Title
Nice Place To Visit
Prompt
Big Bang 2009.   Anything goes.
Summary
When an accident leaves John and Rodney stranded on a far-flung planet, Rodney gets a crash course in- among other things- cultural relativity, calligraphy, BDSM, and the care and feeding of heavily drugged Lieutenant Colonels.
Pairing
McKay/Sheppard, Weir/Caldwell
Rating
NC-17
Word Count
42960 words
Warnings
This story has warnings; they are listed at the end of the story.
Jump to the warnings.
Companion Artwork
  • Looking Homeward by calcitrix
  • Warrior's Respite by calcitrix

Rodney really should have seen it coming; after all, the whole mission had run just a little too smoothly.

ML5-160 wasn't much to write home about, really. Teyla had been a little evasive every time she talked about it, so Rodney had been expecting something out of the ordinary- weird rituals, maybe, or bizarre food. It wasn't like Teyla to balk at anything; the last time she'd expressed what she called a "minor reservation" concerning a planet, they ended up having to hold onto each other's shoulders and hop three times around the gate- completely bare-ass naked- before anyone would trade with them.

Instead, the most scandalous thing he'd seen the entire visit was two men holding hands- which put it, on Rodney's personal weirdness scale, right between the market on M3X-716 and Topeka, Kansas.

Teyla, Ronon, and the Marines they'd enlisted as pack mules had already gone back through the gate with most of the grain and goods they'd traded for. As he and John went to follow them, Rodney took a last look at his tablet, making sure there was nothing he'd forgotten.

"Wait." He reached out blindly, slapping John sort of vaguely around the ear before connecting with his shoulder. "I'm getting some really odd energy readings."

"What is it?" John said as the event horizon winked out.

Rodney held up a finger for silence. "Just hold up a minute while I take a look at this."

And then the gate exploded.


MISSION PRECIS
ML5-160
1 May 2007

Team Assigned: AR-1
Personnel: Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Team Leader; Special Consultant Teyla Emmagan, Negotiator; Specialist Ronon Dex, Security; Dr. Rodney McKay, Science Officer
First Contact?: No
Primary Mission Objective: Negotiate trade agreement for native grain (rinal, Panicoideae bykstrana)
Other Objectives: Assess level of technological development; negotiate for entrance to capital city; assess feasibility of possible alliance

Notes: The Bykstrans do not allow outsiders entrance to any of their cities. Aerial recon suggests their level of advancement is moderate to high. Global population is estimated to be less than fifty thousand individuals. Halling of Athos reports that the Bykstrans have no problem with the Wraith, which may indicate that the planet is the location of a shield generator and/or zero point module.

Traders are welcome, but all business with off-worlders is done in a small outpost .25 mi from the Stargate.

Current Season at Gate: Summer
Weather Forecast: Warm, with showers in the evening.
Special Cultural Considerations: None known.

Time of Departure: 0900AST, 1 May 2007
Estimated Time of Return: 1400AST, 1 May 2007
First Overdue Check-In: 2000AST, 1 May 2007

Report Prepared by: LtCol J. Sheppard, 26 April 2007
Mission Approved by: Cdr Dr. E. L. Weir, 27 April 2007


If he had to sit on that bench for one more minute, Rodney was going to go completely insane.

The healers had long since left him to his own devices; if the building was the Bykstran equivalent of a hospital, then Rodney figured he must be in the waiting room. That, or he'd actually died in the catastrophe several hours previous, and this was Purgatory. Both options seemed equally likely.

There had been one or two stragglers left when he'd come in, but now he had the place all to himself. Not that there was a lot of it to have, honestly, other than a potted plant and a set of floor tiles he'd already counted three times. There was a door he hadn't investigated on the opposite wall. He hadn't seen anybody come in or go out, so for all he knew it led to the broom closet; but he was just about at the point where even the broom closet seemed like a nice change of pace.

When he walked over and opened the door, he found himself standing on a narrow balcony, one of several ringing a wide plaza. He suddenly realized that he was in the middle of one of Bykstra's cities; he'd been too out of it to notice when they'd been rushed in with the other survivors. They'd never been allowed in before, which Teyla said was standard procedure. The city had always been looming tantalizingly in the distance, promising actual beds and good meals rather than the yurts and stone soup of the trading camp near the gate; of course, it figured that once he actually got in, he'd be in no shape to enjoy it.

The hospital stood on higher ground than the surrounding areas, giving him a clear view of the wide, empty streets. It looked the way old cities look, streets intersecting haphazardly, according to patterns that had probably been lost for centuries. Nothing about it struck him as particularly Ancient, though. It was too warm, somehow; the red clay tiles of the rooftops would've clashed horribly with their blue and green spires.

He pressed his face against the cool wooden railing of the balcony. What Rodney really, really wanted to do- assuming neither going home nor drinking a cup of coffee the size of his head were viable options- was go to sleep. He'd been assured numerous times that he didn't have a concussion- sleep was supposed to be the prize you got for not having one, right? Even if he'd gone to bed, though, he couldn't possibly have slept; John was still in there, letting the planet's finest voodoo practitioners poke and prod at him. He'd taken a chunk of rock to the head, as well as various other, smaller chunks to other parts of his body, most of which happened while he was tumbling down a cliff. It was still better than getting hit with naquahdah, Rodney supposed; naquahdah was much heavier.

If Rodney squinted, he could just make out the cliff where the stargate sat- or, rather, the place where the cliff had been. As it turned out, it wasn't the gate- of course it wasn't the gate, it was a testament to how traumatic all this was that the thought had even crossed his mind- so much as the ground beneath it that had exploded; it might as well have, though, because now it was lying at the bottom of the aforementioned cliff in a massive pile of rubble, along with the scattered pieces of the DHD. Rodney had temporarily shelved his freak out over the whole thing- he really needed Sheppard to be here so that he could do it properly, with an audience and visual aids and everything.

He gave up on staring at the city and went back inside, pacing nervously across the floor in between bouts of picking at the food that somebody'd brought in. Finally, finally, the inner door opened, and John walked stiffly in, followed by one of the healers.

He wasn't in his uniform, which wasn't really surprising- it probably wasn't in any sort of shape to be worn after the blast. They'd given him a close-fitting black shirt and soft-looking black pants, something that looked sort of like linen and an awful lot like something John would wear anyway. His feet were bare, his footfalls silent on the wooden floor.

John knelt quietly in front of him, and it was only then that he noticed the collar.

"Holy fuck, we're stranded on Gor," Rodney blurted.

The healer, an older woman with long silver hair, raised an eyebrow at him. "I am Ralla," she told him. "I've come to return your warrior to you. He has been badly injured, but his brain was undamaged and he's very strong. He should make a full recovery."

"Um. Is it medically necessary for him to be kneeling on the floor like that?"

She looked at him as if she couldn't tell whether or not he was making a joke. "Of course not." She held out a hand to Sheppard; after a moment, he took it, allowing her to help him to his feet.

"Hey, Rodney," he drawled sleepily.

"Colonel," Rodney huffed.

"Not a colonel right now," John said, looking, for all the world, like he was absolutely stoned out of his brain. "Just, y'know. A guy."

Rodney put his face in his hands. "If you don't snap out of it, I'm going to take you to the market and trade you for something useful," he spat irritably, unable to help himself.

When he looked up again, Ralla was staring at him as if he'd just suggested that Hitler was an all right guy, once you got to know him- and a snappy dresser to boot.

"What now?" he snapped, exasperated. She indicated John with the slightest incline of her head, and Rodney looked over at him.

John was crying.

It was easily the most bizarre, most horrible sight Rodney had ever seen. "Oh- oh shit," he said quickly. "Oh god, what do I do?"

"Comfort him," his hostess snapped.

"What?"

"You've upset him," she said, reminding Rodney forcibly of his first grade teacher. "You have to comfort him."

He opened his arms awkwardly. "Come here." Apparently, he wasn't selling it; John hesitated, looking anxiously at him. Rodney sighed in exasperation. "Stop looking like a kicked puppy and get over here."

Rodney found himself with two arms full of Sheppard. It was kind of nice, in a way- he was substantial and warm and generally a good shape for hugging. It was bad in lots of other ways, though, mostly because he was crying and sniveling like an eight year old who'd fallen off his bike.

"There, there," he tried, sounding stupid in his own ears, rubbing John's upper back. "You know I wouldn't ever trade you for anything. If Teyla didn't throw me into the ocean, Elizabeth would kill me with a brick." John sniffled, clinging to his tac vest with both hands. "Colonel, are you listening? Because I seriously need you to get your act together right now. Can you do that for me?"

John nodded mutely, stepping back and wiping his eyes on his sleeve. Something was wrong, very, very wrong, if John wasn't even considering protesting being treated like a small child. "Why don't you go to your-" he glanced at Ralla- "our room and wait for me? I'll be there in just a few minutes."

Ralla guided John towards the door; there were young women waiting on the other side to lead John away. Rodney waved goodbye awkwardly, torn between not wanting to let Sheppard out of his sight and wanting to get some answers.

"What in the hell have you people done to him?" he hissed, when the door closed again. "I don't know what's going on around here, but we don't look very favorably on societies who drug unsuspecting people."

"He chose this for himself," she snapped at him. She snorted once, in obvious frustration; Rodney was just about to ask her where she got off being so damn huffy when she closed her eyes, centering herself. It reminded him so much of Teyla that he almost couldn't breathe, suddenly feeling the weight of what had just happened pushing in on him. He shoved that feeling aside as hard as he could- there would be plenty of time to panic later.

"Forgive me. I had forgotten you were from another world." She sat down, patting the bench beside her. "Please, sit, and I will explain."

"I'd rather stand, thanks," he sneered, just for the sake of being contrary.

She shrugged, not rising to it. "He is a soldier, is he not? And a very valiant one at that, if the stories are to be taken as true." Rodney very nearly preened on John's behalf. "And so, while he was being healed, he was offered the Warrior's Respite. It is the highest honor a soldier can be given."

"So, you got him stoned?" Rodney hadn't met anybody who considered that a great honor since grad school, but- dammit, Ralla was giving him a concerned look. "Never mind- please, go on."

"To be a soldier is a way of life requiring a full and unyielding commitment," Ralla explained. "He must change everything about himself, learn the ways of warriors, live among unfamiliar people, give himself over to it completely for many years. You take a young man, separate him from his family, train him to end other human lives, use his strength as much as is possible, and expect to bring him back into society as if nothing has ever happened?"

Rodney couldn't help rolling his eyes. "Look, lady, I didn't come here to get into a debate on the morality of war. I just want to know how to fix him."

She snorted again, but this time it sounded amused. "Apart from his physical wounds, there is nothing to fix. The Warrior's Respite is a healing drug, used to promote a peaceful reintegration into society."

Rodney pressed his fingers to his forehead, as if it might stop the headache that was starting to form. He severely needed some coffee if he was going to even attempt to deal with this shit. "Colonel Sheppard wasn't in your society to start with."

"Your friend is in a great deal of pain." She held up her hand. "And please do not pretend I am speaking about having fallen down a bluff. We are both smarter people than that. He is greatly burdened, and this will help him." Her eyes grew sad. "And if the Ring of the Boundary cannot be repaired-" She let the rest of the sentence hang. Rodney decided it was impolitic to mention that, with any luck, their ride would be there to pick them up within the month.

She shook her head, seeming to come back to herself. "Now that John is among the Cared For, he will need someone else to be responsible for him."

"I'll do it," Rodney said, without even stopping to worry about the fact that he had absolutely no idea what was going on.

"Of course," she replied, her voice soft and kind. "He insisted."

He cleared his throat. "He's going to be okay, isn't he? I haven't permanently damaged his psyche by snapping at him or anything?"

Ralla sighed, looking relieved, like she was glad to discover that Rodney was just an idiot instead of an asshole. "I think he will be just fine. John will be able to perform tasks for you, once he is recovered from his physical injuries. It is good that he be allowed to. Having a set routine is good for reintegration."

"And how long does this process usually take?"

She shrugged. "It may take quite a long time. Some people never wish to rejoin society. All who take the Respite are required to rid themselves of it after fifteen cycles, though they may choose to stop at any time they feel ready."

"Cycles, cycles, on this planet, fifteen cycles is, what, thirteen months, give or take?" He shook his head. "Right, why am I asking you?"

"You need to sleep," she told him, reaching into a pocket and pulling out a small envelope made of something like cellophane. "Swallow these once you reach your rooms. They will take effect within an hour's time."

He nodded; when did he get so tired? "I- thank you. For explaining." He wasn't quite ready to start thanking her for having drugged his team leader halfway out of his brain. Maybe John wouldn't look quite so bombed in the morning- for all Rodney knew, half of it was the sedatives.

She smiled at him, patting him gently on the arm. "Our ways are sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand. If you need assistance, please come and find me."

The door opened, then, and the same two women who had taken John away- they were really more like girls, now that Rodney got a good look at them, though the blonde one wasn't bad- came fluttering in, presumably to guide him to bed.

God, if Sheppard didn't get better soon, things were going to be seriously fucking strange.


John spent most of the first week asleep, curled up on himself in their room's one bed. The healers came in and out from time to time, usually supervised by Ralla, to change poultices, fret over dressings, and not answer any of Rodney's questions to any acceptable degree of satisfaction. As far as Rodney's purposefully limited medical knowledge went, John looked too pale, but he seemed calmer about it than usual; John was the type to flail and kick when his sedatives started to wear off, but he didn't this time.

John's lethargy was pretty much fine with Rodney, though, because it gave him plenty of time to deal with the fact that he had absolutely no idea what in the hell was going on.

Up until the accident, he'd had a pretty clear view of Bykstra. Closed society, well organized, fairly technologically advanced for Pegasus but nowhere near as far up the totem pole as the Genii or the Olesians, claiming not to be bothered by the Wraith but not walking around bragging about how their magic kept them away.

In other words, totally boring.

But now that he was actually inside the city, Rodney was starting to feel like the whole planet was like one of those Magic Eye pictures: when he'd looked at it the first time, it didn't look like anything at all; but now that he'd seen the sailboat, he couldn't see anything else.

It seemed like there were people- Rodney'd only seen men, but there was no telling where they were keeping the women- wearing collars every time he turned around. The guards at the archives, the man Ralla sent to walk him there, the man who brought them food when the healers weren't around- all of them were wearing collars just like John's. It was only ever menial workers, though- the woman who actually ran the archives was, well, a woman, as were all the healers. He started to think for a while there that it was another one of those matriarchal planets; but then the mayor stopped by- Rodney figured they were probably a photo op, or whatever the equivalent was before the development of the camera- and he was a man.

It didn't take Rodney very long to decide that his suspicions were correct; they were slaves, or at least something very like it. None of them seemed quite so out of it as John- but then, they hadn't all just fallen down a mountain- but they all definitely seemed drugged. They didn't seem to be particularly maltreated, not publicly anyway, but Rodney really didn't want to think about what the Bykstrans got up to in their free time.

Maybe he needed an axis for level of obvious oppression on his grand scale of Pegasus societies; but even then, he wasn't really sure where he'd end up sticking people who kept slaves who didn't really seem to mind being enslaved very much.

And he really didn't know where to put John, either. Ralla was insistent that he'd chosen everything- the drugs and the collar and the whole bit- by himself. And it wasn't that he didn't believe her-

Okay, actually? That was exactly it. He totally didn't believe her. Maybe "it was his choice" was a nice way of putting it so that the foreign barbarian could understand it, but that couldn't possibly be what was actually going on. There was just no way that John could ever possibly want something like this to happen to him. It was impossible; he was Sheppard, for fuck's sake.

It was probably a destiny thing- it was always a destiny thing with Sheppard. Either it was because he had hazel eyes, or because of his freakishly strong gene, or because of his generally freakish hair. He was always the one the prophesy spoke of, or that the gods chose, or whatever. Surely this was just that, in a new and exciting format; surely it must have been something he "chose" just by virtue of having been born that way.

Right?

In lieu of sitting on his couch all day and pondering it, he started researching. The city was actually more technologically advanced than he'd expected, but, apparently, the printing press had never made it as far as ML5-160; asking for books on the Respite or whatever only got him a blank stare. They were all too happy to let him run free in the archives; but, of course, what wasn't written in some script he'd never seen was infuriatingly vague. Maybe he was starting to get the hang of these people, because that just seemed disappointingly typical.

Honestly, he wasn't Daniel freaking Jackson, and he was getting just a little annoyed at getting the run around from these people. So, he walked up to the circulation desk and carelessly dropped what was probably a fantastically valuable and very old scroll in front of the bored-looking curator. She gave him a look that clearly said that he had her attention, but she wasn't very happy about it. "I need someone to explain these symbols to me," he demanded.

Her expression turned pitying, and she patted him condescendingly on the hand. "I am sorry. I didn't know you were illiterate."

His mouth dropped open. "I'm not illiterate!" he snapped.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Did you not just say that you couldn't read?"

Rodney snorted in frustration. "Look, can you show me this or not?"

"It will have to be discussed," she said with a shrug. "The script is not shared with outsiders."

"What?" Rodney sighed in frustration. "It's just a language. All I want to do is read all of your- Oh. I get it."

She shrugged again. "I am sorry," she said, obviously not meaning it.

Rodney gave up after that; maybe Ralla'd slip him the Bykstran equivalent of See Spot Run or something. There was some good stuff in the scrolls he could read, interesting references to plagues and Wraith. He made a note to go back through it when he wasn't too busy completely freaking out to care.

The more frustrated he got with the scrolls, the more he ended up sitting at home, waiting for Sheppard to wake up. It wasn't all that much of a hardship; their accommodations really were very nice, especially compared to some of the places Rodney'd been put up off-world. They were on the first floor of a new-looking, adobe construction building. The living area, tiny kitchen, and storage closets were all in one open space, bounded by the front door on one side and the door to the balcony on the other. There was a hallway leading to the bathroom- and thank God these people had indoor plumbing and running water, because Rodney just really didn't even want to think about living without it- and the apartment's one bedroom.

It felt sort of inappropriately like being back in one of his college apartments, only it was much quieter and smelled ten times better. Plus, there were very rarely any drunk people screaming outside at three in the morning.

And the fact that Rodney had spent a whole lot of time contemplating the floor plan of his new house only went to prove how insanely fucking bored he was starting to get.

While he waited for John to wake up, Rodney took stock of their possessions over and over:

One pack. One laptop, battery dead. One tablet PC, one precious hour of battery remaining. One 2 gig flash drive. One life signs detector. One radio. Two radio earpieces. Four loperamide tablets. One copy of The Pirate and the Pagan , "Property of Katie Brown" written neatly on the inside cover. Twelve pens and three mechanical pencils; apparently his bag really had been eating writing utensils, because half of them had fallen through a rip in the lining that he hadn't known about. One paperclip. Two safety pins. One P90. One P90 magazine. Fifty 5.7x28mm rounds. One receipt from a Shell station in Colorado Springs. One pair of black BDUs, size 36. One blue uniform shirt. One uniform jacket. One tactical vest.

In particularly bad moments, Rodney just took it out and stared at it for hours, as if he could MacGuyver their way out of this if he just tried hard enough.

It occurred to him that these might be the last things from Earth that he ever owned- and how weird was it that this wasn't the first time he'd had that thought? How many time was he going have to get himself stranded before it stuck?

He'd started making a list of things he'd prefer to have instead, things that he would give his left arm to have, things that he could certainly find a solution with. It quickly stretched to hundreds of items, ranging from his Pocket Ref to a full company of Marines to a jar of peanut butter. As time stretched on, though, he'd mentally thrown it out and replaced it with-

Teyla. Ronon's gun. Ronon. A working DHD.

-because that was all he ever really, really needed.

The house was starting to fill with Bykstran things. Rodney kept stock of them, too, just in case. Unfortunately, he wasn't really clear on a lot of them were. The kitchen supplies, those were pretty straightforward- not that Rodney ever cooked, what with Ralla and her sister constantly bringing him what he assumed was the local answer to the casserole- but there were other, less self-evident things sitting around too. There was some thing in the closet that was either a drying rack for laundry or a torture device; Rodney was vaguely afraid of it.

John was looking better every day, the color returning to his face. He seemed to have a previously unrevealed fondness for eating from Rodney's fingers with his head in Rodney's lap, but other than that, he barely seemed to want anything at all.

It was kind of nice, actually. Restful, when he wasn't too busy freaking out to notice.


The first month was almost over by the time John was actually able to get out of bed for more than an hour or so at a stretch. He was still really loopy, and occasionally he'd do this thing where he sort of listed to one side and toppled over, which never stopped being hilarious; but, physically at least, it seemed like he was recovering.

One morning- Rodney was relatively certain it was a Wednesday, but he was getting less certain about that- there was a knock at the kitchen door, and Ralla let herself in.

"I have brought breakfast," she said, unpacking tins and bowls from her satchel and putting them on the table, "and a small surprise for you," she added, smiling- mostly at John, which was kind of the story of Rodney's life. "We drink a strong beverage, nemat, to keep us awake and alert," she explained. "I have not brought it before, because it is not given to those who are ill."

John bumped Rodney's shoulder with his own. "See? I told you I was better."

Ralla put out a hand, beckoning. "Come and stand with me, John, and I will teach you how to make it."

"He's got a masters degree in aeronautical engineering, for Christ's sake, I think he can figure out how to make tea," Rodney snapped. Ralla gave him a look that clearly said that no one was paying her to be nice. "Or you can show him," he quickly relented. "Whatever."

Rodney hadn't actually made any attempt to cook in the apartment's- their- kitchen. Surprisingly enough, the stove really wasn't that different from one you'd find on Earth; it was obviously fed by some kind of gas, and the ignition even made that clicking sound that Rodney had always found inexplicably terrifying. It was shaped a little differently, though- the pan that Ralla pulled down fit down into one of the eyes, like Rodney had seen woks do.

"Wait for at least a count of fifty for the pan to become hot," Ralla told John. "Would you fill this up with water while we wait?" He nodded sincerely, taking it to the faucet and carefully turning it on. It all seemed sort of ass-backwards to Rodney. For fuck's sake, was he stranded with people didn't even know how to boil water?

Ralla poured the water into the pan; the metal was hot enough that the water boiled on contact, bubbling and spitting as she swirled the pan carefully. Oh. That was actually fairly efficient, now that he thought of it, if you didn't need a whole lot of boiling water. Rodney felt sort of silly for not getting it sooner.

Once the water was hot, she picked up a tin she'd brought with her. "Powdered grelstren fruit," she explained, "among other things. It is both mentally calming and physically stimulating."

John watched her carefully, more intent than Rodney had ever seen him. It was starting to freak Rodney out, honestly. It wasn't that John was incapable of being serious or intent; it was just that he wasn't, usually. Usually he'd be rocking in his seat, playing with a pen or something, tapping his fingers or making faces at Rodney. There was something incredibly jarring about his sudden, deep focus.

She measured a few spoonfuls into a particularly ugly pitcher. She motioned John closer, tipping it so that he could look inside. "There is a trap inside to catch any large clumps of the powder that remain. If the pitcher is pouring too slowly, it is the first place to look."

She poured the water in on top of the powder, swirling the pitcher slowly to make sure it had been distributed. "Wait for another count of fifty, then it is ready to be served."

John nodded like she'd just imparted some really important cosmic wisdom; Rodney really wanted to smack him in the back of the head and tell him to get over it.

"Always serve yourself first," she told him, filling her own cup as she spoke. "The first cup is always too weak and too hot. Then the people sharing with you. Women first, then men, in order of rank." She poured a generous measure of the stuff into Rodney's cup, then John's. "Once you have poured, you take the first sip." She raised her cup to her lips, drinking deeply from it. She smacked her lips, sighing happily. "Then your guests know that they may drink."

Rodney took a tentative sip of his nemat. It didn't smell that bad, but it tasted- well, honestly, it tasted pretty fucking horrible. It was minty in a way that nothing should ever be minty, on top of being cloyingly sweet and almost painfully tart. Under that, though, there was something sharp and bitter that Rodney found incredibly familiar, for some reason.

"There's caffeine in this," Rodney sighed contentedly, suddenly recognizing it. He took another swallow- and yeah, definitely, he'd know that acrid kick anywhere. Rodney was in love already. He'd survived eight years of graduate school on vending machine coffee, after all. This was practically gourmet compared to that.

John was making a face like he couldn't decide whether or not to spit it out. He swallowed, finally, covering his mouth with one hand and looking a little green around the edges.

"I am told it is not a taste that foreigners acquire readily," Ralla said apologetically, patting John's hand.

Rodney gladly finished off his cup; John was still staring suspiciously at his, like maybe it had betrayed him. He nudged John with his shoulder. "If you're not going to drink yours, can I have it?"

John wordlessly pushed his cup over to Rodney.


Slowly, it seemed that they were building something for themselves, here- not a life, exactly, certainly nothing permanent, more like an extended vacation. Rodney was getting into a routine; get up, make nemat, make sure John was okay, go to the archives, fight another battle in his passive-aggressive war of attrition with the librarian, come home, make sure John was still okay, read a little, go to bed. And it was fine, because John really was okay. He was healing fine, needing fewer and fewer doses of pain medicine, looking better and better-

It was just that something was off about it, something more wrong that the idea that John could possibly ever be characterized as docile- which was pretty startlingly wrong in and of itself. There was something wrong enough with it to bug him, but not wrong enough that he could identify it. It was like it was in the corner of Rodney's vision, but every time he turned his head he lost it.

