Coming Home: 6. The Commitment Collar


It was late by the time Carson Beckett finished up at the infirmary. Bates had needed a few stitches and required quite a bit of tidying up as well. Carson still wasn’t entirely sure how the man had come by his injuries – he looked as if he’d been given something of a beating, but he’d remained tight-lipped about the cause of the wounds, and the guards with him hadn’t given him much of a clue, either, although Carson gathered they were there by order of Colonel Sheppard so he guessed that the colonel knew what the hell was going on, even if he didn’t.


Now it was late, and Carson was so tired that he almost trod on the wet bundle of a man sitting in his doorway.


“What the…?” he began, and then he bent down and took a closer look. “Christ, John, what the hell are you doing lying here like this?” he whispered. John Sheppard looked terrible – truly the worst Carson had ever seen him. He was wet through, his black tee shirt sticking to his skin, and his dark hair wind-tousled and slick with water, but that wasn’t what struck Carson most. Instead, he was drawn to the expression in the colonel’s usually friendly hazel eyes. Carson winced – he recognised that look, knew, instinctively, that this was a top in trouble, and suddenly he had no doubt at all that John’s current condition was directly related to Bates’s injuries.


“You’d better come inside, lad,” he sighed, opening the door to his quarters. John got up, stretching out those long legs of his as he pulled himself upright, and then he followed Carson into the room, dripping water as he went.


Carson didn’t say a word to the man. He just guided the colonel into a chair, slung him a towel, and then, while John was towelling down, Carson brewed some tea, filled it with sugar, added a dram of whisky, and handed it to the colonel. John took a sip and then made a face. Carson shrugged.


“Drink it,” he advised. It wasn’t a tone of voice that anyone had ever yet refused, and even John Sheppard, confident top though he was, just got on with it and swallowed the sweet tea down in gulps. Carson found the colonel a fresh tee shirt and a pair of sweat pants and gave them to him, pointing in the direction of the bathroom. “First you get changed, then you come out here and we talk,” he said firmly. John took the garments without a word, like the most obedient of subs, and disappeared into the bathroom. Carson took off his white coat, and pulled on a fresh sweater of his own. He was tired, and it was late, but somehow he thought this might take awhile. He poured himself a measure of whisky and downed it in one gulp, and then he sat down on the side of the bed and waited.


The colonel reappeared a few minutes later, and hesitated in the doorway, holding his damp, crumpled clothes.


“Leave those in the bathroom,” Carson instructed. “And get yourself over here, John.”
John did as he was told and sat down on the chair by the bed. The sweatpants were too short for his long legs and his ankles poked out of the bottoms, incongruously.


“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to inconvenience you.” His body was shaking ever so slightly, and Carson frowned and took a blanket from the bed and wrapped it around his shoulders.


“No apologies required. I’m your doctor and your friend – so it isn’t an inconvenience,” he said firmly. “What happened tonight, John?”


John looked up, and there was a burning expression in his eyes that Carson had never seen before. Usually the colonel was so laidback, rarely looking as if he cared about anything very deeply, but he certainly seemed to care about something right now.


“I can’t control it,” John said, still shivering. “I feel like…I came here because I was worried about what I’d do, Carson.”


“About what you’d do…? Ah.” Carson nodded. “I presume this has something to do with Bates? I’ve just finished with him and someone gave him a nasty beating; judging by the condition of your knuckles, that someone would be you.” He glanced at the knuckles on John’s right hand, which were red raw and bleeding in places. “If you’re worried that you might be tempted to go back and finish the job then I think you can rest easy on that score. You posted a couple of guards on him remember?”


John nodded, his eyes hazy.


“What did he do?” Carson asked.


“Tried to force his collar on Rodney, to make him sub for him.” John’s hands clenched into tight fists, and Carson winced at the look in his eyes. “It’s been going on for weeks, Carson – the coercion, harassment, physical intimidation – been going on right under our noses, and we didn’t see it.”


Carson got up, his jaw tightening. “That bloody bastard. If you hadn’t already taken care of it I’d go and sort the bugger out myself,” he muttered. “Is Rodney okay?” He wanted to go to his friend, to check for himself that Rodney was all right, but John’s need seemed more pressing right now so he forced himself to stay.


“He’s fine. He’s his usually prickly self in fact.” John gave a wry ghost of a grin. “But I’m not fine, Carson. I’ve been an idiot.”


“I’m sure you have,” Carson said wryly. “About what in particular?”


“About everything I think.” John shook his head. “I didn’t see what Bates was doing. I…punished Rodney tonight for lying to me, for leaving Bates behind when we were offworld, but I can’t honestly say I blame him now that I know what was going on. What he did was wrong, of course, and I can’t ever condone leaving a man behind like that, but…all the same, I can see why he did it.”


“Rodney’s a big boy, John,” Carson told him firmly. “If the punishment was unjustified he could have argued his case but he gave you nothing.”


“He was ashamed.” John fastened his fingers around his cup and stared into the dregs.


“Is it guilt you’re feeling? Is that why you’re here?” Carson asked, hoping that wasn’t the case. If John wanted some kind of punishment to relieve his emotions then he’d do it – he’d done it for other tops before – but it wasn’t something he enjoyed.


“No.” John shook his head. “I can’t keep the feelings under control, Carson. I…I’ve never felt like this before and it’s driving me insane. When I saw him just now…oh christ, I want him, Carson. I want him so much it *hurts*.”


Carson rocked back on his heels and gazed at the colonel. He wasn’t surprised by this news, but he was surprised by how John was handling it.


“It’s all I can think about. Touching him, claiming him, kissing him…I feel like if I can’t have him it’ll kill me. When Bates tried to put his collar on him….” John got up, and slammed his fist against the wall. Carson winced – John’s knuckles were already torn so that had to hurt. “If anyone touches him I don’t know what I’ll do. How can I work with him?” John asked in despair. “If we’re out in the field and he gets hurt, or if someone threatens him…how will I be able to control myself?”


“You’ll learn,” Carson said, in a hard tone. “You’ll learn because you have to. Now come here and sit down.” He got out the emergency medical kit he kept in his nightstand and beckoned the colonel over. There was no use soft-soaping the man, and sending him on his way with platitudes. John had a real problem, and it was one that Carson had encountered before, so he wasn’t going to make light of it. Some tops, usually those at the more dominant end of the spectrum, *did* find it hard dealing with the strength of their emotions towards their subs. He was just surprised that John, of all people, felt this way, and the man would need real, hard-headed support, if he was going to handle it.


