By Kat Reitz and Perryvic

Part of him wanted to wake up to soft voices, quiet mumbles, and muted infirmary noises that would tell him it was all a dream, all a nightmare. He'd actually had that happen before, had vivid dreams while suffering the aftermath of whatever event or brand of food poisoning that they'd come across. They were bright enough dreams to reach out and touch and be sure he'd suffered through them, but there was always Carson looking down at him like he was ever so slightly unhinged by the way he was babbling.

Part of Rodney hoped he was unhinged.

There were a few distinct sounds. Grunts, groans, voices passing words sharply, and possibly someone praying. Rodney wasn't sure, but he was sure that it might be one of Lorne's men. Not that he knew them well, but he and John were cynical and determined enough that they never bothered. If God existed, he worked through Rodney's hands and John's stupid derring-do, neither of which had gotten them very far that night, had it?


Rodney cracked open his eyes, having to wait for them to adjust to light, and not really surprised to find out that the room they were in was the murkiest thing to ever murk. It wasn't dank, though, and he didn't smell mold, which told Rodney that they weren't being held underground. That was a nice change of pace.

Almost immediately his mind started cataloguing details. The walls were some kind of metal or synthetic alloy. That meant not a building but some sort of ship or craft. There was dim lighting but what he could see of it was more advanced than the normal candle and oil lamp levels of technology a lot of worlds seemed to have.

Apparently there was a clinking sound of something alarmingly like a chain and yes, oh fantastic, he had some sort of metal handcuffs or manacles on him that were tethered to a ring in the wall. As he peered around, he realized there were a lot of those rings, and a lot of people in a very similar position to him.

"I suspect pulling at it isn't going to help," Carson's voice could be heard close to him. "It's not conveniently mortared into crumbling stone work, Ronon."

There was a grunt and a jingle. "Don't care, Doc. We don't want to stick around here."

"Aye, well I'd agree with that, I'm just pointing out practicalities," Carson said wearily. "Do you know who these people are?"

"I heard rumors on Galshiel of Slavers, but I do not know if these are them. These people have ships, true space ships and I thought Slavers were perhaps like the Genii," Teyla said, obviously a little further in the murk. "Are Colonel Sheppard and Rodney awake yet?"

"Hold on..." He could feel someone come closer, trying to lean over him.

"'m awake." Even if he really wasn't, he was going to feign it, moving, eyes cracked open, listening to the jingling of the chains. "We're on a ship?"

"Seem to be," Carson said, even as Rodney felt familiar hands awkwardly check his pulse and pat him with a jingle. He decided that Carson was completely crazy to even think of comforting gestures.

"It's not Wraith," Ronon rumbled from along the line.

Yes, well like he couldn't see that.

"They weren't Wraith. Definitely human, but with guns like yours, Ronon," came Lorne's voice softly from down in the dim light. "Stunners."

"Old weapons. Those were from the last good stockpile my people had." And it made sense that other people might've had them, too, that they came from the Ancients or some human power that had risen and fallen but supplied allies.

"Right, we can argue about the weapons later. Has anyone done a headcount of who's alive?"

"Aye," Carson replied. "We've got Lorne here, ten Marines, Ronon, Teyla, John and yourself. Basically the whole group left to cover everyone else's escape from the Alpha site. All stunned and all woke up here. I am guessing that yourself and the Colonel were the last to be stunned, but no doubt he will be conscious any moment."

"...wouldn't call it conscious, Doc," came a mumble from the other side of him. Sheppard sounded as groggy as he felt.

"Let's shoot for awake," Rodney mumbled. He sat up little straighter, leaned forwards as best as he could, trying to eyeball who was positioned where, and where the door was.

"We haven't seen anyone here since we regained consciousness," Carson said to them both. "But we can just make out other cells much like this one opposite us, and running along the walls. They seem to have a cage front."

"Genii had that sort of set up," John said, already righting himself. "Genii ship?"

"I do not know, Colonel," Teyla said with a hint in her voice that Rodney knew meant she doubted it even if she didn't say anything. "They lost their crafts a long time ago."

"I'm not inclined to think that they were all destroyed or that they all were, what, disassembled? They said they were part of an alliance? And it was how many thousands of years ago?" Rodney leaned forwards and pulled at his chain. "Yeah, this isn't working. If I can get my hands loose I can start on the door."

"Believe me, Ronon's been tugging at his for way longer than I have," Carson said. "Length of the tether is about... well, four feet but the door is further."

"Everyone is okay, though?" Sheppard asked. "Lorne? Got a report down there?"

"It's dark, sir?"

It at least made Sheppard snort a little. "Okay, looks like we might have to rely on charm."

"How many of the, did the evacuation go well other than this?" Rodney asked it almost loftily, but it was hard to imagine it any other way. They were captured, they were held on a ship, which meant they were so far by now if the ship had any kind of hyperdrive that it was hysterical, and if it didn't have hyperdrive, why hadn't the Daedalus taken it out which meant that yes, it had to have had a hyperdrive.

"The others made it through to the Beta site with minimal casualties. We lost Erte, sir -- Dr. Beckett was working on him as we were ambushed." Lorne reported. "And then they shot down your Jumper."

"More like shut it down. Everything just gave out on us, like a damn EM field," John replied, not even hinting at that terrifying moment where he'd yelled to Rodney to brace himself and the Jumper dropped like a stone. "Okay, safe to assume we're not in a good position. From this set up, our hosts are used to this sort of deal, and it's not like the ordinary person goes around with this amount of custom manacles. They are used to captives, it's just what they do with them afterwards."

"Hopefully it involves not being dead," Rodney suggested. He didn't actually remember the crash itself, but he tended not to remember crashes. The head damage, and he jerked his hands to try to reach for his head. "Or a slow bleed from a concussion."

"I did check you over, Rodney," Carson murmured. "You've got a nasty lump but I don't think it's a concussion. I couldn't reach the Colonel, though. Are you injured John?"

"Nah, just banged up," John replied and then paused. "I think I hear someone."

There were footsteps, multiple sets approaching. "Okay then. Poker faces on everyone, you know the drill."

Drill, which they didn't actually have, but they all knew the general way things worked. John spoke for them in situations like that and Rodney pitched in if he had to, but if they all tried to get involved without any point, well. It'd be like a zoo.

The figures were only dimly visible right up to the point where a man's voice said, "Lights on Cell 9," and suddenly they were blinking and squinting in blazing light from above them. There were a variety of people standing outside the cell looking in. Several had the unmistakable look of soldiers or fighters, wearing some sort of emblem Rodney couldn't make out, and there was one man dressed in a no-nonsense black flanking another man and woman dressed in very opulent clothes.

"These were the ones taken, Dzom and Dzoma," the man in black said. "They await assessment and allocation."

The woman who had to be in her forties, if beautiful through virtue of make-up, looked less than impressed. "I believed that you informed me that the raid would take hundreds, Granzhin. This is considerably less than hundreds."

"The quality cannot be discounted," the richly garbed man answered. "Open the cell door, Rakshel."

Immediately John was pushing himself to his feet as the door opened. "Hey, you know if you wanted to talk to us, kidnapping us is not the way we usually do things..."

Rodney struggled, gracelessly, and pushed himself up, back up against one post. "We're a people more than willing to negotiate."

The one called Rakshel didn't seem impressed with them talking just like that and strode into the cell as if he was going to exact retribution.

"Wait... as yet they do not know their place," the Dzom said following slowly. "Time enough for that. Elari, my dear, would you like to do the honors? Are they fertile, and do they have any decent genetic traits that will be saleable?"

The woman drew out a device and as the man in black was glower at Sheppard by-passed him and nodded to Rodney. "Put out your hands, zaro."

He clenched his jaw, and stuck his hands out in mock obedience. "If you cut them off, I won't be much good to you."

"You would be plenty of use for what we require," Granzhin said which didn't sound at all promising and the woman, Elari, dropped a small device into his hands.

There was a tingling sensation and then a variety of colored lights started to turn on. One was red, shining at a reasonable strength, same with some orange. A blue one was literally blazing and drowning out colors next to it, and a white light was present as well.

"Fertile... look at the strength of that intelligence sign," said the Dzom, sounding much more enthused than before.

"Intelligence sign? He bears the mark of the Ancestors, that is much more valuable," the Dzoma answered looking Rodney up and down. "Good."

Valuable? Oh, god. Half of them were -- no, no, all of them were carriers except Ronon and Teyla, and that wasn't from want of offering the shot to her. "What do you want with us?"

"McKay..." John murmured to him.

"It is very simple. We want you for your genes," The Dzoma replied and moved on to Carson's readings. The sphere lit up, the doctors own blue light having a stronger hint of purple than Rodney's but being really rather intense and the white, being stronger than Rodney's reading with an almost gold sparkle to it. "It is our business and purpose. We have saved many races from stagnation and genetic dissolution. Hmm... even stronger Ancestor gene."

"And some for your bodies. Some races prefer to reproduce in the old fashioned way," the Dzom added, looking delighted. "He will be most valuable."

"You know, we're not going just to agree to this," John pointed out even as the Dzoma move down the line, her sour mood obviously improved. "We don't take kindly to being imprisoned."

"You're making an unwise decision," Rodney added, twisting to watch as she tested others. "We could do so much more for you under better circumstances."

"Oh, no, I think we have done particularly well. You will be obedient, or there will be consequences," Granzhin replied. "Rakshel, our Keeper here, is skilled in extracting compliance."

"You are not doing anything to my people!" John demanded, narrowing his eyes,

"Ah, your people are they?" The Dzoma returned to refocus on John. "Your Family?"

Rodney could see John hesitate a moment. "Yes. My People, my family, whatever."

" have married an interesting set," she said, looking over Rodney.

Rodney lifted his chin, staring at the woman sharply. Married was a no-no, because there was no way that they'd all married John, but maybe those people did that. Maybe they were crazy polygamists and why did he have to try to be polite then?

"He has," Teyla agreed quietly. "We are interested in keeping our... family whole."

The woman finally but the device in John's hands and it blazed with white and gold light, nearly over shadowing the other colors so he couldn't actually see how intense John's blue sign was or any of the others. "Craashan! I have not seen such a strong response before. Very well. Rakshel, you will store those for harvesting..." She gestured to the marines. "These ones will serve. You will explain the Rules to them as you wish. I want first samples by tomorrow. We landfall at Uk-tet within the day."

"Are you going to be whoring us out?" Rodney snapped. "You can't be serious, you--"

"Please forgive Rodney, Dzoma. He has much intelligence and little sense," Teyla cut in solicitously, and if she could have gotten close to him, she probably would have stomped on his foot.

"You are a woman of sense. You will understand the rules," the woman replied in a lofty tone.

"This one is your Dzom." Rakshel indicated John who was not looking happy. "You are his Family. Therefore you are his responsibility, and he is yours. This is something all civilized worlds know. Therefore, if you do not comply, or are displeasing, he will take punishment for your lack of discipline. If he does not comply, all of you will suffer for his misdeeds."

"Wait... what?" John was looking alarmed now. "You've got to be kidding!"

"John, I believe they are not kidding." It was that low-pitched stern voice that made Rodney wonder how it was that Teyla was channeling his grandmother on his father's side.

"If you want your pretty wife to stay that way, I would suggest listening when we say things. We landfall within the day. You can make this easy for us, or you can make it hard for your Dzom." Rakshel gestured to John.

"We're not going to just... let you do this," John said. "We're not your slaves, dammit."

Rakshel looked at him and narrowed his eyes. "I see a demonstration is in order. Punishment level one, cell nine exclude position 1. Execute."

Immediately pain radiated from Rodney's wrists shooting agony up his arm as if he had gripped hold of a live wire. It didn't stop until all of them had fallen to their knees again, moaning and swearing -- except for John whose expression was a picture of anger and horror.

"Stop! Stop..." he was demanding and eventually there was relief with no apparent ill effects

"That is the least setting," Rakshel said. "I do not often use this method and I am being lenient as you are not long come to this situation. I find a more... physical approach to be more effective in the long run, but now I wish the majority of you to appear physically fit at the least."

He looked altogether too much like he enjoyed the prospect of inflicting harm and Rodney was pretty sure this wasn't going to be a good experience.

"You will be individually processed, washed, garbed in more suitable attire, and your file of skills assembled for potential customers," the Dzoma added imperiously. "You will be fed if you cooperate. If you prove trustworthy, you will be allocated quarters, if not you will remain in the secure cells. We will be taking fresh genetic samples as part of the process. The Rules are simple. Obey and you will be rewarded, disobey and your Dzom or the entire Dzomari will suffer the consequences, understood?"

"We find it is a most effective way of preventing rebellion," Granzhin said looking amused. "Rakshel, when some are suitably trained, let me know... I think there will be some close friends interested."

"Yes, Dzom," Rakshel inclined his head and then smirked noticeably as he glanced over at John. He gestured to the soldier behind him who moved forward to unclip some of the marines. "I will keep you apprised of their progress. Bring them."

With that, their visitors left the cell, with a couple of their people, and John looked like he was going to tear something apart, but couldn't get hold on anything.

"Is everyone okay? What did that do to you guys?" John asked looking over as the lights remained on.

Obey and be rewarded, disobey and suffer. Like they were dogs, or, or... No, Rodney didn't know. He knew he didn't want to stand up and it felt like horrifying full arm carpal tunnel. His heart was hammering, and if he was lucky it wasn't cooked more than it had ever been previously. "A really unpleasant electric shock. Unpleasant might be the wrong word for it."

"I was going with bloody painful," Carson said a little shakily.

"Bearable," Ronon practically grunted, but even he moved stiffly.

"It is not an experience I wish to repeat," Teyla added. "This could be difficult, Colonel."

"Yeah, no kidding," John seemed to be thinking. "Look, we're going to have to try and make a move sooner rather than later. If we see a chance we're going to have to go for it, regardless of consequences."

"Sir, I'm not liking the idea of you as scapegoat for us," Lorne said. "They'll have you under close surveillance."

"Yeah, which is why if we come up with a plan, it's likely to be you guys spear heading it." He looked at Rodney. "There's got to be some power source running through these chains, McKay. Any chance we can use it?"

Use it? He was brilliant, but there was brilliant and then there was MacGyver, and no one seemed to understand that MacGyver was a show. It was fake, and there was no way he could turn random wiring into a bomb, and even if he could it would just expose them to hard vacuum.

Still, fast death versus slow death.

"Yes, because with the power of my mind I can will the wiring in this cuffs to -- Oh, that's right. I'm not telekinetic."

John had a look on his face that meant he didn't appreciate the flippancy at this point and Carson cleared his throat. "What do you want us to do when they take us one by one?"

"Look for information or opportunity if you can." He glanced at Ronon and Lorne. "They're probably going to expect it from me so I'm going to be disarmingly distracting but if I see a shot, I'll go for it. They won't want to kill, so there are chances there, and they'll have the puddlejumper on board somewhere. If you can get others free, do. If not go for the jumper and put a tracker on this ship and go after the others and get reinforcements."

If just one could get away, then... "Then we'll all try to escape if we can." He wondered how they were evaluating them, and what they were planning to do in the evaluation.

The others murmured agreement and John finally sat down with them. "Now you've met them, either of you recognize these guys?" he asked Ronon and Teyla.

Teyla looked puzzled. "They said the word Dzomari. But the tales of the Dzomari I have heard told speak of them as saviors of worlds, fighting the wraith with the gift of life."

"Sounds like someone's got good propaganda," Lorne said as he shifted to get comfortable, scanning the surroundings constantly.

"Does the gift of life involve blood and semen? Because that's the feeling I'm getting about things," Rodney said, twisting around to look at Teyla. "Because they were awfully concerned about our fertility."

"I do not know, Rodney," Teyla shook her head. "I do not know how I will contribute if that is the case."

Carson looked down. "It's possible to take eggs, lass," he admitted. "If they know how to do it."

"I've heard of slavers. Killed a few," Ronon said. "Looked a bit like them, but not the same. Raid worlds with lesser technology then sell on to the more sophisticated closed cultures. Sometimes ones that have shut their stargate."

Take eggs. Probably a more direct route, and probably... probably they were working on turkey basters if that was their job. Rodney closed his eyes, and pulled at the chains. Yeah, he wasn't thinking about what was going to happen to them, but it was all pretty insert tab A, slot B. "Pay attention to the walls. Look for access panels."

"We'll get out of here," John said looking around at them all. "I can promise you that, we'll get out of here. All of us."

His tone made it a certainty, but Rodney was pretty sure that he could see a tell tale flicker of doubt in his eyes.

They did take them one by one. Not in groups, but one. By. One. And they weren't bringing them back to the same location, which made Rodney think that either they were already separating them, or they'd overheard the information-sharing plan. It wasn't as if Rodney knew any form of sign language and that military hand language made no sense to him anyway.

It didn't keep him from quailing a little inside when the man came towards him with keys at the ready, presumably to unhook his chains from the wall.

"You next, zaro," Rakshel said. They had taken Carson not long before, pretty much working up the cobble line. "Do not disappoint your Dzom by being obstructive."

The chain was unlocked and it was curious that he did that by hand, when something seemed to work remotely or voice activated. Maybe the system wasn't as slick as it appeared. "Move now."

Or maybe they only understood how to work half of the system, which was just as likely. So, aging or failing technology, and Rodney was going to take full control of it.

"I'll see you around, John." Rodney moved, vaguely obedient. Though all of the insistence that he behave made him feel like he didn't want to behave at all.

"It'll be okay, Rodney," John promised again as if he could somehow make it so. Everyone knew the inevitable solution usually came from him.

Rakshel looked faintly amused as he escorted Rodney out of the cell. "Is Jzohn your people's version of Dzom then? It is interesting how these things come to pass. He is strong. His physical statistics are impressive. Yours sadly leave something to be desired."

"Hah hah. Look, I'm a scientist. Do you know what a scientist is?" If they did, well, they were further along than he'd expected.

"I believe we call them makers," the man said with deceptive mildness. "I caution you to be more respectful with your tone. It would be best to begin the habit. Your day's grace for adjustment will soon be up and then I would certainly award one stroke for such a comment."

Rodney clenched his jaw. One stroke at John, then, not him. Shit, shit, he needed to keep his mouth shut, and how was he going to do that? "This isn't how I'm used to existing."

"Then I suggest you use your aptitude for learning," Rakshel answered. "In here. What name are you known by? I have heard you addressed by several. Some remove all names from their acquisitions, but they do not permit the maintaining of Dzomari bonds."

He stepped into the directed room, scanning it right away. First of all, the doorway was slightly raised at the bottom, like a ship's door. Something to remember for later. "I'm Doctor Rodney McKay. If I only get one name, I'll go by Rodney."

The man nodded, making a note. "Exotic names often attract customers. Remove your clothes and step into the cleanser." He gestured to what seemed like a random cubicle shape in the corner of the room. "You will be unable to remove your manacles and I can activate them at any moment."

Fantastic. Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, and then tried to get his jacket off. As long as he had manacles on, the clothes were going nowhere past his wrists.

At least right to the point where Rakshel made a tsking noise and then approached with a knife as big as Ronon's sword machete and without even pausing ripped up the sleeves. "You will not be wearing them again. We will find you more suitable attire. Hurry. I do not appreciate tardiness."

"I don't want to know what your idea of more suitable attire is," Rodney muttered, shimmying his pants off. Then he headed for the clear box, trying not to think about the fact that yes he was being eyed up.

"You will need to have physical training. You and the one called Carson. Evidently makers of your world are allowed to be less than they should be." Rakshel mused and turned a switch, and he was blasted with hot water, and some sort of cleaning soap or something. It was an experience not dissimilar from going through a car wash. Soaped, scrubbed, washed and dried immediately in a shocking suddenness.

Too much, too fast, and all Rodney could do was go stiff and close his eyes tightly. "Fuck, fuck, this is insane, I, I could rebuild your ship to new, I don't need physical training..."

"I sincerely doubt any of you are up to the standards that our customers expect, although I will give you credit for the highest rating of intelligence with the potential for hereditary transmission I have personally ever seen," Rakshel said and frowned a little. "On the other hand, blue eyes are a novelty on some worlds. There might be those who wish you for that purpose, though we have other more alluring acquisitions. I believe that you will look good wearing a darker blue or green. Reds will make you sallow. Now. I require details of your sexual experience, Rodney. Are you accustomed to sex?"

"Yes." He scoffed that, folding his arms over his chest, trying to get back a little of his bodily heat.

"Have you experienced sex with male and female? Multiples? Are you proficient in oral sex? Have you explored different positions?" Rakshel said almost sounding bored as if the possibility he might say yes wouldn't occur to him.

"Yes, define multiples, of course, and yes." He was going to be good, behave, and answer honestly, because it might actually get him more opportunities to get out and getting out meant possible escape. And that was the goal.

"You surprise me, Rodney," Rakshel said with amusement. "Multiples. More than one partner at a time. Two, or three or more. Are you able to bring pleasure to a partner?"

"Three, and that wasn't really planned and retrospectively it was a bad idea. And pleasure is what sex is for." He was working hard not to use his 'duh' voice.

Rakshel nodded and pressed another device. "Rissa, bring in a dark blue robe, and food please."

There was only a short wait before a stunningly good-looking woman, petite and reminding him oddly of Miko entered with a rich looking garment and then food. She stood politely to assist him getting into the robe and he noticed she also wore the manacles.

One of them, then. Were they going to be kept restrained forever? From the looks of the scarring on Rissa's wrists seemed to say it was so. "I have food allergies. Citrus. It's, I don't know what you call it."

"The one called Carson was concerned," Rakshel said. "He tasted all of this food and declared it not dangerous for you. I did wonder if he was making unnecessary complications. Eat."

The robe was surprisingly comfortable and warm, and the food did smell good. Rissa smiled at him and then after a nod from Rakshel, took a small bit of various bits of food and ate them as if to prove it was safe.

Not that she had an allergy, but the fact that Carson had still managed to remember Rodney's allergy was... warming, he supposed. Rodney reached for the plate, picking up a piece of what looked like cooked meat. "Thank you."

It tasted a little like smoked turkey, which would probably amuse Sheppard no end. Eating one thing made him realize how hungry he was. There was something that tasted like sweet potato, and something like bread, and more crispy greens and it was really not bad at all. He'd eaten most of it before he realized it.

"Good." Rakshel mused. "Rissa, the firevein will take effect shortly. Take Rodney to the open quarters and let us see how he performs when his inhibitions are non-existent. I expect a report by morning on him and the others."

How he performed? And he was him, him was Rodney, and shit, shit, it was like Ford and his band of merry men all over again, and Rodney didn't bother spitting the food back out. "You drugged me, are you kidding me? What's the plan, is everyone else in this room?"

"A selection yes. The firevein is very useful in encouraging those who are inhibited and making it altogether a pleasant experience," Rakshel replied. "If you are selected, you will be given more before being with a customer. We find that after a while, either it is not required or you will be willing to take it without encouragement."

The encouragement of hiding it in his food. Rodney stared at the girl, and at Rakshel, waiting for some feeling, some hint that it was all going wrong, but it wasn't there yet. The girl gestured for him to follow her, and he had a feeling that Rakshel would be close behind because he could overpower her in an instant.

He should've refused the food, he should've... no, that was stupid. If they wanted him to have the drug they would've gotten it into him at some point. Probably with a big needle.

They were moving down corridors again and he felt normal up to the point when he noticed that he felt unaccountably warm and his mouth was going a little dry, and suddenly Rissa walking was more fascinating than any ZPM equation.

He tried to keep his eyes to the walls, tried just to focus on one step in front of another, because he wasn't going to do anything to the slave girl. He was going to be dumped into a room of his own people, and they'd never be able to look each other in the eyes again.

Maybe that was the idea.

"In here, Rodney. Believe me, your inhibitions will soon fade. It gives us a truer idea of your natural inclinations and capabilities. Just relax and let it happen." The man had the gall to sound pleasant about the situation, as if this wasn't going to amount to some mentally scarring event, which it was. As if he wasn't already going tense from the base of his neck to the bottom of his spine, and, oh, god, he was in hell.

It was like something out of a bad movie, the floor covered in rises and mattresses, a bed over in the corner, and the rest of his people in there.

It took a while to mentally untangle what he was seeing. There were men and women there, some he didn't know but with the common element of sex there, and the moment he stepped in the room and the unmistakable scent of too many pheromones hit him, it was like someone struck a match in his blood and a fuse had been lit, fizzing away. His attention gravitated to familiar features, sprawled out and looking so hazy with sex he could barely comprehend what he was seeing. Carson... with Lorne and Teyla, Ronon lurking behind them all...

He headed towards them, clutching his robe close. It wasn't a position he'd ever really expected to see Teyla in. Well, never expected to see Teyla in, with Carson kneeling by her head and Lorne with his head between her legs. When she came to her senses, she was going to kill them all. She was going to kill them all, and Ronon was just standing there, masturbating like he was waiting his turn or trying to decide what he wanted and Rodney wanted it all.

It was like the awareness burst over him that it was there for the taking and he didn't see any good reason not to take it. He let his eyes drift over them all trying to decide what he wanted first. There was Carson's ass in the air; there was Lorne, muscled like Sheppard, and the smooth lines of Teyla and Ronon's hungry predatory look. He moved closer.

It was beautiful, and he'd wanted all of them, at least in a little part, except maybe Ronon because Ronon had been scary and looming at first, never mind that Rodney knew he could trust the man to do anything for him now. Now that he knew he had a life again, now that...

Now that it was gone again. Rodney knelt down opposite Lorne, beside Carson, and let his eyes drift to Teyla's smooth stomach, Lorne's hair.

"Rodney..." It was Carson's brogue and over bright eyes, his pupils dilated as he fixed on him, reaching to touch him. "Here at last." His fingers were sure and gentle on his skin. "Aren't they just wonderful?"

It seemed so, since Teyla lay back on the mattress or padded... something, lips damp and wet, fingers curled around Carson's hard-on. They were beautiful, and not frenzied and Rodney felt too warm to keep his robe on any longer.

"Ancestors, if you do not do something more soon, Lorne, I will do it to you!"

"I thought you enjoyed this," Lorne murmured looking up at her. He smiled and it made him look boyish. "I've been taught not to keep a lady waiting."

He shifted then into a different position and Teyla wrapped legs around him, trapping him there.

"Ah well, I could see she was more interested in him," Carson said sounding only a little disappointed that she had let go of him in her eagerness. "Would you like to do something, Rodney?"

He sounded so polite while around them people were ripping off clothes or clawing at each other and Carson seemed more focused on what everyone was doing.

It was hard not to be, because Teyla was real life porn and Ronon was moving in now, and Rodney leaned into Carson, watching the motion of Lorne's hips and ass while he thrust into Teyla. "Yes, anything, I feel like I'm on fire. You know we're drugged, right?"

"Oh aye. Very effective aphrodisiac properties stimulating the limbic reaches of the brain without impairing performance," Carson said almost coherently. "You know, if you'd want to fuck me, I think that would be good. Or whatever you want. I think Ronon is still thinking on the idea. Either that or he's waiting for Teyla or John."

Rodney eyed Ronon as he leaned in between Lorne and Teyla to kiss her. "Maybe he's not really waiting. I, you'd let me fuck you? I feel like I could go all night..."

"That sounds about perfect," Carson replied with a smile and did it matter that they were drugged and this was technically against their will because this was Carson, and he was kissing him slowly and intensely. "Fast, slow, all night long. I want you, Rodney, I've wanted you a long time."

"Should've said something. I've been being the most celibate man in the city." And all he could think of was Carson's lips against his, and Carson's hands shoving his robe off, and that was not Carson's hand on his dick.

Time was a little drifting now, hands on his skin, touches that stirred fires in his flesh, Teyla reaching for his cock even as Lorne slid into her, and Ronon kissed her and lifted her and Lorne to a position to suit him.

Carson, on the other hand, had them there, turning for him, encouraging him with every movement just to do what he needed.

He needed to be fucked and Rodney needed to do it, and he wanted to do it, needed and wanted, felt the press of Carson's back against his chest, ass against his dick, and then everything went haywire.

He hadn't been aware of the door opening again but suddenly Ronon was moving and damn, he could move fast. Like a large cat he bounded across the room, his open robe billowing and there was Sheppard at the door and Rakshel, and he was going for it, doing it now. Trying to disarm Rakshel with his bare hands, and John was trying to help and here he was more worried about his dick.

Just starting to press into Carson, but he stopped, twisted to start towards the door.

Just when he started to try to act, try to do something, the electricity hit.

It was a measure of how far some of them were gone that it took time for it to penetrate into the consciousness of some of them, but it was there and sharp and worse than before. But Ronon was still fighting with that crazy berserker strength, and there were two guards down but more coming and....

The familiar sound of a stunner thumping through the air marked the end of the short-lived rebellion as Ronon dropped to the floor.

"Barbarian!" Rakshel cursed them as he steadied himself and finally there was blessed relief from the pain of the cuffs. "You knew the rules. Your Dzom will suffer for this. This one... a fine specimen but we would be foolish to let him be. Take him to the pods immediately. This one..." he indicated John who had been overwhelmed by guards. "Take to cell eight. The others will witness the punishment later."

"John! Wait, don't take him away..." Rodney had enough sense to manage words, he supposed, but it wasn't anything that would make for an overwhelmingly strong argument. "He, John's, we'll all be so much calmer if he's here." And calmer wasn't the word he was looking for, but fuck. He was still clinging to Carson.

Rakshel seemed to consider. "Perhaps." He paused a moment and then gestured to the soldiers. "Fix him in tight restraints and leave him. They can contemplate what their actions will mean."

"Why the hell don't you just get on with it?" John practically growled.

"Because with the firevein, you might just enjoy it, and that Jzohn is a lesson for another time," Rakshel replied back with his slightly mocking tone. "Your punishment will reflect the severity of the crime."

Concentrate. Concentrate, concentrate, and he managed to let go of Carson, standing up, starting cautiously towards the door -- not to make a run for it, because he knew he was doomed if he even tried, but to get John back into the room.

It seemed that they were always prepared in terms of restraints. Hand and foot and around the knees, and around the torso. They were efficient and the bonds appeared to be metal rather than something they could untie. John was definitely stuck, and then was shoved towards Rodney, toppling in a way that could be dangerous as he had no means of putting his hand out to stop the falling.

So, going forwards towards John was a good idea, because Rodney caught him and, okay, nearly fell over, but he had John, and they could maybe work with the ties or something.

He was willing to bet that the rest of the room was back at it within fifteen minutes, because the urge hadn't faded with the electrical shock. "Hey, I've got you."

"Great," John mumbled. "Well that was a complete fuck up."

"Easy, John... easy..." Carson murmured. "Let's get him lying down and comfortable, Rodney... I'll take his feet."

It was amazing how Carson's doctor voice was just suddenly there even when the man was half drugged out of his head.

"And then what?" But they moved to get John somewhere more comfortable, and Teyla was sort of sitting up. Sort of, and oh, god, someone was going to try having sex with John's feet.

"Bring him," Teyla said. "He is ours to look after."

"You doing okay, sir?" Lorne asked still holding on to Teyla closely.

"Just...peachy," John said with evident frustration as they put him down. "I'm getting the idea today is not going to be one of my favorite days ever."

No, not after losing the city and then losing their people, and the only comfort was that most of them had evacuated and apparently they hadn't taken those still waiting for transport back to earth, and if Rodney really thought about it, the overlaying current of lust in his mind was baffling in the face of all of that misery. "It won't make the top ten. How do you feel?"

"High as a fucking kite," John replied. "Just like you guys are."

It had to be uncomfortable if he felt anything like they did, with the burning desire rising and then not having any means to do anything about it.

"Okay." Right, right, but he'd known that was going to be the answer already, so Rodney shifted, stroked a hand over John's chest, trying to see if he could get John free from his bonds. "Not the best timing Ronon had. But at least he tried something. I was..."

Making Sheppard apparently stop breathing. "McKay."

Carson put a hand on Rodney's arms. "We need to find out whether he wants us to touch him like this. He may find being so... vulnerable difficult."

John shook his head. "You I trust, but I don't like being like this as a prisoner."

"This is supposed to be some kind of evaluation of us all. I'm just trying to see if I can get you out of these restraints..." Rodney shifted, leaning in close to look at John's wrists.

It looked like cuffs that attached to the manacle bracelets they were all wearing, with an additional flat chain looping around and restraining his arms against his body and pulling tight. It couldn't be comfortable but it wasn't harmful. The same was the case with his feet with the additional chain binding around his knees as well.

"Okay, this isn't going to work," John murmured. "Because right now all I want is people touching me and that's not going to be good."

"Can you get it off?" Carson asked even as behind them Teyla and Lorne had started kissing again. "If not, John, you have a choice. Rodney and I can help you."

"Huh, uhm..." Rodney focused, slipped his fingers under the chains and tested them before he nodded slightly. "You were tense when they bound you, so try relaxing and I think I can at least slide down the excess chains."

John exhaled deliberately and closed his eyes as if that would somehow help to ignore the sounds and sights around him. Rodney could see the moment where he forced himself to relax, and he did it with such convincing thoroughness, Rodney found himself wondering if John's laid-back attitude was some elaborate front

He could wonder on it later, because he finally had the leeway to work the chains down, and once the ones around John's legs were past his calves, they slipped down. The chest ones had to go the other way, and it was harder, but Rodney was concentrating on what he was doing, on the feel of John's skin under his fingers, and it made time pass faster.

The problem was that John was obviously hard from that and Carson was still touching him and there were lines he probably shouldn't cross but somehow he was crossing them just by trying to help.

"John?" Carson murmured again. "You don't have to refuse us now. Technically we're married to you. Do you want something?"

There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment then an exhalation. "Yes."

"What?" He managed not to sound strained and exhausted, not sound testy, and Carson was beside him, fingers lingering down Rodney's back as he knelt at John's side.

"Anything. I want, god I want..." For some reason John was finding it difficult to ask or specify as if something was still inhibiting him.

Carson leaned in. "What if I sucked him and you still went on with the fucking? I was looking forward to that..."

Rodney inhaled, staring down at John. "No, I want to hear what he wants. John? It's, we're all messed up, and none of this is your fault. I mean, if you want help getting over to Teyla, she's a little busy with Ronon and Lorne, but oh, god, did I say that?"

"No, that's... that's good," John said in a hoarse voice. "I need something and I don't think I can do anything else like this."

Carson looked at Rodney. "We understand, but...with men?"

"Wouldn't be the first time and I think we're going to be way beyond worrying about that," John said.

"That was the thought I'd had," Rodney murmured, fingers trailing over John's chest. He liked the feel of the hair under his fingertips, the muscles when John sucked in a sharp breath. "I did manage to get the chains a little off of you, John, you can probably kneel up."

With a little help from Carson, he managed it, looking a little more comfortable than the vulnerability of lying prone on the floor.

Carson shifted closer. "Me or you?" he asked Rodney. "I want the both of you, if I can."

The idea of Carson as some sexually insatiable fiend was unbelievable, but Rodney wasn't adverse to it. "Me or you what? I, you must be thinking more clearly than I am."

"I appear to be, which is frankly amazing," Carson murmured kissing him. "Then I will give John the blow job and you just do what you want."

What he was allowed to do. "Right, I can do that." If he could get John to do more than just stare at him. He pulled away from Carson, and sidled up behind John to kiss at the bottom of his left earlobe. "John..."

"I'm...still here," John replied, sounding nearly normal, but he could feel the shiver. "Just keep doing that okay? Just...keep touching."

He felt as much as heard the jerk when Carson kissed John, bending over him, mouthing at his erection.

Rodney closed his eyes, and pressed close to John. His erection pressed down against John's asscrack, and he let his lips linger against John's ear. "I'd kill for lube right now."

"Don't let that stop you," John answered in a low barely audible voice and that just couldn't be right. John could not be inviting him to do that, not just in general but without lube.

But he had his eyes closed again and Carson was making enthusiastic sounds as he drew John into his mouth.

He sighed against John's skin, turned his head and pressed his nose against the nape of John's neck, and shifted his hips. "Has to be something in here. Can't imagine they'd drug us up and not provide lube..."

It was logic, and evidentially not something many people in the room had bothered with. But Carson heard and he had to assume the man had some sort of pleasing people obsession because he pulled himself away and moved over just briefly to pick something up from one of the few tables. He beamed as he returned.

"Saw this earlier. I'm not brave enough to invite someone into me without working out there are lubricants handy," he said even as he settled back to what he was doing.

Rodney had just kept a hold of John, letting his hands idle over John's chest, over his stomach, and Carson coming back with the lube actually startled him. "You actually noticed this?" He'd been too busy thinking about the fact that his whole body felt overheated, but now he had a little cup of what looked like goo to dip his fingertips into, a pot of slickness. "John?"

"Do it." It was a little more brittle and tense than he would've liked but the rational part of his mind was not getting any votes due to the drugs. "I'm gonna need something good to think about."

"Sounded like the plan was to leave us here until morning, whenever that is, so we should have a few something goods for you to think about." He kept one arm looped around John's body, clutching him close, while he slipped two fingers slowly up John's asscrack.

It got a sound, an exhalation close to a moan and it certainly sounded like he was enjoying it. It was strange because Rodney was sure that being powerless was meant to be a big punishment for John, but right now he seemed more than into it. Maybe it was the drug, it had to be the drug because this wasn't the sort of thing he thought of John doing.

He could see Carson moving on him as well and occasionally his hands slipped over from John's skin to his own, warm and sure.

That had to feel good and it was funny how he kept being distracted by what he could see when what he could feel was muted by comparison until he shifted his hips and started to hump slowly against John's asscheek while he thrust in and out of John with his fingers. John was hot and tight, and the muscles up his back kept shifting.

"Rodney..." John gasped out, then in the next nearly shuddering breath it would be "Carson..."

He seemed a little delirious with the sensation and the more they touched, the more everything else faded around them until it narrowed to the fact that he was going to really do this.

They were really going to do it, were doing it, because Carson was sucking him off and he was fucking John's ass with his fingers. He was really doing it, and slowly pulled his fingers out, scooping up a little more to stroke onto himself and oh, god, he was going to get to do it with John.

He just had to move, to push in, shift, and he wanted this badly. He pushed in carefully, easing in, and god it was as good as he thought it was going to be. Better.

John stiffened and then relaxed, his balance falling back into Rodney.

"Easy, easy, John, god, I've wanted to do this for so long you have no idea and I'm sorry it took this to get here and I'm sure we'll, in the morning, I'm sorry, you feel so good." He could keep his arms wrapped tight around John, because he knew Carson was sucking him off, taking care of the rest of him. Otherwise he would've reached around, felt him, touched him, stroked him.

He loved the heat and pressure, the way John was trying to move and the fact that for once he was taking care of him. Then he really was sucked into the sheer physicality of moving. It was a relief and ecstasy like he'd never felt before, whether through the drug or through fulfillment of a long cherished ambition, he didn't know.

He could hear John, making noises, Carson murmuring in a soft Scottish accent.

He could feel John's body, the tension of it, and then he could feel him rocking back against him, could feel John moving harder and faster between him and Carson. "John, John, my god..."

"...Rodney..." It was hoarse noise and he thrust back onto him as best he could. "Now...gotta...."

And he felt the clench that meant John had come himself, gripping him tight.

All muscle and sweaty skin, and Rodney hardly noticed the friction of the chains against his skin while he moved against John, picking up his speed until his muscles hurt.

He could do this; there was a heady power to doing it like this. To having John like this but it was also the fact he was doing it with John. He'd wanted that for so long, needed it and thought he'd never get it so he had the guilty feeling of pleasure that he was finally having what he wanted.

A few rapid thrusts and he was at an orgasm that made him see stars.

He wanted John to hold onto him back, wanted more than what they had, wanted John not to be bound hand and foot -- just bound hand to hand like they were, struggling for full movement but close to it. He leaned close against John, holding onto him. "Mmm. You okay?"

"Yeah," John murmured, mussed and damp with sweat. "That way...good, Rodney, thanks. Fuck..."

"It looked good from here," Carson said in a sleepy fashion from somewhere on John's lap. Evidently he had managed to see to himself in the process as well.

"Could you... just lie me down?" John asked. "Just for a while."

Rodney shifted, stretching a hand over John's chest. "You're not very creative, but all right. We'll keep an eye on you."

It wasn't that John had never experimented a little, but any experience with sex and restraints hadn't been forced on him. He knew he was under the influence of the drugs, but there was a small part of himself that was saying it was really inappropriate for him to be enjoying his second in command fucking him. He'd had to watch Carson and Rodney get into it with great enthusiasm and as the effects of the drugs hit their peak, he was practically encouraging people to come and have a piece of him for all of his earlier reservations. And they did. Right now it was Lorne and Teyla tag teaming him and he was into it way too much.

Being tied up wasn't actually half the problem he'd expected it to be. Lorne had situated himself under John, and Teyla was straddling his hips, fucking himself onto his cock with a steady motion. At least it had seemed steady, until Rodney had come up behind her. Now the motion was stuttered, and she kept gasping, but John didn't care because he was the center of it all.

He was dimly aware that Lorne was still calling him 'sir'.

"Your ass is so good, sir..." Lorne managed. "Oh Jesus...yeah."

It made John laugh a little, deep and raw.

He liked the steady thrust, though. Lorne's dick was long, just thick enough. Rodney had been thick, and he knew just how to move to make it burn in all the best ways. From the feeling of something moving counterpoint when he moved into Teyla, Rodney was fucking her ass, too.

Teyla looked wild and glowing as she rode him, and he wanted desperately to touch her, as they all moved together towards another seemingly impossible climax. He could feel Carson kissing him again, touching him, and from the way he moved, someone was taking advantage of the situation. He was at the centre of a knot of humanity close to orgasm.

Except for not having a choice at all, it was fantastic, it was amazing, it was everything that sex in a group was supposed to be, and he wished he wasn't chained up, because Lorne was hammering hard into his ass, and then his fingers were digging into John's skin, and John could feel Rodney's fingers brushing where John's dick was sliding into Teyla, doing something to her that made her groan and thrash against John.

Carson was kissing him softly and tenderly, at odds with the raging passion around him, but it was in a strange way incredibly erotic and Teyla's movement, Rodney's fingers, Lorne's thrust and Carson's kiss was a combination that he couldn't resist. He climaxed again, he'd lost count and that drug had to be some sort of Viagra concentrate, but he lost that in the haze of orgasm.

He lost it until they all slowly stilled, until Lorne squirmed out from under him, until Teyla slouched forwards panting, and Rodney steadied himself with a hand on her shoulder, breathing a little raggedly.

One of Lorne's men was still fucking Carson when the door opened.

He was dimly aware of that and even if he hadn't have been tied he doubted they could've moved through sheer exhaustion. That theory was proven when men entered the room and despite protests from the others, he felt their hands on him, rough and business like.

"What are you doing?" Teyla was moving. "You must not take him!"

Seemed like he didn't get a choice even though he struggled with all his strength.

"Where are you taking him?" Rodney demanded. He was moving in a protective way, trying to get himself between Teyla and Carson and the men, one of the hands reaching to pull John back.

He was brutally and efficiently backhanded away, as were the others when they tried to coordinate themselves to move. His own struggles were proving fruitless, if inconveniencing the guards who had him.

"Enough," Rakshel's voice said and turned the shock on. This time John felt it and it was all the worse for needing to move as the others did when they dropped and groaned. "Take him, clean him and bring him to cell eight for his punishment. Call Rissa's Dzomari to clean these ones and take them back to cell nine when they are done."

"Yes, Keeper," one of the guards replied and John lost sight of that even as he was carried away.

It was a good thing that they were carrying him, because his legs were weak and everything felt pulled out of joint, and possibly the worst part of it was that his dick was still hard, still damp, and he felt like if he hadn't been restrained he would have turned on one of the guards and asked for another go.

They weren't going to be able to refuse if they were given a shot of that again. It wasn't something that suppressed the will; it seemed to subvert it, instead realigning the focus without dulling the thoughts. Even he was convinced that what had happened had been what he wanted.

The cleanser was as sharp and abrupt as it had been before and Rakshel was looking at him carefully even as he was lifted out again and they headed back towards the cells. "If I had not been sure before that you were Dzom to your people, that performance in there would've convinced me. All of those you have married were desperate for your favor. Most interesting."

"What can I say? My family likes me." His people liked him, way too much, and he wasn't doing nearly enough to get them out of the situation they were all in. He just had to coast on it for a while, work out what was going on and how to subvert the system once they were in it. It just would've been easier if he didn't still feel a sexual pull towards everything that came close to him.

"Indeed. You were unusually accepting of their advances. A good bond in a Dzomari is essential." Rakshel replied. "I will explain how this works."

"I think I'm getting an idea right now," John said. "This drug..."

He was trying not to think about the fact he was slated for punishment and what that might entail.

"No, the whole system. You will work for their food, and vice versa. You are responsible for their misbehaviors, and they are to be held responsible for yours. If you attempt to escape, if you attack a client, they will be punished. If they attempt to escape or attack a client, you will suffer the consequences. If you wish to eat while you are here, they will need to perform service in a fitting way to earn you that right. If you wish for them to eat, you will need to be a satisfying purchase on the planets we make landfall on. If your Dzoma bears a child to a client, you will all reap the benefits of the planet it is placed with. Your people will bring wealth to the bloodlines of many peoples, if you cooperate."

Okay, so that was a nasty twist. It was one thing to put himself through suffering with being obstinate, and another to see his team, his men punished and weakened. If there was going to be rebellion it was going to have to be on their side. One person out of action was logically sensible as opposed to all of them.

"Right..." John grimaced. "And there's some sort of way of deciding this?"

"We will see what your people can do for us, after we leave the planet we are headed to. You can also earn your way by helping on board. Your first husband says he is a maker, and that is very useful to us. What do you do?"

Useful was good. Useful was very good. He needed to keep his people valuable to their captors. "I...was the commander of my people's military organization. I have those skills. I'm a pilot, a flyer and was often used to command and initialize Ancient technology to fight the Wraith."

Amongst others. "My people have many talents. You shouldn't waste them. Carson... Carson is a very skilled people? Injuries, illness? Teyla has superior negotiating and warrior skills, Evan is very skilled in certain fighting techniques and..." Shit what else could Lorne do? " artistic, as well." A bit weak there. "Rodney is... a genius. He's a little... difficult but if you make allowances..."

"We will make the allowances we wish to." They had to make allowances, because if they didn't Rodney was going to be his number one source of punishments, and John could feel that coming already. He just wasn't sure whether it was going to be an extended sadistic punishment, or a good old fashioned beat-down. As strung out as his body felt, either would not be amiss. "Why do you only have one wife? Or were the others in the part of your group we failed to capture?"

John winced a little. "There were... others yes." He hoped Elizabeth had made it through to the beta site. They would move to another one the moment they knew they weren't coming through the gate. They could be anywhere. "So... you are all a... Dzomari?"

"On this ship, yes, we are. This is none of your concern, however. You will be punished, and when we make landfall you will be among the possible selections for our clients." The man stood up, and John shifted, curled in on himself while he tried to stand to follow him.

"Uh, how exactly am I being punished?" John asked trying his best to be as charming as possible in case that might help. He wasn't particularly wanting this experience but sometimes preparing helped.

"In time, I will know how best to hurt you, how to do it in the most exacting way possible. However..." The man inclined his head, and then swung out a punch against his jaw.

His head snapped back as the fist made contact and he tried to go with it as best he could. "Ow!" he said after he stopped seeing stars. There was something about doing that that made it seem like it wasn't as bad as it actually was.

It was bad, but it helped, helped make it feel like it wasn't but so bad, except the man leaned in and landed another sharp punch to his face, hitting his chin and knocking him over.

Of course he still couldn't balance and he went over, hitting his head as well. And once he was down it seemed like that was a cue for the guards to join in as well. Kicks that he was sure weren't going to look good, and then they were hauling him back up again to face Rakshel.

Rakshel punched him hard in the gut. "I want you to remember this when you think about escaping. You can live a luxurious life here, if you work. If you defy us, your people will suffer worse than this."

He doubted that, but he couldn't risk them. They had Rodney's brain, Lorne and Teyla's skills, Carson for the gene. It was a balanced team. He needed them intact. Doubling over gasping in pain John managed to twist his head up to look at the man. "You ...won't sell me for much if I'm beat all to hell..."

"There are those who purchase our services less for your bloodline and more for the exoticness of sex with a man who enjoys suffering." He punched him again, hard against the ribs.

It took John a long moment of coughing to recover from the sharp pain of that one. "Wouldn't say I was exactly... enjoying this..." he managed and his drawl was slipping a little. Previous hits burned and throbbed painfully. His jaw already ached.

"Your dick is hard," Rakshel pointed out needlessly.

"Yeah, well..." John coughed a little more drawing it out. "Drugs. Orgy making drugs. Kinda par for the course."

He then had to try and curl as there was another boot in his side

"You're going to be placed across from your people. You need to earn the right to be allowed to be with them. Get him up."

John was pretty much hoping that was it, because from his point of view it was enough. If that was the punishment he could deal. Tough it out. But he didn't want to be apart from the others

It still hurt when they dragged him to his feet. "Why... are you separating us?"

"To give you incentive to work." Rakshel moved to open the door, watching him. "If you want to be with your family so badly, then you must work for it. And they must work for it."

"Great, I get it... work. Gotta work..." The man was obsessed. He put on this polite civilized tone but he had a punch like an iron bar. "Any chance of all this... coming off?"

"Yes. If..." Rakshel smiled and John could tell what the answer was going to be. "You earn it."

Fucking fantastic. He didn't want to ask the question but it came to his lips anyway because he was really hating being bound hand and foot. "How?"

"Show trustworthiness. Have your people show it. It will take time. Many people bear the scars of their frustrations with the chains." Rakshel started down the hallway, and the guards followed him. John guessed that was going to be that. He'd have to earn everything.

Crap. Fuck and crap. Naked, still chained and they'd laid a few good ones on him, enough so he could see bruises purpling up on his torso already. Which meant he would end up with a bruised jaw and back as well.

No doubt the others were having a similar talk. He needed to talk to them, discuss it with them, tell them the strategy. Or he could just shiver, lying here, unable to do much of anything and that driving him insane.

He hated being bound like that; lying uselessly on his side once he was deposited into his cell. He could see his people in the other cell across from him, in varying stages of dress. At least they'd been allowed that.

He just had a feeling that things were not going to go well from this point in. He was going to make a pathetic leader in this sort of situation; he wasn't going to be able to save them. Crazy plans were hard to do when he literally couldn't move. He'd have a go later when the lights went down of getting out of the chains. He was pretty adept at ropes, but chains were more difficult.

He drifted for a little while, and when he woke again it was to a body starting to stiffen up with pain and bruising and to Rodney's voice.

"So, then we have a plan. Sort of." It sounded as definitive as Rodney got when he wasn't pleased with the way things were going. It was the same voice he used when he had a last ditch plan that did work but kept insisting might not. "Hey. John?"

He opened his eyes, and then rolled himself over with a hiss of pain under his breath. "Yeah, I'm here. Not going anywhere." His wrists were throbbing as well. He hadn't noticed that before.

"We're touching down on a planet that Teyla's has heard of before in a few hours. We're planning to, uh, cooperate." So they'd had the same talk he'd had.

"They gave you the talk?" John managed. He was thirsty and it looked like there wouldn't be any of that without earning it either. "You know my last orders. They still stand." Escape if there's a means to escape, move on if they have to. He'd deal with the fall out if he was still locked away like this.

Rodney leaned against the bars, face defiant. "Teyla, Lorne and myself have decided not to obey those orders. I would rather wait until a more opportune time, after wev'e gained some level of freedom."

"Dammit, McKay!" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. "You know the reasoning behind it... it's sound."

"I can't say I disagree with their reasoning either, John," Carson said. "But right now I'm more interested in what they did to you. How are you?"

"Little knocked around. Uninspired roughing up," he reported as if it had bounced off of his skin. "No big deal."

"It looks like more than no big deal." Rodney folded his arms over his chest, still leaning close against the bars. He had a robe on, and that was a small blessing, John figured.

"Eh." John attempted a shrug. "How are you guys?"

"I think the drug is out of our systems," Carson said and cleared his throat. "It had a very potent effect. Usually that sort of impact would shut down the higher functions of the conscious mind but it didn't seem to."

"I think we were all very... conscious of what we were doing." And maybe there were regrets in his voice, or maybe John was hallucinating that when he watched Rodney say it.

"Yeah..." Lorne moved near the bars. "Uh, sir, I'm... that wasn't appropriate and I...."

John shifted, trying to use the bars to push himself into a sitting. "Look it's, look. There's not going to be guilt over what any of us did or didn't do, okay? Got a feeling we're going to be crossing a lot of lines one way or another."

He wasn't going to mention the unsettling news that he was being ear marked for customers with particular tastes.

They probably all were. Slowly but surely, and the idea that his people were just going to... do that, work that and work the system was disturbing. "We've been told that tomorrow myself, Teyla, Lorne, you, Carson and Anders are being taken planet side for the ah, showing."

"Yeah. I figured that," John answered. "They tell you about me earning your food and privileges and you doing the same for me?"

"Yes. And earning our way out of chains. That's the point I'd like to get to." Rodney gestured to his own wrists. And then escape would be easier. Escape would physically be easier, but mentally?

Mentally was going to be a problem. He wasn't sure that even Lorne had the same sort of background in being captured as he did and there was a feel and flow to the process and these people were pros. Everything was being designed to ensure a slide into obedience.

The orgy had been an opportunity to demonstrate their powerlessness, to break down existing cultural conventions and reward them at the same time. The double blind on the blackmail was particularly effective. People might risk their own lives and welfare but not so much for others. These Dzomari had all the angles covered and had obviously been doing this a long time.

"I've told them some of your skills," John said after a moments pause. "We'll work on that. Won't do any of us any good if we get weak and unhealthy."

Until they had a means of determining if they were monitored, he would have to be circumspect. His head was throbbing and he was only now starting to feel the embarrassment of being naked in front of everyone. Stupid, really, considering what they had done. No guilt, there was going to be no guilt. He hitched his knees up and rested his head on them.

Rodney kept watching him -- they all were. All eyes on him, looking to him for leadership that he was in no position to offer with a straight face. "I think all of us have stressed that. No idea how much by way of military training they want."

"I think you and Carson are potentially the most useful," John answered making an effort to stop slouching in a way that wasn't laidback and become more of a leader. He had to focus on staying awake.

"Aye, well, if they trust us enough," Carson added. "I doubt we'll get a look at anything straight off."

"Probably later rather than sooner," Rodney noted. "You should rest. It's, we'll be planetside soon. We should all rest."

John nodded gratefully. There was going to be no comfortable way to lie down and he was already getting cold. "One last thing... the odds of us doing everything right tomorrow is pretty minimal so I don't want you guys to feel bad about anything that might happen. And I'm sorry if I screw up in advance, okay?"

He wasn't going to, he couldn't afford to, not really, but there was no way he was going to make it out of the day unscathed, he knew that.

"It's not going to be a problem," Rodney assured him. "If you screw up, it's all right. We'll just... consider tomorrow a test situation. And hopefully we'll be fed first."

"Yeah." He doubted that considering he had to earn it. "You guys sleep well."

He probably wasn't going to. He had a choice of curling on his side or lying flat on his front as his hands were behind him. Curling then, as much as he could to stay as warm as possible.

It wasn't comfortable, but it was going to have to do. That was his punishment for Ronon's escape attempt. But he wasn't going to dwell on it, he was just going to sleep and see what happened in the morning. It had to be better than everything that had happened to them so far that day.

This had to be one of the most humiliating experiences of Carson's life. There he was, standing on display as a series of dignitaries examined them closely and discussed their attributes with some of the Dzomari, as they appeared to be called.

They weren't displayed alone -- there had been a large and impressive collection of people who had issued from the transports, some dressed in finery, and with coiffured hair and makeup and then people like themselves. Either there for the genetic material, or for some recreational reproduction.

It was strange, but as a geneticist he could see that what these people were doing was actually very beneficial to the Pegasus population. It meant survival. Genes were passed around at an exponential rate; culled societies did not stagnate due to reduced options and lack of genetic diversity.

He would just prefer that he wasn't being looked over like a slab of meat and his 'notes' glanced over as if that was all there was of him.

He was apparently very good at looking after a Partner's needs, which he could have told them without the orgy, and interested mostly in men, which wasn't exactly true as he was more equal opportunity than that, and that he had blue eyes and a strong series of gene sets.

It left Carson feeling a bit like a horse at an auction, and it didn't help that Rodney was standing beside him, shifting restlessly.

There was no one near them at the moment so he risked an, "Easy, Rodney," quietly even as he saw the clustered group around the Colonel grow again. He shouldn't be surprised but there was a disproportionate amount of interest there and from people that put the hair up on the back of his neck.

