Title: In the Flames
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: Ties That Bind
Series Order: 9
Betas: Ladyholder and Chris King
Warnings: BDSM, blood play, see series page for full warnings
Summary: John and Rodney adjust to being back on the city after the house trial and Scott Holland shows his true colors.
Author’s Note: Shira posted a poem for me in the comments section and I found it so inspiring and perfect for this story that I’ve included it.
* * * *
Contrary to Public Opinion by Shira
It’s not the temptation of crystal spires
reaching high into the sky, so far away,
That makes me follow his lead
Nor is it the blue and silver encircling my neck
or the star etched deep into my skin
That shows my worth to him.
And though the marks left on my body
ache oh so deliciously even hours later
That’s not what ties me to him.
It is his every touch of eyes and hands
saying loud and clearly all the time
That I am cherished. Loved. And owned.
* * * *
John had been back on the city for exactly six hours and his office felt more like Grand Central Station than the haven of silence and order it normally was. He glanced up as the door slid open again and smiled in surprise as McKay entered. “Hey, I thought you’d be busy until dinner.”
Rodney frowned and walked around the desk, an indication that he wanted his kneeling bench. John hooked his foot around the edge of it and prodded it out from the under the desk. McKay settled on the cushion with a small sigh and placed his tablet PC on the corner of John’s desk. “I hate these people.”
John stroked his cheek and then let his fingers slide down his neck. “What can I do?”
“I could use a buffer,” McKay admitted with a small, dejected frown. “I have two hundred emails to plow through, fifty reports to sign off on, and they won’t leave me alone so I can do it.”
John pulled the leash he carried with him out of his pocket and latched it onto his collar. “Hand me your radio.”
Rodney pulled the radio out of his ear and handed it over. “Thank you.” He shifted into a lotus position on the bench and grabbed his tablet. “I took myself officially off-duty twenty minutes ago so all calls should automatically route to Zelenka and Porter. Miko is on the mainland today with Beckett—a picnic apparently.”
John nodded. “Matt let me know they’d left for the day—she has two safety checks with him but I’m not worried. Carson is a safe and considerate top. He’d sooner cut off one of his own limbs that do harm to anyone, much less a sub of Miko’s delicate nature.” He relaxed in his chair and watched Rodney for a few seconds in silence. “Food?”
“Zelenka brought some sandwiches to the lab earlier,” Rodney explained. “Porter followed with apples later. I doubt I’ll ever get to forget eat in their presence again.”
John nodded. “Good. I have a few meetings but nothing you can’t stick around for.” He sighed when his door chime sounded. “Enter.”
Scott Holland was on his appointment calendar and he was right on time. The younger man entered the room—his posture relaxed and a friendly smile firmly in place until he caught sight of McKay on the bench. John watched the smile drift away to be replaced by a neutral expression.
“Hey, Scott, take a seat.” John leaned back in his chair and rubbed the smooth suede of Rodney’s leash handle between his fingers before draping it casually over his thigh. “Matthew reports that you’ve done very well on training ops planet side and that you participated in a rescue mission as a Jumper pilot while I was gone.”
“Yes, sir.” Scott relaxed in his chair. “I’d like to stay on the city.”
“The SGC sent me back with a replacement pilot for our squadron,” John explained. “Additionally, they aren’t interested in wasting all of the training you’ve had for the Daedalus on this city.”
“I think I’d be better utilized here on the city, sir.”
“Not my call,” John responded carefully. Though he knew that O’Neill would have let him keep Holland on the city if he wanted, Matt had made it clear by immediately accepting the replacement pilot that he didn’t want Scott on the city. “Matthew has already put Lt. Morgan in the rotation in your place. You’re off-duty until the Daedalus arrives unless we have an emergency need off-world.”
Scott sighed. “I’ve tried to mend fences with Matt but he’s… not been exactly willing or available. I realize that my parents were pretty harsh with your family at the funeral but it was my duty to be there for them.”
“Matt doesn’t have a personal problem with you, Scott.” John let his hand fall on Rodney’s shoulder and he rubbed his thumb across the skin just under his collar. “He’s in a new relationship and focuses the majority of his off-duty time on his Dom.”
“I was surprised to hear he’d taken a collar—the rumor was that he didn’t plan to ever take one.”
John shrugged. “Matt has always gone his own way but I’m pleased to see him settled into a relationship.” His gaze dropped to Rodney who was working intently. He trailed his fingers affectionately through his hair and McKay looked up with a questioning expression. He refocused on Scott reluctantly. “There are quite a few unattached Doms on the city and you have a week to relax before the Daedalus arrives.”
Scott stood and nodded abruptly. “Of course, I’m sure I’ll find something to do to stay busy, sir.”
“See that you do,” John said. “Dismissed.”
Scott glanced briefly at McKay and then left the office without another word.
“He wants you.”
John shook his head. “No, he doesn’t.” He turned in his chair so he could focus entirely on his sub. “He wants something familiar and comfortable. I represent that because his parents are dead and I remind him of his brother. It’s practically incestuous and terribly unhealthy.”
McKay grimaced and set aside his tablet. “Okay, but it doesn’t change the fact that he resents me and wants you.”
“You have to know I’d never touch him.”
“Out of respect for Jared?”
John blinked in surprise. “Out of respect for you, Rodney. I haven’t even thought about touching another submissive since I met you. I said you’d be the only one while you wore my collar. I can’t believe you still doubt that.”
“I don’t doubt…” Rodney trailed off with a blush. “I trust your word, John. I know if you changed your mind about being exclusive that you’d be honest with me.”
“I won’t change my mind,” John murmured and then leaned down. He kissed McKay’s mouth carefully and made a pleased sound when Rodney moved up into the kiss. He broke the kiss with a soft groan. “I haven’t been inside you in days.”
“That is all your fault,” Rodney complained. “Or Dato’ Raja’s… one of you is definitely to blame.”
John laughed and urged McKay up and then into his lap. He cupped his sub’s ass and pulled him close as he settled back into his chair. “I should fix that as soon as possible.”
Rodney smirked, pulled his t-shirt from his BDUs and then over his head. “Any more appointments on your schedule?”
“Four.” John sighed as he rubbed his thumb over Rodney’s Courtesan mark. “Frost and Bates are up next.” He leaned in and lifted McKay up just a little so he could suck hard on a nipple. He clenched down with his teeth and hummed softly when Rodney groaned.
Rodney wrapped his arms around John’s neck and inched closer. “That’s so good.”
John clenched down again and sucked hard on the skin. He let go with a groan of frustration when the door chime sounded. He pinched the nipple as Rodney settled down on his thighs. “I’d like to spank them both.”
Rodney laughed. “I’d love to watch you do it.”
“Back on your bench,” John ordered after placing a soft kiss on his mouth. “I wish we were in our quarters. I’d love to be doing something filthy and painful to you.”
Rodney slid out of his lap and rearranged himself on the bench. “That sounds amazing.”
John smirked and turned in his chair around to face the front of his desk. “Enter.”
Dean Bates entered with Declan Frost not far behind him. Both men fell into parade rest in front of John’s desk and John lifted an eyebrow at them. The tension was obvious and disturbing. He’d thought that Bates would’ve adjusted to the changes in the months since they’d reconnected with Earth. “Okay, gentlemen, talk to me.”
Frost glanced briefly at Bates who shrugged and then he sighed. “Sir. It’s the…” He paused and then huffed. “Dr. Weir cancelled our war games while you were gone, sir.”
John bit down on his bottom lip to keep from laughing. “I’m aware that she wished to postpone the war games off world until I returned. I didn’t disagree with her on this. Having that much of our personnel off world while I was in a different galaxy made her uncomfortable. It has nothing to do with the level of trust she has in the two of you or Major Lorne. It has a lot to do however with how much she came to depend Colonel Sumner and me while we were cut off from Earth. She is seriously uncomfortable making decisions about military matters and finds most of what we do to prepare for battle a little bit baffling.”
“So you’ll talk to her,” Bates summed up.
“I’ll reschedule the war games—we’ll do it after the Daedalus arrives with our supply run.” John pointed to the two chairs in front of his desk. “Sit, both of you. What else is going on between you two?”
Dean focused on the floor in front of him as they both settled in seats. “I’d rather not say, sir.”
Declan pursed his lips briefly and looked at the wall above John’s head. “The Sarge is kind of asshole, sir.”
“The squid doesn’t know how to mind his own business,” Dean complained roughly and glared when Declan snorted.
“So this is personal?” John questioned. “Because I believe you both know how I feel about allowing personal bullshit to interfere with job performance.”
The two Doms exchanged looks and Dean sighed. “It could be that I’m being an asshole about a personal matter but neither one of us are going to let that interfere with the safety of the city or our mission.”
“Right.” Declan nodded. “Eventually, Sean will get his way and Dean will just have to surrender gracefully.”
“Sean.” John lifted an eyebrow and glanced between them. “I wasn’t aware that you’d be interested in sharing Dr. Taylor, Declan.”
Frost offered John a sly grin. “I give Sean exactly everything he wants if it is possible, but this isn’t about that. Sean is trying to play matchmaker for Dean here but the Sarge is playing hard to get.”
“What makes Sean frustrated—pisses the Chief off,” Dean clarified. “So now I’m to blame for his sub’s bad mood.”
“And you can’t give in gracefully?” John questioned with a small smile. He picked up Rodney’s leash where it lay across his leg. “So, who is Sean trying to throw at you?”
Dean sighed. “Some geek, sir.”
John lifted an eyebrow. “Name?”
“Justin Travers,” Declan answered immediately. “And no, Bates is too much of a Marine to give in gracefully to anything.”
“Hmm,” John turned to McKay. “What do you know about Justin Travers?”
“Engineer, first in his class at the Air Force Academy—left with the rank of Captain. He has Masters Degrees in mechanical engineering and aeronautics. He finished his PhD in aerospace engineering two years ago.” Rodney paused and continued at John’s abrupt nod. “He’s a hard player with pretty advanced pain kinks like me and did two sessions at de Sade under the hand of Kyle Napier himself.”
“You sponsored him at de Sade I take it.”
Rodney shrugged elegantly. “He isn’t the first submissive that I’ve sponsored at the institute. How did you know?”
“How many subs are trained by de Sade’s House Master?”
“Less than three a year,” Rodney admitted. “Kyle found him very interesting.”
“I bet.” John quirked an eyebrow at Bates who flushed and sighed dramatically. “You’re a picky bastard, Sarge.”
Bates glanced briefly towards McKay and then shrugged. “I trained at La Petite Mort like most—did three full sessions but that doesn’t mean I think I can handle a de Sade masochist. They are in a league all their own.”
“What do you think of that, McKay?”
Rodney looked up from his tablet. “That the Marines on this base are unfortunately and notoriously stingy with cock.”
John laughed and sighed. “That’s a heinous allegation, Rodney.”
“I have data,” McKay promised primly. “I bet Dr. Travers would be thrilled to help me correlate the numbers and write you a report.”
John laughed and glanced at Bates who was blushing. “I look forward to reading it. Okay, you’re dismissed and you can both stop being assholes.”
“Yes, sir.” Bates stood up immediately.
John’s next appointment was waiting on the other side of the door as Frost and Bates beat a hasty retreat from the office. “Come on in Chase.”
Chase offered Rodney a grin as he closed the door behind him and settled into a chair at John’s silent direction. “Sir, I realize you’ve had a long day. Thanks for taking time to see me.”
“Not a problem,” John murmured and relaxed back into his chair. “Evan tells me you’re having some difficulties that you weren’t comfortable discussing with him.”
Chase shrugged. “It isn’t… that I’m uncomfortable with Major Lorne. He’s always been fair and even handed with me. I trust him both professionally and personally without reservation but I didn’t feel comfortable asking him to intervene on my behalf with a Dom unofficially on the base.”
“Why unofficially?” John questioned.
“Because I don’t have grounds for an official complaint. I’ve had a private relationship with Evan Lorne and I don’t want to make Commander Sheppard uncomfortable by having his Dom warn off another Dom for me.”
“You’ve done your own warning?” John questioned.
“I’ve made my lack of interest very clear,” Chase admitted. “And yesterday I found out he’d actually told a civilian Dom to not approach me for play. While I had no serious interest in that civilian, he had no business making such a decision for me.”
“Name?” John questioned.
“Army Ranger,” John said with a sigh. “He’s not stupid enough to do something that would give you official grounds. Bad behavior of that nature would be a career killer and get him booted out of the Rangers.”
“Yes, sir, that was my assessment as well. However, I will not tolerate his current behavior either.”
“You won’t have to,” John assured. “I’ll take care of it right now which is unfortunate for him because he just ruined my day.”
* * * *
“Sergeant Brian Fuller. It seems like you and I have never had time for a private chat.” John leaned back on his desk and stared at him the Army man until he shifted on his feet and lowered his gaze.
“We have a busy mission, sir.” His gaze flicked briefly to where Rodney was working on the bench behind Sheppard’s desk.
“Yes.” John nodded his agreement. “A very busy and important mission—we stand between Earth and the Wraith. I chose you, Fuller. Every single man I brought back to Atlantis with me from Earth was a personal choice. I reviewed your service records—all of your mission files. I picked you because I knew you were the kind of man I could put down on another planet and you’d make war for me.”
“Yes, sir, I would.”
“What I didn’t expect, Sergeant Fuller, is for you to make war on my fucking city. I expected you to be someone I could trust to treat your fellow soldiers and the civilians on this base with courtesy and respect.” He held up a hand when Fuller started to speak. “Don’t you dare say a fucking word. You can’t even imagine how close I am to dragging you into one of the gyms and kicking your ass.”
He ran a hand over his head impatiently. “The only reason I’m not kicking your ass is that Lt. Harris came to me in private to discuss your behavior and I don’t want to embarrass him. He works his ass off on this city—is due and will receive a promotion to Captain within the next year. He’s working on his dissertation in Engineering in his spare time.” John leaned in and got in Fuller’s face. “He’s not a piece of ass and I won’t allow you or anyone else on this city to treat him like one. What Chase Harris is, Fuller, is a goddamned decorated officer in the United States Marines Corps. Understood?”
“You will leave him alone privately and treat him with all of the respect he is due professionally. If you fail in either of these areas—you’ll leave my city in as much pain as I can legally get away with putting on you and I’ll make it my personal mission in life to see that you no longer have the honor of being an Army Ranger. Clear?”