John did as he was told, and Carson took hold of his hand and examined the knuckles.


“Well I don’t think anything’s broken,” he said, wiping some gel over John’s hand and reaching for a bandage.


“Have you ever felt like this?” John asked. “Christ, what’s going on. Why can’t I…?” He pulled his hand away, got up again, and started pacing impatiently around the room like a caged panther.


“Sit down, Colonel. Now,” Carson ordered, in as hard a tone as he possessed. John gave a low growl, but did as he was told, and Carson finished bandaging up his hand. “I know it hurts – oh, not your knuckles – how you’re feeling – but you’ve got no choice but to learn to live with it, John, because it won’t be going anywhere,” Carson told him firmly.


“You don’t know what it damn well feels like!”


“No, I don’t. That’s not to say I’ve never had moments of romantic despair,” Carson grinned, “But no. I’ve never experienced what you’re going through, but I do know you can control it.”


“How?” John asked bleakly. “Damn it, Carson, what’s happening to me? Why do I feel like this?”


Carson gazed at him for a moment and then burst out laughing. John glared at him.


“I’m sorry, laddie,” Carson sighed, shaking his head. “I didn’t realise. You don’t know, do you, John?”


“Know what?” John gazed at him blankly.


“You’re in love, John. That’s what you’re feeling. You told me that you’d never been in love before – well, this is how it feels for you.”


“I’m in love? With Rodney?” John looked so surprised that Carson had to bite on his lip to stop himself laughing again.


“Yes, John. With Rodney,” he grinned. “I know he’s not someone you’d probably actually *choose*, but it seems as if your heart’s ignoring your brain on this because you are head over heels in love with him. I suspect you have been for some time but just didn’t want to face up to it until events forced you to sit up, and take notice. And to be honest, I think your brain’s got it wrong because you and Rodney would make a good couple. You’re calm – well, usually anyway – and he’s excitable. He’s smart – but you’re smart enough to keep up with him, which god knows he needs. You’re laidback enough not to crush all the spirit out of him, and he’s interesting enough to keep you always entertained.”


“He’s also arrogant, argumentative, and sarcastic,” John pointed out.


“Aye, and loyal, brave, and funny,” Carson replied. John sighed and buried his head in his hands.


“Did you think it was just a sex thing?” Carson asked. “That all you had to do was fuck him and then you’d feel all right again?”


“I don’t know. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just knew I had all these…goddamn *feelings* and they wouldn’t go away. You sure there’s nothing you can give me for this, Doc?” He gave Carson a hopeless kind of smile.


“I’m afraid I can think of only one cure, laddie,” Carson grinned, patting his arm affectionately.


John shook his head and groaned. “He’ll barely speak to me,” he sighed. “I just broke him with a punishment I’m sure he feels he didn’t deserve, he’s just been relentlessly pursued by an abusive top who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and he’s told me point blank he likes being single and he doesn’t want, and I quote, ‘some stupid dominant marching around giving me orders’. What the hell chance do I have of changing his mind?”


“Well…I know you’ve not had much experience in this field, but speaking as one not as naturally gifted in the looks department, or as effortlessly charismatic as yourself, I can tell you that romancing a sub is an art form of and by itself, and one I’d be happy to give you some pointers in,” Carson said.


“Romancing?” John raised an eyebrow.


“Aye,” Carson grinned. “I know, it’s a whole new world for you, laddie. They usually fall at your feet in droves, but this particular sub will be worth the effort, I’m sure.”


“How do you know that?” John asked.


“Because you love him.” Carson shrugged. “It’s as simple as that.”


“Supposing I’m crap at this romancing thing?” John asked, and Carson smiled to himself because he’d never have thought that John Sheppard of all people would lack confidence in affairs of the heart.


“Supposing he turns me down, Carson? Supposing I can never have him?” His voice broke a little as he said that.


“Then you’ll have to live with that,” Carson shrugged. “The days are long gone when a top could just claim an un-collared sub and take them by force.”


“I’d never force anyone!” John said, in an angry tone.


“Calm down, laddie. I know that.” Carson patted John’s arm again. “But as for Rodney turning you down – why would he? You’re a good-looking man and most of the subs on this base would offer themselves to you given half the chance. You just have to work at it. You’ve already won his trust, John – I’ve seen the way he looks at you, and he might fight it but he has learned to trust you. Now you have to court him.”


“Court him? Who says that any more, Carson?” John grinned, shaking his head.


“Well, I’m Scottish, and my mam often talked of courting my dad. I like it,” Carson replied, smiling. John’s grin faded, and he looked thoughtful.


“Okay. I’ll court him, for want of a better word, Carson. I’ll do anything it takes. I want him – not just for a quick fuck but for good. I’ve never put a collar on anyone, never shared a plate, or done any of those things. I’ve never *wanted* to – but…I want to with Rodney.” John shook his head, looking somewhat amazed by this revelation. Carson smiled.


“Aye, well, love can take the best of us by surprise, lad,” he said, feeling a little pang, and suddenly envying his friend his new found love. Was there anyone out there for *him* he wondered? He’d taken subs before, many of them, had even fallen in love with some of them, and had his heart broken by a couple of them, but he’d never found the right person. Someone to settle down and grow old with. Someone to put his collar on and share a plate with. He’d always hoped he’d get married one day but he was getting older and there was no sign of anyone on the horizon. He wasn’t looking for the perfect sub – just the perfect sub for *him*. He sighed.


“You know, John, you have no idea how lucky you are,” he said. “You might be hurting right now but you can make this come right.”


“You won’t tell Rodney?” There was a note of anxiety in John’s voice.


“No. I won’t tell anyone. Now…it’s getting late and I think we both need some sleep. Do you trust yourself to go back to your room and get some rest?”


John took a deep breath, and then nodded.


“Any problems, just call me.” Carson gestured to his headset which was lying on the nightstand.


John got up. “I will. And…thanks, Carson,” he said awkwardly. Carson just shook his head and pulled the colonel into a brief hug before releasing him and booting him out of the door.




