Coming Home: 2. Propositions



John returned to his room later that evening still feeling pretty pleased with himself. This had been the first real test of his command, and he thought he’d handled it well. He certainly felt he’d nipped the situation in the bud. He was running a little late, and wanted to take a shower and change into his off-duty clothes and then head out to the mess hall…so he was brought up short to find the blond corporal he’d trounced that morning standing outside his door.


“Corporal Hicks?” John frowned. “Is there a problem?”


“No, sir. I just wanted a word with you,” the corporal said, a slight flush rising to his pale skin.


“I’ve been in my office all afternoon – you only had to knock. I am always available to talk to my men,” John told him firmly.


“I know that, sir, but what I had to say…well, it’s kind of personal, so I thought I’d wait until you were off duty,” Hicks said, that flush deepening. John gazed at him searchingly, and then sighed.


“Okay. You’d better come in.” He opened the door to his room. “I’m sure whatever you had to say you could have said in my office,” he said, as he strode into the room. “But now you’re here I hope it’ll be quick because….” He turned, and then stopped dead in his tracks, because the corporal had followed him into the room and was now kneeling in a gracefully submissive pose by the bed, face down, legs apart, back straight. “Corporal?” John asked gently. The corporal remained gazing at the floor. John sighed. “Permission to speak, submissive,” he said finally, realising he wasn’t going to get anything out of the young man unless he played the top. The corporal relaxed and raised his head.


“I came here to offer myself to you, sir,” he said, in a soft voice, gazing at John with naked sexual longing. “I asked around, and people said you don’t have a submissive right now. A man like you shouldn’t be alone, sir. I’m a good sub – well trained and obedient. I’ll do anything you want, sir, if you’ll have me.”


John gazed at the man speculatively for a moment. He couldn’t deny that it was an attractive proposition. Hicks was young, handsome, and clearly a very prettily trained sub. John had no doubt at all that the kid’s soft lips would feel good wrapped around his cock, and he paused for a moment to consider how that muscular body would look, laid out naked for his attention. The corporal’s pale skin would probably pink up nicely under his hand, and John could imagine how all those hard muscles would feel tensing beneath his touch as he entered the young man from behind and fucked him. It *was* tempting – he’d gone a year without sex and he was out here, in the middle of a strange galaxy, which made you long to reach out for human contact to calm your fears over the unknown terrors that you were facing on an almost daily basis…and yet…John sighed. This wasn’t what he wanted. This boy might be an enjoyable distraction, but he was too young and too dumb to offer him anything more than a good lay, and John wanted more than that, damnit! He knew how this would pan out, because he’d been there any number of times before, and he was bored with the routine of it.


“I’m sorry, Corporal,” he said softly, letting the boy down gently, “but I’m afraid I’m not looking for a sub right now.”


A look of surprise, mingled with dismay, flashed through the young man’s eyes – he obviously knew he was attractive, and was upset that John was turning him down, but he also really wanted this. John realised that his little display in the punishment room earlier might have had some unforeseen consequences – it was no wonder a submissive as young and impressionable as this had taken something other than what he’d intended from that lesson he’d handed out earlier.


“I’m very good, sir,” the corporal told him, his naivety removing any trace of arrogance from the statement.


“I’m sure you are. You’re clearly a beautiful and eager to please submissive,” John praised him gently. “This is nothing personal, Corporal, but I have a little rule about not getting involved with anyone under my command.” That was a lie – it was pretty commonplace for a military top to take a submissive (or several) from the men under his command. That was part and parcel of military life and nobody thought anything of it. The corporal was clearly surprised as well, because he looked up sharply.


“It doesn’t have to mean anything, sir!” he said. “I wouldn’t ask for any special privileges. I just want to be your boy. Nobody even has to know.”


John smiled at him. The kid really was very sweet – but ultimately John knew just how unsatisfying such an arrangement would be. He’d learned that lesson over and over again during his life, and he was resolved to pass up the short term temptation in favour of the possibility of a more fulfilling kind of love.


“I’m sorry, Hicks, but that’s not the way I work,” he said. “Now, I’m very flattered by your offer but it’s a no,” he added firmly. “There are plenty of other tops out there who I’m sure would take on a good-looking boy like you if you’re lonely. Maybe someone closer to your own age?”


“None of them are like you, sir,” the corporal sighed, looking utterly crestfallen.


“It’s pretty common for a young sub such as yourself to have a crush on a high-ranking military commander,” John said with a smile. “But love – and sex – are a damn sight more complicated than that, Hicks, as I’m sure you’ll learn.”


Hicks sighed, a somewhat dramatic and heartfelt sigh. John suppressed a grin – he doubted the boy’s heart was broken – he had just seen something he wanted and had gone for it. John didn’t begrudge him that. He held out a hand and the corporal took it and John pulled him to his feet. “You’ll do fine,” John told him, ushering him towards the door. “There are plenty of good, strong tops on this expedition who’d love to have a pretty boy like you warming their beds, believe me.” He opened the door and pushed the boy out, giving him a sharp swat on his ass on the way. The corporal turned, a grin of delight spreading over his face as he rubbed his ass.


“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” he said as he walked away. John shook his head, still grinning, and then went back into his room.


“I just never see it coming,” he sighed to himself as he walked towards the bathroom.


It was late by the time he made it to the mess hall, dressed more casually in a pair of black jeans and a tight black tee shirt, with his black leather vest over the top. He got a tray of food and then glanced around the place – and his eyes alighted on Dr Beckett sitting across the table from Rodney McKay. John felt his stomach do an odd little lurch, and he decided he was hungrier than he’d thought as he made his way across the packed room to the two men.


Carson looked up as he got to the table, and the doctor gave him a broad grin.


“Mind if I join you?” John asked.


“Of course not!” Carson beamed, but John noticed that Rodney glanced at him sourly and then grunted something into his meal. John took his seat, and gazed at the scientist. Rodney looked as dishevelled as usual – John wondered if he was actually intending to grow a beard as the stubble on his chin was now getting a little out of hand.


