General & Dr Sheppard: 4. Sacrifice


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


His rational mind told him that this was just a natural response to the unsettling way the doppelgangers behaved with each other. Not only were they clearly in love, but they made no pretence at hiding it. Their customs were just very different to those in this universe and their ease when discussing sex and their own relationship made everyone on Atlantis uneasy by comparison. No wonder you’re having these unsettling thoughts about Rodney McKay, his rational mind told him, but they’ll pass. It’s just a natural reaction to the situation, just ride it out.


However, his cock wasn’t remotely interested in anything his rational mind had to say. His cock didn’t want these emotions to pass; it wanted Rodney and seemed to have sprung into a life of its own around the scientist. John jerked himself off three times during the night just thinking about holding Rodney down and sliding into that firm, white ass; about Rodney kneeling in front of him and looking up at him with the same look of adoration that Rodney Sheppard was always giving the general; about Rodney taking him in his mouth, his big hands sliding around John’s body to caress his naked bottom…. John gave up trying to rest at around four a.m. and took a long, cold shower, reasoning that his cock couldn’t possibly require any more attention for the rest of the night.


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


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


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


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


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


“It’s exactly the same as the PBX-250 in our universe,” Rodney Sheppard beamed happily. “So that means the chamber we’re looking for is…” He twirled around, fingers snapping excitedly, “this way,” he said, deciding on a direction and leading them forward.


Ronon quickened his pace a fraction to catch up with him and then loped alongside him easily, ignoring the constant stream of chatter. John gave a quiet smile as he brought up the rear—he knew he could trust Ronon to obey his orders.


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


John glanced around nervously as they stepped inside. “So far, so easy,” he muttered to Teyla.


She shook her head. “I agree. It has been very easy,” she murmured back.


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


The big man remained impassive. “Isn’t there another door you should be opening?” he boomed at the Rodneys, deadpan.


John tried to swallow back his yelp of laughter and noticed the general doing the same.


“Plenty,” Rodney Sheppard said with a distinct sniff in Ronon’s direction. “This way,” he announced, sweeping over to a door at the far end of the chamber.


The door soon succumbed to the combined force of both Rodneys and John left Teyla to guard the outer entrance and followed the rest of the team in. They walked for a long way, and then finally came to another door.


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


“That’s exactly what he said last time,” Rodney Sheppard muttered, gesturing with his head in the general’s direction.


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


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


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


“These are older and were built for a different purpose, and they have a different mech-anism,” Rodney snapped at him irritably. “Now, are you going to shut up and let the clever


people work?”


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


“One of you, touch something—you have the strongest genes,” Rodney commanded, nodding at the two Johns.


John slid his hands onto what appeared to be a console and it hummed into life beneath him. The room lit up, revealing a literal junkyard of Ancient technology, scattered all around the place.


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


“It’s good, isn’t it?” the other Rodney grinned at him. “Now—over here. I think this was where I saw those crystals.”


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


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


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


“Boys, boys,” the general said. “Play nice now.”


“What’s the drawback?” John asked, striding over.


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


“How long is ‘a while’?” John demanded.


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


“Well, hurry,” John snapped. “I’m just…getting a bad feeling.”


“Hmm. Me, too,” the general said, turning to stare at him.


“We haven’t heard anything from Teyla for nearly half an hour,” John murmured.


“She’s on a half-hourly check in,” the general shrugged. “No reason why we would hear from her before then.”


“No, but…” John touched his radio. “Teyla,” he called. There was no reply.


“Okay, now I’m really worried,” John said.


“Could just be the radio,” Ronon said. “We’re a long way down.”


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


“Damn,” the general swore. “That means—”


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


“We’re nearly there,” one of the Rodneys replied in his ear. “We’ve nearly got the crystals.”


“I don’t care. Leave the damn crystals. Just get out of there!” John commanded.


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


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


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


He was worried about the Rodneys, and kept glancing anxiously towards the door leading into the underground complex. Several minutes of hard fighting later, he heard the booming sound of gunfire and Ronon strode purposefully into the fray. He didn’t seem to have any compunction about firing on the unarmed savages and decimated their ranks with several rapid shots from his guns before the savages swarmed over him and his guns went the same way as John’s had.


