Coming Home: 5. The Training Collar


John got to his feet, held out a hand to Rodney, and hauled him to his feet.


“Close shave,” Rodney said, grinning at him.


“You are going to have to learn to follow orders when we’re offworld,” John told him, rolling his eyes at him.


“Hey – we both got back safely, and if we’d done it *your* way it’s likely you’d be in the belly of a wraith ship right now,” Rodney told him, those blue eyes of his gleaming. John shook his head in disgust.


“Incorrigible,” he muttered under his breath as he turned towards Teyla.


“Did Ford make it back okay?” he asked her. She nodded.


“Just a minute before you, Colonel. Everyone is accounted for except for Sergeant Bates.”


“Bates?” John whirled around and looked at Rodney. “I thought you said you saw Bates running for the gate just after I sounded the alarm.” Rodney looked at him from wide, innocent blue eyes.


“I thought I saw him,” he shrugged. “Maybe I was wrong.”


“Oh for Chrissakes, Rodney! That wasn’t what you said back there! You said you were positive you’d seen him leave.”


“Did I? I thought I said I was pretty sure he’d left but couldn’t swear to it,” Rodney said, glancing at John through his eyelashes. John had been lied to by enough wilful subs in his time to know what was going on here, and he fought down a wave of anger.


“Great. Now I’m going to have to go back for him,” he growled.


“Or you could just leave him there. He’s a grown man…” Rodney began.


“I don’t leave men behind!” John snapped. “Not now, not ever, no matter what. Now you, stay here. Don’t move, don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything until I get back. I want a few words with you.”


John unholstered his gun and turned back to the gate, and was surprised when Rodney grabbed his arm just as he was about to go through.


“No…no, no, no,” the scientist said, a note of panic in his voice. “You’re not going back through alone! There are wraith ships out there!”


“That’s precisely why I’m going alone,” John ground out angrily.


“Wait, no, this isn’t what I wanted….” Rodney bit on his lip. John grabbed his arm, hard, and took him to one side.


“What did you want, Dr McKay? For Bates to get scooped up by the Wraith? For Bates to die out there? Is that what you wanted?”


Rodney shook his head, those blue eyes of his looking horrified. “No. No. That isn’t what I wanted, either,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean…look, let me come back with you. We can find him together.”


“No. You’d be a liability,” John said and Rodney drew back, a strange, crumpled look on his face that John didn’t understand at all but he didn’t have time to consider it. He just turned and threw himself back through the gate without another word.


It was now dark on the planet, but there were three pale moons overhead, giving him just enough light to see a lone figure lurking in the tree line, gazing apprehensively at the wraith dart that was patrolling above the gate.


“Bates!” John roared over the sound of the hovering dart. “Run for it. I’ll cover you.” The sergeant nodded, and started running, and John took up position and fired at the dart, forcing it to move along, out of beam’s reach of either of them. Bates was fast, and a few seconds later they were both able to run back through the gate.


Rodney was still hovering where John had left him, that anxious look on his face. “Oh thank god, Colonel,” he said, running over when John was through the gate.


“You, come with me,” John hissed, grabbing hold of Rodney’s arm and propelling him towards the stairs, and then up towards Elizabeth’s office. He strong-armed Rodney through the door, mentally clicked it closed behind them, and then turned on the scientist.
“What the hell was that about?” he demanded. Elizabeth got to her feet, startled.


“John – what’s going on? Teyla just radioed to say everyone was back safely.”


“Yeah – no thanks to McKay,” John snapped. “I’m struggling to understand this right now, McKay – but did you tell me a deliberate lie that resulted in a man nearly dying out there?”


Rodney thought about that for a moment, and then he gave a world-weary kind of smile and stuck his jaw out in that obstinate way of his.


“Yes, you know, I think I did,” he said.


“Damnit!” John turned away in disgust.


“Rodney – I don’t believe that,” Elizabeth said, gazing at Rodney intently.


“It was Bates,” John told her. “The man we left behind because Rodney told us he’d gone on ahead was Bates.”


“Oh. Okay. *Now* I kind of believe it,” Elizabeth sighed. “But still, Rodney, would you really go this far? Throwing a punch is one thing but leaving a man to get taken by the Wraith? I just find it hard to believe you’d do something like that.”


“I didn’t think he’d get taken,” Rodney snapped. “I just thought it’d scare him a little. I told Colonel Sheppard I’d go back and get him but he wouldn’t let me.”


“Well at least that’s something,” Elizabeth said, but her hazel eyes were hard and angry. “You’ve gone too far this time, Rodney,” she said. “I honestly despair of you.” Rodney rocked back on his heels, a completely unreadable look in those blue eyes of his. “Why would you do something like this?” Elizabeth asked.


John was struck by the shadow that flitted across Rodney’s eyes in response to that question, and he frowned. Something wasn’t right here – something that niggled away at him but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Rodney gazed at Elizabeth, and then he glanced sideways at John, as if searching for something, beseeching for something. For a second John thought he saw an answer in Rodney’s eyes but then it was gone, and Rodney just shrugged, making no reply.


“Rodney,” Elizabeth said in a warning tone. At that moment there was a knock on the door, and Sergeant Bates entered the room. He didn’t even look at Rodney, just stood to attention.


“My lady, Sir – I’ve just heard that Dr McKay deliberately conspired to leave me behind back there,” he said, in crisp tones. “I no longer feel safe working with Dr McKay, and I’d like to request that he be removed from his position.”


Elizabeth sat down with a sigh, and John felt for her. This was a mess, no doubt about it.


“Sergeant – Dr McKay is a senior member of this expedition with expertise that we sorely need – expertise that could save our lives,” she said wearily.


“You’ll forgive me for not finding that very reassuring when he doesn’t seem to have a very high regard for *my* life,” Bates said.


Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Okay. I’ll consider this. Rodney – as you’ve given no defence, please report to the punishment room at eight this evening to take your twenty strokes.” John was watching, but not a flicker of emotion crossed Rodney’s face. “You’re also suspended from duty for now,” she said, and this time the reaction was immediate – but it wasn’t the outrage that John had been expecting. Instead, it was more akin to a wry and hopeless resignation. “Zelenka can take over your work until I’ve given this matter some thought,” she added.


Rodney gave her a tight little nod, accepting her decision without question, which of and by itself John found strangely puzzling for someone as vocal and argumentative as McKay. Then the scientist turned to go. He brushed past Bates on the way out, and the sergeant shuffled to one side, and, as he did so, he muttered something to Rodney. It was only one word, and John wasn’t close enough to be sure he’d heard correctly, but it sounded like Bates had said ‘tonight’. Rodney flinched, and he turned and looked at Elizabeth, and opened his mouth, but she shot him such a forbidding look that he just closed it again, and left the room without saying another word, his shoulders slumped and defeated. Elizabeth excused Bates, leaving the two of them alone together.


“This is really ugly,” she murmured.


“Yeah.” John leaned against the wall, trying to put his finger on this nagging feeling he had, deep in his gut, that things weren’t exactly as they seemed. There was just something…something…. “Elizabeth,” he said suddenly, surprising himself. “Will you let me perform the punishment this evening?”


Elizabeth frowned. “Technically speaking Rodney doesn’t come under military jurisdiction,” she said.


“I know,” John nodded. “But…nothing we’ve done so far has worked, and this situation is getting out of control. Now, we’re stuck out here, and, as you said, Rodney is pretty much our only hope of surviving – we can’t ignore that, any more than we can ignore him deliberately putting a man’s life in jeopardy. However…I think we have to take some responsibility for the way he’s behaving right now.”


She raised an eyebrow and nodded her head, indicating that he should continue.


“That first time he was punished – following the jello incident?” She nodded again. “I made some enquiries and I think that whole event was more complicated than we realised. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you – I thought I’d taken care of it – I had no idea it would escalate like this. However – punishing Rodney for that – I think it kind of broke him,” John said quietly. “He’s a proud man and he was desperately humiliated by it – to the point where he seemed to give up caring. So, I think we kind of owe him.”


“I’d hate to think we did this to Rodney,” Elizabeth said, her eyes dismayed.


“I don’t think we did – not entirely. There’s clearly something else going on with him, and I think he was already kind of losing it before we got our hands on him, but I don’t think what we did helped any – it just pushed him another few steps closer to the edge.”


“Are you suggesting we don’t punish him this time?” she asked. “Because I really don’t think we can do that. I can’t be seen for a moment to be condoning what he did this afternoon – and Bates will make sure that word gets around about it. I’ll have a mutiny on my hands if he’s not punished.”


“No. I agree. He has to be punished. Whatever the circumstances, you can’t leave a man out there at the mercy of the Wraith,” John said firmly.


“And why do you think it will help him if you perform his punishment instead of Peter?” Elizabeth asked.


“I just want to break up the dynamic a little,” John shrugged. “He’s kind of used to the routine of being punished – it’s not working for him, and it’s not getting us anywhere, so I think we need to shake him up a little by doing it differently. Also, I like Rodney – and he’s on my team. He seems to value that, and I think it might have more impact if I punish him.”


“Well…okay,” Elizabeth sighed. “Anything’s worth a try at this point I suppose.”


John went to the mission debriefing, grabbed a bite to eat in the mess hall, and then stopped by Major Lorne’s office to give him a very important instruction. After that he returned to his quarters to take a shower before changing out of his BDUs and into his more usual outfit of black leather pants and black tee shirt. He felt more comfortable once he got into his everyday clothes – they fitted him like a second skin and he needed that right now. He was nervous about performing Rodney’s punishment which was odd of and by itself because he was used to handing out punishments to his men. This was different though. This was complicated, and he didn’t want to do anything that would make the situation worse. Finally, drawing on years of experience as a top, he decided that he’d keep a close eye on Rodney and play it by ear. He had a pretty good idea of how he’d go about this but a lot would depend on Rodney.


John got to the punishment room ten minutes early and he used the time to push the frame to one side, and put a chair facing him, and then, having got the room as he wanted it, he sat down on a chair and waited. Rodney showed up exactly on the dot of eight, as John had known he would, and the scientist hesitated in the doorway, blinking in surprise.


“What’s going on?” He glanced at the empty chairs. “Where’s my loving audience?” he queried, in a bitter tone.


“You know…I don’t think anyone’s coming today,” John said. Rodney gazed at him suspiciously.


“Why the hell not?” he asked. John shrugged.


“Come on in, Rodney, and shut the door behind you,” he said.


“I don’t understand.” Rodney stood there, his blue eyes confused. “Why wouldn’t they come? I’d like to believe it’s because they all love and respect me too much to want to see me being punished but we both know that’s not the case.” He gave a bitter, mirthless little laugh and John felt a pang of sympathy for him.


“Come in, Rodney,” he said again, in a more gentle tone.


Rodney bit on his lip but he did as ordered. John beckoned him over. “Come and sit down,” he said, patting the chair he’d placed opposite him.


“Sit down? Is this…am I being punished tonight?” Rodney demanded. “Because if not, I’d like to go back to my quarters. It’s been a long day, and I’ve had to do far too much running.”


“You are being punished, Rodney,” John told him. “So you’re not free to go.”


“Wait…wait, wait, wait….” The look on Rodney’s face was so horrified it was almost comical. John raised an eyebrow, wondering what the hell was coming next. “Oh god, please tell me you’re not going to be the one punishing me,” he hissed. John gave a wry smile.


“Yup,” he said.