John returned to his quarters feeling much happier than he had before he’d gone to see Carson. So, he was in love. At least that made sense of all the wild emotions he seemed to be experiencing, and at least he had a chance of doing something about it. He thought of Rodney, wondering what it would be like to claim the scientist for his own, to quell those restless hands by placing them in cuffs, and to silence those endlessly talking lips with a long, deep kiss. John had topped many subs in his time, but he’d never claimed one for his own, or demanded any kind of submission outside the duration of a sex game. He’d never wanted to, never been remotely interested in assuming all the responsibilities and pleasures that came from putting a collar on another human being. He thought he was a good top – he knew tricks that made his subs sigh with pleasure and kiss his feet in gratitude, but he’d always kind of played at it before. This was different. This felt serious. This went way beyond sex and into new territory completely, and he didn’t want to screw it up.


He wanted Rodney but he wanted his heart and soul as well as his body. He wanted to see those blue eyes gaze up at him with trust, love, and affection, and he knew this was too important to fuck up by moving too fast, or demanding too much, too soon. Rodney was special. He wasn’t the easy lay John was used to. He’d need time, need to be gentled like a spirited colt, need to be loved into submission. That’s where Bates had got it all so very wrong. Rodney couldn’t be harried or coerced – he had to be won, like the prize he was, and John was determined that he’d do it, however long it took. One day he’d take Rodney McKay to his bed and make him his, and if it was the hardest thing he ever did he didn’t care because it was also the most important thing he’d ever do, and he’d damn well do it right.


John went over to his closet and took out a small box. He’d carried it on all his postings but hadn’t looked at it in years. His fathers had given it to him on his twenty-first birthday, just a few weeks before they’d died. John thought of Rodney, losing both his parents at an even younger age, and he wondered if that accounted for some of his attraction to the brilliant if wayward scientist. It was something they had in common, and although John suspected they came from very different families, it gave them a kind of connection.


John opened up the box and looked at the collar lying inside on a bed of silk. It wasn’t a wedding collar – you would only ever fashion a wedding collar for your sub’s specific measurements and to your own personal tastes – but it was a commitment collar. Some people might call it a training collar but John had never liked that term. If he ever put a collar on a sub it wouldn’t be to train them – it would be to show them they were loved, and to show the world who they belonged to, making it clear to other tops that this particular sub was most definitely not unclaimed.


The collar was a thick strip of white gold, sturdy enough to take a leash if you wanted to attach one, but slim enough to lie easily against the neck. Commitment collars took many forms, but this one was a very fine piece of jewellery. John slid his fingers over the collar, caressing it. He’d never taken much interest in it before, perhaps because he’d never been remotely interested in collaring a sub before. Putting a collar on a sub was a huge deal and it wasn’t anything John had ever fantasised about. In his view it was mainly subs that made a big issue out of being collared, and he could point to a plethora of movies on the subject to prove his point, but now, for the first time in his life, he suddenly wondered what it would be like to place his collar around a sub’s neck and have the right to claim that sub as his own. He had a mental image of Rodney, kneeling in front of him, blue eyes gazing sweetly up at him, and he shivered, surprised by the raw force of his own sexual response to that image.


He knew that one of his own fathers – his biological father, Adam – had worn this collar, briefly, before accepting his other father’s wedding collar. John hadn’t thought about his parents for a long time, not because he hadn’t loved them but because their loss still hurt in some place deep inside. He thought he’d walled off that part of his heart until tonight, outside in the dark and the rain, when he’d come to understand that there were some emotions you could never outdistance, no matter how fast or how far you ran.


He remembered Adam – tall and dark haired, with an impish grin that charmed everyone except his other father, Gil, who would see through it, shake his head, pull Adam close, and scold him while laughing affectionately the whole time. Gil had been broad and blond, muscular and stocky. The Sheppards were an old, military family, and they did things the time-honoured way, opting for only the most traditional of marriages and living their lives by the vows they made to each other. They had met in the military when Adam had been a raw recruit, eighteen years old and full of potential, and Gil was his lieutenant, four years’ older, with an outer toughness that hid a kind heart because he was the gentlest man John had ever known. It had been a love match that never wavered in the thirty years they were together, right up until their deaths. The mission they’d been on was classified, and to this day John had never uncovered the full details, but he did know that Adam’s unit had gone missing behind enemy lines, and Gil had gone back for him. The Sheppards never left anyone behind – it was the golden rule that John had been brought up with. Gil had been injured in the rescue attempt and Adam had carried him home, desperately trying to keep him alive through the lifebond they shared. Gil had fought to live, but he had massive internal injuries and he’d died in Adam’s arms in the hospital. Nobody knew precisely how the lifebond worked, whether it was the shock of its loss that killed the surviving partner, or whether the bond was so strong they had no choice but to follow their bonded mate into death, but Adam had died just moments later, lying on Gil’s hospital bed, their bodies entwined. They had been buried together at Arlington.


John fingered the collar thoughtfully. The pain of his loss still hurt, even after a lifetime of suppressing it, and John realised now why he never looked at this collar. He hadn’t understood how love could be so strong that a person could die of its loss. Secretly, John had always wondered whether it was essentially selfish to lifebond with another – especially when you had a child. True, he’d been technically an adult when his parents had died, but he had still felt that his heart had been ripped out of his body, leaving him raw with pain. John had always distrusted love after that, fighting shy of any emotion that could leave such devastation in his wake. He’d joined the Airforce, because he couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but he tried not to think about the men who had loved and raised him, and had avoided loving anyone else since their deaths, wanting to spare himself the pain that came with losing people you care about so much.


Only love had found him anyway, and he was discovering that it hurt every bit as much as he’d always feared – but also that it brought with it an intoxication all of its own.


John replaced the collar gently in its box, and instead of putting it back in the closet, he placed it on his nightstand, where he could see it. It was time, he thought. Past time, maybe. In his mind’s eye he could see both his fathers playing with him in the park. He could see Gil throwing him into the air and catching him safely in his strong hands, and remembered how Adam’s dark hair would flop into his eyes as he bent to scoop a giggling John into his arms. John thought about the way that Gil would always wrap his arm around Adam’s waist and slide his hand down the back of his jeans and just rest it there, laying claim to him, and making sure the world knew who he belonged to, and his heart suddenly ached. Damnit, he *missed* them. But that was only one part of the ache – the other part, both more urgent and more painful, was the knowledge that he wanted that kind of love for himself.