What it was didn't even really occur to him until they were getting ready for bed one night- which they were only sharing for lack of other options, because John was injured and Rodney just wasn't going to sleep on the floor. Rodney was too distracted by what came next to really remember how it started. John had already turned down the sheets and was sitting up against the headboard, and he kept looking at Rodney like he was really excited about something. Rodney, standing next to the bed, said something stupid like, "I wish I shared your boundless enthusiasm," and John grinned big enough to crack his face and said, "That, I can do."

And then John stuck his hands down Rodney's pants.

In grad school, he'd dated this girl- Veronica, and didn't that name still send chills up his spine- who'd been really into the whole BDSM thing. Rodney had never even considered it before her; he'd only considered it then because she was tall, blonde, brilliant, and sort of terrifying in a way that was inexplicably hot.

She used to give him all these weird mimeographed articles about submission and subspace and how it was supposed to be the best thing you could ever possibly experience or something- Rodney had been way more intrigued by finding out that there were people who still used mimeograph machines. He'd never gotten the whole subspace thing down- he pretty much never even got to the point of trying.

But ever since he'd been given the drug, John looked like Rodney had always pictured a submissive looking when they were really into a scene- transported and blissful and calm and completely willing to do anything at all.

It looked much, much better on John than it ever would have looked on him.

It was like everything suddenly lurched into place- the drug, John's behavior, more than he ever wanted to know about the Bykstrans, why Simpson kept giggling any time someone mentioned subspace communications, possibly even why he and Veronica spent so much time screaming at one another.

All things considered, a hand job seemed like a really good reward for his efforts.

"Stop," he managed to say despite himself, and he even kept his voice from wavering.

John pulled away, sitting back and waiting expectantly. Obediently.

Christ.

"I don't know what you think is going on here," Rodney said, "but we're not having sex." John looked like he was about to speak, so Rodney cut him off at the pass. "Not tonight, and not any time in the foreseeable future."

John looked, for all the world, like someone had just shot his dog.

"Stop looking at me like I just said Santa Claus wasn't real." Rodney sighed, rolling his eyes upward in silent supplication. "What's wrong with you?"

"You're going to send me away."

He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Look, you surprised me, I never would have said-"

"Not that," John said, shaking his head. "It's just that- you're not attracted to me. Why would you want to k-keep me?"

If John wasn't stoned out of his brain, Rodney would have thought he was being passive-aggressive. "You have no idea how wrong you are about that."

John fidgeted, looking a little nervous and very uncomfortable. "I'd, um. I'd do anything you wanted. Anything at all."

Rodney frantically told himself that, despite what he might be thinking, that was not the hottest thing anyone had ever said to him. He desperately cast around for a response- any response, so long as it wouldn't end up with Rodney being a horrible, horrible person.

John turned his face away, looking bashfully at some point off the bed, exposing the long, firm muscles of his neck. It was kind of funny, because Rodney had never really gotten a chance to consider the collar before. It was a long, plain strip of leather, already starting to get worn in. It was pretty subdued compared to most that Rodney had seen, really- no D-rings, no spiky pieces, no metal at all that Rodney could see- though the Bykstrans didn't really seem to go for the hardcore look.

The whole thing had slipped, some, so that the closure had slid around until it was almost even with his ear. The fastener was a separate piece from the collar; it was made from a ball of elaborately tied thread attached to a button, sort of like a pair of cuff links, the soft ones that looked like mandarin buttons- silk knots, that's what they were called.

It must have been made for John specifically, or at least tailored to his specific neck size. That was sort of odd- did they just have racks and racks of collars in a closet somewhere in the hospital, just waiting to be claimed? Or was it a big spool of leather that they could just a length off of and finish, like Cat5 cable?

He was stalling.

So. Slave owning. No, no, that wasn't right. He wasn't entirely certain what it was like to own slaves, but he figured it was nothing like this. He wasn't forcing John to do anything either- wasn't that part of it? And did he actually own John outright? He hadn't seen any papers. Wildly, he thought of explaining this to Elizabeth. "It's not mine," he imagined telling her, John at his feet, looking up at him with a blissful expression. "I'm just holding it for a friend, honest."

A hysterical, irreverent laugh bubbled up through him; he slapped his hand over his mouth to saying anything. God, they were both so incredibly screwed, and any moment now, Rodney was going to crack right the fuck up. Maybe he already had- he hallucinated now and again, right? So maybe none of this was happening at all. Maybe John was de- maybe he was still in the hospital, and Rodney's tortured subconscious was creating this whole scenario out of whole cloth.

Possibly he'd had too much nemat.

Okay, okay, the "it's all a dream" hypothesis wasn't really going to get him anywhere, so better, for the time being, to assume that this was really happening.

So, not slavery. Something else. Caretaking. Training Sheppards for fun and profit. Whatever. He could do that, couldn't he? How the hell hard could it be?

"I'm saving it," he blurted finally.

John stopped squirming and raised an eyebrow at him.

"What I mean is-" Rodney stopped, swallowing. And oh, this was such a bad, dangerous, stupid idea, but he was certainly going to do it anyway. "You're mine, and I intend to keep you," he snapped, throwing his shoulders back and trying to look as toppy as was humanly possible. John looked away, blushing, but Rodney caught him by the chin. "So this goes down like I say it does. You're not ready for me to have sex with you. Yet," he added, at John's hangdog expression. "And if I catch you running around here trying to act like a slut to prove that you are-" Rodney swallowed hard, frantically trying to remind his dick that he wasn't actually going to follow through on any of this- "well, then, that will just show me that you aren't." He leaned in closer, trying to sell it as best he could. "And when I know you're really, totally ready for me, nothing in this whole galaxy is going to stop me from taking you."

John shivered.

Oh, Rodney was so, so, so fucked.


MISSION REPORT
MK9-713
4 June 2007

Mission Type: Trading
Primary Team: AR-1
Assisting Team(s): None
Personnel: Teyla Emmagan of Athos, Ronon Dex of Sateda
Primary Mission Objective: To buy goods at the market at Qahana
Other Mission Objectives: To seek information concerning the whereabouts of Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay, and the residents of the planet Bykstra (ML5-160)

Time of Departure: 1000AST, 4 June 2007
Time of Return: 1300AST, 5 June 2007
Injuries? (Attach form MR-9): No
Sustained by:
Nature/Treatment:
Casualties? (Attach form MR-8): No
Personnel Lost:

Narrative Report (100 words min; attach additional pages if necessary):

By the will and the grace of the Ancestors, I return to report what has passed in my presence.

It was a cool autumn day on Qahana. I have never seen so many people enjoying the market there. I obtained many things: a bolt of fine, shining cloth for Parrin of Athos; two bags of sugared fruit for Jinto and Wex of Athos; a bunch of dried yalek flowers for Katie Brown of the botany department; and various things for myself.

Wishing to enjoy the market for another day, we stayed for the night at an inn near the marketplace. According to the innkeeper, everyone who has attempted to contact Bykstra has failed, just as we have. I confirmed this story with several other travelers.

With the exception of Ronon's insistence on participating in a contest of strength with several other traders, involving the lifting of several large tables and the consumption of dangerous amounts of a very potent beverage, the night passed uneventfully. I visited the market again, alone, in the morning. After Ronon finally awoke, we enjoyed a long lunch, joined by a friend of my youth whom we chanced to meet. Afterwards, we returned to Atlantis.

I affirm that all I have seen and reported is as true as I can swear it to be.

Recommendations: Concerning our primary mission objective, we would receive a better price on toasted path beans if we obtained them from the market at Qahana, rather than through trade with the Amarans. If we were to trade the Amarans for their native fruit instead, the juice of which will make a fine substitute for that of the Earth cranberry, I believe we could still maintain good relations.

As for our secondary objective, we must not give up searching for Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay. The fact that no other world has made contact with Bykstra suggests that the planet's gate has become inaccessible. There is nothing to indicate that Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay are being held or that the Bykstrans have found a way to lock out Atlantis's gate in particular. It is not uncommon for gates to become seasonally unavailable. Perhaps when the weather on Bykstra changes, we will be able to dial in again.

Report Prepared by: Teyla Emmagan of Athos, 9 June 2007
Accepted by: Cdr Dr. E. L. Weir, 10 June 2007
CC to: Col S. Caldwell, 10 June 2007


Rodney wasn't sure how long he could keep up their weird little battle of attrition. It had become a balancing act- he could let John run his bath, just as long as he didn't undress in front of him. He could let John get his food, as long as John fed himself. He even convinced John that, really, it didn't matter what Ralla'd told him- he didn't have to pretend to like nemat just because Rodney did.

As it turned out, it was too much for John not to touch him.

It wasn't like they hadn't ever touched before they came. In fact, it was one of the things Rodney liked about John. Rodney had known too many guys- especially members of the armed forces- who acted like the briefest pat on the arm was somehow a terrible threat to their masculinity.

John wasn't like that. John was comfortable- not all over him or anything, but not weirded out if their shoulders brushed when they sat near each other, not constantly jumping back like he was going to catch The Gay from Rodney if they stayed near each other for too long. Not that Rodney'd ever actually come out and told John that he was in any danger of catching The Gay- The Bi? Would that be like Walking Gay?- from Rodney, but he figured the signs were pretty hard to miss. Then again, this was John, who frequently didn't realize that the alien princess wanted to have his fluffy-headed babies until she already had her top off- anyway, the point was that Rodney didn't think it would have changed anything even if he had known.

But this? This was sort of like that, only turned up to eleven.

And what really worried him about it was that he was starting to get really comfortable with it.

One afternoon, they were just sitting on the couch. It was John's turn with The Pirate and the Pagan. Rodney, on the other hand, was actually trying to get some work done for once, puzzling over some technical diagrams he'd copied from the archives. John was pressed up close against Rodney's side, his head resting against Rodney's collarbone. Rodney idly stroked John's hair as he studied.

All of a sudden, he realized what he was doing; he pulled his hand away, looking at it in confusion for a moment before dropping it behind the couch.

After a moment or two, John looked up from his book. "Why'd you stop?"

"Stop what?" he said, fully aware that he sounded somewhat panicked. "I wasn't doing anything."

"Yes, you were. You were scratching my head. It was nice."

"John, I was petting you."

"It still felt nice." John raised himself up off the couch, twisting so that he could look Rodney in the face. "It was nice, right? You liked it?"

"Where are you going with this, exactly?"

John shrugged, aping nonchalance. "I mean, I could do a lot of things you might like," he offered. "For instance, did you know I give really great back rubs?" Actually, that didn't sound half bad; he had this knot in his shoulder that felt like it'd been there forever. "And, I mean, if you needed anything else rubbed, I could do that too."

Rodney narrowed his eyes. "What did I tell you?"

He dropped his head back into Rodney's lap, looking thoroughly put out that his master plan had failed. "I'll be good," he said sullenly.

Except that he wasn't, not really, because Rodney's personal definition of "good" definitely included not squirming around and sighing passive aggressively. "Out with it," he snapped.

John sat up. "Why won't you tell me what I'm doing wrong?" he said, huffily.

"Why do you think you're doing anything wrong?" Rodney hedged.

"Either I'm doing something wrong," he pressed, "or you just don't like me."

Rodney sighed in exasperation. "God, not this again."

"I just want to do what you want," John said, his voice getting dangerously close to pleading. "I've tried everything I can think of, but nothing works on you."

He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "What I really want you to do is stop trying."

John's eyebrows furrowed. "But, but, that doesn't even make sense, Rodney."

"What's so complicated about this proposition, hmm?" Rodney snapped. "I want you to cut it out, John. I want you to stop coming onto me and trying to, to please me and acting like I'm your god or something!"

"Why?" he demanded. "Do you want me to go away?"

Rodney sighed. "No, of course I don't want you to go away."

"Then why won't you let me, Rodney?"

"Because you don't really want any of this!" he shouted, waving his arms.

John looked at him like he was crazy. "Yes, I do."

"No, you don't," Rodney said adamantly. "You just think you do, because you're stoned out of your mind."

"I am not stoned," he replied, sounding scandalized.

"You're certainly not in your right mind."

John's face clouded over. "You don't know anything about my right mind."

"I know enough to know this isn't it," Rodney insisted. "If you could possibly prove to me that it's not the drugs making you act this way, then I might start thinking about believing you."

John pushed himself away, sitting on the far end of the couch with his legs up underneath him. "I don't know why you have to be such an asshole."

Rodney stood up. "See, that actually sounded like you."

"Where are you going?" John asked, and was Rodney imagining the note of panic in his voice?

"Out," he said, which was pretty juvenile, but felt inexplicably satisfying.

"Come on, Rodney, don't be like that."

He rounded on John, snorting in frustration. "Like what, John?"

He shrank back. "Never mind."

Rodney picked up his bag and didn't look back as he left; because he just knew that when he turned around, John would be sitting there looking like a kicked puppy, and Rodney would- Rodney didn't know what he would do.

When Rodney was a little kid, he'd run away from home a lot, in that impermanent and ineffective way that kids did, and he'd always ended up at one of three places: his piano teacher's house, the house of his and Jeannie's private science instructor, or the library. Nine times out of ten, he sat down with a book or a bunch of etudes or a set of problems and started working with it; and by the time he was done, he'd forgotten why he didn't want to go home.

So, it made perfect sense that he ended up at Ralla's, where she welcomed him with open arms.

"How is John?" she asked.

"Fine," Rodney responded, knowing full well that he sounded pissed; thankfully, Ralla let him slide. "Anyway, I've got some time-" and wasn't that a joke, because the only thing Rodney had was time- "so I was thinking-"

"Of course," she responded. "Let us begin."

Ralla- who, Rodney had discovered, was not just a doctor, but some kind of ambassador or something as well- had finally gotten him permission to study the Bykstran script, and she was slowly- glacially slowly, as far as Rodney was concerned- teaching him to read it. So far, the stuff they'd gone over was painfully elementary- how to recognize the symbols in the script and what they stood for, how to navigate the ridiculously over-complicated honorific system- and they were only just up to conjugating verbs. Rodney very much suspected that Ralla had no intention of teaching him everything, probably including some stuff he really needed to know, but he'd burn that bridge when he got there.

"The root for 'work' is gre," she told him after they'd gotten set up, painting the characters delicately onto her palimpsest.

"Gre, right, got it," he replied, copying them in his abysmally clumsy way. It was ridiculous; he could do incredibly delicate things to crystals in his sleep, but you put a paintbrush in his hand and he turned into an ape.

"So, the first level of formality reads," she dipped her brush in the ink again, the characters flying from her brush as she spoke, like it was nothing at all, "grel, grelna, grelen, grelok, grelek, grelan, grelon." She pointed to each of the words in turn. "I work, you work, he works, we work, you work, the women work, the men work."

"Grel, grelna, grelen, grelok, grelek, grelan, grelon," he dutifully repeated. Of course, it was far, far easier said than done; he had to spend several minutes wrestling the words into submission.

"How's the investigation coming?" Rodney asked as he painted,

"I am sure I do not know what you mean," she said lightly, indicating a place where he had missed a stroke in his final word. "The second level of formality," she announced. "Grerel, grerelna, grerelen, grerelok, grerelek, grerelan, grerelon."

"Grerel, grerelna, grerelen, grerelok, grerelek, grerelan, grerelon," he parroted, grimly setting himself to copying the characters. "What other investigation could I possibly be talking about?"

She shrugged. "If you are referring to the explosion at the Ring, then I'm afraid I cannot tell you anything."

He pointed his paintbrush at her accusingly. "You can't or you won't?"

She pursed her lips. "If you are not going to participate in the lesson-"

"No, no, of course I am," he said hurriedly, dipping his brush again and going back to his writing.

Ralla sat back, watching him work with a critical eye. "I can tell you that the matter is being investigated. Our best peace officers are examining the case from every angle."

Rodney sighed in relief. "Well, what in the hell are we waiting for? If there's an investigation, I want in on it."

"And you think that you would be able to help?" She sounded amused. "You cannot even spell the first person plural."

"Oh, excuse me, I didn't know there were prerequisites," he snapped. "Look, if they haven't caught the people who did this by now, obviously they need help. I don't understand why you people are so quick to turn it down."

She looked at him gravely. "This is a very complicated matter, and you do not understand it. You do not even understand our society well enough to recognize that you do not understand. You say you could offer assistance, but we do not even know what that means when you say it, and you have no idea what assistance we do or do not need. You could ruin everything and never even realize it."

Rodney didn't have a response for that.

"Now," Ralla said, as if nothing had happened, "I am certain you could tell me what the third level of formality would be."

"Mogrerel, morerelna, mogrerelen, mogrerelok, mogrerelek, mogrerelan, mogrerelon," Rodney sighed.

"Exactly."

"What do I have to do to prove myself?" he asked, willing his fingers to cooperate with him for once. "What do I need to do for people to understand that I'm not a bumbling foreign barbarian?"

Ralla gave him a look. "Are you certain that you want to?"

"Do I have another choice?"

She shrugged. "You have a multiplicity of choices, Rodney. But if you truly want to be respected, the first thing you must learn is to be patient."

Rodney sighed. "What's the second thing?"

She smiled, taking up her brush again. "That the root for 'live' is nem."


It wasn't until John got himself into trouble that Rodney realized he was living in a fucking farce.

He'd just sent John out to the market for bread and cheese, which was nothing that John couldn't handle on his own. And anyway, everybody at the market liked John, because everybody always liked John; it was kind of John's thing. And of course, everybody at the market hated Rodney, which wasn't really new, either.

So when John wasn't home after two full hours, Rodney started to get concerned; but before he even got around to freaking out properly, there was a knock at the door, and John entered.

"Where the hell have you been?" Rodney demanded. "What have you been doing?"

John didn't answer; he turned, looking over his shoulder.

There was a tall, serious, and somewhat familiar-looking woman standing in the doorway behind him.

"Good afternoon?" Rodney said uncertainly.

"Doctor," she said gravely. "You must forgive me for not arranging a proper introduction. I am Melisan. I believe you know my sister, Ralla."

"Um, pleased to meet you?"

She bowed slightly. "I regret that I have not come for a social visit, but in my capacity as a civil servant."

"I'm not going to like this, am I?" he said, sighing. "Come on in."

"We must talk about a matter of importance." She looked pointedly at John.

"Go and wait in the bedroom," Rodney told him, making sure he went before turning back to Melisan. "What happened?"

She pursed her lips. "John has been involved in an altercation with another one of the Cared For."

Rodney startled. "Did he hurt somebody? Is he okay?"

"It was not serious," she reassured him. "I have returned the other party to his keeper."

"Oh. Good. Well, no harm, no foul, right?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "Never mind."

"Despite the fact that there were no damages, it is necessary that John be shown that he has erred. By all accounts, the incident occured at his provocation."

Rodney sighed. "What do I have to do?"

Melisan looked almost apologetic. "Corporal punishment is traditionally used."

He covered his face with his hand. "Of course it is."

"If it would not be appropriate, it is not necessary for you-"

He waved her off. "No, I'll do it. It would be more inappropriate for somebody else to do it. Nobody's going to need to check him or anything, are they?"

Melisan's face twisted. "No, doctor. Your word is more than enough."

"Just covering all my bases," he said, holding up his hands. "Look, I'll take care of it. Tell whoever it was that we're really sorry."

She didn't respond; she just gave him a tight smile and a nod and took her leave.

Rodney manfully resisted the urge to bang his head against the wall a couple of times.

John was waiting for him in the bedroom. He knelt next to the bed, his head bowed, his hands clasped behind him. He was obviously trying to look chastened, but it wasn't working for him; his lips kept threatening to twitch up into a smile.

It was at that moment that Rodney realized, without any shadow of a doubt, that he had been completely, utterly set up.

"I swear to God," Rodney said, his voice getting high and tense with anger, "if you say one word- one word! about deserving this or, or being a bad boy, I'm leaving." He pulled at his hair. "Why am I even doing this?"

"If you don't, I'll have to tell Melisan," John said, shrugging.

"You son of a bitch," Rodney swore wearily. It had to be the drugs making him act like this. Maybe they'd gotten down into some hidden manipulative streak of John's, but certainly he didn't really want this. Surely he wouldn't do this to Rodney voluntarily.

And as soon as John could tell right from wrong again, Rodney was totally going to kick his ass.

"Well, how are we doing this thing? It's your show."

John crawled onto his lap, despite being about two feet too tall for the position, and pushed his pants down over his hips. Normally, Rodney would've been a whole lot more excited about John's naked ass, but there was really nothing normal about this at all.

"God, this is fucking ridiculous," Rodney muttered to himself. "I'm not going to make you count. Just shut up and don't squirm."

John nodded, going limp and still across Rodney's lap. It took a whole lot of psyching himself up and a couple of false starts, but Rodney finally managed to land a slap on John's ass.

John moaned. Loudly.

"Oh, for fuck's sake, stop that," he spat.

"Sorry," John said, not sorry at all. "I'll be g-"

"Don't you even say it," Rodney snapped.

He hit John again, legitimately angry this time; it was darkly satisfying to watch John jump and squirm, so he did it again, even though the bulge of John's erection was pressing unmistakably into his leg. Rodney tried to smack him harder, get the point across that he was not doing this for John's benefit, but the harder he did it, the more John seemed to like it. Pretty soon he was hitching his hips, grinding himself into Rodney's thigh every time Rodney's hand fell.

"Jesus Christ," Rodney exclaimed, in helpless, mortified amazement, "don't come all over my leg!" The words were barely out of his mouth before he thought about how they sounded. "No, no, no, wait, look, come whenever you want- Oh god, please just forget I ever said anything about coming at all."

"Relax, Rodney," John chided.

"Oh, easy for you to say! All you have to do is lay there!" God, was this supposed to be one of those "hurts me more than it hurts you" punishments, or was Rodney just doing it wrong?

"You're doing fine," John assured him. "C'mon. More? Please?"

What the hell, Rodney thought. He'd already come this far.

He brought his hand down again and again, watching in distant fascination as John's skin reddened. It was hot, in sort of an abstract kind of a way; but he felt oddly like it was all happening to someone else.

John didn't scream or moan when he came; he just tilted his head back and gasped, his hips stuttering against Rodney's thighs. Rodney might not even have noticed if it weren't for the fact that his leg was suddenly damp. John went limp against him, lying in a contented daze across Rodney's lap.

Rodney just stared at him, dully amazed by what had just happened. Now that he had it over with, it really hadn't been that bad at all.

John just looked so fucking good like this, flushed and depraved and sated. John didn't just want it; he was begging for it. It'd be so easy to just throw him down on the floor and take exactly what they both wanted, just get right up behind him and kick his legs apart. John would open right up for Rodney, ride back hard against him and take it all, work his tight ass up and down on Rodney's cock like he couldn't get enough of it. He'd take everything Rodney gave him and love every single fucking second of it-

-and then Rodney could go and find a nice, quiet place to slit his goddamned wrists.

He stood up, all but shoving John away from him; John ended up in a heap on the floor, hissing a little at landing on his sore ass.

"Don't ever force me to have to do that again," Rodney choked out.

The smile slid off of John's face. Rodney stalked out before he could say anything; he got as far as the hallway before he had to sit down and put his head between his knees.

To his credit, John gave him a couple minutes to lose his shit in private before he came to sit with him.

"I'm sorry. I just-" John grimaced. "In retrospect, that was probably pretty fucked up of me."

"It's really not you," Rodney said miserably. "It's me."

"I bet you say that to all the boys," John responded, bumping Rodney amiably with his shoulder. "I just thought you'd like it once you got into it and all, and-" He stopped. "I think I'm a little bit too high to be thinking about stuff like that."

Rodney gave him a look that could curdle fresh milk. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

He shrugged. "Sometimes I forget."

"So high you forget you're high," Rodney said, considering it. "We could make a mint if we could synthesize this stuff."

"Rodney," he said gently, putting his arm around Rodney's shoulders. "Rodney, it's okay. Really. You didn't hurt me at all."

Rodney scoffed. "Really not what I'm worried about, Sheppard."

"Then what's there to worry about? It was okay, right?"

John looked genuinely confused and worried, so much so that Rodney had to turn his face away. "I can't even have this conversation with you right now."

He tucked his face into Rodney's shoulder. "Never again, Rodney, I promise."

He huffed out a humorless laugh. "Pinky swear?"

John held up his little finger. Shaking his head, Rodney hooked his own around it.


As Rodney found out, being the city's pet sideshow had certain advantages. Everybody- or at least, everybody Rodney knew, which amounted to about four people- was talking about the Elders' Banquet, which Rodney had already figured out was so swank that it deserved capitalization. It was clearly the event of the Bykstran social calendar- Rodney assumed they had a social calendar, they very much seemed like the type- and Rodney had a seat at the head table.

The banquet hall was big, though not gigantic; it was shaped like a wide oval, the walls ringed with steadily burning torches. Rodney supposed that was mostly for effect, because there were also the typical gas lanterns hanging down over the table.

