An Acceptable Sacrifice
Chapter Four





Carson stood quietly on the balcony of his room, staring out across the water.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Two strong arms slipped around his waist, and Carson lifted his hands to thread his fingers through those that were now on his stomach, but he didn't say anything.

"I came straight here once I briefed Elizabeth on what was happening back home," Stephen Caldwell said. "She said you've been working non-stop trying to find out what happened to that Genii diplomat. She told me I was to get you to rest for a few hours."

Stephen nuzzled the back of Carson's neck.

"Have I ever told you how damned sexy you look in those washed out jeans and that shirt?"

Carson turned slowly within the arms that surrounded him, meeting his lover's eyes.

"It was murder," he said quietly, his eyes locking on the dark eyes of Stephen Caldwell. "The Epi-pen that Rodney carried--it wasn't Adrenaline, it was Digoxin."

Stephen Caldwell pulled back slightly. "Does Elizabeth know?"

Carson merely nodded while gently pushing away from Stephen and heading into his room. He was tired, he was tired and he was upset and he had worked for hours looking for something, anything that would clear Rodney McKay and John Sheppard of murder and allow them to bring them home.

He had found something, at last, but what it meant was almost worse.

Stephen followed Carson inside, sliding the glass door shut to keep out the chill of the Atlantean night.

"Carson?"

"Rodney didn't know what was in his Epi-pen, if it had been him, if he had taken a reaction to something and used it..." Carson shook his head. "It would be him lying dead in the Genii morgue."

Stephen's eyes widened. "You're saying it was McKay who was supposed to die?"

Carson nodded, then made his way to sit heavily at his desk.

"Rodney's carried that Epi-pen about with him for months," he said. "He could have had cause to use it at any time." Carson closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. "Every time he steps foot through that bloody Stargate, there could be something waiting for him on the other side that could trigger an allergic reaction violent enough to need treatment."

Stephen sat on the foot of Carson's bed.

"That's good news, though, isn't it?" Stephen asked. "Elizabeth can negotiate with the Genii, explain to them what you found. She can tell them that it was Rodney McKay who was the target, and not their diplomat. All we need to do is to find out who switched McKay's Epi-pen."

Carson lifted his head and met his lover's eyes.

"I already know who tried to kill Rodney," Carson said, almost too quietly for Stephen to hear.

"You what?" Stephen started upright. "Who? Have you told Elizabeth?"

Carson shook his head. He blinked back threatening tears.

"Why the hell not?" Stephen demanded.

"Because it was you," Carson said quietly.

Stephen stared at Carson. "What do you mean?" He asked, his voice suddenly small and tight.

"We traced back the batch of pens," Carson said sadly. "They were shipped here by the Daedalus."

Stephen shook his head in disbelief. "Carson, everything is brought here by the Daedalus, I didn't try to kill Rodney McKay! What the hell's gotten into you?"

"Nothing's got into me Stephen," Carson said, "--but something got into you." He stretched across his desk, snagging the bottle of whisky and the two glasses which were sitting beside it pouring while he spoke.

"You took a batch of twelve Epi-pens on board and marked them for the personal use of Dr Rodney McKay." Carson didn't look at Stephen as he spoke. "You removed twelve of the batch which were meant for Atlantis, and replaced them with those twelve pens--pens that were full of Digoxin, not adrenaline."

Carson wordlessly slid one of the glasses across his desk. "I checked, Stephen. I checked the batch numbers. They all tally except for the twelve marked as personal for Rodney."

Stephen took the glass, but he shook his head in disbelief. "Carson," he said, "what the hell are you talking about? Why in the name of God would I do something like that? You're wrong, it's got to be--"

Carson handed Stephen a piece of paper. "Check the dates," he said quietly, then swallowed down the contents of his glass.

Stephen stared at the printout, and Carson could see the exact moment realization struck. "Oh, my God!" He watched as Carson drank his own glassful, then refilled the glass when Stephen held it out for another. His dark eyes looked stricken.

"Carson," he said softly, "I didn't... it wasn't me. It was the Goa'uld symbiot --the Agency--I wouldn't do that. They must have wanted to get rid of McKay." He took another drink, and Carson knew the shudder Stephen gave was from far more than the burn of the whisky. "I don't remember any of it," he said afterwards, his eyes bleak. "I would never have done that. I don't remember."

Carson sighed, nodding. "I know, love," he said, but he saw that Stephen didn't really look mollified. "I'm just as much to blame--I gave that pen to Rodney. I saw his name on the box and just assumed he was being overly cautious, as usual. I could just as easily have given him a different pen from the box." He drained his second glass of whisky, then stood. "I have to tell Elizabeth, I'll be back as soon as I can."