“Why?” Rodney demanded. “And what happened to the whole ‘you’re on my team now’ thing?”


“All the more reason – it was me you lied to, and you did it while you were under my command when we were offworld,” John replied.


Rodney gazed at him, those blues eyes of his still aghast. “But I’m not military!” he protested. “You have no right…and Elizabeth has no right to order this!”


“Something had to change,” John told him firmly. “Clearly the old routine wasn’t working – time to try something new.”


“I don’t like it,” Rodney growled.


“That’s kind of the point,” John replied. “Now, come and sit down.”


Rodney sighed, loudly. “Oh god. This goes from bad to worse. There’s going to be some kind of lecture first, isn’t there?”


“Not really. I just wanted to talk.” John shook his head.


“See – those words never bode well for anyone,” Rodney grimaced, but he did finally walk over and sit down opposite John.


“What’s going on with Bates?” John asked bluntly. Rodney got straight up again and began walking back towards the door. “Sit down, McKay. I’m not done with you yet,” John said, in his most commanding tone. Rodney hesitated, the muscles in his back tight and tense, and then, with a sigh, he turned around and came back to the chair.


“Nothing is going on with Bates,” he said quietly. “I just don’t like the guy.”


“Okay.” John nodded slowly. “There are plenty of people I don’t like but I wouldn’t let them become wraith fodder.”


“Well maybe you’re a nobler person than I am,” Rodney shrugged.


“Or maybe you have more reason to dislike him than I know about,” John pressed. Rodney glared at him but remained mute. John sighed.


“Have you ever thought about finding a top, Rodney?” he asked, surprising himself with that question. Rodney flushed, angrily.


“I don’t want a damn top!” he snapped. “I’m not even looking for a top! The last thing I want is some stupid dominant marching around giving me orders. I *like* being single.”


“I was just thinking – it might give you some grounding.”


“Yeah. Right. Because everything’s about sex, isn’t it?” Rodney shot at him. “God you’re impertinent, Colonel, and regardless of what happened today I don’t have to answer these kinds of questions, so either punish me or let me leave!”


“I’m sorry,” John said quietly. “That was out of line. I just wondered why you’re so unhappy.”
Rodney gazed at him, his blue eyes suddenly big. John took a sharp intake of breath. “You *are* unhappy, Rodney,” John said softly. “I’m not just talking about the way you behave towards Bates – but look at how you are with Elizabeth half the time. Now, I know that’s not like you, because Carson sings your praises, and Radek thinks the sun shines out of your ass.”


“He does?” Rodney looked surprised. “Well, of course, I *am* brilliant. He must find it a humbling experience working with me.”


John swallowed down a laugh. “I’m sure he does, Rodney,” he murmured. “So what’s going on? Why are you so unhappy?”


Rodney gazed at him with those big eyes again and for a moment John thought he might have had a breakthrough, as Rodney looked for just one second as if he trusted him enough to reply…and then the moment passed, the shutters came down again – and that guarded look was back in Rodney’s eyes.


“Ah. Very good, Colonel. Did you learn that little empathy trick in some leadership seminar, hmm?” Rodney asked, crossing his arms over his chest.


“I’m sorry,” John said simply. Rodney frowned, wrong-footed.




“I’m sorry. I should have apologised before for that jello incident. I did make enquiries and I know that there was some provocation there. I thought I should let you know that I’m sorry about that. As I mentioned to you before, I did discipline the men in question.”


“It was a public punishment. A public apology might have been more appropriate,” Rodney said softly. John inclined his head.


“You’re right. I didn’t think of it that way. I’m sorry about that too. I’m not your enemy, Rodney. I like you – and I like having you on my team.”


“Really?” Rodney’s expression brightened momentarily, and then faded. “Well, tough, I guess, because I’m on suspension now.”


“Hopefully not for long,” John said.


“Well…” Rodney gave a tight, twisted little smile. “Maybe not. If I do what…what is expedient, then maybe not. Is it worth it though? Is my job worth that? I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out right now.”


“What do you mean?” John frowned, wondering what the hell Rodney was talking about. “What do you mean by doing what’s ‘expedient’?”


“It doesn’t matter. It’ll be all over by tonight, one way or another.” Rodney shrugged. “Now, are you going to punish me, Colonel? I think Elizabeth mentioned twenty swats.” He got up and went over to the punishment frame. “This seems to have been pushed into the corner.” He put his hand out to move it.


“Leave it. I put it there. We aren’t doing things that way,” John told him.


Rodney turned, startled. “What do you mean?”


“I mean, that this will be different,” John said firmly. “Now unfasten your pants and get over my knees please.”


“What?” Rodney asked, looking completely aghast. “Oh come on, Colonel! No way!”


“The frame wasn’t working. We’re trying something different.”


“It’s illegal!” Rodney snapped. “You don’t get to perve over me, Colonel.”


John glared at him. “Pipe down, McKay – I don’t appreciate that kind of accusation. We’re out here, in a completely different galaxy, all alone, and we’re having to muddle through right now and do the best we can. So, you can either get over my knee and take your swats from my hand, or you can wait until tomorrow and I’ll have Elizabeth arrange it so that Peter can blister your ass with the cane in front of a jeering crowd. So what’s it to be?”


“The cane?” Rodney bit on his lip.


“Yeah. Twenty with the cane – because if Bates really wants to then he can make a case for attempted homicide and Elizabeth wants to head that off. So that was what she said to me – you either take what I hand out, or you come back tomorrow and take something much worse. It’s up to you.”


John sat back and waited. Rodney thought about it, and the minutes ticked by, really slowly. John watched the play of emotions cross his face as he weighed it up, but, eventually, his shoulders slumped in resignation, and he gave in.


“It’s wrong,” Rodney said at last, walking towards him, his hands going to his belt.


