Title: The North Star
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: Ties That Bind
Series Order: 15
Betas: Ladyholder & Jilly James
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Pairings: McKay/Sheppard, Lorne/OC etc
Genre: Romance, BDSM, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: Violence, murder, minor OC character death (they all deserve it)
Authors Note: You might notice old comments on this post — that’s because at one time this was a preview of the work. It’s honestly not much longer completed than it was as a preview but that’s because I changed my mind about this being the last part of the series. This is, however, the final part in what I consider the first arc of the series.
Summary: John and Rodney appear for House Trial.
The first hint that something big was going to happen was when Angela Rampart separated herself from her husband upon entering the room. The cool-eyed glare she sent Antoine Devereaux would’ve had a more respectful and thoughtful Dom thinking of a list of apologies to start making immediately. She walked across the room to where Rodney was seated in a sectioned-off box that looked more like a fence than anything else. John had been equal parts horrified and furious when he’d found out the way they were going to keep Rodney separate from him during the course of the trial. He’d known he wouldn’t be able to keep him at his side but the box looked like something out of slave auction movie. Rodney stood as she pushed open the gate and hugged him tightly. They had a whispered conversation, and Rodney relaxed utterly at whatever Angela was saying.
A side door opened and four people entered he’d never seen—two women and two men—and walked to stand with Rodney. All four were quite beautiful in their own way, moving with the same kind of easy grace that John had noted in Rodney early on. Surely he wasn’t seeing what he thought he was seeing. He turned and looked at Gerard de Sade. The man was on his feet, slightly pale, and he wasn’t the only one. Every single de Sade Dom in the room, Devereaux included, was standing and staring.
Kyle Napier cleared his throat. “We are here today for a House Trial, and as the House Master of de Sade it is normally my duty to oversee such matters. However, it is not every day that a Dom of John Sheppard’s caliber faces a House Trial, and it is the first time in over a hundred years that a House Trial has been brought forth on the matter of the safety and care of a Courtesan. As it is his right, and because these charges have been levied without his permission, Dr. McKay filed a private motion that I had no choice but to honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the Peer Board, your services during this trial will not be required. You may stay, of course, but this matter is no longer in our hands. In fact, is it no longer in my hands. Per protocol, I must turn the petition for the House Trial of Colonel John Sheppard over to the Courtesan Court. Dame Isabel Sawyer will stand in my place as my equal in this process and her judgment shall be the final word on this matter.”
The oldest of the women left the box where Rodney was being held and with a toss of glossy snow white hair, revealed a Courtesan mark on her neck. “Daniel, get rid of this bloody fence. Dr. McKay is not livestock.” A blond-haired man, who John figured he was in his mid-thirties, immediately turned and started to fold down the slatted wood structure. “Angela, Spencer, I must ask that you have your collars removed.”
John’s mouth dropped open. He glanced briefly at Rampart who was calmly pulling a chain over his head. Angela crossed the room to her husband and turned to offer him the back of her collar. Rampart unlocked it without a word and pulled the elegant jewelry collar from his wife’s neck. She turned and pressed a kiss to his mouth before leaving him. Rampart put the collar in his jacket pocket with a shaking hand and John averted his gaze. He’d never seen anything like it.
Exactly who the hell was Dame Isabel Sawyer? The youngest of the men moved toward a dark-haired man in a suit who’d been seated in the back row when John and Philippe had arrived. The two men had a whispered conversation as the younger man’s collar was removed. The older man wrapped the wheat chained collar around his wrist and sat back down without another word. Rampart joined him.
No one, not even Rodney, had mentioned the Courtesan Court so he was at quite a loss as to what was about to happen. A look toward Philippe proved he was just as in the dark.
Isabel Sawyer took a seat at the large oak table on the dais in front of the court, in the middle. “For those of you unfamiliar with the inner workings of de Sade, I imagine the last few minutes have been a bit confusing. First, I will introduce my peers, then you will be given a very brief explanation before we begin. Angela Rampart, Marise Belrose, Spencer Reid, and Daniel Williams.” John watched each of them take a seat at the table.
Devereaux took a deep breath as he stood.
“Do not speak, Master Antoine,” Isabel said coldly. “You’ve not been given leave to speak in my presence. Disrespect me and I will have you beaten half to death. There are no less than ten men in this room that would do it for me without a single word of protest.”
Devereaux paled and sat down.
She focused on John and stared at him for a long moment before she sat back in her chair and crossed her legs. “Before we begin, Master John, I would like to offer you my sincere thanks for your patience these last few days. Your strength of character and the honorable choice you’ve made not to kill a large portion of people in this room is appreciated. If not for the sake of our house, but for the sake of your Courtesan. Rodney confessed to me that you offered to remove his collar and accept whatever sanction you were given by de Sade and your own military to protect his privacy. That alone tells me more about you than anything I’ll learn today.” She paused and inclined her head. “You have no idea who I am.”
John flushed. “I confess to being quite at a loss, Dame Isabel.”
“It is the way of such things,” Isabel said. “Rodney is Gerard’s North Star—that is a distinction he more than earned, but I am the highest-ranking Courtesan among the living, and that makes me the North Star of the de Sade Institute. I was marked in 1954 by René de Sade, Gerard’s grandfather, but such information is rarely shared with outsiders. As such, it is my duty to see that our house treats submissives with the respect and honor they’re due. Upon my death, it is a role that your Rodney will assume. It will be his duty to stand for all of the other marked submissives in de Sade. Rodney’s wishes were ignored by the Peer Board. His wants and desires were set aside to further the political agendas of Dominants in our house. This displeases me. I trust you are equally irritated.”
John shifted slightly and tried to relax his posture in a way that he hoped was non-threatening. He’d never been a good judge of that. “Yes, ma’am.”
She scrunched up her nose briefly and to Angela, said, “You told me a bold-faced lie.”
Angela laughed. “I did no such thing.”
Isabel scoffed and accepted the glass of water she was passed. “Spencer, explain to Master John how the Courtesan Court was established and why we are here today.” She frowned at him. “And do be brief.”
The younger man offered her a beguiling and unrepentant grin before focusing on John. John merely raised an eyebrow at the very attractive young submissive and the boy blushed. “I won’t bite.”
Spencer grinned. “I know that’s not true. I read about all of your training with Lotus.” He gave a little shiver that caused the dark-headed woman named Marise to laugh. “The first Courtesan Court was established to determine the methods by which the de Sade Institute would seek to protect the submissives marked by our house. There were only four Courtesans at the time, and it was just fifteen years after our house was established. All Courtesans marked by our house may be called upon to sit in judgment of a Dom or a submissive called to trial by our House, and we may only sit in judgment uncollared. Our decisions are our own, and our Doms have absolutely no say in this. It is a responsibility we all agree to upon our acceptance of the Mark. Any submissive within de Sade may request the attention and judgment of the Courtesan Court in situations where they are being forced into a proceeding against their will. Today marks the first time that a submissive has requested the Courtesan Court and not been on trial themselves. Dame Isabel agreed to sit the Court and render judgment in your House Trial because Rodney’s wishes have been outright ignored by the Peer Board and the House Master as far as she’s concerned.”
Isabel cleared her throat when he shifted in his chair to continue. “Brief, darling.”
Spencer smiled and sat back in his chair with a little shrug.
“You’ll have to forgive him,” Isabel said. “He’s over educated himself.”
John grinned. “I’m very familiar with such.”
“As you are,” Isabel agreed. She focused on Antoine Devereaux at that point, and the man stood immediately. “The petition?” She held up a hand when the man started to speak. “No, I don’t want to hear your voice at this time.” Her gaze flicked around the room. “Kyle, retrieve the petition from Master Antoine and bring it to me.”
Kyle Napier stood from his place beside Gerard de Sade, retrieved the document Devereaux held out, and took it to Isabel Sawyer. She accepted the stack of papers from Napier with a little frown, and he just offered her a small smile before returning to his seat. She passed the petition to the blond Courtesan. “Daniel, break this down for me.”
He pulled the paperclip from the corner of the papers and set it aside before spreading out the individual pages. “If I could ask Dr. McKay some questions, we could discharge most of this immediately.”
“Very well,” Isabel agreed.
Daniel accepted a pen from Angela who took several sheets of the petition when Daniel offered them. John was reminded, in that moment, that Rampart’s wife was a lawyer. The two of them spoke in low tones for several minutes before Daniel made a face and focused on Rodney.
“Dr. McKay, has John Sheppard given you any instructions regarding your testimony today?”
“Yes,” Rodney admitted.
Daniel raised an eyebrow in surprise. “And those instructions?”
“I was ordered to make every effort not to lose my temper and to be as honest as possible no matter how my answers might impact anyone.”
“And Master John made no exceptions for himself?” Daniel asked.
“No, none at all.”
“I see.” Daniel exchanged a look with Isabel before continuing. “Were you forced or coerced in any single way to wear Colonel John Sheppard’s collar?”
“Can you explain the circumstances that led you to be collared by John Sheppard shortly after you met him?” He sighed when Rodney frowned. “Every single person in this room has been briefed regarding the Stargate program and signed a confidentiality agreement.”
“I volunteered for the Atlantis mission in Pegasus,” Rodney said. “I wanted off Earth and frankly as far from my ex-wife as I possibly could get. She’s always maintained that the last thing that she wanted was to leave Earth for the Atlantis assignment. I figured, stupidly, that she would welcome my departure from Cheyenne Mountain. We’d had a lot of professional conflict after we divorced.
“Unfortunately, I underestimated my ex-wife’s…personal ambition. She was under the impression that despite the fact that I’d removed her collar and divorced her that our relationship would resume at some point. She immediately interfered with my potential to be placed on the Atlantis mission by filing a report with the IOA stating that I was unstable and didn’t work well without being collared. Her opinion dovetailed with the opinions of a select few on the IOA council who didn’t want me to leave Earth. I was basically side-lined as a result, because I didn’t see how I was going to find a Dom with the proper security clearances to go to Atlantis with me.”
“And you wanted to go to Atlantis?”
“I wanted to go with the first expedition,” Rodney said. “While I was happy in my marriage, at the time, there was a very small part of me that regretted that I wasn’t single when the first expedition was staffed. My wife declined the offer to go for both of us, and I wasn’t consulted. I met John Sheppard the day he returned to Earth to debrief. He looked…tired and war weary. I’d learned that he’d lost his commanding officer and best friend in an invasion attempt by the Wraith just days before he returned to Earth. He requested that I escort him off base for dinner. I agreed.”
“Just like that?” Daniel questioned.
“I surprised myself to be honest. I’d had poor luck with military Doms after my divorce but he’s…beautiful.”
“Oh, I noticed,” Williams assured him.
Rodney glared at him. “Right, well, I’d heard he was a sadist but not much else regarding his dynamic. I didn’t know where he’d trained. He made it clear he supported my placement on Atlantis as Chief Scientist and that he was willing…to collar me if that was what it took to get me on the city.”
“And you were interested in that?” Danny asked, clearly skeptical.
“Well, I wasn’t particularly interested in the first situation he offered me,” Rodney allowed.
“A collar and a year of celibacy. He believed that after a year, we could remove the collar and the IOA wouldn’t be all that interested in removing me from Atlantis after I proved myself. He said that due to his position with the military that it would be unlikely that I would be able to indulge in sexual relationships on Atlantis if I were his collared submissive, so he agreed that he’d remain celibate for a year as well.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open. “I…are you fucking with me?”
“Not in about ten years,” Rodney said dryly said and grinned as Danny laughed.
“Right.” Danny exhaled and straightened his shoulders when Isabel cleared her throat. “How did you get from to a chaste collar arrangement to what you eventually agreed to?”
“I suggested we have sex,” Rodney said. “He was amendable. During negotiations in his quarters, I revealed that I was a Courtesan, but I did not share the name of my Pleasure Master. In fact, John wouldn’t find that out until we were in Quebec later that month.”
Daniel paused and set aside his pen after sharing a look with Angela. “It’s your testimony that John Sheppard was unaware of your Courtesan status until shortly before you had sex with him?”
“At the time, I was very invested in keeping my Courtesan status a secret. I’d already had several experiences where it had been used against me. I’d never exhibited at Cheyenne Mountain and my ex-wife had honored my request that my status not be revealed. At the time, I was quite shocked by the fact that she hadn’t told everyone after our divorce.”
Marise Belrose leaned forward suddenly. “You don’t say her name—your ex-wife.”
“I’ve come to realize that she doesn’t deserve for me to say her name,” Rodney responded evenly.
Marise nodded. “My apologies, Daniel, my curiosity got the better of me.”
Danny offered her a grin. “Beautiful women are always welcome to interrupt me.” He returned his attention to the petition. “And after a single night in his care, you agreed to wear John Sheppard’s collar without a contract of any sort in place?”
“You forced your ex-wife to sign a contract before you married her, Rodney,” Angela said. “I should know. I wrote it. You placed stringent limits on her ability to access your money and put several clauses in place to legally forbid her from sharing you with others without your consent.”
“I can’t explain that,” Rodney admitted. “I just…I trusted him.”
“Do you think that trust is a product of your dynamic or his?” Spencer asked. “I ask because I think the five of us rather uniquely qualified to understand your perspective on this issue, Rodney. It’s why we’re here today.”
Rodney took a deep breath. “I spent my first seven days of my third session hooded.”
All five Courtesans nodded but Spencer spoke for them. “Yes, I did as well.”
“When the hood came off, everything was vivid and new. I’d been at Gerard’s mercy during those seven days and when I surrendered myself to that final session—I felt as open and as exposed as I’d ever been emotionally. It hurt—to let go and finally accept my role in submission.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Spencer murmured.
Rodney nodded. “That first night with John, I dropped so fast into subspace it was intoxicating. The next morning…it was like I’d been hooded for years instead of just days and John had set me free.” He sat back in his chair and crossed his legs. “Accepting his collar was the easiest thing I’ve ever done and I don’t regret it.”
Danny stared for a minute, cheeks slightly flushed and focused on John. “Master John, why did you offer Dr. McKay a collar?”
“Shortly before I returned to Earth, Dr. Elizabeth Weir had a discussion with me regarding the role of Chief Scientist on Atlantis. She revealed that she’d wanted Dr. McKay from the very beginning but his wife at the time prevented it. She told me that Dr. McKay had divorced his Domme and she knew, for a fact, that he wanted to come to Atlantis. I would later find out that she’d been sent several communications by a scientist at the SGC who revealed to her how difficult McKay’s circumstances were in Cheyenne Mountain.”
“Do you know who sent those emails?” Danny asked as he made notes.
“Dr. Miko Kusanagi,” John said. “Dr. Kusanagi was very blunt in her assessment of McKay’s circumstances and her belief that he would be better served by being separated entirely from his ex-wife. Dr. Weir agreed with that whole-heartedly. I can’t say she didn’t have ulterior motivations beyond Dr. McKay’s comfort—he is after all the foremost authority on Ancient technology, and it doesn’t get more Ancient than Atlantis. Dr. Weir told me that the IOA had put some stringent conditions on the situation that made it unlikely that she’d be allowed to bring Dr. McKay to Pegasus.
“I told her that I was willing to collar Dr. McKay to bring him to Pegasus, both for his own sake and for the city. We basically came to Earth to rescue him from his ex-wife. From the moment we stepped through the gate, we started maneuvering ourselves to meet that goal. She insisted that he be included in the first meeting we had with the staff of the SGC. She ran interference with his ex-wife and General O’Neill to ensure that I could speak with McKay privately, which I did shortly after that first meeting.”
“And you offered him a chaste collar?”
“I meant it and would’ve agreed to a social contract with those conditions.”
“Before I met him, I would’ve said I was willing to make that sacrifice for Atlantis. I can’t readily explain the impact the city of the Ancients has on those of us lucky enough to live there. She’s beautiful and a technological monument to a long-dead race. Keeping my hands to myself for a year is the least of the sacrifices I would make for her.”
“Her?” Spencer questioned. “I…what do you mean, her? You speak as if she were a person.”
“Atlantis was constructed of metals that have organic compounds. All Ancient technology has these compounds, and for some of us, with the right genetics, it means we can interact with the city and Ancient technology at a mental, even empathic level. Before McKay came to the city, she was often…agitated and injured in ways we couldn’t fix. In the first few months he was in Pegasus, she calmed down and started to respond to us more quickly, perhaps even eagerly in some cases. She’s embraced us in a way that was missing when we first arrived, as if she knows that Rodney will heal her—make her whole again.”
“Wow.” Spencer took a deep breath. “That’s…pretty amazing, Colonel. You said you felt that way before you met him. What about afterward?”
“I’ve seen more than my share of combat,” John began quietly, “on and off planet. It’s my understanding the Peer Board was granted access to much of my military jacket.”
“Yes, we have all of their evidence,” Danny Williams said with a minute roll of his eyes.
“I’ve seen men and women in some of the harshest environments imaginable—living by the skin of their teeth. I expected to meet a sheltered academic, but that wasn’t what I saw when I met him.”
“What did you see?” Isabel asked quietly.
“He viewed people in the Mountain as enemies, and I can’t say that some of them weren’t. His ex-wife was engaged in a campaign of psychological warfare that would’ve eventually destroyed him. She’d preyed on his self-esteem for years, and he didn’t even recognize it. After their divorce, she made it her life goal to ruin what was left—his professional pride. It’s taken him months into our relationship to admit that she abused him physically while they were married. He’s a masochist so he doesn’t process physical pain the way others do. He never saw what she did as an unearned punishment so he didn’t equate it with abuse.
“Rodney genuinely believed she was just untrained. Even now, I think he’d have a hard time believing that she injured him on purpose and that she certainly enjoyed it. She enjoyed her little games in the Mountain after their divorce as well. She kept job offers from him, isolated him from his peers, and left him to die in the field on another planet. What did I see the first time I saw Dr. McKay? I saw a hostage. I saw a man who didn’t feel safe and probably hadn’t in years. You asked him if he’d been coerced into wearing my collar and he said no. I can’t agree.”
“How?” Angela asked, her eyes wide. “You’d never…”
“No, not me,” John said quietly. “His ex-wife. He was so invested in getting away from her and being safe that I seduced him—without even trying. He trusted in my training more than he trusted in me those first few weeks. He knew enough about Dato’ Raja and Kesakitan Pembawa to know he was safe with me. And that was enough for him, and I knew that from the start. That’s why I offered him my collar for a year, with the stipulation that we’d discuss and renegotiate our arrangement after twelve months.”