But he only got as far as the doorway before he stopped and went back to Stephen, who was looking down at the floor, holding the shot glass between his lax hands.

"I know it wasn't you, love," Carson said quietly.

Stephen nodded, but he didn't say anything.

***

Rodney forced himself to eat another couple of the dry tasteless biscuits when he returned to the cell he shared with John. He hadn't been kidding when he'd told Sigged he had the mother and father of all headaches. He suspected most of it was down to the lack of food, but the fact that he was bordering on having a full blown panic attack wasn't helping him any either.

He sat for a long while beside John, just gathering his thoughts, before he decided it was time for him to move.

He grabbed the t-shirt he had used the day before to wash John and filled the basin with fresh water. Gently, he pulled back the blanket that had been covering John and even more gently, starting with John's face, he washed down the overly-warm skin with the cool water.

"I did it," he babbled to the still form lying in front of him. "There were two of them. I didn't know there would be two of them. Temal--he likes to think he's the top dog here, but there's this guard--Petron--he's the one who really calls the shots. Temal gets everything he needs from him, and it's Petron who says who does or doesn't do the morning exercise."

Rodney rinsed the t-shirt and lifted John's unhurt arm. He splayed out John's fingers, washing each of them in turn then ran the cloth up the length of John's arm and back down.

"He's an ugly bastard, Petron," Rodney remarked absently. "It's probably just as well I didn't see him much, since he was behind me. Oh, God, John, it's both of them again tonight. If he would just keep his mouth shut--just fuck me, it wouldn't be so bad, but he talks, he kept telling me I had to tell him how much I loved him fucking me--"

The last four words tailed off in a bitten-back sob, and Rodney shoved the t-shirt into the water.

"Sigged thinks Temal has taken a shine to me. Fuck! If I wasn't so fucking scared, it would be laughable. I mean, this is me. I couldn't tell you the last time someone took a 'shine' to Rodney McKay." He stopped momentarily, the sodden t-shirt dripping in his hands. "Well, I guess the last time would be you,l wouldn't it? Jesus." He shook his head and continued his cleaning. "I would have done it anyway, you know. You didn't--you didn't have to..." With a wordless exclamation of rage, Rodney plunged the shirt back into the bowl. "This is so fucked! You shouldn't be lying here... You're supposed to be the one who gets everyone out of trouble--with a little help from me. We're a team, like," Rodney choked out a laugh, "like Batman and Robin, only I don't think I would look so good in tights."

Rodney gently washed each of John's legs. He didn't know exactly how high John's temperature was, but it had to be pretty high, he thought, since John's skin dried almost as soon as he had passed the towel over him.

Slowly, Rodney got himself to his feet and pulled the thin blanket from his own cot. Then he lifted away John's blanket and placed the cleaner one over John's naked body.

John's blanket was soaked through with sweat, so Rodney tossed it over the door, hoping it would dry out. Maybe later in the day he would try to wash it.

He stood in the middle of the cell, contemplating his next task.

Try to rouse him, Sigged had told him. try to get him to take a little water
.
Rodney had no idea of the time, no way, other than the relentless creep of the sun, of knowing how many hours it had been since John's medicine had been administered, but he reckoned by the shadows and the way his stomach was churning that it must be late in the morning and he could safely give John another dose of both the antibiotic and the painkiller.

He grabbed the two little bottles of pills. The antibiotic he dropped into the wooden bowl and crushed it with his spoon. Then he mixed it with a little water and lifted the bowl to John's lips.

As gently as he knew how, he slipped his other arm under John's neck, lifting his head.

"John?" he urged, but John remained quiet. "John!" Rodney's voice was louder, more demanding, even frightened. "You have to fucking take this, do you hear me, Sheppard? You open your fucking eyes and you swallow your medicine because I sold my fucking soul for it. Do you hear me, you selfish bastard?" Tears of utter shame and guilt ran down Rodney's cheeks.

"Drink it, do you hear me? Please!" Rodney let John's head rest back on the cot, his other hand clutching the wooden bowl with the antibiotic. "Please John," he said, more gently. "You have to do this for me. You can't leave me here on my own."

Rodney jumped when he felt someone touch his shoulder. He turned to see the old doctor standing behind him.

"The lunch bell has gone. You need to get into line. You need to eat, Dr. McKay."

Rodney shook his head desperately. "I can't get him to open his eyes! I can't get him to take the antibiotic!"

The old man squeezed Rodney's shoulder. "I'll get the medicine into him--go before your too late and there is nothing left."

