Summary: An accident with Ancient technology sucks a John and Rodney from an alternate universe onto Atlantis – and they have very different ideas about sex, marriage and relationships
"So, do you have any idea why we're here?" Elizabeth whispered to John as they both stood watching the scientists rush around Rodney's lab with an air of barely concealed excitement.
"I think it's a geek thing," John whispered back. "Rodney said we'd been invited to watch history being made. He sounded pretty pleased with himself."
"Do we know what kind of history? I mean...will there be loud bangs and should we stand back?" Elizabeth asked.
"I think that's always a wise precaution," John replied and they both took a surreptitious couple of steps away from the general melee.
"Right...I think we're ready. Radek, are we ready?" Rodney asked, in a tone of high octane excitement. Radek peered at the Ancient device he was working on, which looked much like a ZPM only bigger and less colorful, pressed a few buttons and then gave a cautious smile.
"We're ready!" he announced.
"Good. Fine. Great. Yes," Rodney nodded, his fingers clicking excitedly and his feet barely touching the ground as he hopped around the lab. "You two—what are you doing there?" he frowned as he careened into John and Elizabeth. "You can't stand there! That's where it's all going to happen!"
"It is? Then we definitely don't want to stand here," John said, as Rodney shoved them none too gently out of the way and then bent down to tape a large square area on the floor.
"Okay. Then I think we should begin," Rodney said, scrambling to his feet when he'd finished.
"I still think that maybe we should have checked the database again to see if there were more clues there to how it worked," Radek said in a worried tone.
"Oh, for God's sake—it's quite obvious how it works!" Rodney snapped.
"Well, it seems obvious, yes, but supposing it doesn't do what we think it does?" Radek asked.
John turned to Elizabeth with a pained expression on his face. "This doesn't sound good," he murmured. "Shall we edge closer towards the door?"
"Good thinking." She moved a few feet to her left and he went with her.
"Well, of course it does what we think it does, Radek!" Rodney shouted. "What the hell do you think it's going to do? Cook us dinner? It's quite clearly a transportation device."
"Yes, yes...but to transport what—and where?" Radek asked.
"We've been over this a thousand times," Rodney said. "This will completely revolutionize the way we move around, both here and when we're offworld. It'll save lives!"
"It'll save you walking as well," Radek muttered.
"And that!" Rodney beamed cheerfully. "No more long treks to get to where we want to go. We'll be able to beam ourselves straight there."
"This is some kind of transportation device, then?" Elizabeth asked.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes—I've already said that!" he exclaimed, seemingly having forgotten that he hadn't actually said it to her. He waved his hand at the Ancient ZPM-like device excitedly. "This, ladies and gentlemen—and Colonel Sheppard—is a mobile transport device. We can install it anywhere, on a puddle jumper, for example, and then all we'll need is a small interface device the size of a wrist watch—and, hey, presto—we'll be able to transport anywhere within range of the device—and from what we can tell it's got a pretty wide range." He puffed his chest up proudly and gazed around at the assembled audience.
"You're sure about this, Rodney?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes, of course I'm sure!" Rodney replied in an irascible tone.
"Well, I have to admit that does sound good," John said, nodding slowly. "We could do with that kind of facility when we go offworld."
"It would mean that if someone got injured, for example, we could transport them straight to the puddle jumper and then gate home. No need for them to endure a half-hour hike with a badly twisted ankle. For example," Rodney said pointedly.
John rolled his eyes. "It was a ten-minute stroll and your ankle wasn't badly twisted. You had a stone in your shoe," he said.
"Whatever. With this," Rodney slapped the device and beamed happily at him, "we won't have to walk anywhere unless we really want to, and with your penchant for parking the puddle jumper miles from where we want to go, that can only be a good thing."
"Okay—so—what's going to happen?" John asked, gazing at the Head of Science expectantly. He wasn't sure it was as exciting as Rodney thought it was—they did already have transport facilities on both the Daedalus and Atlantis—but he supposed this more mobile unit did at least have practical merit and it would certainly be of use to them, particularly in emergency situations.
"Well, I've got it set up so that when I press this button..." Rodney pointed. "An object in my quarters will be transported into this lab—into the vicinity of this taped square to be precise—and we'll be able to see it happening on this." He pointed to his laptop, which displayed a picture of the inside of Rodney's quarters. "See that—that apple?" Rodney pointed at the apple sitting inside a taped square in his quarters. "I'm going to transport that here."
"Well, at least you didn't decide to do the first test on a living object," John commented.
"I'm perfectly happy that it's safe, but yes, it was a wise precaution," Rodney beamed. "Okay everyone...are we ready?"
"Don't milk it, Rodney," John said. "Just press the button."
"Fine. Here goes." Rodney punched in some sort of algorithm and then stood back and pressed the button. Nothing happened for a moment, but then there was a high pitched hum and a whirring sound, and the two noises merged at the exact same time as a massive ball of light burst into being in front of them, twisting and spinning, tightly confined in the exact spot where Rodney had taped his square.
"Rodney?!" John yelled, because he was pretty sure this didn't look or sound right.
"It's fine...it's just a bit more...noisy than I thought it would be," Rodney shouted over the loud whirring sound.
"It seems like a lot of energy just to transport an apple!" John yelled, glancing at the laptop showing the live footage of Rodney's quarters—the apple was still sitting there, unmoving.