“You seduced him without even trying,” Isabel said. “You’ll have to take for granted, Master John, that I know something about the life and training of a Courtesan. You think one of us so easily seduced?”
John shifted forward in his chair slightly, the medals on his uniform glinting in the bright lights of the room and wet his bottom lip as he considered how to answer that. “Seduced, yes. Owned, no. You’ll have to take for granted that I know the difference.”
Spencer Reid grinned and propped his chin up on one hand as he stared at John. “Oh, Rodney, you lucky bastard.”
“I didn’t call you all here to flirt with him, you know,” Rodney said with a mild glare in Spencer’s direction.
“One never knows when life is going to do them a favor,” Marise said with a little grin. “Don’t be stingy, Rodney, it’s not every day one meets the Pewaris Darah.”
“Indeed,” Isabel said. “I was a witness to Dato’ Raja’s ascension to Pewaris Darah when he was just sixteen. Since he had no interest in fathering a child, I did not believe he would claim such for his house while he was House Master. I’ve heard your name over the years, Master John. I traveled once to Singapore and watched you exhibit as a student. It was I who recommended to Gerard that you be offered a place at de Sade.”
“I am honored by your attention, Dame Sawyer. At one time, I was honored to have been considered by de Sade for training.”
“But not now,” Isabel said.
“No, not now.”
“Because you believe you won’t be treated fairly?” Danny asked.
“No, because I have no place among such men as Antoine Devereaux. He’s an ignorant, badly-trained thug and a traitor to his country. There is no circumstance where I could see honor in being considered his peer. I did worry that his poor influence over the Peer Board would lead us all down a very difficult path, but Rodney appears to trust in you and in the process he requested. That is enough for me.” John glanced briefly at Devereaux and wasn’t surprised to find the man furious. “I can’t imagine I’m the only person in this room to feel that way. He used outdated rules and regulations within this house to emotionally abuse a submissive with the sole purpose of undermining the authority of the de Sade family.”
“Yes, that became clear to me immediately,” Isabel agreed. “But these charges must be dealt with within the protocols. To do otherwise, would cause speculation and damage everyone involved.” Her gaze flicked briefly to Rodney and John nodded as he grasped her meaning. “The charges of collar coercion are dismissed.” She made a note on the sheet of paper Daniel handed her and set it aside. She held up one finger when Devereaux audibly huffed and stood. “Do not make the mistake of believing that your tertiary connection to the de Sade family will keep you safe from me and the punishment I’ll have delivered on you if you speak without permission.” She lowered her hand when the Dom nodded and sat back in his chair. “Daniel, the next charge?”
Danny frowned and reached for one of the folders on the table. “We can discuss the charge of improper after-care post exhibition that was levied next.”
Angela Rampart shifted the records around in front of her when Danny pushed them her way. “Rodney, you and Master John exhibited in Cheyenne Mountain before you returned to Pegasus.” She paused and scrunched up her nose. “Do you think I could see a space ship?”
Rodney nodded. “Yeah, I think we could get you a tour of a space ship.”
“Great,” she said with a bright smile and went back to the records. “Dr. Janet Fraiser reports during the after-care assessment that John refused her the right to physically examine you. Is that true?”
“He refused her the right to touch me,” Rodney corrected. “Considering my condition at the time, I was relieved. I think most people fail to understand what subspace is for a masochist. It would’ve been precariously close to sexual abuse as far as I’m concerned. I was still aroused both mentally and emotionally. Any pain she inflicted during the exam would’ve been pleasurable and intolerable at the same time. I was relieved that John understood that. We hadn’t discussed it beforehand because it had been so long since I’d been in such a position that it didn’t cross my mind. Having any physical contact with her could’ve also cut my rush and there was no need for that either.”
“No, agreed,” Angela said and frowned. “There are several scans done here with equipment I don’t understand. You had no injuries or broken skin after the exhibition. I don’t understand. Why did you have to have an exam by a doctor?”
“Military environments are stricter and more controlled—both the SGC and Atlantis have rules regarding exhibitions, after care, and hard play. Due to my status as a masochist, I’m given a monthly health exam. I had them when I was married as well which is probably noted in my file,” Rodney explained.
“Yes,” Angela agreed. “You were treated for an accidental injury on Atlantis.” She looked up and raised an eyebrow. “An injury that John reported to a Dr. Carson Beckett as being his doing. Can you explain?”
“I…” Rodney shook his head. “I prefer not to answer that question.”
Angela raised an eyebrow, exchanged a look with Isabel and focused on John. “Would you care to explain, John?”
“I bit him and broke skin,” John said plainly. “I sent him to the infirmary for healing and an antibiotic shot just in case. We live in an alien environment and I didn’t want to risk him getting an infection due to the bite.”
“And this was an accident?” Danny asked. “You’ve been trained extensively in pleasure biting if your records for Lotus are to be believed.”
“He was fucking me,” John said and shrugged at the looks he received. “He’s extremely good at it.”
“Oh, I know,” Danny assured, and grinned when John frowned. He handed a sheet of paper to Isabel. “Rodney, has Master John knowingly or unknowingly exceeded your pain tolerance and made you suffer in ways you could not enjoy?”
“Has he broken your skin, made you bleed?”
“Has he left bruises on you?”
“Has he punished you?”
“Yes, once.” Rodney blushed brightly.
Danny paused and raised an eyebrow. “What did you do to earn discipline?”
“I overworked myself and forgot to eat. I have a few medical conditions and as a result of those and my failure to eat, I made myself quite ill. John had spent the day on maneuvers with his men and didn’t realize I was ill until he was called to the base hospital. We spent the night in the infirmary and once I recovered—I was punished.”
“What was his reasoning?” Danny prodded.
“He said he would tolerate a great many things from me but one thing he would never tolerate was self-abuse.” Rodney lowered his gaze.
“Was the punishment effective?”
“His disappointment in me was more effective, to be honest. Even in a chastity device, pain isn’t punitive with me. I didn’t enjoy it, but it wasn’t physically traumatic either. It hurt—emotionally to have disappointed and worried him over something I should have been able to do. I’m not a child—eating on a schedule isn’t exactly rocket science.”
“Has he refused to, at any point, have you treated by medical personnel for an injury?”
“No, he’s hyper vigilant about after care,” Rodney admitted. “To the point that on several occasions he’s pulled me completely out of subspace when I would’ve preferred the opposite.”
Spencer made a face. “I know exactly what you mean. Has Master John abused you emotionally or physically during the course of your relationship?”
“No, of course not. His training and mental conditioning simply doesn’t allow that sort of thing.” Rodney paused when Spencer looked confused. “Kesakitan Pembawa doesn’t tolerate such behavior from the Doms marked by their house. Those who can’t meet that standard of behavior don’t live long enough to be marked, Spencer. Gerard told me long ago that if I wanted to play hard and safe that my only true refuge would be a Dom from Kesakitan Pembawa or de Sade—specifically the Quebec branch. He all but ordered me to never submit to a de Sade Dom trained in New York. I took his words to heart. He was trained by Dato’ Raja himself, and I trusted that he knew exactly what sort of Dom was marked by Kesakitan Pembawa. John was right about that—I trusted his training more than him at first, but frankly, that was more than I’d had in a long time. I can count on one hand the number of Dominants who’ve truly understood how to handle my masochism.”
“And they were?” Spencer asked.
“Gerard de Sade, Thomas Grant, Marshall Sumner, and John Sheppard.” Rodney glanced towards Heather Kessler in that moment where she sat with the rest of the Peer Board. “Lady Heather handled me during my seclusion in Quebec and it was an amazing experience, but she didn’t invest in me emotionally. That wasn’t her purpose and I didn’t expect it but it makes a difference.”
“Yes,” Danny said quietly. “It really does.” He handed another piece of paper to Isabel.
Isabel made a note on it and placed it in her pile. “The charge of refusing after care and medical treatment is dismissed. Daniel?”
“Yes, the two final charges are abuse and purposeful endangerment of his collared submissive with the intent to damage, maim, or murder.” Danny cleared his throat. “The Peer Board has asserted that Colonel Sheppard is directly responsible for injuries Dr. McKay suffered during the course of his job and as such should be sanctioned for it. I find this an extremely dangerous precedent to set. Master Antoine insisted on these charges specifically with the Board.”
“Master Antoine, is it your position that Colonel Sheppard shouldn’t have allowed his collared submissive to have a dangerous job?” Spencer questioned.
Devereaux stood. “Sheppard collared a Courtesan, of course he shouldn’t have allowed Rodney to be placed in dangerous situations. He shouldn’t have taken him off the planet or into a warzone at all.”
Spencer’s gaze narrowed. “And if Dr. McKay were not a Courtesan? What if he’d only had a single session with us? Would that make a difference to you?”
“de Sade invested a great deal of time and money into Rodney’s training. It can’t be overlooked that he’s more valuable as a result. If Sheppard had been trained by de Sade, he’d know that and he would’ve never allowed Rodney to be potentially damaged or injured. It lowers his value.”
“Lowers his value,” Spencer repeated. “Like an expensive toy that you keep on a shelf until you’re in the mood to fuck it?”
Devereaux flushed. “No, I mean that’s not…”
“That’s exactly what you meant,” Spencer snapped, his cheeks flushing with anger.
“You’re a terribly young man,” Devereaux began gently, “I can’t expect you to understand the kind of danger…”
“I’m thirty years old,” Spencer returned evenly. “And I’ve been an agent with the FBI for nine years. I shot a man in the head in the defense of my Master. I assure you that I understand more about the dangers Dr. McKay might face as the collared submissive of a heavy combat asset than you ever will.”
“FBI?” Devereaux questioned. “But you’re…”
“Too delicate?” Danny asked.
“Too fuckable?” Angela questioned.
“Often, men like him just think I’m too pretty for it,” Spencer said evenly. “Sit down. Every time you open your mouth something foul comes out of it. I’ve frankly encountered serial killers with better manners.” Antoine opened his mouth and Spencer glared. “I’m perfectly capable of shooting you in the head, too.”
Devereaux flushed, clenched his jaw and sat down.
Isabel focused on John then. “I’d like to speak with you about Jared and Scott Holland.”
His gut tightened but he nodded. Philippe’s hand covered his in that moment and he realized he’d made a fist. John relaxed his fingers, and his Pleasure Master cleared his throat.
“You may speak Master Philippe,” Isabel said dryly. “I commend you for your restraint. You were always such a talkative lad.”
Philippe flushed. “Family trait, I’m afraid. While I have no room to protest your questioning of John regarding the situation with Scott Holland, due his actions against Dr. McKay, it would be my preference that you limit the questions you ask about Jared.”
“You’re confusing me with your own grandmother, sweetheart. I’m the nice one,” Isabel said and Philippe grinned as he regained his seat. She focused on John. “When did you realize that Scott Holland harbored what you later reported to be inappropriate feelings for you?”
“He made an appointment to meet with me shortly before he was to transfer back to the Daedalus. He wanted to stay on the city, but I knew that his short stay had been stressful for my officers, and that his presence made Rodney uncomfortable. Rodney told me that Scott was a problem, and I’m ashamed to say that I dismissed his concerns. Scott was…the first time I met Scott Holland he was just twelve years old. He was a charming child—well-spoken and respectful. He grew up, of course, but I always saw him as that child. It wasn’t until he came to my office that final time that I realized his feelings were more than just transference.”
“Transference?” Spencer asked and frowned. “In what way?”
“Some submissives in the military develop inappropriate feelings towards higher ranking officers because they don’t always disconnect the duties of command with dominance. There are Dominants in uniform who enjoy that kind of mentality and actively encourage it. I don’t and I never have. Scott was stationed on the Daedalus and under the direct command of Colonel Steven Caldwell. He’s an Air Force man and trained at La Petite Mort. He’s by no means easy going but he’s wears his rank first and his dynamic second.”
“And you present your dynamic first?” Spencer questioned.
“Yes, you could say that. I enjoy being on top in most situations, and in that respect, I’ve thrived in the Marine Corps.” He paused when the younger man just grinned. “That has, at times, created situations where men under my command developed feelings for me that weren’t appropriate for the situation. It happened more after I was widowed. There are policies in place to deal with it if the Dom isn’t willing to indulge the crush. Scott wasn’t in my command and had been ordered back to the Daedalus. I’d made it clear to Caldwell that Scott was to transfer off the city as soon as humanly possible. I’d also resolved to file a report with the SGC concerning his behavior in the hopes that it would get him transferred off the ship and into another assignment as I didn’t want him returning to the city in the future. He was not aware of this. I ordered Scott off the city, and I considered the matter finished. It was arrogant and I paid for it.”
Isabel reached out and grabbed a file from a stack in front of her and opened it. “I’d like to speak with Major Evan Lorne, United States Air Force.”
Evan Lorne stood from his place in the gallery behind John and pushed through the short doors that separated the two spaces. Like all of other military personnel in the room, he was in dress uniform. John had to admit the dress blues didn’t hurt the man’s looks at all. He took a seat in the chair reserved for witnesses and focused his attention on Isabel Sawyer.
“You are second in command of military contingent on Atlantis, correct?”
“I am, yes,” Evan agreed.
“Master John has called his assumption that he would be obeyed…arrogant. What’s your assessment of that situation?”
“My answer is complicated,” Evan admitted and smiled when she laughed. “Disagreeing with your CO in public can have consequences. Before going to Atlantis, I served in Cheyenne Mountain. Officers like Sheppard are a breed apart and he does inspire a rare and coveted level of respect. The Marines call him Alpha One in their communications. I was at a loss the first time I witnessed it as I’d never heard an officer referred to in that manner. I would later learn he earned that particular distinction during an invasion of the city in the first eight months of the expedition. His own CO at the time, Colonel Marshall Sumner, referred to him in that manner in several reports and communications.
“A fellow officer once said to me that the Marines in the Mountain thought Sheppard was Jesus—not actually the Son of God but certainly sort of like the Second Coming. At the time, it was amusing, but in retrospect, it was an accurate assessment of the way the men under his command treat him. He ordered Scott Holland off the city and absolutely no experience in his career prepared him for disobedience. He’s served in combat positions—one after another since he put on a uniform. The kind of leadership he provides in such situations doesn’t breed contempt or the opportunity for insubordination. I’d hazard a guess and say he’s never had to even discipline a sub for outright disobedience in private either.”
“Did you believe Scott Holland was a threat to Dr. McKay?”
“Not physically, but I’d been briefed on Scott’s behavior and considered him a potential problem. Holland seemed personally invested in finding fault with Sheppard’s relationship with Dr. McKay and had foolishly made no secret of this among the enlisted men. His actions the day he died were not on par with his personality assessment or behavioral reviews. He’d never even seen combat as a pilot much less in a more physical setting. He’d never faced any sort of disciplinary action while serving in the Air Force. There were no notations regarding physical punishments, no citations, and no remarks regarding insubordination. While we allow physical discipline in lieu of formal reprimands in the military service, we do keep a record of how and why a man or woman is disciplined. It’s important in case there is a pattern of behavior that needs to be corrected.”
“What do you believe Scott Holland’s motivations were?” Isabel asked.
“I’ve reviewed the flight data,” Evan began, “and he obviously wanted to punish Colonel Sheppard for his rejection, but more importantly, I think we need to acknowledge that the kid had some sort of psychotic break. It’s really the only explanation for his death wish.”
“Death wish?” Spencer questioned. “I’ve reviewed the flight data as well, Master Evan. It appeared that he planned to kill Dr. McKay, not that he was suicidal.”
“You called Colonel Sheppard a heavy combat asset earlier. Do you fully understand what that means?”
Spencer paused then shook his head. “That’s how he’s referred to in his file. I’ve made some assumptions but I’d be interested in knowing what it means to you.”
“Technically, it means that Colonel Sheppard has over one hundred confirmed enemy kills. For a pilot, such a distinction is ambiguous, but the Colonel is Special Forces and there is nothing ambiguous about his war record. Scott Holland was a dead man the moment he laid hands on Dr. McKay, and he had to know it.” Evan’s gaze flicked briefly to Devereaux before he refocused his attention on Isabel Sawyer.
“And Dr. McKay’s kidnapping? Could that have been prevented?”
“Had we known Scott Holland was a threat, we could’ve put him under guard during his transfer back to the Daedalus. As for McKay being kidnapped, it’s hardly the first time.” He shrugged when Rodney glared at him. “He’s a peerless military asset. At one time, there were ten different planets in the Milky Way who had a vested interest in securing him, and during missions, he was taken hostage several times. I personally rescued him from four different off-world prisons in the last three years. He was also taken off the street in Colorado Springs shortly before he married, and we came precariously close to declaring war on North Korea to get him back.
“His threat assessment on Earth is four times higher than it is on Atlantis, and that is after the Pentagon lowered it by half when Colonel Sheppard collared him. You don’t pick a fight with a one-man war if you can help it, and most anyone who has been fully briefed on Dr. McKay’s potential and collar status knows that well enough.”
“So, you’re saying it’s simply not safe to be Dr. McKay,” Isabel said dryly.
“Some might say he’s too smart for his own good,” Evan said. “But we’re all alive here today because of him. There are a select few people at the SGC who can say they literally saved the planet. Dr. McKay is one of them. Twice, in fact, he was instrumental in stopping events that could’ve led to the extinction of life on Earth. Keeping him and people like him safe is one of the mandates of Stargate Command.”
“And do you think the SGC has done a good job at that?” Spencer asked curiously. “We know scientists have died on Atlantis.”
“There have been two combat-related deaths on Atlantis involving civilian scientists,” Evan allowed. “And ten over all throughout the SGC in the last ten years. Is that number acceptable? No, but control is an illusion, and life is chaos. You do the best you can, and at the end of the day, that has to be enough, otherwise you’d drive yourself insane.”
“But many more died on Atlantis in accidents,” Danny pointed out.
“They’re exploring and working in an alien environment with technology so advanced that it can at times be baffling. Yes, Atlantis is beautiful, but she’s also dangerous and cruel. We all take risks but the reward is the survival of our species, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our mission will be remembered and honored by those of us who remain.”
Danny nodded. “You recently collared a submissive.”
Evan raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I did.”
“You seem surprised,” Marise said amused. “A Geisha knelt for you, Evan, such news traveled far and wide despite your isolation from us. Your Matthew has a dangerous job. How do you feel about that?”