The table itself was a work of art. It was an absolutely massive, T-shaped affair, stretching from one end of the room to the other. It had to have been built in place, and from what he could see, the grain had been so carefully matched that it gave the appearance of being one enormous piece of blond wood.

People were already streaming in. He'd always thought of the Bykstrans as conservative in their dress, tending towards the ubiquitous Pegasus pajama look- neutral colors, tunics, loose-fitting pants, lots of homespun, that sort of thing. Apparently, they'd all been holding back for an occasion such as this one. There still wasn't a lot of color in evidence, but there were brilliant splashes here and there, sashes and skirts and headwraps. A lot of the older men were in what just had to be Bykstran military uniforms, which were all grey, double-breasted, and well-tailored; Rodney kept expecting Grand Moff Tarkin to come around the corner and take his seat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the women who were really impressive. He happened to see Ralla and her sister from across the way; they were clad in matching robes, Melisan's bisected by a dark red sash. One woman swept by him in a long, black, low-cut gown; it flowed and moved so easily that it almost seemed to be streaming off of her, like at any moment she'd just keep walking and leave it behind. Of course, as soon as she had passed, an older lady next to him turned to her friends said, "Oh, look at her! She looks like you could buy her on the street for the price of a chicken!"

It was nice to see that some things were universal.

Rodney, wearing his uniform for the first time since he'd gotten out of the hospital, felt woefully under-dressed, so he crossed his arms and tried to seem bored by the whole thing. He was pretty much sure that these people already thought of him as a slack-jawed barbarian, and he figured it wouldn't really help his case to look anything less than imposing.

A bell sounded from somewhere nearby, starling him; everyone else seemed to be expecting it, though, because they started filtering towards their seats. A young man in a collar discreetly took John's arm, guiding both of them towards what Rodney thought of as the business end of the table. There was only one chair for the both of them, but John didn't seem surprised, plopping himself down on the floor, sitting cross-legged next to Rodney's chair on a conveniently placed cushion. He wasn't the only one, either; fully half the table had someone beside them.

The host, Liras, was among the last people to take his seat; he was a big man, broad shouldered and fat in a way that made him look jolly. The matronly woman next to him had to be his wife, judging by the way she kept leaning on his arm and laughing with him. And, of course, just to make the picture complete, one of the Cared For- a fairly slender man with curly blond hair and boyish features- was sitting in front of him.

Only the finest for him, Rodney figured.

Liras said a few words about it being nice to see them, about the growing season going well, and probably some other stuff- Rodney wasn't actually listening.

The ubiquitous slaves and servants appeared with trays. He'd say this much for the Bykstrans- they certainly knew how to cook for a feast. Maybe it was just because he and John had more or less been eating Ralla's leftovers for the two months, but every dish that appeared was more delicious than the last. Maybe he could score these leftovers too. Who knew how long he could put off actually having to learn how to cook?

"We are all very impressed with John," some woman on the other side of the table said.

Liras rumbled in agreement. "Of course you know that no foreigner has ever been allowed the Respite before. We're all so surprised with how well he's taken it."

"Thank you," Rodney said uncertainly. "We're, uh, very proud?"

"I remember when I was Cared For," Liras continued, letting out a nostalgic sigh, smoothing over Rodney's obvious social distress. "Sarna took care of me, gods keep her. I certainly gave her plenty to worry about, too. Not like Arin here," he said, fondly ruffling the man's hair as he spoke, and Arin smiled up at him with undisguised affection. It all would have been very sweet, if Rodney hadn't known that Arin was drugged to the teeth, or that when they got home, Liras was going to-

Rodney's stomach lurched so suddenly that he found himself gripping the edge of the table with both hands to ground himself. God, what was he even doing sharing a meal with these people? They were animals, and nobody even seemed to notice or care but him.

He threw down his napkin, getting up from the table so fast that he nearly upset his chair. He had to get out of there before he threw up or started screaming or some other thing that was probably going to be horribly offensive to his hosts- not that he knew why he should bother not offending such monsters.

He escaped down a hallway and into a deserted courtyard. He threw himself heavily down on a bench, bending over and putting his head between his knees.

Was it just him, or was he ending up like this a lot lately?

He couldn't do this anymore. The very idea of what he'd gotten himself into made his guts churn, and the dissonance made his head ache- how could he even begin to process the idea that the kindly old man at the end of the table was a serial rapist? He looked like Santa Claus, for fuck's sake. How could all of these people accept a system like this with no complaints at all?

And how was he ever going to live with himself, knowing that for two long months, he'd just sat idly by and watched it happen? Maybe there was some place he could take John- up in the mountains beyond the city, somewhere where they couldn't get to him to give him any more of that horrible drug-

There were footsteps approaching, making soft sounds in the grass around him.

"John, go back inside," he said, not looking up. "You haven't done anything wrong. Just, please, please, go away." He was seized with terror- no, what was he thinking? He couldn't possibly send John back in there with those people- but when he jerked his head up, it was Ralla he was looking at.

"Are you ill?"

Rodney scoffed. "I should be."

She sat down, putting a hand on his arm."You're not happy here?"

He wrenched away from her, unable to stand it. "Of course I'm not fucking happy here! My work is lightyears away, you turned my best friend into some kind of fucking zombie, and-" Rodney pressed the heels of his hands to his forehead. "Your whole planet is fucked up! You force warriors into some weird sexual slavery-"

Unexpectedly, Ralla, who was normally so reserved that Rodney sometimes got the urge to make sure she was still breathing, burst into laughter. She doubled over, holding her stomach. "What?" she managed to gasp finally.

Rodney had always been told not to hit women, but he seriously considered just clocking her and having done with it. "I seriously don't know what the fuck's so funny about all this."

She caught her breath, holding up a hand. "Please, humor me for a moment. What has the drug made John do?"

"You know very well what it's made him do!" he gritted out. "It's turned him into some kind of sex maniac! I can barely walk around my damn house without him trying to jump me."

She wiped a tear away from the corner of her eye. "I assure you, the drug has never been intended to work in such a way. The Cared For are treated as honored sons, not sexual objects. What are you suggesting, that it makes them incapable of holding back their sexual desire? We don't give it to women."

Rodney gaped at her. "I don't even know if that was misogynistic or not!" he said, waving his arms, more out of a need to keep shouting than anything else.

She lay a hand on Rodney's knee, and he only just resisted the urge to smack it away. "I believe we have a profound misunderstanding on our hands, one that it seems causes you great distress. Let us sit and talk it through together, before it gets any worse."

Honestly, that was the last thing he wanted to do, but his curiosity outweighed his disgust. "Fine," he said tightly.

She sighed, smoothing her clothing. "You are afraid we are going to mistreat John?"

"Yes!" he yelled. "I mean, not just John, all of them!"

"Has anyone treated him poorly since you arrived?"

"Only because I haven't let him out of my sight!" he sputtered.

"Doctor." Her face was as grave as Rodney had ever seen it. "If you have seen anyone abuse John or anyone else who is Cared For, you must tell me. It cannot be allowed to stand."

"Well, I-" he sighed. "No. But what do you care? You use them as servants!"

"Think to yourself for a moment about the life of a servant," she said patiently. "Who else interacts with more types of people on a day-to-day basis? Who else finds it paramount to always know the correct interrelations of every level of the social hierarchy?"

He pressed his fingertips to his forehead. "Sorry, what does this have to do with anything?"

"When soldiers come back to us, their bodies are disciplined, but their minds are not. They have their leaders, and they have their teams, and they forget about all else. A soldier has no need to know how to serve nemat or address his elders correctly. They simply cannot remember what it was like to live in proper society."

Rodney lifted an eyebrow at her. "So it's like an on-the-job training program, except for an entire society."

She inclined her head towards him. "Essentially."

"And the kneeling?"

"They're servants," she said, as if it were obvious.

"What's with the collars, then?"

"They are pieces of identification," she told him. "You don't have jewelery on your planet?"

"Not like that," Rodney replied. "This is what livestock wear."

She scrunched her face up, as if processing this thought was somehow painful. "You adorn your livestock?"

"No, okay." Rodney paused, absently tugging at his hair. "Look. You know the little silver chain John wears? That's an adornment. Well, okay, that specifically isn't an adornment but a kind of identification, so I guess it really is more like-" He stopped himself from rambling any further. "Anyway, the point is, they look like that. Not this."

She nodded, as if this all made sense to her. "And it distresses you to see John dressed as an animal would be."

"That's not entirely it," he said uncomfortably, rubbing the back of his neck. "Wearing a collar- it has a certain sexual connotation."

Ralla looked faintly amused. "You have sex with livestock?"

"No, no, when a person wears one, stay focused, here." Gate translation, don't fail me now, he thought to himself. "All right. Do you know what a submissive is?"

She shrugged. "If you are going to tell me that it's a person who submits, then I could have figured that out from the word itself."

He snapped his fingers. "Okay, there- what does someone who submits do?"

She looked at him as if she had no idea where he was going with this. "Gives up?"

"Now we're getting somewhere," he said, feeling more than a little like he was playing some bizarre intergalactic version of Twenty Questions. "So there was this guy named Sacher-Masoch, and- okay, no, no, that's a bad place to start. Look, no matter what this is going to be a long, painful conversation, so I'll just be blunt about it. There are people- a lot of people, actually- in our society who enjoy acting like the Cared For do. And I don't mean they find it relaxing or entertaining- I mean they find it sexually gratifying."

Ralla looked at him in mild alarm. "Really?"

"Yes, really. And I just don't see-" He stopped. "Oh my god, you really have no idea at all, do you? That means John isn't-"

She was right behind him. "He must be having an adverse reaction to the Respite. He is the first warrior not born on Bykstra to be given it. Bring him to the hospital first thing in the morning, and I will examine him personally. You must believe me when I say that I had absolutely no idea about any of this," she said gravely. "If I had known your society held such notions, I would have disabused you of them immediately upon your arrival."

He waved her off. "I wouldn't have believed you. It's just- I mean, between the kneeling and the collars and sleeping in the same bed-"

Ralla cut him off. "You thought John was being offered to you sexually because you shared a bed?"

"Well, yeah." What the hell kind of question was that? "In our society, adults don't sleep together unless they're, y'know, sleeping together."

She gave him a blank look. "I don't follow you."

"Sleeping together is a polite euphemism for having sex."

Ralla looked horrified. "You have sex where you sleep?"

"Where else would we do it?"

"Oh, gods below, anywhere else."

"I don't really see what would be weird about that."

Ralla stared him down. "I have slept in the same bed as my sister ever since she was old enough to leave our mother's side."

"Oh," Rodney said, grimacing. "Yeah, I guess that would be kind of creepy, wouldn't it?"

"Extremely."

It suddenly occurred to him how very exhausted he was. "Apologize to Liras for me," he said, "but I really just-"

She smoothed her hand down his back comfortingly. "He will understand. I will summon John. You should go home and rest."

Rodney couldn't help but feel like he'd just traded one problem for another.


July 14, 2007

To Major General Henry Landry, the Department of Homeworld Security, and the International Oversight Advisory:

As you are undoubtedly aware, two months ago, the First Reconnaissance Team, based in Atlantis, suffered an incident while in the course of a routine trading mission to ML5-160. The details of this incident are still unknown at this time; contact with ML5-160 has been impossible. What is known is that the stargate on ML5-160 is no longer accepting incoming wormholes from any gate in the Pegasus Galaxy.

Perhaps most importantly, we also know that this incident has resulted in the apparent stranding of two of Atlantis's senior staff, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and Doctor Rodney McKay.

It is not necessary to list the accomplishments of either Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard or Doctor McKay, because you know them already. You know that they are two of the finest, bravest members of the Stargate Program. You know that they risked their lives and their futures as original members of the Atlantis Expedition. You know that, despite having only attained the rank of Major, Sheppard stepped in after the tragic death of his commanding officer and has capably served as Atlantis's military commander ever since. You know not only that Doctor McKay is one of the leading experts on wormhole physics, but that he has also distinguished himself time and time again in the field, where his quick thinking and novel solutions have saved the lives of his teammates time and time again.

You know all of this already, but you also know how we operate. You know that their accomplishments are immaterial; all that matters is that they are our people, and they need our help. With that in mind, we have joined together to urge you to mount the rescue mission that has been promised and to do it without any further delay.

We are aware that the war against the Ori is just that: a war. We are aware that resources are stretched thin, and that every day they become thinner and thinner as a result of our conflicts with the Wraith and the Human-Form Replicators. We are also aware that we are asking for a significant commitment of time, manpower, and technology. Due to the position of ML5-160, our only option is to send one of our Daedalus-class warships, or another hyperdrive-equipped vessel, to retrieve Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay. While Doctor McKay may have, during his aborted ascension earlier this year, developed a method for equipping Jumpers with hyperspace capabilities, it is estimated that the technology will not be operational for several months, if it can be made to work at all.

Thanks to our allies and our own research, we are in a better position to defend ourselves than ever before. However, despite our technological advancements, our most critical resources are, and have always been, our people. No matter the potential cost, we urge you to allow the rescue mission to be mounted. At the time of writing, both Doctor McKay and Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard's subspace transmitters are operational and broadcasting, which indicates that there is a good chance that they are both still alive. Even if the unthinkable has occurred, we owe it to them to undertake a fact-finding mission to ascertain what has happened to them.

It is not only for Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay's benefit that we must go to ML5-160. The Bykstran people, the indigenous inhabitants of the planet, are estimated to number in the tens of thousands. If the stargate has been damaged, destroyed, or disabled or has become inaccessible, we have no way of knowing what effect the loss of gate travel has had on these people. They may be starving, suffering from civil unrest, or languishing in the grip of a natural disaster. To the best of our knowledge, we are one of only a handful of societies capable of reaching them without the use of a stargate, and we are perhaps the only one willing to render humanitarian aid. As you well know, Atlantis Base has had difficulties in maintaining its public image ever since arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy; this may be one of the rare opportunities we have to make a favorable and long-lasting impression upon the native peoples of Pegasus.

There is no other choice; we must go to ML5-160. Time is of the essence, and we have wasted far too much of it already.

Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay are ours to lose.

Signed,

Dr. Carson Beckett
Chief Medical Officer
Atlantis Expedition

Colonel Steven Caldwell
Acting Military Commander
Atlantis Expedition

Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Samantha Carter
Chief Science Officer
Stargate Command

Teyla Emmagan of Athos
Special Consultant
Atlantis Expedition

Dr. Daniel Jackson
Director, Department of Anthropology and Xenolinguistics
Stargate Command

Dr. Elizabeth Weir
Commander
Atlantis Expedition

Dr. Radek Zelenka
Acting Chief Science Officer
Atlantis Expedition


The weirdest thing about Bykstra, Rodney had decided, was not the Respite or the insane levels of politeness or anything like that.

It was how they felt about doors.

Every Bykstran who'd ever showed up at their house had done exactly the same thing: they knocked on the door, and then they just walked in. Rodney could tolerate that kind of behavior from people he'd known for a long time- god only knew he'd done it plenty of times himself- but these were people that he didn't even know. Rodney wasn't the type to sit around the living room in his underpants, but what if he had been? And why even knock, if not to ask permission to enter? Why not just give a holler? It was absolutely perplexing.

At any rate, there had been a completely inexplicable knock, and now Ralla was standing in their kitchen.

"I have come to see how my favorite patient is progressing," she said, giving John an affectionate pat on the shoulder, "and I have news for you."

Rodney opened his hands in invitation. "We're all ears." Ralla blinked at him. "Go on."

"Your request to assist with the investigation into the Ring's displacement has again been denied," she told him. He started to protest, but she held a hand up for silence. "But, despite our- previous misunderstandings," she said tactfully, "Liras has agreed to support your request for access to the Caller."

"Christ, finally," Rodney breathed. He rubbed his hands together eagerly, already imagining which part of the DHD to start with. "When do I start?"

"The council meeting is not until tomorrow night."

He rolled his eyes. "And I'm sure the council has to hear all about it."

"It is their prerogative to allow or disallow your request," Ralla said placidly.

"Of course it is." He sighed. "You'd better tell me what this council expects."

"They will want to see your commitment and your humility," she explained.

"We're screwed," John called from the kitchen nook.

Rodney glared at him. "Humility. Right. I can fake that, no problem. Anything else?"

Ralla looked apprehensive. "It is not an easy situation you will find yourself in." About twelve different cutting remarks sprang to mind, but Rodney just bit his tongue. "There have always been those who believe that our reliance on the Ring of the Boundary weakens us."

"You guys have a thing about weakness, don't you?" John asked.

Rodney looked at him in shock. "I have personally watched you walk half a mile on a busted ankle because you were too manly to let anybody see Ronon carrying you."

He shrugged. "I didn't say I didn't get it." He turned to Ralla. "Ignore us. Go on?"

"There are many kinds of weakness," Ralla hedged. "Some are afraid that we will become too dependent on trade. Others believe our traditions will be weakened if those of other planets are introduced. And, of course, there is the fact that the Ring of the Boundary is the only way that the Wraith have to gain access to our planet."

Rodney blinked. "Wait, what? I thought you guys didn't get attacked by the Wraith."

"You think that we have not been touched by the Wraith?" She was suddenly livid. "Are you insane? Of course we have been! Everyone has been! Did it not occur to you to question why we have a standing army and no apparent enemies?"

Rodney looked at her in confusion. "Then why don't you talk about it?"

"You think we should advertise our failures? You think it would be better if everyone knew of our shame?"

He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "I think I understand why the Athosians don't like you guys very much."

She looked concerned. "The Athosians do not like us? I always thought we got along quite well."

Great. The last thing Rodney wanted was to start an intragalactic incident. "Never mind."

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she spoke. "As you have no doubt realized, since the Ring was disabled, we have not had a single Wraith attack. We are too far away from everywhere else to make coming here in their massive ships worth their while."

Rodney looked at her skeptically. "How do you know that?"

"We looked at the stars," she said with a shrug.

"Whoa, really?"

"It is not hard. They're right there." Rodney rolled his eyes, but she continued. "Everyone knows the attacks are getting more serious. People say that the Wraith are starving. They were sending more and more darts. It was only a matter of time before they came for us in their ships, no matter the distance."

"And once they find out you've got a nice thing going here-" John piped up.

Ralla held up a hand. "Exactly."

Rodney tried not to imagine what a feeding frenzy the Wraith would go into on a planet as well-populated as this one. It was strange to think that there were cities on Earth that were bigger than all of Bykstra combined, especially when it was such a big place by Pegasus standards.

"No one but a fool would ever admit to having destroyed the Caller and disabled the Ring," Ralla insisted. "It has disrupted our daily lives to an unacceptable degree. Families have been divided. Wives and husbands have been separated. Allies are absent. Order has been lost."

And god knows you guys get off on order, Rodney didn't say.

"There are many who believe that this is what the gods want for us," she continued. "And believe me when I say that no one really wants you and John to stay here-"

"Thanks," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.

"-but there are those who believe that a few stranded people are a small price to pay."

Silence settled as Rodney turned her words over in his mind.

"This sucks," John said finally.

"Oh yeah," Rodney agreed.

"Come," she said, extending her hands to both of them. "I will feed you. If I am going to have to teach you to be humble by tomorrow, we have a long night ahead of us."


The appointed time came soon enough. Ralla escorted them to a large building in the center of the city; Rodney had noticed it before, but never paid it much attention. When he got inside, he sort of wondered how he hadn't; the council chamber was easily the biggest room Rodney had seen on the whole of the planet. It also made Rodney wonder if there was some universal "council room" archetype in the human mind, because he looked exactly like every other similar room he'd ever seen: amphitheater-style seating; a wide stage at the ground level; dais on one end; table on it, one big chair in the middle surrounded by smaller, less impressive ones; pathetic little table and podium at the other, clearly intended for the plaintiff. It had to be a cultural universal.

He wondered if Bykstran Science Today was taking submissions.

Liras and Arin were already seated; Liras waved them over, and they situated themselves, John at Rodney's feet as usual. The meeting, in the grand tradition of meetings everywhere, was slow to start, with a lot of protracted chatter and generalized grab-assery to get through. Then there was some kind of business with pledging allegiance to something or another, which mostly involved standing up and sitting back down again several times.

When they were finally ready to begin, an ancient man stood up from the dais, shuffling bits of papers in front of him on the table. "There is to be discussion of the Ring of the Boundary this evening. Gren will present a report on the financial impact of the loss of Ring travel. Beran will discuss the current status of the investigation into the Ring's displacement. We will conclude with a consideration of Doctor McKay's request to repair the Caller. Gren, you have our attention."

It didn't take long for Rodney to realize that all business meetings were boring as hell, no matter what planet they were conducted on- probably also a cultural universal. Gren took at least a half an hour to say what boiled down to, "Too much grain, not enough pottery, sorry guys."

He finally, finally sat down, only to be replaced by the next speaker. Beran was a big burly guy with a voice to match. Even with the gate translation in the way, Rodney could tell he had a different accent than the others- rougher, like maybe he wasn't as cultured.

"I've come to tell you all about what we've found," he said cheerfully. "Unfortunately, it's not much. We have some leads that we're following up on. When we do find who did it, it'll be up to the council to decide what happens, but we'll be pushing for the strictest penalties, given the disruption of society this explosion has caused." Well. That was probably the most straightforward speech he'd heard from anybody on the entre planet. Rodney liked this guy already.

"I have a protest," someone called from the audience; a short man in an incredibly ostentatious outfit stood up. He was wearing some kind of a design on his sleeve; Rodney couldn't really tell, but he was pretty sure the guys sitting around him were wearing it too, though none of them looked quite so tacky.

"Oh, gods below," Liras swore loudly, rolling his eyes.

"Menat, you are not ratified," the council chair said boredly, making no actual move to stop him.

"I have only a few remarks for the council," he said, blatantly ignoring him, strutting down the aisle towards the floor; now that Rodney had a better look at it, the thing on his sleeve was a piece of cloth with a complicated star design on it, tacked onto his clothing with gold thread. "We must immediately cease with this investigation. What does it matter who severed our connection to the Boundary? If anything, we should be inviting them to celebrate with us, not searching them out for censure."

Ralla muttered something under her breath.

Rodney blinked. "Did you just call that guy a tool?"

She looked sheepish. "It is an expression-"

"No, no, trust me, I get it," he said hurriedly. "I think I'm starting to agree."

"We invite our own ruin by associating with outsiders," Menat was saying. "What do we gain? A few possessions. But what do we give in return? We give something of ourselves, do we not? We give a little bit of our essential, unregainable purity every time we step away from our beloved planet."

"That's not even a word," Ralla hissed.

"The Ancestors have given us a gift by taking away the Ring," he continued, casting a glance at Ralla and Rodney. "It was intended to be their method for contacting us, was it not? Instead, we have corrupted its original purpose. Now that the Ancestors have gone below, we may be able to contact some other," he paused, his face contorting in disgust, "cultures, but this was not the Ancestors' intent. They may wish to trade their pitiful wares with us, just as they may wear clothing and walk upright, but they simply aren't people," he concluded, looking straight at John for a long moment before flouncing back into the audience.

"Rodney?" John said quietly.

"What?" he snapped back.

"You're hurting me."

Rodney frowned, looking down; sure enough, he'd gotten a death grip on John's shoulder at some point, without noticing. He let go, petting him in apology. "Sorry."

"That guy's a total dick," John muttered.

"Tell me about it," Rodney replied.

The audience buzzed. Beran took the floor again. "Right," he said, loud enough to stop the chatter. "Anyway, we're getting on with our investigation. We'll have more to announce next week. Thanks for your time."

The room exploded into commentary again after he'd sat down.

After all the commotion, Rodney's own bit was sort of anti-climactic. Liras got up and said some nice things about how smart he was, how he knew more about the gate than anybody, blah blah, stuff Rodney had been saying to anyone who would listen for years. For his part, Rodney tried to look confident and keep his mouth shut, waiting for Menat to come out of the audience and start grandstanding again; instead he just sat there, staring at Rodney with an odd little smile on his face.

"Your words have merit," the old man said, snapping Rodney back into focus. "Doctor McKay is granted permission to attempt repair of the Caller. He is to be supervised at all times. It is agreed that the Caller will not be reconnected until the question of the Ring's disposition is settled."

"What, really?" Liras elbowed him discreetly. "Uh, I mean, I humbly give you thanks, elders. Your trust will not be, uh, misplaced."

"This meeting is ended," the chair announced, totally ignoring Rodney's humility, which Rodney'd thought was really quite impressive.

After that, it was sort of a blur of activity. Melisan and Ralla, at least, must have known what the council was going to decide; because as soon as the meeting ended, Ralla took John off to, he didn't know, to feed the ducks or something, and Melisan was waiting to take Rodney to his workshop.

"You've already got it set up?" he asked, trailing behind her as she led him away from the council building and down the street to the archives. "I haven't even told you what I need yet!"

Melisan nodded to the librarian, who gave Rodney the usual suspicious look. "We do not have much that you would find useful, Doctor. If you have needs other than what we have provided, they will have to be assessed by the council."

She veered off down a corridor that Rodney had never explored, stopping in front of an open door and showing him in, with predictable ceremony. The workshop didn't amount to much- a rickety table, a dusty cabinet with a bunch of loose scrolls in it, a desk that looked more like an easel with drawers- but it had plenty of light, which was a start. More importantly, it had most of a DHD sitting against one wall, with a box of components beside it.

