you know…Rodney.”
They both gazed at the scientist, who was now flapping his hands at the doctor and threatening to sue him for medical malpractice.
“Yeah,” John sighed ruefully. “That over there is the love of my life,” and they both burst out laughing. She patted his arm again and then left. John continued to gaze at Rodney, shaking his head. “Just have to wait for him to figure that out, too,” he sighed to himself.
Rodney McKay spent a sleepless night fretting about a myriad of different things. First and foremost, he was worried about Rodney Sheppard. Carson had finished operating on his counterpart sometime in the early hours of the morning, but when he’d emerged, he’d just spread his arms helplessly, said he’d done his best and that they’d have to wait and see. Then there was the other universe they’d just visited. Every time he closed his eyes, Rodney saw that other Rodney, with those bruises on his wrists, telling them about how Kolya raped him in front of his Sheppard—and then there was the obvious love between that Rodney and his Major Sheppard. Rodney had never been someone who believed in destiny, but he was now coming to the distinct conclusion that destiny was ganging up on him, forcing him to open his eyes to a truth about himself that he’d been denying for a very long time. Which brought him onto John….
Rodney wasn’t sure what it was he’d felt when he’d realized John had been injured, but he recalled a sensation of actual physical pain inside his chest. It had only been momentary, but his reaction had taken him totally by surprise. It was one thing to fantasize about having sex with the colonel, but now he knew that something much deeper was involved and that scared him.
It was all very well admitting the depth of his emotions to himself, though, in the privacy of his own room, but another to allow them to be publicly on display. Rodney was an extremely private person—he couldn’t imagine being as open and comfortable with his feelings for the colonel as either of the two counterparts he’d met, and he envied them their easy kisses and open displays of affection. Rodney shriveled up inside at the thought of anyone on Atlantis knowing he was head over heels in love with Colonel Sheppard. He was sure they’d laugh at him, take him less seriously, maybe even be disgusted by such a relationship—and he didn’t think he could bear that. It was hard enough coming to terms with the idea that he might be gay, without also outing himself as well.
Rodney finally gave up trying to sleep and got up and went to the infirmary. He found a bleary-eyed Carson sitting in his office, gazing at a computer screen.
“So, how is he?” Rodney asked, leaning against the doorway.
“Well, he’s still with us. He’s sleeping now. The next few hours will be critical,” Carson said.
“Can I see him?” Rodney asked quietly. Despite their differences, he had developed a strong bond with the other Rodney, and it had devastated him to find his counterpart with that big hole in his chest, blood pouring from the wound.
“I don’t see why not. I was just going to look in on him myself,” Carson said, stretching. “He shouldn’t really be alive. Those injuries should have killed him, but….” He shook his head. “Whatever it is the general was doing for him saved his life, kept him going until I was able to repair the damage. That other Carson did all the right things, too, so that helped. You know, it was weird reading that note you gave me; it was my own handwriting, and he’d done the exact same things I would have done in the circumstances. It’s just so bloody spooky. But I don’t need to tell you that, Rodney.” Carson patted Rodney’s arm absently as they walked towards the post-op. “You’ve been living with these guys for weeks now. You must be used to how spooky it is.”
“Yeah. Kind of.” Rodney gave a wry smile, thinking that Carson didn’t know the half of it.
Carson opened the door to the post op and then gave a startled gasp. Rodney looked over his shoulder and snorted. Rodney Sheppard was lying there, pale-faced, attached to a dozen different monitors, and beside him, huddled awkwardly on the small bed, was the general, his arms clasped gently around the other Rodney’s still, frail form.
“Do you normally allow spouses to climb into bed with each other after major surgery, Dr. Beckett?” Rodney enquired.
“No…I had no idea. He wasn’t here when I last looked in. General?” Carson walked over to the bed to wake the general and then paused and glanced at the monitors, frowning.
The general raised his head and Rodney thought he looked as pale and wan as his husband. “Sorry, Doc,” he muttered. “Is there a problem with me being here?”
“No,” Carson said suddenly. Then he turned, walked purposefully to the door and called one of his staff. “Get me another bed in here,” he ordered, before turning back. “We can make you more comfortable than this, General,” he said, as the new bed was wheeled in and placed alongside the one containing Rodney Sheppard. “Here.” He helped the general onto the new bed, where he was able to stretch out his long limbs more comfortably.