"It's okay!" Rodney shouted, but there was a panicked look on his face as the box began to shudder and the whirr became a squeal. "I can fix this!" His hands moved at lightning speed over the keyboard but nothing he did seemed to have any effect. The Ancient device shuddered some more and then John saw a tiny spark of fire emerging from the side of it.
"Get down," he yelled to Elizabeth, throwing her behind a table, and crouching over her. The noise got worse until it was all John could hear and then there was a juddering sound and a belch of smoke before it suddenly cut off completely in mid-shriek and all was quiet once more.
"Thank God," John muttered, getting to his feet. "Rodney, what the hell was...?" Then he saw the expression on Rodney's face and turned to look at where Rodney was staring, in open-mouthed shock. "Oh, shit," John muttered.
Two men were standing within the taped area on the floor, looking confused. As the smoke cleared, one of them reached for his gun, putting a hand out to thrust the other one behind him as he did so, shielding him with his body. John stared at the man with the gun in shock, and the man stared back at him, equally shocked, because they both could have been looking into a mirror. The man they'd transported into the taped square looked just like him—the likeness was unmistakable. His hair was slightly shorter and he wore a single silver earring dangling from one ear. His clothes...well, his clothes were very different. He was wearing a pair of black leather pants that clung to his long legs in a way that John felt was perhaps a little too revealing. John's gaze was drawn to the thick black leather belt around his waist, from which hung an assortment of weaponry—something silver that jangled, a fearsome looking knife, and some kind of leather strap-type weapon that John wasn't familiar with. He was wearing a plain black long-sleeved shirt, and over that a black leather vest. Around his neck was a black thong with an intricate silver pendant on the end, engraved with two intertwined initials—John wasn't close enough to see what they were. Around his wrists were two black leather cuffs with silver lacings and he was wearing some comfortable looking black leather boots. He looked...kind of like a pirate.
"What the hell just happened?" John asked, holding his own gun on the stranger, and glancing over to Rodney.
"I have no idea!" Rodney said, his fingers frantically scrabbling over the keyboard.
"Why have you brought us here?" the man in the taped square asked, and everyone in the room looked at John and back at the man just to check who'd said that because they both had exactly the same voice.
"I'm sorry—it was a mistake," John said, lowering his weapon cautiously. "Look...I don't know what's happened here but we didn't mean to do this. Rodney!" he yelled, feeling completely out of his depth.
Rodney didn't reply—his gaze was fixed in horror on the second man in the taped square who had stepped out from behind the first.
"Oh, shit—you didn't activate the QDD did you?" the second man said, gazing at Rodney with an expression of some irritation on his face.
John did a double take. If coming face to face with the other John had been unsettling, this was positively freaky. The man who'd just spoken was a doppelganger for Rodney...only... he wasn't. He looked just like Rodney, but, like the other John, he was dressed completely differently. His hair was longer and John noticed in surprise that the extra length made the ends curl, giving his face a softer appearance than Atlantis' Rodney. Like the other John, he was wearing a black leather thong around his neck with a pendant hanging from it, but he was also wearing a slim strip of leather around his throat as well, with a tiny silver buckle at the front. He was dressed in khaki cargo pants and a tight, sleeveless black tee shirt...and, John couldn't help noticing, he looked a lot more buff than their Rodney. The sleeveless tee shirt revealed two toned arms, and it had a slit at the top which revealed a fair amount of chest hair, too. Snaking up his forearm was a long, silver bracelet that pointed directly at a tattoo on his upper arm. It was unlike any tattoo John ever seen—large and elegant, it was an interlinked J and R, etched in black and then filled in with some kind of silver piping.
"QDD? What the hell is that?" Rodney said, taking a step towards his doppelganger.
The new John immediately pointed his gun at him, stopping him in his tracks. "Don't touch him," he warned.
"What... Hang on a moment here," John said stepping in front of the gun and shielding Atlantis' Rodney. "Nobody is going to touch anybody—okay? Now, before we get into all the science gobbledegook, could you please stop waving that gun around? Rodney might have screwed up here, but we really don't want anyone shooting him. At least not before I get the chance," he muttered with a little grimace over his shoulder in Rodney's direction.
The new Rodney gave a little smirk at that, but John's eyes remained fixed on the new John, who seemed like the kind of guy you really didn't want to piss off.
"Perhaps we could all cool down a little," Elizabeth said, stepping forwards. John heaved a sigh of relief for her diplomatic skills—he figured his own were pretty much worn out by now and he really didn't want anybody shooting anybody else—particularly when they looked so much like him.
The new John bowed his head in her direction. "My lady," he said in a tone of respect. Elizabeth paused and John could see by the expression on her face that she quite liked the title. "My apologies. It's not my intention to harm anyone. I'm just...very confused right now."
The new Rodney leaned against him and talked to him urgently. "It's all right, John. I think what's happened is that this—idiot—here," he cast an annoyed glance in Atlantis' Rodney's direction, "just activated the Quantum Dimension Device without having a clue how it works." New John's hand wavered, and then he finally lowered his gun, much to John's relief.
"A Quantum Dimension Device?" Atlantis' Rodney screwed up his face and then realization flooded in. "Oh, shit. Are you saying...that this thing...?"