“How are you doing, Dr McKay?” he asked, intending it to be general conversation, but then the events of that morning flooded back and he winced, realising he’d probably said the wrong thing. Rodney gave him a baleful glare.


“Fine,” he growled. “Absolutely fine.” Then he turned his attention to his food. John watched in amazement as the scientist began shovelling the food into his mouth and swallowing it down so fast that he could surely barely taste it.
“So,” Carson said, glancing sideways at John, “I was delighted to receive a few visits from some of your men today, Colonel.”


“Really?” John raised an eyebrow.


“Yes. They had an assortment of minor cuts and bruises. I gather you held a little practice session for them this afternoon.” Carson cast a broad, knowing grin in John’s direction.


“They came to you for that? My god, what a bunch of whiners!” John laughed. “I’d have taken what was coming to me and laid low to lick my wounds in private if it had been me – I wouldn’t have dared show my face in the infirmary expecting anyone to take care of it.”


“Oh, I had some very fine medicine for them to take,” Carson said, the twinkle in his blue eyes belying the solemnity of his expression. “It tastes pretty nasty, mind, but I assured them it’d do them good – and to be sure it won’t do them any actual *harm*,” he added, with an impish grin.


John grinned back at him – Carson was a top after his own heart.


“What’s this?” Rodney asked, between mouthfuls of food. John itched to take the plate away from him and feed him by hand, slowly, so he could appreciate the meal.


“The colonel here held a special practice session in the punishment room this afternoon,” Carson told him, and he leaned forward as he did so; John got the impression he really wanted Rodney to understand what had happened. “I gather he asked for some volunteers – Bates, Hicks, Krettman, Harley, Zeigler, Smith….” Carson paused for a moment to allow the significance of those names to sink in. Rodney stopped, in mid-chew, and gazed at Carson, and John was struck by how those blue eyes of his seemed to show every single thought that crossed his super-fast mind. Blankness, followed by confusion, followed by realisation, followed by suspicion – that last as he turned those blue eyes upon John.


“A special practice session?” Rodney queried, chewing again, as fast as ever, his eyes fixed on John.


“Yeah – I wanted to get a few things straight with them,” John told him. “They don’t know me very well so I took the opportunity to enlighten them,” he grinned. “I took them through some moves, eight times each – they ended up on the floor each time. I think they know me a hell of a lot better now.”


Rodney seemed to consider that, and then, finally, he grunted. He looked away from John but John noticed him looking back, a few seconds later, from under his dark eyelashes, furtively snatching an uncertain glance at him when he thought John wasn’t looking.


At that moment a loud shout went up across the mess hall and the three men looked up to see a little crowd gathering around two marines, patting them on their backs, and generally making a fuss of them.


“Aw – look. Stackhouse has collared Markham,” Carson said, smiling fondly. John grinned, realising that the two men were sharing a plate, rather self-consciously, for the first time, and Markham had a shiny new collar around his neck. Clearly the event had not gone un-noticed, and people were congratulating the pair on this new stage in their relationship.


“Oh for god’s sake!” Rodney exploded. “Who the hell gives a damn? It’s nauseating the way everyone turns into simpering yentas the minute some lame-assed couple decides to share a plate.”


“I think it’s very romantic,” Carson sighed. “Don’t you, Colonel?”


“Never seen the appeal myself,” John shrugged.


“And have you never thought about one day collaring a sub?” Carson said, looking rather dreamy.


“Nope.” John shook his head. “More trouble than it’s worth. I think subs are more into all that kind of stuff than tops anyway.”


“Not this sub,” Rodney snorted. “The whole thing is a total waste of time if you ask me.”


“You have not one romantic bone in your body, either of you!” Carson lamented.


“So what are you working on?” John asked Rodney, changing the subject. “Did you get the naquada generators in place?”


“I’m almost done,” Rodney replied, soaking up a mass of gravy with some bread and then stuffing the bread in his mouth. “I’ve got to get back to the lab this evening to work on the final connections and then that should be it.” John had to struggle to make out the last bit of that sentence as Rodney had so much food in his mouth. “In fact…I’m going to shoot off now,” Rodney said, getting up, still chewing as he went. He grabbed the chunk of bread still left by his plate and stuffed it into his pocket. “See you, Carson…Colonel.” He flashed a half-smile in the doctor’s direction but only managed a stiff nod at John. John watched him go, lost in thought as he gazed at the scientist’s disappearing ass.


“He’s gotta get bad indigestion eating at that pace,” John muttered to Carson when the scientist was finally out of sight.


“Rodney does everything too fast,” Carson told him, looking at John with an oddly searching expression. “He’s never still – and he’s heading for a heart attack the way he goes on. He needs to find a good way to relax, but his head is always buzzing too much. To be honest I’m worried about him.”


John frowned. “Is this about this morning?” he asked. “Because I took care of that the best I could – and at least he knows that now.”


“Aye, and I’m grateful to you for that, Colonel,” Carson said, nodding his head. “But this isn’t just about this morning. You wouldn’t know it to look at him right now but Rodney’s always been kind of fastidious about his personal appearance.”


“Really?” John raised an eyebrow.


“I know, I know.” Carson shook his head wearily. “The way he looks at the moment is just another symptom of what’s going on for him right now I think. He’s stopped caring and I’m worried he’s heading for the brink. I wish I knew a way to head him off. Maybe you have some ideas, Colonel?”


“Me? Why? I barely know the man.”


Carson gave a little laugh. “Colonel, I just saw you checking out his ass, and you asked me some pretty personal questions about him earlier. I got the impression you were interested.”


“What?” John frowned. Interested? In a man like McKay? A scruffy, sarcastic, arrogant man who was already proving that John’s initial analysis of him as Trouble was turning out to be pretty spot on?


“Aye.” Carson leaned back in his chair, and gave John a speculative look.


