[This story, an unauthorized homage, won't make a lot of sense without the original inspiration and source material by Xanthe, found here and here.]
Take Clothes Off As Directed
by Helen

"You can't make a sub the military commander of Atlantis," Ford said.

"Excuse me?" Dr. Weir said, tilting back in her chair. Sumner had been dead for six hours. Ford smiled stiffly at John, not quite meeting his eyes. John grinned back, showing all his teeth; he had nothing to lose.

"No one's saying Major Sheppard isn't good at his job, ma'am," Bates said. "He's a good pilot and we need his gene. But you can't put a sub in charge of—"

"I'm sorry, what's your rank again?" Dr. Weir said, spreading her hands. Ford, who had opened his mouth to say something, closed it. "Major Sheppard is the ranking officer of this expedition. I'd suggest you take up any concerns with him. Unless, of course—" she turned to John. "you have some problem with this arrangement."

"No, ma'am," John said, having to work to keep the astonishment out of his voice.

"Dr. Weir—"

"I remain unconvinced that Major Sheppard's private life has anything to do with his ability to provide stable military leadership for this expedition," Dr. Weir said, putting her hands flat on her desk. "I think we can consider the matter closed."

Outside Dr. Weir's office, Bates smirked at him before going off down the hall.

"Nothing personal," Ford muttered.

"No problem," John said.

The first thing that Sumner had said to him was—"well, hell, look at you. At least you're easy on the eyes." John thought about that, because otherwise he'd remember the way Sumner had looked at the end—fear and sadness, gratitude.

*

Until 1941, subs hadn't been allowed in the military at all; temperamentally unsuited, everyone said, for fighting. Much better to keep them safe at home. Subs were excellent aids and secretaries, junior engineers, kindergarten teachers, nurses, assembly-line workers, mechanics, accountants—careful, rule-following, meticulous, obedient. In the midst of World War II, personnel shortages had forced the armed forces to allow subs to enlist, but they'd been put in separate units, and couldn't be promoted beyond Corporal. Subs had separate rank insignias until 1970 and wore an S-pin on their collars until 1982. John entered the Air Force Academy in 1987; it was only the third year subs were accepted into the flight program. John wasn't the only one in his class, but he was the only one who looked like he did, and it didn't make him any friends.

*

It went more quietly than he expected it to; a little muttering that died when he entered the room, but nothing overt. John spent the first weeks steeling himself for the first time someone touched him or said something overtly unforgivable, on tenterhooks at the idea of having to administer discipline, but then, three weeks in, a couple corporals got in a fistfight about something.

"A candy bar, I don't know," Bates said. It was a multiple choice answer on a 101 level course on discipline.

"Ten strokes for everyone involved, five for everyone who stood around and didn't break it up," John said, almost automatically.

"I'll take care of it," Bates said, nodding. The paperwork was on his desk that afternoon, needing only to be initialed. A few weeks later, they ran out of paper and moved to electronic signatures on e-mails, but other than that, the structure remained unchanged: John met twice a week with Ford and Bates and signed off on their suggestions. Punishment took place in the gym every Thursday from 1:45-2:30; it was sparsely attended.

The civilians, presumably, had their own system; John didn't ask.

*

The academy was tough, but nothing John couldn't handle—nothing he didn't get used to: people asking him three times a day if he needed a spanking, the couple teachers who made him kneel during office hours. Once someone climbed into bed with him and held his wrists behind his back until he woke up, struggling. No one helped him. John broke her arm and got twenty-five strokes, on the quad in front of everyone, but she got kicked out.

*

"You want me on your team?" Dr. McKay said doubtfully. Elizabeth had suggested Ford, in a way that wasn't really a suggestion. Teyla was a necessity and she hadn't objected. McKay crossed his arms over his chest and squinted at John. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" he said.

"Why wouldn't it be?" John said.

"I just--I'm concerned," McKay said, "about you know, perhaps being killed. Not that I can't be killed right here, but at least then I'd be killed in relative comfort and not murdered while out scouting a planet god knows where with—"

"I won't force you, then," John said shortly.

"Look, I can be convinced," McKay said, but John had already turned to leave. McKay caught his arm just below the elbow, his hand hot on John's bare skin. John shook him off roughly, banging his arm back into McKay's chest and shoving him back against the wall. It put a couple feet between them. McKay stared at him incredulously, holding his arm against his chest.

"What's the hell is wrong--"

"Join the team, if you want," John said calmly. He'd had a lot of practice. "But I'll pass on the convincing."

"What?" McKay said. "I'm sorry, I don't—"

"It's fine," John said briskly. "You're welcome to join one of the more traditional teams—"

"Will you just—" McKay stared at him. "Did you think I was propositioning you?"

"Forget it," John said.

"I wasn't--"

"I'm not going to report you," John said. "So drop it."

"I wasn't," McKay said firmly. "I was only looking for a little—professional reassurance." He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "You know--gee, Dr. McKay, don't worry, I'm good at this, I'll shoot anyone who tries to kill you, that kind of thing."

"Oh," John said. His ears felt hot.

"Also, what, you think I need to coerce subs into sex to get laid, is that it?"

"That's not what I was--no."

"Because I don't," McKay said.

"Okay," John said.

"So you could apologize for overreacting and manhandling me, now, maybe," McKay said.

"Fine, sorry."

"Right, well, I'll join the team," McKay muttered.

Even after they got to know each other, Rodney was careful about touching him; the occasional touch on his elbow or shoulder, but never on bare skin. It was a little embarrassing, especially once John saw how Rodney treated the subs in his lab—that is, with the same blistering disregard tempered with faint praise as the tops. The thing was, Rodney touched the people he worked with; shouldering into the space between Dumais and Miko to fix a whiteboard equation, smacking high fives, leaning up close behind Zelenka and poking at his computer screen like it was nothing—it had been nothing. At night, brushing his teeth and staring at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror, John wondered why he'd ever assumed Rodney would ever want—ever want that.

On P3X-259, escaping from an angry mob, John lost his tac vest and ripped his shirt from collar to navel. While they were waiting for the wormhole to engage, Rodney shrugged off his jacket and passed it over.

"That's okay," John said, and then thought about the gate room techs, Elizabeth, the marines on guard, and took it. It was smeared with mud and too big, and Elizabeth's eyebrow twitched up when she saw him wearing tan.

*

"Are you okay?" his dad had said, when John came home that first Christmas, muscled but thin, wary.

"I'm fine," John had said, again and again.

"I'm proud of you, you know that," General Sheppard said, at dinner the last night. "But I—it's difficult for me to see you this way. You know you can always come home—"

"And settle down and meet someone nice, I know," John said, staring at his plate.

"That's not fair," General Sheppard said. "You know I always wanted you to have a job, I just don't want to see you hurt or—"

"I have a job," John said. "So. Can we just table it?"

"Sure," General Sheppard said. He ate another bite of carrots. "So, are you meeting anyone nice?"

"Dad—"

"They can't all be jerks," he said; he was right. By the end of the first semester John had friends—Mallory, who sat next to him in Comp Lit, whose little brother was a sub, and Lawrence—Laurie—whom he'd been assigned to tutor in physics. Laurie was huge, quiet, formidably polite. He never touched John. He'd gone to high school at some ritzy top-only prep school outside Dallas; John was pretty much the first sub he'd ever talked to outside of chaperoned school dances.