“Clear, sir.” Fuller flushed and pressed his lips together tightly. “I apologize that you were bothered with this personal situation, sir.”
“I’m not the one you owe an apology,” John responded coolly. “And do not make the mistake of failing to take me seriously. Private disrespect of an officer leads to break downs in the chain of command and we live in a fucking war zone. This isn’t like any base you’ve ever served on and I won’t have you treat it like it. Understood?”
“Yes, sir. I understand perfectly.”
* * * *
Ethan paused at the doorway of the large balcony that his brothers were on. He liked Evan Lorne a lot and thought that Matthew had made an excellent choice. McKay was a different story. The snarky bastard really fucking turned him on and it was kind of irritating if he were going to be honest with himself. He knew exactly what John saw in Rodney and why his brother was so besotted with the scientist.
John turned and saw him then. He lifted an eyebrow. “Hey, kiddo.”
Ethan sighed. “I’m thirty years old, John.” He strolled out onto the balcony and accepted the beer Evan offered him. He twisted off the cap and rolled onto an empty lounger.
“Still younger than me,” John reminded. “David calls me kid and that particular insult has to roll down hill to you and Matt. It’s your lot in life.”
Ethan rolled his eyes but smiled softly as he wiggled down in the lounger. “If you say so.” He glanced briefly at McKay who was snuggled up against John, practically asleep. He was nothing like Jared Holland and Ethan couldn’t figure out how John could have been satisfied in the past when McKay obviously did it for him a couple hundred different ways. Maybe it was age and experience—John certainly wasn’t the same man. War and loss had shaped John in ways that no one could have predicted.
“You pulled Fuller out of maneuvers for a conversation,” Ethan murmured. “Something we need to be concerned about?”
John shrugged. “He’s in your platoon, right?”
Ethan nodded. Though the city wasn’t full of just Marines anymore, the organization of the military remained the same. The Navy, Army and Air Force personnel had been slotted into the existing structure in the city. “Are you going to kick his ass?”
“If he doesn’t learn to mind his manners, I’m going to break him half and send him back to Earth in traction.” John trailed his fingers down McKay’s side. “He’s been bullying a submissive—an officer, privately. That officer came to me because he didn’t want it to be made public.”
Ethan lifted an eyebrow. “That’s really a problem out here?”
“He’s new to the city—came out with the second wave and we have had our problems in the past. It’s a top heavy environment and there is a struggle to keep things healthy and balanced on private a level. We’ve made mistakes in the past, especially with some civilian tops. It doesn’t help that most submissives are unwilling to file formal complaints.”
“There is a stigma attached to that,” Rodney murmured. “Especially for civilian subs working in a military environment. They don’t want to be seen as difficult or unattractive.”
* * * *
Ethan braced himself under the shower—two hours working out had relaxed him physically but his mind was still rushing from all of the changes in his life. He was in serious need of a different kind of headspace and that required the right kind of sub. Something that was probably going to be difficult to find in the city of the Ancients.
“You look like you could use some company.”
He turned his head and did his very best not to let his mouth drop open at the sight that greeted him. Twenty hours on the city hadn’t given him time to meet everyone so the gorgeous, naked sub standing under the next showerhead was a complete mystery to him. A mystery that instantly had him interested and hard. The younger man looked him over and smiled beautifully.
Ethan let his gaze trail over the sub’s body and center on the small vivid yellow lily blossom situated over his left hipbone. It curved delicately over the thin skin, the petals blooming towards a pretty, cut cock. “I wouldn’t turn down attendance.” He held out his hand and the sub took it without a single hesitation. “As top heavy as this city is reported to be—I’m a little surprised to find you don’t have a line of Doms waiting for you to get out of the shower.”
The sub laughed softly as Ethan pressed him against the wall. “Most of the single ones are of a lower rank than me—so they don’t press for attention or time. I’m used to asking for what I want.”
“So you know who I am?” Ethan questioned.
“Yeah, Chief, I know.” He shivered as Ethan pressed against him. “Everyone knows who you are.”
“And what’s your name?” Ethan questioned. “Or are you going to make me wait until morning turnover?”
The sub chuckled. “What do you prefer?”
“I prefer a name,” Ethan nuzzled against his neck and clenched his teeth briefly on the sub’s earlobe.
“Lt. Chase Harris, Marines.” Chase shuddered and shifted one leg up against Ethan. “God, you feel amazing.” He rubbed his foot down the back of the Ethan’s leg. “Here or private quarters?”
Ethan hummed a little under his breath. “Both.” He grasped Chase’s chin firmly and tilted his head up for a hard kiss. Harris relaxed into the hold and the kiss without a single hesitation. Marsh lifted his head and looked over Chase’s face. “Is there anyone on this city pursuing you seriously?”
“Not from my point of view,” Chase responded honestly. “You know you can’t control what others feel about you.”
Ethan nodded. “Yeah.” He cupped Chase’s hip with one hand and moved closer. “I bet everyone tells you how pretty you are.”
Chase hummed softly. “Yeah, I’m fairly used to being told such things.”
Ethan brushed his thumb over the small lily blossom. “Why keep this hidden? Most marked subs make their training as obvious as possible.”
“My teaching Master wanted to mark my neck but I didn’t need the added attention,” Chase admitted. “That’s a vanity of the house we share.” He trailed his fingers over Ethan’s house La Petite mark where it encircled his bicep. “Who trained you?”
“Louis Bessette. You?”
Chase’s gaze widened briefly. “You trained in Paris?”
“My fathers insisted I receive a thorough Dom education and they were both trained in Paris. It was my honor to train under Louis Bessette—as one of the last Doms he trained before he retired and left the house leadership to Neal Petyon.”
“Cool.” Chase took the soap that Ethan held out for him. “I trained with Mistress Collette Depaul for my first session but I took my second session with Master Stefan Renard. He offered to take me down the path to Consort but I…” He trailed off with a sigh. “I didn’t have the financial means to cover such extensive training.”
“You accepted the lily mark? That means you won’t go back for more training.”
Chase inclined his head thoughtfully. “Right. I met a Dom shortly before my second session. We were both in the Annapolis together.” He trailed his soapy fingers down Ethan’s chest, pleased with the play of power and muscle. “I spent the summer of our junior year at La Petite Mort and decided to accept the lily because I thought that I wouldn’t want to seek more training after I was collared.”
Ethan nodded. “Most Doms wouldn’t want to allow it—at least not unless they were included in the training. So, you’re here in another galaxy without a collar, Chase. What happened?”
“He was in a car accident our senior year—broke his hip,” Chase admitted. “He recovered but was no longer viable for active duty. He received a medical discharge. He demanded that I resign my commission and when I refused…” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “He cut off my collar.”
“Not removed,” Ethan murmured. “He cut it off you?”
“With my own knife,” Chase responded his eyes still closed. “I never tell people this.”
“Then why tell me?” Ethan questioned as he wrapped one soapy hand around Chase’s half-hard cock.
“I don’t know. I just wanted a little play and I’d heard that you favor the single-tail. It’s one of my favorite tools.” Chase opened his eyes and bit down on his bottom lip as Ethan’s fingers moved over his balls. “Some of the new Navy guys were talking about you. I just wanted to get with you before someone beat me to it. A few of the other SEALs were making bets… I guess it’s sort of a game with you guys?”
Ethan laughed softly. “Yeah, something like that. There are only a few subs in the SEALs and they are always… the rough and ready type. They compete against each other for the attention of the strongest Dom in our units.”
“Is that what you like?” Chase questioned. “Rough and ready?”
“I like my submissives smart and capable,” Ethan admitted. “Strong in the field, serious about their career and about their health.”
“And what about your bed?” Chase let his head thump back against the wall as Ethan pressed firmly against the flesh behind his balls. “What do you like in your bed, Ethan?”
“Honesty.” Ethan nuzzled against Chase’s neck and then bit down hard on the top of his shoulder. He lifted his head as the submissive shivered against him. “Someone who likes to hurt—who will hurt for me and love it. I’m a sadist, Chase, but if you’re looking for something like…John… you’re going to be disappointed.”
“No.” Chase shook his head. “I’m a masochist but nowhere near the level a man like the Colonel needs.” He used his pinky finger to circle Ethan’s left nipple—playing gently with the piercing. “I think, however, I am exactly what a man like you needs.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“We should fix that,” Chase declared with a smirk. “You wanna take me back to my quarters and hurt me a little, Chief?”
“Yeah, I most certainly do.”
* * * *
“So, it’s hard for you to see the Colonel with another submissive.”
Scott Holland frowned. “It’s been four years. I guess he has the right to move on. I just wish it was someone… better.”
“McKay is a smart man and a de Sade Courtesan. Some would say you can’t get any better than that.”
Scott looked across the mess hall where John was working. He and McKay had come into the room with their computers in tow. McKay had taken over a table near the back of the room for their stuff while Sheppard had gotten them both food. It had been a little disconcerting to watch John do that. Jared would’ve never left such a chore to John and had insisted on attending to his every personal need during their relationship.
“He’s not like my brother at all,” Scott admitted. “Jared had a near slave mentality when it came to his Dom. He sacrificed all of his independence in their relationship.” He shrugged again, striving to look casual. “They are night and day in that respect. I heard John does his own laundry.”
The Marine across from him nodded. “But he did that before he collared McKay. He never passed off his personal chores to the soldiers under his command.”
“You’re part of the original expedition, right?”
“Yeah.” Chris Morley nodded. “It was different then—the connection with Earth has changed a lot of things on the city and not just the food.”
“I heard someone say that Sheppard topped most of the military submissives on the mission at one time or another,” Scott prodded. “Were you one of them?”
Chris nodded abruptly. “Yes, more than once. He’s an excellent and safe top. No submissive could ask for a more considerate and careful Dom.” He looked across the room and focused on Sheppard. “I’m really glad to see him so settled with someone who’s such a good fit for him. I heard he did an exhibition with McKay at the SGC—people are still talking about it. The soldiers that came out here on the second wave—most of them witnessed it and they said it was awesome.”
“He hasn’t exhibited McKay on the city?” Scott questioned.
“No.” Chris shrugged. “He did it off world for one of our allies—they are dynamic like us. I heard a rumor that he was pressured into it by their leadership and Weir was pissed.”
Scott lifted an eyebrow. “Pressured? That’s pretty interesting—my brother told me once that John liked to exhibit him as often as possible when they were stationed on a base.”
“Life is different out here,” Chris murmured. “Everyone has priorities that intrude on what we might like or want privately. We only have formal exhibitions once a month as is and the schedule is full weeks in advance of it.”
* * * *
Matt looked up from his book and raised an eyebrow at Evan as their door chime sounded for the second time. “You’re closer.”
Evan sighed and rolled off the couch. “I heard a rumor once that Geisha were graceful, thoughtful, talented submissives who were the ideal companion. It was a vicious lie.”
Matt grinned and shrugged. “Propaganda is a horrible thing, Major.” A small frown flitted over his mouth at the sight of their visitor.
Evan inclined his head. “Corporal Morley. Captain Teldy is on duty…”
“Sir.” Chris flushed. “This is personal. May I enter?”
Evan shared a glance with Matt and hoped like hell they weren’t about to be offered something uncomfortable. All of the submissives on the city had given him a wide berth after he collared Matt—his almost being killed and their rather romantic reunion on the gateroom had been enough to keep everyone at a distance. “Yeah, sure.”
Chris shoved his hands into his pockets and blew out a frustrated breath. “I didn’t know where else to go with this and it’s something the Colonel should know but considering our past… I didn’t want Dr. McKay… I didn’t want to cause problems.”
Matt frowned and sat up. “Okay. What’s up?”
“Scott Holland has got to go, sir.” Chris slouched down on the couch Evan had abandoned and rubbed his face in frustration. “We’ve been keeping an eye on him—especially since the Colonel is back on the city because frankly Holland is entirely too interested in the relationship Colonel Sheppard has with Dr. McKay. He’s weird about it—spends a great deal of time comparing McKay to his dead brother and finding him lacking more often than not.”
“Do you think he’s dangerous?” Evan questioned. “A threat to McKay?”
“I think he’s a threat to their relationship and he would do everything within his limited power to fuck it up given half a chance. He had an appointment with the Colonel earlier today—and I sort of encouraged Dr. Porter and Dr. Kusanagi into harassing McKay into retreating to the Colonel’s office so Holland couldn’t have any alone face time alone with him.”
Matt glared. “You don’t honestly think that my brother would… what exactly did you think would happen?”
Chris shrugged and flushed. “I didn’t know. I know the Colonel is exclusive with McKay and I know him well enough to know that when he gives somebody his word—he means it. I just figured if McKay was in there, Holland wouldn’t try to have a conversation that might piss Sheppard off.”
“I doubt the Colonel would appreciate all of this maneuvering on his behalf, Chris,” Evan warned. “He’s more than capable of handling his private business.”
“Yes, sir, no one doubts that.” Chris pursed his lips briefly and then shook his head. “The thing is that he’s been different since he collared McKay. He’s settled and really content. We’ve all noticed it—and if McKay is what makes life out here easier for the Colonel then the men are entirely certain that nothing and no one should interfere with that. Holland is cruising towards a Marine-shaped intervention and he doesn’t even know it.”
“So you were chosen to befriend him?” Matt questioned. “I noticed you had dinner with him tonight.”
“I’ve been taking turns with Chase Harris and a few others. Chase was supposed to do it tonight but he got an offer that no single submissive on the city would turn down.” Chris frowned briefly. “I haven’t decided if I should congratulate him or stop being his friend.”
Evan laughed softly. “Well, life is too short to lose friends over a little play time.”
“There is play time and then there is play,” Chris said. “What Chase is getting right now is something to be envied if those asshole SEALs are to be believed.” He crossed his arms and sighed. “He’ll be a smug, exhausted bastard tomorrow. At any rate, when is Captain Holland going back to Earth?”
“He’ll go back aboard the Daedalus when it arrives,” Matt explained. “We had no intention of keeping him for the squadron.”
“Because you agree he’s a problem?”
Matt shrugged. He really didn’t want to get into his opinion of Scott Holland with Chris. “I don’t disagree with your assessment and let’s leave it at that. I trust those of you involved will keep an eye on him until it’s time for him to go?”
“Yeah, no worries. He won’t take a piss without someone writing it down.” Chris hopped up quickly and checked his watch. “I just think the Colonel needs to know but it probably shouldn’t come from me that’s all.”