"I'm saying that we were in our own universe, minding our own business, when you snapped a switch on that thing and sucked us over," new Rodney said in an irritated tone. "We discovered how it worked about a year ago—without dragging a couple of hapless bystanders across a universe to do it."
"That can't be possible!" Rodney said, his mouth opening and closing in a way that made him resemble a stranded fish, gasping for air.
"You surely understand the principle?" new Rodney asked in a patronizing tone.
"That there are at any one time an infinite number of universes co-existing, some of them virtually identical to our own and some completely different, yes, yes, of course," Rodney said impatiently.
"Well, we're probably from one of the closest universes to this one," new Rodney told him. "And like I said, you've sucked us over here. Where were you aiming at?"
"What? Oh...my quarters." Rodney gestured to the live footage on the laptop which still showed the interior of Rodney's quarters, complete with the untouched apple.
"Well, that explains that. We were in our quarters when the beam went off—which is annoying because if we hadn't been, then it wouldn't have caught us," new Rodney said. "Instead of aiming at your quarters here, you picked us up in the same location in our universe."
"So what you're saying is, that this device...no wait...hang on...back up a second here," Rodney said. "You said our quarters?" He glanced from new Rodney to new John and back again.
"Yes." New John nodded and placed a hand on new Rodney's shoulder. "Our quarters. Why? Does that have any bearing on how we get back?"
Rodney's eyes flickered down to the large tattoo on new Rodney's arm, with the intertwined J and R on it and then his gaze shot up, horrified, in John's direction. John knew how he felt—he was feeling a little freaked out himself.
"Okay," Elizabeth stepped in, clearly trying to ease the tension in the room which had just shot up a distinct notch. "Let's clear any non-essential personnel out of here so we can sort this out." She waved her hand and several people slipped out of the door, all of them casting amazed glances at each other as they went. John suspected that it would take all of three minutes for news of this to travel around the base. "Now, first things first. Rodney—can we get these people back to where they belong?"
"No," said both the Rodneys at the same time and then they glanced at each other in irritation.
"Not immediately, anyway," Atlantis' Rodney said. "You saw the way this machine responded when we activated it—it's shot to pieces at the moment and even if it wasn't, I don't know enough about the way it works to guarantee that we could return them safely to their own universe."
"Perhaps you should have thought about that before you turned the damn thing on," new Rodney muttered.
"Well, perhaps if it had a label on it that said 'quantum sucky thing—do not touch,' then I would have," Rodney snapped at him. "But we didn't know what it did."
"That's true," Radek butted in. "It was clear it was some kind of transport, but there was nothing to indicate that it did anything like this."
"Radek?" New Rodney's face lit up. "Radek—you're alive!"
"What? Yes, certainly, I'm very much alive," Radek said nervously, pushing his glasses further up his face. Then the realization hit. "So...in your universe, I am not?" he asked softly.
"No. Sorry—we lost you a year or so ago during the siege of Atlantis," new John told him. "I have to say that it's pretty damn good to see you again, Radek."
"All right—we can all compare notes on our various universes later, but for now we need to sort a few things out. Do you think you can get the device working again?" Elizabeth asked, turning to the Rodneys. "And I mean both of you—working together? I figure two McKays must equal twice the brainpower."
"Probably," both the Rodneys said together and then they glared at each other again.
"It'll take time, though," Rodney warned.
"How much time?" Elizabeth asked.
The Rodneys shrugged and then gazed at each other and back at the machine. The new Rodney glanced at the new John questioningly and when he nodded, the new Rodney stepped out of the taped area and went to look at the burnt out device.
"Well, it's looking pretty busted right now," new Rodney observed, with a scowl in Rodney's direction. "So if it is repairable, it's not going to be quick. We could be talking weeks."
"Weeks?" Rodney looked alarmed. "Shit, I've just remembered something—we don't have weeks! Entropic Cascade will set in in less than 48 hours unless we can get you out of here before then. Otherwise the effects will be lethal."
"Entropic Cascade?" New Rodney frowned. "Not with the QDD—this is a sophisticated piece of Ancient engineering. They designed it to be an escape route into another universe in the event of the Wraith taking over the city—it's got a built-in filter to nullify the effects of EC, so we don't have that time pressure at least."
"Oh." Rodney actually looked as if he was disappointed by that.
New Rodney glared at Rodney again and then went back to stand beside new John once more.
"All right, if we've got a few weeks, let's work towards that, then," Elizabeth said. "As you're going to be our guests for a little while, we need to arrange some facilities for you. Now..." She hesitated and flushed slightly. "I'm assuming you would prefer to share quarters?"
New John looked at her blankly, and his hand crept up to new Rodney's shoulder again and stayed there, in a protective gesture. "Of course," he said, looking confused. "Wait...you guys..." he glanced at John and Rodney. "You're not together in this universe?"
"No!" Both John and Rodney said together.
"Okaaaay," new John said, exchanging a frown with his Rodney. "So, this is kind of weird," he muttered.
"Uh—hello! Just as weird for us!" Atlantis' Rodney interjected, holding up his hand. "So you two are...what exactly?" He stood there, his arms folded across his chest, looking distinctly unimpressed.
"Oh, God," John sighed. "You had to ask?"
New John grinned. "Perhaps we should introduce ourselves. I'm General John Sheppard..."
"General?" John frowned. "Damn." He wasn't sure why that annoyed him, but somehow it did. You can't possibly be competitive with yourself, he told himself, but the idea that this John outranked him niggled at him.