“No. It’s unusual – it’s not wrong,” John said.


“Why are you doing this?” Rodney stood there, looking utterly miserable, and John couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He knew this had to be hard for Rodney – an over the knee spanking was something intimate, something delivered by a lover, a parent, or a good friend. It was still a punishment, but it was also a gesture of caring and trust, and Rodney didn’t find it easy to trust anyone. No wonder he was struggling with this. And it *was* unusual – judicial punishments were impersonal affairs and an implement was always used, but John didn’t have any intention of using a paddle or strap – he didn’t think that would reach Rodney in the frame of mind he was in right now, and he really wanted to reach Rodney, before things escalated even more. They needed Rodney too much to just give up on him.


“Because you’ve had a hard time lately,” John replied softly, firmly. “And because I want to help.”


Rodney’s eyes shone an intense shade of blue and he gazed at John helplessly. John gazed back at him, willing him to trust him. Finally, something seemed to give way, and Rodney put his head down and undid his pants, and then lowered himself over John’s knee. He was slightly awkward about it because of the situation, but he had the air of a practised sub, and was soon in position. John took a deep breath. He had known this might be hard for Rodney, but he hadn’t appreciated that it would be hard for him too. Intimacy went both ways after all. John reached for Rodney’s pants and slowly pulled them down, along with his boxers, to just beneath Rodney’s ass, and it was only then that he realised that he’d just made a huge, giant mistake.


There was a reason why judicial spankings were impersonal – and John figured that out a minute too late. He was an experienced top, and he’d handed out a lot of over the knee spankings in his time, but only to lovers, and, a couple of times, to young men under his command who needed a firm but essentially kind hand. He had thought this spanking fell into the latter category, had thought he could easily play the concerned, stern role that he thought Rodney needed right now, but instead he was hit by a wave of something so intense it took him completely by surprise.


This felt right. It didn’t feel like a role he was playing in order to save Rodney from himself. It felt like something he wanted to do, and to do often, not to punish Rodney, but to have him, to keep him, to hold him, to touch him, to *own* him…. Rodney’s weight was solid on his thighs, and John wanted to reach out and stroke his back, the way he might do with a lover, calming and gentling him before a spanking. He had been insulted when Rodney had accused him of wanting to perve over him, but now he suddenly felt uncomfortable in this position. He just hadn’t anticipated this response. He didn’t even want to look at Rodney’s ass, because he wasn’t sure he could trust himself not to want to caress it, and that would be taking the worst kind of advantage of Rodney.


John took a deep breath, and tried to collect himself. He had no idea what was going on. He’d dismissed any idea of taking Rodney as a sub weeks ago. The guy was nothing but trouble – endearing trouble, but trouble nonetheless, and John had never thought a prickly, arrogant, opinionated scientist would be what he wanted from a partner, no matter how blue his eyes, or how plump and perfect his ass. John struggled with these strange, new, and almost completely overwhelming emotions for a moment, trying to get control of himself. This wasn’t the time or place to think about this. He thought instead about the way Rodney had lied to him this afternoon. He liked Rodney, and he felt sorry for the man, but his lie earlier in the day had almost got a man killed – and not just any man – one of *John’s* men. John felt his jaw tightening – he was usually a pretty laidback kind of guy, but that hid some very fierce instincts, and one of his cardinal rules was that nobody ever – *ever* – got left behind. Rodney’s lie could have condemned Bates to death, and, regardless of the circumstances, for that alone Rodney deserved this punishment.


John lifted his hand and brought it down hard on Rodney’s ass. He tried not to think about the enticing pink mark it made, or how Rodney settled down more firmly on his lap in acceptance of it, or the way his buttocks wobbled slightly from the swat. He just wrapped his arm around Rodney’s waist and smacked down another stinging swat, and then another, keeping his hand hard and his pace lively, not allowing Rodney time to recover between the swats. He wanted something to break, wanted to feel some sense of catharsis from Rodney, and for that reason he had no intention of stopping at twenty. This would go on for as long as it needed to go on, and he’d know when that was by how Rodney responded.


The blistering pace continued, and John soon lost count. It was clear that Rodney hadn’t though, as, a few seconds later, he gave a big sigh and tried to lever himself off John’s lap. John held him back down and Rodney struggled, starting to panic.


“That was twenty!” he complained. “Elizabeth said twenty!”


“But *I* didn’t,” John told him. “I just told you that you’d have to take what I handed out – I didn’t say how many. And we’re going to keep going until I’m satisfied we’ve got somewhere.”


“No! Fuck you!” Rodney tried to push himself off of John’s lap but John was more than a match for him, and he wrapped his arm even more firmly around Rodney’s body and started in again.


“A man could have died because of your lie, Rodney,” John told him grimly, as he delivered hard, fast swats to the scientist’s upturned ass.


Rodney just lay there, seeming almost stunned, and then he began to mutter angrily – and it was the first reaction that John had ever seen him give to being punished. John remembered how silently Rodney had taken his previous punishments, and how that had made them all the more soul-destroying to watch, and he realised that this was *good*. This was what he wanted from Rodney – a reaction, any reaction.


Rodney cursed and hollered for the next few minutes, before, finally, he seemed to realise that this wasn’t going to stop, no matter how many names he called John. Then he went quiet again, and John almost thought he’d reached a state of acceptance, but then he glanced at Rodney’s face and saw that it was screwed up, full of pent-up emotions, and it was those that John wanted to shake loose. So he just pulled Rodney closer, and swatted him again. This time he kept up a rhythm on one particular spot on Rodney’s ass, knowing how painful that was, and how hard it would be for Rodney to handle it.


