An Acceptable Sacrifice
Chapter Seven

John lay staring into the darkness. He had heard Rodney come back from Temal, heard him as he had poured water into the big basin, and then heard him cursing quietly under his breath as he made himself clean. John had wanted to say something, something comforting, but the words just wouldn't come to his fevered mind. So instead he had kept his eyes closed as Rodney had washed himself, kept pretending to be asleep as Rodney's lips had softly touched his own. Had held his breath as Rodney had whispered, "I love you, John," before climbing onto his own cot and falling asleep.

Now in the quiet darkness of their prison cell, John lay with tears pooling at the corners of his eyes. His heart hammered in his chest as exhaustion claimed him, pulling him back into the deeper darkness of sleep.

He had been awake for most of the time that the old man had been sitting with him. John had allowed Sigged to check the tightness of his bandages and had been grateful when the old man had taken time to feed him and give him water.

"You've surprised us all, Colonel John Sheppard," Sigged had said quietly as he kneeled with his ear to John's chest, listening to each breath John took.

Sigged had sat back and nodded his approval before taking John's wrist in his hand and feeling for his pulse.

"Most people wouldn't have survived the beating you took, let alone the three laps you made round the exercise field after it."

"Rodney," John had managed to force out, as Sigged pressed lightly against the vivid black and blue bruises covering his side.

"He won't be long," Sigged said. He sighed. "He's a very brave man, your friend Rodney. Very brave."

John had winced in pain as Sigged lifted and bent each leg in turn.

"We don't want your muscles to forget how to work, John."

"Rodney," John had repeated again. "You...you have to make him stop."

Sigged moved wordlessly to John's head, then, wringing out what was now only a rag ripped from Rodney's t-shirt, dabbed the beads of sweat from John's forehead.

"If he doesn't go to Temal, then you will have to run," he'd said simply. "You won't survive that, John." John opened his mouth to reply but Sigged continued. "Rodney needs you alive. He needs you alive just as much as you need to stay off the exercise field." Sigged's eyes narrowed, his voice becoming that of the stern lecturer he once might have been. "He's saving your life, John Sheppard," Sigged told him. "He's saving your life the only way he can. Temal has always had a whore in his bed. Most sell themselves for Raphna. Rodney is selling himself for your life."

"No!" John insisted. He had tried to push himself up, to grab Sigged's shoulder, make him understand, but his arms wouldn't support him, and he fell back gasping in weakness and pain. "Please," John begged. "He has to stop. Get him to stop."

Sigged had merely shaken his head. "There's no point in my even trying." He stood wearily. "Get some rest, John. Save your strength."

The old doctor had pulled the blanket higher over John's shoulders and then turned and made his way out of the cell. A few minutes later John had heard Rodney come back and the last bell of the day ring in the compound. One after the other the cell doors banged shut and keys jangled in the locks.

He'd pretended to sleep while Rodney got ready for bed and kissed him. John hadn't known what to say, how to even begin to ask for Rodney to forgive him.

John's dreams that night were vivid. He watched, mute and paralysed, as men around him were savagely beaten, watched as others were raped and slaughtered, and then one man was brought to stand before the band of nameless, faceless thugs.

Rodney McKay. He stood with his head high, his piercing, sky-blue eyes wide and unblinking, his features schooled so that no one could guess what was going on in his mind. John watched, helpless, as Rodney took blow after blow, watched as blood trickled down his face, watched as a man whose face he had seen somewhere before pulled Rodney to the ground, ripping his clothes from him, and suddenly John found his voice and he was screaming Rodney's name, begging over and over for him to fight back, begging for it to stop--

"Shhh. Shh, it's okay. You're okay." Rodney was on his knees at John's side. A cool damp cloth glided across John's forehead and he opened his eyes to find himself staring into the piercing blue eyes from his dream.

"You were having a nightmare." Rodney stroked the side of John's face lightly with his fingers, and John found himself turning his head into Rodney's hand so that he could kiss Rodney's palm.

"Stay with me. Please," John said quietly, and Rodney nodded and climbed up beside him, lying on his side with his forehead pressing lightly against John's temple and his arm resting across John's stomach.

"Get some sleep," Rodney whispered, and John let his eyes close again.

***

John wakened with a start to the wail of the prison bell.

"Rodney?"

Rodney turned and smiled at him. "You're awake." He poured some water into one of the wooden bowls sitting on the table in front of him and made his way to John's side.
"Here." He slipped his arm beneath John's neck and lifted his head to enable him to drink.