John was good looking as well as genetically gifted, the obviously strongest Gene in the galaxy. It was no wonder that everyone was gathered around him, even more than the pretty ones, the ones who were dressed and free and....

"It's not easy. This is insane."

"Aye, well we know that. You were the one arguing we toe the line for a bit," Carson said. That hadn't surprised him at all. He knew all about Rodney wanting John even if John himself didn't see. "Perhaps they will only want samples from us."

"I argued we toe the line, so there's a chance in hell of us making it." Rodney lifted his chin, and eyed one of the men who was looking at his stats.

"Well, we are experts in surviving at least," Carson replied. "It will be hard, I know that much."

Unwittingly he glanced across towards the colonel. They had to do their best.

The man was looking at them both and one of the Dzomari approached them "Did you have questions, ser?"

The man looked at them both again, and then turned to the Dzomari salesman. Rentman? Carson wasn't sure what to think of him as. Possibly 'pimp' would work. "I'd like to purchase them both for the duration. Is their stamina high? My daughters are all cycling together, and we know that the time is best now for the two oldest at least, so..."

"They are very healthy, ser," the man said. "As you can tell, they are accustomed to feeding well. We will ensure their stamina is high for this service to give the opportunity maximum chance of conception."

These people so needed to know about proper in vitro fertilization, Carson thought. He was a little disconcerted at the thought of being purchased alongside Rodney. He had been hoping that whatever happened he would be able to pretend it hadn't happened.

"Good, thank you." The man gestured to Rodney vaguely. "When would I need them back to you?"

"We will prepare them, and return them to our encampment tomorrow morning for a check that you are satisfied and an additional treatment to ensure the stamina. We will be moving on in three days. It is up to you if you wish to remain with these two or with others." The Dzomari looked at them. "They are not fully trained, but will be competent for the task. Others of their Dzomari will be remaining in the centre for their service."

Again that glance over at John that Carson really didn't like.

It seemed to indicate that John wasn't there for the 'simple' service of impregnation, and Rodney twisted to look towards John. "Good. Are these your standard fee?"

"They have additional factors for intelligence and the presence of Ancestor blood," the man said. "But as they are not fully trained, then the price will be at its lowest at this point. You would be wise to take advantage. The next time we return, I suspect they will be much more expensive."

"Depending on how many years it takes, I hope we'll have a few babies to stand as proof of their worth." It made Carson's chest clench, but the man shook the Dzomari's hand, and he gestured to them. "I'll take them both and return in a day."

"I will prepare them and have them delivered to you, ser," the Dzomari said and nodded. "Please, take your refreshment where we serve customers and we will bring them to you."

This appeared to be normal because the man turned to them both. "I will be giving you firevein to ensure your interest. The Dzoma wishes me to instruct you that if you are not pleasing, or attempt any means of escape or subversion, your Dzom -- who will be staying here for his service -- will be killed unpleasantly. And believe me, I have seen it happen before. No hint of disobedience can be tolerated."

Rodney closed his eyes, shifting his wrists in the chains. "Do we stay restrained while we're there?"

"You will be released, though the manacles will remain," the man replied. "You can be tracked through them."

"We're not going anywhere," Carson reassured the man, knowing he sounded weak and conciliatory but the idea was to get their confidence after all.

"You have John, after all." He didn't want John dead, neither of them did, and Ronon was the only one who might even say 'fuck it' and try despite it. Ronon was in a stasis chamber, as far as Carson could guess.

"We do. Remember this," their seller remarked, gesturing for them to step out of their platforms.

That was going to be something he really had to try and find out when they were released from restrictive confinement.

"We will," Carson said. "What will... what will this earn for John? Our service here?"

"A five token each if you are pleasing," The man smiled a little smugly as he gestured for the drug to be brought over. "He will need ten for a meal. Three not to be restrained at night. Ten to be returned to you. There is more but you understand the point."

That was hardly anything at all. One meal, that was, what sustainment? Barely that? Carson could feel Rodney strain a little where he stood, holding still while their salesman gestured for them to open their mouths.

He took and swallowed the pill, even as the man removed their chains, which was a relief, and he shook out his arms.

It was going to be difficult to keep John fed at the least and god alone knew how he was gong to manage to do the same to them.

"Remember what I have said. Be pleasing. Recommendations and praise from your purchaser can earn extra tokens."

More food, better treatment for John. Rodney nodded slightly as the man talked, and shook out his own arms. "Which John can trade in for what he needs?"

"You chose what he will have, and he chooses what you will have," the man replied as if it were self evident.

Carson hated the fact that they were trapped by invisible bonds. If they were more selfish, they would run and be damned to the others. But he knew that they couldn't, not unless they all ran at the same time.

"Come. It is time for your service."

Service. Carson tried not to concentrate on the likely age of the girls they'd be used on, tried not to think that was so far from his tastes as to be hysterical, because if he did think about it then he'd think harder about running, and... And that thought got him nowhere at all.

"One meal," Rodney murmured, frowning. It seemed unsustainable.

"I dread to think how John is going to feed us," Carson replied. "Though perhaps he is worth more being of higher rank?"

Otherwise none of them would be eating.

"There are those others in the still-sleep," the Dzomari man said as he led them. "There is one token per sample of genetic material taken per day, per person. You have ten there. That is enough for one meal per day. Or for other things. As for his service...he must perform specialist services to earn for you."

Carson was getting an inkling of what that might be and he had a horrible suspicion that a fair amount of the food allowance would have to be spent on medicines which he wasn't even sure that they had access to, because the Dzomari seemed primitive in the oddest spots and developed in others.

"So, how soon can I start repairing things on your ship and what kind of earnings would that bring for John?" Rodney's questions were vaguely desperate sounding, but it probably gave them all credibility for being seen as a family unit.

"The Dzom will require proof of your trustworthiness before this is allowed, but that would earn more, yes. The price will be for the level of skill. Obviously if it is something we could easily repair then it will take many jobs to earn a token. Something that has been broken for some time would be worth more. Ship service is often worth less than this."

"Do you have a hyperdrive?" Carson could imagine the follow-up question to that of 'Do you want one?' and possibly 'How do you feel about nukes', but. They weren't spoken just yet.

"Yes. It cuts the impossible journeys between stars from years to weeks or months," the man said proudly and Carson was pretty sure the Daedalus hyperdrives were much faster than that.

"How is your medical knowledge? Do you have good doctors? Uh...healers?" He asked.

"And think about how you'd feel to have that trip cut to days instead of weeks. Because that was what I did for our people," Rodney cut in, glancing at Carson with a vaguely hazed look. "And Carson was our best Doctor, healer, whatever you want to call them?"

"I would have to consult the Dzom. One planet's medicine is another's poison."

"Believe me, I know enough about human anatomy to work around that," Carson said even as they were taken to the man. The pill version of the firevein must be a little more slow release than the food they had eating but already there was a tingle of it there.

"They are ready," the Dzomari said. "Return them in the morning with the others."

Easy as that, they were handed over to the man. Not handed over, but... escorted. Trusted not to turn on their purchaser out of desperation to keep John safe, and trusting everyone else to care about John that much, too.

That wasn't the hard part. The first few steps after the man were.

He wanted to run away, and the temptation was there as they stepped out into the fresh air of the world he remembered being referred to as Uk-tet. He wasn't sure he could do this, physically do this. If not for the drug he was sure he wouldn't be able to do anything at all.

"You will stay at the house of my sister. My daughters, Eresis and Nasime, are unwed and many men were taken in a culling a bare few months or more ago," the man said. "There will be many using the service this time. You have intelligence. This survives more than brute strength and you do not seem oafish and crude."

Rodney eyed the man as they walked, quiet for a moment before he said, "We're from a very advanced people. Do the... Do you have allies?"

"Yes, we are traders with many worlds," the man replied. "It matters not what people you came from. Once you are of the Dzomari, that is who you are. We have seen it often. Do not dwell on your past existence."

Do not dwell? Carson found himself abruptly angry. That's all they were going to do. Think and wonder how to escape even if they appear to comply. There were six of them against the whole of the Dzomari people. They would be dwelling and then some.

"We're Lanteans." Rodney bit it out, trying obviously to use it as the tool it might turn out to be.

"Lantea is no more," the man said. "That word has spread swiftly. No quote It is a sad thing, but perhaps the City of the Ancestors was not meant to be used in such a way."

"We were betrayed, it was through no fault of our own," Carson put in, not liking the sound of judgment in the man's voice.

"Some day I suspect we'll be able to argue that." Rodney kept walking, following the man. They couldn't have to go too far to reach the man's house. The settlement was basic, though the buildings were obviously of some hard baked local stone and mortar. Perhaps it was a winter season because it looked like hot weather villas but it was cool in the air now.

"This is the house," the man said. "My daughters are inside. If you mistreat them, we will know. We are watching the house from the outside."

"You're just... we just go in and, uh?" Rodney gestured, a complicated motion that vaguely seemed to mean sex to Carson.

"Yes. Both of you." He opened the door and more than vaguely pushed them both towards the opening. "We will take you back tomorrow."

"I wonder what could go wrong with this. Thank you, we'll, uh. Perform to spec." Rodney lifted his chin, arms folded over his chest as he started in through the front door. "I don't think they gave us enough drugs."

"Slow release, Rodney," Carson said, sure of that. "If we were anything like what we were yesterday we might walk in and practically rape the wee lasses..."

He hesitated as he came face to face with the two 'wee lasses', who looked incredibly young.

The interior of the house was simple, one story -- because two would have structural considerations that Rodney was no doubt considering -- and it seemed... clean, Carson supposed. Clean for the standards those people were used to. "Uh, you two must be..."

The whores, the gigolos, the hired cock...

No of those descriptions sounded particularly flattering to anyone. "Your companions tonight, yes," Carson said soothingly recognizing nervousness. "Would you care to introduce yourselves?"

He was old fashioned enough to want names of someone he was having sex with.

The girl who he guessed was the older of the two smiled and bowed slightly, holding the sides of her skirt as she did so. "I'm Eresis, and this is my sister Nasime."

"It's a pleasure to meet you both. I am Carson and this is Rodney," he said, introducing them both.

He wasn't sure what usually happened at these things but he was pretty sure no woman particularly wanted to get down to nameless sex unless they specifically requested it. "I believe your father thought we might be a good match."

All the time Carson was trying to convince himself he wasn't being a whore.

Except that he was. He was purchasing John half a meal, when he was at least three in debt to begin with, and when he was going to be garnering untold physical damage while they were there with the girls.

Rodney cleared his throat. "It's nice to meet you." They were both brown haired, pretty for their age, Carson supposed, in the same sort of way he might tell one of his brother's daughters that she looked pretty.

He was really going to be relying on the drug to see him through this.

"An honor to meet you." The girls looked awkward a moment and then Eresis said. "You must excuse my sister, she has yet to be with a man and she finds the prospect more than a little frightening."

Oh bloody hell, a virgin? When they would become sex-crazed fiends? "Do you mind telling us what experience either of you have?" Carson asked.

"If any, and please say you've had some because..." Rodney shifted uncomfortably, arms folded over his chest. "I mean, not that you should lie if you haven't but this wasn't at all what I was expecting to have to, uh. Do."

Nasime blushed and looked down. "I was betrothed and waiting for marriage, but my betrothed was taken by the Wraith. I have not been with any man."

Carson cleared his throat a moment. "Excuse me a moment, ladies, why don't you pour a drink while I just have a word with my companion here."

He smiled pleasantly and then tugged Rodney to one side. "This could be a problem."

"'Problem' is the understatement," Rodney snapped, voice a low hiss as he leaned into Carson. His hand on Carson's arm was a little too intimate, or the drugs were kicking in already. "I can't do this, this is insane, Carson..."

"We have to do this otherwise they will kill John. And they will... if they don't follow through on a threat, they would lose the whole ship," Carson said. That hand was so much more attractive than the girls to him. "Is it the fact she's a virgin?"

"She's how old? It's not the virgin thing, it's..." Rodney gestured towards the other side of the room. "Oh god, how can I do this?"

"Look, I'm not feeling it either. The age thing is... well I'm really hoping betrothal happens when you're sixteen, but..." Carson grimaced. "What else can we do? The only thing I can think of is to make it as special as we can for her."

"We're gigolos," Rodney blurted quietly. "I, fuck. Fuck, I'll breakdown over this later."

"I think we all will," Carson said and his comforting hand seemed to smooth Rodney's arm of its own accord. "We'll get through this. But what we have to do is survive."

And survive. And make it day to day, and there were worse things. There were worse things that they could have been doing.

Rodney lifted his chin, staring at Carson for a moment before he squeezed his arm. "Okay. I can do this."

Carson nodded and it made him feel faintly sick to be the one trying to persuade Rodney to do this when all his instincts clamored for this not to happen at all. He'd do his best to cushion the blow even if it meant doing things that he didn't want either.

He turned back to the two young women. "Sorry about that, we just needed a word. Now then, we have all night... let's have a wee chat first then see where it goes."

Things could've been worse. He'd had the lectures from the Dzomari. To raise the sort of token credits he needed to feed his people he was going to have to perform special services and that meant catering to dark and forbidden desires.

Yeah, so he'd been expecting heavy full on BDSM and he'd forgotten that different worlds and cultures had different cultural rules. As it was, he'd been given a list and a detailed "fantasy" here and there to fulfill and okay, one or two of them were rough, and more than one had him with his arms tied, but the taboo sexual act on Uk-tet appeared to be a blowjob.

Getting one was a big deal and a lot of men wanted to have one before they died and the number of tokens John was earning from it was obscene.

He didn't mind giving blowjobs all that much, compared to what he could have been doing.

His jaw was starting to ache a little though and he was mildly horrified at the way he was totaling amounts in his head even while he was sucking this latest one's cock. He wasn't getting a huge amount of satisfaction out of the process but the man was moaning as if he had died and gone to heaven.

On the other hand, he tried to imagine what it would be like to experience the full blowjob experience for the first time ever.

He vaguely remembered his own first time, the way it had felt, the heat and pressure and suction and hair underneath of his fingertips, but there was a different between that and someone actually experienced doing it. And John was experienced. Experienced with a tongue that felt vaguely chafed, even as the man petted at his head and thrust into his mouth again.

"Oh... I can't believe... so... so wrong..." the man moaned aloud and John had perfected the knack of swirling his tongue and taking all of it.

And all he could think of was if he swallowed, that was another meal bought and paid for.

It was all he could do to feed his people, to take care of them -- all of their earnings were going to go to him, and John knew it t was a vicious cycle and he wouldn't blame them for making a break for it. He wouldn't.

"Suck me, suck me." More groaning, pleading with John to do what he was already doing quite well, but it seemed to hint that the guy was close.

He wanted them to make a break for it, he was happy to be a forfeit. They might get a chance. He worried about them, all of them and if he knew they were safe that would be worth the price.

Rodney... god, how was Rodney going to react? And Carson... a bleeding heart and proud of it. Teyla, his team mate, Lorne, the best damn XO he'd had. Where was Ronon when he didn't need him to crack skulls?

Locked away who knew where in the ship, along with the rest of Lorne's team, written off for population control, John supposed. Less mouths to feed and earn for. Less people to try to escape while John waited on his knees for the guy just to finish and come already.

He hoped they got them in together, earned enough for that. He still ached and he wanted to know and feel if they were okay. He wanted his team, his people and ow, fuck, he was yanking on his hair thrusting like a champion and ow...

"Yeah...oh ancestors above...yeah. Oh... Oh..."

A spill of hot salty slick fluid on his tongue and he swallowed it down.

The man pulled back, and stared at John's mouth for a long moment, too long, and then he reached fingers down to brush John's lips. "That was..."

"...Something you've never done before?" John said, aware his throat was rasping from over use. "Feel good?"

Feeling good meant tips and more payment for his team.

"Amazing." The man swallowed, and let his fingers drift to John's hair.

"..So, you guys don't do that here?" John asked, having had the conversation a dozen different ways. No wonder whores were traditionally so bored.

"Never. It's a waste of life, but... My wife is dead, and there is no reason for me not to."

Waste of life. Huh. He supposed contraception in galaxy whose population constantly was in danger of dying off was a pretty likely thing to accrue strange and mysterious beliefs.

"Right... well, y'know, I'm sure you'll find someone else eventually," John said awkwardly. "When you're ready."

Either that or he'd be eaten by the Wraith.

The man petted at his head for a moment longer, then turned to leave their little tent. "Thank you."

"Yeah, thanks," he said automatically as the man left and exhaled. What the fuck was he doing? Anything to survive, to keep his team alive? He thought he'd decided that some things weren't worth just surviving. After Afghanistan, he'd decided that. They been more into violence but the feelings were the same and achingly familiar.

He rubbed at his thighs, shifted and started kneeling up. Sitting like that for any period of time just hurt, and it didn't matter much what he was doing. It couldn't last too long before they managed to escape.

He was gonna lose it some day, there would be something he just couldn't do and he'd lose it. And his whole team would be killed or put in stasis forever. He had limits and the problem was he wasn't sure he knew exactly where they were. He'd thought he'd put his days of Black Ops well behind him, happy to play the fuck-up he actually thought he was, but on Atlantis, Kolya had stirred that part of him right up. Next thing he knew, he'd been dangerous in the shadows, a hunter better than others, darker than others would've dreamed of and he didn't like that about himself. He didn't like this. Not the fact that he was going to get his ass kicked regularly, fuck to order and live with it.

He was going to snap and then all of his people would die, as simple as that. There was no question that he could snap, would snap. He just needed to stay in control. Just keep calm and... controlled.

John wasn't really surprised when the flap of his tent opened again.

This wasn't who she was. No matter the Dzomari observations of her qualities, she did not equate being strong with being dominant. Yes, she could be ruthless and there was no Athosian alive who would not do what had to be done to keep themselves and others alive, but catering to the fantasies of men and women who wished subjugation seemed a peculiar paradox to her.

And yet, time and again, they chose her over the course of this stay on Uk-tet. Perhaps there was something they saw in her, or perhaps it was those written notes analyzing her natural preferences, but either way, it was not who she was.

Her current client apparently wanted nothing more in his life than to wash her feet -- presumably highly symbolic, and from the look of it having highly erotic connotations on Uk-tet. She could just sit here and let it happen, but pleasing meant tokens and they had all been worried about the state of Colonel Sheppard when they had been returned to the cells. To see him there, still tied, still naked -- although she noted with an assessing eye that the nudity did not bother him as much as it should, almost as if he had been kept in similar conditions before at some point -- and bruises marking him all over pale skin had been a worrying portent for the foreseeable future.

"Make sure you clean them thoroughly and you might be rewarded," she said in a stern voice, noting the tell tale twitch of anticipation. She bit back a sigh. In some ways, this was more degrading and humiliating for her than lying on her back and faking enjoyment of fast and hard sex. At least that was something they knew about. It was a discussion Charin and the other women Elders had with all girls of age and she assumed similar discussions happened with the men. That sometimes for the good of the people as a whole, sacrifices had to be made and it was a noble thing when done not for money or personal gain. If one of them had to sleep with someone to protect the people, or save them then they should be honored for the sacrifice.

John seemed to understand that too well. Ronon, though...she found it hard to imagine him doing this. She knew he would kill to survive, he would go through a great deal, but she found it difficult to get to grips with the idea that he would've done this. Not even for John. She'd seen the look in John's eyes. He expected to die, to be the only one making those sacrifices and it had been easier after the drug induced orgy to talk about that, to discuss how they were going to protect John than to look each other in the eye.

She felt the hesitation, just a slight distraction from her foot washer. They had not been specific in this instance, only that the man had requested he wash her feet and be allowed to touch them and receive sexual fulfillment by some means.

She removed her feet from the man's hands and looked at that critically before pointing her foot towards the man's mouth. "They require more cleaning."

"But mistress I have washed them in water for a long time and..."

"Are you contradicting me?" She used the voice that had even Ronon focused on what she was saying. "As your hands are inadequate, you will clean them with your mouth."

Oh. Well it seemed all that time borrowing some of the magazines that had come from Earth in their glossy colorful splendor had been worthwhile and the information was correct, there were people out there who genuinely enjoyed this sort of thing. The man looked as if she had just offered him paradise.

"Yes, mistress!"

It wasn't entirely unpleasant, but Teyla suspected that on the firevein, nothing would feel unpleasant. In fact, she was sure that at higher levels everything would be arousing. She disliked the choice being taken from her and it made her feel out of control in a way she knew she was going to hate.

She wasn't sure how long she could do this. There was going to come a sticking point, further away perhaps than Ronon's had been, more hidden but it was there and John would suffer for it. Right now, though, even as she heard the man's breathing quicken as he sucked on her toes, panting with arousal this was nothing. A little degrading and disturbing, especially when she reclaimed her feet and then used them to rub the man to an orgasm so intense he nearly passed out, but bearable.

Bearable for now at least.

They were all going to starve to death.

It was basically the only thing he was sure of. They were all going to waste away. Rodney's muscles felt weak, shaking, and he knew he needed to eat more but he and Carson hadn't been working for their own food. And now he needed to help coordinate what they were going to do with their tokens.

The Dzomari had given them a sheet of paper and their totals and costings of various 'privileges' for John that included: not being restrained at night=1 token and spending night with Dzomari=2 tokens.

"So how many do we have in total again?" Carson asked looking over the list for the hundredth time. "Bloody hell, medical care seems expensive."

"To them, it probably is." Rodney frowned at Carson, and leaned over to take the sheet. "Is he even injured?"

"We'll have to ask, because I can't do an examination from here," Carson answered. "John? John, are you awake over there lad?"

John was tied again and sprawled on his side. He'd been there and apparently asleep as they had all been brought back in and it had been a little difficult to work out what state he was in as the lights were dimmed at the time.

"..yeah..." John answered rolling over to face them. "Yeah...'m awake."

"How are you? I mean, how are you feeling? We're trying to work out how to use the tokens."

"I've been worse."

And that was a typical Sheppard thing to say. Manly and stoic and no use to anyone.

"What we're asking, John, is do you need medicines?" Carson asked patiently.

"Nah... just bruising."

"Do you want three tokens used to unchain you and get you in our cell?"

"Hell yeah," John answered with surprising vehemence. Maybe John would prefer that to eating. That would be the sort of thing that he'd do.

"Well food is obviously a must. And a token for cleansing?" Carson asked. "Hygiene is important."

"We have... well, Carson and I have thirty tokens each, Teyla earned sixty, Lorne earned fifty, and Anders there earned fifty. But this has to last," Rodney pointed out.

"And there is a standard income of ten tokens a day from the others," Lorne pointed out. "That's enough for a meal."

"I can deal with one meal a day." John replied. "That means I've got a lot there to play with."

He sounded so laid back about it.

"Sir, I would recommend that you have more than one meal a day," Lorne pointed out.

Ten tokens a day between all of them, and the food went where? Rodney wasn't sure, but he had a feeling they were all going to suffer from malnutrition very soon.

"I'd recommend the same for us, but..." Rodney waved one hand slightly. They'd be lucky if they got that for a few days before whatever tokens John had earned ran out

"Could be difficult," John said and pushed himself to sit up. "You guys are cheaper to feed than I am, but I'm gonna have to find a way to earn enough to cover your meals."

"How much cheaper?" Carson asked.

"About five tokens each." John replied. "Guess they don't want it too unrealistic huh?"

"It's still too unrealistic." Rodney folded his arms over his chest. They'd just do what they could. It was as simple and as impossible as that because as soon as he could show them what he could do for their ships...

"Look, I got 250..." John said. "You're not going to starve just yet. We've got maybe eight days and enough for cheap snacks. I'll figure a way of earning more."

"We need to figure out a way to earn more, too." Rodney leaned against the cell bars and sighed. "We'll get you over here the next time they come by to check on us."

"That works as a start. I say eat now, worry about the rest later. I'll think of something," John said sounding a little hoarse. "They'll be here soon to cash in the payments."

"We'll just keep working," Rodney told him, staring at him through the bars. "And we'll make it work, John."

"Aye, Rodney's right," Carson said. "Let's get John back here -- where you belong and then work things through. I'll feel better when I've had a chance to give you a proper look over."

"I bet." John quipped back even as there were footsteps and the keeper appeared.

Rodney wanted to reach through the bars and grab the man's clothes, beat him senseless, but he stayed where he was for the reason of sanity. For John's safety.

"Now, have you made your decisions?" Rakshel asked. "Dzom. Your choices."

"I choose food for them," John replied. "One large meal per day and one lighter."

"And you?" Rakshel asked Rodney.

"Food and for him to be brought to our cell." Rodney looked to Teyla for confirmation.

"With or without restraints?" Rakshel asked politely as if he was negotiating a sale. "And how many meals?"

Teyla nodded agreement to Rodney but seemed content to let him talk.

"Without restraints. One large meal a day, one lighter." About eight days worth, give or take, and Rodney knew they needed to find more work to support that. "I want to discuss what I can offer as what you call a 'maker'."

"Eager to work so soon? You will all have training to attend during parts of the day. These are lists of tasks with their assigned token values for you, and there is a separate sheet here for your Dzom as he will by necessity have different options if he does not want you all to go hungry." Rakshel passed through the sheaf of papers and then moved to John's cell to unlock it, even as some of the other slaves on the ship started bringing in food for them all.

God, food. Rodney reached for the sheaves with shaking hands, turning towards Teyla and Carson even as the food was brought in for them, their cell door unlocked. But they were still chained, so there was nowhere to go. John would be unchained and that meant... at least one of them could run, except that John wouldn't. It was stupid, but Rodney knew he wouldn't. He watched even as John was dragged over and then released, still stiff, and still without a robe. They would have to see how much they could earn and get him one.

"You will be collected in the morning. You performed reasonably well on Uk-tet for a new Dzomari, but you could do better. As of tomorrow, there will be no tolerance for your new status. Sleep well."

No tolerance. Because their tolerance so far had been nothing short of overwhelming. As soon as the door to their cell was closed, Rodney started hesitantly towards John. But, there was food, too, and all of them were standing there, looking miserable.

"John, perhaps we should all sit down and savor our meal."

"A really good idea," Carson added. "I'd like to look at you in a while, John, make sure you're not too badly hurt."

He looked worse close up. Definitely worse but somehow he pulled up a smile and moved unsteadily. "Yeah, we better eat because I think Rodney's going to pass out over there..."

"You mean faint?" Carson replied with a faint smile.

"I'm not passing out here. I'm good." Rodney lifted his chin as he moved to flank John's other side, and it seemed to click that he and Teyla were walking John to sit in the corner. If everyone crowded around him, they could keep him warm.

"John has a point there. We need to make sure you get enough for your hypoglycemia," Carson said even as Lorne closed in with them all as well. Anders followed hesitantly, but they all ended up in the corner.

"Teyla, why don't you divide out the food?" John said even as he sat, trying to stretch his arms and legs as he did so. "That way, we know it will be fair."

Teyla smiled then. "Thank you for the compliment, John."

Rodney leaned close to John's side and shifted, trying to share some of the excess fabric of his robe. "I still can't believe Carson and I made so little."

"They were specifically after babies, Rodney," Carson said as they watched Teyla carefully divide up the food. "Technically, if they conceive, there is a very large bonus attached from what I understand."

"You only had a few. I believe you were a disadvantage to those of us who had many," Teyla commented and Lorne coughed and looked away, something which John seemed to notice.

"Look, there's no point feeling guilty or ashamed over what we had to do," he said. "The point is we're alive, and we're going to make it out of here. It might not be right now, but we're going to, right?"

"I hope so." Rodney glanced at Teyla, waiting for her to offer the portions she was divvying up. "Oh, hey, let's look at our 'to do' list."

John reached out for his quickly, giving the impression that he didn't particularly want anyone else to see what was on it and started studying it intently.

Their list was wide ranging from the menial to the complex. Every single task that existed seemed to be on that list from processing laundry right up to things that Rodney didn't even recognize. There were things he could do. The problem was they were end goal orientated and he might work for a while without bringing in anything.

Carson was peering over his shoulder. "At the least I suppose we can do things like clean and cook," he commented. "But they are barely worth more than a token a shift."

"Maintenance work," Rodney pointed out, gesturing to the sheet. It was two tokens a shift for general maintenance work, which he was willing to bet was hard labor, but it would be an in, and he could offer to do some of the other things that were more long term.

"Looks like I'll be volunteering for being a skivvy in their infirmary," Carson replied. "Maybe it'll be a way to get in on the ground floor."

Obviously Carson was working on the same lines as he was.

Lorne was looking over the list and grimaced. "There's... there's a cosmetic and dye assistant here. Three tokens a shift. My mom taught me how to make my own paints and dyes when I was a kid and...uh..." He looked embarrassed. "It's more than maintenance."

Rodney managed a vague smirk as he leaned to look better at Lorne. "You paint, though, right? That... hey, I can't do that."

"He can paint." Carson nodded. "I found him doing a marvelous picture of Atlantis on the pier once. It was lovely."

Rodney was sure only Carson could say that sort of thing and not sound trite.

Teyla considered. "I am adept at making items of clothing. I suspect that such as what we were given take some construction..."

"Wouldn't know about that," John quipped lightly with a faint smile.

"...So I will volunteer for that, though I admit that I am more comfortable with such things as warrior training. But these do not seem to be options available to us."

"How about you, Anders?" John asked, seeming to relax a little next to Rodney.

The man shook his head slightly. "Grunt work, I guess. Headshots aren't a useful skill here, huh?"

"Not really," Rodney agreed, handing the papers off to Lorne for closer inspection.

He didn't really know Anders, but he didn't seem to be dealing particularly well. Not that any of them were, but even so.

"How about you, John?"

John was still looking over his list, and his expression was like a mask.

"My list is a little more specific," he said. "Apparently the Dzomari take a personal interest in the 'Dzoms' of their captives. The good news is you guys probably won't be going hungry."

Rodney had always been nosy, he supposed. And the delicacy of the situation wasn't making for a compelling case to stifle that urge, so Rodney leaned in against John, since he was already flanking him, and just peered at his sheet.

It was littered with rather specific names of various Dzomari and details of their requirements, some exotic, some downright nasty with a credit price tag next to each one that would at least cover their food, and in the case of a few cover more than a couple of days worth. It was just as well because Rodney wasn't entirely sure if John would be able to do anything after some things.

Added to that were notes for forthcoming planet visits, and obviously rich customers whose fantasies fitted John in some warped way and wow... they were freaky but one or two would net him weeks worth of food. Or other privileges.

He wanted to make a joke, at least about the Dzomari who seemed to have an armpit fetish, but the look on John's face was too grim. Teyla pressed food into John's hands, meat and bread and what Rodney hoped was some cheese or something.

John rather absently ate a piece as if he wasn't actually hungry. Rodney was given his own and he looked at it a little suspiciously even though he was starving. It tasted a little bit nutty when he finally ate it after Carson tried a little piece of each and then nodded to him.

Soon they were all eating with barely repressed sounds of enjoyment. Food always tasted better for being hungry and Rodney had reached the level of being shaky with it.

"John, I notice that you seem to be... familiar with this sort of situation," Teyla said after a while. "Was this part of your training?"

Lorne chuckled. "We didn't do anything like this in our training. Lectures on what to do if captured, yeah, but not this."

Rodney notice Carson looking down a little which meant he knew something, and that it had to be in the Colonel's medical files.

John shrugged a little. "Fly enough helicopters, planes all over the world and you get shot down every now and then."

"You sound like General O'Neill." Rodney popped another piece of bread into his mouth, chewing slowly as if that was going to make it last.

"I've got better hair," John replied with a grin.

"Aye, the really amazing thing is that really does appear to be the natural state of your hair," Carson added. "I spent a very long time trying to see who was sneaking hair product into the infirmary. I suspected you or Teyla, Rodney."

"I could've ordered Lorne to do it," John protested.

"Some missions are too dangerous to take on," Lorne said, mustering a smile.

They were brittle and brief as if it was painful to hold in their expressions.

Rodney leaned back against the wall, still nursing his food slowly. Once they got into the system, he knew he and John could work on a plan. They had a plan in place, but the moment was all wrong and the opportunities weren't there. "When do we next land on a planet?"

"Twelve days looking at it," John replied as he folded the piece of paper. "We need to get a clear idea of the lay out of this place, how many Dzomari are on board, what we're up against. Anders, you might be in one of the better positions to get that information on the ground floor. I'll be trying to connect with the other ones in my position. Everyone needs to listen out for the sort of information we need. Rodney, doesn't need to be said, but these guys have a mix of technologies going on here. Looks like they don't understand all of it."

"I'll make the most out of it. We've seen worse cases of generational information decay -- at least the ships are still in the air, but I'm sure their ability to repair systems is rudimentary at best. Even the Wraith have suffered the same problem."

"You make something to last, and no one learns to fix it," Lorne added.

"If the prices on their medical help is anything to go by, medicine is not their thing," Carson added. "I might be able to help a wee bit there. I don't like the thought of any of us needing medical care and having to put up with the sort of knowledge that I've seen in most of Pegasus."

Teyla gave a little cough and Carson looked abashed. "Sorry, love, but you haven't had the opportunities we have."

"I quite understand, Dr. Beckett."

This was going to be bad. John knew that now, and he also knew he'd been played for a sucker and that this was a set up somehow, but the fact remained, he was going to fail at this service that should've been easy enough, and that meant his team, his people were going to be punished.

Silence shouldn't have been hard for him. He found talking difficult, he'd worked in a solitary existence at the bottom of the world and penguins weren't particularly chatty. Silence he thought he would be okay with. He had chosen a service to a Dzom who specified that along with sex and 'some elements of discipline'.

It had seemed like an easy choice, an easy target, but that was how he knew it was a setup. He was a shitty pillow biter, and if he made noise, if he broke silence, he was going to get them all punished. But the Dzom was exploring his body, and exploring apparently meant in the most intimate of ways, tracing a fingernail over the delicate skin of his anus.

It was one thing to lie there and take it, but making a noise had usually been an option. The man had been placing things on his skin back there and he was pretty sure that this experience wasn't just going to involve teasing in a pleasurable fashion. They felt metallic and sticky at the same time and he only just managed not to make a noise as the man pushed his hand under him and pressed against his balls.

"It is always fascinating to have a new 'Dzom' to play with." The man murmured as he teased and pushed a finger in. "Discovering abilities and... weaknesses. Tolerances. They say you like the pain. That will stand you in good stead, I am sure."

Of course he couldn't answer that.

The tremor in his left thigh answered it for him, while the man curled his finger, bent it like a hook and pulled it out of John just to see him strain a little. "Does your husband do that for you?"

He was meant to answer, he was meant to slip but he wouldn't be caught by that. No sound. That was the rule. Not just no speaking, as he had thought, but no sound. No moans, no whimpers.

"Or even your wife. How about that strong looking one, second husband obviously. Compact and strong. Or did you like the rough from that wild one?"

He was doing something else there now.

Pressing something metallic against his ass, easing it in with what John wanted to consider minimal lubrication. Possibly spit. It was still cool to the touch, and it felt textured.

It was going to hurt. It was...yeah, it was hurting. Bigger, wider and he had to grit his teeth.

"That must feel large to you, yes? Of course it does." The man pushed it in hard. "Remember the silence, Jzohn. Your Dzomari rely on you."

Hard, cool and oh fuck, fuck that hurt, too deep, too wide. With time he could have worked up to it, but having it pushed straight in like that made him tense, trying not to react to the pain.

"Should I spread it?"

He shook his head, no rule against that, and bit into the pillow because he knew he wouldn't be listened to. He felt a movement and exhaled so he couldn't inadvertently groan because it hurt like fire and his fists were clenching.

"Interesting. Of course we have barely started. I like the discipline of the silence. Any whore can whine and beg, but there is a truthfulness in the obedience of silence," the man mused. "Something to be held to, grasped on to. You need to be able to endure all of this in silence to please me."

One of the sets of strange pads on his thighs started tingling, then burning until they felt like someone stubbing a cigarette out on his skin.

It didn't seem like electricity, but John wasn't sure what it was except intense, pointed, and maybe he needed to learn to get off on pain and fast because it made him jerk his knee down into the mattress while the Dzom pressed fingers against his ass and touched something that made the object start to do just what he'd threatened.

He was sure it was tearing him, sure it was and he tried to find a spot in his head to disconnect from the sensation. They wanted him to fail, they were pushing for him to fail because more of the pads were becoming active around his ass, and on his balls and it made him try and writhe out of the way, trying to roll the pain away.

"Painful aren't they?" the man murmured. "But that is only the first setting. Remember the silence...and if you keep moving like that you will make things worse."

He went stiff, still, but the man was manipulating the plug in his ass, probably pressing on a plunger to spread it, because it did recede, did fade back to something that was still painful but smaller, and then he started to fuck John with it while it filled out again.

He could feel sweat from the stress of it pouring down his face, he could taste blood in his mouth from biting his lip, his cheek. He wasn't going to break. He could deal, he could protect his team. That was the only thing he could do, the only control he had left and he was damn well going to hold on to it, only it got worse, much worse. He didn't know what the object wa,s but he could feel that tell tale tingle begin inside of him.

"And this one isn't going to stay on low..." the man murmured, leaning over him to stroke a hand down his back. "No... it's going to go up to the top setting."

And he was going to scream out, he was going to react, and it was already hard to stay silent, swallowing down each desperate whimper. "Yes, so strong, so beautiful like this..."

It was worse in a way than electricity because it stayed but the intensity of it was as bad as the sharp shock. It burned, it filled him, radiating from that point in until there was no awareness left in his body aside from pain. Every muscle reacted as if he had reached critical mass and he lost it in a totally involuntary seizure like reaction.

And when he came to, John knew that he had to have screamed. He didn't make any new noise, but as he shifted, tried to drag himself back from limpness, he knew.

"Oh, Jzohn, you were so, so close..." the Dzom said patting him gently on the ass. "But not quite good enough. Such a shame. Your Dzomari will suffer for your incompetence and of course, you did not fulfill the purpose of your service so you have not earned the fee. It was a good effort. I'll credit you five for trying but need to learn consequences of not being pleasing."

Fuck. Fuck. John knew he needed to become numb, but that was insane. It was a setup, from start to finish, because staying silent through that was impossible for anyone. If he'd managed, the man would have docked him for breathing too hard or something.

"We'll get you out of here and then your people will have to be punished."

"No..." The service was over. "Don't... not them. If there is any.. screw up here, it's mine." He could barely move, his legs were feeling boneless and he felt like he was going to throw up.

The man unsecured John from the bed, and started to haul him to his feet. "I could have you beaten. I could have you whipped. But the deepest cut is one applied to an innocent through no fault of their own."

Fuck. But wasn't the fact he didn't earn, all that for nothing... wasn't that the point? To hell with it.

"You... set me up to fail..." he said. "You set that up, dammit. That's not..."

No fair sounded like a kid whining in the schoolyard.

"Fair, no, but it's very productive." The Dzom smiled slightly as he hauled John upright. "Who should we punish first?"

"No, you're going to punish them anyway, you'll choose who you want to choose," John said and he itched to lash out but he just didn't have the muscle control. "I know what you're doing, I know what you're trying." He couldn't even stand, he was going to end up dragged back and they'd know. They'd know something had happened.

The man smiled at him again, and started to drag John towards the door. "I'll rape your wife. Fuck her until she bleeds. I'll make your soft husband cry out in pain."

"No... god dammit..." Why wouldn't his arms move? Or his legs?

They were met at the door by two of Rakshel's men and they were smirking. They knew what had happened. They'd known from the start. "Your orders?"

"He was not pleasing. His Dzomari are slated for punishment. Take this one to the punishment room and affix him there so he can bear witness to what he has caused by his lack of discipline."

The taller of Rakshel's men inclined his head gently. "How shall we punish his Dzomari?"

"Take his Dzoma first. She is to be taken by force in front of him. I believe from their profile reports we shall mark the soft one and use the second husband to do it. His subordinate husbands I shall think on some more. I'm sure I can come up with something suitable."

John looked at him, feeling his eyes burning with hatred even as the man smiled at him.

He was going to be sick, he knew he was going to be sick. He held the scalpel over Rodney's back and his hand was shaking. "I can't do this...I...."

This was a violation of everything he was, everything he believed about himself. He couldn't hurt his friend like this. Not Rodney.

But he looked up and there was John strapped up there like some crucified saint in bondage with guns trained on him, and guns on the rest of them. And he tried to remember what he had to do.

He was just supposed to cut. There was even a sheet of paper with a rough pattern he was supposed to follow, and he was supposed to mark it out on Rodney's back, but how was he supposed to hurt Rodney? It wasn't as if Rodney could even protest, because he was bound and gagged.

He knew they were serious. He'd seen Teyla afterwards curled in on herself, looking small and fragile but her eyes... her eyes then were dark fire. Not the Teyla he knew. This was a woman who would tear the world apart if she had to for what had been done to her.

If he didn't do this, they would kill Rodney. If it were a choice of them killing him, he would take it, but not Rodney.

He tried to think of it as surgery, but it wasn't working and he traced the pattern with his finger dipped in dye over Rodney's back. Compact and on the least painful spot he could find.

He was never going to eat again.

"I'm so sorry, Rodney," he murmured under his breath. "I'm so, so very sorry."

Rodney muttered something against the gag, and the muscles of his upper back flexed while he strained against the bindings.

"You will do this, zaro, or he will die," the Dzom said from where he was observing.

"Aye..." His face crumpled a little as he took a deep breath. He didn't ask for forgiveness because he'd never deserve it. No, the best he could do was to make it quick, make it so it was not dangerous. They'd chosen a complex design so it would take a long time but he'd been a triage surgeon. He could be swifter and more precise than anyone believed.

The scalpel blade stilled, steady and bright. Poised for a long moment.

And then he moved, and it was clean, precise, and swift, every shape and angle done as if he had learned this over decades of practice.

He just had to keep moving, stroke after stroke after stroke, carving lightly instead of deeply over the lines -- on one hand, if he cut deeply the pain might be less, but the less bleeding and the less long term damage, the better. Carson could hear Rodney yelling against the gag, could feel him jerk against his tight restraints.

He was crying in that useless way that was common to his family. His father used to tear up at the sound of Auld Lang Syne but...

He let them run, drop and mingle with the blood and just carried on and on until the skin stopped parting under his blade. And he dropped the knife, and then calmly dressed the wound and then and only then did he turn and start vomiting as if he was never going to stop.

Fuck fuck fuck, there was no train of thought in his head except pain and pain and the fact that he knew the restraints that were holding him down were strong, kept him from moving at all, kept him flat out on the work table in a small cell and John could see, John did see, so Rodney closed his eyes tighter.

He didn't want to look up at John because he didn't want to see everything falling apart. They kept saying this was John's fault; that he'd failed but they'd seen the way he'd been dragged past the cell. Sheppard would walk with broken legs if he had to.

And it was Carson doing this, Carson's hands that were touching him, Carson holding the knife, cutting and it hurt.

It hurt, and Carson was cutting into his skin, slicing patterns over his back, and one of them was saying that it was all John's fault, and that was a lie. They had guns and John was tied to his chair, and Rodney couldn't open his eyes for the pain now.

It didn't stop even when he felt the knife taken away from his skin. Or when he felt Carson's hands deftly dress the cuts. With his eyes closed he heard the one, two steps away and then someone, presumably Carson, puking his guts up as if he had a severe bout of food poisoning.

It didn't make it hurt any less.

His back was a knotted, slick-feeling mess of pain, and he flexed his shoulders in pain, trying to press against the bonds to get free, get something. Get out, not that it was going to make the pain less but it made the changes that he was going to see a round two or three much slimmer.

Eventually the bonds were loosened and he was literally hauled from the table in a swift movement that jarred everything and dragged across the room towards John.

"Your husbands do not have a high tolerance for pain do they, Jzohn?" The Dzoma pointed out. "Look at him. Look at what your failure has done. You can't protect them. You have to understand that. You can serve well and feed and clothe them, but they cannot be protected. They are property to the Dzoms to do with as they will."

John pulled at his ropes, and Rodney wished he didn't have his eyes open. They were wet, and kept wanting to close with pain, but Rodney wanted to try to give him a reassuring glance.

John's eyes met his and there was no disappointment in him as he had half feared but something desperate and brittle. He'd seen him like that when Kolya had invaded. It was a good thing in some ways that he was tied and gagged because he would've ripped apart any Dzomari with his bare teeth.

"Your wife has been raped, your husband injured by one who now cannot even face any of you. Because you could not remain silent. A simple thing, a very simple thing. All this pain because you could not obey." The Dzom yanked Rodney back hard. "And still, we are not finished. There are still two more to deal with, but first we must deal with these."

Deal with? What else was there to deal with, and Rodney fuck fuck, moving, being pulled backwards hurt. "Ow, ow, please stop, please stop..."

"Shall we have them stay? Or do you believe them too weak?" one of Rakshel's men asked the Dzom in charge.

"Tie them together. I believe they should stay, and the one call Carson should make amends for his actions by looking after his Dzom's first husband."

"Yes, Dzom." And then he was being manhandled over towards Carson and literally tied sitting on him in a mockery of a comforting position.

It wasn't comforting or comfortable, it was painful, Carson's chest pressed against his back, and Carson's arms wrapped around him while they sat there. "Fuck..."

He could feel the way Carson was breathing, ragged and hitching as if overloaded with emotion. "Rodney... I'm... I'm so sorry."

He needed to reply to Carson, needed to use words, but for a long moment it was all he could do to breathe. "Don't."

And it was enough to silence Carson after one sharp inhalation as if that one word had caused as much pain as the knife. As if it could.

"Bring the second husband Lorne forward," the Dzom gestured. "I believe we can combine a little punishment here. It does seem a little unfair that there are no consequences for your Dzom, considering."

Rodney shifted as best as he could, leaning back against Carson in that mock intimate, awkward position. "No, no, no, you, we haven't done anything John shouldn't be punished..."

"That is not your decision to make, only your responsibility." The Dzomari paced around even as Lorne was ushered forwards. "Understand this, zaro, we will kill this other one, Anders, if you do not comply."

"Comply with what?" Lorne asked, even as they then focused on Anders and had him on his knees with weapons to his head.

"You will beat your Dzom," one of the Dzomari declared. "Stand up and come forwards."

"Like hell I will," Lorne said looking over at Sheppard. "I can't do that!"

"Like your cure maker could not hurt his fellow husband?"

Rodney could see one of the guards go to John, set to release him from the chair, but then leaned over and murmured in John's ear.

"You will make him stay down for a count of ten." the man said implacably. "It should not be hard, he will have his hands tied."

Lorne frowned tightly as they handed him what looked like one of Teyla's Bantos sticks. Rodney shifted, felt Carson's hand close around his lower arm. "Sorry."

One hit and John should stay down. He looked shaky enough standing up as it was, even if he was finally ungagged. He could practically see Lorne trying to calculate the easiest way to trip his commanding officer up and pin him.

He went for the legs and John managed to move enough that it caught his thigh with a crack and he stumbled but didn't go down.


"Jesus, Sheppard, just go down!" Lorne lashed out, trying to take out John's legs, trying to get him just to go down, Rodney knew, but there was something else going on because John didn't.

But John had been the one practicing stick-fighting with Teyla and he moved nearly quickly enough again, catching a bit of the kick and sweeping back with his own feet. It was enough to surprise Lorne and send him over and Rodney was surprised to see John drop and frantically contort until he managed to get his hands in front of him.

Still not an even playing field because Lorne knew his CO's style, but better than it had been.

And John was a mess, struggling to his feet, and moving to lunge at Lorne, the movements painful looking enough that Rodney grimaced back against Carson.

If Lorne hadn't hesitated, John wouldn't've lasted more than a few moments. But he did, he kept not quite following through. Landing a hit that didn't quite take him down and not kicking him when he was down. It kept happening, over and over and each time John was a little slower moving, coming back from it.

He could see Lorne's frustration rising, his need for this to be over. "Please... sir, please just... just stay down," he practically begged after his last strike had cracked hard against John's arms.

"Not gonna happen..." John managed and pushed himself up again.

"What the hell, sir, just..." Lorne looked strained, eyes too wide, mouth open in hard breathing. He lashed out, smacking John hard against the shoulder blades.

It made him stagger, but he turned and tried to hit him back which triggered a reflex punch to the face that made him drop to the floor near Rodney.

And again he was pushing himself up.

Rodney shifted, tried to move to get free to help but it wasn't happening and it made all of the vague scabs on his back seize up with pain. "Dammit, John!"

He glanced over at Rodney and got up again and it was just ridiculous. Rodney couldn't believe John was really doing this so incredible stupidly and Lorne look increasingly desperate as he'd put him down for maybe a count of six and like some zombie from a monster B movie, he'd be up again.

He looked torn and eventually Lorne said. "Sir, I didn't want to do this..."

John staggered. "Don't even think about it Major. That's an order."

"Sir, I've got to do it... If I keep this up I could kill you. I've got to knock you out."

"Don't break an order," John growled but Lorne was already into his moves. And Sheppard was fighting back hard desperate somehow before Lorne hit him with a series of jabs to the face.

Then he went down and out. Finally. And the Dzomari guns abruptly lined up on Lorne.

"Shall we, Dzom? He did not manage to prevent this one from keeping him down after all?"

Fuck, fuck. Rodney pulled, and Carson clutched at his arm. Lorne stood there, hands held out slightly.

"No." The Dzom inclined his head slightly. "Put him back in the cell."

It made sense as much as anything could make sense in this place.

"What of the others?"

"Return them all to the cell. Including their Dzom. They have not purchased medical treatment. This will have to wait until he is conscious."

Fuck. Rodney shifted, tried to move, and it didn't matter because there were men picking all of them up, gesturing for Lorne to walk and Anders to walk. Teyla was back in the cell, and the look on her face had been murderous when they'd taken Rodney out.

Carson didn't say a word to anyone. In fact no one spoke until they were all locked in the cell. For some reason, they didn't feel it was necessary to chain them in place. Perhaps they wanted to see if they would self-destruct.

Teyla was sitting in the middle of the cell cross-legged and apparently meditating until she realized they had returned. "What happened?" she asked looking at John's unconscious body, and the blood from Rodney's back, part soaking the dressing.

"They used us against each other." Rodney swallowed, shifted to drag John closer to Teyla just for sanity. Now that he was free-standing, he wasn't sure what to do.

"They held Anders at gunpoint and were going to blow his brains out if I didn't try to knock Colonel Sheppard out and he wouldn't go down and stay down."

"Which evidently you succeeded in doing," Teyla said and she sounded icy calm. "Why did he not just fall at the first blow?"

"Well lass, it would appear that they must've told John if he did fail in that Evan's life would be forfeit," Carson said.

"Dammit, I shouldn't have... I mean, I didn't know!" Lorne said sounding frustrated. "I didn't know, he just kept getting back up and I didn't know!"

"I'm sure he will understand, Major Lorne," Teyla replied. "Rodney... you are bleeding. What happened to you?"

"Had Carson cut on me." Rodney wrapped his arms around his chest, looking at Carson. "I know you had to."

He wasn't usually the most astute at recognizing emotions in others but the devastation in Carson's expression was so obvious that he was beginning to wonder if they had hit their target with him most of all.

"Aye. I should've found a way not to though," Carson said quietly. "I'd best take a look at John, see what the damage is."

"Teyla, are you... okay?" He knew she wasn't, but it felt like something that needed to be asked, something that needed to be... have something done about but Rodney knew they were all wrecks.

"No, I am not," Teyla replied. "But I am calm now. Thank you for asking, Rodney."

"I'll examine you a wee bit later, love," Carson put in even as he arranged John and examined him.

"It is not necessary, Dr. Beckett," Teyla replied.

"I really should..."

"No, Carson, you should not." Teyla's tone broached no argument and again Rodney saw Carson flinch before he nodded.

"Okay then, lass, if you need me it's not as if I am far away."

"We can't go through this every time the Colonel fails at something," Anders said. "We won't make it."

"Same cell," Rodney noted, kneeling down on the floor a little stiffly. "Do you need help?"

"I could use a hand to turn him, take a look at his back," Carson said. "He's showing muscle tremor even out cold. As if he had a sustained electric shock."

"I'm getting the impression this was definitely a set up," Evan said disconsolately sitting down near Teyla, looking troubled.

Anders moved closer to them all, but seemed set apart. He was the redshirt of them all, Rodney knew, the odd man out. It was a bad place to be. "Not really surprised. Turn us against each other."

"It is strange that they emphasize so much that our fates are intertwined and do such things to cast blame upon each other," Teyla murmured.

There was silence for a moment. "They want us to be broken," Carson said. "So we'll be pliable and not dangerous."

"Are you feeling broken?" Rodney asked Carson quietly. "What happened, it's not your fault."

Carson looked away from him. "It doesn't change the fact, Rodney," he said in a low voice. "It's never going to do that. What's important is that you and John and Teyla are kept as healthy as possible."

He was running his hand over John's skin feeling for heat of bruising and swelling and then over his ass, exhaling sharply and reaching for his robe to tear off a strip. "We'll have to pay out for medical treatment for John. What ever the object that produced the electric shocks appears to have been applied internally. It's still bleeding in there."

Rodney leaned over, peered at John. "Fuck, no wonder they carried him in. This is, this is all insane, we can't live like this, with them doing this to us..."

"They'll push us hard for a bit but they'll want us functional for the next planet stop," Lorne pointed out. "We act cowed and broken and they'll back off some."

"Who needs to act," he heard Carson mutter under his breath even as Teyla said, "We will request medical care for John. He can then authorize what is needed for Rodney."

"Rodney's fine." Of course, the fact that he was talking about himself in third person probably wasn't helping his case.

"You will be fine if we get some antiseptic on those cuts," Carson insisted, carefully putting John on his side in a recovery position. He then sat down himself. "We must keep our strength up. We'll probably need it."

Rodney shifted, moved to lay down close beside Carson, stretching out because it did make his back feel better. "We'll all need it."

Things hadn't been going so well. Truth was he'd spent most of his time either being hurt, or in their infirmary or in service somewhere. He was aware enough to work out the tactics. They were deliberately trying to wear them down, push them to the limits and beyond. He'd had to push hard to earn even enough for meals and there were days he just couldn't do even that so he'd instructed them to order extra meals for himself from their tokens and eat that instead. They all went hungry.

The aftermath of the punishments was still there and he needed desperately to get some decent earnings on this planet fall coming up so they could stand a chance of being together enough to fight back. If they even could.

Right now he was seeing a Dzom who coordinated the high price services and was hoping to also find a way to earn so they wouldn't starve tonight.

If they made planet fall that hungry, they wouldn't be able to perform, and the spiral of hunger would keep going on. Rodney was miserable with headache and shaking, and if Rodney couldn't think then Rodney couldn't do anything to earn or get their ass out of there if the opportunity came up.

"You're so eager to please, Jzohn."

"I wish to feed my... husbands and wife," John answered deliberately using their terminology. "It's important that they eat."

The man laughed and he seemed more pleasant than Dzom Mikas who had been the one with the silence fetish and who seemed determine to break them into pieces. "I am sure that you can be most pleasing. But first, have you decided which service you would be prepared to be assigned?"

John had looked them over and he tried not to grimace. He had to go for one of the big earners and there seemed one that he suspected was that way because the inhabitants of Pegasus had deep racial terror of the Wraith. A man with a Wraith fetish. Liked to pretend to be one, cocoon 'victims' and sexually feed from them .

"I could do this one..." he gestured.

"You will be doing it all day tomorrow," the new Dzom told him in a reminding tone. "Many men cannot stand a full session of that task."

"Many men haven't faced a real feeding from a real Wraith," John said. He needed the fucking credits. Rodney would crash out. Carson, he didn't know what was going on with Carson but of the little they were getting to eat he seemed to be giving it away. Teyla, usually so calm was filled with rage that spilled over every now and then.

He had to do something and even if it was bad, it wasn't as bad as losing one of them. And there was the trap right there. But this had a ridiculously high bonus, enough to buy them breathing space and potentially quarters with the other slaves that the Dzomari had. Which meant greater freedom and finally a chance to start working on a means of getting out of there.

"I'm pretty sure I can handle it."

"You've been fed on and survived?" The Dzom gestured him closer. "Come here. Are you also interested in earning tonight?"

"Yes, and yes," John replied. He was comparatively in one piece. He'd become accustomed to a "normal" level of bruising and pain. "I want my family fed and well, I want to get enough to get better conditions for them." He moved closer wondering if it was a personal service the man wanted.

"Fed on and survived, your genetics are a beautiful thing... I will have you added to the genetic queue. And I would appreciate your company this evening." It wasn't actually a question.