“We both have dangerous jobs,” Evan allowed. “His makes him happy, and that is my concern. I have made no effort, and will make no effort, to interfere in his career. He has no interest in living as a pet, and I respect that. We are responsible to and for each other. I trust that he will take care of himself in the field.”
“And you don’t believe that your responsibility to him extends to protecting him?” Spencer questioned.
“Protecting him? Yes. But there is a fine line between offering someone shelter and smothering them. I trust him to take care of himself when I’m not with him.” Evan grinned then. “I’m actually pretty sure he could kick my ass.”
“Adds a little spice, doesn’t it?” Isabel asked but just smiled when he raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you believe Colonel Sheppard is responsible for Dr. McKay’s kidnapping?”
“Why?” she questioned.
“Because if that were the case, I’d have to take some responsibility myself. We were both on duty and a man in uniform nearly murdered a civilian on our watch. Scott Holland used our protocols and procedures against us, and the results were not what anyone would’ve wanted. Granted, it could’ve been far worse. We were lucky to only lose a piece of equipment and Holland himself.”
Devereaux stood, and Isabel made a face that spoke to her displeasure. “Master Antoine, are you under the impression that you have some role in this inquiry?”
“I initiated this House Trial, it’s my right to prosecute it.”
“I find your ignorance insulting,” Isabel said. “What you did, you fool, is use a Courtesan and the social protocols of our house in order to avenge yourself on Gerard de Sade because you’re jealous and inferior. More so, you seem to be entirely ignorant of what is going on in this very moment. This is not a House Trial. This is an inquiry into the events that led us here, and once I finish your ridiculous petition, I’m going to start questioning you.”
“I’ve done nothing but act in the best interest of a vulnerable and endangered member of our house,” Antoine protested.
“Bullshite,” Isabel snapped. “Daniel, your opinion on the charge of purposeful endangerment of a collared submissive with the intent to damage, maim or murder?”
“I think that this charge would set a bad precedent,” Danny said. “Some jobs are dangerous and we can’t add stress to those situations. It splits focus, causes injury and even death. I’ve been a cop since I was eighteen and nothing about my job would be my Dom’s concern if I were collared. Even if he were on the job with me, he’d have no way of controlling how bad a situation could get. We can’t put this kind of responsibility on a Dominant, nor can we set a precedent where a Dom could be punished for injury caused during the course of their submissive doing their job.”
Isabel nodded and took the petition sheet Danny when he offered it. “The charge of the purposeful endangerment of a collared submissive with the intent to damage, maim or murder is dismissed with prejudice. Kyle, you’ll draft a protocol outlining how such a charge may handed down by the Peer Board in future circumstances.”
Kyle nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
It just left the abuse charge. John relaxed a little more. He knew he wasn’t guilty, and also that no reasonable evidence could be presented to say otherwise.
“Master Evan, thank you for your time.” Isabel Sawyer stacked all the papers together as Evan left the witness chair and gathered the files as well before she focused on Rodney. “I find myself in a difficult position, Rodney.”
“Yes,” Rodney agreed. “But I hope you and I can both agree that it has nothing to do with John.”
“We do agree,” Isabel said. “But your history on this subject means I cannot accept your word on this. You allowed the woman you married to abuse you. You hid that abuse. You refused to see her formally punished for that abuse. You ignored all the avenues available to you to stop what was going on. I believe some part of you thinks that you’re responsible for her behavior and that is atrocious. Thomas assures me that you’ve made great progress in the time he’s been seeing you as a patient. You are special, Rodney, and when you allow someone to abuse your trust—you do us all harm. One day you will stand in my place as the representative of all the submissives in our house. They will look to you for guidance and to set an example by which they lead their own lives. You allowed your pride and no small amount of vanity to interfere in your health and mental well-being.”
“I can’t deny any of that,” Rodney agreed. “Hindsight is never kind.”
“No, it’s not,” Isabel said. “It’s terrible actually. I fell in love once—foolishly and hopelessly in love with someone who was never going to be what I needed. I suffered for it emotionally, allowed myself to be trapped in that love until I nearly suffocated. Looking back on it, I can pinpoint each and every bad decision I made that led me to heartbreak. Can you say the same?”
She nodded. “Very well. Dr. Kusanagi, if you are willing, I’d like to speak with you regarding your observations.”
Miko stood and Patrick Sheppard stood with her, he opened the gate for her and escorted her to the witness chair and returned to his own seat without a word. “I will speak with the Courtesan Court, Dame Sawyer. It is my preference that no one else asks me any questions. I am courting, and speaking with Dominants outside of my family or during the course of my job is heavily frowned upon.”
“Your will be done,” Isabel said with a nod.
Miko started to speak but then pulled a phone from the pocket of her elegantly cut red suit. She frowned at the screen and exhaled sharply. “I find myself less and less inclined to entertain stupidity.” She thumbed over the screen for several seconds, made a face, turned the phone off and dropped it in her pocket. “There are a lot of dumb people on this planet and I know far too many of them.”
Danny Williams snorted and grinned when Miko raised an eyebrow at him.
“You sent several emails to Dr. Elizabeth Weir regarding Dr. McKay and his situation in Cheyenne Mountain. Why?”
“I trusted her, and I knew she would handle the situation in such a way that Colonel Carter would not be able to interfere. Also, she was in a position to gauge whether or not Colonel Sheppard was in a place to play the hero in my plan.”
Isabel nodded. “How far did you plan?”
“Well, I haven’t decided on the colors for their commitment ceremony,” Miko allowed. “But I am considering silver and blue as the Colonel appears fond of sapphires and platinum. My actions may appear underhanded, but Dr. McKay was, at the time, my only family. The way he was treated in the Mountain made me furious. It was either play matchmaker or enlist a few Marines in hiding Samantha Carter’s body. I considered giving her the opportunity to insult me so that I could have her punished by Lotus. It wouldn’t have taken much because she’s an arrogant twat and I’m smarter than her. She hates that and she hates me, but not as much as she came to hate Rodney.
“Beautiful women get away with a lot,” Miko said then. “I should know—I’ve always gotten away with a lot; both with superiors on the job and with my late Dom. He indulged me foolishly, allowed me to run roughshod over his household and his two wives. They hated me, too, but I learned valuable lessons in that household. Sam Carter didn’t hold a candle to two Dragon Geisha. Every single time she mistreated Rodney in my presence, I went out of my way to embarrass and insult her.” She leaned forward. “Once I made her so mad, I was so certain she was going to hit me.” She huffed and sat back in her chair. “But she got a hold of herself and left the room. It was quite disappointing and I had to content myself with just fantasizing about her beheading for several weeks afterward.”
Isabel looked at her, clearly amused. “Why didn’t you approach someone in the SGC regarding Dr. McKay’s situation?”
“I considered it. I know that General O’Neill would’ve listened to me. He always took my concerns very seriously and offered me his personal protection while I worked in the Mountain. I’m also very fond of his submissive. But I knew nothing of Dr. McKay’s private relationship with his wife until after we were on Atlantis. I thought she was just a bitter ex-wife with an axe to grind. If I’d known what she’d done, I would have gone to Gerard de Sade myself. It would’ve probably destroyed my friendship with Rodney but I would’ve made that sacrifice to keep him safe. I still don’t know all the details because he doesn’t speak of it often or explicitly. I’ve made a few educated guesses and if half of what I suspect is true, then she’s fortunate that I no longer work in the same facility with her, because she would eventually meet her end in a lab accident.” She sat back in her chair, drew a black silk fan out of her inner jacket pocket and flicked it open with a little twitch of her wrist. “It’s rather warm in here, isn’t it?”
“Would you like some water?” Danny asked, half rising out of his chair even if he asked the question.
“No, but thank you,” Miko murmured as she fanned herself. “I’d like to speak about Kara Summers.”
“Of course,” Isabel agreed.
“Her overt and inappropriate interest in Rodney was obvious from the moment she stepped onto the city. She tried for months to get his attention academically while she was still on Earth, before and after he was collared. Though her efforts grew more ardent after John collared him. Perhaps because it had become public knowledge that he was Gerard’s North Star. Regardless, she submitted several proposals and eventually found a concept regarding the Stargate that he found interesting enough.” Miko’s gaze flicked briefly to Summers who’d been brought into the room by Jack O’Neill shortly after John had taken in his seat. She was handcuffed to the chair she sat in and wearing a ball gag. John didn’t even want to know what she’d said that had made O’Neill gag her.
“She was, from the start, disrespectful and often ignored the hierarchy Rodney had established in the Science Department. I was her direct supervisor but she repeatedly went around me to speak with him regarding assignments, ideas and projects. It was obvious that she wanted his attention professionally and privately. She made the mistake, however, of insulting Colonel Sheppard in front of Rodney. She treated him like he was intellectually inferior because he’s in the military. It upset her a lot when she found out that his academic achievements rival her own. Though honestly, it’s not every day you run across a Marine Colonel with a PhD in Mathematics. He’s quite gifted. She wasn’t prepared for that.”
Spencer hummed under his breath. “She thought she could…what? Entice Rodney into a relationship through shared academic interests?”
“I suppose so, and she had every reason to think she might have been successful considering the fact that Rodney married a fairly intelligent woman.” Miko wrinkled her nose up in obvious distaste. “I suppose Summers and Carter are about equal on that front, though Carter thinks quicker on her feet which is where her real value to the SGC comes into play. For all of her faults, personal and professional, she’s extremely good in the field as a scientist. But back to Summers, after she insulted John, Rodney became very impatient with her both professionally and personally. He barely tolerated her being in the same room with him at all and referred all of her questions and proposals back to me without even reading them.
“Eventually, during a mission off world, she actually asked the Colonel if she could have Rodney. Of course, he said no. Any Dom on the city who was even briefly under the impression that their relationship was open to such things, learned differently that day.”
“What happened?” Spencer asked.
“Summers tried to…dominate Rodney in a professional situation since John wasn’t going to allow her to see Rodney privately.” Miko pursed her lips. “Needless to say, that did not go well for Summers. John returned the favor.”
“Returned the favor?” Isabel said. “How?”
“He put her on her knees in the middle of the mess hall in front of more than half the city’s population. She cried like a child.” Miko flicked her fan. “It certainly put her in her place, at least for a while. She tried to file a complaint with Dr. Weir to undermine Rodney’s authority, but Weir all but told Summers to kiss her ass. Then the Colonel and Rodney exhibited on the city for the first time.”
Isabel shifted slightly in her seat. “Yes, we reviewed the footage with Dr. McKay’s permission. You were there?”
“Yes. It was an interesting experience actually. I’ve seen them perform for an audience three times. Once at the SGC, once on the Daedalus, and finally on the city. Of course, the experience on the Daedalus was a little more intimate. There is a playroom on the ship with an observation deck—I was in a private room when they played. It was the first time I came to realize the depth of John’s sadism.”
“Did it concern you? What you saw in the playroom?” Marise questioned.
“Not at all,” Miko said. “Their dynamic mesh is to be envied. John is very talented and well trained. His sadism is extreme—by anyone’s measure—but I don’t worry that he’ll lose control of himself. If he had issues with such things, Antoine Devereaux would already be dead.”
“Dr. Summers cited the exhibition on the city as an example of the abuse she felt Rodney was suffering in Master John’s care,” Marise said. “It’s obvious you don’t agree.”
Miko smirked then. “Many in the audience came when John did…myself included. I haven’t had such an experience since I was in training. But then voyeurism has always been my single biggest kink.”
“It was quite exciting,” Angela said. “Why do you suppose Dr. Summers reacted so negatively to it?”
“Perhaps the blood put her off, but I’m more inclined to think she was just jealous. Rodney has a very forceful personality professionally. He’s arrogant, rude, and difficult to work with—when he likes you. He’s twice all of that if he hates you. To see someone with such a vivid and dominant professional demeanor submit entirely to another person was very moving and shocking. But they were like that from the beginning. I think there are many Doms in the Mountain who regret not pursuing Rodney’s attention when they could. Most of them were either intimidated by Carter or afraid of offending McKay, which would’ve earned them O’Neill’s wrath. He made it clear after the first incident with General Jordan that not a single Dominant in uniform was to pursue Rodney without an invitation.”
Miko smiled prettily and flicked her fan a little in amusement. “John didn’t get that memo, which is fortunate all around. Engineering Rodney’s intergalactic rescue would’ve certainly been more difficult if General O’Neill had been cock blocking me.”
“You need a spanking,” Rodney said.
“You have no idea,” Miko responded and just shrugged when McKay glared at her. “Don’t be mean to me, Rodney, just think about all the cock you’d have missed out on if it weren’t for me.”
Isabel watched them for a moment before returning her attention entirely on Miko. “I have to ask this, and I hope you understand why. Do you believe that Dr. Rodney McKay has been or will be abused in Colonel John Sheppard’s care?”
“No, I don’t see a single circumstance where John would abuse anyone in his care either mentally or physically.”
Devereaux stood and spoke before Isabel even focused on him entirely. “She’s been adopted into the Sheppard family through Lotus. We can’t take her word for this.”
Miko’s fan snapped shut in the silence that followed his outburst. She glared at Isabel Sawyer. “Leash and silence this thug, Dame Isabel, before I take official offense.”
Isabel put one hand on the table in front of her as color fell out of her face. “Master Antoine, did you just call a Red Petal Geisha a liar in a formal proceeding?”
Devereaux frowned. “No matter her status in Lotus, she’s a member of the Sheppard family and can’t be counted on to be honest today. I’ve seen the exhibition footage as well, and it was in my opinion extremely abusive. Dr. McKay is clearly abnormal and requires treatment and retraining. He’s a Courtesan, and Sheppard should’ve never indulged such base and perverted desires.”
Isabel huffed, closed her eyes briefly, and sat back in her chair. “For fuck’s sake.”
Isabel turned to Miko. “You have my word that he will be thoroughly disciplined for insulting you, but no one at de Sade will hold it against you if you wish to file formal charges with Lotus.”
Miko glared at Devereaux and relaxed in her chair. She flicked open her fan again and fanned her face, her dark eyes glittering with fury. “I find it intolerable and appalling that one such as him has gained a high rank in the de Sade Institute. I wonder how many he’s corrupted in his tenure during the time he was House Master of the New York branch of de Sade.”
John didn’t even want to hazard a guess as to how many Dominants had come out of New York de Sade in the years that Devereaux had been an instructor at the branch, much less since he’d become the Master of the branch.
“You can’t have me disciplined for pointing out the obvious,” Devereaux protested.
Miko stood and John fought the urge to stand with her. She closed her fan with exaggerated care. “I’m finished with this.” She focused on Kyle Napier, who had stood. “You’ll hear from Lotus within the next twenty-four hours with my terms.”
Kyle took a deep breath and nodded. “Of course, Dr. Kusanagi, and on behalf of de Sade, I offer you my own apologies.”
“Your apologies, such as they are, are accepted,” Miko said coolly. She walked across the space to the gates, and Patrick Sheppard retrieved her.
John didn’t have to look at either Matt or Jonah to know that they were both incensed. His own anger was making his stomach hurt. To offer a Geisha such an insult in a formal hearing was beyond the pale. They were known for their grace, beauty and integrity.
“The charge of the willful abuse of a collared submissive is found to have no merit,” Isabel said after a long, tense silence. “The petition to hold John Sheppard for House Trial is hereby dismissed. Master John, on behalf of the de Sade Institute, I apologize for the intrusion on your life and privacy.” She turned to Rodney. “I would like to speak with you privately, Rodney. I’ll come to you in Virginia within the next forty-eight hours.”
“Yes, of course,” Rodney agreed and stood. The Courtesan Court stood as well. “Thank you all for your time and attention today.”
Isabel raised an eyebrow at him.
Rodney huffed. “I’ve filed a few law suits. Anyone wishing to settle their debt with me, may make a donation to the de Sade Submissive Education Scholarship fund that equals no less than ten percent of their annual income.”
“Thank you, Rodney,” she said with a little smile before she turned to Antoine Devereaux. “Now, we can discuss you.”
“Fuck you,” Devereaux snapped.
John would admit that he didn’t even attempt to refrain from responding. He was across the small aisle separating them in seconds. He slammed Devereaux into the table face first. Blood sprayed out from his nose and mouth.
“Congratulations, you ignorant bastard, you’ve completely exhausted my ability to be civil,” John snapped.
Devereux sputtered around a mouthful of blood and gagged.
Isabel sighed and turned to Angela Rampart. “I’m sorry, dear, you’re absolutely right. He’s a very sweet boy.”
John’s mouth dropped open and he turned his head to stare at them both in shock. “Boy?”
Rodney laughed and wrapped a hand around John’s wrist. “Let him go before he gets you dirty. You look hot in this uniform. His blood would ruin it for me forever.”
John huffed but he released Devereaux.
Kyle Napier hauled Devereaux up from the table with a wry grin in John’s direction. “If it makes you feel better, I don’t think you’re a sweet boy.”
“Don’t pick a fight with him, Kyle,” Rodney said. “I don’t want your blood on his uniform either.”
John let himself be moved into the audience section of the courtroom and put on a bench beside his father. Patrick just sent him a look and sighed.
John shrugged. “Don’t be jealous because you didn’t get to do it.”
“I am,” Evan admitted. “Jealous, I mean.”
John offered his XO a grin before focusing his attention on the front of the room where Devereaux had been placed in the witness chair. The man’s face was a mess and blood was streaming down his chin and dripping onto his once-pristine white shirt.
“I was going to question you,” Isabel said. “I wanted to understand your motivations and perhaps see if you could be made to see reason. I wanted to see if you could be fixed. Now, I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, you abused a Courtesan in an effort to further yourself socially and financially. Thomas reported that this entire process has unduly stressed Dr. McKay and constitutes emotional abuse. It is a betrayal on par with the act of treason you’ve committed against your country, Mr. Devereaux, as far as I’m concerned.” She turned to Kyle. “I order he receive fifty lashes for his disrespect of Miko Kusanagi. Then he is to be stripped of his Master mark and turned over to the governmental authority that deals with such things as treason. Am I understood?”
Kyle inclined his head. “Your will be done, Grandmother.”
She focused on Gerard who stared back at her with dark eyes. “Gerard, the New York branch does not serve our house. It is corrupt and without any redeeming value.”