“Nope,” John said, taking a forkful of food. “I just wanted to make amends for an injustice, and I’ve done that, so…” he shrugged, not meeting Carson’s eye.


“Were you thinking of taking a sub?” Carson asked. “I can’t believe that a man like you would have any shortage of offers.”


“I just got one this evening as a matter of fact!” John laughed. “Nice lad – waiting outside my quarters when I got back.”


“What did you do?” Carson asked quietly.


“Turned him down,” John shrugged. “I’m not looking for just another pretty sub to decorate my bed.”


“My god,” Carson breathed. “This happens to you all the time doesn’t it? Subs throwing themselves at you.”


John looked up, surprised. “Well, I suppose I’ve had my fair share of offers, yes,” he said. They had been beautiful offers too, he thought to himself, remembering the many men and women he’d taken to his bed over the years. Usually only the most attractive people ended up there as well – not by John’s design, but it was simply that the more attractive subs were the ones who were confident enough to make the first move. He remembered Melissa, with her long, dark red hair, and vivacious brown eyes – she’d been his first proper sub, when he was finding out what kind of a top he was, and he could still recall the thrill he’d got from tying her to his bed, and making her his. After that, there had been so many easy conquests that he’d lost count. He’d enjoyed them all but he couldn’t honestly say that he remembered them all, and when they’d eventually slipped out of his life he’d made no effort to keep them. He hadn’t loved any of them enough to even try.


“Have you ever made the first move?” Carson asked.


John frowned. “What do you mean?”


“Well, to me, part of what I enjoy about being a top is looking over the available subs, getting to know them, and considering if any of them could offer me anything I’d be interested in. Then I like planning a slow seduction.” Carson grinned. “I’m something of a romantic, Colonel, so I like to woo my subs, with fine wine and candlelit meals. I want to let them know what I can offer them in return for their submission and I want to know we’ll at least have something to talk about when the sex is over. I’m not saying I’ve never been propositioned, but, not looking like you, with that effortless air of chilled out toppiness that you exude, I’ve always had to try a little harder I think. I prefer the thrill of the chase in any case.”


John gazed at him thoughtfully. “I haven’t taken a sub in over a year,” he confided, unsure why he wanted to share this private fact with the doctor, but there was something easy about talking to Carson – he’d only known the man for a few weeks but he already knew, instinctively, that Carson was going to be a good friend. He didn’t know what he’d expected Carson’s reaction to this information to be, but he sure as hell hadn’t expected the doctor to throw back his head and laugh.


“I’m sorry!” Carson said, patting John’s arm affectionately. “I’m not mocking you. I’m just thinking that here I was envying you the way you look, the way you act, and that innate sense of cool…” John raised an eyebrow at that, “and thinking that you have no idea how it is for us mere mortals, and then you say this. John…do you mind if I call you that?” John shook his head. “John, bless you, lad, but you’re bored. It’s all been too easy for you, hasn’t it?”


“Maybe. I just woke up one day and realised I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, just that I had this craving for something more.”


“Ah – there see, you’re a romantic too,” Carson told him. “You’re looking for love, John, and that’s a lot harder to find than sex.”


“Yeah,” John sighed.


“Maybe you need to stop just taking what’s on offer, and start thinking about what you really want from a relationship,” Carson told him. “If you just wait around for the right sub to throw themselves at you then you might be in for a long wait, John, and I can see that celibate year you’ve just had stretching into two – and then more. You’re so used to just taking what’s on offer that you’ve never thought about going after something you want, have you? Or maybe you’re just not sure what you want. Perhaps what you want might be so far from what you’d ever imagined yourself wanting that you won’t even consider it.”


John frowned. “Are we talking about Rodney McKay again here?” he asked.


Carson grinned. “You were definitely checking out his ass.”


“The man is rude, obnoxious, sarcastic and arrogant – you said so yourself!” John replied, shaking his head. “To say nothing of the fact that he looks like everyone’s definition of a mad scientist with that hair and those coffee-stained clothes. Why on earth would I be interested in him?”


“We’re not on Earth any more, John,” Carson told him, patting his arm again. “And you want something more than beautiful, willing bodies, I believe? He’s not your usual type but then how would you know when you’ve only taken what throws itself at you, and never thought about what *you* are really looking for? Rodney isn’t some pretty, empty-headed young sub – he’s only a couple of years younger than you, and since he’s about the smartest man in two galaxies I think it’s safe to say that he’s intelligent enough to hold your interest. True, he’s lacking in social skills, and lord knows he’s a bit of a lost soul, in need of some guidance – the kind of guidance that a good, strong top could give him. Maybe what you’re looking for is a challenge, John. If you are, then I’d say you won’t get much more of a challenge than Rodney McKay.”


“You said he’d bite off my hand as soon as kiss it,” John reminded him. Carson grinned.


“I did, and he will. If you’re waiting for him to turn up outside your room and offer himself to you then you’re in for a long wait. If, however, you want something more meaningful, then Rodney McKay might just be your man. It won’t be easy, but then you’ve had easy all your life and you’re bored with it. Maybe it’s time to try something new?”


John sat back in his chair and stared at him. “I can’t work out if you’re very mischievous or very wise,” he said at last. Carson gave that impish grin.


“Perhaps a little of both,” he said. “But when I look at you I see someone very driven, very focussed – you’d have to be to get as far as you have in your career – and nobody in the military has a bad word to say about you. You’re their golden boy and you don’t seem to have put a foot wrong in your entire life – and that fascinates me a little. You’ve owned up to your ambitions but I wonder if you’ve ever even paid a moment’s passing attention to your other needs? In some ways I think you know yourself very well, John, but in others – not at all. Maybe it’s time to find out what’s underneath that cool exterior – perhaps we’ll all be surprised by it – you included.”