John inclined his head. He tried to remember if he had seen this one on the service sheets and didn't remember anything too outrageous. If he could actually make a friend or an ally, that was all to the good. "How may I serve you, Dzom?" he asked as convincingly as he could. He had a tendency to drawl it sarcastically, or so Mikas had informed him as he had the others punished for his 'attitude'. It was an excuse but it didn't make watching what they did to his team any easier. He had the anger stored inside of him.

He'd use it later; pack it all down until it was useful for them all.

"I want to enjoy you. Make yourself comfortable."

It was almost enough to make him blink. He'd become so used to the peculiarities of the Dzomari and the exotic tastes of the Dzoms and Dzomas who were the equivalent of nobility that he was surprised at the possibility that one of them might actually not have some weird fetish to pursue. Carson had speculated it was the fact they had sex on tap all the time and the power to develop eccentricities that could be indulged.

He daringly stepped over to the low futon like bed some of them favored, complete with rich fabrics like an Arabian Night's harem, and settled on it.

It also made sense that someone would swing the other way, go for mild and vanilla. The man let his eyes drag over John, and then he moved forwards, kneeling on the futon beside John. "Oh, yes.... Yes, relax and run your hands over your body."

There was a time that he would've been embarrassed by a request like that, but that had been before they'd become little more than high-class whores in a space brothel. The Dzomari had been doing this for a long, long time. When he was alone, awake and thinking over and over, he realized that a lot of what seemed like petty cruelty had a deeper purpose. That the random punishments were very explicitly targeted at weak spots and designed to exploit personality traits.

He complied, skilled enough now to make the movements erotic without thinking on it too much.

"You're very hairy," the Dzom noted, reaching forwards to stroke a hand over his chest. It tickled a little, and John just took a deep breath and exhaled under that hand. "Some of our clients like that."

He nodded a little. "Some don't," he replied. It was strange to be touched and feel arousal without the prod of firevein in his blood. The Dzomari had entirely too many drugs at their disposal. Drugs to make him come around no matter what, drugs that made pain into pleasure, drugs that made it impossible to come, drugs that paralyzed while leaving conscious...

He was probably an addict ten times over.

They'd work that out later, when they were all free, if they ever all got free. No, when. When. They would get free; it was just a question of how alive they'd all be when they did it. "True. Perhaps I should have one of your husbands come here to shave you for tomorrow. If they can see your scar..." He let his fingers drag over that spot. "It would please the clients more."

"Would it please you?" John asked, hating the fact that the first thing in his mind was, 'How much is it worth? What can I get for it?'

The Dzom inclined his head slightly. "Yes, I think it would. I'll have him sent for."

"If it's enjoyable to you," John said carefully even as the Dzom went to the door, passed on the message and returned, "Will it earn enough tokens to feed my family well tonight?"

It was pushing it a little but he could make it good enough.

"If the two of you are pleasing, yes." Good, good. He wasn't even sure who was being sent to do it, but it didn't matter. They'd seemed to have pegged every one of the men into some role, as if theirs was the only true culture, one that had multiple husbands and wives, most for different purposes. They had decided that Lorne and Carson were second husbands, Teyla his Dzoma, Anders a third rank and Rodney his first husband. He had to guess that Ronon would've been a second husband also.

He lay there with the man stroking his hand over his chest and looking at him. It was unnerving that he wasn't planning how to hurt him. Unless he was planning how to hurt him. But he was probably just enjoying the feeling of it, of having somewhere there drug free. Maybe eventually the Dzomari even stopped drugging their slaves. "How did you choose your first husband, Jzohn?"

"He kinda chose me," John said. "It's very hard to say no to him." He smiled a little. "He's brilliant. You waste him with menial duties, because I've seen him devise ways to destroy Hive ships, he and I between us."

It never hurt to remind them of Rodney's greater usefulness.

"In time." The man didn't snap at him for back talking, didn't warn him to watch his mouth. He seemed to understand that it was just a waiting game. "And your wife?"

"I met her as her people were attacked by the Wraith. We rescued some of them, a couple of hundred or so. We worked closely together and... things became inevitable." Perhaps asking people to be on his team was a little like proposing after all.

Join the team, get free sexual access to John, and lifelong devotion. Actually, if he'd put that out there at the start, none of them would have said yes. And for all the good it had done Ford....

"No planning, then. No familial arrangements for the best genetics. I can't imagine a life like that."

"We find it hard to imagine a life like this," John said frankly even as there was a knock and the door opened. Rodney was ushered inside and a tray was also brought in with fearsome looking straight razors, towels and hot water. Rodney must wonder what the hell he was there for.

"Ah, Rodney. I have decided that I need you to perform a certain task for me with regard to your Dzom," he said still sprawled. "Come. Come over to the bed."

He was probably thinking that they wanted him to slice and dice John, and that explained the briefly horrified look on Rodney's face as he moved cautiously, stiffly towards the bed, hugging his blue robe close to him.

"It's okay, Rodney," he murmured, wishing suddenly that he hadn't said that pretty much every time it wasn't okay.

"There will be nothing unpleasant. Jzohn's service tomorrow will be enhanced by his body hair being removed. You will shave him and he is not to move in the process. You are instructed to both make the process as sensual as you can. Do you understand?"

Rodney seemed to melt. "Oh, oh, god, yes, fantastic, I was worried this was something -- wow, I've sort of always wanted to shave that pelt off." Rodney moved closer, settled on his knees beside John, giving the Dzom a bare glance of nervousness.

"Continue. I take enjoyment in an erotic sight," the Dzom said moving back just a little.

"Always wanted to shave it off, huh?" John said looking up at Rodney. The relief was good to see. He was thinner even now, but his eyes were still bright and blue.

A little wild, a little darting, but Rodney shifted, moved onto his hip, leaned to let his fingers linger against John's jaw for a moment. "Yeah, well. I like the pelt. I do. But..." But he was willing to go shave John clean, too, and he was probably just happy not to have to cut on John.

John was pretty happy about that himself come to think of it. "Well, here's your chance. I'll probably get turned on by it, just so you know."

Just because it was Rodney and someone gentle and touching him with care. It would be such a novelty it might elicit a genuine response.

And Rodney cared. He turned away for a moment, reached for the bowl of what John hoped was warm water. "Looking forward to it."

There was some sort of powder that frothed the moment water touched it. Rodney seemed to have entirely too much fun making it fizz and froth on his chest even as he settled into a comfortable position. He trusted Rodney with a blade on his skin. It was good to experience that as Rodney started the process in steady movements.

"Don't make any sudden movements. Or laugh." Rodney raised his eyebrows at John, and leaned in with the straight razor to slowly start to scrap through the hair.

"I'm not ticklish, Rodney," John answered and closed his eyes a moment, feeling muscles he hadn't even realized had been knotted up start to unravel. He wasn't sure why Rodney having a large razor would do that to him, but a warmth seemed to spread through his body that had nothing to do with firevein.

It wasn't the razor it was more... well, it was more the fact that it was Rodney.

It was Rodney, calmly, slowly stroking over his chest with even movements of the blade. It was a little like mowing grass by hand, and Rodney slowly bared the feeding scar in the center of John's chest. "We should do this more often." He let his other hand idle down John's sides, stopping occasionally to pull skin taut.

"You know, I think you're right," John answered. "It feels pretty... good actually. Just as well you have steady hands. One of his hands reached to gently stroke the skin of Rodney's leg from where he was kneeling over him. "You know if you sat a little more over me, you'd find it easier."

And it would make a good spectacle for their voyeur and feel damn good as well.

"Over you, huh?" Rodney shifted, moved to kneel over John's body. He was still wearing the robe, and it framed a nice view of Rodney's half-hard cock before Rodney leaned in to keep slowly shaving.

"Better," John was practically purring. The stupid thing was they hadn't really done anything before they'd been captured. The drug-induced orgy had skipped over the layers of awkward, but otherwisethere was still the fact that after a whole day of being used sexually, none of them were particularly interested in extra curricular activity.

There was no point. Mostly they sat there, cuddled close, sharing food and warmth, and they slept. The idea of sex and their own free will being involved seemed distant until Rodney leaned over him, and then scooted down a little, scraping hair from John's belly.

And oh hey...look. For the first time in a long time there was a genuine non-drug induced erection and god that felt good. Sometimes Rodney's fingers splayed over sensitive skin. Sometimes the wiping down and cleaning off seemed to linger. He wanted more than just the razor touching him. He had tried not to isolate himself but through necessity sometimes it worked that way. He wanted to sit up, his stomach concave and kiss Rodney properly. Make it a promise that they would get free, get home.

He wanted to, but Rodney was wiping his skin clean, looking for stray spots that he'd missed. He was letting his fingers idle over John's chest, his stomach, and John was only vaguely aware of being watched now.

"Please, continue. Do what comes naturally to you."

He looked up at Rodney and gave a brief nod, reaching up then to draw him down over him, solid and warm for a kiss. He wanted to murmur in his ear, tell him this was him, that he could really do with this memory tomorrow because that was going to be difficult as hell.

He didn't care that this seemed strange in many ways. He loved him and here and now he had him, even if the words were still hard for him to say.

Actions were going to have to do. Rodney seemed to understand that, leaned down into the kiss. He seemed relaxed, seemed to soothe into John.

He kissed at his neck a moment, savoring the feeling of not being compelled and murmured. "I'm not drugged, Rodney..." and then after a breath adding, "I want you."

"Same here." Rodney shifted, laid in close against John while he squirmed out of his robe.

John smiled, helping him. It was strange to feel him against slick, smooth skin and he liked the contrast. He could forget where he was, he could just let go for here and now. Just once. He needed to stop feeling like he was failing all the time and that it wasn't just about what he could earn.

He knew it was forced on him but he still felt it.

It was good just to feel Rodney, Rodney out of his robe, sparse hair and hunger-thinning body, and deft hands on John's sides, curling down to cup his ass. "What do you want?"

"I think I'd like to feel like what it's like to be fucked in a good way," he said in a drawl. "For comparison's sake."

He was pretty sure Rodney understood what he was saying. Yeah, he wanted to top Rodney as well, but he wanted to use this as a talisman and it needed to be a comparison

"I understand." It might make it worse, might drive him right up a wall, but Rodney kissed him hard, letting his fingers slide down to stroke idly at John's dick for a moment.

He responded to the kiss, surprised at how much he needed it because that was something that just wasn't a favored thing to do with their kind -- for him at least. It made it different, and he was privately shocked at how unfamiliar it felt now to be doing this because he wanted to. It felt strangely wrong and that was a sure sign that he was well on his way to being completely screwed up. But right here and now he had Rodney in his arms and he didn't care. Kissing, touching, tasting, he wanted all of it.

The slow contact of skin on skin, and Rodney shifting, moving off of John's lap and trying to settle between his legs without breaking the kisses and the contact, spreading John's legs.

It was all slow ease and gentleness and he hitched his hips up easily as if they'd done this a thousand times before. Somewhere in his head he'd imagined sex with Rodney to be something unsettled and wild, rather like Rodney in full saving the galaxy mode. He should've known that he would be deft and sure about how to get what he wanted.

He just went with it, open now to the hand rubbing down between his legs, finger exploring his ass and probing gently. That brought a moan of encouragement and his arching was entirely natural.

"Hold on, I think I can use the shaving foam..." Rodney seemed amused by that as he leaned to swipe a little, and it made the probing gentler.

John found himself smiling. "Any jokes about my ass frothing ..." He didn't have to finish that because fingers were inside of him and he was reaching to stroke Rodney's cock, demanding some of the shaving foam so he could get a little of the hot and slick movement for him. "Any time you're ready."

"I miss lengthy foreplay." Rodney mock-sighed that, leaning over him again. Rodney's kisses were slow and lingering, lips parted and tongue sliding out to take tastes of John.

"Four years not enough?" John replied and responded in kind even as Rodney finger fucked him with luxurious slowness. He wanted to promise him nights of this, of slow seductions, of sex being more than just a desire. He wanted to try things with Rodney, explore things together, not be forced.

Because he'd always been that important to him and even with him trying, they seemed to have realized he was one of those closest to him.

Rodney and Teyla, and if Ronon had been free, then him, too, and everyone out from there. It didn't mean he cared less; it was just a matter of time spent and what he needed personally. He needed Rodney smirking at him, acting like they'd done it a thousand times, slow and careful with him before he pulled his fingers out just as slowly as he'd put them in. "Nah. You know I always want more."

He smirked and it made his jaw ache from an unaccustomed expression. "You do. You always do."

He wasn't fragile but Rodney was treating him as if he was somehow and it Somehow. Especially when Rodney progressed very slowly on to something more substantial being pushed into him.

Rodney spread his legs, just getting comfortable, slowly pushing and pushing, until he was in John, buried to the hilt, and then Rodney held still, exhaling slowly.

That felt good. His eyes had half lidded as the sensations spread through him. He wanted him to move, but he wanted just to be like that forever, the two of them inseparable. Times like this he started to believe that there was a light at the end of the tunnel that wasn't the proverbial oncoming train.

This time he didn't urge him to hurry because it was relaxing just feeling Rodney in him, large and fulfilling.

"Ohhh, yeah." Rodney exhaled, and slowly started to fuck John, moving his hips in the most teasing, slow manner John could've thought of.

Who would've thought Rodney could be like that? Patient and slow just weren't qualities he'd ever associated with him, and yet here they were, fucking slow and sweet as molasses. Every movement a gasp or a groan. Every pause a breath to stoke things higher and higher inside of him. He shifted to move with him, until it was low and easy and his mouth tasted Rodney and his kisses and his whole body responded to him as if electromagnets were involved.

Rodney was smooth-moving, intense, focused on him and his every movement. John was bent in half, but he hardly felt it because Rodney was trying not to lean hard on him.

The experience was all the more amazing for the comparisons where he'd allowed himself -- he had to believe he was allowing it -- to be twisted up like a pretzel, to push hard, to crush him. This was more giving than taking and it was everything he needed as he rocked with him the movement intensifying over time.

They'd have to do it again, with Rodney. There was no reason for them not to allow themselves that pleasure, except privacy, and they didn't even have it then. Rodney was kissing him, hands moving constantly, sighing and watching John when he did lean back.

It seemed endless and he was barely aware of when things started to pick up, the pace increased. Somehow it just happened and he was holding Rodney and bracing himself. His legs rested on Rodney and he used them as a means of support.

Rodney kept moving, and somewhere in there he reached down to stroke John off, jerking his dick fast and hard enough to match the pace at which Rodney was thrusting.

It was as close to perfect as he could imagine, and he was squeezing around Rodney and it didn't take long. There it was, the blinding feeling of his prostate, which made him lose it completely until he came in an explosion of actual pleasure free of shame.

Just pleasure. He focused on that as Rodney leaned in, kissed him again, slowly, trying to catch his breath between touches of lip against lip.

"Thank you," he breathed as a whisper against those lips. "Thank you..."

He hadn't cared that the Dzom had watched. He just cared for those moments between them where it was something bright and wonderful just for a moment.

"Believe me, I, I should be thanking you." Rodney shifted, started to slowly pull out, but he didn't pull away from John.

There was a temptation to say the words then, to say something he had only said once to someone he'd ended up marrying. But it felt wrong. There and then he decided that this would be his target, his reward that when they were free, when they got out of there, then he'd tell Rodney he loved him and be damned to the consequences.

But not until Rodney was safe.

"That was.... very pleasing," the Dzom replied in a slightly hoarse voice, his hand showing evidence he had stroked himself to orgasm. "You have done well. I permit you to return to the cell and I will credit your tally, Jzohn with sufficient for a sizeable meal for all of your Dzomari."

Oh, god. Yes. Yes. That was what he wanted, food and to return to them, to feel like they were surviving again, and the relief that went with that realization was almost as good as the orgasm.

"Thank you, Dzom....."

"Dzom Keras," the man added. "I believe you will be of use to me in the future, Jzohn. You appear uniquely flexible. In many ways. Rodney, assist your husband."

"Yes, Dzom Keras." Rodney had only recently started remembering to say things like that without a tucked in verbal sneer. He started to pull away, trying to help John to his feet.

He went easily. It had not been an arduous evening. Loss of chest hair was a small price to pay for something that good. Tomorrow on the other hand would be hard. A tough scene, but if he pulled it off, it would buy them out of the cells and they needed to be in lower security.

Rodney kept an arm behind John's back as they walked, carefully supporting him. He didn't say anything else and he didn't need to.

Planetfall had been as eventful as before. It seemed that in the Pegasus galaxy that the old axiom of everyone loving a doctor was just as true as if was on Earth. It had been a three-day stop and it seemed to be that Rodney and he were prized for genetics and consistently on 'impregnating' duty. He, it appeared, had some note that seemed to make him popular among those looking for nervous daughters, or wives.

It made him feel physically sick still, all of this and he knew it was a psychosomatic reaction but he just couldn't seem to force food down. He guessed it was his mind's way of expressing its repulsion and he just had to live with it.

This time he had slept with one of the daughters of the leaders of this world and had been sufficiently gentle and careful with her that she herself bestowed a bonus sizeable enough that he hoped any medical care would be covered for John.

They hadn't seen John since planetfall and now they were back in space and they were all being taken somewhere different.

"I think my dick is chapped," Rodney muttered. He fell into step with Carson, always seemed comfortable doing that, and he kept an eye on Teyla as if that was going to help.

He kept trying to talk to Teyla about what had happened, knowing that she had been hurt terribly by being made so vulnerable. So far he had been rebuffed with varying degrees of vigor. There had been one occasion where he had been sure she was going to strike out at him but she checked herself in time. That gave him hope.

He'd keep trying. She was very good at talking about others and their situation, but at discussing her own she was nearly as bad as John.

"Aye, I know that feeling," Carson said. "The bloody firevein pushes us beyond a sensible stopping point."

"I thought that was our pimps who did that." Rodney nodded to Lorne when he looked over his shoulder at him. They'd worked one family together, but had spent most of the time apart, being moved around from place to place.

Lorne was looking worried again. Carson had managed to get him to talk at least, managed to try and allay some fears that he had about John's reactions and then about his own behavior. Evan was a mixture of pragmatic and imaginative and sometimes that combination was a strength and sometimes it worked against him. He knew that Evan hated the fact he'd beat John down, and more importantly the sheer amount of punishment the Colonel had been able to force himself to take to try and save him. In a strange way, it had given Lorne an insight into the sort of intense emotions that Carson knew John had for his team and people he cared about and he wasn't so prepared to deal with it.

Rodney, on the other hand, talked without prompting, and it was himself who had difficulties there. He could talk about Rodney, yes, but not about himself and what he had done.

"This is a different area. Have you heard anything about, John?" Carson asked, trying not to sound anxious.

"No. I know he was going to do some.... wraith-related scenes while we were planetside. That's why his chest was shaved. So everyone could see the..." Rodney waved one hand slightly.

"Feeding scars..." Carson grimaced. They were being led into an area where there were actual people, people not wearing specific Dzomari styles and many of them looking a little along the same lines as they did, down to the ever present manacles.

It seemed to be some sort of living quarters and one of the other 'prisoners' approached them and after some instructions from the Dzomari with them, they left and they were left with a woman looking at them with a smile. "Welcome, I am Veras of the Casil Dzomari. I am to understand that you are members of the Jzohn Dzomari, newly allocated living quarters here?"

"Uh, apparently," Rodney declared, looking to Teyla like he was looking for help. "We're looking for our Dzom."

"Of course," Veras said. Carson couldn't help but notice that she was wearing luxurious robes and looked fit and healthy. "He was brought in and placed in your quarters. He is sleeping. Your quarters are this way. I have been instructed to tell you the rules here."

Carson was immediately worried about John and only half listening to the rules.

"Now that you have quarters, you will be given physical tokens. These can be traded if necessary within our Dzomari here if required, but once logged onto a registered Dzomari crest they are untradeable."

She gestured to a device on the wall that had a monitor of credits and then what looked like a slot under it. "That is the crest of the Ecklash Dzomari. It shows their earnings and their Dzoms level. You place the tokens in there and it changes. The currencies are different for Dzoms and their Dzomari. Then you can use the crest to select what services you require, such as meals. Do you understand?"

It was something that probably caught Rodney's attention more than Carson's. "Yes, yes, finally, a process that seems a little logical," Rodney muttered.

"We all remember the first days we were here," Veras said sympathetically. "It is hard. There are many of us here from all over the galaxy. Some who have been born here. Most hope to marry a Dzom or Dzoma and escape service that way. It can be more pleasant, I can promise you that."

"Oh hey, new people," a young man with a broad an easy smile came over. Carson could see the faint outline of fading bruises but he seemed pretty upbeat. "Can I show them the rest, Veras? Go on..."

Veras had an indulgent look. "This is Gresh, he's incurably curious and I will hand you to him now I've told you the basics. Oh, one major thing. There is a curfew at ship time twenty-two hours. The doors automatically lock. Where you are then, is where you stay for the rest of the night. Gresh, don't fill them with your usual rubbish."

"Quality gossip only," Gresh promised with a grin. "C'mon, you get the far corner. There were some Varpasians there but..." He shrugged. "Dzom got sick, died and they put the rest of them in the cold store. Got anything you want to ask?"

He was smiling at Carson and looking him over, and Rodney as well as Lorne and Anders before his grin got broader.

"Is our Dzom waiting for us in 'our' area?" Rodney glanced around, like he was counting heads again, making sure that they were all there, Teyla close by.

"Yeah. I went and had a look at him," Gresh said. "Rumor has it he took the Wraith guy on Mefosia? We usually have to have a lottery for that. Longest anyone could stand was an hour or so."

He mock shuddered. "Mind you, is it true he took up to a charge nine before he broke with Dzom Mikas? I've never heard of anyone going above five before. Oh! And they say most of you have the Ancestor's gene. Is that true?"

"Uh...yeah," Carson said. "We're guessing that was why we were wanted."

"Funny how that happened," Rodney muttered, starting forwards as much as he could without mowing Gresh down. "John's been fed on once. He figured that playacting it couldn't be worse than the reality."

Once, twice, four times in the end. And revived. Carson really hoped John was right.

"Wow, really?" Gresh asked, his eyes wide. "You better watch out for Brakus. He thinks he's the toughest Dzom in here. He gets to hear about all this, he might come looking for trouble."

"Let him," Anders said with uncharacteristic aggression that worried Carson. He wasn't sure what had happened this planetfall to the Marine, but he was on a short fuse.

"They catch us fighting, then it's your Dzom who gets punished. They hold them in the centre square for everyone to witness," Gresh pointed out. "Anyway, here we are. Your own home. You got three quarters to split up. If you get bored, come and find me. I know I'll be bored, I always am."

"Thank you, lad," Carson said politely. "We appreciate it."

"Thank you." Rodney's 'thanks' was always shorter than anyone else's, but he seemed to mean the words just as genuinely, even as he wandered towards the quarters, peering, seeking for John. Carson could almost see the lines of scarring he'd left on Rodney's back through the robe he was wearing.

He couldn't seem to let go of the fact. He'd made amends where he could. Looked after Rodney, shared the food he would waste with him. Tried to help him when John wasn't there. But it wasn't just the betrayal of his oath that hurt; it was the fact that in that moment he knew he'd lost Rodney forever. Any remote chance he'd harbored was gone, and he glanced over and saw Teyla watching him and made an effort to pull himself together.

"Have you found him, Rodney?" he asked. There were beds! Actual beds and chairs. It seemed like impossible luxury.

He could hardly wait to sleep in one of those, because the mattress looked soft and there were sheets, and it was stupidly simple to be pleased by that. "He's in here..." Last room at the end, then, and they all headed towards it, unerringly.

"Is he awake?" Carson asked rounding the corner.

He seemed to still be asleep, not tied for once and he looked like he was completely wiped out. He moved over to his side, worried about what he might find. "Let's take a wee look," he said and felt for a pulse. Not bad.

"You've got cold fingers," John murmured and opened his eyes and immediately focused on Rodney. "Hey, guys..."

"Hey. We have new quarters." Rodney gestured for Teyla and Lorne to get closer.

"I hope you are well, John," Teyla murmured. "It seems the Dzomari have granted us a new status."

"Yeah," John rather surprisingly reached out and touched her and she looked shocked and then smiled a little. "Yeah, turns out Wraith guy pays up big. Bought us a place."

"But are you all right?" Rodney leaned in, pressed at his chest gently, checking to make sure he was all right. There was stubble growing in, but from what Carson saw, he actually looked all right.

"Yeah. Not too bad. He was a freak," John said as Carson ran his hand over him in a cursory examination.

"I will not disagree with you. I hope this is a planet we do not see for many more years." Teyla moved to sit beside John on the bed.

"Yeah..." John put his arm around Teyla carefully and Carson could see him pull on his game face. "Apparently it drove people nuts."

"Probably too late for that, sir," Lorne said with a faint grin.

"Yeah." Rodney settled, close to Teyla and John both, and he looked sideways at Carson. "So, we have three rooms here, and an alien ATM to handle our tokens."

"Guess we get to pick bunk mates huh?" John said. "Okay, can we deal with this sensibly, or are we going to be picking straws?"

"As they believe Teyla is your first wife and Rodney your first husband, it would be strange if you didn't share with one of them," Carson said ignoring his own selfish urge to suggest he shared with Rodney.

"Huh. Teyla, how about you take a pick of who to share with and we'll take it from there?" John said.

Teyla looked to John, and then at the rest of them, and then John again before she sighed. "I do not like having to choose. I suggest that we simply rotate as needed. I think I will stay with John tonight, however." And the two of them could not-talk to each other, which Carson knew was what would happen. But, privacy.

"Right, Anders. You, me, room at the end," Lorne declared with a nod of his head. "I'm going to go see about when food's served."

"Then you get stuck with me, Rodney," Carson said almost apologetically. He knew Rodney would want to be with John and he felt bad for that. It almost left him as the odd man out, because Teyla would sleep with Lorne, too, and Carson only knew Anders from a day where the man had twisted his ankle.

In the midst of everything that happened, that was what he worried about. Rodney nodded, and patted at John's chest for a moment. "After we eat. I've spent too long looking at beds."

"Aye, lad. You look like you need a bit of something to eat, and we did well enough that you should eat well," Carson said. "We'll go figure out the ATM thing. Would you help me, Rodney?"

"Sure." Rodney shifted, stood up, twisting towards Carson. "When do we get our physical chips, though?"

"I'm not sure, but our existing balance would be there," Carson replied. "Enough to work out food anyway."

He moved outside to their crest and it did look rather respectable. He could do this, be the practical one making sure people ate, and slept, and thought of basic things.

Rodney followed, ghosting behind him to stare at their crest. "What a bizarre symbol. It's like the mission symbol we had on the uniform meshed into the American flag. I'm almost offended."

"John has a lot to answer for," Carson replied. "Alright, it looks like a touch screen. We can buy items as well as meals if we want. Well, if John wants. So... I can order John a meal, and oh...he's left standing orders for one for us. Sensible considering." Considering the amount of time he spent unconscious.

It was one of those things that made Carson wonder what John did when the Dzoms pulled him away from them. "That makes life easier. Order John his meal, then." Rodney seemed interested in looking at the crest.

He pressed a few buttons, and ordered something a little more than basic and then looked at Rodney. "I'm sorry you've got partnered with me at the moment, Rodney. I know it's not your first choice."

"Hmn? What do you mean?" Rodney looked distracted, staring instead at the screen.

"I know you want to be with John," Carson said, stepping away from the console. He looked across at the cell that served as a room.

Rodney started to open his mouth, and then he narrowed his eyes at Carson. "Are we in high school now? You're my friend. You're, we've... Am I the only one who's just taking this as it happens and not trying to read any deeper into it?"

"What?" Carson looked at him. "Forget I mentioned anything. I was trying to... Never mind."

He wasn't sure what he had been saying anyway.

"No, you were trying to what?" Rodney reached for his shoulder, and Rodney that hands-on was growing disturbing for Carson, but he was that hands-on now.

"I was trying to be considerate about what you wanted," Carson answered. "About what everyone wants, okay? That's all." The stupid thing was, he was trying to fix things, and he didn't have the tough defenses he had back in the infirmary. He could feel even a silly confrontation here hitting him head on.

"Think about what you want," Rodney murmured, looking at Carson a little wide eyed. "Okay?"

Carson laughed and shook his head, heading into the room away from Rodney and the temptation of saying, 'You, you idiot!' and screwing up the only time he'd seen Rodney and John smile since they had been captured. Bloody hell, Rodney couldn't leave anything alone could he?

He could hear over his shoulder "What? What did I do?" But, Rodney probably wasn't going to pursue him and hopefully Lorne would be coming with food soon, and he could avoid answering that question all together.

He sat on the bed, noting almost with amazement that he didn't even have to think about which one Rodney would prefer. The bloody Dzomari had him well and truly figured out didn't they?

He put his head in his hands a moment trying to stifle a growing headache. He was the weak link to the Dzomari. Gentle and not a threat, but he'd killed half a planet, tried to kill a species. If he wasn't the threat, he needed to use that perception.

He needed to be one or the other, pretend to be gentle and use it to get in, except it wasn't pretending so much as reigning himself in when he actually did care. And he could do that.

Once again, when the meal was delivered, Carson found it difficult to eat what in Atlantis would've been regarded as a meager portion. He knew that there was a problem with him; he knew it was wrong and dangerous but he reasoned as long as he drank enough he would be okay. So he sat next to Rodney, still thinking hard about what he could do to do something as the least likely to be watched of all of them because he was a categorized helper and submissive.

They tended to eat quietly, and it wasn't as if they had utensils. Rodney ate very carefully, dabbing up crumbs from his plate when he was done.

"Here," Carson said pushing over the portions remaining as what he had eaten sat unpleasantly in his stomach. "You should save these for later on for your blood sugar." It wasn't much but it was enough just to make sure Rodney didn't crash out on them.

John was looking a little less groggy and staying close to Teyla. They clearly needed to talk, without Rodney looming.

Rodney looked sideways at Carson, and shook his head a little. "You should eat that."

"I don't need it and I don't feel hungry," Carson said in a low voice. Then he decided to lie. "The wee lass I was with fed me well enough that I'm fine. You need it more than I do."

"What do you mean you don't feel hungry?" Rodney kept it a low mutter and he eyed the offered plate.

"Like I said," Carson answered patiently. "I'm not feeling hungry. I suspect my stomach is a little tetchy with me. It always has been a wee bit temperamental. If I eat any more I'll vomit so... there's not point wasting it." It was possibly stress induced gastritis, but the fact was he wasn't lying about that bit. The fact that the problem was bad enough to stop him eating even now was saying something.

Rodney took the plate, but Carson could see the obviously wide-open look on his face, a look of doubt. "I'll save this then."

"Good," Carson nodded and then fell into contemplation. An idea was forming in his head, but for it to work he needed to have access to some of the equipment in the infirmary that he knew the Dzomari didn't know how to use. He couldn't sneak in and do it; he had to be working on something with that equipment. Something the Dzomari would give their right arms for. He could think of an idea for that as well but John, Rodney, Lorne.... everyone would completely flip out. And even if his idea worked, they would be heavily outnumbered. He sighed a little to himself, thoughts drifting to different priorities, wondering whether he should try and get Anders to talk later on again, just to get a feel for his stance on it.

"It's probably close to the lockdown time by now," John noted, nudging the excess on his plate towards Teyla. "You all get a good sleep."

"Aye, you too, John" Carson picked up the dirty things and put them in the container that would no doubt be dealt with in the morning by whoever was being paid for menial duties.

"Sleep well, sir," Lorne said and Carson noted that Anders didn't say anything.

Hopefully some time with Lorne would help the man. Rodney gathered up the excess food Carson had left, and nudged him gently as they started out of the room. "See you both in the morning."

Carson reentered the cell and sat on his bed, still thinking hard, still exploring ideas in his head. It might take a little bit of thought but there was something there and it would by necessity need everyone's help and expertise. There was some sort of chime that he assumed was a warning bell and he looked up to see if Rodney had actually entered.

Barely, slipping in under the warning bell, bits of spare food wrapped up in a scrap of cloth that he'd gotten from who knew where. "Hey. Uh, do you mind if I, uh, ask you why you, I mean, what happened earlier?"

"With what, Rodney?" Carson asked as he settled back. He really hoped Rodney wasn't talking about their little misunderstanding.

"When you walked away from the crest?" Rodney shifted, sat down beside Carson on Carson's claimed bed.

Carson looked at him a moment. "I was trying to help you and John. The only time I'd seen either of you smile even a little was when you came back from Dzoma Keras. That's all. I just... keep trying to make it a bit easier."

Rodney looked at him for a moment, and exhaled before he moved to set the food aside. "Carson, I. How does that help me and John or?"

"I thought you'd want to be together," Carson answered. This was harder than he thought. "I thought... you'd finally made that connection and the rest is... obvious I guess. It's not like I haven't known that you've wanted John for a long time, Rodney."

There was a hint of flushed cheeks, and Rodney cleared his throat. "Look, it was a stress reaction. Anything good at this point is a plus point."

"I'm not saying it was a bad thing," Carson said. "I'm just finding it difficult, Rodney. That's all."

"Why?" Why. He was brilliant, a damn rocket scientist, and he didn't understand that?

"For gods sake, Rodney," Carson replied, his temper flaring a little. "Because you're blind when it comes to this. I've...liked you for a long time but after what I did to you, I know that's it. It can't happen now so I'm trying to make sure you're as happy as you can be."

Rodney stared at him for a moment, lips parted as he did it. "Are you kidding? After what you did to me? You did what they told you to do, Carson, I'm not holding it against you!"

"I am." Carson answered looking down, and bloody hell he was feeling nauseous again just thinking about that incident. "I can't trust myself, Rodney. It was a terrible thing I did and with it, I've lost everything that has mattered to me. You may not think you don't hold it against me, but you do. You flinched from me, you did then. You refused my apology, and I understand why." He exhaled a moment. "And now I've broken another promise to myself that I wouldn't muddy the waters by bringing this up."

The tight look of confusion on Rodney's face didn't help matters, either. "Is it something that goes with your degree set that says you've got to needlessly overcomplicate things?" He didn't expect it when Rodney leaned in, sliding his arms loosely around Carson. "Jesus, I flinched because I hurt. I would have flinched from my own sister just then."

"Rodney..." He was feeling his breath hitching a little. "Rodney, please, I'm not strong enough to be noble about this. Not about you. And John has been hurt so much and so have you that I don't want to mess that up for you either."

"Noble. You're crazy, this is, none of this is noble. Anything that starts with a mass orgy isn't the place to start a serious relationship and we can sort this out ourselves later, but Teyla and John were in there being very close and I wouldn't deny either of them that, so there's no reason to be... Intractable." Rodney stroked his hands over Carson's arms.

He couldn't stop himself. He needed that from someone who cared just a little. All his well-meaning actions, his attempts to help were being thrown away, kicked back and he craved this with the hunger he had lost for actually eating. "Can I kiss you?"

"No reason not to." Rodney leaned in, started it for him, caught his mouth and pressed his lips against Carson's.

That was it; all it took to completely break his resolve. He was kissing back, touching then tenderly and gently trying to show Rodney what he felt. He felt a great deal, more than he had any right to, but Rodney shifted, pressed him slowly back against the mattress. "I'm serious, I don't think I can do much more than this, but..."

"I know, love," Carson replied. "But this is more than I ever thought I'd have."

And it was, it really was. A glimmer of hope. Just a little glimmer but enough to give him something to aim towards.

Teyla had never felt so vulnerable as she did now, and she found that she hated it. Never before had she felt she had betrayed who she was to such an extent as she had on the last planet and she'd been ready to shut herself away from everything and everyone. She could feel Carson's worried looks in her direction and felt bad for rebuffing him again but she could not afford to crack now.

She was worried that if she broke down, she would never get it together again, and her team needed her. Still, she had withdrawn, feeling Lorne's concern and guilt as he walked with her but closing herself away from it, as she had done from the first deliberately brutal rape. They used her and Lorne together a lot as a pair combination for those who paid for threesomes and she had learned there was more to the XO than met the eye. He was like John in many ways, but more open with his feelings, stable and able to cede her the control she needed at the right times. If she had not sworn off of caring or feeling she would swear that she was developing a tenderness of heart for him. But today, not even he could make her stop feeling as violated as she did right now.

They had taken her as a broodmare and then impregnated her. Taken her to the ship, removed the contraceptive devices and deliberately fertilized and impregnated her without telling her who the donor was. There had been racks of fresh sperm there; newly harvested from those in sleeper pods, from those awake and the father of her child could be anyone. They had not let her go until they were completely sure she was pregnant and somehow that was worse than the rape. It was like a rape of her entire femininity, forcing a father on her that was not of her choice.

Because she had been gone from them for more than a few days, immediately she was cycled to stay with John. It was something they did. Carson or John depending, and she had rejected Carson. She had promised herself that it was survivable, it didn't matter and she could stop caring right up to the point John had opened his eyes from where he lay sprawled semi-conscious and met hers.

In that moment, she saw that there was someone else who really did understand what she was going through. Who had to perform acts so out of the norm for them that it was a wound in itself.

And still, he managed to reach out to her, touch her and reassure her. His heart was still open and raw and bleeding no doubt, but still open. She had no desire to talk to anyone but she found she wanted to be with John. There was still so much guilt there between them. John's, because they had punished him by raping her, John's, because he felt responsible for everyone and hers... hers, for not being able to protect him from these people in her galaxy that were doing this to them all.

They were alike in that respect.

He was very restless in his bed, even though he was tired. The truth was it was not overly warm even with blankets and he was thinner than normal.

"John? Is there something wrong?" she asked quietly. The tossing and turning ceased immediately.

"Few problems going on," John admitted in response.

"Am I able to help?" Teyla asked, looking over at him, surprised she could bring herself to offer after the rage that had consumed her.

John gave a mirthless chuckle. "Not unless you want to join me over here. It's just the whole... isolation thing. Wraith thing again. It freaks me out some."

She knew that had to be an understatement. To her, to all of the inhabitants of Pegasus, the spectre of the Wraith, the thought of being helpless beneath a feeding hand and it toying with your life was almost a racial nightmare. It had almost been unbearable to watch as the Wraith of the Genii had fed upon John. She suppressed a shudder at thinking of those basic horrors sexualized and her mind flinched away from what that might mean.

Teyla got up, not even having to think about it. She knew that John wouldn't do anything she didn't want. Ever. "I will share your bed, John," she murmured. "The night is cold and it has been a long few days. You will need your rest as will I."

She slipped in next to him even as he seemed frozen in shock.

"Teyla, I didn't expect you to..." John hesitated."You know I'm not good at this."

"You have told me that many times, and it is only now I am realizing that you are actually wrong," Teyla answered.

"I am?" John asked, sounding tired.

"Yes." Teyla settled in. "You do not often touch voluntarily and yet you woke and reached out to me. It meant a great deal to me."

He looked at her, eyes dark and shadowed. "Yeah well, least I could do considering..."

"John, I have said this before. What has happened is not your fault." It was no one's fault. They had defended the others well, there had been 16 of them fighting a complete horde of invaders and starships. Only John Sheppard would think they even had a chance of winning.

"But you think we could've gotten out of there." John shook his head. "We flew right into that electromagnetic pulse of theirs." He exhaled. "I should've found a way out of here by now."

He believed that, he really believed that, she could tell. "John..."

"Teyla, they raped you because of me... I... how can you even..."

"Want to be with you?" Teyla said softly. "John, how much have you endured to protect us?" Too much. Day after day, humiliation, pain, sex to buy them food and drink, care and shelter.

"It shouldn't be about that. We should be escaping, I should be doing that. I keep trying to..." John stopped talking as if he realized he was showing too much.

"John, I understand," Teyla murmured in his ear. She did. She took a deep breath. "You must be patient with me. I am not myself."

"What did they do to you, Teyla?" John asked holding her with nothing more than comfort in mind. There was still strength there in those arms. Strength to endure if not to break free.

"I am pregnant, John," Teyla said and she had meant her voice to be calm and even but it broke, broke into pieces. "They have forced a child into my womb. I do not know who the father is..."

A child should be a blessing, a wonder. If she was with her people, they would've rejoiced and feasted. She would've sung the welcome to new life before the fires at dawn. The father would've been congratulated and all of the women of her people would've gathered to give advice and support. But this...

She had John, she had Evan, Carson, Rodney even Anders in his own way. She wished, not for the first time, that Ronon was there. He would understand the bittersweet tragedy of this pregnancy.

"Oh God, Teyla..." John closed his eyes a moment, and there was a greater pain there. "Are you okay? Does Carson know? The others?"

"Not yet. I did not even want to tell you," she replied truthfully and the anger and rage was still there. "I do not want any child of mine to be a slave, John. I do not want them sold to the highest bidder! Life is precious, but I swear...I swear by the Ancestors, that I will ensure this never happen by any means."

Even death -- the words were unspoken, but hung between them.

John nodded. "I promise you that won't happen. We'll be out of here before then. I promise, Teyla, give me a chance and I'll find a way."

He sounded as desperate as she felt and she leaned her forehead to touch his in a gesture of understanding and gratitude. He would try; he would die trying if he didn't succeed. There was something that she had noticed about John Sheppard, that his word would drive him to lengths no one else would try to follow.

And with that, for now, she had to be content.

Privately, Carson dreaded being with Anders, being locked in overnight. Over the past few weeks especially where things had almost settled into a routine after their initial period in the detention area to break them down and make them pliable, Anders had started to get restless.

The Marine was agitated and disturbed more and more frequently and Carson did his best to soothe the situation but it was getting more difficult as time went on.

"How much fucking time do they need for an escape plan?" Anders was muttering, pacing up and down the small cell now the locking had occurred. John and Rodney were together at the moment and he sincerely hoped that they were having a better time of it. "We've been prisoners for months. At this rate, we're going to be prisoners for the rest of our fucking lives!"

"It takes time, lad," Carson replied. "You're a Marine, you know about the situation. The Dzomari have been slavers for generations. Unfortunately that has made them proficient in keeping people as slaves."

They had all the angles covered. They had physical security, emotional blackmail, drug brainwashing, conditioning, expert profiling of their weak points. They knew what they were doing. They knew how to keep John constantly balanced on the threshold of breaking and incapacitated so he couldn't do much in the way of focus beyond getting the next meal.

"Sheppard and McKay usually get out of this sort of thing in days!" Anders retorted, lashing out verbally. "You know what I think? I think they like taking it up the ass. You and that fuck Lorne as well"

"Have you heard yourself?" Carson said getting a little angry as well. "Don't be under any illusions, lad, what they are doing to us is rape, it is against our will. We don't get a choice in the matter, Colonel Sheppard least of all. This is not our fault!"

"Doesn't matter. The act itself is a sin, no matter how it happens..." Anders said and he was well over the line now.

How the hell someone from a fundamentalist background made it onto Atlantis, Carson would never know, but he knew from his calmer talks with Anders that he had been brought up in the South, from a pretty orthodox family with strong views about the subject of homosexuals, among other things. Killing for god and country seemed pretty much up there with heroism in their book, but from what Carson understood from previous conversations 'unnatural sexual perversions' were some sort of corruption that could not be absolved. And Anders' family included even the most normal loving and consensual homosexuality in that definition, so god only knew how he was living with himself in a situation where they had to bend over for any of the Dzomari who took a fancy to them.

"Lad... Simon," Carson tried again standing up to try and counsel him. "We've been through this. I truly believe it is the intent that makes the sin, not the act itself. I'm sure your family would not condemn you for being raped, not in the name of God surely..."

He saw the twist of Anders's expression and realized he had miscalculated by assuming familial love could cross all boundaries or bring forgiveness. That was exactly Simon's fear and Carson didn't even have a moment to pause before the Marine's face twisted in an obscure pain and he just punched at his face.

Carson stumbled back, falling on his lower bed, the impact point being numb and shocking at the same time, his retina giving bursts of light as the blow ensured he was going to have a fearsome black eye.

He was stunned, literally and was lucky that Anders seemed as horrified by what he had done, as he was.

"Shit, Doc... I didn't mean... I..."

His nose was bleeding, and it wasn't like he had a lot of clothes to staunch it with. He managed to salvage scraps of material from the infirmary where he was assisting and they would have to do.

"Just... take a moment to breathe, Simon," he said thickly as he fumbled for a cloth. It really wasn't the Marine's fault. He was undergoing a great deal of emotional pain and not everyone was accepting as his family about this sort of thing, even if they had accused him of declaring his bisexuality to be noticed. At least they hadn't condemned him for it and his mother had never accused him of committing a sin. Anders was feeling everything worth surviving for slip through his fingers, moment by moment.

"I can't stand this, Doc, I really can't," he heard Anders murmur under his breath and he couldn't even comfort him with an arm around the shoulders in case that made it worse.

"I know, lad. But we're going to have to try," he reassured as best he could. "And trust we will get out of here...somehow."

Hopefully not too late for any of them.

He really didn't get it. He'd been trying to understand how it was Sheppard could forgive him for beating him down, for enduring something beyond human limits and despite all the reassurance that the others told him he still couldn't get it. Mind, Evan was also pretty sure that if someone had told him he would be lying in bed with Carson Beckett and be relishing the contact and warmth, he wouldn't've believed it.

"I don't get it, Doc," he murmured in the still silence that descended after curfew.

"Evan, lad, it's been months and believe me, the Colonel has been through worse in that time," Beckett responded, and yes, he knew that. But that didn't mean he could let go.

"But not from us. People he trusts."

Carson patted his arm. "You know, we have been over this. You had no choice, he had no choice, it was a bastard of a manipulation and hit the target head on. They knew you would have issues with confronting authority and hurting a friend, and that John is vulnerable to feelings of personal failure. We were profiled, Major."

He knew that, but it made him feel a little better to hear someone else say it. Carson seemed to know what worked for each of them and he knew for a fact that there wasn't any of them that didn't lean on the doctor for physical and emotional support. Not even Sheppard.

"I'm worried about, Teyla," he admitted after another long pause. "I wish..."

"That you were there with her instead of me?" Carson cut in as he trailed off a little. He smiled slightly. "You are not alone in that thought. Pretty much any red blooded male would be following your lead."

"It's not like that," Lorne protested hastily, and it really wasn't. "Teyla...since the pregnancy, she's been having a hard time. She had heard of the Dzomari as saviors, helpers of races culled by the Wraith. I think...I think it disturbs her that something she believed in since she was a kid has proven to be very wrong."

Carson looked at him and nodded slowly. "The Wraith at least are honest in their dealings with humans. They want to eat us. They don't dress that up much. Human Slavers pretending to save civilization..." He shook his head. "The irony is, despicable methods aside, they probably have helped damaged civilizations greatly. If I am being charitable, I'd like to believe that perhaps the Dzomari started that way, and then through the generations, slipped from grace."

Lorne exhaled, even as Carson's hands patted him comfortingly. "You're better at forgiving people than I am, Carson."

"Perhaps it's because I have less capability to respond to their actions," Carson said with a self-deprecating twist to his tone. "But I wouldn't call it forgiveness. Understanding maybe, but not forgiveness. We've all had to do things that appall us since we've been here. There's not a single one of us who hasn't broken a personal boundary. They seem to delight in that."

"Yeah." Lorne frowned. "I've been over it hundreds of times. I can't see a way to get out based on force. We don't have the resources, one or other of us is usually incapacitated to the point of liability all the time."

Which was deliberate, he realized. A Dzomari ploy to ensure there was no 'perfect time' to stage any rebellion.

"Aye. Well, at least they're trusting me more in the infirmary," Carson murmured. "It's another planetfall tomorrow. You should get some rest. Are you paired with Teyla once more?"

Lorne blushed a little. "Yeah..."

"No need to blush, lad, the firevein makes everything a pleasure. Some of the other Dzomari here are well and truly addicted. I'm not sure how well they would function without a supply of the stuff," Carson said softly.

"It's not that, Doc, it's... well it's Teyla," he said awkwardly. "I thought she and Ronon were... you know..."

Carson raised his eyebrows. "I can see your point." He smiled a little. "As someone who shall remain nameless pointed out to me, even if they were doesn't mean they're not willing to share. One thing this place has taught us is it doesn't have to be an either or situation." He smoothed his fingers through hair that was wild around the growing out short military cut. "You might want to think about that."

Yeah. He just might.

When the Dzoms and Dzomas had a meeting, it meant that the respective enslaved 'Dzoms' got a rare break, though undoubtedly after the meeting, there would be a need for entertainment. John sat, tethered along with a roomful of others gratefully accepting the breather. If this was lifestyling, he had no idea why people would chose to do it 24/7. Sometimes there was something enjoyable, but usually it was power games and supposed training for their exotic customers, and the Dzoms indulging their increasingly strange desires. Too much of a good thing on tap meant they had the time and leisure to get overly creative.

It was also a rare time for him to actually try and think about escape and not be too exhausted and pain soaked to concentrate. The problem was that the situation didn't change. The quarters they were in had controls that were outside of the lock zone and no convenient access panels, which Rodney described as very inefficient and inconsiderate of them. There wasn't a large enough force of them alone to break out, and teaming up was a problem as if the other captured Dzomari knowingly let others try and escape they stood to lose a minimum of one member each, either to execution or cold sleep. There was the obstacle of the manacles as well. At the same time as escaping they had to knock out the Dzom's controls of the manacles which were wired into the central system of the ship, not in a convenient single control, otherwise one minute in or so and they would be twitching on the floor from a charge running through them. Too many obstacles, but that didn't mean he could stop thinking. They had to get out before Teyla's baby was due because he did not doubt her word that she would not let any baby of hers be a slave. Not that she would commit suicide, but she would run amok in a last ditch attempt to get free and he couldn't blame her for that even if it meant they would all be on the block.

"You should stop thinking of escape," Yueh-var, one of his fellow captives murmured from where he was tethered next to him, knowing him well enough by now to be sure of the direction his thoughts had wandered. "And think more on enticing a mark to become so besotted that they are willing to buy you and your Dzomari whole."

John looked at the shorter black haired man, interested to learn of a different option no matter how remote. "Has that happened before?"

Yueh nodded. "Yes and rarely. But it has happened. Literally an offer that the Dzomari could not deny."

"And who will buy Jzohn?" Meriss said from opposite them. "You know the type who have him. Do you really want to belong to a Wraith-fetisher? Or one who enjoys your pain?"

"Hey, not everyone can be as good a dancer as you, Meriss," John answered and part smiled at the woman. "It's a way out of here at least."

And from there, a different set up that might be more vulnerable to escape. It was definitely a more promising avenue of thought, but he sincerely doubted the Dzomari would sell them on for any price. They were Ancient gene holders, valuable breeding stock if nothing else.

"While you still want to leave," Yueh muttered. At John's questioning look, he jerked his head over towards a different cluster of Dzom-slaves. "Too long on the firevein, too long being trained and you want it. Relish it."

"But they make us beg for it," Meriss frowned a little. "And it feels good because of the drugs."

"And they'll need less and less over time and they... they would not want to leave. They don't do it to feed their Dzomari, or because they are forced to," Yueh spat to one side. "They would stay without manacles, without anything except the promise of pain and sex. That is what we will become. I have seen it happen."

"You're a ray of sunshine aren't you?" John said half lightly even though it was a new fear. What if he started becoming that person? Was his inability to find an escape plan because he was slipping into needing this?

"Ignore Yueh. He's a Varshan. They always look for the dark in everything," Meriss smiled.

"And Oltans are ridiculously optimistic," Yueh retorted and exhaled. "What will it be tonight do you think? I would pray for nothing but with Kall sick, our tokens are low and I must earn something. I do not know how you manage to feed your five alone, Jzohn. At least I have high level earners with Cheseh and Quar to help."

"Now you know why I get the Wraith guys... or girls," John answered, trying to sound diffident. It wasn't nice and it freaked him out, but some of the other things they had to do were worse. To him at least.

Meriss shuddered. "I don't know how you do that. I have seen many forced to do those and they can barely function. Their minds are broken."

"So why so many of them?" John asked. "What's the big deal about a full wrap?" It had puzzled him and even when he was in it, he didn't quite get why the 'cocooning' thing was such a big deal over here in Pegasus. He knew it happened on Earth, he'd seen some ridiculous porn in his time with army buddies but... fuck, the high price services seemed to have a common element of mummification in it.

"It's... it's an ultimate expression of power and loss of control," Meriss answered as if unsure why he didn't understand. "To be cocooned is... not to be human. To be food, to be nothing but a satisfaction for someone else. The Wraith feed at their leisure then, and those who would mirror their power with sex, then they have every satisfaction there for them. Ultimate control."

"Huh." John blinked a little. They couldn't control his thoughts though. They could imagine his fear but he was not paralyzed by a genetic or racial fear. He was in there thinking, being John Sheppard. Not always the best experience, but livable and bearable. He didn't want to make it sound easy, that would devalue it and mean more effort and god, he was tired.

"They'll probably have Meriss dance," Yueh said. "We'll probably have to serve or be furniture again. Dzom Petris always spills his food. And it's just clumsiness. They liked that time with Jzohn as an ornament at dinner."

John just shrugged. Being tied in various positions was disturbingly second nature to him now. So was reading someone's desires and needs. That had literally been beaten into him. It had come to a state where there was a peculiar dissociation about the whole process that had developed over the time they had been captured. He made the moves, he performed, but it was just that, a performance even with the drugs. He'd partitioned a key part of his mind away from the humiliation and pain of what he had to do on a daily basis and regarded the sexual acts as a necessity rather than something that he obsessed over. If someone wanted to stick unpleasant things into him then it was a physical sensation not an emotional trauma. At least that was what he told himself.

"Makes for an easy if uncomfortable session," he commented stretching his legs out. He allowed himself a slight feeling of satisfaction at his ability to deal with this sort of thing. Dzom Mikas had tried him with his silence fetish again, in public at one of the sessions, and this time he'd beaten him at his game. He hadn't cried out, he'd bitten through his lip, he'd pissed himself but it had gone to the highest setting of the device and he had now obviously trained himself to deal with the pain. It was a small victory but in this place it made a difference to him. It meant the Dzom finally, finally had to pay out for that service, enough to pay medical for Teyla and her pregnancy, and incidentally making him a minor legend among the slave-Dzoms. They'd all been through it, and there was a faint hope that Mikas might give up that particular torture now he had been bested.

"Not that easy," Yueh huffed. "Don't you start enjoying the pain, Jzohn. To whom would I talk if you became like them?" He gestured over to the other group.

"Nah, we'll be rescued before that," John answered forcing a faint smile. Elizabeth wouldn't stop looking, he was sure of that. At least he had been sure.

"It has been many months, Jzohn," Meriss said sadly. "And still you believe this?"

He leaned his head against the wall and stared ahead of him, hiding the creeping growing doubt in his own mind. "I've got to believe it. That's all we've got."

Carson was sure if he ever escaped from this nightmare, he would have a whole new appreciation for his nursing staff, having been stuck doing menial nursing duties for some times. The Dzom's who were 'cure-makers' were impossibly arrogant and he'd received beatings before for daring to suggest there might be a different treatment or problem. Over time though, he had been trusted to treat the minor injuries of the slaves in particular. He often wondered if that was due to the Dzomari noticing that their little band had comparatively few breaks in earning even with the abuse that had heaped upon them.

But every now and then they pushed him back to menial scrubbing and cleaning just in case he got too big for his boots. Today was one of those days.

"This room," Dzom Cure-maker, Kerick instructed, looking down of himas he had to await orders in a kneeling position, " full of equipment we have traded for, or salvaged over many generations, that they believe is related to medicine. Some of it is Ancestor technology. In between your sessions of assistance in the infirmary, you will sort through this room, and as you have worked with medical Ancestor technology before, you will ascertain what is there of use to us."

"Yes, Dzom Kerick," he said automatically. "However, though I can activate and use such items, if any are broken, it is my Dzomari member, Rodney, who can fix the technology."

He wasn't sure if the insistence on keeping Rodney on fairly low key tasks was due to the Dzomari not believing them about his brilliance, or that they did and were keeping him away from anything critical.

The information resulted in a cuff to the head that made his ears ring. He'd half expected it.

"Did I say that I wanted you to make it work? No! Identify them and then we determine if they are worth fixing!" the man shouted.

"Yes, Dzom," Carson murmured in a deferential tone, looking at the floor.

"And clean the place up as well," he said and left him to it.

The room was literally full of junk, and some of it was actual junk and others were devices he recognized from Atlantis. Some lit in his hand, some played dead but he sorted them through. What surprised him was the moment where he sat on a truncated looking seat and it lit up and he realized what he had found. A sawn off command chair that had enough power to try and reach for the command systems of the ship even if there were multitudes of red alerts and disabled functions.