Rodney started to growl, a deep, angry sound in the back of his throat, and he kept on growling for several minutes, until John wasn’t sure whether he was going to break or not. He hoped so, because there was now a very red spot on the scientist’s ass that was starting to look pretty painful, but John knew that he’d go as far as was necessary, no matter how painful it got. After what felt like an eternity, the growling changed into something more akin to a whimper. It was a soft sound, and so sad it almost stopped John in his tracks, but he knew that now was the time he had to continue, harder than ever, if he was ever going to get through to Rodney. He picked another spot on Rodney’s ass and proceeded to smack his swats down there instead, and the whimpering became even more desperate. When John looked back at the scientist’s face he saw real tears streaming down his cheeks. Rodney had buried his face in his arms and was trying to hide his reaction but John saw it, and he knew he’d done what he’d set out to do. He stopped spanking, and, deciding that protocol and regulations and everything else could go fuck themselves, he reached out and gently caressed Rodney’s back. Rodney’s breathing was coming in hitching gasps that John knew had far more to do with his emotions than the spanking he’d just received. Rodney’s ass was glowing a deep crimson, concentrated in two particular spots, one on each buttock, but John thought that maybe, just maybe, this punishment had got though to him in a way the others had not.


He reached out and gently slid Rodney’s boxers and pants up over his punished ass, but Rodney made no move to get off John’s lap. Instead he just lay there, his body convulsing silently, and all the while John continued to stroke his back, gently reassuring him, the way he’d reassure a much cared for sub after a hard spanking. This didn’t feel formal – this felt personal, and intimate, and although John had planned it that way it still took him by surprise to realise just how much it was affecting him. He’d acted purely on instinct this evening, trying to reach out to Rodney in the best way he knew how, and he hoped he’d done the right thing. It felt like the right thing – it felt like he’d read Rodney correctly, and done what was best. John didn’t say a word, and neither did Rodney. The scientist just lay there, wracked by silent, heart-rending sobs, and John just sat there, stroking and comforting him. Then, finally, after what felt like hours, Rodney’s sobbing subsided, and he lay there quietly, still unmoving. John let him go at his own pace – this was about Rodney, not him, and he’d respond to whatever Rodney wanted. Eventually Rodney slid, awkwardly, off John’s lap, and stood up, shakily. John reached out a hand to steady him, and Rodney gave him a wan smile. His face was blotchy, his eyes a shade of bright aqua, and his wet eyelashes were startlingly dark, giving him an almost childlike quality.


“Thank you, Colonel,” Rodney muttered softly. “I think…maybe, you know your art too well.”


John shook his head, wryly. “I needed to see you respond,” he said, just as softly. “You never have before. It had to make a difference or there was no point doing it.”


“Yes. In retrospect I was an idiot,” Rodney said, trying to do up his fly with shaking fingers. “I should have opted for the twenty with the cane. They would have been much easier to take. But then you were sneaky – and I made the mistake of not realising what, precisely, was on offer before agreeing to it.”


“I’m sorry.” John inclined his head. He watched as Rodney finally managed to do up his fly and then fumbled with his belt. “You took that well,” John told him, needing to reach out to him, wanting that connection they’d shared to never end, because while nothing should have changed, everything – *everything* – was different between them now, and could never be the same again.


“You handed it out well,” Rodney replied, with a sound that was halfway between a strangled laugh and a sob.


“Here.” John couldn’t stand watching him fumble with his belt any more, and he reached out and batted Rodney’s hands away and did up his belt for him. Rodney stood there, dreamily, and one hand came up to rest on John’s shoulder, perhaps to keep his balance, or perhaps just by instinct. John finished with his belt and then looked up to find Rodney’s blue eyes very close. There were a hundred things he wanted to say but somehow he couldn’t find the words to say any of them, and Rodney said nothing – he just stared at him with those hazy, tear-stained blue eyes. John guessed that they both knew something extraordinary had happened here, and that while neither of them wanted it to end, neither of them knew how to continue it, either. Finally, Rodney cleared his throat.


“I understand now,” he murmured, glancing at the empty chairs over John’s shoulder.


“Understand what?”


“Why there was nobody here. You told them not to come.”


“Well, I got Major Lorne to tell them, but yes.” John inclined his head.


“Well, for that I thank you.” Rodney inclined his head. “I’d rather die than know the gawping masses had witnessed what just happened.”


“Nothing happened, Rodney. It was just one man needing to let something out – needing to let a great deal out,” John told him. He wanted, with every single impulse in his body, to take hold of the scientist and draw him into a hug.


“No, don’t sell yourself short, Colonel. You broke me, pure and simple,” Rodney replied, in a soft kind of voice. “Now…now I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself.”


“That’s why I’m here. To talk – if you’ll open up,” John said. “I didn’t do that for my own amusement. I want to be a friend to you, Rodney, and I can be, if you’ll trust me.”


Rodney stared at him for a long time, and then, finally, he wiped his sleeve across his face and turned away. “Thank you…but…I think I really need some time alone right now.”


John disagreed. He thought some time alone was the last thing Rodney needed right now but he wasn’t Rodney’s top and he couldn’t hold Rodney, and comfort him, and do all the things that every instinct in his body was screaming out to be allowed to do right now. He could only watch, helplessly, as Rodney gave him a strange, formal, little nod, that was so wrong after what they’d just shared, and then the scientist turned, and walked slowly out of the room.


John sat down, feeling as if he’d been felled at the knees, and he put his head down and tried to concentrate on breathing. He’d had no idea that would be so intense…had no idea that what should have been a routine enough punishment would unleash all these emotions – and he still had no idea what these emotions were. Something about Rodney was making him feel all kinds of things that he had no frame of reference for. He knew he felt some things very deeply – he had a strong protective instinct for the men under his command, and he’d been very fond of the various subs he’d taken in his time, but he’d never felt like this before. This felt like being thrown head first over the side of an abyss, flying through the air in freefall, not knowing where you’d land. What was it about Rodney that evoked this reaction he wondered? What had been so special about spanking him that it had made him feel like this?