John gazed at him, feeling slightly winded. Nobody had ever talked to him this way before, but then again, most of his friends had been military people, like him, and they rarely spoken about anything that deep – and, if John was honest, he’d always avoided these kinds of conversations before. Carson was an old soul, and he looked as if he understood the human heart all too well. Perhaps he was right? Rodney McKay though…John remembered the look in Rodney’s eyes that morning as he’d turned his head and taken his licks, and his heart flipped in his chest. He remembered the rising tide of anger that he’d fought to control as he watched the man being punished publicly, and how wrong it had felt. John had never experienced emotions like these before and he’d just pushed them aside, unsure how to deal with them, but, after talking to Carson, that seemed like the coward’s way out, and one thing John was pretty sure about was that he wasn’t a coward.


Carson got up and nodded at him. “Something to think about, John,” he said, and then, with another of those flashing grins, he left. He was right about that much at least. John gazed back at his plate, but suddenly he wasn’t hungry any more. He remembered how he’d felt watching Rodney eat so quickly – how he’d wanted to take the plate away from him and hand feed him, and that was an impulse he’d never had in his life before. He knew some tops who couldn’t wait to start hand-feeding their subs from their own plates but that had never been an impulse John had ever experienced. It just seemed like a giant chore to him – his subs had hands so he didn’t see why they needed him to feed them. Sharing a plate was a big deal – a sign that a couple were serious about each other, and John hadn’t ever been serious about anyone in his life. Whenever previous lovers had suggested to him that it was perhaps time that they shared a plate, he’d run a mile and they’d been out of his life before they could blink, and yet here he was considering sharing a plate with a man who hadn’t said one nice word to him yet.


A challenge? Carson was sure as hell right about that! And Carson was right about something else as well – he *had* been checking out Rodney’s ass, and he’d been having all these strange thoughts and feelings about Rodney ever since he met the man. Something was going on for him, something he’d never experienced before, and he guessed he owed it to himself to find out what it was.


John made his decision, pushed his plate away, and got to his feet. Rodney had said he was going back to his lab. He’d take a trip there, on his way back to his quarters, and see if he could make any headway with the man.




Rodney McKay returned to his lab, humming to himself. He wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the conversation he’d just had with Carson and the new military commander, a man he distrusted on principle. Rodney had a lot of experience of the military, and mostly it hadn’t been good. He thought that possibly might have been at least partially his fault – he knew he did and said things that upset the military boys, but he had no idea how to change and no real intention of doing so, so he’d have to live with it.


The lab was in darkness when he got back and Rodney grumbled to himself under his breath. He had told Radek to always keep a light on – Rodney never viewed himself as being off duty and he frequently got up in the middle of the night to go back to work when his insomnia got the better of him. He could do without fumbling around in the darkness and tripping over things. He turned on the light and started to walk over to his work station.


“Hello, Rodney,” a voice behind him said. He turned, startled, to see Sergeant Bates sitting at Radek’s work station.


“What the hell do you want?” he growled.


“You.” Bates got up, and walked over to Rodney, with that tightly controlled walk of his, all his muscles bunched up under the skin. Rodney took a step back, and then another, and ended up flush against the wall with nowhere else to go.


“Are you threatening me?” Rodney demanded, coming out all guns blazing. He’d be damned if he’d let this oaf know that he was intimidated by him. “If so, I will have your ass, Sergeant.”


“Really? Or maybe I’ll have yours,” Bates said, standing too close, invading his personal space.


“You already got your pound of flesh this morning,” Rodney snapped. “Wasn’t that enough for you?”


Bates gazed at him with an oddly intense stare, his gaze lingering on Rodney’s lips in a way the scientist found disconcerting.


“This morning…no, you see, this morning just whetted my appetite for more,” Bates said. “Seeing you, getting your ass warmed…made me wonder what you’d feel like squirming under my belt, Rodney.”


Rodney glared at him. “In your dreams, Bates,” he snapped. He tried to push the sergeant away but the other man took hold of him and slammed him back against the wall. Rodney’s head banged against it with a thud and he felt a sense of helplessness spread through him. Damn these people – they were only one step up from Neanderthals and they dared to treat him like this – and damn him too because he had no answer for it. Never had.


“Careful, Sergeant,” Rodney warned. “I could have you up on charges.”


Bates shook his head. “Who’ll believe you?” he said. “Everyone will think you’re making it up to get back at me for this morning.”


Rodney closed his eyes and thumped his own head back against the wall this time. Bates was right. It seemed like he was stuck with this particular tormentor for the rest of his life.


“What do you want?” Rodney asked quietly, opening his eyes again. He was surprised to find that Bates wasn’t looking at him with any malice – there was a different expression entirely in his eyes.


“I already told you,” Bates said, gazing at Rodney hungrily. “You don’t have a top at the moment do you, Rodney?” Realisation assaulted Rodney and he gazed at the other man in horror.


“No, I don’t, and I’m not looking for one.”


“I’d take care of you. I’d protect you – make sure the other lads treated you okay. They’d never bother you again,” Bates said, his eyes still fixed on Rodney’s lips.


“Forget it. I’m not interested,” Rodney snapped. He tried to push past Bates but the other man reached out and thumped him back against the wall again.


“The longer you make me wait, the more I’ll take it out on your ass when you finally give in,” Bates warned him.


“Well, that’s such a tempting prospect, thanks,” Rodney retorted sarcastically. “Tell me, Bates, why the hell you think a man like me would be interested in a grunt like you? Hmm? Your friend was a pinhead and you’re just as stupid. Explain to me why that would appeal to me?”


Bates’s expression tightened. “You want someone to give it to you rough,” he said, in a low growl. “I can do that. I’m a hard top, Rodney – and you want that, don’t you? You want to be bent over and fucked, and I’ll fuck you like nobody ever fucked you before in your life.”


“How romantic.” Rodney pulled a face. “You sure as hell know how to sweet-talk a sub into bed, Bates. Look, I don’t know what game you’re playing but the answer is no.”