“Thanks, Doc,” the general murmured, reaching out so that he was still able to hold his Rodney again, very gently, in his arms. “I just had this…need to be able to touch him.”
“You must continue to do that,” Carson said, taking a reading from the monitors, his fingers scrambling excitedly over the keyboard. “He’s…. This is remarkable. What time did you come in here?”
“I don’t know, about 15 minutes ago,” the general shrugged.
“That’s when his readings started to improve. I don’t know why, or how, whatever it is between the two of you works, but he’s making the most amazing recovery. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“It’s the lifebond,” the general said. “It was hurting when I wasn’t physically in contact with him. It’s much easier when I can actually feel him under my fingertips.” He brushed his fingers gently over the skin on his Rodney’s arm and it was such a tender gesture that Rodney found himself swallowing down a lump in his throat, and at that moment a warm hand came to rest upon his shoulder and he looked around to find John standing behind them.
“I just came to check up on Dr. Sheppard,” John said softly. He didn’t move his hand from Rodney’s shoulder and Rodney couldn’t stop himself from leaning back into the other man ever so slightly. He felt stupid doing it, and hoped nobody would notice; he found himself wishing that John would wrap his arm around his chest and pull him back against him, even though he knew that if he did, he’d probably push him away.
“So, does this mean we’re going to be okay?” the general asked Carson.
“We?” Carson frowned, still checking the monitors.
“Well, if he dies, then I do, too,” the general told him. “You did figure that out, right?”
“No, I had no idea,” Carson replied. “Is this because of the lifebond thing you keep talking about?”
“Yeah. That’s what it means to lifebond,” the general said in a tired tone. “We got lifebonded about six months after we married. It was Rodney who first suggested it. I got myself badly injured one day, and he said he’d hated standing by, watching me suffer. He pointed out that if we were lifebonded, he could have helped me. You’ve pretty much seen how it works—my life energy was able to keep him alive despite the severity of his injuries.”
“But if one of you dies, the other one dies, too, even if he’s not injured,” John said softly.
“Yeah.” The general gave a wry smile. “But we figured we didn’t either of us have much of a future if the other one was dead, so that was a price we were prepared to pay.”
“I can’t imagine loving someone so much that you’d want to give up your own life if they died,” Rodney murmured, because until recently he couldn’t imagine trusting anyone enough to allow himself to love them at all.
“I can,” John said behind him, and that hand tightened around his shoulder.
Rodney was surprised by the heartfelt tone in John’s voice and he wanted turn and look at him, but he didn’t dare. Was John talking about him? His heart missed a beat. Was that what was going on here—or was John just talking in the abstract?
“What happens if you got divorced?” Carson asked, leaning over to examine Rodney Sheppard.
The general pulled a face. “Ah, well, the lifebond is exactly that—for life. So you have to think really carefully before making that kind of commitment. Rodney and I talked about it for weeks, but we were both really sure it was what we wanted. We could still get divorced, but we’ll remain lifebonded until the day we die. And we will both die on the same day.”
“And how does the Kaeira fit into that?” Rodney asked, intrigued. “Is it the same thing?”
“No.” The general shook his head, and pressed a little kiss onto his Rodney’s unconscious form. “The lifebond is always there—it just is. Kaeira is a healing energy that can pass back and forth along the lifebond. Without the lifebond, we wouldn’t be able to use Kaeira. I don’t have enough strength to use it now while the lifebond is draining so much out of me, but maybe when he’s well enough, it’ll help him get better more quickly.”
“Can anyone perform this lifebond ritual?” Carson asked. “I’m trying to get my head around how it works from a medical point of view. It’s not like anything I’ve ever encountered before.”
“If you genuinely love someone and intend to spend the rest of your life with them, then, yes,” the general replied with a shrug. “There are people in my universe who can help you perform the ritual, help you through it. The Teyla in our universe is an expert on it. She gave us a lot of advice, but we planned and performed it ourselves. One of the best nights of my life,” the general added. They he gave a weary sigh, clearly worn out by so much talking, and laid his head very gently on his Rodney’s belly and closed his eyes.
“They need rest. I think we should leave,” Carson said, ushering them out of the room and closing the door. “Not so fast, you two. Before you run off, I heard you sustained some injuries yesterday that one of my team took care of. If you don’t mind, I’d like to just check you over myself, make sure you’re both okay and the job was done to my satisfaction.” He gave them a broad grin and gestured to them to his office. Once inside, he poured them each a cup of coffee before sitting down to check Rodney’s cut face. “I gather you gave poor Dr. Kowalski a hard time yesterday, Rodney,” he said, his fingers gently spidering over the wound.