“I agree, Dame Isabel.”
“Kyle, do you agree?”
“Very well. It is the judgment of the Courtesan Court that the New York Branch of de Sade will close permanently. Any Dom or submissive trained in this facility in the last ten years will have twenty-four months to report to Quebec for an evaluation and possible retraining.” Isabel turned to look directly at John. “Would you like to handle his discipline, Colonel Sheppard? I believe under the circumstances, no one would disagree with your doing it.”
John stood. “I must decline, Dame Sawyer. It wouldn’t do for anyone in this room to give me the opportunity to kill him. As I said, I’ve reached the end of my patience where he is concerned.”
Isabel nodded. “Very well. Gerard, let’s get his face looked at then you’ll discipline him on my behalf. Randolph, I trust you know where he should go regarding any pending charges from your government?”
“Yes, Dame Sawyer.”
She frowned and turned to stare at the back of the room to John’s left. He knew that was where the officers from the SGC were seated—including Sam Carter, whom he hadn’t allowed himself to look at.
“Dame Sawyer,” Jack O’Neill returned in greeting.
“I find the situation that Rodney suffered in while under your supervision horrific—before and after his divorce. However, he confessed to me that he never once approached you with his concerns or problems. What is the punishment for refusing to remove a submissive’s collar?”
“If I’d been told, she would’ve faced court-martial. It is unlikely that she would’ve served a prison sentence due to her rank and military record, which is full of commendations for bravery and courage under fire. She, like McKay, saved the planet, and it would’ve played in her favor. She’d have probably gotten the standard disciplinary action from the Department of Justice, which is fifty lashes with a cane and a permanent reduction in rank.”
“And you know why Rodney has refused to go that route now?”
“Yes, and unfortunately I can’t say I disagree with him. The current climate certainly wouldn’t allow for it, but things change and sometimes change rapidly. I can’t promise that it wouldn’t come back to bite both McKay and Sheppard at some point in the future. If his Dom wasn’t a career military officer, it would be a different conversation.”
She nodded thoughtfully and stared pointedly at Carter until the woman stood. “They tell me you’re a very intelligent, if cruel, woman. Even the President of the United States has made such a claim regarding your intelligence. Personally, I think you’re extremely stupid. After all, you never made any effort whatsoever to see yourself trained socially. I happen to agree with Master John—you enjoyed the physical abuse you heaped on your husband. You are unsafe. You shouldn’t think for a single moment that Rodney is protecting you by refusing to file charges. He’s protecting his Dom. It’s why I’m here—why he requested the Courtesan Court and risked his own Mark. Every single request he made to me and to the Courtesan Court was an effort to protect John Sheppard.”
John’s stomach clenched in horror and McKay just squeezed his wrist gently.
“The Mark of a Courtesan can only be ordered removed by the Courtesan Court, and if Rodney had been found to be at fault for this situation, the loss of his Mark would’ve been the least of his punishments.” She paused and let that settle on Carter. “I was told that even after Colonel Sheppard collared Rodney that you harbored some belief that your relationship wasn’t over. Let me be clear, your relationship with Dr. McKay is over, and if you ever lay hands on another submissive trained by de Sade again, no amount of heroics will keep you safe from me. Understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Carter answered.
“Good.” Isabel returned her attention to O’Neill. “I understand you have several off-world bases. Perhaps you could send her to one. She’s fouling my air.”
O’Neill inclined his head. “Your will be done.”
She huffed and frowned. “Your father was disgustingly attractive, too. It’s extremely disturbing how difficult it is to be angry with you.”
Shouting from the front of the room prevented O’Neill from responding. Devereaux shoved one of the medics working on his face away and threw himself at Isabel Sawyer. Several people reacted immediately, John among them. Devereaux slammed the older woman to the floor and there was a brief struggle before John dragged the Dom off of her by his hair. Sheppard broke his neck on pure reflex and shoved the body out of his way.
Devereaux hit the floor in a heavy thud in the silence that followed.
Kyle Napier helped his grandmother up with gentle hands, trying to check her for injury even as she batted his hands away in fury.
“Kyle! I’m old not made of bloody glass!” She huffed and poked him away with one finger before looking at Devereaux’s body. “Well.”
“My apologies,” John stated stiffly. “He was a threat.”
“Heavy combat asset,” Isabel said.
“Something like that,” John agreed.
She started to say more but frowned and looked down. The side of her dress darkened and a trail of blood ran down her leg. John pulled a radio from his pocket, activated it, and shoved it in his ear before sweeping Isabel Sawyer up in his arms. “Daedalus. Emergency medical transport.” They both disappeared in a flash of beaming technology.
John shrugged out of his jacket as he left the infirmary at the SGC, and wasn’t surprised to find a crowd of people who had no business being in Cheyenne Mountain gathered in the small waiting area.
“How is she?” Kyle Napier demanded.
“They repaired her kidney with the Goa’uld healing device, and she’s already awake. Fraiser said it looked like she’d been stabbed with a six-inch blade.”
“He had a knife strapped to the inside of his wrist. The damn thing was spring-loaded,” Evan explained. “We figure it was for you or Gerard. Her judgment refocused him.”
John nodded and focused on Napier. “I apologize for taking her without discussion—some injuries can’t be healed with the equipment we have access to unless they are treated immediately. Sometimes even a minute makes all the difference.”
“It’s fine,” Kyle said. “Gerard and Randolph trust you—so do I. Can I see her?”
“If you go through that door, you’ll probably hear her first. Apparently, she was wearing her favorite dress. It’s a good thing Devereaux is dead—there was blood in her shoes, too. She’s livid.”
Angela Rampart frowned. “Those were Jimmy Choo’s.”
“Yes, we bought them last month during a shopping trip to New York,” Marise said and fingered the jewelry collar she wore. “Kyle, if you’ll go check on her? I’ll get someone to take me shopping for her. She’ll want something new to wear.”
Kyle turned to Randolph. “I’d prefer you not send her off with people I don’t know.”
“I’ll take her myself,” Randolph said.
Kyle nodded, pressed a kiss to Marise’s mouth, and John let him into the infirmary. John pulled the door shut and focused on O’Neill who was on a cellphone. The older man ended the call and dropped the phone in a pocket.
“It’s going to be reported as a justifiable homicide,” Jack said. “It’s the best we can hope for in the circumstances. It’ll appear in your civilian records but since a submissive took a near-mortal wound in the altercation, and that has also been documented, it shouldn’t be a problem. Rampart has already reported to the Secretary of the Navy, and you won’t face any discipline officially.”
“Unofficially?” John asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Neither his career nor mine would survive spanking your ass for defending Dame Isabel Sawyer’s life,” Randolph said dryly. “No matter how much I’d adore it.”
John grinned. “Honestly, sir, it’s not as fun as you might think.”
“Bullshit,” Randolph griped. “Thomas told me about testing that whip with you. He told everyone. The only thing missing from that email was a picture of himself with his fists in the air as he proclaiming himself King of the World. Gerard tried to order me to spank Grant on general principal.”
The elevator opened and out spilled Rodney, Miko, Matt, and Ethan. Miko and Rodney were arguing.
“I do lots of things for your own good,” Miko exclaimed. “Like when I told Felger and Coombs if they tried to come to Atlantis, I would maim them for life.”
Rodney paused and made a horrified face. “They wanted to come to Atlantis? I hate them both with the fire of four thousand suns.”
“I know.” Miko nodded. “So, I took care of it. That’s because I’m awesome.”
He huffed. “Yes, but you manipulated me.”
“Bah, I did no such thing. Don’t be silly.” She waved a hand. “I manipulated John and Elizabeth. That’s what you do with Dominants to get them to do what you want.”
John laughed. He couldn’t help it. She was adorable.
Rodney frowned at Miko but crossed the room to John’s side. “Hey, how is she?”
“Fine. They healed the wound already.” He looked over McKay’s face, taking in the stress and worry the man couldn’t hide. “She’s going to be fine. The Daedalus can beam us home if you’d like.”
“If I hadn’t asked for her…”
“Rodney, you know you aren’t responsible for what Devereaux did,” John said. “He wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck.”
“Spencer said he was a malignant narcissist,” Rodney admitted. “And a sociopath. Plus a bunch of other psychobabble that I stopped listening to. Aaron said they’d attach a psyche profile of him to the official incident report just in case. It’s kind of terrible, actually. Spencer is so smart and he has a PhD in psychology of all things.”
“You snob,” John said with a laugh.
Rodney shrugged and turned to O’Neill. “What are you going to do with Summers?”
“She’s already been tried and found guilty of treason. She’s being held here in the SGC until her official sentencing, but honestly, considering her mental state, she’s probably looking at life in a facility of some sort. She’ll be kept in isolation until declassification.”
“Is that really going to happen?” Rodney asked.
“That’s what Hayes keeps saying, but we’ll see,” Jack said. He checked his watch. “John, Evan, Matthew—you’re all officially on leave for the next seventy-two hours. The Daedalus will spend that time preparing for the return trip to Pegasus.” He focused on Ethan. “You’ve got a Navy Lt. Commander moving heaven and Earth trying to find you, Chief Marsh. I don’t know the details. I told him I’d get you on a secure line for him as soon as possible. You can make the call upstairs with Walter. He has the number.”
“Thank you, sir.” Ethan gave John a brief nod and left them.
John frowned. He didn’t like someone from Ethan’s past reaching out for him, it put an itch in his gut. He’d grown accustomed to having as much of his family with him as possible.
* * * *
O’Neill cleared the SGC of anyone who didn’t need to be there pretty quickly. John figured it was only partially because he was relieved for the situation to have been resolved so swiftly. But a part of him wasn’t convinced it was over, which was why he’d had Evan and Matt sign out service weapons before they’d all beamed back to Virginia. He was seated at the kitchen table cleaning the P-90 he’d signed out. The 9mm had already been serviced.
“Miranda is quite put out that you sent her out of here,” Claire said from the doorway of the room.
“I’m not prepared to indulge her curiosity on the subject of guns, Claire,” John said and watched his brother’s wife stroll fully into the room. “I was surprised you signed the confidentiality agreement.”
She frowned at him and poured coffee for them both. “Half my family is in another galaxy, John. I had to right to know.” She doctored her own with a variety of crap but brought John’s to the table black. “Here, I purchased this in Morocco last month. It’s amazing.”
“Thanks,” John murmured. He took a careful sip and wasn’t surprised to find it very good. Claire was a coffee snob. “Has Rodney had this yet?”
“He has his own carafe in the library,” Claire said and sat down at the table to the left of where he was at the end. “The guns bother me.”
“I know,” John murmured as she continued to work. “But I don’t ignore my instincts and they’re telling me to be on guard.”
She nodded. “I’ve called my parents. I’m taking Miranda and Joe to Paris—we’ll leave after dinner. David appears to share your concerns about the situation. He’s already contacted the security company we use when we travel to arrange security for us when we arrive. Is it…that bad, John?”
“Better to be safe than sorry,” John said.
He started to put the weapon back together, stilling the urge to soothe his brother’s submissive. It wasn’t his place to ease her, and John had always been extremely careful not to cross that line with his sister-in-law. While he did prefer men, Claire was certainly his type, and in another time and place, she’d have tempted him at least on a short-term basis.
“You killed a man today.”
“Yes.” He looked up and found her frowning. “I’ve killed before, Claire. I wouldn’t say it’s not a big deal but I won’t lose sleep over it.”
“Do you worry that you’ll cross the line eventually?”
“No,” John said. “I’ve never once enjoyed killing someone, and I can’t imagine how I ever would. I can’t say that there haven’t been moments when I was extremely satisfied with myself after a combat situation, but it’s never been sexual. Yes, I’ve seen sadists cross that line both in and out of combat situations. If I even came close to such a thing—I’d resign my commission and retreat to Singapore.”
“And if you’re blindsided by it?” Claire asked.
“I won’t be arrogant and say that it couldn’t happen, but I can’t spend every single day in fear of a situation that may or may not come.” He finished with the guns and started to pack up his supplies. “Is this about me or David?”
Startled, she looked at him and frowned. “David and I watched the exhibition.”
“Ah.” John sat back with his coffee. “David got off on it.”
Claire flushed. “Yes.”
“I didn’t grow into this, Claire. It was always there. A version of what I am isn’t lurking in David in some dark corner. He’s already bared his soul to you as it relates to his dynamic. There are no surprises to be had. He’s never been as hard as me. Blood play might be exciting for him to watch but I’ve never known him to play that hard with a submissive—not in training and not afterward.”
“I questioned him about it,” Claire admitted. “He told me to ask you.”
“About himself or about me?”
“Both,” Claire sighed and took a deep breath. “You’ve always been a bit of a mystery, John. You never came home as much as Matt, your emails were always brief, and the phone calls even briefer. Jared was my window into your life, and Rodney is very tight lipped about his relationship with you. And today you killed someone. Now, you’re sitting in the kitchen cleaning weapons.”
“What would you have me do?” John asked. “Should I be sitting in a church somewhere praying for my soul? Or maybe half-drowned in the bottom of a bottle? Tell me what you expect here, because I have no clue, and I don’t have a lot of experience with civilians like you.”
“Like me?” Claire asked confused.
“Sheltered and pampered from reality,” John said plainly. He watched her cheeks flush and her eyes dampen with tears. “It’s not meant to be insulting. I wouldn’t change a single thing about you, Claire. You’re lovely, and I can’t imagine our family without you. But that doesn’t mean I understand where you’re coming from. Honestly, women have always baffled me.”
She laughed abruptly and brushed a tear from the corner of her eye. “John.”
“It’s not my place to comfort you, and we both know that. So what are you looking for here? Assurances that I’m not a monster?”
“I know you aren’t a monster,” Claire snapped. “I would never…I just don’t understand.”
“Perhaps you aren’t meant to,” John murmured. He reached out and took her hand in both of his as Matt, Ethan and David appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. “The first time I killed—I was horrified and sick with guilt. Not because I enjoyed it or thought that I might ever enjoy it but because I was covered in another person’s blood, and no amount of training prepares you for that. I stared at him for what feels like, even now, hours. He’d been trained—wore the mark of a private Russian Dom. I’d seen such Marks before. I’d taken someone’s student from them. I’d killed someone’s son. Maybe he was someone’s father. Maybe he was someone’s Dom. I was nineteen.”
“John.” Claire closed her eyes briefly. “How…how can anyone ask that of another person?”
“Is that about me and David? Or is this about Joe?” She shuddered and John sighed. “We can’t sit here in this room and speculate about his future service. It’s not fair to him or you. Yes, he’s growing up exposed to a tradition of military service within our family. He’s going to see that as an example to follow, I certainly did. But his father was out of uniform before he was born so he’s seeing another path for himself playing out every single day. One day he’ll make decisions for himself—where he will train, what he will study in college, and what career in this world will satisfy him. Those are his choices to make.”
“Did you make them or did Patrick make them for you?” Claire asked.
“He chose my first Pleasure House,” John said. “I didn’t disagree with the choice. If I had, another choice would’ve been made available to me. But David was already there and I trusted Dato’ Raja from the moment I met him. Had my Dad had a single voice in my choice of service, I’d have joined the Navy instead of the Marines. He didn’t understand why I wanted the Corps, and maybe he still doesn’t, but it was my choice. Honestly, if he had his way, neither Matt nor I would be going back to Pegasus. He doesn’t like it at all but he accepts that he doesn’t have the right to make choices for us.” He paused. “Do you worry that he’ll be a sadist?”
She shook her head. “No, why would I? His dynamic will be what it will be. There is no need to worry about something I cannot change.” She huffed even as she finished her sentence. “Right.”
“Right,” John said with a laugh. “It’ll be fine, and I promise I won’t flip my shit and turn into a mass murderer.” He paused. “Spree killer maybe, but definitely not a mass murderer.”
“That is not funny,” Claire said but her mouth was quirking up in a grin. “Though, if you ever choose to go on a spree—I have a list of people who have pissed me off. If you’re going to jail, you might as well earn it.”
“We have an accord.”
“Good,” David said from the doorway. “Are you finished holding my wife’s hand?”
“It’s a lovely hand,” John said and grinned when his brother glared. He released his sister-in-law and sat back in his chair. “Ethan. Come. Sit. Tell me the news I’m not going to like hearing.”
With a frown, Ethan slipped past David and took a seat across from Claire. “So, it’s like this…I have an old friend and I owe him a favor. A big favor and he’s called it in. He needs me to help him find someone. I can’t discuss the details but the Navy has agreed to temporarily reassign me to a government task force in Hawaii under the command of Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett. He wants me there ASAP to be briefed and sorted for the assignment. It’s looking like at least three months but may be longer.”
John wished he had another gun to clean. “O’Neill let the Navy take you out of my command without a single word to me?”
“McGarrett has a lot of political and social capital to burn. I’m not the only favor he’s called in. I worked with McGarrett in the past.”
“In fugitive apprehension,” John said. “I’ve read your file and his. He was on a list for the SGC but his departure from active duty took him out of the running. It pissed a few people off to lose a high-value asset like him to a civilian posting.”
“His father was murdered, John. McGarrett isn’t in a place to do the Navy or the SGC a damn bit of good with that hanging over him.”
“No, I agree,” John said. “He says three months—I’m telling you no more than six. I’ll let Rampart know that I expect you to be sorted back to Atlantis within six months. He’ll make sure that happens.” He paused and frowned. “I’m not going to pet and placate your submissive, Ethan, so you’ll need to let him know you’ve been temporarily reassigned.”
Ethan flushed. “He’s not exactly mine, John, but I’ll send Chase an email before I leave for Hawaii. I’m not an asshole, you know.”
“Sure you are,” Patrick said as he entered the kitchen. “The three of you get it from your mother.”
Matt frowned. “When did I stop being your favorite?”
Patrick sighed and leaned against the counter after pouring himself some coffee. “I don’t play favorites.” He frowned at the disbelieving looks he got from everyone in the room. “I don’t. Besides, if I did, then Miko is my favorite. She’s the only one around here not actively trying to give me a heart attack. She’s lovely and charming.”
Miko strolled in at that point with a Bluetooth headset in her ear, cursing vehemently in Japanese. She went to the counter, rose up on her bare toes to snag a coffee cup, before she went to the coffee pot. “Oh, pardon me, I forgot your lackluster education didn’t include a single foreign language course. Let me begin again, Dr. Humphries, as I wouldn’t want there to be a single second of confusion between us. Your research proposal may be sufficient for your peer group at Area 51, and I’m sure quite a few people at the SGC found it mildly interesting, but it literally bored me to unhappy, unrewarding tears.”