He went over and over the events of the past hour in his mind, trying to figure it out, but all it came down to was a sense of loss and total wrongness when Rodney had walked away from him. Something else niggled at John too – something about their conversation that he still didn’t understand. Rodney had spoken about doing something expedient, something that would save his job, and John wondered what the hell he’d been referring to. He hadn’t liked the bleak look in Rodney’s eyes when he’d said that.


John got to his feet. He wasn’t sure what he intended to do but he knew that he’d been wrong to allow Rodney to leave. John ran out into the hallway and along to the transporter. He stepped inside, and then hesitated. Where would Rodney have gone? Elizabeth had put him on suspension but would that stop him from going to his lab? He had spoken about being tired – would he have gone back to his quarters? John thought about it for a moment and then acted on instinct. The lab. It had to be the lab. Rodney might be on a suspension but he’d make sure he had his laptop and anything else he needed if he was going to be sitting around twiddling his thumbs for the foreseeable future.


The hallway leading to the lab was in darkness, which wasn’t a surprise as it was late, and this section of the city was only used during working hours. John thought that maybe he’d made a mistake, and Rodney had gone to his quarters after all, but then he saw that the door to the lab was half open – and a light was shining inside. John strode up to the door and looked inside. Rodney must have only just arrived, because he was grabbing his laptop and various bits and pieces of equipment as John had predicted, moving slowly, taking care not to jolt his sore ass. He still had that dreamy look on his face, as if he wasn’t quite there, his mind someplace else. John had seen subs look like that before, and he knew Rodney was floating away on endorphins right now, still in a post-spanking haze. What he needed was someone to take him by the arm, put him to bed, and watch over him, and John was happy enough to volunteer for that task. He was about to push open the door the rest of the way when the sound of a voice took him by surprise.


“I’ve been waiting for you.”


Rodney froze, all the muscles in his back tensing, and John paused, one arm still outstretched, wondering who had spoken. He couldn’t see anyone from where he was standing, but then he couldn’t see the whole room through the half-open door. Rodney clearly hadn’t been aware of anyone, either, but then he was pretty out of it right now so that wasn’t surprising. John heard the scraping of a chair, and a man came into his field of vision.




John took a deep breath and stayed where he was. What the hell was Bates doing here? And why had he been waiting for Rodney? Hicks had told him that the two of them had barely spoken a word to each other since the jello incident. Bates walked towards Rodney, and John saw that he was carrying a small, metallic box. John frowned – this just got more and more weird.


Rodney finally unfroze and turned, very, very slowly, and John saw a look of weary resignation in his eyes.


“Well played, Sergeant,” Rodney said, nodding his head in a bitterly ironic way. “Looks like you won.”


What the hell was *that* supposed to mean?


Bates gave a tight little smile and came to a halt right in front of Rodney, too close, invading his personal space. John tensed.


“Not yet,” Bates said. “Not until I’ve got you crawling on your hands and knees, Rodney.”
Rodney took a deep breath and backed up slowly until he reached the wall. Bates followed him, still invading his space. John wondered whether to go in there and break things up, but he was curious as to where this was going.


“I haven’t decided about that yet,” Rodney replied. “I…you need to give me more time.”


Bates shook his head. “No more time. It has to be tonight.”


“Why?” Rodney asked, and John frowned at the tone of complete despair in his voice. “Why does it have to be tonight?”


“Because.” Bates put the box down on a table, and then leaned forward and put his hands on the wall on either side of Rodney’s head, trapping the scientist there, effectively pinning him against the wall. John tensed again – this was starting to look ugly. “I was robbed,” Bates hissed and John had to strain to hear what he was saying. “I was looking forward to seeing your fat ass being caned tonight and instead Colonel fucking Sheppard ordered us to keep away. Now, as you tried to get me killed today, I think I’m owed, and tonight is when I collect. I’ve got a cane waiting for you, Rodney, back at my quarters. I’ll stripe your ass with dozens of juicy red welts and then I’ll fuck it into kingdom come…come being the operative word. I’ve got a nice chastity belt for you as well – you won’t be coming tonight, Rodney, or any time soon. From now on, you’re mine, and you don’t get to come unless I say so – and I’m going to damn well make sure you earn it.”


John was transfixed by the emotions crossing Rodney’s expressive face; revulsion, fear, despair…. John felt his hands clench into fists. Was this some kind of sex game, he wondered, fighting down a surge of anger? Was this what Rodney wanted? It sure as hell didn’t look that way.


Rodney closed his eyes, and when he opened them again he seemed to have come to a decision. He jutted out his jaw in that obstinate way he had and John tensed, waiting for his reply.


“No,” Rodney said firmly. “The answer’s still no, Bates. The answer has always been no and will always be no. So do what the fuck you like to me, ruin my career and make my life a misery, but I’m not going to sub for you – not now, not ever.”


John felt a wave of euphoria sweep through him. Thank god for Rodney’s stubborn streak! It might make him infuriating to work with but it also made him a hard man to push around.


Bates shook his head, grinning. “You don’t mean that. You just like playing hard to get.” He stepped back and opened the box. “Here – I brought you this,” he said, taking something from the box and holding it up. John craned his neck to see what it was – and then gave a low hiss of anger. “It’s my training collar,” Bates said, and he held it up so that the links of the chain collar clinked through his fingers. It wasn’t just any kind of a training collar, either – it was a very specific kind indeed, and John wasn’t surprised to see the colour drain from Rodney’s face when he saw it. The collar Bates was offering was a choke collar, like the kind you might put on a boisterous dog to keep it in check. There had been an unsuccessful campaign to make them illegal a few years’ back and John didn’t know any responsible top who’d use one. They were vicious – and in the wrong hands, tightened too far, they could kill. “It’s got my tag on it,” Bates said, holding the collar right up in front of Rodney’s eyes and flicking at the little silver tag with his finger. “It says ‘Property of T. Bates’. You see, Rodney, I want everyone to know you’re mine. I’ll make you wear it day and night so everyone can see who you belong to.”