Rodney manfully resisted the urge to rub his face against it. He'd wait until Melisan left, at least.

There was a knock on the doorjamb, and a girl, who couldn't have been a day over twenty-five, walked in. She was pretty, in an unassuming sort of way; her long, brown hair was gathered into a low ponytail, and she wore neat, though obviously old, work clothing.

"Allow me to introduce Kemit," Melisan told him. "She is to provide you with assistance and supervision."

"I am honored," she said, stepping forward. "I hope I can be some help. I have been studying the Ancestors' technology at the technical college in Strentra for several years."

"There's a technical college on this planet?" he asked in disbelief. Surely that was a translation error.

The young woman raised an eyebrow at him. "There are technical colleges on other planets?"

Rodney decided to leave it, for the moment. "You know about crystals and what they do?"

She shrugged. "I am not far advanced in my theoretical knowledge, but I am familiar, yes."

He sighed. "Congratulations, you're already more useful than the last thirty people who got assigned to me." He snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah- you can read, right?"

She looked at him in mild alarm. "Yes, of course."

"Good. I'm only up to adjectives."

She was still staring at him oddly. "I see."

"Long story," he said, with a dismissive wave. "Anyway, come on. Let's see what we've got."

What they had was just enough to make Rodney really pissed and really excited at the same time. Kemit seemed to share both his enthusiasm and his sarcasm; it was a little stiff and formal at first, but then they were crawling around inside of what remained of the shell and arguing about which crystals went where.

Hours later, Kemit sat up, the bones in her back cracking audibly as she stretched this way and that. "I can't work another instant without some nemat," she told him. "Do you want me to bring you some?"

"Oh, for the love of god, yes," he answered fervently. "You're a hero among women."

She rolled her eyes at him, but it seemed sort of affectionate, so he figured that was a win. After she had gone, he sat back from his work, rubbing at his tired eyes. What he really needed was not to be looking at this for a minute or two; he stood up, stretched, and convinced his weary legs to convey him to the bathroom.

They were only away for a moment, but that was all it took.

Most of the damage was cosmetic; his papers were crumpled, his tools scattered, his worktable knocked over. Rodney quickly realized that it was all just window dressing; the real damage was in the middle of his desk, right where Rodney couldn't possibly miss it.

One of the crystals from the DHD had been carefully laid out, and a chisel had been driven straight through it.

It was sort of interesting, he thought to himself as he stared at it. Just a few months ago, he'd have completely lost his shit at this moment. He'd be screaming and throwing things, blaming everyone in sight and threatening death on whoever was handy.

But right now? He was just too tired to make the effort.

He honestly didn't know what it meant: was he getting more mature, or was it that was he really depressed and hadn't noticed yet?

There was a soft, shocked gasp from behind him, and Kemit's hand gripped his arm. "I just-" he started. He waved a hand at the workshop. "Clean this up," he told Kemit. "I need to not be here right now."

"Go," she said, turning him loose. "I will take care of it."

Rodney just wandered for a while, walking through the tangled streets of the city. It was strange how familiar they were becoming; Rodney couldn't even get lost properly, not when he always seemed to know which way to turn. He just kept walking; through the market, over the bridge, past the council chamber.

He found himself sitting on the roof of his apartment, looking up at the darkening sky.

He searched the stars, trying to find the Atlantis system. It was ironic, really- or maybe it just sucked, he wasn't great at telling the difference- a PhD in astrophysics, and he still wasn't any good at finding constellations without a star chart. He'd never really needed to, before.

"Rodney?" John called, from somewhere in the house.

"Up here," he replied.

The ladder rattled against the wall as John climbed up.

"You okay, buddy?" John asked warily, approaching Rodney slowly, like he was afraid Rodney was going to jump at any moment. "They said you left the workshop hours ago."

He shook his head. "I'm fine."

John sat down next to him. "You sure? I heard what happened."

Rodney gave him an appraising look. "And you're okay with it?"

He shrugged. "Nothing I can do about it, other than keep you from jumping off the roof."

"Don't be ridiculous," Rodney said, but it came out more tired than anything else. "I just wanted to see if I could find home."

"Right there," John told him, taking him by the hand and pointing with both their index fingers at the sky. "That's Lantea."

Normally, he would have had some kind of response- maybe he'd quiz John on how he could possibly tell one clump of stars from another, maybe he'd say something cheesy about how he could see his house from there- but today, he just couldn't find the energy.

John put his arm around Rodney's waist. "Relax, Rodney. They're going to come back for us."

"Do you think so?"

"I know so," he replied easily. "Nothing to worry about."

John sounded so sure, so hopeful, that Rodney didn't bother telling him what he'd already known for some time- that if they were going to come, he and John would already be back in Atlantis by now. Even if the Daedalus had to leave from Earth, even if they'd been delayed a week or more, they should have been picked up by now.

ML5-160 was in the farthest flung corner of the galaxy, too far from the next planet with a gate. By the time anyone could get there in a puddle jumper, John and Rodney and everyone they'd ever known would have long since died and passed into legend.

Rodney hoped there would be ballads about him. Not as good as a Nobel, obviously, but he had always rather liked ballads. Rodney wasn't much weirder of a name than Roland, anyway.

He was starting to wonder what he'd miss. In that first year, he'd given up on so many things- little things he'd never even thought to appreciate before, things like socks that hadn't been darned three times, or alcohol that wasn't made in somebody's closet, or the ability to settle arguments with IMDb. He'd gotten used to it; he'd bitched about it, certainly, but he compromised and hoarded and generally learned how to make do with the next best thing. Rodney had gotten used to being lonely, too, but he'd learned that long before he'd even heard of Atlantis. You didn't get through two doctorates without learning how to be solitary, how to crawl up into your work so deep that nothing else even registered.

He just wasn't really used to being alone.

Even on Atlantis, in the middle of nowhere, there was someone who knew where he came from- wasn't just aware of it, but actually understood it. There was always someone he could bitch to about missing Tim Horton's or why The Empire Strikes Back was a better movie than Return of the Jedi.

These people- he didn't care all that much about getting to know them, honestly, and they certainly didn't seem to want to know him. He was only just starting to get to the point where they weren't actively making him tear his hair out a hundred percent of the time, but it was still a long way from that to anything resembling friendship. And, okay, yeah, more than a few of Rodney's people still actively made him tear his hair out- Zelenka came to mind- but that was the thing. They were his people. He'd gone through near starvation and last-minute victories and mind-numbing terror and so many beautiful things and too many memorial services to count with those people.

The Bykstrans? They were barely even neighbors, by comparison.

Here, at the end of the galaxy, the only person he had was John; and, let's face it, if there was anybody from Atlantis he wouldn't mind getting stranded with it was John. The problem was that he just wasn't really John, not anymore. It was like somebody else who was just wearing his skin- like a Goa'uld, maybe except that no Goa'uld he'd ever heard of was hell-bent on making people really mellow all the time.

They'd always argued back and forth about stupid stuff- not out of a sense of meanness or mutual dislike, like Rodney had worried at first. It was just how they communicated, batting ideas back and forth, picking at each other in the spaces in between. And, okay, maybe there was a little flirting in there with it, but that's just how they were.

But ever since Bykstra, it was like John couldn't remember how to talk to him. The lightest, gentlest rebuke would set him off, make him self-conscious and abashed and desperate to get in good with Rodney again, like his entire worth was tied into what Rodney thought of him.

What worried Rodney the most was that he couldn't decide if it was the drugs or not; because, honestly, it seemed like the sort of thing that John would be likely to hide and he might be likely to miss. And either way, it was terrifying to think that he had that strong of a hold over John, that he could wreck him with the right words, have him scrambling to make him happy, no matter what the cost.

He was inexplicably worried that he might really get off on it. He really didn't want to probe what that said about him.

Ever since Ralla had adjusted John's dosage, it had been getting better. Sometimes Rodney could even see slips of the real John, his John, underneath it all, but better just wasn't good enough.

Sometimes he wished he were really alone; it seemed like it might be easier if he only had himself to worry about.

"I miss you," he said quietly.

John lay his head against Rodney's shoulder. "I'm right here, buddy."

Rodney petted John's hair and swallowed down his disagreement.


MEMORANDUM
To: All Offworld Personnel
Re: Gateteam Reassignments

The following changes to standing gateteam assignments and designations are effective August 17, 2007:

First Contact/Negotiation (AR-1)
Maj. E. Lorne
Dr. R. Zelenka
Sgt. F. Reading
Halling of Athos

Military Assistance (AR-2)
SMSgt. J. Stackhouse
Sgt. D. Mehra
Sgt. L. Yuan
Cpl. G. Hull
Cpl. Q. Jackson

Scientific Reconnaissance – Earth and Life Sciences (AR-3)
Lt. L. Cadman
Sgt. M. Keynes
Dr. D. Parrish
Dr. K. Simpson

Scientific Reconnaissance – Social Sciences (AR-4)
Sgt. L. Goldwin
Dr. Z. Vogt
Dr. J. Hill
Dr. P. Colas

Page 1 of 3


Once Rodney just gave up and accepted that he was never going home again, it started getting so much easier to live on Bykstra.

Those first few weeks, he thought he had figured everything out, but now he realized he'd only been seeing what he wanted to see. Now, when he walked through the marketplace with John at his elbow, things looked completely different. Calling them "Cared For" had seemed like such a mockery at first, but now that was what he saw- guardians and those they protected, not masters and those they owned.

He still thought the whole thing was kind of fucked up; but then, it seemed Bykstra had a lot of really fucked up ideas about a lot of things. But somehow, they all articulated together to make a system that worked, which still sort of amazed Rodney. He'd never thought of culture like that before, like an interlocking pattern that he could make sense of.

Of course, if he could have, he'd still have gone back to Atlantis in a heartbeat, and if they asked him to care for anybody else in the future, he'd probably hit them in the face, but the point was, he was getting used to it.

He felt like John was starting to get it, too. He'd probably done John a disservice, keeping him away from everyone else as much as possible, because it seemed like John was just starting to understand what his role in all of this was supposed to be. Ralla was still adjusting his drugs now and again, and it was clearly helping. Some days, he was so lucid that Rodney could almost, almost forget that he was on the drugs at all.

Unfortunately, certain events made it clear that his recovery was a two steps forward, one step back kind of a thing. Like, for instance, the day when he woke up to John making unhappy, desperate little noises and rubbing his face against Rodney's neck.

"I told you not to wake me up," he protested.

"I'm sorry," John said, pulling back. "I just- you were- I wanted-"

Rodney snorted sleepily. "If you're that bad off, go jerk off in the shower or something and leave me alone."

"Thanks," John sighed happily, kissing his cheek.

Rodney rolled over, burrowing deeper into his pillow.

When the shower cut on, Rodney realized what he'd said.

He rolled over, looking up at the ceiling. That wasn't a big deal, right? It hadn't been an order- just a suggestion. It didn't matter that John was touching himself fifteen feet away, and it definitely wasn't because Rodney had told him to.

Rodney closed his eyes and tried to pretend he was masturbating about something completely unrelated. There was probably some nice, safe fantasy he could get off to, right? He wondered if Katie Brown counted- their on again, off again relationship had been off again when they'd been stranded, but certainly old girlfriends were always fair game?

Right, so, Katie Brown. This was totally, one hundred percent, all about Katie Brown- her pretty, pale skin, her lovely, soft hair, her surprisingly nice and definitely very female breasts. Absolutely not about Sheppard. Nothing at all to do with the fact that he was probably getting off right this second to thoughts of Rodney ordering him around.

How would he do it? Rodney wondered to himself. Maybe he'd brace himself against the tile with one hand, his eyes shut, a look of pure concentration on his face. Or maybe it'd be better with his back against the wall, his mouth gaping open as he slowly stroked himself over and over again. Or- oh god- maybe he'd get down on his knees in the shower stall, let the water cascade over him full force as he spread his knees and reached back with one hand and-

Rodney bit his lip and came.

Thinking about Katie. Definitely all about Katie, and definitely not about Sheppard.

That was his story, and he was sticking to it.


Kemit worked out far better than he had hoped. She was quiet and knowledgeable and she made a damn fine cup of nemat, all of which Rodney valued extremely highly. It wasn't just her, though; Rodney got the sense that he was much easier to work with these days. Maybe it was because there was essentially no pressure- because not even Rodney himself really cared if they pulled this off or not- but even he noticed that he wasn't snapping as much as he normally would have been; maybe he was getting soft in his old age.

"You're late, Kermit" he called, as she entered the workshop. "I'm going to dock your pay by twenty percent."

"You don't pay me anything," she pointed out. "And it's Kemit, not Kermit."

"It's a joke," Rodney said, pulling himself out from under the DHD. "He's a little frog, he's green, sings songs about it."

Kemit gave him a skeptical look. "Your planet has singing frogs?"

"He's not a real frog," Rodney huffed. "He's a puppet. He plays a banjo?"

She gave him a blank look. "What's a banjo?"

"Never mind."

She waved him off. "Forget about your singing frog. I have something for you," Kemit said, slinging her bag off her shoulder and onto the table. She produced a bundle, all tied up in cloth, and passed it to Rodney. "Some of the scribes make them," she explained, looking over his shoulder as he unwrapped it. It was as close to a book as he'd seen, many leaves covered up in writing, all sewn to a long strip of cloth. "It is a guide. This chart, here? This one gives the standard axle lengths of common carts." She turned the pages, pointing things out as she talked. "Here is a listing of sacred days and suggested sacrifices. This shows the common minerals found in the mountains and mentions simple tests to differentiate them."

Rodney's jaw dropped. "Oh my god, it's a Pocket Ref." She gave him a quizzical look. "It's a little book that's, well, just like this. God, I wish I'd gotten one of these four months ago." He huffed a laugh. "Of course, then, I wouldn't have appreciated it, would I?"

She put up her hands, giving him the truly universal gesture for "you said it, not me."

"You really don't know how much this means to me," Rodney told her seriously. "I- thank you." He swallowed around the lump in his throat and turned the page. "Is this a list of gate addresses?"

"Oh, yes," she said, running her hands over the material. "I suppose it won't be useful until after we fix the Caller, will it?"

"I suppose so." He carefully rolled it back up, stowing it in his bag for safekeeping. "Speaking of which, why don't we get started?"

"I was afraid you might never ask," she replied.

He rubbed his hands together. "Let's see. Get me the crystals we were working on yesterday and some of that stuff- the yellow stuff, in the little bottle? I think I have an idea."

Kemit passed him the crystal tray and the bottle. "You'll want rags," she said, opening the drawer and snatching up a few. "It gets everywhere."

"See, that's why I have you," he said, accepting them. "Now, I think if I just Jesus fucking Christ!" he yelped, jumping backwards and scattering the rags everywhere.

"What?" she asked, panicked. "Is it a spider? Should I kill it?"

Rodney gingerly picked up one of the rags. It was a small square of cloth, no more than five inches on a side, with an elaborate star design embroidered on it. Gold thread dangled from the corners.

He brandished it at her. "Where in the fuck did this come from?"

"I found it behind the Caller," she responded cautiously. "Does it mean something? Is it important?"

"Is it-" Rodney started to snap, but then he remembered that she wasn't from this city; she honestly had no idea what it meant. "I need you to think very carefully, he told her. "Did you bring this here?" She shook her head. "Do you remember seeing this when you first got here, before the break-in?" She frowned, thinking, but she soon shook her head. "Then, holy shit, I can prove it now."

"Where are you going?" Kemit called after him.

"I've got to see Beran!" he yelled, and then he was on the street.

Everything was suddenly so clear to him now. This plot had obviously been rolling since long before Rodney even heard of Bykstra, but he'd be goddamned if he wasn't going to stop it when he had the evidence right in his hand. Finally, he was going to prove to these damned people that he did, in fact, have something going for him.

Well, obviously that wasn't his main motivation. But that didn't mean it wouldn't be awfully nice.

He skidded to a stop in the square, almost mowing down an old woman, who gave him a very nasty look. There was a big crowd- it was market day, after all, and he fought his way through it-

-just in time to see Beran standing in front of the courthouse, clapping some badly dressed peasant into irons.

"Wait, no!" Rodney exclaimed, but he didn't even finish the last word before he spotted Menat behind them, already bound and looking pissed off.

"Well," Rodney panted, bending over and putting his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. "Shit."

"Rodney?"

"Melisan," he said, still panting heavily.

"May I ask why you are breathing like that?"

"Just- found- evidence," he panted, waving the cloth at her. "Workshop. Break-in."

She took it from him, turning it over in her hands. "I must say, they must have been extraordinarily stupid to have left this behind."

"Oh, y'know," Rodney said. "They were in a hurry."

"I will need to keep this," she told him. "It may be useful."

"Knock yourself out. I'm sure Beran'll need it."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You think he does not have other compelling evidence?"

"No, I just didn't realize he was so," Rodney made a vague gesture, "on top of things."

"He is a trained investigator with more than fifteen years of experience."

"I know that," he said irritably; Melisan gave him a look that said that she clearly didn't buy it. "It's just that I've gotten kind of accustomed to saving the day. I've been doing it a lot, the last couple of years."

Melisan looked like she didn''t quite buy it. "Interesting."

"What's going to happen?"

"I am not sure," she said with a shrug. "It depends on the sympathies of the public. There is much support for keeping the Ring disabled, so perhaps they will be more sympathetic than they should be. Of course, several people were injured and killed in the blast, which may go a long way towards dissuading people from being so lenient." She sighed. "Realistically? Maran will be punished and Menat will not."

He grimaced. "That's kinda what I figured."

She shrugged. "It is the way of things."

"Everywhere," he agreed. "So I guess that's it, then?"

"Essentially," she replied. "It is somewhat-"

"Anticlimactic?"

She smiled. "I was going to say disappointing."

"I'm gonna go sit down now," Rodney told her, and he staggered back to his lab.


Things went faster, what with the threat of impending attack not looming over their heads every five minutes- which was kind of weird, because before, he'd been used to a catastrophe every week or two, just to break up the tedium of every day lab work.

There were some pieces he was going to need, some crystals that he wasn't sure he could scavenge or replace; but if he had the rest of his life to work on it, which he unfortunately did, he could certainly find a way to work around them. As much as Rodney privately thought that the Ancients were all a lot of douche bags, they'd designed DHDs to be remarkably resilient.

He wondered what he'd find when and if he ever got back to Atlantis. He supposed it depended on how long it took him to fix the DHD; if he could do it in the next five years or so, maybe Elizabeth and company would still be there, so long as Zelenka didn't blow it up first. That would be nice; if they were still around, they'd probably let him visit Earth. Maybe he could go and see Jeannie again.

But what if it took him thirty years to fully understand crystal technology?

He'd never really known what the ultimate plan for the city was. It never seemed important when they'd been planning the expedition; of course, they hadn't even known then whether or not they were any humans left in Pegasus, and they certainly hadn't had any clue about the Wraith.

Would the SGC pull out, once the Wraith were finally defeated? Who would own the city then? The Athosians? The people of Pegasus in general? The Genii would almost undoubtedly try and take it over, assuming there were any of them still around and kicking. Would he step through the gate to Atlantis only to be greeted by Ladon Radim?

Of course, there was also the distinct possibility that he'd never learn the secret of just how in the hell the Ancients had fabricated those goddamned crystals; he'd been studying the technology for a very long time, after all. If he couldn't figure out how to make them in three long years with the entire Ancient database at his disposal, it didn't seem particularly likely that he'd suddenly have a breakthrough in his dusty little atelier in the middle of nowhere.

Whether it came together or not, Rodney was starting to think he didn't mind.


When Rodney got home from his workshop one afternoon, John was waiting for him on his knees.

He shut the door behind him, not even bothering putting down his bag. "What did I tell you about doing that?"

He shrugged, unapologetic. "Force of habit."

"And where is your shirt?"

"Relax, Rodney," he said, rolling his eyes. "I'm not up to anything. I just got out of the shower, and it's really hot in here."

Rodney was suddenly suspicious. "Why were you waiting on me?" John started to open his mouth, but Rodney waved him off. "Yes, yes, you're happy to see me, I'm the light of your world, et cetera, et cetera, but what do you want?"

John looked vaguely put out at him. "See if I ask how your day went ever again."

"Come on, spit it out."

He picked at a seam on his pants, studying it rather than look at Rodney's face. "If I go through reintegration, can we have sex?"

Rodney blinked. "What?"

"I mean, I'd have to stop taking the Respite, right? And I kinda figured that's why you wouldn't. So I thought- unless you didn't want-"

Rodney cut him off. "Look, if by some bizarre chance you still want to when you're off the drugs, we can do it four times a day. That's not a problem."

He grinned. "Cool."

"Why are you asking me this now?"

John shrugged. "I was thinking about it."

"Thinking about us having sex?"

"Well, I wasn't until you said it," he replied, sarcastic. "I was thinking about giving up the Respite. I think I'm getting tired of it."

"Really?" Rodney said, trying not to sound as enthusiastic as he felt. "It's your choice, and everything, but God, John, you don't even know how much I want you to."

His expression shifted; for a moment, Rodney thought he looked sad. "Yeah, I do." He pulled a face. "Plus, it kinda tastes like shit."

He stepped closer, reaching down to card his hand through John's hair, laughing in relief. "How soon? Cause if you want me to, I'll go and pour it out right now."

John shook his head. "You're not supposed to quit cold turkey- I'm supposed to go off it at the hospital, so they can watch me," he said. "I was thinking I'd go in at the beginning of next cycle?"

Rodney nodded. "Next cycle- so that starts on-"

The next word vanished unsaid as bright light engulfed the two of them. Before Rodney even realized what was happening, he was standing on the bridge of the Daedalus, his mouth hanging open in shock.

"I told you they were coming," John whispered, grinning ear to ear.

"Welcome back, Doctor McKay," Colonel Caldwell said, a surprisingly pleasant smile on his face.

The happy reunion lasted about thirty seconds. Then, Caldwell looked down at John and up at Rodney, then down to John, then back to Rodney again.

"It's not what it looks like," was the only thing Rodney could think to say.


MISSION REPORT
ML5-160
1 September 2007

Mission Type: Search and Rescue
Primary Team: AR-9
Assisting Team(s): AMED-1, USS Daedalus flight crew
Personnel: Colonel Steven Caldwell, Field Leader; Commander Dr. Elizabeth Weir, Negotiator; Special Consultant Teyla Emmagan, Team Leader, AR-9; Specialist Ronon Dex, Security, AR-9; Dr. Carson Beckett, Lead Physician, AMED-1; Dr. Katherine Heightmeyer, Psychological Specialist, AMED-1; Marie Ko, DNP, RNFA, AMED-1; Hermiod of the Asgard, Beaming Specialist; Major Matthew Marks, First Officer, USS Daedalus (see attached for full flight crew)
Primary Mission Objective: Retrieve personnel (Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and Dr. Rodney McKay) by any means necessary
Other Mission Objectives: If primary objective not met, determine location and status of LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay; determine status of planet's stargate; assist in reconnection of planet to stargate system

Time of Departure: 17 August 2007, 1000AST
Time of Return: 13 September 2007, 1736AST
Injuries? (Attach form MR-9): Yes
Sustained by: LtCol J. Sheppard
Nature/Treatment: Minor wounds, disorientation, presence of unknown mind-altering substance; treated by Dr. Carson Beckett (see attached)
Casualties? (Attach form MR-8): No
Personnel Lost: N/A

Narrative Report (100 words min; attach additional pages if necessary):

Mission left Atlantis Base as scheduled. USS Daedalus made no contacts en route; see Maj Marks's flight report (attached). Mission arrived at ML5-160 on morning of 1 September 2007 at approx. 0900AST.

Attempt to make radio contact with LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay was unsuccessful; attempts to hail local populations also failed. Aerial reconnaissance showed gate missing. Trading camp at gate was abandoned. SpecCon Emmagan reported she had never seen said camp without some local presence.

Hermiod achieved a lock using LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay's subspace transmitter frequencies. After much debate, it was decided to beam LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay aboard without first attempting face-to-face contact; Drs. Beckett and Heightmeyer's letter of protest is attached.

Upon consultation with Dr. McKay, it was determined that no assistance could be rendered to the local populace with available supplies. Dr. McKay reported that he had been reconstructing the planet's DHD, but that repairs would likely continue without his supervision.

Mission left ML5-160 on 1 September 2007 at approx. 1500AST after a second attempt to contact the local population failed. No landing party was sent; Dr. McKay's letter of protest is attached.

En route to Atlantis Base, LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay were debriefed concerning their time on ML5-160 (full report to follow). It became clear that LtCol Sheppard was under the influence of some unknown substance; when asked, Dr. McKay freely admitted that LtCol Sheppard had been drugged. Dr. McKay reported drug was related to a socio-religious practice and that local population was friendly and amenable to alliance if gate travel resumed; Dr. McKay and LtCol Sheppard both emphatically stated that their detention on ML5-160 had been unintentional.