“I’ll handle it,” Evan murmured. “Thanks for the heads up.”
* * * *
“That’s perfect,” Rodney hissed and arched his back to push against the hot bite of his Dom’s teeth. “John!”
Sheppard hummed softly and released the nipple with an audible little pop. He flicked his tongue over the abused flesh and then turned slightly to bite into Rodney’s pectoral muscle. John tightened his jaw slightly when the sub started to tremble against him. With a sigh, he lifted away to admire his work. He’d left behind a gorgeous series of red marks that were going to be bruises by morning.
“This looks good,” John murmured as he pressed his fingers against the darkened skin. He settled back and let his cock rub against Rodney’s. “I’m spoiled for choices as to what to do next.” He rocked gently against him, so that the head of his leaking cock left a thin trail on McKay’s stomach. “What do you want?”
Rodney shivered and bit down on his lip. “Anything?”
“Within the realm of safety,” John clarified. “But, yes anything you want.”
“You told me once that you’d like to tie me to the balcony and whip me.” He smiled as his Dom’s eyes darkened. “I want that.”
John nodded abruptly and leaned forward to release the cuffs. “Take off the wrist cuffs, too. We’ll use only the silk on the balcony.” He kissed his mouth and then lifted away. “You’ll have to be very careful not to pull on the rope, Rodney, so you don’t hurt yourself.”
“I remember.” He shifted on the bed and clenched down briefly on the anal plug still snug in his ass.
* * * *
Rodney shivered against the cool, salty wind that drifted over his skin as John finished wrapping the silk around his wrist. He was bound—wrist and ankle to the balcony—a small pillow from their bed pressed between his stomach and the unforgiving metal of the balcony railing. He’d checked it for structural integrity earlier in the day because he knew that he wanted to give John this particular fantasy.
The soft, sweet ache that still throbbed in his nipples, the sleek black silk bonds that were deceptively soft against his skin and all of it—the pain, the silk, the wind—was delicious. He moaned softly as John’s hands trailed down his back and skillful fingers trailed between the cheeks of his ass and nudged the plug pressed into his ass.
“The first time I had you—God—it was so intense and perfect.” John nuzzled against the back of his neck and scraped his teeth sharply over the damp skin. “I pretty much had myself convinced that I would stay on Earth and pursue you if I couldn’t talk you into taking my collar.”
Rodney huffed out a breath of surprise. “You’d have given up your command to date me?”
“I figured the IOA would send you out to Atlantis eventually to get me back out here,” John admitted. “I just don’t think you understand how relieving it was after everything that happened in those two years to come back to Earth and find someone like you. Your strength, the depth and power of your submission… all of it was just amazing and rewarding.”
Rodney’s stomach clenched with a mixture of dread and anticipation. He wasn’t ready to have any kind of conversation about his feelings or more specifically John’s. “John.”
“It’s okay.” John rubbed his hip gently. “Just relax. What do you want—the single tail with the tresses or the bullwhip?”
“The bullwhip.” He lowered his head as John moved away from him and took a few deep breaths to settle himself.
Had he made a mistake in interrupting Sheppard? Their time on Earth had opened John up in ways that were entirely unexpected. The week they’d spent under Dato’ Raja’s attention had relaxed his Dom. John had started to touch him more, and for the last week had wrapped himself around Rodney in his sleep every single night. He didn’t know exactly what had changed—what freedom or release John had received on the island but the results were stunning and a little scary. Was he even ready to be emotionally involved with another Dom?
A large warm hand drifted down the middle of his back and he sighed. “John.”
“I’m here,” Sheppard murmured. He kissed the side of his neck. “You’re thinking too hard. You’re going to have a hard time finding your sub space if you don’t let all of that go.”
Rodney nodded silently.
“Let’s start with the flogger,” John murmured. “I’ll work you down and then I’ll use the whip.”
“As you will, Maître.”
John left and returned to the balcony quickly. The silence settled between them and then broke harshly with the first sharp lash of the flogger. The mix of sting and heavy thud was perfect, familiar. Rodney easily surrendered to the hot, sweet bite of pain and pleasure. The lashes were harsh, even handed, and they struck across muscle groups with knowledge and the kind of skill that no longer surprised or startled him.
He let his head fall forward as his blood started to rush. Rodney sucked in a deep breath and shuddered. “John.”
Sheppard lashed across his ass mercilessly and asked softly, “Wanna come?”
“Always,” Rodney returned dryly and then smiled at his Dom’s laugh. “It hurts so good.” He jerked at the snap of the bullwhip in the air above his head. It echoed through the towers of the city around him and McKay shivered with pleasure.
* * * *
Radek Zelenka shifted aside his computer and tilted his head. “That is the Colonel and Rodney, yes?”
Elizabeth smiled. “It sounds like what he did on Dolor doesn’t it? I don’t think I understood how much psychology went into pleasuring a masochist until I watched John exhibit McKay. The sounds of the whip and the cane were particularly thrilling for them both.”
“Rodney has a complicated mind,” Radek murmured. “It would take intense, skillfully delivered pleasure to take him into sub space. I doubt he’s really accomplished it often outside of his training with de Sade and perhaps the Colonel. Such a thing is so valuable to have found. They merge together perfectly—with such synergy it is like they’ve been bound for many years.”
“Agreed.” Elizabeth trailed her fingers along Radek’s collar as she walked past his desk. “Come to bed. I have work for you.”
Radek closed his laptop without hesitation and left the desk.
* * * *
John trailed his fingers over the welts he’d already left on Rodney’s back. “That’s just ten, McKay. Do you want to bleed tonight?”
McKay shivered and bit down on his bottom lip. He’d never asked John for blood play because he knew that his Dom was apprehensive about it. “Yes.”
Sheppard hummed softly and clenched his teeth briefly on Rodney’s shoulder. “Just a little or Carson will flip out.”
McKay laughed softly and let his fingers curl around the balcony as John moved back to his place and flicked the whip. The next lash was harsh and the rush of pain that followed in its wake made his dick jerk hard against his thigh. “Fuck.”
“I will fuck you,” John promised with a soft laugh. He struck again and took a deep breath. “You bleed so pretty, McKay.”
Rodney shivered as a breeze drifted over his back, moving the small beads of blood that he knew were surfacing on his skin. A mixture of sweat and blood trailed down his back and over his ass in tiny rivers as John struck again and then again. Some of the blows were glancing; barely enough to garner his attention while others were so sharp and mean that they brought relief and pleasure in their wake. A soft sob of burst from his mouth and he bit down on his lip briefly as his breath caught.
“Easy,” John murmured. He dropped the whip on the double lounger they often shared and moved in close. Using both hands, he checked the skin of McKay’s back carefully—taking in the six places he’d drawn blood critically. “I’ve got you.”
John curled his finger into the rounded handle of the glass anal plug and pulled it carefully out of his sub. “Shh, don’t beg. You don’t have permission to beg.”
Rodney gasped softly as John tilted his hips just slightly and then pushed his thick cock into his hole with one solid thrust. “Ah, God!”
John sighed against his shoulder. “You please me so much, Rodney.”
“I need…” Rodney huffed and bit down on his lip.
“I know.” John settled one hand on his hip and let the other slide around to grasp McKay’s cock firmly. He jacked him in slow and easy. “Mine.”
“Yes,” Rodney agreed with a shudder. “I’m yours.”
John groaned and bit down on Rodney’s neck above the collar. “Come.”
McKay shivered and then came all over John’s hand with a harsh gasp. He groaned when his Dom pushed deep into his ass and rubbed harshly over his prostate. John powered into him again and again until Rodney was so overwhelmed that speech was beyond him and his cock was hard to the point of painful again.
“That’s it,” John encouraged as he worked his dick back into McKay’s ass. “I love having your hard cock in my hand. Love to make you come.”
Rodney groaned loudly and shuddered as he fought to keep from coming. “John, fuck, please.”
John bit down on McKay’s shoulder, abusing the flesh roughly with his teeth before he pushed in deep and shivered through his own orgasm. “Yeah, come on. Come for me.”
* * * *
Dr. Jennifer Keller had been on the city only a handful of weeks and she’d never been called upon to treat McKay. She’d heard he was a pain in the ass but more importantly, that his Dom was a militant son of a bitch about who touched him. She’d heard all of that at the SGC and no one had contradicted those assessments when she’d arrived on the city.
She straightened her shoulders as she approached the curtained area that currently shielded the pair—it was the first time they’d both come to the infirmary for after-play care. She’d checked McKay’s chart as soon as the on duty nurse had informed her that Colonel Sheppard had requested a medical evaluation for his sub.
McKay was sprawled out on his stomach dressed in a pair of cotton pants and Sheppard was sitting on the side of the bed rubbing Tollan crème into his sub’s back. His chart had told her that McKay had a prescription for the healing crème so that wasn’t much of a surprise.
“Good evening, Colonel. Dr. McKay.” Jennifer checked her watch and set her tablet PC down on the tray table. “Did we have an accident?”
Sheppard lifted one eyebrow at her. “No. We didn’t have an accident, Dr. Keller.”
She felt her face heat under his intense gaze. The man was gorgeous, entirely too toppy for her comfort level, and a trifle more snide than she expected. She bit down on her lip despite the fact that it made her look even more like a child. “Right, okay. How can I help you this evening?”
“Treat it like an exhibition exam.” John slipped down off the bed and moved around so he was on the opposite side from her. “Visual inspection only—he’s still fairly deep in his subspace and your touch would be invasive at this point.”
She pulled an Ancient scanner out of her lab coat pocket and activated it with a thought, which was still made of win in her mind. Jennifer kind of hoped the alien technology never got old for her. “Do you have any concerns that I should focus on?”
Jennifer nodded and did a full body scan first before doing a secondary deep tissue scan on McKay’s back. The sub for his part was practically asleep. His blood pressure was in a good range and his heart at rest. She did both scans twice for her on piece of mind. She certainly didn’t want to be the one to fuck up when it came to McKay’s medical care.
“We could use another tube of Tollan crème to take home,” Rodney murmured more to his Dom than to Jennifer.
Jennifer frowned and checked his chart. “You picked up a two month supply last month.”
“We used nearly a whole tube on John,” Rodney said as he sat up. “He received new markings from his house while we were on Earth.”
Jennifer glanced between them. “You’ll have to get it from Carson tomorrow. Since you’ve exceeded the amount prescribed—I can’t authorize more. I’m not your doctor of record.”
“No problem,” John responded, his gaze narrowing slightly. “Is there a problem, Doc?”
“No.” Jennifer blushed. “That’s just a lot of crème.”
“Are there any side effects to using that much in a short time?” Rodney questioned.
“No. There are no side effects that we can find with the crème at all,” Jennifer admitted ruefully. “It’s a miracle product based on the numerous studies done on it. We haven’t found a single problem—including allergies. We figured we’d find people that were allergic to it—but nothing so far.”
“That would suck,” McKay muttered. “But good on the no side effects thing. I like to put in on my mark daily.”
She smiled and nodded. “Me too. It keeps it from fading.”
Rodney rolled his head on his shoulders. “Where did you train?”
“Lleu House,” Jennifer admitted and her gaze flicked over him. She knew he’d trained at de Sade, had heard the rumor that he was Gerard de Sade’s Courtesan. The starburst mark on his belly was proof enough that the rumor was true. “I have my mark there, too. My Mistress wanted to put it the back of my neck.”
“I like to look at it,” Rodney confided. “I don’t know why Dominants would want to put their marks in a place where it isn’t visible to the sub. Of course, Gerard wanted to put his on my neck to begin with. That’s standard for our house.”
Jennifer nodded and made a few more notes in his chart about his alertness now that he was addressing her personally. “Stop by and chat with Carson in the morning about the crème. It shouldn’t be a problem—the fact is that your prescription should be double what it is because you’re paired with a sadist.”
She turned to John. “Colonel? Why don’t you undress for me and let me check out your markings? Have you had a scan since they were done?”
“No.” John shrugged out of his t-shirt. “I didn’t tell Frasier about them at the SGC. I really didn’t want to be on display for the entire mountain while they were healing.
Jennifer nodded and rounded the bed as Sheppard shoved off his shoes and dropped the cotton sleep pants that had barely been holding on at his slim waist. She blinked in surprise. “Jesus. What…is this?”
“Pewaris darah,” McKay murmured. “It means that John is Kesakitan Pembawa’s Blood Heir. It’s a house honor and quite exceptional.”
“Yeah,” Jennifer said and remembered to breathe. “Okay. Colonel, can you turn around?”
John inclined his head and did as instructed. “You okay, Doc?”
“I’m fine,” Jennifer said quickly and somewhat more sharply than she intended.
It wasn’t her nature to be so sharp with Dominants. Her father had worried that her innate submissiveness would make being a medical doctor difficult but submissive doctors were in high demand. Many Dominants preferred their own submissives be handled by submissive medical personnel.
Sheppard turned slowly, letting the light of her scanner trail down his side and over his groin. “I haven’t had any irritation or pain since it was done. Just a little itching which I didn’t scratch.”
Jennifer nodded. “Very good. Putting the crème on it often was a very good idea. It healed beautifully.” She put down her scanner. “I should update your chart. You can get dressed.”
* * * *
Rodney figured it was a record—it had taken his staff almost five hours to make him so furious that he had to leave or risk having them all spanked for just existing. Even Miko had managed to irritate the hell out of him and that was startling because he’d had a little platonic crush on the Geisha since the day they met. Her every little snarky breath normally made his day. Today, he’d come precariously close to telling Miko and Porter to get the fuck off the city.
He left the transporter, mostly distracted but headed in the direction of John’s office. He was about twenty minutes early for their late lunch date but he didn’t figure it would be a problem. John had never turned him away and had often kicked his own officers out in favor of Rodney’s company. The door was already open but Rodney stumbled at the sharp tone of John’s voice and he stopped. He didn’t want to interfere or distract his Dom if he was disciplining someone.
“I can’t believe you’re with him, John. He’s nothing like Jared. My brother loved you. It’s disgusting that you’ve replaced him with someone like McKay. That arrogant bastard doesn’t even deserve a collar much less one from someone like you. I know you collared him because Weir wanted him out here—but seriously! Wasn’t there another choice?”