For a brief moment he was dizzy as he stood again, dizzy with the possibility. A Command chair. If it responded to him, even half crippled and on the scrapheap as it was, what could it do if Rodney fixed it and John used it? It could potentially reach into the entire command systems of the ship and the Dzomari would not have a clue!

The problem was how to do this. He needed a plan to get Rodney and John in proximity. He needed something that would not alert them to what was happening. He needed a reason to reveal something like this because at the end of the day, the Dzomari weren't expecting plans from him so they would not be looking for guile or deceit. They would assume a suggestion from him was something random and a kneejerk reaction. Maybe he could find a way to incorporate the plan he had mentally been chewing over for some time.

Either way, when the Dzom Cure-Maker returned, the carcass of the command chair was pushed over in the medical equipment to keep pile and blithely described as a broken but potentially very useful scanning device.

A description that was just enough to save it from being recycled, and perhaps provide them with a glimmer of hope.

Freedom had never seemed so far away. It was out there and he didn't try to think about it often, but living the life of a sex slave cum maintenance man was starting to get to Rodney. He had to think about it, except when he thought about it he wanted to say things, exchange words with John and they couldn't. Couldn't, not yet. So, Rodney focused on working, on gaining the trust of the morons who were holding all of them.

That had been John's softly spoken instructions to them all. They had great liberty of movement and a basic assumption seemed to be that a group who had earned enough to move into quarters had come to terms with their new way of life. Certainly, the talkative Gresh said they were one of the quickest to pay their way into the quarters.

John wanted to know what levels there were, what technology, weaknesses and strengths and they duly reported what they found, but as yet there was no sign of an escape plan.

It wasn't completely unexpected. Dzom Mikas had been summoning John frequently and he was often brought back unconscious or might as well have been unconscious.

Used up, burnt out. They all took turns trying to patch John back together, except when they were planet side. Then they needed their energy to patch themselves back together, and Rodney didn't know what to do when he had to spend time with Anders, because the guy was a wreck and not exactly in Rodney's range to be able to handle.

Carson hadn't said anything but there were a few mornings after he had shared with the other Marine that he had a black eye that he was sure the doctor hadn't had before he went in there over night. The problem was, the man had a religious background from what Lorne had said. Aliens he could deal with, being a whore and sex slave apparently kicked out every principle he had.

Not that Rodney thought there was a problem with people from a religious background -- technically Teyla was quite religious, but it was pretty pragmatic. Rodney just kept away from the guy when he could, but sometimes Lorne and Teyla needed time together and they all shuffled around to accommodate that. Carson could help John with his medical problems, tend to him, and Rodney just eyeballed the crazy assed Marine. Carson apparently tried to talk to him, and he'd always known the doctor was a closet masochist. But then, Carson talked to them all, soft conversation in his gentle brogue that steadied the panic and horror somehow, and made it possible to get up in the morning and do it all again.

Rodney leaned back, poked at the panel, and mentally declared it a go.

It was boring as hell. He didn't have access to anything important; he had to give them credit for that. Strictly peripherals, but his earning power had increased. Carson had said it was similar in the infirmary. He was far better qualified than any of the Dzomari cure-makers but he was stuck being an orderly or nurse, or doing clean up.

He was still worried about Carson. The whole emotional angst over the cutting baffled him, as did the fact that he wanted him. Even with that cleared up, Carson still wasn't eating right and the weight was falling off of him. It seemed he was telling the truth about an upset stomach because he's seen him eat meager rations and then promptly vomit it up all over again.

That still left them plotting escape, because no one was going to feel better until they were free, and Carson couldn't afford not to eat his share of the rations. It seemed simple to Rodney -- even when your stomach was sick, you still ate -- but for Carson... it seemed more mental, the root of the problem.

It was driving him nuts not being able to fix things -- Rodney never even attempted to fix people so the whole thing baffled him.

He heard someone running behind him, towards him and people really didn't do that on this ship.

"McKay!" Lorne half jogged up to him. "Have you seen Anders?"

"No?" Rodney started to stand up slowly, gathering up the few crude tools he was allowed. "What, why?"

"Crap," Lorne said succinctly. "We've got a problem. A big one. A Dzom called him for service and he hit him and took off. You know what that means."

It meant best-case scenario, John was screwed and them by proxy.

"We've got to track him down. I thought he'd headed up this way, but he must've taken the left. Come on, maybe if we help track him things might not get too bad."

"Shit! Shit, they should've put him in stasis and left us with Ronon instead..." Rodney shoved them into the bags, started to stumble forwards to follow after Lorne.

"He's been finding it hard to deal," Lorne said, even as they headed at a half run back down the corridor. "Seriously hard to deal. Like, his family would disown him if they knew even if it was against his will."

They found the corridor junction and headed down the other turn even as they heard the sound of the Rakshel's Keepers guards behind them.

"There!" Lorne point out. "Anders! Stop where you are! That's an order!"

Anders looked at them wildly from where he had downed a Dzomari guard and had a gun.

"Back off! I mean it, sir. I'm getting the hell out of here! I seem to be the only one that wants to anymore. The Colonel's gotten too used to being a fuck toy. He ain't ever going to move."

Shit, shit. "Anders! We will, and soon, but there's a time to move and a time not to move, and as a soldier you should KNOW that!" Rodney snapped that, starting vaguely towards Anders with his hands held out hoping that the man would just put down the gun or throw it to Lorne.

"Yeah, you're just as bad. You tell me with all your so called genius you can't come up with a way out of this?" Anders turned on him, leveling the gun at him. "No, you're just as bad, all of you."

He spat at Rodney and took his eyes off of Lorne for a moment and that was the opening the major was waiting for.

He jumped at him, and Anders whirled and fired directly at him, but Lorne took him down even as Anders kicked him off scrabbling for the gun again and....

... a whole squad of Dzomari guards rounded the corner and he just went crazy.

He just went crazy, and Rodney watched him go down, fists flying, and Lorne just... fell back. Rodney fell back, stepped backwards even as the pain surged from the manacles. They were shocked down pretty quickly, but Rodney was at least glad that it wasn't him at the bottom of the pile.

Lorne was clutching at his side and there was blood there, and Anders seemed hopped up on adrenalin enough that he wasn't feeling the manacle jolts because he didn't stop until the Dzomari literally beat him senseless.

And then Rakshel was standing over them all, his face dark and twisted with anger. He looked at Anders's crumpled form and took a gun from one of his guards and very calmly put a bullet into the Marine's head even as Lorne protested "No!" and had to shield himself from brain splatter. That was it, no deliberation, no discussion, just a bullet and death.

Fuck, that was not how Rodney wanted to die, that was not how he wanted everything to end, because some stupid crazy Marine couldn't keep it together to let their plans come calmly to fruition. "Don't hurt us, please, we were just trying to catch him, it's not our fault he went crazy..."

"He was of your Dzomari. He was your Dzom's responsibility to discipline..." Rakshel looked at Lorne and the bloodstain on his work robe. "Though I concede there is evidence you were not assisting him and trying to stop his actions. Even so, the magnitude of his crimes cannot be ignored. He struck one of the Dzoms and attempted to escape. Bring them. The punishment must be immediate and public so all know the cost of defiance. Now."

Rodney was grabbed under each arm and there was still the metallic scent of fresh blood in the air as they dragged him up the corridor.

Anders was dead. Now they were down one person and Rodney miserably noted it meant one less person to feed. It wasn't what he should have been thinking at all, but he'd had idle thoughts about power use after deaths in Atlantis, if they weren't his fault. It was probably a sick coping mechanism.

They were dragged back to their Prisoner Cell Block H as John insisted on calling it, to the public area and were held waiting even as a chime went that they all knew was a signal to gather at once. John didn't have chance to gather, not did Carson or Teyla. They were apparently fetched from wherever they were working and manhandled to the square.

He saw the moment when John saw the blood over them and the absence of Anders and his eyes widened in horror.

"A member of the Jzohn Dzomari foolishly attempted to escape, evidently against the wishes of his fellows," Rakshel announced. "You all know the consequences of this act. It cannot go unpunished, and it will not." He nodded to the guards holding John, who proceeded to tie him between two posts.

"The punishment is seventy-five lashes of the heavy whip. If the Dzom survives then the slate is clean. If he survives. You will watch and witness."

If he survives? If? If he died, then they... then they stuck the rest of them in storage, and called the quarters clear and moved another kidnapped group into place. Rodney shifted, strained a little. Seventy-five lashes. That was insane...

He couldn't help flinching at the first few cracks of sound and John barely made a sound, at least not at first. But it didn't take long for the lash to draw blood, and more blood and then John was making choked sounds and they weren't even to twenty.

By the time they were at twenty-five John's back was slick with blood and he could see Carson looking pale next to him. "He won't survive this." His whispered words were punctuated by the crack of leather on skin. "People have died from thirty lashes. Healthy people. We have to do something."

"What? Stop them?" Rodney let his hands clench into fists, but he looked sideways at Lorne. There had to be a way to reasonably distract them, in the very least.

Over thirty and still climbing. He was shocked to see Carson tug himself free of his guards and approach Rakshel, who looked at him with scorn.

"Keeper Rakshel, I do not wish to lose our Dzom and he will not survive this. This will mean a great loss to you and the Dzoms," Carson practically gabbled out. "He is valuable."

"Your loyalty does you credit, but a punishment cannot be stopped," Rakshel said, though his focus of attention showed that he did seem to be enjoying the groveling.

"Then can it be purchased?" Carson asked even more desperately. "I can offer you a treasure that would be immensely valuable to you all if you stop and spare him."

Rodney had tried to offer the idiots hyperdrives that worked like nothing they'd ever seen, and Rodney had no idea what Carson had to offer. The ability to perform functional surgery? Anesthesia? Or-

Oh, fuck.

Lorne obviously came to the same conclusion. "Beckett! Don't you fucking dare!"

And it was a really shock to hear him swear, but his genuine anger and Rodney's look of horror was enough to get Rakshel's attention and he waved the guards to stop the punishment.

"If this is not good, I will add an extra ten to the total for your temerity," he warned Carson.

"Aye, I figured that." Carson looked over at Rodney and then looked down. "I can give you, roughly half of you, the Ancestor's gene. Not your offspring, but you personally. In exchange for John's life, and then for credits afterwards."

Rakshel started to laugh and then stopped as he saw that Carson was not joking. "But that is impossible..."

"No, no it isn't. John and I have the natural gene that showed with the gold glow on your machine. Rodney is one of those who responded to the treatment I developed and activated the gene sequence. This was my specialty," Carson said. "I would not gamble with John's life. He will most likely punish me himself for telling you this, but it is definitely real."

"Lorne is also an activated gene sequence," Rodney pointed out, stepping forwards a little. Shit, if it would work, if it could spare John... "It's what Carson did for us before."

"And why have you not offered this before?" Rakshel hesitated narrowing his eyes as he looked at them both.

"Because John would forbid it, and more to the point I believe that it was impossible here because there was not equipment I could use," Carson said, talking fast. "But recently, I cleared one of the storage areas by the infirmary and there was equipment there that activated for me. Ancestor equipment. I could do it with some time and help in configuring the equipment."

Rakshel looked at him, evidently considering him nothing like a threat, or even capable of deceit. Rodney knew they were more suspicious of them than of Carson.

"Cut him down. I will discuss the terms with the Dzom, but congratulations, your betrayal has saved his life. For now."

Time enough. Enough closeness, enough time, they could use it to their advantage. Rodney bit the inside of his lip, and started forwards when Carson did because they were cutting John down.

"Let's get him to quarters, I'll buy us medical supplies on the crest," Carson said heavily. "Rodney can you help me lift him? Evan shouldn't lift anything. Teyla will you help him?"

Evan shouldn't be lifting anything? Rodney struggled to remember why, and then it clicked. The struggle for the gun. He'd been so focused on the insanity of what Anders had been trying to do in the first place that it had just faded into the background. He moved quickly to get John's other side. "Yeah, hey, he's light and we need to hurry..."

Teyla moved to assist Lorne who was still looking daggers at Carson. Rationally, Rodney knew he should be horrified that Carson had made such a trade, but this was John, and from the look of him now, Carson had been right, he never would've made the full count. Right now he was pretty worried it was still going to be too late.

They carried him as quickly as they could to his room and Carson immediately set to work, blowing a large chunk of their earned tokens on medical supplies to be sent straight to them all, even as he started tearing up a sheet. "He's losing a lot of blood. Rodney, sit next to him, you're an O neg, I can do a rough and ready transfusion off of you when the kit is delivered."

"I'm compatible with the Colonel," Lorne said from where he was propped up against the wall.

"You are also bleeding lad," Carson pointed out. "I'm compatible as well, but I'll save mine for later."

"Where did you get hit?" Rodney asked. They all ended up in John's 'room', so at least if they decided to lock the place down they'd be together.

"Clipped in the side, not serious," Lorne self-diagnosed. "Dr Beckett, you shouldn't've done that... Colonel Sheppard will be extremely pissed off."

"Aye, I know that," Carson said. "It did rather push my hand a wee bit."

"Do you have any idea what you have done?" the major raised his voice. "Seriously, you're screwing around with something more dangerous than the... anything we came up against so far!"

Carson looked at him a moment and didn't pause. "Don't you think I know all about consequences by now?" he said quietly. "Don't you think I know more than any of you exactly what this means?"

"What, that we give the gene to one more set of people? We've shared it before. The Genii managed a weak mimicry of it, we gave it freely to the inbreeds at the Tower..." Rodney looked at John, and from the way he was bleeding he shouldn't have even been talking.

Carson was moving quickly to staunch the worst of the bleeding and barely looked up when Gresh skidded to a halt outside carrying the things they had ordered.

"Is he okay?" the curious youngster asked.

"No, he isn't," Carson said tersely. "Thank you, lad, for bringing that so quickly, and I know you must have questions but now is not the time, okay?"

"But..." Gresh looked at all of them. "Okay."

"Tomorrow maybe," Carson said automatically. "Teyla, could you...?"

"Of course," she replied even as Gresh left.

Rodney found himself being hooked up directly to John in short order. "We'll see how he stabilizes," Carson said,

"When. When." Rodney held his arm out in offering, kept close to John. "You're not allowed to die, Sheppard. We're already down one person..."

"Teyla could you move Evan over here, on the bed, I want to see if that bullet graze needs stitching..." Carson said and Teyla nodded, lifting him up and much to Rodney's surprise, Carson started talking in a very low voice even as he continued working.

"I admit offering the ATA therapy seems rash but I've been thinking about a plan for us to get out of here. It needed to be offered in a desperate situation so they would believe it, and this was very desperate." Carson said softly. "But, I need access to the medical lab. With that Ancient equipment I can configure a virus strain that will mimic the ATA therapy and give a short-term apparent success and then approximately forty-eight hours later, build up enough residual toxins in a system as the virus dies to effectively render them helpless. I'd need to make an antidote as well, as I do not doubt they will ensure that we take it first. I was also planning to get Rodney into the lab to set up and mend the equipment. It is possible in doing so, he would have access to ship systems and be able to reroute controls there, because I could be wrong but there is something a little like a command chair down there that doesn't seem to work, not for me but might if you work on it. I haven't had chance to work the details through... we need to get the others out, there are the other prisoners and whether we give them the antidote or go it alone... but, we're committed now I'm afraid to say."

"When we, if this works," Rodney said a little warily, "We, John and I know a gate address that's safe. That's a good idea to go to. If we take that level of control, we can get our people out of stasis. We can get Ronon back."

"There is always the chance some people might be naturally immune," Carson cautioned. "I'll probably have to use John as a source of base material. I would use myself but it's hard to get certain things from myself. Plus it will give me an excuse to have him there in the infirmary. First though, we got to get him back together. We're going to be eating into the savings a little I'm afraid."

"We can work it off," Rodney murmured. "We're down one. This has pros and cons." He was starting to feel a little woozy, but he wasn't going to say anything.

"Aye well, we won't be out just like that," Carson murmured as he cleaned Lorne's injury.

"Sorry, Doc," Lorne said quietly. "I'll do what I can to think this through for you."

Carson nodded. "Well, if you want to stay here tonight I'd get some blankets now. It's going to be a difficult one. If John comes around he'll like as not be in a lot of pain."

"I think it would be wise if we all remained here tonight. I will place an order for what rations we can have, and bring the blankets back here. I believe Rodney, John, and Evan need monitoring," Teyla offered.

"Hey, I'm just one tube going into John here. I'm all right."

"And now you are starting to look a wee bit peaky as well," Carson decided and took John's pulse and blood pressure again. "Better. Good enough for now."

He pinched off the transfusion expertly, and then swabbed the spot where the needle pulled out. "Don't try to get up, Rodney, you'll be dizzy a while yet."

"I think I'll stay where I am," Rodney volunteered, voice vaguely helpful. He wished he could be helpful, but aside from hacking the system to give them more tokens -- which would inevitably be caught, just like that time he tricked the ticket dispenser at that theme park -- there was nothing he could do just yet.

"Teyla and I will make sure we have enough water and bring the food in," Carson said. "I'll have a clear up later but we'll get the supplies in, get everyone comfortable... if that's okay with you, love?"

Teyla nodded. "Anything that I can do to help, Carson."

He nodded and the pair of them headed out of the room to ransack their combined quarters.

It reminded Rodney a little of preparing for a storm -- gathering in the basement, hunkered down with supplies and blankets, waiting to see if the tornado warning was going to bear fruit or not.

Rodney shifted, slid a hand through John's hair, which was going to be the only part of John that didn't hurt, soon.

Incoherence had a lot going for it -- especially being not aware enough to really get sucked under by the incredible pain on his back. John had vague fever hazed memories of various people being there with him, of moving and practically choking with the sweep of agony up his back, Rodney's voice, his touch, Carson and Teyla, even Lorne. But if he was talking he didn't remember it, and this time when he surfaced, his head was clearer and the pain still there, but it wasn't the cell, and he could hear Rodney and Carson talking.

"I agreed to do some on the side IVF so we wouldn't starve to death," Carson said. "Seeming as how John gave you his Dzom code."

"Lucky us." Rodney's voice sounded strained. "Fuck, you know, at least Atlantis was abandoned. There's neglect, and then there's willful neglect of the equipment."

"Admittedly he was a bit delirious at the time but... Do you need me to hand you something?" Carson said. "Is it really a Chair, because it looks like someone ripped the legs off."

A Chair? He could hear the emphasis that made it more than a piece of furniture and he opened his eyes and tried to twist to look towards them both.

Rodney was partly under a hunk of junk and Carson was darting back and forward to other working bits of equipment.

"I'm hoping that won't effect the interface, but yes, someone ripped the legs off, probably in a bizarre attempt to make it into a better chair. It's like if someone took apart a nuclear bomb in some misplaced hope that the fuel could cook their food."

"The big question is can you fix it enough? I've told them it's a diagnostic device that will help me create the ATA therapy for them and...."

What? What the fuck? His eyes flew open and he tried to push himself up and say, "What the hell..." with marginal success.

He heard more than he saw Rodney jerk, smacking the back of his head on one of the bracing bars for the chair.

"John? John... don't try and get up otherwise you'll be in a world of hurt over it. Several worlds... possibly a solar system or two," Carson said striding over to him after a moment. "You actually awake or are we going to have to practice dodging out of control limbs again?"

"I'm awake," he managed in a rough voice. "You've given them the ATA therapy?"

"Evan was right about him being upset over that," Carson commented to Rodney. "Settle down there."

"Will. Will give, and it's long and complicated, but look, you're not dead, which...." Rodney sat up, rubbing at the back of his head.

"You can't do that..." John knew that was a disaster waiting to happen. How long before it got back to the Wraith. How long before they incorporated it into their DNA. Carson was one of those who could never fall into the hands of the Wraith for that reason. They'd come too close a couple of other times. "Did you trade it for me?"

"In a manner of speaking," Carson replied. "They were well on the way to killing you. As it was we nearly lost you."

"And if you died, John, they would have put us all into cold storage, never to be seen again, and no one would have gone anywhere." Rodney's voice was stressed, strained, the way he sounded when he'd been working for too long on too little.

"Besides, we have a sort of plan," Carson said, easing him back to lie down.

For the first time, John realized that Carson looked terrible as well. "Have... how have you been eating? Jesus... how long have I been out?"

"About four days." And that was four days with no income for them, and all of them working to take care of him on probably next to nothing, because it wasn't like they ever ran far into the black when it came to tokens.

No food, no nothing and he was trying to sit up. "How've you been eating?" The protest from his back nearly knocked him right out and certainly too his breath away.

"Turns out you'll tell Rodney pretty much anything when you're delirious," Carson said. "Including the top secret Dzom code. Gresh informs us that if a Dzom has a second it is not uncommon to pass over the menial task of allocating the food to them so..." He shrugged. "We have been eating. And working. Evan is back working now as well."

"I also know what you did to that snake when you were ten, which wasn't exactly necessary, though I'm sure somewhere out there that snake appreciates your heartfelt apology." Rodney was close, peering at him. "How bad does it hurt?"

"Some..." He managed in a massive understatement. Fuck, this was constant pain. At least with some of the things he had been through it was sharp and stopped. "I want to hear the plan."

He wanted to know why Rodney looked so stressed, the pair of them so terrible.

"Well it involves a wee bit of a virus impregnated into the ATA therapy. With any luck it will appear to work and then forty-eight hours later, they should drop like flies, giving us the opportunity to take over." Carson said. "Which we will definitely need you for."

"And the chair and a lot of other systems brought online as soon as I can manage them." Rodney turned away after a moment, moving to get back under the hunk of junk that looked vaguely like a chair. "It's not even hooked into the power conduit. I think the ship has rats."

"Wouldn't surprise me," John answered. "So why am I here as opposed to locked up in a cell?" He shivered a little, already starting to feel tired and worn.

"You are my source of ancient DNA," Carson said apologetically. "I'll need specific cells and they are not the sort I can extract from myself."

He started to ask what kind, and then Rodney muttered from under the chair, "The kind that need medical care, so if you could just play along..."

"Hey, I'm not so bad at acting. I can do a fantastic version of someone falling asleep as well," John replied and shivered again. He ignored it. "So, the plan is to try and take over using the rebuilt chair when everyone has Beckett's flu?"

"Aye, something along those lines. Teyla and Lorne will ensure that the stasis pods are opened if we can wake them up. But all this needs Rodney to work his special magic."

"Magic, there's nothing magical about it, it's fixing conduits that I swear have been chewed on by mutant rodents!"

"Anything I can do?" John asked. "Aside from lie here." That was nearly the story of his whole experience with the Dzomari. Lie back and think of Atlantis. He was likely enough to go to sleep if they weren't careful.

He could've, easily, just closed his eyes and drifted off.... "No, just rest. Just stay rested."

He still wasn't sure about this plan, but if he'd been babbling deliriously it was better he didn't know. "Okay, I can manage that."

"By the way John, if you want to react like that when any Dzomari are around, that might help," Carson said patting his arm. "Lorne's been giving me the evil eye in public because he made a bit of a scene when they cut you down about you rather dying than passing over secrets. Rodney blew any chance to have free license to harangue me by leaping on the chance to save you."

"Rodney remembers that we passed it out like lollipops for a while," Rodney muttered from under the chair. "This is the best plan I've heard in weeks."

"If I'm likely to be delirious maybe I shouldn't know too much," John said belatedly, realizing he even had a catheter in. He closed his eyes and groaned. "Carson, I hate it when you do that..."

"Aye, well, stop being unconscious for days, and I'll think about it." Carson said. "You should sleep soon, and concentrate on looking helpless when the Dzomari come around."

"That shouldn't be too hard." He'd missed Rodney's quiet bitter side commentaries. Apparently all it took to bring that about was for John to get himself nearly killed.

"Hey, I'll be up and about in no time," John said, with more optimism than any real basis in fact.

"You will not," Carson said immediately. "You lost a lot of blood. If not for generous donations from Rodney and myself, you wouldn't have made it past the first night."

No wonder they looked like crap.

"Oh, hey. Carson, can you hand me that thing they're passing off as needle nose pliers?"

For once it seemed he wasn't going to be the one with the crazy plan. What amazed him was that it was Carson's plan out of all of them. He realized that he'd come to expect crazy plans from Rodney, and more sensible ones from Teyla, but he'd always thought of Carson as reactive rather than proactive. It was a little difficult to get his head around in his current state and he drifted off as he tried to focus on the thought that maybe if he was surprised, the Dzomari would be even more shocked and never see it coming.

It might just actually work, he decided. It might just actually work.

As a motivation to hurry up the development of the ATA therapy, the now regular intervention in the lab of the infirmary by the Dzom overseeing their project was not helping. It inevitably left them in a rough state and it kept knocking John's recovery back.

Just their bloody bad luck that their assigned Dzom seemed to be particularly interested in medical fetishism -- which if he thought about it logically was probably the reason he had volunteered to take on the role of watching them.

That didn't help with the progress. Carson had the virus 'built', what he needed was the antidote, otherwise they wouldn't manage to take over anything and they would be too ill as well.

That was proving difficult with this Dzom indulging his perverted medical fascination with the three of them.

It was only a matter of time until the watching turned to something more, but Carson couldn't predict it and he couldn't exactly do anything to stave or turn the man off of his fetish. Rodney needed stall time to fix two more systems, and he needed to make sure that his antidote worked, but for it to work he needed it to exist in a testable state.

"I think you all need a reminder that you are here to serve."

"As you wish, Dzom," Carson said in a conciliatory tone, "But there were orders from the Dzom and Dzoma themselves that we should finish this as soon as possible. I would not wish to displease them."

He could see John watching from where he was still pretending to be unable to walk. He could now, just about, but it was an advantage he wanted to keep secret if he could.

The longer they thought John was permanently ruined or near to it, the longer he and Rodney had for time to try to make things work. When the Dzom spoke, Rodney went still, setting his tools down carefully beside the panel he was leaning into. Waiting, already tense and nervous.

"You are making fine time, and they also wish for you not to forget your place. I have been tasked with coming up with a scene list. I need inspiration."

"A... scene list?" Carson nearly backed away because they all knew that was a bad thing. "Involving which Dzom?" Oh God, he was going to want to try things out on them and that was really going to screw around with everything.

"A scene list. The Dzom should not concern you." The man stepped closer, letting his eyes idly drag over John. "Is he capable of anything yet?"

"I would not recommend it," Carson said hastily. "He is recovering well, but it could set him back."

John looked at him and he could tell he was weighing up options. "I can't walk," he said aloud. "But aside from that..."

"John..." Carson shook his head and Sheppard glared back at him with the look he used when Dzoms were around. It was convincing enough that he did generally feel himself flinch back from it.

John probably meant it just the way that they were interpreting it, that the look was a telling-off look, where he wanted Carson to step back into his own role and not overlap and challenge John's own.

"I would like to see some of the equipment used sexually," The Dzom declared over top of their arguing.

"Forgive me, Dzom, but I am a cure-maker, I have not considered how it might be used sexually," Carson said humbly. He looked over at the standard implements of the infirmary and tried not to give away too much alarm. "If you could perhaps guide us in what you wish?"

"I think you should conduct a few examinations. You'll earn a few tokens if you come up with something sufficiently pleasing. Maker, stand up and be of use here."

Clearly Rodney's stock-still act had been an attempt to stay hidden, as ill planned as it was, and he looked miserable when he stood up. "Yes?"

"You will assist your cure-maker, and your Dzom, as he is unable to move, will be your patient. If you do not want him to reinjure himself then perhaps you should ensure he cannot move at all," the Dzom said.

"Yes, Dzom... uh... may we confer a moment for ideas?" Carson asked and receiving a nod he clustered in over John leaning towards Rodney as well. "Any ideas? We're going to have to give him something."

"Do whatever you have to do," John murmured. "I know that it won't be worse than what's happened before."

"I'm no good at this, I haven't had an interesting sexually related thought since we got here," Rodney muttered, hunching his shoulders a little as he stepped in closer. "Uh, fake prostate exam? I don't know."

"Don't think that's gonna get us much in the way of tokens," John drawled. "How is the food total?"

Carson grimaced. "Low I'm afraid to say."

"Okay then, something that'll look good then." John sounded much more brittle and matter of fact than normal. "He's dropped one clue, he likes the idea of a helpless patient. So why don't you guys break out the sort of medical restraints you used when I turned into a bug, huh? Legs apart, the works. Talk some crap about I don't know, making sure there's nothing left of the infection or something, and examine everything, stick whatever you want in my ass and wrap me in bandages. The wrapping thing is a big deal here because of the Wraith and the cocoon thing. I'll be fine."

"Okay. We'll unwrap you soon..." Rodney said it in a promising tone, and then turned away towards the implement table. Probably to look for the restraints.

It worried Carson how easily this sort of thing came to John now, and he knew they hadn't been told the half of what went on in John's service. He very gently laid his hand on his forehead and stroked back his hair. "I'm very sorry, John, we both are."

John looked at him as if startled by the gesture. "I trust you both," he murmured softly. "Better you than him."

Carson nodded and stepped back and ostentatiously reached for a pair of gloves. "Assistant Rodney, have you found those restraints yet? He could awaken at any time, and we are not sure that the parasite has completely left his body...."

"I'm moving as fast as I can!" Rodney snapped that, completely believably, even as he turned around with the restraints in hand, heading toward John determinedly.

John went convincingly limp, even as Carson pulled off his robe leaving him nigh on naked. He was glad that yes, the infirmary had to be used for examining for pregnancies because there were at least stirrups which actually would make things more comfortable for John if they were going to mess around with him for some time. As John said, better them than the Dzom.

He lifted his legs up and put them in place and took a set of the restraints. "You do his arms, and don't forget the straps," Carson said even as he did John's ankles.

"Don't worry, I don't want him getting free again." Rodney bound John's wrists down. The restraints were leather, and the hospital beds had a bar that wasn't meant for the other end of a set of restraints, but it would serve to keep John still.

Right now he was playing dead, waiting for a cue no doubt and Carson could hear the breathing of the Dzom watching them. They had captured his attention at least and he helped put the straps on not making them overly tight. "Better. Now, we'll have to do and inc by inch examination of his body, feeling to see if there are any more under the skin," Carson said. "And rubbing in the special... uh... tincture that drives them out."

There was some general base for oils on the side. That would do. "You start at the top, I will start at the bottom. We'll have to coat him thoroughly and then ensure the oils settle in."

"Yes, sir." Rodney reached for the bottle, and instead of just handing it to Carson, he poured a small pool of it onto John's belly.

That was enough to make John twitch a bit and fake coming around hazily.

"Remember, no matter what, you mustn't let him free until the cure is complete," Carson cautioned. Rodney looked serious and intent as he slid his hands over John's skin. He'd had to get him to shave the hair back again to help with dressings so John was reasonably smooth.

Carson took the oil himself and began smoothing on John's legs. It would at least be good for John, giving him some badly needed flexibility.

The fact that it ended up looking like a sensual massage was probably good for the Dzom, and the fact that it was a slow massage was good for John, so Carson concentrated on that as he slowly worked the oil into John's skin, over his calves, while Rodney rubbed it into his chest, his shoulders, and then down his arms.

When he heard a few moments of restlessness behind him, he knew they had to move on. "Did you find any? I believe I will have to do an internal exam."

John had nearly drifted off for real until then and his eyes opened and he appeared to struggle against the restraints.

"Easy, lad... it has to be done. Rodney, fetch the instruments." If he used a speculum that was more useful for women, he could appear to put all sorts of fearsome instruments into John's ass without actually hurting him. Spend some time like that, bandage him up and probably suck him off or...something afterwards.

Whatever seemed right. Rodney turned away, rubbing oil into his hands as he gathered up a few random instruments and the speculum. Good, he wouldn't have to specifically look for it.

He took them as Rodney passed them over and murmured to Rodney, "Make sure he's okay when I do this," even as he went about it as if it really was a medical procedure. "Don't worry, lad, we'll soon have those wee devils out of you."

It was surreal, and even if John seemed all too accustomed to this sort of treatment, this was way beyond his comfort zone.

Beyond all of their comfort zones, but Rodney seemed mechanically interested in it, handing him the base oil so he could at least slick the speculum.

There was no way to make that particularly comfortable and John did struggle some although he seemed determined to keep quiet. Carson noticed that about John. He seemed to find it necessary to hold on to his silence as if breaking it was the crack in his self-control.

He knew he'd be babbling and so would Rodney.

He used his fingers first and made an effort to loosen him and make it stimulating. It seemed to work as John worked his way up to half-mast.

"Ah, it would seem there are more of them in him from that reaction," he said randomly. "Let's have a look up there. This might be a little uncomfortable but it's for your own good."

He was hoping John had the sense to play into it a little so things wouldn't get really hard.

Sometimes the cheapness of what the Dzomari wanted was the hysterical part of it, because Carson heard their watcher groan a little when John moaned, and pushed his ass up against Carson's fingers.

John, it appeared, felt the way to play along was to impersonate bad porn movies. But as he suspected Pegasus didn't have a whole lot of porn movies, perhaps it wasn't appearing quite as fake as it sounded with the variety of grunts and moans that he was using to illustrate his reaction first to fingers, and then rather bizarrely to the speculum.

He brandished a medical instrument which he suspected was some sort of depressor. "I'm sorry, but it has to be done. Hold him, Rodney."

All he was going to do was oil it and slide it around in there. Nothing that exciting.

John wouldn't even feel it, because the positioning made it easy for him just to push it in as deep as the speculum went. Actually as far as plans went, it was a fairly good one. Rodney leaned over John, pressing his shoulders flat against the mattress of the examination table.

The porn noises increased and he was pretty sure that the Dzomari was stroking himself slowly behind them. He did a bit with that instrument, then picked up a pair of forceps and pushed them in... it looked terrible but he'd had to do it for real on a few occasions. Even as he played around with yet another instrument that was nothing to do with that area of the body, he finished up with a large syringe and 'cleaned' him out with a lot of attention. He hoped that John felt a little fraction of the pleasure he was pretending.

"Well then... we need to make sure he doesn't move while the cure soaks into his system," Carson announced. "Rodney, the bandages."

"Yes, sir." Rodney turned away to retrieve them, and he was bad in a few quick moments. "Should I unsecure him?"

"Leave his top secure and we will start from the bottom up," Carson said and that definitely seemed to be a big thrill for the Dzom. John had evidently learned a fair bit about what made them tick. The advantage was that it would take time and didn't involve John being hurt. Perhaps once he was wrapped they could then get Rodney to fuck him because Rodney knew what John liked and that might satisfy their pervert observer.

Pulling a hole through the wrappings over John's ass wouldn't be hard.

Rodney made a show of unsecuring John's ankles, of pulling him out of the stirrups.

The wrapping itself was a matter of patience and practice more than anything. Classic three layer bandaging, nice and tight but breathable. They worked their way up his legs and he deliberately lightly covered John's erection as they wound their way up his body, pausing to strap his arms to his side before covering even that carefully. All the way up over his head as well, leaving his mouth and nose clear and incongruous tufts of his hair poking out.

"That should be secure," Rodney murmured, patting John's belly lightly. "Seeing as he can't move, sir..."

"Which is a good thing considering," Carson replied sneaking a peek at the Dzom who was definitely hot and bothered. "You know, it is a curious side effect of the medicine that he won't remember a thing. Do I recall that you have a liking for this patient?"

"You recall correctly. If I could..." Rodney cleared his throat, and didn't look at the Dzom. "I'd like to fuck him."

"Well, you have assisted most ablely and it's not like he will know in a few hours is it? And I've made sure those areas are clean and safe already." Carson answered in a thoughtful tone. "Turn him over. He won't know anything except sensation."

Rodney cracked a grin that seemed a little off to Carson, but he moved to turn John over on the mattress, rolling him as slowly as he could, until he was on his stomach, head turned slightly to the left.

He heard John make a little noise that sounded like pain which was most likely his back and moved to assist, by standing by his head. "You shouldn't've turned down a healer, lad...." he said in a normal voice and then leant down and murmured, "Are you okay with Rodney fucking you like this?"

A faint yes drifted up, at odds with the sounds and Carson passed over a pair of scissors to Rodney. "He's all yours."

"My pleasure." Rodney let his hand linger over John's ass, and then he patted it, leaning in to slowly cut himself an access hole. It was a lot slower than Rodney would've done it if left to his own devices, but it was part of the show.

It was all a bloody show, a performance because this was not something he was into. Sure, he was into the pleasure of his partner and if John had genuinely been into this he could've done it and relished and become excited not at the deed itself but at the fact John was enjoying himself.

The Dzomari had picked up on that and used it against him. They knew he would do his best so they gave him the more vulnerable partners and... crap, what was he meant to do now? He stroked randomly over the rough surface and leaned to kiss at the lips he could just about find under the cloth. Rodney could deal with the other end and he could make sure John was safe.

And then hopefully the Dzom would leave, and they could get back to work.

Rodney was careful in kneeling over John's ass, pulling his robe open. They were all easy access, so there was no fumbling, no working out what to do with his pants. Rodney's dick was out and he was stroking it, reaching for the oil.

He stroked John's face a moment. "He's coming in. It's Rodney, you're okay." Truth was he couldn't help but find John attractive. All the more strangely enough when he saw him like this, not because of situation but because he knew John was doing this for them. It was what he was all about. He just hoped to god his half-assed plan worked. It relied heavily on some equally half-assed ideas, but it was all winging it, all Carson could think of to do. And even if they escaped... then what?

If they escaped, then what?

He never asked that, though, and now wasn't the time to let his mind wander that way when Rodney was kneeling hard over John, pushing into him.

He looked up to see the Dzomari jerking off to what they were doing. He chose then to hold John, to brace him so he wouldn't slide around too much. He didn't want him hurt any more. It was bad enough using him as part of his experiments.

It was bad enough that they were using him when he was hurt, when most any friction to his back was an agony, when trying to move his legs much made stitching pull and tug. Rodney was moving hard, but his hands were on John's hips, trying to keep him still.

It worried him how easily they slipped into doing this because it was acceptable, and necessary for survival and if they made it what that would mean. Where would they go? Were they going to take over the ships and throw everyone else off? Could five people really take on nearly a thousand or more and have a hope in hell of surviving? If they failed they'd die or be put in the stasis and he kept feeling the weight of those consequences falling on him.

He could hear John gasping then, and it was difficult to tell if it was pleasure or pain.

It worried him that he couldn't seem to tell the difference between the two anymore, another sign that they were all backsliding. He couldn't imagine Rodney having kept on regardless before, the way he was now. He wouldn't have, it wasn't in Rodney's character.

He was stronger and more resilient than anyone gave him credit for. Better than he was, dealt better than Anders, and he hated the fact he felt more irritation than compassion because the man couldn't stand it. Behaving like that seemed selfish to him, very selfish when John sacrificed more than Anders ever had. Or Rodney, or Teyla, or Lorne.

He was soothing John on autopilot, murmuring encouraging words even as he saw the Dzom move towards them. That wasn't good

"Bend over."

Carson looked a little startled but obeyed. He should've know the man would want to get involved and the urgency in the man's movements meant things like lube or preparation were going to be the farthest thing from his thoughts. Better him than John or Rodney right now.

Rodney knew what he was doing, wasn't putting weight on the John's back, but if the Dzom had gotten involved then he would have had to. Carson bent, and pushed his robe aside. It was just one more thing he had to put up with.

It didn't make it any more pleasant when the other man pushed in hard, and it made him grip next to John's wrapped head and practically bite through his lip. Who was he kidding, he wasn't stoic. His pain threshold wasn't like John's and there were literally tears of pain spurting from his eyes in a sheer automatic reaction. It didn't improve any as the man started moving because he was hard and violently rough in his arousal.

His own pleasure was unnecessary, because he was just a tool for the Dzom behind him, an ass to fuck and hips to dig his fingers into, and the only relief was that Carson was sure he'd finish off soon.

He missed Rodney's climax, and John's that Rodney teased from him as well. He was too busy trying not to scream and he knew he was making pathetic noises as the man ripped into him.

It just wasn't anything he'd ever had to cope with. They tended to leave him alone and now he desperately wanted to be in that position again, out of the spotlight, where none of them looked at him for anything special, because there was a time and a place where special was nothing but trouble. He could feel the Dzom picking up speed, and then, there, there, he stopped, coming inside of Carson.

For a moment that was all he could feel and he felt a sudden completely strong urge for things just to stop right now. Completely stop, finished, ended. He would've done anything in that one moment just to get away from the feelings as the man pulled out and slapped his ass as he stepped away. At least he seemed vaguely pleased with what they had done.

And somewhere his mind switched away from everything else to the fact John would need releasing and he'd probably need to try and self treat himself or get Rodney to assist because he was pretty sure was bleeding.

Rodney was breathing a little hard, pulling out of John, shifting off of the table, eyes on the man.

"You all performed well. There will be tokens added to the system for your service."

"Thank you, Dzom," Carson managed, his voice rougher than he would've liked. The words came by rote, unbidden and he straightened as the man moved away, silently begging for him to leave the room. He reached for the scissors to cut John free. No need for him to suffer any more.

It was a small blessing that the Dzom did leave. That he left them alone, and Rodney started to unwrap the wrappings at John's feet. "You're not okay, are you? Here, give me the scissors?"

Carson passed them over because his hands were shaking, and then he wiped at his face hastily before unwrapping John's head.

"I'm good," John answered blinking a little. "Definitely been worse. How about you guys? What was happening?"

"He hurt Carson." Rodney was still peering at Carson while he quickly slit up the back of John's back. "Are you okay?"

John held still as Rodney snipped but looked up and Carson belatedly realized Rodney might actually be talking to him not John.

"What? uh..." He wasn't actually sure of much aside from the fact he was going to have to do some examination. "We'll I'm sure it's not serious. I can most likely sort myself out."

"Can you?" Rodney seemed miserable as he kept unwrapping John. "He didn't use anything. I saw the look on your face."

Carson looked at them both. "I don't understand. It's nothing in comparison to what either of you have gone through. He didn't use anything and yes, I'm pretty sure I've got injuries but..."

John started wriggling a little free. "It's not a competition to see who gets fucked over the most. Anders would win that one. Look, you'd be the first one looking out for someone in your position, Carson."

Rodney cut away another section of the wrappings, and John finally started to move, pulling some off of himself while Rodney took care of the rest.

"Just, get over here. We need you healthy, just like I need to be not brain damaged and John needs to be able to move again. What do you need to, uh, treat it?""

"I would clean it out and try packing it so the bleeding would stop." He was still bleeding now. "I'd sew any tears big enough but I'm sure they'll be fine."

Rodney looked at John, and then Carson, still pulling at John's wrappings. "Okay. Then, I'll try doing that."


John cleared his throat. "Don't make me make it an order, Doc. Without you, this goes down the tubes here and now. For once I'm dealing okay so just take a turn at being taken care of instead of being the one running around after everyone. Let Rodney do what he can."

"Fine." Carson moved over to an examining table or bed and gingerly lay down as John pulled himself free. He felt ill again but that was such a constant he didn't worry too much. "Rodney, get some sterile water and some of the antiseptic in the blue bottle there, and see if you can rinse me out. Then you take some of that dressing wad there and pack it in."

"That can't be comfortable." No, but it wasn't going to be comfortable no matter what. Rodney did fetch and carry quite well, even if he would have taken Carson's head off if Carson had pointed that out to him. "I think they do this to us just to fuck with us."

"They do it to remind us that at the end of the day we're theirs even if we're smarter," John drawled. "Dominance is a big thing here. But they've reached the stage where they can't seriously believe that a properly educated slave would want to leave."

Carson so wanted to leave right then.

He wanted to leave, wanted to run, and there was nowhere to run to. Rodney urged him up a little further onto the table, and pulled his own robe back on before he splashed a little of the sterile water carefully onto Carson's ass, one hand gently pulling him apart. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it," Carson reassured him, but it was already giving him a deep, nausea inducing pain and he really couldn't afford to be ill any more. "Go ahead, Rodney." He could grin and bear it, even without the high pain threshold.

"Are you sure you're okay?" John said sitting up slowly. "You're as white as a sheet."

"Certain types of pain can have that response," he said absently.

Rodney kept him spread gently apart, and started to dab at him with the antiseptic, carefully, just at the outside.

It stung a bit, making him hiss and eventually he said. "Rodney, you're going to have to go inside of me, love, I'm sorry to say."

He saw John raise an eyebrow at him and then realized that he'd just randomly slipped and called him love.

"Never been a big fan of rubbing alcohol for medicinal purposes." Rodney pulled, stretched him open just a tiny bit, and Carson felt when he just poured a little in.

"Bloody hellfire!" Carson felt it burn in way too many places. The odds of him getting an infection were very high. "I'm going to be feeling that one for a while..."

He was sweating like crazy, similar to how John had been.

"Not for much longer," John said. "We'll get out of here."

"Now what? More, or the padding, or?" Rodney sounded a little at a loss, fingers warm and unmoving against his ass.

There was no way he could expect Rodney to sew anything. He wasn't hemorrhaging so padding would do. "Aye, love,"

Damn, it was like he was drunk, and it felt like it too.

"I think you're going to be taking the rest of the afternoon off," John said, watching him.

"Don't be ridiculous, I have loads to do," Carson answered.

"I can catch-up on some of the repairs," Rodney murmured as he started to slowly slip padding into Carson. That hurt, too, in a new way, and he closed his eyes, waiting for it all to stop.

This was more what he was used to.

That was hysterical, because it was shooting and dying and running, and sparks flying and people yelling, panic panic panic, and that was what Rodney had been missing, which was completely hysterical and wrong. But he kept close to John and ran with John. They were going to end up splitting up -- he and Carson and John to the chair, Teyla and Lorne to the stasis levels.

The ridiculous thing was when they got there, it was going to be Carson trying to protect John and himself. John who was going to be in the highly-dangerous-could-scramble-your-brains-and-don't-say-I-didn't-warn-you half a command chair and himself trying to take over the computer systems using John as an access point.

Right now though, he was barely keeping up with John despite the fact he knew the Colonel should hardly be able to move at all. There was a very dangerous look in his eye, a backed into a corner and coming out snarling and fighting look that seemed to be overriding apparent limitations. It was now that he recognized the fact that when John really lost control or was desperate, he was like a force of nature.

Carson was trying to keep up as well, but he hadn't been that well since the incident in the infirmary and he wasn't saying anything about it.

Later, they could and would worry about it all later, when they had time and the luxury to worry about the permanent damage they'd all suffered. After all, no one was really talking about the fact that Teyla was visibly pregnant, because she could still kick any of their asses, John included.

And all they had to do was get to the Chair while shooting stunned and disoriented Dzomari who hadn't been crippled or taken out entirely by the virus.

Every now and then one would drop mid firing at them and they would just move on, fast as they could, hoping to get to the infirmary before a coherent Dzomari hit the overrides on the manacles.

"Nearly there," Carson called out. "Hope you've been collecting guns for me."

It was strange to think of Carson with a gun, it always seemed an incongruous thought, but Rodney had to admit, Carson had been the one pulling one and firing when they had been out on missions before.

John blazed the way down the corridor, taking what weapons he could get as well and then they were there, at the room.

"In, in the Chair, here..." He reached to take a couple of the weapons from John, passing them quickly off to Carson while he entered the room. Thank god they'd just been kept in what was basically a medical storage closet. "Get in the Chair, we'll shut the door..."

John got himself in and immediately the Chair managed to light up, which was a miracle in itself. Carson set himself up as sentry by the door even as they both went to work.

"I'm in the system," John said tersely. "It's like flying a brick."

"Good thing this has an engine, huh? I need you to find the power grid for the Dzomari Quarters. Now, they have a system to keep possible rebels out, but I don't think they ever expected their safety system could keep them in, so if you could power that up..." Rodney was twisting at the door's lock, trying to get it sealed.

John's face twisted in concentration. "Got a few security protocols... to get around."

"Shut down the bloody manacles first," Carson called out. "Sooner or later they're just going to blanket all of us if they can't figure what has happened."

"Ah, yes, yes, the manacles first." Rodney twisted, opened the panel beside the door, and jammed a screwdriver in it. That was just going to have to pass, and he wished he could get into the system, but what John was doing was past the small interface he had access to.

Still, he was the one that knew what had to be disconnected and connected. His maintenance work meant he could look if not touch.

"Got them. Unlock you bastards..." John managed and just like that Rodney felt a click on his wrists and the hated restraints sprang open. "Right... power grid, Jesus, this thing is like a needle in my head. Power grid... there, I've got it."

"Good, that just lowered the number of resistance we have coming at us. The power grid that's up currently to keep the stasis chambers secure, that needs to come down, and if you can do that, John, I can start working..."

"Yeah, I'm on it." John had his eyes closed and face screwed up as he forced the interface to work.

There was a thump of a blaster against the door. "Bloody Hell..." Carson readied himself. "If it's like Ronon's then they'll get through this."

"Got it! Access given... go do your thing, Rodney. We're gonna need the back up."

Doing his thing was what Rodney was born to do. So much more than being a sex slave, it was hunching over the tiny console and disabling the ship's controls from the morons who considered themselves pilots, if they were even conscious any longer. It didn't matter, because he had a goal and he had control even if they were somewhat dead in the water now. Well, momentum had them, and Rodney was carefully sliding controls over to John. "Okay, start reaching for the piloting systems, I'm rerouting them this way and this is seriously the most amount of forethought I've ever had for one of these halfassed plans, you know that? I wish I could lay subroutines down months in advance all the time."

"That's because it's Carson's plan, not one of ours," John replied and Rodney could see now when John was picking up the controls and the thumping noise outside was getting louder.

"I think they're burning a way through with the blasters," Carson said sounding worried. "Try and keep your head down in case they burst through."

"Yes yes." Rodney hunched closer over the little console he had to work with, making sure that John had control of life support if they were going to go that way. Then the chair was sparking, and he had to throw himself under it, trying to stop the over-arcing because, okay, maybe it wasn't that used to having that much power surging through it, of being controlled for that long a period of time. Shit, there were wires going, and Rodney closed his eyes tightly while he reached for the wires. "John, you know what to do, I just need this to keep working..."

"Fuck..." John grimaced "...yeah, yeah, I've still got hold of it all... finding a space gate. If I make it to a planet, I'm gonna need transporters."

There was a shout of alarm from Carson and then he was firing at someone as a blast cracked down the wall. "Keep going! Hopefully others will be on their way!"

Others. Their Marines and Ronon and Lorne and Teyla, and anyone else who wanted their freedom back. "Skip the space gate, make it to a planet, we need to get rid of those people immediately, there's a rudimentary..." Snap, the smell of ozone and burning flesh, and his fingers hurting so Rodney used the two beside it to hold the wires while he was trying to twist them back together, and he missed fully-crystal interfaces, but probably so would anyone who looked at the old Atlantis, before it had been destroyed. Lots of make-shift repairs, at least until the Dzomari had forgotten what they were doing and the uses of the chair.

"Hyperdrive system in place. Use it, I've done a little work on it while repairing it."

"Kicking this baby into gear," John said and Carson's gunfire was getting more intense. They jumped with an inelegant lurch into hyperspace and John was still looking pulled tight.

Rodney glanced at him, glanced towards Carson who was looking at the hold in their door, and then hunched back under the makeshift chair to double-check the conduits. They could make it to a habitable planet, space gate, no spacegate, they could offload someone. Some group.

More gunfire, and Carson yelling something incomprehensible and then there were bullets ricocheting around and the zip of a blaster fire.

"Got one," John said. "Got one, three minutes to re-entry."

"Good, good, we'll ditch the Dzomari, find another one, one of the old beta sites, dump the rest of them, then head home." One person could have piloted the ship if it was in better shape, but three or four would be all it would take.

Carson was still firing, but something caught him and threw him back against the side. "Crap." He looked over at Rodney even as he clutched at his shoulder and scrabbled for his gun again. "I can't aim for... for shit... like this."

"Use your other hand!" Rodney bent in again, and yeah, the chair could take another two jumps like that and then the power would go and they'd all be fucked, but if they could get rid of the Dzomari they'd have the time to fix it, time to get home, and he and John had to get out of it alive because if they didn't no ne was going anywhere that they needed to get to.

"Yeah, thanks for the advice, Rodney," Carson said pushing himself forward onto his knees and aiming at the entrance.

"On minute to re-entry," John said.

"Thank god..."

"Sheppard, McKay. You in here?" Ronon's voice drifted in from the corridor. "We've got this area secure."

"Get your ass in here, Ronon," John said. "We've been waiting for you."

"Carson's been hit and I'm just trying to keep this chair operative..." And whining. He was very possibly whining, but half his hand was on fire and he wasn't looking at it as he kept trying to get ahead of the possibility of damage and sparking, now.

Ronon made it into the room and leveled his gun immediately on Carson.

"Whoa easy there, lad," Carson said weakly. "It's me."

"Doc?" Ronon looked around at all of them. "McKay... you've..."

It hadn't occurred to Rodney how different they might look to Ronon who had been in stasis and his last memories were of a fight on their first day of capture.

"What the hell happened to you, Sheppard?"

He still looked like John to Rodney, but... It had been a while. Rodney had stopped counting, and they could work it out later, like everything else, because the moment he stopped going one step forward at a time was probably when he was going to fall to pieces, and John still looked like John, and Carson still looked like Carson.

"It's a long story, Ronon. You missed the best parts of it in stasis, so if you could just shoot those people who're trying to get in here, I'd appreciate it. We're coming out of hyperspace in thirty seconds."

"Yeah okay," Ronon said, and Carson seemed to exhale in relief and slump a little as the Satedan headed outside.

"Here we go in five... four... three... two... one... I have a planet contact," John said. "Taking her down within beaming range. Rodney, you got me transporters?"

Fuck, transporters. The ship could lift and land, okay, not reliably, but the transporters were a little hinky, no, definitely hinky. "Yes, yes, routing, but Colonel, let me stress that they are not the Asgard technology."

"Do I need to get into atmosphere or land?" John asked. "I'm not going to deliberately kill them."

The unspoken 'even if they deserve it' hung in the air between them.

Landing, though, landing was touchy. "Atmosphere is best, if we land I know we can get up one more time, but do you want to drop the Dzomari off with the, uh. Other people who've been serving them?" Rodney could see the Dzomari overwhelming them again, and then again he could see the other enslaved 'families' bashing the Dzomari's brains in and wearing their teeth as necklaces. Even the SPCA didn't house cats and dogs together.

"Okay... could be tricky. Hold on everybody," John said and closed his eyes and moments later the thing started juddering and shaking. There was a click that Rodney recognized as the shipwide com system and then John began to speak.

"Thank you for remaining in your quarters while we get within transporting range of the planet below. Anyone in Dzomari quarters not wearing manacles will be transported down to the planet in about two minutes. Shortly after that we will do the same with all of the prisoners on a completely different planet. I suggest you use the time wisely and grab what supplies you can. This is your last and only warning."

Beautiful. Beautiful, John could still sound less like a Lt. Colonel and more like a smart assed flight attendant, while Rodney was just trying to keep the chair working, and that, that was a familiar feeling, too. That acceptance that, hey, McKay would magically get things fixed long enough for them to get there, but his hands hurt and he was pretty sure he'd burnt two of his fingers, and there was one more tiny wire that could leak power and doom them all just there, to the left.

In his efforts to keep them going, the time passed quickly and he barely noticed when Teyla and Lorne entered the chamber. John said, "I'm about to transport. Here we go."

If he had have been given more of a warning he would have appreciated because what John took as just basic mental exercises -- and all right, maybe it was like doing them through glue or water, Rodney wasn't sure -- drew and released power, sending out commands, and the chair just wasn't made for that kind of heavy use, not after all the abuse it had taken. He caught one spark on his arm, and quickly patched up the wire, but had it just been a spark or had it been a failure for data to transfer? Had he just mangled the transportation of one or twenty of the Dzomari?

He wasn't going to say anything right now, because if he had then all he had to do was think of any moment of any day and it wouldn't pay back even the smallest thing they had done.

"That's it, they're off the ship," John said eventually and Ronon came back in.

"Looks clear. Marines are doing a sweep in case you missed any."

"Yeah well everyone apart from us is getting put on the next planet regardless," John answered. "Do I have enough juice to go into hyperspace?" He sounded terse and abrupt, but Rodney guessed that was strain.

"Reach for a planet near our final destination and we'll be good. Just, anything inhabitable, we can work out the gate situation for them later."

John nodded and Rodney felt them lurch again and that was it, they were back in hyperspace.

"I do not know if this is a good time to bring it up but where is our final destination?" Teyla asked even as she helped Carson to sit up a little more. "Atlantis was destroyed."

"As part of the self destruct procedure, the city created a... a seed city. It had previously created nine documented seed cities, some of which were activated -- the city of the tower, part of one on old Athos, the Tyrannans, possibly the Atlantus base on Earth -- and the rest we still hadn't found. Without three ZPMs we never had the power to create seed cities by choice, but it came up as part of the final sequencing and John and I found a suitable uninhabited planet during the evacuation, and can someone hand me a piece of cloth, because this old chair is strung together with glue and hope right now."