Rodney made a little noise in the back of his throat, and John saw the look of total horror in the scientist’s eyes. Now everything made sense – the punch, the lie about Bates having left the planet – John wondered how long this had been going on, and felt physically sick at the thought of it.


“Just bend your head, Rodney,” Bates said. “Bend your head for me so I can slip my collar on you.”


“No.” Rodney shook his head. “I told you no. Fuck you, Bates.”


Bates gave a twisted little grin. “No – you’re the one who is going to be fucked, Rodney, fucked long and hard up that fat ass of yours until you scream. Now, bend your head and take my collar – then I’ll go to Elizabeth tomorrow and tell her that now I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve realised it was all a misunderstanding, that you’re a good boy after all, and deserve your job back.”


John felt cold inside as he finally figured out how far this had gone; Bates had planned this, and it must have been going on for some time. How often had Bates sought out Rodney when the scientist was alone and intimidated him like this, John wondered? How often had Bates used Elizabeth – and John himself – to do his dirty work for him, demanding that they punish Rodney, using them to close this nasty little trap around the man? Rodney’s attacks on Bates hadn’t been the unprovoked lunacy of a man out of control – they’d been the reasonable enough response of a desperate man backed into a corner, unable to see a way out.


“Call me sentimental,” Rodney murmured, “but I always thought that when someone offered me their collar it would be a romantic moment. I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of man but I guess I had some stupid fantasy that if I ever allowed a top to put a collar on me that it would be an act of love, not blackmail.”


“Blackmail’s an ugly word,” Bates hissed. “I’m just claiming what’s rightfully mine. Now bend your head. Do it!” He slammed his hand onto Rodney’s shoulder, holding him in place at the same time as trying to sling the collar over Rodney’s head.


It was the first time he’d actually touched Rodney, and John felt something break inside him. He wasn’t even aware of what he was doing as he threw himself into the room, stormed across to where they were standing, and grabbed hold of Bates bodily from behind, pulling him away from Rodney. He threw Bates halfway across the room, and was briefly aware of the look of total shock on the sergeant’s face as he landed, awkwardly, on one of the workstations, and then rolled over and got to his feet. John didn’t even let him draw breath – he was consumed with a kind of anger he’d never experienced before as he charged over to where Bates had fallen, grabbed him by the collar, and then felt a satisfying crunch as his fist connected with the sergeant’s jaw. Once, twice, three times…


“When a sub says no,” John growled, landing blow after blow on Bates’s face, “he means no. It’s not hard to get your head around.”


“What the fuck are you doing?” Bates panted, managing to get his hands up to deflect the angry blows. “This is nothing to do with you, Colonel! It’s private.”


“Oh yeah? ‘Cause it looked more like harassment and coercion from where I was standing,” John growled, throwing Bates across the room again and watching him land with a satisfying thud on the floor.


“He’s an unclaimed sub!” Bates protested, scrambling away on his hands and knees as John advanced on him again. “He’s fair game. Nobody else wants him anyway. I was doing him a favour!”


“He said no!” John yelled, so angry that he could barely see straight. There was a red mist in front of his eyes, and all he wanted to do was grab Bates and pound his fist into his face, over and over again. He was aware that they were living out the cliché of hundreds of really bad movies, two tops going head to head over an un-collared sub, but nothing in his life had prepared him for the way he was feeling right now. He just knew that someone had *touched* Rodney – someone had tried to put their collar on Rodney, against Rodney’s will, and that made him really, really angry.


“He doesn’t know what he wants. He’s falling apart. You’ve seen him – he’s a total fucking mess! Look at him!” Bates spat, still crouching on the floor. John was aware of Rodney scuttling sideways, his face pale and his blue eyes wide with shock at what was happening. He picked up something from the floor and then darted forwards, cutting in front of John, making straight for Bates. John heard a clinking sound, and next thing he knew Rodney had thrown the collar over Bates’s head and tightened it around his neck with one vicious pull on the loose end of the chain. Bates gave a strangled gasp and put his hands up to his neck, trying to free himself.


“Yeah, look at him,” Rodney said, in a bitter tone, looking down on the sergeant with an expression of withering disgust. “How does it feel to be on the receiving end for a change, hmmm, Bates? Here, Colonel…he’s one of your men – you deal with him,” Rodney snapped, handing the end of the choke chain to John. John took it, loosening it off a fraction, and Bates knelt there, gasping for breath, clawing at his throat. Rodney shot him one last look, and then he turned on his heel and left the room.


John wanted to run after him, but first he had to deal with Bates. The sergeant was a mess – his jaw was bruised, one of his eyes was closed, and there was blood dripping down one side of his face and onto his uniform. John reached out and gave him a casual backhander, still holding onto the chain, and Bates went swinging away. John pulled him back and Bates put up his hands to protect his face. John wanted to hit him again – but the man was defenceless and he knew he’d gone far enough.


“Fuck you,” Bates was hissing. “You had no right to interfere, Colonel. It was a sex game…he was nearly mine….”


“No he wasn’t – and if it was a game, only one of you was damn well playing,” John growled. “Now get your ass up and along to the infirmary, *Corporal*. Yeah, you heard me. I’m busting your sorry ass down a rank. From now on you’re on a punishment detail – I want to know where you are every single hour of every single day. Starting with right now.”