“The man is a fumble-fingered numbskull,” Rodney replied. “And, by the way, what you’re doing right now? Ow.”
“Oh, you know Rodney,” John grinned. “He doesn’t like being treated by any doctor except you, Carson. You should take it as a back-handed compliment whenever he harasses any of your team.”
“Aye, I’ll bear that in mind.” Carson grinned. “Well, that looks fine.” He took a look at Rodney’s ribs and checked John over, and then they sat back and sipped on their coffee. “So, I hear you encountered yet another version of yourselves yesterday,” Carson said, with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah. It’s starting to become a habit,” John replied, grinning.
“And according to what I’ve heard, they were just as close as those two.” Carson nodded his head in the direction of the post-op.
“Yes, all right, Carson. There are endless universes containing endless different versions of ourselves who are all endlessly kissing. It’s very amusing. Ha-ha. Enough with the teasing,” Rodney said stiffly.
“Och, I wasn’t teasing you, Rodney,” Carson replied, shaking his head. “I think you make a lovely couple—in any universe,” he said.
“What?” Rodney stared at him.
“Aye, son,” Carson said softly. “I’ve loved having the general and Dr. Sheppard around and they’ve had a big effect on the city as a whole. We do have a few same sex couples in Atlantis, you know, and having those two around has made them feel much more relaxed and open about their relationships. Kate says that it’s really helped morale generally as well. Those two guys are very popular and people have enjoyed talking to them. They’re very social, too—always holding little dinner parties and generally encouraging people to mix and be friendly. I didn’t realize how reserved we are until they came along. They’ve really shaken us up and it’s been a good thing all around. I’ll be sorry to see them leave.”
“Me, too,” John said, with a sigh.
Rodney gazed at them both, frowning. “Really, Carson?” he said, confused. “I mean, the idea of the colonel and me in…a relationship—are you seriously telling me that doesn’t freak you out?”
“Well, it did at first,” Carson agreed with a nod, “but since then, it’s come to feel like the most natural thing in the world. In fact it makes a lot of sense. Those two work so well together. They just really seem to fit. Their personalities complement each other and they’re clearly madly in love. You two should think about giving it a try.” He gave a little grin and Rodney wasn’t sure if he was teasing or not.
John smiled. “Don’t spook him, Doc. Well, I’ve gotta be going. See you later, Rodney. Carson.”
Rodney gazed after him as he left, wondering whether he was the only person left on Atlantis who was bothered by the idea of him and the colonel being in a relationship. Carson didn’t just seem comfortable with it—he was practically matchmaking them.
“Rodney?” Carson said softly. “I think maybe you think people would be more shocked by it than they would be.”
Rodney swallowed hard, and then got up. “Well, thank you, Carson,” he said in a
strangled tone. “I must…go and do some work.”
He stumbled out of the infirmary, trying to think this through. So, Carson seemed to think they’d make a good couple, apparently half the city seemed to be outing themselves, John seemed to be—possibly—courting him…. Was it possible that the only person who was actually standing in the way of this was himself?
When Rodney returned the following day, the other Rodney was conscious. He looked pale and tired, but he managed to wave feebly when Rodney entered the room. The general was still lying beside him, one hand resting protectively on his arm.
“Here. Seeing as you like them so much.” Rodney dumped a bag of Athosian grapes on the nightstand.
“Thanks,” the other Rodney croaked.
“You look terrible,” Rodney told him.
“Yeah. Nearly died, remember?”
There was a long silence. Rodney gazed at the other man, surprised by the genuine concern he felt for him. The other Rodney gave him a feeble grin and the general just lay there, watching them, a faintly amused expression on his face.
“Yes. Well. I just came to see if you were okay,” Rodney said at last. “The lab feels weird without you. Obviously, I’m getting much more work done and nobody is arguing with me.”
The other Rodney gave a wry gurgle and then grimaced and the general sat up a little, looking concerned.
“Um. I can see I should go. Just, you know, thought you’d like the grapes,” Rodney said, turning.
“Thank you,” the other Rodney said faintly. “And, uh, I heard that you came through the window after me and kept me alive for half an hour before the cavalry showed up. Thanks for that, too, Rodney.”
