An Acceptable Sacrifice
Chapter Three



John Sheppard stumbled through the never-ending, murky grey fog. On more than one occasion he had head voices in the distance, but no matter how often he called to them, they never answered. He was sure that once one of those voices belonged to Rodney, but where the hell was he? Rodney knew to wait for him; Rodney knew it wasn't safe for him to go on ahead without an escort.

He had heard things he didn't understand—something about the Wraith and an hour of his life, and being afraid because it had been so long and John would need to ask him about that, ask him what had been so long. And who was Rodney talking to? Why would Rodney tell a stranger if there was something wrong, and not John?

Rodney was in for one serious chewing-out when John found him. If he found him. John felt a chill pulsing through his body, then tried to focus on another voice, just directly up ahead. This one he didn't recognise.

"You'll feel a little more comfortable now. Colonel." The quiet voice was soothing. "And he will be back soon, I promise. I can tell by the look in his eyes just how much you mean to him."

John stopped dead in the grey mist and shouted to the voice. "Hello? Hey!" He shook his head, bewildered, when he realised that there was no sound coming from his mouth. He tried again. "Hey! I'm here! Where are you?"

"It takes a special kind of braveness to do what he is willing to do for you." The voice continued, as if John hadn't spoken. "Far braver than taking a bullet, as he says you would do for him."

"Who are you?" John called. "Where's Rodney?"

The voice never answered him, just kept talking. "Temal has broken many a man in this prison in the years I have been here. You must survive, John, or he will break your friend. I do not think Rodney will be able to withstand Temal along with that kind of grieving."

Another shiver ran through John's body. Was he dying? He was... Trapped somewhere, and lost, but other than that he was fine, wasn't he?

Even as he was thinking that, he felt a strange tightness in his chest and suddenly the mist around him seemed to be getting warmer and warmer, until it was burning hot..

"He's a strange man, your McKay," the voice continued. John struggled to listen, because it felt like this was important, something he had to know, but the pressure around John's chest was increasing, starting to hurt.

"Rodney?" he managed to rasp out, and this time he knew he was speaking--his throat seemed to erupt in fire as the name left his lips.

"Shh, Colonel, shh," the stranger said. Had he heard John, finally? "He'll be back soon. He's paying Temal for the medicine I've just given you."

Medicine? John was sick? He didn't feel—

John tried to ask—who this man was, and what he'd done with Rodney and what the medicine was for and if he could help John find his way back to where Rodney was, but the next thing John knew was that the sky seemed to be falling in on top of him, in burning pressure and terrible pain.

"Rodney! Help!" he gasped again, and then there was pain worse than anything he'd ever felt, and his lungs were on fire as he fought to scream.

"I'm sorry, Colonel," came that same voice, deceptively gentle as John tried to move, to get away from the terrible pain. "I have to re-set you collarbone. Otherwise it won't heal. It will be over soon."

Something pulled at him then, and the agony bore him down, down, through the grey and back into empty darkness.

***

Rodney woke cold and shivering, lying naked on the stone floor of the cell. His head was pounding, and even though he knew his eyes were fully open he found it hard to focus.

He recognised the symptoms--he had eaten little the day before and vomited most of that up after...Temal.

Slowly, with his body feeling impossibly heavy and with his co-ordination all over the place, he pulled himself shakily to his knees and then he pulled himself to his feet and lurched to the table under the window. He wanted to go to John immediately, but he knew he had to eat first—he'd be worse than useless to John otherwise.

Rodney grabbed at the pile of dry wheat biscuits that John had instructed him to stockpile. They tasted like sawdust, and he figured that sawdust might have been easier to swallow. With effort, he lifted the big water jug and poured himself something to drink in his small wooden bowl.

He gulped it down instantly, then regretted it. His throat was raw, and the water mingled with the stale vomit and semen on his tongue and teeth, and he retched again at the texture and taste. It took all his energy to force the water to stay in his stomach. He took another small sip, followed by a deep breath, then he repeated the action again and again until he had drained a second bowl of water and managed with difficulty to swallow over three of the biscuits.

Exhausted, he finally let himself look over at the still form of John Sheppard lying on the cot. Something about John's breathing was instantly comforting, even though it was still fast and rattling with illness. Rodney made his way over to John, resting his hand gently on his chest feeling the laboured rise and fall before moving to his own cot dropping heavily down on top of it and slipping back into a troubled sleep.

Rodney was wakened a second time by the sound of the morning bell and keys turning in the cell door, and the guards' raised voices. No one entered, theirs, though, which Rodney counted as a minor miracle in this awful place. Rodney pulled himself painfully up into a sitting position then swung his feet over the side of the cot. He supposed he'd better prepare himself for the morning run.

His ass was sore but not unbearably so, at least. He would need to thank the old man for that, because he was sure it was the ointment Sigged had given him, far more than his attempts to stretch himself, that had saved him from being torn by Petron.