LtCol Sheppard became extremely agitated whenever forced to leave Dr. McKay's presence, to the point of crying. Dr. McKay insisted his behavior resulted from the drug; LtCol Sheppard disagreed. In interest of safety, LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay were put into isolation, under the supervision of AMED-1, for the duration of the return voyage; see Dr. Beckett's report (attached MR-9). Following Dr. Beckett's advice, no quarantine protocols were enacted. At no time did any team or crew members exhibit symptoms in any way similar to LtCol Sheppard's.

Recommendations: Recommend immediate psychological evaluation for LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay, conducted by Dr. Heightmeyer and confirmed by SGC personnel. Recommend full investigation by SGC before LtCol Sheppard and Dr. McKay are allowed to return to active duty. Recommend dialing in to ML5-160 on a bi-weekly basis to assess status of gate and, if necessary, offer aid to stranded populace; do not recommend return voyage by USS Daedalus or other SGC ship at this time. If gateship hyperdrive is completed, recommend gate specialist (other than Dr. McKay; preferably older female due to cultural concerns) be stationed on ML5-160 to complete repair of planet's DHD (estimated time of detail: 1 month).

Report Prepared by: Col S. Caldwell, 16 September 2007
Accepted by: Cdr Dr. E. L. Weir, 16 September 2007
CC to: Stargate Command, 17 September 2007


The only reason Rodney escaped spending the entire three week ride to Atlantis alone in the brig was that John kept crying every time they were separated for too long; Caldwell found that so incredibly unsettling that he'd thrown them both into isolation together.

"I left without my shirt," John said, his face pillowed on Rodney's thigh. "I liked that shirt."

"It was a good shirt," Rodney agreed. "We'll get you a new one." He lay his hand on John's shoulder, rubbing soothing circles into it. "But only if you quit acting up in front of Caldwell."

He grinned. "But did you see his face? He's such an easy mark."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "You're going to regret that when-"

He'd been going to say something like, "when you get better," but the words died in Rodney's throat as he realized that that day was coming sooner rather than later. "Come here," he said, a thought suddenly occurring to him.

John shied away from him as he reached for the collar's closure. "What are you doing?"

"You can't wear that here." The betrayed look on John's face was heartbreaking. "I'll keep it safe for you, okay?"

"I guess," he said, still looking extremely skeptical but letting Rodney take it off of him.

It was probably a smart move, because not five minutes later, Teyla and Ronon turned up with dinner. Rodney didn't miss how Ronon kept looking back and forth between the two of them, as if he was deciding which one of them to take out first.

John sat beside him on the floor, as always, while they ate. "I thought we'd never see you again," Rodney said, in between bites of his sandwich. "I mean, no offense, but you could have showed up a whole lot sooner. I was almost starting to like the taste of nemat."

"We have missed you," Teyla told him, her voice sincere and warm. "All of us."

"Believe me, we missed you too," Rodney told her, setting his food to the side and passing John his carrot sticks. "Don't get me wrong- the Bykstrans are nice enough people once you get to know them, it's just that-"

"They didn't like you," Ronon offered.

"Ronon," Teyla chided.

Rodney shrugged. "When the man's right, he's right." He ruffled John's hair as he spoke, idly tracing his fingers through the thick mop. John leaned into it like he always did, resting his head against Rodney's thigh.

He realized that Teyla and Ronon were staring at them.

He lifted his hand away from John's head. "I'm bothering you guys, aren't I?"

"No, of course not," Teyla lied. "It is just that-"

"Yeah," Ronon said. "It's weird."

"Sorry," he said, pushing John gently away. "It's just- I'm used to it, you know?"

Teyla shook her head. "If I had known that the Bykstrans kept slaves, I would never have suggested that we trade with them."

Perspective was a funny thing, Rodney thought to himself. Four months ago, he'd have made exactly the same statement- okay, no, he wouldn't have made the same statement, because his version would have been a hell of a lot ruder.

Wow. Maybe they did hate him for a reason.

"He isn't my slave, or my pet, or my servant, or anything like that," Rodney explained, trying his level best not to snap at her. "He's my ward."

"Like Batman and Robin," John clarified.

Ronon lifted a eyebrow at them. "I always thought Batman was doing Robin."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Okay, anything Doctor Richard says about comic books? Ignore it. That was never canon. And if it was, it was probably Frank Miller's fault."

"Definitely not canon," John confirmed. "Maybe in Elseworlds, though."

Rodney frowned. "I really don't think that DC-" Noticing Teyla's bemused expression, he cleared his throat. "Sorry. Anyway, the point is, they're not slavers. A little weird, but not that bad, all things considered."

"Forgive me," she said. "But you must understand that we are all accustomed to assuming the worst."

"Yeah, well, I am too. And I'm sure John would be, if-" He made a vague motion in John's direction; thankfully, Teyla didn't push it.

It was better, after that- nothing at all like dinner with his team, which should have been the most normal thing in the galaxy, but better than heart-wrenchingly awkward. They didn't stick around long afterward; Ronon still looked a little twitchy and confused.

As they left, Teyla pulled him close, pressing her forehead to his; and god, he didn't even realize how much he'd missed that. "You have grown."

"No, I was always this much taller than you," he joked weakly.

When they had gone, he went back to stroking John's hair and trying to feel like he'd been rescued.


"There you are," Carson said as he entered the tiny infirmary, ignoring that Rodney'd practically been frog-marched there by a pair of airmen. There was a medical kind of cheeriness in his voice that didn't really displace the edgy tiredness underneath it. "Have a seat."

Rodney sat, picking up a stray tongue depressor and fiddling with it. "I'd ask how you've been, but-"

"I won't mind if you skip it, for the moment," Carson replied. He patted Rodney's hand. "But it is good to see you, my friend." He shuffled his papers a bit, pressing his hand to his forehead briefly as if in thought. "Right. If there's anything you know about this drug, I need to know it now. Actually, I need to know it yesterday, but now will do fine."

"I don't know what I can tell you," he replied, shrugging. "I've never seen it prepared, I don't know what's in it, I've barely even administered it."

"That's sort of what I expected you to say," Carson said, with a sigh. "Have you got any more of it?"

"Have you got my bag?"

"In the glove box," he said, pointing to the sterile chamber across the lab, and Rodney went for it, breaking the seal as soon as he got his hands on it. "We didn't find anything, so it should be safe to- Why am I even telling you? You're just going to open it anyway."

Digging around in it, he came up with a vial Ralla'd given him for emergencies. At the time, he hadn't been able to come up with an emergency scenario that involved him needing to dose John unexpectedly; but then again, he hadn't expected to be suddenly beamed away then.

"Should be about enough for two days," he said, putting it down on the table in front of Carson. Rodney's face fell. "Oh, oh no, Carson, can you synthesize this?"

He opened his arms, indicating the med bay. "I'm not exactly working under the best conditions here, Rodney. And even if I could, I don't know that Doctor Weir or Colonel Caldwell would approve of my making any more."

"You can't just let him go off of it," Rodney half-shouted. "Who knows what withdrawal from this stuff might do to him?"

"Do you think I don't know?" Carson snapped, rubbing his temple. "We'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it." He sighed. "How long's he been taking it?"

"Four cycles, give or take?" Carson gave him a blank look. "Ever since we got cut off."

"And how bad was it when you stopped taking it?"

Rodney looked at him in confusion. "What? I never took it."

Carson raised an eyebrow at him. "You've got trace amounts of the same compounds in your system."

"Really?" He snapped his fingers. Looking in his bag again, he came up with his nemat mug. "Here."

"You brought me a vase?" Carson deadpanned. "You shouldn't have."

"It's a coffee cup," he said, rolling his eyes. "Well, it's not coffee, not by a long shot- actually, it kind of tastes like licorice mixed with wintergreen- anyway, if the same compounds are in this cup that're in my blood and that vial? It would explain a lot of things."

Carson blinked at him. "To who, exactly?"

"To me, obviously."

"And would you care to share what it might explain?"

Rodney sighed. "Okay, really long story short: the way Sheppard's acting? Isn't the way he's supposed to be. It hit him a lot harder than anybody else who took it. But if it's in the stuff that everybody drinks like coffee, which Sheppard wouldn't touch-"

"Then the Bykstrans may have built up a tolerance for it through prolonged exposure," Carson finished. "I see where you're going." He shrugged. "I suppose it's possible." He made a note on his laptop. "And how is he supposed to be acting?"

"What?"

"You just said he wasn't acting like he was supposed to."

Rodney scratched the back of his neck, looking away. "I guess he was supposed to be acting about the same, although not quite so out of it, but it also made him-"

"Yes?" Carson prodded. "Made him what? Itchy? Restless? Nauseated? Bright green? Sexually aroused?"

He snapped his fingers, grimacing a little. "Got it in five."

"Oh," he said, looking distantly embarrassed. "Was he, er, priapismic, or-"

Rodney cut him off. "Let's just say that he made it pretty clear."

There was a pregnant pause; Carson's face got very serious. "Rodney. It's not that I- that we don't trust you, or that we're suspicious of you." He sighed. "But I am going to have to collect evidence." The way he said it left no room for doubt over what sort of evidence he might be looking for. "If you already know that I'm going to find something, no matter how innocuous the source might be, I need you to tell me now."

It suddenly occurred to Rodney that he had absolutely nothing to hide, and nothing more to worry about. These past cycles, he'd been waiting for, dreading, the day he finally snapped and did something unforgivable; he'd never seriously believed that he was strong enough not to succumb to temptation indefinitely. And wow, that was a pretty depressing opinion to have of himself, now that he thought about it, but it was worlds better than the alternative.

"Oh my god, I did it!" he blurted; Carson gave him a grave look. "That is, I mean, I didn't do Sheppard, and-" Rodney took a breath, collecting himself before he could confuse Carson any further. "No, you're not going to find anything. I mean, we share a bed, so I'm sure you're going to find all sorts of hair and clothing fibers, but nothing-" he paused, grimacing- "interesting."

Carson was still staring at him warily. "You realize that everything you tell me is covered under doctor-patient privilege?"

"Of course."

"And you know that, all things considered, you probably are my best friend?"

"Likewise, obviously," Rodney replied, pleased at hearing it. "Though, I mean, the list of people who don't want to throw themselves out of windows after talking to me for an extended period of time is fairly short-"

Carson talked over him. "So you do know I'm going to drag the whole story out of you eventually, right?"

"I wouldn't expect anything less."

"Well, I'm off to go examine the Colonel," Carson said, standing up and closing his laptop.

"Right," Rodney agreed, collecting his things.

"Where d'you think you're going?" he asked, giving Rodney an odd look.

"I'm coming with you," he responded, wondering what Carson was being so weird about.

The doctor looked downright offended. "Rodney, if you think for even one second-"

Rodney waved him off. "Sorry. I just sort of forgot where I was there for a minute."

Carson looked at him suspiciously, pursing his lips in displeasure. "Right."

He'd only just been escorted out of the infirmary when Elizabeth caught him. "I've been looking for you."

"I've probably been hiding," he said, waving a hand.

Elizabeth lifted an eyebrow at him. "Can I borrow you for an hour or so?"

He opened his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I have literally nowhere to go."

It didn't occur to him, until he got into the ship's meeting room, that he hadn't been "borrowed" so much as "ambushed." Elizabeth had clearly planned all this out; she had a video camera set up and waiting for him. She sat him down and turned it on, taking a chair next to it. Rodney honestly couldn't decide if he was being interviewed or deposed; he guessed that it might be either, depending on how it went.

"Neither of you have been formally charged with anything," Elizabeth told him, in her best diplomatic voice. "However, Colonel Caldwell is requesting that the SGC do a full investigation."

"Of course he is," Rodney sighed.

"For the record?" she said, in a warning tone. "I agree."

He put a hand over his face. "Can we just get this over with, please?"

For a moment, he thought Elizabeth looked almost contrite, but it was gone as quickly as it had come.

He'd never really had to go up against Elizabeth before, not over anything more serious than needing to blow something up for the sake of science. And even when they'd been in conflict, they'd always been, essentially, on the same side.

Right now? Rodney wasn't quite so sure.

He really understood now why the SGC saw fit to pay her so much more than him, because once she got started, Elizabeth was a bulldog. She kept asking him the same questions over and over, with slight variations that he could never really work out the meaning of, which he assumed was some kind of torture tactic for people who were just a little too smart for their own good. And Rodney could rant and demand with the best of them, but Elizabeth wore him down, quicker than he thought he possibly could be.

For fuck's sake, it was like talking to an undergrad.

After what felt like a billion years of questioning, Elizabeth reached over and switched off the camera. She rolled her shoulders and refilled his water glass; and just like that, she was Elizabeth again, not the Devil personified.

It was really fascinating. He sort of felt like he should build an altar to her.

She leaned forward. "Just between us? What was it like?"

He thought about blowing her off, just like he would have if it was someone else; but this was Elizabeth, so he thought about it."You have a dog, right? A big one?" She nodded. "You know how big dogs are really sweet and gentle, and all they want is to sit directly on top of you, all the time? And it's sort of nice, but every once in a while you'll be petting its snout and remember that it could kill you just as soon as look at you?"

She nodded, looking a little concerned. "I follow you."

"Imagine a planet where a tenth of the population acted like that."

She raised her eyebrows, her mouth falling open slightly. "I see."

Rodney shrugged. "I was always a cat person."

He decided it would be impolitic to mention all the leg humping.


Sheppard haunted the ship like a ghost.

Okay, that was admittedly pretty melodramatic. And, all right, Rodney couldn't actually hear him howling all the way down in his quarters, but it certainly felt that way. Rodney tried over and over to tell himself that this was really John's own fault, since he had, after all, chosen it for himself; something about that thought just seemed disingenuous and too cruel by far.

Rodney only got to- maybe got to wasn't the right phrase, maybe had to- visit him once during the worst of it. As soon as John had caught sight of him, John had lunged, tearing at his restraints and swearing at the nurses. Rodney couldn't decide which would be worse- if John wanted to kill him with his bare hands, or if he was that desperate just to get close to him.

Rodney was pretty sure that he was going to hear John screaming in the back of his head for the rest of his life.

He'd been immediately ushered out by one of the nurses and summarily banned from visiting. Rodney actively resisted interfering for a good two days after that, which was really saintly by his standards.

Dragging his airmen behind him- he was considering naming them, but he couldn't decide if he wanted to call them Watch and Ward or Thing One and Thing Two- he searched for Carson, finally running him down in the Daedalus's tiny mess hall, where he was staring morosely at a pre-packaged sandwich and a wilted salad.

"What are you doing here?"

Carson lifted an eyebrow at him, tearing open a packet of sugar and pouring it into his tea. "Nice to see you too, Rodney."

"Shouldn't you be in there with your patient?" Rodney asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

Carson pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. "I've been with him for the last six hours. You'll have to forgive me for wanting to do selfish things like feed myself." He glanced up, seeing something he didn't like in Rodney's face. "Sit down and eat something. You look as bad as I feel."

"Any luck on the drug?" Rodney asked, dropping himself onto the bench across from him. "Can't you do anything to make this any easier?"

"Frankly, it's from a class of drugs that doesn't even exist on Earth, and I'm not a psychopharmacologist," Carson said, wrapping his hands around his mug. "There are things I can give him- and I have, thank you very much- but if I do too much, he could end up far worse than he came in."

Rodney pursed his lips, sitting back and crossing his arms. "I thought you were good at this stuff."

Carson gave him a withering look. "I'm so glad to have you back."

He twiddled Carson's discarded sugar packet between his fingers, feeling a little ashamed of himself all of a sudden. "Sorry."

"Look, I'm a doctor, not a miracle worker, and I might as well be working out of a bloody first aid post here." Carson scrubbed at his face tiredly. "We're doing the best we can under the circumstances."

"Well," Rodney said, waving his hands in what he hoped was sort of an encouraging way, "get in there and cut the head off a chicken, roll the bones, whatever it is you people do!"

"We're on a spaceship, Rodney," He sighed, exasperated. "We haven't even got any chickens. And he's up and talking now, it's just that-"

Rodney suddenly snapped his head up. "Oh my god, it is voodoo."

"Rodney? Rodney?" he heard Carson call as he bolted out of the mess. "Oh, hell."

Sheppard was sitting in the infirmary's one private room- which really wasn't that private at all, considering it had a big window and a shower curtain for a door- looking, frankly, like shit. Even his hair looked depressed, clinging sweat-damp to his forehead in uneven clumps. He was alone for the moment; and Rodney wanted nothing more than to go over and comfort him, to towel off his brow and tuck him into bed. He suspected it would only get him decked, though; and anyway, he was a man on a mission.

"Voodoo death," he said triumphantly, not waiting for John to tell him to get out.

John stood up, looking at him in confusion. "Fuck you too," John said. He nodded to Thing One and Thing Two, who all but evaporated. Rodney seriously needed to learn how to do that.

"I read this article," he explained, pushing his way past John into the room, "from some medical journal- I wouldn't usually touch one, obviously, but the thing had 'voodoo' right there in the title, so I figured it was going to be a shocking expose or something."

John just stared at him.

"Right." Rodney wiped his hands on his pants nervously. When had his palms started sweating? "So. In some cultures, people really do die from stuff like curses and the evil eye and having a broken heart. They have such a strong cultural expectation that they're going to die that they stress themselves until they really do. Voodoo death."

"You do realize you sound like an anthropologist?"

"Yeah, it bothers me too- but don't change the subject." John rolled his eyes and threw up his hands, so Rodney continued. "The Bykstrans have been told all their lives that the drug would make them not worry anymore, like being a kid again- but you're not a Bykstran. You had a different cultural idea of what was supposed to happen if you were peaceful all the time and had someone else to take care of you." Rodney's brain suddenly caught up to his mouth. "Holy shit, you're a sub."

John's face went pale. He grasped blindly for the footboard of his bed, clinging to it so hard that Rodney could see his knuckles turning white. "Could you say that a little louder, McKay?" Sheppard hissed, recovering. "I don't think the whole fucking ship heard you."

"That still doesn't explain why you did it," Rodney pointed out. "I don't care how much you might have liked it. It wasn't like you to give up like that."

"I was in a lot of pain, I was really, really high, we were cut off," he said, sounding a little exasperated. "Hell, for the first three weeks, I thought it was all some weird fantasy that was only happening in my head." John took a deep breath, balling his hands into loose fists at his sides. "What if somebody told you that you didn't have to worry about anything anymore? All your problems would be solved for you, and all you had to do in return was do what you were told?"

Rodney raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm pretty sure you just described my own personal hell."

"And that's why I'm the one of us with handcuffs in his dresser," Sheppard muttered to himself.

Rodney blinked. "What, what?"

"I knew I was," John paused, grimacing, making the word into a sneer, "submissive before we ever even got there, Rodney. You don't think normal-" Rodney didn't miss how his voice broke- "people just go around throwing themselves to their knees whenever they get a chance, do you?"

Rodney gaped at him. "You didn't think to tell me this four months ago?"

John stared at him skeptically. "Would you have done anything differently?"

Rodney thought about it for a moment. Drugged was drugged, even if he might secretly be enjoying it. "Well, no, but I probably would have felt better about the whole ordering you around thing!"

"No, you wouldn't have." His stance shifted, becoming even more tense, if that was even possible. "So you figured it out. Good job. You happy now?"

John sat down on his bed, picking up his book as if to suggest that Rodney was dismissed. Rodney realized that he'd seriously fucked something up, though he really wasn't entirely sure how or what.

And no, he really didn't feel very happy about it at all.


It wasn't that Rodney was expecting a homecoming party when they got back to the city.

Okay, that was a blatant lie. He was expecting a huge party. Cake. Booze. Those little sausage balls from MBU-293. He wanted fucking streamers, for Christ's sake.

They didn't even get beamed into the gateroom; John, Carson, and their entourage went directly to the infirmary, while Rodney got sent to the hallway outside his quarters. And honestly, he was really starting to wish that somebody would tell him what he was accused of; at least then he would know what he needed to defend himself against. This "let's wait for the inquiry" bullshit was getting very, very old.

At least he could get some sleep. He waved his hand over the door panel and stepped inside.

Rodney stood in the doorway for some moments, just looking around. He'd spent months thinking about nothing but this moment, of finally, finally being back in his room. He'd had extended fantasies about coming back and putting on his old, ratty bathrobe, kicking his feet up on his desk in exactly the way he hated other people doing, plugging his laptop into its dock, and watching Doctor Who- with the Fourth Doctor, obviously- until his eyeballs fell out.

Now that he was actually here, the moment was kind of… underwhelming.

It took him ten minutes to identify the scarily-moldy coffee cup underneath his bed as the source of the bizarre odor; he pitched it into the sink and turned the hot water on full blast, feeling a little like he might be murdering a sentient being.

When he felt it might be safe to turn his back on it, he switched off the water, stripped down to his boxers, and collapsed into his bed, exhausted for no good reason that he could think of.

Of course, he couldn't sleep. It was too hot; he threw the covers off. It was too cold; he huddled closer to the wall. It was too hot again. It was back and forth and back and forth, like it was just mocking him. He felt like a real jackass when, at two AM, he remembered that the temperature was fucking mind controlled; but even when he stopped torturing the poor thermostat, he still couldn't find any way to make his bed stop seeming like it was a hundred miles wide and so, so very empty.

"Welcome home," he said to the ceiling.


As soon as the SGC opened for business, so to speak, they dialed in.

"Good to see you've come back to us, Sheppard," Landry told them.

"Good to see you too, sir," Sheppard said; and maybe it was just Rodney's imagination, but that certainly sounded like a lie to him.

"McKay," Landry added, which came off more as a warning than a greeting; but in fairness, that was kind of how he talked to Rodney all the time. "I assume Elizabeth told you about the inquiry."

"Of course," Rodney said, rubbing tiredly at his face. "We'll be on our way just as soon as the Daedalus-"

Landry cut him off. "Negative. You're ordered to come through the gate immediately."

Rodney couldn't even muster the energy to be surprised. "Of course we are. Just give me a minute to grab my things."

"You've got thirty-eight," Landry reminded him. "Well, it's more like twenty-nine, now."

It took him most of that time to find his way through his closet; it was amazing how much he could forget in four months. He was breathing hard when he came back- with two minutes to spare, thank you- and John was already standing by the gate, shifting from one foot to the other like he'd been waiting a while.

"How'd you get back here so fast?" Rodney asked, panting only slightly.

"I was already packed," he replied, stepping resolutely through the wormhole before Rodney could say another word.

Just before he demolecularized, Rodney realized it was the only thing Sheppard said to him in their entire stay on Atlantis.

"Welcome to Earth, gentlemen," Sam said as they reemerged in the SGC, smiling tightly.

It was funny. Rodney had never expected those to be the last words he wanted to hear.


Mercifully, they let him move off base within days. He strongly suspected that Landry didn't approve of it, but: there were half a dozen Tok'ra hanging out for no good reason that Rodney could figure, hogging up all the VIP suites; the barracks were full; and apparently he wasn't under arrest for- for what, he still had no actual idea, maybe accidental kidnapping with intent to embarrass the US military- not yet, anyway. Teal'c had stood threateningly close to him as Mitchell pointedly told him not to leave town, but at least he wasn't in the Mountain twenty-six- twenty-four- hours a day.

A few days after they came back, in that interminable time before the hearings started, Rodney blinked awake in the middle of the night.

Someone was in his room.

"I know you're there," he shouted, trying to sound as butch as was humanly possible even while his throat constricted with fear. He fumbled on his nightstand for his holster- which was, of course, on his other nightstand, several million lightyears away. "I have a gun," he announced anyway, feeling very stupid about it; but for fuck's sake, it was three in the morning.

"Go back to sleep."

"John?"

A muffled curse and the sound of John tripping over something- his own feet, probably- was the response.

"If you came to kick my ass or something." He stopped, thinking about it. "Well, could you make it quick? I have to go in early tomorrow."

"Goddammit, Rodney," he growled. "I just want to get some sleep."

His voice cracked pitifully with the words, and Rodney's heart just snapped. "John, come here." John didn't move. "What, were you going to curl up at the foot of the bed? Take your shoes off and get over here."

John didn't respond, but Rodney could hear him toeing off his boots and stripping out of his jacket. He stood hesitantly at the side of the bed, looking down at Rodney, his mouth working mutely for a moment.

"Yes, yes, you don't know why you're doing this, I'm a horrible person, you're too depressed to think straight." John flinched at that one; Rodney leaned forward and caught him by the wrist, tugging him towards the bed. "Huge freak out tomorrow. Sleep now."

John crawled in beside him, keeping a careful, measured distance between them; but he melted when Rodney pulled him close.

"I haven't slept at night since Bykstra," John whispered, in a tiny, broken voice that was nothing like him.

He tucked his face into John's hair. "Me neither."

John suddenly struggled away from him. "I shouldn't have come, this is ridiculous-"

Rodney held fast to him. "Did I not just cover that not two minutes ago? Lay your ass down and go to sleep, Sheppard."

John collapsed back into bed, all the fight leached out of him as quick as it had come, falling into sleep practically as soon as his head hit the pillow. Rodney held him long after he'd dropped off, listening to the slow, familiar rhythm of John's breathing, sliding into sleep between one breath and the next.

John was already long gone when he woke up; when a week passed with no repeat performances, Rodney started assuming it had all been a dream.