"Hah—so it seems that the John in their universe has progressed a little further up the career ladder than you, Lieutenant Colonel," Rodney said, stressing John's title pointedly, in a tone of malicious glee, holding his hands behind his back and rocking back and forth on his heels a little in enjoyment of John's discomfort.
"And this is my husband, Dr. Rodney Sheppard," new John added, gesturing towards his Rodney. The look on Atlantis' Rodney's face was so comical that John almost fell about laughing there and then.
"What?" Rodney said, glaring at the new Rodney. "God, what the hell is wrong with you?" he growled. "I mean, if you have to be married to...to...him, then what's wrong with being the Sheppard-McKays, hmm? Or, wait, even better, the McKay-Sheppards. No, wait, wait...why couldn't he be John McKay? Why did you have to take his name?"
Dr. Rodney Sheppard gazed at him blankly. "Why wouldn't I?" he asked. "He's my top—of course I took his name when we got married. Don't you people have the same customs?"
"As a matter of fact..." John started to say, but Rodney got there first.
"No!" he practically shouted. "He's what? Did you say he was your top? What the hell does that mean?"
Elizabeth made a little sound in the back of her throat and John stifled a grimace.
"Uh, Rodney..." he began, looking into Rodney's absolutely outraged blue eyes. "Uh..." He tried to find a way to explain it sensitively, without upsetting Rodney even more, but then realization flooded into Rodney's eyes as he figured it out for himself.
"Oh, my God!" he breathed. "You're, like, what...his sex slave?"
"No!" both General and Dr. Sheppard said in unison. Dr. Sheppard glanced at his husband and grinned.
"He's my husband. I'm his top," General Sheppard said slowly, as if talking to idiots. "You people don't seem real familiar with these pretty basic things so I'm assuming it's done differently here?"
"Kind of," John said. "Look, I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to get to know one another. In the meantime, why don't we show you to some quarters and get you comfortable—then it's protocol that we have Dr. Beckett look you over. After that, if you'd like to join us in the mess hall for something to eat? We're really sorry for having inconvenienced you like this and we'll do everything we can to get you home as soon as possible." He glared at Rodney as he said that and Rodney glared back at him.
"Okay...now...you're going to need some things," Elizabeth added. "John, Rodney—seeing as these men are the same size as you, perhaps you could lend them a change of clothes?"
Rodney gazed at his counterpart with an expression of distaste. "Well, okay...but I don't have anything like what he's wearing," he said.
"And I wouldn't be seen dead in what you're wearing," Dr. Sheppard shot back at him.
"Rodney," the general said sharply, placing a warning hand on his husband's arm. "I think you need to calm down a little." He squeezed the other man's arm and new Rodney took a deep breath and nodded. "We'll take what we're given—thank you. I guess this is going to take a little bit of getting used to," the general added. "For all of us."
"I think you're right," Elizabeth said softly. "Perhaps you'd like to come this way, gentlemen..."
She put out a hand to show them the way and the general unclipped a slim silver chain from his belt, and, to John's complete bemusement and Rodney's barely stifled exclamation of disgust, attached it to the slim leather collar nestled around Dr. Sheppard's throat. Dr. Shep-pard made a soft little noise and leaned into his husband and then they both left the room together, following on behind Elizabeth—with Dr. Sheppard shooting another angry look in Rodney's direction as they went.
John gazed after them, still trying to process all this. "So...they seem like nice guys," he said eventually, glancing at Rodney. "Well, if you ignore the whole leash and collar thing."
Rodney gave him a withering look in return, and then turned his back on him and began studying the QDD intently, pointedly ignoring the colonel.
"Okay, then," John said, turning and leaving the room.
* * *
Rodney delayed for as long as possible, but finally, after Elizabeth called him and told him that giving Dr. Sheppard some of his clothes was an order and not a request, he left the lab and went back to his quarters. The apple was still sitting there, in its taped square, and he kicked it savagely with his foot. He still wasn't entirely sure how this had happened, and he hated being made to look an idiot in front of all those people—and, more than anything else, he really hated Dr. Sheppard.
"Stupid curly hair," he muttered, getting some clothes out of his closet and throwing them furiously on the bed. "See—that's why I don't let it grow any longer. Looks stupid like that."
He found a spare jacket and threw that onto the pile. "I wouldn't be seen dead in what you're wearing," he mimicked. "I'd quite happily see you dead," he muttered. "You and your stupid curly hair and that ridiculous tattoo and...excuse me...gay. Gay and tattooed and..." His mind didn't even want to go to the other part, the part with the collar and leash, the part that was frankly too kinky for Rodney to even wrap his brain around, so he just left it there.
He gathered up the little pile of clothes and then walked stiffly along the hallway to the room Elizabeth had allocated to the newcomers.
The general let him in and gave him a grateful smile when he saw the pile of clothes in Rodney's arms. Rodney deposited his gift on the bed, noticing as he did so that the colonel must have already dropped by because there was another pile of clothes sitting there.
Rodney stood up and nodded to the general stiffly, before turning to leave, but as he did so, Dr. Sheppard emerged from the bathroom.
"Looks pretty much the same as back home," he said to the general, before seeing Rodney. "Oh. You're here," he muttered.
"Just dropping off the clothes you don't want to be seen dead in," Rodney told him.