"Why don't you just—cut your hair?" Laurie said once, when they were hiding out on the roof outside Laurie's room, smoking cigarettes. Sophomore year, John had his own room, but he had to leave the door open if he had anyone in the room with him.

"Fuck that," John said, coughing a little. "Why should I have to cut my hair?" It wasn't much longer than Laurie's, but it would have been non-regulation for a top; there were different rules for subs.

"You shouldn't," Laurie said.

"Damn right," John said.

"I didn't mean you should cut it," Laurie said. "I just thought it'd make things easier. For you. If people couldn't tell as easily."

John shrugged. People would find something else to be assholes about.

"I like it," Laurie said, almost under his breath.

Later, Laurie tied his hands behind his back and gently, gently fucked his mouth, and kissed him a lot, after, and let him come. They slipped around for the last three months of school and when Laurie came back in the fall he was engaged to some pretty, perfect sub from a good family and that was the end of that.

"What," Laurie said, cornering him outside the library after John had successfully avoided him for a week. "What the fuck is wrong with you, anyway?"

"Nothing," John said. He'd sent Laurie postcards over the summer, gotten postcards back; he hadn't even known there was anything wrong.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about—we can still fool around, if you want."

"No thanks," John said.

"John. Come on. My mom kneels next to my dad at dinner—you had to know there's no way I could ever have brought you home to meet them. They would have completely flipped out—"

"What makes you think I care about meeting your parents?" John said. He wanted to elbow past Laurie, but, more than that, he didn't want anyone to notice.

"Well, Jesus Christ, you're acting like I collared you, or something—"

"I'm late to class," John said.

"Did you want a collar?" Laurie said quietly.

"No."

"I didn't even know you wanted—" Laurie sighed. "I thought we were just messing around—"

"Because that's all a sub like me's good for—"

"No," Laurie said. "Of course not," but he meant yes. After that, John went to bars to get laid, carefully went places he wouldn't run into anyone he knew.

*

"Fuck, holy shit, they're trying to kill us," Rodney said, breathlessly. He was moving pretty fast, so when John pushed him down and out of the way of a shotgun blast, they both fell into the high, prickly grass at the river's edge and rolled over the edge of the embankment.

"Ow—"

"Shut up," John said.

"But—"

John clapped his hand over Rodney's mouth and shoved him down until they were both crouching. Rodney's breath was hot against John's palm; there was dirt on his forehead.

"Stay here," John muttered, leaning in close against Rodney's ear, and then pushed back and waited for Rodney to nod. "Quiet," John said, and Rodney nodded again. John smiled at him before pulling himself back up over the embankment.

He was still there when John got back, clutching his sidearm so tightly there were red marks on his hands when John got him to put it down.

After, Rodney lay on his back in the grassy field in front of the gate, his arms flung wide. John sat up, holding his weapon loosely.

"I can't believe you killed all those people," Rodney said.

"Mostly I just shot them in the leg," John said modestly.

"Yeah, well, bonus points for saving me without unnecessary bloodshed, then," Rodney said. "But mostly bonus points for saving me."

*

His first posting was the usual stuff all over again—plugs or cockrings in his locker, people watching him undress or leaving a pair of handcuffs attached to his bunk, people who wanted to fuck him, sub gangbang porn on the lounge tv, COs who got a little too personal about discipline. John didn't let it bother him; he was flying med-evac choppers over enemy territory.

The second posting, he wised up and bought himself a collar—black, stiff, serious-looking, heavy silver clasp, no name plate. The store clerk had smirked at him when he'd bought it, half pity, half scorn, and John grinned back, all teeth—he'd had to go to three places to find one low-rent enough to sell a collar to a sub. It was difficult to put on, so he didn't often bother to take it off; collars were made to be put on and removed by another person. People backed off when they saw it, or wanted to ask him for advice about whatever problem they were having with their subs. No one touched him in the showers. It was great until he noticed that he got struck from every halfway dangerous mission; "Can't have you messing up that pretty face," his CO said, when he asked, politely, why he was ferrying around diplomats' subs instead of stealth search and rescue, which had been his assignment. "I'm sure your top wouldn't thank us for it."

He left the collar off on his third posting.

*

"I would pay one thousand dollars for mashed potatoes," Rodney said, a little desolately, crunched up against John against the wall of a cave, sharing a blanket. It was the sort of situation that would have made John uncomfortable, except that everyone was wearing several layers of clothing, and Ford was leaning up against John's shoulder, snoring loudly, mouth open. Teyla was curled in neatly as a cat on Rodney's other side, but she smacked her lips when she slept. John was post-firefight jumpy, hopped up, his body unconvinced that the danger had passed; he wasn't sure why Rodney was still awake.

"The kind from the mix with the flakes or real?" he said.

"Mix," Rodney said. "Oh, and those little peanut butter cracker things you can buy from vending machines."

"I like the cheese kind," John said.

"Yeah," Rodney said dreamily.

"You don't miss other stuff?" This was a popular topic on Atlantis—not so much the normal personal stuff people missed—families, pets, that kind of thing—but the endless bitching about missing cars or new movies, fresh fruit and clothes they hadn't worn a hundred times before, weekends, real vacations, seasons, because Atlantis was temperate until it was suddenly, with almost no warning, bitter, days narrowing sharply until both morning and evening meals were in twilight, and then real, starry, dark.

Rodney hesitated, staring out at the swirling, brilliantly orange snow, nudging into the mouth of the cave, brushing across the bottom of the blanket where they'd tucked it under their feet.

"Objectively," he said, "I have to say no."

"Yeah," John said. He had always liked the dark.

"Yeah," Rodney echoed.

*

After the nanovirus outbreak Elizabeth called him into her office and closed the door.

"I'm concerned that you didn't follow my orders," she said.

"I did what I thought was best," John said.

"Let me rephrase," she said. "Are you aware that you disobeyed my orders?"

"Yes," John said evenly. Elizabeth's mouth was a tight, thin line. John realized he was clenching his hands on his chair arms and forced himself to relax.

"Your motives, while understandable, don't exonerate your careless, and frankly, inexcusable behavior. I can't allow it to go unpunished."

"I see," John said.

"However, I can see how turning your discipline over to the military could result in some chain of command difficulties," she said. "I've decided that your punishment will be handled, going forward, by the civilian discipline administrator."

"Okay."

Elizabeth sighed, steepled her fingers. "John. I'm grateful that we avoided further casualties, and your actions were certainly very brave. But do try to temper your instincts towards impulsive action."

John nodded.

"Take the night to rest; we can postpone the discipline until everyone feels a bit more recovered."

We, John thought, but didn't say anything. He went back to his quarters and fell asleep in his clothes on top of the blankets.

*

"Not bringing any personal sexual items with you, Major?" Sumner had said, grinning, at one of the last briefings in Colorado.

"No, sir," John said. Sumner had to sign off on the sex toys for the military contingent; John had decided that fingerfucking was preferable.

"Could get lonely," Sumner said.

"I'll manage," John said.

"I'm sure," Sumner said, easily, eyes sliding down John's body.

*

"McKay."

"Hm?" Rodney was slumped over a laptop in his office; when he looked up and saw John hanging in the doorway, his face changed. "Oh," he said. "Right, well. Come in."

Maybe he should have known who the civilian disciplinary administrator was, but he hadn't, so it had been a low-grade shock to see Elizabeth's punishment e-mail copied to Rodney. When he found himself contemplating putting it off—Elizabeth had given him a 48 hour window—he forced himself to get dressed and go by Rodney's office, first thing in the morning.