Ronon passed him a cloth silently.

"A seed city?" Lorne asked. "Why didn't you say something, sir?"

John opened his eyes. "If the Dzomari got wind that we had the possible location of a new city, then it would make what we went through look like a picnic. As it was, it was a risk that both Rodney and I knew."

Rodney wrapped the strip tightly around his right hand, haphazardly, sure, but it worked, pressure took some of the pain away after it flared up at the feeling of cloth on skin. He started working on the pathways that he knew were for transport, to be sure the other prisoners got down safely, and in one piece per person. "You can make your jokes about cracking under pressure later."

"What about the others?" Ronon asked. "Do they know where this new place is?"

John shook his head. "No. But they'll've gone to one of our few allies. We'll send people out once we get there and as we left the master crystal with this city seed, with any luck we will be able to dial Earth."

"Dialing Earth means we can get reinforcements, get home..." Well, he and John and Lorne and Carson could get home, but for Teyla and Ronon it meant that there was a hope that they could fight back again.

"Thank god," Lorne said under his breath and sat down, as if the tension had just gone out of him.

Rodney realized he hadn't heard Carson say anything for a bit, and looked over at him just for a moment. He was conscious, but just watching him silently as Teyla wrapped his shoulder. He looked like he didn't have the energy or will to say anything at all.

"So, assuming the chair doesn't spontaneously catch fire, we'll, we can all go home..."

And Rodney wanted that. Home to the city or home to Earth, or anything at all, just free from that life, the monotony of horror.

The only bad thing about all this was now they were going to have to face up to what had happened to them all, and that wasn't going to be pleasant for anyone. None of them were particularly good at dealing with emotional issues and between them they had enough that it was a possibility they might get kicked off of active duty one way or another.

That's if they ever made it back to Earth in the first place,

Rodney clenched his teeth while he reached for another vaguely frayed wire, trying to get it patched before it was too late. If they made it.

If they made it.

Now was not the time to fall apart, but it seemed like that was going to happen whether he wanted it to happen or not. John knew it was happening to the others around him and instead of being a reason to excuse it happening to him, it became all the more reason not to collapse. Someone had to stay together and...

Yeah, that plan really wasn't working. When they finally got people here from Earth they were all going to collapse.

There had been a feeling, a surge of triumph and hope that they could contact the people that they hadn't thought had been able to carry through with the Plan, get them to Atlantis, and then fix everything. No one said anything about the very real possibility that they'd been Wraith culled. No one else had mentioned the possibility that the SGC had gone above and beyond, had picked up everyone, it seemed like, on the Daedalus. Probably took a couple of trips, but...

But it meant that they'd been left there, left behind, and Rodney was keeping from falling apart by getting systems running, by updating the interface between Earth and Atlantis, by curbing power usage, but going and going like a god damned gerbil.

Carson had retreated even more into the infirmary, still injured himself. If he hadn't needed to go there himself pretty frequently he had a feeling none of them would ever see him. Lorne and Teyla seemed to be spending a lot of time in one other's company and that was good at least and Ronon kept following him around as if concerned he was going to throw himself over a balcony without warning.

It was hysterical that Ronon was the calmest of them all, but the SGC wanted to do what was basically negotiate with them, like they were unhinged occupiers demanding support. They just wanted to go home, and the SGC needed to decide who to send through and how, and Rodney needed to make sure all of the calibrations were even up for it, because like he said, even a new car could be a lemon. It didn't seem likely, but...

John wasn't sure. He didn't feel like he was free at all.

What he was dreading was making the reports. It would've almost been worth not being able to go home for not having to talk about what had happened. Not even Rodney or Carson knew exactly what went on in the Dzom's area and he half wanted to keep it that way, but what happened even with them would be enough to screw things up.

He missed one thing. He missed waking up with one of his team there holding him. He missed Teyla being there and confessing in whispers that she was pregnant now and what was she going to do? He missed Rodney being there holding on for dear life and holding him together. He missed Carson and his soothing gentle comfort and words that seemed to make things better. He even missed Lorne being there turning to him like he was an older brother who could keep him safe which had been the weirdest thing ever. He missed all of them and he couldn't sleep on his own.

Now it was all of them, single entities in a wide open city, barely interacting, shutting down on themselves. Food had actually been a problem, but there was a mainland here, too, and flying Ronon out to the mainland to hunt had been relaxing. It kept them away from the Marines, who didn't understand anything that had gone on, except that they'd lost the better part of a year.

To them they went to sleep and woke up to find five of them looking like something out of a refugee camp.

It was late and he was pacing, trying to decide what to do. Without thinking, he headed towards Rodney's lab. He needed to take a break and... yeah, he just needed to stop every now and then.

They both did, they needed to stop, and maybe stopping meant nervous breakdown, but he'd spent too long as the sex toy for the depraved, counting sex acts as food, and now he had fresh food and clothes he could wear that they'd taken from the ship. It was a shame that they didn't have the ship anymore, but Rodney had warned them that it was riddled with tracking devices and in the long term, the energy they'd pour into a 'shitcan like that' would be more than it would take to build a new Daedalus -class ship.

They'd stripped it of whatever they could, and there were some strange and exotic items in the Dzomari quarters, as well as collection of weird Ancient devices that they had scooped out for analysis, and then he'd taken it and parked it around a moon because if he'd flown it into a sun, he might have forgotten to leave.

He entered the lab, still moving slower than he would like. "Hey, Rodney. It's getting late."

"Mmm." Rodney's back was bowed, and he was taking apart what had been one of the laptops he'd had with him when they'd been seized. God knew what he was doing to it. Repairing it, maybe, because the screen was on one part of the table and the keyboard was pulled off and he was hunched over the bottom part of the shell and the motherboard. "Any contact tonight from Earth?"

"Daedalus is on the way," John answered casually like it wasn't a big deal and the news hadn't hit him like a blow to the gut.

"So, I have a three ZPM deep capability to dial Earth for... decoration, apparently?" They wouldn't lower the shield. That was what it came down to. They wouldn't lower the shield to them.

"They're not sure who they're dealing with. We were written off as KIA covering the retreat," John replied. They hadn't even tried to come after them. Maybe Elizabeth and Radek had created a fuss, but the SGC hadn't tried and that damn well hurt. "They want something capable of shooting us down if we get rowdy."

He watched Rodney set the screwdriver down, and watched him shift his fingers tensely for a moment, like he was suppressing a fist. "The funny thing is that we could. I have backup power for the city, all the power it needs, and I'm, I'm maybe just a few weeks away from finding out how they created ZPMs, and the Daedalus would come down out of the sky like so much Russian space dirt."

"That might prove their point for them," John replied and stopped trying to lean against the door because it hurt. "C'mon, it's time for you to take a break."

"We went through all of this because you, because I thought that we still had people out here to help. And then we find out that they're all safe at home snug in their beds, and Radek's probably working my old job at Area 51, and we're under suspicion. So, the Daedalus is going to come and then what?"

John shrugged a little. "I don't know, Rodney. They don't really know what to do with people who've been through the sort of things we have. Treat us as returned POW's maybe. Or unhinged lunatics." Sometimes the anger was incredibly strong, but right now he was feeling hollow and empty.

"They could leave us here." Rodney started to stand up, leaving his work on the table. "I mean. What would you do on Earth?"

"I don't know," John replied. It was true, if they decided he was unfit for duty then he had nothing at all. He wouldn't be allowed to fly; he wouldn't be allowed to do anything. The only thing he would have as a marketable skill was being a whore. "Caldwell's been itching for a reason to declare me unfit to command."

"This would be it. What would you do? If that happened..." Rodney started towards him, and they both moved to leave the lab.

"Go surfing," John answered, imagining walking into the ocean and not actually ever coming back. That was exactly the sort of thought he never needed to say anything about. "How about you?"

"I, I guess take what research job I can. Twist the SGC's arm to give me recommendations as payment for my continued silence. You could do that. You have a mind worth banking with, too." He didn't expect Rodney's hand on his arm.

John glanced over at him and headed towards the new quarters, where they had clustered together and managed to stay far apart. He felt useless now. They didn't rely on him to perform so they could eat, so he felt aimless. "I think it's a little worse for wear at the moment, Rodney." Which was near a confession that he wasn't okay as he could seem to manage.

"Maybe right now." Rodney kept walking beside him, hand still lingering. "I... I can't concentrate for shit."

"For someone who can't concentrate you're doing a helluva lot of work," John murmured and his arm was finding its way around Rodney somehow. "I feel like I'm being watched like an escaped mental patient."

"The Marines and Ronon think we're crazy. Well, or they're worried, but probably that, too." Rodney leaned into his side, and seemed to be getting into that comfortable position with John. He'd missed that. "I have no idea how much of my footing with reality I've lost. I mean, we're in a perfectly working Atlantis, and I had a list of research I would have paid to perform with internal organs, before, and now that I can..."

"Everything seems kinda pointless," John answered for him. "I'm worried about you guys. You working all the time, Carson... I still don't think he's really eating and he's not bouncing back from being shot. Teyla and her pregnancy, Lorne is all over the place. You're my team and you should be safe now and I don't know if anyone actually is."

"And then we're all going to get carted back to Earth, and a new mission will take over here and it will have all been for nothing for us." Rodney nodded his head at John. "We should find Carson. Do you think he's in the rooms?"

"Pretty sure he is." Saying he was listening to the city for answers to question like that probably didn't help either. "You think he'd mind company tonight?"

John risked another glance at Rodney. "Or you for that matter?"

"I think all three of us could use company tonight." Which was right, and who really cared if they were breaking military regs now. They were a mess, and John needed time with other people, needed to feel... needed. He'd led for so long that now he didn't know what to do.

He would've invited Teyla and Lorne but they had a whole other thing going on and Lorne had issues with him still that he couldn't shake. "Let's see what we can do to work that out for all of us," he said and knocked on Carson's door.

There was a long pause; long enough he was thinking about opening it himself before the door slid open. Carson looked mussed and still terrible, as they all did, but more than most. He was literally a shadow of himself. "John, Rodney. Everything okay?"

"John dragged me out of my lab, and we decided you could use some company. Also, I think your quarters are bigger than mine." Rodney managed to be forward and annoying so easily.

The thing with Carson was that he couldn't say no to that sort of thing and they all knew it.

"You better come in then. I was trying to get the heating up a little. I feel a wee bit cold tonight." Carson said and John stepped in behind him.

"I think we can take care of that for you, Carson," he said. "Have you eaten anything today?"

It wasn't likely. Rodney came into the room, and one or all three of them thought the door closed and it did it, closed just like that. The city responded so well now, better than it ever had.

"I can go get you some of that meat Ronon brought back," Rodney offered.

"I've had some," Carson replied. "I've got some of the candies they traded for as well. Ronon keeps giving me things. I think he thinks I need it."

"Well, he's a deceptively smart guy," John agreed.

"You do need it," Rodney murmured, reaching a hand out as they got closer to Carson. "You've lost a lot of weight."

"Well so has everyone else," Carson pointed out even as he stepped forward, almost involuntarily, towards that hand reaching back for him. "I at least had it to lose to begin with unlike you, John."

"Hey, don't turn this back on me." John answered closing in. "What Rodney's saying is that we're worried. You didn't eat much when we were there, Ronon barely recognized you until you started speaking, and you spent all the time trying to make things easier for the rest of us."

"Which we appreciate." Rodney made contact with Carson's arm, and the sense of need-to-touch from Rodney was palpable. "You helped. You watched out for us. Now..."

"We wanna watch out for you," John said. They hadn't had to discuss it. It was just something they both agreed on. Carson had taken the brunt of their bad temper and depressions because they had known and trusted him with those intimate details in the past.

Carson looked a little shocked and surprised and that definitely sparked a protective urge in John.

"Look, I... plenty had it worse than I did," Carson said. "I don't have a right to feel like this after all of the stuff you went through, John. After Rodney and the... the knives. Teyla, Lorne..."

"Are still closing in on each other fast, and I don't want to know where Ronon fits in there but they seem..." Rodney waved a hand slightly. "Okay. At peace with things." Still wrecks, John knew, but Teyla had been as furious with the threats that had been made towards her by the Dzomari about taking her pregnancy from her as she'd been after the rape.

Apparently they had means, dangerous means of taking and storing the developing baby and there were a few worlds with the ability to implant them.

"Ronon likes Lorne," Carson said. "I don't know how they're going to get around regulations though." He was looking at John as he said that and John cleared his throat.

"See, here's the thing. It's a bit late to worry about that from my point of view. I've done pretty much every depraved act they could think of and a few beside. Truth is, I'll be lucky to come out of this with a job, so I'm thinking..." He shrugged. "Fuck don't ask don't tell."

"I'd still let them put you out for whatever other reason they come up with instead. Honorable discharge still means you get your retirement." That was strange of Rodney, but John definitely could have already retired way back at twenty. "But, uh. Yeah."

"I could be reading into this, but... uh.." Carson cleared his throat. "Are you here, the both of you, for a reason?"

John hated talking about this stuff. He acted rather than talked in these situations but where someone else needed to hear something, he could manage it. "See, here's the thing. I'm at a loose end. I'm not really needed any more and that's pretty difficult to get my head around after knowing my every action controlled the fate of five others. I don't sleep unless I know you guys are okay, I'm not used to going to bed alone, I've got conditioned responses like you wouldn't believe and I'm probably addicted to the firevein. I need you guys. I want the both of you. Don't make me say it more than once."

"On the bright side, we don't have any firevein here." Rodney deadpanned it while he got them just a little closer, and John wasn't surprised that there was an arm around his waist and one over Carson's shoulders. "I, John wants the same thing I want. I can't think right. I can't concentrate."

"And you think somehow I'm going to be able to help you?" Carson asked looking over at him. "Because I gave it everything I had when the Dzomari had us and it wasn't enough. I broke every rule I ever had for myself."

"And a few we hadn't even thought of," John added. "Even if it's just sleeping in the same bed, that'd be good."

"At this point, company... your company, John's company, it..." Rodney rolled his shoulders. "I don't expect it to fix anything, I mean, I'm probably going to spend a good piece of my 401k on the therapy bills for this, but, I miss the closeness."

Carson nodded slowly. "I was just thinking about going to bed actually. If you would like to join me?"

John nodded."Can we feed you things?" he asked. "Don't want to worry about snapping you in two."

John felt Rodney's fingers squeeze his side, and Rodney nodded. "I never imagined the day when that was an exciting thought, but. Snacks in bed?"

"Snacks in bed," Carson agreed with a smile. "Okay... I'll get some ready. Perhaps my appetite will return when the Daedalus brings chocolate."

"And coffee for Rodney," John added.

"We'll be lucky if they don't show up with strait jackets for us all. Hey, and how did you become the self appointed snack-maker?" Rodney pulled away a little. "Where's your stash?"

Carson waved vaguely over toward the other side of his room. "There's some of that strange bread Ronon makes, and he forced some of that stuff a little like malt loaf on me. There is cheese and, uh, the candies, and all of that."

"Sounds great," John said and wondered how it was Carson wasn't over indulging. "You need help with your shoulder?"

"It's just a wee bit stiff," Carson replied.

"You two do that and I'll put together plates," Rodney suggested, shooing them together while he headed towards the side table. Rodney probably was over indulging on food, but he needed to.

John made Carson sit on the bed and started to look at the dressing with an ease that made him realize that he was used to doing this, checking injuries, cleaning them out, doctoring each other.

"You're getting good at that," Carson said after a while. "It's being slow to heal, bastard thing."

"Not surprising. You had an infection before you got shot. I'm thinking that didn't help." John pointed out as he wiped out the healing wound.

"Have you had any luck simulating antibiotics in the lab?" Rodney asked it over his shoulder as he put together a rough assortment of food on a plate.

"A few batches coming along nicely. That equipment from the Dzomari ship had potential," Carson replied. "I've gotten a lot of it working but when you have a moment, Rodney, I'd appreciate you having a look."

John frowned. "You know, your health, our health, is a priority."

"I have lots of moments, seeing as Earth won't raise the shield for us." Rodney started back towards the bed with a plate in his hands. There was a little strip of meat dangling off the side, but that was just proof Rodney had piled it a bit high.

"Aye well, I didn't want to take you away from the vital things," Carson murmured. He seemed a little brighter since they came in.

"What I want to know is how you managed to get such a big bed. On old Atlantis, I barely fit on my bed. It's like...more than a double," John pointed out.

"Did you ever think you were given a child's quarters?" Rodney asked while he put one knee on the mattress. "This looks maybe king sized to me. Could be a queen. It has sheets, and that's more than enough."

"It also has two extra guys here," John said. "C'mon. Bed now. Carson gets the middle."

Carson looked surprised and John wondered how the hell he could break him of that constant shock when someone did something considerate. He guessed they hadn't been good at it before.

"I like the idea." Rodney moved to flank Carson, putting a plate lightly on Carson's stomach once Carson started to sit down.

"My role in life... a table for food." Carson said with a smile and John reached over a snagged something to eat.

"Yeah, you know we used to do that a fair amount in the Dzom's area," John said absently. "Not entirely sure why it was a turn on but it apparently was. Generally less painful than other stuff."

Rodney reached for a piece of meat that tasted vaguely like a bacon curl, and leaned back while he chewed. "We're wrecks, aren't we?"

John chuckled a little, except it wasn't really that funny. "Yeah. Should be shipwrecks in a pirate movie," he said flippantly. He picked up a piece and waved it under Carson's nose until he took it. "Me a complete deviant, you completely fried, Carson practically with an eating disorder..."

"Bleeding ulcers..." Carson said. "I've had them a while. Stress always goes right to my stomach."

"Bacterial?" Rodney seemed to catch at that a little. "This is where I suggest a list as long as my arm on how to self treat ulcers. Milk was always my old standby."

"Which is a slightly different type of milk here and not so digestible," Carson said. "I know. I've been managing them, but I need fairly specific antibiotics to knock back good old H. pylori."

"Not the whole reason though," John felt he had to say. He almost felt a little intoxicated just being there with them as he chewed on the bacon curl. "I'm kinda waiting for a full on crack up to hit me."

Rodney exhaled a, "Yeah," and reached for a little chunk of the bread Ronon had brought Carson. He was looking at both of them, and John watched Rodney's eyes track for a while. "We don't live for sex anymore."

That left John with very little left because that had by necessity been the whole and entire form of his existence. When Rodney was fixing things, and Carson working in the infirmary, he was still doing it, and doing it well enough to support the others. Some of the others there in his position had told him how they slipped inexorably into debt, putting them in positions where they had to do more and more extreme things against their will to keep their people alive. It still felt strange not to be doing it, even now.

He shrugged a little and exhaled as Carson agreed. "Aye, it is a little strange, I know that much. It bothers me that there might be... I might have sons and daughters out there. Actually, it's nearly a certainly. All of us probably do."

"That was the point of their insane enterprise," Rodney murmured. He was still nibbling on the bread, slowly, while he moved his free hand to pet at Carson's stomach.

"I admit that wasn't really something I ever thought was going to happen," Carson said. "Kids." He seemed to like the petting.

"Yeah, me neither," John added looking up at the ceiling. They were going to take him away from here, and he could feel the city practically in his veins. He wasn't sure he could leave here. And on Earth, what... what would he really do? Get therapy? Finish his degree. Possibly he could be an airline pilot. Or he could become some kind of deranged college professor, but Rodney possibly had the market cornered on that. "I'm still trying not to think about it."

Carson exhaled and leaned back. "You know, I really don't want to make a report about all this. I... just can't face that."

John made a noise of agreement. "I could do mine and sell it as porn," he said not looking at any of them.

They all could, to one degree or another, but at least they'd had other things to mitigate the circumstances. "It wasn't porn. It was torture."

"Rodney's right, it really was..." Carson said almost apologetically. "I know you don't like to think of yourself as a victim, John, but the fact is that you were."

"I could've done something," John answered. "I chose to do those things. That's what the military will say. Death before dishonor and... yeah, stuff."

"Bullshit. Hell, half the rules we had to follow for this mission were written because General O'Neill fucked up. You had to do it to stay alive. Anders flipped out and look where it got him -- dead."

"I should've been more aware of how he was. He was one of my men and I should've saved him."

"John, I did talk to him a lot, and you were up against a whole lot of background issues. He came from a family of very orthodox Christians. Everything that happened, his instincts were telling him it was better to die than survive," Carson said softly. "He really believed that what was happening would doom his immortal soul."

"I still don't know how he justified the Wraith. Or the Ancients. Or... any of it, but." Rodney rolled his shoulders a little and pushed a piece of bread on the plate towards Carson. "You should eat."

Carson grimaced a little but picked up the bread and ate it slowly. "And I'm sorry for being a drama queen, Rodney, way back at the start."

"Drama queen? What did I miss?" John was pretty sure he'd missed a lot at the start.

They'd been stumbling, coping with survival. "The, when they made him cut me. I really never held it against you, Carson. I'm sure it's a hideous scar back there, but seeing as I can't see it and I didn't die of an infection, I'm, I came out of that better than Teyla did."

"It wasn't just the fact I hurt someone, it was more about hurting you, Rodney," Carson said in a soft voice. "I thought he hated me. I'm a wee bit sensitive to that."

"I guessed that much." He still remembered Teyla and being stuck there bellowing, watching, and finally moving.

And then Lorne. They were all still suffering the fallout from that one expertly planned series of events, and the skill with which the Dzomari had done that to them was... amazing, in a way.

"I, uh. I'm not sure the transporter actually transported them all."

John hesitated. "What?" he asked not sure he was hearing it correctly. "What do you mean?"

"The Dzomari. The chair threw off sparks while you transported them." Fuck, what was it with Rodney and Genocide. "I know I had it fixed by the time you transported down the others."

John blanked a moment staring at the ceiling. He'd transported them into nothing. He'd killed them. And he wasn't cut up about that and that was what worried him. There was a loud part of him cheering on the sudden death of the Dzomari and he couldn't stop it.

"John? John, are you okay?" Carson was shaking him a little and looking at Rodney. "He's not res... wait, wait..."

"Wait what?" Rodney leaned across Carson and their plate, and touched John's shoulder. "John? Look, I'm sure some of them made it down...."

"It's like the Genii and the iris," John said. "Jesus, I picked them up with my goddamn mind and threw them into... nothing. I thought that was what it felt like, that slipping away from me. And I'm... I'm not sorry it happened. I'm really not. If I'd known I probably would've killed them all deliberately."

"You didn't know. I did, but it was just when it happened. It was already too late." As if that absolved him of his involvement, as if that made John's knowledge of the choices he would have made again any different.

"John, you didn't know, and Rodney couldn't have stopped it from happening," Carson soothed in a familiar tone of voice. "You're not the type to kill in that way. The rest of us... we killed people as well."

John realized that was something that was really bugging Carson. He'd had to defend the pair of them and there was no way he had done that without taking lives, especially as fierce as the firefight got.

If he could have controlled that clunker of a chair, John would have swapped spots with him in a heartbeat. Maybe Carson didn't know it. "I..." Rodney looked thoughtful. "Actually, other than accidentally committing genocide again, I think I came out of this clean handed for once."

"There was nothing accidental about the killing I did," Carson said. "I think I can understand how Anders felt. I would never have thought myself capable of the things I have done."

"Yeah," John said constantly amazed himself at what he had come to regard as normal. "Yeah, I'm with you on that."

"Mmm." Rodney sighed, and leaned back a little, seeming to relax now that John had gone from ramped up depression to the mild sort that seemed to wrap all of them up.

Everything felt sort of numb and strange, like this wasn't the normal life and they were just visiting. Every now and then he'd have faintly disturbing semi-suicidal thoughts that shocked even him and he wasn't sure why. He didn't actually want to die. There were possibilities but it still happened.

"I'm pretty tired," Carson said diplomatically. He hadn't really eaten much.

"Finish that piece of bread," Rodney murmured, "And I'm going to make you eat more when you wake up."

"You heard the man," John said. "This is his revenge for years of you telling us what's best for us."

He settled down even as Carson reluctantly ate the rest of the bread. "If I'm sick, I'm blaming you," he said.

Rodney moved the plate off of his stomach, and set it on the floor. "Blame away. Do you want the sheets up, or?"

"Please," Carson said as if he wasn't in his own bed. "I get a wee bit cold."

Probably because he was so thin. "We'll make sure that doesn't happen," John promised. It felt good to be doing something constructive and Rodney looked more relaxed here than he had earlier. "We need to start sleeping."

"W could all use a little more." Rodney leaned down, grabbed the sheets and pulled them up in a pretty insistent way. "Sleeping by myself just... I kept waking up, waiting for something to happen."

"I uh...apologize in advance if I wake anyone up," John murmured as he slipped under the sheets. "I've been waking myself up a lot."

"When the Daedalus gets here I will be hitting their store of sedatives," Carson said. "Although, I think things will be better with all of us here."

"Or we'll scare the shit out of each other in our sleep," Rodney noted wryly. John had almost missed that grinding pessimism. "It's got to be an improvement."

John smiled a little. "Just glad you guys are here," he said. He just wanted things back to a real normal. He wanted Rodney to be his brilliant sparking self. He wanted Carson not to be so fragile. He wanted to be in control of himself again.

"I second that," Carson said blearily and closed his eyes. He really was tired.

John was tired, but he stayed up a little longer, watching Carson's expression relax. He watched Rodney watch Carson, too, and then Rodney gave John an absurd thumbs up gesture before he stretched his right arm out over both of them, and settled on his side against Carson.

If it got Rodney to slow down, even for Carson's sake, that was a good thing as well and John was going to go with it as long as the SGC would allow him.

Carson was reminded of the times when his mother's mother-in-law had come to visit. A critical woman with impossibly high standards and a rejection of everything that wasn't Scottish, she caused a remarkable transformation to pass over the Beckett household. Suddenly they were more Scottish than a haggis tossing a caber over the sea to Skye, and the house was immaculate.

What they were doing now reminded him inexorably of that process because they were attempting to appear more military than the entire army.

He wasn't sure how it was working, seeing that for clothing they were limited to some of the Ancients' garb in less-than soothing creams and whites. Rodney kept making cracks about how they could've been the Siberian Army, dressed like that. All they needed was snow goggles and a snow bank and skis, apparently. Or it was Rodney trying to hide his nerves while Teyla carefully sheared his hair.

He was having his done shortly, and John had his cut back to his normal 'irregulation' length as Rodney called it. It made a difference, made them appear less like unkempt slaves, but it also emphasized the changes. The way his cheekbones were stark and edgy. The way Rodney's face was gaunt in places.

"Hold still, Rodney, or there will be uneven patches," Teyla instructed,

"Those aren't scissors," Rodney complained, hands knotted together in his lap. "Those are two knives hinged with a screw, and I saw Ronon sharpening them earlier..."

"I assure you I am quite skilled with them" Teyla replied. "John's hair is perfectly acceptable."

"John's hair has a life of its own," Carson commented. He had been doing a little better but today he felt queasy with the stress of the impending visit.

'Visit'. John and Rodney had done most of the communicating, what little there had been, and they didn't seem very enthused about the Daedelus's trip themselves. It was hard to know what came next for them, what they were going to do with them. Would they be allowed to return to the city? Would they be deemed too native to be allowed back to Earth even for a visit?

"You're lucky that John's hair didn't fight you for the scissors."

"If it had been Ronon's hair, then perhaps it would have won," Teyla said. "Evan did not complain nearly so much."

"Evan knows he's got a lot to lose from you if he doesn't," John said with a slight smile.

There was something wrong with John and he wasn't sure what. Something strange and disturbing. It was as if he had been wearing a mask so long he'd actually forgotten he was wearing it.

He hoped that with time he or Rodney or someone could pull it away, and perhaps the start of that was calling him on it. But, not there. Everyone was gathered in the commons room, making the most of the few Ancient devices that Rodney had cleared for them as safe, indulging in Ancient techniques for relaxation. It was funny how there were no abandoned meditation chimes, which the city had re-created one per living quarters. They were self enclosed, simple physics based displays that very much reminded Carson of some less sophisticated ones that he'd seen in upper class gift shops. Turn it over, and hours of mindless random soothing things. The ancient version was one flip for hours of mindless random gentle humming noises.

They were less soothing when Lorne had gathered five of them together and was trying to re-create a Police song with the notes.

Still, it was good to see a familiar fluffy headed Rodney appear under the haircut. No one was talking about the fact this might be one of their last times together, and Carson really hoped this wasn't going to be just about Caldwell.

He had a feeling that things were different here. This Atlantis felt different, more in tune with them, more responsive. Even he could feel it and sometime he caught John murmuring to the city almost absently like it was telling him things he didn't have time to hear.

The city was truly theirs, truly alive. Rodney said that it was a young city, without the 10,000 years of neglect. After a few months of neglect, it almost seemed to cling to them, hugging at them for the attention they gave. "Teyla, are you... Do you want to come to Earth with us? If..."

"I would like to visit Earth," Teyla said, still snipping carefully. "But I do not wish to leave this galaxy forever. I was born here. I would like my child to be born here, as well."

Carson smiled a little at the sentiment. There was one thing he did know -- Teyla's baby wasn't from one of the worlds that they visited. No, if there was one thing the scans picked up without being intrusive was that it was showing a strong ATA signature. Which pointed the finger in one of their directions, not at the Dzomari. No doubt a baby like that would've had a higher price to a sterile couple.

"We want to come back," Rodney said, looking at John. Teyla stopped snipping, which proved that she wasn't trying to maim Rodney. "Right?"

John nodded slowly. "This is probably the only place I'll be allowed to fly anything. You think I'd give that up?"

Carson chuckled a little. "I think we all know the answer to that, John," he said. "Atlantis would miss you."

"All of us. She wants more people here," John mused. "Actually, she wants to kick ass, but that might be my bad parenting skills."

"What have you been telling the city when you're interfaced with her, huh?" Rodney stopped moving his head when Teyla placed a firm hand on the top of it.

John shrugged again, and that made Carson worry. John did spend a lot of time in the Chair and various interface points. Technically, the Colonel was initializing systems, but he suspected escapism. And they couldn't escape entirely. Sooner or later they were going to go through the firevein withdrawal when the dosage that built up in their systems and tissues dropped to a certain level.

"I don't kiss and tell," John answered lightly and Ronon snorted at him. "What? I don't."

"I believe you, John," Carson said a little amused. "But of course I am notoriously gullible."

"I don't believe you." Rodney folded his arms over his chest, until Teyla nudged him a little.

"I think you are done, Rodney."

"Right, who wants to mock the ingrown hairs I'm going to have in advance of them growing in after I shave?" Rodney stood up, lingering, while he eyed John.

"I'll take you up on that," John drawled even as Carson took his turn in Teyla's chair.

"If you want a breather, lass..."

"I am fine, Carson, do not concern yourself," Teyla replied.

"Might as well tell me not to breathe, love," Carson answered with a smile.

"He's a professional worrier." Rodney moved to sit beside John on one comfortable piece of furniture that Carson vaguely considered a sofa. "I'm not usually the one to say this but... We're not leaving unless we can come back. Are we all agreed on this, or?"

"Agreed," Carson said even as John nodded.

Lorne looked at Teyla and Ronon and gave his agreement as well.

"The problem is, are they going to let us come back?" Carson pointed out. "That's the crux of the matter."

"We need them to agree to let us return," Rodney shrugged. Yes, but would they keep their word? "It's cooperate and negotiate, or we can't work with them at all."

"I could well be out of the military. Lorne, you may end up with my job after all," John mused and there it was again, that strange twist in his tone. It wasn't right, it wasn't John and he wasn't the only one to spot it.

"Don't want it, sir," Lorne answered. "Always saw that as more of a punishment than a reward. Preferred to be the XO."

"You're a good leader," Rodney told him, and the way he was looking at John said that he'd definitely caught on. Good, good, now just to bring it up with John somehow. "You're what this city needs."

"There's a lot of people who would disagree with you," John answered like he didn't care.

"And they would be foolish people," Teyla put in. "With no basis to judge. John, you kept us alive against the odds and we escaped alive. If they do not reward you then we shall."

Carson nodded in agreement. "You and Rodney took on a whole ship and stole it! You survived and made it."

"You guarded the door. Teyla and Lorne got Ronon and the jarheads over there out." One of them grunted and put a hand up in vaguely amused acknowledgement from the other side of the room.

"And the virus was your plan," John pointed out. "You were the one that came up with a plan."

And that was the weirdest thing of all. Him coming up with a plan... "Yes, well..." He cleared his throat. "How much are we telling them?"

"As little as we can get away with?" Rodney suggested.

John shrugged again with that false diffidence. "I'm covered in evidence. I know you guys have a few. Concealing it isn't going to help."

"I'm just saying, it's don't ask, don't tell. As long as you... keep anything that's not mitigating circumstances, uh, non-mitigating..." Rodney squinted at John. "Right?"

"Why don't you say you'll only discuss it with General O'Neill?" Carson said. He'd seen the general's sealed medical files, even worked on him once or twice. There was a man that would understand if there was one in the military.

Rodney snapped his fingers. "See? See, that's a good idea."

"Is your General O'Neill the one whom you all believe is...." She waved the shears a little. "Carson, it is your turn. Short as John's?"

"Do your worst, love, it'll be an improvement," Carson said. "General O'Neill has had perhaps the most actual on the ground experiences like this that I know."

"He's a little... eccentric but he's like John." Lorne added. "Crazy like a fox."

"Thanks." John commented dryly. "Besides, first time we met I saved his life. He owes me."

"We all saved his life in the Replicator take over," Carson said, feeling and hearing the soothing sound of scissors.

Telya moved around him, still effortless and graceful in her movement even pregnant. "He owes us. And, and we covered, albeit gracelessly, for the evacuation."

"They didn't come after us," John murmured and Carson wasn't sure if anyone else heard that. If it had been John, he would never have give up on them. And he would've known, like he did with the Wraith that yeah, they would be trying.

"You know..." Carson said. "They are making this all about whether they can trust us... I say that's the wrong way. It should be about whether we can trust them. We covered the retreat, allowed the Daedalus time to get away and they never came after us."

It was the right thing to say to the Marines at least. They felt that betrayal most of all.

"No, they didn't." Rodney cleared his throat. "We can keep the upper hand if we remember that."

"I just think we shouldn't let them back us down on issues of mistrust," Carson said "We did exactly what we were meant to do. Now we are being treated like the enemy through guilt."

It seemed to be getting through to John a little. He just needed to keep pushing at it, needed to get John to understand that they were in the right. "We shouldn't be. We went above and beyond..."

Having his hair cut was very soothing in a strange way. "Aye, we did, we all did. And we're the ones with the Ancient city. If they're going to treat us warily then we need to realize that we are in a position of power," Carson said clearly.

John smiled just a little. "You know, just for a moment you sounded like Elizabeth."

"She's probably brokering peace in the middle east right now." While wearing a Goa'uld Hand of God, no doubt, and Carson smirked at Rodney's muttered tone of voice.

"At least there would be no war then to be redeployed to if that was the case," Carson answered. "I think we have to make something clear. If we go to Earth, we are coming back, and we need to find a way to back that up just in case they decide to back down on their word." He was cynical now, very cynical and where once he would've trusted someone's word, he wanted something more solid. "John, do you feel about persuading Atlantis to play ball?"

Rodney's eyebrows went up a little. "I don't particularly want to rig it to explode. I want to keep this city running this well, thank you very much..."

"I wasn't suggesting a bomb. That's a wee bit too threatening." Carson said. "But a lock out, a tendency to sulk unless people are returned. An inability to use critical systems without codes for example. How about that?"

John considered. "Y'know... there's a possibility there."

"Put the city in a holding pattern until we return. Even if they put Zelenka back in the city, I..." Rodney nodded to himself a little as he waved one hand slightly. "I can make sure even he won't get them off in a timely manner."

"I think Radek would... play into it," Carson said. He had the measure of most people who had been on Atlantis.

"There, you look more presentable," Teyla said. "But too thin, Carson. I thought Rodney and John were meant to be working on you."

"We've been working on him," Rodney said, gesturing for Carson to come with him and John on the sofa. "It's not my fault he's not taking it."

Carson shrugged. "Slow and steady. It'll take a while before my stomach can tolerate it," he said. "I feel full in a few mouthfuls, not much I can do about that."

"Wait until the chocolate arrives," John said. "Okay, well in a bit, Rodney and I will sort out our safety net. Everyone will say only what needs to be said, but don't shy away from the truth."

"We'll have a hardware and software safety net. Also, superior control of the city compared to how we could handle the original Atlantis." Rodney glanced at Carson, and then at John. "Actually, I'll start checking the systems on that now."

"I'll come with," John drawled which wasn't a surprise to anyone. "You okay, Doc?"

"Yes, well I'm still no further analyzing what's going to happen when the firevein cuts out on us, so I should get back to that," Carson replied. The working alone seemed all the more unsettling in comparison to the ad hoc threesome they had going on, although so far it was literally sleeping and comfort.

He at least had that to look forward to when he was done doing that analysis. He could go back to the room they were sharing and he knew John and Rodney would be there, or would head there when they were done. "Right. Teyla, thanks for the trim..."

"You are most welcome," she said looking over at Ronon. "You shall be next. Come sit..."

He didn't hear all of Ronon's protests but he did smile as he turned away. Somewhere along the line, taking care of people had become more than just about their medical health, and if underestimating him got them what they wanted, then that was all to the good.

He was going to fall over from nerves and excitement, and knotted up anger all at once, while they waited. It was decided that they would all gather in the control room, and that Rodney would have shields up so that the Daedalus would need to physically dock rather than transport them off and possibly into a cell. It was starting things off on a hostile note, but the city could force them down the corridor without having to position any Marines to meet the Daedelus's representatives, and it gave their understaffed city the upper hand.

None of them were dressed in SGC or military uniforms for the simple reason that those uniforms were long gone but Rodney worried that might be interpreted as somehow going native. John was dressed in black pants and a black top that was vaguely reminiscent of uniform. Carson was in his favored blues, and Lorne looked a little like he was just out of a commune. Many of the clothes salvaged from the Dzomari ship hadn't been suitable for day-to-day wear.

John was practicing his slouch by a console as Atlantis informed them that the Daedalus had docked. Their radios were long gone as well, so they had to rely on them having the sense to follow blinking arrows.

He might have made it too stupidly obvious, but the doors on their hallways were shut down so they couldn't accidentally get themselves lost. Rodney just wished he had video, so he could see the approaching group wind through the hallways like mice in a maze, guns held tight, nerves no doubt shot.

"It's going to take forever for them to get here."

"It was their choice," John replied. "And I'm not moving away from here. Atlantis finds it easier to talk here. Anyway, they're military, they'll jog or something."

"I should've made some tea," Carson said wistfully. "Do you think it's too late?"

"If they walk in, and you're still making tea, they'll probably, well, no. It might be taken as a good sign. If John was making tea, well." Rodney leaned in, staring at the life signs moving through the halls.

"I make a good cup of tea," John replied and he didn't even look at them, just stared at the door.

"I'm thirsty," Carson said quietly, but didn't seem like he was going to move on his own account.

"Carson, I would be very much grateful if you could provide drinks," Teyla said after a pause. "Would you mind?"

"No, lass, I don't mind at all," and he was off getting them just like that.

It felt off, and Rodney knew that, but he also cognitively knew that they were all wrecks and none of them should've been doing much more than tying their own shoelaces, but. He was struggling to keep himself still, and he finally gave up on watching the screen, instead concentrating on the door he knew they'd come in through.

Even the Marines were discomfited, and Ronon loomed protectively behind Lorne and Teyla as they heard people approach. Rodney saw John stiffen up slightly as if tensing for a confrontation as the delegation from the Daedalus entered the room.

Rodney sat up straighter at the Console, and wasn't at all surprised to see Caldwell and Woolsey standing there, and that their men were more tightly armed than Rodney remembered the Marines ever being. Then again, memories of what a P-90 looked like were pretty fuzzy to begin with, and they were always trying to improve on them.

"Sheppard. Is this your entire group?"

No 'hello', no 'good to see you' just... that.

"What's left of us," John replied and paused before he said "...sir." He looked like he'd sucked on a lemon to say the word and Rodney suspected that there were a few stories entangled in that hang up.

Woolsey was looking at them with thinly disguised shock. Because they'd become used to it day by day, Rodney still wasn't sure why their appearance was such a big deal but apparently it was.

"I canna find the sweetener for the..." Carson came to an abrupt halt as the P-90's in the room immediately turned and targeted him.

"...Dr Beckett?" Woolsey said finally.

"In the flesh," Rodney cut in, sliding out from behind his console, and moving to sort of get halfway to Carson so Carson could get closer to Teyla and Lorne and Ronon, and holy shit the P-90s were following him, too.

They hadn't gotten any smarter since they'd been abandoned in Pegasus. "Colonel Caldwell, I hope you've enjoyed your inability just to transport in, and your relaxing walk here. I know we've all enjoyed clipped negotiations and the SGC's refusal to lift the iris."

"If you just dropped your shield..." Woolsey started and John cut across him. "And you refused to power down your weapons. Unless the book has been rewritten in the time we've been out of circulation I believe it is standard protocol never to drop shields in the face of active weapons."

"Like you're one for protocol, Sheppard," Caldwell said still looking at him with a curiously intense gaze.

"I wasn't aware that being abandoned in another galaxy was also supposed to render us moronic." Rodney folded his arms over his chest, glaring at Woolsey. "We gave up a lot to get this city back, and I remember the original plans to nuke Atlantis in the event of it being compromised."

"Uh..." Carson cleared his throat, rather incongruously standing there with his tray of tea. "I think we've pretty much established that we're circling around each other a wee bit uncertainly. But this tray is heavy, so why don't we take seats and at least then we can be suspicious in comfort?"

If anyone else said it, it might've been a cause for suspicion but because it was Carson and he was rather awkwardly juggling the tray, John glanced over at him and then nodded. "If you want, Colonel Caldwell."

"It's just tea. We've been processing certain foods with the city's help. It's actually a lot like Star Trek, but we haven't moved much past boiled water." Rodney glanced at Lorne, and Teyla, Ronon, and then Carson, and started towards the room that Elizabeth had once used as a meeting room. In the other city.

He saw John arrange himself defensively between him and Caldwell, and Carson put the tray down on the meeting table. "Anyone else want a cup of tea? I can get more mugs..."

"Dr. Beckett, I don't think tea is high on the agenda right now," Caldwell said impatiently and John stepped forward like a guard dog but Carson cut him off before he could say anything.

"Well, Colonel, when you've had the best part of a year where simple niceties such as a cup of tea or even water or food have been completely denied to you and you spend days without seeing hide nor hair of either, forgive me if they start to loom large in the priority stakes," Carson said.

"Sit down, sir," John said rather than asked. "We need to talk this out and work out what the hell is going on."

"We'd ideally like to return to Earth, but we also want reinstatement with the SGC so we can come back and resume the mission." Rodney had rehearsed it, tried to work out in his mind how best to say the almost obvious things that they wanted.

"The Atlantis mission was closed with the destruction of the city," Woolsey answered. "Officially there is no mission to resume."

"Officially all of us are dead and MIA," John said. "But hey, you know, we've got pulses."

The 'no thanks to you' was implicit.

"The city is also not destroyed, if you noticed." Rodney leaned forwards, close to Carson, and snagged himself a cup to pour some of the strange slightly strong tea into. "Three fully charged ZPMs and everything."

"That's part of what we want to discuss with you," Caldwell said. "Before we allow you back to Earth, we have to be certain that you are who you say you are, and how Atlantis appears to be in your possession when it was said to be destroyed."

"This is a different Atlantis," John replied. "Rodney kicked in an emergency protocol and I helped activate it."

"The city has the ability to create 'seeds' of itself, based on non-sentient nanite technology, which the Replicators were based on. The Tower, and I believe the Atlantus base on Earth, were both made from the same methods. Because we included the control crystal from the original Atlantis, the gate has the ability to dial Earth, which isn't a standard feature in a seed city."

"So this is a new Ancient city?" Woolsey asked even as Carson passed out mugs of the tea and finally sat down.

"In a manner of speaking. We have three functional ZPMs. There's probably the means to make more here. If the program managed it once, then it can again," John added.

"It's new Atlantis, but it's also the same Atlantis. This city has the same database contents, for example. Our old mission reports are still here. It's like... a restore point on your computer, Colonel. It's Atlantis, refurbished." Rodney sat back, sipping a little loudly at his tea.

"How long have you been back here?" Caldwell asked.

"Well, it took a few weeks to get things running, and for some of us to recover enough," John said. "And there were pressing concerns about food, things like that... medical supplies."

"Things we needed." Rodney took another sip of his drink, and eyed Woolsey. "The gate needed to be fully tested for functionality."

"And the rest of the time?" Caldwell asked blandly.

"We did submit reports. ...sir," John said.

"Sketchy reports. You were apparently captives of a space faring people call the Dzomari?" Caldwell replied.

"That's correct," John answered. "Which was in the report."

"Mmm." Rodney lifted his eyebrows, waiting for the expected questions. "We've needed our recovery time. And we've spent a good deal of time dealing with things like finding food. Working out if we can eat it. And then finding more food."

"We need to know exactly what happened with the Dzomari," Caldwell said and looked over at John. "How exactly it was they were able to keep you captive for that length of time considering your background, Colonel Sheppard."

"They'd been slavers for generations. In that time, they picked up a trick or two as well as tech," John replied blandly, but the implicit accusation bothered John, Rodney could see that.

"We were kept separated. Any escape attempt was met with severe consequences for the rest of us. Anders was also with us, and he was killed in the process of an escape attempt. Ronon made an attempt, and was put in stasis." It was hard to put that sort of experience into words. It sounded so flat in comparison to the actual events.

"I see. So you didn't make an attempt after that?" Caldwell said.

"Colonel Caldwell, I believe I do not like your implication," Teyla said firmly. "Perhaps you should re-read the reports. I am certain there was no ambiguity about the nature of our stay. Slaves, prisoners, are subject to all manner of abuse. Colonel Sheppard, as our designated 'Dzom', in effect claimed marriage to all of us, and as a result was solely responsible for providing for the whole group."

"The only opportunity we had for escape was to gain their trust and subvert the ship's systems against them until we seized control as was written in the reports. I'm sorry we didn't single-handedly overthrow a slaving based society fast enough for you." The urge to smack that look off of Caldwell's face was too much to stand.

"Easy now..." Carson murmured. "Colonel Caldwell, forgive me for asking but what is this suspicion about? You must have some basis for being this hostile. As I understood it, returned prisoners of war could do no wrong, so I can only take it that either you are very uncomfortable around people who have survived at all costs or... something has happened at the SGC to convince you that we have either been subverted or we are some sort of strange imposters."

"As a matter of fact..." Woolsey started and was quelled by a look from Caldwell.

John narrowed his eyes. "That's it, isn't it, something has happened in the year we've been out of the loops. What was it, Replicators in the SGC?"

"Because we've been through hell out here and whatever happened back home, we're sorry it's happened, but we're also trying to offer you a world of resources that you never had before. Atlantis functions as if it was new, and it responds to us as if we were Ancients. There are systems that come up that we never knew existed before, and you know how useful Ancient technology is." Dangerous, too. It wasn't their fault that they hadn't been there to offer their limitless skills to whatever had gone wrong.

"If you are worried about us being Replicators then why don't you shoot one of us with that anti-Replicator gun thing," Carson suggested. "I'll even volunteer."

"No, Carson, you're not taking any unnecessary jolts." John said glancing at him. "If they want to do it then I will."

"Hey, hey, we're not asking for the moon, the sun and the stars here, so I wouldn't particularly offer to have your heart possibly turned into a bag of worms, John." Rodney knew what those guns did, and it wasn't as if they tested the random electrical impulses on people, so who knew what it would do to someone who wasn't a Replicator?

"A simple blood test would suffice," Woolsey said clearing his throat. "I think it is evident that you have all had a difficult time and that you need to have the best that the IOA can offer you. Medical support, counseling, therapy..."

John narrowed his eyes. "Let's cut to the chase here. Are you or are you not trying to remove us from Atlantis?"

"We just want to assess your situation," Caldwell said smoothly. Yeah, like there was even half a truth in that statement, and Rodney sat back in his chair, glaring.

"Really. We can tell you our situation. We have, in those reports. What we want is a reassurance that we'll all be allowed to return to the city."

"That will depend on your...stability," Woolsey said after a pause and Rodney could see John bristling a little.

"Colonel Caldwell, these were extraordinary circumstances, but you have extraordinary people here," Teyla said smoothly. "They did not survive such terrible conditions only to have what they fought for taken away."

"We want to come back within a guaranteed amount of time," Rodney insisted, looking sideways at John's clenched jaw. "And trust me, you'll want us back within that amount of time, too."

"Is that a threat?" Caldwell said immediately straightening up and leaning forward.

"Oh for..." Carson sounded exasperated. "Honestly, it's a wonder anything gets done at all. Colonel, we want to go back to Earth, we're not fighting that, but we are effectively concerned that, promises aside, you won't let us back. We are fully aware of what our physical and mental state is going to come across like and we want assurances. So, here are the conditions if you like and they're not that unreasonable. We want to continue working for Earth. We have a fully functional Ancient city which has effectively impressed on all gene holders here present and is particularly cooperative to Joh...Colonel Sheppard. We are not getting on the Daedalus -- as you're not sure of our compromised identities you won't let us walk through the gate will you? No... thought so... anyway, we won't get on board until we have a personal assurance by General O'Neill we will be coming back. And yes, we have a contingency plan. You will need us to make the city function. That is all." Once upon a time, Carson had barely had the balls to speak up in a staff meeting if it had nothing at all to do with medicine, let alone represent all of them. But, he was, and he did it well. "No threat. Just... a fact."

Woolsey looked across at Caldwell. "Well we can arrange talking to the General," he said cautiously. "But you know General O'Neill, it's hard to credit what he might want."

"Let me talk to him privately and we'll sort it out," John said.

"There is a chain of command, Sheppard," Caldwell replied.

John went stiff, and Rodney sat up straighter. "And if I remember the flow chart correctly, it went IOA, O'Neill, Elizabeth, then John. So..."

"I can authorize that," Woolsey said a little too quickly which Rodney took to mean that Earth was desperate for the Ancient resources.

Huh. That was good to know, and also bad, because just for once he would have liked to have traveled into some kind of good situation. "Good, good. All right. We just want some time on Earth, see our families, get things straight, all of that."

Caldwell looked like he was about to protest but for once Woolsey's look knocked him back.

"We'll do the tests to verify who you are and arrange the talk with General O'Neill. Then we'll take the group of you who were awake for the majority of the ordeal back to Earth for a debriefing," Woolsey said. "In the mean time, I'm sure we can assist you with food and perhaps some uniforms?"

"It would be appreciated." Teyla said that a little firmly, looking around at them and really, who was going to argue? Food and clothes, things they'd missed.

John nodded slightly. He concentrated a moment in an ostentatious gesture of his connection with the city and looked up. "I've dropped the shields, sir."

Anyone would think to look at him that he hadn't done much at all, but Rodney knew that sort of remote handling really knocked it out of John. He was probably making some stupid macho gesture.

The colonel hesitated, and tapped his radio. "Daedalus, this is Colonel Caldwell. Report."

And not that they could hear the answer, but from the way Caldwell's face fell, Rodney could guess that he had just had John's trick confirmed. "All right. If you could send down supplies to the city. Uniforms and food."

"We also request medical supplies for Dr. Beckett," Teyla said. "He has not been well. He was shot during our escape and has many problems with bleeding ulcers."

Carson looked a little embarrassed. "It's not so bad now."

"Oh, sure, right. You had bread and tea for breakfast, and that was it and it's not so bad?" Rodney shot him a glare. "Medical supplies, too. Please."

Caldwell nodded, and added that over the radio.

"Thank you," Carson replied. "I'm sure some antibiotics will do the trick."

"We'll beam up now, Colonel, give you a chance to regroup. Leave the shields down and I'll keep the weapons powered down."

Like they'd even have a chance. Rodney suspected, given enough desperation, any of them could launch something without using the command chair unless he locked the code down

"We'll do that. Let us know when you want to do the blood tests." They probably needed to find record of the old DNA profile to compare against whatever they took, and a medical team.

"We will," Caldwell said and then tapped his earpiece. "Daedalus, lock on to us after you've finished the beam down of supplies."

"We'll arrange the testing shortly. In the meantime, enjoy the food," Woolsey said even as they stood up. "Until later..."

Caldwell gave a curt nod and then they beamed out of the boardroom, and John immediately lost his nonchalant air with an exhalation and dropping his head to his hands.

"You bloody idiot," Carson said. "What was that supposed to do? Impress them?"

"What was what supposed to do? The shields? I thought it was pretty damn impressive, but also dangerous, John," Rodney snapped, twisting to stare at John while he put a hand on his shoulder.

"I was proving a point," John said and Rodney could see his hand shake as he reached for a cup of Carson's now cold tea. "We've got a link here that they don't. Showing is better than all the words in the world."

"He's right." Lorne finally spoke up. He had been watching all through the meeting. "He was impressed and Woolsey looked like Christmas had come."

"Christmas has come. This is a city that wants our attention, that still remembers what attention like what we can give should feel like. The more people we have in the city, working, living, the better." Rodney rubbed at John's shoulder. "We won't be gone for long, will we?"

"No, no we won't," John promised. "We just need to establish ourselves again. Then they'll get the expedition back."

As if it would be as simple as that.

Trips on the Daedalus tended to be a little boring at the best of times but a few days in John had started to feel more than a little lackluster. Then he started to think that the Daedalus had managed to bring them the flu or something because he felt headachy and the dreams started up. Vivid Technicolor replaying memories that he couldn't escape of induced lust and pleasure, that initially he thought was some sort of flashback but there were too many and too frequent and it was just escalating.

He knew he was becoming quieter but for the first time the urge to have sex was there and growing. First a dim spark, then a blossoming flame and the more he pushed it back, the more it pushed back at him. The cold shower set him shivering and his skin felt overheated even now and he just couldn't look at anyone without nearly being overwhelmed by intense sexual fantasies.

If he went and stood on the main deck, he might jump Caldwell, and then he could kiss his rank goodbye. But there wasn't anything to do, and he couldn't live in a cold shower.

It didn't stop him trying and he eventually made some excuses and tried to hide away in his room, away from everyone else, having this weird fluey erotic obsessive fantasy reaction. He didn't just want orgasm, he wanted touch, he craved someone doing anything to him. Something that he needed, but he couldn't do anything, not here and now and somehow his nails were digging into his palms and the sharp edge of pain was very good.

It was better than he mentally knew it should have been, and that bothered him as much as the arousal itself.

There was the option of looking for Rodney or Carson, but generally they'd been, well, he wasn't sure. No one was socializing. They weren't together the way they had been, and he had a feeling that Caldwell had done that on purpose.

He wasn't sure what was going on, whether this was illness or just him completely losing it, but it was reaching points of being unbearable. Right now, he was curling up on his bed in knots, fervently wished he could sleep through whatever was going on. He needed something otherwise he was going to do something stupid... like reach for his radio.

Call Rodney. Call Carson. But they, they didn't want sex, they wanted quiet time. Rodney was a hugger, went in for quiet comfort, liked to cling in his sleep, and Carson was still and silent, giving comfort when John least expected, but John, John wanted hard fucking.

If he wanted a hard fucking over, he could definitely call Caldwell.

Immediately, his head provided him with a flashback to the first time under firevein. Ronon, Lorne... yeah, that had been harder. Not as hard as some of the customers and the Dzoms, but hard enough. But there was Rodney...and Carson and he wanted them, too, just differently and it was like he couldn't come unless there was someone else there despite his best rather desperate efforts. He reached to tap the radio.

Fuck it. He could at least let them know something was wrong, and with a tap he brought the radio on, fiddling for the channel that the rest of them were on. Not that he didn't think it was being monitored, because Rodney didn't have the clearance to secure a channel for them on the Daedalus.

"Hi guys..." his voice sounded rough. "This is Sheppard... uh... anyone free right now?" Let them be free, god, let them be free he chanted to himself.

"'m free." It was Rodney, sounding just a little groggy, but it was Rodney. "I was going to get coffee."

"You wanna bring that here? Haven't seen anyone for a bit and I..." want to be fucked... "...uh... maybe watch a movie or something."

It was all lies but he was desperate.

"Oh, sure. Yeah, sure. I'll, uh, do you want me to grab anyone else?"

"Sure." He answered without thinking about it. "More the merrier." He pushed himself up shakily and helped himself get to the tiny bathroom and looked at himself. He looked like shit.