John looked around frantically, trying to locate the Rodneys. He finally caught sight of Rodney Sheppard; Ronon was shielding him from the fight, keeping their assailants away from him and John heaved a sigh of relief that Ronon was obeying his orders. He wondered where their own Rodney was and presumed he was hiding out of sight. He could fight if he absolutely had to, but they all knew he wasn’t exactly an expert in hand-to-hand combat.


John was distracted for a few minutes by a man with long white hair who had what looked like several small children’s skulls hanging from his belt and who was proving hard to take down. John finally dispatched him and turned again to see how the rest of his team were doing. He was surprised to find that Rodney Sheppard had left the safety of Ronon’s side, and was now holding his own, quite successfully, with two opponents. He clearly wasn’t as strong a fighter as the rest of them, but, John realized, much to his own surprise, he was pretty damn good! John also noticed that he was working his way towards the general and the general was working his way towards his husband, slowly, purposefully, each of them casting little peripheral glances in the other’s direction as they fought.


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


“Enough!” a deep voice boomed and the savages fell back. John whipped around to see what the hell was happening. He quickly located the man who had called an end to the fight. He was enormous—bigger even than Ronon—and twice as fat. One side of his face was dyed red with what looked like blood, he wore a necklace of bones around his throat…and he had one big arm wrapped around Rodney Sheppard’s chest while with his other hand he was pressing a long, sharp, jagged knife against the side of the scientist’s neck.


“Lay down your weapons or I will kill him,” the man yelled, in a deep, bone-chilling voice.


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


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


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


“We should give them our wea…” he began.


“No,” the general interrupted him tersely. “If we do that, then they’ll just kill us all. Rodney,” he called, “close your eyes.”


John was surprised when Rodney Sheppard did just that, immediately, without hesitation. “What the hell are you…?” he started to say, but then he saw the flashbang concealed in the general’s hand. What happened next was so fast that it was all a blur.


The general threw the flashbang onto the ground, at the same time shouting, “Now, Rodney!”


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


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


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


Ronon walked over to where the big man was lying and, John couldn’t help noticing, he gave the general a look of profound respect when he reached him. “He will take several hours to die,” Ronon commented, glancing dispassionately at the man lying groaning on the ground and poking him with the tip of his boot.


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


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


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


“Hmmm,” the general said, his eyes coming to rest once more on the blood trickling down his husband’s neck. “Hold still while I take care of this.”


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


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


“I don’t think any of us are,” John whispered back.


They carried on watching, startled, as the two men stood there—and John could have sworn that he heard a faint humming sound. Then the general released his husband and gently moved Rodney’s head sideways so that he could examine the cut again. John gazed at it in astonishment—the bleeding had completely stopped, and the cut itself looked smaller—and was clearly well on its way to healing.


“How the hell did you do that?” he asked.


The general didn’t move, or take his eyes off his husband. “We are bonded. It’s Kaeira,” he muttered impatiently.


“What is Kaeira?” Teyla asked and John was glad that she didn’t know, either.


The general frowned, but still didn’t remove his gaze from his husband. “Energy flow, life-force,” he muttered brusquely, as if that explained everything. Then, finally, he seemed satisfied that Rodney was okay, and only then did he draw the other man into his embrace. He wrapped his arms around him and held him tight, every muscle in his body taut.


John could feel the emotion in the embrace and wanted to look away, but he was too transfixed by the sight in front of him. They looked so easy together, so right. Rodney’s body seemed to fit with the general’s, sliding against him and locking into place with the ease of long habit. John was surprised to find a wave of envy rising up in his chest and he fought with it, trying to push it back down. Dammit, but it was becoming harder and harder to suppress these emotions and he was angry with himself that it should be necessary. The longer the doppelgangers were here, the more John found himself struggling with thoughts and emotions he’d always been able to control before.


“Sorry about getting caught. I thought I was getting better at this. I guess I’m out of practice,” Rodney muttered into his husband’s shoulder.


The general pushed him back and delivered a heartfelt kiss to the other man’s forehead. “Out of practice?” he asked, with a raised eyebrow.