She poured herself some coffee, rummaged through a cabinet, and emerged with a box of chocolate wafer cookies. “You lack vision, and despite having access to the most advanced research on the planet, you’re at least twenty years behind the dumbest person I work with. Atlantis is the city of dreams, and you don’t dream big enough.” She made a face as she listened to the response. “Oh, fuck off.” She ended the call with a huff. “I try to be nice to these assholes and this is what I get!” She pulled out a phone, stabbed at the screen with her finger briefly, then dropped it back in her pocket. “Yes, Walter, I need to speak with General Hank Landry at Area 51. Can you connect me please? You’re a darling.”
John lifted an eyebrow and shared a horrified look with Evan Lorne who had followed Miko into the kitchen.
Miko opened up the box of cookies, and Rodney came into the room with a carafe and a laptop. She waved a hand when he frowned at her. She took his carafe, filled it up, and just smiled when Matt retrieved the coffee for her so she could start a fresh pot. “Hank, yes, good afternoon. How are you?” She paused and took a bite of cookie. She pulled a face and made a jerking off motion at McKay that made him grin. “Well, thank you. I endeavor to be grace and beauty personified in my daily life, and it is rewarding to be so admired. Unfortunately, I’m calling to lodge a complaint. At first, I considered contacting General O’Neill, but I felt since Major Humphries works directly under you that you’d be best able to determine his punishment for his unacceptable behavior.” She scrunched up her nose when Rodney raised an eyebrow. “No, no, I haven’t been to Area 51 this trip so he hasn’t made any sort of physical transgression. What he did do, however, was call me a whore who needed to learn her place.”
Rodney huffed in fury.
Miko smiled. “Yes, I knew I’d be able to count on you, Hank. I’d adore having dinner with you—I remember our lunches with immense fondness—but I’m in a courting period.” She smiled and wiggled an eyebrow at Rodney who rolled his eyes. “Yes, he’s a very lucky man and, of course, if things don’t work out, the next time I’m on Earth, I will make time to see you. Have a lovely day.” She clicked the headset she was wearing and made a face before turning to John. “If Major Colton Humphries is on your list for Atlantis…”
“He was on the short list to provide vacation time and relief to any of the officers currently on the base. I’ll remove him,” John said. “He’s not ATA gene positive anyway so he wasn’t the best choice to replace Evan or Matt, even temporarily.” He paused. “Do you consider him a behavioral problem?”
“From a professional or personal perspective?” Miko asked as she dropped herself right down into Ethan’s lap. Ethan took her weight on his leg without comment and stole a cookie.
“His father is a four star…Air Force Chief of Staff as of about four months ago. His command style is…a presentation of aggression without an ounce of will to back it up. He’s marked a Dom out of La Petite Mort but I think…well, I think he’s a submissive and either hid it because he was ashamed or because he felt his father would be.”
“Not a switch?” Ethan questioned. “A lot of switches mark as a Dom.”
Miko shook her head. “No, I know my own when I see them. Despite how far we have come since slavery, there are many submissives, especially in the US, who hide who they really are. Colton Humphries over compensates in a variety of ways, and while he’s certainly capable privately—he was trained very well—I’ve heard more than one say that his heart isn’t in it. I feel sorry for him, honestly, and at one time I tried to help him, but he’s so far gone that he found my overtures very insulting and intrusive. As Rodney has turned all hiring recruitment for Atlantis over to me for the time being, I have to make decisions that suit us all. Major Humphries is not a fit for us scientifically and I think he would…fall to pieces under your command, John.”
“That makes me sound like an asshole,” John protested.
“I don’t mean it that way. You’re just…Humphries couldn’t handle you professionally.” She smirked. “Besides, I believe Hank will enjoy spanking his ass—it’s very pretty.”
“Are you matchmaking again?” Rodney demanded.
“Don’t act all put out,” Miko admonished. She slipped off Ethan’s lap grabbed her cookies and coffee before strolling out of the kitchen.
Rodney frowned and leaned against the counter before focusing on Ethan. “Is that a problem?”
“Her treating me like furniture?” Ethan asked with a laugh. “No, it’s not the first time she’s done it. She sneaks into my office sometimes, sits on my lap and complains about you or Radek. I doubt she even realized she was doing it just now until it was too late.”
“Does Carson know about this?” John asked, genuinely startled. “You didn’t approach…”
“John, I’m not having sex with her,” Ethan said in exasperation. “You introduced her to me as your sister. A week after I was on Atlantis, she came into my office put her laptop on my desk, declared everyone but herself too stupid to live and told me as her brother I was required to comfort her. Then she crawled into my lap and demanded that I be quiet and pat her back.”
John laughed. “Oh, okay.”
“She hides her good cookies in my office and treats me like I’m asexual.”
“I wonder why,” Claire said and shrugged at the looks she received. “You know how pretty you are.”
“I’m also a sadist and she knows that very well,” Ethan said. “She’s watched me a few times in the playroom with Chase.”
“She’s touch starved,” Matt said. “Miko was…well she mourned a very long time for her Dom and rarely allowed anyone but Rodney to touch her even after she removed her Dom’s collar. So she’s seeking out physical contact with people she knows she can trust not to hurt or mistreat her. It may take a while for her to adjust, actually.” He shifted in his chair and shared a look with Jonah. “There are certain qualities in a submissive that Lotus looks for when it comes to training a Geisha—things we honestly can’t discuss. But I would say that out of all the Geisha I have known—I’ve never known one as perfect as Miko. She is truly a princess in every single way.”
“And Carson knows. She told him,” Ethan said. “I figure he’s more aware of her issues regarding this than any of us. We talked, and he knows I have no sexual interest in her. Honestly, she’d probably come sit in your lap, too, if Rodney wouldn’t pitch hell’s own fit. Also, you’re probably semi-required to take his side of the fight when they argue.”
* * * *
“Can I help here?” David asked as he held the punching bag that John was pounding on. “Want me to throw everyone out of the house?”
John laughed but it was short and sharp. He bounced on his feet and started again. Dato’ Raja, Philippe Dubois, and Gerard de Sade were all on the opposite side of the workout room, sharing a wall and a brooding expression. “It won’t help.”
“What would?” David asked.
John stopped. “You want the truth?”
“A hard target.” He pulled the tape off his hands and frowned down at his knuckles which weren’t even red. “It’s the waiting, you see.”
“I don’t follow,” David admitted. “Lay it out for me.”
“They got him back on Earth—that was the goal. This whole thing with de Sade was a smokescreen. They worked Antoine Devereaux into a frenzy, and he was the perfect pawn. All of you honed right in on him, and I did too at first, because his personal vendetta hit home for me. That’s what they wanted. It’s what they tried to do with Jordan. They sent Jordan to Atlantis to bait my temper, but he wasn’t in their control and in his arrogance, he went off script. He was a liability and they saw that too late. So they came at Rodney from a different angle—played on the social politics of his house to get him back on Earth because they want something from him. Or maybe they just want to control him. Lorne wasn’t kidding about McKay being a peerless military asset. He is the Oppenheimer of his day—extremely smart, and capable of the kind of wholesale destruction that makes military leaders on and off planet giddy. He blew up a fucking solar system on purpose, you know.”
“I didn’t know,” David admitted and took a deep breath. “Jesus, John.”
“They also wanted me thrown off balance but…” John paused. “They have no way of knowing that just makes me more dangerous.”
“I suspect they know now,” Syed said as he crossed the room.
“Yeah, but it’s way too late,” John murmured.
“Do you want a fight?” Syed questioned.
“No,” John said. “If I hurt you, I’d never forgive myself.” He took a deep breath then another. “You said once that we all have an animal inside us.”
“Yes,” Syed agreed. “But I trust your mastery of your baser instincts.”
“When I was entirely human, I trusted that mastery as well,” John admitted. “But there is another kind of animal in me now, and in times like this—I don’t trust myself.”
“And how can I make that right for you?” Raja questioned. “Do you want to retreat to Singapore?”
“In my heart? Yes.” John shook his head. “But I don’t have the time or the luxury for such a thing, Sire. If I did, I would’ve returned to you last year when we regained contact with Earth.”
“Instead you collared a submissive,” Philippe said.
“I needed…” John pushed down the feeling of helplessness that surged up in him and took a deep breath. “I thought I could find solace there and I did. He’s everything I could want.”
“And yet you are here, instead of with him,” Gerard said. “Do you think he can’t handle you when you’re like this?”
“Perhaps he could’ve before Sam Carter,” John murmured. “Now? No. I make every effort to keep my temper in check around Rodney. He’s never seen me in combat, never seen me in a genuine fight, and today was the first time I’ve killed in front of him. I regret it. I wanted to keep him separate from that.”
“Unrealistic goal considering the fact that you live in a war zone,” Philippe murmured. “Do you think he’s upset about it? Because he didn’t even blink.”
“No, it barely registered on his radar at all,” Gerard agreed. “The moment you beamed way with Dame Sawyer, he took control of the entire situation and arranged our transport to Colorado before O’Neill could say a word otherwise.”
“On Atlantis, one of his jobs is to manage people and resources during a crisis,” John murmured. “He’s very good at it—being the calm in a storm. You wouldn’t think so considering his personality and temper, but he reshaped his entire department within weeks of arriving. If something happens—they all know exactly where to go, what to do, and how to help. When he was taken off the city—his people rallied more quickly than the military. They had a search grid set up as soon as the ships launched. They were building a decompression chamber before it crossed my mind it might be needed. That’s all his doing—the science department certainly wasn’t like that before he arrived.”
“Carter tried to speak at one point,” David said. “McKay told her to shut the fuck up.”
John snorted. “I’d have paid a large sum of money to see that.”
“We’re not helping you,” Gerard said. “Do you want Thomas? He’s still in New York, but I can have him flown here if he could help.”
“No, he’s due as much leave as the rest of us,” John murmured. “He’s under a lot of pressure on Atlantis—stress is high, combat fatigue has set in for a few of my heavier assets, and several of the mission-essential military scientists are suffering some form of PTSD. I can’t realistically transfer them off the base and back to Earth because of their value to the mission. There are only six combat engineers in the entire service that have off-planet experience. O’Neill has four, and I have the other two. I brought Grant to Atlantis for Rodney but he’s done a great deal to even out of the rest of us, too.”
John dropped down on a weight bench and David shifted to spot him. “Give me seven hundred.”
David huffed. “I can’t spot you for that much, John.”
“Between the two of us we could,” Philippe said and moved to other side of the weight bench to adjust it to John’s request. “How much can you lift?”
“I lifted a MALP off one of my men in a combat situation last year—they weigh about fifteen hundred pounds.” John braced his feet and rested fully on the bench and gave a nod. Philippe and David shifted the barbell into his hands.
“The Bowflex might be safer,” David murmured.
“We have a few of those on the city,” John admitted. “I don’t use them—I’m fairly certain I’d break it with repeated use.”
“How else did the alien DNA change you?” Syed questioned. “Has your appetite for pain increased?”
“No, but I enjoy it more and less than I did,” John admitted. “It some circumstances it can make me extremely combative. I have a fight or fuck response to pain. In combat situations, it has kept me on my feet and moving with a bullet in my chest.”
“I suppose your military is quite pleased with that,” Syed muttered. “They haven’t asked you to participate in experimentation, have they?”
“No, but I did capture several Iratus bugs for research,” John admitted. “O’Neill and Rampart have both worked very hard to keep me off the research docket. I’ll never consent, and there isn’t a facility on this planet that could hold me long term. I think most of the higher ups in the military industrial complex know that well enough.”
“Anything else?” David prodded.
“I’m faster,” John said as he lifted by rote, not even bothering to count. “My reflexes are better—twice as fast. My vision is sharper, and I can see at greater distances. I have the stamina of an ox.”
“No, shit,” David muttered. “You’re at fifty reps and you haven’t broken a sweat, John.”
“I can run a four-minute mile,” John admitted. “But I was near that before the incident. I shaved about forty-five seconds off. It can mean the difference between life and death in the field. And you might have all noticed that I have a hyper reaction to a threat.”
“Whoever was handling Devereaux is going to be very irritated that you killed him,” Philippe said.
“He’d outlived his usefulness,” John muttered as he continued to lift, his gaze focused on the ceiling. “They’d have probably killed him within the week to ensure that he didn’t confess to whatever he might have known. But he was an arrogant bastard so he probably wrote most if not all of it down. I sent Evan to collect all of his personal electronics. Miko has them. It was surprising that his phone and computer were still in place.”
“They don’t know you’ve made a connection between him and the Trust,” David surmised. “Or there is no connection.” He huffed. “Enough John, that’s two hundred. You’re making me feel extremely unfit.” He helped Philippe put the bar back on the rack.
“I could bounce a quarter off your ass,” Philippe said and just grinned when David laughed.
John sat up and accepted the towel Gerard offered him. “There’s a connection. A big one. That’s why I haven’t kicked you all out of the house.” He focused on Gerard. “You should bring your boy here. You and Andre are a soft target for men like me. If they want to control McKay, they have very few options. We put his sister and her family on a plane to my father’s villa in France just a few hours ago. Claire and the kids are joining them there.”
“Rodney’s Uncle is at my house as well,” Gerard said. “I’ll send for them both. Rampart will arrange their security.”
“It’s for the best,” John said. “You can brief them once they are here—don’t say anything on the phone. Just ask his Uncle to come because I want to meet him.”
“It’ll be enough, he’s very curious about you,” Gerard agreed.
* * * *
The shower was running when John entered his suite. He stripped off his clothes and dropped them in a basket by the door leading into the bathroom. Rodney was braced against the wall, water from three shower heads falling over him like rain. John watched for a moment as soap slid off his submissive. He took such pleasure in Rodney’s physical form but he was reminded, in that moment, of Miko’s words in court earlier in the day. McKay’s vivid personality was certainly a challenge and a draw.
“Are there other big, elusive secrets in de Sade, like the Courtesan Court?”
“Nothing is quite like the Courtesan Court. No outsider has ever seen one seated until today,” Rodney said as he turned. “Joining me?”
“Yeah,” John murmured and pulled open the door. He stepped into the large stall and got himself wet as Rodney soaped a bath sponge. “I’m not angry that you didn’t tell me.”
“You trained in the most exclusive and secretive pleasure house on the planet, John. I assumed you understood that I had house secrets that were beyond your grasp.”
“So you’ve slept with two Courtesans? Is that a secret?”
Rodney laughed. “Not particularly—both were after I was marked. I know their Pleasure Masters, and in Spencer’s case, I was brought in to…mentor him in a way. I was waiting on my dissertation committee and he was in seclusion at de Sade. He trained there in private for an entire year instead of individual sessions—pretty rare but he’s special and beautiful. I can’t discuss what happened to him, but I have to think that Aaron Hotchner saved Spencer’s life by sending him to be trained at de Sade. Spencer was…hurt, lost, and on the verge of something very dangerous to him and to his dynamic. We have similar pain kinks, and his Pleasure Master wanted to show Spencer that there was nothing wrong with him in that regard. We were introduced and I spent several weeks with him in seclusion. We were lovers within days of meeting and shared a bed until I left. I’m glad I could help him and he’s…really lovely when he comes.”
“I bet,” John muttered. “I can’t say he didn’t trip my trigger, so to speak.”
“You just liked him threatening to shoot Devereaux in the head,” Rodney said with a laugh.
“Yeah, I did,” John admitted. “I’m glad you were there to help him, too. It would’ve been a shame if he’d not had the opportunity to become the man he is today.” He rested back against the wall as Rodney ran the soapy sponge down his chest. “What about the other one? The cop?”
“Daniel Williams. I heard he’s living in Hawaii these days—works on a government task force. I wasn’t surprised when Isobel chose him for the Court—she picked him and Spencer because they have dangerous jobs so she’d have a broader perspective. Danny was trained by a member of the de Sade family, and his Pleasure Master is fond of me. I was introduced to Danny shortly after he was marked and we…dabbled, so to speak, mostly out of curiosity, I think. We have similar personalities and I liked that he was different from other Courtesans I’d met—he isn’t an academic. Don’t get me wrong—he’s whip smart. He just stopped with a degree in Criminal Science. It was so odd to meet him. He was wearing a gun and a uniform at the time. Very spiffy in his dress blues.”
“And your uniform kink was born,” John said dryly.
Rodney slid to his knees and grinned. “Maybe.”
John trailed a hand over the top of McKay’s head as the submissive continued to wash him. It was a relaxing experience and not something he’d indulged in before McKay. But he allowed Rodney liberties he’d never allowed of any other submissive, not even Jared. He waited for the little twinge of hurt to surface at the thought of his first love but it didn’t come. John closed his eyes and relaxed against the wall of the shower as Rodney soaped his cock and balls.
“Let’s get you rinsed off, Sir,” Rodney murmured as he stood.
John opened his eyes and reached out for McKay. He cupped one hip and pulled the man close. They were pretty close to the same height, especially in bare feet. He nuzzled against Rodney’s jaw and took a deep breath. “Rodney.”
McKay moved closer, pressed fully against him. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” John murmured. “I just didn’t realize how fucked up I really was over this mess until now.”
“John,” Rodney said and waited until his Dom lifted his head to meet his gaze. “How can I ease you?”
An immense selfishness rose up in John, and he clenched his teeth together to keep from demanding more from his submissive than Rodney seemed willing to give. He wanted nothing more in his life than Rodney’s love, and a part of him wondered if he’d ever get the words. His stomach tightened in agony and he shook his head. John pressed a kiss to McKay’s forehead.
“I need sleep.”
McKay frowned. “John.”
“I’m fucked up,” John murmured. “I need to relax and reset. My head is full of crap.” He moved away from Rodney and rinsed the soap off before picking up a bottle of shampoo. “If you could let Reginald know that I’d rather eat in private?”
“Yes, of course,” Rodney said and, with just a slight hesitation, left the shower.
* * * *
Rodney fiddled with the cell phone in his hand as he watched Eliza, Reginald’s Domme and partner of nearly thirty years, prepared the tray of sandwiches and fruit he’d requested.
“How is he?”
He looked up and met Matt’s gaze. “He’ll be fine.”
“But he’s not fine,” Matt said. “Not now.”