"I just think they'll be a little big on me, that's all," Dr. Sheppard said pointedly. "I'm a few pounds lighter than you. You've kind of let yourself go."
"That's enough, Rodney," the general said firmly. "New universe—same old rules, remember."
Dr. Sheppard glanced at him from under his eyelashes and then sighed. "Okay. I'm just ...really, really mad about this. Imagine how you'd feel," he told Rodney. "One minute you're back in your rooms hoping for a little R&R with the husband who's been offworld for four days without you—so you have a bit of catching up to do—and next thing you know, just as you're about to get down on your knees and show him just how much you really missed him...you're scooped up and thrown into a completely different universe and all because someone was a bit careless about which Ancient devices they stuck their fingers into."
"Some of these things I really don't need to know," Rodney told him stiffly, trying to banish the image of his doppelganger kneeling down in front of the general and reaching for the front of his tight leather pants from his mind. "I'm sorry, though," he muttered contritely. "I really didn't know this would happen. I can see how it would be...an inconvenience."
"And what's really annoying is that if you'd just done it ten minutes earlier, we wouldn't even have been in our quarters," the other Rodney added. "Just ten minutes!"
"We're lucky really, though, Rodney," the general said softly, putting an arm around his husband's chest and pulling him close. His Rodney came to rest easily against him, putting up a hand to touch his husband's arm affectionately.
"Hmm, how so?" he asked, glancing up at his husband.
"Well, if Dr. McKay here had activated the device five minutes earlier, as I recall you were standing on your own in the room right about where we were taken. You'd have just disappeared and I'd have had no way of knowing where you'd gone—and you'd be on your own here right now." The muscles in his arm tightened, visibly, as he said that and the look on the other Rodney's face actually made Rodney feel sorry for him—his blue eyes were frankly devastated as he considered that idea.
"Well...okay, then...pretty lucky, after all," he squeaked.
"Like I said—I'm sorry," Rodney told them both, meaning it. He could imagine how resentful and weird he'd feel if the same thing had happened to him. "If there's anything else you need..."
"There is, as a matter of fact," the general said. "There are some toiletries in the bathroom, but Rodney is right—I've been offworld for four days and there are some things I really need to do to him right now...so, would it be possible for you to supply me with some lube?"
Rodney gazed at him, horrified. "What?" he spluttered at last.
"Lubricant?" the general said, in a surprised tone.
"Well, I don't know why you think I'd have any!" Rodney exclaimed, feeling his cheeks grow hot at the very idea.
The general frowned. "If you don't mind me saying so, you people seem really hung up about anything to do with relationships or sex," he commented. "First you all freaked out when I said Rodney was my husband, then you got really edgy when I said I was his top, and now you look as if you're about to have a stroke because I've said I want some lube so we can make love."
"I'm not having a stroke. My people are really, really cool with the whole gay sex slave thing," Rodney said in a high-pitched kind of voice. "We know all about this stuff and we're completely fine with it," he added.
"Okay—firstly, not a sex slave," the other Rodney said, in a tone of annoyance. "Secondly, I'm not surprised you don't have any lube because it's clear as hell that nobody would want to go near you, let alone make love to you."
Rodney felt his temper rise uncontrollably at that. "Well, thirdly," he snapped back, his voice quavering as it rose an octave, "I don't have any damn lube because I don't need any damn lube because of being, you know, not—gay," he growled. "I suggest you ask Carson for some when he does your medical."
And with that, he turned on his heel and stomped out of the room.
* * *
Carson Beckett took a sharp intake of breath as the two newcomers entered the infirmary. He'd been warned what to expect, but even so, there was no denying that it was pretty damn weird. These men...they looked so very like the two men he'd been working with for the past couple of years, and yet...the other John was holding a silver lead that was attached to a leather collar around the other Rodney's neck, and the other Rodney was leaning into him affectionately, with a softness in his eyes that Carson didn't think he'd ever seen in their own Rodney's eyes. Their clothing was also strange—it accentuated their bodies more, without being in any way obscene or distasteful. The entire tableau added up to something completely alien while at the same time being eerily familiar and that was precisely what made it so unsettling, Carson thought to himself.
"Hey, Carson," the new John said easily, smiling at him.
"Uh...General Sheppard," Carson nodded his head nervously. This John had a different manner to their John. He seemed very in control, less flippant and laid back, while still having something of their John's easy-going charm about him.
"That's pretty formal. Call me John," the general said with a broad smile. "Back in our universe, you're one of our closest friends. It feels weird to hear you call me General."
"Right. Okay. John." Carson nodded anxiously. "And, uh...Rodney." He nodded at the other man.
"Carson." The new Rodney frowned at him. "I hope this won't take long. I mean, I understand all the tedious protocol stuff, but, you know, it's pretty clear who we are and where we came from, and it isn't as if we invited ourselves—we were more or less kidnapped from our own dimension and the sooner I get started on fixing the QDD, the sooner we can go home. Not that we're not having a great time meeting you guys, but...we'd really like to leave ASAP."
Carson found himself relaxing. This Rodney, like their own, clearly had a smart mouth on him and no intention of letting anyone else get a word in edgeways.
"Aye, Rodney, I understand that—however, I do need to do a full physical on you both, just to make sure you don't have any kind of communicable diseases. I'd also like to do a DNA test to see how you compare to our Sheppard and McKay, if that's okay with you? This is a remarkable event, after all, and we'd like to gather as much data as possible."