Bates reached up, and stroked a finger down the side of Rodney’s cheek. Rodney shuddered – and Bates grinned.


“That’s good. That’s the kind of reaction I like from my subs,” he purred.


Rodney shook his head. “I’m not your sub, Bates. Look, until today you gave every impression of despising me – why the sudden interest? You want a trophy boyfriend? Someone you can show off to your family so they’ll realise you’re not the total loser they always thought? Hmm? Is that it?”


Bates’s expression darkened. “You know, for a smart man you can be pretty dumb at times,” he said.


“So I’m often told,” Rodney replied, rolling his eyes. “But I’m still mystified as to your sudden ‘romantic’ interest in me, if that’s what we can call it. I thought your friend told you and everyone else who’d listen what a crappy sub I am. So why the hell are you interested in me?”


“Well maybe that’s part of the appeal – I like the idea of whipping you into shape.” Bates lingered on the word ‘whipping’ and Rodney felt a shiver creep up his spine. “I’ve always liked making you squirm. You’re such an arrogant S.O.B,” Bates said. “Think you’re so much smarter than everyone else….”


“I am!” Rodney protested.


“It’s been fun, baiting you, but after this morning, watching you get your ass tanned…I want more. I want a piece of this ass.” Bates’s hand stole around Rodney’s waist and cupped his left buttock, squeezing just a bit too tight. Rodney gazed at him helplessly – he recognised the look in the sergeant’s eyes all too well. It was the look of a child in the schoolyard, chasing after one of the other kids so he could pull their hair and make them cry, and not because he didn’t like them but precisely because he did. He didn’t doubt that Bates’s interest was genuine but the sergeant wasn’t the kind of top who appealed to Rodney. He was sure there would be some subs out there who’d be turned on by this kind of behaviour, but he wasn’t one of them.


“Take your hands off me, Bates,” he said coolly. “It’s never going to happen.”


Bates gazed at him, his tongue sliding over his lips as he considered it. Rodney saw him almost visibly trying to decide whether to take this further, whether Rodney was just playing the coy sub, or whether to leave it there. Finally, he drew back.


“Make me wait then,” Bates told him. “But remember what I said about your ass paying for it when you finally come crawling into my bed. I will have you, Rodney.”


And then he drew back, and left the room. Rodney stood there for a moment, trying to get his breath back. Damn it, but his life was difficult enough without *this*. He wondered if he should tell someone – maybe Carson – but he felt ashamed of his own inability to deal with the situation more effectively. Maybe, in his own twisted way, Bates thought he had feelings for Rodney, but, like a small minority of the more stupid tops, he seemed to think it was enough to merely show up and be forceful to have a sub falling at his feet. Rodney wasn’t the least bit attracted to that kind of a top. In fact, he still wasn’t entirely sure what kind of tops he *was* attracted to. For a long time he hadn’t even been sure he was a submissive – he was too irascible, too intellectual, too damn *smart* for most tops, as well as being far too opinionated. He’d either eaten his tops alive and spat them out, used up and useless, or they’d had to be so tough with him in order to keep him in line that he’d felt impossibly restricted, unable to breathe or be himself, and when his work had started to suffer that’s when he got out because nothing, *nothing* was more important than his work. He’d tried being a top himself but had swiftly come to the conclusion that wasn’t going to work. Now he’d pretty much given up on finding anyone he was compatible with, because sex was complicated and relationships even more so and he didn’t think he’d ever figure them out. Although he told himself that he was simply too much the genius for any mere mortal to handle, a small nugget of doubt, deep within, suggested to him that the fault lay not with his genius but with himself. On some level he knew himself to quite simply not be lovable, so it was no surprise when each failed relationship, or dismal one night stand, proved that point to him over and over again. His most recent sexual encounter, with a marine who Rodney had mistakenly believed to be the strong-but-silent type had been a disaster. He’d discovered that that silence hadn’t been hiding a quiet strength, but instead a knuckle-headed stupidity. The man, quite simply, had had nothing intelligent to say for himself, and once Rodney figured that out it had been hard to retain any respect for him -and Rodney couldn’t find it in him to sub to someone he had no respect for. He’d ended it without a second thought, after having given the marine the benefit of his extremely long and thorough opinion on the subject, and he’d been surprised when Sergeant Stupid had then turned into Sergeant Vindictive, and started stirring up trouble for Rodney with his marine friends. Up until then, Rodney had enjoyed a fairly amicable relationship with the military. His job had always required him to work closely with them and while sometimes he found the military mind to be unbelievably slow, he would be the first to admit they had their uses.


At that moment the door opened again, and Rodney looked up, his heart beating too fast, wondering if Bates had returned, but instead he saw Colonel Sheppard standing there.


“What do *you* want?” Rodney snapped, over-wrought and just wanting to be left alone.


“Just thought I’d check up on you,” the colonel said. Rodney gazed at him blankly.


“Why?” he asked at last. “I mean, really – WHY? Don’t you think it’d be weird if I came to your office and said that? What the hell is wrong with you military boys anyway? Look, this is my lab, and I don’t want you or any of your men coming in here without my express invitation – is that understood?” He found his chest heaving up and down, and he practically shouted those last few words. Colonel Sheppard gazed at him, those hazel eyes cool, and just a little bit angry.


“Yes, that’s understood, Doctor,” he said.


“Good. I know you’ve somehow managed to trick Carson into thinking that the sun shines out of your ass, but you don’t fool me, Colonel,” Rodney yelled, his heart still pounding, stressed out from the day’s humiliating events, his own lack of sleep, and the recent incident with Bates. He’d thought, earlier, during dinner, that maybe Carson was right, and John Sheppard was one of the good guys, but Bates had shown him that you couldn’t afford to let your guard down for a second. John Sheppard wore a uniform, and as far as Rodney was concerned, that made him the enemy.