When John had drank about half the water, he turned his head to the side. "No you don't," Rodney chided. "You need to drink and you need to eat." He stretched across John and snagged the other bowl from the table. Inside he had broken up some of the wheat biscuits and used the water to mix them into a paste. Now he dipped his finger into the bowl and scooped up a little of the paste, bringing it to John's lips.

"My fingers are clean and it's a hell of a lot easier than trying to balance this goop on one of those stupid chopstick things," Rodney explained when John balked. He held his finger in front of John's mouth with more patience than John would have thought he'd possessed.

John groaned, sickened by his own helplessness, being forced to suck soft food like a baby. He tried to turn away again, but Rodney grabbed his chin.

"John," Rodney said, and now his voice had an edge to it that John knew meant he'd just about reached the end of his tether. "I'm selling my body every night so you won't drown in your own blood or get electrocuted by cattle prods out there on that fucking running track. So if you think that I'm going to let you starve yourself because you don't approve of the fucking cuisine, you'd better be prepared for me to shove this crap right down your throat, because God help me, Sheppard, I swear to you I will do it. So don't you push me!"

John opened his mouth.

"Thank you," Rodney snapped. He slipped his finger between John's lips. John obediently sucked the cream-coloured paste from Rodney's finger. It tasted of nothing in particular until he reached the finger underneath, and then he tasted, well, Rodney. And suddenly John wanted more of the cream glop, just so he could taste more of Rodney's skin.

When all of the paste was gone Rodney gave John another drink and then eased him back down onto the cot.

"Thank you," Rodney said again, this time sounding apologetic. He gently carded his fingers through John's sweaty hair.

John did feel a little better, stronger. "Did you eat?"

Rodney nodded. "I had the same delightful meal that you just ate." He grimaced. "Honestly, I can't help thinking the Wraith would feed us better."

"We'd be dead if the Wraith had us," John said. He watched Rodney busy himself around the table, gathering together cloths to use to wash and dry John, the bigger basin of water and the two little bottles containing John's medicine.

"Possibly true," Rodney said musingly, "but then, I'm a genius and you're nothing if not resourceful. And every time to date that the Wraith have managed to catch us, between us we've always managed to outsmart them and escape."

Rodney slipped the bottles into his pocket and folded the cloths across his arm, then lifted the bowl from the table and placed it on the floor beside John's bed.

He hesitated. "Uh," he said nervously, "if you think you might want to go to sleep any time soon, please feel free, because you know...I, um, haven't washed you before while you've been awake, and...um..." He took a breath. "Oh, to hell with it. I've washed every bit of you now God knows how many times a day since you got sick."

Rodney pulled the blanket down John's chest and then dipped one of the cloths into the basin, soaking it then wringing it out. Gently he started with John's face and neck, first washing then drying. Then he brought the cloth down over John's chest, being careful not to soak the bandages which were helping to support John's broken ribs.

John watched Rodney's every move, noting the determined look on Rodney's face as he meticulously cleaned each bit of skin. It was strange--intimate, yet impersonal, comforting without being embarrassing, and John was grateful for it.

When Rodney was finished with John's chest he dried it and covered it up again, then pulled the blanket up from the bottom, revealing John's feet and legs. John watched as Rodney washed and dried those in the same way, eyes and hands as intent and focused as if he were dealing with an especially important and tricky piece of equipment. John found himself fascinated, unable to take his eyes from Rodney's face, or the meticulous movements of his hands.

"Right," Rodney said when those two tasks were done. He looked nervous again. "This, um... This is the part you might not like." Rodney was blushing, but he lifted his chin, eyes hardening as if he were expecting a fight. "--But I have to tell you, Colonel, I've been washing and drying your ass now for over a week, and cleaning you up when, well, when you've needed it, so just,"--Rodney gestured eloquently with his hands--"close your eyes and let me finish, okay?"

John obediently closed his eyes. Not because he was ashamed, but because he figured it would make Rodney feel more comfortable.

The cool cloth swiped lightly across John's thighs and groin and John had to think that at any other time in his life, having someone paying him so much attention would be an unbelievable turn-on. Right now though, he was starting to have to work on staying awake.

John opened his eyes again to watch Rodney and as he finished drying him, and then made sure the blanket was covering him properly.

"Get me up," John said.

Rodney's head snapped up. "What? NO!" he exclaimed. "You're in no state to get up."