John was lying quietly, and after pulling the blanket a little higher over John's chest Rodney took the time to get himself cleaned and dressed.

Quietly, Rodney made his way over to the water and wash basin. He poured a little water into one of the drinking bowls first, then he poured the remainder into the basin. He washed himself slowly and deliberately, thinking only to get off as much of last night's filth as possible. He had to rub hard to get the dried blood off his buttocks, from where Petron had dug his nails into the flesh.

When he was finished, Rodney grabbed his prison uniform and dressed himself.

Rodney picked up the empty jug and stepped gingerly outside the cell, coming face-to-face with the younger guard, the one who had taunted him and John when they first arrived.

The guard eyed him for a moment. "Are you all right?" he asked, startling Rodney. The guard let his eyes slide deliberately in the direction of the field, where Temal and his band were joking with each other and laughing.

"Am I actually meant to believe you give a shit?" Rodney spat at the young man. He gripped the jug harder in his hand, telling himself that things would deteriorate even more rapidly if he used it to hit the stupid son of a bitch.

The young guard shoved Rodney hard up against the wall. "Listen, you," he hissed, but his voice was urgent, rather than angry. "You're not the only one who needs to survive here—we all do! I don't like what Petron or Temal do any more than you do! Who do you think asked Sigged to go to your cell? Who do you think gave him the ointment?"

"That was you?" Rodney blinked at him. "But the other day," he protested, "you groped me, tried to provoke Sheppard—what the hell was that?"

The young guard shrugged his shoulders. "There are a lot of rumors about the Great John Sheppard and his Doctor McKay," the guard said. Rodney just stared blankly at the guard. The young man shrugged. "They say he took on Kolya and an assault team for you," he said. "That he killed over sixty men to save you. I wanted to see if there was any truth to that or not."

Rodney shook his head. "Who told you he took them on for me?" he asked, incredulous. "How could you even know what happened?"

The guard shrugged again. "It's not a secret--some of those Genii survived. They told stories of how one soldier picked them off one at a time, and that he kept asking himself, 'what would McKay do?' You seemed to be the force that drove him on."

Rodney shook his head again and sighed, "John Sheppard is a soldier, like you said. And he's highly trained. I'm a scientist. I didn't motivate him to do anything. John just did what he had to do to save A--his people. He did what he was trained to do."

The young guard looked skeptical. "I think it was more than that. Just like it's more than that with you, now."

"What are you talking about?" Rodney fired back.

"Were you trained to do what you did with Temal?" The young guard looked into the cell, at the still form of John on the far cot, then turned back to Rodney.

"The exercise is nearly over," he said. "You should go get your water before the others have to line up." And with that he walked away, towards the inner gate that the prisoners had to come through to get back into the courtyard.

Rodney closed his eyes and answered the guard's question in his head: It was the only way. It was all I had to offer. Then swallowing hard, he gathered himself and headed towards the big water tanks.

Sigged was at the far side of the first tank when Rodney got there. He was filling two jugs, much smaller than the one Rodney had.

"How is he?" Sigged asked.

"Sleeping," Rodney said, while dipping his large jug in the water to fill it.

"And you?"

Rodney sighed. "I'm tired and I have the mother of all headaches, and it's not too comfortable sitting down."

Sigged nodded. "Will you go to him again tonight?"

Rodney took a deep breath and a vision of John coughing and fevered, lying in a pool of his own blood flashed into his mind. "Yes," he said quietly.

"I aligned your friend's collarbone," Sigged said, and Rodney was grateful not to have to continue talking about tonight. "It should start to mend now that I've strapped it up. I also bound his ribs to reduce the amount of movement. The medicine for the pneumonia has to be crushed and dissolved in a little water. Put only a small amount in his mouth at a time, because his swallowing reflexes are very sluggish. That way, what he can't swallow should be absorbed through the skin of his mouth." Sigged lifted his two water jugs and motioned for Rodney to walk with him back towards the cells.

"Do you know how to administer the painkillers, Doctor McKay?"

Rodney gave Sigged a questioning look. "Doesn't he just swallow them? Like the medicine for his lungs?"

"Raphana," Sigged said matter-of-factly. "The tablet will dissolve once placed under the tongue. It's the only type of pain relief Temal has ever been able to supply, and I expect it's really what you are sacrificing yourself for. Many of the inmates here are addicted to it." Sigged smiled sadly. "The price has always been high."

Rodney stopped walking. "So I'm not the only one?" he asked.

The old doctor bowed his head. "No. Temal has others he...finds use for, but for now, Doctor McKay, for now you are the focus of his attention."

Rodney swallowed, more than a little shocked. Him? Temal wanted him exclusively? It was mind-boggling. And horrifying. What would Temal want him for?

"I will see to him when you go for your food," Sigged continued. "Try to rouse him, McKay, so that he can take some water."

Rodney just nodded numbly, watching Sigged head off towards his own cell.