“I see.” Sheppard’s eyes narrowed as he gazed at Rodney. “Okay. Fine. You’ve made yourself perfectly clear, Dr McKay. I promise you that I won’t bother you again,” he said and there was something hard about the way he said it that brought Rodney up short. He watched as the colonel left the room, his back stiff, and then, finally, thank god, Rodney was alone.


He sat down weakly on a chair, and gazed off into space, trying to collect himself, his hands and knees moving restlessly, full of anxiety. He’d thought that coming out here he’d be able to make a fresh start. Things had gone so badly for him back on Earth of late, but it seemed his bad luck had followed him, and he didn’t have a clue what to do about it. Whatever he did seemed to backfire, and he honestly didn’t understand why. He loved the work, loved this city and the Ancient technology they’d found here, but he found dealing with people as difficult as ever. If only they were all as easygoing as Carson, or as calm and unflappable as Elizabeth, but they weren’t. He knew he wasn’t popular, but even so, walking into that room this morning and being jeered…his heart pounded again, so fast he thought he was having some kind of seizure. His eyelids fluttered as he re-lived those terrible few minutes when he’d had to bend over that frame and take his punishment in front of that baying crowd. So much for new beginnings! And it hurt, damnit, it hurt deep in his soul. He felt bruised inside, unable to connect with people, or make them like him. Didn’t they understand that without him they’d all be dead out here, so far from home, with no way of even contacting Earth? It might have been Colonel Sheppard’s DNA that made the city light up wherever he went, but it was Rodney’s skilful fingers that kept Atlantis running, Rodney’s brilliant mind that unravelled mysteries that had lain dormant beneath the ocean for thousands of years, and Rodney’s irrefutable genius that had kept them all alive. Yet even his brilliance hadn’t been enough to impress them or make them value him, and he was as lost out here in the Pegasus galaxy as he had ever been at home.


Rodney tried to turn back to his work but found he couldn’t concentrate. However much he pushed it aside, every so often he was assaulted by a memory of the morning’s events. He had minded the punishment, painful though it had been, far less than the humiliation of the event, and yet there had been something so familiar about his own sense of hopelessness that his primary emotion when he’d bent over that frame had been one of resignation. That was strange, of and by itself, because he’d never been subject to a judicial punishment before. As a teenager he’d been forced to be old before his time, gaining his first degree at seventeen, mixing with people much older than himself, struggling to fit in but always set apart by virtue of both his age and his brilliance. Then, when his parents had been killed in a car crash shortly after his eighteenth birthday, he’d gone back home to take care of his younger sister. As the only beneficiaries of their parents’ estate, money hadn’t been an issue, and Rodney had simply lived at home during his studies, which had set him apart from his peers even more, but he’d tried to set an example to Jeannie as much as anything, having to be the grown-up in the house now that his parents were gone.


He’d always viewed himself as a fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizen – he might have a brusque manner and a smart mouth but that wasn’t illegal and he had never hurt anyone in his life before that plate of jello had whizzed out of his hands and straight at Bates’s forehead, taking them both by surprise. He hadn’t meant it to happen, was still freaked out that he had done it at all, even while he relished the memory of finally letting go and screaming at a man who had made his life a misery for so many months. All the same, he was genuinely sorry for it, and now he was here, stuck in this place with people who gave every appearance of hating him, if his reception this morning was anything to go by.


A hot sweat prickled on his skin as he replayed the memory again. Him, standing in the doorway…that conversation with Peter that was a complete blank to him now…the look of discomfort in Peter’s eyes – because Peter wasn’t happy having to do this any more than Rodney was happy having to suffer it, not least because Peter of all people knew how brilliant Rodney was, and respected his work. Then there had been the slow walk over to the frame…the unutterable humiliation of unfastening his pants and having to offer himself up for punishment like a common criminal. It had all been so demeaning. He recalled turning his head sideways as he grasped the handles of the frame…and Sheppard had been there, just standing there, watching. Sheppard with his phoney concern, those hazel eyes of his mocking Rodney just as his marines had mocked Rodney.


Rodney took hold of his laptop and threw it across the room with all his force, and then stood there, panting, gazing at the shattered machine which was now lying in a mess of exposed circuitry on the floor.


“Okay then,” he said, his crooked mouth quirking into a stubborn grin. “You may not like me but let’s see you cope without me.”


He glanced around the lab, thoughtfully. He had a mental list of many projects he wanted to work on when he had the time – well, why not now? Why was he flogging himself into the ground to equip this city to run on Naquada generators, a technology not strictly compatible with the way Atlantis was wired, when he could be working on his own pet projects? Oh, he wouldn’t put the city at risk – he had as much of a vested interest in staying alive as the rest of them after all – but he wouldn’t dance to their tune any more. Elizabeth had a list of projects which she’d personally prioritised and Rodney had agreed with her assessment. Despite his sarcastic manner, he’d always been a team player. He liked being part of something – it made him feel as if he belonged somewhere, as if he was vital and integral, and Rodney liked to feel needed. If he couldn’t be popular, he could at least be *necessary*, but now he simply didn’t care any more. After this morning he’d gone beyond caring. Maybe this had been building up for sometime, but Rodney wasn’t thinking with any degree of clarity and his own motivations were a mystery to him. All he knew was that he hurt, lost in his own pain, and his reflex was to lash out in the only way he knew how.


Rodney found another laptop, and scanned the list with a scathing eye. He mentally crossed off the less interesting projects, and inserted some of his own preferred projects instead. Then, with a savage smile, he set to work.




John Sheppard was woken at six a.m. by the soft bleep of his radio. He reached for it, blearily, and cleared his throat into it.


“Sheppard,” he mumbled.


“Sir? It’s Hicks. Uh…we don’t seem to have power down here,” the corporal said. John reached out and flicked on his lamp.


“Working okay here,” he said. “Where are you?”


“In my quarters, sir.”


“Could be a…fuse?” John suggested, knowing that was ridiculous because the city didn’t run on electricity.