"Oh, God. How long will all that take?" Rodney asked in a resentful tone.
John put a hand on his arm. "That'll be fine, Carson," he said calmly. "Let's get started."
Carson nodded. He decided to start with Rodney—the other man was clearly fidgety and it would be a good idea to deal with him before he started climbing the walls. Carson had enough experience of their own Rodney when he was in one of these moods to know how to handle him.
"Rodney, if you'd like to sit down here." He put a hand on Rodney's arm and gestured him to the bed. Rodney stiffened and glanced at John and Carson had the feeling that he'd just done something very wrong. "Uh, if that's okay?" Carson said uncertainly, gazing from one to the other.
John's jaw tightened. "That's fine," he growled. "Just...ask me first before you touch him, okay?"
Carson hesitated; clearly he'd just transgressed some rule he didn't know anything about. Elizabeth had given him some instructions on this subject, and he was under orders to find out whether the new Rodney was a willing participant in this strange relationship and that he wasn't being mistreated, but it was going to be hard finding anything out if the general got this pissed off just because he'd put a hand on Rodney's arm.
"I'm sorry," Carson said softly. "But if I'm going to examine him, then I will need to touch him."
"That's fine. It's just that, in our universe, it's polite to ask first and make your intentions clear," the general told him firmly. "I understand that this isn't our universe and you have different customs, but even so, it's still a shock to us when people behave differently. We're not used to it."
"Okay." Carson took a deep breath, trying to wrap his head around this. "You're right, we don't know your customs. I'm very sorry if we do anything to offend you. Perhaps when it happens you could just point it out to us. It'll be entirely innocent on our part."
The general relaxed a little and nodded. "All right. Go ahead, Doctor," he said, resting his hand on Rodney's neck and stroking him. Rodney leaned back into the embrace, and Carson had a weird moment, watching them being so physically at ease with each other.
"Doctor?" the general queried.
Carson shook his head. "Sorry. Just thinking...that if our John did that to our Rodney, I'd have to put Rodney in restraints and administer a strong sedative," he said with a wry grin.
"Yeah, that man is so uptight," Rodney muttered. "I don't know how you guys can stand having him around."
"Och, he's got a certain charm all of his own," Carson said, feeling oddly defensive of their Rodney. It was one thing for the people on Atlantis to complain about him and tease him, but quite another for these newcomers to say anything against him. He was, after all, their Rodney, and Carson suspected they were all rather fond of the scientist, even if he could be a total pain in the arse.
"He's rude and obnoxious," the new Rodney sniped.
The general's fingers closed around his husband's neck in a little squeeze. "He's not unlike you were when I first met you," he said.
"Oh, please! That's so not true!" Rodney retorted in a voice that sounded so like their own Rodney's that Carson couldn't help but grin.
"I think that's probably why you don't like him," the general added, with a grin of his own. Rodney glared at him, and then glared at Carson as well when he saw his grin.
Carson took some blood from Rodney, and then glanced warily at the general. "If you don't mind, John, I'd like to examine Rodney on his own," he said.
"Why? I'd prefer to be present if you're going to be touching him," John replied.
"It's one of our customs," Carson told him. "We have a thing called doctor/patient confidentiality. There might be something Rodney wants to share with me that he'd feel uncomfortable talking about in front of you."
John gazed at Carson blankly. "Like what?" he asked, in a bemused tone.
"I don't know. Anything," Carson shrugged, glancing at Rodney. Rodney was giving him an equally blank look.
"I can't think of anything," Rodney said. "What could there be that I wouldn't want John to know about?"
"I don't know," Carson said again, feeling that they were totally not on the same wavelength on this, and at a loss as to how to explain it any better than he had already. His orders from Elizabeth weighed on his mind as well. She'd asked him to ensure that this new Rodney was okay—that he wasn't some kind of slave who needed liberating, and Carson didn't know how he could ascertain that if the general hovered over him during his examination. If Rodney was being coerced into this relationship, then he wouldn't be able to talk freely about that in the general's presence if he was afraid of the man—although Carson had to admit that he didn't seem particularly afraid of him.
"I'm going to have to ask you to take this on trust," Carson said eventually. "Look, why don't you stand in the next room, John? You can leave the door open and if Rodney thinks I'm doing anything he's uncomfortable with, he can call you."
At least that way he'd be able to have a private conversation with Rodney without John hearing. The general glanced at Rodney, who shrugged.
"I don't mind," he said. "If it's one of their customs."
"Okay," John said at last. "Just call me if you need me." He leaned over and deposited a firm kiss on Rodney's mouth and then turned and left. Carson stood there for a moment, trying to process the fact that these two men, who looked so much like his own Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay, had just had a deep smooch. It was...just plain weird.
"Is it okay if I remove this?" Carson asked, turning back to Rodney and touching the collar around his neck, lightly. The collar didn't look uncomfortable, but he wanted to make sure the skin underneath it was healthy—and also to check whether Rodney was allowed to remove it.
"Okay," Rodney shrugged.
Carson unbuckled it and examined it for a moment. It was made of very soft leather, and the inside was lined with some kind of padded material. It hadn't even left a mark on Rodney's neck so it clearly wasn't fastened too tight, or pulled on to cause discomfort.