There was a low table in front of Rodney's desk, piled with books and stacks of ragged notebooks, dirty coffee cups and napkins. Rodney came around his desk and started pushing the piles aside. "Sorry," he said, "I completely forgot. Let me just—" he shoveled the books out of the way and cleared the end of the table; just enough space for John to put his hands down flat and hold on. "Okay?" he said.

"Yup."

"Right." Rodney was squinting at the coffee mugs; he seemed almost nervous. John had started to wonder how often Rodney did this, but then Rodney said, in a perfectly businesslike voice, "Good. Ten with the belt or fourteen with the paddle."

"Belt," John said, hesitating over it only a little.

"Sure," Rodney said. John wasn't looking at him, but he could hear him unbuckling his belt; the steady, heavy clink of the buckle. He pulled in a breath through his nose and unbuckled his own belt, and then pulled down his pants.

"That's not—you can keep your underwear on," Rodney said. There was a long awkward pause while John fumbled his briefs back up over his hips, staring at the floor. He bent forward and gripped the edge of the table; the wood was smooth under his hands.

"Ready?" Rodney said. John dropped his head.

"Yes."

Rodney hit him hard and fast, no warm up. It was agonizing; he didn't try to keep quiet. Rodney didn't count out loud and didn't make him count off strokes either; he just slammed the belt relentlessly down on John's ass and over the back of his thighs. It was over quickly, abruptly quiet in the room while John struggled to catch his breath. He had a hard time straightening; too long since he had been punished, and his knees were trembling. Rodney caught his elbow when he took one awkward step back, forgetting his pants were still around his shins.

"Okay?" Rodney said. John nodded, fumbling his pants up with shaking fingers, concentrating on getting his belt fastened.

"You want some water or something?"

"I'm fine," John said. "Or—sorry. I'll take the water."

Rodney left the office. John watched him go, the way he carefully closed the office door, and then wiped his left eye, which always watered badly, and finished straightening his clothes. Rodney brought him lukewarm water in a mug and a couple sticks of crunchy Athosian bread, which he shared with John.

"Was there something else?" Rodney said, when they were finished. He brushed crumbs off his shirtfront and glanced back towards his computer, looking hopeful.

"No," John said.

"Okay, then," Rodney said. "You can go."

*

John pulled discipline a lot, more than he ever had before. Elizabeth only punished him for directly disobeyed orders, but there were a lot of them. Ford didn't know—no one knew except Elizabeth and Rodney.

"This isn't personal," Elizabeth said gently, after Chaya. "I think you're doing a very fine job, but I also can't overlook this type of infraction."

John, still buzzing from Chaya on him, inside him, just nodded. Elizabeth always wanted to discuss his behavior, which is the reason that he preferred Rodney, who was a strange bleached-out version of himself during punishment sessions—quiet, methodical, unemotional. He wasn't much like the guy who was almost John's friend, these days. It made it easier.

The thing John told himself was that the punishments weren't working because he had almost no regrets about his actions—mostly he regretted that he wasn't good enough or fast enough to fix things, but he was never sorry he had tried, not sorry every time he ignored Elizabeth's insistent voice in his headset.

He knew better than to mention this to Elizabeth—he knew how it was supposed to work, he was supposed to be relieved to be caught, need the punishment to take away the guilt of breaking the rules, and the fact that John always found himself coolly weighing his actions against the inevitable slap of Rodney's belt against his ass probably meant there was something wrong with him. Before Antarctica, he'd disobeyed exactly one order, in his entire career. He let Elizabeth keep thinking she was helping him appropriately modify his behavior.

*

Colonel Everett beat him with a standard marine-issue paddle, just the once, for disobeying orders; Everett was gone, back to earth, before the bruises faded entirely.

*

"This is getting weird for me," Rodney said, after disciplining John for going after Ford. He was holding the belt loosely in his hand, still breathing hard.

"What?" John pushed himself up, a little shakily.

"What do you mean, 'What?' I—you know, never mind. Stop screwing up." Rodney shoved his belt back through the loops, staring intently down.

"You missed one," John said hesitantly.

"I know," Rodney said. "Fuck."

"Are you okay?" John said.

"Can you just put your fucking pants on and get out of here?" Rodney said. "I'm busy."

*

Three days later there was an innocuous senior staff list admin e-mail in his inbox which said that civilian administrative discipline would be handled, going forward, by Dr. Chazirian, some anthropologist John only knew to nod to in the breakfast line.

"hey," John said at lunch the next day.

"I have a rotator cuff injury," Rodney said.

"Oh—"

"It's old, actually. From playing rugby in college."

"You played rugby in college?"

"Not—no, not exactly," Rodney said. "but I—. You know, I should never have been stuck with administrative busywork like discipline anyhow."

"McKay—"

"Not everything's about you," Rodney said, stabbing at his fish accusatorily.

"It's about me?"

"No."

John took a bite of his sandwich, his stomach sinking a little. Ford had finally stopped staring at him every time they negotiated for food like John was going to drop to his knees at any moment, and Teyla's doubts about his leadership abilities didn't seem to be related to worrying about his being too obedient, and Rodney was offended by everyone who disagreed with him, top or sub, and outside of punishment, had never indicated that he had noticed that John was a sub at all. Elizabeth's careful tolerance set his teeth on edge, but he'd had worse.

"Is it a sex thing?" he said cautiously.

"What? No," Rodney said. "A little, I guess."

"I can't—"

"I know," Rodney said. "It's fine. It just wasn't appropriate for me to continue to discipline you. That's all."

"You liked it?" John said, surprised. Rodney's mouth tightened—offended, John saw. He piled the rest of his fish onto a slice of bread, folded it in half, and then stood and picked up his tray. "I'll see you," he said, and walked away, shoulders stiff.

*

In Afghanistan, he'd been the only sub in his squad; the first time one of the ground crew guys palmed his ass during an equipment check, Elsa leaned back out of her chopper and said,

"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Nothing," the guy said.

"From here, it looks like you're grabbing a little ass," she said. Mitch and Dex had ambled over, leaning up against Elsa's chopper.

"What, are you already fucking him?" the guy said. "C'mon, sweetie, I can treat you better than—" John sucker punched him, knocked him down flat on the tarmac.

"Finally, Jesus," Mitch said. "What, do you have the slowest fuse in the Air Force?"

"That's a pretty weak-ass left hook, though," Elsa said.

"Yeah, Shep," Mitch said. "How's he really gonna get that you're not interested unless you kick the crap out of him?" Dex just stepped forward and put the heel of his boot down on the guy's throat.

"Hey, I don't need your help," John said.

"But we like helping," Elsa said.

"We're real helpful," Mitch said.

"You want me to let this asshole up?" Dex said, smiling.

"Yeah, what the fuck," John said. "Honest mistake, right?"

Dex eased up, and the guy coughed, said, "yeah, sure. Sorry, man, I just—"

"No sweat," John said.

"Shep's got a forgiving nature," Elsa said, iron in her smile.

"I can take care of myself," John said, after the guy had scrambled to his feet and taken off. "Don't think you'll be calling in any favors."

"This squad, we look out for each other," Mitch said. "That's all."

"But someone sure thinks he's pretty," Dex muttered, which startled a laugh out of John.

Elsa called him Johnny and could never remember that he hated it, and Mitch used him as an excuse to start bar fights, but it didn't go further than that. John had gotten so used to having friends he could barely stand that it took him weeks to figure out that he liked them.