He might regret that. No, he knew he was going to regret that, because if Rodney came back with everyone he was going to freak out and then, and then. They were doomed.

Shipping them home on the Daedalus was probably as close to putting them in a hotbox as they could all get away with.

Carson's secret stash of lube was there and he picked it up. His vision nearly vanished behind an intense surge of hormones coupled with one of the bad memories. Except now, it felt good, it felt fucking fantastic and this just wasn't right. Where was Rodney? He remembered being shaved by him; he remembered the slick of a blade over his skin. He remembered Carson and Rodney tying him in the infirmary and it acquired a whole new dimension in his head.

He wanted that, he wanted sex that was in safety and good and maybe a little to the side of crazy, but mostly good sex. Good, lasting sex, with more, and if more than Rodney and Carson showed up to his room, he was screwed.

Or not.

The knock on the door surprised him, just a little. "John?"

He couldn't let himself get to the door, because if he did he might lose his fragile control and that was the worst of all. "In here!" he called out. He never used to get really turned on by this stuff. He had been happy with top or bottom, male or female, light kink at best, not the sort of thing he was craving. Unconsciously, he was trying to hold himself together and he wasn't sure how well it worked.

He turned a little, watched the door open. Rodney was in the doorway, coming in, with Carson behind him, "Teyla, Lorne and Ronon are, uh. Apparently also having movie night, if anyone asks. I'm going to say they're watching chick flicks."

Okay, Rodney and Carson, that was fine, although there was a part of him that flickered wistfully over thoughts of Ronon's power and Teyla and Lorne's inherent trained strength. But Rodney and Carson, he trusted the both of them and Carson paused and looked at him. "You're in a bad way, John, aren't you?"

He didn't have time to open his mouth and agree before Rodney blurted, "I think, uh, we all know because I, uh, Caldwell stopped us in the hallway and Carson, well, it's a long story and I'm all for bolting the doors."

"You don't have to remind me, Rodney," Carson said locking the door even as the other man was talking.

"So... everyone is like this?" John managed, starting to notice tell-tale signs on the other two men.

"No, not everyone, because if it was everyone, I think we would have had Caldwell fucking Carson up against a wall by now." Rodney folded his arms over his chest, like he was hugging himself into restraint. "Just us. Us six."

"Oh." John looked at Carson, who exhaled.

"It's the withdrawal, John," Carson replied and looked at them both. "I knew it was going to hit at some point. You're likely to be worse because of the amount you had. It's a conditioned response... the body is trying to stimulate you into actions that had the drug administered."

It was a relief in a way, that it was something explicable. "Good." John said. "Because right now I want someone... I want to be fucked hard and rough and shit... I don't know if you guys can do that."

"So, you just naturally assume that I'm caring and gentle in bed? I'm not sure whether to be insulted or not." Rodney's arms were crossed tight over his chest, though, still.

"You have been so far," John replied and he was practically shaking. "Prove me wrong."

Carson glanced over at Rodney. "What do you say, Rodney?"

"Are you up to it? I don't, if this is going to be a problem..." Rodney was hesitant, that was his problem. He wasn't a take charge in bed kind of guy, and John needed to be pounded flat.

"It's not a problem at all unless you don't do it," John answered. Fuck it, he couldn't wait. He started pulling off his clothes and if necessary he'd throw himself at him. There was no time for finesse. It was driving him crazy.

"I will. We will," Rodney added a little hastily, staring at John for a moment before he finally, fuck, yes, finally started to undress

It was a rush then, the three of them getting undressed as quickly as possible and the surge of arousal was almost painful as they approached. They hadn't hesitated for lack of arousal themselves, he could see that, and he wondered if Rodney and Carson had been working on things together before he called.

He was surprised, though, at the purposeful way they advanced on him.

He almost hadn't expected them to do that, to show up, to stalk him down because Carson was gentle and Rodney, Rodney wasn't forceful, but he was also coming straight at John, reaching for his shoulders. "I want you on the mattress. Now."

That's what he wanted as well and he let himself be pushed back and he was probably going to come almost immediately if Rodney followed through on that sort of thing. And there was Carson grabbing for his ankles.

Not expected, but not a bad thing, either. John went with it, with Rodney turning him around and hesitating, probably looking for lube. "We should keep quiet. In case Caldwell comes by. And I need something slick..."

John waved a hand over towards the lube he had pushed himself to find, but the truth was he would've just gone for it at that point in time, lube or no lube.

Carson moved from his ankles and he could hear him fetch the lube. "C'mon..." he half growled.

"Now now, John," Carson murmured bending to run fingers through his hair. "Tell me what you want. Rough? No mercy? Do you want us just to keep doing what we want, hmm?"

Yes, yes that was what he wanted. Another time he would be the one in control, but right now he needed to let the sensations loose. "Yeah..."

He needed the force of it and for Rodney to seize control, for Carson to do whatever he wanted, and yeah. Yeah. Rodney was putting a hand on the back of John's neck, pushing him down into the mattress while he leaned to take the lube. "Hold on. I'll fuck you through the mattress on my own time."

All he needed was for Caldwell to bust in or something, but he could probably find something to pull him in too, the way he was feeling. Carson moved again, hands appearing on his ankles pressing again even as Rodney's warmth seemed to break through the spiking temperature of his body.

"Yeah. You think you're a slut, don't you?" Rodney pressed a kiss against the back of John's neck, and he could feel slicked fingers sliding between his asscheeks.

Yeah, he did think that right now, with his body reacting so violently to the drug withdrawal he would've agreed to anything as long as it got him what he had been addicted to -- sex, and pain and everything in between. Most of the time, what he had done existed outside of his head somehow, not something that happened to him.

"That's what he is, Rodney. He'd be ready for you without any help. Look at him..."

He was practically convulsing at the feel of something inside of him.

It felt so good, even if it was Rodney's thick fingers sliding in and out of his hole, a knee pressed against the back of John's thigh, breath heavy against John's skin. "Yeah..."

"Now..." he said, half muffled. "Now, Rodney, for fuck's sake just..."

Do something, anything more.

It was fast, and he knew Rodney preferred slow, but as long as they survived withdrawal, he could do slow, he could do slow for the rest of his fucking life, if it just meant he could get fucked, feel Rodney in him, moving hard and fast and whatever Carson was doing down there.

He had a feeling Carson was doing something to Rodney as well, because there was a different pressure on his legs and he really wasn't going to last long at all, not like this but even if he came it wasn't going to be over for long. He could do it like that for hours and hours and they might, they might end up doing that, but he'd spent afternoons in worse ways. There was no question of that, just... Just, he wanted more, he could tell already, even as Rodney pushed into him hard.

It had him pushing up against him, pushing back with an inarticulate sound of pain and pleasure. This wasn't going to be about subtlety, this was going to be wild.

"We need to be quieter," Carson's voice said and he moved again, picking up John's own t-shirt and half shoving it in his mouth to keep him near silence. He reacted even more to that than he would've believed.

That, he needed that, and maybe to be tied down. That could be next, even with Rodney fucking him hard, moving in fiercer thrusts than he would've thought Rodney was capable of.

It was definitely what he needed right now, which a part of his mind wasn't really happy with, but it was drowned out and then some and it felt good to feel Rodney letting himself go. And he wasn't even sure when it happened but he came, and almost immediately he was hardening again as Rodney kept going.

"You like that, don't you?" Carson murmured in his ear. "You want this and you want worse..."

"Yeah..." Rodney breathed that reply, fingers digging into John's hips as he kept thrusting. "Want this, want, John, fuck, yes, keep moving..."

They were never going to stop. Firevein ignored normal physical limitations, kept you coming back for more and more. He couldn't feel the shaking, or the pain, just the sliding burn of pleasure over and over and Carson and Rodney on top of him.

"He liked the gag," Carson was saying. "After your turn and my turn, we can improvise a little bit more of a... restraint."

Rodney was moving, breathing hard, fingers lingering on John's arms even as he got off of John. "Yeah. Yeah, he'll like that, I'd like that, we could switch, we, as long as we don't have to go to the infirmary..."

"You won't..." Carson said and there was a shuffle of movement as they reorganized themselves and then it was Carson going at him slowly to start with but picking up speed and he groaned in a muffled sound, wondering what Rodney was doing

Jerking off, maybe, because he could feel and hear motions nearby, but it wasn't directly related to them. There was just the thrusting of Carson, hands on his shoulders from behind, pushing him harder into the mattress.

Somewhere along the line he zeroed in completely on the feelings and the physical sensation until he was nearly floating. That was the familiar sensation, an endorphin high that the drug used to release and he was riding it. He was pretty sure he came again somewhere in the long hard fuck.

And when it stopped and when it started again and stopped again, he lost track of, but. But it was good, and he could feel Rodney move to lie down beside him, breathing slowing, just as intently as he could feel sweat on his own body.

Somehow the ache in his bones had been driven back, and he did feel fever hot still -- probably because he was, but not so desperate. He probably should be feeling raw and hurt but he really didn't.

A cooler hand stroked over his back and Carson tugged the t-shirt way from his mouth where he had nearly chewed on it and then settled on the other side of him.

"I seriously need to get up and get something to drink," Rodney sighed. "We'll all be dehydrated."

"Aye, I'll fetch something in a moment," Carson murmured. "How're feeling, John?"

"Hot," he said truthfully. "But good. Better."

"I'll get it. Still don't like the way you looked at Caldwell," Rodney muttered, sitting up slowly. "Anyway, I'm less suspicious."

"Rodney is jealous," Carson confided in John, helping him turn over.

"I would be, too," John answered and he realized that it was a little like having drunk just a little too much. He felt loose-limbed and mellow, hot but tired as well. And safe.

"As if I was saving myself pretty much all that time for anyone apart from him," Carson said fondly. "I was like a love struck teenager over him, and then the two of you together... well."

"Not jealous," Rodney denied as he stood up and reached for his clothes.

"Possessive then," Carson teased lightly.

"You don't know what possessive is, Doc," John said before he could stop the words. "Not compared to me."

Rodney's soft 'huh' was almost hazily surprised to John's ears, but Rodney was still dressing. "Any orders?"

"Water would be best," Carson said. "Bring over what he's got, we could be here a while though."

That was a nice thought, one that made him relax. Rodney and Carson leaving now seemed a terrible thing, a disaster. "I don't want you guys going anywhere," he said and there it was again. A complete lack of censorship.

He couldn't be allowed to leave the room for a while. It was almost good to know he could stay and wallow until he heard the intercom click on, in lieu of radios. "Doctor McKay, please report to the control room."

"Oh no...." Carson murmured. "Now? They want you now? I'm not sure you should be going anywhere, Rodney."

John didn't want him to go. He really didn't want him to leave now. He felt better right now but what if the feeling came back?

Carson was there. Carson was there and probably staying there, but the blare of the loudspeaker had startled Rodney, and he sat down on the floor, fumbling for his pants. "Shit, shit!"

"Is this an expected call, love?" Carson asked. "Because if it's not an emergency you could tell them to bugger off."

John smiled a little at that and agreed. "Seriously, Rodney..."

"No, no, do you think I was expecting to have to go to the control room? Caldwell doesn't even like me. There must be some scientific emergency and this is a horrible idea..."

"Just ask, Rodney, if it's some sort of emergency they will be calling for us shortly... and drink that water before you go anywhere."

John pushed himself up, aching a little. He could get changed, he could go with him. It might be necessary.

He just wasn't sure he was up and functioning for it, and he probably smelled like hell, because he'd just been really, really well fucked and he still felt drunk with it. "No, just. Just stay here, I'll, it might be a false alarm."

"Lie down, John. I'll go if Rodney needs help," Carson said and John looked at him, still a shadow of his former self and looking fragile, wanting to say no. But Carson had made the plan when they'd failed and he had to respect that there appeared to be moments now that surprised him. "Drink the water, Rodney, or you'll have a migraine."

"The water that I was going to fetch us all?" Rodney offered, voice tipping towards irritated. "I'll be back. Just. I'll be back. Get some sleep, don't worry." He rushed the door then, getting it to open just a crack before he slipped outside.

Carson sighed and got up, presumably to get the water. "Hopefully he won't be long," he said and John lay back already missing him.

"I should be able to get up," he murmured, but he did feel hot still. He thought it was the exertion, but it didn't seem to be going down.

Carson returned with the water. "Drink," he instructed and then but the back of his hand to his forehead. "If it gets much higher, John, we will have to go to the infirmary."

He didn't want to go to the infirmary. He didn't want people prodding at his body, he didn't want to be isolated and kept under lights that no one could really sleep under, and he didn't want to be examined and arrive on Earth sick.

He wanted Rodney back and for Carson to stop frowning at him like that, and just to relax for a few minutes. That was all.

Murphy had just shown up, so Rodney was waiting for Godwin and his dear cousin Occam to make an appearance. There was a tiny voice in his head that wanted to demand that the ship might be being invaded by Nazis who'd touched some kind of time traveling device, because there was no possible emergency that they needed him for when he felt that hot and wired and hot wired, when all he wanted was a drink.

John and Carson were waiting for him, and that thought meant he was going to find concentrating very difficult. It had been an unbearably intense experience and normally there was no way he would've had the stamina to keep going. Fucking John, Carson doing amazing unspeakable things to him as he did so... yeah, how was he going to figure equations when the only sum he could do was adding up to three and hot sex?

Hot sex apparently was the sum of one and one and one.

Rodney focused on getting to the control room, and nodded at the Marine standing outside the door.

It was hard to stop himself checking the guy out even as he was allowed through.

"Glad to see you've joined us," Caldwell said. "We've got some inexplicable vibrations in the hyperdrive field."

"Vibrations. In the hyperdrive field." Rodney rubbed at his face, and tried not to look at Caldwell in his jumpsuit, because those flight suits or whatever they were called were very much about focusing the eye to the crotch and any other weaponry. "Where's the readout?"

"Here. Hermiod has analyzed the data stream and produced a report." Novak said pushing a laptop screen over. "He's never seen anything like it."

Hell. He squinted at the screen, and reached uneasily for a chair. "Jesus, okay, uh. I need to, when did this start?"

"13.2 minutes ago." Hermiod spoke up. Which was approximately a few minutes before they called him. "It is possible that the hyperspace field could collapse," Hermiod said, blandly.

"Yes, yes it could, and that would be..." Rodney made a wavering hand gesture. "How far out are we if we dropped out of hyperspace now? Because we can't diagnose this while it's moving. It looks like some kind of engine malfunction..."

"Not far from Midway station," Novak said helpfully. "If we can hold on for a while longer."

They needed to drop out now, drop out thirteen minutes ago, but if they needed parts or help, they needed to be at Midway. "All right. Can we drop out at Midway? Because this looks shaky, so it's either our equipment failing or a fluctuation in our universe. Hermiod?"

"We will do this," Hermiod said. "You will analyze the data, Doctor Rodney McKay."

"Is it a danger to the Daedalus?" Caldwell asked.

"Uh, I think either one is a 'yes'." And even stretched thin and hot and god, he felt hot, he shot Caldwell a dirty look. "Can someone get me a glass of water, and I'll get started."

"Are you okay, Dr. McKay?" Novak said even as she moved to get some sent up. "You look a bit feverish."

"Yes, I possibly am, which was why I was resting in the first place, but I think the possibility of either a failing hyperdrive or the collapse of the universe are a little more, mmm, impending of our doom than that." He squinted at the screen, and started to scroll. There had been and had continued to be a definite fluctuation of the field.

It was most likely one of the drive crystals, but all of the individual read outs for the sectors were fine and the diagnostics showed that the sensors themselves were in working order. Hermiod had thought of that. Here he was with the fate of them all in his hands again and all he could think of was the sweat beaded on John's neck when he fucked him.

A glass of water miraculously appeared next to him.

He chugged half of it, coughed and choked for a minute, and then chugged the rest because all he could think about was sweat on John's neck. Carson and John were probably back there fucking, and he... he needed to fix the ship.

"Midway coordinates in one minute, sir," Novak said and Caldwell settled back in his Captain Kirk chair as Rodney liked to think of them and said, "Prepare to power down."

He needed to be back there. It was a tug and a pull that wanted to override even the need to fix the ship.

He needed to concentrate, focus focus focus, remember that he was the reason they were all alive and would all stay alive, and so if everyone wanted to get off of the ship at the end of the day then he needed to do his job, except there was this tiny intimidating fact that Hermiod was stumped and together they could be, well, stumped together. He fiddled with the glass, and moved to lean against Hermiod's desk and if Hermiod had a body that hadn't been streamlined by millennia of cloning, Rodney would've tapped that.

And that was a horrifying thought.

"I, uh. Shit, I shouldn't even be trying to work, but can you run general sensors to see if there are any other universal type shifts you can pick up on?"

"There are no other fluctuations in measurable fields, Dr. McKay," Hermiod said. "I believe it is a crystal related issue but the sensors and diagnostics reports do not indicate fractures or stress points."

"Dropping out of hyperspace sir in 3.... 2.... 1." And just like that they were floating in space.

"Midway station, this is Colonel Caldwell of the Daedalus. We need to make repairs. Permission to dock?"

"Colonel Caldwell, This is Colonel Carter, please proceed to dock. Can I ask the nature of your repairs?"

Oh, hell. Yes, he was in it.

"We have a fluctuating hyperdrive field with no apparent cause," Caldwell recited.

"Hermiod believes it's related to the crystals in the drive, but it's not throwing errors so we're going to have to get into it and check hands on with it powered down," Rodney added, knowing it would make the transmission.

"Is that you, Rodney?" Carter actually sounded pleased to hear from him. "I heard you were coming home. I'm pleased that you made it."

Coming home. Like they knew all along where they'd been and.... and Rodney clenched his jaw for a moment. "Yes, yes, I'm sure we can talk about it down in the engine bay, which is where I'll be while we dock, thank you." He took the laptop, nodded at Hermiod, and started moving.

"Permission granted. And we'll be glad to give a hand," Carter replied and Rodney knew they would be docking gently. He just wanted to finish this and get back to John and Carson. But right now everyone was starting to catch his eye

And Carter, that was a horrible horrible fact but he'd wanted that because she was hot and brainy and he was all wound up, coming down off that high and he needed to be away from people.

Of course that meant Carter was going to help. "I'll be down in the engine bay," Rodney declared to Caldwell, moving to leave.

"Keep me advised," Caldwell said and he sounded tense. "I'll send down whatever's needed."

Rodney doubted that he could ask for a naked John, Carson and fresh lube however.

It was maddening, more than he was used to being exposed to when he'd been working on the good ship Sex Transport. Sex bomb. There it had been normal, and being distracted from his work by sex was part of the work, so Rodney... Felt like he should be able to fuck John and then get back to work, but he knew logically that that was his lizard brain talking and not logic and when he got to the engine room there was a distinct ozone tinge to the air that made him glare at the technicians because what were they getting paid for?

Obviously something somewhere had malfunctioned. It might not be a crystal itself but something that was producing a harmonic resonance in a crystal. Direct contact didn't have to be made to something to make them... He swallowed, trying to suppress the image of some of the things Carson had murmured into his ear, came to haunt him.

Well, to make them hard or crack or shatter, so Rodney started to look for the source of the ozone, even though the drive was still winding down, He could use his eyes even if he couldn't touch. Ozone wasn't a crystal, so it had to be a part. A moving part.

It was possible that if something caused enough of a physical vibration near a control crystal, there could be a cascade harmonic that increased as it fed back on itself.

He felt so damn hot. So much like he needed to slide over skin.

"Hi, Rodney."

"Sam! Uh. Hello, I'm terribly busy right now..." He leaned back in, trying to stare at the engine and why did it need to cool down?

It wasn't going to help to see a long time object of his lust there to help him and oh dear god, she was looking shocked and sympathetic and he would've killed for that attention some time back. But no, she had to do it now when he wasn't right and there was a crisis.

"Wow... you look..." She seemed at a loss for words. "I'm really sorry for what you had to go through."

He caught himself staring at her for a moment, when he should've been staring at the drive, but that was, that was... "Well, that was amazingly unsatisfying to hear and woefully inadequate, so if we could just move on and work..."

"You know, I can sympathize. I'm not a stranger to... bad experiences," Sam said and that was just typical. Of course, SG1 had been everywhere, done everything ten times better or worse than everyone else. He didn't want to hear it.

"If you want to talk about it I know how hard that can be."

"No, no you don't," Rodney snapped. "Yes. Yes, SG-1 has been there and done that and it was oh so much worse for all of you, but actually, no, you have not in fact been held as sex slaves on an alien ship, declared dead in your absence, which really offends me because wow, no point in waiting or even looking for us, huh? No, no, I don't even want to hear it, I just want to fix the drive and get back to Earth."

Sam held up her hands a moment. "Okay, okay... I get it, McKay." And she was still being sympathetic. "Let's deal with the drive then. You have theories?"

She was itching to talk about it though, he could tell.

He wasn't going to get any peace, then. He'd just have to avoid her until they left, and hopefully she wouldn't leave with them. "Harmonic resonance has set up in the drive. I doubt it's shattered or fractured a crystal, but if one of the control pathways is harmonically resonating with a loose piece of mechanics..."

"It could set up a wave vibration that would disrupt signal output..." Sam nodded. "I guess the only way to do it is the check component by component. I'll start at the bottom if you want."

"Fine, yes." It was going to take time and he didn't want time taken because he needed to get back to Carson and John and he needed more water because he still felt like he was on fire. "I'll take the top."

They worked for a little while in silence before Sam finally said. "How's the rest of your team? The SGC were pretty surprised to hear you guys were still alive. The Daedalus reported the ambush site completely destroyed. Vaporized."

"We're tired. We're still recovering." He wasn't going to justify the other part of her statement with an answer because, yes, vaporized. Fantastic. Never mind that they'd been in ships.

"You look like you've got the flu," Sam answered carefully. "Maybe you should go to the infirmary. Not surprising if you've just been spending time in the Daedalus. Spaceships are hothouses for bugs."

"It's withdrawal. I'm fine." Rodney wiped at his forehead, then fingers on his pants before he reached for the next part.

"Withdrawal?" Sam looked at him. "Drugs? You should definitely be in the infirmary."

If he was this bad, did this mean John was being dragged off there as soon as possible to the infirmary? They knew he'd been dosed with more. Had to be to make him compliant.

"Carson's been watching us," Rodney excused, reaching for another piece. Everything seemed tight, and tight? Tight was the last thing he wanted to think about.

There was John, and then Carson, solid and ground and oh, god he wanted them. He could imagine Ronon and Lorne with Teyla and suddenly the importance of repairs faded.

"Dr Beckett is also a victim, Rodney," Sam said. "His judgment might be... impaired."

His hands shook for a moment, and he reached for the next part. "Funny, Caldwell still called me out of my quarters to look at the drive. Apparently our judgment isn't that impaired."

Sam looked at him in that way he vaguely recognized as her telling him he was being touchy. "Look, you don't have to worry. They won't take you out of the equation. They need you all."

"Funny, the fact that we had a lovely weapons standoff with the Daedalus seems to say otherwise." Rodney reached for another part, and exhaled. "Found it."

"Good work," Sam said and at him in a way that was impossibly hot. "You want me to fix it? You really look like you need to get some rest."

He really needed John, and Carson and god help him, sex.

"Yeah. I'll, uh, be around." Rodney straightened up, stepped back. He could cede work to her just once.

Sam watched him and said as he was leaving, "Go to the infirmary, Rodney. I think you'll need it."

Yeah, well. He needed to get John and the rest of them because maybe they did need to go to the infirmary.

But not before they could just relieve some of the pressure. He really needed that. He was practically shaky with it as he didn't even look back or double-check. He just left.

Carson knew that he should've done something before. He should've made John go to the infirmary before when they first got the call but he had wanted him, and Rodney as well and it had been incredible, but his own temperature had started to do alarming things and John had lapsed from sleepy into delirious.

He was out of his control, thrashing around, grabbing hold of him and oh bloody hell; he nearly didn't make it away that time. John was very close to the boundary line of needing to be there and he was so tired and lousy himself.

So when the door opened, it saved him that extra step, and Rodney looked bleary and worn down and overheated. "Carson? Where're you, and John going?"

"Rodney, love," and Carson reached for him automatically. "I should've taken us all down to the infirmary at the start. I think we're all suffering from residual toxicity from the withdrawal. It's getting worse. It's going to carry on doing that, and John... it could be very dangerous."

"I roused Teyla and Lorne, and Ronon's taking them to the infirmary." Rodney's expression seemed a little grim. "We're docked at Midway right now."

"Aye, good man," Carson approved. "I got John dressed but he got a little resistant. I need your help, otherwise I'm going to have to get an infirmary crew in."

"Don't want to do that, do we?" Rodney moved unsteadily to flank John's other side. "We should get going, though. They'll come for us when Teyla and Lorne get there."

"Rodney?" John looked at him with a hint of coherence. "They told me they killed you... you're not dead?"

Carson grimaced. "He's been like this for a while. I think they kept him in line by telling him they'd killed one or other of us. I'm getting the impression he never actually knew who was going to be there when he returned to quarters."

"Fantastic," Rodney muttered, starting towards with a lurch to his walk that put Carson off balance. "Not surprised. We all, we all need therapy...."

John was draped over the pair of them and Carson was getting genuinely worried now. He could feel the heat radiating off of him, which made him suspect the withdrawal was complicated by some trace elements breaking down into a toxin.

"Want you..." John was trying to cling on to Rodney then but was also having problems moving, and Carson had to haul him almost bodily along.

"You'll have to wait, John. And yes, we need all the therapy we can get, but John is a little anti-therapy."

"Group therapy. I don't know. Something, we'll make it work later..." Rodney gestured with his chin towards the end of the hallway. "That way, right?"

"Yes..." His head was swimming, and he was getting breathless and dizzy even as they tried to manhandle John. He wasn't sure if it was a general symptom or just him. It could be his anemia, or whatever this was. The infirmary was meant to be close, but it seemed an age away.

"I won't.. no, I won't..." John's words were incoherent mumblings. "No...."

"John." Rodney was reaching for sounding firm, and he kept resolutely walking on. Carson wished he had that grim determination himself. "John, we're here and we're just going to get some, uh, help."

"No!" And John went from barely standing to laying around him with a punch that had a surprising amount of power behind it. Carson's first warning was the way it felt like his jaw cracked and he went head first into the wall and John seemed to think he and Rodney were Dzomari. "Get away from me!"

He stayed close to the wall, reeling, while Rodney put his hands up, trying to get closer to John. "Hey! Hey, it's me. It's me, Rodney." He should've called for a team but he thought going under their own steam would show the SGC they were in control and sensible. Stupid.

"No..." John was frowning. "You can't be here... you can't see this."

Carson had no idea what John was seeing but he had a suspicion it was a memory not a fabrication of a fevered mind. "You... no one can."

"We're not seeing anything, we're just, uh, shit, I can't think, John, we need to get you to the infirmary right now, not when you're done hallucinating. Carson, can you get to the infirmary and I'll, uh..." Possibly detain John or end up flattened by him.

"I'm going to have to call a team," Carson said a little thickly. "I can't leave him here alone with you." They would be having sex in the corridor in about thirty seconds. "Infirmary, this is Dr. Beckett. We need a team of medical personnel here in corridor 6C."

"What's the problem, Dr. Beckett?" a voice replied.

"We're undergoing a withdrawal and potential toxin reaction. Colonel Sheppard has spiked a bad fever and is becoming delirious and Dr. McKay and myself are not in a fit state to restrain him. We were on the way to the infirmary and things are a wee bit out of hand."

His face throbbed as he spoke and he was trying to watch John and Rodney as best he could.

"I'll do it if... no one else knows," John said in a low voice. "That's the only way."

"John, John, if you stop talking right now, no one else will know," Rodney offered, reaching for John's shoulder.

John was looking at him as if he was having trouble seeing him. "Rodney?"

Carson saw a telltale spasm of muscle in John's leg and practically lunged as John pretty much collapsed falling on top of Rodney to try and stop the lot of them falling.

He just hoped that Rodney was all right, even if Rodney did manage to half-catch John on the way down. "Yeah, it's me, me that you're crushing. Not as springy as I used to be, and, oh, fuck."

"He's pretty much out of it," Carson said as he best down and tried to lift John off. "Sorry, Rodney, you okay? We need to get him stabilized otherwise he'll be having convulsions soon."

Oh and finally he could hear people running towards them. "Here! Over here!"

"Finally." Rodney exhaled, and started trying to squirm out from under John. "We shouldn't have, we should have done this first."

"I know. My fault," Carson answered, and it was because that was his job, and he'd been pretty bad at doing his job over the last year or so, and it made him wonder if he had been conditioned to think of sex first over medical need.

"Dr Beckett?" an infirmary uniformed man approached them.

"Ah, good. Colonel Sheppard has collapsed. He needs to get to the infirmary ASAP and be put on anti-pyretics. Could need an anti-toxin as well."

"Also, we need a hand getting up," Rodney added, waving from the floor and still trying to lever John off of himself. "You're doing, doing fine, Carson. Not like Ronon thought about it, and he was, not under the influence, and can someone get John off of me?"

The infirmary assistants were there and lifting and Carson was relieved to see they had brought a stretcher with them. "You take him on the stretcher. Rodney and I will get there ourselves," he said reaching down to help Rodney up. His face felt numb somehow which was weird.

"If he broke your jaw, I'm wrapping everyone in wool for the rest of the trip. Also, it might keep Carter from talking to me if she thinks I'm clinically insane," Rodney murmured. His words were running together a little, but his grip was strong even if his fingers were sweaty.

"I never wanted it to get this far. I hoped...we could ride it out." Privately, pass it off as a bug or something but no. Bloody hell, it never worked out his way. "Let's go to the infirmary and give in to the inevitable." He was going to get a massive bollocking about his state of health, he knew that. And it was still a lot better than it had been. Their standard had shifted. "C'mon, Rodney."

Rodney kept close, and they were trailing behind John at a decent enough distance that Carson knew John would be swallowed whole by the infirmary's attention when they got there. "Fixed the warp drive."

Carson smiled a little. "This doesn't surprise me. Only you could do that while being ill in less time that it takes everyone else." He put an arm around Rodney, finding himself happier for the touch.

"Yeah. Did I just call it a warp drive?" Rodney leaned into him as they entered the infirmary. "See, reliving Star Trek episodes is proof that this fever is cooking my brains."

"I knew what you meant, love," Carson said holding him up. Sure enough he could see Teyla and Lorne stretched out. Lorne seemed to be at Sheppard's semi-delirious stage and Teyla was in a similar state. John was completely still and people bustled around them all. "When you've got a moment..." he said trying to get someone's attention, "We could do with help here as well."

The way there was no response at all was disheartening. Rodney sighed, leaning on Carson. "Hey! I hate to have to make you all continue performing your jobs, but Doctor Beckett and I also need help."

Carson backed himself up to an empty bed. "Well, I'll admit myself and you if I have to..." He wanted to lie down. "I'm a wee bit dizzy."

He was dizzy, and overheated, and it was hard to worm his way onto the bed, while Rodney just hovered. "You look bad."

"You're not looking so hot yourself," Carson retorted. "John has a heck of a punch even when he has a high fever."

He was more anxious about what this would mean. Whether the SGC would declare them unfit, use that as an excuse to get them out of Atlantis, or whether they might think the drugs were the cause of any behavioral problems. But he really wasn't feeling that well. Quite possibly his weight loss, ulcers and recent injury had a lot to do with it. "I'll be okay, Rodney, I think I need to lie down. You will probably start feeling this way."

"I handled how many months of low blood sugar, okay?" Rodney leaned against the edge of his bed, staring at the infirmary. "Hey! There are other patients in here! Can someone get over here and put an IV in Doctor Beckett?"

Finally someone was responding to them, which was just as well because Carson felt like he was drifting even as he lay there. In a faint panic, he gripped hold of Rodney's arm, trying to stay awake. "Don't let them take advantage..." he managed as he closed his eyes. "...of you or the others."

"Take advantage?" Rodney's voice sounded hazy, and whether that was Carson with the haze or Rodney's voice.

He wasn't sure what he meant although it was something about the SGC or IOA declaring them unfit or something and.... He still was holding on to Rodney even as he fell asleep.

There was a part of John that wondered how Dr. Bevis would react if he announced in this very tortuous shipboard group therapy session that he'd almost rather do that thing again with the Wraith fetish guy than sit here and do a session.

That was probably a big no-no. But they hadn't been in any position to argue. All of them had been very unwell. He'd come around to find all of them hooked up to IV's and drips and feeling wiped out.

The up side of it was that they'd missed a good five days of the trip, which put them at only four days out from Earth, and they were currently only three out, but it was still three days with all of them nursing their health, sitting in a circle with Dr. Bevis looking at them like they were wild animals.

Perhaps they were, because right now Carson found it difficult to sit in the sort of chairs they had for any length of time because the sickness caused by withdrawal had worsened his ulcer to the point that apparently they'd been close to opening him up. As it happened, they made do with laser endoscopy, but it left Carson very sore and uncomfortable.

"Now, yesterday, we discussed some of the background of what happened to you all, but what I'd really like to know is how you think it changed you and your relationships to each other and how you feel about it. Does anyone want to start the ball rolling?"

If Lorne crossed his arms over his chest any tighter, he was going to cleave himself in half, and John could definitely sympathize with the man. And the silence that lingered between them as Rodney looked to Carson and then John, and what was John supposed to convey back to Rodney? It was part therapy and part very thin line to dance.

"I do not think any of us believe it ultimately matters," Teyla offered to break the silence

Dr Bevis looked at them. "Would you please elaborate?"

John, who had managed to be silent up to this point, cleared his throat. "The point is, Doc, is that everything we did, we did to survive."

"End of story," Rodney added, crossing his arms, too.

Carson looked up. "If anything changed, it was that we became closer together. But that would be normal for any life or death prisoner situation."

Dr Bevis looked around at all of them. "Yes, perhaps. But there might be lingering resentments and repressed anxieties. All of you at some point went through experiences that could be classified as rape...."

"The whole experience could be classified as that." Lorne narrowed his eyes. "We had POW training."

"Okay, speak for yourself. You get POW training, pension and healthcare, or you would have if you hadn't been prematurely written off as KIA instead of MIA." Rodney leaned back in the chair. "I had no POW training at all, or Carson, or Teyla, and we're... well, we did better than Anders did."

It was true, they had. His two scientist friends, who had been treated with barely tolerant scorn by other members of the military, liabilities to be protected, had made it through where the 'tough guys' hadn't. John had always known Rodney had more to him than people thought, and Carson had been a surprise as well.

"I was trained as a warrior among my people," Teyla said. "But even by a warrior's standard, the ordeal was great."

Dr Bevis probably thought she'd have to put down some kind of rebellion, or, well, who knew. John shifted in his chair, watching them all and her to see where she was headed with it next.

"They worked to turn us against each other," Lorne added. "And they.... didn't succeed."

John noted that Dr. Bevis was watching him in particular and made an effort to look relaxed. "It's practically human nature to resent a source of pain and suffering." John saw Carson pale a little at that phrase even as the psychiatrist went on; Carson never forgave himself completely for what they forced him to do to Rodney. "...and you described how you were all linked through reward and punishment. John, you were particularly at the mercy of your team's behavior."

He shrugged. "You could say that they were particularly at the mercy of my ability or inability."

"There were more of us than there were of him, and he was responsible for providing us with the tokens for food and shelter. It was ridiculously complicated." Rodney waved a hand slightly.

"I have read the reports of the situation," Dr. Bevis replied. "A barter situation, manipulating power relationships. There must've been times when you resented each other on that basis. Where you were punished for the failings of the other?"

John frowned and looked down. "Doc, you're not going to get me to say that I resented these guys, They worked their guts out for me."

"Perhaps," Teyla said almost slyly, "it is you who has lingering resentments? Because we are angry, but not at each other, and I believe I speak for all of us when I say that you should not continue to tell us how we feel."

Dr Bevis looked a little uncomfortable. "My experience tells me that you cannot go through this sort of thing without harboring some sort of repressed blame."

"Lad, I hate to tell you this, but your experience counts for squat in a situation like this," Carson said. "We were meant to become obedient and fearful, anxious about our fate. We fought that as best we could by staying close together. We knew that any punishments that came because of John's apparent 'failings' were ridiculous and set up. We also knew that whatever we did, there would be some retribution to put John in his place. But it wasn't his fault, or ours. It was theirs. Us and them."

John found himself nodding. It was sometimes hard to feel, but there it was.

It made John want to be a little louder in his protest to their group therapist, because at least Teyla and Carson had lodged their complaints. "Yeah, well, if you want to talk about repressed blame, do you want to know who I'm blaming? The SGC for not actually looking for us, but that's an answer you don't want to hear because it doesn't fit into your pat psychobabble," Rodney snapped.

"What I'm seeing is a group of people who coped admirably under exceptional pressure, who have had parameters of behavior repressed," Dr. Bevis said.

John folded his arms. "Look, we're not saying we're untouched. But we coped. We survived. And we rescued ourselves."

"If we want to talk crazy," Rodney added, "I could blame the people from the original Atlantis mission for needing to be given cover to escape in the first place, but oh, right, that's crazy, which is why I also don't see why you think we should blame each other for what happened.

The psychiatrist looked unconvinced and decided on a different tack. "Major Lorne... how has your opinion changed of your commanding officer and teammates as a result of this ordeal?"

Lorne leaned back in his chair. "I'm, uh, closer to some of them than I'd been before. I have more respect for Doctor McKay than I did when we started."

"I understand from the report that you felt it necessary to remain subordinate to Colonel Sheppard during this time when there were times that he was incapacitated?" The doctor asked.

"I'm not sure I like what you're getting at, lad," Carson said and John was trying to work out what it was that was setting Carson off. "You forget, you don't do medicine in a different galaxy without some cross-expertise coming in. John was not and is not unfit to lead. There were times when he was injured badly and he was still keeping us going. He ensured we had food and shelter and helped us out."

"Also, the chain of command? Have you heard of it?" Rodney gestured to Lorne, then back to Sheppard. "Major. Lt. Colonel. John outranks him, and Lorne's always been good with orders."

"You know, I can defend myself," John said in an amused tone. "Look, Doc. We're screwed up, we know that. There was rape and torture and things I'm pretty sure you've never heard of -- might not exist here. But we know we are, we dealt with it. You want to see any of us lose it? Then threaten one or other of us. Then I'll start throwing my weight around."

He would, too, and Rodney nodding faintly as did Lorne and Teyla, and Carson and they did. There was no reason for them to agree if they didn't mean it. "That's always how it's been."

"Only now it's a wee bit more intense," Carson added.

"You all display exceptionally defensive and paranoid modes of relating with people." The psychiatrist said, sounding frustrated.

"No, only with the people who seem to hate our guts," John said. "We contacted you guys. You abandoned us, we came back and you treated us as the enemy. Your motives are unclear and we're tired of playing games. We agreed to these sessions more for your benefit than ours because we've been working through things together. I think this session is over."

He got up, nodding to Lorne and all of them responding to the example.

"Best decision I've heard all day," Rodney muttered as they left. John wasn't sure what the ramifications would or wouldn't be, but there was no reason for them to sit there and take that abuse.

What the psychiatrist reported here might help, might hinder, but in the end it wasn't going to be his decision. That was going to be the SGC, one way or another, and he'd worry about appearing sane then.

Going it alone had been a bad idea.

He'd known it from the start, but he'd also been sweet talked, and reverse psychology was apparently still a very agile tool to be used against him, because he had anxiety after that airplane trip like nothing else. Six hours in a plane, wishing he were anywhere but there, with someone sitting too close into his personal space and it not being someone that he knew.

They were strong together, they'd been right about that, but Rodney hadn't realized how much of his strength he had wrapped up in the others. By the time he got to Jeannie's, he'd been a quivering wreck and almost thinking fondly of the endless tests and psychological proddings of the SGC that they had been subjected to because at least John and Carson had been there. Had been there to pile into bed with Don't Ask, Don't Tell regardless because John needed them both.

He wondered if they were as miserable as he was, or if he was just a freak accident out of the group. Maybe the rest of them held on better, kept it together better than he ever could've.

Carson, well Carson fell apart but in a sort of controlled way that he wondered might not be the healthiest of all of them. John, Jesus, he managed to project that calm and laidback attitude even under torture. This would be a piece of cake for him. Lorne had Teyla and Ronon with him, he'd be fine and that left him, here at his sister's, barely able to remember the day-to-day pleasantries.

Jeannie didn't even attempt to conceal her shock when she saw him. She stood and stared at him for a good thirty seconds before rushing forward to hug him

"Hi to you, too." It had been a miracle that he hadn't left his bags in the taxi and that the man hadn't driven off with them, but he hadn't, even if he was vaguely sure that he'd shortchanged the guy.

Oh, well.

"Mer, what the hell have you been doing to yourself?" Jeannie said, practically clinging to him and that was disturbing. They weren't ultra clingy as a rule. If there were even rules.

There needed, possibly, to be rules. "Uh, coming back from the dead dramatically? Or did they even bother to notify you? Because my storage unit was cleared out and I just went through more paperwork than I've had to do since high school."

"They told me you were dead!" Jeannie seemed at once shocked and outraged about it. "I was the executor and benefactor of your Will, Mer, which, by the way, thanks for leaving everything to me. Wow, you weren't lying about the wages, were you?"

"No, no, I wasn't, and can we go inside?" He hated standing on the steps, and why was she clinging to him like that? His muscles were tense, and he didn't like the way it slipped over patches where he felt nothing at all. "Except I don't think I'm going to try to convince you to work for the governments of the world, particularly the United States, not today."

Jeannie let go and looked at him "No, I'm thinking they suck as potential employers at the moment. Come inside, you look cold and... thin. Really thin, Mer."

She held the door open, and Rodney focused on what he was doing about the whole putting one foot in front of the other as he walked, while trying to carry his suitcase. It wasn't usually a problem, but that plane ride, and all of the people in the airport, it was harrowing. "Yeah, didn't you hear? The POW diet is all the rage."

"Little severe if you ask me," Jeannie practically took the luggage from him. "I've done the spare room for you, through here. And you need a drink. I was going to suggest going out for dinner but..." But she probably had taken one look at him and changed her mind. That was pretty not-at-all flattering, because if he looked bad enough that she didn't want to be seen in public with him, then...

That or he looked wound up enough. Rodney let her take his suitcase, and peered around while she closed the front door. "It was a long flight."

"Right... right. Okay, we'll get take out. Kaleb is away with work, some academic conference, and Maddie is at a sleepover tonight," Jeannie said. "I thought you might not want too much going on."

And she obviously wanted to talk about things.

Not that Rodney wanted to talk about things. He'd done too much talking about it, building up biting walls and he couldn't do that at his sister the same way he could do it elsewhere. "I just, uh, need some time to get acquainted with living again."

"Mer, you needed that before. Sit, I'll get you some coffee or something and you can tell me about what's happened," Jeannie looked at him. "I need to know whose asses I need to kick."

"They're dead." Rodney said that before he even fully processed the thought, and added, "Well, and they're not really reachable, but also, they're dead. That wasn't the actual plan, but I don't think any of us regret how it happened."

"You... Did John kill them?" Jeannie said and it was a little comforting and disturbing that she could assume things like he started wars but found it hard to think of him as a killer.

"It was accidental. We transported them off of their ship, and...." Rodney waved a hand slightly as she steered him into the kitchen. "It glitched. I watched it glitch, and I knew that we'd transported them into nothing."

"Oh." Jeannie looked at him even as she fiddled with the coffee machine. "Good. I'm not going to be sorry for them after what they've done to all of you. They didn't tell me much except that you might be fragile. I told them that was one thing you've never been in your life."

"We..." Maybe he was fragile. Or something. Maybe the SGC wanted him to think that he was fragile, which was a lot more double thinking than Rodney suspected they had the foresight to do. "It was rough."

Jeannie was looking at him as she got the coffee and eventually said. "You know, you're freaking me out a little, Mer, I've never seen you like this. You get angry about things. Bitter. Shout and rage. You're too quiet."

She handed him a cup and sat next to him.

"I shouted. I raged. I got electrocuted enough times that I moved on to plotting." Rodney rolled his shoulders, sliding his hands around the cup. "We've been free for... a while. Enough time to start trying to put things together."

Jeannie winced a little in sympathy. " long was it? That you were a prisoner?"

She sounded like she didn't know what questions to ask that might be difficult.

If Rodney was honest, they all were. Every question was hard and he wanted to answer none of them. "About eight months. Give or take."

"That's a long time," Jeannie said. "Since you're being avoidant, how are the others?"

That was almost familiar, the way Jeannie didn't feel the need to tiptoe around him. He'd missed that, and he got enough of it with John. Less with Carson, except when he was being stubborn. Then Carson could, well, out stubborn him completely. "Carson's visiting his mother. John went looking for his brother. Teyla and Ronon are with Lorne."

"Okay, John has a brother?" Jeannie said. "Since when? And Teyla and Ronon with Major Lorne... what's that all about? You and John, well yeah, no surprises there but... explain how that all works out."

Rodney sat up a little. "Wait, wait, John and I what?"

"John? And you? The whole magnetic antagonism thing? You either drove each other nuts while you were prisoners or things developed. As you're still alive, I'm guessing things developed," Jeannie pointed out as she sipped her drink, curling her legs up on the couch.

"He still drove me nuts." Rodney huddled in on his coffee. "This is so much better than what they had on ship. You would have loved to see it. We had a standoff with the Daedalus. They wouldn't lower their weapons, we wouldn't lower our shields."

Jeannie rolled her eyes. "Why? I mean... you're on the same side right? At least I thought you were. Or did you claim Atlantis for Canada?"

"It's new Atlantis now. Mark II. Which is also a very long story. The original was destroyed. The sequel is... amazing. Completely mine and John's doing." There was no way he could say that and not feel a little proud.

"Really?" Jeannie sat up. "How did that happen? I mean you couldn't've built it so it had to be self-building. Von Neumann machines... nanotech of some description? Did you program it or something?

"Hysterically, we just planted it in the water of an uninhabited planet that was mostly water and high in minerals. We came back and it was instant city." Of course, picking the perfect city and throwing hope to the wind in face of the impending destruction, that had been hard.

"Did it have 'comes up Ancient cities' on the packet or something?" Jeannie asked rhetorically. "So you lost Atlantis but got it back, and you were were you captured? Was it just your team and Major Lorne?"

"We were covering for the evacuation." And it felt a little bit, no, a lot like he was being interrogated, but he was also being given coffee, and he was sitting on a sofa in a place where all the lights were low wattage energy saving fluorescents. "There were seventeen of us. They just beamed us up."

"Not much you can do against that. Although..." Jeannie pondered. "Theoretically... has anyone ever thought of developing a jammer for beam ups? It should be possible and it would stop those Wraith things, ships, planes. In theory, you could have a transmitter that..." She was half looking into space and his interrogators never did that.

Rodney took the opportunity to sink back and sip at his coffee, leisurely. "I can't hold a thought that isn't part of an immediate threat right now. You might want to write that down."

"Maybe we'll work on it a bit later," Jeannie acknowledge and grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled a couple of notes. "So they caught you and then... spent the rest of the time turning you into slaves?"

"Yeah." It seemed so short and simple that way, except that it wasn't that easy. "Yeah. Essentially."

Jeannie nodded. "So... what have you got weird about? What should I avoid?" she asked. "What can I do?"

"I, uh. I don't know. We haven't been..." Rodney shrugged. "I mean, we spent a lot of time together. The six of us."

"So... what?" Jeannie asked tilting her head. "You haven't been apart? You're finding that hard? From all of them?"

Was he? There was no Carson giving quiet assurances, no John to shore up, no Teyla keeping things quietly running, no Lorne and Ronon... "I think I am."

Jeannie scooted a little sideways towards him and tentatively put her arm around him. "I'm sorry, Mer. I don't know what to do to help. You've told me I can't kick their asses for you, but I don't know what else you need."

He shifted, forced himself to relax against her. "I, uh. I don't know what, either."

"I just want to make it better for you. Are you going to be okay with Madison coming back? Do you want me to tell her that you're recovering from something?" Jeannie asked and he wasn't used to his sister being like this. Caring and gentle. Usually the pair of them sparked off of each other.

It was almost creepy, but Rodney just shifted his fingers on the mug. "No, it'll be fine. I just... It was a lot of sexual abuse. We had fine genetic material, according to the Dzomari."

"Well, yes but... there's no such thing as 'just a lot of sexual abuse'," Jeannie said. "Jesus, Mer, you sound like you expect it."

"I have, and that's the problem. We had to do things just to stay fed that would turn your stomach." It turned his. He was still bothered by the fact that the average marriageable age was as soon as possible, and when it was the fifteen year olds together, okay, fine, because the planet of the kids didn't bother him except that they'd been committing mass suicide, but what they'd done, bought and paid for was... Not okay.

He knew that disturbed Carson a lot, particularly as Carson seemed to get a lot of the virgin girls for some reason. He sometimes wondered if it were that more than the cutting incident that made him so ill most of the time.

"What sort of thing?" Jeannie asked in a quiet voice.

"The Dzomari visited a lot of recently culled planets. Population was low, they... provided people of good genetic material to breed with the population, for a price. For certain acts, we got a certain number of tokens, and it was a ridiculous ratio. We needed ten for a meal, and intercourse with a girl was six. The more bizarre, the more tokens, and some of them were pretty degrading, but our work kept John fed, paid for his medical."

He could see his sister quickly worked out the difficulty with that system. "So how did you get fed? If all your effort went on John?"

"Right. John spent a lot of time catering to the more depraved on each planet. A lot of people wanted to pretend they were Wraiths, and he had the feeding scar on his chest already." And Rodney had kept it shaved clean, which had added to their tokens. It was funny that some of their more intimate moments were enforced.

"...that's just... really really disturbing," Jeannie said looking over at him. "Why would someone want to do that? I mean.... why?"

Power, control. Something Pegasus lacked.

"If cows could, don't you think they're pretend to be at the top of the food chain once in a while?" Rodney smirked a little, twisting to look at her.

"There's a reason we're vegetarian," Jeannie replied. "Seriously though, I'm not sure I can get my head around it."

John hadn't said much about it, only that it generally involved 'cocooning' sometimes with a means of pain or stimulation in with him and access to various orifices and fake attempts at feeding.

"I didn't particularly find it interesting, myself, but sex is..." Rodney waved his free hand slightly. "It's not as appealing as it was."

"Well, obviously," Jeannie replied. "And I'm betting they have you in some hideous military sponsored therapy that expects you to suck it up and carry on. I take it from what you've said, it was male and female?"

"Actually, we marched out of the therapy." Jeannie's expression shifted a little, and Rodney cut in, "Well, he was advocating that we were supposed to be angry with each other. And, we're not."

"Not sure why you'd be angry with each other. Co-dependent and clingy makes more sense to me." Jeannie said. "But I'm no counselor, Mer, and I don't know what the deal is. I don't want to make things worse."

"I miss them. And there's no reason to be angry. We're more... worried. We're all hoping Teyla's baby is John's or Lorne's." But it wasn't something they talked about. She was pregnant and they'd worked to make sure she had enough to eat, anything she needed.

"They'll miss you too, Mer," Jeannie said. She sat for a moment. "So, what can I get you to eat? We've got take out. Some of the places even do meat."

"I want really... really bad Chinese. With deep fried things." Rodney kept his eyes on her, rolling his shoulders again. "Chicken."

"Now that we can do," Jeannie said. "Here, I'll get the take out menu and you order what you want. I'll mock your choices and make my own. And we'll get some wine and maybe watch TV or something. And if you want to talk, you talk. I'm not going to force you."

"There's not much to talk about," Rodney murmured, scooting down a little in the sofa, but. He probably would. His sister had a way of pulling it out of him.

"Yes, well, the day you have little to talk about is the day I know things are very wrong," Jeannie said. "So at least you're saying something. You've got a home and family here, Mer, and we'll get your money transferred back to you as well. It'll be okay, I promise you that."

"The money doesn't matter. I can make more. I will make more." He just... felt listless, lost, and that was strange for him.

Usually he had a purpose. Even among the Dzomari and beyond, he had a purpose with John and Carson. But right now he felt things were unraveling and he didn't know how to stop it.

He just wasn't sure how to express that to his sister.

It was Rodney's luck that the cable would go out while he was there. It seemed to be proof that the world worked against him, just a little, because his sister needed to stay at home during the 'window' to meet the repair man who would inevitably hem and haw, and shrug his shoulders and turn around and fiddle in the box outside before, voila, the cable turned back on. It wasn't even that going to pick Madison up after school was that hard. She was in kindergarten, and there was a 'program of play' after schooling ended which just... baffled Rodney.

Preprogrammed recess.

He was pretty sure that had never happened when he'd been at school. But on the other hand, his school days had been atypical in themselves. Play was something that happened to other people. He'd offered to fix the cable but apparently that would invalidate the warranty or contract or something so instead he was being useful by going to pick up his niece.

Which, at the moment, involved standing here on the edges of the playground until they were given the go ahead to go in and pick up their children.

"Are you a new parent?" a voice said very close to him and an immaculately turned out woman was standing next to him. "I'm sure I would've noticed you before."

"I'm Madison's uncle." He glanced at her, looking just for a moment. She seemed like a semi-socialite, and that was sort of to be expected. They existed. They sometimes even sent their kids to public school.

"Oh yes, Jeannie's Miller's brother?" she said. "My name is Deborah Hendersen. It was Weston of Weston, Inc, but I went back to my maiden name when we divorced." She gave a laugh. "I'm reminding myself as much as telling you actually... I still catch myself responding to Mrs. Weston. I believe Jeannie said you work for the government?"

"For the Americans." He slipped his hands into his pockets, twisting a little to look at her, while trying to keep half an eye on the playground. The kids had to be on some kind of timer system, and Jeannie hadn't said when they'd get out, just that they would.

"As long as they pay well," she said smiling at him, moving closer. "Are you on vacation? From what I remember, Jeannie doesn't see much of you."

She was implying they spoke often, but surely Jeannie would've mentioned his supposed death if they were good friends.

"Yeah. For a while, she thought I was dead." He lifted his eyebrows, feigning good humor because the woman was clearly just a class-A gossip. "I had some time coming to me."

That stopped her normal flow of patter with surprise. "Well... heavens," Deborah said. "She thought you were dead? What happened?"

All her attention was focused on him and she was close enough to smell her perfume.

He took a step backwards, but the flowery smell stuck in the back of his sinuses. "I just got caught up in my work."

"It must be very important work to be that consuming," Deborah said, managing to stay close in his space. "I'm sure it's fascinating."

Having sex with anything that walked or even exhaled, sure, that was fascinating. Providing semen samples and patching together a neglected ship... "Uh, it was. Physics, weaponry, that sort of... thing."

"Oh really?" Deborah said. "It must be very difficult to maintain a relationship with that sort of pressure."

Okay, he wasn't imagining it because he could feel a touch on his arm without warning.

He should have flinched. He should have flinched, but he didn't and he couldn't, and he just stood there, staring at her a little. "Actually, my, my boyfriend's just tied up with work right now. You'd be surprised how well things work under pressure."

"Oh... Oh right, you're... homosexual," she smiled at him, more regretful than condemning. "Well, that's a shame. It's so unusual to find interesting men around here, and you're certainly interesting..."

"And gay," he blurted, glancing towards the playground. "When do they let them out of this 'structured play', anyway?"

"In about two minutes," Deborah replied. "You know. It's nice to have someone to talk to. You don't want to meet for a drink sometime do you? A coffee?"

She obviously didn't take no for an answer, and he needed her to take no for an answer. Rodney squinted his eyes shut for a moment. "Look, I'm here visiting my sister because I'm crumbling under the stress of my job, so no, I don't want a drink or coffee, I want to go back to my sister's house and help Madison make playdough sculptures while her hippy father cooks tofu."

"Okay, just a friendly gesture. I was only asking..." Deborah stepped back, rebuffed, even as the doors opened and children started to stream out, which seemed to be a signal of some kind for people.


Rodney stepped away from her, eyes fixed on the doors, scanning for Madison. He hadn't tackled the woman, he hadn't responded to an obvious invitation to have sex with her, and that was good, had to be good, on some level.

"Uncle Mer!" Madison ran over to him, practically limpeting herself around his legs and waist. "You're picking me up!"

"Yes, yes I am, because the cable guy is inconveniencing your mother so you can watch cartoons tonight." He hugged her tight, and tried to heft her up. "C'mon. Homeward bound."

She giggled and clung to him, happy to see him and totally oblivious to the turmoil in his head or what caused it. "Will you watch cartoons with me?"

"Only if you don't sing along to the opening themes." Rodney turned, a little unsteady, but the car was close and borrowed. He tried to fish the keys out one handed.