John took off the clothes he’d borrowed from Carson and slid into bed, feeling surprisingly calm and relaxed. Now he *knew* what was going on for him he could stop fighting it and just think about how good it would feel to curl his fingers in Rodney’s soft hair, to press his lips against Rodney’s crooked mouth, and to sink his cock into Rodney’s beautiful round ass. He remembered that ass lying over his lap just a few short hours ago, how he’d wanted to stroke and caress it, and how right Rodney had felt bent over his knee, submissive and accepting, and he went to sleep with a smile curving on his lips.


He was woken, several hours later, by an urgent knocking on the door and he got up and staggered, bleary-eyed, to open it. Carson was standing there, a worried look in his blue eyes.


“Is Rodney in here?” he asked, glancing over John’s shoulder at the empty bed behind him.


“I’m afraid not.” John frowned. “Why? Has something happened to him?”


“I don’t know. I went to his room as soon as I thought he’d be up – he keeps some very strange hours – but there was nobody there. I went to the lab, the mess hall…kept trying on his radio but there’s no reply. After what you told me about what happened last night…I’m a wee bit worried about him.” Carson’s forehead was wrinkled up in concern, and John felt his stomach do a little flip. If anything had happened to Rodney….


He turned and grabbed his own radio from the nightstand to check first of all that Bates was accounted for, but he was told that the corporal hadn’t left his room all night.


“Where can he be?” Carson fretted, pacing the room frantically while John pulled on his BDUs.


“I don’t know.” John shook his head furiously.


“I should have checked on him last night. I was going to but you said he was okay….”


“I thought he was!” John growled. “I went to see him and he bit my head off as usual. No change there.”


“We should have thought though,” Carson sighed.


“I know.” John was kicking himself over and over again. He knew what a proud man Rodney was, and first he’d broken down his barriers with that punishment, forcing him to give in and cry which must have been the last thing he wanted to do, and then he’d witnessed that grotesque scene with Bates and that obscene training collar…. It would hardly be surprising if Rodney had felt unable to cope with the evening’s events but…where would he go?


John finished dressing and then ran down the hallway towards Rodney’s quarters, with Carson hard on his heels. He easily opened the door with a mental flick and charged inside…and then stopped. Rodney wasn’t a very tidy person, and his room was strewn with laptops and page upon page of notes. There was a Rodney-sized dent on the middle of the clearly un-slept in bed, and dozens of sheets of paper lying on the floor. John frowned and picked up the notes from the floor.


“Looks like he was lying here, hanging over the end of the bed, working on these,” John said.


“Aye, and no doubt into the early hours if I know Rodney,” Carson said, peering over John’s shoulders to read the notes.


“These are the transcripts he took off that temple,” John said slowly.


“When Rodney is really in a bad way he has a tendency to throw himself into his work and try and block everything else out,” Carson said, glancing around the room, looking for more clues. “Perhaps we should get Radek to decipher the notes?” he suggested to John.


John shook his head. It wasn’t easy following Rodney’s scrawl, but he wasn’t stupid, and he got the gist of what was in them.


“Oh shit,” he said, stuffing the notes in his pocket and running for the door.


“What is it? What did you find?” Carson said, running after him.


“Rodney thinks he’s found the location of a ZPM,” John said, as he ran for the gateroom.


“But…are you saying…surely…he wouldn’t have gone there…alone?” Carson puffed. “Why would he do that?”


“Because everything fell apart for him last night, and this…this was his way of trying to piece some of himself back together again,” John said grimly.


They got to the gateroom and John ran up the stairs two at a time to find the nightwatch gate technicians sitting at their post.


“Have you seen Dr McKay?” he demanded.


They looked at each other, and then back at him. “Yes, sir. He went through the gate,” one of them offered, stammering slightly in the face of John’s brusque and agitated manner.


“When?” John demanded.


“About four hours ago, sir,” the other one said.


“And you didn’t think that was odd?” John growled. “That he’d go through the gate in the middle of the night?”


“Well, it was Dr McKay,” the first one muttered. “And everyone knows he does weird shit.”


“He had security clearance,” the second one added. “It’s not up to us to tell a senior member of this expedition that he can’t go through the gate.”


“And we have protocols,” John fumed. “Lady Elizabeth approves all offworld trips.”


“Dr McKay was very insistent,” the first one said, looking panicked.


“Plus…he kind of yelled at us,” said the second. “And you know how he can be when he does that.”


John sighed. Yeah, he knew just how Dr Rodney McKay in full sarcasm mode must have come over to these two.


“Have you heard from him since then?” Carson asked, coming up behind John and putting a hand on John’s shoulder, calming him. The technicians looked at each other blankly.


“He called to say he was through okay,” one of them said.


“And you’ve heard nothing since?” It was all John could do not to grab them both by their shirts and bang their heads together. He liked working with scientists but god knows he sometimes wondered how they got by with so little common sense.


“Um…no,” they replied, looking a little sheepish.


“Dial up his destination. We’re going through,” John said, turning.


“Aye, that we are,” Carson said. “And let Elizabeth know what’s happening, lads – okay?”


“And if we don’t call in every hour, on the hour, then for god’s sakes get Lorne to send a unit of marines after us!” John snapped, running for the gate.


“Just a second, Colonel. I’m not going offworld without a medical kit,” Carson said, trotting down the steps towards the storage hatch where they kept emergency offworld provisions. John growled, hating any delay, but Carson was right, and he waited, impatiently, by the gate, as Carson grabbed a kit and checked the contents. John tried to keep a tight clamp on his emotions, recognising that if he wasn’t careful they could spiral out of control, as they had the previous evening, and he took a few deep breaths, trying to focus. He’d be no good to Rodney if he was all over the place, and, as Carson had so rightly pointed out, he had to learn how to live with all these new feelings, had to master them and make them work for him, or he’d end up being a total mess. Finally, Carson was ready, and he took his place by John’s side, a grim but determined look on his face. John remembered how little Carson liked going through the wormhole, and he knew that only the thought of Rodney being in danger was spurring the doctor on right now.


They ran through the gate, and John immediately tapped his radio. “Rodney?” he yelled. It was night on the planet, and the trees were swaying in a high wind, making the whole place seem eerie. The radio crackled but there was no reply.


“Sounds like…” Carson hesitated, frowning, concentrating on the sound.


“Sounds like someone tried to reply but the signal’s not getting through, yes,” John agreed.
“Rodney?” He tried again, to be greeted by another burst of static that might, just, have been the sound of someone’s voice. John pulled out his lifesigns detector but all he could see were a series of blurry dots that merged into one another.