At the hearing after the rescue mission, they asked who'd been fucking him; it was clear that the answer didn't matter. His ass still hurt when he got off the transport at McMurdo.

*

There used to be these videos they had to watch, he told Rodney once, early on, killing time while Teyla negotiated a trade agreement—goats for basic ham radio equipment—

"Videos, like, VD, that kind of thing?" Rodney said absently. "We had to watch those."

"No, these things from the seventies about subs getting emotional and tops getting overprotective," John had said.

"So pretty much what passes as cutting edge psychological profiling for the American government," Rodney said, smirking.

*

"Look, it's not—" John looked around and then closed the door to Rodney's office firmly. "It's no big deal."

"I'm busy," Rodney said. He was rifling through the bookcase, his back to John. He hadn't exactly been avoiding John, but he'd been different, polite. It was unbearable.

"I meant, I've worked with tops who wanted to fuck me before," John said. "It happens. I don't care."

"Gosh, thanks for the snapshot of your glamorous life," Rodney said.

"It's just—it doesn't have to turn into a big thing," John said.

"Fine," Rodney said. He'd given up on the bookcase and was just leaning back against his desk, arms crossed over his chest.

"And it's not like you want to do anything weird," John said.

"Right," Rodney said, slowly.

"You—don't," John said. "Right?"

"That's the first question you ask," Rodney said peevishly. "Whether I'm some kind of perverted sex freak?"

"That's not what I meant, I—"

"I just want to tie you down and fuck you," Rodney said, slumping back against the desk, looking exhausted. "Just like every other top you've ever met."

"Oh," John said.

"Yeah, so," Rodney says. "You're great looking, and this whole thing you have going on with the military is like some kind of European porno, and I don't even like fucking subs who are into being forced into submitting, it's--"

"I'm not—I'm not like that," John said.

"Really?" Rodney said. "You come off pretty mouthy."

"You come off like you couldn't top a fucking Tupperware bowl," John said, and let himself slide right up into Rodney's space. Rodney smiled thinly, but didn't touch him.

"I guess we don't have a problem, then," he said. Then he said he had a meeting and excused himself, leaving John alone in his office, chest tight with longing and recognition and shame.

*

"I'm sorry," John said, the first time he was alone with Rodney, nearly a week later. They were in the puddlejumper; doors closed. It felt private enough, safe. John had been trying to think of what to say all week.

"What for, now?" Rodney said, staring at his computer, distracted. "Can you call up the HUD?"

"For being—pursuing—what I said in your office."

"That? All right," Rodney said.

"Oh," John said.

"Hold it, are you implying that I said something I shouldn't have?" Rodney said. He sighed. "Well—frankly, I probably did. I'm not exactly known for tact and—"

"You didn't do anything wrong," John said. "It was me."

Rodney finally turned his head and stared at him, and John thought about how he never cared before if anyone he worked with thought he was a slut. "I accept your apology," Rodney said, a little formally. "But I did bring up sex in the first place, so." he lifted one shoulder. Drop it now, John thought, but said,

"But I pushed—"

"You were hitting on me?" Rodney said. He looked amazed.

"No," John said coldly.

"Because you were insulting me and that's not usually—"

"Rodney—" John said loudly.

"Fine, fine," Rodney said, and turned back to his laptop display.

*

John had known he was a sub since he was six and lost his virginity at 17 with his high school girlfriend, tied to her bed with knee socks with unicorns on them, and learned how to sub on his leave, long weekend furloughs, on his knees in dirty bathrooms, handcuffed to beds. The last time he'd had sex had been in Colorado, just before Atlantis. It hadn't gone well.

"What are you, thirty-five?" she'd said. "Haven't you had any training at all?" She'd gotten pretty rough, which John had never minded, but she hadn't wanted him to stay past one night, and she hadn't let him come at all. He wanted to write it off as a bad experience, but it was more the last in a string of pretty awful one night stands which seemed to mostly have been his fault. Atlantis—where he couldn't have sex, even if he had wanted to—had almost been a relief.

Rodney'd fucked a couple subs since they'd been in Atlantis—marines, enlisted, the kind of subs who always had tops, who probably knew how to—how to do things Rodney liked. There was some competition for subs on the Atlantis mission, but Rodney was appealingly abrasive and knew a lot about knots. John had once watched him lash a tarp over the temporary shelter they'd set up with a few expert twists of rope.

"What?" he'd said, looking up and seeing John peering over his shoulder.

"Nothing," John had said, looking away from Rodney's hands. "Think that'll hold?"

"It'll hold," Rodney had said. Then he'd straightened and grinned and John had braced himself for the inevitable sexual comment he'd have to smile and pretend to enjoy. While John watched, the grin faded a little. "Well," Rodney had said, squinting at him through the thin drizzle. "How long do you think we'll be stuck here?"

Before, when John hadn't cared who Rodney had fucked, he hadn't paid much attention, but it was easy now to remember that Rodney hadn't called them dumb sluts behind their backs or mentioned what they liked in bed. He'd never suggested that John was in a bad mood because he needed a good, rough fuck or copped a feel during discipline and—it was just possible, John thought, that his standards were pretty low, but by then it didn't matter. Rodney crashed down in the passenger seat of the puddlejumper and smiled sideways at John and whole seconds went by—three, maybe four—while John thought about what it would be like if Rodney touched him.

*

It would have been fine if John hadn't pulled discipline for screwing up a trade mission. He went straight to Dr. Chazirian after the briefing, not wanting to put it off. It hurt; Dr. Chazirian was fair but she didn't go easy on punishment. John wasn't much in the mood for dinner, after, so he went straight back to his quarters. Rodney was waiting for him outside, leaning uncomfortably against the wall, hands in his pockets. He straightened when he saw John, and then frowned, "What, did you—go see her already?"

"What's it to you?" John said.

"I—talked to Elizabeth about how it wasn't really fair for you to have to take responsibility for a decision we all made—"

"That's why they call it the chain of command," John said.

"But she agreed that the punishment was—she sent you an e-mail calling it off," Rodney said. "I just came by to make sure you got it before you—"

"Great," John said sourly. "Maybe I can get a raincheck for next time."

"Maybe you should—"

"I just want to go to sleep," John said.

"Okay, I—sorry," Rodney said, nodding, but then it took John so long to get his door to open that Rodney got concerned and opened it for him and got him inside. He watched while John crouched painfully to get his boots off and then went in his bathroom and rattled around in the cupboards until he found some aspirin. "Did she hurt you?" he said, briskly shaking four into John's palm. John swallowed them dry.

"Who?" he said.

"Who—" Rodney sighed. "Dr. Chazirian."

"That was kind of the point."

"That not what I meant," Rodney said. "You know—was she. unreasonable?"

"Nope."

"Are you sure?"

"I think I've taking a hell of a lot more beatings than you have," John said. Rodney flinched, although he caught himself so quickly that John wouldn't have seen it if he hadn't been looking. "She was fine," he said.

"Okay," Rodney said. He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "Sure you don't want something to eat? You missed dinner."

"I'm fine." He wanted to sit down, but his ass still hurt too much, and he wasn't going to lie down on his stomach in front of Rodney.

"Right, well," Rodney pulled in a quick breath. "Take it easy."

"You never bothered to worry all the times you disciplined me," John said.