Rodney sighed and dropped the phone in the pocket of his slacks. “No, he’s a bit less than fine, but I trust that he’ll work through it with no problem.”
“He cleaned every gun in the house,” Matt said. “Checked every window and every door lock. There are six Marines on the property.”
“Devereaux demonstrated more power than he ever should’ve been able to muster,” Rodney said. “Both financial and social power.”
“You agree that there is something bigger at play?” Evan asked from his place next to Matt.
“John certainly thinks so, and you know very well that the Trust has always expressed more interest in me than was healthy,” Rodney said with a frown. “It didn’t help that you laid out the whole kidnapping thing.”
“He’s read your file, McKay,” Evan exclaimed. “It’s required reading for his entire command staff.”
Rodney huffed and turned to Miko. “How’s it going with Devereaux’s electronics?”
She made a face. “The laptop is full of torture porn and slave law propaganda. I’ve turned a lot of that over to the FBI because while some of the porn is staged, there is quite a bit of I think is real.”
Rodney grimaced. “Would you like me to get someone else to go through it?”
“I’m a grown woman,” Miko said and pointed at him with one blood red nail. “I can handle myself.”
“I’m not saying you can’t—I just don’t think you should have to expose yourself to that crap,” Rodney protested.
“How about I help sort it,” Evan suggested.
John woke from a dead sleep, his body tense as he catalogued his surroundings. Rodney was in bed asleep beside him. Their bedroom door was closed. He took a deep breath, and after a few seconds of indecision, slipped from the bed. He’d never ignored instincts, and doing so after the Iratus incident had become impossible. The animal in him was stirring because it was disturbed by something that was beyond John’s ability to fully recognize. Perhaps a scent on the air, or even asleep he’d heard something that his brain had processed unconsciously. Over the years, he’d grown to accept that there was an awareness in him that defied all reasonable explanation. He’d tried to ignored it for a while, but Sumner had made him come to grips with his transformation and what he’d been left with as a result.
He picked up the 9mm from the bedside table and left the bedroom. The door leading into the hallway from his personal living room was open—he’d left it open after the kids had left the house. He paused in the doorway, inclined his head and listened intently as he chambered a round The door across the hall from him opened, and he held up a hand when Evan Lorne started to speak. Matt appeared at his side after a few seconds. John took a deep breath when a hand settled on the small of his back. Rodney stayed still behind him.
There was a soft whisper of sound—the click of a weapon’s safety being disengaged two floors down in the foyer of the house. John moved in an instant, darting down the hallway with a hiss of fury. He grabbed the railing and swung over it without even considering what a two-story drop would do to him. He landed in the middle of six men and unloaded his weapon in seconds—taking out all six of them with surprising ease. Bodies slumped, weapons skittered across the marble entryway even as shouts from the upper levels of the house sounded.
“Bring me another clip, Evan,” John ordered. “And some pants.”
A pair of pajama pants sailed over the railing and John caught them with a half-laugh. “Thanks, Rodney.”
“You jumped over the railing!” McKay shouted. “Naked!”
John pulled on the pants as Lorne came down the stairs. He wasn’t at all surprised when everyone in the house came with him. Evan offered him the ammo, and he reloaded his weapon, tossing aside the empty clip. “Evan, search the bodies for identification.” He headed towards the front door. “Everyone else should stay back.”
John turned and looked at his father, the mess he’d made in the foyer sprawled between them. Sheppard knew his eyes were black and that his skin had a slightly blue hue. He flinched as the lights were turned on. “I need to check the perimeter.”
“You’re not even wearing shoes,” Patrick pointed out.
John curled his toes against the marble briefly but said nothing.
“NID,” Lorne said. “All six of them are National Intelligence Department.”
John considered that and glanced over the bodies. He turned to Rodney. “We need to know why they were here before anyone over there has time to cover their tracks. As soon as we report this, they’ll be labeled rogue. Do whatever you need to do find out who ordered this and what their mission was specifically.”
“You mean—were they were here to take me or kill me,” Rodney said dully.
“Or me,” John said. “A lot of people in the government wouldn’t be at all opposed to getting me in a secured, secret facility so they can figure out how to make more of me.”
“I’m going to ruin people,” Rodney promised and started back up the stairs. “Miko, get your laptop. We’re going to hack the US government.”
“Which department?” Miko questioned eagerly as she followed him.
“All of them,” Rodney decided. “Someone make me some goddamned coffee.”
“I’ll do that,” Andre decided and eased around the bodies to head toward the kitchen.
John shifted on his feet, antsy and seeing no reason to hide it. “I need a phone.”
David offered him a slim black iPhone. “It’s not secure.”
John only nodded. He dialed a number and waited for the sleepy voice of Jack O’Neill to fill his ear. “General, I was hoping you and Dr. Jackson could join us for breakfast.”
O’Neill hummed under his breath, and John had to give him credit for not demanding answers about the pre-dawn phone call. “I like waffles best.”
“Waffles it is,” John agreed. He ended the call and handed the phone back to David. He turned to Gerard de Sade. “Dame Isobel was supposed to come here tomorrow to speak with McKay provided she escapes Dr. Lam’s custody by then. That’s no longer possible, and make her understand that without mentioning the bodies.”
Gerard nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll think of something but she will not be stalled for long. She and Rodney have house business—she made that clear.”
“Ask her to stay in Colorado, and I’ll bring him to her,” John said. He tapped the gun against his thigh briefly then walked to the front door. The security had been disengaged which was infuriating. “The monitoring company has probably been infiltrated.” He opened the door and stared out. “No gun fire before they entered the house, so they managed to subdue the Marines I have on the property without shooting them.”
“ZAT,” Evan said. He waved the weapon in question. “Only one though, and their communication system is government issue. All of the weapons are government issue as well, so if they’re rogue, they were flying under the radar about it.”
Miko and Rodney came downstairs at that point, each carrying two laptops. They went into the dining room without even looking at the bodies.
“Shouldn’t we cover them?” Jonah questioned.
John grimaced at the Geisha’s pallor. “Evan?”
Lorne cleared his throat. “Perhaps everyone else could go make sure that Miko and Rodney are properly fueled for their project?”
John watched them all disperse, his gaze lingered on Emmanuel Michel as the older man went into the dining room. The Frenchman had said very little to John since his arrival, though he’d had a long conversation with Rodney after dinner that Sheppard didn’t know the content of. He wondered what the two of them had talked about.
“How did you know?” Patrick questioned.
John flexed his shoulders. “Uncertain. I think I smelled them.” He glanced up at the vent high on the wall. “It wasn’t sound—there are too many people in the house for a noise to set me off while I was asleep. I think. Maybe.” He rocked on the balls of his feet as Jack O’Neill appeared in the center of the foyer with a travel mug in hand.
Jack took a sip of his coffee, tilted his head as he studied the bodies. “I do like your work, Sheppard.” He touched the headset on his ear. “Apollo, you’re clear to beam Dr. Jackson to my location.”
Jackson appeared with laptop clutched to his chest and a large cup of coffee. “Where’s Rodney?”
John motioned towards dining room, and Jackson headed in the direction with a grin.
“I get the Department of Homeworld Security!” Jackson called out, and Miko cursed at him in Japanese.
John shifted on his feet again.
O’Neill stared at him. “Fighting your instincts only hurts you in the end, John.”
“Yes, sir.” John exhaled, and in the distance there was a snap. His skin darkened.
Jack pulled a k-bar out of a holster on his thigh and offered it as John started walking toward the door. “Keep the noise down so your neighbors don’t call the cops.”
“Yes, sir.” John took the knife, handed the General the gun, and darted out of the house without another word.
O’Neill turned to Evan and Matt. “I need to bring in a team to clean up the Colonel’s mess.”
“They’re NID, sir,” Lorne admitted roughly. In the distance, there was a short and abrupt shout. “That’s seven so far.” He turned to Patrick. “Can you tell if any of the doors have been opened?”
Patrick went to the security panel. “No, the whole system has been turned off.” He glanced out the open door of his house as there was a sharp whistle.
Evan started moving towards the door, priming the P-90 he had with him. “Matt, keep an eye on McKay.” There was another whistle. “That’s nine.”
“Jesus Christ,” Patrick Sheppard muttered.
O’Neill ordered a two-man team down from the Apollo, and they appeared in a flash of transporter technology. To their credit, neither Airmen voiced a single question. They just dropped sensors on each covered body, and the remains disappeared one by one. The blood, shell casings, and spent clip were taken care of as well. O’Neill offered one of them the gun Sheppard had used. “Green Protocol.”
“Green?” Patrick questioned.
“I like to recycle,” Jack said evenly. He turned to the men. “There are a few more bodies on the property. Leave me some transporter sensors and we’ll tag the ones outside after Colonel Sheppard has disengaged. Don’t send anyone else down.”
* * * *
John shoved Colonel Harry Maybourne up against the wall. “Tell me again you don’t owe me a fucking explanation.”
Maybourne merely raised an eyebrow at him. “Still looking to get court martialed, Colonel?”
“I’ll make sure it’s worth it,” John said. He released the Air Force Colonel when Rampart cleared his throat. “I told you this was a waste of time, sirs.”
His gaze flicked around the room. The fury boiling in his gut hadn’t lessened in the fifteen hours since his father’s house had been invaded by a team of twelve NID agents, all of whom had been labeled a rogue element officially by the NID itself and the Department of Defense. General Blake had several trusted people going through Homeland Security, but it was slow going, and John had a feeling the results were going to be utterly unsatisfying.
“Miko, who besides General Jordan was in line to be the Director of Homeworld Security when General Blake received the position from the president?” John asked.
“General Hank Landry, General Jack O’Neill, and General Randolph Rampart were all on the short list, sir. Jordan was, of course, the front runner until General Blake used his personal relationship with de Sade and the president himself to maneuver into the position.” She paused when Blake frowned at her. “It’s what you did.” She rolled her eyes when he huffed but refocused her attention on John. “The only other is an Air Force General named Howard Peaceman. He’s a one-star with a so-so combat record who knows of the Stargate program but has never set foot in the mountain officially. He was close friends with General Hammond at one time and there was a brief discussion of him taking General O’Neill’s place when Dr. Jackson ascended, so he might have had an unofficial visit in the past.”
“His private training?”
“Trained as a Dom at La Petite Mort but he’s a well-known switch. He has both a submissive and a Domme living in his home but he remains uncollared for professional reasons, I’m sure.” Miko looked up from her laptop. “He’s faithful to his partners from all reports, has no suspicious banking or phone activities on any line he has access to either private or professional. As far as I can tell, he’s had no interaction with General Jordan before or after his trip to Singapore. His submissive is a thirty-five-year-old male trained by de Sade. Peaceman dotes on the man and recently announced his intention to marry him. The Domme living in his home was also trained at de Sade, and she’s just twenty-six. She’s attending law school but paying her own way. If he’s Trust, I’d be very surprised.”
“But Jordan was Trust,” John said and leaned against the large window overlooking the Stargate. He sent Maybourne a dark look which made the Air Force Colonel retreated to the other side of the room. At least he’d stopped smirking.
John nodded. “How long? How long have they been targeting McKay?” He glanced towards Carter. He hadn’t refused her presence in the meeting because she had extensive dealings with the Trust, but he noted that Rodney hadn’t looked in her direction once.
“The NID’s file on Rodney is extensive,” Miko murmured. “There is a larger, more personal one at Homeworld Security, but it was locked down after General Blake was made director, and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been accessed since that point.” She handed a tablet to McKay. “Is that an accurate list of your past lovers?”
Rodney grimaced but reviewed it. “It’s almost all speculation. They’ve connected me to all the men Gerard trained, O’Neill, and Landry. Hank Landry isn’t my type at all.” He handed the tablet back at her. “Only about six names on that list were intimate partners.”
“There’s another list,” Miko said. She passed the tablet back to him, and John watched Rodney’s mouth drop open in shock. “Accurate?”
Rodney put the tablet down carefully and held it to the table with one finger as if he were afraid it might leap up and run away. He was silent as he read. “Yes, extremely accurate. I’ve got a lot of this hidden, deep. They must have someone as talented as you on their payroll to have dug up nearly all of my assets. I hid most of this stuff before I got married.” He tapped the table in irritation. “They’ve also documented the trust fund I set up for my niece.” He used his fingers to change the screen. “And John’s financial data as well.”
“Assholes,” John muttered from his place by the window.
“It’s from your security check,” Rodney said. “And it’s out of date. They haven’t updated since we changed your money manager, but you aren’t due for a security review for another three months so that makes sense. Mine, however, was updated just three days before we returned to Earth.”
“It was important that they have a full accounting of your assets in case you went to ground,” John said.
* * * *
“Do you think you know yourself,” John asked.
Rodney turned slightly so he could look at his Dom. John was sprawled on the bed beside him, sweat damp, cock spent on his thigh. It wasn’t a bad look for the man at all. “I like to think I do, but if I’d been asked at twenty-five if I’d tolerate a relationship like the one I had with Carter—I would’ve laughed in that person’s face. It would’ve been absolutely absurd to even consider.”
John nodded. He frowned at the ceiling. “Evan is going to ask Matt to marry him.” He turned his head and looked at Rodney. “Just like that—not even together a year and he’s ready to take that step already. Is it too soon?”
“It would be for a man like you,” Rodney said. “But Evan was ready for a commitment before he met Matt. He walked right into that relationship with that on his mind or he’d have never touched his CO’s little brother at all. I think you know that.”
“Yeah,” John sighed.
“Is this about Jared?” Rodney questioned.
“No, I don’t know how it could be.”
“You bought a ring for him.”
“I’d had that ring for six months and hadn’t brought up the subject at all with him,” John confessed. “Maybe I wasn’t ready or I deep down I thought he might say no. He wasn’t thrilled with how I managed my career.”
Rodney frowned. “Seriously? How many full bird colonels are there in the Marines your age?”
“There are eight of us—all heavy combat vets,” John admitted. “I didn’t want that last combat deployment—I’d been offered a place at Annapolis. I wanted to take a year or two to teach so I could finish my PhD. He was furious that I was even considering turning down a combat deployment for a teaching position. He wasn’t all that interested in academics and only had the minimum degree required. After he died, I idealized him and our relationship, but I don’t think I realized how much until I was speaking with Grant about what might come up in the hearing. Jared could’ve said no to that mission—it was within his rights to do so—but he wanted to please Daily. In fact, he was pretty angry with me for telling Daily no. Jared would’ve been on board with attending him in private.”
“Because of Daily’s rank?”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” John admitted. “I was insulted, you know. That he’d be willing to kneel for that asshole Daily—a one-session Dom from La Petite Mort who wasn’t even certified to cane for discipline.”
“Was Daily physically attractive?”
“Very,” John admitted. “Probably, honestly, one of the best-looking men I’ve ever seen in my life, but it was shallow, at least too me. But Jared was enamored. I ignored it because I thought…I thought he and I were on the same page. Looking back on it, I think it was much jealousy as it was grief that made me try to kill General Daily.” He looked at Rodney and averted his gaze quickly at the shock his submissive couldn’t hide.
“Do you think Jared did it for attention? A form of acting out?”
“If he did, it means that I wasn’t giving him everything he needed,” John murmured. “But this really isn’t the conversation I wanted to have, Rodney.”
“No, but it might be the one you need to have.” Rodney paused. “I don’t play those games.”
“I took note of that up front,” John murmured. “I’d like to think you’d tell me if I was neglecting a part of your dynamic that you need addressed.”
“I would,” Rodney said. “What’s this about?”
“You.” John shifted down the bed and rolled onto his side so they were face to face. “You being happy with me.”
“What is Dame Isobel going to say to you tomorrow?” John asked.
“I don’t know but it probably won’t be pleasant,” Rodney admitted. “She’s never been the sort to pull her punches. Meeting her was a revelation for me, honestly, as I’d been trying to force myself into a box that I thought represented what it meant to be a Courtesan. I learned from her that my personal submission didn’t require the subjugation of my entire personality.” He reached out and laced his fingers together with his Dom’s. “Am I am meeting your needs, John?”
John flushed and his eyes darkened. “Physically, yes.” His Dom’s fingers clenched, and Rodney realized he’d tried to pull away. “Don’t, Rodney. You asked me a question, and I owe us both honesty. I’m in love with you and there is a part of me that is worried that you aren’t with me emotionally, but I trust you. I know if you realize you’re never going to get there that you’ll tell me.”
“I…” Rodney closed his eyes briefly but then forced himself to meet John’s gaze. “I’m a lot more fucked up than I thought.”
“I know,” John said then grinned. “Relax.”
“I’m making you unhappy.” Misery coiled in Rodney’s stomach and he desperately wished he could give John the words he needed. It wasn’t that he didn’t love, John, because he did. He was stupid with it, in more than one way, but the words were beyond him.
“No, you’re not. You ease me in a thousand ways, Rodney, and I knew going into this that you were more fucked up than you thought.” He leaned in and kissed McKay’s mouth. “Don’t worry about this.”
“Our year is almost up.”
“Nothing has to change unless you want it to,” John said quietly. “I certainly don’t want to end what is between us, and I wouldn’t unless I thought our relationship was hurting you.”
“I can’t imagine ever wanting you to remove your collar,” Rodney said quietly. He moved closer. “I know it’s not what you need to hear but you’re everything I want or need. No one matters more and I don’t see how anyone could.”
“You risked your Mark for me, Rodney,” John whispered. “I know how much it and Gerard mean to you.”
“Not more than you,” Rodney said. “And it’s not what I intended from the start. I tried to keep my heart out of it because I’ve always let my emotions get the better of me. They cloud my judgment, and I’ve made bad choices in the past.” His gaze dropped to their hands. “Getting involved with a soldier isn’t the best choice I could make, you know. Your job is stupidly dangerous.” He frowned. “And you jumped over a two-story railing, naked.”
John laughed. “Honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind until I was already down there and they were dead.” He prodded Rodney onto his back and moved over him, settling between the spread of his legs with ease. “How does that pretty ass of yours feel?”
Rodney’s breath hitched as John slipped one hand under him and cupped one cheek. He could still feel the sting of his Dom’s hand from the utterly amazing spanking he’d gotten earlier. “Good, sore.”
John’s hand clenched on him and Rodney shuddered.
“You make me so hard,” John murmured as he nuzzled against Rodney’s jaw. “I love having my cock in you.”