Rodney blinked in surprise. He hadn’t interacted directly with Scott Holland since he’d been on the city and had been relieved when John hadn’t invited the young Air Force officer to any of their family meals. McKay knew he was an arrogant bastard and he sort of figured he had plenty of room for it but he couldn’t figure out how he’d earned that much anger from the younger man.
“I don’t make comparisons between Jared and Rodney. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them,” John ground out. “The only reason you aren’t on the floor picking up your fucking teeth right now is that I used to consider you family. If you ever speak that way about McKay again—Scott—I’ll put you on the cross and teach you the full measure of what it means to be punished by a sadist.”
“Your relationship with McKay dishonors my brother!” Holland shouted. “To go from collaring for love to this ridiculous political arrangement? Jesus, you should be ashamed of yourself. Jared would roll over his fucking grave if he knew.”
John sucked in a deep breath. “My relationship with McKay isn’t political. I’m with him because I want to be. He’s… everything to me, Captain Holland, and if you go near him I’ll make you wish you were dead. Understood?”
Rodney backed away and slipped into Evan Lorne’s empty office. He closed the door hastily and dropped back against the wall. Everything. He was everything to John. What did that mean? Was Sheppard in love with him? Rodney rubbed his face with one shaking hand and then took a deep breath.
The door opened and Rodney flinched as the lights came on. Evan started at the sight of him. “Jesus, McKay, are you okay?”
“Shut the door, please,” Rodney whispered as Matt entered. “Please.”
Matt closed it manually and locked it as an afterthought. “Rodney?” He reached out and hesitantly touched McKay’s arm. “Are you having a medical problem? Do I need to get John for you?”
“No.” Rodney shook his head. “I just… need a few minutes to make sense of what I heard.”
“Heard?” Lorne questioned gently. He jerked his head towards the couch and Matthew prodded McKay away from the wall and onto the small two-person couch. “What did you hear, Rodney?”
“Scott Holland and John were having an argument,” Rodney admitted. “I didn’t know John wasn’t alone and I… I shouldn’t have eavesdropped.”
“Granted,” Lorne murmured. “Look, McKay, whatever you heard—you don’t know the full context, okay? I know for a fact that the Colonel couldn’t be less interested in Scott.”
“No, I know that.” Rodney rubbed his mouth and looked down at his lap. “He said it was practically incestuous. I’m not worried that John would… I’m just not worried about that. I mean I’m pretty awesome, you know?”
Matt laughed. “Yeah, we do know. You’re Gerard de Sade’s North Star.”
Rodney blushed and sighed softly. “Scott really must hate me. I haven’t spent any time with him.”
“He doesn’t hate you personally,” Matt responded. “He hates the idea of you—it wouldn’t matter if you were a carbon copy of his brother he’d still find fault with you.”
Rodney nodded. “John… one of you should go down there and make sure John hasn’t killed him. He was furious.”
* * * *
Evan paused in the entryway of Sheppard’s office, completely blown away by his CO’s demeanor. John was sitting back in his chair, face pale and his eyes closed. “Sir.”
John lifted his head and cleared his throat. “Evan. What’s up? You aren’t on my schedule until the morning.”
Evan let the door close behind him. “Permission to speak freely?”
“Always when we’re alone,” John responded seriously. “What’s up?”
“McKay’s in my office having a little freak out with Matthew.” Evan held up a hand when John stood. “You should probably know everything before you go in there.”
John glared at him. “Okay.”
“He overheard you arguing with Holland in here. I don’t know how much he heard or what he took away from it but he’s upset. As upset as I’ve ever seen him and you look furious. I don’t think that’s a good combination, John.”
Sheppard dropped back down in his chair. “No. Not at all. Fuck.” John pinched the bridge of his nose and blew out a frustrated breath. “It’s… bullshit.”
“Yeah, I meant to talk to you sooner but I’ve had a full schedule and you brushed me off this morning.”
John flushed. “Sorry.”
Evan laughed softly. “Well, I know you had a bunch of stuff to do for Weir. The thing is that Holland has spent the last couple of weeks pissing off the Marines. He’s nosy and asked a lot of questions about you that they felt were none of his business. It’s gotten so bad that a few of them have taken it upon themselves to babysit him.” Evan watched disbelief and fury drift over Sheppard’s face in equal parts. “Since you find it rather insulting I’d rather not give you names. They don’t mean to undermine you.”
“No. I get it.” John rubbed his face briskly. “And for the record, I wouldn’t hold it against them. Frankly, considering the past, I’m kind of relieved the men under my command are protective of McKay. It hasn’t always been the case for him and after how he was treated at the SGC… it’s probably pretty nice for him.”
“Right.” Evan pursed his lips briefly. “You know Mitchell never let anyone bully McKay—not when he had a thing to say about it. McKay did a lot to avoid all of the military tops because of Carter but O’Neill doesn’t turn a blind eye to outright abuse.”
“No, but he wasn’t very observant either,” John returned evenly. “Regardless, I’m not arrogant enough to assume that I can watch McKay’s back 24/7 and I’m not pissed that some of the Marines are doing it for me.”
“You are pissed though.”
“Yeah,” John murmured. “I’m really angry and I wish McKay hadn’t heard any of Scott’s bullshit. He didn’t deserve that. I know… I know that I’ve said things in the past that made McKay wonder if he was living in a dead man’s shadow but I’ve tried really fucking hard to make sure he knows that I’m with him because of him and not because of anything else. I had four years to mourn Jared and I did it—I’m not the walking wounded here.”
“No, I can’t see how anyone could say you were. I can’t… even begin to put myself in your shoes, John. I did have to release a sub once in the past—one that I didn’t want to part with. I was in love with her but it was made clear to me that our dynamic mesh was so poor that our relationship was damaging her. It was fucked up and I was furious with myself for months. Furious that I couldn’t be what she needed. It fucked with me for a while but I got past it. But it isn’t like I buried her—I know where she is. Married to a de Sade Dom with two kids—I’m on her fucking Christmas card list. She sent out one of those picture ones last year—her and her Dom, two beautiful kids.”
“Nice,” John muttered.
“It wasn’t unlike getting punched in the face,” Lorne admitted. “But, I’ve never wanted a life like that and I realized that while I still cared about her that I wasn’t in love with her anymore.”
John nodded. “Okay.”
“Are you there, yet?”
John blinked in surprise and let himself touch on his feelings for Jared. “I…” He took a deep breath. “I haven’t been in love with Jared in a long time, Evan. I don’t think I could have taken someone to my bed while I was still in love with him. I’ll never stop loving him—but it’s a different emotion now.”
“Sounds pretty healthy to me,” Evan responded. “Matt said… well Matt told me how worried he was about you when it happened. I think your father considered psychiatric treatment but Rampart put you on ice instead. Literally.”
“I had therapy,” John responded dryly. “Every fucking day for a year in Antarctica. I flew helicopters, had therapy, and wrote my dissertation. McMurdo was boring as fuck for the first year and then things started to change… I watched the battle with Anubis from the station.”
“Did you see McKay while he was down there?”
John shook his head. “We never crossed paths. I never saw Carter, either. By the time I accidently sat down in the chair, Peter Grodin was the Chief Scientist for the mission. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t see them. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have been inappropriately interested in McKay despite his collared/married status. The man really pushed my buttons from minute one.”
Evan nodded. “I can see that.”
“I should give us both some room to calm down,” John murmured.
“Probably for the best,” Evan agreed.
* * * *
“It’s not like I don’t realize how different I am from Jared Holland. I’ve seen the pictures of him—we’re nothing alike.” Rodney’s fingers curled around the computer in his lap. “I don’t make comparisons between us—it would insult us both and it would be stupid. We’re just different people.”
“Right,” Matt agreed. “Jared was practically a slave on the submission scale.”
Rodney’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”
“Very serious,” Matt muttered. “Drove me crazy, from day one. He didn’t fit in with us—but John loved him and the rest of us sort of assimilated that affection. Claire adored Jared but it wasn’t an instant affection between them despite the fact that they shared a pleasure house.”
“I didn’t know that,” Rodney admitted. “She was pretty friendly with me.”
“Yeah, that’s because you’re her with a dick,” Matt responded and then laughed at the face that McKay made. “I was kind of jealous at first—I mean Claire has never been so friendly with another sub before. She barely spoke to Claudia and let’s not even discuss how she treated Kelly.”
“Who was Kelly?”
“The last plaything that Dad brought home for Jonah.”
“Yeah, always for Jonah. Dad’s Geisha gets everything and anyone he wants as long as it’s legal. I personally don’t see how Dad does it. I could never share.”
Rodney agreed on a visceral level but on an intellectual level, he had different ideas. “I really enjoyed watching John discipline Chase Harris at the SGC. He caned him—it was gorgeous.”
“I heard.” Matt laughed softly. “I heard it was something else. I like to watch Evan discipline the Marines—it’s such a turn on to see him so focused and toppy.”
“Does that violate your Geisha mindset?”
“Nah,” Matt grinned. “I didn’t say I liked to get spanked. I just like to watch. Voyeurism is a time honored tradition in my house.” He nudged Rodney with his shoulder. “Man up and go talk to your Dom.”
“I think I need some space,” Rodney murmured. “Just a little time to gather my thoughts before I talk to him.”
Matt frowned. “It was bad, huh?”
“Kind of,” Rodney admitted.
* * * *
The piano-like instrument had fascinated the entire expedition in the beginning but since no one played, it had quickly been relegated to an ‘oddity’.
It was situated in a hall at the bottom of the central spire of the city and when it was played—the music filtered gently throughout the tower in a way that was soothing instead of annoying. Rodney was playing and as John exited the transporter and headed towards the piano, he encountered several of his Marines just lingering in the hallway. Matthew was sitting with his computer just short of the door.
John squatted down in front of him and waited until Matt looked at him. “Should I wait?”
“He’s playing Bach.” Matt paused. “He started with some angsty Italian opera so I think he’s calm down.” He frowned deeply. “Don’t… just don’t push him. He was shaking when we found him hiding out in Evan’s office.”
“I won’t.” John patted Matt’s face gently. “Go and take the Marines with you.”
John leaned in the doorway and watched McKay. The instrument was spread out like a concert grand piano—easily as long as one but shaped slightly different. It had two layers of keys—eighty-eight on each layer and four floor pedals. Rodney was working the instrument over just as easily as he had the one in his father’s house.
“My parents made me learn to play,” Rodney murmured as his hands moved over the keys. “I had lessons until I was twelve when my piano teacher said I had no passion for music and should dedicate myself to something more practical.”
John grimaced. “They agreed?”
“They sold the piano in our home, signed Jeannie up for flute lessons, and hired a tutor for me so that I could finish high school as soon as possible,” Rodney explained. “It wasn’t until I was in my third session at de Sade that I played again. Gerard liked to listen to me play and it was… a pleasure to play for someone who genuinely appreciated my abilities—no matter how limited they might be compared to others.”
John frowned. “You don’t sound all that limited to me, Rodney.”
“I haven’t had enough practice to play professionally,” Rodney said in way of an explanation. He glanced up through the open ceiling—the reason why the music from the instrument floated up through the tower. “I hope I haven’t disturbed anyone.”
“No, it’s beautiful.” John moved into the room and all too quickly for them both he was sliding onto the bench beside him. With a thought, he asked the ceiling of the room to close and it did so with a soft whisper of air.
Rodney returned his attention to the instrument. “It’s physically more like an organ that a piano but not quite that either. The sound is very unique and powerful I’ve never encountered anything like this before—not on Earth or any other planet I visited in the Milky Way.”
“I meant to show it you before but I got distracted.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve played it,” Rodney admitted and flushed. “I just usually close the ceiling. It helps me think.”
“I don’t think people would mind if you didn’t close the ceiling,” John murmured.
“When you were off-world searching for Lorne—I was down here a lot. I didn’t always close it then,” Rodney admitted and sighed.
“So is the part where I tell you how right you were about Scott resenting you?”
Rodney laughed softly and pressed on several keys, testing the sound. “I need to tune this but I can’t even begin to start without taking it apart and seeing how it’s put together which I really don’t want to do. I’m afraid I’ll break it.” He sighed. “As for Scott—you know I don’t care what he thinks.”
“I care what you think, Rodney. I care a lot and he said some things… some horrible things that he had no business saying.”
“Matt said that Jared practically had a slave mentality. Is that true?”
John took a deep breath. “I think he had a lot of that trained into him at home before he ever had any kind of professional training in a pleasure house. His mother was the Dominant, you know, and his father had a slave dynamic in private. I don’t even know how he served in the military to be honest. She raised both of her sons to be that way—very subservient. I wouldn’t say it was part of Jared’s dynamic. He certainly didn’t gain pleasure from waiting on me hand and foot. I rarely allowed it unless we were in his parent’s home.”
Rodney frowned. “Okay. I kind of figured that was the case since you insist on doing your own laundry.”
“Very few people do it to suit me,” John admitted. “I’ve been doing yours, too.”
Rodney laughed. “I hate laundry so I figured I just wouldn’t say anything.” He sighed. “I heard what you said to him, too.”
“And that upset you,” John guessed.
“It shocked me a little,” Rodney conceded. “I… are you in love with me, John?”
John sighed. “I think we have quite a few more months before this conversation is due, McKay. We said we’d give it a year.”
“Right.” Rodney frowned and pushed down hard on several keys in frustration. “I don’t know how I feel about you. I know—I know this year deadline thing makes me crazy and worried. It hurts—thinking you might take your collar from me.”
“I’d never want to hurt you that way,” John murmured. “I can’t say that I’m remotely interested in taking my collar from you—not now and not in six months.” He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “Let’s just say that at the end of the year we’ll have another conversation about what we both want out of our relationship and where it will go next. The end of the year doesn’t have to equal more commitment than you’re ready for or collar removal.”
Rodney started to play, picking out a delicate melody. “You want emotional intimacy, John.”
“I get everything I need from you, Rodney. Everything. I just need to know that the same is true for you.”
“No one has ever mastered my dynamic as you have, John.”
“You are more than your dynamic,” John returned evenly. “I realize you’ve probably had very few Doms in your life that really took that into consideration…”
“Gerard cared,” Rodney admitted. “No one since him really bothered but I shied away from serious relationships until Sam. We were a good fit intellectually. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to overlook our dynamic problems at first.”
“Maybe,” John agreed. “Are there areas of our relationship that feel incomplete to you?”
Rodney shook his head. “No, you’re available to me in every single way I need.” He flushed and concentrated on the keys for a long moment. “The work out here is good and it’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone who really supported me in my career the way you do.”