Rodney turned again to stare at John and the pressure on his shoulder increased. "Go, now. I'll stay with him. Go."

Reluctantly Rodney straightened up and made his way out of the cell, walking slowly towards the building where the food was served. Prisoners were milling around, some with plates, some jostling to get further up the line.

Rodney didn't care if he never ate again.

He stood some distance behind the others, his mind trying to process what life here would be like if John died.

He wasn't sure what it was that alerted him to the sudden silence, but he found himself lifting his head. The prisoners who had been in front of him now stood back out of his way and Temal stood at the front of the line, staring at him.

"McKay, your food is here with me," Temal said. And he turned and made his way back into the building.

Rodney stood motionless, not quite sure of what was happening until another prisoner—Leynar--grabbed Rodney's arm, pushing him forward.

"Don't keep him waiting," Leynar hissed. Rodney looked at the other prisoners still waiting to be fed, but none of them looked back at him.

Sigged's words flooded his memory: Sometimes you have to sell your soul to the Devil. I don't have to fight for my meals any more.

Slowly, he made his way past the others to the table where Temal sat alone.
Nodding his head, Temal motioned for Rodney to take the other plate.

"Thank you," Rodney whispered before he began to eat.

***

John had never been so alone. Sure he had been locked in cells, trapped underground, stranded here, there and everywhere at some time or another, but right at this moment he felt more alone than he ever had in his life.

He was sure he had heard Rodney going on about superheroes and tights--which was disturbing enough in itself--but what was more disturbing was that although he knew Rodney was somewhere nearby, he couldn't find him.

His body felt heavy and tired and sore, so he figured that he was hurt. Was he in a coma? People in comas could hear, couldn't they?

"Colonel Sheppard?" a sharp pain shot through his earlobe. Fuck! As if he wasn't in enough pain, who the hell was this asshole?

"Colonel Sheppard? John Sheppard?" the voice persisted, and this time whatever was being jabbed into the tender skin of his earlobe lingered longer, causing more pain. John tried to flinch away, but he couldn't.

"Fuck!" John rasped out as he struggled to open his eyes. They felt like they had dissolved into burning pools of liquid in his head.

"Rodney?" John managed to force out of his parched throat.

"He won't be long," the voice answered him. "The food bell has rung. Your friend has to eat or he will die, this much I know."

John forced his eyes to open, and as soon as they did he decided that had been the worst decision he had ever made in his entire life. His eyes were burning, his head was pounding in raw agony, and he felt like a house had fallen on his chest.

He tried to moisten his lips with his tongue but there was no moisture in his mouth to do it with.

"Here drink this, small sips only." John turned his head slowly, coming face-to-face with a frail old man who held a bowl to his lips. Whatever was in the bowl tasted vile and John tried to turn his head away but the old man held him fast.

"You have pneumonia," the old man said. You must drink this--it will help.

"Sore," John panted. "Tastes like crap." The old man merely nodded, while putting the bowl to John's lips once more.

John took one more sip, draining the horrible liquid, and gave up the fight to keep his burning eyes open. He felt the old man place something under his tongue, and then there was nothing.

***

Elizabeth Weir stood in Ladon Radim's office on the Genii homeworld, her arms folded uncharacteristically across her chest.

"Are you refusing to help?"

The Genii leader sat back in his chair and stared at her. "I'm still not entirely clear on just what is it you want me to do."

Elizabeth stepped forward and placed both her hands on Ladon's desk, glowering at him. "I've told you what happened--both Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay are innocent. You have to let them go."

Ladon shook his head. "Dr. Weir, you come in here with a story about aliens possessing one of your soldiers. You tell me he set out to kill Dr. McKay but it all went wrong? Put yourself in my position. Would you believe this tale? Where is your proof? Where is this Goa'uld? In order to let Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay go, I would need to provide the court with proof that they had no idea that the drug they administered would prove fatal. I'm afraid your say-so is not enough. Perhaps if you were willing to let us question Colonel Caldwell?"

Elizabeth pushed herself up from the table. "I have no intention of letting Colonel Caldwell come here to be questioned. If you wish to speak to him you will come to Atlantis. And don't think for one moment, Leader Radim, that I will be willing to trade one man's life for another." She narrowed her eyes while Ladon watched her impassively. "I'll get you all the proof you need--I'll introduce you to the Asguard who removed the symbiot if that's what it takes. And I ask you to remember that you were the one who sought out an alliance with us. That alliance is on very shaky ground at this moment in time." With that, Elizabeth turned on her heels and left.