“I’m yours,” Rodney said and shifted under his Dom as he pressed upward against the hard length of John’s cock.
John slipped his fingers between the cheeks of Rodney’s ass as he rocked against him and pressed two fingers into his Courtesan. “Hmmm, you’re still slick and hot for me.”
“Will you fuck me again?” Rodney questioned as he rocked down on John’s fingers. “Please, John.”
“I’d like to hurt you some more, first.” He pulled his fingers free from Rodney’s ass and sat back abruptly on his knees. “Go to the end of the bed and brace yourself on the footboard.”
Rodney immediately left the bed and assumed the position he’d been ordered into, wrapping his hands around the wrought iron footboard without a word. They’d been given emergency guest quarters in the Mountain which were nowhere near as nice as the quarters he’d lived in when he worked in the facility. He figured John didn’t care at all, but he was kind of irritated by it though he’d said nothing. A large warm hand slid down his back and McKay relaxed.
“Let’s get you out of your head for a bit,” John murmured. “I didn’t bring the full kit with me so we’ll just have to make do with the single-tail.”
“You’re perfect,” John said. “I love your skin—how soft and pale it is—the way welts and bruises rise just the way I want.”
Rodney’s breath hitched as John pushed a cool glass plug into his ass with no warning. “Fuck.”
“It’s the biggest one I could find on short notice, just a bit wider than my cock,” John said. “It’ll open you up for me so I can pound your gorgeous ass—use it like a cunt.” He smacked his ass. “You like that.”
“I adore that,” Rodney agreed and groaned when John smacked him again. The spanking he’d gotten earlier in the evening had left his ass cheeks red and hurting long after they’d fucked. It had been so good, and John was using the low of ebb of pleasure still burning in him to ramp him up again. It was extremely effective.
The first flick of the single-tail whip across his back was a tease, a sharp little bite of pain that was so fleeting that Rodney nearly complained. He took a deep, shuddery breath and said nothing. It had been weeks, really, since John had been so engaged in play, and he wasn’t going to do anything to take his Dom out of the moment. The whip whistled through the air, glanced over his back and pleasure pooled in his gut beguilingly. He stopped counting after the tenth blow, content to take what John was giving him. His cock was heavy and leaking between his legs, but Rodney pushed the need to come down deep until the idea of it was almost foreign.
Pain. Pleasure. Love. Lust. It all blended together until everything else muted and he let go. It was easy, easier than it ever had been to drop into subspace. Trusting John was instinctual—a natural by-product of their intense dynamic synergy. John’s wants, Rodney’s needs. Their pleasure.
John lowered his arm and, after a few seconds, coiled the whip in one hand. Rodney was still, expectant. He placed his left hand on the small of his submissive’s back and the other man made a soft, keening sound. “Easy,” John murmured. “You’re being so good for me, Rodney.” He ran a possessive hand down McKay’s back, nails raking over one welt after another, then he slapped his sub’s ass with an open hand.
“John.” Rodney’s back arched and he shuddered. “Fuck.”
“People see you in exhibition—they think they know what you’re like, but they don’t have the first fucking clue, really, how perfect you are like this. Look at you,” John murmured as he tossed aside the whip. He cupped Rodney’s hips with both hands and used his thumbs to spread the man’s ass open. “I’m going to pull this plug out and put my cock in you. Can you stay on your feet or do you want on the bed?”
“Bed,” Rodney whispered hoarsely. “Please.”
John released him. “Okay.”
Rodney lifted his hands off the footboard and shifted on his feet. He shuddered, and John turned him so they were face to face. McKay’s pupils were blown wide. John caught one wrist and checked his pulse. It was steady, not at rest but certainly not racing. He let go of Rodney’s wrist and ran his fingers through the sweat on his sub’s chest. John scraped his thumbnail over Rodney’s Mark and watched the submissive shudder at the stimulation.
“Lie down on your back,” John instructed.
He went back to the dresser where he’d stored the bag from Godric’s and retrieved a length of tightly braided rope. He’d taken a small detour off base shortly after they’d gotten resettled in Colorado because he’d known that he’d packed stupidly light on the equipment front, and McKay deserved better from him. He picked up the thigh cuffs he’d brought out earlier but hadn’t used and crawled onto the bed. John got settled between the spread of his submissive’s legs and dropped his supplies on the mattress. Rodney was staring at him—posture relaxed, eyes dark with arousal, his cock curving towards his belly.
“You’re beautiful,” John said as he ran his hands down the inside of McKay’s thighs. He watched Rodney’s cheeks stain with a blush.
John attached the thigh cuffs in the silence that followed, pleased with how pliable and relaxed McKay was throughout the process. He looped the rope through the hooks on the headboard, relieved that even the average guest quarters the SGC provided, had the basics.
“I’m going to tie you to the headboard, keep you open,” he said. “I’d rather not use a spreader bar because it would be between us when I fuck you, but I can if you think you need the stability.”
“I don’t think I do,” Rodney murmured, his breath hitching as John threaded the rope through the loops on his thigh cuffs and pulled—spreading his legs wide open. “Jesus.”
“Not even close,” John said and grinned when Rodney sighed. He tied off the rope and checked to make sure the pull he built into the knot would release McKay if there was an emergency. He picked up one of McKay’s hands and guided it up to the loop. “This is your safety pull if something insane happens and you need to get free.”
Rodney nodded and released the rope when John let go of his wrist. He curled his fingers around the bars in the headboard and relaxed on the mattress to wait. McKay’s hips lifted slightly and he shivered as John pulled the glass plug from his ass and placed it on the bed beside them. Their gazes connected as Sheppard positioned the head of his cock against Rodney’s hole—then thrust in with a sharp snap of his hips.
“This is for me but you can come whenever you want.”
“It is my honor to serve your pleasure,” Rodney whispered as his Dom started to move.
The pace was brutal, and the harsh smack of John’s hips against his bruised and swollen flesh was a delicious pain. Pleasure rushed over him in waves leaving him breathless and his mind reeling. His own cock was hard and leaking all over his stomach. Any desire he had to stave off coming disappeared as John relentlessly fucked him. John’s hands clenched on his thighs just under the cuffs—blunt nails scraped his skin.
He watched, fascinated, as John’s skin darkened, and the whites of his eyes all but disappeared. His Dom had never exposed so much to him before but John was sacrificing his control by degrees and Rodney was enthralled. Sheppard’s raw physical power combined with the slight falter of his movements pushed Rodney right over the edge—he came all over his belly with a shout of shock. John groaned, curled his hands around McKay’s hips and lifted him off the bed as he continued to move with one full-bodied thrust after another.
John stilled abruptly, and groaned lowly as he came.
* * * *
Isobel Sawyer was all easy grace and beauty. Rodney hoped he aged half as well. The older woman was nursing a cup of coffee and moving easily despite the injury she’d suffered.
“No, the people here did very well with healing me. I must admit to being startled by the level of technology available here even after what I read about the Stargate program. Are you happy?”
“Personally or professionally?”
“I think we both know that in your case they are connected. Does he respect your mind as much as he respects your dynamic?”
“Yes, and he’s supportive of my professional authority which is rare when it comes to military Doms. He loves me.”
“Yes, that’s obvious. He was prepared to make an incredible sacrifice to protect your privacy, Rodney.” Isobel frowned into her cup. “But he’s not exactly settled, is he? Is your Dom happy, Rodney?”
“I don’t know that John allows himself to be happy. Over the past few months, he’s been coming to terms with the fact that his relationship with his first collared submissive wasn’t perfect and might have been near a fracture point when Jared was killed. Perhaps Jared was killed because of that impending fracture since he didn’t protest the mission when he had every single right to.”
“I read the report on that,” Isobel said. “I know, Rodney, that you’d never betray your Dom’s trust that way.”
“I’d never do that to John. I…he means a great deal to me.”
“I know that already,” Isobel said. “You risked your Mark for him, and that means more to me than anything else you might say or I might observe. I want to talk about Sam Carter.”
“I don’t,” Rodney said immediately and sighed when she raised an eyebrow at him. “She’s abusive, bitter, in love with a man she can’t have, a maladjusted switch with no training and no ability to admit that she prefers a submissive role in private. But as a woman in the military, she’s already had to make a lot of hard choices and sacrifices, so she plays at being a Domme because it insulates her. Would I ever trust her with myself or another submissive? No. She has developed a taste for the wrong kind of dominance, and her sadism is rooted in emotional validation rather than sexual pleasure. Sam Carter is a borderline psychopath.”
Isobel sighed. “I’m going to speak with O’Neill and request that she be mentally evaluated, and I’ll make every effort to leave you out of it. The Air Force put her in a position of power, so they’re going to have to deal with her and her issues.”
“I’ll provide testimony if required. My privacy on the issue has already been destroyed.” Rodney took a deep breath. “I’m sorry to have disappointed you.”
“I’m not disappointed, Rodney, I’m worried about you. I’m worried that you let someone like her nearly destroy who and what you are. You are a North Star. Don’t forget that—not ever again.”
“I won’t,” Rodney said. “I lost myself, you know, but I’m in a better place now.”
“Better because of yourself or better because of John Sheppard?” Isobel questioned.
“Both,” Rodney admitted. “I depended on his strength a lot in the beginning but he’s helped me gain my feet both personally and professionally. I don’t regret kneeling for him—I never will.”
“Not even if it gets you killed in another galaxy?” Isobel questioned.
“Life is so short,” Rodney said and set aside his coffee cup. “How can I deny myself something so rewarding and beautiful because it’s dangerous?”
Isobel grinned then. “Do you mean Sheppard or Atlantis?”
“Both,” Rodney said with a laugh. “He’s perfect, really. I’ve never met another like him—his ability to sacrifice for others is humbling and horrifying. I worry that he’ll die in the field and I’ll be alone.”
“If that happens?”
“I’ll return to de Sade,” Rodney said. “And Gerard. It’s his duty to me, and I will ask him for shelter if I lose John.”
“Good,” Isobel said. “And you’re right—it is his duty to you, and I know he would honor it no matter his circumstances. He’s quite taken with his boy.”
“Andre is beautiful and perfect for Gerard,” Rodney said and poured himself some more coffee. “How are you?”
“Settled,” Isobel said. “The loss of Dorian was devastating and I’ve made the decision not to kneel for another.”
“Are you sure?” Rodney asked.
“Yes, quite,” Isobel murmured. “I can’t kneel for another Dom. Dorian was the heart of me, and I’d rather no one ever touch me again. I will go into the grave with his collar.” She touched her collar, her fingers drifting over the black ribbon she’d laced through it. “I know you understand.”
“I do,” he agreed.
“I don’t feel safe on Earth.”
John accepted the words that McKay had whispered against his skin and cupped the back of Rodney’s neck. It said something that his submissive felt safer in a war zone than he did on the planet he was born on. Members of the Trust had been circling around McKay for a long time, and the full measure of their plot was just coming into focus. He took a deep breath against his submissive’s hair then focused on Rampart.
“Give me a target or send us back to Atlantis, sir.”
Rampart looked toward O’Neill.
“Don’t look at me—I’d like to give him a hit list.” Jack sat back with his coffee. “If they’re targeting McKay, they’re targeting others—civilians in my command that are vulnerable for one reason or another. They’re probably looking at my Daniel, too. That pisses me off and makes me homicidal.”
“Would the President sanction an op of that nature?” Blake questioned. “I’d rather it not come back to bite Sheppard later.”
“We don’t have to go at them,” Rampart said. “We just put John in a position that makes him look vulnerable, and they’ll go after him again. They were stupid enough to invade his father’s house, and whoever is in power doesn’t know the details of that mission’s failure. So we leak some details—make it look like the team failed for reasons that are nothing to do with John personally. Secondary security or someone was awake to alert the rest of the house to intruders. Then we let it be known that Sheppard and McKay have retreated to a private location for some leave before they return to Pegasus. We let their mole ferret out the location after they work for it a little bit. If they think they’re alone—they’ll hit hard and try to secure them both. We follow the mole back to the leader of the organization.”
“Miko can do the computer work from the Daedalus. I don’t want her on Earth when this goes down. We know for certain that the mole doesn’t have access to the ship?” John questioned.
“Yes, I’ve made sure of it,” O’Neill murmured.
“Rodney and I will travel privately to the location. Leave a trail to be found. Evan and Matt will be beamed to the location,” John said and he focused on his XO, who just nodded. “Rodney—choices?”
“I have what might be considered a small compound in Washington State just outside of Seattle. The property itself is two hundred acres but most of it is mountain terrain—large house, electric fence and all the security features I could get past local authorities. It’s ten miles off the only road that connects to civilization. I haven’t been there in several years but it’s been used by various SGC personnel for vacations and the like.”
“Daniel and I were there about a month ago,” Jack admitted. “I’ll have the house stocked and cleaned by the service the SGC always uses. It’s secluded enough that we won’t have a problem containing the situation, and there are no neighbors for twenty miles in either direction.”
* * * *
It was a nice house and just as isolated as advertised. Everyone figured they had a little over two days before their location was compromised but he was on alert regardless. No one was going to catch him unaware.
“Can we talk?”
John turned and found Matt hovering in the doorway of the kitchen. “Hey, yeah, of course.”
Matt entered and pulled the door shut behind him, which was a bit startling, but John didn’t question him. “I need your advice, John.”
“Okay.” John motioned toward a chair near him at the kitchen table.
“Evan asked me to marry him,” Matt murmured. “Last night. I haven’t answered him.”
John raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Why?”
Matt sighed and pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “He has no clue really what it means to marry a Geisha, John. He loves me beyond any sort of reason, and that’s dangerous for his career. Before I say yes, I need to make sure he understands not only the house responsibilities attached to my status but I need to present him with a marriage contract. I don’t want to hurt him, but I also don’t want to hurt his career. We’ve been sheltered under your command, but orders change and there could be a time when we’re reassigned or, God forbid, you’re removed from Atlantis for some reason. We could have a new civilian leader or be returned to Earth. I’ve already decided to leave the Navy and take a prior-service slot in the Air Force. General Blake promised to make it happen quickly.”
John blew out a surprised breath. “Okay, but shouldn’t you have Dad negotiate your marriage contract?”
Matt frowned. “No, it’s not about negotiations, John. I’m not saying that Evan is naïve, in fact he’s far from it, but he’s never served with me outside of your command. I don’t think he fully understands the…pressure.”
“You think I do?” John questioned.
“Yes, I think you do. You’ve had to deal with having collared two highly-desirable submissives during your career as an officer. I know what kind of crap you had to deal with when it came to Jared, and he wasn’t even a Consort, though he could’ve been if he hadn’t gotten bored with training at La Petite Mort. A hardcore masochist can write their own ticket in the service.”
John exhaled and went to pour himself some more coffee. “Okay. So yeah, I get that. Are you really worried about reassignment that much?”
“We’re young, circumstances change, and Evan is career Air Force. I need to think long-term, and it’s not an issue of trust.”
“I get it,” John murmured and motioned toward the piece of paper. “Are those are your contract terms?”
“Yes.” Matt huffed and shoved it his way.
“Okay.” John glanced over the list—some of it was standard, and some of it was far from it. The non-standard items were straight out of the Lotus guidelines for marriage contracts. “You’ve not discussed acceptable methods of punishment with him, Mattie?”
Matt flushed. “For fuck’s sake, John, he’s not a sadist. The one and only time he spanked me, he didn’t even get hard.”
That was practically alien to John. “Right. Okay, send him my way and I’ll do all the damn heavy lifting in your relationship.”
Matt grinned. “You agreed to this.” He hopped up and trotted off looking relieved.
He had agreed to it, so he stood from the table and retrieved a cup of coffee for his XO. Evan came through the doorway a few minutes later, looking like he was trying hard to appear relaxed.
John set the man’s coffee down on the table and said nothing until Evan was seated. He leaned on the counter and took a sip of his own coffee. “I did a tour in Iraq with Jared shortly after I collared him. He was young, fresh, recently marked and he trembled like an untried boy when he came. He was twenty-two, bright-eyed, and so very eager to please. Jared adored being dominated, personally and professionally.”
Evan exhaled sharply but said nothing.
“We’d been collared six months the first time a superior officer ordered me into an exhibition. I was young myself, arrogant and confident of my abilities. Jared made for a pretty display—he enjoyed it. His second biggest kink was exhibition. It went very well. We became well known for it. A month after that first exhibition, my CO asked for a private show. I declined. I received new orders fifteen hours later.”
“I avoided exhibition for nearly a year in my next posting due to the combat circumstances. He sent me into an active war zone to punish me for the rejection, you see.”
“I do see,” Evan murmured.
“We were sorted stateside for a six-month rotation, and I was ordered onto the base exhibition schedule. I participated without complaint, and Jared enjoyed the attention we garnered on and off the exhibition stage. A two-star general visited the base shortly before we were due to be shipped out. He watched an exhibition and approached us afterward. He requested Jared’s private company for the evening. I declined. He was, for lack of a better word, stunned by the refusal. He berated me for being selfish and my orders were changed. I was sent into another combat situation, the location of which is classified. After that tour, we were returned to the states because I was needed for some specialized training. Again, a situation I can’t go into detail about.
“We were on that base for three months, and I avoided exhibition until Jared begged for it. I felt like an asshole for denying him something he enjoyed so much, so I added myself to the schedule. We exhibited four times in two months. I was a Major at that point, and a Lt. Colonel on the base was enthralled with my performance. She approached me and offered me her submission.”
“I’ve always found it pretty awkward to refuse to top a superior,” Evan admitted reluctantly. “I have to say there were times when I did it when I really didn’t have any desire to do so.”
“I can say the same before I collared Jared, but we had an exclusive relationship as that is my preference. I told her that and she was insulted and embarrassed. The next day I was called into the base commander’s office and given a lecture about politics and social responsibilities. He was less than thrilled when I told him that the Marine Corps didn’t issue me my cock and there were no regulations regarding its consensual use.”
Evan snorted. “John.”
“Yeah, you can imagine how well that went over. Thank God there are regulations against being reprimanded for refusing to indulge in social activities or he’d have written me up for refusing to take a ride on his favorite officer on the base. I have to wonder how often she used him to bully Doms into topping her if they were unwilling.” John took a sip of his coffee as he considered his next words. “It happened often over the years—I even had a CO get bent because I wouldn’t submit to him despite the fact that I’m a well-known Dominant. He enjoyed, he said, breaking other Doms and figured I owed him my ass because of his rank.”