Rodney half turned back, and gave a pleased little smile. “Well, you know, like I said, I was getting used to having you around,” he muttered, and then he walked off, humming to himself.
Rodney Sheppard’s remarkably swift recovery took everyone by surprise except his husband. General Sheppard spent every hour of every day in the infirmary with his husband during that time, rarely out of reach of his Rodney. Each day he could feel them both growing stronger, as Rodney drew on less and less of his energy via the lifebond. But as the week drew on, Rodney’s recovery started to slow down, and John realized that there was something else he needed to do to complete the healing process.
“I think he’s well enough for me to take him back to our rooms now,” he told Carson.
“Aye, he’s certainly made excellent progress, but I’m not sure I’m ready to release him just yet,” the doctor told him, his forehead creasing up into a worried frown. “This past day or two, he’s made less progress and—”
“Trust me, I really need to get him alone,” John interrupted.
Realization flooded into Carson’s eyes. “Now, look, he may have made a remarkable recovery so far, but he’s in no way ready for—”
“You don’t understand,” John told him, shaking his head. “We’ll be very careful, but I can heal him much better, much faster this way. Trust me. I have…an instinct about this.”
Carson stared at him helplessly. “Well…I don’t deny that those instincts of yours have been right so far, but…. All right. Just take care, won’t you?”
“I will, Doc. Thanks. For everything.” John gripped Carson by the arm and squeezed. Carson nodded, a little smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
John went over to where Rodney was lying on the infirmary bed. He was still pale and as weak as a kitten, but he was busy devouring Athosian grapes and moaning about being cooped up for so long, so he was definitely on the road to recovery.
“Hey, we’re going home,” John told him.
Rodney’s face lit up. “Really? Home home? Are the crystals ready? Oh, I see—you mean back to our rooms. Well, that’s not bad I suppose. Better than nothing, because, frankly, I am sick to death of the inside of this room. No offence, Carson, but you’re really not set up for long-term patients around here, are you?”
Rodney lay back against the pillow, exhausted by the long speech.
John rolled his eyes at him. “You talk too much,” he said.
“I know,” Rodney grinned. “I thought that was one of the reasons you fell in love with me.”
“Really? You thought that?” John wrinkled up his forehead in disbelief and Rodney gave a snort of laughter and then grimaced.
“Oh, shit—don’t make me laugh,” he groaned, clutching at his chest.
“As for going home home,” John smiled, “Rodney McKay reports that he’s found the window back into our universe—and we know the beam works. So, we can return as soon as you’re well enough to make the journey.”
“Not before, though,” Carson said, hovering nearby. “I know you’ve been through it a few times already, but there’s no telling what kind of strain that energy beam places on the body. I’m not having you beaming through some inter-dimensional, space-time vortex until you’re completely better, so don’t even think about it, son.”
“Ah, there, see?” Rodney said. “He’s starting to sound just like our Carson. Bossy as all hell.”
Carson actually looked quite pleased about that and John laughed out loud.
“He’s got a point, Doc,” he said. “The longer we hang around, the more like our Carson you’re sounding. Come on, you—time to go,” John said, turning his attention back to his husband and fastening Rodney’s leash to his collar. He helped his husband off the bed, and into a bathrobe and slippers, and then Rodney slid a hand around his waist and John escorted him towards the door. Rodney had been walking around for the past couple of days. He was still slow, but John knew he’d be able to make the trip back to their rooms without any problem.
“Any problems at all, call me,” Carson said, watching them anxiously.
“Sure, Doc, and thanks again,” John said. He let go of Rodney’s leash for a second and took hold of the other man’s hand and shook it. “I mean it,” he said, in a low, sincere tone.
“Yes, thank you, Carson,” Rodney said. “Not that I’m not pleased to finally be out of this place, but you’ve been great.”
John took hold of his husband’s leash again and wrapped it tightly in his fist, his lips brushing Rodney’s forehead as he did so. They walked slowly back to their rooms and then John unfastened the leash, and sat Rodney down on the side of the bed.
“I’m going to undress you,” he said. “Being in the infirmary was fine, but we couldn’t be close enough. We need as much skin-on-skin contact as possible.”
Rodney gazed at him with that expression of total trust in his eyes that turned John on so much, and John leaned forward and brushed the wavy hair out of his husband’s eyes.
“Hair’s gotten long,” John murmured. “I kind of like it. Makes you look like a teenager.”