“Okay, so we’re good?”
“Mostly.” Rodney bit down on his lip. “I really wish you’d have never agreed to let Scott stay on the city. I realize it was a military decision—and that maybe you were testing yourself to see if you could handle being around him. Then we went to Earth and it wasn’t much of a big deal but…”
“But?” John prodded. “Just say it, Rodney.”
“It felt disrespectful that you didn’t even ask me if I would be comfortable with him being on the city. You didn’t ask Matthew either—it’s Matt’s squadron and you foisted a pilot on him that he can’t even stand. You made that decision in a vacuum—and you didn’t consider any of us in it.”
John blew out a shocked breath and pushed his hands under his legs to keep them from curling into fists. “You’re right. I haven’t had to consider anyone else’s comfort in a long time, Rodney. It’s not an excuse but I only considered my own comfort when I made that decision about letting Scott stay on the city. I made a bad choice but I want you to understand that it wasn’t because I was interested in him personally.”
“No. I can’t see how you’d find that whiny, petulant, barely educated child interesting personally,” Rodney said snottily.
John laughed softly and bumped their shoulders together gently. “I don’t want to pressure you for more than you’re ready for, ya know. While our pasts are different—I realize that you’re only a year out from an abusive relationship and that you’re still working through it.”
“Even two months ago I would have argued with you about that. I never let myself consider that Sam was abusive.”
“No, she was just untrained,” John returned dryly. “I’ll be here, Rodney, for as long as it takes. Okay?”
“Yeah.” Rodney nodded. “You’re not going to answer my question, are you?”
“That depends, are you ready to discuss your feelings?”
Rodney frowned at him. “That’s not fair, John.”
“All’s fair and all of that cliché bullshit.” John leaned in and pressed a firm kiss against McKay’s mouth. “Take requests?”
McKay laughed as the ceiling above them started to retract. “Sure. It would be my honor to play for you, Maître.”
“Hmm.” John leaned in and kissed him again. “You like Bach, right? How about Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
“Fascinating and romantic choice for a soldier,” Rodney murmured.
John slid off the bench and walked to the large bay window that afforded the room a beautiful underwater view. He sprawled out on the pillows someone else had placed there and took off his boots. “I like to be a surprise.”
Rodney’s mouth quirked in a little smile. “Always, John.”
* * * *
Elizabeth leaned against the railing near her office and tilted her head. The piano had gone silent for a long time but now McKay was coaxing a beautiful song out of it again. The soft sounds of the alien instrument flowed out of the walls. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard the piano—Rodney had played it for hours on end when Lorne was missing. Matthew had sat on the stairs in the gateroom and McKay had gone to the bottom of the tower to play for him.
She watched the soldiers in the room relax a little and offered Evan Lorne a lifted eyebrow. The Air Force man offered her a small smile that let her know that everything was okay and she wondered what had happened. She resolved to ask Miko in a few days. The princess always knew what was going down on the city—no matter who was involved. Though there were times when she refused to discuss things that she considered ‘family matters’.
Rodney moved smoothly into the Goldberg Variations and Elizabeth smiled as she walked back to her office to settle in with her tea and afternoon email.
* * * *
Knowing his father had built the Daedalus changed the way John felt about the ship. He’d pretty much loved the ship on sight—after all her crew had saved his life. Yet, as he watched it land effortlessly on the pier it was as if his father was reaching out across the galaxies that separated them. It had made him feel five years old again—content, safe in the house Patrick Sheppard built for his sons. It was kind of embarrassing so he hadn’t admitted it to anyone—not even McKay.
John watched at a distance as his people started working through the supplies coming off the ship. They didn’t need him getting in their way. Steven Caldwell made his way down the pier and John shifted away from the wall to meet the Air Force man. He didn’t know what it was about Caldwell—maybe the baldness but he was hot and it messed with John’s headspace a little. He rarely if ever found other Doms attractive. Marshall had been a notable exception to that rule.
“Colonel.” Caldwell offered him a smile. “Weir informed me when we achieved orbit that we are just on time for the monthly exhibition.”
“Yes, we have two scheduled for this evening. One before dinner and then one at 1900 hours. Your crew is invited to both—we made sure we had room.” John motioned him to follow. “Elizabeth is in the Central Tower—we have a few teams off world with trade negotiations and she didn’t want to leave the gateroom in case she was needed.”
“Not a problem,” Steven assured. “Anything 911 you need me or my ship for?”
“You can get Scott Holland off my city ASAP,” John returned and then sighed when Caldwell raised an eyebrow. “Let’s just say I don’t think he avoided me on the Daedalus out of respect. My men hate him and devote most of their off duty time keeping track of him. It’s amazing he hasn’t already gotten his ass kicked because of his mouth and his attitude.”
“He has a problem with McKay?”
“Boy does he.”
Steven grimaced. “My apologies, John. I shouldn’t have taken at him face value. He’s… just so damn earnest.”
“Yeah, the innocent face runs in his family.”
* * * *
“Look, I get why you’re hooking up with Marsh. Who wouldn’t? He’s attractive and the Colonel’s younger brother. You’re just looking out for your career.”
Chase shot Brian Fuller an exasperated look. “I’ve earned every promotion I’ve ever gotten in the Marines and I didn’t earn them on my back.”
“It certainly doesn’t hurt that you’ve attended a lot of high ranking Doms,” Fuller returned. “I’ve heard the rumors. I imagine if John Sheppard wasn’t so distracted by his Courtesan you’d have crawled into his bed, too.”
Chase snorted. “Christ, Fuller, of course I would have. The masochists at the SGC were all vying to meet him when he came through the gate to offer him attendance. You can’t imagine how many people were truly pissed off that he left the base immediately after his first debrief with McKay. I’ve attended superior officers in the past—yes. But I’ve attended more enlisted Doms and civilians than all the officers combined.”
“Yet you’ve turned me down since day one and actually complained to Sheppard about me.”
“You don’t understand boundaries, Sergeant Fuller,” Chase returned evenly. “Doms like you are great in private but your public dynamic is lacking. I learned a long time ago when to submit and when to pass. If I let you fuck me—you’ll never respect me in the field.” He paused and pulled on his t-shirt. “Not that you particularly respect me as it is.”
Fuller sat down on his footlocker and looked around the empty ready room. “I’ve never treated you with disrespect in the course of our jobs.”
“No, you’re pretty good at skirting the line between disrespect and…” Chase waved a hand. “This bullshit I’m currently having to endure. You’re pretty passive aggressive for a Dom which isn’t a surprise—it’s the only kind of aggression that won’t get you put on the cross.”
“You think Ethan Marsh is any better on that front? The man has been a SEAL for six years and has seen a hell of a lot more combat than you. You think he’ll follow you in the field?”
Chase sighed. “I guess I’ll find out today. I’m taking two teams through the gate today and he’s on one of them.”
Fuller nodded. “Okay. Fine. Sorry about the bullshit. I won’t continue to be a problem.”
Chase zipped up his field pack and sighed. “Sheppard doesn’t hold a grudge, Brian. If you keep your focus—he’ll stop looking at you like you need your ass spanked.” He glanced up when someone cleared their throat. “I’m ready, Jeff.”
Dennison glanced between them and shot the Ranger a narrow look. “Alpha One is on the balcony—he wants a word before we go through the gate.”
Chase frowned but clipped his P-90 to his TAC vest. He passed his pack to Dennison when the Corporal reached out for it. “Get everybody sorted and check the civilian’s weapons. I’ll be down as soon as Sheppard clears us.”
It took him a few minutes to make the trip up to the balcony above the gate from the ready room. The two day mission had been on the schedule for over a week and he’d had a debrief with Lorne the day before.
John Sheppard looked him over. “Hey, kid.” He leaned against the balcony railing. “I’ve got an itch in my gut so watch your ass and keep the teams tight.”
Chase nodded. “Okay.” He glanced down into the gateroom where Team 7 and Team 9 were waiting on him. His gaze flicked to Ethan Marsh who was the team leader for nine—a team full of SEALs. Ten people for a recon mission. The two civilians in the mix were engineers. He’d worked with them both at the SGC. “What kind of itch?”
Sheppard shook his head. “Don’t know—just woke up thinking something fucked up was on the horizon.”
“It’s your brother’s first mission through the gate,” Chase pointed out needlessly. “Maybe just some big brother vibes.”
John smiled briefly. “Maybe.” He straightened. “Keep things even and on the game plan. The rumors about the Wraith avoiding the planet intrigue me. I want to know more.”
“Right.” Chase nodded. “Report in every six hours as usual?”
“Yes, without exception. You miss one check in you can expect me to show up within fifteen minutes of your missed dial out.” John cut his eyes toward him. “And if you don’t have a stellar excuse—you’ll all pay for it.”
Chase nodded. “Understood, sir.”
* * * *
Rodney scooted further under the control deck of the Jumper and waved a hand. “Crystal, Porter. I don’t have all fucking day.”
Allison Porter sighed. “Nothing I brought with me fits what you pulled out.” She was still frowning at the clouded green crystal when Rodney slid out to glare at her. “Sorry, this isn’t on the schematic for the Jumpers. Kavanaugh did a really shoddy job on those, by the way. You should let me take one of these things apart and do a thorough set of plans on the AutoCAD.”
“Write up a proposal—you know I’ll have to clear that through the Colonel and Dr. Weir.” Rodney rubbed the back of his neck over his collar and sat up. “How long will it take you to reproduce it?”
“Sixteen hours—it’s pretty unique and I haven’t made one with the Asgard equipment before. What’s it do?”
“It’s a secondary crystal for navigation and flight control so take your time with it. The primary on this Jumper failed and that crystal barely did the job. Team 4 only managed to get through the gate by the skin of their teeth through a spacegate.” Rodney frowned and sighed. “We’ll want to check the rest for problems so tell flight control to send me down some pilots who aren’t busy to help out with some test flights.”
“Yeah, not a problem.” Allison rolled to her feet and grabbed her bag. “I’ll bring us some lunch back.”
“Yeah, you do that.” Rodney rolled his eyes at her as she left the Jumper and then turned to work on cleaning up his tools.
McKay worked in silence for a few minutes—content with organizing his tool bag and making a mental list of tasks ahead of him. The sound of the back door closing on the Jumper alerted him that he was no longer alone and he barely had time to turn before was being struck hard across the side of the head.
Scott Holland took a deep breath as McKay slumped forward on the floor. He holstered his weapon, ignoring the smear of blood that transferred from the butt of the weapon to his hand as he did so. With sharp exhale, he grabbed McKay’s arm, dragged him into the back of the Jumper, and used a pair of flex cuffs to bind him the bottom of the bench seat.
* * * *
Allison Porter was smiling as she listened to Miko wax absolutely poetic about the sexual prowess of Carson Beckett. She knew the Dom by reputation—long before he ended up on Atlantis so she knew that Miko wasn’t exaggerating in the least. Beckett was a Spartan in bed if the rumors were to believed—strong, dominant, and with the kind of stamina that defied imagination.
“We’d better hurry or McKay will turn into a dragon.”
Miko laughed. “You’d think with all of the…” She waved a hand. “He’d be a lot more mellow.”
“He wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if he was all sex-mellowed,” Allison countered. “I can’t even imagine it.”
They turned the corner and entered the Jumper Bay laughing softly. Allison came to an abrupt halt and stared at the empty space where the Jumper she’d been working on with McKay had been all morning. She cleared her throat and turned to look across the room where the four pilots she’d requested from flight were all lingering. She clicked her radio. “Dr. McKay? Dr. McKay, please respond.” She waited thirty seconds and turned back to the pilots. “Lt. Cooper.”
The Navy pilot offered her an easy smile. “Hey, there, Doc. McKay wasn’t in here when we arrived so we thought we’d hang out until he came back.”
Allison took a deep breath. “So one of you didn’t take Jumper Six out with him in it?”
Cooper paled. “Jesus, Doc, hell no. There isn’t a pilot on this base that would take McKay off the city without Colonel Sheppard’s permission.”
Allison clicked her radio until she found the military channel and cleared her throat. “Colonel Sheppard, I need… I need you in the Jumper Bay immediately.” She didn’t wait for a response but instead clicked over to the city’s command center channel. “Commander Sheppard, can you confirm the departure of Jumper Six?”
“Test flight registered a departure fifteen minutes ago,” Matt Sheppard responded. “Let me check to see… no pilot listed, Dr. Porter.”
“I need…” She took another deep breath. “Jesus fuck. We’ve got a big problem.”
“On my way.”
Anne entered the Jumper Bay at a jog just that minute with a mild glare in Allison’s direction. “Did you just order the Colonel to come to you?”
Allison flushed but didn’t have time to respond before Sheppard himself stalked into the Jumper Bay with Matt Sheppard close on his heels.
“Dr. Porter,” John said and tilted his head as he came to stand in front of her. “It is my understanding that you have a problem.”
Porter took a deep breath and looked at the empty space where the Jumper used to be. “Jumper Six isn’t remotely flight ready, sir.”
“Someone piloted it off the city.”
“Dr. McKay isn’t answering his radio.” She watched horror and fury bloom on Sheppard’s face. “Rodney… can’t… he can’t fly the Jumpers, sir. He hasn’t had a single flight lesson.”
“I’m aware,” John murmured tightly. He clicked his radio. “Dr. Weir—we need a headcount. Dr. McKay appears to be…missing.”
John turned off the radio and turned to Cooper. “Talk to me, Lieutenant.”
“Dr. Porter requested pilots from flight control to work on a testing project with her and Dr. McKay related to the problems we had with navigation yesterday. I pulled Morgan, Jenkins, and Carls to help with the detail.” He motioned over his shoulder at the other three pilots. “We arrived at the Jumper Bay approximately five minutes ago but Dr. McKay was not here. We decided to wait for his return. Dr. Porter entered and asked me if Dr. McKay had taken Jumper Six out with one of us and I assured her that we wouldn’t… we just wouldn’t take Dr. McKay off the city without your permission, sir.”
“Right,” John murmured. He clicked his radio. “Colonel Caldwell, I need you in the Jumper Bay as soon as possible.” He blinked when Caldwell walked into the bay. “Timely.”
“On the way already,” Caldwell responded. “What the hell is going on? The control deck is chaos and they are talking about engaging the city sensors for a population sweep?”