“Electrical storm!” Carson yelled over the sound of the wind and rain.


“Yeah. Then we’re going to have to do this the hard way,” John yelled back, pulling out the sheaf of papers from his jacket pocket. There wasn’t much to go on, and John guessed that Rodney had taken the most relevant papers with him, but he was at least confident of the general direction to head in. They half-walked, half-ran through the storm, with John pausing to tap his radio every few strides. After a couple of miles of this, John paused, picking up a faint response in his ear.




Static. And then, faintly. “…ruins we…east…shit…ow, ow….”


“Rodney?!” John roared over the sound of the wind in the trees.


“That was definitely him,” Carson said. “Sounds like his radio isn’t working properly.”


“Or something’s interfering with the signal – maybe the closer we are to him the better we’ll be able to hear him,” John replied. “It sounded like he was telling us to go east of the ruined temple.”


“Could be – it’s all we’ve got to go on,” Carson shrugged. They turned and headed east, with John keeping the radio channel open the entire time. The signal grew stronger as they jogged.


“Rodney? Come on, buddy, keep talking,” John yelled, fighting to be heard over the driving wind. He didn’t damn well fall in love with someone just to lose him before he’d even had a chance to kiss him! That was not damn well going to happen!




“Do you have a gun?” John shouted into the radio, hoping that Rodney could hear him better than he could hear Rodney. “If so, fire it up into the air, away from you.”


They paused, and a few seconds later they heard a faint sound in the distance. John broke into a run, heading towards the sound, his heart pounding in his chest. He jumped over fallen tree trunks, and ducked under branches, running as fast as he could, panicked by the thought of Rodney lying injured somewhere. He paused for a moment, and called into the radio again, but this time when he heard the reply it wasn’t via the radio – he could hear Rodney’s voice, somewhere nearby, shouting for help. Carson caught up with him a few seconds later and they scoured the area by flashlight.


“Over here.” The voice sounded surprisingly close, and John turned and the beam of his flashlight fell on a bedraggled figure lying at the bottom of a small ravine. John’s heart did a surprisingly exuberant somersault in his chest, and he scrambled towards the scientist. He was half-running, half-sliding down the side of the ravine, getting caked in mud and leaves as he went, leaving Carson trailing far behind in his eagerness to get to Rodney.


John reached the bottom of the ravine and then ran over to where Rodney was lying beneath a tree, clutching his ankle. There was a dark smudge of dirt down one side of his face and a deep wound that was oozing copious amounts of blood on his forehead. John skidded to a halt beside him, suddenly realising that despite the fact that every nerve-ending in his body was screaming out to grab Rodney in his arms and kiss him, the scientist had no idea how he felt and would probably be extremely alarmed if he did any such thing. So John went for the next best thing instead.


“Damnit what is it with you?” he scolded. “Do you go looking for trouble or what?”


“I wasn’t looking for trouble, no,” Rodney replied, in a weary but happy tone. “I was looking for a ZPM and…guess what?” He gave a triumphant smile and pulled something out of his backpack. “Da-nah!”


“You found it? You found a ZPM?” John reached out and tousled Rodney’s hair affectionately, trying hard not to think about how much he wanted to kiss him right now.


“That’s right. I was reading through my notes, you see, and then it suddenly just hit me where the ZPM had to be, and I had to come here and find it. I would have been fine as well if one of those stupid bat creatures hadn’t flown straight at me, making me fall down this ravine. My radio was semi-busted in the process and…ow!” Rodney let out a howl as Carson reached them, and began examining his obviously hurt ankle.


“That’s a bad sprain you’ve got there, laddie, but I don’t think anything’s broken,” Carson said.
“Although I’ll certainly be happy to break that thick skull of yours when we get you home. What were you thinking, Rodney, taking off like that?” He moved up to examine Rodney’s head wound.


“I was thinking I’d bring back a ZPM,” Rodney scowled. “Which we need to, you know, get the city’s shield working and protect us from the scary, life-sucking, monster people.”


“What, you couldn’t wait until morning and then get the team to come out looking for it?” Carson asked, frowning as he pressed a dressing onto Rodney’s forehead.


Rodney shrugged, and gazed mutinously at the floor. “Suspended remember? I didn’t know if I was on the team any more, and I didn’t trust anyone else to bring this back,” he muttered, gesturing with his head at the ZPM.


John leaned forward. “You’re still on the team, Rodney,” he said, directly into Rodney’s ear. “But if you’re going to *stay* on the team then we really need to work on a few basic rules. One of which is that you don’t go anywhere without me.”


He felt a little tug inside as he said that. If he could just damn well put a collar and leash on this man then he’d make sure he didn’t go anywhere without him ever again.


“Hah.” Rodney just made a face at him. John put a hand on his arm and Rodney went curiously still.


“I mean it, Rodney. Don’t mess with me on this,” he warned. Rodney gazed at him, a suddenly panicked look in his eyes, and John knew that they were both thinking about that punishment he’d handed out the previous evening. Then John smiled. “I’m glad you’re safe, Rodney,” he said softly, reaching out to brush some of the mud off Rodney’s cheek with a gentle stroke of his thumb. “Now…let’s get you home shall we?”


He glanced at Carson, who had finished with Rodney’s forehead and was now busy bandaging up his sprained ankle.


“Is he okay to travel?” John asked.


“Well, we’ll never get a puddle jumper through these trees, and a gurney will take too long – he’s already in shock and I want to examine that head wound properly – it looks nasty,” Carson replied. “So I think helping him back to the gate between us would be the lesser of two evils.”


“Okay then.” John looked at Rodney, who seemed paler than ever now that Carson had enunciated his injuries so succinctly. “Rodney – stay with us,” he ordered. Rodney blinked and nodded, and John squeezed his arm gently, trying to reassure him.


He put an arm around Rodney’s body and pulled him to his feet, and then slung one of Rodney’s arms over his shoulder. Rodney was unable to put much weight on his ankle, and, despite the makeshift compress Carson had placed on his head wound, blood was soaking through the bandage and he was clearly concussed, his pale face shining with sweat. He wasn’t going to be up to doing much by way of walking so they’d have to support his weight between them. John fastened his arm more tightly around Rodney’s body, securing him, while Carson took up position on the other side. This was going to be a long, slow journey, and John felt guilty for liking the feel of Rodney’s warm body against his own, and the way he smelled, nestled so close.