"Rodney, please," John begged. He knew he was just going to fall asleep again if he stayed on his back, and he felt like he'd been asleep for most of his life at this point. And he wanted to spend time with Rodney, time where he was conscious and lucid, before Rodney had to leave again. "I just want to sit up for a little while," John said, and he suddenly realized how much he really did want it, more than he could remember wanting just about anything else, ever. "Just for a few minutes. I'm sore lying here."

Rodney blinked, then fumbled in his pockets and brought out a bottle, and John cursed inwardly, realizing he'd made Rodney upset.

"Here." Rodney held the bottle out. "It's for the pain." Rodney slipped his arm under John's neck and helped him up a little again. It wasn't all the way upright, but at least it was something. With his free hand, Rodney flipped open the cap and tipped out one of the little tablets onto the blanket covering John's leg, then he put the bottle aside, deftly plucked the pill from the blanket and held it in front of John's mouth. "It goes under your tongue," Rodney explained. "Open up."

John though about refusing, since he knew the pill would knock him out, but he hadn't been lying about being sore, even if he'd used it shamelessly to get Rodney to help him sit up. And he remembered balking at being hand-fed, and how well that had turned out.

Instead he opened his mouth, sighing as Rodney's finger brushed across his bottom lip.

Rodney smiled, warm and open, and John felt his heart lurch almost painfully, but definitely a good kind of pain.

"Its something called Raphna," Rodney explained. "I've been giving you since you got hurt."

"I figured," John said. He closed his eyes as Rodney gently lowered him back down to the thin mattress. The men in the prison whored themselves for it, Sigged had said. And Rodney whored himself for it too, but only to give it to John.

Rodney had done so much for him. More than John could ever properly thank him for, or even hope to repay.

***

Rodney finally relented after an hour of John alternating more pleading with threats that he would sit up by himself if Rodney didn't help him, regardless of what damage it might do. It was stupid and childish and pointless--John was so sleepy he couldn't stop blinking like a toddler--but it had worked, and the simple relief of being able to sit for the first time in God only knew how long was more than worth the pain and the dirty/anxious looks Rodney kept throwing at him.

Now John sat watching Rodney as he shook out the blankets and cleaned their food bowls. His eyes must have slid shut again at some point, because he was startled when the first bell went.

"Rodney," John said quietly. a sudden clench of anxiety making it easy to stay awake. "Rodney, the bell's started ringing."

Rodney continued to fold and stack the clean clothes he had gotten from Temal.

"Rodney," John said, more insistently. "That's the bell for the first meal break--you need to go."

"What?" Rodney looked up at him, then became very intent on his folding, as if he didn't want to meet John's eyes. "Oh," he said, and it made John wince to see how hard Rodney was trying to be casual. "No, it's okay. Temal makes sure my meal is waiting for me when I get there."

John lowered his gaze.

"John?" Rodney put the clothes down on the small table, then hunkered down in front of John. He reached out and took John's hand.

"Don't, John," Rodney said, a touch of anger creeping back into his voice. "Don't you do this--it's taking everything I have to go to him as it is. Don't think I don't know what he's doing. It's all part of the game, John. I have to keep playing it or they'll make you run."

John made himself nod. They'd already had this argument, and he'd lost.

"It'll be okay, John," Rodney said. He cupped the side of John's face, and leaned in and kissed him. John kissed him back with as much strength as he had. Rodney helped John lie back down. "You go to sleep," Rodney said. "I'll be back soon."

"I'm sorry," John whispered, when they finally pulled apart.

"I'm not," Rodney said.

***

Rodney silently made his way to the table where Temal was sitting, waiting for him. As usual, his meal was already there.

Rodney sat nervously across from the big man.

"I need to take this back to John," he said quietly. Deference, he reminded himself. Be meek and John gets to live. "He's awake now, and he needs real food, not just those biscuits."

Rodney made to stand, so he could go back to his cell with the bowl, but Temal grabbed his wrist.

"You need proper food," Temal said. He made it sound like an accusation. "The old man told me." He clenched hard on the bones of Rodney's wrist, making Rodney cry out in pain and sit heavily back down on the seat. Temal gestured sharply at the bowl with his chin. "Eat."

Rodney made no attempt to eat. Instead, he rubbed at the red mark on his skin and tried to quell his warring emotions of fear, humiliation and rage. When he looked up, Temal was staring at him, his black eyes flashing a warning.

"Please," Rodney said quietly. He wondered, almost giddy with desperation, if he should offer Temal a blowjob that moment, for the God-damned food, and if Temal would accept it, or beat Rodney to death right there. "The pneumonia has cleared--thanks to the medicine you gave me--" he added quickly. Deference! "but he needs to build up his strength. He needs proper food so he can heal."