“McKay is missing and so is Jumper Six.” John took a deep breath. “Tell me Scott Holland is on your ship, Steven.”
Caldwell blinked in surprise. “I did order him aboard by sixteen hundred—he had some packing…” He clicked his radio. “Lt. Novak, confirm that Captain Scott Holland is on board the ship and in his assigned quarters.” He paused, and John could tell he didn’t receive the answer he wanted. Caldwell turned off the radio and shook his head. “No. He never reported to our Warrant Officer.”
“Jumper Six filed a flight plan through the Jumper communication’s system but since Porter had reported in that they were going to spend the afternoon doing test flights—Lt. Johnson didn’t get a voice confirmation from the pilot,” Matt responded. “I’ll go find the Jumper, John.”
“It’s not that simple,” Porter interrupted and they all turned to stare at her hard. She shifted closer to Anne and took a deep breath when her Domme slid one arm around her in support. “Jumper Six was the one that failed yesterday on the return through the spacegate. We hadn’t even… it’s operating at forty-two percent maybe.”
“You’re saying that it might have already crashed,” John murmured.
“Navigation was offline and while it had limited communications—it wouldn’t have reported into the city’s automatic flight control system if it had crashed,” Allison explained. “He could have made it to the mainland and landed or they could be in the water, sir.” She blinked rapidly. “I’m sorry, Colonel.”
“This isn’t your fault,” John responded carefully—gently. “You couldn’t have known.” He turned to Caldwell. “How fast can you get the Daedalus in orbit? The city sensors aren’t designed to find… we’ll need your help finding them.”
“I’ll make it happen as quickly as possible,” Caldwell assured and turned to leave, then paused. “Dr. Porter—did you want to supervise the search?”
“I’ll go,” Miko said, her voice breaking. “He’s…I’ll go up there and find him.”
John touched her arm as she hurried past him and Miko turned immediately and pressed her face against his chest. John trailed his fingers through her hair. “Anyone gets in your way—tell Steven. Don’t hesitate and don’t worry about making friends.”’
“You’ve got my back,” she whispered.
“Your goddamned right I do.” John released her and she hurried away. “Matt, get… the other Jumpers that are safe to operate up in the air but leave me one. Caldwell will probably launch his X-302s for orbital scans.” He turned to Porter and found that she’d buried her face against her Domme’s neck. Her slight body was shaking. “Allison.”
Porter lifted her head and brushed hastily at tears. “Sir.”
“Tell me what can be done if the Jumper is in the water?”
“We’ll need… a way to get to it.” Allison cleared her throat. “The SEALs have some deep diving equipment but the problem is that we won’t be able to open the Jumper without crushing them both with the pressure and the water. I need to talk Dr. Zelenka about the shields on the Jumper.”
“You go do that,” John said and nodded briefly at Teldy. “Anne, stay with the geeks and get me a retrieval plan in place if they are, in fact, in the water already.”
“Can the Daedalus beam him out of it?” Cooper asked.
“It will depend on whether or not they can find his life sign,” John responded. “If Holland has cloaked the Jumper… and he probably did… it will make… son of a bitch!” He closed his eyes briefly and then turned away from them.
Cooper nodded. “Okay, people let’s move. Johnson—set up us up a search grid moving out from the city in every single direction. Carls—check with flight and see what data we have about Jumper Six on its departure from the city.”
* * * *
John hadn’t said a word in nearly forty-five minutes and Elizabeth was torn between her own anger and the intense worry of what would happen when Sheppard lost it. She wasn’t kidding herself on that front—she’d seen him go quiet before and on that day he’d left a trail of Genii bodies in his wake that still gave her nightmares when she thought about it. It had taken over a week to get the blood off the floor and walls of the city.
“The sensors on the Daedalus are running full on and nothing,” Matt Sheppard finally said. “We lost track of the Jumper ten minutes after flight launch and I don’t know if it’s because Holland purposely closed the connection with the city or if it was severed due to instrument failure. He’s a very good pilot but the Jumper was all over the place throughout most of what we were able to monitor—he was struggling with it almost from the instant he left the city.”
“It’s been two hours,” Evan Lorne murmured. “We need to get down there and check to see if the Jumper is in the water.”
Caldwell beamed into the conference without warning. “Colonel Sheppard, we’ve recovered the body of Scott Holland. He was in the water—death appears to be the result of an explosive decompression.”
John’s hands tightened into fists and Elizabeth stood up.
“Colonel Caldwell, were you able to locate Dr. McKay’s subcutaneous transmitter as well?”
“No. Holland’s appeared in our third sweep of the north west quadrant. I’ve redirected the Jumpers to that search area and they are ready to go in the water.”
“No.” John cleared his throat. “No. We don’t know how the Jumpers will perform in the water, we’ve never tested it. I’ll go by myself in Jumper One.”
“John,” Matt started.
“No, Mattie. I can’t… take you.”
“Sir.” Evan cleared his throat. “You’ll need another pilot.”
“Allison and I will go,” Teldy murmured. “I can relief pilot and Allison is still working on a way around the shielding problem with the crashed Jumper. You need us both, Colonel.”
“It’s a risk.”
“Life is about risks, sir.” Anne’s jaw tightened. “It is no more or less than you would do for me if the circumstances were reversed.”
* * * *
Rodney woke slowly—the burn of pain down the side of his head was absolutely not a good time. Emergency lighting in the Jumper was flickering and he was wet. Jesus. Wet. He struggled against the plastic holding him against the bench and took a deep breath to calm himself down. The doors were shut between the cargo bay and the cockpit of the Jumper. There was at least an inch of water on the floor.
A quick check of his watch confirmed that he’d been unconscious about two hours and during that time the Jumper had crashed into the ocean. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard—drowning wasn’t on his list of favorite things to do. Rodney maneuvered so he could activate his radio by pressing the button against the edge of the bench. It was something of a miracle it was still in place.
“Dr. McKay?” Allison Porter’s voice filled his ear. “Jesus. Dr. McKay? Stop talking—I don’t—just calm down.”
He hadn’t realized he had been rambling. Rodney pressed his lips together because as much as he hated the idea of drowning again, sounding like a fool for the whole city to witness would be pretty fucking humiliating. “Okay.”
McKay relaxed against the bench. “John. I’m in trouble here.”
“I know, baby, I know.”
* * * *
John turned away everyone in the command deck and walked out onto the large balcony that spread out behind the gate. “Talk to me, what’s your situation?”
“I’m alone in the back of the Jumper. It’s… in the water. You knew that, right?”
“Yeah, we knew that part.” John leaned forward and let his head rest on the balcony railing. Is this what Holland wanted? For him to be forced to listen to another lover die over a goddamned radio. “How are you?”
“I’ve got a concussion—lots of blood on the side of my head. Might have a skull fracture—I’m pretty sure I was hit with something.”
John swallowed hard. “Rodney, did you see Scott before he attacked you?”
“What?” Rodney demanded fiercely. “He did this? Jesus, John, I told you…”
“I know.” John’s hands curled into fists. “We’re trying to locate you but there is too much interference with the water and the Jumper appears to be cloaked. Can you confirm that?”
“I can’t, no,” Rodney admitted softly. “He used a pair of flex cuffs to tie me to the Jumper’s bench. My maneuverability is pretty low. The doors between the cargo bay and the cockpit are shut. I don’t think… I think the Jumper is already on the ocean floor because it doesn’t feel like I’m moving.”
“Is the Jumper active?”
“Barely,” Rodney answered. “The air is frigid—I don’t know how the water in here isn’t ice. I have emergency lighting. The safety systems in the Jumper would have activated in the event of a catastrophic instrument failure—the shields are probably active, otherwise I would be dead already.”
“Don’t… please don’t talk like that,” John whispered.
“Right,” Rodney murmured. “I drowned once—when I was little you know.”
“I didn’t know that.” John cleared his throat. “We’re prepping a Jumper to come and get you—so you have to keep your radio on. The cloak on the Jumper is hiding you from the Daedalus and the city sensors.”
“The Ancients made really great cloaking technology,” Rodney admitted ruefully. “My parents had a pool put in the backyard when I was eight but they argued over swimming lessons for me and Jeannie. My mother said it was a waste of money since she could teach us but she never did… teach me, I mean. She taught Jeannie. She adored Jeannie but she kept putting off teaching me and I’m a big damn genius so I read a book on how to swim.”
John took a deep breath. “Christ, I bet you did.”
“And my dad found me floating face down in the pool—they don’t know how long I was out there but I didn’t hurt my big brain. My mother put me in boarding school as punishment. I was there for a year until they finally gave up trying to teach me and sent me back to her with the suggestion that I be homeschooled by someone smarter than me.”
John took a deep breath and stood away from the railing when Carson Beckett touched his arm briefly. Carson inclined his head and John nodded. “Talk to me about your health, Rodney.”
“Left side actually,” Rodney muttered. “I ache all over so I must have gotten knocked around a little when we crashed. My blood sugar doesn’t feel unreasonable and I’m cold. It’s very cold, John.”
“It’s important that you not go to sleep,” John said. “You know that.”
“Yeah, sleeping is bad. Too bad I can’t stand up.”
“Right. How is your pulse? Can you check that?”
“Not really, my heart doesn’t appear to be racing and beyond the headache I don’t… well… I’m seeing things but I’m trying to ignore that.”
“What are you seeing?” John questioned with a frown. “Is something in the Jumper with you?”
“Just things in the water—little microbes I think—the ones that glow? One of the biologist wrote a report on them a few weeks back—harmless but kind of pretty. As for what I’m seeing—I’m pretty sure I saw my mother a few minutes ago and Carter came by to smirk about my predicament. Leave it to me to hallucinate about the two biggest bitches I’ve ever known.”
John rubbed his face and then looked at Beckett who looked concerned but relieved too. “Okay, that’s creepy and unfortunate.”
* * * *
Rodney leaned against the bench. “Radek.”
“You’re seeing Radek? That’s certainly a better hallucination to have.”
Rodney laughed softly, relieved to hear calm settling into his Dom’s voice. “Radek had this research proposal on the expanding the shields of a Jumper for space walks—in case we needed to repair something exterior on the Jumper. You’ll need to expand the shields of a Jumper around this one so we can open the door up.”
“Okay, Radek has been working with Porter on the plan so I think they’re on top of that. You’ve got good people here, McKay.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do. Don’t tell them I said that.” Rodney paused and took a deep breath. “There is about six inches of water now—at this rate I’m going to be waist deep in it within the next two hours. I’d rather not drown again, John. It sucked.” He listened to John breathing for a few seconds. “How did you know it was Holland?”
“We pulled his body out of the water—we’re searching the area where we found him to find the Jumper. He probably didn’t have time to drift all that far from the crash site.”
“Right.” Rodney swallowed hard. “The cockpit must have decompressed—maybe the windshield.” He paused. “You know he probably saved my life by closing the doors to the cargo area.”
“Maybe,” John murmured. “Doesn’t change what he did. We’re almost ready—I’m going to keep my radio on. I want you to keep talking to me, McKay.”
“No.” Rodney took a deep breath. “Absolutely not. You’re not going to listen to this. It’s what Holland wanted, right? To put me in a situation where you get to listen to me die?”
“You aren’t going to die!” John snapped. “So shut the fuck about it and start talking about something else, understood?”
Rodney said nothing for a long time as he tried to gather his thoughts and center his mind on something that wasn’t wrapped up in his own anger. “When I was eleven I learned an entire symphony for my grandfather. I played it on his sixty-fifth birthday—he was my paternal grandfather and a de Sade Dom. It was his inheritance that led me to train at de Sade.”
“His name was McKay?”
“No. My mother’s surname was McKay. My father was named Anton Michel. His family has a long tradition in the de Sade Institute. My father was a Courtesan—his Master was Stefan Lisle. Master Stefan died five years after my father was marked. I have to think if that hadn’t happened that neither my sister or I would exist—Stefan Lisle was uniquely attached to his Courtesan. He would’ve never tolerated how my mother treated my Dad.”
“Is that why you agreed to be trained as a Courtesan?”
* * * *
John settled in the pilot seat of the Jumper and turned to look at Matthew who had moved to squat beside him. “Chase has two teams off-world. They are due to report in within the half-hour. Ethan is with them.”
“Do you want me to update them on the situation?”
“As a commander, I want to say no—they have their own mission.” John paused. “But Ethan is family and he has a right to know how fucked up things are. So, it’s Evan’s call. I can’t trust myself to make the one that best serves the mission at this point.” He glanced towards Lorne was standing just behind them both. “Don’t hesitate to go after them if they don’t report in.”
Lorne’s jaw worked minutely. “I have Frost and Bates up and ready for retrieval just in case.”
“You’re pissed at me about not taking you with me,” John started. “I can’t help that right now and I can’t even explain myself. Later—much later—you can try to kick my ass in the sparing ring if it will make you feel better.”
Evan gave a short nod. “It might. Matt, let’s get out of the way so we can get these guys in the water.” He held out his hand for Matt and offered a small smile when his sub took it without pausing. “Teldy, you make sure to bring them both back to us.”
“Of course, sir.” Teldy took her place in the co-pilot’s seat and glanced back briefly at Allison who was settling into one of the second seats. “Your link up with Zelenka solid?”
“Yes, Madame, we’re ready and Dr. Zelenka is working on the coding for the override on the Jumper door in case McKay can’t open it for us.” Allison curled her hands around her laptop and firmed up her mouth in determination.
A part of John wanted to laugh at her determination but more than half of his focus was on Rodney’s words. He unmuted his radio so McKay could hear him. “How’s the water level?”
“About twelve inches,” Rodney responded wearily. “Where was I?”
“You were telling me how you thought you were too intelligent to be so vain about your pleasure training until you realized that you were going to get a second session from de Sade,” John murmured as he closed the Jumper’s door and settled into the flight procedures. It wasn’t calming at all but the task helped keep him focused.
“Right. I was a pretty kid—it was kind of ridiculous how much ass I got without even trying. I knew I wasn’t a Dominant but it didn’t stop me from topping my share of submissives all through college—right up until I was invited to my second session at de Sade. After that session, with the exception of Daniel Jackson I pretty much stayed away from other subs.” Rodney sighed. “And that man—wow. He’s gorgeous.”
John smiled a little and shook his head. “Yeah, I’ll admit that. O’Neill’s a lucky man.”
“They’re lucky to have each other,” Rodney responded and sucked in a breath. “My body temperature is dropping. I worked myself up onto the bench so I’m not in the water anymore.”