“I’ve had some of that,” Evan admitted. “I’ve never submitted, not even in training. I don’t think I could, but that’s probably related to my father and what I was forced to witness in his house as a kid.”
“I figured as much,” John admitted. “I’d suggest you work on it but the truth is that Matt would be horrified if you asked him to dominate you.”
Evan snorted. “Boy, would he.”
“Beyond the mess with Jordan and Summers, I haven’t had any real problems of that sort with Rodney. There could come a point when that changes, and I have a submissive contract on file for us both to sign and file with my service record should I be reassigned.”
“I don’t know that you do, Evan,” John admitted and finally sat down at the table. “Do you remember the day Matt came to the SGC?”
“Vividly,” Evan admitted with a flush.
“In some ways, Miko and Matt have wildly different circumstances. Miko has an icy, remote demeanor with people she doesn’t know or would prefer not to interact with. It provides her a level of isolation that not even a collar would give her. She’s worshipped from afar by quite a few, but they’d never approach without her permission. Carson was that way—I don’t know how long he’d have held out before he’d have come to me on his own. Fortunately for them both, she’s also the bold sort.
“Matt is and always will be different. He’s easy going, friendly, and while just as beautiful as Miko, he has a warm and inviting public persona. People want to be near him, they are eager for his attention—even in small, insignificant moments. Even a collar hasn’t changed that, and a wedding band won’t change it either.”
Evan nodded. “I know.”
“There are responsibilities attached to marriage to a Geisha, and deeply felt ramifications that extend beyond social and financial support.”
“You know I’ll do whatever is required of me on that front,” Evan said. “I love him.”
John pushed the list toward him. “Read it.”
Evan picked up the list and scanned the items. His hand shook a little as he put it down. “Matt can’t possibly think I would do…”
“No, of course not, Evan. Some of the items are required by his house. Not even marriage would give you the right to draw a Lotus Geisha’s blood in any sort of private act—pleasure or punishment.”
“I told you a long time ago that I would never share him,” Evan said quietly.
“Then why is it listed among his contract demands?” Evan asked. “We’ve never exhibited—it doesn’t interest us. But it’s listed as a prohibited act…”
“Orders change, circumstances are altered no matter our desires,” John said. “You won’t always be under my command, Evan. Matt has a highly specialized skill set as a pilot. He told me he’s leaving the Navy and joining the Air Force. While O’Neill would fight like the devil to keep you both in his command, there could be a time when you’re forced into a different situation, even if it’s brief. Matt knows a hell of a lot more about what it means to be a Geisha in a traditional military posting than either of us. Most of this is about protecting your career. A superior officer can’t order you to exhibit if it is expressly prohibited in your marriage contract, and that officer couldn’t punish you for it either.”
“At least, not officially.”
“Right.” John nodded. “So all of this has to be in the contract, and I’d like to add two items. Neither will thrill him but he won’t complain.”
“Okay.” Evan pressed his lips together briefly. “Lay it on me.”
“Currently, the laws in the US give him the right to sue for divorce and to remove your collar if you refuse to do so. That could change if certain groups get their way. I want it expressly stated in your contract that you’ll honor his wishes regarding both issues if he decided at some future date he wants to leave you.”
“Agreed. The second?”
“Matt isn’t on board with that to be honest. I don’t know how I feel about them, but we’re not in a great situation for a family anyway.”
John nodded. “Dad said you were considering taking our name.”
Evan grimaced. “My grandfather requested that I not make any changes on that front because it might cause some bad press for him.”
“Right.” John sighed. “So about the kids, if there are any. Regardless of who is the genetic father, I want it explicitly outlined in the contract that Matt will have full parental rights and that in the event of your death, that your biological father will have no say whatsoever in their custody and no visitation rights.”
“I hadn’t considered it since…we don’t want them right now, but you’re right, it should be in there.” Evan rubbed his head in frustration. “Frankly, I think Matt would kill him before he’d allow him to visit any child he knows, much less one of his own.”
“Great. Go find Matt and convince him that you’re fine with all of that even if you’re actually genuinely insulted by some parts of it. He’s a nervous wreck over it. Also, for the record, make him outline the forbidden methods of punishment per the house rules of Lotus. He should’ve done that for you before you collared him, and his Pleasure Master would have a genuine fit if he knew Matt hadn’t.”
“I’ve only punished him once,” Evan admitted. “Which is probably terrible since he’s an arrogant little shit who often baits me just to get my attention. But it’s honestly difficult to find fault with him.”
“Bleeding heart,” John muttered. “You should probably spank him once a month on principle. Heaven knows Dad never did. He’s been spoiled rotten since his birth.”
Evan laughed and picked up the list. “I’ll add all of this to the contract and send it your father for review. I expect him to have…issues as well.”
“I imagine that most of Matt’s list came from him,” John admitted. “In some form or another. Mattie is and always will be his baby. Keep that in mind, Evan, above all other things. He’s the heart of our family.”
Evan nodded but said nothing else.
Rodney came into the kitchen just after Evan left and slid into his lap. “You did really well with that.”
“How much of it did you hear?”
“Oh, the whole thing. Matt listened too then dashed upstairs to pretend he hadn’t been spying.” Rodney grinned when John laughed. “Do you want kids?”
John frowned. “I don’t…know actually. Maybe? I like kids.” He shrugged. “You?”
“Eh.” Rodney made a face. “I mean—I should probably procreate for the good of mankind or something.”
John laughed. “I’ll keep that mind.” He rested his head against Rodney’s. “I miss Atlantis.”
“I know,” Rodney murmured. “I bet she misses you, too. We’ll go back soon and hopefully everyone will just leave us the fuck alone for a bit.”
He cleared his throat. “I’m not sure when I’ll actually be able to take genuine leave, you know. I want to give Matt and Evan the time they need. Anne is due for a month herself, and I know she wants to bring Allison back to Earth for a bit. Elizabeth is also due some leave, and I’ve left the city far too much over the last year.”
“I don’t need an actual vacation or anything like that. I can’t say I’d turn down a retreat and several weeks of your undivided attention but I understand your duty to the city and to your men. They need you, your leadership, and all that comes with it. You’ve been pulled in several different directions over the last year and that’s not fair to anyone, least of all the men and women who depend on you for guidance and leadership on Atlantis.” Rodney cleared his throat. “I did…I made a decision recently and I informed both Dame Isobel and Gerard.”
“Can you tell me or is it house business?” John questioned.
“It’s private business, so yes I can share it with you, and I was on the fence about having this discussion with you at all, but listening to you speak to Evan about his responsibilities as Matt’s Dom made me realize that I should tell you. You have a right to know—though I would like to couch it with the knowledge that your disapproval of my choices in this regard won’t change my mind.”
John smiled briefly then cleared his throat. “Just say it then.”
“Yours is the last collar I’ll ever wear,” Rodney said quietly and bit down on his lip when John stiffened in shock. “If you were to die—I plan to retreat to de Sade and to Gerard permanently.”
“And if Gerard isn’t available for whatever reason?”
“The only reason he wouldn’t be is if he were dead,” Rodney said. “He’ll designate his successor regarding my social guardianship in his will. I’ve been informed of his choices in that regard. Would you like to know the names?”
“Yes,” John murmured.
“Alexis de Sade and Lady Heather Kessler.”
John relaxed. “Okay.” He turned his face into McKay’s hair. “I’d like to…” He exhaled. “I really don’t approve.”
Rodney laughed sadly. “John.”
“I love you so much,” he said hoarsely. “I’d hate to see you waste away in seclusion.”
“I won’t be safe without you,” Rodney said. “Things were building and shifting even before you returned to Earth. They took a quick, ugly turn because you collared me, but all of that was already heading my way. Jordan was skirting the edge of my world, pushing and plotting. Devereaux was, too, and I just didn’t know it. I set myself on a horrible path the day I accepted Sam Carter’s collar. My only safety without you will be in Gerard’s household, and frankly, that might not be enough. There are those who would seek to use and control me for their own benefit. They won’t ever stop trying, to be honest.”
“Then I’ll just have to live so I can keep you safe,” John murmured.
“I’d honestly prefer that you outlive me, which is just about the most selfish thing I could possibly want. You’ve already buried one submissive.”
Sheppard slid his fingers along his collar and Rodney pressed closer. “I envy him.”
“Who?” Rodney asked in confusion.
“Ronon Dex,” John confessed in a harsh whisper. “The collar with no lock.”
Rodney shuddered and turned his head. He pressed his mouth to John’s, and Sheppard shook a little at the soft, sweet kiss his submissive gave him. McKay rubbed his cheek against John’s as his Dom’s hands tightened to him.
“I’d kneel for it,” Rodney admitted, and John closed his eyes. “And I didn’t ever think I would consider such a thing. It’s such a taboo in our society. I was taught to consider permanent collars an abomination.”
“I was, too,” John admitted. “But there is such beauty in their relationship.”
“Yes,” Rodney agreed. “Acceptance, commitment, and so much love. No one could argue against Ronon’s dedication to his submissive—he waged war for Tyre for seven years.”
“There isn’t a Dom on the city who hasn’t put themselves in his place,” John admitted. “They were both so incredibly young when they were taken from their home.”
“What would you do?” Rodney asked.
“Anything and everything I could to keep you safe,” John said. “There aren’t enough Wraith in Pegasus to end me in such a circumstance. I have their strength, their agility, their stamina and none of their mania or hunger. Plus, I have you. We’d blow their shit up on the regular.”
Rodney laughed. “Yeah, we would.”
John shifted slightly and he tilted his head. Rodney’s gaze went wide but he didn’t move, didn’t speak. Sheppard’s fingers curled briefly into the slacks Rodney was wearing and his nostrils flared gently. “I see.”
“See what?” Rodney murmured.
“I didn’t hear or smell them. It’s something deeper, more base.”
“Animal instinct.” Rodney slipped from his lap and John stood. “They aren’t in the house.”
“No, but they’re on the property. They’re far better connected than anyone realized then but that’s not our problem at present.” John gave a sharp little whistle and Rodney heard footsteps on the second floor.
Evan and Matt entered the kitchen in under a minute—both were armed.
“Didn’t take long,” Evan said. “Homeworld and the SGC must be leaking like sieves. That’s going to make some people furious.”
“Agreed,” John murmured. He pulled out the cellphone that O’Neill had given him, dialed a number, let it ring twice, and hung up. “Rodney, activate the outside security and tell me how many targets we have.”
Rodney sat back down at the table and opened the laptop he’d set up shortly after they arrived. “I have a full sensor net set up on the property. Since SGC personnel use the place a lot, it’s been set up for secure operations if needed.” He worked for a few minutes and they waited in silence around him. “They came through the north gate. I’ve closed all the gates and electrified the fence. Vehicle access from that direction narrows down to a trail too small for an ATV so they’ll abandon the three SUVS they drove onto the property about a mile from the house. The net is fully online as of now and the scan…they’re a half mile from the house and moving at a brisk place.” He exhaled sharply. “There are twenty-six of them, John.” He frowned. “Correction—there are twenty-five. Odd.”
“What?” John asked.
“One of the signs isn’t human, but my censors aren’t calibrated to indicate species.”
“Dog,” Evan murmured. “Smart. Very fucking smart.”
“Well, not that smart,” John admitted. “Granted, that means they have intel on me they really shouldn’t have, but I rarely meet a predator who doesn’t submit to me on sight—especially ones smaller than me. It speaks to military resources though.”
“Yeah,” Matt agreed. “We won’t hurt the dog, right?”
“No, of course not,” John said.
“We’ve taken out Trust operatives in the past that were military,” Evan admitted. “An Air Force Colonel and half a dozen Marines that were operating an illegal operation out of the SGC. They managed to damage several of our relationships with off-world allies, at least in the short-term, and were responsible for the murder of thousands of Jaffa; not all of them were in the service of a Goa’uld either. The Trust didn’t care.”
“Isolationism remains their main goal,” Rodney said. “I’m not getting any energy signatures so all of their weapons are standard fare—projectile based.” He turned to John. “I’d like you to remember that you’re not bullet proof.”
“Our mission is capture and interrogate, Rodney. Evan and I are going to paint them for the Daedalus and they’ll be beamed off the property. O’Neill wants proof so he can end this crap as soon as possible, and that requires prisoners.”
* * * *
Rodney sat in the kitchen and watched as the targets were plucked from the property one by one. The entire thing was over in about five minutes, which was startling. He wasn’t all that surprised when the life signs representing Lorne and Matt disappeared as well. John and the unknown life sign came back to the house. Rodney turned as his Dom entered through the back door, a beautiful Belgian Malinois at his heel.
“You look furious.”
“Pretty damn sure those assholes have stolen this dog from the Navy,” John said grimly. “The guy handling him had no fucking clue what he was doing. He looks underfed, too.” He went to the cabinet, pulled out a bowl and filled it with water. “O’Neill’s put in a call to the Navy to check. He’s young so I doubt he’s been retired.”
Rodney noticed that the dog didn’t move until John pointed him toward the bowl. “He’s disciplined.”
Sheppard nodded. The cellphone he was carrying went off and he pulled it from his pocket. “Sheppard.” He paused and glanced down at the dog. “Ajax.” The dog immediately focused on him. “He answered to it. Can you send his service record, and I’ll compare his picture? Thanks, Evan.”
Rodney cleared his throat when John ended the call. “Ajax, huh?”
“Yeah, his one and only handler went down in the Middle East three weeks ago. He was shipped back to the states for an evaluation, and it was determined he wouldn’t accept another handler. He went missing fifteen days ago, but it went unreported for nearly five days. Three sailors have been punished for failing to report his theft.” John knelt and stroked his hands down the dog’s face.
“You’re going to keep him.”
“I’d like to,” John admitted. “They were going to retire him because no one was connecting with him. I’ll review his records, and if he doesn’t have any behavioral issues beyond his emotional attachment to his previous handler then I’ll request he be transferred into my command.”
“Transfer, like a soldier?”
“Yes, he’s an officer in the Navy currently. Formally, Lt. Commander Ajax,” John said. “If Rampart lets me keep him, he’ll be transferred into the Marines with the rank of Brigadier General.”
“Why?” Rodney asked with a frown.
“Military dogs always have a higher rank than their assigned handler—a measure of respect. I trained with dogs early on in my career, and there were several MPCs with our platoon in Iraq.”
“Multi-purpose canine—security, protection, explosive detection, scouting. Ajax is one.” The dog was standing at attention by the bowl, Rodney noted.
“Maybe you should tell him to relax?”
John’s gaze drifted to the dog. “At ease.” Ajax stretched, crossed the room and tucked himself into a corner where he curled up and closed his eyes.
Rodney sighed at the look on his Dom’s face. “I’m more of a cat person.”
“But look at him,” John said. “Besides, he’s a hero and he doesn’t deserve to be retired because he’s grieving.”
“And he likes you.” Rodney raised an eyebrow when Sheppard blushed. “Fine, fine, I won’t complain about your commando dog.” He took a long sip of his coffee and his gaze drifted back to the laptop. “Are they off the ship by now?”
“Yeah, the entire lot were transferred down to the Mountain while Evan was reporting to O’Neill about the dog they brought with them.”
“Then let’s go back up to the Daedalus. Can we leave now?”
“Get our bags, and I’ll sort the dog,” John said by way of agreement. “I’ll let O’Neill know we’re ready go. The ship should be restocked for the trip back.”
* * * *
Rodney carefully unbuckled the harness that Ajax was wearing, and the dog nimbly stepped out of it. “Old hand at that, huh? Well, I hate to be rude, but you need a bath so that’s what we’re going to do. I had someone pick up stuff for you and send it up here. They sorted out a place for you to do your outside business in one of the cargo bays. I’ll be figuring out something different for Atlantis because I’m a genius and I’m not going to waste my time cleaning up after you.”
The dog made a little chuffing sound and nuzzled the side of McKay’s face.
“Oh no, I want no part of your dog kisses,” Rodney said with a laugh. “I already agreed not to complain about you—that’s all you get. Now, how do you feel about a shower?”
“From the look on his face, I’d have to say he’s not on board with it,” John said dryly.
“He either takes a shower or you make some Marines give him a bath somewhere else on this ship.”
Ajax lay down between them and put his chin on his paws.
Rodney huffed dramatically when his Dom’s face softened. “Should I be jealous?”
John laughed. “How about we let someone else give him a bath and I spank your ass for the attitude problem?”
McKay grinned. “I’m a terrible burden for you, Sir.”
* * * *
They stayed in orbit for five hours after beam up, and reports filtered up to John as the investigation progressed. After the second report, he’d retreated to his quarters to avoid losing his temper in public. McKay was venting his own temper on the various scientists on board the ship, who were taking it with a surprising amount of grace, but that was probably because Ajax was following McKay around the ship like it was his job. The Navy hadn’t wanted to part with the dog once they were told he’d responded so well to John, but O’Neill had made it clear that they were never getting the dog back so they might as well give in gracefully.
John was trying to overlook the fact his CO had probably gotten him a puppy as an apology for the all the problems they’d had regarding the Trust. Jordan, Devereaux and two officers in the Mountain had been implicated so far. By the time it had been confirmed that there was at least one implanted Goa’uld on Earth, John was livid. Every single person on the ship had been scanned twice for symbiotes and none had been found. Everyone on the ship was on edge, so it was a relief when the last of supplies were brought on board.
John sat down in the command chair with a frown. He still didn’t like being in Caldwell’s place, and he figured it was obvious. Rodney and Ajax meandered onto the bridge at that point, and the dog sprawled in front of John. He honestly couldn’t say what had made him want to keep the dog—beyond the fact that he’d been stolen and essentially dismissed as an asset after all the good work he’d done for them.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Yes, sir.” The pilot engaged the engines and the crew went about the tasks required of them to enter hyperspace.
Rodney settled one hand on his and John turned his palm over so he could lace their fingers together. He relaxed back in the chair as much as he could. He didn’t like leaving a mess behind on Earth, but his mission was Atlantis and he would have to trust O’Neill to handle the Trust and all the treachery that came with that organization.
“Do you think there are operatives on Atlantis?”
“You mean besides Summers?” Rodney questioned, and John exhaled sharply. “I don’t know, but we’ll find out.”
John squeezed his hand gently.
“Yeah, we will.”