John felt another of those strange, protective urges sweeping through his body, starting in his gut and spreading out to flood him with warmth. God, he wanted this man so much. He’d throw himself in front of any danger to keep him safe, battle any kinds of monsters this godforsaken galaxy threw at him just to be by his side. Earlier, when he thought they’d lost him… John pushed that thought away and ghosted a gentle caress along Rodney’s hand with his thumb. I want you, a voice inside him said. I want you…I want you…I want you…. It repeated over and over again in his head, like a mantra, all the way back to the gate.


Elizabeth was waiting for them with a hundred questions when they stepped through the gate, and pandemonium broke out as Carson insisted, furiously, on taking Rodney to the infirmary while Rodney insisted, equally furiously, on installing the new ZPM immediately.


“Radek can do that,” John pointed out.


“It’s *my* ZPM!” Rodney snapped, holding it close to his chest like a baby. “I get to do it!” He jutted out his jaw obstinately, and John was about to tell him not to be an idiot when he saw a look in Rodney’s eyes that stopped him. This was about Rodney’s pride, and John felt he’d dented that enough in the past 24 hours – what would a small delay matter, if it gave Rodney back some of what he’d lost?


“We’re taking him downstairs,” he said to Carson, ignoring the doctor’s immediate protest. Rodney gave him a surprised, grateful smile, and they shared a tiny moment, then John hauled Rodney’s arm over his shoulder again, and they began walking.


Carson ran in front of them and planted himself in their way. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at, Colonel!” he protested. “Rodney has a serious head injury!”


“And we’ve just walked him for three miles through a fucking great storm!” John snapped. “Another five minutes won’t make much difference.”


“Oh, so you’re the doctor now are you, laddie?” Carson fumed.


“Please. Carson.” John looked at him beseechingly. “Come with us, keep close and whisk him off to the infirmary the minute he’s done, but please let him do this.”


Carson considered it for a moment, his eyes raking anxiously over Rodney’s wounded head. John bit on his lip – the last thing he wanted to do was endanger Rodney’s life, but he felt they’d all been ignoring Rodney’s needs for long enough, and this was important, damnit!


“All right,” Carson said at last. “But I’m hauling him to the infirmary if his condition deteriorates, no matter what.”


“Deal,” John said, giving him a grateful nod.


Elizabeth trailed on behind them, demanding to know what the hell was going on, but John didn’t say a word as he helped Rodney down to the power generator and propped him up on a chair beside it. It only took a couple of minutes for Rodney to install the ZPM, and then he leaned back, gave John a triumphant smile, pressed a button and…nothing happened.


“Oh fuck,” Rodney sighed.


“Rodney?” John looked at the ZPM and then back at the scientist. Rodney looked as if he’d shrunk, as if he’d kind of crumpled, all the triumphant happiness of earlier ebbing visibly from his body, leaving him sagging in its wake.


“No power.” Rodney gave a bitter little laugh. “All out of juice. Probably has been for millennia. Christ, I’ve been a total idiot.”


“You couldn’t have known, laddie,” Carson said sympathetically. Rodney’s blue eyes looked completely devastated and John felt the blow with him. There was silence for a moment, as they all took in the news, and then Rodney’s eyes rolled back in his head and he swayed in his chair. John ran forward and caught him just before he fell. He held Rodney tight and lowered him to the floor while Carson called into his radio for a gurney.


“John, what the hell is going on?” Elizabeth demanded as they waited for the medical team. “Why were you all offworld without my permission? How did Rodney get injured? And why have I had *Corporal* Bates in my office complaining that you busted him down a rank because of some fight the two of you had over a sub?”


John barely heard her as he cradled Rodney’s head in his hands. The scientist was out cold, and under the bright Atlantean lights John saw that his head wound was much nastier than he’d realised. He felt his gut clench and he wanted to be physically sick. Carson was there, making reassuring noises, but there was little he could do until they got Rodney to the infirmary.


“John?” Elizabeth pulled him away as the medical team arrived and bustled around Rodney. “I want you in my office, now. I want an explanation and it’d better damn well be a good one! Carson – I want a full medical report on Rodney as soon as you’ve treated him,” she said, before turning on her heel and leaving, every line of her body screaming her fury.


John gazed after her, and then gazed at Rodney, helplessly, as he was transported in the opposite direction. Carson patted his arm.


“Go tell her what’s been happening, John,” he said. “You can’t help Rodney right now and I’ll need space to work on him – I hate it when people’s partners get underfoot when I’m trying to do my job.”


“He’s not my partner,” John sighed, gazing longingly after the gurney.


“Not yet.” Carson grinned and patted his arm again. “He’s in good hands. Now go,” he ordered, before running after his medical team.


Elizabeth gazed at him with furious eyes as John followed her into her office and shut the door behind him. He took a deep breath.


“I’m sorry,” he said first, in an attempt to diffuse her anger. “I know this all looks completely crazy and I apologise for not keeping you in the loop but I had no idea that things would escalate like this.”


“Explain.” She sat down at her desk and looked at him expectantly. “Why is Rodney injured? What happened to him? And how the hell does Bates fit into all this?”


John felt his jaw tighten at Bates’s name. “Bates was a catalyst,” he said, trying to keep a check on his temper.


“He says you gave him a thrashing yesterday evening – and I have to say he didn’t exactly look pretty. Did you do that to him, John? I can’t condone that kind of behaviour on this expedition!” Her eyes flashed angrily.


“With all due respect, how I discipline my men is my business,” John snapped at her.


“Discipline is one thing – order him to be punished if need be – but he just looked beat up to me and that’s something else,” she snapped back. “He’s saying that you demoted him because of a private matter that had nothing to with his job. There was something about an argument over an un-collared sub?”


“So he came crying to you?” John shook his head. “Man, he’s a whiner – he’s whined to you all the way along and he’s still doing it.”


“And you still haven’t given me any answers!” Elizabeth retorted.


“He’s playing you! Playing us! The way he has since we arrived!” John told her angrily. “Maybe this will make more sense to you when I tell you that the sub in question, the sub he’s talking about, the one we were supposedly fighting over, was Rodney.”


That brought her up short. She stared at him, frowning, and then shook her head.


“Rodney? He doesn’t even like Rodney. The two of them have been at loggerheads for weeks.”