Temal stared at him, long enough so that Rodney's hands started to shake, then Temal abruptly stood and motioned to one of the prisoners in his gang. It was one of the ones who had beaten John more than half to death that first day, and Rodney almost leapt out of his chair, his heart thundering in terror. He was about to blurt out that Temal could have him there in the mess hall, that he would let Temal's entire gang have him, if Temal would leave John alone. Because Rodney was certain, absolutely certain, that Temal was going to have his thug go drag John out of the cell and finish what they'd started on him, because Rodney had dared to ask to bring him food.

But Temal raised his hand in a quelling gesture before Rodney could move, and Rodney was forced to watch in agonized silence as quiet words were whispered between the two men. The thug left, and Temal sat back down across from Rodney.

"You don't have to do this," Rodney said, voice rushed with desperation. "I'll do anything you want. Anything. You know that. Just--"

Temal slapped his palm down like a hammer onto the tabletop, making the bowl jump. "Eat," he said, into the suddenly echoing quiet.

With a shaking hand, Rodney finally lifted his spoon and brought what looked like a piece of meat to his mouth. He kept looking over his shoulder, but he couldn't see the other prisoner. Or John.

He had just finished gagging down the tasteless morsel in his mouth when Temal's man returned. John wasn't with him.

Instead, the thug dropped another plate of the stew down beside Rodney.

Rodney blinked, went completely still. He forced himself to look up, and Temal was staring at him again.

"It is good the soldier is feeling better," Temal said simply. He mopped the last of the stew on his plate with something that resembled bread, and then looked directly at Rodney.

"Tonight. An hour before lock up. And Rodney," he added as Rodney was nodding. Temal shifted his gaze to the wall at the back of the large room, where the guards stood watching. "Petron will be with me. You'll take both of us."

Rodney shivered and nodded again. His meager appetite had died completely, but he forced himself to finish half his own bowl under Temal's sharp gaze. Then he stood, picking up the bowl of food for John to take back to the cell.

"Rodney," Temal said.

Rodney turned around.

"It was not my choice," Temal said.

Rodney nodded, then turned around again, clutching the bowl to his chest. He walked quickly out of room, feeling Temal's eyes on him the entire way.

***

John had convinced Rodney to let him sit again, after he'd woken and ate. Now he pushed himself back against the wall and watched quietly as Rodney sat at the little table in the cell, staring into an empty water bowl.

"Rodney?"

Rodney closed his eyes.

"Rodney," John said again. "Please. Please don't go to him tonight."

Rodney turned to stare at John. His eyes were impossibly blue, and clear, and somehow, John thought, emotionless.

"Not him," Rodney said evenly. "Them."

John felt a wave of nausea wash through him.

The side of Rodney's mouth quirked in nothing like a smile. "Petron, the head guard. He'll be there tonight with Temal."

"No!" John exclaimed, then hissed with the small shock of pain. "Fuck, you can't!" John swallowed hard and started to move to the edge of the narrow bunk. "I--I'll talk to him, there--"

In an instant Rodney was off of his chair and at John's side, holding him still.

John looked up into the intense blue eyes. "Don't do this, Rodney," he begged. "Please, God, don't do this! I can get around the field! I did it before, I can do it again."

Rodney shook his head vehemently. "You wouldn't make it outside the cell! There's a piece of rib more-or-less floating in your chest, John! Any exertion, any sudden moves could force it through your lung." He glared at John. "They don't have the facilities here to repair a punctured lung, even if they wanted to! You'll die!"

"How can you keep doing this? John shouted, as anger at the men using Rodney, anger at his own pitiful state and anger at Rodney's acceptance of his fate coursed through him. "How can you bear--?" Pain exploded inside him, causing him to clutch at his chest and hold his breath until it subsided.

Rodney held him, keeping him steady through the pain.

"That's how I can!" Rodney gestured violently at John's chest as soon as John relaxed, then he shook his head and put his strong hands on John's shoulders. "Listen to me," he said. "You would have died that first night, John. Do you understand that? We wouldn't even be having this useless argument right now because you would be dead." He bared his teeth. "My going to Temal was the only option available. It is the only option available." Rodney took a breath, and John could see how he forced himself to calm. "One hour of my life each evening, and I can come back here knowing you're safe. Just one hour, John. Just an hour. That's all." Rodney stroked down the side of John's face, but his eyes were still hard as blue crystal. "You might not agree, it might not be the military way to deal with things, but in my book it's an acceptable sacrifice. You're worth that sacrifice, John."