“Good.” John took a deep breath. “Your hands are bound together, right?”
“Right—through one of the hand grips on the front of the bench.” Rodney’s breath hitched. “I can’t reach the emergency kit above my head—tried kicking it loose but even if I managed to get it off the hook I’d probably just dump the contents in the water.” Rodney sighed. “Then by the time Daniel was collared I was at Area 51.”
“You skipped the part about accepting the Courtesan training.”
“Right.” Rodney groaned. “I almost said no. I mean, it’s a huge honor and a privilege. I didn’t know who the Master would be so I wasn’t sure I wanted to… attach myself to a Dom in that way. Courtesan training isn’t like a collar or even a wedding ring.”
“No, you’re marked for life,” John murmured.
“Right. I didn’t know if I wanted a Dom in my life like that—one who would have so much power over me or my personal choices. Maybe that’s why I hid so much from Gerard about Carter.” He sighed.
“This channel isn’t private, Rodney.”
* * * *
John took a deep breath as he maneuvered the Jumper towards the water. He really regretted not arguing with Sumner and Elizabeth over testing the Jumpers under water now. It would be helpful if he understood what the pressures of being underwater would do the craft and it wasn’t like either Kavanaugh or Grodin had put a lot of their precious time into the Jumpers. Once they’d been slotted for mission and military use—the scientists had quickly found other things to play with.
“Are you in the water yet?”
“Getting ready for it.”
“The Jumper should compensate for the pressure change but I don’t know about the one I’m in. I’m not sure I’d want to be beamed out even if it was possible at this point. The bends would be pretty freaking horrible.”
“Beckett and Miko are already working on a decompression chamber in the infirmary,” John promised. “We might be camping out with Anne and Allison for a few days if the Jumpers can’t compensate.”
“Well, if we have to hang out with people in a decompression chamber it might as well be with two hot, smart women.”
John glanced towards Anne who had laughed softly. “Yeah, lucky us.”
* * * *
Matthew glanced up from his computer as the gate started to dial. He had his radio tuned to the conversation with John and Rodney because he couldn’t not listen and Evan had realized that pretty much immediately. He figured any other officer would have taken him off duty but his Dom had just pushed him into a chair and told him to stay out of the way. He was absolutely fucking useless with worry and anger. Miko was in the infirmary having done all she could on the Daedalus working on a decompression chamber system with Beckett.
He listened with half an ear as Evan received a mission brief from Chase Harris and relaxed when his Dom requested that Ethan return to the city. Ethan must have been at the gate with Harris for the report in because the IDC was sent and he stepped through the gate. Matt stood and jerked his head towards the balcony. Ethan passed his P-90 off to one of the Marines in the gateroom and followed.
“Matt? What’s… was John hurt or something?”
Matt shook his head and took a deep breath. “Scott Holland—he’s dead but he managed to nearly take McKay with him in a Jumper accident. John is in a Jumper on his way down to get him but the Jumper McKay is in is damaged and taking on a lot of water pretty fucking fast. We aren’t even sure we’ll be able to get Rodney out and they can’t beam him out because they can’t find his signal and now there are some concerns about decompression sickness because apparently John’s already hit the one thousand meter mark and he’s nowhere near the bottom of the ocean in the area where we think McKay is.”
Ethan exhaled sharply and looked over the ocean. “How long has this been going on?”
“We’re going on four hours at this point,” Matt admitted. “John’s pretty messed up.”
“Did he kill Scott?” Ethan questioned neutrally.
“No, the Daedalus found Scott’s body in the water—we think the Jumper’s cockpit must have explosively decompressed during the trip the bottom at some point and his body was expelled. That’s how we got a general location on the Jumper. He could’ve taken McKay with him.” Matt’s jaw clenched. “Maybe he intended on it. I can’t see how he expected to get away with this. He had to know that taking McKay from the city would make John homicidal. Even if he hadn’t hurt Rodney… and he did. McKay has a severe headache and concussion. Beckett can’t rule out a skull fracture.”
“Jesus. Fuck,” Ethan muttered. “Why aren’t you in the water with John?”
“He said no.” Matt’s jaw clenched. “He didn’t let Evan go either. Anne Teldy volunteered to go and took her sub for the science.”
“He needs his family with him right now,” Ethan snapped.
“I think he needs to know that the rest of his family is safe,” Evan interjected and moved to stand by Matt. “I don’t like the choice he made here—but Anne Teldy is a great officer, an excellent pilot, and as tough as anyone I’ve ever met. She didn’t hesitate to bring her own submissive on the mission despite how dangerous it is. Porter is working her ass off with Zelenka and they’ve figured out how to extend the shields around the damaged Jumper. Now the problem is finding a cloaked Jumper in a couple thousand meters of water.”
“It’s bullshit that he’s down there with a stranger instead of one of us,” Ethan responded through clenched teeth. “What if McKay…”
“No,” Matt interrupted. “Don’t even say it. Holland engineered this whole fucking thing to remind John of Jared and what he lost that day. It’s the most fucked up thing I can imagine anyone doing to another person and we can’t even make sure he suffers for it because he got himself killed doing it. Rodney isn’t going to die and maybe it’s best that he has Anne Teldy with him instead of one of us because quite frankly I’m fucking useless and you look so furious that I’m worried you might stroke out.”
Ethan ground his teeth together and turned his back on both of them. “What channel is McKay on?”
Ethan activated his radio and started to unbuckle his TAC vest.
* * * *
“Tell me about Gerard.”
Rodney sighed and shifted on his hip—the position and the cold was making him hurt in places that were absolutely not fun. “I remember being intimidated by him when I first met him. I met him briefly during my first session and he topped me just once during my second session. I shivered through most of that first session with him—he’s powerful and has a strong presence that during training sometimes I could just look at him and be so immediately turned on that I could come without any physical stimulation. He just had to order it.”
“Well, having met the man—I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“The whole de Sade family is like that, you know, they really own their dynamic. I attended one of his cousins after I was marked. He’s a scientist at Area 51.”
“What would you say your favorite part of training was?” John questioned.
“With Gerard? He likes to push and push until you’re nothing but what he wants you to be. In a scene it can be a powerful and rewarding experience—giving up everything you are mentally and physically for his pleasure. With the Institute as a whole, I’d have to say that learning to come without ejaculation was the best thing they taught me even if it was frustrating and somewhat painful in the beginning. I can’t really talk about their techniques for teaching it—against the house rules.”
“Worst experience in training?”
“Finding my pain threshold,” Rodney admitted ruefully. “Christ, it cut my rush so fast and hurt so much that I threw up but it was a powerful lesson. Gerard wouldn’t rest until understood how important it was to own my masochism and to understand how much my body could take before it was more than just damaging.”
“How did he do it?” John questioned.
“He used a razor blade actually,” Rodney murmured. “I’d have scars but Carter used a Goa’uld healing device on me at the SGC to heal them before we got married.”
“Best experience in training?”
“The violet wand and the shock whip,” Rodney answered without hesitating. “Electricity is actually Gerard’s specialty.” He smiled at John’s silence. “Did we finally come across something you aren’t trained for?”
* * * *
John laughed. “Not at all, it’s just I’m kind of surprised this hasn’t already come up. I have a violet wand kit in the bottom of my kit—just didn’t think you were interested.”
“That’s hot,” Anne Teldy muttered from her place in the co-pilot seat.
John glanced her way and smirked. “Okay, Rodney we’re hovering a meter off the bottom. Any ideas about finding a cloaked Jumper?”
“The current over the Jumper will be different so water disturbance would be a good indication but it’s dark as fuck and we don’t have detailed current charts,” Rodney murmured. “Remember when you talked about how you feel the city?”
“Yesterday when you were on this Jumper after it came back through the gate you had this look on your face like you were uncomfortable.”
“Yeah, it felt damaged.”
“I think if you get close enough to me, John, you’re going to feel the second Jumper. You’ve got a powerful gene and you responded very negatively to this Jumper yesterday.”
“Right.” John took a deep breath. “You know that sounds ridiculous.”
Rodney laughed. “Yeah, I know. Just don’t think about it—much of what ATA gene carriers do with Ancient technology is instinctual.” He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry about Holland, John.”
John closed his eyes briefly. “You have a much bigger heart than you’d have people believe, McKay, feeling sorry for the man that appeared to have every intention of murdering you.”
“If you tell a single other person that vicious lie I’ll never forgive you,” Rodney responded peevishly. “Now, come rescue me. I’m tired and I’m cold and I’m bleeding in a way that is not fun.”
John bit down on his lip to keep from laughing. “Yeah, okay, working on it.”
John focused on the HUD for a few seconds and then requested a map of the ocean floor around them. The reorganization of information took seconds. “The Jumper is scanning the ocean floor and calibrating ocean currents. It’s not exactly helpful now.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Allison murmured as she moved to the front of the Jumper and slid into her Domme’s lap easily. She reached out and touched the HUD. “Ask the Jumper to search for disturbance in the currents—like McKay was talking about. Give the dimensions of the Jumper and see if it can’t find a disturbance that fits it.”
John nodded. “Did you hear that Rodney?”
“Yeah,” Rodney said softly. “Told you she was smart and that we needed her.”
“Yeah, you made a good choice, Rodney.” John pushed at the Jumper’s sensors mentally and made a few more demands. “These things are supposed to communicate with each other, you know.”
“Mine’s too damaged for it,” Rodney explained. “That he managed to fly it as far as he did is a testament to his talent as a pilot. Must have been like flying a brick with navigation offline the way it was.”
“Rodney, how’s your air quality?” John questioned.
“Okay.” John took a deep breath and shared a look with Teldy. McKay was slurring one word in five. He couldn’t be sure if it was a result of his head injury or the beginnings of carbon monoxide poisoning. “Sleepy?”
“No, head hurts too bad to sleep.”
“There,” Allison whispered—pointing to an area about kilometer from them. “Colonel, can you go there?”
John pushed the Jumper in the direction of the bump in the current that Porter had identified. When they moved around a large bed of coral, he huffed in surprise. “Jesus.”
“That’s…” Allison leaned forward to look out the window. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”
A whale the size of a small house was swimming in a lazy fashion above the current disturbance that had brought them to the area. John shifted under it carefully and blinked in surprise. “Yeah, okay, Rodney, we’re here. I can feel the damage—just like you said.”
“I’m the smartest man in this whole fucking galaxy, ya know.”
“Head hurting a lot?”
“Yeah, Christ, so much.” Rodney took a deep breath. “Don’t let them take my collar off, John. I don’t care what Carson says.”
“No. Just don’t let them do it.”
“I won’t,” John murmured and hoped Beckett wouldn’t make a liar out of him. “We need the Jumper to decloak, McKay.”
Rodney exhaled sharply over the radio. “Porter, did you fix the shield thing?”
“We think so.”
“You’d better be fucking sure!” Rodney snapped. “John, you’ll want to extend the shield around the area where the Jumper is—and get out of yours. Your gene is more powerful that Holland’s so you should be able to override his commands if you’re in physical contact with the Jumper.”
“Right.” John did a visual check on the map on the HUD and then blew out a breath. “Allison, extend the shield fifty meters in all directions the moment I land. Mind the whale—I don’t want him to get pissed at us.”
“Right.” Allison frowned in concentration. “Mind the giant swimming house above us. Got it.”
“Colonel Sheppard, this is Caldwell.”
John flinched at the intrusion. It was a heady reminder of the complete lack of privacy he’d had with McKay since Rodney had turned his radio on. “I’m here, Steven.”
“Once you’ve opened the crashed Jumper—we should be able to lock onto Dr. McKay’s transmitter. With your permission—we’ll beam you both to Atlantis. Dr. Beckett has prepared a decompression chamber and an emergency operating theatre if needed.”
“Beckett?” John questioned.
“I’m here, lad.”
“How dangerous is this?”
“Less dangerous than leaving him with a untreated head injury for another two hours,” Carson returned. “You and I both know…”
“No, right. I get it.” John took a deep breath as he landed the Jumper. “We’re on the ground.” He turned to Porter who was working steadily on her tablet. “Doc?”
“We’re ready.” Allison bit down on her lip. “I’ve uploaded the new program to the Jumper. Just tell it what you want, Colonel.”
“Right.” The water pushing back from the front of the Jumper was so bizarre that all three of them stared in complete surprise for several seconds. John exhaled sharply. “You’re gorgeous, Porter.”
Allison blushed. “Thanks, Colonel.” She leaned back into her Domme’s arms with a relieved smile. “Let’s go find your man, shall we?”
“Yeah, let’s go look for an invisible Jumper.”
“Use your laser site on your P-90,” Rodney murmured over the radio connection. “It’ll bounce off the cloaked Jumper.”
* * * *
Rodney shifted on the bench and tried to relax his hands as much as possible. His wrists were bleeding from the flex cuffs and the water level in the Jumper was even with the bottom of the seats. The hiss of the Jumper’s cargo bay door opening was such a relief that he slumped a little.
“I’m here,” Sheppard murmured, kneeling in the water that was receding rapidly. “I’m here. McKay, you’re a mess.”
Rodney laughed softly and closed his eyes at the soft kiss that was pressed against his forehead. “Yeah. I warned you.” He turned his face into John’s neck at the sight of his Dom’s combat knife. “You’re going to beam me?”
“Yeah, we’re going to use the Daedalus to go back to the city,” John murmured. “Porter and Teldy will take care of the Jumper.”
He groaned in relief when the pressure of the flex cuffs abruptly disappeared. “I’ve never enjoyed bondage less in my life.”
“Shh, don’t make me laugh.” John put his knife away and pulled McKay close. “Rodney.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t pay attention.”
“You shouldn’t have ever had to worry about being hurt someone under my command,” John murmured against his blood-matted hair. “Let’s get you out of the Jumper so Caldwell can lock onto your signal.”
* * * *
Matt’s knees went a little weak as McKay and John appeared in the improvised decompression chamber in front of him. He let his face rest on the window and he took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“Yeah,” Ethan huffed out a breath. “Is there anyone we can tear a new asshole for this?”
Matt looked at him ruefully. “Don’t think I haven’t looked around for someone to blame—it was just a series of stupid and unfortunate circumstances. The only person to blame is dead.”
He turned and watched as John hovered next to the bed where McKay had all but collapsed. Beckett was working quickly and efficiently with an Ancient scanner.