“No. What’s been happening is that Bates has been harassing Rodney for weeks – in private, behind closed doors, no witnesses. He had one of those choke collars, the kind they tried to ban? I found him last night trying to make Rodney wear it. If Rodney agreed, Bates was, very kindly, going to help him get his job back.”


“What?” Elizabeth looked completely aghast. John wasn’t surprised. Abusive tops weren’t very common in their society – part of the genetic imperative that led someone to identify as a top in the first place usually also made them protective and caring towards their subs. John wasn’t sure why Bates had got it so wrong but there was something about the man that he couldn’t put his finger on – something unsettling.


“That’s partly why Rodney has been acting out. Bates has been applying the heat and Rodney has been exploding – only we haven’t seen the heat, only the explosions, so they weren’t making any sense to us. I don’t think it’s all been about Bates, but, like I said, he’s been the catalyst,” John told her.


“So you kicked Bates’s ass and busted him down to corporal?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. John shrugged. He didn’t care if she disapproved of his methods – Bates had deserved a damn good hiding and John didn’t regret giving it to him.


“Too damn right I did.”


“Good,” Elizabeth said, in a low, heartfelt tone. John looked up, startled. “I have issues with abusive tops,” Elizabeth explained, with a tight little smile. “And I particularly have issues if Rodney is the sub involved. Besides, as you said, how you discipline your men is your concern, Colonel. I’m certainly not going to interfere. I will say that we’re all alone out here so we have to learn to live with Bates somehow. I’ll also point out that we need all the good men we can get, and Bates was always very efficient at his job.”


“I’ll promote someone to take his place,” John told her.


“Do you have someone in mind?”


John thought of Hicks, earnest and eager to learn – he’d been impressed by him over the past few weeks. “I have someone with definite potential, yes,” he said.


“And as for Rodney…he and I go back a long way,” she sighed. “I feel like I’ve let him down.”


“He didn’t give us a whole lot to go on,” John told her. “But I know what you mean – I feel the same.”


“And that leads us onto his current condition and your unauthorised trip offworld,” she said. “I know our relationship has been a little dysfunctional lately, but Rodney is both vital to this expedition and pretty special to me personally, John, so I hope you have a damn good explanation for the way he looked just now.”


John was startled by her vehemence. Maybe there was just something about Rodney, he thought, something not immediately obvious to the casual observer who might only see Rodney’s bluster, sarcasm and arrogance, because all the strongest tops on this base seemed to feel protective towards him – although he was pretty sure that Rodney wouldn’t thank them for the sentiment. John nodded and took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said, before launching into a thorough account of exactly what had happened.




Rodney woke a few hours later and blinked, several times, wondering where the hell he was. He hurt. His head was pounding, his ankle throbbed and he felt nauseous. His ass ached too and he wondered why…and then the memories of the past 24 hours flooded back in and he gave a little groan. He wasn’t even sure where to start with all the humiliating and unpleasant things that had happened to him over the past day, although his sore ass seemed as good a place as any. Damnit, had he *really* broken down and cried like a baby as a result of a simple hand spanking? His pride really didn’t want to let him go *there*. And then having Colonel Sheppard rescue him from that humiliating encounter with Bates and his damn training collar…. And then falling down that stupid ravine and hurting himself – no wonder he felt as if it’d been hit by a truck. None of the aches and pains in his body mattered though, because he hurt more inside. It had been a ZPM, and he had been so sure it would buy him back some of the respect he felt he’d slowly been losing over the previous weeks. The sense of disappointment was hollow in his gut. Everything he touched at the moment seemed to go wrong, and he was so tired of it all.


“Hey. You’re awake.” Carson’s blue eyes were gazing at him affectionately. “Idiot,” Carson added for good measure. Rodney managed a faded smile.


“Yeah,” he agreed.


“If you were mine, I’d wait until you got better and then give you the spanking of your life for the stunt you pulled last night,” Carson told him, but the fond look in his eyes, and the reassuring hand he had on Rodney’s shoulder, belied the sternness of his words. Rodney blinked, suddenly realising that he missed having a top to watch out for him. Not that he’d ever really experienced that – he was too much the egotist, too smart and too independent to take kindly to any attempt by his tops to rein him in. He thought it must be nice if you could trust someone enough to let them do that for you, but trust had never come easily to him. Right now though, he wished there was someone he could lean on, someone he could sink back against and let them take care of him. He was so damn tired.


“Oh I’m sure the inevitable punishment isn’t too far off,” he muttered. He’d sneaked offworld without permission after all, causing Carson and Sheppard to risk their lives chasing after him. He couldn’t imagine that Elizabeth was best pleased with him right now – although maybe if he’d brought back a functioning ZPM, and if he hadn’t been stupid enough to get himself injured, maybe then she’d be less angry with him. He just hoped she wouldn’t appoint the colonel to take care of it. He wasn’t sure he could face that. Sheppard had a way of getting under his skin and making him face himself, and that hurt more than any punishment ever could.


Carson was gazing at him sympathetically, his hand squeezing Rodney’s arm. “How are you feeling, Rodney?” he asked. “You gave us all quite a scare back there, laddie. Now, you’ve got a nasty head wound. I’ve sutured it but I want to keep you here, under observation, for a couple of days.”


“Oh god.” Rodney tried to sit up, encountered a wave of nausea, and put his head back down again. Carson shook his head.


“No sudden movements – you need to take it easy for a few days.”


“No laptop then?” Rodney asked hopefully.


“What do you think, laddie?” Carson rolled his eyes at him.


“I think you always call me laddie when you’re being particularly bossy,” Rodney retorted.


“Aye, laddie,” Carson grinned. “Just so long as you remember that this is my infirmary and I’m in charge here. I know what a terrible patient you are, and I don’t want any of your usual moping and complaining.”


“I don’t mope *or* complain. I just voice my perfectly reasonable protests about…” Rodney began, and then he caught the extremely no-nonsense look in Carson’s eyes and he didn’t risk continuing down that path. “Oh never mind,” he sighed into his pillow. “I’ll just lie here and be bored for days on end.”


“Good.” Carson smiled brightly. “Although I doubt you’ll be all that bored. There’s a whole list of people who want to visit you.”


Rodney frowned. He thought it *should* be the case that people would want to visit him but seeing as he seemed to be on disastrous terms with most of the base, half of whom happily turned out to jeer at him whenever he was being punished, he *really* didn’t think that was likely.