"Yes," Rodney said. "I always did." The lights—bathroom, bedside table—flickered. Rodney gave him an awkward smile and jerked his thumb toward the door. "I should—"

"You didn't hurt me," John said hurriedly.

"Yes I did."

"I meant—it was just your job."

"Yeah," Rodney said quietly. Maybe Rodney bent a little, maybe John leaned forward; Rodney's mouth covered his softly. John's calves and thighs and ass stung where Dr. Chazirian had used the strap; a couple of the fingers on his left hand had been bent back and were weak and swollen; there were tender, black-blue bruises all up his left side from falling down the hill on PX4-352, but Rodney cupped one hand around his cheek and twitched his mouth open with a deft, gentle press of his thumb against John's jaw, easy, easy. John gasped and twisted his fingers in Rodney's shirt and sucked on Rodney's tongue—"sorry," Rodney was saying. "I'm sorry. I didn't come over here to bother you—"

"Oh," John said.

"Unless you—"

"Yes, please," John said, and Rodney kissed him again, both hands on him, rubbing down over his shoulders, fingers on the ticklish skin beneath his belt while John thought about how Rodney could push him down on the bed and fuck his sore ass, wrap his hands around newly formed bruises.

"That's enough," Rodney said, too soon.

"Okay," John said, biting back disappointment.

"Just to clarify," Rodney said. "You were hitting on me."

John nodded. Rodney bit his lip, his eyes flicking down John's body.

"If you're not interested," John said finally, "that's—"

"I'm interested," Rodney said quickly. "It's just, you're pretty well known for being—"

"I'm not frigid," John said.

"I wasn't going to say frigid," Rodney said.

"Everyone else does," John said.

"That's true," Rodney said, unflinchingly.

"I don't—"

"We can go on a date or something."

"I can't date you," John said.

"Then. Come over and have sex with me this weekend," Rodney said. He leaned in and circled John's wrist with his thumb and middle finger—it was polite way of asking someone to sub for you, maybe a little old-fashioned; no one had ever asked John that way before.

"Yes," he said.

*

John had never fucked anyone he worked with—wanted to, spent two years wishing Elsa would corner him in the showers—but he had been careful not to be stupid, until Rodney. It had snuck up on him that he liked Rodney touching him, liked the million little excuses they had to bump shoulders or share food, fingers brushing together. He'd even liked bending down over the table in Rodney's office, the one acknowledgement in their friendship that John was a sub, Rodney's heavy hand on his hip, holding him steady; he'd wanted Rodney to think of him that way, because it was better than the nothing he had, curled in on himself alone, in bed, fingers in his ass, imagining there was someone to tell him he was allowed to come.

"You're very intelligent," his advisor had said, senior year. John had liked her; she'd never made him kneel or acted surprised when he showed back up, every fall. "And your technical ability is—" she smiled. "You have a great deal of promise, but I'm afraid I can't recommend you for the slots you picked."

"I don't understand."

"John. You're going to meet someone."

"I don't see what that has to do with anything."

"I have to reserve these slots for pilots who are going to stick with the program, and—"

"I'm not planning on quitting," John said, trying a smile.

"You aren't now, of course," she said. "But—you're very beautiful, and eventually you'll meet the right top—"

"I didn't come here to meet anyone," John said.

"That's what every sub says," she said, kindly enough.

"Fine," John said. "Tops get married all the time—"

"Don't you think that's just a little bit disingenuous?" she said. "It's hardly the same thing."

*

John went to Rodney's place on Saturday to refuse him politely; he was pretty sure it was going to go badly.

"I changed my mind," he said, when Rodney let him in. "About the sex."

"Okay," Rodney said. He looked disappointed, but not especially surprised.

"I didn't, I wasn't leading you on," John said. He'd bought a book once, when he was on leave, something about becoming a trained sub in six weeks, no top necessary. He didn't remember a lot of it now, but he was pretty sure it had said to avoid being a cocktease. "I can only, um, imagine what you must think—"

Rodney's hair was damp, sticking out in funny cowlicks, and his quarters were cleaner than usual, the covers pulled up tightly on the bed, an unopened tube of Oreos on the computer desk. There were a couple of the blue plastic restraints they gave away for free in the infirmary on the bedside table; John lost his train of thought completely.

"You were saying?" Rodney said.

"I should probably—"

"John," Rodney said. "You should do whatever you want." His voice was clear and low and maybe a little sharp. What John really wanted was to fold down to his knees and press his face against Rodney's thigh.

"I'd like to stay," he said

"Now you want to stay," Rodney said.

"I—"

"Yes, that's very convincing," Rodney said. He had already turned away. "If you'll excuse me, I have some fairly urgent work I put off to be here—"

"I can be convincing," John said. Rodney turned back around.

"Isn't this the way we got into trouble in the first place?" He was smirking, but he looked interested. He took a step forward and John twisted enough that it backed him toward the bed. "Lie down," Rodney said. John did. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see the restraints, but Rodney didn't pick them up, just ran a hand down the inside of John's thigh, fingers brushing John's cock through his pants, but not lingering. Rodney leaned down, close over John, and tapped his knee lightly; John slid his legs open as far as they went, his hips hitching up. He could have come right then, in his pants, if that's what Rodney wanted.

Rodney wanted to kiss him.

"Earlier. Was that—do you like to be forced?" Rodney said, when they had been making out for a while, just when John had figured he could leave his hand stretched up over his head, even if Rodney wasn't going to hold his wrists.

"No," John said. More kissing, Rodney's hands eager and steady on his waist. John's chest felt tight and nervous, just like it always was before he screwed something up. Rodney mouth was nice—soft, slow; John had never pegged Rodney for a patient person. Usually people liked to just get the preliminaries over with and he had sort of assumed he'd be across Rodney's knees being fingerfucked right about now, or tied to the bed—

"Are you always like this?" Rodney said.

"Like what?"

"Like a crazy person who can't relax," Rodney said.

"Just tell me to do something," John said. He meant it to sound sexy, but it came out frustrated, critical. Rodney smiled, sat up, yanked off his shirt, rummaged through his bedside drawer, and John thought finally, and here we go, and then Rodney put the lube on the bedside table and said,

"Fuck me."

"What?" John said. "No."

Rodney squinted at him; he didn't look too happy. John tried not to look at the restraints. "This isn't exactly how I thought this would go," Rodney said, finally.

"I'm a sub," John said, stupidly. It wasn't as though he had never done it before, but he had been tied up and begging, blind-folded, comfortable. Rodney stood up and took off the rest of his clothes, and then he yanked John across the mattress by his hair and rubbed his already hard cock against John's face. John scrambled to his knees and dragged his lips up Rodney's dick, got his mouth around the head, no hands, showing off,

"Knock it off," Rodney said quietly. John stopped, but pressed his face in against Rodney's hip, struggling to get his breathing under control. Rodney took a heavy breath and pulled John back to his cock, held his head while John sucked eagerly, groaning a little, his cock hard against his zipper. Rodney's hand slid down to his cheek, steering John's mouth along his dick, thumb snug against his jaw. John's mouth was full, and his body felt hot, jittery with anticipation.

"You want to get me off?" Rodney said, but didn't let John pull off to answer, so John just had to nod, sucking still. "Then bend me over and screw me," Rodney said. "And don't say no to me ever again."