"Could you take your shirt off?" Carson asked, getting out his stethoscope. He did want to listen to Rodney's heart, but he also wanted to make sure the other man didn't have any marks of abuse on his body.
Rodney did as he was told, stripping off with an air of impatience. His body looked in better shape than their own Rodney's—and there was no sign of any bruising or anything else for that matter, although Carson didn't know what he'd been expecting or even exactly what he was looking for. It was just the collar and lead thing that had thrown them all and led to Elizabeth's concern.
He listened to Rodney's heart, and then took his blood pressure. "Impressive," he murmured. Their Rodney was borderline hypertensive, but this Rodney's heart was clearly in a more healthy state. "Rodney...I wanted to ask you..." he hesitated, unsure how to best approach this difficult issue.
"Is my relationship with General Sheppard consensual?" Rodney supplied for him, rolling his eyes slightly. "Don't think I haven't figured out just how freaked you people are by us. That's what all the doctor/patient confidentiality crap was all about isn't it? And why you wanted me to remove my collar? Do you want to check my ass, Carson, to make sure he doesn't rape me every night? For God's sake! What's wrong with you people? He's my husband! Why would I be with someone who abused me? I'm not his slave—I'm his partner. We're equals."
"It's just the collar and lead thing," Carson muttered, feeling embarrassed.
"What about it? He's my top—it's like...it's like...I saw two of your people in the hallway on the way here and they were holding hands. It's like that to us. Nothing more. I don't understand why it freaks you out—where I come from it's just normal. Nobody would think anything of it."
"Okay." Carson nodded. "I'm sorry if we've offended you. It's just we were concerned about your welfare, that's all."
"I think you should be more concerned about your own welfare," Rodney snapped. "You people are all so damn locked up in yourselves. Look at you, Carson! My Carson doesn't have that worried frown all the time. He'd be laughing at this if he could see it. You people are all stressed out all the time without even knowing it."
"You could be right," Carson said, in a conciliatory tone.
"I usually am," Rodney said pointedly. "Now, can I put my shirt back on or was there anything else you wanted to see?"
"No. That's fine. Go ahead," Carson sighed. This really hadn't gone very well, although at least he'd be able to report back to Elizabeth that this Rodney was no more a victim than their own was.
Carson called John back in, examined him and took his blood, and then finished up, feeling rather relieved. He was intrigued by what Rodney had said, though—it was strange thinking of another him in another universe leading another life. He wondered what this other Carson was like. Did he wander around in a collar on the end of someone else's lead? Could he possibly be happy with that? Carson didn't think so. Now Carson did at least have a better understanding of what their own John and Rodney must be feeling, being confronted by such a very challenging alternate view of themselves. Carson made a mental note to check up on them and see how they were both handling having their alter egos on the base.
"Just one more thing," the general asked, rolling back his sleeve after Carson had taken his blood. "We need some lubricant. I asked Dr. McKay for some earlier, but he nearly fainted on the spot and said I should ask you."
"Aye, that sounds like Rodney," Carson said, with a wry smile. "Of course I can let you have some. Do you need condoms as well?"
"Why the hell would we need condoms?" Rodney snapped. "Unless.... Oh, God, in this universe men can't have babies, can they?"
"No, Rodney," Carson said, trying hard not to laugh. "No...I was offering the condoms for safe sex. To avoid sexually transmitted diseases?" he supplied when he saw that both men were still looking blank.
"We're in a monogamous relationship, Doc," John told him. "So that's not really an issue for us. But thanks all the same." He took the tube of lubricant that Carson was holding out for him. "Oh, and one other thing...Dr. McKay keeps calling us something... what was the word, Rodney?" He glanced at his husband.
"Gay," Rodney said sourly. "What does it mean? Is it some kind of insult? I bet it is."
Carson gazed at them for a second, desperately suppressing the urge to laugh once more.
"Uh, no...it's not really an insult. It's an expression we use to denote people of the same gender being in a sexual relationship. It's a kind of colloquial expression for homosexuality. I take it that it isn't a term you use in your universe?"
"Nope." John shook his head. "Never heard of it. Why does it matter whether people of the same gender are in a relationship? Is that important here?"
"Yes," Carson sighed. "It's becoming more accepted, but there are still a lot of taboos against same gender relationships. That's probably partly why Rodney got so freaked out when you asked him for lubricant. People aren't comfortable with the issue."
"Oh, God, you people—you have everything upside down," Rodney growled. "You haven't figured out whether you're tops, bottoms or switches, which—hello! —is much more important than the gender of the people you sleep with, and you scream and run a mile if anyone mentions sex. I have no idea how you even get through the day."
"We do okay," Carson said defensively. "I think we just have very different ideas about interpersonal relationships than your people."
"Well, obviously," Rodney muttered.
"One thing I was wondering..." Carson bit on his lip, unsure whether he wanted to know the answer to this or not. "As we're on the subject of relationships...uh...your Carson...is he in a relationship back in your universe?"
The general grinned at him. "Yeah. He just got married," he said, slapping Carson's arm affectionately.
"Oh, aye? Who to?" Carson hoped his voice didn't come out like a squeak.
"Colonel Caldwell," John told him.
"What?" Carson gazed at him, unsure whether he was horrified or flattered.
"You're not with him here, then?" John asked.
"No...I'm single," Carson replied.