“Who?” he asked suspiciously.


“First up is Colonel Sheppard,” Carson said brightly, and then he disappeared before Rodney could protest. Rodney glared after him. He felt uncomfortable talking to Sheppard for a whole host of reasons, but it seemed he had no choice because the colonel sauntered in a few minutes later, in that laconic way he had, sat down on the chair beside the bed and put those long legs of his up on the mattress. He looked tired, and his ridiculous dark hair was all mussed up as if he’d just spent hours running his hands through it and disturbing the truckloads of gel he must have to apply to it each day.


“So, how you feeling, Rodney?” he asked.


“Terrible,” Rodney snapped.


“You look pretty crappy,” Sheppard told him. “Oh. Here. Teyla sent these along.” He dumped a bag on the bed beside Rodney, and Rodney peered into it suspiciously.


“What are they?” he asked.


“Some kind of Athosian cherries I think.” Sheppard shrugged. “Apparently they’re the customary gift for someone who is sick.”


“I’m not sick. I fell down a ravine,” Rodney quibbled.


“Yeah. You’ve gotta stop doing that,” Sheppard told him with a wry grin.


“I’ll bear that in mind next time I’m out hunting for a ZPM in the middle of the night while being assaulted by bat creatures.”


“You’re on thin ice with that one, Rodney,” Sheppard said, shaking his head, and Rodney bit back a frosty retort because the colonel was right about that. “However, I was thinking that as you seem to be making a habit of unauthorised heroics then I’d better teach you how to fire a gun properly – that way you can learn to take care of sky-diving bat creatures without falling down the nearest ravine.”


Rodney glared at him but he wasn’t entirely sure why. He felt uncomfortable about spending any more time than was necessary with the laidback colonel, but at the same time he felt rather pleased that Sheppard thought he was worth the effort.


“Not that there’s gonna be a next time,” Sheppard said firmly. “Because from now on, if you ever, ever, go offworld without permission again, or if you do something really stupid, like running off by yourself while we’re on a mission, then the punishment I gave your ass last night will seem like a slap on the wrist by comparison. Clear?”


“Perfectly,” Rodney muttered, feeling his face flush warmly. He really didn’t want to think about the previous evening and how it had felt to lower himself over the colonel’s knees. It had been too intimate, too personal, and he wasn’t comfortable with it.


“I really want to talk to you about that,” Sheppard said, leaning forward.


“And I really don’t,” Rodney replied.


“Tough.” Sheppard shrugged. “Look, I’m not going to apologise for punishing you because I think you deserved it. I never, ever leave people behind, and while I can understand why you lied to me, don’t ever do anything like that again, Rodney. But….” He reached out a hand, as if he wanted to touch Rodney’s arm, but then drew back, his hazel eyes conflicted. “I *am* sorry for what you went through with Bates. I wish you had felt you could have told us what was going on – it makes me really uneasy that you were punished all those times when he was making your life such a misery.”


Rodney stared at a spot somewhere over the colonel’s shoulder. He really would have preferred it if Sheppard had come in here and been distant, or even if he’d yelled at him for going offworld without permission, but an apology was harder to take.


“I should have been able to handle him,” he muttered. “I’m not a child, Colonel. I don’t need to be protected. You have no idea how much it pisses me off that you had to come riding over the hill to rescue me from the clutches of the big bad top. I’ve never imagined myself to be one of *those* subs. I feel like I got trapped in a really bad movie and that makes the whole thing even worse.” He shuddered. “It’s not even as if he was the cool-but-sexy villain. He was just a thug – a really stupid, dumbass thug.”


Sheppard laughed at that and Rodney glared at him, annoyed. Sheppard shook his head. “I’m sorry – I just figured out that what’s really pissing you off is not that Bates tried to force his collar on you but that he was smart about it,” he grinned. “He had a plan and it damn well nearly succeeded, and you’re mad as hell about that.”


Rodney gazed at him through narrowed eyes. “Did you want me to tell you that you’d outstayed your welcome, or have you figured that out for yourself?” he scowled. Sheppard laughed again.


“Message received. Loud and clear,” he said, unfolding those long legs of his and getting up. He leaned forward, and for just one second there was an intense look in his eyes that took Rodney by surprise. “I’ll be back this evening,” he said. “I’m glad you’re okay, Rodney.” He ran his hand gently along Rodney’s arm, never taking his eyes off Rodney’s face, and Rodney felt all the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and he shivered, puzzled by his reaction. Then the moment passed, and Sheppard turned to go.


“He didn’t nearly succeed,” Rodney said quietly, just as Sheppard reached the door. Sheppard glanced back over his shoulder. “The answer would always have been no,” Rodney said, thrusting out his chin obstinately.


A fierce look flared in Sheppard’s eyes, and the colonel nodded at him. “I know that, Rodney,” he said softly, and then he left.


Rodney closed his eyes and tried to sleep but found he couldn’t switch off. He just lay there, remembering how awkward and yet how easy it had been to lower himself over Sheppard’s knee. He felt as if he’d been falling for a very long time, and then Sheppard had come along and caught him, upturned him over his knee, and broken through barriers and walls that Rodney had constructed a very long time ago.


He dozed, only to find Sheppard chasing him through his dreams as he re-lived the events of the past 24 hours over and over again, all jumbled up in his mind. He could still see the look of surprise on Bates’s face as Sheppard had clawed him away, and thrown him bodily across the room. Could still feel the cold steel of that training collar pressed against his neck, and the raw, hungry look in Bates’s eyes as he’d forced him against the wall and demanded his submission. Then he was lying at the bottom of that ravine, lost in the dark, and Sheppard had appeared out of nowhere, looming over him, asking if he was hurt, rubbing dirt off the side of his face and smiling at him with that goofy, laid-back smile. Yet all the while those hazel eyes of his held a different expression entirely, hinting that the colonel wore a mask that nobody was ever meant to see behind. What did lie behind it, Rodney wondered, feverishly, as he tossed and turned on his infirmary bed. Who was the real John Sheppard? Was it the effortlessly cool, if slightly distant man, who sauntered around this base exuding a kind of easy charm that Rodney distrusted instinctively? Or was it the man who had just brushed his arm; intense and dangerous, with a fierce, dark, passionate edge that thrilled Rodney even as it scared him? Rodney didn’t know the answer to that question, and, finally, he managed to fall into an exhausted, troubled sleep.




End of Part Six



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