“None of the marines have power, sir,” Hicks told him. “Our entire floor is in darkness.”


“Okay. I’m onto it,” John said, swinging his feet over the side of the bed. He clicked the radio frequency to the lab, with a sinking feeling in his stomach, because this meant that he had to talk to Rodney McKay and frankly, after last night, that was the last thing in the world that he wanted to do. “Dr McKay?” he said, in as polite a voice as he could manage. The scientist answered with a brusque, “I’m busy so this had better be important” and John clenched his fists and counted to three before replying. “It is – my men don’t have any power.”


“Yes I know,” Rodney replied. John thought about that for a second because it wasn’t the response he’d been expecting. The scientist didn’t sound remotely surprised.


“And the reason would be?” he ventured.


“I’m working on an experiment that needs power – so I diverted some,” Rodney replied.


“Okay.” John frowned. “Any reason why you diverted it from my men’s quarters?”


“Well it had to come from somewhere,” Rodney snapped.


“And your choice for where that somewhere was wouldn’t have anything to do with what happened yesterday morning, would it?” John snapped back.


“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Rodney replied, and then the link was severed. John sighed, and got up. Clearly this would take some sorting out. He pulled on his uniform and then trotted down to the lab, unshaven, his uncombed hair sticking up from his head. Damn Rodney McKay – he was proving to be even more Trouble than John had expected when he first met the man. Carson was insane to think John could be interested in someone so completely irritating and hostile. John barged into the lab without knocking, ignoring what Rodney had told him the previous evening. The scientist was all alone in the lab, and John suspected, from looking at him, that he hadn’t left the place since their conversation the previous evening.


“Dr McKay, would you care to tell me what experiment is so important that you diverted power from my men’s quarters?” he demanded. Rodney glanced at him with a malicious smile.


“I could explain it to you but I very much doubt you’d understand it,” he said.


“Try me.” John crossed his arms over his chest.


“It would be a waste of my time,” Rodney replied airily, turning back to his work. “You’re undoubtedly too stupid to understand it.”


John uncrossed his arms and went over to the scientist.


“Excuse me?” he said, in a dangerous tone.


“Stupid,” Rodney told him, with only the briefest glance in his direction. “Too – stupid – to – understand.”


It was all John could do not to grab the scientist by the lapels of his lab coat and shake him. Hard.


“Okay, hopefully *you’re* not too stupid to understand *this*,” John told him. “Get that power back on in my men’s quarters within five minutes or there will be unpleasant consequences.”


“Would you like to detail them to me?” Rodney asked. “Just so I know what these unpleasant consequences are?”


John smiled, a slow, frightening smile. “No. I think I’ll just leave them to your imagination,” he replied.


And with that he strode out of the room. He stomped back to his own room, seething. He’d dealt with many difficult people in his time but none of them came close to Rodney McKay for sheer irritation factor. There was the man’s superiority complex for a start, combined with that smug little smile on those crooked lips of his. John wanted to…he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do but he *was* sure that it involved wiping that smirk off McKay’s face. It took a lot to make John lose his cool but he’d come dangerously close to it back there in the lab; people rarely got under his skin like that and it had taken him by surprise. John reached his room, and tapped his radio.


“Hicks – let me know when the power comes back on,” he growled.


“It just has, sir,” Hicks told him.


“Good. Fine.” John took a few deep breaths. It seemed that however obnoxious Rodney McKay was, he did at least know when he was on thin ice which was good – at least John had found a way of handling the problematic scientist. John started to calm down, and he felt much more cheerful as he stripped off his clothes and got into the shower. Carson had been *so* wrong – he wasn’t interested in Rodney McKay – he was merely *exasperated* by the man. Exasperated beyond belief! John turned on the faucet and grabbed the soap, and then let out a surprised yelp as a torrent of freezing cold water descended on his skin. At that precise moment the lights went off. He jumped out of the shower and felt around for his towel and then for his radio – but despite clicking McKay’s frequency there was no reply. There was only one thing for it – John was in such a bad mood by this point that he didn’t even bother pulling on a bathrobe. He simply tied his towel firmly around his waist and strode back down to the lab, dripping ice-cold water in his wake.


Rodney was still alone in the lab when he burst in, and the scientist looked up – and stayed looking as he caught sight of John’s half-naked, furious, dripping wet body. Rodney’s blue eyes widened and his gaze flickered, uneasily, over John’s bare chest.


“Uh…” he said nervously, backing away as John advanced on him. John stopped in front of the scientist and smiled at him, a dangerous smile.


“Can you explain to me why I just had to take a cold shower?” John demanded.


“I’m not in the habit of prying into anyone’s personal life,” Rodney replied, rallying, that crooked mouth of his curving into the faintest hint of a smirk. “If you feel you need a cold shower then that’s between you and your sub, although perhaps you ought to find a sub that takes better care of your needs if it’s come to this.”


“I don’t have a sub,” John replied. “I don’t have any hot water or lights, either.”


“Well, I’m sorry, on both counts,” Rodney replied. “If you had a sub you might be less volatile and therefore less prone to storming around dressed only in a towel.”


“Rodney,” John said, keeping his voice sweet, “I don’t have any lights or any hot water because you have diverted the power in my room to your experiment – as you well know.”


Rodney blinked at him. “Well, you told me to restore the power to the marines’ quarters so I did – but I had to replace that with power from somewhere else. Seeing as you were so adamant about your men having power I assumed you would be happy to go without on their behalf,” he replied briskly, and then he glanced up at John from under his eyelashes, and for just a second there was a hint of mischief about him. John gazed at him steadily for a moment, and then, suddenly, he felt all the tension in his body break. God yes, Rodney McKay was Trouble, but by god he was *exhilarating* Trouble.


“All right. Okay. Here’s how we’re going to play this,” John said softly. “I’m going to go to *your* room and take my shower there – somehow I’m betting the power will be on in there. You are going to restore the power to my room in time for me to use it this evening and make sure it stays on thereafter. And then *we* will say nothing more about this.”