Madison giggled again. "Okay." She seemed content to be carried. He, on the other hand was feeling very shaky for some reason, which was stupid.

He was safe. He was better than safe, he was home with his sister, but his heart was racing and his breath was shallow and he was having a panic attack, but he wasn't in a small room at all. "Okay, down you go. Does your mother still put you in your booster seat in the back?"

"No, I'm too big for that now," Madison declared.

He wanted, oh god, he wanted Carson there, Carson and John because they could just stop this feeling. He just had to get Maddie home then he could lock himself in the guest room and lose it.

"Okay. Shotgun, then?" He hovered behind her, key at the ready, trying to will her to get into the car faster before he remembered that it was just a button push to unlock the doors.

"Yey!" Madison waited until he opened the door and got in. He could see his hands shaking as he got in the car. Stupid, it wasn't like he didn't know what to do with a woman. There was no reason to react like this to flirtation.

He'd done a lot with women lately, and it was, it wasn't all bad but most of it was because there were the drugs running things, and he hated not being able to think and control his reactions.

Rodney pulled on the seatbelt, slipped the key into the ignition, and immediately cracked the windows for air.

Madison didn't seem to notice for a bit, at least happily babbling on about her day at school. "...and then we did some reading practice only I've read all the books already so I know what's going to happen. Mommy says they need to get more... difficult books for me but they never do. But then we did pictures and I drew a picture of you for the fridge at home."

"Yeah? You'll have to show it to me when we get home." Home, her home, his sister's home. Rodney took a deep breath, focusing on stilling his hands before he turned the car on, he engine jolting to life.

"Are you staying for long, Uncle Mer?" Madison asked. "You could stay forever!" She sounded very hopeful somehow, like she actually wanted him to be around.

Maybe she did. He was one more person to give her attention, one more person to play with her. "I'll be here for a few weeks. But I'm going to visit a lot, whenever I can."

"You're fun," Madison declared with the disarming honesty of the very young. "Visiting is good and we could visit you some times. Where do you live?"

In another galaxy. One day, when she was older and possibly had the security clearance, they could tell her. "Colorado Springs. NORAD is right there."

Madison nodded as if she knew what that meant even as they drove home. "Do you have a someone like mommy has daddy?"

Someone. 'Someone' made him think that Madison had already been given some form of open-mindedness speech, which was sort of heartening, but he wasn't sure if he'd want his five year old niece even thinking about that sort of thing. Ever. Not that he'd have a five year old unless, on some fluke of a chance, Teyla's baby was his.

Then he wouldn't have a five year old because Ronon would decapitate him. "Uh, I sort of do."

"Can I visit them too?" Madison asked looking at him. "Jamie has two daddies and two mommies. They all live together. Mom says that they are... having their cake and eating it. I think that would be a good thing."

And he had a horrible suspicion a five year old was telling him she was okay with his lifestyle choices.

"If, uh. If their vacations go well for them, probably. They'd love to meet you."

"What are their names?" Madison asked innocently and at least it was distracting from his incipient panic attack. Just thinking about them helped.

He focused on that, while he pulled out of the parking lot. Just breathe, he could just breathe and they'd be home soon. "Carson and John."

"Carson is a strange name," Madison decided swinging her legs a little in the front seat. "What are they like? I have an Uncle Bob but I don't like him much. He's not as fun as you and he ignores me to talk to Daddy."

Huh. Rodney smirked a little, fingers still tight on the steering wheel. "I'm glad I haven't met Uncle Bob. They're... nice. Carson's a doctor, and he's very smart. John's in the military, but he's not what you'd think of when you think 'military'. Unless you've actually worked for the military, which I'm sure your mother will never let you do, and then you'll understand that the goofy edge is more normal than you'd otherwise assume."

"I like doctors because you're a doctor and so is mommy, and even the doctors at the hospital were very nice to me when I had to go because they thoughy I had an... allergy." Madison proclaimed. "But it's only to kiwi fruit and I don't like that anyways."

"You're allergic to kiwi?" That wasn't even citrus, and Rodney shot her a briefly horrified look.

"Uh-huh. Mom thought it was going to be... uh..." Madison was thinking. "Oranges and lemons and things because that was in the fruit salad I was eating when I felt all funny, but it wasn't. They did tests and it was kiwi."

"Oh, well. On the bright side, it's not used very often. So, you're all right with orange juice?" The forbidden fruit as far as Rodney was concerned and he'd kept trying to eat and drink it as a kid. Since it was something so strange, Madison would probably be all right.

His niece giggled a little and nodded. "Uncle Mer? We need to turn here," she said gesturing to a junction that was coming up fast.

Shit, shit. He should have recognized that, too, so he braked, slowing down, and at least he didn't overshoot the turn. "Hah, got it."

That made Madison giggle again and she was looking at him like there was nothing wrong with him. Like she couldn't see the experiences and guilt and shame that clung around all of them who had been prisoners of the Dzomari. She was just look at him as if he were completely normal. It made it was little easier to sink back against the seat, relaxing into the drive a little. "So, what do you want to do when we get home?"

"Can we play a game? I have some great things to play with!" And knowing his sister a lot of them would be vaguely educational. "Did you have lots of toys, Uncle Mer?"

"I, I have a few." He lifted his chin a little. "Well, had. I need to buy new ones, now, I think. Except my toys are all electronics."

"You can borrow some of mine," Madison said. "And then we can go shopping. And you can buy presents for ...Uncle John and Uncle Carson."

It wasn't actually such a bad idea, seeing as John and Carson were also working with the same bare bones that Rodney had. "You just want to drag me through a mall."

"Mom says you need new clothes," Madison said, and it seemed the McKay bluntness has passed down the generations. She beamed at him. "And we can have lunch and have the best milkshakes ever in the mall."

"I've missed milkshakes. You know, for a kindergartener, you're a little schemer." Rodney glanced at her for a moment, but mostly kept his eyes on the road as they drove. "Tell me when I'm getting close."

"To home or the mall?" Madison was practically bouncing. He seemed to remember that Jeannie had been like that when she was young -- way beyond her years and able to get her own way about everything.

"Home. We can't go anywhere without your mother." Her father now, Rodney was all right with abandoning.

"Aww..." Madison pouted a little but it didn't last. She pointed ahead of them up the road. "Up there," she said and it was pretty impressive that she obviously knew the route so clearly. "I want to tell Mommy we're going shopping!"

"Be sure to tell your mother that you suckered me into it. The key word is 'suckered'," Rodney insisted as he coasted up to the stop sign. "Left or right?"

"Right," Madison said with great certainty. "Suckered..." She giggled again at him and it was just all so normal. They didn't have children on the Dzomari ships that weren't of the Dzomari themselves. Other children were taken and sold on to population desperate peoples. He'd never thought himself any good with children but Madison did seem to take to him for some reason.

Possibly because he spoke to her like she was a little adult. He'd always warmed to that himself, and given how smart she was it was true. She was smarter than most of the Dzomari had been and not anywhere near as sick. "Completely. For milkshakes, no less."

"You'll like them too," she answered. "I promise. There's our house!"

And somehow he'd made it, and the panic attack hadn't got him after all.

Just when he thought things couldn't get worse, the world turned around and made it obvious that he had no imagination when it came to how bad it could get.

It should've been a joyous reunion. It should've been a moment of homecoming, a moment of reconnection. All of those things that the therapist had told him and then...

His mother hadn't recognized him. And he thought, hey that reaction's getting pretty old, even though he knew that he was very thin, very stripped down, not his usual self.

But then he realized that she really didn't recognize him. That her mind his sister Sian had said, slipped a wee bit.

She looked at him blindly, talking to him as if he was a stranger and his brothers and sisters all looked at him in a way he couldn't bear.

After an excruciating day and night trying hard not to wish he hadn't come back at all to see this, he packed and flew back to Colorado, and disappeared into the accommodation provided.

Alzheimer's, they said. It was a simple diagnosis, but it rang hollow in Carson's mind because it was something he couldn't fix. Back at Atlantis, he still would have needed months of time. Here on Earth, there was no way he could introduce something so experimental to the population at large.

But it was his mother and her last lucid thoughts must've been of him dead and he'd never gotten to say goodbye to the strong, compassionate woman who had raised a horde of children on a shoestring with amazing good humor and ingenuity and managed to somehow get all of them to be happy.

He wasn't entirely sure, but his brother Duncan hadn't been overly subtle in implying it was the shock of his KIA notice that had tipped her over the edge.

He didn't need that. God, he didn't need that, he was barely hanging in as it was since he came back. He'd bought a lot of drink, closed the curtains and hidden away from everything. If not for John, Rodney and the others, he wasn't sure he could've stood it, and they were who knew where. He needed them just then, and he was back in Colorado Springs, killing time, not nearly making the most of it. Rodney was probably having a beautiful time with his sister, and John was, well. John was likely also drunk somewhere.

The stupid thing was, he had no tolerance for alcohol any more, not that he had much to start with and he knew it wasn't helping his recovery. The doctors at the SGC had been very unhappy with him as if the fact he was a doctor meant he should be in better shape than the others. Instead, he was apparently one very small step away from being admitted to an ICU, something he conveniently didn't tell the others.

He'd been good, but right now he wasn't. He was just drinking, crying because when else could he do that, and watching bad TV, and getting maudlin.

His mother didn't know him and his family hadn't known what to do with him, and he didn't know what to do with himself, except sustain himself. Going out, being in the company of others for long periods of time, it wasn't worth it. He had to smile, and he had to pretend to be healthy and normal, and he knew he looked hollowed out.

Best to stay in. There was a vague problem in that he couldn't actually remember how long he'd been in this room with the curtains closed and the world shut away. Long enough that he didn't seem to be able to cry anymore.

And he wasn't sure if the pounding sound was in his head or at the door

"Hey, I know you're in there! Don't make me piss off management and break this door down!"

Carson groaned and frowned. That sounded like John. But John was visiting his brother or something and no one was meant to know he was back.

Getting to the door turned out to be almost more trouble than it was worth but he made it on the off chance it was John. He opened the door and squinted out.

"Hey. Take the chain off the door. You look like hell." It was John, or at least a good, slightly wobbly likeness of John.

"Bloody hell, what are you doing here?" Carson was aware his voice sounded very rough, if only from the fact he hadn't spoke to anyone for days. "You're meant to be... meant to be visiting your brother or something."

He took off the chain though.

"Yeah, well. I thought about it and figured I could watch football and drink instead. Jeannie apparently called around at the SGC looking for us." John stepped up, close into the doorway and then further, into the room.

Immediately, alarm prickled at him in a way that cut through his own concerns. "Why? What's happened? Has something happened to Rodney?"

"He's been..." John waved a hand back and forth. "Unsteady. She's worried. She also says that we have a codependent relationship, but he was threatening to file a restraining order against one of the mothers at the school where her daughter goes, so."

"We need to go find him. Get to him." Carson turned and nearly stumbled as he did so. "Crap. A codependent relationship is still a relationship."

"Yeah. I have her address and I promised to find you. I thought you'd still be in Scotland." John raised an eyebrow as he closed the door behind himself.

Carson looked away and then found himself looking at the rubbish all around. Empty bottles and very little else. "It wasn't a good trip."

"Liver still intact?" John's voice wasn't particularly chiding, but gentle. At least John could understand, and had probably been doing it on his own, if his trip to see his brother had been so bad.

"Under siege, but I only have to breath in fumes to get drunk," Carson said frankly. "And you? What happened with your visit?"

"Maybe I'll talk about it later." John's hands were in his pocket, and his posture was a little stiff. "But it wasn't Earth shattering."

He wanted to touch him but he wasn't sure how John would react because it had usually been him holding John not the other way around.

"My mother doesn't know me," Carson said in a soft voice. "She's... she's developed Alzheimer's while we were away. She had no idea who I was. My family doesn't know what to do with me and half blame me for my mother."

"Because clearly your family's genetics is your responsibility." John stepped a little closer, reaching a hand out to steady Carson. "I'm sorry."

"Whatever they thought going home was going to do for me has backfired spectacularly," Carson said. He exhaled. "I wanted you and Rodney there so much it hurt. It was that I was trying to drown as much as anything else. It was like someone had gnawed a hole in my gut."

"Yeah. My brother's living the perfect life. White picket fence, wife, dog, baby on the way and I just..." John's fingers were loose on his shoulder. "I'm sorry about your mother."

"I'm sorry that things weren't so good for you," Carson said. "And for being a whining fool. I was hoping to have this out of my system before anyone noticed."

Before it became any type of issue other than his own. "Your mother doesn't remember you. That's not whining."

"It is. It is when we have so many problems and secrets between us that it seems ridiculous." Carson leaned into John. "I've missed you, and Rodney and I just want for us to have what we can. But I keep thinking, what happens if..."

"If?" John shifted a little, and he wrapped one arm around Carson's shoulders. "I mean it, you look like hell. Are you all right?"

"If something happens to one of us. They split us up or try to..." Carson squinted his eyes a little. "I'm not really alright. I guess I've not been treating myself properly. They won't be happy with me."

"What're you supposed to be doing? We can hide out up near Rodney and his sister if you want. They're just dysfunctional enough to feel kind of at home." He started to walk Carson backwards towards the sofa.

"I'm supposed to be eating properly and," he glanced at the bottles, "that's gone by the board. I'd really like to go near Rodney..."

It would have to be tomorrow now though and he couldn't bear the thought of John leaving. "Will you stay?"

"Yeah. You want to go? I'll just hang out. I've got a suitcase in the car." He could imagine John throwing together a suitcase in an angry hurry after the call came. "I need to call and book tickets."

Carson nodded and looked at himself. "I'll uh... just clean up a little." He probably reeked of alcohol and sweat and that wasn't attractive to anyone, let alone luring John closer.

John visiting was a little like someone taking ice water and throwing it over him, never mind that John was already there. "Okay. If you want to. I mean, I can book tickets either way, I just don't want to get thrown off the plane because neither one of us is sober."

"You too?" Carson paused as he was about to stagger to the bathroom. He needed to pull himself together so he could help John.

So they could help Rodney, and perhaps it was a sign that none of them were well, but it was also a way to function through it. "A little. Don't call the cops on me, and I promise we won't go anywhere until tomorrow."

"Definitely not," Carson said. "You call and we'll try and get ourselves a little more together. What did Jeannie say about Rodney not coping well?

"Just that he was 'sort of falling apart'." John threw in air quotes, ghosting after Carson while he pulled away. "Depressed, I guess."

"You know, I don't think we pass for normal now," Carson said in a low voice. "It's hard. All I can think about is how I want to go to sleep and wake with you there, Rodney there and know I don't have to do anything."

"Yeah, I'm thinking we should have taken our show on the road, traveled as a group." John glanced around Carson's hotel room. "So. You gonna wash up while I try to get us good seats? You'll feel better."

"Yes," he said and felt vaguely ashamed and guilty that it had needed John to turn up and find him wallowing like this to get him motivated. "Sorry, John."

"Don't apologize. There's nothing to apologize for." John leaned against what was passing as a dining table.

There was plenty to apologize for and Carson knew it. He hadn't helped much during their incarceration and he had been the only one who knew even a fraction of what John wasn't saying through treating his injuries. The fact John was even managing to put on a normal front was a miracle.

He didn't say anything, just went to try and make himself presentable. That involved a hot shower, plenty of scrubbing, throwing out his clothes, shaving with an unsteady hand and looking at himself in the mirror and wondering how much people could read in his face before he put on a robe, wandering out unsteadily.

"Yeah, First Class. Mm, side by side. No return flight, right, we'll figure out how long we're staying when we get up there. Yes, I'm aware that booking round trip is cheaper. Still don't know when we're coming back. Just a couple of weeks, and we -- okay, actually, I don't want to set off red flags for the authorities, so we'll book a return flight for two weeks, how about that?"

It sounded like John had things well in hand and Carson belatedly tidied up the rubbish while he finished the conversation. He'd get some room service or something up because John would probably need to eat and....

This was a really bad time for his libido to start throwing its weight around. They hadn't really done anything like that after the drugs. Maybe not truly willingly for a long long time and here he was thinking about how good it would be to do that with John. Just enjoy another human touch, to feel like less of a waste. But he wanted it, whether it was improbable or not, and John was leaning over the table, muttering into his cell phone.

By the time he had finished on the phone, the room was looking habitable and he had unearthed his medication and was considering taking it.

"All booked?" he asked. "It was a bloody relief to get my assets unfrozen, I can tell you and get a credit card again."

"Get anything again," John shrugged. "What's that?"

"What?" Carson glanced at the pills in his hand. "Oh, aye. Just a wee bit of medication I need to catch up on. Nothing too major. I just lost track of things for a little while."

"I'm just curious about what kind. Is it the kind that doesn't mix well with alcohol, you know, important things like that." John walked, no, sauntered just a little closer.

Carson looked at them again and hesitated. Ordinarily he would've said no problem but he knew if he was looking at a patient with a constitution like his right now and who had been drinking he'd say no.

He put them down. "I'll wait." He looked at John. "I feel a little more human now."

But still out of control enough to step towards John and reach for him.

John didn't duck him, though Carson might have ducked himself if he'd been John. "Shooting high, huh?"

"Very," he answered. He gave a dry laugh. "Is it a bad thing that I can't tell anymore that I want you because I want you or if I'm having some strange withdrawal reaction again?"

"I think we're all past the withdrawal reactions." Whether that was good or bad, Carson wasn't sure. John reached hands out, grasped Carson's shoulders. "I missed you and Rodney."

"Did you?" Carson asked, not pulling away. He looked directly into John's eyes. "I think I more than missed you two." He moved closer into John's space. "You should say no if you don't want to get closer than just touching, John. I never want to make you uncomfortable."

He could see John's mouth go a little slack, while he exhaled. "Look, I'm not any good at this."

"Not good at what?" Carson asked and the shift in role gave him stability. This he understood.

"This. Emotions, saying what I..." John shifted, pulled Carson closer. "You mean a lot to me."

"You don't have to tell me. Show me if it's easier," Carson encouraged. "But... the last thing I want is to be wondering if I'm making you do something you don't want. The stress of it might rupture an ulcer or something."

"See, ulcers you need to tell me about. Seriously, are you okay?" John peered at him, but he was close enough, face-to-face enough with Carson that he could feel him when he exhaled. Oh, yes, he was just a little drunk.

He'd been lying a lot about that and he shrugged and found himself shaking his head a little instead of just claiming to be fine. "I'm not going to hospital, John, or staying in the infirmary any more. Anyway, it's nothing that time won't deal with."

"Okay. I want you to be honest with us, though. Rodney-level of honest." Rodney who went on too much about his health, good or bad, except when it was dire. "Possibly better."

"The problem is I don't even think about it," Carson said. "I just... I don't. But I promise to be honest if you will as well. Tell me if you're not doing so well, okay?"

"No problem." John shifted, slipping an arm around Carson instead of just holding his shoulders hostage. "We should sit down, order food in, and sober up a little. Huh?"

"Sounds like a plan," Carson said. "What time is the flight?"

"Seven forty-five, and we need to be there early." John leaned in once he'd pulled Carson down on the sofa. "We should rest."

There went any vague drunken induced plans to lure John. He leaned into John and sighed. "Order what you want, John. I'll have some of the same."

"Burger?" John shifted, slouching. "I'd love to do a lot more with you, right now, but I'm kind of a mess."

"I am, too, and a burger sounds wonderful," Carson said, even though he was just hoping it would stay wonderful.

They had to get up early in the morning, and after food, hopefully he'd feel a little more human than he did with just the shower and the robe. "Great. I'll order it, then."

Visiting his 'family' had been the worst idea ever and John wasn't sure if it hadn't been that which had tripped Rodney up. His brother, David, was married, with a wonderful home, kids and his wife, Nancy, who was incidentally John's ex.

It was never comfortable at the best of times, but this time he had felt completely alien. As if he was tainting them by just being near them even if they didn't know the details.

What if that was what was happening with Rodney? Maybe coming here wasn't the best idea. But Carson had needed focus because for all his protestations, he still looked bad even clean-shaven and washed up. He looked hollowed out. So he hadn't come home to the perfect family scenario. At least his family had come right out and called him a fuckup, blamed him in words instead of looks, where John had gotten it in vague hints. And the fact that his ex-wife had kids. With his brother. Kids, and he'd always wanted kids, but she hadn't, not with him, and that was... that was a knife in the ribs, even if he was an uncle.

John just wasn't going to think about the fact that his brother's dick had gone to the same lands his had. It was actually a tiny bit creepy, and kind of heartening that there was anything sexual that could still make him twinge.

What had really thrown him, though, was the realization that he was never going to have that. Never going to 'one day' have the home, the picket fence even if he was lucky. At some point, a normal life had been denied to him and he wasn't sure when it had waved goodbye, but he was damn sure the deal with the Dzomari had slammed the door shut and welded it closed with titanium plates. He'd looked at friends of his brother and his mind had automatically calculated what their kink was and how he could've got the most out of them just while he was saying hi.

He guessed it was better than lining up shots in his head, the wind speed and angle he needed and what gun would work best for what target, but he'd done that before. Last time.

Yeah, somewhere in there his chances at a normal life had gotten shot the fuck to hell. Guess the kink was at least harmless, but he was pretty sure that one of his brother's friends had gotten a vibe off of him and had been a good day away from offering John a little fun.

"Hey, Carson. Time to wake up."

That had been the point to leave.

Carson stirred in the front seat of the rental car next to him and blinked blearily as if he had only started sleeping since last night when he'd come around. "Don't tell me I fell asleep again? Bloody Hell. I did enough of that on the plane."

"Better sleeping than drinking. I thought for a while they were going to cart that one guy to the back door and just throw him off the plane. I might have helped if it wouldn't have depressurized us all." John darted a glance over at Carson, smiling as lightly at the other man as he could. "We're almost there."

"Did you tell Jeannie we were going to come down? Or did you spot any hotels as we came in?" Carson asked, getting himself up to speed. "Somehow I don't think we can assume she will put all of us up, though I'm willing to sleep on the floor. It's not like we're not used to it."

"I called Jeannie, and we passed a few cheap motels on the way. We can double back afterwards, if we can't get ourselves into a niche." John was sort of interested in saving the money. His brother had promised to give back some of what he was willed after John's demise, but John knew his ex-wife. He was starting over from scratch, because she'd keep her claws in everything just to piss him the fuck off. She'd probably married his brother for the same reason, except he hadn't been paying attention. It served her right that she'd apparently fallen in love with him.

Carson seemed to pick up on the fact that he had mentioned cheap and frowned. "John... are you not getting your money back? You should have plenty. Mine was processed very swiftly."

"Yeah, well. I have a brother. And his wife. And their kids. And guess where everything was willed to when I was declared KIA? I bet you can guess how they paid for their house, too." It was easy to see where Rodney's bitterness over it had come from, but Rodney was probably getting it all back. John knew Jeannie well enough to guess that. Or at least enough that he wasn't starting from scratch again.

"Then I'll pay," Carson said. "I am lucky, all of my brothers and sisters have done well for themselves, and they didn't want to touch my assets. They put it in to support my mother, which frankly I would do anyway. I suppose there is a silver lining here. You could take legal action, and you'll get a compensation package from the military for the mistake. You did know that, right?"

"Hadn't really thought about it." John rolled his shoulders slightly. "I'll look into it tomorrow or so. I'm just not comfortable suing my brother."

"It's the SGC who owe you, so they have to get it back or give you back pay, but don't worry about money for now," Carson said looking around. "Which number is it?"

"904." John glanced at the mailboxes, trying to catch sign of the numbers. "I, uh. You remember what Rodney's sister is like, right?"

"Aye, I do," Carson said. "But she definitely cares about him, otherwise she wouldn't've been so upset. There... on the left."

"Yeah, right." He spun the wheel to make the turn, coasting slowly into the driveway. "I know they care about each other. Just, it might be a little overwhelming."

For all of them. Carson seemed to understand that as they stopped and got out of the car. "Right then. Let's see if Rodney is doing better than us."

"At this point, who knows? He might be." Or he might not be. John had a head full of worries about what kind of state Rodney was in, but he wasn't going to play the guessing game.

Carson was out of the car and only hesitating a moment before striding up to the front door and ringing the bell as if he might lose his nerve if he waited. By the time John got there, the door was opening and Jeannie's expression of polite inquiry faded into shock. "John! Carson... I know you said... wow..." She was staring at them both. "Wow, I thought Rodney was in a bad way."

"Long time, no see." John pulled up a smile for her. "You said he needed help, and here we are."

"Aye, we came a running," Carson said with a smile.

"You barely look like you could stagger," Jeannie said. "Look, he's been... not good for a few days. Local maneater's been on the prowl after him and it sent him into panic attacks."

"The lady you said he was threatening to take a restraining order out on?" John leaned in a little closer, trying to see past Jeannie.

"That's the one. Look, come on in. He's been hiding in his room a lot and playing with Maddie. She seems to help," Jeannie said. "I think he'll be relieved to see you."

"We'll be much the same way," Carson said in a soft voice even as he edged inside. "Where's his room?"

"Up the stairs. It's the guest room, uhm, on the right. It's hard to miss." Jeannie folded her arms, but her posture was worried. "So where are you guys staying?"

"We haven't got that far yet," Carson said apologetically. "We can find somewhere local, or if Rodney needs us to stay, we're both able to sleep on the floor or couch if necessary."

"You guys can stay here," she offered. "You look like you could use some home cooking. It's the only thing I'm sure I'm doing right with Rodney."

"Thanks. We won't take up much space and we might migrate to a motel after a couple of days." John eyed the stairs and started towards them.

"I'll be making dinner, and you will be eating all of it." She gave Carson a hard look. "Now go see if you can stop him hiding. That's not the Mer I know."

John was pretty sure it wasn't the Rodney they knew either, and he didn't like the thought of Rodney being that way.

It took too long to mount the stairs, and it was only once he'd taken them two at a time to the top that he thought to call out, "Rodney? Rodney, its John..."

There wasn't a reply and that had Carson hunting down the hallway and then knocking on the closed door. "Rodney, love? You in there?"

It seemed like it'd be the right door. John stepped in closer to Carson, and put a hand on the doorknob. "Rodney? It's John and Carson. Your sister called us."

"... Really?"

"Aye, it is us, and she does know how to use a phone," Carson said a little dryly and then added in a soft voice. "We've both really missed you, Rodney. We should never have been separated like this."

John was just grateful that Carson was saying these things because it meant he didn't have to. "Open the door, Rodney, otherwise I'll have to try and batter it down and that just won't be pretty."

"Hold on. I've got it locked." He could hear springs squeak, so that meant that Rodney had probably been on the bed. There was a pause before the door pulled open. "You're really here."

"No, Rodney, we're holograms," John teased but he was smiling at him inanely and couldn't help it.

"Can we come in?" Carson asked. "Jeannie was very worried about you and got hold of John, who came and found me and we got the earliest flight."

"You guys should be with your families. Why're you..." Here, John could guess, but Rodney looked wild-eyed and tired at the same time, and John stepped into the room, inching his way in.

"Here's the thing," John said as he walked inside. "You pretty much are our family."

Carson blinked a few times. "Did you just say that?" he asked. "Or did I hallucinate it?"

John stopped, a little alarmed by the thought he had just made himself vulnerable that way but he didn't deny it. He just shrugged. "We had shitty visits."

"You had shitty visits," Rodney repeated, looking between them and stepping back. "I've, I've been trying to keep myself together. For a while I think I was hallucinating that you were here, or hoping really hard, and, uh..."

"We'll, I'm pretty sure that if I was a hallucination I would be better looking," Carson joked and shut the door behind them.

"We're here now, Rodney," John said moving forward. "If it's any consolation, Jeannie's winning in the caring relative stakes." She'd called the SGC, who'd put her in contact with John, knowing that John would know how to hunt down Carson, and there they were, standing awkwardly in the guest bedroom while Rodney looked at them both in awe.

"Yeah, she does that. She's very competitive. Uh..."

"You're still not sure that we're real are you?" Carson said looking at Rodney. "John? Could you do something to convince Rodney we're not hallucinations?"

"Sure." Of course the only thing he could think of was kissing Rodney but that was okay. He stepped forward to do that.

Rodney went stiff, startled, but at least he was standing in one place, and after a few seconds he relaxed, lips loose against John's, shifting a hand to settle at John's waist. "Hnn."

Better. Better than talking even if he wasn't sure if he had done the right thing. He heard Carson exhale behind him and was dimly aware of him sitting down on the edge of the bed as he surfaced for air. This wasn't about sex, it was about Rodney.

"Convinced?" he murmured.

"Yeah. I, oh, god, I've been up here hallucinating, and everything's gone to hell, and there's no way they're going to send me back to Atlantis like this, no..." Rodney shivered, clutching tight to him, and it was sort of funny that Rodney still had his hand strength, that he could still grip hard enough to torque any wrench and leave a bruise on skin.

He didn't mind because it was almost familiar to feel like that. "Hey, at least you haven't been drunk off your ass," John murmured and saw Carson look down at his hand. He grimaced a little. He'd meant himself, not the other man.

"True. Just... I'm so glad you're both here." It sounded miserable and sheepish, and Rodney twisted, looking at Carson.

Carson smiled at him, visibly pulling himself together. "Aye, we are too. I think whatever it is, we need to work through this together like Teyla, Evan and Ronon are. They haven't separated them."

"Hey, team work is our strength, right?" John added.

"Hope they're all right." He sounded a little wistful, still clutching onto John as he meandered closer to the bed and Carson. "How, how's your mother?"

John winced a little. "Uh..Rodney..."

"It's okay, lad," Carson said and his voice remained quiet and soft. "She doesn't recognize me. She has a progressive dementia that apparently news of my death hastened."

Rodney sat down beside Carson then, expression tense. "You're definitely not hallucinations."

"No," John replied and shrugged a little. "Carson was on a liquid diet when I got to him."

The doctor looked a little embarrassed. "I was a wee bit emotional. And John wasn't so good himself."

"Brother married to my ex-wife, they've got kids, spent all my money," John summarized.

He could see Rodney grimace, shifting, looking between the two of them. "And they wondered why we'd want to go back. I, my sister's great. She cares. I just don't fit."

John knew that feeling. "I looked at all of my brother's friends and instantly calculated their sexual predilections. There was one guy who was about a day away from acting on it. I left."

"I went to a bar a couple of nights ago. Just to..." Rodney shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Stupid idea. Just stupid."

"What happened?" Carson asked, sounding alarmed. He seemed to be assuming more than just a few drinks.

And John was assuming, well... He wasn't sure what he was assuming, but he was going to guess that it had been a stupid idea. However, now wasn't exactly the time to lecture Rodney. "I had a couple of drinks, just to knock down my nerves. I thought, hey, I can stop freaking out about sex, and a bar is a great place to do it."

"Did it work?" Carson asked even as John settled closer to Rodney. That was better.

He could feel Rodney breathing, measured breaths, could feel his fingers shift on John's side, and his other hand wasn't in sight, so it was possible he'd made contact with Carson, more than just thigh against thigh and hip to hip.


"Didn't for me either," John admitted.

"I skipped the bar and just went for the alcohol," Carson replied. "I'm telling you, if not for you two, I.... I don't know what might have happened."

"You would have ended up in a bathroom, alternating between freaking out and finding it boring," Rodney deadpanned. "Then I came back, used up Jeannie's hot water and we played chutes and ladders. It's been... surreal."

"It sounds like it," Carson smiled but John had the distinct impression that the other man had effectively been confessing to a lot more than just needing to blot things out of his mind.

"So, what do you want to do now?" John asked. "We're here, and we're wrecks too."

"Sleep?" Rodney's laugh was a little too uneven, but at least it was there.

"Good idea," John said. "Carson started on a marathon session just before we came. Your sister is making dinner. We could nap a while or something?"

Carson could use the sleep, and John knew that even if he didn't sleep, he could lie there on the possibly too small bed and just enjoy the closeness of another human being, the same as he had the night before.

"Yeah." Rodney rubbed at his face, and then turned and leaned in to kiss Carson.

Carson seemed momentarily surprised and then responded to the kiss with visible desperation and need. So much so that John felt guilty for not picking up on the hints that Carson had been dropping the night before. It wouldn't've killed him just to give what was wanted to the one person who never demanded anything of him.

He just hadn't been able to relax, hadn't been able to get himself together enough to do that, to recognize what now felt like obvious hints. Rodney pulled back, and tipped his head down to rest on Carson's shoulder, breathing a little unsteadily.

"Sorry," Carson mumbled an apology and John reached over and put his arm around them both.

"Might not be the best time to go into that side of things considering it's your sister's house," John murmured. "But seems maybe libidos weren't killed off after all."

"Mine just threw a tiny party," Rodney mumbled against Carson's shoulder. "I missed you both so much."

"We're here now," Carson said gently. "And we're not going anywhere without you okay?"

John absently stroked at Rodney's neck. "What he said. We're staying here for a while, okay?"

"Okay. Yeah, that's..." Rodney shifted, trying to hang onto them both, and John decided to hell with it, it was time to lie down. Rodney never had been a good contortionist.

It was obvious, even to him, that Rodney needed to sleep and truth was, he was pretty damn tired himself and Carson definitely needed it.

"Here, let's just take it easy," John said, easing all of them down. "Get some rest before dinner."

"Aye, I could nap," Carson said. "C'mon Rodney."

He was easy to coax back, and when John pressed against Rodney, at least he felt comfortable. Boxer shorts and a t-shirt, good for sleeping in. Probably better than what he and Carson had on, but hey. Exhaustion was exhaustion. "Thanks. I..."

Words weren't really necessary with them. They'd had enough of that for the moment. Too many therapists poking at them, thinking they had a damn fucking clue what had happened and what it meant. "It's okay, Rodney," John said, settling with his arms around him, feeling Carson do the same on the other side of him and meeting the doctor's tired blue eyes for a moment. He was surprised to see gratitude there, as if he was somehow doing them all a favor when really it was the other way around.

If it weren't for them, he wasn't sure what he'd be doing. He could have stayed with his brother, but it would have led to a whole new type of being a grade-A fuckup, sleeping around and bringing the Dzomari habits back to Earth with him. Rodney had tried it, apparently, and John wasn't going to grill him on it but there had been a sense of dissatisfaction in his voice, mingled in with the misery.

They'd work on that, but right now he was content to wait and watch as Rodney's eyes closed and his breathing evened out, smoothing his expression with the blurriness of sleep a lot quicker than he had anticipated. Then the tension in Carson's body unraveled as he followed Rodney into sleep.

Sleep eluded him for a while because he was half-mesmerized by watching the two of them just breathe softly. But eventually it was safe enough to follow them both into the realms of sleep.

It was a bit like playing twister by himself.

He had to get to his feet and out of the bed without disturbing either of the men in the bed with him, and it was a small bed once other people were added to the mix, which meant there were hands and legs everywhere. Well, not everywhere, but it was tangled enough that Rodney had to concentrate and move slowly just to get out of it. Then he fished through a drawer in the dark to find pants to pull on before he slipped out into the hallway.

He had been half afraid to wake up and find that it had actually been a hallucination and proof he had started to lose his mind. But no, there they were when he woke, Carson solid and warm on one side, John with his arm pulling him close and dead to the world on the other.

He'd actually slept solidly, deeply and that was a miracle, and he felt a lot better for having some down time. He also had no idea what time it was and if they had missed dinner even though the lights were on downstairs.

Dinner was worth looking into, now that he knew John and Carson were really there. It helped him feel a little bit more grounded, knowing that they were real and there, and he could try to provide for some basic needs like he had before. Scavenging for food, the Earth way.


"In here, Mer," Jeannie replied from the kitchen area. "Finally awake, huh? I sent Madison up a few hours ago but no one woke up when she knocked on the door so we thought we'd let you sleep."

"Yeah, I'm up. Uh, how late is it?" He rubbed at his face for a moment, meandering towards the kitchen. "My body clock is still a mess."

"Nearly ten," Jeannie said, looking around. "Hey, you know. You're looking better. That's pretty weird -- they bring some sort of pick-me-up?

"Drugs," Rodney deadpanned. "Hard core. No, actually, I got some sleep and I do feel better. I was hallucinating that they were there earlier and now they're... actually here."

Jeannie smiled a little, though it was mixed with concern. "So, are they awake? They both looked dead on their feet earlier."

"I left them up there sleeping. If it was two am, there was no point in waking them up for food."

"Well, there's food left," Jeannie replied. "Vegetable chili that's easy to heat up and other junk food."

"Thanks." Junk food was still good food. It was nice to eat, and she knew that he found food itself a matter of awe sometimes. "Okay, right, so. We need bowls..."

"Bowls we can do,"Jeannie said. "Maddie is asleep. Tell me... Tell me what's the deal with you three. Co-dependant doesn't cover it."

"I'm not sure how you're defining co-dependence. We..." Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "It's complicated."

"I gathered that from the way the three of you were sleeping like a pile of puppies," Jeannie said. "If I thought you looked bad, what happened to them?"

"Carson's mother has Alzheimer's, and John's brother spent all of his money and married his ex-wife." Rodney opened the fridge door, and grabbed the milk

"Wow. And to think I made your money into a trust fund," Jeannie said. "I feel like a queen bitch now."

Sarcasm was undiminished even in a crisis. Especially in a crisis.

"Clearly you should have spent it all and married, uhm, well, no, I think he's in France right now, which really goes to show it was one of my better breakups." Rodney reached for glasses, pouring a healthy dose of milk into each.

"Clearly," Jeannie said. "It comes to something when we're the model family, Mer. Mom and Dad would've been shocked." She put some bowls on the side. "We had some garlic bread and rice as well. Do you want some?"

"Please." He leaned on the counter, drinking from his self-appointed milk glass. "I'm not even sure what we are. I mean, we fell into this relationship under the worst of circumstances."

"Doesn't mean it's doomed or anything," Jeannie said. She looked at him, her expression serious. "They give you that crap that connections caused by trauma are false and don't last? That's psychology based on event trauma. Ignores the fact that Carson's loved you for years, and John almost as long, though I wasn't really sure why or anything."

Rodney snorted, and took another swig from his glass. "Yeah. I valued my friendships more than starting anything, and then when it happened it just... worked. It was the only time that sort of thing wasn't uncomfortable to one extreme or another."

"Did you have to.... together?" Jeannie asked as she dished up portions. "To each other?"

"Yeah. At the start they drugged us all and threw us into a room together to see what would happen. Thankfully, we were all close enough that it hasn't caused any problems."

Jeannie was a tough cookie but he could see that disconcerted her. "Wow, okay." She started heating up the bowls. "Look, you do what you have to do, Mer. I'll put the airbed in your room and you can pretend to use it. Make sure you keep the door locked though. Maddie is a little shaky on the concept of privacy."

"We're all sort of..." Rodney set his glass down, and moved to help with at least the garlic bread. "Not comfortable with it right now. We'll work it out. Or not. I'm just glad to see them again. Also, I really don't want to try to explain anything sexual to Maddie with hand puppets, so we'll be keeping doors closed."

"Well, I can understand that. I have cake for afterwards as well. You seem much more... you since they got here," Jeannie commented.

"I feel better. I was worried about them, or worried that they wouldn't want to go back, because I still want to go back." It was nothing personal, nothing against Jeannie -- she'd been there, she had to understand.

"I don't think you have to worry about that. John never had that much in the way of roots here and I think...sad though it is, Carson had his severed with the thing with his mother." Jeannie inelegantly hacked up some cake and put it on a plate.

"You don't have to do this," Rodney murmured, shifting plates to try to help. "But I appreciate it. You're going to have to let us go grocery shopping to replenish your fridge."

"I might just let you out if you go together. I'm pretty sure that John could defend your honor if Deborah steps in," Jeannie said as the microwave beep loudly. "There we are."

"If Deborah steps in with John and Carson there, she might actually believe what I told her about a boyfriend." And it might make her back off, though he doubted it.

"She wouldn't have bargained on two." Jeannie smiled. "Do you need a hand?"

"I think I've got it. I'll just make two trips, and that way they'll have time to wake up." Rodney stacked the smaller plates of bread and rice on each glass of milk, and grasped onto those.

"Right then. You need anything, just yell." She made a shooing gesture. "I'll be going to bed in a minute, but if you need anything help yourself."

"Thanks. We'll keep things to a dull roar up there." They might splurge and turn on a light, but that was the most Rodney could see happening. And that was all right, that was still good because they were there. He headed to leave the kitchen, glancing at Jeannie. "Good night. Say goodnight to Kaleb for me."

"I will." Jeannie smiled back. "Sleep yourselves out." And she went back to tidying up as he headed back to his room.

He started up the stairs, balancing the milk and plates, intent on waking Carson and John up before he turned around to get the chili.

When he opened the door John was immediately trying to sit up unsteadily. "Rodney?"

Carson didn't move at all.

"Hey. Got food, milk. Going to go back and get Jeannie's chili. Thought you might be hungry."

John looked a little bleary but he was catching up. "Hey, yeah I could eat. Is it dinner time?"

"It's ten pm." Rodney shuffled towards the bedside stand, and set down one milk and plate stack.

"...Hell..." John pushed himself up. "Naptime raged out of control, huh?"

"Yeah. Here, take these and see if you can wake Carson up. I'm going to get the chili then we can barricade ourselves in and call it a night."

"Sounds like a plan," John said absently tried to push his hair down. It never worked. He took the tray and was leaning over to try and wake up Carson as Rodney headed back for his second trip.

Rodney moved as quickly and quietly as he could, one foot in front of another. He got the chili, and started up the stairs quietly, trying to mindfully turn off lights behind him.

By the time he reached his room, the guest room, Jeannie had apparently dropped off the airbed, still uninflated and there was a small pool of light from the bedside lamp that was illuminating a very groggy looking Carson.

"Ten o'clock? Bloody hell, why did you let me sleep that long?" Carson said.

"Only woke up myself a minute or so ago. Rodney was... hey, here he is."

"With chili," Rodney agreed, glancing behind him. "Is Jeannie coming back or can I close the door?"

"She said we could put it up if we wanted. Don't think she's coming back. I'd close up," John said.

"Food?" Carson blinked.

"Chili. It's vegetarian, but her vegetarian chili's really good." Rodney shifted, offering them the bowls. "Just get comfortable."

"I'm comfortable and...." Carson seemed a little surprised. "I'm feeling a wee bit hungry." He sat up and John looked pleased as he took a bowl as well.

"That makes a change."

"It's good food. There's garlic bread and rice here, too. I suggest putting the rice in the chili, which Kaleb argues is sacrilege, but he also eats tofu burgers." Rodney grimaced as he said that, moving to close and lock the door.

"Works for me," John said. "Mind you, I've eaten rat."

"Among other things." Carson mixed in his rice and took a mouthful. "Tha's good."

Rodney balanced the bowl on his knees, and spent a moment chewing on a piece of the garlic bread. "Mm. Even reheated it tastes good."

John was eating as well with that strange pace he had developed in their captivity. Slow enough to make it last, fast enough that it was clear he was hungry.

"How're you feeling, love?" Carson said after a few more mouthfuls.

"Better." Rodney slipped his spoon into the chili, keeping his eyes on John and Carson.

"Good." He seemed genuinely relieved and carried on eating. "Not that we've done anything."

"Hey, we got here," John pointed out. "That was something. We can always figure out the plan now."

"We need a plan?" Rodney chewed on a mouthful of beans and tomato-bits, twisting a little to get closer to them both.

John waved his hand in a vague way that seemed to imply that a plan was optional but maybe they should have something beyond chili.

"Aye. And it should start with more sleeping," Carson said as he chewed on a piece of garlic bread. "You are very comfortable, Rodney. I can't remember sleeping that soundly for some time.

"Same here. I'm thinking we might have to get bigger quarters in Atlantis." Or therapy that actually worked. Rodney wasn't exactly leaning towards that option himself.

"You want us to move in together permanently?" John asked looking up. "That might be difficult if I stay military based. Odds are I won't be able to. Problem is Lorne is likely to be doing the same with Teyla and Ronon."

"No one's going to look at him sideways if he and Teyla, well, and if Ronon shows up..." Rodney rubbed at his forehead. "I don't know. You are, were, the military commander."

"Are, were being the problem." John said. "Y'know, I could call their bluff. Just move in. See what happens."

"Maybe we could be discrete." Carson suggested. "But you are going to be there, John. It's the three of us."

"If they want to deport you after the fact, we can show them how native we can go," Rodney murmured. They were probably going to have to bend some rules. The city responded too well to them, and not half so well to the others.

"We did put in the fail safes and our new Atlantis has the hots for you, John," Carson said.

"All of us," John said firmly. "Hey, is that cake?"

"It's cake. It means my sister still cares about me, and that we should probably try grocery shopping tomorrow," Rodney noted. It felt a little stream of consciousness.

Didn't matter because John was floating along with him. "Yeah, I think we can manage that," he declared, stealing some cake.

"I'm feeling pretty full but I'll try some," Carson said and Rodney seriously couldn't remember the last time he'd seen him eat this amount.

It had to be a good sign. "We should set an alarm clock, get up around seven. Jeannie makes pancakes, and it's really... entertaining. Also, tomorrow's Saturday." He slid the last of his rice into his chili, determined to finish it off.

"Wouldn't want to miss a show like that," John replied and exhaled a little. "We've got a couple of weeks, then we get to go back to the SGC for assessment."

"What're they assessing?" Two more weeks. He could do two more weeks of being around his sister, being with Carson and John.

"Whether we go back," John said lying back. "I guess."

Rodney leaned a little, tasting his own piece of cake. "Well. If they don't take us back, then the fail safes stay."

"They might take the risk," Carson said quietly. "If they think we're not secure, they'll give up the connection to Atlantis."

"We can..." Rodney chews slowly. "I'll think about it. We'll get back there. Staying here isn't an option."

Both of them nodded in agreement.

"I like the Earth food, and stuff," John said. "But... I'm not sure if I fit here so much any more."

"There was a time," Carson said. "When I thought I would be coming home. But I don't have a home here anymore."

"If I could kidnap Jeannie and Madison, I'd only have that eventual Nobel prize to come back here for." Rodney set the cake plate aside, and shifted to stretch out with them. "Oh, I brought milk to drink. I was thinking soda, but I wasn't sure."

"Milk is better for me at least," Carson said. "So we're all agreed? We're definitely going back no matter what?"

"No matter what." If he had to engineer the kidnapping of a puddlejumper, they were going home.

John smiled at him. "Hey, that's my assertive Rodney. Glad to have you back."

He snorted as he shifted between Carson and John and on a second thought leaned over to grab his milk to finish it off. "I didn't go anywhere."

"No, you were there all along," Carson said settling back. "I feel full." He stroked at Rodney's arm just a little as if unaware of what he was doing.

It was all right. Rodney liked it, liked the feeling of comfort as he sipped at his glass. "Mmm. Jeannie's been trying to feed me up. Blatantly."

"It's worked a wee bit," Carson said running those fingers over his arm and then John joined in, running his over Rodney's stomach.

It took a minute for it to sink in that they were petting him, massaging him with idle touches. "Mm, has it?"

"Some," Carson said. "There's a little flesh on your ribs here."

He lightly ran his finger along them.

Rodney exhaled, and closed his eyes. "Mmm. I've missed you both, this..." Just fingers on his body over his t-shirt.

"Relax, Rodney," John murmured. "We're here, we're not leaving and we have you." His hands drifted as well.

He shifted a little, just a little, and let out another slow, slow breath. "Still. I just want to enjoy it. It doesn't take much anymore."

"That we can do," Carson murmured, continuing with the touching." "I love you, Rodney." He gave him a soft kiss.

"What he said," John added.

"Love... love you both," Rodney sighed, shifting to laze between them, exchanging easy kisses behind the locked spare bedroom door.

He could trust them; trust them both not to push, to be there and to come when he needed them.

Of all the things Carson didn't need, a cold to go on top of all his other issues was it. But Maddie had one, and it seemed he was not robust enough to fight off the germs so he promptly got it.

This meant he was confined to the house and John and Rodney were expanding their ability to go shopping after several communal grocery trips and were picking up his prescriptions for him. That had caused a minor freak out by Rodney when he read the ridiculously long list, which, frankly, was overkill. Carson didn't think he needed half of them, and if he could just get back to Atlantis, he wouldn't need any of it.

At least they were outside, and he was left to wait while they ran their errands. Wait and twiddle his thumbs, trying to avoid Jeannie's blatant curiosity. He'd been installed on the couch with hot drinks and tissues and Jeannie was hovering attentively, which made it difficult to read his book.

"You know, lass, you don't have to watch me all the time. I'm not going to sneeze myself into oblivion."

"You look like you might." It was a little, well; it was clearly through genetics that Rodney had gotten his attitude. "How are you?"

"Well I have a stinking cold and I look like an advert for flu medicine, but no doubt I'll live," Carson replied sipping his tea. "You're looking well, considering you've had us imposing on you.

"Pffft, you've been a great standing reason not to hold any of Maddie's playdates over here. You have no idea how exhausting a bunch of four and five year olds can be." She smiled as she sat down, peering at him. "But I mean it. How are you other than that?"

Carson shrugged. "I suppose if I said fine, you wouldn't believe me. All the better for your chicken soup, Jeannie love" He smiled at her, knowing he looked tired even with all the sleep he'd had. In a strange way, it made him more tired. He wanted to sleep for days, and he knew that was a bad sign. It simply was.

"Hey. I'm not fishing for compliments, Carson. I'm worried in a slightly more coherent way than my brother is."

"Well, I'm been a little slow in recovering, it's true," Carson answered truthfully enough. "The irony being that Rodney with his hypochondria came out with the most resilience in the end. You don't need to worry, I'll recover given time."

"Mentally, though. You showed up and... Rodney just sprang back. I know he, he falls out of touch with reality sometimes. He always has, but you and John pulled him right back like it had never happened." Jeannie smiled intently at him.

"It's a little complex, lass, and possibly not the healthiest relationship out there but..." Carson paused and looked at her. "Without them, I was a wreck. So was John without us. Our well-being and survival was so interconnected I don't think we can shut it off."

"Then... don't try." Jeannie shrugged her shoulders. "You love him. You loved him before any of it happened, didn't you?"

He nodded slowly. "Not that he noticed," he said, smiling a little. "And I don't think there's anyone on Atlantis who isn't a little in love with John. Now -- now, he went through so much for us."

"Rodney... knows now. And believe me, once he's figured it out he'll never let it go. He loves you, and despite that he had to have it thrown at his head to figure it out, doesn't make it any less true."

"Jeannie..." Carson sighed a little. "You don't know some of the things that happened. I find it hard to believe Rodney can even forgive me, let alone love me. They made me hurt him, Jeannie. They specialized in using us against each other. It made me sick to my stomach, figuratively and literally, but for god's sake don't tell him that."

"I know a lot of the things that happened."

Oh. Oh, and her face was serious, so Rodney must have spilled some of what happened to his sister. "I know what they made you do. He still missed you fiercely."

"I doubt it was me specifically," Carson said. "More John, and more everyone in general. I haven't been of a lot of particular use."

"Bullshit. You came up with the plan that saved the day." Which he hadn't talked about at all. "Rodney told me about it. About you."

That was a little surprising and heartening. "Oh aye? So... what else has Rodney been saying about me?"

"That you were a wreck over what you had to do to his back, which I've seen. It actually doesn't look bad. I mean, there are people out there who'd pay for the pleasure of that."

"It wasn't just the action itself, it was what it meant," Carson said. "I was breaking every principle I held dear and I knew that I was killing any chance I might have with Rodney. If you were forced to do that to Kaleb, Jeannie, what would that have done to you?"

"I would have torn myself up," she admitted. "But you didn't ruin any chance with Rodney. He's not holding a grudge."

"I know. But that doesn't square it in my heart, even if rationally I know it's true," Carson answered, although it helped some to hear Rodney had told his sister this. "I was the weak link, Jeannie, out of them all. The Dzomari knew it. We all knew it."

"You weren't the one who went crazy and nearly got John killed. You saved his life." He could see from the way she was saying it that she was missing pieces of information; working with whatever Rodney had told her.

"I think I supplied an idea and Rodney and John made it work," Carson said. "I made the ... I made a viral poison. But Rodney and John took over the ship, Telya and Lorne and.... I guarded a door. Pretty badly."

It was clear in his head at least that was the way it had gone.

"And if you hadn't made the poison, you'd still be on the ship," Jeannie pointed out. "And we wouldn't be here arguing over whether my brother considers you worth his time or not, which he does."

Carson smiled a little. "I love him. I love John. I'm a wee bit messed up and that might have something to do with my physical state as well. Your cooking is doing a great deal, but apparently my body mass was way below critical and then getting shot didn't help, and infections."

"I know. I just think you should understand that they love you, too. It's pretty obvious."

It wasn't that obvious, Carson was sure about that and he was still tired and depressed and knew his own judgment was unreliable. "Is this my pep talk, lass?"

He wasn't sure if it was necessary.

Her cheeks colored a little. "Yes. Actually, it is. Apparently I'm not doing so well. It worked with Rodney."

"It's working a little." Carson gave a faint smile. "It does help to hear he hasn't been thinking something different."

"I just hate seeing you miserable. Not that you need to start pretending to be not miserable. Speaking of, would you like some more mint tea?" It was her desperate attempt to help alleviate his cold symptoms.

"That would be lovely," he said and smiled again. "I appreciate it, Jeannie. I don't like to put more on John or Rodney."

"They'd be willing to help." She spoke in a reminding tone as she stood up to probably make a fresh pot of tea.

"But they shouldn't have to. John will hardly talk at all and Rodney just pretends it doesn't bother him," Carson murmured. "Truthfully, I worry about that more than myself."

"If I try locking the three of you into a room to talk it out, you'll just end up sleeping." Jeannie called out from the kitchen, "Do you prefer it sweet or milkier?"

"Sweet, please. And true, we would," Carson answered. "The sleeping helps though. John doesn't sleep well, or Rodney. Or myself. Nightmares ... to be expected."

"True." He could hear quiet clinking sounds, water being poured, a spoon perhaps. "What does Rodney pretend doesn't bother him?"

"The... sexual abuse mainly. And the times that John took punishment for him."

Jeannie was quiet for a moment, fiddling in the kitchen. "Well. I'm not sure how to bring it up. He does just shrug it off."

"I suppose we all do." Carson hesitated. "Jeannie, it's difficult to describe how something like normal forced sex was ...nothing. Really nothing. In comparison."

"Yes, but there's no such thing as 'normal forced sex'. It's not normal. It's rape." And it was, which Carson knew mentally, but. There was knowing, and there was understanding it in his subconscious.

"That might be part of the problem." It almost certainly was. "We don't have that. John... John had to select what he had to do. It gave a veneer of willingness to the process."

There was the faintly disconcerting sound of the microwave beeping in the kitchen, and then water pouring again. "But he still wasn't."

"Try telling them that. Or me. I think the problem is that in choosing, we became something other than prisoners. They'd been doing it for generations and knew what buttons to push," Carson said. "You feel responsible for what happens to you. As if you deserve it."

Jeannie came back carrying one obscenely large steaming mug, holding it out to him in offering. "You don't. None of you did."

"We know that, it's just hard to feel." He took the mug. "Or in my case, hard to stop feeling. I've always been a wee bit over sensitive that way."

"It's not a bad thing." Jeannie sat down across from him again, tucking her legs up under herself. "You should all probably get therapy. The good kind."

"So far, we've had the rough and ready SGC kind." The god-awful kind, actually. "You have to have someone cleared to do it and then hope they're good. If not, I expect I'll tease it out of them."

"All right. I think you know what you're doing with them better than I do," Jeannie sighed.

Carson felt a little guilty at that. "I'm sorry, Jeannie. I don't want to be a troublesome houseguest. I really do appreciate everything you've done."

"You're really no trouble at all. I thought my brother was dead. The fact that he's not, is..." She smiled a little at him, and Carson felt it warm him a little. "It's amazing."

"That, at least, is something we can agree on." Carson had to blow his nose to cover the unexpected surge of emotion that prickled at his eyes. "We will be finding a way back, though, you know that, right?"

"I know. I hope you all get to go back. I know how much it means to Rodney, so I can only guess what it means to you and John."

"I think it's the only place we will call home," Carson replied. He shrugged a little and sipped the steaming tea. "But it has enough ZPMs that some commuting is possible."

"Good. I'm going to demand regular updates from all of you on how you're doing," she said simply. "In exchange, I promise not to send through macaroni art done by Madison."

"Now that would be a shame." In so many ways. He was sure they'd enjoyed Jeannie's family almost as much as Rodney had. "We all look forward to assessing her genius."