“Ah, those days are long gone, I fear,” Rodney grinned.
“Bet you were cute, though,” John replied, undoing Rodney’s bathrobe and easing it off his husband’s shoulders.
“I was, yes,” Rodney agreed. John laughed and rolled his eyes. “I had this floppy, blond-haired thing going on. Looked like an idiot—a preppy idiot. I used to wear a suit and tie half the time. I so missed out on that whole teen rebellion thing.”
“You didn’t miss out, exactly. You just did it in your thirties instead,” John told him, slowly helping him out of his pajamas.
“Yeah, and you had to take the brunt of it. Poor John,” Rodney sighed, running a hand down the side of his husband’s face.
John caught the hand and kissed it firmly. “Come on, lie down,” he said.
He helped Rodney into the bed and then took off his own clothes and lay down beside his husband, face to face. He could feel Rodney’s exhaustion, and he sent as much energy as he could his way via the lifebond, and the pair of them lay there for a while, the lifebond zinging between them. John slid his hands over Rodney’s naked body, relishing the feel of it. It felt like weeks since he’d been lying here like this, with a naked Rodney beside him, and he’d missed it so much. He kissed Rodney’s eyelids gently.
“Go to sleep,” he ordered.
Rodney relaxed into his arms and did just that, and John pressed his own body as close to him as he could. This felt so good. Rodney’s body was so incredibly familiar to him—the weight of it, the scent of his skin, and the feel of that firm flesh against him. John held him close, lost in the sheer joy of having Rodney back again, in his arms, where he belonged, and then finally he fell asleep, too.
They slept like that for twelve hours solid, wrapped up in each other’s arms, and when Rodney woke, he had some color in his cheeks for the first time since he’d been shot.
“Feeling better?” John asked as Rodney’s eyes fixed blearily upon him.
“What? Hmmm. Much better,” Rodney sighed, stretching beside him like a cat.
“Good…because there’s something else I need to do. I just needed you to be strong enough,” John said, reaching out a finger to trace a line down Rodney’s face.
“I’m fine. What did you have in mind?”
“Roll onto your back,” John told him. Rodney did as he was told, and John got up and rolled the sheets back and then leaned over and retrieved the lube from the nightstand. Rodney raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
“It’s okay—trust me,” John told him
“Always,” Rodney replied simply.
“Good. Now let me know if you’re having any problems or if anything hurts.” John straddled Rodney’s body and then reached down and swept his fingers gently over Rodney’s chest and Rodney sighed and relaxed into the mattress. Then John carefully removed the dressing over the wound on Rodney’s chest. Rodney glanced down at it and grimaced.
“It’s kind of ugly,” he muttered.
“Shh.” John lowered his head and pressed dozens of slow, tender kisses to Rodney’s flesh and Rodney sighed again, offering himself up to his husband, as beautifully submissive as ever. John felt himself harden, but he ignored it and traveled lower, his hands and mouth questing endlessly over Rodney’s naked flesh. He shifted back and slid his fingers along Rodney’s cock, and slowly, very slowly, felt it harden. Usually Rodney could go from soft to rock hard within seconds when John was touching him, but John didn’t expect that of him right now, after he’d been so ill. He played with Rodney for a long time, just gently arousing him, trying not to create a sense of sexual urgency.
“You’ve gotta keep relaxed for me, Rodney,” John whispered as Rodney started to move underneath him. “No thrusting, no pushing, no tensing…just let me play.”
Rodney took a deep breath and visibly tried to relax and obey his husband. John grinned. Rodney was always so determined to achieve submission that he would try his best, whatever John suggested, and however hard it was. John didn’t think this was too hard though —all he was doing was gently stroking Rodney’s body with his fingers, and anointing him with tender little kisses. John could feel the lifebond opening up even more, and more and more energy flowing back and forth between them. John rose up a little, reluctantly removed his hands from Rodney’s body, and squeezed lube onto his fingers. Then he slid one of his fingers inside his own anus, pushing up to stretch himself.
“What are you…?” Rodney asked, his eyes widening.
“Shh,” John said again. “Submit, Rodney. Just lie there and submit.”
Rodney nodded, but those blue eyes remained wide as John continued to stretch himself. Finally he was ready, and he removed his fingers from his own body and stroked Rodney’s cock until it was hard again.