He undid the choke chain from around Bates’s neck and held it up. “And these? Are fucking dangerous – as you now know, first hand.” He turned around and threw the collar hard against the wall. It smashed into the surface and then slid down to the floor, where it came to rest in a little crumpled heap. “Tell me, Bates, were you trying to get us tops a bad name with the subs on this base, hmm? Because if so, you’ve damn well succeeded.”


John tapped on his radio and called for two of his men to escort Bates down to the infirmary.
“He is not, under any circumstances, to be left on his own,” John told them when they showed up a couple of minutes later. “When Dr Beckett is done with him you can escort him back to his quarters and stand guard outside. He’s to report to Major Lorne at 08:00 tomorrow morning and you will escort him there.”


“You’re making a big mistake, Colonel,” Bates panted as he was marched out of the room. “I’m good at my job and you don’t have many replacements to choose from out here!”


“Oh, somehow I think we’ll manage,” John snorted, and then he turned away in disgust.


He stood in the room, hands on hips, breathing heavily, trying to calm himself. He still felt angry. He felt as if he wanted to take his fist and bury it in living flesh, to hurt and lash out and destroy – and that was disturbing of and by itself. It wasn’t like him – usually he was able to keep a tight lid on his emotions but there was something about this situation that was making that impossible for him right now. He didn’t know why he was reacting like this – he’d seen some abusive tops in his time, had even taken one or two aside and dealt with them in person, but none of them had affected him like this. If he closed his eyes he could still see Bates advancing on Rodney, *touching* Rodney, pinning him to the wall and trying to get his collar on him. A wave of total revulsion twisted in his gut, taking John by surprise, and he leaned over and retched up his guts onto the floor of the lab. He felt as if he was being held in thrall by his own emotions, and they were eating him up, spiralling away from him. He’d never felt like this in his life before and he was so freaked out he didn’t know what to do. One part of him wanted to go after Rodney, to check he was okay, but the man wasn’t his sub and he had no rights over him. Another, darker, part of him wanted to go after Bates, to hold him down and kill him with his bare hands, and that disturbed him so much that he started to tremble, honestly unsure that he could control himself.


Eventually he staggered towards the door, reaching for some gum in his pocket to take the taste of vomit from his mouth. He needed to see Rodney. It was like some kind of physical imperative, and he felt utterly helpless as he followed where his emotions led, which was a new experience for him. He knocked loudly on Rodney’s door, and then waited. He heard a noise inside, but nobody answered the door.


“It’s me, Rodney!” he yelled. “Sheppard.” He banged on the door again, and this time it was opened, and Rodney stood there, gazing at him warily. “I just…” John suddenly didn’t know what to say. His eyes raked over Rodney’s body, flickering over his neck, where Bates had wanted to put his collar, and he fought down another wave of nausea. “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” John managed to finish. Rodney’s blue eyes were unreadable.


“I’m fine. You were the one who did all the heroics,” he muttered, in a bitter tone.


“Why didn’t you tell someone?” John flashed back angrily. “Why the hell didn’t you come to me, or Elizabeth – or hell, even Carson, and tell us what he was doing to you all this time?”


Rodney’s eyes were sullen and…ashamed? “I’m the second in command on this base. I’m not…some…some stupid kid who’s just woken up to the fact he’s a sub and is having to figure out how to handle the unwanted attentions of some thick-skulled top. I’m…it was….” He shook his head. “I should have been able to handle it,” he muttered.


“You shouldn’t have had to,” Sheppard sighed, remembering what Radek had said about Rodney being a proud man. He couldn’t stop himself devouring Rodney with his eyes, wanting to touch him, to own him, to claim him. The adrenaline was still running high; he was a top who’d fought another top over a sub and won…and there was something old in his blood that wanted to reach out and take his prize to his bed, to mark him with bites, to kiss him and fuck him and possess him completely, so that nobody was in any doubt as to who he belonged to, and nobody would ever try and touch him again.


“If you wanted me to thank you then…thanks,” Rodney muttered gracelessly.


“I don’t want your damn thanks,” John growled.


“Then why are you here?” Rodney’s jaw jutted out in that familiar way and John longed to grab it and kiss that crooked mouth. He could see that wouldn’t work though. Rodney had just fought off the attentions of one unwanted top this evening, and he didn’t look as if he was in any mood to entertain the advances of another. John’s stomach contracted in need, but he was just about in control of himself enough to know that now was not the time to make any claims on Rodney. Instead he took a fierce mental grip on himself and nodded at the scientist.


“Like I said – I just wanted to see if you’re okay.”


“And like *I* said – I’m fine.” Rodney nodded back, curtly.


“I’ll speak to Elizabeth of course,” John said, in a softer tone, unable to take his eyes off Rodney. “About the suspension. We need to talk about what happened. I’ll arrange a meeting for tomorrow.”


“I don’t want anyone to know what happened,” Rodney snapped.


“Well tough,” John snapped back. “This has gone beyond what you want, Rodney. Elizabeth needs to know about this if she’s to do her job properly.”


“Great. Fine. Whatever. Can I go to bed now?”


John tried not to think about what Rodney would look like, lying naked in bed, a nice set of cuffs around his wrists.


“Sure. I’ll see you tomorrow.” It took every ounce of his strength to tear himself away from that door, and walk back down the hallway, away from Rodney.


Once he got to the end, he started to run, and he didn’t stop until he had sprinted down to the south-west pier and was standing in a torrent of pouring rain, looking out over the black ocean. He stood there for a long time, breathing heavily, his dark hair inky-wet, but his emotions were as strong and urgent as ever. Finally, he forced himself to run again, to run so fast and pound his body so hard that he could think about nothing else except the beating of his heart and the raw wind gusting into his face, blowing sheets of rain at him. He ran and ran, hoping to outdistance his own emotions and be swallowed whole by the dark, Atlantean night.




End of Part Five



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