DAILY SCHEDULE
Monday, October 1, 2007
Stargate Command

0800 – Arrival of LtGen Jonathan J. O'Neill
To be greeted by MajGen Hank Landry, Dr. Daniel Jackson, LtCol Cameron Mitchell, and Teal'c

0830 – Atlantis Hearing Session 1
Testimony: Col Steven Caldwell
Panel: LtGen O'Neill, MajGen Landry, Richard Woolsey (IOA)
Conference Room 2

1045 – Scheduled Outgoing Wormhole
Destination: P3X-139
Reconnaissance Mission, SG-3

1200 – Lunch
Menu: Braised chicken, fettuccine with meat sauce, tater tots, assorted vegetables
Vegetarian Option: Eggplant Parmesan
Dessert: Key lime pie, assorted gelatin

1300 – Atlantis Hearing Session 2
Testimony: Dr. Carson Beckett
Panel: LtGen O'Neill, Richard Woolsey, Dr. Janet Fraiser, Dr. Carolyn Lam, Dr. William Parker (IOA)
Conference Room 2

1400 – Scheduled Incoming Wormhole
Originating Gate: M24-616
Weekly Check-In, Atlantis Base

1900 – Movie Night
Film: The Grand Illusion
In English, French, German, and Russian, with English subtitles
Conference Room 1

2030 – Scheduled Incoming Wormhole
Originating Gate: P2X-117
Return from Mission, SG-17

Upcoming Events:
October 2-3: Atlantis Hearing Session 3 (LtCol John Sheppard)
October 4-5: Atlantis Hearing Session 4 (Dr. M. Rodney McKay)
October 6-7: Softball Tournament
October 8: Atlantis Hearing Sessions 5 (Dr. Katherine Heightmeyer) and 6 (Cdr Dr. Elizabeth Weir)

Notes:
-All Atlantis Hearing Sessions are closed. No unauthorized personnel will be admitted.
-Tomorrow's mission to P4Y-183 (SG-13) has been canceled due to unsafe weather conditions.
-All personnel with off-world clearance are reminded that yearly physicals must be completed by October 31. See Drs. Fraiser and Lam for available appointment times.
-USS Daedalus will be departing for Atlantis Base on October 12. Requests for passage for equipment, supplies, or personnel must be submitted to Maj Marks by October 8. The next departure is scheduled for November 22.


On a purely professional level, John was glad to see that Homeworld Security and the IOA were taking this whole incident very seriously. Security had never been the strong suit of either the SGC or, he had to admit, Atlantis. That first year, he'd had Bates to keep him on the straight and narrow, but after that, he was sorry to say that he'd let things slide- not as badly as the SGC had at times, though. They were Earth's first line of defense against a whole galaxy's worth of enemies; based on the mission reports he'd had time to read, which wasn't even very many of them, they certainly didn't act that way. It was about time somebody started keeping them on their toes.

So while he understood why the hearings were necessary- shit, he applauded them- it really didn't stop them from being complete, unending, personalized torture.

He'd never been great with talking about himself. He was very much aware of this fact; it helped that everybody who'd known him for more than ten minutes was aware of it too. Somewhere around Afghanistan, though, he'd learned that the only thing worse than talking about himself was being forced to listen to other people while they talked about him.

Acknowledging their importance also didn't stop the hearings from feeling, in turns, like a trial, a betrayal, an inquisition, and an extremely prolonged root canal. He explained to those, those vultures for the forty-fifth goddamned time that, no, he and Rodney hadn't been fucking; no, Rodney had never tried anything, never even insinuated anything; no, nobody else banged their charges, either; no, Rodney didn't touch him in his sleep, what the fuck kind of fucked up question was that?! And how would John know if he had, anyway?

He had a recurring fantasy of standing up and just letting them have it with both barrels the next time one of them dared to ask. No, Miss Xiaoyi, he never touched me, but you wanna hear about how much I wanted him to? You want me to tell you about how I came all over myself while he spanked me? You wanna know how many times I shoved my fingers up my ass and pretended they were his dick?

The only thing that stopped him was that, really, he knew that was exactly what most of them wanted to hear; and he'd die before he gave them the satisfaction.

Only that one who'd been trapped in Atlantis with the Replicators- Woolsey- only he seemed to be on John's side. John was starting to find his presence comforting, in a weird sort of way; it was like he was John's accountant, and he only wanted to make this unfortunate and unnecessary audit run as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Actually, that was exactly what it was like, now that he thought about it.

But somehow, finally, after he'd already gotten to the point where he was convinced it would never happen, his portion of the hearings ended.

And then the real fun began.

Insomnia- and insanity-induced late-night indulgences aside, he'd been pretty much actively avoiding Rodney ever since they'd come back to Earth. So it was just torture, pure and simple, to be locked up in a room for a whole day listening to him talk, waving his arms and getting pissed off and shouting the Mountain down in his righteous fury.

It was exhausting just listening to him, especially because almost all of what he had to say was in John's defense. John didn't even know what was bothering him more: that he found it so comforting, or that it turned him on as much as it did. He kept having to fight the urge to go to fix Rodney's coffee, ruffle Rodney's hair, go to his knees at Rodney's side and just stay there.

He kept his mouth shut and his fists clenched, he smiled a lot when people stared, and, most importantly, he stayed the hell away from Rodney. That was probably the hardest part, because the whole mountain seemed to be conspiring to stick them into briefing rooms and corridors and elevators together. Rodney kept glancing at him out of the corner of his eye whenever they were alone, giving him hangdog looks that were totally inappropriate on Rodney's face. John kept wanting to scream at him to stop acting so fucking guilty, which was disturbing enough that he ended up not saying anything at all; and whenever Rodney looked at him, he pretended not to notice.

Slowly- so fucking slowly- the hearings ground to a halt, and the IOA went off to their lair to deliberate. John was allowed to move off-base, where he promptly discovered that it was fucking freezing- it was more than a little bit embarrassing to realize that he'd forgotten that it was autumn.

Having his own place was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he actually got to see the sun twice a day, which was nice. On the other, every time he left the base, he kept wanting to drive off in his tiny little borrowed car and never come back again, just keep going until he ended up somewhere with a beach, start a new life as a surfboard instructor and forget he'd ever even heard of Cheyenne Mountain. As tempting as it sounded, he'd only be proving that he couldn't handle everything, and being a stubborn bastard was pretty much John's only source of entertainment these days.

So he kept going home to his dumpy little apartment, and the weatherman on the ten o'clock news kept cheerfully informing him that Colorado was in the midst of unseasonably high temperatures. It was not the first time John had decided the television was purposefully mocking him.

An awful lot of things seemed like they were mocking him lately, come to that.

In the back of his mind, John knew that he was depressed and probably in withdrawal and that he had about a billion other things wrong with him that weren't really his fault. He also knew that things were getting better as the days wore on; he knew that, as awful as everything seemed at the moment, he'd been through much worse before. This was nothing, wasn't it? All he really had to do was get his shit together and keep it from blowing up in his face for a while.

How hard could it possibly be?


Once it appeared that he wasn't going to snap and take over the gateroom in Rodney's name or something, everyone at the SGC was very understanding and helpful. It was sort of nice, in a way; not everyone was on his side, to be sure, but none of them were on the IOA's side, so it worked out in John's favor.

It was just that some of them were possibly too helpful.

John was sitting in the mess, just trying to eat a sandwich.

"Colonel Sheppard."

John looked up. "Teal'c."

"May I join you?" he asked, indicating the empty chair across from John.

"Go right ahead."

As Teal'c sat and began separating his silverware, John found he couldn't keep his eyes off of the emblem on the big Jaffa's forehead.

"It is the mark of the false god Apophis," Teal'c told him, before he could ask. "I am told that the story of its origin is not considered to be a topic suitable for mealtime conversation."

John nodded. "Fair enough."

"It is about false gods I wish to speak with you, Colonel Sheppard."

He squirmed in his seat, not really sure where this was going. "All right then."

"Doctor McKay is not a god."

John just blinked at him. "I- uh-" he stammered. "What?"

"From what I am told of your actions after being rescued from ML5-160, it was not unlike how the devoted followers of some Goa'uld behaved in the presence of those they believed to be gods," Teal'c said evenly. "I am concerned that you may believe that Doctor McKay is in some way deserving of worship."

"It really wasn't like that. He was just." John poked at his salad, not sure if he really wanted to have this conversation, especially with a guy he barely knew who sounded suspiciously like Mister Spock. "Just taking care of me."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow at him, which, really, said everything he needed it to.

"It's not that I don't appreciate your concern," John said carefully. "But I don't think Rodney's a god- far from it, actually. I don't even think he thinks that. Most of the time, anyway."

Teal'c nodded. "Then you should watch him carefully for signs of god-like behavior. If he begins to exhibit any, I will be happy to assist in his removal."

"His removal from what?"

"Earth," Teal'c said, and John didn't think he was exactly offering to put Rodney through the gate to some friendly planet for a nice vacation.

"You don't like him very much, do you?"

"Blinded by pride and cowardice, he once attempted to stop Colonel Carter from saving my life." It was funny how he could say that without any discernible inflection at all and still sound pissed as hell.

John grimaced. "He's gotten better about that."

Teal'c didn't respond; he made a sort of contemplative face, though.

"Thanks for the heads up," John said, pushing his chair back from the table and standing. "I'll keep an eye on it," he added, sounding insincere even to his own ears. Teal'c gave him a final sort of nod and concentrated his attention on his mashed potatoes.

The conversation was exactly what John needed; he had just been thinking that he didn't have enough things to worry about already.


John stood outside the door to Rodney's townhouse, considering his options.

Running screaming into the night was his favorite, right at the moment; earlier, Rodney had stopped him in the hall, looking nervous and fidgety, and said, "Can you come over to my place tonight?"

And John had asked, "For what?"

And he'd replied, "I was kind of thinking that us avoiding each other was stupid, and I'm tired of doing it, and I sort of wanted to see what you thought about it," which John thought was fair enough, but which really made screaming look better and better by the moment.

In the end, he rang the doorbell instead.

The door opened immediately, as if the person on the other side had been standing there, waiting for him to decide what he was going to do; judging by the look on Rodney's face, that was more than likely the case.

Rodney showed him in; the living room looked a little different when he wasn't breaking into it in the middle of the night. Rodney urged him to sit down, but the only pieces of furniture that didn't have dust cloths on them were the couch and the television; it was a little too close, both of them sitting together, and he had to twist around to look at Rodney's face.

"So," John said stupidly. "I'm here."

"So you are," Rodney replied, equally intelligently.

There was a long pause; John contemplated the floor and wondered how rude it would be to just get up and leave.

John jumped when Rodney finally said something. "Look, I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry."

"What've you got to be sorry about?"

"Whatever you want."

John rolled his eyes. "Relax, Rodney."

Rodney only seemed to get more nervous. "Um. No. Actually, I won't, because that hasn't been getting us anywhere, has it?" John didn't respond, trying to figure out what the hell he meant by that, so Rodney went on. "Listen. When we were- I- We were friends, weren't we, Sheppard?" Hearing that in the past tense made John feel a little weird, but he nodded. "And when we were on Bykstra, I missed you- yeah, yeah, I know you were there, but you weren't, really. I missed my friend. Kind of a lot, actually."

It twisted him up to hear it put like that, especially because it was true. He'd abandoned Rodney, right when-

"Oh, no, no, no no no," Rodney snapped, derailing that train of thought. "Don't even look like you're about to apologize to me. If you're going to martyr yourself, you can do it on your own time."

There was another long pause; John considered defending himself, but he couldn't think of anything to say except for "Sorry", and that just seemed counterproductive.

"When we go home, I don't want us to not be us," Rodney said quietly. "You don't have to worry about it right now, because, I mean, obviously you're going through a lot, and I don't really want to throw this on top of it, but I- I really need to know if we're going to be okay."

If John were a different sort of person- maybe a better sort of person- he might have hugged Rodney then, just wrapped him up in his arms and let that reassure him. In the end, he gave in and put his hand on Rodney's shoulder, letting his thumb rub back and forth along his collarbone. "I want it to be okay."

Rodney was visibly relieved, though he still looked way too tense for John's liking. "Okay. Right. Good. We're both smart, I'm sure we can figure it out."

John let his hand fall away from Rodney's shoulder. "You didn't call me over here just to find out if I want to keep hanging out with you," he prodded.

He froze. "What makes you say that?"

"For starters, you're not a fourteen year old girl," John drawled.

He sighed. "There may be one other little thing I wanted to bring up- and I feel sort of awkward even saying this," Rodney said, fiddling nervously with a loose thread on the arm of the couch and not looking at John. "And before I even start, I just want to make it clear that you don't owe me anything at all."

John raised an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, other than my life, and the city, and-"

"Shut up," Rodney sighed. "I'm trying to be humble. It may never happen again."

He gestured for Rodney to continue.

"I just need you to know that I didn't- help you out in hopes of getting a reward. I did it because I had to. Not that it was a chore-" Rodney huffed a laugh. "Okay, it kind of was a chore, but not-"

"Rodney," John warned.

"Right, yes, anyway." He took a deep breath. "So, short version: I'm going to say this, and feel free to tell me to jump out the window or something. I mean, for all I know you've adopted me as some kind of father figure, and the whole thing will sound like some weird incestuous-" he stopped, closed his eyes, continued- "the thing is, if you needed somebody. Somebody who could, you know, top you." He coughed. "I'd volunteer."

John couldn't find a response for several seconds. "Why?" he finally stammered.

Rodney looked at him like he didn't understand the question. "What do you mean, why?"

"I mean, why do you want to top me?"

He rolled his eyes. "I didn't realize you were requiring interviews."

John crossed his arms. "Well, as of now, I am," he insisted, maybe a little childishly.

"Hell, I don't know," Rodney sighed, exasperated. "Because I can? Because you deserve to be happy? Because I kind of liked ordering you around? Okay, let's just be honest here: I really liked ordering you around."

John frowned. "You really don't even know what you're offering."

"Haven't got a clue," he freely admitted. "But I'm doing it anyway."

John looked at him in mild amazement. "You really would, wouldn't you?"

The corner of Rodney's mouth ticked up a little. "Don't make me beg."

John couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "Isn't that supposed to be my line?"

"Oh, I don't know. I thought part of the idea was that I was supposed to make you beg."

John absolutely did not shiver at that.

Must've been a draft.

John was just about to tell him to forget it, but he stopped, taking a breath and a moment to think about it. What Rodney was offering- what John was considering giving him, he'd never given to another person before, ever, not even Nancy. It wasn't just his body that would be on offer; he'd be giving up part of his mind, too, certainly the lion's share of his self-esteem. If Rodney fucked it up, even without meaning to, then John honestly might never recover from it all the way.

John already had plenty of scars.

The thing that John suddenly realized, though, was that they'd already been down this road. For better or worse, Rodney had had John completely under his control for almost four months. John would have done anything at all for him, absolutely anything he asked- and it wasn't like he didn't beg for Rodney to ask. And it didn't stop at sex, either; he'd just as easily have lied, stolen, murdered, god knows what else if Rodney'd only wanted him to.

Rodney could have ruined him.

There was literally no one, not in this galaxy or the next, who he knew he could trust the way he could trust Rodney; and if John couldn't give this piece of himself over to him, then maybe he'd never be able to give it to anyone.

And he was so, so very tired of carrying it around.

He felt his shoulders relax. "All right. Yeah."

Rodney squinted at him. "What do you mean, yeah?"

"I mean, yeah," John replied, shrugging. "If you're offering, I'm accepting."

"Oh," Rodney said, sounding shocked and pleased. "Well, that's good." There was a pause. "Are we supposed to shake on it or something?"

John cocked an eyebrow at him. "Do you want to?"

"Not really, no. So, um." Rodney picked at the couch some more. "How do we go about this, exactly?"

"You really don't have any idea?"

"Not from this side of it," Rodney admitted, and wasn't that an interesting turn of phrase? "Though, I did some research on the internet about it." He coughed nervously. "Kind of a lot of research, actually. There were loads of pictures. I, uh, paid a whole lot of attention to those."

John could feel his face start to get hot. "It doesn't really need to be about sex," he said, which was only a little bit of a lie. "I mean, I know you don't want-" he trailed off.

"Don't want what?"

John didn't really know how to respond to that; instead, he waved his hands vaguely in front of himself, indicating his body.

It wasn't often that he saw Rodney at a loss for words; but this time, he was down right apoplectic. "I- you- you didn't- what? I distinctly remember telling you- to your face, on more than one occasion- that I wanted you."

John blinked, unable to process this new information. "Why didn't you do anything about it?"

"You were on drugs! You couldn't consent!" Rodney pointed one accusing finger at him. "And don't say that you can't rape the willing. You're going to hell for even thinking that."

John rolled his eyes. "Rodney, you're an atheist."

"Exactly. That's how much you're going to hell."

He sighed. "Look, you can really cut the act," John said, trying to sound matter-of-fact rather than hurt. "We both know you didn't mean it."

Rodney gaped at him for several seconds. Then he stood up, grabbed John by the wrist and started pulling.

"What are you doing?' John asked, letting himself be dragged up the stairs.

"What I apparently should have done four months ago," he replied, pushing John into the bedroom.

John tripped over his own feet. "Seriously? Right now?"

"You got somewhere else to be tonight?" Rodney demanded. John shook his head. "No? Then shut up and take your pants off." Rodney didn't wait for him to comply, unbuttoning his fly and pulling his jeans down. It took John a second to get with the program and realize that this was really going down; he pulled off his t-shirt and tossed it blindly towards Rodney's desk.

Rodney shoved him in the chest, hard enough that he fell back onto the bed; Rodney went for his feet, next, yanking off his shoes so that he could pull John's pants and boxers past his feet. Rodney's clothes came next; he whipped them off so fast that John wasn't entirely sure how he'd done it. He didn't have much time to process that, though, because then Rodney was on top of him.

For a long moment, Rodney just held him there, staring down at him, his hips resting solid and still against John's, his hands heavy on John's shoulders, holding him in place. The room was completely silent except for the harsh, erratic sound of their breathing. Rodney was looking at him like- God, he didn't even know, like maybe John's dick had been replaced with a ZPM and he'd just never noticed before. He was far, far too hard to come up with a decent simile.

John wanted to look away- he wanted to move, wanted to do something, anything- but he was pinned by Rodney's eyes just as much as by his body.

"Tell me you want this."

John couldn't speak; he nodded instead, hoping it was enough.

"Say it," Rodney said, taking his hands off John's shoulders. "Tell me you want me, John, or I swear to God this ends right here."

"Please," John managed finally. "Please, Rodney."

"What do you want?" he demanded.

John was going to die right here; whether of sexual frustration, happiness, or sheer mortification, he wasn't really sure. "Anything you want," he choked out. "Anything, god, please, just- please, Rodney, I want you to."

Rodney practically growled in satisfaction. "I'm gonna do everything to you," he promised, bending down to kiss him, hard and possessive. "Arms over your head," he demanded, and John's hands shot up so fast he almost hit Rodney in the face. "Grab the headboard. Don't let go." Just as soon as John was situated, Rodney bit down on John's neck, gnawing and sucking at him; it was going to leave all sorts of marks, but John was having a seriously hard time giving a shit about that.

John moaned when Rodney finally, finally took hold of his cock, stroking it so very slowly, his thumb toying with the head. He was so, so close already, too close; it was zero to sixty and way on past it in no time at all, and John felt like he might fly apart at any second.

As if he could read John's mind, Rodney leaned right up into his ear and whispered, "Not until I say so," and it seemed kind of counter-intuitive that that statement made him even harder. He was going to bite his lip to distract himself, but Rodney beat him to it, which really had the opposite effect. John couldn't react, couldn't move, couldn't do anything but hang on and let Rodney have him. He'd never felt so dazed, so unbalanced, so completely out of control in his entire life.

It was less surprising than he expected to find that he couldn't get enough.

Rodney worked his hand between their bodies, getting his big, sure hand around both their dicks. "Do you like that? Is this what you want?" John was too overwhelmed to even speak; Rodney let him off with a nod and bent down to bite at his neck again.

There was no drawing it out; it was no time at all before Rodney was panting above him, obviously getting close to the edge. "I'm gonna come on you, John," he said, letting him go and working himself fast. "Is that what you want? You want me to mark you? You want me all over you?"

"Yes," he moaned, his hips arching off the bed involuntarily, desperate for it. "God, yes, Rodney, please."

"Watch me," he ordered. "Watch me make you mine, John."

John couldn't have taken his eyes away if he'd wanted to; he had to look, had to see, had to know that this was really happening, that he was really letting this happen.

Rodney made a choked-off sound when he came, striping John's tanned skin with white, all over his stomach and his thighs. His free hand tightened painfully on John's hip, and John found himself pushing into it, wanting the bruises that were certain to result.

Rodney's eyes drifted shut as he pulled himself back together; when he opened them again, he looked utterly, deeply sated, like he was totally blissed out, without a care in the world.

It was a really good look on him.

He swiped his hand through the mess on John's stomach, as if he were half-heartedly trying to clean it off, and John made a noise of protest. "Really?" Rodney asked, grinning a little, like his desperation was amusing. He almost said something, but then Rodney started stroking him, using his own come for lube, rubbing it into John's skin with every pass- and good intentions or not, John wasn't going to last at all.

"Come for me, John," he ordered; John thrust up into Rodney's hand once, twice, and came so hard his vision went a little funny.

It was kind of strange; he hadn't even done anything except lay there, but John was still worn out. He was perfectly content to let Rodney- who seemed totally energized- fuss and fret and clean them up.

When he was done, Rodney lay down next to him, close enough that their calves brushed together, but far enough that it seemed like he was trying not to crowd John, which was a ridiculous idea at this point.

"Just so we're all perfectly clear," he said delicately, "that was a four-months-of-sexual-frustration thing. It doesn't have to be anything else, if you don't want."

John snorted, rolling over and looking at him. "I thought we were way past pretending that this wasn't a thing by now."

"I didn't mean to do that," he said hoarsely. "I mean, obviously I mean to do that, it's just that I got a little carried away, and-"

He buried his face in the pillow. "Jesus Christ, Rodney, if the next words out of your mouth are an apology, I am never having sex with you again."

Rodney shut up in a hurry, but he still looked so pitiful that John had to lean over and kiss him, just to get that expression off of his face. And then he sort of had to keep kissing him, just because he hadn't gotten a chance before, really; and as it turned out, Rodney was a really excellent kisser.

As they were lying there catching their breath, Rodney's arm around his shoulders, Rodney spoke. "So, uh, how do we do this thing?" he asked tentatively. "I'm mean, It's kind of a broad topic."

John's brow furrowed. "First thing? I'm not calling you 'sir.' That's for work."

Rodney looked offended. "I didn't get two doctorates to be called 'sir,' thank you very much." He gave John a look that suggested he might start laughing before he even finished his next sentence. "How do you feel about 'daddy'?"

John rolled his eyes. "Rodney, if I wanted a daddy, I'd have asked Caldwell."

"You know, it's the damnedest thing," Rodney marveled. "I can't decide if that sentence was really hot or the most traumatizing statement I've ever heard."

"I was just thinking the same thing," he said. "Isn't it weird?"

After they'd finished cackling over the idea, Rodney cleared his throat. "I'm told there are places. Places where, um, like-minded individuals, um, come together to share interests, and also equipment that is apparently unbelievably expensive, if the internet is to be believed."

"You want to take me to an S&M club?" Damn, that was a little fast, wasn't it?

"Only if you wanted to," he quickly qualified. "Or anything. Anything at all. I could spank you," he offered. "I mean, I'm sort of ambivalent on the subject of trying to beat someone with lots of combat training, but you seemed to like it so much before."

Hell yeah, he'd liked it. It was probably the least effective corporal punishment anybody had ever received in the entire history of crime, but as spankings went, it had been pretty outstanding. "I thought you didn't like it?"

"What I didn't like," Rodney said, his voice dropping into a growl that did all sorts of pleasant things to John's stomach, "was that it made me want to throw you down and fuck you into next week. Now? Not so much a problem."

"I'm not saying no, mind you," John told him, filing that thought away for later, "but it's not really about that."

"I can tie you up? Closer? No? Do you need," he made a wide, nonsensical hand gesture, "additional people? Because, frankly, I'm awful at sharing, but I'm sure we can find somebody on the internet. Obviously it'll be harder when we get back home, but there's that chemistry tech with the green hair. She seems pretty wild. Or maybe Ronon? He always seems sort of inappropriately interested when you give him orders."

"Rodney."

"What? Don't tell me you haven't noticed."

He grimaced. "I was kind of trying not to notice."

"Oh," he said, looking faintly embarrassed. He shook his head. "John. Look at me," he said, gently taking hold of John's chin and turning his face towards himself. "I'll do anything- anything for you, but I'm flying completely blind here. I haven't even done anything like this since the nineties, for Christ's sake, and it really didn't turn out that well. And god, they must have changed it since then, because I don't remember it ever being this complicated. I mean, I don't want to spend two hundred dollars on a queening stool if I could've gotten you off with a penny candle and a really stern expression."

John blinked. "What the hell is a queening stool?"

"Honestly? I have absolutely no idea, but I'll gladly cross it off the list. See?" He hugged John's shoulders. "Progress already."