“Now tell me if you experience any problems at all,” he warned Rodney, before positioning himself over his husband’s hard cock and sliding himself over the tip. Rodney gave a little gasp as John impaled himself on him, oh, so slowly, and John smiled down on him. He had allowed Rodney to penetrate him before, but not often, and it wasn’t their preferred kind of lovemaking. However, on this occasion, John knew it was the only position that Rodney could cope with, and that would work with what he had in mind. He slid down on Rodney’s cock until it was embedded deep inside him, and then John paused and allowed himself to adjust to it. Rodney’s cock was warm and it filled him completely, stretching out his body, and he savored the sensation for a moment. Then he looked down on Rodney and their eyes met.
“Don’t fight me,” John warned him, and Rodney’s eyes widened as he realized at last what John intended to do.
“No…no…there’s no need…” Rodney said.
“Shh. I want to,” John said, leaning forwards and placing his hands on Rodney’s wound.
“No,” Rodney whimpered.
“You’re mine, Rodney,” John reminded him. “Submit to me.”
Rodney shuddered beneath him, but John refused to release him. He opened up his mind and allowed the Kaeira to hum between them. It started to flow…and then stopped, blocked.
John frowned and gazed down on his husband. “I mean it—submit,” he said. “This is my choice, not yours. My decision, not yours.”
“I don’t want you to do this,” Rodney told him. “I’m getting better!”
“You’ll get better twice as fast if we share it,” John told him.
“You’ll be scarred for life,” Rodney whispered, gazing up at him, his blue eyes shocked.
“Well, so are you,” John replied. “Rodney, you’re my husband. Remember those vows you made…. Submit to me, Rodney.”
Rodney shook his head, and John leaned forward, took his face in his hands, and kissed him deeply on the mouth. Rodney trembled and opened up under his questing mouth and John kissed him for a very long time, kissed all the fight out of him, kissed him to remind him who he was and what his husband demanded of him, and when he finally released him, Rodney gazed up at him helplessly from those intense blue eyes of his, and the Kaeira started to flow again.
“Thank you,” John said, stroking Rodney’s face lovingly with his fingertips. “Just go with it, Rodney. Come whenever you like.”
He leaned forward again and pressed his lips to the wound on Rodney’s chest and the Kaeira hummed around them. John flung his head back, jolted by something that felt like a surge of electricity, and felt himself flying through a window between two universes. A man in a uniform looked up, and, startled by his sudden appearance, raised his gun and fired. John felt the skin rip on his chest and a wave of pure fire slice through his body. He gasped out loud, and tried to ground himself on Rodney’s hard cock, still pressed deep inside him. He felt Rodney’s hands come up to rest on his hips, caressing and comforting him, and that helped. John began to ride Rodney in earnest now, up and down, the Kaeira so deep and hot that it was almost overwhelming, and he could see the scar on Rodney’s chest looking less angry with each inward thrust.
John rose and fell, up and down, up and down, lost in the healing, in the sharing, in the sex…and then he placed the palm of his hand on Rodney’s scar, and wrapped the other around his own cock and rode Rodney harder, milking him until he could feel Rodney tensing beneath him and then he felt Rodney come and he came in tandem, spilling out onto Rodney’s belly.
Finally, he came to a halt, sweat dripping down his face, and found himself looking into his husband’s adoring blue eyes. His own chest hurt, and he looked down to see the new scar there, the same size and length as that on Rodney’s chest. Both of the scars were puckered, but much further along in the healing process than Rodney’s had been before the Kaeira. John felt battered, his body weaker than it had been, and the wound on his chest hurt when he moved, but it had been worth it. He slid off Rodney’s softening cock and fell down onto the bed beside him, and Rodney took him in his arms and brushed his dark hair away from his sweaty face and kissed him fiercely, passionately, on the lips.
“Thank you,” he whispered and John could feel through the lifebond that he was much stronger now, no longer the frail invalid of a few hours ago. Now they had shared the wound between them, taken it onto both their bodies, and it was half as bad as it had been when Rodney had borne it alone.
“I love you,” Rodney said, his lips insistent on John’s face. John turned in his husband’s arms and ran his fingertips weakly through the curly tips of his hair.
“I know,” he replied, and he could feel it, could feel their love burning and pulsing through the lifebond, a warm, tangible thing. He allowed Rodney to hold him in his arms, stroking him gently and whispering little words of adoration and affection in his ear until they both fell into another deep, healing sleep.
End of Part Eleven
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