Rodney was strong, but John was stronger, and Rodney wasn't resisting him; there was ghost of a grin on his face when John turned him around and pushed him forward on the bed, their knees tangling together on the floor. John had fingered himself a million times, lonely and horny in bed, or trying to make a top happy, but he had never done it to someone else. Rodney twisted up against his first tentative finger, said,

"More than that." His hands twisted in the sheets when John shoved in two fingers, and John bent forward and kissed the small of his back, his spine, the bunched muscles of his shoulders; Rodney shifted back against him every time he moved his fingers deeper. John fit a third finger in while Rodney gasped in satisfaction, and Rodney was naked, but John still had his clothes on, which was another thing that had never happened to him.

"Stop," Rodney said.

John stopped, his pulse pounding in his throat. Rodney looked—good, really good, and John bit the inside of his cheek as hard as he could stand it, trying to get himself back under control.

"So fuck me, then," Rodney said, patiently, twisting around to look at John.

"I—okay," John said. He jerked his pants open hard, scraping his knuckles on the zipper and almost came just easing the slick head of his dick inside Rodney and then Rodney widened his knees, shifted his body a little, and John fucked into him hard.

"Yeah, good," Rodney said, his voice low. After the first few thrusts, John wrapped his hands carefully over Rodney's hips; he'd always liked that. Rodney was rubbing off against the edge of the mattress, grinding back against John, so John tightened his grip and adjusted to Rodney's rhythm the best he could. It took a long time, because Rodney slowed down whenever he got close, reached back and grabbed John's hip with one heavy hand and wouldn't let him move for long moments, while John pressed his face against Rodney's back and begged.

"All right," Rodney said, finally. His voice was amused, but a little shaky, rough around the edges. "Make it good."

It wasn't a lot of direction, less than John was used to, but Rodney groaned when John palmed his dick, and then came all over John's hand and the bed, jerking heavily against John's cock.

"You want me to—uh, clean that up?" John said, when Rodney was just resting his forehead against the edge of the bed, breathing hard.

"Huh?"

John licked his palm suggestively. "You'll get lint on your tongue," Rodney said.

"That's okay—"

"Do you not want to come or something?" Rodney said. He pushed himself up off the bed and pulled John toward him by his shirt.

"No—I mean," John licked his lips. "I do. Yes."

"Please," Rodney said, prompting.

"Please," John said softly. Rodney blinked, huffed a soft laugh—he had probably been kidding, John realized, a little too late. "Sorry—"

"No, no, I like it," Rodney said. He hooked a couple fingers under John's shirt and pulled it up over his head. "I didn't really think you'd be like this."

"I'm—"

"Yes, yes, right, I know. You're a sub," Rodney said. "You're really—" he tucked his hand inside John's pants, palmed his hip, and John was so, so close already. Rodney pressed him down onto the bed, kneeling on the floor between John's legs. Rodney ran his fingers up John's thigh and squeezed his knee; John closed his eyes, trying not to come too fast and mess everything up, but he did, of course, when Rodney kissed his stomach and gave his cock one—two good hard strokes, jerked up into Rodney's hand and got come on his face. Rodney laughed a lot and then climbed up next to him on the end of the bed and threw himself down next to John, one warm hand on his hip.

John fell asleep between one breath and the next, Rodney's hand sliding up his side, possessive, satisfied. When he woke up he was under a blanket, curled at the end of the bed. Rodney was sitting up in bed, fully dressed, murmuring on his headset, something about the power relays in the west end of the city. When he saw John was awake, he said,

"I'm going to sleep; you'll call me if there's a problem?" and clicked off his headset.

"Hey," John said. "How long was I—"

"Forty-five minutes or so," Rodney said.

"You didn't wake me up?" John said.

"You were just dozing—"

"Look, I can't just fucking fall asleep—"

"It was just a few minutes," Rodney said. "You looked tired."

"Yeah, well," John mumbled. He slid off the bed and started to get dressed. "I should probably take off," he said, tentatively.

Rodney nodded, slowly.

"I meant—can I?" John said.

"Yeah, yeah, of course," Rodney said, but caught his wrist before he left, pressed him up against the door and kissed him hard. "We'll do it again," he said. "If you like."

John nodded.

"I'll fist you or something," Rodney said. "Whatever you want."

*

John wanted it, but the way it happened—drunk, after an easy mission, Rodney kissing his neck and mumbling softly in his ear and splitting him ever further open—wasn't anything like what he expected. He thought of it at weird times, what it was like to fuck Rodney or have Rodney's insistent hands on him, turning him over on his narrow bed.

"You all right, sir?" Bates said once.

"Bad lo mein at lunch," he said. Bates nodded, grimaced sympathetically. If Bates knew, he wouldn't say anything, but he'd think it, worry over how Rodney was doing John a few times a week, making sure he was pliant, obedient, a security risk in the event of capture. In bad moments, John thought he was probably right.

"Look, you can't—don't tell anyone," he said, that first week. Rodney was fixing a grain mill as a sign of good faith, hunched in between the wall and the millstone, glaring at the driveshaft.

"It's not against regs," Rodney said.

"I know, but—"

"For God's sake, I wasn't going to say anything," Rodney said, snapping his fingers until John handed him a hammer.

"Yeah, well, I'd probably reflect badly on you, anyhow," John said.

"Good point," Rodney said dryly.

It was true. John had never taken care of himself the way subs were supposed to—rough skin, no jewelry, plain loose clothing. It made it easier to be taken seriously; he hadn't been trying to impress anyone.

"I could get a nipple piercing," he said. It wouldn't show. Rodney stuck his head up over the edge of the millstone.

"I'm sorry, what are we talking about now?" he said.

"Nothing," John said. "Aren't you almost finished?"

"You realize asking me to fix this thing is the equivalent of asking a meteorologist to build you a frozen yogurt machine, right?" Rodney said.

"You can't do it?"

"Of course I can do it," Rodney said. "My point is, maybe you could cut me a break on pre-industrial revolution technology." He disappeared again under the millstone.

"Hey Rodney," John said, after a few minutes of listening to the clinks and rattles and ominous creaks and Rodney's indistinct but clearly indignant muttering.

"What?"

"Could you build me a frozen yogurt machine?"

"Play your cards right," Rodney said, after a minute.

*

Rodney was unexpectedly good at keeping secrets; he didn't touch John in public or get bent out of shape if anyone else did. Maybe Rodney was just more used to fucking the people he worked with, but John wasn't, and found himself struggling with his composure when Rodney said, "This is the fourth worst sandwich I've ever eaten," in the same unexpectedly mild tone he'd used to tell John to kneel down and stay down, the night before.

On Earth, John had been used to going home with couples; it felt safer. Tops liked watching subs together, and some liked bringing home a fucktoy as a gift for a well-behaved, well-loved sub; John hadn't gotten much out of having sex with other subs, but it was okay, sometimes.

"Okay sometimes?" Rodney said when he found out about it.

"Sure," he said.

"You liked being a secondary?" Rodney said. He'd looped John's hands together and secured them against the headboard and was pulling at the straps he'd used, testing them.

"More the merrier," John said.

"Hm," Rodney said. He didn't look too convinced, but he didn't push it. The only reason John had mentioned it was that Rodney was so often gentle with him, like he thought John was inexperienced, which he wasn't.

*

"You know you can do whatever you want to me," John said once.

"I told you not to talk dirty to me," Rodney said absently; he was doing something to the wall panel in his room with a screwdriver. It looked dangerous. "That includes while we're not having sex."

"I wasn't—are you trying to be funny?"

"No."