John looked up, locking eyes with Rodney. He knew there was no way he could sway him.

He opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn't find the words.

Rodney brushed across John's dry lips with his own, soft and gentle and full of promise.

"I need to get ready," Rodney said. "I need to..."

Rodney meant he needed to prepare himself for sex. John closed his eyes for a moment.

"Help me lie down," he said. It took all his strength to stop his voice from breaking.

Rodney wrapped his arm around John's shoulders, supporting the upper half of his body while he lifted John's legs onto the bunk.

"I can go to Sigged's and get ready," Rodney said quietly.

John shook his head, then turned his head to the wall, closing his eyes again.

"No," he said. When I'm well, John thought, when I'm well, I'll kill both of them.

He felt his heart would burst when he heard Rodney leave.

He kept his eyes closed, trying to sleep again, so he wouldn't have to think about what was happening. But he knew he'd have nightmares about it anyway.

***

"Colonel Sheppard? Oh thank God, he's alive," someone was saying. John startled, blinking his eyes open. He tried instinctively to lever himself upright, reacting to a threat, but cried out as soon as he moved, squeezing his eyes shut against the pain.

"Don't move, Colonel. It's all right. Help me here--hand me that bag. Come on, hurry up there." There was a snap of fingers and John turned his head to find himself looking into the gentle blue eyes of Carson Beckett.

"Carson?" John blinked and blinked again.

"We've come to take you home, lad." Carson was smiling at him, though John could see his worry. "Where's Rodney?"

John looked at Carson, and then past him to the young guard standing anxiously behind him--the guard who had groped Rodney the first day they arrived.

"He's with Temal," John forced out. He took as deep a breath as he could, gritting his teeth against the promise of more pain, and then pushed himself all the way up with his one good arm, swinging his legs off the bunk. "I'll--"

Agony. Boiling, bright red. Shooting through his chest like bullets, burning like fire. John was trying to stay upright, trying to breathe, tasting blood and being burned alive. But he had to get up, go to Temal, make him stop...

"Hold him down!" was the last thing John heard before he passed out.

***

John opened his eyes and instantly recognised the gentle hum of the Daedalus engines.

"Welcome back."

"Rodney?" John panted. Something was dragging on his chest and his breathing felt heavy, as though he was sucking in air through molasses.

"Right here." A voice came from somewhere to his right, and John turned his head to see Rodney sitting in the bed beside him, clean-shaven and dressed in a pair of blue scrubs.

"Carson!" Rodney called. "He's awake!" He slipped out of the infirmary bed and made his way to John's side.

--And instantly began yelling at him. John almost smiled. "You're an idiot! I leave you for a few minutes and what do you do?" He answered the rhetorical question before John could even open his mouth again. "You nearly fucking kill yourself!" He turned his head to holler. "Carson!"

John lifted his good arm and gripped Rodney's wrist.

"The guard," he said, forcing out each word. "I, I told him...where you were. Did he--?"

Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, then met John's gaze.

"Carson's fixed me up," he said quietly. "I'm fine. I needed to take some medicine, but it's just a precaution. Alien STDs." His mouth flickered in a smile. "You can never be too careful."

"Oh, God," John moaned. "Rodney--I'm sorry! I'm so sorry." John's breathing began to speed up.

"CARSON!" Rodney bellowed. "Get your ass in here!" He turned back to John, stroking his forehead. "Breathe, John. Slowly. It's okay. It's all right."

Carson burst through the little infirmary door, a pile of paperwork in one hand and blood samples in the other. He dropped both on the nearest bed, barely slowing down.

"Rodney," he exclaimed immediately. "What are you doing out of bed?" A second later he was at John's side. "All right, Colonel," he said calmly, as if he hadn't just been running or scolding anyone. "Breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. That's it, settle now... Let the chest drain do its work."

John focused on breathing. Rodney didn't move. His fingers stroked down the side of John's face as Carson added a sedative to the IV in John's arm.

"It's okay, everything's okay," Rodney said softly. "You're safe now. It's over. For both of us. It's over." John watched the play of emotions in Rodney's piercing blue eyes.

"Rodney," he said.

"Shut up," Rodney said gently. He bent down, kissing John's cheek. "I'd do it again."

"I know." John's eyelids were fluttering, too heavy to keep open. "Thank you," he whispered. "I love you."

"Oh," he heard Rodney say. "Well, I love you too, you know. And you're welcome."

John smiled as he drifted into sleep.


End