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


“Did you run, either?” the general asked.


Rodney flushed and squirmed, shaking his head. “Nope. Sorry. The whole distracted thing applies again there, I suppose.”


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


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


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


“You left Dr. McKay down there?” the general asked, in an incredulous tone, striding towards them.


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


“Orders? What orders? To leave a man behind? Whose damn orders were those?” the general snapped.


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


“Why?” The general gazed at him blankly.


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


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


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


John glanced at the general, still feeling angry, his fear and guilt about Rodney’s fate combining in his gut to create a queasy feeling. “You’re right. Let’s get moving,” he hissed, picking up more discarded weaponry from the battlefield and then running full pelt towards the underground chamber again.




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


“McKay!” he yelled. “Where the hell are you? McKay?”


“Colonel. Over here,” Teyla said, kneeling down.


John ran over to her and touched the red stain on the ground beside her. His fingers came back coated in blood.


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


“They’ll have taken him back to the village for sacrifice,” the general said grimly, striding over to the second doorway. “Ronon, can you track them?” he asked.


Ronon nodded and wrenched open the door.


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




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


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


Ronon soon located some tracks, and stood there, surveying them grimly for a few seconds. “He’s still alive,” Ronon murmured. “We know that, at least.”


“How?” John asked.


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


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


“What?” John turned angrily to glare at the general.


His doppelganger sighed. “I’m sorry, John, but Rodney’s right. They’ve tied him to a stake by his hands and feet,” the general told him softly. “That’s how they’re carrying him back.”


“How can you possibly know that?” John demanded.


“Because that’s what happened to me when we visited this planet in our universe,” Rodney Sheppard replied.


John felt a tide of anger rise in his belly. “Wait a minute, you never mentioned this before,” he growled, advancing on the general, his hands balling into fists.


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


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


The general didn’t back away—he faced John down. “I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to mislead you,” he replied. “But we had no idea that this would happen. We assumed that because we’d been here before, we’d know what pitfalls to avoid.”


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


The general sighed. “You’re right,” he said. “But I don’t honestly think it would have made any difference.”


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


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


“John, blaming us won’t get Dr. McKay back,” the general told him.


“We’re here, on this planet, because of you. We put our lives on the line for you.


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rodney Sheppard will screw this up. I should do it,” John said insistently.

The general put his head on one side and regarded him for a moment. “Rodney won’t screw it up. He might bitch and whine, but we both know that when the chips are down, there’s nobody else we’d rather have by our side. This isn’t about Rodney not being up to the task, this is about you.”

“No, it isn’t—and I’m the one who’s supposed to be in charge of this mission, remember?” John growled.

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

“Bullshit. You’re assuming command because you like being in command,” John snarled.

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

“What the hell do you mean, a war on two fronts?” John frowned.

“One with them, the people who took Rodney, and the other with yourself,” the general told him. “With how you feel about him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Hang on in there, Rodney…we’re coming, we’re coming,” John muttered to himself.

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

“One of us should get out there and help him,” he muttered to the general.

“No, we’ll stick to the plan,” the general told him firmly, and John was suddenly grateful that someone was thinking clearly right now, keeping him grounded, because he knew he was hanging on by a thread.

“Now, we need to hold them off for as long as possible to give the Rodneys a chance to escape,” the general reminded the team. “But we can’t hope to defeat an entire village. So when I give the command, I want you to throw your flashbangs into the melee and then get the hell out of there and rendezvous back at the tree. That should buy us enough time. Understood?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We will,” the general said grimly, coming up behind them. “Colonel, you take one arm and I’ll take the other. Ronon, lead the way, same formation as before—double-quick-time back to the puddle jumper.”

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

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

“I can’t,” he said. “You’ll have to land again, John. We won’t be going anywhere tonight —the Wraith have just dialed in.”

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

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

“Rodney needs a doctor!” John protested.

“I can’t change what’s happened,” the general snapped. “Land the damn jumper. In a few minutes, there’ll be Wraith darts crawling all over the place.”

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

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

“We’ll just have to settle down here for the night. Make ourselves comfortable,” the general said.


End of Part Four


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