"You know, foreplay is just for subs who aren't fully committed to submission—"

"I am actually trying to get work done," Rodney said. "Also, who told you that?"

"No one."

"You made it up yourself?"

"No, I just. I don't know," John muttered. He'd tried to ask if Rodney wanted him to be naked when he was in Rodney's quarters or if Rodney wanted him to ask permission to talk or touch himself, normal stuff every top he'd ever fucked had wanted, but Rodney hadn't been paying attention or something, so John was just sitting on Rodney's bed in his uniform, trying to wrap up a few mission reports.

"Look—" Rodney started, but then panel he'd been working on exploded in a flash of red-grey sparks, and John was across the room, dumping Rodney back away from the wall and beating it with Rodney's jacket until the flames were extinguished.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he said, when it was clear that Rodney's hands were a little red and blistered, and nothing worse.

"Nothing, Jesus, ow," Rodney said, holding his hands under icy water in the bathroom sink, looking embarrassed.

"Will you just watch out?" John said.

"Oh, well, if it's coming from you—"

"Just try to be a little careful," John said. "How is that so hard?"

"I wasn't even—okay," Rodney said. "You too, then."

*

Rodney knew how to do all this stuff in bed; nothing especially creative or kinky or weird, but he never seemed to have to think about what he wanted, just smiled up at John and leaned down to shove his laptop under the bed. They did normal stuff: John's hands tied up tightly behind his back or over his head, John between Rodney's thighs, sucking his dick, Rodney's hand on his dick while John strained up into his fist, forbidden to touch himself, his hands clutching at Rodney's shoulders, sliding up over stubbled cheek, the one time Rodney had smiled and bent down to suck the tips of his fingers—well, that last was a little different, and it only made John peculiarly aware of how little he seemed to give Rodney—pretty good head, lying there while Rodney fucked him, the three times Rodney had wanted John on top, and one of those times, John had been on his back between Rodney's thighs, pinned down, basically useless. Rodney did everything; John mostly just showed up and took his clothes off as directed.

There were a bunch of flyers in the infirmary waiting room; John had spent enough time there to read each one about ninety times,—Toe Fungus, Silent Menace and Your Friend, Handsoap and I have an Unsafe Top. Rodney didn't fly into jealous rages or repeatedly do things to John he knew he hated or get wound up during sex and hurt John by accident. He gave clear directions and always let John come and once he'd tied John to his bed and spent a couple hours on the sweet spots on his hipbones and stomach and knees and when John was boneless and half-asleep, he'd flipped him over and fucked him so hard the bed had skidded sideways on the floor, but John still felt off-balance most of the time, inadequate.

Other tops had at least gotten a kick out of the military thing, but Rodney just seemed to think it meant he couldn't expect much from John. John broke plans sometimes, just to see what would happen, or said his jaw hurt during blowjobs, and Rodney never got annoyed. At first John was relieved, but a month passed, two, and then it really started to piss him off. He didn't do a very good job of hiding it, but Rodney didn't notice.

*

"Wake up," Rodney was saying, "wake up." John opened his eyes to see Rodney flipping open the plastic restraint on John's wrist, rubbing his thumb along John's palm and up his fingers.

"Time is it?" John said, struggling up on one elbow, taking in Rodney, sleep rumpled, a pillow crease on one cheek.

"Past midnight," Rodney said. "Sorry, fuck, I fell asleep."

"It's okay," John said. When Rodney had finished, he'd pulled John up against him, his wrist still attached to the headboard, low, surprisingly comfortable, and Rodney had kissed him once and bent so his forehead was against John's chest. His hair had smelled good, and John had fallen asleep, just like that.

"You don't like staying here," Rodney said. "You don't—stay here."

"Yeah, well, but only because I, we're, no one's supposed to know," John said. Rodney handed him his shirt. "I've stayed here."

"You've never stayed here," Rodney said.

"Oh," John said.

"Go on, get out of here," Rodney said, but he was smiling.

John wore long sleeves the next day, and Rodney stopped him in an empty corridor to look at his chafed wrists. They weren't bad—a little red, one or two scrapes, but Rodney hunched his shoulders, obviously annoyed.

"It's fine," John said.

"We're not using those free pieces of shit anymore," Rodney said. "Carson should know better than to—"

"Don't say anything to Carson," John said.

"Hey, I was just going to send him an e-mail, Dear Carson, while I was making sweet love to John Sheppard last night, your low-quality military-issue restraints caused gouges which will no doubt develop into blood poisoning or gangrene—"

"Fine, right, I get it," John said. He started to glance down the hall, and then caught Rodney doing the same.

"Signed Rodney McKay, PS Please immediately alert all hands that I am sleeping with Colonel Sheppard—" Rodney said quickly, almost under his breath. His face was cracked open with his smile, and John would have let Rodney do anything to him, anything.

Instead, he said, "What, nothing about how I'm graceful, obedient, and hung like a donkey?" and made sure Rodney got a brownie at lunch.

*

"You know you can talk to me about anything, at all," Elizabeth said. "If anyone's bothering you, or—"

"It's fine," John said. Lorne was a little overprotective, but it was nothing serious, and he always looked embarrassed about it; he'd started stuffing his hands awkwardly in his pockets around John after the second time he had offered his hand to John, stepping down from the puddlejumper.

"I have a lot of friends who are subs," Elizabeth said. "I know what a struggle it can be."

"That's. Thanks," John said.

"It's very difficult for most subs to suppress their natural compassion and empathy," Elizabeth said. "And I could certainly make allowances—" her voice trailed off. John managed a pinched smile, and Elizabeth's own smile got a little fixed at the corners. She pressed out a breath through her nose. "But as it is, I think we can't overlook the fact that you were not authorized to bring Ronon Dex back to Atlantis, let alone offer him a—a job."

"Yeah, okay," John said.

"You, of all people, should be concerned about our security here, and—" she broke off.

"I couldn't leave him," John said. It wasn't an excuse.

"Fine," Elizabeth said.

The e-mail was in his inbox when he got back to his quarters. John took a shower before he forwarded it to Rodney, his heart in his throat. He waited a full day, and then some, but Rodney didn't e-mail him back, or even mention it when they had breakfast and then lunch. He skipped dinner to go see Dr. Chazirian.

*

Dr. Chazirian couldn't find her strap in her desk drawer and used a fat, rubber-tipped pointer instead; John watched his hands, white-knuckled over the edge of her desk, and thought about whether Rodney would fuck him right away or want to come on his face, or whether he'd punish John himself, his belt or his hand, but when he went by Rodney's quarters after, immediately, still limping a little, Rodney wasn't even there.

John stayed anyway, just to see how long it would take for Rodney to get back, just because it was the right thing to do. It took an hour and a half, and John's ass barely hurt anymore by the time Rodney showed up, slope-shouldered, tired lines in his face.

"Hey," he said. He pulled off his jacket and dumped it on his desk.

"I had discipline," John said.

"Right, yeah," Rodney said. "I forgot."

"Oh," John said.

"So, you're okay?" Rodney said.

"Yeah, fine," John said.

"All right," Rodney said slowly.

"I just thought—"

"Oh," Rodney said. "Um. Yeah, sure. I need to take a shower, and then we can—"

"I'll just wait here, then," John said, a second after the bathroom closed behind Rodney.