“How soon will we know if decompression sickness is a problem?”
“In a few minutes—Carson says that the Jumper that John used was adjusting itself so he shouldn’t need it but McKay’s Jumper was severely damaged when it started to sink.” Matt rubbed the back of his head in frustration and gave a brief nod to his brother when John looked toward the window.
John hesitated briefly before walking away from the bed and going to the window. He hit the intercom button. “SITREP.”
“We’re five by five,” Matt assured. “Harris reported in on time and the mission is going as scheduled. Ethan returned to the city on Evan’s order but we didn’t brief the rest of them on the events…”
“Right.” John nodded and looked at Ethan. “Did you want to rejoin them?”
Ethan inclined his head. “I think I’d be more useful there and I have a few blunt objects on my team who could use some attitude adjustment on following a submissive officer.”
“Brief Harris on what’s happened and make a list of people who need a public readjustment,” John said and then focused on Matt. “Carson doesn’t think he’ll need to stay in the decompression chamber. The Jumper must have had some emergency protocols in place to prevent pressure sickness despite the loss of the cockpit. Porter is pulling the data recorder on the down Jumper but it’s a dead loss. The cockpit windshield is gone and one of the nacelles must have sheared off on impact with the surface of the water. It’s amazing it stayed together as much as it did.”
Matt nodded. “I’ll coordinate with the sciences and get a report on the Jumper failure together as soon as possible. Is there… do we have any data from the flight itself?”
“Porter will be able to tell you. I didn’t wait for it.” John looked back toward the bed and took a deep breath. “Can you bring us some food? You or Miko. I don’t want… anyone but family around him right now.”
“We’ll take care of it, John.”
* * * *
“No skull fracture but he has a concussion, John.” Carson set aside his tablet PC. “Hypothermia is also a concern. I want to keep him for twenty-four hours. I know it’s not what you want to hear and I’ll make sure you get all the privacy I can provide. I don’t want to separate you from him any more than you want to be separated from him.”
“Okay. The blood?”
“You know head wounds are always bloody. He has a small cut and the bruising looks like he was hit with the butt of a handgun. It’s unfortunate that I’ve seen that particular bruising pattern so much that I know what it looks like,” Carson said as he fidgeted with Rodney’s blanket. “How do you feel, Rodney?”
“Like crap,” McKay snapped. “And my head hurts.”
“You know I can’t give you anything—not with a concussion and don’t think I’ve forgotten that you said you were hallucinating down there.”
* * * *
Rodney watched his Dom put on his clothes without speaking. The quick shower they’d taken together had been more about blood removal than anything else so he felt scrubbed raw in places. He glanced towards the tray of food that Matt had brought him but the last thing he wanted to do was eat. Carson had put an IV in him for fluids and all he wanted in the universe was something for his head.
John walked back to him, dressed in sweats and t-shirt. “Hey, you’re not eating.”
Rodney frowned and poked at the pudding cup on his tray. “I will.”
John sighed and slid into the bed beside him. “We’ll let it slide for a while. Carson said your blood sugar was good.”
Rodney gratefully turned on his side and tucked himself against John as much as he could. He sighed. “This is better.”
“Yeah.” John pressed a kiss a gentle against his damp hair. “I… I’m an idiot, Rodney and I played an extremely stupid game with you. I love you. I’ve loved you for quite a while and not giving you those words when you asked for them the other day was a stunningly childish thing to do.”
Rodney closed his eyes and moved closer. “I forgive you—not everyone can be as shiny as me.”
John laughed softly and tightened his hand briefly on McKay’s hip. “Get some sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
“You’ll be waking me up,” Rodney complained. “Constantly.”
“Yeah, that’s what you get for getting hit in the head.”
“Not my brightest idea,” McKay admitted.
* * * *
Elizabeth crossed her arms as she stood watching John and Rodney through the small window. Though they hadn’t needed the decompression chamber after all, Carson had elected to keep McKay isolated from the rest of the infirmary. “How are they?”
Carson sighed. “They were both pretty stressed before this happened. I’m not sure what happened when they were on Earth…”
“The House Master of Kesakitan Pembawa flayed Kevin Jordan alive,” Elizabeth supplied. “Rodney and John were both present.”
“John didn’t… Rodney shouldn’t have seen such a thing, Elizabeth.” Carson flushed with anger. “That’s just… it’s an obscenity after the things he’d suffered in his relationship with Carter. John should have never…”
“Carson.” Elizabeth cut him off with a gentle tone. “You know it’s not our place to determine what is best for Rodney. Whatever reason had John had for letting his submissive witness Jordan’s punishment, it simply isn’t for us to question. I think we can all see how important Rodney is to him.”
Carson sucked in a deep breath. “It is obvious but I don’t have to like the idea of it. The bald truth of the matter is that I know next to nothing about Kesakitan Pembawa. I’ve never even seen one of their trained submissives.”
“They are rarely seen outside of Singapore. Kesakitan Pembawa is a top heavy house. I think they might train and release as few as thirty submissives a year and some of them chose to remain under the social ownership of the house until they are collared. I heard through Miko that John received more ink from his Dom Master while he was there.” Elizabeth rubbed her arms and then casually prodded Carson away from the window. “Have you seen it?”
“No, but one of my doctors did. She made a scan of it for his medical records.” Carson allowed himself to be maneuvered into his office where he settled in his chair with a small frown. “John’s older brother is a sadist, too.”
“Yes, but their father collared a Geisha so we know he isn’t a sadist.”
“Right.” Carson sighed. “I worry about being a part of that extended family. Miko’s social adoption into the Sheppard family was complete. As far as Lotus is concerned, Patrick Sheppard is her father.”
“He’s a good man.”
“I’ve always heard so,” Carson admitted. “He certainly made sure his sons were trained as much as possible—spared no expense. It’s a credit to him that young Matthew was trained as a Geisha. Some Doms don’t bother to have their submissive children trained so extensively.”
“From what I understand, Patrick Sheppard spoiled his only submissive child absolutely rotten,” Elizabeth said with a small smile. “He certainly doesn’t like to not get his way.”
Carson chuckled. “Such a beautiful lad.”
“Very.” Elizabeth sighed. “I heard quite a few people were irritated by his preoccupation with Lorne.”
“They make a good pair.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth nodded her agreement. “And they work well together—that can’t be said for some pairs with excellent private dynamics.”
Carson sighed. “I’m ready to recommend to the Colonel that Dr. Simpson and Sergeant Campbell have couples therapy.”
Elizabeth laughed softly. “Please let me be there when you do it. I can’t imagine how he’ll take it but I’m sure I’ll be entertained.”
“The last time I suggested putting one of his men in therapy—he asked me if he could just beat him unconscious instead,” Carson responded. “He said it would be less painful for everyone involved.”
She snickered despite herself and relaxed with a sad sigh. “Today could have ended so badly, Carson.”
“We still got a body out of the mess,” Carson muttered. “I offered to do the autopsy but Caldwell said it might go better for everyone if it was done on Earth.”
“I don’t disagree,” Elizabeth admitted. “We’ve lost a highly valuable combat asset and a piece of Ancient equipment.”
“I imagine there were will be some people on Earth who are going to flip their lids over it anyways,” Carson cautioned. “You know some on the IOA didn’t want Rodney out here anyways—that’s the reason they accepted that collar recommendation bullshit from Carter to begin with.”
“It would be in their best interest to remember John’s threat. He’s already made it clear he’ll resign his commission and remove Rodney from the project completely if someone tries to pressure McKay into doing something he doesn’t want to do.”
* * * *
Rodney watched the rhythmic movement of Teyla’s hands silently—surprised to find her ensconced in a chair by the bed he’d been sharing with John for the last several hours. “I didn’t know you knew how to knit.”
Teyla glanced up from her project and lifted one elegant eyebrow at him. “Miko taught me.”
He shifted against John aware that his Dom was awake and sighed when John relaxed against him. “I’m fine, you know.”
Teyla shrugged and returned to her knitting. “I thought perhaps I would stand guard while the two of you sleep.”
“You gonna stab someone with your knitting needle?”
“It would make a serviceable weapon,” she acknowledged but then lifted her project away from her lap to reveal a 9mm strapped to her thigh. “But I brought a gun as well.”
John laughed softly against Rodney’s neck and then lifted his head. “You’re my favorite alien warrior princess.”
Teyla offered him a practiced smirk and then started to work on her project. “Sleep, John. I will let nothing and no one interfere with your rest.”
“What are you knitting?”
“A blanket for my son,” Teyla murmured.
John sat up abruptly in the bed, his mouth hanging opening shock. “You’re pregnant?”
She grinned at him. “No, it’s a custom among my people to prepare a chest of things for future children. Clothes and the like… Miko said that on Earth it’s called a “hope chest” and they prepare garments for marriage and children.”
John relaxed on the bed with a disgruntled expression. “Don’t do that to me—some forewarning of your intention to ya know… have a kid would be nice.”
“Thanks to Dr. Beckett, my people are in a unique position of choosing when to procreate,” Teyla assured. “I would not choose to do so without a mate.”
* * * *
Chase knew he was pale and he knew that even though they were well away from the group that the others could tell he was upset. He curled his hand into a fist to stop his fingers from trembling. “And McKay is okay?”
“Yeah, when I left he was in the infirmary,” Ethan frowned and looked around the camp. “How are the geeks coming on the tests?”
Chase relaxed a little. “Being geeks—they’re pretty excited about the readings they’re receiving. All of them are super excited about showing McKay because they think he won’t think they’re all entirely stupid.”
Ethan laughed in spite of himself. “John mentioned us setting up a research station if the results are sexy enough.” He jerked his head towards the camp. “Anything stupid with my team going on?”
“Nothing that I don’t expect from SEALs,” Chase responded carefully. “I don’t need a shelter, Ethan. I’ve been working in the field with Dominants for a long time.”
“I’m not trying to shelter you,” Ethan said, his gaze drifting around the area where they were camped. “I know you don’t need it. This mission is your ballgame but my team is my responsibility. I understand the difference.”
“Right.” Chase blushed and sighed.
“I’m not one of those assholes who can’t separate private and public behavior,” Ethan murmured. “But I can say that all day long—but I imagine I’ll earn your trust in that regard with actions.”
“It would help if you weren’t so…”
“Hot?” Ethan questioned with a smirk. “It’s a family curse.”
Chase laughed and rolled his eyes. “Is it ever. Let’s get these guys settled for the night and brief the rest on what happened with Sheppard. The last thing we want for them is to be in the dark about it when they return to the city. The guys from the first expedition are very territorial about the Colonel.”
* * * *
Evan Lorne was sitting in the chair when John woke up. He looked Evan over. “Teyla didn’t leave her knitting for you?”
Evan grinned. “She did make the offer but I’m all thumbs with that kind of thing. I imagine she would have kicked my ass when I messed it up.”
John pressed his fingers against Rodney’s wrist and checked his watch. “Anything fucked up happen while I was asleep?”
“No. I told everyone we’d reached the maximum level of fuckedupness allowed for the next month so everyone is on their best behavior.” Evan set aside his computer and rubbed the back of his neck. “Miko is getting you guys some dinner. I don’t believe not eating will be an option when she returns—just FYI.”
“Right.” John released McKay’s wrist with a soft sigh. “How is she?”
“Upset. Irritated. Which is pretty much par for the whole city.” Evan motioned towards McKay. “His geeks are up in arms—and they keep glaring at the people from the Daedalus like they are all to blame for what happened. Finally, Caldwell recalled all of his people because we got a little worried about the situation. Caldwell did discipline his Warrant Officer for failing to report Holland’s lack of a check in. He should’ve been on board the ship for over two hours when he left the city with McKay.”
“I’m reworking the protocols for departure with the flight deck to make voice checks part of the process regardless of the situation.” Evan exhaled sharply. “So, the geeks finished decompressing the databurst from the SGC last night—my father received a letter on my behalf from Lotus. There was also one sent to my Pleasure Master—Master Nori is seeking a private audience with me and Matthew at the earliest opportunity.”
John sighed and rubbed McKay’s shoulder when he stirred. “It’s standard house politics. Matthew is special to Lotus—one of the first white Geisha to be marked and the very first white male. There are plenty of white Lotus subs but Geisha—that’s a different ball game altogether as you well know.”
“Right. I was thinking we could go back with the next databurst and then be in position to return with the Apollo. It’s coming out for a scientific mission. They are slotted to leave Earth in two weeks.”
“Give you time to meet my Dad, too.” John pointed out. “David will probably give you a hard time just on general principals but they both trust Matthew to make sound decisions. It’s nothing to get stressed about.”
“Right.” Evan exhaled sharply. “I’ll have to take Matt to meet my father—now that he’s aware that I’ve collared. He’ll expect it and I don’t know how to say no to him. I was only required to spend my summers with him as a child and he’s very aware of that fact that I disapprove of the life style he leads.”
“Because he’s a sadist?”
“He keeps his submissives as slaves and his household is oppressive to say the least. He and my brothers share submissives.” Evan paused at the look of revulsion on John’s face. “Right. It’s heinous. I can only be thankful that my grandfather insisted on raising me and threatened my father with an official investigation into my mother’s death if he protested.”
“You can expect to Matthew to be a perfect snot during that meeting.”
Evan grinned suddenly. “I actually look forward to that part.” He sobered. “But this isn’t a good time for you to be two officers down.”
“I’ve got plenty of support staff and Teldy is awesome.” John yawned. “Far more than I ever had before to be honest. We’ll be right here when you get back.”
“Right.” Evan sighed.
“You can’t put off or ignore a request from Lotus. Additionally, it is never a good idea to ignore his Geisha Master. As much as Matthew has given himself to you—a part of him will always belong to his teaching Master and ignoring that will make him resent you.”
“Right.” Evan let his head fall back a little and stared at the ceiling. “Yeah, I’d never want that. His every day dramas are enough—I don’t want to give him cause for genuine resentment.”
John laughed softly and pulled at a blanket until he could shrug under it. “I just bet.”
“Get some sleep, John.”
“Right.” John yawned again. “Sleep. You’ll keep watch.”
“Yeah, I’ll keep watch,” Evan murmured, his tone sad and thoughtful.
Aside: I’ve created a small play list for this story in regards to a scene where Rodney plays an Ancient piano in the central tower. You can find that here: http://www.playlist.com/playlist/19936613387/standalone (this may not work for those outside the US. I can’t control it. Sorry!)