"Well, you're very much taken in our universe. You couldn't take your eyes off the colonel from the moment the Daedalus arrived. At first we just thought you were really concerned for the health of the Daedalus' crew, with all the tests you kept running Then we realized it was their commanding officer you were actually interested in. You kept it quiet for a while because you both wanted to be sure."
"Oh, God." Carson sat down with a bump. "Colonel Caldwell? Really?" he asked, feeling his chest tighten. "Oh, God," he said again, imagining himself walking around after the tall, imposing colonel, at the end of the other man's lead. Now he really knew how poor Rodney felt having these two men here on Atlantis. It was just...disturbing.
"Does that mean...do I wear a collar like Rodney?" Carson asked, tracing a hand absently over his neck.
John roared with laughter. "No! Idiot! You're the colonel's top!" he said, slapping Carson's arm heartily as if he'd just told a good joke.
"What?" Carson sat there, stunned. "What?" he said again, blankly. He'd found it hard imagining being on the end of Caldwell's lead, but he found it positively impossible to imagine himself attaching a lead to the tall colonel's collar and pulling him around. "Are you sure?" he frowned.
"Of course!" John told him. "I was best man at your wedding. I fastened your belt myself."
"My belt?" Carson spread his arms, feeling confused. John pointed at his own thick, black leather belt, from which dangled various items of equipment.
"Your belt," he repeated. "It's our custom—the best man or woman makes a gift of a belt to the top on their wedding day. That's why we say 'buckling the belt' sometimes when we refer to two people getting married. I take it you don't have the same expression?"
"Uh...no...we say 'tying the knot'," Carson said weakly.
"What knot do you tie?" Rodney asked, poking his fingers curiously into some of the vials that were sitting on the table.
"Oh...it's not a real knot. It's more of a metaphorical knot I think," Carson frowned.
John gazed at him steadily as if he thought this was another thing that was seriously strange about Carson's universe. "Well, ours is a real belt," he shrugged. "The one you gave me when you were best man at our wedding was particularly well supplied, but then you knew Rodney pretty well and clearly thought I needed all the help I could get!" he laughed.
"Supplied?" Carson asked, glancing at the belt.
"Yeah." John fastened his fingers into the loops on his belt. "Clamps, clips, leash, strap," he said, pointing at various dangling items and finishing up with the black leather strap that hung from it. He glanced at Rodney, who grinned back at him.
"I can be a handful sometimes," Rodney said with a shrug.
"He beats you?" Carson asked, in a strangled tone.
"Of course not," Rodney sighed. "He spanks me. Big difference."
"He loves it!" John laughed.
"Well, mostly I love it. Sometimes I don't—when I'm being punished," Rodney added, wrapping an arm around his husband's waist and gazing up at him fondly. "Oh, God, Carson, don't go getting that look again! How do you people punish each other when you screw up?"
"We...uh...d'you mean when we screw up professionally?" Carson asked, confused.
"When you screw up any which way," Rodney shrugged. "Supposing someone stole from someone?"
"Well...we've got a brig," Carson said uncertainly. "And back on Earth we have big prisons where we keep the people who've transgressed the laws of our society and.... What?" he said, seeing the look of shock on their faces.
"You keep people locked up? In cages?" John asked, sounding aghast.
"Well, not cages...cells," Carson said defensively.
"Like animals?" Rodney said, in a choked tone. "Away from their families and loved ones? Away from their husbands and wives?" He sounded utterly horrified.
"Aye." Carson spread his arms. "It's just what we do."
"And you think we're freaky," Rodney muttered.
"How does it work for you, then?" Carson asked, trying to be as non-judgmental as possible as there was obviously a culture gap here that would take quite some time and effort to bridge.
"Well, if Rodney screwed up, I'd punish him," John shrugged. "I'm his top so he's my responsibility."
"You're talking about physical punishment?"
"Of course. The strap isn't just for show," John said with a shrug.
"And supposing you didn't punish him?" Carson asked, genuinely curious. "Supposing he did something—like stealing—and you refused to punish him? Would someone else punish him?"
"No!" John shook his head. "Nobody except me can touch him. If I refused to punish him, then I'd be punished instead," John shrugged. "That's the way it works."
"So who'd punish you?" Carson frowned. "Rodney?"
"No!" Rodney and John both laughed.
"No—the highest status top I reported to would punish me. It happened not so long ago. My Lady Elizabeth punished me." John glanced at Rodney, who had gone strangely still and silent, his head hanging down. "But we'll save that story for later," John said softly. "Come on, Rodney, I think it's time we went back to our quarters and had that reunion, don't you?"
Rodney took a deep breath and then glanced up, with a grin. "Sounds good to me," he said.
"Thanks, Doc. We'll see you later—in the mess hall?" John asked.
"Aye, of course." Carson nodded.
Carson watched them go, thinking what a great couple they made. They looked so easy together, so right. The general had one arm wrapped around his husband's shoulders and Rodney's arm was wrapped around the general's waist, and they were talking in low, conspiratorial voices, and nobody could doubt the genuine and obvious affection they felt for each other. At least Carson felt his mind had been put to rest on that score. He'd have no trouble telling Elizabeth that although this relationship might seem strange to them, it was entirely consensual, and where they came from, their behavior was clearly perfectly normal.
"Colonel Caldwell, though...." Carson sat back in his chair, feeling winded. "Colonel Caldwell?!"
Next: Culture Clash