"And where in Colorado Springs do they sell candles for a penny?"

"It's an expression," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "And stop changing the subject."

John tried to be serious. "I'm not so much into expensive props, and I've never been tied up- although, maybe a little bit of pain-" he thought about it for a second- "okay, maybe a lot of pain, actually. But it's really not- it's just-"

"Just tell me what you need, John," he urged. "That's all you have to do. I promise you, I'm smart enough to figure out the rest. And if I'm not, I'll- I'll buy a book or look it up on Wipipedia or take a class at the Learning Annex, or something. All you have to do is tell me."

"Torture already?" he joked weakly. "You haven't even bought me dinner yet."

Rodney's voice was soft and serious. "John."

John took a deep breath, sitting up. He tried to catch hold of that feeling, the one that had been crackling right under the surface for so long, the one that woke him up in the middle of the night, the one he'd been pushing down as much as possible ever since they came back.

"I want to be good," he spat out finally. He hated how his voice cracked, how desperate he sounded; but once he started talking, he couldn't turn it off. "I go to bed every single night thinking about how it felt," his voice low and scratchy in his throat. "Everything was so fucking easy, Rodney. And I wouldn't go back on the drugs, not ever, no matter how bad it got- I was a zombie, I don't know how you put up with me-" he squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to get through this- "but I'm afraid every single day that I'll never feel like that again."

"Like what, John?" he prodded gently.

Loved, he didn't say. "Safe. Taken care of. Useful. Special. Like-" John shook his head. "It isn't about fighting you for it. I just want to do what you want me to do. Because you- not because I- goddammit-" Jesus Christ, if he didn't get his shit together in a hurry, he was going to start crying- and he really didn't care if it was just him and Rodney, that was still something he wasn't going to do. "I just need someone-" He swallowed hard. "I need you to- to keep me. I don't need- not all the time- but I need to know that- that somebody's got me. That I'm safe. God, Rodney, I could be so good."

"You are good," he said, stroking his hands down John's back, gentling him. "Best ever."

"I've always known," John said quietly. "I've always wanted- it's just that before, I was better at keeping it under control."

"No, you were just better at hiding it," Rodney told him. "And, before you ask, no, it's really not the same thing."

"Maybe this isn't a good idea," he said, running his hand through his hair nervously. "You don't-" He shut his eyes. "I don't know if I want to be this way."

"Stop it," Rodney snapped. "Of course things would be easier if you didn't have a single submissive bone in your body, but you do. Maybe you'd be happier if you didn't know you wanted it, but you do, and now I do, and I'm going to take care of it. So just calm down and let me worry about it, okay?"

John felt his whole body relax, like he'd been tense for so long that he'd forgotten that there was any other way to be. "Okay."

"I honestly don't know how these things are supposed to go," Rodney said, sounding uncharacteristically shy. "But I- I still have your collar, if you wanted to wear it. I mean, if you didn't like that particular one, I'll get you a new one- I'll tan the leather myself if that's what it takes, but-"

"No, I don't mind-" He took a deep breath. "Yes. Yes, I'll wear it. Please, Rodney."

Rodney's face twisted up in a funny way. "If we're going to do this, you have to promise me you'll keep seeing Kate after we're home. This?" he said, sweeping his hand to indicate the both of them. "This is fine. But John, don't take this the wrong way, or anything, but you've got more issues than Time Magazine, and this isn't going to fix them."

John smiled, a little shakily. "Did you just defend medicine?"

"A psychologist is someone who's obliged to listen to you talk about yourself non-stop for an hour a week," Rodney informed him. "What's not to love? And seriously, stop changing the subject."

He shrugged. "If it's a condition, I'll give it a shot." Man, Rodney was a sucker. John already knew he was going to be ordered to do that anyway.

Rodney smiled at him, a big, dopey, lopsided grin that John couldn't help but want to kiss. He reached over and pulled out a drawer on the night stand, rummaging through it. "If I'd have known this was going to happen, I'd have put it in a pretty box or something, not just thrown it in with the lube. Not that it and the lube have anything to do with each other," he added hurriedly.

John rolled his eyes. "Real classy, McKay."

"Hey, shut up, I was lonely." He straightened, the collar cradled in his hands. John's breath caught in his throat, any thought of joking instantly pushed away.

"Kneel," Rodney said quietly, but firmly. "Face away from me."

John shuffled into position, Rodney kneeling right up behind him. Rodney pressed a kiss to the back of John's neck as he reached around him, drawing the wide strip of leather around John's throat. His fingers brushed gently against John's skin as he threaded the silk knot through both ends, fastening it so that it rested snug against his neck.

Rodney wrapped his arms around him, holding him tight to his chest. John closed his eyes.

For the first time in a month and a half, he actually felt okay.

After a long while, John laughed. "God, this is like the weirdest Hallmark moment ever," he said, breaking up the warm silence that had descended on the room.

"Can you get cards for this occasion, I wonder?" Rodney mused aloud. "'Congrats on your collaring'? Little cartoon of a guy in suspension cuffs?"

"Oh, I'm sure you can, but who would you send them to?"

"Good point," Rodney said. He let go of John, laying back down and getting comfortable. "Come lay down."

He did as Rodney ordered, getting underneath the blankets. He let Rodney pull him close, his back flush against Rodney's front, Rodney's knees cuddled up behind his own.

He reached back, taking Rodney's hand loosely in one of his own, pulling it towards him so that it rested against chest, right over his heartbeat.

John slept.


November 15, 2007

Dear sirs:

It has come to my attention that my behavior over the past few months has been unbecoming an officer of my rank. During this time, I have not acted with the best interests of Atlantis or of the soldiers under my command in mind. It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to step down from my command.

Please accept my resignation from the Atlantis Expedition and the Stargate Program.

Sincerely,
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard


Hank-

Don't even think about processing this. Don't even read it. Forget you ever saw it. Put it in the circular file. That's an order.

Don't worry- I'm on it.

-Jack


It happened exactly once, which was way less than he hoped for and way more than he wanted.

Landry and O'Neill were walking with him- they didn't say they were escorting him, but John knew an escort when he saw one- to the mess for lunch. Landry was talking about the possibilities for integrating more Ancient tech into the F-302's, something that probably would have been right up John's street if he hadn't been feeling like he'd been hit by a truck. He figured Landry was only doing it to make him feel at ease; still, John inserted suggestions and interested noises in the right places, trying to get his head back together after the shrink had ripped it apart.

They passed by a knot of enlisted men who snapped immediately to attention. "At ease, boys," O'Neill told them. Landry nodded to them, not even pausing in his description of Carter's plans for the new targeting system.

Just as soon as they had passed, the one at the back said something that sounded suspiciously like, "Can't believe McKay lets him walk around without his leash."

As much as he'd been waiting for it to happen, it still came out of nowhere, probably because he really didn't think anybody would be so monumentally stupid as to say something while John was in the middle of a cranky general sandwich.

John grimaced and kept walking.

Landry and O'Neill didn't.

"You three- dismissed," Landry said to the others, who wasted no time in obeying. "Let's take a walk, son."

O'Neill clapped Landry on the shoulder. "Let me get this one."

Landry gave him a look. "You sure?"

"C'mon," he cajoled. "For old time's sake."

"I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding," John protested, the words sticking in his throat, despite how much he'd really rather punch the guy in the kidney and have done with it.

"Now, I know what you're thinking," O'Neill told him. "You're thinking that if you say anything, it'll look like it got to you. On the other hand, if you let us handle it, it'll make you look like you couldn't handle it yourself, and the last thing you want right now is to lose face in front of your men. But, you see, I stopped giving a shit about my face a long time ago. And on top of that, Airman- what was your name, Airman?"

He gulped audibly before responding. "Richerson, sir."

O'Neill slung an arm around the soldier's shoulders, a gesture that would have been fatherly if not for the look of sheer terror on the young man's face. "Airman Richerson here is never going to meet your men. He is never going to Atlantis, because he is clearly far too damn dumb to go through the Stargate. So if you don't mind?"

For a second, John almost took pity on the kid, who looked like he was about to piss himself at any moment. He was a dumbass, sure, but more than likely somebody'd put him up to it; John didn't even want to think about the stupid shit he'd said just to keep from looking like a pussy. John almost considered calling O'Neill off and letting it slide; certainly he wouldn't push it if John protested again.

Almost.

"Well, if you insist," John said, with mock formality, giving Richerson his best "fuck you" smile.

"Oh, I do insist." O'Neill tightened his grip on the kid's shoulders. "Come on, son. It's time for us to have a talk about respect, and why nobody should have ever let you out of high school."

As O'Neill led him away, Landry patted John on the back. "Just think of Jack as the older brother you never wanted."

John honestly couldn't decide whether he felt more insulted or honored by the gesture. He had sort of missed schadenfreude, though, so in the end, he decided he really didn't mind.

He was restless and starving when he finally left the Mountain that evening. He was feeling that way more and more lately; it had been okay, for a while, but it kept creeping up on him at the oddest moments, when he least expected it. What he really wanted to do was get out of town, maybe go for a run somewhere, just to clear his mind; but it was already almost dark, so he decided to cut his losses and pick up a few things for dinner instead. He could surprise Rodney, maybe make a night of it.

Ever since they'd come back, John couldn't stand to go to grocery stores. There was something wrong with them. Too bright, too clean, too standardized- and they never smelled like food. They smelled like disinfectant or- worse- nothing at all; John didn't know how he never noticed before.

He pulled into the parking lot of the farmers' market instead. Those, he could handle- they were as close to real markets as he could get in the middle of Colorado. They were all going to start closing soon for winter, though, and then what would he do?

Inside, somebody was roasting chickens, the heavenly scent of cooking meat filling the air, and he just had to get one. He added some good-looking butternut squash to his basket along with it- John didn't know what vegetables had ever done to Rodney to make him hate them so much, but he liked squash. A few apples, too, maybe a couple of tomatoes for sandwiches tomorrow- but where were the krellis berries?

He walked back and forth from vendor to vendor, but he couldn't find the goddamned krellis berries anywhere. They were everywhere in the forest- was he going to have to walk out there and pick them himself?

"Something I can help you find, sir?" the girl standing behind the nearest display of fruit asked, cheerful in her clean green apron.

It didn't occur to him until he opened his mouth to speak that the nearest krellis vine was thousands of light years away. No one here- no one they had ever even met, except John himself- had ever tasted one. Nobody knew how to pluck them from the vine just so, twisting so that you could snag the fruit and miss the thorns. Nobody had ever spent days trying to scrub the little purple stains that the juice left behind from their fingers. Nobody else even knew what they were missing, or even that there was anything to be missed.

Here he was, ready to rant and swear and rave about it, and for all the good it'd do him, he might as well have been making it up.

"Do you have any more loganberry jam left?" John asked instead, smiling weakly. "I'm all out."

John paid for his groceries, fumbling over currency that just wasn't familiar anymore, and got the hell out of there.

He drove nervously through the early evening traffic, stopping skittishly at yellow lights and desperately trying to wish everyone else on the road into the cornfield. When he finally got to Rodney's complex, he killed the engine and sat in the parking lot for a long time, resting his head on the steering wheel.

He hadn't hyperventilated since he was nine years old; this seemed like a perfect time to start back, though.

Three years ago, his life had been simple. There were no aliens, no other planets, no stargates, no majestic lost cities that rose from the ocean and lit up at his touch, no Wraith, no Genii, no Replicators, no turning into a super-pissed half-bug creature. It was just him and his chopper and miles and miles and miles of snow, killing time at the bottom of the world. And, yeah, he had a lot of shit in his past, but at least it was all Earth shit, and most of it had even been his fault.

Six months in the cloister- that wasn't the finest time of his life, or anything; but he'd settled in and made friends, as much as you could make friends with somebody who crowed about the Ancestors every ten minutes and wanted nothing more in life than to turn into a big glowy ball of light. Mostly, it had just been boring as hell- peaceful and sort of pleasant, when he was able to forget about the beast, but ungodly boring. And it was plenty weird to go back and have conversations about requisitions that he'd long since forgotten about that he'd supposedly signed off on only the day before, or to have to be constantly reminded of what month or season it was. But in the end, as far as anyone on Atlantis was concerned, he'd only been gone a few hours, and nobody- with the possible exceptions of Elizabeth and Kate- looked at him like he was supposed to have changed- and, except for losing ten pounds and all desire to ever ascend, he really hadn't.

But this- this wasn't like that. Maybe it would have been different if they could have stayed in Atlantis. Everyone here- they all stared at him like he should be different now that they all knew his secret. He wasn't even sure what secret that was supposed to be exactly, not when he had so many suddenly boiling up out of him. Even the people he liked treated him like he was damaged, smiling sadly at him and walking on eggshells whenever they spoke.

And maybe they were all right, because here he was, unable to do something as simple as buy groceries without cracking up- and wouldn't they all just fucking love to know he was doing it for his fucking top? Wouldn't that just prove that he was just exactly what they thought he was?

He turned the key in the ignition, struggling to breathe. How in the hell had he come to this? What was he even doing here?

What was he doing anywhere?

He put the car in drive and pulled out of the parking lot.

When he got back to his house, he sat down at his computer, and he wrote two letters. The next morning, he only delivered one of them.


That afternoon, there was a knock on the door. John didn't answer it; it was funny how he could tell a military knock from a civilian one without even leaving his chair.

Whoever it was knocked again. By the fifth time, he had pretty much figured out that they weren't going to go away; he didn't give in until number nine, though.

When he finally opened the door, O'Neill was leaning against the outside wall, nonchalant, like he hadn't just been banging down John's door. "Evening, Sheppard."

"General," he replied, cold and polite.

"They sent me to stop you from being a dumbass," O'Neill said, without prelude.

He let his face twist into a smirk. "Well, they do have a habit of that."

"Worked the last time, didn't it?" He held up a six-pack of beer. "Can I come in?"

John didn't move from the doorway. "Long way to come just to see me."

O'Neill rolled his eyes. "Sheppard, I don't know where you picked up the idea that we think you're a dumbass flyboy who got lucky and gave himself a Roman promotion, but can we please drop the 'aw shucks' act? I think Uncle Sam can spring for plane fare to keep the commander of-" he stopped, leaning back and looking out for wandering neighbors- "Of something as important as what you command from jumping ship. Besides, I was pulling the stupid flyboy routine when you were still in the JROTC. Don't even bother trying it on me."

He stepped aside, feeling oddly impressed. "Come on in."

John cracked two of the beers off their plastic rings and shoved the rest into his refrigerator- empty, of course, except for half a roasted chicken and some squash that really needed eating up.

O'Neill was sitting in his armchair when he got back, hunched over a little and resting his elbows on his thighs; he sort of looked like a coach about to give a pep talk. John set one of the cans down on the end table next to him; he took his own over to the couch and sat down with it, popping the top and taking a long swig.

He had a feeling he was going to need it.

"You're making a mistake," O'Neill told him, cutting straight to the point. "I can't tell you how the IOA is going to rule, because I don't know. Maybe in two weeks it'll be a moot point anyway. But honestly? You've got a lot of people in your corner. You've got me, you've got Hank- hell, Woolsey's a tightass, but he thinks you hung the moon. Don't give up on us yet."

John took a deep breath. "No matter what the IOA decides, I don't think it's a good idea for me to come back. It was my decision to do what I did."

O'Neill raised an eyebrow at him. "It was your decision to get cut off from the stargate thanks to a conspiracy that had been going for months on a planet you'd hardly ever been to before? That's pretty impressive."

He repeated to himself that under no circumstances was he going to bawl out, whine to, or otherwise freak out on a Lieutenant General. "It's a little bit after that that I'm worried about," he said carefully. "I chose to take mind-altering drugs. For months. I don't know what the long-term effects are, and I can't promise I won't do something like that again."

"That's what this is about?" O'Neill asked incredulously. "You think you're compromised? Well, whoop-de-fucking-do, Sheppard. The IOA might care, but we certainly don't. You don't think that's happened to all of us? Daniel left Earth entirely, married an alien, the whole nine, and he's not compromised. Hell, he'd still be married to her if-" He let his expression finish the sentence for him. "After that he ascended, for Christ's sake, and he stayed gone a whole lot longer than you did. Carter was a Tok'ra for a day and a half- not that we knew that at the time. We thought she'd been a Goa'uld, and we still let her stay on the team. Janet came back from the dead, and I'm still not even sure how. Hell, Teal'c's a damn Jaffa- and he was Jaffa before Jaffa was cool."

"What about you?"

For a second, O'Neill looked like he might actually answer that question. "We're talking about you, here," he replied instead. "So maybe you'll snap some day, but you probably would have snapped anyway, and it's not like everybody else doesn't run the same risk."

He swallowed. He almost didn't want to bring it up, but there went that masochism thing again. "Even so, violations of Public Law 103-160 alone-"

"Do the words 'drugged up to your eyeballs' mean anything to you?" Jack said, cutting him off. "And if you still feel that way- if you felt that way before you even went, for God's sake, don't tell me about it! It's not that I have a lot of love for DADT or anything. I just don't want to think about McKay like that." He looked faintly disturbed. "Ever."

John couldn't help the snort that escaped him; he covered his mouth with his fist and tried to pretend it was an oddly-timed cough.

"You feel like you can't trust yourself," he said; he caught John off-guard, and the words hit him right in his gut. "I get it, believe me, I really do. But seriously? You couldn't meet a group of more paranoid bastards than us, and we still trust you. Trust us."

"Do you ever get over that feeling where you never really have any idea where you are or what you're doing there?" John asked, before he could think better of it, the words tumbling freely from his mouth.

"Nope," O'Neill said, without hesitation. "But, if you're living right, you've got your people with you, and that's where you're supposed to be." He stayed quiet for a while, letting that sink in for John- and it really did. "Still feel like you want to be a dumbass?"

John's immediate impulse was to make a flippant remark, but he sort of thought he might owe Jack more than that. "Not as much as I did, no."

"Good." O'Neill cleared his throat, settling back into the chair and reaching for his untouched beer. "You watch the Vikings game?"

John relaxed into the couch; obviously the uncomfortable part of the evening was officially over. "Oakland got robbed."

O'Neill grinned. "Dream on, surfer boy."


It was almost sunset- and O'Neill was long gone- before there was another knock- civilian, definitely, though even more insistent- on John's door. John answered it without hesitation; he had a feeling he knew who it was already.

"I heard about your little stunt," Rodney said, before he even got the door open all the way, all but shoving John aside and barreling right in. "I don't care what kind of bullshit excuse you've made up for yourself, but this nonsense stops right fucking now."

"Rodney."

"I'm not done," he snapped. "If you think for one fucking second, that I'm going to-"

"Rodney!" he shouted, in his best commanding tone.

He whirled around. "What?!"

"It's okay," John said, catching Rodney's hands before they could flail any more. "I rescinded my resignation."

"Oh," he replied, deflating visibly. "Well then."

He shrugged. "Jack came by earlier, talked some sense into me. I just got off the phone with Landry."

"Really?"

"Yeah," he said, giving Rodney's hands a squeeze before dropping them. "Nothing to worry about."

Rodney shifted uncomfortably. "It's just that I had this whole speech planned out about duty and responsibility and facing your problems on your own."

He rolled his eyes. "You can save it for the next time I fuck up."

"That shouldn't take too long," he said sarcastically, and John flipped him off. "I wish you'd called. I was even preparing to loom threateningly, if it had come to that."

John whistled. "That's pretty serious."

"Not sure how it would have worked, honestly, since you're like three inches taller than me."

He thought about Rodney trying to be threatening; he had to conclude that it had its merits. "You're certainly welcome to try any time you want."

Rodney's face got serious. "This is- we're okay, right? I mean, you didn't show up, and you didn't call, and then out of nowhere you were resigning, and I didn't want to be presumptuous, and God only knows I have enough people to micromanage already, but now that you're- I'm- we're, um." He made flailing gestures with his hands, obviously looking for a word. "Involved? I would think that you would want to tell me things, y'know? And if something's wrong, and you're really freaking out about us instead of the other, like, hundred things you have to freak out about, you really need to tell me, because obviously I'm never going to figure it out for myself."

Rodney looked more uncertain, more lost than he had in ages, and it tore John up more than he expected to know that he was the reason for it. He realized that he really didn't want Rodney to look like that ever again, not on his account, not if he could help it.

He thought about the letter still sitting on his desktop, the awful things he'd said about not wanting this and not having meant any of it and giving his collar back, and Jesus fuck, was he ever deleting that when Rodney left. Maybe that wouldn't be enough to make sure- certainly McKay knew somebody who could resurrect it even afterwards. He'd take a magnet to the hard drive if he had to- he'd take a fucking sledgehammer to it, if it came to that, and-

"John."

John shook his head, coming back to himself. "Sorry, I kinda went off there for a second."

Rodny pursed his lips. "I noticed."

He stepped forward and pulled Rodney into his arms, letting that answer for him. "It's okay," Rodney said quietly; and John really didn't know who he was trying to reassure, but it certainly worked for him.

"What was it?" Rodney asked, eventually.

"What do you mean?" John said, trying to sound nonchalant and knowing that he didn't.

"You went crazy and ran away," he said, looking up at him what John had always thought of as his "bullshit detector" face. "Something must have set you off."

He sighed, pressing his face into Rodney's hair. "I tried to buy krellis berries at the farmers' market."

"You're doing better than I am," Rodney assured him, stroking his back soothingly. "I spent at least twenty minutes berating some poor woman at Wal-Mart before I realized there was a reason they didn't carry rinal flour." He coughed. "In a related story, we can never go back to the Wal-Mart on South 8th ever again." He pulled back a little, letting his hands slip down and catch John's, tugging him towards the door. "Come on. I'm taking you out to dinner."

"You are?" he flirted, not moving.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Don't pretend like you have any food. And besides, I was thinking, after dinner-" He stopped, biting at his lip.

John nudged him. "After dinner what?"

"I kind of bought these handcuffs?" he said, blushing a little. "And, I mean, I could have put them on myself, but I didn't have anybody to let me out of them, and I tried the cat, but they just keep slipping off his paws, so I thought, hey." He looked up at John, oddly bashful. "Maybe I could put them on you."

It was kind of enticing and adorable, all at the same time. "You're such a dork," John told him.

Rodney grinned. "Yeah, but you think it's attractive, and that makes you a weirdo."

John let Rodney drag him out of his apartment, laughing the whole time.


He awoke later than usual- but still criminally early for a day off- blearily aware of Rodney's voice. He blinked, intending to tell him to go the fuck back to sleep; Rodney took notice of him, though, holding up a finger for silence.

"Yes," he said into his cell phone. John stretched ostentatiously, arching his back and trying to distract him, but all he got for his troubles was a thump on the ear. "Yes, I understand. No, for the last time, I haven't seen him." Rodney paused, and John could vaguely make out the voice at the other end. "Well, if you're watching the house, then you know he's passed out, drunk, on my couch. Did you hear him singing Johnny Cash at four AM? Huh? You happy now? Because God knows you're about to drive me to drinking, and it's only-" he broke off, glancing at the clock- "seven thirty in the morning." Another pause. Rodney sighed. "Yes, I'll tell him. Aren't you supposed to have official pronouncements for things like this? Carefully worded emails? Gala dinners?" Pause. "Elizabeth said that? Well. Well, she was damn right." Pause. "For Christ's sake, it's our day off. Oh, all right, all right, keep your pants on, we'll be there by noon- no, two. Two at the very earliest. Lots of important stuff to do before then. Always a pleasure, General."

"What the hell?" John asked muzzily as he ended the call.

"If anyone asks, you have a really bad hangover." Rodney gathered John up into a fierce hug. "And I kind of think General Landry suspects we're fucking, but I kind of get the feeling he thinks it's really hilarious."

"Is that why you're crushing my spine?"

"Shut up, I'm trying to have a moment."

"The moment of my untimely death from suffocation?"

"John." Rodney pulled back so that he could look into John's eyes. "Oh, John," he breathed. And whatever Rodney needed to say apparently wasn't as important as kissing him senseless, tongue delving in like it was paramount that he map every single micron of John's mouth, his hands big and warm and sure on the sides of John's face. As nice as it really was, John couldn't help fumbling for scenarios to explain Rodney's joy. He was somewhere between "Congrats on the repeal of DADT" and "Sam says hi, and to tell you that the Ori exploded yesterday" when Rodney pulled his face away, his hands still holding him in place.

"They want us back in Atlantis," Rodney said, barely containing his glee. "To stay. No demotions. No censure." He had to stop and kiss John again. "The Daedalus will be here in four days." Rodney's face fell suddenly, "Unless- unless you were serious about staying here."

He thought about it for about five seconds, about staying here and living out the rest of his days in Colorado, alone, fucking around the Milky Way with SG-36 or something, spending his nights curled up next to Rodney's cat.

Something twisted, hard, within him, like something that had been misaligned for too long finally locking into place. He lifted one of Rodney's hands from his cheek, holding it so that he could place a kiss on the palm. "Let's go home, Rodney."

Rodney's smile was so wide, it looked like it might crack his face right open. "Victory sex first?"

"You have to ask?"

He gave John his best "you're an idiot" look. "Yes."

"You're so weird."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'm the weird one, all right, what with my freaky consensual sex kink and all."