And with that, he turned on his heel and walked back towards the door, suddenly feeling very conscious of the fact that he was bare-chested and barefoot and showing a fair bit of leg in between as well.


“Sure you don’t want to go running to Elizabeth about this?” Rodney called after him. “After all, isn’t that what you military boys like to do?”


John turned, very, very slowly, and was gratified to see an expression of worry flit into Rodney’s eyes.


“Oh I don’t think I need to do that,” John replied. “I think I can take care of you all by myself, Dr McKay. You might want to be careful about just how far you push me though.”


Rodney looked at him with just a hint of uncertainty in those blue eyes of his, and then he shrugged, and started humming as he turned back to his work. John gazed at him for another couple of seconds, eyes narrowed, and then, finally, he left.


The exploits of Dr Rodney McKay became the stuff of legend over the next few days as the entire city spent huge periods of time enduring blackouts, and various other peculiar technological glitches necessitated by the scientist’s mysterious ‘experiments’. Finally Elizabeth called him in, and gave him a direct order to only work on projects she herself had sanctioned. Somehow John was not surprised, three days after that, to be once again watching Rodney McKay entering the punishment room – this time to be chastised for refusing to follow Lady Elizabeth’s direct orders. It seemed as though the entire city was exasperated with the Head of Science, and the turnout was higher than it had been even the first time, although, once again, John noticed that none of Rodney’s team was there. He found that intriguing, just as he found everything about Rodney intriguing, even if the man was incredibly annoying. Stories of Rodney’s brusque temper and manner of talking to his subordinates abounded, and John would have thought that at least one or two of his team would enjoy seeing such a hard taskmaster taken down a peg or two, but that didn’t seem to be the case.


John had procrastinated about whether to attend the disciplinary himself – he wanted to stay away, but somehow he found he couldn’t. So he took a seat and watched as Rodney bounced into the room, looking very different to how he’d looked the last time he’d been punished. This time he was scruffier than ever, and there was a manic gleam in his eye as he took up his position. John found himself transfixed again by the way Rodney angled his face sideways and the expression in those blue eyes; they were defiant, rebellious even, and John had the shocked realisation that a good deal of what was going on with McKay was sheer bravado. He was, quite simply, running wild, and John wondered where this was all going to end. John wanted to take a quiet satisfaction from the scientist’s discomfort, after having had several run-ins with the man over the previous few days, but instead, just like last time, he found himself getting angry, his fists clenching as he watched that faraway look of hopeless desperation creep into Rodney’s eyes once more. John was glad when it was over, and the large crowd had dispersed back into the city. Rodney himself affected not to care, and left the room humming to himself when his punishment was done, to return to his beloved experiments as if nothing had happened.


John made his way to the mess hall and found Carson there, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a medical journal.


“Hey.” John sat down with a weary sigh. Carson barely glanced at him.


“Hey,” he muttered in a short tone. John frowned.


“Anything wrong?”


Carson put his journal down and glared at him. “You’ve just come from the bear pit I presume?” he said.


John shrugged. “Yes. Just…you know…wanted to keep an eye on the mood in the city,” he lied. Carson’s blue eyes looked right through him.


“I thought you were going to step in – show an interest in Rodney,” he said.


“Oh I tried, believe me,” John snorted. “The man is impossible.”


“He knocked you back?” Carson gazed at him keenly.


“Knocked me back? We didn’t even get that far,” John grimaced. “He practically threw me out of his lab the minute I walked through the door. He made it very clear he wasn’t interested in anything I have to say, and I’ve got better things to do than dance around after out of control subs.”


“Oh really.” Carson sat back in his chair and gave him an assessing look. “So, let me get this straight. You went to see Rodney and flashed that charming, laid-back smile of yours at him, and, when he didn’t immediately fall swooning into your bed, you decided it was all going to be too hard for you so you gave up?” He raised an incredulous eyebrow. John felt himself flushing.


“Back off, Carson,” he snapped. “It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t even sure I was interested in him and now that I’ve got to know him a bit more I think I can say categorically that I’m *not* interested in him, so don’t give me all this grief. The man is out of control, and it’s not my damn responsibility to take care of him and sort him out.”


“Isn’t it?” Carson asked softly.


“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”


“Did you know that when he was punished for the incident with the jello, that was the first time Rodney had ever been publicly disciplined?” Carson asked.


John frowned. “Really? I find that hard to believe,” he snorted.


“It’s true. Rodney might be temperamental but he’s never been in any trouble. He’s a good team player, John, and he’s always viewed himself as pretty law-abiding,” Carson said. John thought about it for a moment.


“Well. Okay. That’s a shame. But I still don’t see how that makes him my responsibility.”


“Then think about it,” Carson said bluntly, and John had the distinct feeling that he was being out-topped by another top, which was a very unusual situation for him. Carson got up and leaned forward. “Look, your sex life is your own affair – if Rodney doesn’t do it for you then that’s fine. I don’t care about that. But regardless of that, you still owe him, John.”


And with that, Carson gathered up his journal, and his cup of coffee, and left.


John sat there for a moment, feeling winded. He decided that Carson was one of those tops who fooled you into thinking they were mild-mannered and easy-going while hiding a big damn paddle behind their backs the entire time, to pummel you if you stepped out of line. He wasn’t entirely sure how he’d stepped out of line but he supposed, grudgingly, that Carson had a point. Rodney McKay was clearly in freefall right now, and as at least some of his descent had been precipitated by the incident with Bates, and seeing as how that had taken place on John’s watch, then yes, as far as that went, he had some responsibility towards McKay. He still wasn’t interested in taking the man as a sub – that moment of madness was well and truly over – but there were other things he could do to help.


At that moment the lights went off in the mess hall, leaving him in total darkness. John sighed. “Either that or we spend the rest of our lives in a permanent blackout,” he muttered.



End of Part Two




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