*

Rodney pressed John into his desk chair, hands careful on his hips, and then made him hook one leg up over the arm. He traced a couple cool fingers over the welts on John's thigh, his face thoughtful. Then he knelt and began to suck John's cock. He worked John slowly, softly, his eyes closed, one hand around John's ankle, his thumb a little ticklish on John's Achilles' tendon.

"Ah," John said, and then, "don't you want—"

"What?" Rodney said, his lips brushing John's dick.

"Nothing—"

Rodney's face hardened, and he pulled back, standing slowly, as though his knees hurt. "Look, why don't you just tell me what you want," he said. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down impatiently at John until John said

"Well, I don't—I don't want to."

"Why not, since I'm obviously not doing whatever it is you've decided we should be—"

"Hey, you're the top," John sullenly. Rodney stared at him. John sat up and closed his legs.

"Get on the bed," Rodney said quietly. His hands were shaking. John stood, a little hesitant. "I said get on the bed." When John didn't move quickly enough, Rodney laid a stinging slap on his ass.

He was silent while John arranged himself on the bed, face down. When he risked a look over his shoulder, Rodney shoved him back down into the pillow by his neck, and slapped his ass again, this time not a warning; his hand came down roughly on John's ass six or seven times, his thumb glancing carelessly over the welts on John's hips and thighs until they began to throb, dully, in time with John's racing heart. Then it stopped; John stretched himself out quietly to wait, ignoring the ache in his chest. Rodney was breathing harshly, slamming bedside table drawers; John pressed his lips together, vindicated; he had known Rodney was angry about Dr. Chazirian. There was a quick wet cold slapping sound before Rodney climbed onto the bed, knocked John's legs open with one knee and then yanked his hips up and shoved inside. It was rough. Rodney fucked him in short, hard strokes, and his hands were heavy, pinching the thin skin on John's hips. John tried to spread his knees for Rodney and his hands slid awkwardly on the sheets and it only seemed to irritate Rodney, who pushed him down until John's shoulders were on the mattress and dug his fingers into John's waist to hold him still. It took a long time for Rodney to come. John didn't.

"There," Rodney said, when he was done. He'd come almost soundlessly; when he got up, his dick smudged a sticky line down John's thigh. "Is that better?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" John said. He wasn't sure if he was allowed to get up and he felt snappish, too used to Rodney being soft on him. Rodney didn't even usually do him on his knees because John's hip locked up once in a while. Rodney was pulling on his clothes efficiently, his face shuttered, as though he couldn't stand the sight of John.

"Can I go?" John said.

"Fine," Rodney said. He liked to watch, usually, when John got dressed, but this time he just turned away and started to check his e-mail. John found his socks under the bed and sat down to lace up his boots.

"Hey," he said. Rodney didn't look up. "You know, I told you about the discip—"

"It never counts with you unless you hate it," Rodney said sharply.

"What? That's not—"

"Did I hurt you?" Rodney said. He slid down into his desk chair as though his back hurt; he looked small, exhausted.

"I said you could do anything you wanted," John said.

"You didn't even get off."

"I can learn," John said.

"Look," Rodney said. He rolled his chair forward until he was directly in front of John, a few feet away. "maybe—maybe we're just not compatible."

"Are you quoting from that stupid pamphlet in the waiting room?"

"You think I'm an Unsafe Top?" Rodney said, his head jerking up. He looked crushed.

"I didn't say that."

"You read the pamphlet."

"So did you," John said loudly.

"But—"

"I don't really see what you're getting out of this," John blurted out. "I'm not ever going to be able to wear your collar and you can't put any marks on me and—" Rodney was staring at him again, so he shut up.

"Is this what you think about?" Rodney said.

"Oh," John said, shaking his head. "I meant—I didn't think you wanted to collar me, it was just—an example. Just like I know it's not fair that Dr. Chazirian disciplines me when you're my top—"

"You think I want to take responsibility for all the dumbshit things you do?" Rodney said.

"Apparently not," John said stiffly.

"I'm your top?" Rodney said softly.

John shrugged. "You don't think we're compatible."

Rodney looked at his hands. "It seems like you want me to hurt you," he said finally.

"You can," John said.

"I've noticed," Rodney said.

"It's just. I've—done that before. It doesn't bother me."

"Yeah, that makes it sound appealing."

"I'm just trying not to suck in bed—"

"You do, a little," Rodney said apologetically. "I mean, no, you're great. Well, sometimes you're kind of argumentative—"

"Well, pardon the fuck out of me for not having the time to get a lot of quality practice in," John snapped. "I'm in the fucking Air Force, tops are grabbing my ass every minute of every day and trying to get me to make out with the effing ground crew—"

"I know," Rodney said. "I know you had to sneak around a lot, and it's pretty obvious that you've been fucked by a series of incredible assholes—just, stop acting like you have to make it up to me."

"They weren't all assholes."

"They were all complete fucking assholes," Rodney said loudly. "I'm an asshole, and if you had any sense at all you'd dump me and let Lorne take you to the junior-senior prom or whatever he wants to do."

"I think he's just polite," John said.

"Or Elizabeth," Rodney said. "Did you know she keeps a riding crop in her desk?"

"I wish I didn't," John said wistfully.

"Me too," Rodney said. He wheeled his chair in a little closer, until he was close enough to touch John's cheek.

"So you don't want to stop," John said carefully.

"All I really want is to tell you what to do in the sack and have you do it," Rodney said.

"Okay," John said.

"Let's try that for a while," Rodney said. "Be good, and I'll get you a collar."

"Ha," John said.

*

But Rodney did get him a collar. John found it in Rodney's chest of drawers, tucked in under some shirts. It was in a shallow cardboard box, wrapped in tissue paper. John put it back, the first time, and the time after that, as well. He had to pretend to be surprised when Rodney gave it to him. Rodney didn't make a big thing out of it or give it to John for Christmas or his birthday, just left it out on top of the dresser with a post-it note stuck to it that said 'John.'

"What's this?" John said, as though he didn't know exactly what it was.

"Oh," Rodney said. He was toeing off his shoes and socks, yawning a little. "Nothing."

"Is it a joke?" John said, cautiously. Rodney's mouth twisted and he tried to grab it out of John's hand.

"I thought you wanted one," he said.

"I never said that." John sat down on the edge of the bed and peeled the tissue paper back. Rodney crashed down next to him, making the bed bounce.

"I'm sorry," he said. His face was floridly red. "I'll just—" he reached for the box, but John pulled his hand away, his fingers tightening over the soft leather.

"This is nice," he said. It was pale brown and narrow, with an intricate copper clasp that opened with the flick of a button. He'd never had a chance to really look at it before.

"I couldn't make a frozen yogurt machine," Rodney admitted. "I mean, mostly it was because we don't have any yogurt."

"I know."

"We don't have cows," Rodney said.

"Yeah," John said.

"I wanted you to have it," Rodney said. "If you wanted it."

"Frozen yogurt," John said.

"Everything," Rodney said.

*

"Oh, sweetheart," John's dad had said, when he came home for Thanksgiving, that last year of school. He'd cut his hair after Laurie, concentrated on looking less like a stupid sub.

"I don't want to talk about it," he'd said, but he hadn't stopped thinking about it. He went for long runs in the forest out behind his house and avoided his friends from high school - they were all engaged, or at least collared; he had nothing to say to them anymore.

"You make compromises," his father had said tentatively, the last day, leaning in the doorway of his room and watching John stuff clean laundry back into his bag.

"Yeah," John said. "Sure."

"It doesn't get easier."

"It's easy for me," John said grimly.





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