John arched his back, doing his best imitation of cheesy porn. "Oh yeah, baby, take me at my request!"

"Just for that, I think I will." He didn't move, though, tracing his hand lightly back and forth over John's rib cage. "What about when we get home?"

"You mean, what about us?"

"Yeah, and, well, this."

In for a penny, John thought to himself. He shrugged. "It's not like we'd ever be out here, even if we both stayed," he pointed out. "Way I see it, the only difference is that Atlantis likes to help me hide stuff."

He sighed, exasperated. "I keep telling you, it's a spaceship. It's not a sentient being."

"You just think that because she likes me better," John said with a smirk. "Besides, DADT'll be repealed in a couple of years."

He blinked. "So this is a years kind of a thing, I take it?"

"That's what I figured," he shrugged. "Unless it's not," he added, cautiously.

"No, no, I just never thought about it," Rodney replied. "Um, you do know that I'm madly in love with you, right?"

John raised his eyebrows. "Not really, no."

Rodney looked almost offended. "Of course I am, dumbass."

"Oh," he said softly. "Well. I, uh. Y'know. You, too."

Rodney grinned.


From: e_weir@sgc.mil
To: Atlantis ALL
CC: SGC ALL

Subject: Welcoming Banquet
Date: 12/01/2007, 0239 (GMT -7)

All staff are cordially invited to join me in welcoming home two of our finest, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and Dr. Rodney McKay. A banquet will be given in recognition of their service and safe return.

Food and wine will be graciously provided by our Athosian friends, who will be in the city to celebrate with us. Festivities, including music and dancing, are scheduled to last from 1800AST to 2300AST; all operations except for gate monitoring are to be suspended during this time.

Yours,
Dr. Elizabeth Weir
Commander
Atlantis Expedition
"non est ad astra mollis e terris via"


John was certain that Elizabeth would have planned quite a warm reception; he couldn't really remember a whole lot of the first one, but he was pretty sure it hadn't exactly been a gala affair. The only problem was, by the time the Daedalus finally pulled into orbit around Lantea, it was just past four in the morning Atlantis time.

"Well, at least they let us come through the front door today," Rodney grumbled, as they rematerialized in the gateroom.

"Welcome home, gentlemen," Elizabeth said, poorly but valiantly hiding the fact that she was half-asleep; the fact that she was being propped up by a vaguely pissed off looking Colonel Caldwell wasn't really helping matters.

"Sheppard, Doctor McKay," Caldwell greeted them, sounding alert but not particularly happy about it. "Glad to see you."

"Glad to be here," John said, accepting Elizabeth's hug. He pulled back and held her at arm's length, pretending to examine her. "Go to bed."

"That was going to be my first suggestion, actually," she said with a yawn.

"I'll walk you back to your quarters, ma'am," Caldwell offered.

Elizabeth's reply was delayed by another yawn. "Thank you, colonel. 0900 tomorrow?" she asked John.

"Let's make it 1030," he replied.

"Good plan. Colonel?" Caldwell didn't respond, other than to offer her his elbow.

"That didn't seem a little weird to you?" Rodney asked John, after they'd gone.

He shrugged. "Better be a little weird than let the civilian commander pass out in the hallway."

"We'd probably never hear the end of it," Rodney agreed.

A transporter ride and two hallways later, they were standing in front of Rodney's door. Rodney waved his hand over the panel; John was all set to follow him right in, before he remembered where he was.

When John didn't follow him in, Rodney turned, looking questioningly at John; John watched his face fall as he got it. "Um. Good night."

"Night," John said softly, balling his hands in his pockets to keep them from reaching out to Rodney. He watched as Rodney disappeared into the darkness of his room, and then he was staring at Rodney's closed door.

Wow, that sucked way more than he expected it to.

Walking back towards his own quarters, John resolved to look for adjoining rooms just as soon as he could think of a good excuse to. Surely some of the Ancients must have had something to hide.


As far as he knew, it was a coincidence, but he ended up eating breakfast the next morning with Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla. It would've been a quiet, normal affair, other than the people who kept popping by to shake his or Rodney's hand or pat one of them on the shoulder.

Zelenka was among one of the last to arrive, and he wasted no time on pleasantries. "You have missed many, many things," he told Rodney. "The Wraith stopped by- it is a very long story, please do not ask me to tell it to you. We lost Hewston and Watson while you were at SGC," he said, grimacing a little. "They stumbled into- you are never going to believe this, I still do not- a machine that makes exploding tumors."

Rodney's jaw dropped. "What?!"

Zelenka held up his hands. "If I had not been there, I would not have believed it either."

"Why in the hell did the Ancients build an exploding tumor machine?"

"If I understood why the Ancients did what they did, I would be a much happier man. Also, SGC would have to start paying me better," he said, snorting. "Doctor Cole and Doctor Keller were badly injured, but I am told they will both return to active duty next week."

There was a long pause. "An exploding tumor machine?" Rodney asked again.

Zelenka shrugged, nonchalant. "I think you would say in English, 'shit happens.'" John raised his coffee to him- he'd certainly drink to that. "Here is new staff schedule, schematics for unknown device found in Lab 5 yesterday, sixteen requests for leave, and half a chocolate donut."

Rodney eyed him skeptically. "What happened to the rest of it?"

"You were late," he replied cheerfully. "Welcome back. Now, I am going to my quarters for a very long time. If you call me, I will throw radio off balcony. If you come to my room and you do not have food, coffee, or new season of Corner Gas you promised me, I will throw myself off balcony. Good luck."

Rodney watched him go. "Unbelievable."

"I know," John said, feigning shock. "How come Zelenka gets a balcony? I don't even have a bathtub."

Rodney shot him a look.

John grinned, turning his attention back to his boiled tubers; he barely had any time with them before Rodney gripped his arm. "Look over there."

Weir and Caldwell were sitting at a table in the corner, obviously lingering over their coffee, empty plates pushed away in front of them. They were staring at each other intently, oblivious to any and all watchers. She was giving him one of her secretive little conspiratorial smiles, the ones that made her face twitch with held-in laughter, her hand resting casually on his arm. He leaned right over into her space, a move that John would have sworn should have gotten him slapped; but she just squared her shoulders and leaned in towards him, smiling all the while.

Rodney gaped openly. "What the hell did we miss?" he asked, dropping his voice into a stage whisper.

"I think they're gonna make out," John marveled.

"Since when do Weir and Caldwell make out?"

"Why are we whispering?"

"You guys never noticed?" Ronon asked, incredulous. "Every time they talk, they sound like they're talking about fucking."

"It has been obvious to all of us for quite some time," Teyla agreed. "I am very happy that they have found a better way to express their feelings than fighting one another."

Ronon nodded. "It was starting to get loud."

Rodney stared at the two of them. "And they just told you that they were-" He made a hand gesture that John figured meant either "fucking" or "lower the ZPM on my mark."

"They think that we have not noticed," Teyla sighed. "I am not sure why."

John sat back, just looking at the three of them. A laugh escaped him, then another, and another, until pretty soon he was shaking with it. He let his head drop back onto his shoulders, his laughter getting longer and louder, wracking his whole body. He laughed until Rodney started slapping his shoulder, bitching about how everyone was staring at them. John didn't care who looked or how crazy they thought he was for cracking up in the middle of the mess hall; everyone here was his family, anyway.

Family understood.


When he woke up, John could already tell it was going to be a good day.

He was up and dressed by the time Ronon knocked on his door. They didn't say anything; Ronon just cocked his head and John nodded, stepping out his room and locking the door behind him. They followed the same familiar path as always: out of the transporter at the end of John's hallway and up the stairs, up over the catwalk and back again, down the stairs, back to the transporter. It was comfortable, the deck feeling exactly the way he expected it underneath his feet, their footfalls reverberating together and through each other.

He didn't start to miss these morning runs until he was trapped on Earth; he'd still gotten up and gone every single day, but it hadn't been the same, not without Ronon. He was even more glad that he'd never have to explain that to Ronon. It wasn't that Ronon wouldn't have gotten it; Ronon got it without John ever having to say anything, which is why they were friends in the first place.

"I got a question," Ronon asked, somewhere in the middle of the catwalk, jogging forward and turning around, so that he was running backwards- still faster than John, obviously.

"Yeah? Fire away."

"Am I supposed to offer to kick Rodney's ass for you?"

John skidded to a stop. "What?"

"When you came back- the first time- everybody kept asking if I was gonna kick Rodney's ass," Ronon explained. "I thought it was some kind of tradition I don't know about." He raised an eyebrow. "Unless it's about defending your honor. I'd understand that, but I'd think it was bullshit."

"Don't worry about it," John panted. "They're just being stupid."

"Good," he said, with a grin. "Cause if you can't kick Rodney's ass on your own, I'm joining Lorne's team."

John rolled his eyes and took off again.

Ronon passed him before he could even wonder how long it would take.

He showered after they got back; he very nearly threw on a t-shirt and his BDUs before he remembered what today was- and how had he even forgotten?

Fifteen minutes later he was standing in the gateroom with Lorne, getting ready to see Colonel Caldwell off. From his spot on the floor, he could clearly see into Elizabeth's office.

Caldwell entered; there was some conversation- John would've killed to be able to lip read right then. Caldwell extended his hand, but Elizabeth ignored it, leaning up and pulling him into a hug. It would have been totally normal- no different than she'd do for John- except that it went on far too long.

"I didn't see anything," John said calmly. "Major, you see anything?"

"I saw Doctor Weir and Colonel Caldwell exchange a very professional goodbye, sir," Lorne replied, without hesitation. "It was absolutely unremarkable. I'm not sure why we're remarking on it, come to that."

They broke apart, finally, Weir glancing over his shoulder as she adjusted her shirt, putting her professional face back on. With a last brush of his hand against hers, he left. Elizabeth stood there for a long time, watching him go. She turned then, looking out over the gateroom and finally catching sight of John and Lorne.

Even from a distance, John could tell she was giving him a suspicious, disapproving look; John grinned and gave her a thumbs up in return. "We should get her some curtains," he mused.

Lorne was aghast. "Curtains? There? It'd be horrible- break up the lines of the whole room. And don't even get me started on how hard it would be to match fabrics to a color scheme that's, what, a couple million years old?" John gave him a look; Lorne coughed, looking embarrassed. "My mom taught art," he said apologetically. "It's kind of a reflex."

John held up his hands in capitulation. "Hey, as long as you don't touch my Johnny Cash poster, I don't particularly care."

"You still decorate with posters?" he said, incredulously. "Aren't you, like, forty, sir?"

John was just about to argue that his Johnny Cash poster was really very cool, but Caldwell was already coming down the stairs towards them. He snapped to attention, trying to look as commanding as possible.

John was expecting- John had no idea what to expect, actually, but it wasn't for Caldwell to just walk over and offer his hand to John. "Take care of her, Sheppard," Caldwell said. For the life of him, John couldn't tell whether he was talking about Elizabeth or Atlantis; it didn't matter, though, because the answer was the same either way.

"Always, sir," John replied, giving him a firm handshake.

Caldwell tapped his earpiece, smiling slightly. "Ready for transport," he said; John pointedly ignored the fact that he was looking up at Elizabeth, along with anything Elizabeth may or may not have said, mouthed, or done.

There was a bright light, and just like that, the city was John's again.

He turned back to Lorne, who was still standing at attention and looking too serious. "I know you're going to miss the old man, major, but try not to cry too much."

"You know, he does his own paperwork," he replied. "Maybe the Daedalus has an open seat."

"I've done paperwork," John protested.

Lorne raised an eyebrow at him. "Origami doesn't count, sir."

"Shit. I think I liked it better when I was illiterate." He waved off Lorne's confused look. "Long story. Anyway, you don't really want to ride Caldwell's jump seat all the way to the Milky Way."

Lorne's brow knit in concentration. "Just curious, sir- is there any possible way to parse that sentence that isn't filthy?"

John thought about it for a minute. "You know, I had no dirty thoughts in mind when I said that, but there really isn't anything clean about it, is there?"

The rest of the day passed easily. There was the usual bureaucratic mess to sort out, only some of which he left for Lorne's expert perusal. After that was the scheduled dial in to Bykstra- no answer, once again, but John was still holding out hope. Then he went down and encouraged some of his men to get their asses handed to them by Ronon; he was on their side, obviously, because, as far as he could tell, Ronon didn't need any encouragement.

"Coming by later?" Rodney asked him at dinner, after Ronon and Teyla had already finished and left. Actually, it looked more like he was asking his fried practically-chicken, but John got it anyway.

"Of course," he replied; what else would he say?

He took a quick shower after dinner and slipped into a t-shirt and a pair of jeans; he didn't run to Rodney's room, but he seriously considered it. Once there, he knocked casually, trying to look sort of bored, even though there was no one in the hallway. The door took forever to open; possibly it didn't care for John very much.

"Oh, there you are," Rodney said blandly, though no one could have possibly missed the hungry look he was giving John. "Come on in," he offered, waving him in and walking over to the opposite side of the room.

The collar was sitting out on Rodney's dresser, and leave it to Rodney to fail at subtlety entirely when it came to picking out signs and signals. Some days, John stood there staring at it for what felt like hours before he finally put it on. Those were usually the days when Rodney had to take him down, heavy and hard, while he fought Rodney for every little thing. Sometimes even the sight of it was too much, and he cracked a joke or just left entirely, hiding out in his room until Rodney showed up with a movie and a hangdog expression.

But then again, some days, like today, were good days, when he felt good and it was nothing but easy to be good; and honestly, he was having more and more of them as time went on.

He toed his sneakers off, glad he'd decided against his boots, because the last thing he wanted to do right then was waste time. That done, he scooped up the collar and fastened it on, smoothing it against his throat; it felt comforting around his neck, light and close, like it weighed nothing at all.

He knew he wasn't imagining the relief in Rodney's voice. "Come here."

He didn't run into Rodney's arms, but it was a near thing; when he got there, he melted instantly against him.

"Nice to see you, too," Rodney said, his voice warm and amused. John didn't reply; he was too busy pressing his face into Rodney's neck, breathing in his scent. "You're shameless today, aren't you?"

"You like it," he rejoined, hugging him tighter.

Rodney didn't respond; he just snorted out a laugh and indulged John for a little while longer, his fingers tracing up and down John's back. He didn't give any sign when it was time for John to stop, just broke away and shoved him backwards. John stumbled, but Rodney was right there with him, pushing at him until his body contacted the wall. He caught John's wrists easily and pinned them against the wall by his sides; and John was pretty sure he didn't need anything but this, just Rodney holding him down like he had every right to do so.

No, no, not like- because.

"Green?" Rodney asked.

John grinned. "Super green."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "You're bound and determined to ruin that movie for me, aren't you?"

"I'm definitely one of those things," he answered slyly.

He let go, slapping John's ass lightly. "Get on the bed and we'll see if we can't try for both."

"How do you want me?"

"Any way I can get you, pretty much," Rodney replied; John ducked his head, grinning. "But let's start with you on your back, arms over your head."

John obeyed, making a little show out of sprawling out comfortably, one knee cocked up, stretching his arms out with a yawn before letting them fall back against the bed.

Rodney snorted at him, toeing off his shoes and socks and approaching the bed. "Only you could look so incredibly lazy at a time like this. Lose the shirt and give me your hands."

"What?" he said, mock-innocently, peeling his t-shirt off before offering Rodney his wrists. "I'm comfortable."

When the idea had been presented to him, John hadn't expected to like the cuffs quite as much as he did. Rodney must have spent a fortune getting them made; the black leather gauntlets were lined with something that felt like kidskin against John's wrists, and the steel shackles that went over them fit him perfectly. Rodney made a show of locking them on with padlocks, but if John really needed to, he could pull the pin from one of them with his teeth and free himself, which was sort of important.

When they were coming back from Earth, Rodney had thrown them in a brown paper bag and marked them for the anthropology department. It worked every time.

When Rodney turned him loose, John obediently put his arms back over his head, and Rodney clipped the chain connecting the cuffs to the inconspicuous eyebolt he'd installed behind his bed. John rolled his shoulders, getting comfortable and loose; Rodney liked to start off these sessions by taking a long time to just admire him, kneeling beside him and petting him here and there.

His hands lingered as he unbuttoned John's fly; and it was just a little thing, the way his strong, sure fingers worked at his clothing, but it never failed to get him excited. He raised his hips helpfully, and Rodney tugged his pants down and off.

"I think I'm gonna mark you," Rodney said, sitting back on his haunches and considering John; and despite himself, John flinched. "Oh, don't tense up on me now. Just a little one. Just for me."

John licked his lips nervously. "It's not going to be permanent, is it?"

Rodney gave him a look. "Where exactly do you think I'm hiding a branding iron?"

"It can't be anywhere," he hedged, "y'know, obvious."

"What, the branding iron? My point exactly." When John didn't even crack a smile at the joke, he sighed. "Will you relax? I'm not going write 'Property of Rodney McKay' on your forehead or anything. Not that I haven't thought about it- it's just that I would hate to compete with your hair."

"Ha ha," John said sarcastically. "Where do you want to do it?"

"Maybe right here," he said, trailing two fingers along John's inner thigh. "Kind of hard to see, though- but as much as you like to spread your legs for me, I guess that's not so much of a problem. Maybe here," he mused, leaning up and laying his fingers along John's neck, on the thin skin just behind and under his ear. "Too obvious? As appealing as the idea of letting everyone know you're taken, they'd probably think it was by Lorne or Teyla or someone like that, and that just seems like a hassle." Lorne? Really? Would that be people's first guess? He understood why somebody would think it was Teyla, but-

He jumped when Rodney suddenly pinched his nipple. "You're getting a faraway look. Stop that."

John tried to look chastened. "Sorry."

Rodney just rolled his eyes and went back to petting him. He circled a spot on the slight, ticklish curve of John's belly, right where it would show when his shirt rode up. "Here," he said approvingly. "Green?"

John took a breath and nodded. "Green."

Rodney's grin was more than worth it. "Just hold still for me," he said. "I would tell you that it wasn't going to hurt, but then you wouldn't want me to. Not that you have much say in the matter, but still."

He held John's hip down with one heavy hand, lowering his mouth to John's stomach. It did hurt when Rodney bit down on him, but only just enough to get him interested; but then he just stayed there, sucking on the ticklish skin. He teased John with his free hand while he bit and licked at the mark, caressing his thighs, stroking his balls, reaching back to press in behind them, stubbornly avoiding his dick.

After a long while, Rodney pulled back, making a satisfied noise as he surveyed his handiwork, pressing his fingers against it and watching it blanch. It was just in the right spot, right where Rodney's thumb could brush over it as his hand rested on John's hip.

It was intense, just watching Rodney look at him; he found himself wishing the mark would last for more than just a few days, that maybe he could always carry Rodney around with him like that. Oh well. He didn't really think Rodney would have any complaints at all about giving him a touch-up when it started to fade.

"God, you're beautiful," Rodney breathed, and John could feel his cheeks get hot. "Shut your eyes."

He could feel the bed move and shift as Rodney stood, his retreating footsteps obvious on the hard floor. He didn't go far, stopping and picking something up off of- the desk? His dresser? John wasn't sure.

Suddenly, there was a distinctive crinkling sound.

"Don't move an inch," he said, his voice a little muffled and unclear.

And there was that noise again.

John opened his eyes. "Wait, wait, yellow."

"What? What's wrong?" Rodney said, instantly in front of him. "Do you want out? Did I pinch something?"

"Are- Are you eating?"

Rodney sheepishly held up the wrapper, before dropping it into the trash. "I was feeling light-headed all of a sudden," he said defensively, around a mouth of powerbar.

"It's sex, Rodney," John said, smugly amused. "It does that."

"You laugh now," Rodney retorted, shaking a finger at John, "but wait until you have to explain to Carson why I'm passed out on the floor- which presumably will be when we don't show up for work tomorrow, since you can't possibly reach your radio from there. Now can we get on with this?"

John grinned. "If you're sure snack time is over."

Rodney slapped him on the thigh. "Keep it up."

He bit his lip. "That's not a real convincing incentive to stop."

"I knew I should have sprung for that ring gag," Rodney sighed, distracted by watching the skin of John's leg go pink. "You know, I was just going to leave you tied up and look at you for a little while longer, maybe even suck you off," he said, almost off-handedly. "But you keep giving me these ideas." He landed a stinging slap to John's other thigh as he spoke, making John buck against the restraints.

He pushed at John's hip until he got the picture and turned over, his arms crossing at the wrists. "Up on your knees," Rodney directed. "Spread them wide."

He lifted himself up, bracing himself on his elbows and knees, both helped and hindered by Rodney, who couldn't seem to keep his hands off John for more than a few seconds at a time. John whimpered and bit his lip as Rodney reached down and underneath him, palming John's dick. He pulled back just as quickly as he'd done it and slapped John's inner thigh, hard enough to leave a hand print. "Let me hear it, John," he ordered, hitting the same place again; John didn't hold back this time, letting out a low moan. "You like that?"

"Oh yeah, Rodney, please," John groaned.

The next slap was further back, up where his ass and his thigh met. "Pain slut," Rodney said, not without affection in his voice. "I wonder if you can come just from me hurting you," he mused. John had some thoughts of his own on that score, but moaning and pushing his ass back at Rodney seemed like a better use of his time than elaborating them. "Project for a rainy day, I suppose."

Rodney kept hitting him, loud, open palmed slaps all over his ass and thighs. John pressed his face into the pillow and didn't even pretend not to enjoy it, writhing and moaning shamelessly. He was sure he must have been quite a sight- wrists bound, his back arched, sweat trickling down his skin, his ass turning rosy and warm underneath Rodney's capable hands.

It certainly had an effect on Rodney, because before he knew it, there were careful, slick fingers exploring his ass, dipping in and sliding back, light and teasing, just barely inside of him.

"Come on, Rodney, do it," he pleaded.

He slapped John's ass again, right in a particularly sore place. "Don't rush me. We're having a moment, here."

He made himself calm down, relax into Rodney's gentle touches. "You and my ass?"

Rodney hummed under his breath. "You may have noticed that we're kind of close."

John was probably going to say something biting and clever, but Rodney suddenly pushed in and found his prostate before he could, and he kind of got distracted.

Rodney spent a good long time getting him ready, working his fingers in and out until John was whimpering into the pillow and rocking back against him. He was distantly aware of the bed shifting as Rodney moved; and then suddenly Rodney's hand was gone, Rodney was sliding into him so slowly, pressing inexorably forward until he was all the way inside, his hips flush against John's reddened ass.

Rodney pressed the heel of his hand into the top of John's back, holding him down, forcing him into an even more submissive posture; John went willingly, canting his hips up and keeping his head down.

"So good," Rodney said, his voice low and rough, his hips snapping into John's over and over again, unrelenting. "Whose are you, John?" Rodney barely gave him enough time to catch his breath- much less respond- before slapping John's thigh. "I asked you a question."

"Yours," John gasped out. "Always all yours."

Having Rodney inside him and all around him, draped over him like a warm blanket- it did something to John. Before he even realized it, he drifted into the headspace that he'd been looking for ever since Rodney buckled his collar, that place where he felt completely centered, perfected, weightless. It didn't matter, because Rodney had him, Rodney wasn't going to let him go. If he just worried about what Rodney wanted- and Rodney was so simple, he was a known quantity, he'd always lay it all out for John- then he didn't need to think about himself.

If he were asked, he'd probably said it was like flying, except that it wasn't, not at all. Flying was, always had been, about seeing and doing and knowing everything, about being completely in control.

Maybe this was more like what flying would be if John had wings.

Rodney's hand caught the back of John's collar, pulling it almost painfully tight against his neck "Yes, yes, now," he rasped out, and John came before he even finished saying it.

John protested a little when Rodney rolled off of him, missing the heavy, comforting weight against his back. Rodney was back soon enough, cleaning John up, rubbing something soothing and cool into the skin of his ass, fretting over the state of his wrists.

"Come on back, John," Rodney said softly, lying down beside him.

"S'nice," he protested.

"I know," he replied, rubbing John's back. "Well, I don't know, obviously, but I assume." Rodney moved closer, pulling John towards him, one of his hands coming to rest on John's hip. His thumb fit perfectly over the mark there; every little caress was a reminder of where he was wearing Rodney underneath his skin. "So tell me," he said, letting his thumb trail idly across it as he spoke, "do you snicker every time someone says 'subspace communications'?"

Even though he couldn't see John's face, Rodney could practically feel him grinning. "I try to keep it to myself."

The End
Warnings
This story deals heavily with consent issues. While there is no non-consensual sexual activity depicted, some readers may find certain scenes objectionable or triggering. Consensual D/s relationships are also depicted and explored; there are graphic depictions of bondage, spanking, and non-permanent marking.
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Notes
About ten months ago, I sat down and thought, "You know what would be hilarious? If aliens did something to make John submissive all the time, and it turned him into the most useless motherfucker in two galaxies."

And so, this happened.

I'd like to give huge thanks to my lovely betas, aliaras and mecurtin, to my loving fangirl arymabeth, and to my flist, all of whom were instrumental in turning a weird little 5000 word slavefic into the sprawling (but still weird) epic you see before you. I couldn't have done it without them; it's up to you to decide whether that's a good thing or a bad one.