"Rodney's already tried that," Jeannie deadpanned quietly, still smiling. "A deeper interpretation of the meaning of finger-painting, as done by Rodney McKay."

"He's got the vocabulary for it." His chuckle prompted a fit of coughing. "Ack, put me out of my misery, Jeannie."

"No can do. You know, being sick on top of everything else was the last thing you needed," she pointed out. "Drink the tea."

"I could use the cough syrup, if I hadn't drunk it all," Carson replied. "Shouldn't they be back by now?"

"They should. They might've gotten lost, or else they found something interesting." She rolled her shoulders a little. "Or they ran into that woman, and they're in jail waiting for their one call to ask me for bail money."

Carson groaned and smiled. "I'd say you were joking but I know them. That is a more likely outcome than them getting lost. Did Rodney ever tell you about the time he managed to get them all sentenced to a ritual purification ceremony that had them all painted purple?"

"No. No, he didn't. Why don't you tell me all about it while we wait for them?"

He could, and he would, because they had had lighter times that were worth reliving.

"Aw come on Rodney, are you sure we can't get one?" John said as he picked up the toy. "You know you want to."

He was smiling and deliberately teasing the other man. This was the first time they were enjoying things.

"I know we have excess power now, but have your urges to recreate organized sports finally reached the level that you need to direct computer generated men around in recreations?" Still, Rodney was eyeing it, either as a piece of hardware to hack or something that could prove a computer related security threat to them at a later date. John just saw an Xbox, proof that they could spend money however they pleased.

If he wasn't broke.

"Hey, we could have tournaments in the common room, and I know for a fact, one of your staff hacked some code that made that MMPORG for Atlantis Team 1 look suspiciously like World of Warcraft," John said. "I'm just saying, let's give them something better to hack."

"Mmm." Rodney eyed the box, and nodded solemnly. "Fine. Yes, but put the best one in the cart and we'll get a couple of extra controllers and some games now. I'm going to look for something age appropriate for Maddie, and then we need to get back home."

"At least we've got Carson's meds. You think we've got enough cough syrup?" John raised an eyebrow as Rodney had insisted on getting a lot of different types.

"Yes. I was just thinking that the one he was already taking might be the wrong kind for his specific type of cough. And I don't want it interacting with any of the rest of his medications." Rodney was staring at some pink game system, and John squinted at his back for a moment before he hefted the most expensive -- had to be the best, right? -- system type into the cart. He'd missed the convenience of big stores that had meds, prescription pickup and game systems all in the same place.

"Difficult to tell there considering he has a pharmacy worth to take," John said, throwing a few extra games in. "We should get Jeannie something. I've finally got some money, I'll get it. What does she like?"

"Mmm. She likes cleaning the kitchen and -- no, no, I see that look you're giving me. She likes electronics and neat things just as much as you and I do." Rodney twisted around and put something in the cart that John hoped was vaguely age appropriate.

"So..." John looked around "What was that thing you had raptures over? The camera? Or the iPod thing?"

"Camera," Rodney decided. "Then she can have no excuse at all for not sending us photos."

"Good point," John agreed. Photos of Madison, Jeannie, Kaleb. Or Earth and a home would work for him. "I'll get this one."

Any home. Somewhere that he was welcome, and Jeannie and Kaleb had a way of making them feel welcome. "Yeah? Have you even looked at the specs?"

"...Yes," he said, belatedly looking. There were so many people around and they made him ping with his sense to assess their peccadilloes. "Seems good enough. Hey, lot of people around."

Rodney grunted an affirmative sound, and looked over John's shoulder. "All right. Let's get all of this and go."

Maybe Rodney was uncomfortable about the people as he was or perhaps he'd just had enough. The camera looked like a good buy and the guilt of the SGC had resulted in a lot of money.

"Do you think we should get anything for Carson?"

"What do you think he'd want?" Rodney peered at John, and then around them. He probably wanted them home already, which was sort of easy to get.

"I don't know. I just..." He was worried about Carson; it was hard not to be. "He's just not doing so well and I'd kinda like to cheer him up."

"He has a cold," Rodney pointed out quietly. "Maybe we should talk to him about it, though. Oh, you know what? There was a bizarre fishing game over on the other aisle."

"Well, it's worth trying," John answered. "He just seems... you know." It was more than the cold. Carson's job was to be open to feelings, compassionate. John knew he had experience in shutting that part of his own feelings down, and Rodney tended to have emotional tunnel vision, but Carson was open to everything.

"Off," Rodney murmured. He ducked down that side aisle, and hopefully when they got home they could get Carson to open up a little. Or something. Make him feel a little better.

He wasn't good at this. He was okay at supporting in a general stoic way but dealing with feelings... well, that's what they relied on Carson for. "You know, I suck at this stuff." John followed him. "At the moment my entire plan would be getting him drunk, but he did that and it just made him a wreck."

"It probably knocked his system for a loop," Rodney noted. "We can always commandeer the downstairs after everyone goes to bed."

"I don't think I realized how little he was eating," John said. "I mean, none of us were eating enough most of the time but..." But Rodney had needed it and Carson's protestations that it could make him sick had been real enough; they'd seen that.

It just... sucked. John leaned on the push handle of the cart, while Rodney peered over a fake plastic fishing reel with some sort of motion sensing thing, and a screen. "Well, Jeannie's cooking is fantastic."

"Yeah. I think I've put on weight too." John shifted a little closer to check the screen. "Seriously, am I missing something I could be doing? For him or you or any of us. I'm kind of freaked that I might not be, you know. Thinking straight."

Being normal. Not assessing pain, food, punishments and rewards all the time.

Rodney shot him a sideways look that John vaguely knew was a 'are you stupid?' glare that he'd missed. "We're doing the best we can. We've leaned on Carson so much... He should maybe know that he can lean on us."

Rodney might not have so much of his way of thinking altered and reinforced. "He doesn't though. Doesn't want to burden us, I guess."

"Then that's what we need to do. Get him to burden us," Rodney decided, putting the fishing game in the cart. "Now we can leave."

"And how are you going to manage that? I've kinda offered." John pushed the buggy as they head towards the check out

"I have no idea. I'm just going to." Rodney tagged along with John, step for step, pace for pace.

John was faintly relieved because when Rodney decided to do something, there wasn't so much a choice as a requirement to surf the focus of his intent. "Hey, you're the plan guy. My plans are desperation personified."

They worked sometimes.

"Right, well, if we go back home and Carson's fallen apart, Teyla will never forgive us. I'll never forgive us."

Rodney folded his arms over his chest, and then on an off thought pulled out his credit card. "I bet she'll kick your ass on the 360, too."

Good point.

"Yeah, she probably would, even being so far along." John considered it. "Or Ronon. Lorne definitely would." It was a half appealing thought, which was weird.

"Yeah." It was a thought that connected to home very intensely, though. They wanted to go home and any thought that led that way was generally a good one. "Here, I'll pay."

"I've got money now," John said, reaching for his. "Some anyway."

Dave wasn't looking like he was giving up his legacy.

"Next time, all right?" Rodney wasn't going to back down, and John wasn't particularly in for a scuffle at the checkout. The woman looked like she might call the cops if they did, and she seemed harried enough with the crazy guy who was in line in front of them.

"Next time," John agreed and concentrated on looking normal and charming and not thinking about the make or break situation at the SGC.

They'd just roll with it. They'd just... deal with it as it happened. "Oh, grab a couple of packs of gum."

"Yeah okay." Reaching over, he picked it up. He remained oddly distracted by the thought of different gum flavors even after they headed back to Jeannie's.

"Hey, honey, we're home!" John called out as they dragged in their purchases from the car.

"Oh, good! I thought the two of you were lost!" Jeannie sounded delighted that they were back, and from the froggy cough in the living room, Carson was probably glad they were back, too.

"We have drugs, too!"

"Then you are indeed my saviors," Carson answered. "I'd appreciate anything you have."

He sounded croaky and rough.

"I feel like Santa. Or, alternatively, like a mugger." Rodney jerked his head at John, all easy smiles and bare delight as he carried two heavy bags past him and towards the living room. "We've got some assorted sundries."

"Looks like you got the entire mall," Jeannie said. "Look, Kaleb has asked if we can go to a function at the university tonight. I can stay if you need me to."

"Lass, you go ahead, we'll be fine," Carson said. "I'm sure we can cook or get in something."

"Are we babysitting Maddie?" Rodney volunteered that right away, and it sort of amused John. As much as Rodney swore he hated kids, he liked family.

"She's staying with her friend, Leanne, tonight. Apparently, it's very exciting." She smiled. "We thought you might want some alone time as well."

"Oh." Rodney peered at her for a moment, and then declared, "Oh. Well, we can order a pizza in and you two can have a great night at whatever English-related function you're attending."

"Sounds fun," John said and pulled out the pills. "Here we go, Carson. Ten tons of drugs."

"Are you making a point, lad?" Carson asked.

"Maybe. We also bought you a game, an Xbox for back home, and an attempt to spoil Maddie beyond comprehension." Rodney sat down on the sofa, and smiled briefly at Jeannie. "Thanks."

"I'm just going to get ready." Jeannie eyeballed them. "Behave yourselves."

Carson was busily getting to the pills and dry swallowing them down. "I should've known you couldn't resist gadgets. Now what's this game I've apparently got?"

"It involves fishing," John said, gesturing vaguely.

Rodney bent in to rummage through the bags. "Mmmhm, gift for Jeannie. John, do you want to pry the sticker off of that and the one for Maddie?" Rodney reached for the fishing game, hastily peeling the sticker off. "It was crowded out there."

"That can be a wee bit disconcerting," Carson managed and then coughed again. "Bloody cold."

John sat down next to him to pull off the stickers. "I don't want it either. Neither does Rodney."

"Of course if we happen to get it, that's all right. I'm not sure why it hit you first." Rodney shifted closer, holding out the faux fishing rod like a peace offering. "Since we can't actually go fishing here."

"You hate fishing, Rodney," Carson answered. "You only came fishing with me when you couldn't think of an excuse not to."

John noticed he took the rod any way. "Well you like it, right?" he asked and Carson smiled.

"It's nice enough but the company held a greater attraction, truth be told."

"No excuse needed for my company now." Rodney was still smiling, a little too obviously, and then he startled to his feet. "Oh, hey, I'll order pizzas now and they might be here in the hour. What do you want?"

"Something vegetable," Carson sad. "Can't taste anyway so anything."

"I'll go with a meat special," John said with a grin. "Got an appetite after shopping."

An appetite to make some kind of peace for Carson, while Rodney seemed... determinedly distracted, and it was hard to tell what was overwhelming the other one, and if Rodney would be able to focus enough to help chip away at Carson. "One vegetarian and one meat. Right."

John busied himself setting up the game and the Xbox with Carson's assistance, while Rodney alternately ordered pizza and then argued with Jeannie as she ran up and down the stairs apparently trusting her brother for honest opinions on evening dress where her husband couldn't possibly say things like, "Dear god, that makes you look like you're about to give birth," without risking a night on the couch.

For a while it looked like Rodney was risking being thrown out but John also noticed that Jeannie did seem to listen and ended up in a simple but stunning black dress that even Rodney grudgingly admitted looked good. John had raised his eyebrows in a way that made her blush and Carson had said, "You look lovely, lass. Kaleb is a very lucky man."

"He's probably going to spend the whole night paranoid and wondering when you're going to cheat on him," Rodney groused, but he was smiling when he said it. "Keep him on his toes and have a nice night. We'll clean up."

"Aye," Carson said and coughed a little more. "The pizza will be here soon."

"Behave yourselves. We won't be back until midnight at the earliest. I have my phone if you need me and..." Jeannie paused. "Yes, okay, that sounded patronizing."

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "Just a little. Go on, have fun. We promise not to kill the babysitter."

Jeannie smiled and then lightly kissed Rodney on his cheek. "Be good, Mer," she said and waved at John and Carson as she picked up her bag and left them alone.

"So this is the point where we should run riot?" John suggested, leaning back on his hands from where he was sitting on the floor.

"Knock the sofa over, duct tape the lamp together," Rodney deadpanned, heading for the living room. "How're you feeling, Carson?"

"Like someone stuffed cotton wool in every orifice," Carson said and John didn't think too much about that statement. "Colds and coughs are miserable things."

"Other than that?" Rodney asked it, and the question seemed to linger out. "What I mean is that John and I have noticed you're not..."

Carson looked at them both. "I'm not what?" he asked and John shifted uncomfortably.

"Not dealing so well, Carson," he said awkwardly. "I mean, you're coping... I think, but..."

"But what, lad?"

"But you're being purposefully obtuse right now, Carson." Rodney moved less awkwardly, and sat beside Carson on the sofa. "We're worried about you."

Carson chuckled a little. "I'm fine. Okay, I'm not fine but I'm doing well enough. I just look bad because of the bug I've got."

"No, look it's not that." John knew he sounded a little frustrated. "You won't let us support you, Carson. You're always the one support us, wearing yourself out, giving up stuff for us and you won't let us do it back."

Carson looked a little shocked that he'd come out and said that even as the doorbell rang and the pizza arrived.

"Oh, that figures." It sort of did, a doorbell in the middle of a tense moment. Rodney stood up, fumbling for his wallet. "But it's true. We want to help you as much as you've been helping us."

Carson was looking puzzled even as he waited for Rodney to get the food and finish at the door. "Look..." He started and then fumbled with his words a little. "John suffered more than all of us, most of you did more than I did."

"So? Who's whipping out a tally sheet of whose life sucked worse when we were there? You suffered, too. You were there. It doesn't make it any more -- look, here, keep the change, kid, just hand the pizza over and get off the doorstep, no, I don't need to see it."

John heard the door slam as Rodney wrested the pizza away from the delivery boy.

"Look, you worry about us, we worry about you, Carson," John said. "You don't really talk about it."

"I... I don't talk?" Carson nearly spluttered. "John, coming from you, the king of stoic silence, I can't believe it. I'll talk when you talk."

"Oh, great. Now it's a standoff." Rodney sounded like he was in the kitchen, getting plates or paper towels to use as napkins.

"Fine. Fine, I'll talk," John agreed reluctantly. "You ask and I'll talk, if it'll make you talk."

That caused silence for a long moment.

"You really are worried aren't you?" Carson murmured in a softer voice.

"Yes." Rodney came back in, and set the two boxes down on the coffee table. "We didn't make it this far just to lose you."

"You won't lose me," Carson answered, but John could tell that he was a little surprised and happier just at the offer. If he had to bargain his way to get through to Carson then he would.

"So, what's the deal, Carson?" he asked. "Why do you think you weren't as bad off as anyone else?"

"Because... frankly I wasn't," Carson said. "I wasn't hurt in the first thing. I tended not to have as much physical abuse as you did, or Rodney. My duties were in the infirmary." He shrugged a little.

"But you were still a sex slave, Carson," Rodney pointed out a little more intensely than he needed to.

"Well yes, but in comparison it seems a little... well... ridiculous to make a fuss over it," Carson replied, looking embarrassed. "I broke my oaths as a doctor a lot and... frankly it made me wonder who I am."

"You're the man who came up with the plan, who looked after all of us," John said vehemently. "Don't think I don't know what happened when you were in with Anders." He knew about that, but there hadn't ever been a good time to bring it up, not with the Marine there close to cracking. "We know what you did. Just to try to hold him together, to hold all of us together."

"Well it didn't bloody well work did it?" Carson said with more than a hint of anger. "It didn't work and it almost killed John and I nearly couldn't save you and then... the things we had to do to you."

Coherence started to fail him and John blinked a little.

"Hey, hey look it's okay. That... well, the stuff with you guys was pretty nice, actually," John reassured. "I'd probably be okay doing it with you both again."

"I'm not that into bandages," Rodney murmured, shifting, awkwardly sliding an arm behind Carson's back. "You didn't almost kill John. Anders did. We're lucky he didn't almost kill you."

"He just took a few swings at me," Carson said and the sad thing was he really did dismiss that as unimportant. "Look, I was the weak link, and they knew it."

"Not so weak, Carson," John said. "You used that perception. You came up with a plan where I couldn't. Didn't. Don't you think I kick myself over that all the time? That's my job; to get you guys out of situations like that." He trailed off as he faced stunned silence from the both of them. "What? I though you knew that."

"No, seriously, what the hell? That's not your job, you, you're a military commander, not some kind of god, even with your ancient gene."

"And I'm meant to protect you. All of you," John said. "And I tried, okay? I tried but I never seemed to be able to come up with an escape plan, not this time."

"Well yes, John," Carson said "Because you were constantly injured, or restrained. Under the circumstances it was a miracle you kept going at all. And don't tell me it wasn't bad. I was the one patching you up. I can only guess at some of the things they did to cause those effects."

"It was... survivable." John said with a shrug, fetching a slice of pizza out of his box to cover his awkwardness. "I've been a prisoner before."

"Which makes it perfectly all right to be in that situation again, sure, yes, I follow that logic." Rodney shifted, shuffling out the vegetarian pizza box from under the meat lovers, holding it open for Carson. "You both did everything you could."

"So did you." John said to Rodney. "Came down to you in the end, and your expertise."

Carson was taking a slice of his pizza and eating slowly. "Aye, true enough. My part wouldn't've meant much without yours."

"There wasn't much room for brains on that mission." Rodney shrugged, snagging a piece of the meat pizza.

"Or for military pilots or anything any of us are good at," John said. "So look, Carson. We gotta know if you feeling so bad has to do with us. I mean, you're not secretly thinking we hate you or something are you?"

There was a long pause from Carson.

"What?" Rodney's voice went up sharply. "Carson, you can't possibly think that, you're, you..."

"Rationally, no," Carson replied in a low voice. "I know better, but... but I don't like myself very much at the moment so I find it difficult to understand how anyone else could even want to be around me."

"But why..." John couldn't help frowning.

"Oh I suspect you know why, John. How many invisible lines of your own did you cross while they had us?" Carson said.

He wasn't sure any more. That was why they were invisible, John guessed, because he'd absorbed that sexual side of things and just functioned that way, damage be damned. "You just don't get to not like yourself. Even I still like myself."

"I'm a doctor, Rodney, but I deliberately hurt people, hurt you. I created something to harm people. I killed people. I... god, I slept with girls that would make me..." Carson choked up and John realized that there was a horror in that as well, because the firevein made them like it.

"Carson, it was the drugs," he said.

Rodney set his pizza back down on top of the box, and eyed Carson like he had some semblance of a plan and no idea how to execute it. "I was there with you, Carson. It was the drugs. It was, it was horrifying, it..."

"Rodney, I was chosen more often for the... for the young girls," Carson said. "And what if it's warped me? What if I look at... what if Maddie were ten years older and...."

Carson was practically going green at the thought of it. Maybe that was the root of the recurring illness.

"Look, Carson, seriously, I don't think you would be like this if you were in danger of doing anything," he said

"I've got it on good authority that you prefer grown up men." Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, his posture all messed up in terms of messages. "It was what you were picked to do."

"There is such a thing as conditioning," Carson replied. "I don't know if I can trust myself."

"I know we can trust you, Carson," John said. "I worry about myself, but you I'm sure about. And Rodney... well, you know this is one time I'm really glad Rodney is so sure of himself because he's right."

"I'll be offended by that later." Rodney looked at John sideways, but reached a hand out to Carson's shoulder, posture still awkward. "I'm not good at this reassuring thing. But I mean it. Once we get some time distant from this, you'll believe me."

Carson nodded a little. "What about you, John? You ever going to admit to what they did to you?"

John shrugged. "The details aren't important. I'm not sure why they make a difference. I spent a lot of time in pain, in various restraints and servicing a large variety of perversions. That's about the size of it. I had to or you would've starved."

"I don't see what John admitting that he's been through hell will do." Rodney looked at John now, but he was shifting closer to Carson, relaxing past the over the shoulder gesture.

"Look, it's... acknowledging it wasn't just a normal hazard. And it's gonna start coming out at some point, John. In nightmares at the least. I don't want it to take you away from us when we could've helped," Carson said anxiously. "I... I can't deal with losing either of you"

John exhaled. "Fine. What do you want to know, because there's so much I don't know where to start."

"Just, that... it wasn't part of anything you should have been expected to handle." Rodney looked like he was guessing, but he was trying hard and probably pulling a few pages from his sister's book, which was great coming from a guy who in times of stress hallucinated his reality.

"Look, you name it, I've done it. Go look on the heavy BDSM sites on the internet and I've done it all and then some, okay?" John replied. "And yeah, the firevein made it feel good. Made me want it. Is that what you wanted to hear? That sometimes I actually do think about what it would be like if you guys did some of those things to me because I remember them feeling great."

He was starting to lose his composure a little because he'd done those things, fucked and been fucked and been whipped and twisted out of shape and made to submit in ways that made normal sex seem the perverted type.

Rodney shifted, and then snagged his pizza again. "I draw the line at fisting and scat, but if you want to try anything else."

John smiled a little. Only Rodney could say that sort of thing. "Maybe. We haven't even managed normal sex yet."

Fisting had been okay, though he'd prefer someone like Carson doing it because he trusted him to know what was okay.

"Normal for us at least." A lot of tension seemed to have drained out of Carson after the confession regarding his fears about being warped.

"We'll have to try it sometime," Rodney murmured. "Possibly, back in Atlantis. I'd feel sort of weird doing it in my sister's house."

"Let's not even go there," Carson said eating his pizza. "Thank you, both of you. I really appreciate you talking like this for me."

John shrugged . "No big deal."

"It..." Rodney paused, and slouched back into the sofa. "We haven't actually done this until now, have we?"

Carson shook his head. "No. No, we haven't. We've been assuming it. All of it."

John grimaced a little. "Yeah, I guess. I mean the therapy was just... ridiculous."

"Insulting. I don't hate any of you. If I'd been in that situation by myself, I'd be in a strait jacket by now if I were even alive." And he was alive, they were all alive, sitting there and warily enjoying their pizza.

"Or dead most likely," Carson said, without having to think too hard. "I don't blame anyone else except myself and..."

"And you should be blaming the Dzomari," John pointed out. "Got a few issues with being written off as well."

"We went through all that, and we... I haven't even, don't want to think about the fact that there are little Rodney McKays out there somewhere or on the way, but we went through all that and they never even looked. I..." Rodney took a hard bite off of his pizza crust. "I know we'll eventually have to talk to Elizabeth, if she's rejoining the mission, but I don't want to."

"Aye, I know," Carson said. "She did try, apparently. She and Radek tried hard to get them to search for us."

"We would've found a way," John said. "I never gave up while there was even a vague hope."

Somewhere he believed Ford was still out there, and Rodney probably thought he was crazy for thinking that, but he did, and that was part of what he'd always done. Hoped fruitlessly, searched endlessly, never forgot.

He felt Carson pat his hair and Rodney relaxed a little more. It seemed they had managed to break through a little with Carson. They weren't going to get through everything just like that, but they had opened the door and taken a few steps in the right direction. All they needed now was to go home, and they'd deal with all of it somehow. John was sure about that at least.

They just needed to get home.

There was a strange familiarity for John in being back at the SGC. They'd all been recalled and put through a variety of physicals and mental assessments and one bit of good news was that, apparently, Carson had put on a decent amount of weight -- most of it after their discussion at Jeannie's where things had reached a turning point of sorts.

Secondly, Lorne seemed to be much more settled and John had caught Ronon putting his hand on the Major's shoulder somewhat protectively, so he was intrigued to know what was happening there. Teyla looked tired and he could tell from the way Carson was tracking her every time she was in the room that he knew something about her pregnancy but wasn't saying.

Rodney had launched back into his normal chaos and all of them endured analysis and debriefings that made him want to shout at them for not keeping decent notes the first time around.

There had been reunions with some of the Atlantis personnel. Elizabeth... It had been hard because he wanted to blame someone and found it difficult when he saw her and heard how hard she had tried. He couldn't hold on to that. Radek had hugged Rodney into submission and then within minutes they were talking theory as if they had not been apart.

But they still hadn't seen the general.

Cam had dropped down, watched a bit of TV with him, taken in a game or two, promising to meet him later on, but he hadn't showed. John guessed there was something going on, that they were busy. It happened, it was the SGC, after all. Things went to hell, and they went to hell a lot when there was a secondary plan like another mission heading to leave. The more shit something could screw up, well, John figured that was when things went wrong. Always had been that way in his experience.

It was late, and everyone was restless, off in the wrong time zone and sleeping already or awake from too much caffeine, which was probably where Rodney was just then.

There was a knock at the door and he stretched as he got up to answer it. It was pretty late but they didn't keep regular hours in the SGC.

A technician was outside and he smile a little and handed over a memo. "General O'Neill apologizes for the delay. He wants you and your team to meet with him in his office at 23.00."

"That's pretty late," John commented. "He's given up on sleep?"

"I think there was some sort of crisis earlier that ran over, sir, and I think he has to be back in Washington tomorrow."

Well, sure, crisis running over. John gave the kid a nod, and was a little surprised at the snappy salute. Yeah, he was a Lt. Colonel. People did salute him, which sort of came as a shock after so long.

Rodney never had, or Carson. Ronon and Teyla didn't exactly follow a chain of command. Lorne had but familiarity and probably the various instances where they had interacted with the Dzomari had eroded the necessity. "Hey uh... do others on my team know?" Maybe he'd need to fetch them himself.

"They've been notified." The man smiled at him again, and turned to head back down the hallway. There'd been a little note in his voice, salutes or not, that told John that maybe the guy thought it was all a joke.

He had thirty minutes or so to sort himself out. Maybe have a shower, put something clean on. O'Neill was a general after all and maybe he ought to show willing if he was trying to convince him he was ready for command.

As he got ready, he wondered if the others were going to meet him there at the same time or if he would be first or last. He dried off and changed and then headed off towards O'Neill's office.

Better early than late, because he didn't want the festivities to start without him.

It still felt a little strange to be in uniform again, even as casually as he tended to wear it, so hopefully the general wouldn't be standing hard on formality for the meeting. He wasn't a real formal kind of guy, at least that was what John hoped.

Huh, no sentries at the door. Well, it was late and none of the others were there. Maybe he was first.

He knocked politely on the door.

"Come in." Yeah, it seemed like he had the feel of it right, then. It was a weird time to have a mission debriefing, but it was the SGC.

He opened the door and stepped inside and something flickered in his peripheral vision and he just reacted. Struck out, hit back at the person reaching to grab him, then at the next person and he was fighting, fighting with a surge of adrenalin right up to the point where he heard a reverberating voice demand, "Stop! Or we will kill one of your companions..."

That stopped him from struggling.

He knew that vocal shake, anyone who'd been with the SGC did. It was like Caldwell when there'd been the bomb, all over again, except he was staring back at the General, and holy shit. There they all were, lined up against the wall, cuffed and caught.

Ronon was out cold, and that seemed to be Cam looking bloodied and half-held up by two service men with blank expressions and Dr. Jackson was standing behind O'Neill at his right hand with an implacable and very different expression.

"Better." O'Neill looked at him and even though his eyes didn't overtly glow, they did gleam momentarily with strange light. "Colonel Sheppard, how nice of you to join us. I have spent an enjoyable afternoon rifling through the memories of this host looking for the best targets. Your file makes most interesting reading."

He could see the fear on Rodney and Carson's faces, and Cam was struggling to get up. "Hey, Shep... sorry about... standing you up. Was having the crap beaten out of me at the time."

"Hey, no problem. Alien invasions happen."

O'Neill stepped forwards slightly. "No banter. It could be a signal you are trying to pass. No, you will focus on the matter at hand."

"There's a matter at hand?" John asked in the slow drawl he knew could be irritating to those thinking he would panic. The odds weren't good. They were out numbered. Presumably picked off one by one and their guards didn't look sloppy. He had probably been their last hope.

"John, they want ATA hosts and..." Carson said urgently and swiftly and there was a gesture from O'Neill. Daniel leveled a zat at Carson and fired as he tried to throw himself out of the way. Carson ended up stunned and tumbled to the floor.

Their last hope and he'd walked right into the trap.

"Sheppard. What I want is your clearance codes," O'Neill's body demanded. He had to think of it as just a body, or the eventual punch to the guy's face was going to be mentally painful.

"Clearance codes? The General's aren't enough?" John strived to be nonchalant. "Even if I had any, why would I give them to you?"

"Because I will kill your friends if you do not. One at a time." O'Neill was watching him, and John couldn't help but look at his team. "Ah, bring me the obnoxious one, Sanders."

Immediately, they were tugging Rodney out of the line up over towards the General and he really tried hard not to lunge forward. "You won't kill him. He's too valuable," he said as confidently as he could manage but inside he was mentally repeating shit, shit, shit because when it came to Rodney he couldn't let anything happen to him.

Couldn't. He was Rodney and yes, he was mission vital but he was also family. "To General O'Neill, yes, he is. To me, he is a worm. Our technology surpassed yours millennia ago."

"Then why do you want any of us?" John asked, trying to look for a chink, glancing at Cam to see if he was up for an attempt. But an attempt might mean death to them and he hadn't exhausted all options yet. "What could I offer you aside from clearance codes I don't have to save his life?"

He laughed, gesturing broadly at John. "Kneel. Pay homage to me."

Yeah, he figured. Well kneeling was no big deal in the scheme of things. He looked at Rodney, who was looking stricken as if he was sure it was going a certain way.

"You know, I'm kinda getting a complex about how many people want to see me on my knees," he said, mustering a smirk as he dropped to the floor.

"You should. I read your file, Sheppard. Why don't you break a few of your poor mortal rules and suck your general off?"

Oh crap. He could hear the others reacting and his brain froze a moment. This was... wrong. He had sworn never to go through this ever again and here he was on his knees about to suck cock to save someone's life. Rodney looked like he was going to have an apoplexy or something and Cam was struggling. "Don't do it, Shep!"

"Kill the scientist," O'Neill deadpanned. "And we will see if he will give worship for another's life."

"No!" The words were out of his mouth before he realized he had made the decision. "Don't kill him, don't... I'll suck your damn cock."

There had been days when he'd sucked hundreds.

It was just one, and it was Rodney, and hell, maybe he could weaken a Goa'uld by biting. "Good." O'Neill's voice rumbled in that strange tone, and he glanced around the room. Rodney was struggling, and he looked like he was going to chew through his gag.

Lull into a sense of security, Cam might be ready to move if he bit him even if he ended up with a zat to the head.

He leaned forward, ready to move.

"Good. You must be accustomed to this, from your files. You will perhaps become one of my children, if you please me." Yeah, what he wanted was a snake creature buried deep in his spinal cord.

At least he was unlikely to shoot him in the act of sucking cock. He reached for O'Neill's pants, finding his way by touch and hell, this was going to set him back but it was life... it was living and..

"You can bloody well stop right there!" a familiar Scottish brogue spat out above him. "Unless you'd like this needle right through the exact spot that would kill a symbiote."

The general went stiff, stock stiff, and he jerked up straight. "You shouldn't do that."

"You are going to let all of them go, because even if Dr. Jackson has a zat to my head this needle is going in your neck one way or another," Carson said in a tone like steel. "John..."

Right. Right, he could get up. Get a weapon. Get the others clear.

He took a backwards step, and then decided he could do it, he had the balls for it still, and seized a weapon hard out of one of the guard's hands. "You, uncuff them. Quickly, move, move."

They were being uncuffed even as John met Carson's eyes a moment and realized that he was literally on the edge, his hand gripping around the generals throat and adjusting for position and then...

"What the fucking hell...." Carson felt something under his fingers obviously and nearly recoiled.

Carson went still, and John lifted his chin even as he reached for Rodney's gag.

"Carson, what's going on?"

"Why don't you ask bloody SG-1 here?" Carson sounded genuinely angry. "Or do you like to impersonate Goa'uld to sexually molest your subordinates, General?"

He ripped something from Jack O'Neill's throat and held it up. A voice modulator.

Just when John got the gag off of Rodney. "Oh, fuck, are you kidding? That's it, this is the last fucking straw, you're all insane and now we can bring you all up on some kind of criminal charge -- Sheppard, give me the zat and you won't face insubordination charges if I do what I know you want to do."

John held on to it even as Cam got up, shrugging off the people apparently restraining him. "Okay, look, there's a reason, Shep... seriously. I said it sucked as an idea but it was either this or the IOA got their way."

"You could call off your killer doctor here. He's still got a needle against my neck," Jack replied "Although, not sure why he has a needle on him."

"It's my backup for Rodney's epipen," Carson said

Rodney looked so angry that he was shaking, and Ronon jerked hard at the guys who were still holding him tightly. Teyla didn't look much better, and Lorne seemed confused, and John was with him there.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Rodney snapped. "What, it's not enough that you left us out there on our own, but now you have to act out your sick fantasies on us?!"

"It was a test," Jack said as Carson stepped away from him looking exceptionally pale. "I needed to know how you would react under specific pressure."

"I believe that you have established that our reaction is less than favorable," Teyla said with a look in her eye that did not bode well.

"I told you I should've played the bad guy," Daniel said behind him. "Listen. Listen, look the IOA were saying their reports indicated in situations with trigger points that you would... uh, not to put too fine a point on it, lose it. And they weren't signing off on you going back to Atlantis without some proof that wouldn't happen."

O'Neill tilted his head. "What he said."

"Lose it? So your grand idea was to hold us all hostage while you raped John? I don't have to lose it, I can sue! I don't have to take this shit, I'm still Canadian!" Rodney snarled. "This, this is proof that the IOA is just a crazy American puppet if this was your best plan."

"You know, I would've stopped before we went much further," Jack said. "Not that I'm averse to the odd blow-job."

Daniel cleared his throat. "Yes well... Rodney, I think you need just to take a breath or something."

John was still a little stunned and just stood there as he tried to figure out what he felt. He was almost paralyzed by the warring reactions inside of him.

"You know, I could just tear you apart," Ronon practically growled.

"Fuck you and your damn deep breaths. I don't need to calm down, this is, this is... What kind of plan was this?!" Rodney paced back, paced towards Carson, and John just stood there, keys still in his hands while he moved to release Teyla and Lorne. Rodney was incoherent with anger, but John couldn't even find words, so there was no point in shutting Rodney up. "What, was this supposed to help engender our loyalty to the SGC? My niece could've come up with a better plan!"

Carson was looking very shaky and getting a pallor to his skin that John started to recognize as him being nauseated. "I think I need to sit down a moment," he said barely audible to Rodney and fumbled for a seat.

"Okay, look." O'Neill stood. "It was a shitty thing to do, but considering the deadlines we had, it was the only thing we could do. You locked us out of Atlantis. Like it or not, that made you potential threats even if most of us argue for you. That's black and white, kids, part of the rules that come from above me. Analysis of those reports you gave and therapy come back with shock and post-traumatic stress and all of that and the push was to scrub you guys immediately. But we know..." He gestured to the rest of SG-1. "That the thing that matters, if you're out there, is that you don't crack if you have to face it again. So we needed a situation that challenged each of you in that weakest spot and we needed it fast. How else would you have had me do it by tomorrow at 0800, huh?"

"We locked you out of Atlantis because you pull shit like this! I locked you out of Atlantis because maybe the Ancients and the Asgard had the right idea and humans can't string two logical thoughts together in a row, let alone be trusted with all of that power, and we need to get out of here before I punch you." Rodney veered for Carson, never mind that he was trying to sit down. "If you want to debrief this little event, I suggest you put 'I'm insane' at the top and sign your name at the bottom."

"Rodney,..." John managed after his brain caught up with him. "Just see if Carson's okay, will you? You might want to borrow the General's in-tray so he can throw up in it."

He looked around at the others, mentally checking everyone was okay and receiving indications through nods that they were. He felt a little numb but that part of his mind that kicked in through a crisis was calculating and trying to work out what else O'Neill could've done.

"You could've just talked to us you know," he said to Jack in a low voice. "We wanted to explain it to you because you've been out there and know what it's like."

"Yeah, yeah I do know what it's like," Jack said. "And I know that it's sometimes a bigger problem for some people than other... experiences."

"Won't make much of a difference on the in-tray," Rodney muttered, spilling papers onto the desk and grabbing it before crouching down with Carson. "Hey."

"Hello, Rodney," Carson said, obviously trying to breathe slowly. "Please tell the General he's a fucking idiot because I was a millimeter from killing him."

"Yeah, I gathered that," Jack answered. "I think we underestimated you, Dr. Beckett."

"Most people do," John said. "You have before and you know, you've done that with all of us. But I get what you were trying to do, sir. I don't like it and I am incredibly close to striking a superior officer right now but... I guess you've proved a point. We can deal with being hostages again. We can deal with people being after our bodies again. I can deal with trading any sense of dignity or pride for the sake of my people or Atlantis. We aren't so scarred that we can't do what you need us to do. That was the point wasn't it?"

"I hope that was the point. Otherwise the point was pissing us all off, and since I did lock down the city, that would've been supremely stupid to do on purpose." Rodney rubbed at Carson's back, holding the in-tray at the ready if need be.

"That was pretty much the point, yes." Jack looked at them all. "We're going to be bending a hell of a lot of rules for you and we needed to know that we had solid reason to do it. Better to leave Atlantis locked down than to give it back to people who could crack apart under the next attack and let it fall into enemy hands."

"Okay, I get that." John nodded. "What are you going to be bending?"

"He's going to be bending Don't Ask Don't Tell into pretzels," Carson said dryly from where he had managed not to be ill. "Aren't you?"

"See, but I don't need someone telling me that I need to bend it into pretzels." Jack looked over towards Carson and Rodney. "Look, you're all going back, so I hope you've got everything organized and crated, and we'll figure out how to do dual-galaxy citizenship for the baby."

"What?" John asked trying to work that one out.

"The general forced me to tell them who the father of Teyla's baby was before you came in," Carson said and John blinked. No wonder Carson was shaky even before everything. It made him wonder what else had happened before he came in.

"Carson has known that it was Evan's for sometime but I did not want to know for fear it was a Dzomari child," Teyla said quietly. "It was not his fault that he said it. They appeared to be ready to kill me if the child was not 'useful'."

So maybe there was more to Rodney's anger than the little scene he'd been personally involved in. If they'd been brought in one by one, there could have been a series of the 'tests ' before he even stepped into the room, and that... Well, punching his superior officer wasn't going to help.

"Right, well. American citizen born in another galaxy, just... One of the interesting things we don't yet have forms for me to fill out. Yet."

"Well, congratulations Lorne," John said. It could've been any one of them. "So is that all, General?"

"I'd like just a few words with you on your own, Sheppard," Jack replied. "So if all of the rest of you want to go back to bed."

"C'mon, Carson." Rodney set the inbox down on the floor, and started pulling Carson up. They finally let go of Ronon, and he snarled at the two guards, reaching for Teyla and Lorne both, and that was heartening.

John was surprised when O'Neill ushered all of his supporting cast out of the door as well, waiting until they'd all gone before speaking. "You wanna seat? I threw them out so if you did want to take a swing at me then there were no witnesses to my story of walking into a door."

"Sir, I generally respect you. Generally. The only times I've ever disrespected a senior officer or failed to follow orders were when the lives of my unit were at risk. So I need to know just what you did to them before I got here."

"Pushed buttons," Jack answered. "All of your team had identified issues. Dr. Beckett looked like a weak link so we put him under pressure. McKay didn't like being a hostage to be used against you at all, and his and most of the others was helplessness. You might not know this, Sheppard, but most of their trauma is tied up with how they couldn't do anything to help you."

"I knew," he said it through clenched teeth. "Funny that none of them resent me, which was what your psych person on the Daedalus tried to get at."

"Well, the psych people are full of shit most of the time," Jack replied. "But they were hitting the nail on the head with that. Mostly what we did was stop them doing anything to stop you walking into a trap. We reduced the setting on the zats... otherwise Dr. Beckett wouldn't've come around in time to stick a needle in my neck and we used Cam to do most of the convincing roughing up, okay? Look... crap... This was always going to be a risk. But..." He cleared his throat. "It happened to me once. Not like this, not as bad as this but I came back, I recovered and pretended it didn't bother me and the next time something came up... I nearly lost Daniel because I locked up. Didn't know if I could do it. He spent a couple of weeks in the infirmary because I wasn't sure I could let someone do that to me again. Do you get where I'm coming from?"

"I've worked through this problem once. I disobeyed orders in Afghanistan, and brought back no one at all alive. I messed up, but it hasn't stopped me from trying to get the rest of my people back." Repeatedly, from Sumner on.

"It's not the same as rape or sexual abuse," Jack answered. "There are people who would die rather than go through that or face it again, Anders being one of them. People who can are the exception not the rule, that much I've figured. Most of our transfers out of here or early retirements have something to do with an off world mission ending badly in this way. It wasn't just me who needed to know, it was you. You start to doubt what you would do or if you could... Now you know early on in the game that you can do it if you need to save lives."

"We're from the original mission to Atlantis, General. We survived fifteen months thinking we were never going to get home. Then we spent the last better part of a year fending for ourselves. I know what we're capable of under pressure." What Teyla and Lorne and Carson and Rodney and Ronon were capable of, each and every mission.

Jack nodded. "Yeah, I get it." He exhaled. "You still want to take that punch? I don't want you on the other side of the universe feeling you can't trust me."

"It's not me you need to worry about this time." John rolled his shoulders. "I'll be in my room if you need me, sir."

"Try not to let McKay blow up anything, Colonel," Jack replied and then waved a nonchalant hand as dismissal. "You'll hear the official announcement tomorrow."

"Thank you." He didn't salute, because after that trick, well, he wasn't feeling it. The General could take it for what he wanted, and John turned to let himself out.

He didn't get any further comment, and he was glad because he was still too damn angry about everything and it was late and he felt like he'd been put through a wringer. He didn't even acknowledge anyone in the corridors as he headed back to their quarters. Dammit, he should be happy but he couldn't feel it.

He probably still looked angry as he let himself in to hunt down Rodney and Carson.

It wasn't hard to find them, in Rodney and Carson's 'combined' quarters, which was better than John's little space. John closed the door, and Rodney looked up at him immediately. "Hey."

"Hey," John answered. "How're you guys doing?"

"Well, I've managed not to throw up," Carson said. "Which is progress I think."

"I still want to go back there and punch him," Rodney murmured. They were sitting close together at the little 'dinner table' that the room had, and Rodney gave John a miserable look. "What the hell was that?"

"Our ticket back home," John replied. "He offered me a freebie hit but I decided against it. I was more worried about you guys. You doing okay? What did he do to you?"

"Threatened Teyla, made Carson talk, promised that I'd be used against you." Rodney rubbed at his forehead.

"Uh-huh." Pretty much what the general had said. "They shouldn't've done that. I guess I got a faint justification from O'Neill."

"It's bullshit. Seriously, we work for these people and trust them? They think we still can?" Rodney shifted, made room at the little table for John

"Well, we can count on them to be pricks but we can trust O'Neill. It wasn't conventional but it did get to the point." John sat down and reached to touch both of them.

"You can trust O'Neill. He sent me to Siberia for telling him facts he didn't like. I've been put out to hang by him before." Rodney crossed his arms over his chest.

"Yeah, well, just think, we've got him right where we want him." John said. "Carson..."

"Don't, John, I'm fine," Carson said.

"You were ready to kill him for us," Rodney pointed out. "To spare John."

"Aye well," Carson looked embarrassed. "Somehow I think I should leave the action things to other people. I.... I'm still not sure what came over me."

"They underestimated you. Us," John pointed out.

Rodney exhaled, and shifted to put his forehead down against the table. "We're going home."

"Yeah." He stroked at Rodney's hair, grateful he was there and the adrenalin was wearing off. "And I guess I know I won't hesitate if we get that situation again. That was apparently the point."

"Screwed up way of doing it," Rodney muttered against the table. "I need to sleep. You need to sleep, Carson. John."

"I'm with you there. Is there enough room for the three of us?" John asked because he really did need someone there right now even if he was maintaining a good front.

"No, but we can make room." Rodney started to stand up, looking like he was still strung out. "I don't even know what military regs we've violated. We've just slept a lot. It's starting to get obscene. According to Ronon, he's been learning about three-way sex. Not that I needed to know that because the mental pictures are never going to go away."

"We'll work on that bit," John promised, helping Carson up. "It's not that I don't want to."

It was the fear of it all going wrong, and he guessed there was a point there somewhere. He was going to have to face that.

"I would like to do that as well." Carson seemed to be seriously considering it.

"Now?" Rodney seemed surprised but... hell. Hell, why not. Why not see how far they could get before one of them freaked out?

"We could," John said "Unless you want to wait. Although as revenges go, I can't think of much else that would piss the SGC off."

"Another good point," Carson said with a smile.

"I..." Rodney opened his mouth, staring at John and Carson, and then nodded to the door. "You want to put a chair up against that, then?"

"Good idea," John moved to do that. "You know, if it doesn't work out this time, that's cool." He wedged the chair under the door carefully and then turned to follow them to bed.

"Are you okay with this?" Carson asked.

"Yeah, I'm just still wound up from the faux hostage situation, and maybe possibly I didn't want to do anything back when we were at my sister's because I, I'm talking too much." Rodney reached for Carson, like he reached for comfort. Comfort from Carson and protection and safety from John, which was sort of funny.

He didn't feel like he'd done much of the protecting.

"It's okay, Rodney," Carson murmured, soothing Rodney gently. "You can talk all you want."

"I'm tired of talking, and I'm tired of being analyzed. We get to go back to Atlantis tomorrow, and I never thought that if a mission had gone so wrong I'd ever want to go back, but..." But Rodney was leaning into Carson, and kissed him.

That was a good start and John knew Carson had wanted the physical comfort the most out of all of them. It was strange how they were all wired up to react so differently.

The kiss was long and perfect to watch and for a while John just stood there, rooted to the spot as he zoned in on the look of it, the soft sounds of them both.

He was a part of that. They fit together, maybe not perfectly, but when Carson pulled back he made a vague eye contact gesture to John. "I think we've all got too many clothes on, for a start."

"Yeah," he agreed swallowing and started taking off his uniform even as Carson nodded and started to help Rodney undress.

"It's going to be good, Rodney, I promise," Carson murmured.

Rodney exhaled, shifting his shirt off over his head. "I'm just... nervous. Afraid that I might freak out, because that would be, I mean, Teyla went through so much worse, and she's coping."

"Maybe she needs the same sort of support," Carson said. "Look we don't have to do much at all."

"It's all cool." John nodded and made it to the bed. "It's more about trying."

Rodney struggled to toe off his shoes, while Carson unfastened Rodney's belt, and he was watching John. "Huh, and you have to say that while naked and hot with your body hair all grown back in."

"I thought you preferred me clean shaven?" John said, teasing. "I could be wrong but I think you enjoyed those times."

"Because I was with someone I actually wanted to be with," Rodney groused, reaching down to grasp Carson's hands for a moment so he could unzip his own pants.

Carson got himself naked at that point, not resenting the fact Rodney had taken control of his disrobing.

"So, with hair or without?" John asked playfully and smiled as he lay out on the bed.

"With." Rodney looked down for a moment while he slid his pants off. "With. I like it better."

"Both ways have advantages," Carson murmured. "Come and lie down Rodney. I think you need us to calm you down a little. May I hold you?"

"You ask that like I'd find it a hardship." Rodney slid his underwear off before he moved to get between John and Carson on the narrow bed. They hadn't done completely naked, and John was sort of more than looking forward to it.

"Well, you might." Carson settled with his arms behind him, so John moved in front.

"I'm gonna kiss you, Rodney, just so you know," John warned him even as he leaned forward.

"Don't need a warning," Rodney murmured again, but he felt Rodney hesitate against his mouth for a moment before he relaxed, leaning forward and into John.

It was gentle then, the whole touching and moving, fingers on skin and soft warmth. It wasn't passion and heat, but it was comfort and warmth. Carson was murmuring in Rodney's ear.

John could feel Rodney relax, could feel Rodney's hands move from wherever they'd been before, probably knotted up tight against nothing at all, to grasp onto John. "Mmm."

Carson appeared to be massaging Rodney's neck and back, his expression curiously intent as he did so even as John enjoyed the feel of Rodney's hands. It was strange, but because they were his, he was okay with them touching even intimate areas.

It was good just to feel, to luxuriate in harmless touch, and just feeling Rodney leaning into him, kissing him, letting his mouth idle against John's.

They had sometimes done this on the Dzomari ship; just lying, comforting in closeness and presence. They all had, swapping person to person and they each felt different in his arms. From just sharing warmth with Anders, a necessity, to holding Lorne like a younger brother needing protection, to Rodney who he needed so much and Carson who was usually the one to hold him. It had been hard then not to let go sometimes. He was pretty sure when he was hurt and delirious, he probably had.

"Is that good, Rodney?" Carson asked softly. "Does it feel good?"

"Yeah." It was less of an answer than a sated sigh, and Rodney shifted, fingers drifting down to John's belly. "Yeah, it feels good."

John closed his eyes a moment, feeling Rodney's finger twist and explore in the tufts of fine hair there. He seemed to be making patterns and twirls and just exploring and he could deal with that. Calm and gentle was a definite change of pace from hard and pain. He'd been willing to give O'Neill a blowjob or more less than an hour before and he'd thought this would be out of the question.

They were all seriously messed up, John decided. Rodney shifted, kissed the underside of John's jaw, and his fingers slid down to John's left hip.

"That's good, Rodney," he said softly. "I'm good with that..." He didn't want to beg but he did want to try more. Carson moved with Rodney, seemingly still shielding him somehow with his body.

John wasn't even sure how that was possible, but Rodney shifted a little, half aware that he was so closely shadowed, and was touching Carson, too. "So if I go further, it's okay. Right?"

"Right," John answered even as Carson's finger joined Rodney's on his body.

"You say if you want things to back off, John," Carson added "Okay?"

He nodded to that and settled to enjoy the experience.

John wasn't sure how it had changed from Rodney in the middle and the focus, to him being the focus, but if that was how Rodney was comfortable, then so be it. He couldn't mind, and he stretched back on the bed while Rodney shifted slightly to one side, and wrapped fingers around the base of John's cock.

He quivered at that touch but then exhaled. He wasn't tied or being tormented as a prelude to the touching. He moaned a little and felt a stir of want there that felt cleaner and more him than before. It felt good, Rodney's fingers just testing, moving a little, as if he thought that John's dick was going to jump up and bite him.

Carson's fingers were a little more certain and sure about their business and it was enough to make him forget what he was thinking and feeling. Fuck, it felt good. Warm and good and tantalizing.

Hands on his dick, fingers sliding to palm his balls, a pair of fingers on his nipples, and then Carson was leaning down to kiss him and Rodney's mouth was on his belly.

This hazy way of contact was wonderful and not threatening at all. He shifted his legs a little to let them have easier access if they wanted to and Carson was kissing him in that long sweet way he had watched him do with Rodney. He decided that he could take this pace all night.

Nice and slow, lazy motions, and then he felt Rodney's lips brush against his erection.

"Rodney..." He wanted to ask for more, but that might be too much pressure. "You don't have to, Rodney."

"I want to." Rodney shifted, pressed is mouth against the underside again. "I want to, so please...."

Let him. He could let him. "God, yes, sure, go ahead," John replied even as he felt Carson tease elsewhere on his body.

Kissing him, mouth and then neck, and then mouth again, while Rodney slowly licked a line up John's erection, hands idling over John's thighs.

He let himself drift, let himself make the noises he wanted to make instead of stifling them or producing them on demand. That felt strange and new and wonderful and he was melting away under the feeling of care and emotion rather than lust that was touching him with every contact.

There was lust, but it wasn't the focus. It was Rodney trying to get comfortable with what he was doing with John's dick, and it was Carson really relaxing and kissing at his chest, exploring in ways he hadn't done before.

There was him lying there and enjoying it in ways he hadn't thought possible. He was responding, he knew he was. He made soft noises when Rodney licked at him, more when Carson sucked on a nipple or found impossibly sensitive areas on his body. He was growing hard and he knew it. Hard, and he wanted it, and god it felt good. It felt good just to shift and stretch on the narrow bed, while Rodney closed his lips around the head of John's cock finally.

It nearly made him jump and he had to fight back a rush of memory that nearly had him flinching. Sucking him off had been part of the Wraith fetish; unable to move and that as a prelude to the hand that tried to mimic the feeling and...

No, no this was Rodney and he was okay and it was fine.

It was just Rodney, and Carson pressing open-mouthed kisses to his chest, and he could move his hands, did move his hands, curled one at the back of Carson's neck.

Carson leaned into him and he could feel the heat of his cock against him, sliding over his skin as well. Then he could reach Rodney's hair, which he threaded with grateful fingers even as he moved his hips a little, just a little. Just enough to enjoy the motion, enough to half-hear the slurp of Rodney's mouth, as much as he felt the slurp. Yeah, that was good, slow, lazy sex, Rodney not even moving fast, just sort of sucking him.

Carson was moving a little then and reaching, it seemed, for Rodney's cock, or at least encouraging him to lie in a way so he could access it with hands. From the way he was turning around it was possible he was changing directions.

John opened his eyes a little, and decided that it worked. It worked, because Carson's dick was right there and Carson looked like he was going to suck or stroke Rodney off, and that was probably as far as any of them wanted to go. And it was good, and slow, and John figured he could do it.

It certainly surprised Carson when he started touching and then moved rapidly to sucking. He could feel the shiver and tremor and somewhere in among the sensation he felt Rodney react to something as well. But there was no uncontrolled rush, just a gentle slow exploring build of suction and movement.

It was like falling slowly down a hill, tumbling bit by bit, a slow slide towards pleasure that sped up only a little, enough to make it feel inevitable.

How long they spent like that was difficult to tell. All that existed was the warmth and pleasure and closeness of them all. He loved that, relished knowing that Rodney was making those sounds, Carson moaning in soft pants every now and then, hearing his own exhalations as he sucked Carson towards climax.

Somewhere, at some point, the pace started to pick up little by little. More movement, more need, more of everything. Rodney sucking harder, fingers toying with his balls and no further, but it felt so good, so strong in sensation, just that little bit more, and he'd come. Just a little--

He came first out of all of them and it was a little like a domino effect because even as he was moaning he felt Carson quicken and then Rodney was saying something and one, two, three he didn't know the order but it was enough to cascade the orgasm until they were all spent and relaxed.


Rodney's mouth was idle against his thigh, and Rodney slouched down close, exhaling in small puffs of breath. "Huh. We could do this a lot more often."

"I think it went well," Carson managed from somewhere near his knees. "I think I need a wee bit more stamina though."

"We were all okay with it," John said, kissing Carson's thigh. "Didn't have problems."

Rodney stretched, and exhaled again. "Mmm. Whose stomach is my foot on?"

"Mine," Carson managed. "You know, it's a little cool lying on top of the covers here. I vote for getting into bed and staying warm."

John smiled. "I think you won't get arguments with that from Rodney."

"Someone gonna set an alarm clock?" Rodney shifted, and since he was at the end of the bed, stood up and stretched a little. "Hn, guess I will."

"We get the official go ahead to go home tomorrow. Elizabeth and the other will be there and we'll be going back to Pegasus," John smiled. "Remind me to stock up on chocolate this time."

"Tea for me, I think," Carson replied as he half fell out of bed in the process of righting himself and then crawling back in.

"Popcorn," Rodney sighed that while he fussed with the alarm clock, and John watched him. "I missed it."

"Caramel, butter or salted?" John murmured. "They tell us we're going out and we're going to take the biggest sack of personal stuff we can. Considering most of my personal effects no longer exist, we'll hit the mall and leave a list of stuff for them to send later. They'll have people coming through after us."

"Buttered," Rodney decided. "Jiffy pop sorts of things, if possible. Think of the carcinogens we could trade that way." He was moving slowly, nudging Carson over so that Carson was wedged between them in the bed.

That was a good thing. Carson had been the most shaken up by the 'test' and with good reason. He had to be ready to cross one of those lines again. Be ready to kill. Even finding out it was a fake and a set up, then he had the let down of realizing he had a needle to their overall commander's neck, threatening his life.

"Microwave popcorn keeps a long time as well," Carson said, sleepily. "We can watch films and play games on the Xbox and... we need to hit download sites."

John smiled as he turned to get comfortable. "Home away from home."

"Bring home with us. Home is with us." Rodney shifted, and his ass was probably hanging off the side of the bed, but he seemed comfortable as he turned into Carson.

"When we get there, if you don't talk Atlantis into a bigger bed then I will," Carson said as he pulled Rodney in close, half over him.

"Not sure that they had adjustable beds," John yawned.

"She'd make one for you. Us,." Carson assured him and maybe new Atlantis would at that.

"We can just find a bigger one. They couldn't have all been ascetics."

Or they could have been. Or maybe the beds were for show and they slept piled on furs and pushed the beds together the way the Athosians did. John didn't care. They'd make it work. They could do anything, when they were back where they belonged.